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Title: Under St Paul's - A Romance
Author: Dowling, Richard
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Under St Paul's - A Romance" ***

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(Oxford University)



Transcriber's Notes:

     1. Page scan source:
        Google Books http://books.google.com/books?id=JgkGAAAAQAAJ
        (Oxford University)

     2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                           UNDER ST PAUL'S.



                    _New and Cheaper Editions of_
                             MR DOWLING'S
                          _POPULAR NOVELS_.

                              * * * * *

                                  I.

                        THE DUKE'S SWEETHEART.


                                 II.

                           UNDER ST PAUL'S.


                                 III.

                          THE SPORT OF FATE.


                              * * * * *


                        LONDON: WARD & DOWNEY,
                    12 York Street, Covent Garden.



                           UNDER ST PAUL'S


                             _A ROMANCE_.



                            BY RICHARD DOWLING,

                              AUTHOR OF

          'THE DUKE'S SWEETHEART,' 'THE MYSTERY OF KILLARD,'
                      'THE SPORT OF FATE,' ETC.



                             New Edition.



                        LONDON: WARD & DOWNEY,
                    12 YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN.

                                * * *

                                1885.


                       [_All Rights Reserved_.]



                COLSTON AND SON, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.



                                  TO

                             BYRON WEBBER

                         THE LITERARY FRIEND

                                 WHO

                     FIRST LENT ME A HELPING HAND

                           UNDER ST PAUL'S



                              _CONTENTS_


                              * * * * *

                           Part the First.

                       _SATURN SHALL BE KING_.

                                * * *

                              CHAPTER I.

     SHE AND HE,


                             CHAPTER II.

     A LESSON IN FLIRTATION,


                             CHAPTER III.

     IN THE CHURCHYARD,


                             CHAPTER IV.

     'OH, PERHAPS,'


                              CHAPTER V.

     FROM WESTMINSTER TO THE CRITERION,


                             CHAPTER VI.

     AT THE CRITERION,


                             CHAPTER VII.

     FROM STRATFORD TO PETER'S ROW,


                            CHAPTER VIII.

     SUNRISE,


                             CHAPTER IX.

     AFTER THE DAWN,


                              CHAPTER X.

     AN IDLE DAY,


                             CHAPTER XI.

     AN IDLE AFTERNOON,


                             CHAPTER XII.

     AN IDLE EVENING AND NIGHT,



                              * * * * *

                           Part the Second.

                          _DEPOSING SATURN_.

                                * * *


                              CHAPTER I.

     A VISION,


                             CHAPTER II.

     A DREAM,


                             CHAPTER III.

     DAYLIGHT,


                             CHAPTER IV.

     THE BETROTHAL,


                              CHAPTER V.

     AN INTRODUCTION,


                             CHAPTER VI.

     AN OLD FRIEND AND A NEW ACQUAINTANCE,


                             CHAPTER VII.

     WHAT THE AVON SAID,


                            CHAPTER VIII.

     DERELICT WOMEN,


                             CHAPTER IX.

     THE PILGRIMAGE TO ST PAUL'S,



                              * * * * *

                           Part the Third.

                          _MISERERE NOBIS_.

                                * * *


                              CHAPTER I.

     ANXIETY AND DESPAIR,


                             CHAPTER II.

     A BAD WAKING,


                             CHAPTER III.

     MOTHER AND SON,


                             CHAPTER IV.

     A NERVOUS SUITOR,


                              CHAPTER V.

     AN UNEASY MOTHER,


                             CHAPTER VI.

     A TROUBLED HEART,


                             CHAPTER VII.

     LOVE AND FAITH,


                            CHAPTER VIII.

     ON THE WAY DOWN,


                             CHAPTER IX.

     MARIE'S PROMISE TO MRS OSBORNE,


                              CHAPTER X.

     A DINNER AT HOME,


                             CHAPTER XI.

     AFTER DINNER AT HOME,


                             CHAPTER XII.

     IN THE STORM,


                            CHAPTER XIII.

     CONSERVATORY CONSPIRATORS,


                             CHAPTER XIV.

     IN A NEW ASPECT,


                             CHAPTER XV.

     OSBORNE'S FINAL RESOLUTION,


                             CHAPTER XVI.

     WHEN MY GEORGE IS AWAY,


                            CHAPTER XVII.

     THE END,



                           Part the First.

                       _SATURN SHALL BE KING_.



                           UNDER ST PAUL'S.

                                * * *

                              CHAPTER I.

                             SHE AND HE.


'"Roast beef, roast pork, mutton pie, or hash?" Ah, I thought so! When
we last met-for we have met three or four times, if I am not
mistaken--we were more familiar with those words than good Mrs
Barclay's hospitable inquiry. Have you been much around since we sat
at that boarding-house mahogany in New York?'

The beautiful head was raised, the brilliant face was turned to the
speaker, the dark eyes were fixed upon his face, and the girl
answered, with good-humoured ease,--

'Yes, I have travelled a good deal since we met at New York last
year.'

'Ah, so have I!' said the thin, dark, restless young man opposite her,
who had spoken first. The company had been only a few minutes seated
at the Sunday dinner of Mrs Barclay's private hotel, situate in
Peter's Row, hard by the Cathedral of St Paul's, London. 'I have
been,' continued the lank, dark-faced man, speaking with assurance and
rapidity, 'all over the States, all over Canada, in Spain and Algiers,
since. I am going to India and China; and then I am going--' He
paused.

She smiled.

'Where?'

'Into a gas retort, to get cremated.'

'How horrible!' cried white-haired Mrs Barclay, from the head of the
table.

'How dreadful!' cried the other ladies, four in number.

The girl laughed.

'Alive?' she asked.

'Alive, of course! There is no fun in going anywhere when one is
dead.'

'Do you speak from experience?' she asked.

'No--observation. Look at all the mutton-headed, numskull,
leaden-blooded, dead dolts you find crawling through life everywhere
you go, and particularly in England; you don't mean to say they have
any fun, do you?'

The girl laughed again, a low soft laugh, that fell upon the ear like
a message of comfort.

'Pray, sir,' said a solid-looking man at the foot of the table, 'is
your knowledge of England so large that you are able to describe the
character of the people in such flattering terms?'

'I have been about a good deal in England; altogether a couple of
years. But, my dear sir, you are not to judge by time alone; you must
take into account the capacity of the observer as well. Now I am very
quick at observing.'

'So I _perceive_,' said the other, at which there was a faint titter.

The dark man did not heed the interruption, beyond smiling a
good-humoured welcome to the slight repartee, and went on. 'I am a
cosmopolite. I belong to the family of man. My native country is the
earth; and I have been a good bit over my native country. This is my
tenth visit to London. I have been three weeks in London this time.'
Looking across the table at the dark-eyed girl, he said,--'I do think
it was a fair specimen of observation that I knew you when you came
into the room. You arrived this morning, I believe?'

'I arrived last night.'

It seemed she could not speak without smiling.

'Stop. I have a memory for facts as well as for faces. I can recall
your name. Taking into account all the people I have met since,
I do think it good to be able to recall your name. Your name is
Irish--O'Connor.'

'No, Scotch--Gordon.'

'Ah! And your Christian name is Italian--Luigia.'

'No, French--Marie.'

There was a general laugh.

'Wonderfully accurate!' said the gentleman at the foot of the table.

'Well,' said the dark man, 'I admit I am not good at names, but I am
at facts. Now, I remember that in New York you had a maid.'

'I have her still. She goes everywhere with me. She is Irish. Her name
is O'Connor--Judith O'Connor.'

'I knew there was something Irish and O'Connorish about you. She has
black hair and dark eyes, and a pert nose and perter manner.'

'Yes; but it would not be prudent for you to say these things about
her nose and her manner to herself.'

'I'm not very prudent, but I know that. Let me see if I cannot
remember something more of you. You are a kind of specimen woman of
humanity.'

The broad-chested, good-looking, fair-haired young man sitting beside
the speaker involuntarily laid down his spoon in his soup-plate, stole
a glance at the traveller by his side, and then a still more quiet
glance at the dark-eyed girl opposite. She caught his eyes and turned
hers full upon him. He looked down, took up his spoon, and resumed his
dinner.

'The more of such specimens the pleasanter the world would be,' said
the man at the foot of the table, bending gallantly.

'I did not mean to be complimentary, Miss Gordon. I never do,'
protested the traveller.

'In this case, sir, you could not help it.'

The fair-haired man looked frankly and freely at the last speaker.
When he withdrew his glance, he found the eyes of the girl fixed on
him with a smile of protest against the civil speeches of the man at
the foot.

'I meant,' said the thin man, 'that you represent many nations. I
remember, at least, all about that. Your father was Scotch, your
mother a French Canadian; you were born in India, and brought up in
Australia. Is not that so?'

'Yes.'

'No fish, thank you. I never eat fish. I was born at sea; and people
born at sea never eat fish. I have some reason for remembering these
facts connected with you, for I too am a mixum-getherum lot. My father
was a pirate, or something of that kind. I am a parishioner of
Stepney, a place which has never yet had the honour of seeing me. I
have no dread of being moved on to my parish, for I know I shall end
my days by being blown from a gun for piratical practices on the high
seas. Before that happens, I hope, Miss Gordon, to have the pleasure
of meeting you often, for you are as great a cosmopolitan as myself.
Do you intend remaining here long?'

'Some months, perhaps.'

'Ah, I had intended clearing out of this hole in a week or so; but
what you have told me may alter my mind.'

'That from the gentleman who _never_ pays compliments,' said the
solid-looking man at the foot of the table. 'By-the-way,' he
continued, 'I can't make out Miss Gordon to be a cosmopolitan. It
seems to me she is wonderfully British; one of the United Kingdoms,
our two greatest colonies, and our vast dependency seem to me to make
up a very good British woman.'

The face of the girl grew grave for a moment. She turned fully to the
man at the foot, and said, in a quiet, impressive voice,--

'I am glad you think me British. I should be sorry to be thought
anything else, for my father lost his life in India under the British
flag.'

The fair young man put down his knife and fork, and looked across the
table at the girl. He cleared his throat, grew red in the face,
cleared his throat again, dropped his eyes to his plate, grew still
redder, and resumed eating his fish.

The last remark of the talkative man killed the conversation, and no
more was said during the dinner than a few feeble sentences by the
ladies on the merits of the sermons they had heard in the forenoon.

When the ladies had retired, the gentlemen drew chairs to the fire to
smoke.

The cosmopolitan and the fair-haired good-looking Saxon sat as at
dinner. The former pulled out a case, and offered a cigar to the
Saxon.

'Thank you,' said the latter; 'I do not smoke.'

'Ah, my dear sir, if you had cooled your heels on as many capitals and
glaciers and deserts and decks of vessels as I, you would not despise
the weed. You are a new arrival here?'

'I came last night.'

'Perhaps you are a friend of the beautiful Miss Gordon?'

'No. I never saw her until to-day.'

'Where did you come from?'

'Stratford-on-Avon.'

'Ah, Shakespeare's town! I've been there. Shakespeare was no end of a
poet; but it was a cursedly dull place to be born in. I daresay he ran
away from the dulness of it. Do you find it dull?'

'Well, I--I have had very little experience of anywhere else. I have
lived in it all my life.'

'Yes; but you've run about now and then? You've paddled through the
mud of other places, and had your chance of frost-bite or sunstroke in
other latitudes?'

The fair young man smiled.

'You have been about a good deal?' said he.

'Yes.'

'And seen many strange sights?'

'Well, yes.'

'The strangest of all is now here. You will scarcely believe me when I
say I am eight-and-twenty years of age, and I have never been fifty
miles from my native town in all my life until now.'

'God bless my soul!' The traveller sprang to his feet. 'God bless my
soul! Sir, let us shake hands. We must be friends. My name is William
Nevill. What is yours?'

'Mine is George Osborne.'

'My dear Osborne, this is the happiest moment of my life. Some Roman
swell once offered a beautiful bound edition of the poets to anyone
who would invent a new pleasure. By living your twenty-eight years
within your fifty-mile radius, and then meeting me, you have invented
a new pleasure with a vengeance. How do you feel?'

'I feel quite well, thank you.'

'I am astonished at that. How a fellow can feel well who has been all
his life tethered with a fifty-mile rope to the family house-tree, I
cannot understand. Bless my soul! I am glad to meet you. Sit down, and
let us have a chat. Just fancy: I, who have been everywhere, meeting
you, who have been nowhere, and meeting you just as you have broken
cover for the first time! Well, they say extremes meet. To think a
rolling-stone like me, and a stick-in-the-mud like you, should meet,
is most wonderful. Never fifty miles from home! How do you feel, man?'

'Quite well, thank you.'

'I don't mean your health. You look all right. But don't you want to
jump into a galvanic battery, and get telegraphed all over creation in
five minutes? Bless my soul!'

'No; London is more than enough for me just now, little as I have seen
of it.'

'Bless me, Osborne, let me shake your hand again. If I could only meet
a woman like you, I think I should marry her, and settle down with,
say, a thousand or two miles of rope.'

'But I should fancy a man with your enormous experience of travel
would prefer a wife who could talk over the many places you had seen,
and the customs you had observed.'

The blue eyes of the speaker were fixed earnestly on the traveller.

'Well, I don't know. It would be a fascinating novelty to have a wife
who had never been beyond the village-green. But the thing might grow
monotonous after awhile. There was only one woman who ever made me
think of settling down. When I speak of settling down, I mean on a
continent or two.'

'And what was she?'

'A great go-about, like myself.'

'Like the lady who sat opposite you at dinner, to-day?'

The steadfast blue eyes never moved from the face of the other man.

Nevill bent his head forward, and said, in a dropped voice, so that
the others could not hear,--

'It was she. I thought seriously of staying in New-York, and trying if
I could make any impression on her.'

'And why did you not?'

The blue eyes now fell to the ground.

'Well, you see, the States, Canada, Spain, and Algiers were all
waiting for me.'

'And so you did not make love to her?'

'Couldn't, my dear boy. Hadn't time.'

'And where do you go to from London?'

'India.'

'When?'

'That will depend upon my luck.'

'Your luck with what?'

'Miss Gordon. I think I shall give myself a holiday, and a chance of
settling down this time. Come, let us join the ladies.'

They reached the drawing-room. Nevill, leaning on the arm of Osborne,
walked to where Miss Gordon sat on a couch. When he came in front of
her, he said,--

'Allow me, Miss Gordon, to present to you my old and valued friend, Mr
Simeon Stylites. He has, to honour your arrival in London, just
stepped down from his pillar on which he was born, and where he has
spent all his life.'

'A descendant of the saint?' she asked archly.

'No; a descendant of the pillar. But really, Miss Gordon, Mr Osborne
is a most remarkable man, and I recommend him to your best
consideration. He is the Captain Cook of our time, and the enlightened
savages have a savoury treat in store for them.'

'A great traveller?' she asked, with a look of interest.

'No. But his is the best performance on record at staying at home.'

'Really!' with a soft laugh. She held out her hand frankly to him. 'I
am glad to meet someone who is not travel-worn, and tired of half the
world.'

'This is the first time Mr Osborne has ever been fifty miles
from home, and his home is a small town in the Midlands,
Stratford-on-Avon.'

'I am delighted to have met you,' she said, looking him full in the
face with those marvellous dark eyes. 'Do you know, Mr Osborne, you
were going to say something to me at dinner, and you did not? And I
should like to know what it was.'

He stood for a moment mute. _She_ curious to know what _he_ had been
about to say! It flushed him, and made the blood at his wrists tingle.
It confused his head, and took his intellect away. He stammered out,--

'I really cannot remember. Something not worth your thinking of.'

His face was now pale.

Nevill observed the change.

'My dear Osborne, you look ill. Run to the front door for a moment and
the air will put you right. Shall I go with you?'

'No, thank you. It is nothing.'

After a few minutes' silence, he said,--

'I think I shall take a stroll.'

'Do,' said Nevill heartily; 'that is what will fix you up. Run off.'

When he had gone, Miss Gordon said to Nevill,--

'Your friend must be ill. I am afraid he must suffer much, for he
forgot me when leaving.'

'No one who has once seen you could ever forget you, Miss Gordon,'
said Nevill, by way of beginning the attack.

'That is a humdrum compliment,' said she. 'You must be more original,
or I shall find you dull.'

George Osborne walked, he knew not whither. He felt dazed and dull. At
last he paused on a bridge. He stood awhile and thought. Then he said
to himself,--

'What perfume of romance have I drunk that she should make me mad?'



                             CHAPTER II.

                       A LESSON IN FLIRTATION.


The Sunday dinner at Mrs Barclay's was early, and when George Osborne
found himself for the first time in his life with the Thames beneath
his feet, it was a little after three o'clock.

'What an amazing thing it is to be in London for the first time, and
with the knowledge of eight-and-twenty years! Those who are born in
London never fathom its depths, its influence, its strength, its
significance, its import.

'Those who come to London young are cowed at first by its proportions,
become familiar with half one district, and treat all other districts
into which accident may drag them as pagan regions beyond the pale of
the true civilisation.

'But I confront London for the first time in the mature years of
youth, with book knowledge of all its wonders, and a feeling of
brotherhood for it. Greater England is my father, but this London is
my most beloved sister, of whom I am proud.

'The universe, hung by God in the viewless vault of space, and man are
the most wonderful of His disclosed works, and I bow down in worship
before the creator of these miracles. This London, the noblest
monument of man, was reared by the hands of my brothers of Greater
Britain. I am their fellow, their equal. We it was who did it.

'Under Him whom I adore, nothing fills me with such emotions of
worship as the spirit of this great concrete empire, of which London
is the sign-manual on earth.

'In the still meadowlands around Stratford, I have led a quiet if not
a blameless life. Now and then I have been here and there--Birmingham,
Coventry, Wolverhampton, Leamington, Warwick, Oxford, Lichfield,
Burton, Leicester; but all put together do not equal London. If I have
kept away from this town until now, it was from no want of
opportunities to visit it. I might have come any month. But I did not
wish to come until I could stay. I deliberately did not avail myself
of the opportunities I enjoyed. I studied the place afar off. I might
have often come to London, but I did not. I kept aloof. I wished not
to see it with my bodily eyes until I had qualified to appreciate it;
just as I deferred reading Shakespeare until I thought I should be
able to understand him.

'I know all the things around me. This is Blackfriars Bridge, that is
Waterloo Bridge, that is the Temple, that is Somerset House, that is
St Paul's. I have reverenced their spirits from afar. To-day their
spirits have taken shape, and I am among the saintly shrines of my
imagination. I have reverenced beauty from afar. To-day I have drunk a
potion and am mad.

'Am I in love? Not I. I have a splendid madness upon me. I do not want
her. I do not want her love. I want only the image as I see it. He may
marry her if he will. I shall never try. I have her image, and neither
tyrant nor thief can take that away from me. I make her high-priestess
in the temple of my dreams. She is too sacred for me to touch. As I
see her now, her image is immortal, immutable. In a few years she will
change. I place my goddess with the unalterable deities of the ideal.
She shall never be other to me than she is. I shall marry some day, I
suppose; but I shall never marry her. The emotions which lead men to
marriage have no connection with what I now feel. While I am under the
spell of her presence I shall enjoy this madness. When she is gone I
shall live in the light of a memory.

'I shall stay in London. I shall take chambers and live alone, that
is, unless I marry. I shall lead my old life, read by night, and
wander about by day. This money, into which I have just come, will
yield me fifteen hundred a year; and, married or single, I shall be
able to live comfortably on that. I shall live in London and cherish
my image, and when I die I hope I may be found no worse than my
fellow-man, and may fall within the mercy of God and the pity of my
Saviour; for I must not let the little money, or London, or this
wonder at the hotel turn my head and darken up my heart against the
great matter of life. What fools men are to throw away the great
object of all this life, either with carelessness or deliberation! No,
no. I shall, I hope, retain my taste for books, and the simple faith
in which I was brought up--and her image for ever.'

He turned away from the parapet and crossed to the Surrey side.

'There is no great hurry,' he mused, 'for my leaving Barclay's. I can
stay there a few weeks, until I get more accustomed to the crush and
uproar of all London.

'Can it be Sunday? Can this be the day of rest in the capital of the
British Empire? I can scarcely believe it. Here are shops open, cabs
and tramcars trading just as on any other day. While I stood on the
bridge I saw the steamboats crowded with people. Sunday! why, it is
more like a fair! You only want the booths and the jugglers to make it
a mop. I wonder these things are not stopped. All this traffic is
surely against the law. It is bad in itself, and worse as an example.
It ought to be stopped. It could be stopped by law, and it ought to be
stopped. Why is it not stopped?

'This is Blackfriars Road. It leads into St George's Circus. I know
from maps, but how different these places are from what I fancied.

'Gordon. Yes, the name is Scotch, and Marie is French. I wonder what
religion she is. She has a maid, an Irish maid. The Irish are Roman
Catholics, the maid is sure to be a Roman Catholic. The chances are
the mistress is too, for her mother was a French Canadian. Or stop,
are the French Canadians Huguenots or not? That I don't know.

'When she ceases to speak I always hear music; and when the music
stops the air seems to listen for more. I wonder does such a beauty
know how she fills the veins with wonder and joy? No, no. She could
not know and carry her head in that way. She would have more
consideration for those whose fate it is to see her a little while and
lose her for ever. Because, of course, when she leaves London, I shall
never see her again. Of course not.

'It is getting dusk; I had better go back, or I shall grow confused
presently. It is cold. What an idiot I was to come without an
overcoat! Why did I come at all? Why did I leave that warm room and
that wonderful presence? Because the presence was too much for me.

'It is chilly.

'Here is the Thames again. I did not notice it much when I went over
it awhile ago. Down there it flows from Westminster Bridge to meet all
the other waters of the world. This is a main road to the ocean. I
have seen only lanes and byways of water before, and never the sea.
This is an imperial highway to the sea--the most important piece of
water in the world, except the Jordan. The Amazon, the Mississippi,
ay, all the watery plains of the Pacific, are nothing to man compared
with this highway, from which set out the fleets of Britain. This
river is the type of commerce, the symbol of enterprise; its shores
are the gateway through which pass the riches and the sea-power of the
greatest nation.'

He left the bridge.

'I wonder is that girl still sitting where I left her? Is she sitting
on that couch still, or has she left the room? How commonplace the
room would be without her! All the things would look cold and
cheerless. I have been in that room only once, and yet I know it would
look mean and paltry without her. But when she is there everything
gathers splendour from her, commonplace things are lifted up and made
partakers of her glory.

'I in love with her! No more than the Straits of Dover are with
Homer.'

The cold began to pinch him a little, and letting go his musings, he
walked rapidly back to the hotel.

Without thinking of where he went, he walked into the drawing-room. By
this time it was almost dark, but the gas had not yet been lighted. At
first Osborne thought he was alone, but before he had reached the
middle of the room that voice came to him, saying,--

'Oh, Mr Osborne, I am so glad you have come back to flirt with me. I
have been doing my best to fall in love with Mr Nevill, but I
couldn't. So I sent him away.'

He could not have mistaken that voice. He could not mistake her voice,
but he must have mistaken the words. What, his divinity speak thus!
Monstrous!

'Shall I light the gas for you, Miss Gordon?' he asked, in a cold,
formal tone.

'Yes, turn up the gas for _us_. You can bear the gaslight, he can't.
Thank you. Now come over here and sit down and amuse me. Don't get a
hassock at my feet, and say you want to worship me. It is all very
well to worship solemn people, but I am not a bit solemn, and I want
to be amused. Mr Nevill wanted to worship me and I sent him away.'

'I am afraid you will find me less amusing than Mr Nevill.'

Why, it wasn't the feet of the idol alone, but the whole of the idol
was clay! What clay! What glorious clay! Was ever so frivolous a
spirit in so splendid a mould?

'Nonsense! Come and sit down here. Not on a hassock, but on a good
stout oak chair. That one will answer. Come nearer--nearer still. That
will do.'

She was more flippant than Nevill. Why had he come back? Why had he
not gone on and found some other place to stay at and there preserve
his ideal? It was cruel, too cruel. Now he could never conjure up the
image of her who sat before him, without hearing, not the music he had
listened to that day at dinner, but these disenchanting, discordant,
flippant words. What a magnificent creature she was!

'Well,' she said, fixing those dark eyes on him, 'where have you been
since?'

'I have been out taking my first daylight look at London.'

'And how do you like it?'

'I think London is the most wonderful place in the world.'

'The most wonderful place in the world for dulness?'

'No; for everything that is great and noble and significant.'

'Whe-ew!'

A whistle! A lady whistling! A lady whistling at the idea of London
being great and august! Well, he might expect anything now. No doubt
she smoked.

'Now, look here, Mr Osborne.'

He wondered she didn't call him simple 'Osborne.'

'Now look here, Mr Osborne, take this London Sunday and this very day
as a specimen of dulness. What could be more satisfactory? I don't
know what you did before dinner. I go in to dinner, I sit down. A man
opposite me makes a remark; everyone stares. I say something, another
man says something, Mr Nevill says something more. You try to say
something, and choke and say nothing. Then four ladies give us scraps
of sermons we had grown tired of as children. We come into the
drawing-room, we go to sleep, and are waked up by you and Mr Nevill
coming back. You walk over, stare at me in a most frightful manner,
and rush away. Mr Nevill tries to make love to me, and fails. The
other ladies go away to lie down or get ready for church, and I am
left here alone until you turn up. When you do look in, you are as
cheerful as a mute at a funeral. Now, tell me, Mr Osborne, is not that
stupid?'

Osborne felt rather disappointed she did not wind up with 'Damn it
all, Georgie, old man, but this is infernally slow; let's go liquor-up
and have a weed.' Nothing she could say or do now would surprise him.
She was no longer an enigma or a mystery, but an ascertained
certainty, a denounced deception. He said, simply and sadly,--

'You know, Miss Gordon, we Anglo-Saxons are a stupid race.'

'But there are exceptions.'

'You will not find many in the _pure_ Anglo-Saxon blood.' Bowing
slightly. 'Things are much altered when, through the matter-of-fact
Anglo-Saxon veins, flows brighter and livelier blood.'

'You are not stupid,' she said.

'I approve of the dull ways you have been finding fault with.'

'Ah, that is acquired stupidity, not natural. I did not say you are
intelligent, but you are intellectual, intensely intellectual, and
poetic. You always look at the glorified side of things. You are a
poet.'

He stared at her. He forgot everything, and stared at her. When he
recovered himself he replied nervously, hesitatingly, diffidently,--

'I-I assure you, Miss Gordon, I never wrote a line of poetry in my
life--never even thought of such a thing.'

'It isn't necessary a poet should write poetry. He may think it.'

'But I assure you I have never even thought a line of poetry in my
life.'

'Yes, you have. You thought poetry to-day at dinner, and were too shy
to speak it.'

Again he forgot everything, and stared. A criminal caught red-handed
could not have been more amazed with fear. He had never been accused
of poetry before, and her words were like heartless revellers who
broke into the sanctuary of his soul, tore from it his most sacred
secret, and set it up in the marketplace to be jeered at by all the
town.

She laughed softly. 'There is no witchery in it. I told you you were
not intelligent, but you were intellectual. I am not intellectual, but
I am intelligent. You are intellectual and a poet. I am intelligent,
and I found you out.'



                             CHAPTER III.

                          IN THE CHURCHYARD.


'As you people live here in England,' said Nevill, next morning at
breakfast, 'this meal is the gloomiest, dinner is the solemnest, and
supper is the sleepiest of the day. I can always understand a man
being gloomy in the morning, but why people should be solemn at dinner
and sleepy at supper I never could make out. The only way I can come
near accounting for a man being solemn at dinner is because it is the
most expensive meal of the day, and there is no way in the world so
good for knocking the fun out of John Bull as to bleed him. But why
people should look sleepy at supper licks me hollow!'

'Perhaps, sir,' said the solid-looking man, 'it is because the people
_are_ sleepy.'

'From what I know of Mr Nevill,' said Miss Gordon, 'I don't think he
will be satisfied with a straightforward answer like that.'

'This very straightforwardness is the curse of the English character,'
answered Nevill. 'To tell the plain truth, right out, is the impulse
of a savage. To conceal all that is unpleasant, because it may give
pain to others, is the perfection of culture. Why on earth should
straightforwardness or any other virtue come stamping on my corns? I
know, for instance, that my nose is not Roman. But that is no reason
why Mr Straightforwardness should come and say to me, "Sir, you have a
snub nose, not to say a cocked nose." No, Miss Gordon; give me the man
who uses his wits to make those around him pleasant.'

'Do you,' asked Miss Gordon, 'practise what you preach?'

'In a humble way,' with a bow.

'And do you think you are adding to the pleasure of a company of
English men and women, by attacking the character of the whole
nation?'

'Undoubtedly.'

'But how?'

'A lady who has been a great traveller like you, Miss Gordon, must
know that all our pleasures, or nearly all, are derived from thinking
of other people or things; all our pains arise from thinking of
ourselves. A comedy, a tragedy, a marriage, or an execution amuses us
equally, because it makes us forget ourselves. But when we are
compelled to think of ourselves by debt or pain, we are no longer
happy. The debt or pain of other people is a source of diversion to
us.'

'But, sir,' said the solid-looking man, 'I can't see how that is a
reply to Miss Gordon's question.'

'It is not a direct reply, I own. But you may, sir, deduce the reply
from it.'

'I confess I can't.'

'Well, you are an Englishman. I attack your race. That takes your mind
off yourself by making it turn towards your race, and making you
individually hate me.'

'That is not an ordinary theory.'

'Ordinary theories are, sir, never sound.'

'Mr Nevill,' said Miss Gordon, 'you are a great traveller.'

'Yes, I have been about a bit; but I'm not old, and I intend doing
better before I die.'

'Are you a good linguist?'

'No. Don't speak a word of any language but English.'

'There is a general theory that linguists have prominent eyes. Now you
have no talent for languages, and your eyes are not prominent.'

There was a general laugh, in which he joined.

'Don't you think, sir,' said the solid-looking man, 'that when
foreigners are travelling in out-of-the-way places, where they can
find no one who speaks their language, they are grossly imposed on by
the hotel-keepers?'

'I daresay many are imposed upon; but I, never.'

'And,' said Miss Gordon vivaciously, 'how do you manage to escape?'

'My mode is one few would care to adopt; but it is most effectual:

'Before I make signs to them I want the bill, I become erratic for
awhile. Then I show them I wish to pay. Then I become moody. When they
hand me the bill, I take out a revolver, and begin chanting the
multiplication in English. I have tried cursing and swearing at them,
but nothing is half so good as the multiplication chanted in a low
voice. The effect is weird and confounding. They don't know whether I
am going to shoot one of them or myself; they don't know whether I am
sane or mad. They are sure of only one thing--that they wish I'd go.
When I have treated them to about ten minutes of this, I put the
revolver in my pocket, and tender them what I think fair. If they show
hesitation, I go back to my old device, and starve them out.'

'You are joking,' said Mrs Barclay, from behind the tea-urn.

'Not at all, Mrs Barclay; and if there are any irregularities in your
account, I'll treat you to a specimen of my method. If you have a
doubt of the matter, ask Mr Osborne. He has seen me do the thing a
thousand times.'

Miss Gordon smiled, and said,--

'As Mr Nevill never met Mr Osborne until yesterday, I don't think you
need, Mrs Barclay, be in great dread, if you cannot believe without
his evidence.'

'What are you going to do to-day, Osborne?' asked Nevill.

'I think I shall spend the day in St Paul's.'

'Spend the day in St Paul's! Why, bless my soul, man, you don't mean
to say they have still the power of doing that sort of thing here?'

'What sort of thing?' asked Osborne.

'The power of sending a man to a church for a whole day. Are you to
sit on a stool of repentance, with a white sheet around you and a
lighted candle in your hand?'

'Do you really intend spending a whole day over St Paul's?' asked Miss
Gordon, with a look of interest.

'I do,' answered Osborne.

Mrs Barclay glanced at the girl, and asked,--

'Would you like to go?'

'Very much indeed.'

'Then perhaps you will take her, Mr Osborne?'

He grew red and uncomfortable, and stammered out,--

'Certainly, with great pleasure.'

'What! Miss Gordon!' cried Nevill, in amazement. 'You promised me last
night to come and have a look at Brighton with me to-day!'

'I prefer going to St Paul's.'

'And you break your agreement with me?'

'Yes.' With a sigh and a laugh close together.

'Upon my word, that is too bad. I never was so badly treated in all my
life. Aren't you ashamed of yourself?'

'Not in the least; because, you see, I prefer going to St Paul's. I
should be very much ashamed of going to Brighton when I wanted to go
to St Paul's, and could go.'

'Miss Gordon, may I ask you how old you are?'

'Certainly. I am four-and-twenty. Why do you ask?'

'What a remarkable woman you will be when you are forty-eight?'

'In what way do you think I shall be remarkable?

'In strength of mind, and all that. Tell me, do you go in for woman's
rights?'

'I think women ought not to be fools.'

'Why?'

'Because it is ridiculous to be a fool.'

'But fools are often more happy then wise people.'

'Yes; but happiness is a brute quality, and I care for nothing but
intellect.'

Nevill shook his head, and laughed good-humouredly.

'Miss Gordon, take my word for it, you will be an ornament to the
woman's rights' platform before you are fifty years of age.'

While this dialogue was going on George Osborne thought to himself:
'What an awkward position she places me in! I would much sooner be
alone. Then this rattle-pated Nevill is certain to think this is of my
contrivance, and that, too, in the face of his confiding to me he was
going to make love to her. He will surely consider me a dishonourable
man; and certainly I have no intention of being dishonourable, and no
wish to be considered dishonourable, and no wish to be with her.

'Fancy one of my sisters, fancy my sweetheart, if there were such a
person, behaving in this bold way! Absolutely asking a strange man to
take her to a place, in the face of another arrangement with a second
strange man to go to another place! I never heard of such a thing in
all my life. It is scandalous. It is indelicate. It is improper.

'I have told her I intended spending all day in the cathedral; but I
need not go till late, and I will come away at dusk.

'I wonder will she talk and laugh loud, and _whistle_ in the church,
and disgrace herself?'

He raised his eyes wistfully to her face. She was smiling at Nevill.
Such an intoxicating smile.

'Yes, physically she is perfect; spiritually she is monstrous. She is
Dead-Sea fruit. She is no woman. She is neither man nor woman, but a
monstrous development of over-quick civilisation. She is the most
beautiful being I have ever seen.'

When breakfast was over he threw himself into an easy-chair, and
thought, as he took up _The Times_,--

'I shall sit here for an hour or an hour and a half before starting.'

He had not read a column when a foot approached him, and a soft voice
said,--

'Well, Mr Osborne, I am ready.'

He looked up and saw her standing before him dressed for walking. He
did not notice anything she wore but the hat. It was velvet, a full
vermilion, with black lace. Such a hat would catch the eye at any
distance. It was shamefully bright. No sister of his, no sweetheart of
his, should ever wear such a brazen thing. Why, all the people would
stare at her! Ah, and well they might stare too, and stare till dark,
and find no blemish in that oval face, that rounded, lithe figure. How
at a second look the bold colour in the hat triumphed over one's
repugnance! He would not dare to let his sister or his sweetheart
wear such a thing; they were, or would be, dear to him, and this woman
was a mere stranger; in a few days she would pass away out of his
sight for ever. Meanwhile, the hat suited the face, and the face
suited--heaven.

'Do you like my hat?' she asked, as he rose.

'It is very striking.'

'But do you think it is too violent?'

'No. It is daring--and successful.'

'I am glad you like it. I put it on expressly for you.'

'For me! How could you tell I should like it?'

'Oh, very simply. You are a very transparent man.'

'But how did you find out I should like such a hat?'

'Well, you know that there are two kinds of ways of looking at a
picture. The man who has a good eye for drawing looks at a picture bit
by bit. The man who has a good eye for colour looks at the picture
vaguely. You looked at the pictures here vaguely. Then I knew you had
colour. My portrait has never been painted; but they tell me when I
wear this hat I am a painting after one Giovanni Bellini, in Venice.
Bellini's colour is always right; so a good copy of his ought to be
right. I always have a hat like this with me, and when I want to be
peculiarly killing I put it on. Does that explain all?'

'May I ask why you wish to be particularly--' He paused. He did not
like to use her own word, and he did not like to rebuke her by using
another.

'Killing to-day.' She finished the sentence for him. 'Because I am
going out with a very handsome man, and I hate playing second fiddle.'

She had taken his breath away, and he stared at her in silent wonder.
What was she really? There was one obvious answer--the most beautiful
woman he had ever seen.

'Come,' she said, briskly, 'we are losing time, and I am in a hurry to
be there.'

When they got out, she took his arm without his offering it. After a
while she stopped at the window of a furniture shop, to admire a
sideboard.

'What a beautiful sideboard!' she exclaimed.

'Yes,' he said, 'it is very handsome.'

'And what a beautiful pair!'

'Pair of what?'

'Of human beings in the glass.'

He raised his eyes and saw the reflection of a tall, squarely-made,
light-haired man, with square-cut face and pale, broad forehead, and
by the man's side a tall, beautiful woman, after the Giovanni Bellini.

'Are you always so candid, Miss Gordon?' he asked, gravely.

'Yes,' she answered. 'It saves time, and it keeps men from making love
or being impertinent. I have been a good deal about, and no man has
ever dared to be impertinent to me. If you like, I'll tell you now all
about myself; where and when I was born, where I have spent my time,
how I was brought up, how I was educated, all about my family and
fortune, my likes and dislikes, and my love-secrets.'

Once more he stared at her. There was something confounding in finding
one's-self so close to such a spirit in such a body. Mentally he drew
back from her. That a young and beautiful woman such as she should
offer to him, an utter stranger, the record of her inner thought, was
distressing. Not for all the world would he lift a corner of the veil.
This was a new power of torture. It was distressing to think that girl
by his side was willing at any moment to throw aside the padding and
expose to his view the bare skeleton of her individuality.

He answered, 'I am not at all, not in the least, curious.'

'Then why, if you are not in the least curious, did you ask me if I
was always so candid?'

This puzzled him. He did not know what to say. He looked at her and
smiled vacantly.

She saw his predicament, and said, in her offhand way,--

'Well, there, don't bother to answer; I am not in the least curious.'

There was a long pause. She broke it with,--

'Do you know, I can be awfully well-behaved when I like.'

'I am sure you are always well-behaved,' he said, warmly.

'Oh, but I mean stupid, and dull, and proper, like you.'

He smiled a little sadly and said nothing.

'Oh, but I can; and I mean to be stupid, and dull, and proper, like
you all day.'

'Why?' he asked, looking in perplexity at her.

'Same reason as for the hat; because you are stupid, and dull, and
proper, and I hate to play second fiddle.'

They walked on in silence until they arrived at the cathedral.

'Service is going on,' said Osborne, in the porch. 'Would you like to
attend portion of it?'

'No. Take me round and let me look at the shops. I do not go to
church.'

'You are a Roman Catholic, no doubt?'

'No. I was brought up in the Church of England; but I have given up
going to church. I am not profane enough to treat the service as a
spectacle or a musical performance, and I am not sincere enough to
treat it on higher grounds.'

'I am exceedingly sorry to hear you say so.'

'I have worn off most of my faith with travel and change.'

'Then I would recommend you to rest from travel and change until your
faith comes back again.' He had paused and was looking down earnestly
into her face.

An accent of solicitude in the man's voice arrested the girl's
attention. For the first time her face was turned to his without a
smile, and she looked up gravely to him. She spoke, after a short
pause,--

'What you say interests me more than you might think, for I am not
nearly so happy or quiet in my mind as when I went--' she pointed to
the cathedral, in the shadow of which they were standing.

'Nor will you ever be. So long as we are in the great hurry and bustle
of life, we do not feel the necessity strong upon us. But each one of
us has to go out of life alone. That is the terrible thought--alone.
The future is of the utmost consequence to us. It can be made as valid
a certainty as this great church under which we stand. Look up, and
think of that church alone. That noble pile is the symbol of a
nation's faith. All over the world St Paul's is known. It is the
loftiest point in all these miles that make up London. Four millions
of Christian men and women are clustered round its feet, draw breath
and kneel in worship in sight of its cross. This is the greatest
church built by the most practical race. When we consider that the
most practical race on earth built this monument of faith, the opinion
of the individual ought to be hushed before such a proof of devotion.
Sceptics, scientists, and voluptuaries may rail as they will, there is
the great fact hung by our nation between London and heaven.' He had
forgotten whom he was speaking to. He looked down, coloured quickly,
and said,--'I beg your pardon, Miss Gordon; I forgot you wished to see
the shops. Let us go.'

She did not move. She was looking up with a new sweet gravity in her
face.

'I don't care about the shops. The things are all faded. Let us walk
round the cathedral; I want to have a good look at it.'

The expression of her face changed. She sighed, and a soft light of
hopefulness came into her eyes. It was a quiet light, like the morning
light in a wood.

'You look your loveliest now,' he said. He thought,--'Mad or drunk, or
mad and drunk, what can I do?'

'You will take me round the cathedral?'

'Yes, when the service is over.'

'And you will tell me all about it?'

'Yes, as far as I know,' he answered. 'Mad or drunk, no matter which,'
he thought.

'And you will treat me as a woman capable of respecting things that
deserve respect?'

'Certainly.' He was not paying attention to what she was saying,
his whole being was centred upon what she was looking. Mentally he
said,--'Drunk or mad, or--love? No matter!'

'Fools have made me flippant,' she said.

'And nature has made you divine.'

'Mr Osborne?'

'Yes.'

'Suppose I made up my mind to take a rest, and think seriously of
serious things, would you advise me to settle in the country or town?'

He stopped suddenly, raised his right arm, and made a slow gesture
round. 'What place can you find better than here?' Throwing up his arm
to its full height from his shoulder, he added,--'Under St Paul's?'



                             CHAPTER IV.

                            'OH, PERHAPS.'


'O'CONNOR, you are to do my hair plain to-day,' said the mistress
dreamily, as she sat before her glass.

'Plain, miss! Plain!' exclaimed the maid, in astonishment. 'Are you
going to sit in your room all day?'

'No. I am going down to breakfast, and after breakfast I am going to
see Westminster Abbey,' said Miss Gordon, with a sigh. 'I will wear my
light-blue silk.

O'Connor groaned.

'And my pearl-grey hat with the blue feathers.'

O'Connor sat down and looked uneasily at her mistress. After a few
seconds she asked,--

'And wouldn't you like to put green paint on your eyebrows and a blue
stripe down your nose?'

'Come, O'Connor, and do my hair, or I shall be late.'

'I'll have no hand, act, or part in it,' said the maid quietly, as she
folded her arms and stared with scrupulous sincerity at the window.

'Come at once, I say, O'Connor; no more nonsense. You really must
learn to do what I tell you at once, or you and I shall part.'

For a moment the maid remained immoveable. Suddenly she rose to her
feet, turned round, and placed herself between her mistress and the
glass, and said excitedly,--

'I often helped to make you look what you are--the loveliest lady I
ever saw. And I will not now help you to make a fool of yourself. You
know your hair plain does not suit you; you know that dress you never
wore, for it does not suit you; you know that hat only made you laugh
when you put it on. You can dress as you like and do your hair as you
like; but if you think I'll do what you say, you're mistaken.'

'O'Connor, I will have no more of your impertinent nonsense. Do what I
tell you!'

'Is that the way you treat me after all I've done for you? Give me
what you owe me and I'll go back to Cork.'

'Leave the room at once!' cried Miss Gordon excitedly.

'Not till you give me my money,' replied the girl vehemently, at the
same time holding out her hand.

'Leave the room, I say, at once. How dare you stay when I tell you to
go?'

'I am waiting for my money. I want to go back to Cork before you
disgrace me.'

'O'Connor, I will take no further notice of you. Your conduct is
unpardonable. Go, or I shall have to ring the bell.'

'Ring the bell! Ring the bell! Is that what you say after all I've
done and suffered for you, and all the outlandish victuals I have
eaten, and all the outlandish gibberishes I have listened to--is that
my thanks?'

'If you don't go at once, I'll ring.'

'Pay me my money and I'll go.'

Miss Gordon rose and went towards the bell.

'Pay me my money, or I'll call in the police.'

Miss Gordon rang the bell.

All at once the manner of the maid changed. Her lips trembled, she put
her hand before her face, walked towards the door, and left the room
sobbing.

The chambermaid appeared in a few minutes. To her Miss Gordon said,--

'I shall be late for the table d'hôte breakfast. Get me a little for
myself in about three-quarters of an hour.'

When the chambermaid came down to the kitchen she found Judith
O'Connor moving about the place restlessly.

'What did my mistress ring for?' asked Judith.

'To say she'd want breakfast for herself in three-quarters of an
hour.'

'She did not say anything else?'

'No.'

Judith sat down and sighed. In a few moments she said to the
chambermaid,--

'Isn't my missis beautiful?'

'She is.'

'The most beautiful lady you ever saw here?'

'We've had no one so good-looking lately.'

'You never had,' said Judith firmly.

'Oh yes; there's Mrs Loftus.'

'Yes, I know what Mrs Loftus is like, all frills and tuckers, and
frizzed hair and paint.'

'Mrs Loftus didn't wear frills or tuckers; she wears her hair flat:
and as to paint, well, I never saw any sign of it about her. Did you?'

'No; and I don't want to see Mrs Loftus, or any other missis but my
own. Mrs Loftus may be a very handsome lady--and I am sure she is when
you say it--but there isn't a finer missis in all England than mine.'

'How do you mean? Mrs Barclay is as good a missis as any servant could
have.'

'Yes; but my missis doesn't know she's a missis at all.'

As Miss Gordon had predicted, she was late for breakfast that morning.
All the guests had left the table, and Mrs Barclay had risen and gone
out of the room. Two gentlemen were seated on the couch farthest from
the table, looking at newspapers. As Miss Gordon entered, each lowered
his newspaper, looked at the girl for a moment, and resumed reading
without breaking silence. One was the solid-looking gentleman, the
other George Osborne. The light in the room was dull.

Miss Gordon, too, kept silence. Her breakfast was soon over; she rose
and left the room. In a few minutes the solid-looking man went out
also, and George Osborne was left to himself. He looked at the clock
on the chimney-piece. He looked at his watch. He put away _The Times_,
and walked slowly up and down the room.

He sat down, took up _The Times_ again, and thought resolutely to
himself,--'I'll read a column, and make myself think of it. That will
pass away the minutes until she comes. It is sickening to be looking
at the door every time it opens, and see the way blocked by
commonplace people seeking something or other, or expressing wonder as
to what they shall have for dinner.'

The door opened twice, but he kept his resolution. It was hard to be
obliged to look down at this white sheet and these dark words, and try
to fix the mind on the dreary drone of a leading article, when raising
the eyes might reveal to him a feast of colour and a charm of grace
that would make the heart rich and life a poem.

The door opened a third time. A light, swift footstep approached where
he sat. He deliberately waited to finish reading the sentence before
looking up. He had been in haste as long as there was doubt; now that
he was certain he delayed. He had been a poor man, anxiously expecting
wealth; now he was opulent, and squandered recklessly to convince
himself his fortune was real. He could feel the beauty of her presence
surrounding him and intoxicating him.

The moment he raised his eyes he started to his feet with an
exclamation of displeased surprise.

'Miss Gordon! Miss Gordon, pray excuse me! I did not recognise you
until now. You have altered your appearance so--'

'So much for the worse,' she concluded the sentence, smiling.

'Well, I cannot say I see an improvement.'

'I did not intend you should think it an improvement.'

'Why?' he asked, contracting his brows, and looking at her in a
puzzled way. 'You said yesterday you wanted to look your best; you say
you do not want to look your best to-day, although--' He paused.

She added,--' Although I am going out with you to-day also. Well, I
have altered my mind since. I am jealous of that hat and dress and
tunic. You did nothing yesterday but stare at my hat.'

'Miss Gordon--'

'Silence! You did nothing, I say, yesterday, but stare at my hat, and
I won't have that. I have put on all the most hideous things in my
baggage, to see if you will give poor me a look to-day.'

'I not look at _you?_' he cried. 'What do you mean?'

He did not know what he meant by asking this question. He did not care
what he meant. He meant nothing at all, but to look at that warm young
face now, and lose his mind in the alluring depths of those dark soft
eyes.

'Mad or drunk or love,' he thought. 'God keep me thus a little while,
and I shall die content.'

'What are you looking at now?' she asked.

'At you,' he answered.

'Ah,' she laughed,' is this to compensate for your neglect yesterday?'

'It would compensate me,' he said, 'for a whole life of labour and
pain.'

'Let us go,' she said, 'or you will be proposing to me, and I am weary
of that kind of thing--that is, unless you have a great novelty. I am
glad you intend to be better behaved to-day than yesterday, and give
_me_ some of your attention. But do you know even to-day you have not
said good-morning to me? I change my dress and do up my hair in a
different way from yesterday, and when I come down to breakfast you do
not know me. Then when you do recognise me, you do not even hold out
your hand and say good-morning. Ah, it is all very well when I remind
you of it,' she added, placing her hand in his.

Why, why was she flippant when he wanted to be calm and quiet, or rash
and mad--anything but flippant? Why did she undo the spell of her
beauty by the triviality of her words and ways? Such words and ways
profaned the sanctuary of her loveliness as riot would a church. He
not take her hand! If he dared, he would hold it and place it on his
breast, and cover it with both his hands, and cherish it there for
ever. Or cherish it until he could no longer hold it, but let it go to
clasp that marvel to his breast, and cry into her ear the passion that
shook him.

She took her hand away and said briskly,--

'I think it's time for us to go if we are to walk along the Embankment
and do the Abbey.'

They left Mrs Barclay's and moved south.

'Mind,' she said, as she took his arm and they turned out of Peter's
Row, 'I am not going to be dull and stupid and proper to-day, like
you.'

'Why not to-day?' he asked, with a weary smile. This struggle was
trying.

'It is only when I wear my prettiest things I can afford to be proper.
You can't expect me to be a guy and a frump at the same time. It's not
reasonable of you to expect that of me.'

'I assure you I do not expect it of you.'

'Then what _do_ you expect of me?'

'A little mercy,' he said, looking gravely, sadly at her.

'Well, let us have a truce. It won't last long, I know. Tell me, which
do you prefer me, as a guy or a frump?'

'I have not thought of it.'

'Look and think, and tell me.'

'I think I prefer the grey sober style of yesterday.'

'And the hat?'

'And the Bellini hat.'

'Do you intend taking me out to see any tombs or vaults, or crypts or
catacombs, or anything lively tomorrow?'

'You will make me very happy if you will let me.'

'Very good. I want to try another experiment.'

'With what view?' he asked wearily.

'With a view to getting your opinion. You are the only poet I ever
met, and I am curious to know what poets think.'

'You have already got more than my opinion; you have got all my--'

'What!' she exclaimed, interrupting him. 'On the Thames Embankment,
before luncheon, and with the thermometer at ten degrees of frost! I
never heard of such a thing. As you are a poet I'll forgive you this
time. But the next time you want to say anything pretty or sentimental
to me, be more careful. You are a poet, and ought to know you should
not make love except when the birds are singing and the flowers
blowing. The only thing that's blowing here is the east wind and the
penny steamer. For shame, sir!'

'But when the flowers have come, you will have gone away?'

Silence.

'You will have gone away, Miss Gordon?'

Silence.

'Will you not?'

'Oh, perhaps.'



                              CHAPTER V.

                  FROM WESTMINSTER TO THE CRITERION.


'Is not coming in here,' he whispered to her, when they had been a few
minutes in the Abbey, 'like listening to a prayer for man that must be
heard.'

'Yes,' she whispered back; 'it may be heard, but it can't be seen. Why
don't they clean the windows?'

'It is, you know, the spirit of the Gothic to be gloomy. You, of
course, also know the gloom is increased by the legends on the glass,'
he whispered.

He had never whispered to her, nor she to him, before. What new
delight lurked in these whispers? It was that she or he was for the
first time deliberately limiting to one what the other had to say. He
was speaking to her, and to her only; she to him, and to him only, as
though they had gone out of the general bustle of a ballroom into the
seclusion of a grotto.

'But,' she said, 'it was all very well for folk of the dark ages to
keep out the light with tall gawky windows and stained glass. They
could not read, and they had no costumes worth looking at. If I were
at the head of affairs here, I should take down all this blinking,
blinking glass, widen the windows, and let plenty of the wholesome
sunlight in.'

He said nothing. He turned away and sighed. What she would sweep away
he would guard with his life. The poetry, the romance, the depth of
historical tone, were indebted for much to the narrow high windows and
dim light. He and she were not getting on nearly as pleasantly as they
might in that grotto of whispers. How sadly different to-day was from
yesterday! She had been then so silent and unobtrusive. She had let
him talk to her in St Paul's as he loved best to talk, as he had
talked to his mother and sisters often, but never until that day to
any strange woman.

'I know it's not poetical. I am not a bit poetical, although I like to
hear a poet talk, for I think one should know all the weaknesses of
human nature. Don't you agree with me?'

'Yes,' he said; 'certainly.' 'So poetry is a weakness of human nature
to her mind,' he thought bitterly. 'Poetry, the perfume of earth, the
odour that sanctifies man; poetry, which is at the base of every noble
emotion in human nature; and this poetry a weakness of human nature! I
am sorry I came out with her to-day.'

'Mr Osborne.'

He looked down. Her face was turned up to his. His eyes met hers.

'And what place on all earth could I choose, if not that by her side?'
he asked himself helplessly. Aloud he said merely, 'Yes.'

'You are not nearly so amusing as yesterday. If you keep on this
dreary, woebegone look, I shall walk away and leave you to your
musings. Why are you so silent?'

'I have a different audience to-day, and I am not clever enough for
it.'

'I don't want you to be clever. I hate clever men. They are always too
stuck-up and smart. You're not a bit clever.'

'I really don't know what to say or do. This is not a good place to
discuss such subjects. Shall we leave, and talk the matter over as we
walk round the Abbey?'

'No, no. I want to go over this place with you. We will drop that
subject if you wish, and stay here. Tell me about the place.'

'I don't know what to say. I am afraid I shall not find anything
likely to please you.'

'I don't want you to talk with a view to pleasing me. I hate a man who
does. I want you to say things that I shall demolish.'

'What am I to speak of?'

'This place. Tell me what was your first feeling on coming in.'

'I thought I should like to have been born in the time of the Medicis,
when there were only two thoughts in days of peace--religion and the
arts.'

'Do you mean you would like to have been born under the Medicis, in
Italy?'

'Yes; in Florence or Venice. Venice by preference.'

'But the religion of Venice was not the religion you now hold.'

'No; but it was the best religion of those days; and if I had lived
and died then, I should most likely never have felt any perplexity.'

'Oh, then you have felt perplexities?'

'Yes, now and then. Not in essentials, but in small matters; and
perplexities of this kind wear one down.'

She looked at him with scornful compassion for a few seconds, and then
said,--

'You are very young; you are no more than fourteen or fifteen. I can
see what your fate will be.'

'Can you? What?'

'Rome.'

He looked at her with quick trouble in his eyes.

'I have often wondered if there is any danger of that.'

'As sure as your name is George Osborne, that is what your fate will
be.'

He shrank back from her.

'I think I should rather die,' he whispered, 'than desert the pure
simple faith I was brought up in.'

'Then,' she said, with a bright smile, 'it will be with you as it was
with the Italian patriots, a case of _Roma o morte_.'

She sang the last words under her breath, to the air of the 'Inno
Nazionale.'

He looked around in horror, to ascertain if anyone had heard her. No
one was near.

'Pray, Miss Gordon, don't sing. The people here have great ideas of
the sanctity of this place, and anything like a profanation would be
badly received.'

'Then take me away from this place. I am not good enough to be here.'

He looked down at her. The expression of alarm and reproach faded from
his eyes, to be succeeded by one of wonder, followed by that yearning
regard of unperfected love. When he spoke, his voice was thick.

'You not good enough to be here that are beautiful enough for heaven!'

'Come,' she said, archly, 'if I may not sing, you shall not bow down
and worship a graven image here. I have had plenty of heavy matters;
and as for compliments, he must be a very original man who pays me one
I have not had already. I see a lot of names I know about here. Is
this the Poets' Corner?'

He shook himself, and glanced to either side.

'Yes, this is the Poets' Corner.'

'I daresay it is not the only corner the poets were ever in.'

'I think it is. I do not know that they were buried elsewhere, and
have been shifted to this place.'

She looked and shook her head at him, and sighed comically.

'Now,' she said, 'what name of all those here do you think most of?'

'Edmund Spenser.'

'Have you read the "Faerie Queene" right through?'

'Not quite through, but almost.'

'I can't bear him.'

'Can't bear Spenser! Why, he is one of the richest poets of all! He is
the laureate of the forest. I am astonished to hear you say you don't
like Spenser.'

'The allegory is killing.'

'Do you think so? His handling of it is masterful.'

'Well, I don't think so, that's all.'

'You remember what you said yesterday about resting from travel for
awhile, and giving your mind to serious matters?'

'Yes, but to-day I am not quite sure of it.'

He looked at her wistfully, painfully.

She turned away from him.

'Has my staying or going anything to do with the Poets' Corner or the
tomb of Spenser?'

'It recalls a favourite stanza at the end of the first book, which is
the legend of the "Knight of the Red Cross, or Holiness." It runs:
"Now strike your sails, ye jolly mariners, for we be come unto a quiet
road, where we must land some of our passengers, and light this weary
vessel of her load. Here she awhile may make her safe abode, till she
repaired have her tackles spent and wants supplied; and then again
abroad on the long voyage whereto she is bent; well may she speed and
finish her intent!" The ashes of the man who, three hundred years ago,
wrote the lines that figure forth your spiritual position of to-day
lie here. Three centuries he is behind the Great Veil. He says
himself; "But after death the trial is to come when best shall be to
them that lived best." Three centuries ago he foreshadowed the
position you stand in to-day. Three centuries ago he foreshadowed more
than this; he foreshadowed the charms of a woman, and sang: "Upon her
eyelids many graces sate, under the shadow of her even brows." He knew
of other things too--sweet things. He tells us, "Sweet is the love
that comes alone with willingness?" Do you believe in this sweet love
that comes alone with willingness?' She shook her head archly, looked
up and whispered,--

'This is not a good place to discuss such subjects. Shall we go out
and talk the matter over as we walk round the Abbey?'

His face, which had been flushed, grew grey and sad.

'Will you laugh at everything, Miss Gordon?'

'Yes, until someone convinces me of the value of tears.'

He turned away.

'Come,' he said, 'I have never been here before; but you find the
place dull, this sanctuary for memories, this incense of worship. Come
away.'

'I am not so much tired of the place as of the guide.'

'Then by all means let us go back. I am most unfortunate if I am the
cause of dulness in you; for I am sure, under average circumstances,
you could not fail to be interested in this place. Let us go back, I
beg.'

She dropped her brows slightly over her eyes and looked fixedly at him
for awhile.

'What new surprise and disappointment are in store for me?' he
thought. 'What unexpected onslaught is she going to make on my esteem
for her? How beautiful she is in this unbecoming wear! fine feathers
may make fine birds, but plain ones cannot mar her.'

'Are you hungry?' she asked, still keeping her careful eyes upon him.

He started. Had she, with her wonderful sharpness, seen some shadow on
his face, betraying a want of which he was unconscious? Most
marvellous of women! What keen penetration! He said,--

'May I ask you why?'

'Because your reply interests me.'

'In what way?'

He looked confounded. How on earth could it matter to her whether he
was or was not hungry?

'Because I am. I am tired of tombs and sermons. Come away, get a
hansom, and take me to the Criterion and give me a cosy luncheon. I am
tired of graves. Do, please.'

She said this in a low, rich, tender, pleading voice.

Suddenly a smile came over his face.

'The first smile to-day,' she murmured complainingly; 'and that
because I have told him I am hungry!' with a shadowy smile.

'No,' he answered; 'but because physical causes have broken down the
hardness of your manner, and restored your womanhood.'

'And,' she asked, turning weary eyes upon him,' do you think nothing
but physical causes could break down the hardness of my manner and
restore my womanhood?'

'Mad and drunk, and love though it is,' he thought, 'I cannot take her
in my arms here.' He said, 'I do not know. What do you think?'

'I am not at present capable of thought. It is half-past two, and I am
desperately hungry; that is all I am sure of now, as far as my
thoughts go.'

Nothing more was said until they had got into the open air.

'Ah,' she sighed, 'what a relief!'

'But, though you have got out of the church, you still have the gloomy
spectre by your side.'

'Yes, but you look quite jovial in the air compared to the figure you
cut as expounder of monumental jokes. Then, too, you have undertaken,
I infer (you were as careful as a lawyer not to commit yourself to
words) you have undertaken to give me a luncheon in a cheerful place.
As with you, this is my first visit to London; and although I have not
seen the Criterion, from what I have heard, I have formed the
conclusion it bears little or no resemblance to Westminster Abbey.'

'I wish you were always as you now are,' he said, as he handed her
into the hansom.

'What!' she cried, in amazement, 'famished?'

'No,' he answered. 'I mean in your present semi-serious,
non-aggressive humour.'

'But would it not be enough for you if I kept my temper for the few
hours we shall be together?'

'No.'

He was looking fixedly at her, and she demurely at him, as they drove
rapidly up Whitehall.

'Why?'

'I cannot tell you that now.'

'But perhaps I may never come out with you again.'

'Then I shall keep my secret as an inducement to make you come.'

'What! Could you tolerate me again?'

'Again! Again! Ay, for ever and ever!'

'Mr Osborne!'

'I know! I know! But what can I do? I know I never met you until a few
days ago. But what good is that to me? I cannot help myself! will you
help me?'

'How can I help you?'

'By telling me you are not offended.'

'I am not offended.'

'And by permitting me to hope you will let me renew this subject on a
more fitting occasion.'

'In an omnibus, or on the saloon deck of a penny steamboat?'

'For God's sake don't laugh at me, Miss Gordon!'

Above the noise of the traffic her ear caught something in his voice
that made her start and raise her eyes. She held out her hand to him
frankly, and said,--

'No, Mr Osborne, I will not laugh at you. I have been very
thoughtless. And you are not to say anything more to me of this
subject for awhile.'

'How long?'

'A month.'

'And during that month you will stay where you are now staying, and
you will let me see you often, and be with you, and speak to you, and
hear of you, and hear you, and touch your hand--now and then?'

'Yes.'

'And do you think there is likely to be any reason for hope?'

'Now,' she said, 'the subject is closed for a month. Let it rest. The
cab has stopped. This must be the Criterion.'



                             CHAPTER VI.

                          AT THE CRITERION.


Osborne helped his companion out of the hansom, and took the number of
it, and paid the driver. When they turned their backs upon the street
and walked towards the hall, he offered her his arm. She took it, with
a quiet smile, remarking, while she kept her eyes fixed upon the
causeway,--

'Only yesterday you were displeased when I took your arm, and now you
offer it quickly.'

'But there is a great difference between this day and yesterday.'

'Do you really think so? Well, I did not notice it; but now you call
my attention to it, I do think it is colder.'

He drew up, and looked reproachfully into her face.

'Miss Gordon, you promised not to laugh at me.'

'And you promised to say nothing more of what has passed for a month.'

At that moment the driver of the cab stood in front of Osborne, and
dropping the brass butt of his whip within an inch of Osborne's toes,
said, in a tone of insolent menace, 'No, you don't, my blooming lad!
No,_you_ don't!'

'What is the matter? Get out of the way;' quietly, firmly.

'No, I won't! Why did you take the number of my cab?'

'That is my own affair,' answered Osborne, growing confused and
crimson.

A crowd collected, and two policemen were sailing slowly down upon the
scene.

'It's something of my affair as well,' said the driver vehemently.
'I'm not a-going to be hauled up for any of your tricks and plants.
I'm only a poor man, and it isn't right and just. Pay me my honest
fare.'

'I shall give you no more,' said Osborne, becoming still more
confused.

'What is wrong?' asked a man of the driver.

'I took him and the lady up at Broad Sanctuary,' explained the driver
to the crowd; 'and I drove them here, and he takes the number of my
cab, and slips a sovereign into my hand, and walks away without asking
for his change.' He held out his open hand with the yellow sovereign
shining in the middle of his dirty palm like the sun through a London
fog. 'But I know his game. He wants me to drive off, and then he'd
have me lagged for his blooming change; and I with a wife and family
of children looking to me!'

'Shame!' cried the crowd.

'I intended the sovereign for you,' said Osborne, more composedly.
'Please let me pass.'

'Oh, did you, sir? Thank you, sir,' said the man, touching his hat to
Osborne and Miss Gordon. 'Much obliged to you, and I'll drink the
lady's health and your own.' He backed to his cab, looked at them as
they entered the hall, and said confidentially to the off-wheel, 'You
don't often pick up a fare like that about the Abbey. You get your
half-crown, and maybe a crown now and then. I didn't see they was
spoons at first. I'm not half sharp enough for picking up a living in
this world, I ain't. You never know what luck you are going to get out
of the railway stations; but out of the Abbey a sovereign for a
shilling! Well, I'm blowed!'

When they were in the vestibule Miss Gordon turned to Osborne, and
said,--

'Why did you take that man's number, and why did you give him a
sovereign?'

'You told me the other evening I was a poet. I mean to try to be a
poet now and then; and the first thing I shall write will be "A Sonnet
to Hansom Cab No. 1136." Does that answer both questions?'

'Yes; but the sovereign was extravagant.

'But poets are never prudent; and when a poet falls in--'

'A hansom.'

They had gained the dining-room and sat down.

'When a poet falls in a hansom, why, you cannot expect him to peddle
like a second-hand-clothes dealer.'

'Still I think the sovereign too much. How much a year have you?'

'About fifteen hundred, out of money recently left me,' he answered.
He thought: 'What other girl in all the world would ask a man such a
question under the circumstances?'

'Oh, I did not think you had so much! A bachelor with fifteen hundred
a year ought not to wear such clumsy clothes and such long hair. You
must get your hair shortened, wear a dark-blue frock-coat made by a
good man, and an Oxford-blue tie. Blue suits you. I don't insist on
patent-leather boots and gaiters, but they make an improvement. Your
dress and hair led me to think you had not more than four or five
hundred a year. You'd look very well in evening dress. All you
light-bearded, high-foreheaded, square-faced, light-haired men look
well in evening dress. My horror is a dark man--a man with black hair,
a low forehead, heavy eyebrows, and black hair all over his face--in
an open waistcoat and tailed coat. He looks as if the black of his
coat had crawled up his poll and run down his face.'

'Will you have some potato?'

'No, thank you. I never eat potato with sole. The idea is barbarous.
Have you never observed that potato and sole are very like in
flavour? They are, and the idea of drowning two delicate flavours in
one another is atrocious. It would be like helping seakale and
vegetable-marrow as fish and vegetable. The art of eating is in its
infancy.'

There was a long silence,

'All the world is made of my joy,' thought Osborne. 'This great room,
these bright tables, these polite waiters--all are made of my joy. My
joy lifts the desolation of winter from the land, and floods the world
with the warm level sunshine of evening. My joy, my glory, my fate, my
love! My Jove! What were all the argosies of Hamburg or of Venice
compared to you? What are all the riches of London compared to you?
The value of riches is in spending them; this joy I have neither
diminishes nor changes. It builds heavens above the skies, and
glorifies the sordid things of earth.'

'Are you aware you are attracting a good deal of attention towards
us?' she asked, breaking in suddenly on his thoughts.

'Good gracious, no! How?' he exclaimed, in great discomfiture.

'By staring at me in that way.'

'I beg your pardon. I am sorry. Pray forgive me?'

'I do not mind it in the least. I am used to being stared at, and
don't mind it a bit; but I thought you would not like it.'

'I am very much obliged to you for telling me. I promise you not to do
it again.'

'Oh, I don't mind it at all! I rather like it.'

'Rather like being stared at, so as to attract the attention of a
common room like this! You are not serious?'

'Perfectly,' she said, with a placid smile.

'But what earthly pleasure can it give you to have a number of eyes
fixed upon you?'

'Did you ever notice that people are disposed to stare at a pretty
woman?'

'Certainly. That goes without saying.'

'When a handsome man and woman, like you and me, are in a public place
like this, people cannot help staring.'

'I wish you would give up saying such things.'

'All I have said is quite true. Well, when there are a good-looking
man and woman in a room like this, and all the people are looking at
them, if the man lifts his head and looks round, all the men drop
their eyes, because they do not wish to displease the man by staring
at his companion; if the woman looks up, all the women drop their
heads, because they do not wish to let her see how they envy her.'

'Envy her! How can you say such an uncharitable thing, Miss Gordon?'
he asked, with an expression of serious disturbance on his face.

'Ah,' she sighed, 'you are very young! Wait until you are as old as I
am, and you will know what I have said is true. You may take my word
for it in the meantime.' She looked lazily around her, and when she
had completed a survey of the room, she said, 'I do feel so much
better than when I was in that chilly Abbey. Don't you?'

'I feel much happier. But you must not hold such very unpleasant views
of your sex. I reverence it, and I must teach you to think as I
think.'

'I wish you could. It is much more pleasant to think well than to
think poorly of people. But what are you to do when you are sure you
are right?'

'Keep your mind still open to conviction.'

'I do. There is no one in the world less bigoted than I.'

'I know very few women. The few I do know are, I am sure, above such a
feeling of vulgar jealousy.'

'I congratulate you if it is so. It may be, perhaps, that you have had
no opportunity of getting at the real character of women. You may not
have been brought close enough to them for a long enough time.'

'I am perfectly sure,' he said gravely; 'you, for instance, are
incapable of such a paltry sentiment.'

'You are quite right. But I am an exception, a very rare exception.'

'And why are you an exception? What is the cause of your being an
exception?'

'Because,' she said, with deliberation, 'the homage of no man has up
to this interested me; and I always feel quite independent of men; and
if I do flirt it is only because I have not an amusing book, or a
liking to play and sing, or fine castles to build in the air.'

He looked at her with pain mingled with astonishment.

'I don't like you to say such things. There is an ungentleness about
them that does not become you. I wish you would adopt a more sober
style. Believe me, all the world cannot be wrong and you right; and
nearly all the world--all the wisdom of the world, at all events--is
against you.'

'But am I to be a hypocrite, or am I to be what I am?'

'You should try to be what you ought to be.'

'Conventional?'

'Well, I would rather see you conventional than as you are.
Conventionalism is the accumulated tradition of vast experience; and
anyone who throws it over runs a great risk of falling into ways he
has no knowledge of, and through which he can find no guide.'

Osborne was scarcely looking at her as he spoke. She was looking at
him intently, with all the faculties of her nature fixed on him.

'Do you know,' she said, 'you are talking awful rubbish? But you look
your best when you maunder.'

He started, coloured, glanced around him hastily, and taking up the
bill of fare, said,--

'I am the worst of caterers, Miss Gordon. What sweet do you like? Will
you look at the bill and select?'

She turned her grave, sweet eyes upon him, and whispered softly,--

'If you please, Mr Osborne, as this must serve for my dinner, I should
like a small piece of joint. I have had only one tiny piece of sole
and a little soup since breakfast, and it's now nearly four o'clock.'

'Good gracious, I must have been dreaming! Waiter!'

'You look very well asleep.'

Osborne said to the waiter, 'Roast beef.'

'When the waiter has brought the beef are you likely to fall asleep
again?'

'I thought you said I talked nonsense.'

'Yes, you did. But I don't mind what you say. I like to look at you
when you talk that kind of rubbish. It's like seeing a panorama to
music. You look at the panorama, and don't mind the music a bit.'

His eyes dwelt on her with a wistful sadness. She was looking like a
woman whose heart would melt at the first touch of enthusiasm or love,
and she was talking like a machine. How was this? What could it mean?
What could cause the antagonism between the spirit in the eyes and the
spirit in the words?

He shook his head sadly, and was silent awhile. She spoke again,--

'You told me you had sisters: how many?'

'Two,' he answered wearily, keeping his glance on the cloth. He
thought, 'How different they are from you! How shocked they would be
to see any girl act and speak as you do! And yet--and yet I--I have
asked this woman to be my wife, and in a month I shall know whether
she will or not! They never could endure her. They would not walk with
her, or sit with her. They would be horrified at every trait in her
character. What am I doing? What have I done? Two days ago I told
myself I did not want her or her love, and I have proposed to her
to-day! What is the matter with me? I used to be a firm man; now I am
as fickle as the wind. Perhaps she will refuse me after all. There is
one thing certain, whether I marry her or not, I can never introduce
her at home.'

'Busy on that sonnet to No. 1136?'

He raised his face quickly. She was smiling gently, confidentially at
him. This 1136 was a lover's joke, a lover's secret, the first of the
kind he had ever had. What a warmth ran through all his nature, at the
thought of having a secret with the owner of that soft figure, the
owner of that beautiful face, and with the spirit of those dark eyes!
They two, she and he, intimate already; bound round by a secret;
separated from all the rest of the world by a trivial secret! They two
in the innermost bowers of personality! What affluence and prodigality
of happiness! What rich tumult! What bewildering joy!

'Ah,' he said, looking at her with eyes dancing with happiness, 'I
must think of that sonnet.'

'But were you not thinking of it when I spoke?'

'No.'

'Pray, of what were you thinking behind that gloomy face?'

'I was thinking of my sisters.'

'Are they so very, very dreadful, that when you think of them you must
look like a bankrupt gambler coming from the gaming-table?'

'No. They are considered good-looking. Miss Gordon--'

'You must not say that.'

'What?'

'What you were going to say. I saw it on your face, and you have
promised not to speak of the matter for a month. I want to talk to you
about your sisters. Are they like you?'

'Kate, the elder, is like me.'

'Fair and handsome?'

'She is fair.'

'How old is she?'

'Twenty-four.'

'Ah, my age! And what is your other sister like?'

'Alice is dark.'

The girl paused awhile and kept her eyes fixed on the table. She
raised her finger for his attention, and said, 'I shall be a month in
London. I don't like any of the women at Mrs Barclay's. I am not
likely to like any of them. The probability is, no chance arrival will
be better than the set now there. Write to-night and ask your sister
Kate up for a month.' She raised her eyes to his and looked into his
face.

He was in dismay. 'She--she would not come!' he cried hastily.

'Why?'

'I know she would not come. She has been more home-staying than I.'

'All the more reason why she should come up now. You don't intend
keeping her in a place like Stratford all her life?'

'There would not be the least use in my asking her.'

'You decline to write?'

'I know it would be in vain.'

'Then I will write to-night to her, asking her to come up and stay
with me.'

'You, Miss Gordon! You! You would not dream of doing such a thing!'
cried Osborne, in terror.

'I'm not a poet, and I never dream except in sleep. If you will not
write for your sister to-night, I will.'

'But what would she think of it? She would not come. Of course she
would not leave home.'

'I shall try. Once I have fully decided upon anything I never bother
about detail.'

'If you do this I should be greatly displeased; I, who want to be so
close a friend of yours.'

'Then why do you refuse so small a favour? It is my _first_ request.'
She uttered the latter sentence with her eyes turned into his, and all
the beauty of her face gathered into a smile for him. She laid an
emphasis on the word _first_. Oh, delicious significance of that
emphasis! It meant that other requests were to follow. Requests of her
to him now would mean hope. Think of having the right to hold her for
ever to his breast. What a hope! She was giving him encouragement.
There could be no doubt that, by asking him for favours and wishing to
know his sister, she did not intend to treat his suit lightly. If he
finally declined to write, and she wrote, his mother and sisters would
not hear her name mentioned again; they would be cruelly shocked. What
had he been thinking a while ago about his sisters and her? Never mind
now. Who could look at that face and see that smile and hear that
voice asking for a _first_ favour and deny it? He spoke,--

'Even if I do write I am almost sure she will not come.'

'But you must write in a way that will leave no option. Your mother
will not object.'

'If I fail?'

'You must not fail. You must not fail to obtain the first favour I
ask. Promise me you will succeed.'

'I will do my best'

'Now pay the bill and let us go.'

As he was handing her into a hansom,' he said, 'May I ask you why you
are so anxious my sister should come up?'

'That is my affair,' she whispered to him, as she curled herself up
daintily in the corner.



                             CHAPTER VII.

                    FROM STRATFORD TO PETER'S ROW.


'I am sure, mother, I cannot understand what he wants of me in London.
He knows I do not like going about, and the idea of living in a hotel
is hateful. What can he want of me?'

On the round, pale, sweet face of the girl there was a look of
perplexity and pain as she raised her soft hazel eyes to her mother's,
when Mrs Osborne had finished reading the letter addressed by her son
to her daughter Kate.

'My dear Kate,' said the stout, silver-haired matron, laying down her
gold-rimmed spectacles on the open page of her son's letter, and
fixing her mild, contented eyes on her elder daughter, 'we know George
has always good reasons for what he does and says, and I think we need
not fear he is wrong in this case. He says he wants you in London very
particularly, and no doubt he does. Now, if he wants you very
particularly, of course you will go.'

'But, mother, I do not like to go. I'd much rather not. What can he
want me for?'

The old woman took up the letter and spectacles again, set her
spectacles on her nose, and read the letter from beginning to end.
When she had finished she sat silent awhile, swinging her spectacles
with one hand and keeping the letter open on the table before her with
the other.

'He does not,' she said, 'give any reason for his wishing you to go to
London; but, no doubt, Kate, he feels lonely and strange in that great
place where he has no friends, and it may be he wants to give the
place a look of home by having you with him. George is a good son and
a good brother; and when we were not nearly so well off as we are now,
he stood by us and denied himself many luxuries and amusements young
men look for, in order that we might have everything in reason we
could desire. So that altogether, Kate, you ought not to make any
objection to going.'

The soft hazel eyes of the girl were cast down upon the cloth. She
said nothing for a few seconds, and then, in a tone of profound
resignation, only,--

'If I must I must.'

'I wish he had asked me to go,' said Alice, "little Alice" as they
called her. 'I wouldn't say no, or take five minutes to make up my
mind. There's no one spooning me.'

The elder girl blushed and did not raise her eyes.

'Alice,' said Mrs Osborne severely, 'I have forbidden you to speak in
a light manner of such matters. If any gentleman, such as Mr Garvage,
should offer attentions to Kate, that is nothing to be ashamed of in
her or him; for he comes of an honourable family, who have lived at
Chatsley Manor for many generations, and honoured the Church and
supported the State; for they always have been Conservatives--staunch
Conservatives. Alice, you must not. I tell you once for all, you must
not. Attend to me! "Spooning!" What abominable slang! When I was your
age I should as soon have thought of jumping out of the window as of
using such vile language.'

'Kate wouldn't a bit mind jumping out of the window if Mr Garvage was
below.'

'Be silent, Alice! How dare you say such things!'

Kate looked up in distress and said,--

'But I assure you, mother, there is nothing at all in what Alice says.
Mr Garvage has never said anything that a most distant acquaintance
might not say.'

'He carried your umbrella all the way home from church last Sunday,
and he kissed the handle before he gave it back to you.'

'Oh, Alice, how can you say such things! He did not kiss the handle,
mother; he only put it to his lips idly. Alice, you know very well I
do not like Mr Garvage. I have told her so, mother, a hundred times,
and she is speaking of him now only to annoy me.'

'There now, old Kitty, don't get cross with little Alice. Little Alice
won't be naughty any more. Little Alice is sure her big sister will be
delighted to get away to London from the persecutions of Mr Garvage.'

Indeed, mother, you must not mind what Alice says. I am quite
indifferent to Mr Garvage, and he can have nothing to do with my going
or staying.'

'Alice, dear,' said Mrs Osborne, in a tone of rebuke, 'I wish you
would be more collected and staid. Well, Kate, what do you propose
doing?'

'Really I don't see anything for it but to go. I am sure he must have
good reason for asking me.'

'So am I,' said Mrs Osborne.

'Maybe he has met an awfully nice fellow there, Kate,' said the
younger girl, looking up with an expression of infantile simplicity.
'And maybe, Kate, he thought Mr Garvage was not nice enough. I will
say Mr Garvage's feet are against him. Mother, how do you account for
Mr Garvage's feet and hands? You told me Conservatives had always
small feet and hands.'

Mrs Osborne disregarded the last speech of her younger daughter, and,
turning to the elder, asked,--'And when do you think you will be ready
to go? He says he wishes you to stay for a few weeks.'

'In a couple of days. I need not go to Birmingham for what I may want;
I can get them in London.'

'Ah, Kittie,' cried Alice plaintively, 'I wish I was going to London
with you. Think of buying things in London! Kittie, I won't say
another nasty thing to you if you only get George to ask me up next
time. I know you are the elder and ought to go first. But won't you
make him take me? Tell him I am quite reformed, and that I am as
demure as a lamb. If he likes, I'll hold his hand when we go out
together. I have four pounds ten saved up in my workbox, and I know
there are lots of things in London I want   desperately. Kittie, won't
you get him to ask me?'

'I'll try, little Alice,' answered Kate.

The third day from that Kate Osborne was on her way from Stratford to
London. She wondered George had not offered to come for her. She did
not know the fascination which bound him with bands of steel to
London. She disliked travelling alone. She had no desire to see
London. She would have been quite content to live her life on the
banks of the gentle Avon, and sink into her eternal rest soothed
by the soft ripple of the river. She was shy and domestic and
home-loving. She delighted most in calm routine and placid ways. Never
had she wished to  adventure on the troubled waters of life.

George was quiet and home-loving like her, but he had at heart a
speculative turn she did not own. He had always intended going to
London. She had never thought of it, and now she was going against her
inclination. To be among strangers, to be stared at by them, hustled
about by them, was her horror. She did not like to meet people whom
she did not know. A request that anyone might be introduced to her
filled her with uneasiness. And yet here she was now travelling alone
to the city where the most people were gathered under one roof of
smoke, and where there was but one face, George's, she had ever to her
knowledge seen before!

George was at the terminus to meet her. When he had handed her out he
asked her with a smile how she was.

'I am a little frightened, George,' she said timidly, and without an
answering smile.

'By what?' he asked uneasily. He wished his sister to like everything
and every person in London, especially one person, a girl the very
opposite of pale still Kate.

'The idea of being here.'

'That will wear away in a few days, and you will feel as much at home
as at Stratford.'

'Oh, George, never! How can you say such a thing? I hope you have not
already grown to like this place as well as home. It can't be that in
a week you have put this place in the stead of our home?' she asked
pathetically. She loved this brother with all her heart and soul, and
it hurt her to hear him speak so lightly of that home sanctified by so
many memories.

He had, when speaking, thought little of London or home. He had
thought of only one thing, that girl. He had in a few days grown to
like that girl better than anything on earth. In the silent watches of
night, when he was alone, and walked up and down his room, intoxicated
with the memory of her beauty, he would not, he feared in his inner
heart, have bartered her for anything the world contained, for
anything the next world might offer. She--she--she only! What music of
praise and love and incommunicable ecstasy floated round him when he
saw her approaching! What perfumes of all the South flowed in upon him
when he heard her speak! What wild visions and splendid castles sprang
up before the eyes of his spirit when he touched her hand! This love
could not be opposed to the Spirit of God. It must be of the Spirit of
God, for it had brought with it charity and greatness. It had deposed
the lesser and crowned the ideal man. It had robed mankind in a new
radiance. It had dignified human action and sentiment. Things
belonging to the tame routine of every-day life had drawn importance
from the fact that they might aid or please or be necessary to her--to
her!

As he and his sister drove to Mrs Barclay's in the cab little was
said. She felt dazed and repelled by the great city, by the knowledge
that she would have to remain in it for what seemed to her a long
time, and by an undefined dread, a vague presentiment of evil, arising
insensibly in her mind from what he had said about growing to like
London as much as home.

He was too uneasy for conversation. Carried away by an infatuation, he
had written for his sister at the request of Miss Gordon. Now his
sister had arrived, they were driving to the hotel, and what
explanation could he give his sister of his wish for her presence in
London? Then how would these two girls get on? His heart sank when he
came to consider that question. It seemed to him there was no chance
of the two agreeing. Kate had no acquaintance with the world; Miss
Gordon had had no home but the world. Kate had never met intimately
anyone at all like Miss Gordon. His sister would be sure to think his
sweetheart intolerably bold. Then again Kate would undoubtedly find
out in a few hours, before this time to-morrow, how matters stood.
Already some of Mrs Barclay's other guests had begun to be sly, and
ready with quiet smiles full of meaning. What would be the outcome of
all this?

Here he paused for awhile in his thought. When he resumed it was with
the passionate cry in his heart, 'There can, there shall, there must
be but one outcome from all this: she and I shall never part!'

The fire had taken complete hold, and the building must burn down.
'If,' he again thought fervently, 'Marie Gordon will have me, no power
on earth shall keep us asunder.'

Nothing more was said in the cab. Kate was stunned and dulled by the
racket of even the quiet northern squares through which they passed,
and he sat brooding over the image of his worship.

How would she and Kate get on? No two styles could possibly be more
opposed. Marie would think Kate dull and proper and stupid and tell
her so; and Kate, gentle Kate, would feel hurt, and the two would give
up all thought of friendship. Well, he had tried his best to prevent
Kate's coming. Now that she was here, nothing could be done but allow
matters to take their course.

In about half-an-hour they arrived at Mrs Barclay's, and were received
by the lady of the house in the drawing-room. Osborne introduced his
sister to the landlady, and then looked round the room hastily. The
only other person present was Nevill, who had been turning over the
leaves of an album at the end of the room farthest from where Mrs
Barclay sat. Upon hearing the words 'my sister' uttered by Osborne,
Nevill rose hastily to his feet and approached the group at the other
end, saying, while he came,--

'As an old friend of George's, may I hope to have the honour of an
introduction to his sister?'

Osborne was somewhat taken aback and confused. He had expected her to
be there, and instead of her he had found this irrepressible Nevill.
This was the last man staying in the house he should wish his sister
to meet so early. Nevill would be sure to frighten gentle retiring
Kate out of her wits. There was, however, no alternative but to
introduce them. He did so in a bungling, hesitating manner.

'I am delighted to meet you, Miss Osborne. You have just come from
Stratford-on-Avon. Take my advice, and never go there again.'

'Why?' she faltered, casting a frightened look at her brother, whose
eye she did not catch; he was watching the door. 'What can the meaning
of all this be?' she thought. 'This man tells me he is an old friend
of George's. Nevill--I never heard his name before. An old friend of
George's, whose name I have never heard! And yet it was more
surprising of George to say that in a little time I should grow to
like London as well as home. Now, here is this strange, ill-favoured
man telling me never to go back to Stratford. What can have happened
to George? This is like a conspiracy.'

'Because it is an intolerably dull, stupid, dead-and-buried sort of
place. It's all very well for a dead poet; but no misfortune on earth
could compel me to live there. Nothing.'

'I am sorry you do not like it,' was all she said, and she was not
conscious of saying that. She had a dead dull feeling, and would have
given all the world to get into a cab, wrap herself up closely so as
to keep the very air of London from her, drive back to the railway
station, and get into a train for home. If she were at home she could
steal away to her own room and cry. Neither in this room nor in any
other in London could she cry. Tears could not relieve in a strange
room, where nothing had ever witnessed your smiles or your tears
before, which had no memory of you, no connection with your history.

In the meantime this plain-looking dark-faced man was rattling on in a
shocking and distressing manner, and George stood by seemingly
unconscious of her presence. His eyes were on the door every five
seconds.

When she had arrived at the London railway station, she had shrunk
from it as a place that put a barrier between her and her home. Now
she looked on it with yearning eyes; it had ceased to be a barrier,
and had become the link between her and the peaceful past.

In the midst of her isolation of spirit and her distress, she became
conscious of the approach of someone. She grew conscious that someone
was standing over her, and that George was speaking to the newest
stranger. But she did not realise what was taking place until she
heard George say 'My sister.' Miss Osborne raised her eyes, and looked
long into the face bending over her. There was a light of home in
those dark eyes. There was a manner of sympathy on that young face.
There was a touch of sisterhood in that bending figure.

Insensibly Miss Osborne rose, and stretched out her hand to the other
girl.

'You look very tired,' said Miss Gordon, in her low, rich, melodious
voice.

'I am a little.'

'I should,' said Mrs Barclay, 'have asked Miss Osborne to go to her
room before this, but the smoke has not yet cleared away. The flue was
cold, and it smoked. Will you go to another room and take off your
hat, and have a cup of tea sent up to you, Miss Osborne?'

'Come to mine,' said the soft voice.

The two girls were standing face to face, looking earnestly at one
another.

'Thank you, I will,' answered Miss Osborne. Still holding her by the
hand, Miss Gordon led her out of the room.

When they had gone, Nevill turned to Osborne and said,--

'She is very beautiful.'

'Very.'

'Is she strong?'

'I hope so. I think so,' uneasily, with a questioning look.

'But she is so pale.'

'Pale? Pale? You must be mistaken.'

'Never less likely to be mistaken in all my life.'

'Of whom are you speaking?'

'Your sister.'

The two men stood staring mutely into one another's eyes.



                            CHAPTER VIII.

                               SUNRISE.


When Miss Gordon and Miss Osborne came down to the drawing-room again
they found only the two men there.

'What are you going to do to-day, Osborne?' asked Nevill, after a few
minutes.

'I really don't know. Miss Gordon, could you suggest something? Here
we are, four idle people, in this big place. What shall we do?'

'I do not care. What would you suggest, Miss Osborne?'

'I should prefer staying in to-day. I feel strange.'

'Then let us stay in, by all means,' said Nevill eagerly. 'You look
tired; you want a rest. Let us all stay in. It is a beastly, damp,
dull British day. No one but a numskulled Englishman would consent to
live through such weather as you have here. Even Englishmen would not
consent to live here only for the purpose of making money. What do you
say, Miss Gordon? About a plan for to-day?'

'I thought you were going to Salisbury.'

'Too late now. I am willing to make one of your party, if you will
allow me.'

'I am sure we shall be very glad to have you, if you are so good as to
join us, Mr Nevill,' said George quickly. For many reasons two pairs
of people were much better than three people in a group. Nevill would
no doubt tire out Kate; but better this than that Marie should shock
his timid fair sister. But this indoor scheme did not suit Osborne;
and yet when a stranger saw signs of fatigue in his sister, and
suggested she should rest, how could he do anything but accede?

'Let me see,' said Nevill; 'let me see. It's now past three. It will
be dark in a short time. These January days earn their bread as easily
as the honest British working-man wants to earn his. Nature set a bad
example in starting these eight-hour days. But, as I was saying, let
me see if I can suggest a programme. Suppose we stay in, and chat and
play and sing and look at pictures for a few hours, and then dine, and
after dinner drive off to the Albert Hall, where there is a concert
to-night? Now, I don't say that is a brilliant programme; it's sound,
sound as British courage.'

Nevill's programme was adopted, and the four sat from the daylight
into the twilight, and from the twilight into dark, chatting; now of
this, now of that, never keeping very long to the one point. The two
men did most of the talking; Osborne lent the heavier, and Nevill the
lighter. Miss Gordon said singularly little, and Miss Osborne almost
nothing at all. But they omitted one feature of Nevill's programme,
they had no singing.

Each had thoughts he or she might not utter. Osborne was mentally
bowed down before the only earthly shrine at which he worshipped.
Nevill congratulated himself upon not having gone to Salisbury, and
made up his mind that Miss Osborne was not as strong as open-air
exercise and a little rousing up would make her. Osborne and Miss
Gordon were getting on very nicely. All right. Two of a trade never
agree.

Miss Gordon thought how noble he looked! How simple and sincere he
was! What a compliment it was to have such an intellect stooping down
to her! And how she yearned for the peace of faith such as he dwelt
in!

Miss Osborne thought how beautiful this dark girl, how homely and
tender-minded and sweet of thought. How handsome George was; and did
that plain-looking man rattle on always as now?

Upon those four people and the thoughts they kept within their
breasts, upon the four millions of people around and the thoughts they
kept within their breasts, the darkness of night descended. For
sixteen hours all London, its cities, its towns, its villages, would
be buried in the vault of winter night. For eight of these hours the
vast majority of those four millions of souls would be buried in
sleep, deceived by dreams. When morning once more came, what changes
of fortune while London had slept! The first post, the first
telegrams, would bring joy and misery to thousands. Before breakfast,
many who had had no warning of evil, would have to think of the
mourning they could afford out of resources sadly diminished during
night by death. The morning mail would bring the dearest letter man
ever gets, that one with Yes from his beloved. Where affluence was
to-night bankruptcy would be to-morrow. Where penury had pinched, and
poverty had degraded, thither by the light of day wealth would be
borne. Between this and then one hundred and twenty Londoners would
pass away for ever, and one hundred and ninety-six be born into the
great horde camped under St Paul's.

What a motley horde it is! Here is a native of every civilised and
semi-civilised nation on earth, and many of the barbarous peoples are
represented. What a hideous collection of swarthy scoundrelism in the
regions lying east--about Catherine Street, Lower East Street,
Smithfield, High Street, Wapping and Wapping Wall! And much of what is
not swarthy and foreign there is lower still. Here are Mongolians,
Negroes, Hottentots, and Malays hearsed in sleep. Here is Newgate
Prison, with a sufficient variety of criminals to colonise
Pandemonium, with a sufficient variety of tongues to confound the
builders of a new Babel.

Over the water rest factories of all kinds, silent by night, trembling
with noise and travail by day. Around these factories are crowded
working-men, thieves, and scum of the vilest kind. Beyond that belt is
a region of poor shops; and beyond, all reaching out to touch the
green fields, lie pleasant villas where men, sufficiently good as men
go, sleep, where women of spotless purity dream blameless dreams.

Westward repose those who own the riches which are for expense. Here
are coronets embroidered upon the hangings of the beds. Here is
ambition, restless and insatiable, ambition not of the moneygrubbing
kind, but for place, position, power. The East and the West are the
latest to sleep. One is kept awake by orgies and broils, the other by
pleasure and aspirations. The orgies of the East have in the West
developed into decorous balls and receptions. The taproom and the bar
of the East have been changed into the ballroom and club of the West.
The rude broilers of the East have in the progress of time been
developed into the political and financial speculators of the West.
From East to West is from primitive means to civilised means of
defeating someone or gaining something you cannot freely get.

North lie the couches of the liberal arts, professions, and of
commerce once again. It is the region of new men--of men whose
father's names were unknown to Londoners. These are the ardent
workers. They have not succeeded to a heritage of mere muscle and
ignorance like the men in the East. They have not come into entailed
properties or established historic business firms like the men in the
West. They have made their own way in the world. When they grow older
and richer they may drift West. The North invents, the South supplies
the tools, the East the hands, the West the patrons and critics of the
work, while out of the yellow heart of the city comes the gold, the
incentive to the North, South, and East.

As St Paul's is the spiritual centre of London, the bank is the
commercial centre. All the moneyed eyes of the Empire are fixed on
that unsightly block of building in Threadneedle Street. If it had any
pretensions to architectural beauty or grace--if it had a dome, or a
campanile, or a minaret, or anything less tame than its dull, dreary,
uninformed walls--that characteristic feature would be looked upon all
over the world as the symbol of England's wealth, as the dome, ball,
and cross of St Paul's are regarded as the insignia of the Anglo-Saxon
race.

Night had settled down on the City for hours. The men hunted by men
drew easier breath. Bailiffs had ceased from troubling, policemen were
almost at rest. The pursued and the pursuers had lain down to snatch a
brief respite from terrors or business. The black silence between day
and day lay like a weight upon the camp under the dome of the vast
fane.

In Peter's Row not a sound could be heard save now and then the faint
mutter of a far-off cab or the bark of a distant dog.

The lights in the dining-room where supper had been served were out.
All the guests and servants had long since retired to their rooms. All
the servants and most of the guests had gone to rest.

The back of the hotel commanded a view of the cathedral. One of the
finest sights in London is the sun rising behind St. Paul's while you
are high at the western side. There is something triumphant and
terrible in the sight. It seems as if the cathedral would crumble
away, and disclose in the fiery core of dawn the intolerable Judgment
Seat.

But by night, when there is no moon, and one is near enough to be
impressed by the stupendous proportions of the building, and yet far
enough away to yield it grandeur in losing detail, the feeling is one
of melancholy. The dome seems a buoy set to mark the site where
millions of men have been overwhelmed by darkness and drowned, because
of their rejection of spiritual light.

In the back of the hotel two people were still awake, a man and a
woman.

The man was in his bedroom. His gas was turned up. He was sitting
astride a chair and, contrary to the rules of the house, smoking a
cigar. His arms were folded on the back of his chair, his chin rested
on his arms. His face at the best was not handsome. This attitude made
it almost repulsive. His thoughts ran:

"By Jove, didn't she look well! Never seen anything like it in my
life, and I've seen a few good-looking girls. Miss Gordon wasn't in it
with her, and Miss G. isn't a bad-looking girl. But that beautiful,
pale, sad, round face, and her eyes--her soft sad eyes! As some fellow
put it, she 'is as pure as the saints on high, and never was saint so
fair.' But I'm not a poet. I don't think like a poet; I don't look
like a poet; I don't eat or drink like a poet. I suppose, as there is
the seed of every disease in man, there's the seed of poetry in me.
Where they put the blessed seed I don't know. What's the good of a
seed that's in some cupboard if you don't know which, and when only
four out of eight of the keys you have fit the locks? It's
discouraging. I suppose every fellow thinks of poetry when he sees a
face like hers. I wonder if a member of the London board of actuaries
saw a face like that, what kind of poetry would he think of. Maybe he
wouldn't think of poetry at all. Perhaps he'd try to estimate the
superficial area of her face, allowing of course for the eyes. If I
knew any figure-painter, I think I'd ask him to paint her and me as
Psyche and Adonis. I'd get up an appropriate expression like this," he
said to himself, throwing away the butt of his cigar, contorting his
face until he was positively hideous, and then approaching the glass
with a burlesque mincing gait. When he saw his reflection in the glass
he laughed aloud. Then he undressed, put out the light, and went to
bed.

The woman still was up. She sat by the window of her bedroom. Her eyes
were fixed on the cloudlike mass of St. Paul's towering above her. She
was not thinking of St. Paul's. She was not thinking of London. She
was not thinking of George Osborne.

She had been to a concert that night, and she had heard a song often
heard and sung by her before. It was a well-known song, a well-known
air. It had never touched her until to-night. The music had reached
some range of feeling, or emotion, or spirituality, of which she had
had no previous acquaintance. While she listened she was conscious of
some mighty upheaval of her nature. She saw all her past life by a new
light, and she shrank back from the vague possibilities of what was to
come. She could understand nothing of this change. She heard the
rumble of some noble thought, but could not figure to her mind its
appearance. She knew something great was at hand. She could not think
of lying down. She must wait for what was coming, be it what it might.

Hours went by, and still she did not move.

Still she had the words of that refrain, the tone of the singer's
voice, the rumble of the approaching revelation. Yet the revelation
did not come.

Hours again went by without change. She was unconscious of fatigue,
unconscious there was cause for fatigue, unconscious of everything but
the powers that kept her spell-bound.

At last the east grew slowly grey. She marked this, and then came her
first thought outside the tyranny that possessed her,--

'I shall not go down early.'

The light broadened in the east. Gradually the gates of the morning
were opened, and through their chinks great beams of pale-yellow light
set themselves across the sky, and stood up like the fingers of a fan.

Gradually these beams changed to orange, and then to crimson, and just
where they converged, and forming the centre of their base, stood out
in vague purple the shadow of St Paul's.

All at once something seemed to strike her. She rose hastily to her
feet, muttering,--

'How august! The dome is like the Head, the sunbeams form the
aureola.'

All at once to the great apparition before her came the words which
had haunted her all night, _Miserere nobis_.'

For a moment she shook. Her face, lighted up by the blazing east, was
perplexed, perturbed, contorted. All at once it lost the look of
conflict. An expression of infinite supplication settled upon it, and
raising her clasped hands to Heaven, she fell upon her knees and sang
out in a low broken voice,--

'_Miserere nobis!_'



                             CHAPTER IX.

                           AFTER THE DAWN.


'Miss Gordon! Miss Gordon, child, what have you been doing to
yourself? What have you been doing?'

'I sat up late last night, O'Connor. What o'clock is it?'

'Sat up late! Why, you haven't been in bed at all. The bed isn't
tossed. It's eight o'clock. What made you sit up last night? Why,
there's your colour all gone!'

'Yes, the colour is gone out of the sky, O'Connor. I sat and watched
all night, and then at dawn the colour came behind the dome, and all
at once something burst upon me. It was like the conversion of Paul. I
feel as if I had been received back into peace and quietness. But I am
tired still--tired still, and I want to rest.'

'Then let me help you to take off your things, child, and lie down for
a few hours. I'll bring you some tea and toast. Let me help you to lie
down and rest yourself.'

'I am resting; I have been resting ever since dawn.'

'Resting! A nice way you rest yourself, on a straight-backed cane
chair! Come, let me help you to take off your things.'

'No, O'Connor, I shall not lie down now. I thought in the night I
should not go to breakfast, but I have changed my mind.'

'Maybe you'd like to go down to breakfast as you are, miss?'

'How do you mean?'

'Pale as a ghost, and in that low dress.'

'I don't care about my cheeks. Of course I must change the dress.'

'You don't care about your cheeks, miss! Well, then, I do; and you
must not go down as you are. You must go to bed.'

'O'Connor!'

'Miss!'

'Help me to change. I'll wear that russet.'

'I'll have neither hand, act, nor part in it. You must go to bed. If
you don't go of your own free will, I'll ask Mrs Barclay to send for a
doctor. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!'

'O'Connor, I desire you to do what I tell you at once.'

'Miss Gordon, I'm not joking. I'll have no hand, act, or part in it!'

'O'Connor, I will not have this everlasting stubbornness on your part.
It is more than I can bear. Get me that russet morning-gown.'

'You won't have me, Miss Gordon? Very well. You know what you have to
do if you won't have me, Miss Gordon. Pay me my wages, and let me go
back to Cork. Cork is good enough for me. You're a lady, a real lady,
and I never said anything else of you, to your face or behind your
back. Cork mightn't be to your liking; but it's good enough for the
like of me; so pay me and let me go.'

'How many more of these tiresome scenes are we to have before we
part?'

'Pay me my money, and this will be the last. Give me what you owe me,
and I'll put the salt sea between you and me. I'm not good enough for
the grandeur of London and foreign places; but Cork will be proud to
have me, and it's good enough for me; so if it's pleasing to you I'll
go.'

'It is not pleasing to me you should go. And it is not pleasing to me
you should lose your temper, O'Connor.'

'Lose my temper! There's for you! Lose my temper! Why, was it I
offered to go down to breakfast after being up all night and looking
like a ghost, instead of going to bed and resting until the roses came
back again? Do I ever want to put on dresses that make me look a
fright? Do I ever open my window of winter nights, and sit at it for
hours? Do I ever give all my good stockings to a lying beggar, and
wear my old darned ones a month longer? Do I ever forget to complain
about the boots cutting my French thirty-shilling shoes? Temper,
indeed! Well, if they can't stand my temper in foreign places they can
in Cork.'

'O'Connor, I have not been to bed all night. I do not feel very strong
now, and this is too much for me.'

'Eh?'

'I do not feel strong.'

'Then, child, why don't you lie down?'

'I want you, O'Connor, not to cross me to-day. I am not very strong
now, and I have had great trouble.'

'Not well, and in great trouble! Child, child, why didn't you say that
before? Trouble, trouble! Tell me all about it, child.'

'I don't know that I can. It didn't seem trouble at the time; but now
I feel as if I had had a great deal of trouble lately.'

'Through me, child? Is it through my wilful and foolish ways? You
ought to be used to them now. Sure you know I wouldn't vex you for all
the world, only to do you good.'

'No, no, no! it isn't you, O'Connor, but myself. I have been the cause
of a great deal of trouble to myself.'

'In what way, child? I'll pin a collar on the russet before you put it
on. I'll be ready with it in a minute. Tell me all.'

'You are a good Roman Catholic, O'Connor!'

'I don't know about the good; but I was brought up a Catholic, and I
am a Catholic still.'

'And you never have been anything else?'

'No, never, miss. But what has that to do with your trouble? You don't
want me to turn? You don't think I haven't a proper respect for my
mistress because she is not the same as myself?'

'No, no. But then, O'Connor, you cannot understand my trouble. I was
brought up in the Church--the Church of England--but of late years I
have not gone, as you know, to any place of worship. I did not do it
out of silliness, or even out of want of faith; but being a good deal
in places where no Church of England service was to be found, I began
to think going of no great consequence, and in the end I thought it of
no consequence at all.'

'And what trouble are you in now?'

'Well, something has happened, and it has all come back to me at once;
and I feel greatly distressed when I think of the years I have
neglected such a serious matter.'

'And is this sorrow the trouble you speak of? There's the russet gown
all right now, child.'

'Thank you, O'Connor. Yes, it is.'

'But if you are sorry for it all now, aren't you taught as well as we
that you'll be let off?'

'Yes. But that is not enough. I am not only sorry, but I am horrified
also. It is so dreadful, O'Connor, to think of the horrid, wicked life
I have led.'

'Horrid, wicked life, indeed! Horrid, wicked life! Why, when you die,
they ought, if they knew their manners, to put you in the litany of
the saints. They must have very little to do with their time if they
can bring up anything against you, child. And even if they did find
one little fault, I am sure--and I know you better than anyone,--that
all the poisoned impudence you have taken from me, and all the
goodness you have done for me, would not only clear you, but that they
could make a very good saint out of the leavings.'

'Yes, but I feel so tired.'

'Well then, child, don't go down to breakfast, but let me bring some
up to you.'

'I don't mean that kind of tired. I mean tired in my mind. Tired of
all that has been, of all my old frivolous ways and my thoughtlessness.'

'Faith, and your ways were very becoming, at least so a great lot of
gentlemen thought. Now that you have taken to serious ways, maybe
you'll end by marrying a parson.'

'I could not endure a parson.'

'Even if he was like Mr Osborne?'

'Mr Osborne! What made you think of Mr Osborne?'

'Oh, I don't know. You seem to like him well enough; and if he only
had a white choker, I daresay you'd like him better.'

'I should not.'

'Well then, you're giving that young man a very good chance of
breaking his heart, anyway.'

'O'Connor, what do you mean?'

'Oh, it's all very fine for you to let on you don't know. You have
been all over London with him, and the blind would see he worships the
ground under your feet. You never carried on like this before.'

'O'Connor, I cannot allow you to say such things. You have no right to
say such things. I have a great respect for Mr Osborne, and I have
taken a great fancy to his lovely sister. He is a very wise man--'

'And a very good-looking young man too. Now you have taken a serious
notion, and are going about so much with Mr Osborne, I shouldn't be a
bit surprised if you went off to church with him to St Paul's next
Sunday. There, you may go down now. That's the bell. You are a regular
fright, but you're the best I can make of you.'



                              CHAPTER X.

                             AN IDLE DAY.


All at the breakfast-table remarked Miss Gordon's pallor. Osborne was
shocked by it. Mrs Barclay exclaimed, 'What is the matter with you,
Miss Gordon? You look as if you had had no sleep.'

'I have had no sleep,' she said gravely, as she sat down.

'No sleep! What was the matter? Are you not well?'

'I am quite well, thank you. I did not feel sleepy. I couldn't sleep.
That is all.'

'Bless my soul!' cried Nevill. 'Miss Gordon, what an extraordinary
thing to find a great traveller like you cannot sleep! I can scarcely
believe it. I thought travellers were commanders-in-chief of sleep. I
have never yet been beaten by sleep. I've slept in every conceivable
place, and in every conceivable circumstances you could think of.
Attitude is nothing to me. You hear of people composing themselves to
sleep. I never do anything of the kind. I think I should like to
sleep, and before I have taken the unnecessary precaution of closing
my eyes, I've got a nightmare. I have slept in the tops of a ship. I
have slept soaking in six inches of brine in a salt-mine. I have slept
on the prairie, and in the tender of a railway engine. I have slept in
a museum with one of the Pharaohs. I've had a good eight hours on the
demonstration-table of a dissecting-room with an intact subject. I've
slept in wigwams, and I've slept in the nobbiest beds they make up in
'Frisco. I've slept in the stokehole of a steamboat, and up to my neck
in the crevasse of a glacier. I can doze while I'm diving under water,
or while I am riding a steeplechase. Bless my soul, to think a great
traveller like you could not sleep!'

She looked him full in the face as she said,--'I am not travelling
now. Perhaps that may account for my sleeplessness.'

'Not travelling! Well, if you split hairs you may say you are not at
the moment travelling. You are not at the moment in motion. But you
are to all intents and purposes travelling.'

'But suppose I do not at this moment consider myself a traveller.
Suppose, although I have gone about a good deal in the past, I have
formed no resolution of continuing to move about, would you, Mr
Nevill, still consider me entitled to all the privileges of a
traveller to sleep?'

'The case does not apply. You have not given up the road. Have you?'

'That is an indirect answer.' Then for one brief instant she glanced
at Osborne, and looked back at Nevill again. 'Ah, who can tell what
any of us shall not do some day?'

'What do you intend to do to-day, Miss Gordon?' asked Mrs Barclay from
the head of the table.

'I intend staying indoors to-day. I have a lot of tidying and putting
away to do, and I want to make a list of a few things I require.'

Osborne looked across the table reproachfully at her.

She did not raise her eyes to his. What a change had taken place in
this girl during the past twelve hours! When he said good-night to her
after the concert her eyes were full of soft fire, her cheek glowed,
her voice was like a caress. Now her eyes were weary, her colour
gone, her voice full of suffering. What could have happened to his
darling--his idol? She was perfect still, but something had been lost.
How was this? Perfection meant the possession of all the constituent
parts. Here was perfection still, and yet something was missing. Then
he put the matter poetically to himself. 'Yesterday I saw this perfect
landscape by sunlight. I am now looking at it by moonlight. It remains
perfect under either light. Which do I prefer it by? I cannot say. I
am more familiar with the fuller light. Which is the lovelier I cannot
tell. What does she mean by saying she will stay indoors all day? She
promised me I should see her and be with her all the month. She is not
going to break her word, and rob my life for a whole day of all it now
has in the world? I cannot, I will not endure that. What should I do
all day long without her? I could rest neither in nor out of doors.
Can she not get her maid to do this wretched drudgery for her? I envy
any person or place that takes away from me any particle of her time.
How is it to be with us? How is it to be with me? If I cannot bear the
loss of her now for a few hours, how could I endure to lose her
altogether? No, no, no; I cannot, I must not lose her altogether.
Nothing shall take her from me. She must be mine, mine, mine! O
glorious hope, bold certainty, essential bliss!'

Nevill burst in with 'Now, can anything be more provoking than the
position in which you have placed us, Miss Gordon? Here is Miss
Osborne, the very embodiment of amiability, who has declared she will
enter into no scheme until you are consulted; here is Mr Osborne, the
very embodiment of amiability, has declared he will enter into no
scheme until you are consulted; and here am I, the very embodiment of
amiability, who have declared I will wait until you come down, and
abide by your decision. And when you do come down, your decision is to
convert your room into a kind of nunnery, and hide yourself behind its
blinds. For sordid selfishness, I never heard of a meaner programme.'

She smiled faintly.

'What am I to do? I have had no sleep. You all tell me I am looking
like a ghost. I do not feel lively. I should be a drag on any party.
What better can I do than be stupid all to myself?'

'But if you resolve to be stupid all to yourself, you interfere with
our arrangements, and impose stupidity upon us. What do you say, Miss
Osborne?'

'I really don't know,' said Miss Osborne softly, across the table.

Here the conversation paused for awhile. Miss Osborne wished most
heartily this talkative man would not address her. Eating in public
was new and unpleasant to her. She felt very uncomfortable even
when let alone. But when this flippant, empty-headed man drew
attention to her, she wished the ground would open and swallow
her up. She liked Miss Gordon very much, but she was growing to
dislike this sallow-faced, plain-looking, profane man. Although she
was homely-minded and quiet, she was not stupid or unobservant, and
already she had perceived her brother George was more attentive to
Miss Gordon, and more interested in her presence and movements, than
she had ever seen him in the presence or movements of any other woman.
When undisturbed her mind was sensible and prudent. In the present
case she saw no cause for alarm or uneasiness with respect to George.
He was quite old enough to marry. He had sufficient means. His family
were independent of him. Her mother, she, and her sister were
moderately provided for. If the girl were suited to him, and he liked
her, and there was no reasonable objection to the girl, why should he
not marry her? She had not only taken no objection to Miss Gordon, but
had conceived a strong predisposition in her favour.

They had had a little chat together the day before, in which Marie had
briefly and simply related the chief events of her life, and confessed
that, notwithstanding the life of change and excitement she had led,
she was fascinated by nothing so much as the uneventful peaceful
routine of English country life. Whatever qualities this girl may have
lacked, she had such a straightforward spirit in her eyes, and such a
straightforward manner in her speech, no one could dream of calling in
question the absolute and literal truth of what she said. Her mistakes
hitherto had been on the side of excessive candour. She had, as she
told Osborne, adopted that form of manner to protect herself. But with
Kate she had no need of it. She, the lonely wandering girl, with a
deep-buried passionate worship for all noble and great things, had
talked freely and simply to the fair-faced simple-minded Kate Osborne.

Long roaming through the world had taught Marie many useful things.
Among these were a quick discernment of those she should like and
those she should not. When first she saw George Osborne she was
prepossessed in his favour. He was different from any other man she
had met. Indian adventurers and Australian colonists are different
classes. But both are active, each is in the midst of struggles and
ambitions. What a contrast to these pushing discontented men the calm
George Osborne presented! She had been all her life out of quiet
England. She had been in the hurry of new lands or the swagger of
military rule. Here she was now in the busiest, the most bustling city
in the world; and here in this house, at that table, she met an
English gentleman of the pastoral type. He was as subdued as night at
sea, and as free from self-assertion as dreams. He was chivalric and
simple, with a reverential clinging to the faith and traditions which
make history beautiful. He had not approached her with confidence or
bold admiring glances. He had not put out his best side. He had drawn
near her in a timid, bashful, whole-hearted way. He had forgotten
himself and thought only of her. She saw through him at a glance, for
she examined him closely before she had felt anything more than
curiosity.

He was the first man of a poetic temperament she had ever met. She had
hitherto treated men scornfully, because she could not respect any she
had encountered. She knew she was beautiful, but all the men she had
hitherto met who strove to make an impression on her had dwelt
altogether on her beauty. All the other men had languished and spoken
only rhapsody and hyperbole. Her nature was too candid and too clear
to be imposed upon by such means.

How differently had George Osborne approached her! In fact she had, so
to speak, made the first advances. When he first clearly betrayed to
her that his admiration transcended the limits of ordinary admiration,
and that he took an interest in herself, how different had been his
course from the ways of other men! He had spoken gravely, seriously to
her. He had expressed disapproval of her opinion on important matters;
he had lectured her and shown no fear of injuring her good opinion of
him by plain talking. He had come to her altogether, as a whole, as a
man, not as a wooer only. The other men had tried to impress her by
flattery, or by exhibiting themselves in their most pleasing light. He
had told her of herself no more than she knew to be true--that she was
handsome. He had not put aside the less serious or grave or unenticing
characteristics. He was an honest, simple gentleman, who owned no
arts, and had fallen in love with her. He was the unmistakable reply
to a life-long yearning for something that was true and noble and
honourable and just. He owned all these qualities.

There was only one being on earth she had previously cared for, and
that was Judith O'Connor. Judith was about her own age, but she always
treated her mistress as a child. She had been in her employment for
many years. The maid rebelled once a week, if not oftener, against her
mistress. She was insolent almost beyond endurance at such times. Yet
the mistress did not tell the maid to go; for down under this rage and
insolence was a devotion, a loyalty no assault of circumstances could
shake; and that devotion and loyalty Marie Gordon prized above all her
other possessions. She could trust O'Connor as she could trust
herself. O'Connor was more jealous of the welfare of her mistress than
the mistress herself. When the maid's temper broke loose, and she
petulantly demanded to be released from service, the mistress never
heeded the rash words, but looked through them and below them, and saw
the faithfulness and loyalty, and was conscious of no emotion in her
own mind but that O'Connor was stupid and boring her, and that the
maid must leave the room.

She had spent all her life among frivolous people. All her life she
had secretly worshipped intellect and solid acquirements. She had lead
a life of ceaseless motion because she wished to keep her mind
occupied by change, not from any natural love of new scenes. The one
great hope of her life had been that some day she might settle down
quietly where country lanes abounded, and you were awoke of summer
mornings by the crack of the early carrier's whip or the crow of the
barn-door cock.

He had come upon her the embodiment of her dreams. She had fought
against the fascination hour after hour, but hour after hour he had
gained upon her heart. Here was the placid English gentleman, full of
high honour, lofty chivalry, and poetic enthusiasm. Here, too, was
this sincere man, the loyal citizen, the firm Christian. Here was a
man up to whom a woman might look with pride, upon whom she might lean
with confidence. Some of his words spoken in the Abbey had taken root
in her soul and were bearing delicious fruit. A few of the lines of
Spenser had remained with her intact:--'For we be come into a quiet
road.' Yes, to be with him was to enjoy contact with the great ocean
of life, and yet to be free from all the dangers of traffic on the
waters. When she touched his hand or his arm ever so slightly, peace
and serenity descended upon her like a soothing dew.

She never had been in love. Was she in love now? Was this love, or was
there a deeper, a sweeter depth of feeling? She did not know. This was
very sweet. She had done her best to tantalise him. That was only
assaying the gold. Now she had found it unalloyed, she need question
it no more. 'Sweet is the love that comes alone with willingness.'
What could be sweeter? Nothing. Did other girls feel as she did when
they were loved? If so, what happiness there must be in the world!

No doubt it looked romantic that she should think she was in love with
a man whom she had not seen a fortnight ago. But why need it look
romantic? Suppose it did look romantic, what then? Was romance a sin?
Who ever laid down a rule that romance was wrong, except sharp-nosed
old maids and prosy fathers? What was the difference between falling
in love in a week and taking a whole year about it? Romance was
delightful. Love was beautiful. What could be better than to combine
romance and love? Wasn't it out of a combination of romance and love
that most of the noblest actions of men and women had sprung?

Besides, after all, the thing was not romantic. There was nothing at
all romantic about the circumstances under which they had met. There
was nothing very extraordinary in a young man and young woman
exchanging looks across the early dinner-table of a London hotel.
There was nothing very unusual in a young man fresh from home getting
red in the face when he wanted to say something civil to a pretty
girl. A visit to St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, the
Criterion, the Albert Hall, and a few other things, were not
astonishing adventures for even our very matter-of-fact days. No doubt
very few men proposed in hansom cabs. But that was because a hansom
cab was essentially a nonromantic place for proposing. Call it romance
if you like. What difference did it make whether you called it romance
and it was romance, or you called it romance and it wasn't romance, or
you didn't call it romance? It was just as desirable whether you
called it one thing or another or nothing, so long as it was
delightful.

She had told him he must wait a month for an answer. Now she was sorry
she had not said a fortnight. What was the good of keeping him in
suspense a month? It was cruel, barbarous. She should not do anything
of the kind. She'd just put him at rest at once. That wasn't the
correct thing to do, she knew. But she didn't care a bit about being
correct. What was the good of being correct at his expense? She had by
this time made up her mind she loved him, and would marry him. She
might as well tell him so at once. She wasn't likely to change her
mind or heart in another fortnight. Why should she not put things
right at once? He would not mistake her, or take her up wrongly. He
had a high chivalric nature, and would understand her motive.

When she told him, what would he do? Kiss her. Kiss her! He, the man
who a fortnight ago she had never seen, kiss her who had never been
kissed by a man since she was a child! Kiss her! It wasn't, of course,
necessary he should kiss her, but she supposed he would. She shouldn't
like it a bit. It would be so strange to allow him to kiss her without
shrieking or trying to run away. She supposed there was nothing for it
but to submit. But it would seem so strange.

How complete should be her happiness and their love! She, who had been
such a gadabout, would settle down. They should live in his own town.
She would try and be as good as ever she could. She'd learn
housekeeping and rear poultry. She'd try and be pious and collected
like him. He should write poetry, and she would mind the fowls. Poetry
and poultry. Then when the sonnets and the cocks and hens had gone to
roost, George would give her his arm, and take her out for a nice
quiet walk and nice sensible talk. She'd tell him all about the cocks
and the hens, and he'd talk to her about the hunt and the House of
Commons and the poor-rates and Shakespeare, which were, she believed,
the subjects educated country gentlemen usually spoke to their wives--

Wife!

When Marie Gordon first came upon this word she arrested her headlong
thought, and, with a vivid blush, drew back from the visions she
had been contemplating. There was something sudden, awful, in coming
all at once upon the most important word in the vocabulary of life.
She mentally reproved herself for dealing so lightly with serious
matters; and, rousing herself from the long abstraction in which she
had lain, she devoted her attention to the ordinary events of the
breakfast-table.

Nevill was still rattling on, and Miss Osborne looking at him in
stupefied wonder. When breakfast was over, Osborne went to Marie and
said,--

'Surely you don't intend staying within all this lovely day?'

'Yes, I do,' she answered, with a quiet smile.

'But,' he urged, 'you remember your promise that for the month--'

'Yes, I recollect. I am afraid I shall break that promise in more ways
than one.'

He started, and looked anxiously, eagerly at her.

'What do you mean?'

'I cannot tell you now.'

'When will you tell me? I shall be most uneasy until I hear.'

'This evening, perhaps.'

'Shall I have to wait so long?'

'There will be no opportunity sooner.'

'But is what I am to hear good or bad? You cannot do less than answer
that question.'

She looked into his eyes, and, with a half-roguish smile, answered,--

'That will depend on whether you are what I fancy you to be, or not.'

'If I am what you fancy, shall I be pleased with what you have to tell
me?'

'I think so. You must not ask me any more now. Your sister and I will
stay in all day, and you and Mr Nevill are to go somewhere. Go to some
man's place, for we want you to take us to all the places we may go
to; and, of course, if you two selfish men go to a place we may see,
you will not make a second visit merely to bring us. Mr Nevill,' she
called aloud. Nevill was standing at the farther end of the room
talking to Miss Osborne.

'Since we are not to be favoured with the society of you or Miss
Gordon to-day, I'll answer for Mr Osborne.' Turning to Osborne, he
said,--'I'll tell you what we will do. Go to the meeting of the
Prehistoric Society. Have you ever been at one?'

'No.'

'Then you shall come with me. I have never been at one, but I know all
about them. Do you take any interest in science?'

'Very little.'

'Nonsense! How extraordinary! An intellectual man like you take no
interest in science? I can scarcely believe you! Science is the only
thing worth thinking of now. Not take an interest in science! Why,
science was invented by the nineteenth century, and it will invent the
world of the twentieth.'

'I am greatly afraid,' said Osborne gravely, 'it has already invented
more than is good for man or the world.'

'What! Do you mean to say telephones and express trains, fresh
American meat and electric lights, and gas and gutta-percha and
lucifer-matches and hair-brushing by machinery have been injurious to
man? What nonsense! I own we are not to congratulate ourselves on
gunpowder and ordnance and paraffin oil.'

'I am not speaking of material improvements, or of what science has
done for the arts. I am thinking how it has in many cases
unfortunately inflicted more grave injury than would outweigh all the
benefits it has conferred.'

'You are speaking wonderfully like a book, Osborne, but I haven't the
ghost of an idea what you are alluding to.'

'I am alluding to religion.'

'Oh!' cried Nevill lightly. 'Was it that? I did not think of that. Of
course, you know there are people of all ways of thinking on such
matters. You are no bigot.'

'No, not in the least. Bigotry is cowardice, and I hope I have the
courage of my convictions. I hope I shall always have the courage of
my convictions, and that they will always be what they are now.' He
spoke earnestly, with a slight flush on his face. When he had finished
speaking he turned his head away from Nevill and sought Miss Gordon
with his eyes.

What a marvellous change! The pallor had left, the eyes were once more
bright and full of depth. Her head was bent forward and she was
looking at him with all the old charm of her beauty in her face. What
could that expression mean? Could it possibly be that she was looking
on with interest and approval at the side he was taking? Could she be
doing this? She who had a few days before told him she took no
interest in such things, and preferred looking at shop windows in St
Paul's Churchyard to attending service in the Cathedral? A few moments
ago she had said words which led him to hope she had some pleasant
communication to make to him. Was it that she had already made up her
mind to be less frivolous? That would be splendid news indeed. Oh, if
he could only lead this girl to such a goal and win her, the bank of
his good fortune would have paid him the least shred of happiness he
should ask.

'I am glad to hear you are no bigot, Osborne. I hate a bigot. I am not
a religious man, but I am not a bigoted Nothing. I don't want to burn
every man who does not agree with me. From the announcement of the
business set down for the Prehistoric to-day, I am most anxious to be
present. The Prehistoric is not religious. It isn't, you know, Miss
Osborne, profane. Now, while I am no bigot, there is one thing I hate,
and that is profanity. If a man believes a certain thing, let him
respect it, and not try to lower it or make fun of it. If a man
doesn't believe a certain thing, he should let it alone.'

'What is this place you are going to?' asked Miss Gordon, with
animation.

'Oh, it's scientific.'

'Isn't that a vague description? What goes on there?'

'They read papers and exhibit specimens.'

'Specimens of what?'

'Of prehistoric man, you know.'

'But I don't know. What do you mean by "prehistoric man"?'

'Man who lived so long ago that he doesn't know anything about
himself.'

'You will go, Mr Osborne, and bring us back a full account of what
this dreadful Prehistoric Society is like?' Miss Gordon smiled
brightly, and tossed her head gaily.

'I will go, of course. I am not afraid the Prehistoric or any other
society of mere men can very seriously affect my mind on any matter of
faith. It is the province of men of science to be scientific. It is
the province of theologians to be theological. But you cannot pit one
against the other, any more than you can pit a star against an idea.'

The men prepared to leave. Having drawn Miss Osborne's arm within her
own, Miss Gordon led the other girl after the men into the hall.

'We shall be back in time to take you to the Holborn for dinner,' said
Nevill, as he helped Osborne to get on his overcoat.

The two girls, still arm-in-arm, followed the two men out to the door.
Peter's Row had but one entrance, and was as quiet as a country lane.
The two men went out on the doorstep, and stood there to say adieu.
Still keeping the arm of Miss Osborne under her own, Miss Gordon led
the fair girl out until they too stood on the steps of the hotel.

Nevill paused to light a cigar.

Marie smiled at Osborne, and said,--' Take care you don't come back a
disciple of this dreadful Mr Nevill.'

Osborne smiled back.

'I do not think there is much reason to fear,' he said.

'I promise you I will not attempt to make a convert,' said Nevill, as
he shook himself into his overcoat and took Osborne's arm.

Arm-in-arm the two young men walked briskly down Peter's Row.
Arm-in-arm the two girls watched them as they went.

When the men reached the end of the Row, about a hundred yards from
where the girls stood, they turned round and lifted their hats. The
girls waved farewells.

As the four stood thus confronting one another for a moment, a more
striking contrast could not easily be found.

The face of Nevill was dark and restless and discontented. The fair
white face of Osborne was illumined by the light of love and a smile
of great affection and delicacy as his eyes fell on the girl of his
worship. Miss Gordon had completely shaken off the effects of her
vigil, and was radiant with health and beauty and happiness. Miss
Osborne was grave and timorous. She looked paler than usual, and waved
her hand to her brother in a dull dead way. In a moment the men
disappeared.

Although the day was cold, the two girls stood a few minutes
bareheaded at the door after the men had gone out of sight.

'I don't see why George should go to such places.'

'But there is no harm, dear. It's only all about bones, and stone
arrowheads, and things not worth thinking of.'

'But if things of the kind are not worth thinking of, how is it people
do think so much about them?'

'Because people are mostly fools. Your brother is no fool. You are not
afraid of him? You do not fear he'll take to science, and give up
poetry and going to church?' She put the question playfully.

'No. But when people are settled in their minds on important things of
this kind, what occasion have they to go to such places? What interest
can such places have for them?'

'Men are all the same. If you tell them there is danger anywhere,
there they are sure to go. I never can understand this. If anyone
tells me there's a wicked bull in a certain field, I try to keep away
from it as far as I can. Tell a man the same thing, and, first of all,
he won't take your word for it; he must see if there is a bull in that
field. If he find a bull, he'll climb upon the fence to see if the
bull is really wicked, and end up by getting down in the field to see
if the bull is fully as wicked as has been said. Then he generally
gets gored.'

'But I don't want those scientific bulls to gore George.'

'Your brother! You really don't fancy for a moment they could create
any serious impression on him? He is one of the most sincere men I
ever met. I think the most sincere.'

'Ah, yes. But when he left home I thought no man in the world could
love his home more. Yet he is only a few days in London, when he seems
to think more of London than the place in which he has spent all his
life.' She smiled, as she saw the other blush slightly and cast down
her eyes. 'Perhaps it was not London alone that fascinated him. You
see, his very honesty and sincerity are in his way. Once he makes up
his mind to a thing, he never for a moment thinks of consequences.'

'But I am sure he is in religious matters as firm as a rock.'

'I am sure he is; but why should he go to places such as this?'

'Well, I suppose I am to blame in a little way,' said Marie, dropping
her head still lower. 'I sat up all night, thinking over matters of
this kind, and at dawn I saw something in the sky, and heard something
that made me pray. Your brother it was, Kate dear, who turned my eyes
to such things one day as we stood under St Paul's. I did not feel
equal to-day to the society of men. So I thought, if you would allow
me, I would spend a long quiet day with you, and have a quiet talk
with you, Kate; for I liked you better than any other girl I met when
I saw you first.'

'And I, Marie, too, liked you better than any other girl I ever met.
Of course, I can see how things are. You and I are friends, no matter
how short a time we have known each other.'

The girls turned into the house, and sought Marie's room.

When they were there, Kate said,--

'I am dull and stupid. But I have a sister at home who is more lively.
You would not think we are related so closely.' She put her arms round
the girl, and continued, 'I love George, Marie, with all my heart, and
it would break my heart if anything went wrong with him. I think it
would kill me if anything went wrong with him now. Tell me, dear--for
you see I know how matters are--is anything settled yet?'

'No.'

'But, Marie, I am likely to have another, a second sister?'

'You do not want her?'

'I want anything that is good for George.'

'And you don't think you'd dislike me when you know me better?'

'I am sure I should not.'

'Then I'll tell him when he comes home from that horrid Preraphaelite
Club, or whatever you call it, to which I've sent him. I'll tell him.'

'What will you tell him?'

'That--that,' she threw her arms around Kate's neck, and buried her
face in Kate's bosom, 'that you want me for a sister, and that I want
you for a sister, oh, so badly, so badly!'--she wept passionately for
a moment. She sobbed in a few minutes--'and then maybe he'll not go to
any of those awful places with that dreadful Mr Nevill again. Kate,
I'll try to keep him away, and make him do all your good self would
wish. Don't blame me for what happened to-day. I shall feel wretched
until I see him again.'



                             CHAPTER XI.

                          AN IDLE AFTERNOON.


Mr Wilfrid Parkinson was a dapper, good-looking, sleek-faced man, of
six-and-thirty years of age. He scaled light, and was nimble in all
his movements. He had a neat intelligent forehead, neat delicate
hands, was always clad in cloth of faultless fit, relieved by linen of
snowy whiteness. It was easy to mistake him for a clergyman.

To judge by his face and manner, you would think he had a ready
intellect always well under control. Had he been a barrister, you
would have felt quite sure he would not go into court without having
thoroughly made up his case. Had he been a physician, you would have
felt certain he would not let his patient sink beyond his skill
without asking for assistance. Had he been a clergyman, you would have
counted on his orthodoxy from the mere evidence of his general
appearance. It was an utterly unspeculative, safe, small head. All the
lines in it were acute and true. There was no speculation in the eye;
no weight of creative faculty in the brow; no driving power in the
poll. It was the head of an artificer in thought, not of an architect
of theories. It was the head of a lapidary, not of a pearl-diver.

Although the head and all its organs were small, it had balance and
self-consistency. You would not expect such a head to raise out of the
azure vault the system of Copernicus. You would not expect such a head
to conquer Europe with the raw levies of France. But you would not
expect from it the stubborn reticence, which for years declined to
give the death-blow to the Ptolemaic system, or the crass stupidity
which sought a cerecloth in the snow of Russia for the finest army
Europe had ever seen. It was the head of an observer, not a theorist;
of a captain, not a chief. Above all, it was the head of a practical
man of the world, who would not allow folly of any kind, or vanity or
pleasure or indolence, to stand in the way of the business of life.

Mr Parkinson was at luncheon. He had the wing of a fowl and a slice of
tongue on his plate. At his elbow stood a tumbler half full of a good,
sound, wholesome claret. Opposite him sat a fair, bright-eyed, gay,
pretty Englishwoman, thirty-two years of age--his wife. On one side of
the table sat a large-featured rosy-faced boy of five, on the other a
girl of seven, with delicate finely-cut features--his son and
daughter. The four made up the Parkinson family, and it is doubtful if
you could find a more wholesome-looking or better-kept family in
London.

A neatly-clad maid-servant waited noiselessly. The room was a model of
comfort. It was not sombre; it was not gay. It was sober and cool and
sweet. The sobriety of the furniture and the paper and the carpet and
the pictures made the people look bright, the coolness of the colour
made the fire look warmer, and the sweetness of tone soothed the mind
insensibly.

Mr Parkinson lived near the Regent's Park. The children often went to
the Zoological Gardens, and were now discussing their pet beasts,
birds, reptiles, and fishes, while the father and mother looked on and
listened. At last, the boy, who was getting the worst of the argument,
said petulantly,--

'Father, was Noah's Ark as big as the Zoo?'

'No, Fred.'

''Cause Loo said it was; and she thinks, because she got a prize at
Christmas for Bible history, that she knows everything.'

'Oh, Fred, I never said I knew everything, or half everything, and I
never said the Ark was as big as the Zoo.'

'Well, you said there were more beasts and birds and fishes in the Ark
than in the Zoo. Were there, father?'

'I am not quite sure about the fishes, Fred. I am afraid there are
more fishes in the Zoo than in the Ark. Certainly there were more
birds and beasts and reptiles in the Ark than there are in the Zoo.'

'But if the Ark wasn't as big as the Zoo, father, how did Noah
manage?'

'The animals in the Ark were much better packed, and they had nothing
in the Ark nearly so fine for the lions as the new lion-house at the
Zoo.'

'And, father, who used to ride the elephants?'

'I do not think we are told, Fred. I don't think there were any little
boys and girls in the Ark. There were only eight people saved, and the
eight were all grown up.'

'But, father, if there were more beasts, birds, and fishes in the Ark
than there are at the Zoo, how did eight people mind them? There are
heaps more than eight people minding the birds, beasts, and fishes at
the Zoo.'

'I never said there were fishes in the Ark,' broke in Loo, with the
conscious responsibility of that prize upon her mind.

'Well, you see, my boy, we are told that, in those days, there were
giants, and that would account for a good deal.'

'Were they as big as the great giant at Madame Tussaud's?'

'We are not told. You must remember, Fred, that the Bible does not
tell us everything; it tells us only what is necessary.'

Mr Parkinson motioned the servant to take away.

'But I'd like awfully much to know how big they were,' said the boy,
discontentedly dropping his eyes on the cloth, and falling into a
desponding attitude, as custards and jam and fruit were placed on the
table.

Suddenly the boy looked up.

'Father, you said that thigh-bone on the sideboard was the oldest
man's thigh-bone ever found. Was it long since that man died?'

'Yes; a very long time indeed.'

'As long back as the time of the Ark?'

'Yes; farther back still.'

'And were they giants then?'

'So we are told.'

'And is that thigh-bone bigger than the thigh-bone in the giant at
Madame Tussaud's?'

The father and mother exchanged momentary glances and smiles, in which
each said to the other, 'This boy is no fool. There are duller boys
than this in London.' To the boy he answered,--

'The bone on the sideboard is not as long as the thigh of the giant
Louschkin. But then, Fred, you must remember the bone was found in
Egypt, very far away from where the Ark was built, and that we are not
told all the people on earth then were very tall.'

Fred had nothing further to say, and the meal was over; so the family
rose.

'Now scamper off,' said the father cheerfully to the young people,
'and be sure you and mother are ready after dinner for the pantomime.'

The children left the room. When they had gone, Parkinson turned to
the sideboard, and, looking at the thigh-bone of a man lying on some
raw wool, said triumphantly to his wife while pointing to the relic,--

'This will create a powerful sensation; it is the only one of that
period ever found. This vessel, too'--indicating a clumsy and
imperfect stone cup, not unlike a chemist's mortar--'is the only one
of its kind found of that period. The two go hand-in-hand to prove
facts of enormous interest. All Europe will speak of these to-morrow.
There will be leading articles in half the papers, and essays in all
the more important reviews. What a privilege it is, Alice, to be
allowed to introduce such wonders to the world!'

She looked with sad, wistful eyes at the waifs which had drifted down
from the hidden periods of antique time.

What a contrast that battered vessel and that bleached bone to the
bright, trim dining-room, the sound of the young children's laughter
as they went upstairs to the school-room, and the bright face of Mrs
Parkinson as she bent over the relics!

'Wasn't that very smart of Fred?' said Mrs Parkinson, on coming back
from the dreary history of this bone and this vessel to the beautiful
story of her own children.

'Yes, very smart. He'll be a clever man if he grows up as he now
promises.'

'It was good of you, Willie, to answer him as you did. It was good of
you. Thank you, love.'

'Alice, I promised you you should bring the children up as you and I
were brought up, and you shall. Loo will always be as she is now. God
grant the boy may be also as he is now. At all events,' his face grew
sad, and his voice faltered slightly, as he added, 'it will be time
enough for him to eat the forbidden fruit when he grows up and is
strong. I shall never offer him any; and now, good-bye, love. I am off
to the Society. We shall have a big gathering to-day, and a man who
died long before the Flood will be the hero whom I shall have to
introduce.'

He gathered up the thigh-bone and the stone vessel, placed them in a
case on the floor, closed the case, kissed his wife, and, running
blithely down the steps of the front door, hailed a passing hansom and
jumped in.


                         * * * * * * * * * *


As George Osborne and William Nevill walked arm-in-arm out of the Row,
they did not speak. The former was wondering what Marie Gordon could
have to say to him; the latter was wondering if upon his return from
China he should, instead of going into a retort, get married.

'You know,' thought Nevill, 'I was naturally made for a domestic man.
I often feel as if I were really designed by Nature to wheel a
perambulator, and go to market on wet days. True, I haven't been much
of a stay-at-home. But then I was born at sea, while the vessel was in
an all-plain-sail breeze, and it may be the initial motion I inherited
from the ship at my birth has not yet been quite exhausted. However, I
feel as if it was gradually dying out. Once having set the planets
spinning round the sun, there is no reason why they should ever
stop spinning. Once having set me sailing over the water in an
all-plain-sail breeze, there are reasons why I should stop some time.
First, I am not by any means a heavenly body. No one could, with
justice, say my appearance is heavenly; and I know what my mind is
like, and I answer myself for that--it is, in fact, a good deal in the
other direction. But, you see, although I am not myself a heavenly
body, I may be influenced by heavenly bodies. Now, I should not be at
all surprised if such a heavenly body as Kate Osborne might not have a
very important influence in causing my orbit gradually to contract
until it became purely local, entirely centred by her. Should anyone
say to me: "If you are by nature a domestic man, how is it you never
found it out before? how is it you have not settled down?" I should
reply, "Show me the man who never finds out anything new about
himself, and I'll show you a fool, a monomaniac." To the second
question I should say, "How on earth could a fellow like me, without a
relative in the world, become domestic, unless he married? and how on
earth could a fellow like me marry until he had found someone who
would marry him, and whom he would marry?"

'I am sure I should make an excellent husband, for I know nothing
whatever about household affairs. I don't know what milk is a-gallon,
or blacking a-pound, or coals a-ton, or jam a-pot. I have been brought
up on a bill of fare. I am the embodiment of a _table-d'hôte_. I have
seen beef roasted on the prairie, but the whole carcase had been
purchased for a bullet and a charge of powder--say a penny. I know
such rates do not rule the London market. I heard them say the other
day, at dinner, beef was a shilling a-pound; but how much a pound is,
I haven't the ghost of an idea. Considering me as a domestic man,
there's another good trait in my character; I don't know weights--I
mean domestic weights--'

'Nevill, shall we have a cab?' asked Osborne, breaking in upon his
musings.

'Of course, of course. What a stupid being I am! I was running astray,
Osborne, a rare thing for me. Of course, call a cab. I haven't the
ghost of an idea where this place is. No doubt we have turned our back
on it, and are walking away from it. I don't often ruminate. The
chances are, if I did, I should some day soon walk under the legs of
omnibus horses, or be killed by a coster's barrow.'

'Where to, sir?' asked the cabby through the trap.

'The Prehistoric Society, Great Saurian Street,' answered Nevill.

'It's a trifle over an eighteenpenny fare, and he'll offer me the
eighteenpence and argufy for an hour. They gets no money out of them
societies, and they won't let a man live. If they gets no money out of
them societies, why can't they stop at home, and give a man a chance
of picking up a living out of reasonable fares?'

No conversation occurred in the cab. Each man was too much occupied
with thought. When they alighted at the tall gaunt doorway in Great
Saurian Street, Nevill handed the cabman half-a-crown. The man touched
his hat and drove away, thinking, 'They must be ignorant foreigners or
fools. I'll take my oath they don't belong to them sciences. There's
nothing pays worse than science, not even hospitals.'

Osborne and Nevill found a number of men, none of whom was young, and
most of whom were beyond middle life, gathered in a room of modest
dimensions. Down the centre of the room ran a large leather-covered
table, liberally supplied with pens, ink, and paper. Scattered round
the room were comfortably upholstered chairs. The walls were covered
from ceiling to floor with glass-cases, crammed with daggers, bones,
utensils, shields, arrowheads, spearheads, teeth, flasks of pottery
and basins of stone, bone needles and brass knives.

The proceedings of the meeting had not yet begun. Some of the members
were looking into the cases, some chatting in groups, some writing at
the table. All were serious. There was no laughter. The murmur of a
guttural minor chord filled the room.

Osborne whispered to Nevill, when they had taken their seats, 'What an
unintellectual-looking set of men! Can these be the members of a
learned society? They amaze me.'

'There are, I suppose, some visitors besides ourselves here to-day.
But I daresay the bulk of men present are members. You can know the
members as they enter by their nodding to the officials. Let us see if
we can't pick up someone who will give us a little information. Stop,
here's a civil-looking man sitting with his back to the window; let us
go across to him and try if he will not tell us something of those
around us.'

They moved over to the window. Nevill took the chair next the man he
had indicated; Osborne took a chair next to Nevill.

When they had been seated awhile, Nevill turned to the stranger and
said,--

'I beg your pardon, sir.'

The man bowed and smiled blandly, encouragingly.

'We, my friend and I, are strangers in London. We are the guests of
this learned society to-day, and we know little of its scope and
nothing of its members; and we have dared to hope that if you are not
engaged in something more useful, you might give us a little
information.'

'I shall be most happy to give you any information in my power. In the
first place, I must tell you that I, like you and your friend, am a
guest here to-day. I belong to two societies, but not to this. I
therefore fear you have fallen into bad hands; if you will allow me, I
shall be most happy to introduce you to the secretary or president.'

'Thank you,' answered Nevill, 'we could not think of intruding on the
attention of any officials. We are not scientific men, but I take an
interest in science. My friend, who is a poet, is rather afraid of
science. We only want a few words about the men around us. I daresay
we are now in a room with the flower of England's scientific men.'

'Yes. There is scarcely a man of the first eminence in science who is
not here to-day. But may I ask why your friend is afraid of science?'

'He has a notion it is subversive.'

'Of course it is. But it is subversive of only error. My dear sir, you
need never fear science. It can never do anyone harm. If I tell you
the distance between this and the sun is so much, you may believe me
or not. I don't roast you alive for doubting me. If we say two and two
are four and prove the theorem, and you will not believe us, we will
not stone you. Weak-knee'd Christians are afraid of us; yet where, in
the history of Christianity, is a more charitable and tolerant spirit
to be found than among the children of science?'

'But the birth of science seems to me the death of poetry,' said
Osborne, not wishing to get on the graver branch of the argument.

'I am afraid you are right. As the inferior polypi and worms have
been gradually pushed to the wall by their betters in the three ages
of the world before man, so now among men we see the superior heads
pushing the inferior heads to the wall. The mere hunter is almost
gone. The mere grazier is going fast. You can see that at a glance.
The hunting and the pastoral ages have passed. They were lazy,
wasteful ages compared with ours. Ours is the age of hedged farms
and exactly-defined rights. The day of the poet is gone. The head of
the poet is going to the wall. What did he do in his time for man?
Nothing but fill the head with vapours and history with myths.
The hammer-headed man of science is now exterminating the
delicately-headed man of art. The poet must go, and is going, as the
black man must go, and is going.'

'That's dismal for you, Osborne,' said Nevill.

'I assure you,' protested Osborne, colouring and feeling very
uncomfortable,' I am not a poet. Never wrote a line in my life.'

'I hope, sir,' said the stranger, 'you do not for a moment fancy I
mean what I said to apply personally. Nothing of the kind. I was
speaking of your species.'

'Oh, he understands you, sir,' said Nevill. Then, to turn the
conversation away from Osborne, and gain the information he wished to
get, he said,--'Who is this man here on my left? And out of mercy to
this poet, don't use too technical language.'

'That man is the greatest authority, not only in England, but in
the world, on bones. If you give one bone of any creature known to
have once crawled, walked, flown, or swum, he will tell you not only
what the creature was, but its probable size, and most likely he
will tell you from what era of that creature's development the bone
dates. The man in front is the illustrious broacher of the chimpanzee
theory--that theory which caused more commotion in Europe, and more
intellectual disquiet, than all the inventions of man since Abraham to
our day. The man whom he is talking to is the most revolutionary
chemist of our time. He has been able to do almost everything in
chemistry save invent life. He is a physiologist as well as a chemist.
The man leaning on his stick beside him is our greatest electrician.
He and the chemist work together incessantly, and are hopeful they may
yet get the pendulum of life to swing where no life was before, and
into which no life has been imparted. On your left is a great
geologist. He followed up a discovery made in the diluvial deposit in
the Nile Valley. He also was largely instrumental in throwing back the
age of granite as many years as the most remote fixed star is miles
from earth, which, as far as the human mind can conceive, is infinity.
Writing at the table, you find one of those men who make the morbid
side of Nature a study. He has a theory explaining away almost every
form of mental enthusiasm which has led to delusion. Spiritualism and
religious frenzies are his strong points--'

'My God!' cried Osborne, in horror, 'there are women coming into this
place!'

'Why should not women come in here? There is no place where they may
sit with more security. We do not insist upon their coming here in
indecently low dresses. While they are with us they will hear no
double-meaning phrases, such as they find at many theatres. They are
not asked to sit out an opera, the plot of which is a tissue of crimes
such as pure women should never have heard of. They will hear no
cursing or swearing here. On our stage we do not exhibit any scenes of
gambling or drunkenness. The air of this place is as pure as that of
the chastest house in London, and from the time they come in until
they leave they will hear nothing which could defile a sanctuary.'

'Yes, but,' said Osborne, 'all they hear in this place must tend to
unsettle them on matters they have, in their childhood, been taught to
regard with reverence.'

'Ah, there I must not follow you. You would lead me into a
controversy. A controversy is a thing I never engage in. Controversy
belongs to the poetic or idle age. Controversies were undertaken to
convince others. Science cares only to convince itself. If I say two
and two are four, and can prove it to my own satisfaction, I am quite
content. I don't ask you to adopt my demonstration of the theorem. If
you wish for them you are welcome to my data, and you can try the
theorem yourself. Or you can accept my proof, or you can let it all
alone. Why should I seek to compel you to believe me or not? But if
you say three and five are eight, that is another thing. You may be
able to prove what you say. If you are, that ought to be enough for
you. Suppose we both agree that four and four are eight, why should
you come to me and say, "We both agree four and four are eight; there
is some common ground between us. Come and put your four with my
eight. Then we shall be partners in twelve?" But I don't care for a
partner. Why should you?'

'I don't know,' said Osborne drearily. 'The road you go is a very
barren one.'

'Ah, that is controversial. You say music is the finest art; I say
painting. Very well. Let you stick to your fiddle and I to my brush.
Why should you want the hairs of my bow to paint, or I want to mix my
colours on the back of your fiddle!'

At that moment there was a commotion. Silence fell upon the assembly,
the chairman took his seat, and the members and the guests assumed
attitudes of attention. There was a pause. Then the chairman said a
few words, and called upon Mr Wilfrid Parkinson to address the
meeting.

There was a slight delay, during which Osborne glanced round once more
upon the broken-down-looking men assisting at this unholy rite.

It would be much more becoming in men of their age and position to
spend the evening of their lives in trying to win souls out of this
spiritual Slough of Despond, London, than to devote the few remaining
hours of their time on earth to hastening into the toils of perdition
those who already hesitated on the path. There they were, 'bent,
wigged, and lame;' fathers of grown-up men; grandfathers of lusty
blameless boys. Why could not they let well enough alone? What was the
world to gain by all this progress, all this science? Was man any
happier, any purer, any nobler, now, than when piety was undistracted
by invention, unassailed by research? Here were these old men, with
one foot in the grave, one side of them pushed through the mist of
life into the full light of eternity, and yet they would not be
warned. If the men had been younger he should not have felt so
horrified. But these men had no longer the excuse of ardent blood or
impetuous youth on their side. They were not likely to renounce their
present convictions while they lived. And what an awful thing it was
to think of these men knowingly and deliberately setting their face
towards death, with the certainty in their minds that they had devoted
much of the life God had given them to pulling props from under the
faith God had bestowed on man, a faith miraculously handed from the
skies, writ by the absolute finger of God Himself, and sealed upon
this earth with the sacred Blood of Calvary. Horrible! Unnatural!
Prodigious ingratitude!

By this time Mr Wilfrid Parkinson had commenced his address to the
assembly. Nevill listened intently, but Osborne felt too depressed and
horrified to give attention. He was stunned and dazed. He had heard
and read of such places before, but he had never, until now, been
brought face to face, into intimate contact with science in the
aggressive form. He was not, in most matters, superstitious, yet he
could not help shrinking from those walls, against which reposed
ghastly relics of bygone days, handed down by careless time to be the
cause of spiritual misery and spiritual death among men to-day. He
shrank from those old men, beneath whose blanched hair the calm and
deliberate brain denied all things incapable of substantiation by
facts and things. He shrank into his inner nature, and there cast down
his spirit and prayed, prayed fervently, fiercely thanking God his
Maker and His Son that he had been born in the faith of Christ. He did
not pray for grace to keep that faith. He felt no doubt of his own
strength. No question of his own strength existed in his mind. His
attitude was simply one of terrible thankfulness. His whole soul was
rendering homage to the Great Being who had given him his faith and
kept him in that faith--a faith which had never seemed so priceless,
so essential, as when contrasted with the barren creed which science
sought to make out of dusty bones and senseless rocks.

Osborne paid no attention to Mr Wilfrid Parkinson. He was conscious a
human voice was droning out something or other in a most unexcited
tone and manner. Nevill was following the speaker with intense
interest. Osborne had made up his mind not to endure another afternoon
of this kind again. How much more delightful to walk or sit with
Marie, and chat of some kindly human subject, not about fossils and
chalk, and flint and fluxes! Anything but this pedantry of calm
impartiality. Anything but this cold-blooded prying into Nature, this
wilful disturbing of things settled for thousands of years. What had
satisfied a Shakespeare, a Milton, a Dante, might surely satisfy
Nevill and himself.

While Osborne was earnestly wishing the address over, that they might
go away, a great buzz and commotion arose. Most of the men got on
their feet, wiped their spectacles, and looked eagerly in the
direction of the speaker, who was holding up in one hand the
thigh-bone of a man, and in the other a stone vessel like a chemist's
mortar. As soon as the commotion had subsided, and most of the
audience had resumed their seats, Mr Wilfrid Parkinson proceeded to
say in conclusion,--

'I think there can be no longer any doubts of the theory I have been
advancing since I did myself the honour of coming before you to-day.
The friend who has forwarded me these remains is still busy excavating
on the bank of the Nile. He writes me to say he is hopeful of fresh
success, and that any further remains which may turn up he will at
once forward to me, with an ample account of the place and
circumstance of his good fortune. I am greatly pleased to think that,
through the instrumentality of a friend of mine, the Prehistoric
Society of London has to-day been able to inspect the first remains of
man yet found so far down in that system.'

Applause, long continued, followed the conclusion of the address. All
crowded round the table eagerly. Some shook Mr Parkinson's hand
warmly; some called out their congratulations to him. He was modest,
and said no thanks or congratulations were due to him. He knew it
would be very gratifying to his friend on the Nile, to whom all
congratulations were due, when he heard the flattering reception his
discovery had received at the hands of the illustrious members of the
Prehistoric Society.

Partly by the general movement towards the head of the room, and
partly by the guidance of Nevill, Osborne found himself drifting
slowly upwards towards the excited enthusiastic crowd gathered round
Parkinson and the remains of some other man, name unknown. For the
moment he did not care what way he went. That tedious discourse was
over at last. Soon they should go out into the open air, then back to
Peter's Row, and finally they four should dine at the pleasant
Holborn, where there were no dreary scientists digging up unpleasant
and unnecessary facts, and droning out uninteresting technicalities.

At last they reached the table. How he wished it was six o'clock, that
he might sit at a very different table, and in very different company!
He should then have that beautiful face to feast upon, not this
collection of feeble old age and enthusiastic deposers of sacred
beliefs.

'I am glad you are with me here to-day, Osborne. You have had a treat
many men would come from Berlin to enjoy.'

'I fear I did not pay sufficient attention to the speaker. You know I
am not scientific.'

'But do you not know the meaning of this discovery?'

'No.'

'You amaze me, Osborne.' They were now standing at the table in front
of the bone and the mortar. 'You know,' he went on, 'the Chinese
claim a hundred thousand years of history, and we have laughed at
them.'

'And of course so has every sensible man. Man has not been more than
six thousand years on earth. That is clear any way. We may adjust the
day of creation to the epochs of forming the earth, but man cannot
have been on earth seven thousand years ago.'

'And yet,' said Nevill, pointing with an amused smile at the bone
first, and then at the mortar, 'there is not room for the shadow of a
doubt that this bone and this vessel are between nine and ten thousand
years old.'

'Come away,' cried Osborne impatiently. 'I cannot stay any longer. I
loathe the place.'



                             CHAPTER XII.

                      AN IDLE EVENING AND NIGHT.


At last they got out of that room into the street, and home to the
private hotel. Here they found word awaiting for them that Miss
Osborne would not appear until dinner-time, and that Miss Gordon was
trying to get a little sleep. Upon hearing this the two men looked
blank. There was, however, no appeal; so Osborne went to his room to
write letters, and Nevill said he'd go and look up his Indian
geography.

Osborne was restless, unhappy. He did not know how to describe his
condition to himself. There was a conflict in his mind, but he could
not analyse it so as to determine what were the contending forces.
That girl had sat up all last night, she had something of moment to
tell him, she was resting, and he could not see her, and he wanted to
see her. He felt cold and wretched and forlorn without her. He should
not be able to live a fortnight without seeing her. If she went away
now he should follow her, even if she bade him not. He should follow
her afar off. He should go to the towns she went to, and walk about
the streets all day in the hope of seeing her now and then. He should
not intrude upon her, but when he had found out where she stayed, he
should walk up and down till well into the night, watching over her.
Who could tell but that some great emergency might arise, in which he,
armed by love with the strength of ten, might save her! The maddest
flames that ever burned could not keep him back from the door behind
which she was threatened.

Had all these old men left that place yet, and was that bone lying
there stark upon that table in that vacant hushed room? Or was some
old man, the wood destined to form whose coffin was now seasoned in
the timber-yard and ready for making-up, holding an inquest on that
relic of the past, and founding on that piece of God's work an
indictment against the faith He had revealed to man? It was monstrous.
Monstrous!

Letters! He could write no letters to-day. He could not keep his mind
fixed on any idea for five minutes. He could not sit still at the
table. It was impossible for him to concentrate his mind on anything
but the matter uppermost in his thoughts. He would allow to no man
that his affection for his old Stratford friends had cooled in the
smallest degree; but then he was now consumed by a great passion, and
he had no leisure for ordinary correspondence.

Time wore wearily on, and at last half-past five came, and Osborne
descended to the drawing-room. Here he found Nevill alone. He said,
'You must look sharp, Osborne, if you want to catch this post; it's
just half-past five.'

'Unfortunately I have nothing for it. I did not write a line.'

'By Jove! Must be something in the atmosphere. Yours is exactly my
case. I went to look up Indian geography, and never opened a book.'

'What did you do?'

'Went to sleep.'

'To sleep! I wish I could have gone.'

'Your conscience isn't good enough to allow you, Osborne. You know
very well you are afraid to face facts, and that daunts you.'

'I am not afraid to face facts. But I do not care for things which are
called facts and which are fictions.'

'All right, my dear fellow; don't get excited over the matter.'

'But I assure you, you do me wrong. I have not only the courage of my
opinions, but the courage to hear any other man's opinions.'

'I am not a reading man. But I always carry a few books with me. If
you care to go more deeply into the thing, you are welcome to a loan
of the few I have. I warn you they are not consolatory.'

'I don't want consolation or the obstinacy of the blind. I am much
interested in all you say, and should be very glad to read the books
you offer.'

'Mind, I warn you before you start. You must be prepared for
anything.'

'No fact can affect what is true, and I am prepared to face truth.'

'Very well, you shall have the books when we come back to-night.
Here's Miss Gordon, looking more charming than ever.'

At that moment she entered the room, wearing the Giovanni Bellini hat.
The look of fatigue had disappeared. Once more her eyes were lighted
up with those mysterious fires--once more the rich colour was in her
cheeks. Osborne's heart bounded at sight of her; all the gloom and
dullness of that day faded out of his mind at the spectacle of her
youth and beauty. Who but a fool would bother himself about who had
lived nine thousand years ago, when he might rest his eyes on such a
form and such a face as this? Who would care for the voice of science
or of history, when such a voice as hers was waiting at his ears?

'Miss Osborne will not be down for about twenty minutes. Her watch was
stopped, and she did not think it was so late,' she said as she came
up the room towards the young men.

'Osborne,' said Nevill ruefully, 'you really ought to get your
sister's watch looked after. Most serious consequences often arise
from watches being slow.'

'She gave it to me, Mr Osborne,' said the girl, holding out her hand
as she spoke, 'to take to you, and get it repaired. She thinks the
mainspring must be broken.'

'Allow me to look,' interposed Nevill. 'I'm no end of a swell at
watches. A fellow who is always kicking about must know a lot about
watches. When you are out West, you don't always care to ask Dog's
Tail or Sitting Bull what he thinks of the sanitary condition of your
watch. No, it's not the mainspring. The mainspring is all right. Stop,
there's a jeweller's just at the end of the Row. I'll run out and let
him have a look at it. Perhaps he can put it right before Miss Osborne
comes down. I shall be back in twenty minutes or a little less.'

As he spoke he left the room. When he found himself in the passage he
looked around furtively. No one was in view. He hastily raised the
watch to his lips and kissed it, whispering,--

'I wanted that; and there was no good in my staying and spoiling
sport.'

When he had gone, Miss Gordon moved still closer to where Osborne sat
spellbound by admiration.

Insensibly he rose and held out his hand. She gave him hers.

'I never saw you looking so lovely before,' he said slowly--he
retained her hand, and kept his eyes fixed on her face--'never.'

'I am glad to hear you say so,' she answered gently. She looked up at
him for an instant, and blushed and smiled. 'Do you like this hat as
well to-day as the first time you saw it?'

'I like the owner a thousand times better.'

'You know what I told you?'

'I have forgotten nothing you have ever told me, child.'

'You recollect I said if I put on that hat I should put on my saucy
manner?'

'I recollect all you said, child. What of it?'

'You would be sorry if I put this hat off for ever?'

'It becomes you very well.'

'You would be sorry if I put away my saucy manner for ever?'

'Your sweeter manner becomes you better.'

'This morning, when I was looking at the sky, I saw all at once how
foolish I had been, and how wise you are.'

'My child, my child, my precious child! My God, I thank Thee. You will
never take away from me your sweeter manner?'

'No.'

'You will never take away from me this sweetest hand?'

'No.'

'Sweet is the kiss that comes alone with willingness. My love, my
love, my life, my life, my child, my darling child, my wife! Does that
word "wife" affright you, Marie?'

'No.'


                         * * * * * * * * * *


He knew he could not sleep that night, so did not undress when he went
to his room. For awhile he walked up and down in suppressed
excitement. This was the most important day of his life. She, whom his
heart had set above all other earthly prizes, had consented to be his
for ever. Intoxicating thought! For ever! He should now be specially
privileged to see her every day. Every day, until she became his
finally, and then no power on earth could take her from him for an
hour. His own, his darling, his most beautiful and amiable Marie. He
should not call her Marie. It had an unfamiliar, foreign sound. But
how sweet and dutiful and homely sounded Mary! It was the gentlest and
the dearest name borne by woman. His gentlest and his dearest love.
What a gift bounteous Providence had bestowed on him that day! All
life ought to be one long thanksgiving for this rich boon.

When morning came, and she entered the breakfast-room and he went to
her--to her, his most dear love--and their eyes met and they looked
with a new meaning into the face of one another, what profound, what
sober joy! He would not hold her hand unduly, but press it and release
it, and thank her again with his eyes. And all through the time, when
others were by, they would have secret signals of love confessed, and
these signals would be invisible or else unintelligible to anyone but
themselves.

And when they were alone--when she and he were alone! Oh, priceless
privilege to be alone with her, and free to speak to her of love, and
sit beside her as a lover might, and draw the dear form close to him,
and kiss her lips! Hold her to him and say no word, but feel through
all his nature the one supreme emotion welling up continually, each
moment seeming richer and richer as it came, and in his mind only one
thought, 'It is she! It is she!'

Sleep? He could not sleep now. Those who had dull humdrum lives might
sleep; but he--he, with all this joy for the present, this
anticipation for the future, how could he sleep? No, no. No sleep for
him to-night. He had never before regretted he did not smoke. If what
smokers said about tobacco was true, it would be delightful to sit
here now before the fire, and while looking at her face through the
halo lent by a pipe, count the strikings of the clocks, and mark the
lessening time that separated her from him.

Read? No. He didn't think he could read. Verse was out of the
question. His life now was a poem, and he should be able to see beauty
in nothing that did not resemble her--that she did not share.

Ah, so Nevill had sent him those promised books. They were all new to
him, He would look through them. They might make him sleepy. No doubt,
if they contained any such absurdities as Nevill had told him, they
would amuse him or put him to sleep. He wished he could go to sleep.

Half-a-dozen books lay on the dressing-table. He turned them over for
a few minutes and then selected one. It was full of diagrams and other
drawings. He amused himself for a few minutes looking at these. His
eye caught the word 'love.' This was apropos of his condition; and,
with a smile of incredulous wonder on his face, he turned to read what
the author had to say on the subject.

Before he had read half-a-dozen pages he threw the book down with
contempt.

He took up another. This proved too technical for him. He could not
understand what he read. He put that away quietly.

Next he found a cheerful-looking book of which he had heard, but never
seen. It was in the line of natural history, and yet unlike any
natural history hitherto published. He opened it and began to read.

It interested him at once. He read rapidly. He flew over the pages.
This was the most remarkable book which had ever fallen into his
hands. He became wholly absorbed in it. He turned the leaves and
turned the leaves as though he were looking for some marked passage,
not reading the printed words.

This book fascinated him as no book had had power to do before. It was
a poem of facts. Here were wonders he had never dreamed of paraded
before his eyes, not out of the imagination of a poet, but out of
God's great storehouse, Nature. Here were vast truths of Nature
brought home to the everyday pathways of men.

His face grew pale, and his eyes blazed. He did not hear the clocks
strike. He took no heed of time. He rushed through the book at so
great a rate, he could not pause to think or to regard himself.

It was close to five o'clock when he finished the last chapter of that
book. He felt that sleep had drawn further off than ever. Again he
paced up and down the room.

His love. His Mary. His wife that was to be. Close to five only! Would
night never pass until he should see her again? In love hours seemed
as long as in childhood. The hour a child is kept in school when the
others have gone seems an hour of infinite pleasant possibilities to
the unfortunate prisoner. The hour a lover is separated from his
newly-won mistress seems more spacious still, for love crowds more joy
into a minute than childhood into an hour.

No sleep. No rest. Nothing else to read.

Yes. Another book. Another book by the same author too! That was
fortunate. No doubt it would be more interesting than the last. It
dealt with a more interesting subject--Man.

For half-an-hour he read here and there. This time, before he had
finished the first chapter, his face had flushed, his manner become
excited. At last he let the book fall to the ground, and cried, in a
suppressed voice,--

'What abomination is this! What monstrous blasphemy! Man the
accidental descendant of the ape! Why is not this book burned by the
common hangman? How can any printer and publisher be got so base as to
lend themselves to this impious affront upon Heaven? Oh God, that men
placed by Thee upon this earth of Thine, should defile it and outrage
Thee with such heinous thoughts! Glory be to God on high, and on earth
peace to men of good-will.'

He drew back the curtain of his window, placed a chair to the window,
put out the light, and sat down by the window, and looked out upon
London in the hour of that greatest darkness, the hour before the
dawn.

Then he had a vision, and later on a dream.



                           Part the Second.

                           DEPOSING SATURN.



                              CHAPTER I.

                              A VISION.


He saw an expanse of wild waters. The waters were grey and turbid from
action of the winds. Clouds hung low over the sea in thick folds,
through which came a dim yellow light. It was a November afternoon.
A heavy gale blew from the north-east. In the plain of the German
Ocean exposed to view nothing was visible but cloud and billow. This
north-east piercing wind had come across the frozen plains and seas
and mountains and forests and fjords of Norway.

His eyes explored the north-eastern plain of water. He could see
nothing but sea and vapour. Not an island, not a rock, not a ship was
in sight. This vision had become familiar to him. He knew its history,
its sequence, its goal. For years it had haunted him. He had now no
control over it. Once he had read something, which had suggested it.
Time after time he indulged his imagination in the spectacle of events
following that open space of turbid sea in the Northern Ocean, and now
he had no power to dismiss it from his imagination if he had had the
will.

To-night some unknown fear lurked in his consciousness. He could not
tell what this fear was. It was strange, too, this vision now in
opening before him had the aspect of a threat. Of old it had boded no
evil. It had been nothing but an imaginative way of putting a guess, a
theory. To-night, when he had turned his eyes first on that ugly space
of wind-tossed waters, his spirits had suddenly sunk, and he had
shivered, as if under portentous influence.

Around him, beneath him, lay London, hushed in sleep. In no other part
of the world was peaceful man so secure as in London. He had but to
ring a bell, break a pane of glass, and shout, to summon succour
sufficient to overwhelm a hundred assassins. What chilled and
terrified Osborne was no dread of violence from without. There was
nothing outside this room of which he stood in fear. And yet he
trembled and felt cold and tremulously alarmed. No spectre of a wrong
done by him rose up before his eyes. All his past showed nothing which
could threaten his peace. He did not know clearly what he dreaded. He
had a foreboding without a form.

What disturbed him so this night of his greatest worldly triumph, of
his dearest earthly joy? He could not answer. Might this be a form of
compensation, of reaction, to balance the ecstasy of the day? He could
not tell. He only knew that vision had begun, and would now go on; and
he felt that when it ended he should be face to face with trouble
never dreamed of till then.

He saw in the eye of the wind, where sea and sky tumbled together away
in the north-east, a dark dot. It looked no bigger than a grain of
sand upon a drumhead, and it danced and leaped as a grain of sand on a
drumhead when the skin is struck. Although this object looked small,
and was now only on the verge of the horizon, it lay at no great
distance; for gales and lowering clouds and mounting waters curtain
off space, and bring the horizon home.

Gradually the small object increased in size as it was pressed forward
in a south-westerly direction by the wind. It never grew to great
size. As it approached he could see dimly it was a long large canoe,
made of a tree hollowed out like those used by the Indians. It was
open, undecked. It had no sail, and was blown forward by the action of
the wind on the hull.

As the canoe drew nearer he could discern the figure of a man standing
in the stern of the boat, paddle in hand. Now he made a swift stroke
of the paddle this way, now that. Anon he swept the blade two or three
times in the one direction.

In front of where the man stood lay something covered up with skins.

Each wave that trembled and pressed past him the man surveyed quietly,
calmly, deliberately, using his paddle so as to prevent the mounting
water swamping his boat. When the wave had gone by, and immediate
danger no longer threatened the canoe, he turned his eyes upon the
bundle at his feet. His face was capable of little expression;
nevertheless there was a difference between the glance he gave the
menacing waves and the look he gave the bundle. In the former dwelt an
expression of familiarity, mastery, superiority; in the latter, one of
concern and pity. The substantial lineaments of his countenance did
not alter; the only thing which changed was the spirit of his eyes.

The short winter day died. The wind did not increase, but drew a
little more to the eastward. Still the man stood erect. The bundle lay
at his feet; and he watched the waves mount and curl round him, and
steered his boat. But something of the determined air and resolute
touch had left him, and his actions were less decisive and firm. As
night closed in, the canoe still drifted before the northeasterly
breeze. The bundle at his feet moved. He stooped hastily, and passed a
handful of food under the skins; there was a low moan from under the
skins. The man threw up his head, and looked desperately around him.

Nearly all the light had gone now; but in the dim yellow twilight he
detected something which created a profound emotion in him. He bent
down and tried to pierce the thickening gloom. Then he drew in his
paddle out of the water, and resting it on the bottom of the canoe,
stood upon the gunwale, and, balancing himself, looked long into the
south-west, the course in which the wind was carrying him.

At length a gleam of hope illumined his face. With a wild shout of joy
he sprang down from the gunwale, and, bending over the bundle in the
bottom of the boat, cried out,--

'Land! Land ahead!'

The bundle moved a little once more, and a faint cry, half
pleasure half pain, came from it. He took two more handfuls of some
dark-coloured food, and thrust it under the furs. That was the last
food left in the canoe.

Night fell, and still that rude boat drifted on. Hour after hour this
solitary figure stood up in the stern, and kept the boat from harm.
About midnight the waves grew gradually less and less, and about the
third hour the canoe was in comparatively smooth water.

The man stooped, shook the bundle at his feet softly, and said,--

'Courage! We are in a fjord or river. We are saved!'

Although it was dark at four, he could make out land, low land at both
sides of him. For hours he still kept on. Gradually the water had
grown smoother, and now he was enabled to direct the course of the
boat while crouching in the stern. He was almost exhausted, and kept
awake with difficulty.

At last, instead of the long even swells, the water grew broken and
chopped, and whistled in the breeze. He noticed also the canoe moved
more slowly, and that there was more difficulty in steering her.

The man stood up, leaned over the side of the canoe, and laid his
paddle on the surface of the water. The breeze had power over the
boat, but little or none over the floating paddle. He then fixed his
eyes on a large object on the shore close to hand, and watched
intently.

The boat neither advanced nor receded, yet the influence of the wind
was as great as it had been hours before. Some force was counteracting
the wind. He leaned over and grasped the paddle floating alongside. It
had drifted an arm's length astern. Only one inference could be drawn
from these facts: the tide had turned. Only one dread was in his mind:
he might be dragged out to sea again.

He bent low and examined, as well as the light would allow him, the
right-hand shore. It was irregular, indented with little creeks and
bays. Abreast of him was the highest point of land in view. He could
see the other shore and about half-a-mile of the shore he lay under.

Seizing the paddle in both hands, he impelled the canoe slowly and
cautiously towards the high land on the starboard beam. Gradually as
he approached, the ground rose out of the water, and when he had got
in shore he could dimly make out a round acclivity sloping gradually
upwards five or six canoes' lengths high. He thrust the paddle down in
the water as far as it would go. It stuck, and required force to bring
it up again. When he got it up he felt the blade. That was all right
now--mud.

With a few dexterous strokes of his paddle he shot the canoe forward,
steered her behind a little promontory, and then drove her head
ashore. He walked forward, and with his paddle felt the bottom of the
river. Mud, and a hand's breadth of water. He went aft, and thrust
down his paddle. Mud and an arm's depth of water. Good! The water
would fall away and leave the canoe high and dry. It would be daylight
soon. When the sun arose he should look round and see this place. He
was tired, worn out. He would lie down and sleep awhile.

He bent over the bundle, and said,--

'All is well. We have reached land! Courage! We shall go ashore in the
morning. It is near day. I will lie down and sleep till dawn.'

A low moan was the only reply.

The man threw himself on the bottom of the canoe and drew skins over
him.

The sun had risen above the horizon when he awoke. Dull clouds hung
overhead. The sun was hidden. Gradually the river became illumined.
The man sat up and looked around him. In front lay a vast stretch of
marshes, with here and there a low hummock rising a few feet above the
yellow water. To the west of the land, on which the canoe had taken
the ground, appeared an opening. To the east all was morass and dreary
swamp and water. Above him rose the gentle hill, clad from the margin
of the river to the summit with lofty leafless trees, beneath which
brambles and underwood lay bare and ragged, and under all a thin
carpet of moss-like grass.

The water had now fallen away from the boat, and she lay high and dry
upon a bank of soft dark mud. The man felt this mud with his paddle,
ascertained it was firm enough to support his weight, stepped out on
it, and ascended the slope.

When he reached the summit he looked round and found himself on a
small island, standing in a swampy plain, with a broad river, the one
he had come up the night before, on the southern shore, and a small
stream on the western side.

He could not see how far the island extended to the east; it could be
no great distance, for, above the farthest land, eastward, gleamed
water. Upon this island, and upon this only of all in view, grew
forest trees. The place was a desert, a waste; no sign of man
appeared. By hard Fate this unlucky man had been blown away from his
home, from his fellows, and his peers. Day had succeeded day, and he
had seen nothing but water and sky, sky and water. Now he saw land,
but a strange unknown land; a land never trodden by man before--a land
he had never heard of, and he came of a great seafaring race.

He had not been overwhelmed by the sea; but, except that fate, this
was the worst that could befall him. He was not dead, but he stood in
a strange land, a land from which he could never find his way back
over unexplored seas, fathomless darkness of night, tumult of waves.
But the best must be made of things as they were. Looking at sky and
river and shore would not restore him to the land of his birth. The
best thing to do was to try what he could make of the place which had
come in his way and saved him from a watery grave.

He glanced around him to see what facilities the place afforded.

The first thing which caught his eyes was a large white stone among
the trees at the top of the hill. Three trees stood near this stone. A
hut might be constructed with the stone for one side, and trees for
corners of the opposing side. It was desirable he should live on the
highest point of the island. There was no trace of man here. But
people might come up that river upon either design or compulsion, and
it was desirable he should be in a position commanding all approaches.
Yes, he would build a hut there to shelter them; when that was done,
he should explore this strange country at leisure.

Now he should go and fetch them.

He returned to the boat, and, bending over the bundle, spoke, and
raised the skins. The sun had not come out, but the light shone full
and strong.

In the light of that November day the man lifted and carried ashore
his wife and new-born son, and conveyed them up to the place he had
selected as their future home.

This man, this woman, and this child, on the top of that low hill that
November day, who had been blown off the coast of Denmark, were the
first human beings that had set foot on this soil, this country. Since
that day alterations have taken place in that landscape. Since then
great alterations have taken place on that hill. Among many changes,
one of the most remarkable is that layer after layer of matter has
accumulated on the hill, and it now rises to twice its former height.
The stone, against which that half-naked savage reared his rude wattle
hut, was not destroyed or carried away. It still occupies the same
position as then. It is now covered with layers of deposit. It is on
the same level as the day he landed; It stands in the same latitude
and longitude. In the same latitude and longitude to-day, three
hundred and ninety feet above that stone, blazes in the sun the gilded
Cross of the Christian Cathedral of St Paul's!

George Osborne's vision ended. He rose, stood by the window, looked
out on London of to-day.



                             CHAPTER II.

                               A DREAM.


He thought: Between that stone, covered up by the dust of centuries,
marking the first spot where the foot of man had touched Britain, and
that on which now the mightiest city of all time had been gathered,
what cycles and revolutions of things and of thoughts! Here the rude
barbarian, clad in skins, disfigured with paint, had knelt in worship
before the sun, the tempest, the river, the winds. Here had come in
time, pressed out of the East, the fire-worshipper and the Druid. Here
men had bent the knee to every form of heathen god conjured up by the
weird fertile brain of the North. Here Odin and Thor, in the heat of
battle, when the death-blow came, had been implored to open the gates
of immortality to the soul that yearned for Valhalla. Here had smoked
the sacrificial garlanded bull, under the knife of mysterious priests
of the sacred groves.

Here had striven anarchy, bloodshed, rapine, pillage, and desolating
invasions during century upon century of barbaric sway. While Phideas
and Praxiteles marked the climax of Greek art, the half-clad native of
these Thames islands was prowling along its banks in a condition as
low as the North American savages of to-day.

What a history lay in the space between the top of the gilded cross
and that unhewn slab against which the first human habitation had been
erected in England! Wave after wave of races had passed over the spot.
Belgic giants had invaded the place, and pushed back aborigines into
the unexplored forest depths of the central plain. Then came Romans,
and Jutes, and Angles, and Saxons, Norsemen, and Normans. All had
passed between that buried stone and that exalted cross. Each had
lived awhile here, had multiplied and buried its dead, and offered
sacrifice; had raised temple, statue, idol; had bowed down and
worshipped, and been driven away by new men who spoke a strange
tongue. Each had come with greater power than its predecessor, had
conquered, and slain, and pillaged, and overturned the old altars, and
set new ones up. Time after time a stronger race bore back a weaker,
and upon the site of the temple of the old faith rose the temple of
the new. Until William conquered Harold, there had always been a
change of faith with each change of masters, and faith had had much to
do with strengthening the hands of those who had fought and won. That
august cathedral of St Paul's now stood upon a mound formed of
mouldered churches and groves and mystic stones, where people had
prayed to false deities before the True One had been preached to them.
In the crypt of that church stood the carriage upon which the body of
the great Duke of Wellington was drawn to sepulchre in St Paul's
thirty-seven years after his crowning triumph of Waterloo; and
twenty-five feet beneath that car lay the petrified sides of the first
boat and the petrified ribs of the first man that ever landed in
Britain from the Thames. Partly owing to the silting up by the river,
and partly owing to the crumbling of edifices built by man, that
island had century after century grown in height and extent, until it
had joined another island close at hand, and in two thousand five
hundred years raised its head twenty-five feet above the floor of that
primal hut. Every inch of that mound is rich in ecclesiastical
history, every foot of earth is the record of a century. There is more
knowledge to be extracted from this humble English hillock than from
all the books of Greece or Rome; for historians and poets often lie,
but cairns, the burial-places of a thousand generations, never!

Never?

George Osborne drew back from the window.

Dull light of dawn was beginning to spread over the sky, and take up
the city out of the ocean of darkness. Scarcely a sound struck upon
the silence of the hour. All was dreary, chill, forlorn. The pale
light fell upon the pale countenance of the man. He covered his face.

Never! Never! What a staggering blow that was! Never? Intolerable
thought! What, could it be after all that that bone was as old as they
had said? Ugh! The excitement of the day and want of sleep at night
had been too much for him. He was wholly worn out, exhausted. It was
not fair to tax nature thus. It was not just to himself to sit up all
night, and then face such awful questions in the cheerless dawn. It
was not fair. No one could blame him for being a little shocked and
shaken. It was only a shock or a shake, and he would laugh at it as
soon he had had rest and quiet.

But for the one moment it had lasted, the shock, the shake--call it
what you will--was terrible to bear. All at once had glanced in upon
him Doubt, the most repellent spectre he had ever yet seen.

What! could any mere man dare to impugn the verdict of a hundred
generations? From century to century, men of various creeds and forms
of worship had crowded around the summit of that little hill. Now,
almost within his own lifetime, a set of men had arisen who, unlike
the cynics and scoffers of old, undertook to prove, out of God's own
earth, the absence of a Guiding Spirit, an Omnipotent Ruler! Now that
religion had reached a degree of purity and elevation never touched
before, were we to sit still, and hear calm, bland, unaggressive men
professing to show beyond doubt that there was no ascertainable reason
for believing the greatest theory man had cherished? It was a
nightmare, a blasphemous jest.

There was the cold winter dawn breaking silently over the vastest city
of all the world. How small each individual man looked amid the
millions now swarming at the foot of that great cathedral! How
infinitesimally little looked individual man under that dome of cloud!
Nothing short of the eye of Omnipotence could distinguish individual
man on this insignificant planet spinning round one sun out of
millions squandered in the unfathomable realms of space! And yet this
miserable parasite of earth, man, had dared to raise up his head and
declare his ability to prove out of the works of Omnipotence that no
such power existed! Which was this, insolence beyond endurance, or
insanity beyond cure?

Osborne went to the window and looked out. A cold chill struck through
him. He shuddered, leaned feebly against the window-frame, and gazed
upon the plain of roofs stretched beneath him.

He fell into a profound melancholy. His mind was now as calm and
settled about its own attitude as ever it had been by the quiet banks
of the Avon, under the pious shadows of Trinity Church, that sheltered
Shakespeare's ashes. But out there, below where he stood, were men now
sleeping who would wake in awhile, and devote their day to the
services of Doubt, of Unbelief. These men were worse than the cynics,
or the scoffers, or the sceptics. They could not be accused of passion
or violence: they carried the manners of sincerity and impartiality;
they advocated no code of their own; they simply tried to destroy
yours; or, worse still, they did not assail your beliefs, but
furnished you with weapons against all you held highest, noblest,
holiest.

It was worse than sad to think of these men. He would think no more of
them now. He would take off his boots, and coat, and waistcoat, and
try if he could not get a little sleep.

He lay down, and in a few minutes the substantial things of the room
faded from his gaze, and a period of unconsciousness followed.

Then he opened his eyes again. He found himself in a skiff blown by
the winds over the tawny waters of the German Ocean towards the shores
of Britain. The skiff was in deadly peril, for the waves were high.
She had no sail to steady her. Any moment a broken wave might swamp
her.

At his feet lay a bundle of skins on the bottom of the boat, and he
knew under those skins lay a woman, the woman destined to be the first
to land in England. But where was the man? Where was the mate of this
woman? Osborne did not know, but he felt sure the man would appear in
due time.

For days and nights that skiff pitched about the German Ocean. It did
not encounter disaster or reach security. At last, one evening, as it
grew dusk, and he was well-nigh spent, he saw the mouth of a great
river, and steered the skiff in.

What a difference between this river and the river of his vision! They
were not the same, and yet they were. The waters and the shores of
that river had shown no trace of man. No vessel had swum in that
stream, no house or hut had stood upon its banks. The waters of this
stream were crowded with craft of every size and build. The shores
were lined with houses and wharfs, and stores of every height and
kind. And yet the two rivers were identical in all things. How was
this?

Ah, now he saw. The explanation was simple. How stupid of him not to
have seen it at once! Of course the reason the river was the same,
although it was now full of vessels and had buildings all along its
banks, was because in all these vessels and in all these buildings
there was not a single living soul. How could he have been so stupid
as for even a moment to forget that wave of red wind which had come
from the south and killed all living things in London? Yes, that had
been a dreadful wind, and yet not so bad as it might have been, for it
had killed all. How much more merciful to kill all than to leave some
to mourn! Suppose he had been in London at the time, it would have
been hard upon his mother and sister; much harder than if the whole
family had been carried off together, for then they would have had no
earthly sorrow, and would have entered at once upon their heavenly
union hereafter.

His mother and his sisters were all the people in the world who would
grieve for him. He had no other relatives now. All his other relatives
were dead, and he had no close friend, no friend who would say more
than 'Poor Osborne!' in a passing kindly way.

How strange he should have been selected to bring this woman lying
down there beneath the skins from the coast of Jutland to the Thames,
to the wharf under St Paul's! A moment ago he had thought not a living
soul was to be found in all London. What an oversight! Of course there
was this woman's husband. He had been sent on before. The sole man in
all London was now waiting for his savage wife under St Paul's; and
when that woman had been landed out of the canoe, and given over to
her savage husband, once more would provision be made for the peopling
of London. This savage pair would inherit this vast London, with all
its palaces, and ships, and warehouses, and churches. They were
destined to be the first parents of the future people of the city.

He wondered what this savage woman was like. Hideous, no
doubt--hideous, with high cheek-bones and fat flat face. No doubt she
was painted too, and had a necklace of shells or fish-bones. He was
glad she slept so well. It would have been a dreadful thing to look at
such a loathsome creature. Fancy his disgust at being obliged to spend
all this time in view of a savage woman, he who had such an intense
yearning after the beautiful--he whose life had hitherto been spent
with Shakespeare in Stratford-on-Avon, and in the forests of Arden
surrounding that town. Intolerable!

When he had landed this unhandsome freight he should at once leave
this death-stricken city, and go back to Stratford and Shakespeare and
the forests of Arden.

Ah! here was St Paul's clearly visible at last. His labours were
nearly at an end. It was twilight dawn. All the objects on the river
and shore were dimly visible.

As he drew near the wharf he felt greatly relieved. He should, when he
landed the woman now lying at his feet, have performed the great
object of his life, and should spend the remainder of his days in
placid contemplation in the old haunts he loved so well.

On the wharf appeared the figure of a man, not semi-nude as Osborne
had anticipated, but clad in a long cloak reaching from neck to heel.

Osborne guided the canoe towards the wharf, and ran it alongside. The
figure of the man never stirred.

Osborne shouted out, and said he had brought the man's wife from
Jutland. Upon this the figure moved across the wharf, and, having
descended into the boat, caught the bundle of skins and the figure
under it, and bore both to the wharf.

For the first time Osborne now noticed he himself was chained by the
leg to the thwart of the canoe. He did not care about that, for he was
not going to land in desolate London; but would now push off, and go
as far as Oxford by river. The tide was still running up strongly.

The man stood on the wharf close to the edge, and held the woman in
his arms.

Osborne put the paddle against the wharf and pushed off with all his
might. As he did so his foot slipped, and the paddle fell from his
grasp, shot into the water, and did not rise again. It had stuck in
the mud. With a cry of dismay he tried to clutch the side of the
wharf, but it was beyond his grasp. He caught the side of the canoe
and tugged at it with all his might, as though that could in that way
influence the career of the boat, which now drifted slowly away from
the wharf.

He was in despair. What should he do? He could not guide this canoe
without a paddle or oar. It would be driven against the abutment of a
bridge, and capsized or stove in, and sunk.

He stood up and looked around him with perplexity and alarm. At length
he thought of the figures on the wharf. He was now thirty yards from
it. The light was fuller. He raised his head.

'Merciful Heaven, seal up my eyes! Strike me dead! Take away my
reason! O God of all mercy, have mercy upon me! Have mercy and let me
die!

'Courage, Marie, Mary, love, sweetheart, wife! Courage!

'Maker of me, Maker of the universe, pardon me that one impious doubt,
and let me come to her and save her! Oh, let me save her, my Marie, my
love, my sweetheart!

'Courage, love! Courage!'

He tore at the chain. It would not yield. He stamped and beat his
brows in a frenzy of despair.

At last he looks calm. A strong tide is running up. There is only one
chance. Can he swim back to the wharf, towing the upturned boat after
him? There is no other hope. He flings aside his coat and waistcoat
and boots. In a moment he is in the water.

How cold!

He keeps his eye fixed on a spot on the shore.

Merciful Heaven, his last chance is gone! His utmost efforts are
powerless to stem the tide. He is rapidly drifting away from the
wharf.

'Oh, to think I had Marie in the boat, and never knew it! Oh, to think
I should have carried her all over those leagues of ocean, to resign
her for ever into those awful arms!'

The two figures on the wharf came out black against the grey
dawn-light in the sky. From the head and shoulders of the man the
covering had fallen away, and the woman now stood divested of the
furs. The figure which had worn the cloak was that of a skeleton; the
woman he had landed was his Marie. The skeleton held her tightly in
its arms. She stretched forth her arms to him entreating delivery.

Gradually he drifted farther and farther away from that awful group.
In another minute the wharf would be out of sight. He turned round,
and sought to seize the upturned boat. He lost sight of everything.
There was a shout of the waters in his ear. He knew he was drowning,
and he thanked God.



                             CHAPTER III.

                              DAYLIGHT.


With a cry he sprang sitting up, and looked around him.

'A dream!' he whispered. 'A dream! What a hideous dream! Ah, that is
the most terrible dream I have ever had. God, forgive me. God pardon
me, if in one brief moment yesterday I allowed a question of any of
Your inconceivable qualities to enter my mind.'

He flung himself out of bed and dropped on his knees, facing the
light. He threw his hands up to Heaven beseechingly, imploringly, and
prayed with all the fervour of his nature, asking for strength and
grace and undying faith. He covered his face with his hands, bowed his
head to the floor, and wailed for mercy, for forgiveness.

He admitted that for one moment yesterday his faith had been shaken.
He admitted this with all the humility of his soul. He was unworthy to
raise his eyes to Heaven, he who had sinned so heinously; but the
All-Merciful might show him mercy. Mercy had been promised to all who
humbled themselves and asked for mercy. He lay there, prone, full of
pitiful sorrow and passionate importunity. Grant him mercy, grant him
mercy, grant him hope!

Here he paused a long time. His thoughts made no progress. After a
time they took a new form, and a wilder fervour of entreaty burst from
him.

'Bowed down, body and soul, will I remain all day, beseeching Thee not
to visit this sin upon her, beseeching Thee not to punish me through
her happiness.'

He felt a flush dash through him, and he raised up his head in abject
entreaty.

'No, no, no! Judge me not, O Lord! I am not moved by mixed motives. I
do not place an earthly being between Thee and me. But if it be Thy
will, spare her and smite me; spare her and smite me. If she must
suffer, Thy will be done. Thy will be done. Thy will be done.'

He felt calmer. 'Thy will be done' had solaced him. So long as he
pleaded his own cause or her cause he was overwhelmed by a sense of
his unworthiness. Having confessed his sin and expressed his sorrow,
and thrown himself upon the mercy of God, he felt more easy with the
words of absolute submission on his lips than with the most passionate
entreaty.

He rose, went to the window, and looked out.

It was now busy morning. Sounds of traffic filled the air. From the
window he could see no street, but he could hear the rattle and the
din. A vast plain of houses stretched before him. From a thousand
chimneys he saw arise a thousand shafts of smoke. The simple people
who lived in these modest homes were stirring. The smoke showed
breakfast was in course of preparation. These simple people had gone
to bed and slept peacefully, had risen and said a few fervent prayers,
and were now preparing for the morning meal. Here and there above the
houses rose spires and towers of churches in the sober morning light,
like sentinels guarding the people from spiritual harm.

Happy, busy folk! Happy people who had no leisure for speculations or
fears! Happy you who are not open places for the four winds of love to
beat into tumult! You cannot sit late reading forbidden words, for you
must be up and away to business betimes. The idle man's faith is open
to continual assault. The idle man's heart is ever exposed to the
arrows of outrageous love. And yet neither his own faith nor his heart
had been assailed until now. Did that fact result from the nature of
life led by him, or from qualities inherent in himself? Most likely
from the kind of life.

Happy you busy people down there who have no time for the luxury of
such soul-abandoned love! Your dull lives are mere routines of
commonplaces. Your love-making is no more exciting than your going to
a new school or taking a new house. You settle most of your worldly
affairs by the rule of three, and leave your spiritual concerns in the
hands of a methodical rector you know to be well-informed and
blameless. Who could live among the immutable, the unemotional
Chinese? De Quincey says he should go mad in the Flowery Land. He
could not endure their immortal traditions, their immemorial customs.

After all, perhaps it was better to be more finely strung than these
honest dull traders below. The man was a coward who would not risk the
higher pain for the higher pleasure. What was the sum of happiness in
the life of one dull plodding man of method compared with the rapture
which came to him at the touch of Marie's hand?' Ah well, honest folk
of method, go your way; I will go mine. If life shall give me nothing
else great, it shall give me love. I will fling all other ambitions to
the wind now. I will think of nothing else on earth. I shall look for
my earthly and heavenly happiness in being with her here all my life,
and in death to be with her in the land of the faithful.'

For the first time he became sensible he was cold. He had slept more
than an hour without coat, waistcoat, or boots, and the raw chilliness
of winter dawn had entered his blood and stiffened his joints. He did
not know the hour; he felt no curiosity to know. He put on his coat,
waistcoat, and boots. He was low and wretched.

'I shall never be so foolish as to sit up another night. She sat up
last night, and I this. After all, there are some things to be
approved of in the life of those people down there.' He was standing
at the window once again. 'If they have natures too practical,
vitalities too low to experience the highest privileges of pleasure,
they are obliged to keep regular hours. They cannot, after the wear
and tear of the day, sit up until winter daylight surprises them. If I
had not sat up, I should not have had that dream. If I had not sat up,
I should not feel so weak and depressed now. If I had not sat up, I
should not have got that revolting shock. It is against nature to sit
up. All living things retire with the sun except man. Of course there
are exceptions; but all creatures that come out after dusk are unclean
and loathsome.

'And yet some men must sit up all night, for the good of others:
lighthouse-keepers, and policemen, and watchmen, and sailors at sea,
and astronomers.

'Astronomers and, no doubt, other men of science. Other men of
science! Other men of science! How chill and dismal the morning! Other
men of science no doubt. Astronomy is a loyal science. If difficulties
arose in reconciling it now and then with Revelation, the difficulties
disappeared. But other sciences were ruthless, impious; they respected
nothing, they would reconcile with nothing. They were arrogant
autocrats, absolute iconoclasts.

'Out there, down beneath, were the honest hardworking men of London
rising and going forth from their homes to their blameless work. While
they had slept the policemen had watched over their lives and their
properties; while they had slept these sentinel churches had watched
over their spirits. Their lives were spent in daily toil and nightly
sleep to fit them for the morrow's labour. When the day of rest came,
they flocked to those, churches from which rose those towers and
spires, and there gave thanks for benefits received, begged
continuance of grace and favours, and humbly prayed that in the end,
when the shadow of death fell upon them, they might be permitted to
join the pious hosts around the Eternal Throne.

'But in the darkness of the night-time, in silence and in secrecy,
came forth an impious band of men, who, unsweetened by any faith,
devoted all their time to undermining the faith of others. They came
forth disguised as benefactors of mankind, philanthropists,
progressionists; and when good simple people slept they went to work
down there. Down there, where the churches stood, the churches which
watched over the spirits of sleeping man by night, under which his
fervent thanks and dearest aspirations were uttered on the Lord's Day,
they stole, and, hidden in their cloaks, strove to sap the walls!
Sought to sap the walls of the churches and bring down the towers and
spires, and leave man with no thought above this gross earth and its
gross pains and pleasures!

'Of all other crimes, what could equal this? It was not like the
enthusiasm of creed against creed, or sect against sect, which sought,
even in the worst days of religious persecution, only to impose what
it believed to be a better upon people supposed to have a less perfect
faith. Men do now, in the name of civilisation, what they did formerly
in the name of faith. But there was a principle of humanity to be
found in the forcible obtrusion of faith or civilisation upon a
people; it was believed to be for the benefit of the people upon whom
it was forced. But upon what humane principle do those stand who go
out by night and undermine the temples of our fathers, and desecrate,
with the blasphemous gabble of man, the consecrated walls of God, and
the sacred clay of those who sleep in the faith of Christ?

'The breakfast-bell! I had no notion it was so late. I must run down
at once; Marie will be there. Now that I want to call her Mary I
can't. That is strange. What is the reason for it? I do not know. I
feel dull and heavy; I wish I had slept.'

He left the room and went downstairs. They were all sitting at
breakfast when he entered the room.

His eyes sought and found her. She had never looked so beautiful
before. He paused a moment, smiling at her. He did not notice that all
eyes were fixed on him in surprise; he did not notice that people at
the table exchanged peculiar looks when they took their eyes off him;
he did not notice that, the moment he entered, Nevill rose, and was
now approaching him from the opposite side of the table.

Without saying a word, Nevill caught Osborne, and pushed him back
through the doorway into the passage. When they were in the passage,
and the door had been closed, Nevill surveyed him and said,--

'What on earth is the matter with you?'

Osborne looked at him with amazement.

'The matter with me--the matter with me? Nothing.'

'Do you know you have not brushed your hair, your shirt and collar are
all rumpled, and you are looking as if you had stepped out of a
coffin?'

Osborne started.

'I had quite forgotten that. Do you think they,' pointing to the
breakfast-room door, 'noticed me?'

'Of course they did. What have you been doing with yourself? You don't
drink?'

'No, no. I merely sat up reading those books you lent me.'

'You fool! Run upstairs, and put yourself right. Be down as quickly as
you can--before they get up from table, if possible. Eat an enormous
breakfast, and hold a full cup of tea out at arm's length, to show
your hand is steady, and that you have not been to an orgy.'

Nevill pushed Osborne up the stairs, and then returned to the
breakfast table.

'I hope Mr Osborne is not ill?' said Mrs Barclay, from the top of the
table.

'Not a bit of it, not a bit of it,' answered Nevill briskly, looking
first at Mrs Barclay, then at Miss Osborne, and finally at Miss
Gordon. 'Not a bit of it. He sat up reading, and got frost-bitten all
over. He was so much interested he never knew the hour until the bell
rang; and then he felt so outrageously hungry he charged down just as
he sat, never thinking of putting on his back hair or his goloshes--I
beg your pardon, I mean his umbrella and carpet bag. The same kind of
thing, and even still more extraordinary, has happened to me over and
over again. Once I remember sitting down on a balk of wood at the
mouth of the Chesapeake river. I had a favourite author with me--'

'Munchausen?' interrupted the solid-looking man.

'No, sir; the book was "Grotesque Animals," by E. W. Cooke. Well, I
began reading, and never noticed anything but the book for a whole
day. I had begun to read at six o'clock of a summer morning, and never
took my eyes off the book until I could read no more. Well, judge of
my surprise at finding myself out of sight of land, away in the
Atlantic! I had not minded the rising of the tide, and the balk had
been floated and carried out to sea. The most wonderful thing about
the affair was that my legs had not been eaten off by sharks; for
there were thousands of sharks about, and my legs were about nine
inches in the water. How was it I had escaped, you will reasonably
ask--'

'To be unreasonably answered,' interrupted the solid-looking man, with
a smile.

'Sir,' said Nevill, 'I am a practical man--a man of business. If I
have fiction on hand, I go to a publisher and sell it. If I have truth
on hand, I give it away to my friends. Truth fetches nothing in the
market. Look at science. You can't make money out of science; and yet
science is the only branch of human knowledge you can be sure of, for
you can prove your work day by day. History is the greatest liar of
all.'

'We are most anxious, sir,' said the solid man, 'to hear the remaining
scientific facts of your remarkable voyage.'

'Oh, certainly. I immediately sang out! "All hands to let go sail! Let
go all sail! Hard a-port, and let go the anchor!" There was nothing
else for it. She might run over her anchor and drag and foul it; but
what could one do? Now, sir, what would you have done in this case?'

'I should have drawn my feet out of the water at once, and taken off
my boots and stockings.'

'But when you interrupted me I was about to explain to you that I owed
my legs to my shoes and stockings. Common gratitude, sir, would not
allow me to treat my shoes and stockings in that way. You must know
that on the coast just there you find an extraordinary quick growth of
all kinds of marine creatures. Well, while I was occupied reading my
book, barnacles and mussels began to settle on my boots and stockings,
and when I tried to raise my feet out of the water they felt as heavy
as lead; and when I succeeded, in getting them into view, they looked
exactly like two spars which had been floating about the Mediterranean
for a couple of years!'

The door opened once more, and Osborne entered. By this time the first
breakfast was over. Osborne had dressed, and now looked much brighter
than he had half-an-hour before. His manner was more subdued than
ever, and he spoke little during the meal. Breakfast was a long
irregular meal. Some guests came down punctually at the hour
appointed; some were an hour late. A few lingered at the table, and
now and then there was a fresh arrival from upstairs. Osborne and his
sister sat at the left-hand side of the table; Nevill and Miss Gordon
at the right. Opposite Nevill sat Miss Osborne; opposite Osborne Miss
Gordon. Her eyes rested in wonder upon him.

What had happened to him? Look at his eyes; they were changed. They
did not look at her in the old way. Their old way had been constant
and tender. Now his glances were sharp, quick, abrupt. And this, too,
when he had sat up all night over those wretched books. Her king, her
noble lord. Her simple-hearted, great-minded master. Her lord.

Strangest of all, there was in his eyes a look of question, if not
reproach. What could that look mean? She had done nothing which could
give cause for such a look. When they parted last night they had been
most cordial. He had, in fact, been compassionately affectionate. What
could have happened to him since? One would think sitting up all night
would make a man dull and languid; and now, for the first time, she
saw him quick, excited.

Could it be he was troubled in his mind about anything? Could it be he
had had an unpleasant letter that morning--some bad news? She hoped
not. He had too good and noble a nature to be troubled with petty
trials. It would be her pleasure and her pride to save him all worry
and trouble by-and-by.

What could his sister see in that Mr Nevill's talk to smile at? Kate
had told her no man ever frightened her more than Mr Nevill. She was
now smiling at his talk. How uncertain of their own minds women were!
How could Kate Osborne smile so and enjoy the flippant gabble of that
man, while her brother wore such a look?

He was pale. Nevill had said he was not ill. But then Nevill may have
drawn on his imagination for that as for many of his other statements.
No, no, he was not ill of any ailment of the body. His eyes were
bright and clear. He may have been faint and exhausted by his long,
lonely watch, but he was not ill. What could it be?

How could he sit there and show no resentment against the wearisome
chatter of this other man? He seemed to take no notice of the talk,
not to hear it. He did not speak to her beyond almost formal words of
greeting.

Yesterday she should have spoken to him, but matters were changed now.
So long as he had been her unaccepted suitor she had felt free and
untrammelled. Now she was shy and diffident with him. Surely he might
speak to her. She had wittingly done nothing to make him act thus
towards her. Could it be she had been too hasty, and that he
considered, upon a night's reflection, she had not acted with
propriety? Or could it be that he, having obtained the assurance he
sought, had lost one of the principal sources of interest in her?

All through breakfast he did not address a word to her. When he had
finished they all rose, and passed into the drawing-room. Nevill
called Miss Osborne's attention to something at one end of the room.
Osborne, by a glance, conveyed to Miss Gordon that he wished to speak
with her at the other. When they reached the window he turned, and,
casting another of those quick, unquiet glances at her, said,--

'I have had a terrible night.'

He spoke so low those at the other end of the room could not hear him.

'What made it terrible?' she asked, trying to force a smile.

'You.'

'I?' She uttered a startled laugh. 'What have I done? Tell me at once.
You may tell me.'

'You have done nothing. I was not disturbed by the past, but by the
future.'

Involuntarily she placed a hand on his arm, and looked up into his
eyes with a swift, pleading glance.

'You did not think I could do anything unworthy of you, George?'

He started. He took her hand spasmodically and pressed it. He looked
into her eyes with a terrible tenderness. She had never called him by
his Christian name before. This was their betrothal. From this moment
all reserve between them was broken down--their joint lives dated. He
answered hurriedly,--

'No, child. But I had a dreadful dream, a dream in which I thought I
lost you.'

She pressed his hand, and looked into his eyes with profound constant
glance, and whispered,--

'Never, George, until you wish me to go.'

'Child, child, child!' he whispered passionately, 'I must speak to
you privately--at once. Let us get out of this place for awhile. Oh,
Marie, I do not know why, I feel as if you were already drifting away
from me for ever!'

'Do I look as if I wanted to go?' She glanced at the other end of the
room. She then looked up at him with an arch, joyous smile. 'Their
backs are to us.' They were bent over some engravings in the
portfolio. 'Say good morning to me.'

He stooped, kissed her, and sighed.

'You do not want me to go away from you?' she asked slyly, tenderly.

'My God!' he whispered, 'take all other earthly things from me if You
will, but leave me this!'

'I do not want to go away from you. You do not want me to go away. Why
are you uneasy? What caused you anxiety last night?'

'Wait until we are out of this. Let us go at once.'

'Without telling them?' She nodded towards where Nevill and Miss
Osborne stood.

'Yes.'

'That will be our first little romance.'

'Run off now. Don't be long.'

'What!' she pouted. 'You are sending me away, although you said you
did not want me to go.'

He glanced in the direction of the other group, and then stooped and
kissed her again.

She broke from him and glided out of the room, giving him a smile of
tender sauciness as she went.



                             CHAPTER IV.

                            THE BETROTHAL.


When at last they reached the street he said,--

'I could not speak to you in a room. A room is quiet too and lonely
now. I feel lonely in my mind, and I like to see thousands of people
round me. It diminishes my own importance in my own eyes, and I want
to put myself wholly out of sight if I can.'

The hazel-grey eyes were lifted to his in curiosity and trouble. What
was it he could not say to her in a room and could in a crowded
street? Something unpleasant. What could it be? His eyes were fixed
before him. He did not look at her. She simply said, 'Yes,' softly.

'On a country road, or in a wood I could say to you what I have in my
mind, or in our own quiet house at home. But in that boarding-house I
could not, Marie. On a country road, or among trees, or in our home
there would be a solemn background of nature or of associations, and
these would take my mind off, Marie, your beauty and my great love of
you. I should there understand you and I were then taking only a part
in a vast concert in which thousands sang. I should be able to keep my
mind off the overwhelming importance to me of your personality, by
having forced upon me greater facts than our association. These busy
streets act on me like the wood or open fields or the house to which
my mother came as bride, in which she mourned as widow.'

He was talking more to himself than to her. He was accounting to
himself rather than explaining to her why he preferred the streets to
the house.

She was looking up timidly at him. This was to her unintelligible. She
knew he had some reason for wishing to speak to her out of doors. That
was all she wanted to know. That was quite enough for her. What could
this great long introduction mean? What was he going to say? He had
kissed her, and looked at her very affectionately that morning, but
his manner was strange.

He went on,--

'But in that house we have left all is vulgar and commonplace but your
presence, and when we are alone I can think of nothing but your great
beauty and my great love for you.'

She pressed his arm very softly, looked up at him with eyes of timid
mirth.

'Why should you wish to forget, love?'

He knit his brows, and looked down at her with eyes that did not see.

'Because I had a dream last night.'

'But surely you put no faith in dreams?'

'No. But I put no faith in omens either. Yet, if I see an angry sky, I
prepare for bad weather.'

'Bad weather often, generally, follows angry skies, but nothing
follows dreams.'

He looked down at her again for a moment with abstracted eyes.

'You are quite right. I employed a bad figure; I will try to find a
better one. If I am driving a coach along a road, and I see another
coach overturned by reckless driving, I am likely to be more careful
for awhile, although there may be nothing more than coincidence in my
seeing the drag overturned. So my dreaming last night that I had lost
you may make me more careful not to lose you, although there is
nothing more than coincidence between the facts of yesterday and my
dream.'

She pressed his arm slightly, and bowed her head.

'This is the love I dreamed of,' she thought. 'This is the love that
will not change; for it is the love that first thinks of the loved
one, and then of the love, and last of itself. This is the royal
self-disdaining love. My George! My love!'

She said aloud, 'May I hear what the dream was?'

'It was a kind of allegory, and was connected with one of my waking
dreams. This fact alone would make it remarkable, for not one time in
fifty thousand do we dream in sleep what we dream awake. I need not
trouble you with my waking dream; I will tell you that at another
time. In sleep this morning (I lay down for an hour or so after dawn)
I saw the sea--'

'You have never really seen the sea?'

'No, but I know something of it.'

'I have seen much of it.'

'Then you shall tell me of it in our evenings by the fire by-and-by.'

She pressed his arm, and looked up softly into his face. His eyes were
fixed before him, and he did not look down.

'And in your dream?'

'I saw a boat come into this sea. I was in this boat, steering it. A
bundle of furs lay at my feet. For days and nights I steered that boat
until it entered the Thames. I knew someone--a woman--lay under these
furs. I knew she was a stranger, a savage woman--'

'How fond you are of this place,' she said, interrupting him.

He threw his eyes up, and surveyed, with eager admiration the august
pile rising up to heaven.

'I have always loved the place,' he said, 'even before I saw it.'

He withdrew his glance from aloft and cast it once more before him.

Her eyes were fixed on him wistfully as she asked,--

'And since you have seen it?'

'I have loved it all the more.'

His eyes were still speculative and busy with some scene not present
to his bodily eye.

'It was here,' she whispered, 'that I first saw how good and how noble
you are--here, just where we are now, under St Paul's.'

He looked down at that beautiful young face with that wistful
expression upon it. For a moment his face softened; he bent a little
over her. Then he lifted his eyes once more, and resumed speaking in
the same voice he had used before--a dull, monotonous voice, under
which ran an undercurrent of uneasiness.

'Ah! Is it so? I did not know that.'

A vague shadow of disappointment came over her face. He might take a
little interest in that fact, no matter what other things were in his
mind. He went on,--

'I knew she was a strange savage woman, and I knew why I brought her
to England. The reason was ridiculous, but it satisfied, as ridiculous
reasons satisfy in dreams.'

She had a much lessened interest in the story of that dream now. That
dream had come between him and her, and had made him indifferent to
the place at which her heart had first felt moved towards him. He
still kept on,--

'In a while we drew near London. I knew I had to land my passenger as
near this spot as possible. I steered the boat to the wharf down
there. The husband of the woman stood upon the wharf. I called to him
to come for his wife; he came and carried away the woman. Then I
pushed off my boat.'

He paused, and, looking at the northern entrance of the cathedral,
said,--

'Shall we go in?'

'Yes, if you wish it,' she answered listlessly.

As they entered the vestibule he said,--

'In getting away from the wharf I lost my paddle. I had now no power
to guide the boat, no power to regain the wharf. I cried to the man
for help.'

Here they entered the body of the cathedral.

'When I looked, the cloak and hat which the man had worn had fallen
away, and the furs from the figure of his wife--'

'The service is going on, George; do you wish to take part in it?' she
said.

She thought, 'This dream is very long, and he is so wrapped up in it
he does not remember this is service-time; he cannot even see that the
service is going on.'

'The figure of the man was now a fleshless skeleton, and the woman in
the arms of the skeleton was you!'

She started from his side, with an exclamation of terror she could not
suppress.

'So I have come here to-day during service, to thank God that it was
only a dream, and to pray that no evil may ever come to my Marie
through my fault, and that her faith may be permanently confirmed.
Marie, of course the dream has no more to do with you and me than with
Kate or Mr Nevill; but it will do neither of us harm to thank God my
dream was but a dream; to pray I may never do you harm, and to ask
that you may be continued in your pious resolves.'

'There is only need for us to pray for the last,' she said, clinging
to his arm with redoubled tenderness. All had been explained--more
than explained. All had been not only justified, but swept away; and,
in place of the cold sensation caused by his peculiar manner of that
morning, now glowed a love warmed for the first time by gratitude.

They moved into the cathedral and sat down. He bent over her and
whispered,--

'That dream did not affect me as you might think. It did not chill me
or make me uneasy because of any dread I had I should lose you in an
ordinary way. My notion of life here and life hereafter is that we are
sent here to learn to love one another, and then we go to a better
place to enjoy the love we have acquired here. Now, Marie, what
horrified me in that dream is that it seemed to me a kind of allegory.
The sea-voyage which I had with you when I did not know you, was our
life on earth. When our earthly life had run, when our voyage was
finished, we were separated, and I saw you in terrible company, and
was powerless to rescue you. You were in the arms of Death, at the
gateway of the great city of the Dead. This suggested to me that,
though you and I might go through time together, we might be separated
in eternity.'

She turned her face to his, and asked gravely, sadly,--

'Why should we be separated in eternity? What could separate us?'

'Marie, I am no bigot. I do not say that any man will be lost because
of his faith, so long as he has faith of some kind. But I believe that
when we die we shall be classed together in the order of our faith.
You have been long indifferent. Suppose you should grow indifferent
again. Suppose you should be indifferent at the last. Suppose I should
die ten years hence, and you should survive me ten, twenty years; and
at the end of those twenty years have lost all faith, or have married
again and adopted a new one, you would be lost to me.'

'George, how can you say such cruel things? You should not say such
things. You know I should not marry.'

'Let us not talk like children, Marie. No one knows that. I am sure
that if you marry me now, you and I will be for ever together in the
hereafter. We do not know everything. We are not told that; but I
believe, when a man and woman marry for love, they are husband and
wife for ever. Now you see, child, why I am so anxious.'

'Yes,' she murmured, looking up at him half-frightened. He was putting
things in a terribly earnest way. She had often thought of love and
marriage before--who is it does not think of these things?--but she
had never thought of them so surrounded by awe before. Most people
treated love with levity, and marriage as a matter of legal contract,
to be embodied in documents and secured by stamps. Now this man whom
she had agreed to accept as a husband was taking precautions, not only
for their earthly happiness, but for their eternal union also. He had
often seemed great and noble to her, but he had never overawed her
before. She looked up at him with wonder and devotion, mingled with
grave concern.

He went on, still in the low voice he had first employed, and with his
lips close to her ear,--

'I thought, Marie, that as under these walls we had our first serious
conversation, as under these walls you had first been guided from
trivial things by my hand, there could be no place better for a talk
of this importance, and asking you to do the first favour I request of
you.'

She was profoundly moved. She had wronged him. She had thought him
indifferent to her to-day, and all the time he had been taking the
most elaborate care of her, had been expending the finest portion of
his intellect, and the deepest fountains of his love on her. She
looked upon him with gratitude that was a kind of worship, and said,--

'I will promise you beforehand. I will promise now to do in my life
all you may ask me.'

'No,' he said. 'That would not be a wise or a just promise.'

'I will promise, then, beforehand.'

'No; there is no reason for that. That would be unfair. Besides, there
is no reason why you should not know what I want you to promise. It is
this, "I promise God never to be again indifferent to religious
matters; to adhere to the faith of the Church in which I was born, the
faith of the Church in which I now kneel, and to marry no man who does
not belong to the faith of this Church, and take an active part in its
worship."'

She repeated the words slowly and distinctly. When she had finished,
she looked up at him with eyes full of happy tears, and said,--

'It would be a great sin to break that promise, George?'

'It would. A great sin.'

'That promise is as binding in your eyes as the marriage ceremony?'

'Quite as binding in my eyes as the marriage ceremony.'

'Oh, thank you for having asked me to make it, and to make it here. I
feel now as if some great dread or weight had fallen off me.'

'But, Marie, you have accepted a grave responsibility.'

'How?' she asked, looking up at him incredulously.

'You have promised to be a practical Christian of the Church of
England all your life.'

'That will not be very hard; and you will help me all my life.'

'But if I die you must not marry any man of any other faith.'

'I shall marry one man, and one only, and that is you. I will add that
to the promise.'

'No, no. Such a promise would be wrong. You have done all I ask.'

'Will you do all I ask now, George?'

'What is it?'

'Believe that all the love woman has to give to man I give to you, and
that I am more grateful to you for the trust you have shown in me
to-day than for all the other things you will ever do for me.'

'Trust! What trust, my love, my child?'

He looked at her with a puzzled, perplexed expression.

'When, although you do not know me a month, you take my word that I
will not do a certain thing, even if I live twenty years after you
die.'

He looked at her in amazement.

'Break your promise to me, love! How could you? What would be the
value in my mind of vows at the altar if I thought you would not keep
a solemn promise like that? The woman who would, after my explanation,
break a promise such as that, would care little how she broke any vows
or oaths.'

She looked up at him with some of her old archness.

'I know whom all this is aimed at!'

'Whom?'

'The only man I know who doesn't believe anything is Mr Nevill; and
you know he and I were great friends once.'

Osborne shook his head gravely. 'I should not like you to marry a man
such as he.'

'George, George, the service is over, and we have not minded it.'

'The service has not yet begun.'

'Begun! The people are all going away.'

'Wait a moment, and you will see I am right.'

When the people had cleared off, and they were almost alone in the
portion of the church where they sat, he said,--

'Let us kneel hand-in-hand for a betrothal.'

She took off her glove. He knelt at her left side and took her hand.
He let go her hand in a moment. A vivid blush darted over her face,
and they both rose. As she did so, upon the third finger of her left
hand flashed five rubies she had never seen before.



                              CHAPTER V.

                           AN INTRODUCTION.


Shortly after Osborne and Miss Gordon had left the drawing-room,
Nevill raised his head, and saw he and Miss Osborne were alone.

'Bless my soul!' he cried, 'but they have slipped out. They are as
artful as a pair of conspiring schoolboys.'

She turned away her calm fair face to the room, and said,--

'I did not hear them go.'

'That was their artfulness. Ah well, Miss Osborne, there is nothing
sharpens the wits so much as love.'

She made no reply. She felt a great reserve about George's
love-affair. She spoke little or nothing to Marie about it. She would
not speak to Mr Nevill. He might take it ill or well of her, but she
would not speak.

The sallow, plain-looking man raised his eyes quickly to hers.

'I suppose, Miss Osborne, you never met a greater fool than I?'

'Oh, Mr Nevill! How could you say such a thing! I am sure I never
thought anything of the kind.'

'You always look at me as if you thought me a very great fool.'

'I am exceedingly sorry,' she said, with an appealing look, 'and I
hope you forgive me. I did not mean it, believe--'

'Ah yes,' he sighed; 'I am sure you did not mean it I am quite sure of
that. But what are you to do? You can't help it. You are young and
candid. You see me. Your estimate of me immediately appears on your
face. You cannot help letting me see you think me a very great fool.'

'But I assure you I do not think you anything of the kind,' cried the
girl, in distress.

She did not like to be drawn into an animated discussion, and nothing
in the world could pain her more than to think she had unwittingly
inflicted pain on others.

'You mustn't mind a bit, though,' he said quickly. 'I am quite used to
being considered a fool, and it doesn't hurt me nearly as much as it
would an average man.'

'Mr Nevill, I am greatly grieved and shocked to think you have got any
such notion in your head. Pray dismiss it, I beg of you.'

She was in great pain. She did not know how to convince him. He seemed
disposed not to take her word for her innocence. What more could she
give him than her word?

'You must not worry yourself in the least about it. I assure you nine
out of ten people I meet take me for a fool. I should not have
mentioned the matter to you at all, only your brother happens to be
one of those tenth men, and does not take me for a fool; and I had an
unwise hope you might look at me in somewhat the same way. I am sure
you wouldn't do it if you could help it.'

'Mr Nevill, you are almost unkind to say such a thing. I assure you
there is not the least truth in it. Do believe me. Can I in no way
convince you?'

She was in acute pain now. She could endure any pain herself; but the
thought that she had inflicted pain on others was intolerable.

'Let me beg of you, Miss Osborne, not to mention the subject again. It
is of really no consequence, and I have been most unfortunate in
introducing the subject to you. I should have known it would hurt your
good-nature. Forgive me, I beg of you! I hope you will forgive me. If
you had been in doubt as to whether I was a fool or not, you can no
longer be in any; for I may tell you frankly, I should not like you to
despise me, and I don't know in what way I could more surely injure my
chances of your good opinion than by alighting on so unhappy a subject
of conversation. Really, Miss Osborne, you will do me the greatest
possible favour if you will not again allude to the subject.'

'But,' she cried beseechingly, 'nothing in the world--'

'No, no, no, no! I beg--I pray of you not to say any more about my
hideous blunder; I assure you I shall not forget it in an hour. What
an unlucky fool I am!'

She looked at him with a face full of pain. She did not know what to
do, what to say. He would not believe her. She would not willingly
hurt the humblest of God's creatures, and here was a man who had
gravely disquieted her at first, but from whom she had latterly
derived much amusement, attributing to her thoughts most
uncomplimentary and ungenerous to him, thoughts which she did not
entertain. She felt inclined to cry. It was cruel of him to fix such a
charge upon her. She said, looking up earnestly at him,--

'I think it is not generous of you to refuse taking my word for what I
say. I am sure if you told me anything about yourself I should believe
you.'

'I accept that test,' he answered quickly. 'Now, since I have met you,
Miss Osborne, I daresay you have noticed that I speak now and then.'

She smiled, and answered, 'Yes.'

'Now, do you believe every word I uttered?'

'No. You spoke a lot of things you did not want anyone to believe.'

'How do you know that?'

'I cannot tell you how I know it, but I am sure of it. You exaggerated
so much. You told tales of your own adventures, which I think you
invented to amuse those present.'

'And you don't think it much harm to invent adventures for the
amusement of a general company?'

'Certainly riot. They do no harm to anyone; they do not deceive
anyone.'

'Oh, I see. It is by the result you judge.'

'I don't understand you.'

'You think there is no harm in inventing tales so long as they do not
hurt anyone and do not deceive anyone?'

'Yes. They are then no more than novels or poems.'

'Ah well, I don't agree with you there; but we will not discuss that.
I want to ask you another question. Suppose a person had invented
something with the sole view of paining and deceiving another, what
would you think of the act and the man?'

'I should think it most unkind, ungentlemanly, most vile, and I should
be sorry to know the man.'

'Ah,' he sighed, 'you see my second condition is worse than my former
one.'

'What do you mean?'

'A little while ago I said you considered me a fool. Now you must
think me a scoundrel.'

'Mr Nevill, you should not say such things! I think nothing of the
kind of you.'

'You must.'

'Indeed, no.'

'But I tell you, you must; you cannot help it.'

'It is too bad of you to say such dreadful things. You are very hard
on me, and I am not aware I have done anything to deserve it. I am
sure I never thought you a fool; and as to the other thing, it is too
dreadful even to think of.'

'Yet,' said he dismally, 'whatever reason you may have for not
thinking me a fool, there isn't the shadow of a chance of your
thinking me anything but a scoundrel.'

She said, with a slight show of displeasure in her manner,--'I think
there is no use in our trying to agree about this matter. I am
exceedingly sorry if I have caused you pain. I never intended it; and
I apologise most fully. Will you accept my apology, and let us change
the subject? It distresses me.'

She evidently felt uncomfortable. There was a faint flush on her
cheek, and a dim dissatisfaction in her eyes.

'We cannot change the subject,' he said relentlessly, 'until we have
decided whether you or I happen to be wrong.'

'I would rather admit I have been wrong than continue the topic. I
assure you it gives me great pain.'

'I will be brief. When I said I knew you thought me a great fool, I
did not believe what I said; I intended you should think I did believe
it, and I said the words in order to give you pain.'

She raised her eyes to his, and looked at him in silent wonder.

'Do you believe me now?' he asked.

'I do not know. You surprise me very much. Why should you try to pain
me?' she asked, looking at him in perplexity.

'Because I wanted to try an experiment.'

'An experiment! What experiment? You are a strange man.'

To the former look of perplexity had by this time been added a look of
fear.

'I will not tell you now. But you see I am a scoundrel. Out of your
own showing I am a scoundrel.'

'But you ought to tell me what this experiment is; and as to what I
said about a man wilfully hurting and misleading, I meant that to
apply to important things, to things of consequence only. What you
said of me, and the little uncomfortableness I felt, are not worth a
word, a thought.'

'It is only your goodness leads you to say so.'

'No, I am quite sincere.'

'Yes, your gentleness is always sincere.'

She raised her eyes to him for a moment, and then dropped them, and
kept them down. There was something in his look and manner that
subdued her, surprised and silenced her.

He went on,--

'I do not agree with you at all, Miss Osborne, about these trifling
annoyances to you being of no consequence. On the contrary, I think
them of the greatest consequence. The difficulty you will have to
solve is this: how is it that I, who look on any trifle which might
annoy you as a thing of great consequence, should yet deliberately
invent a means of rendering you seriously uncomfortable?'

For a moment she looked up at him. All other expression but that of
fear had now left her face.

'I--I don't know,' she said, with hesitating timidity.

'I merely wanted to try if I could interest you in any way. I wanted
to find out if, by falsely attributing to you unfavourable opinions of
myself, I could rouse any uneasiness in your mind. You think that very
cruel no doubt.'

'I do not think you cruel.'

'Ah, that is not my question. Do not you think that cruel?'

'I really do not know. I am sure you would not be cruel to anyone.'

'No, not without a motive; and in the present case my motive was to
find out if you could be hurt through me.'

'You have taken a great deal of trouble. I am sure what I could or
could not feel is not worth while taking so much trouble about.'

'I know you do not mean that for satire.'

'No, no, no! I am quite in earnest. Please forgive me for any rash
thing I may say. I am not clever, and often seem to mean what I do not
want to say, what I do not mean.'

'Well,' he said, 'as you do not care to pursue the subject, we will
drop it for the present.'

'Say for ever,' she cried, looking up pleadingly in his eyes.

'No, I cannot drop it for ever. I must speak to you of it again.'

'Why?'

'Because at some future time I intend asking you a question of an
opposite character, and of ten thousand times more importance to me.'

There was a long pause after this. He thought briefly, and with a
self-congratulatory inward smile: 'If that does not puzzle and
interest her, I know nothing about women.'

She thought: 'I wish George would leave this place to-day. This man
makes me most uncomfortable. I do not know what he means, and I don't
see why he cannot let me alone. I shall avoid a _tête-à-tête_ with
him in future. What can the meaning be of all he said to me? Perhaps
it is a scientific experiment of some kind; perhaps he wants to find
out something about the human mind. I shouldn't mind it a bit if
'twas that. I wish George would take Marie and me down to Stratford
to-morrow. I never met anyone like Mr Nevill before; he frightens me,
and yet I am not afraid of him. I know he wouldn't do anything to hurt
me, and yet he invented that story about my thinking him a fool. I
don't think him a bit a fool; I think him very clever, like George,
only his cleverness runs in a different way. I wonder what is this
other thing he has to say to me; I wonder will he say it soon? I wish
George would come back. How fond of George Marie must be! It must be
very strange to be fond of any man not your brother. But Marie has no
brother; she must be very fond of George, for she has no brother to
divide her affection with. I wonder is she afraid of George, and does
he set her riddles and tell her he'll ask her another question another
day? I wonder is there any likelihood of George going home soon? He
will go home at Easter, of course; but I mean before that.'

Miss Osborne took up a book, and Nevill went to the piano and rattled
off airs from comic operas, now and then addressing a word or two
about music to Miss Osborne. He could play tolerably well any
slap-dash music, but could not sing.

The door opened, and a servant entered.

'Miss Gordon?'

'She is not here,' answered Kate.

'A gentleman wants to see her, miss, and I don't know where she is.'

'Have you tried the other rooms?'

'Yes, miss.'

'You'd better take the gentleman's name, and say she is out'

'When I asked him for his name to take up, he said she would not know
it.'

The servant shut the door. In a minute she returned and brought word
the gentleman had gone, but would return in a little while.

In the afternoon Marie and Osborne came back. Nevill was a little shy
for a few minutes, but then turned the conversation in a new channel.
He noticed something peculiar about the two.

'I can't make it out,' he thought, while Miss Gordon had gone to take
off her hat and coat, and Osborne was speaking to his sister. 'I can't
make it out. They went away looking anything but jolly. He looked worn
and anxious, and she seemed disconcerted by his manner. They have been
out an hour or two, and they come back as calm and collected as if
they were brother and sister, not lovers. There is what I call a
domestic look about them. Osborne appears as if he had nothing more
important on his mind than the quarter's bills. I never saw so great a
change in so short a time. By Jove! it can't be they have gone and got
married on the quiet! No, no; Osborne isn't the man to do that.'

In the meantime Osborne bent over his sister, and whispered in her
ear,--

'Kate, it is all settled between Marie and me. I shall write to mother
this evening. I know you think I have done well.'

'I am sure of it, George. It will be very sudden and unexpected news
for mother.'

'But don't you think when she sees and knows my Marie she will like
her as you do?'

'I am quite sure of it, George. All I meant to say was that it will be
a surprise. I am sure in the end she will like her. Who could help
liking her?'

'Who could help it? as you say, Kate, dear. I think no man on earth
could be happier than I am to-day.'

The servant put in her head.

'Miss Gordon. A gentleman to see Miss Gordon.'

'She is in her own room,' answered Miss Osborne.

A few minutes passed. The servant put in her head once more,--

'Miss Gordon would be obliged if Miss Osborne would step into the
parlour.'

Kate rose. George bent over her, and whispered,--

'You will kiss your new sister when you meet her?'

'Yes, George. I wish you all the happiness in the world, my dear good
brother. You deserve it.'

Miss Osborne left.

Once more the servant entered the room.

'Miss Gordon begs Mr Osborne to come to the parlour.'

'She wishes to introduce me to her friend,' thought he, as he set out.

When he reached the parlour there were four people in it. His
sweetheart, his sister, and a man whose back was towards him. Osborne
advanced with a cordial, open smile. Nothing could please him more
than to meet a friend of hers on this great day.

'Allow me,' said his radiant sweetheart, 'to introduce to you Miss
Osborne's brother. Mr Osborne--'

She paused, and laughed a rich, full laugh.

'By-the-way, although you are so old a friend of mine as you say, I do
not know your name.'

The man turned round, and Osborne looked at him. With a cry he started
back.

'I think I have seen your face before,' said the stranger.

'Yes,' whispered Osborne. 'Your name is Parkinson.'

'It is.'

George raised his eyes, and fixed them with a wild look on Marie's
face.



                             CHAPTER VI.

                AN OLD FRIEND AND A NEW ACQUAINTANCE.


'He here! He introduced to me by her! What does this mean? What can
this mean?' At that moment half-defined mental doubts looked in upon
him out of satyr faces. 'This man here! This man introduced to me by
_her!_ What can it mean?'

'Parkinson!' echoed Miss Gordon. 'Parkinson! Surely I have heard that
name very lately, and yet I never knew the name of Ethel's husband.'

'Well,' said the stranger, with a smile, 'I am Ethel's husband, and I
am Parkinson!'

'This is the gentleman of whose address I told you yesterday,' said
Osborne drearily.

Now she saw what had caused that expression in George's face. He had
been disturbed by that address. This Mr Parkinson, Ethel Waring's
husband, was not of George's way of thinking in religious matters, and
George had been made miserable by imagining she was about to pass
under influence the direct opposite of what he would have selected.
How like George to give his first consideration to her! But she was
not so weak as he fancied, and she would show him that if she had at
one time been liable to a charge of levity, that time had passed away
for ever.

'Oh, indeed!' she said aloud. 'You must know Mrs Parkinson was the
dearest friend I had in the world when I was a child. Once when I was
very young she saved my life. I had taken poison by mistake, and only
for her I should have died. After that we were inseparable, until her
father and mother brought her to England ten years ago. Ethel heard in
a roundabout way that I was here. We have not heard of one another for
years, not since she left Australia. She did not know what her address
in London would be when she left; and almost immediately after her
going away we moved from Sydney to Queensland, and lost sight of one
another.'

Mr Parkinson bowed and smiled.

'Mr Parkinson, Mr Osborne,' she said gaily.

'I have heard my wife speak a good deal of her old girl-friend, Miss
Gordon, and I hope Miss Gordon will give me an opportunity of trying
to win her good opinion of Ethel's husband.'

There was a subduing courtesy about the words and manner.

Marie turned to Osborne and said,--

'Mr Parkinson has asked me to dine with him to-day. He is here on
behalf of Ethel, who could not come, I should like to go. Has any
arrangement been made for this evening?'

'No. Nothing that would interfere with your going.'

'Perhaps,' said Mr Parkinson, with his suave smile, and a bow which
brought Osborne and his sister within its scope, 'your friends would
favour us with their company. They would be very welcome.'

For a moment Osborne looked at his sister, then down at the carpet.
Marie had promised to go to see her old friend. What more natural than
that she should wish to see this friend who had saved her life once,
and who formed, no doubt, the only link between the present and a
happy period of the past? He was engaged to her. She was alone in the
world. He was her natural guardian. Why should he not go with her?
There was no earthly reason for his not going but one--fear. Fear! Was
he afraid? He, who had only that day given such sound and solemn
counsel to her! He, who had all his life fought the fight of failing
man fighting manfully! He, who had spent the twenty-eight years of his
life without one pang of doubt until a few hours ago! Was _he_ going
to shirk contact with doubt? Not he. He was no coward.

She saw his hesitancy. 'He thinks there may be danger to me in these
people. I had promised to go to Ethel before I knew who her husband
was. But now ought I to change my mind and not go? Surely not. Nothing
could be more absurd, more unwise, than that. To decline going would
be to admit I had some uneasy feeling. I have none. I am as sure of
myself as I am of my love. He is now using all the faculties of his
mind to find out whether or not there would be danger for me in my
going to Parkinson's. Harm for me after to-day! Harm for me in the
face of the promise I made him, the vow I made to God to-day! I am
placing George in a false position by being engaged to him, and at the
same time causing him anxiety as to my power of keeping my promise to
him. This must not be. I must never put George in a false position.
What are all my life, all my interests, all my hopes, compared with
him? Nothing. Oh, my love, I love you better than all things!'

She raised her eyes to Mr Parkinson, and said, in a cheerful, light
voice, 'I am sure Mr Osborne will not refuse you.' She bent over
Osborne and touched him on the arm, saying, 'Your sister and you must
come. I make this a condition to my going.'

Osborne looked up at her and glanced at his sister, and said,--

'Will you go, Kate?'

'As you please.'

'Then, Mr Parkinson, we shall be very happy to accept your
invitation.'

Parkinson had seen a look of worship in those grave manly eyes, and he
had seen the answering look of love. He guessed how matters stood, and
from that moment forward treated George as the responsible master of
the party.

Now Osborne felt more at ease than for any moment during the past
four-and-twenty hours. He had secured his sweetheart, they had
solemnly pledged their troth, and he had so clearly and firmly defined
the position he should hold morally and spiritually, that he was no
longer in fear of anything--in fact, he was less than indifferent to
recent fears, and would rather court than shun the occasion of them.

Marie felt in great delight with his acquiescence in her request. It
showed his confidence in her. It showed her how he valued her word,
her resolution, at their true worth. She would justify his confidence.
She would show this lover how she respected his devotion and faith.
What to her were all the sciences and all the _savants_ of the world
compared to this one simple gentleman, who honoured her insignificant
self with his love? Nothing; not a featherweight against all the
world. What a privilege for any woman to share the confidence, the
thoughts of such a man! Judged by the ordinary standard, he was far in
advance of most men. His powerful, square, broad shoulders showed he
could protect the woman of his choice against long odds. He could
easily dispose of Nevill and Parkinson if occasion required him to do
so. His face, full of manly beauty, must gather the glances of any
room he entered. And then his eyes. What a charm was in his eyes! A
resolute, quiet, manly dignity, nothing could hurt, nothing could
degrade. And for her, and for her alone, what a spirit of heedful
care! When he looked at her in that way she felt bold against all the
world. Nothing could harm her while that guardian spirit watched over
her. Nothing. 'Oh, my master, my lord, my king, rule me until I die.
Lead, and I will follow! As you will it, under God, I will do!'


                         * * * * * * * * * *


Mrs Parkinson's house was a model of what a middle-class
Englishwoman's house ought to be. In the first place, it was as clean
as human hands could make it. All the furniture, carpets, fittings,
curtains, were substantial, sufficient, homely in the best sense of
that word. The stoutest man might sit on the lightest chair in her
drawing-room without a qualm of dread. A baby might tumble on the
carpet all day long without soiling its hands, or picking up a pin or
any other product of nature or manufacture inimical to baby life.

Mrs Parkinson had no faith in furniture polish sold by grocers or oil
and colourmen, or made from a family recipe. If the wood was good, dry
rubbing was the best polish, and all the wood in her house was good.
Brushing down walls was very well for day-to-day cleaning; but every
three months the wall-paper had, moreover, to be cleaned with dough.
Once a-week all curtains were taken down and shaken and brushed. Once
a-day all carpets were whisked. Four times a-year all carpets were
raised and beaten. Everything was in its place. Everything was tidy
and yet the whole was not severe. Everything in the house was for
reasonable use; there is no use for dirt, therefore there was no dirt
in that house. The whole looked hearty and not prim. There were no
filigree, no nick-nacks. You found nothing on a chimney-piece because
someone happened to have bought it at a sale, or someone died and left
it to the owner of the house. Paintings were not hung on the walls of
rooms to hide defects or attract a careless eye, like patches on a
beauty's face. If you wanted to see Mr Parkinson's works of art,
except a few pictures of still-life in the dining-room, you had to go
to a room specially set apart for them. Here they lay secure against
causing offence to those who did not deliberately seek them. The
theory was that works of art, merely as works of art, are out of place
in ordinary rooms, and, being matter out of place, are dirt.

With the works of art were kept most of the books. Naturally, books
are as much works of art as pictures or bronzes or plaster casts. The
scientific books and all books impinging on scientific matters he kept
in his own room, his working-room, his laboratory or study. The works
of art were stored in a room at the top of the house. His own room was
on the ground floor, behind the dining-room.

To dine at Parkinson's was to enjoy a treat. You had the most suave
and intelligent of hosts, the most simple, lively, and good-humoured
of hostesses. The linen was dazzling, the glass dainty, delicate; the
cutlery and silver made furrows of the deepest shade, pools of
brilliant glitter. The smart parlour-maid who waited, came and went
silently, efficiently. To cooking as good as you could find in a
West-End club was added the peaceful seclusion of home. The host was a
clever talker, the hostess a fascinating listener. If you were dull,
and did not wish to talk, the host took up the ball and interested
you. If you were lively and full of spirits the hostess devoted
herself to you, and showed more interest in what you had to say than
you yourself felt. You got good wholesome wine, and as dinner went on
you got the crowning effect of the festival--the gradually-developed
certainty that your host and hostess were on the best of terms with
one another; and that if to-morrow they found some flaw in their
marriage, they would run out of the house without waiting for hat or
bonnet, and get married by the first man able and willing to tie the
knot.

The radiation from these wedded hearts soothed and brightened the
current of the time; and when on that evening the ladies rose to
leave, George Osborne felt puzzled, confounded. He had often in his
mind pictured the home of a man holding views such as Parkinson's. He
had fancied a cold, dark, dreary abode, with diagrams on the walls,
and blasphemies at the table. He had seen the master of that household
morose and savage to all around him--a man who, no longer restrained
by fear outside the law of the land or public opinion, gave free scope
to all the evil influences of his nature, and laid at once the
foundation for the destruction of domestic peace. He had entered this
house with the conviction that he should be shocked at a hundred
things. So far he had been edified.

Eight years they had been married, and obviously they had never been
such good friends as to-day. They betrayed the tenderness of the
betrothed combined with the security of the married. Their house and
all in it were bright and cheerful and comfortable--such a house as he
might hope to have one day. Their children were intelligent in speech
and manner, and not either forward or bashful, but just well-bred.

During dinner a good deal of the talk had gone on between Marie and
her old friend. Mr Parkinson spoke chiefly to Kate, and George spoke
least of all, except Kate.

Now, for the first time, the two men found themselves alone together.
Parkinson offered Osborne a cigar. The latter explained that he did
not smoke.

'Ah, not smoke!' said Parkinson. 'Neither did I until lately. I find
tobacco most useful.'

'Intellectually or physically?' asked Osborne, who still felt the
great weight of surprise, but was now quite free from anything like
apprehension. What was there in this pleasant room and this agreeable
gentleman to affright or even disturb anyone? Nothing.

'Well,' said the other, explaining, as he lit a cigar, and threw
himself into a comfortable easy-chair, 'I don't like to say
intellectually, for that would sound pretentious. I don't think I have
what anyone would call an intellect. I have certain aptitudes in small
things, certain ways of treating detail, that to those who do not
follow my course of reading may seem to show intellect; but intellect
proper I have none. What I should say with regard to the effect of
tobacco on myself is that it subducates the physical man, and gives
freer and more unobserved play to the operations of the mind.'

'You will excuse me,' said Osborne, looking with curiosity at his
companion, 'but I understood you followed science as a pursuit?'

'Yes, but in a very unambitious way. I gathered from what passed at
dinner that you are interested in poetry. Pray, may I ask, have you
ever written any yourself?'

George coloured slightly.

'I take a great interest in poetry, but have unfortunately no talent
or ability to write it, nor have I ever tried to write any.'

'Ah!' sighed Parkinson, 'I would give half of all I own in the world
for the one gift of poetry.'

'What!' cried Osborne, staring in amazement at his host. 'Would you
abandon science for literature if you had only to choose?'

'No.'

Osborne looked perplexed, and said, with a faint smile,--

'I did not think the muses and the sciences got on very well
together.'

'On the contrary, they are inseparable.'

George sat a little forward in his chair and said,--

'I wish you would explain. I am most deeply interested. This is new to
me. You are the first scientific man I have ever met.'

'There is nothing more simple. The vision of the poet is slow,
long-drawn out, gradual in development, glorious. The vision of the
man of science is instantaneously complete. The visions of "Allegro"
and "Penseroso" dawned gradually on Milton. The images did not all
rush in upon him at one moment. Do you not agree with me?'

'Yes. He thought of one and then he thought of another. Then he put
them all together in a treasure-house, and made a present of a
treasure-house to each member of posterity down to the last heart-beat
of the last man.'

Osborne's face flushed as his heart rose up in gratitude to the poet.

'_But_,' said Parkinson, with strong emphasis on the word, 'when that
intellectual giant, Newton, sat in his garden at Woolsthorpe watching
from the earth, saw the great arm of gravitation dart his apples, he
the great hand seize the apples and drag them to the ground. Then he
saw other arms stretching from satellite to planet, from planet to
sun, from sun to sun, until the whole firmament was traversed by arms,
and all the heavenly bodies swung in secure order. _After_ this vision
he took up mathematics, and optics, and astronomy, to prove the vision
true; but he _saw_ before he tried to prove.'

'This is new to me--very new to me,' said Osborne, out of a profound
reverie.

'I have not the poetic instinct; I can never fly, I must walk along on
the sober earth. If I had the poetic faculty I should invent theories,
discover facts.'

'You have a great admiration of Newton?'

'The greatest. I think he was the most marvellous philosopher the
world ever saw. Bacon invented a noble philosophy, which some men were
afraid of at the time--which some men are afraid of yet. Newton
invented modern science, which some men were afraid of then--which no
man is afraid of now, except--'

'Poets.' Osborne finished the sentence for him.

'Poets! Why should poets be afraid of modern science? Believe me,
there was never a greater mistake than to fancy modern science can
hurt poetry. In fact, it is opening up new fields for the poet. What
gigantic solar landscapes are unfolded to view! Fancy--for you have
the temperament of a poet, if you have not the art--fancy gold and
iron now blazing in the sun, and mountains of flaming hydrogen
springing two thousand miles into space! Fancy the history of the
world as now read by science, compared with the history of the world
read by our grandfathers! Why, sir, they lived on the crust of the
earth, with only a day and a night of history revealed to them, with
souls that only wondered at the stars, and eyes that saw no further
into earth than a mole will burrow. In one hundred years we have
cloven the earth in two, and spelled out of its rind the syllables of
its prodigious history. With the prism we have built scaffolding among
the fixed stars, to serve for those who come after us as platforms of
observation. Do you recollect those familiar words spoken by Newton,
not long before he laid down the wisdom and knowledge of eighty-three
years in the grave? "I seem to have been only like a boy playing on
the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother
pebble, or a prettier shell, than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of
truth lay all undiscovered before me." Newton was right. The vulgar
call this a piece of sublime modesty. Not at all. It was sublimer than
any mere personal human virtue; it was truth. Reverting to what I said
a few moments ago about the poetic faculty and science, are not these
words I have quoted poetical?'

'Yes; but Newton would not have fitted into the science of our time,'
said Osborne, with an uneasy look.

'Why not? Of course he would. He would lead us now as he had led
before. Why do you think not?'

'Did he not once reproach someone for free-thinking?'

Suddenly all the animation went out of Parkinson's face, all the
alertness left his figure, and he lay back in his chair with the air
of fatigue.

'Yes,' he answered spiritlessly, 'he reproached Dr Halley for
expressing some free-thinking opinions.'

'What do you suppose Newton would have done in the face of modern
science?'

'Conformed.'

'To religion?'

'No; to science.'

For a few moments there was silence between the two men. Parkinson lay
back in his chair, inert, relaxed, his head drooped upon his chest,
his hand and arm hanging down over the side of his chair. From the
cigar held in that hand a thin bent thread of blue smoke ascended, and
when it reached the level of the men's eyes, waved and broke and
melted into air.

Osborne sat grasping the arms of his chair with fingers that whitened
with the force he used. He was looking with a dull deadly fixity of
fear at Parkinson.

'You think,' said Osborne slowly, deliberately, 'that the poet need
not fear the advance of science?'

'I do.'

'But,' added Osborne in an impressive monotone, 'you are equally sure
the priest need not fear the advance of modern science?'

'I should not care to generalise on that point.'

'As far as you yourself are concerned?'

Parkinson leant forward and sideways until he could lean his elbow on
the chair and rest his head upon his elbow. His eyes were no longer
fixed on Osborne, but turned on some old scene, some distant
apparition. He spoke in a subdued voice,--

'In my time I have had my share of trouble, my share of shocks and
alarms; but all put together never equalled the awful hour when,
having pursued a certain inquiry to a certain point, I raised my eyes
and saw the priest, with the Bible under his arm, make his final exit
from the stage of my life.'

Osborne dropped his eyes, drew his eyebrows down over them, and fell
back in his chair. There was silence for a few minutes. Then Osborne
spoke,--

'You will lend me those books you allude to?'

'Yes, if you wish. I recommend you, for your peace's sake, not to read
them.'

'It is, for my peace's sake I intend reading them,' answered Osborne.

'In what way can they help you to peace?'

'Because--because,' said Osborne laboriously, 'I have had some doubts,
which are now at rest, and I desire to lay them at rest for ever.'

'The books I allude to will not help any existing creed in your
regard.'

'So long as I think there are any books can injure it, I am not fit to
believe my faith. You cannot be a Christian and believe that anything
can injure or destroy the truth of Christianity.'

'Very well. You shall have the books.'

After this there was silence for a few minutes more.

Someone touched a piano. The introduction reached the room, softened
by distance, but every note was perfectly clear.

'Are you fond of music?' asked Parkinson.

'Exceedingly.'

'Then I will open the door. This is a great favourite of mine.'

He opened the door, came back, and threw himself into his chair.

Presently the round, full, surprising tones of a contralto came upon
their ears, followed by the low wail of the piano.

The two men sat upright in their chairs, and stared into one another's
eyes with amazement.

Between the first and second stanza Parkinson spoke,--

'By heaven, sir, what a voice!'

'I never heard anything like it before. It is superb.'

Again the glorious organ floated out upon the silence, followed by the
wail of the piano.

While she sang the men stared at one another with astonishment, such
as would have become their faces if the walls had vanished, and they
saw before them the sacred city of Jerusalem under a pall of clouds
flushed with portents.

Another interval.

'Did you ever hear pathos so sublimely phrased before?'

'Never,' answered Osborne. The tears were starting into his eyes.

In Parkinson's eyes gleamed a terrible, wild sadness, as though he,
bound, witnessed cruel tortures inflicted on those dearest to him.

Another interval.

'Did you ever hear God so importuned for mercy before?'

'Never.'

'Oh God, I cannot hear that voice and think of the priest who went
away for ever!'

'Perhaps that voice will, in the end, bring him back.'

'I'd give all the world that it did,' said Parkinson passionately.

The two men gazed at one another in silence. The voice once more took
possession of the place. Another interval.

Parkinson was deeply moved. 'I admit,' he said hoarsely, 'that nothing
affects me so profoundly as music of the pathetic kind. But, Osborne,
isn't it hard to think at such a moment as this that one's wife and
children are no more than visions lent him for a few years, to pass
away for ever afterwards?'

'I believe nothing of the kind. Your creed is simply an atrocious
blasphemy.'

'Sometimes--now, for instance--I am of your mind.'

The voice once more. While she sang Osborne thought: 'How can this man
be a sceptic, and have a wife who can plead to Heaven like this? How
can he believe man was created to plead so and be unheard?'

The song ceased, and Parkinson took up the refrain, and sang it in a
low soft voice.

'_Miserere nobis_.' He whispered, 'At this moment no man could sing
more earnestly than I, _Miserere nobis_.'

'Does your wife sing often?' asked Osborne softly.

'Yes, pretty often.'

'Does she often sing that song?' Osborne asked, thinking that no
sermon of more power could be preached to any man's heart than to hear
the wife he loved pleading so for her husband, her children, herself.

'The song does not suit her voice. Hers is a soprano. She will not
dare to sing after your sister.'

'Sister, sister!' cried Osborne. 'My sister's voice is a soprano too.'

'Then it must be your sweetheart who sang. She is as fine as Trebelli,
with more pathos. I have no fear of lending you those books now.'



                             CHAPTER VII.

                         WHAT THE AVON SAID.


Without any further conversation the two men rejoined the ladies in
the drawing-room. Osborne's heart was too full for speech. He cast at
Marie one look of love and devotion, into which stole an unfamiliar
fear. He moved over to where Mrs Parkinson sat, and taking a chair,
fell into conversation with her. There was no more music that night.
All had been impressed too deeply by that song to care for any other.
A second must prove an anticlimax.

Osborne, in that one short glance, saw on Marie's face an expression
he had never observed there before. The eyes had grown deep and dark
and sad and _spirituelle_. Her face was slightly paler than usual, and
her hands drooped with unaccustomed languor. He had seen her in many
phases, but never yet so inert. She looked subdued, abstracted. She
had thrown such fervour into that song that her physical resources
were diminished. Her spirit had entered upon a new phase, as though
the prayer of the song had been heard and new avenues of spiritual
view had been opened to her.

The guests did not stay late. Then the Osbornes, with Miss Gordon,
drove back to Peter's Row.

When they were in the cab George asked Marie, 'How on earth did Mrs
Parkinson know you were here?'

In a very simple way. It appears that at the same boarding-house I
lived when in New York a Mrs Burns also stayed. She and I were a good
deal together, and as we were both coming to London, we exchanged our
London addresses. She arrived in London three days ago. She called on
the Parkinsons, who are friends of hers, and whom she had mentioned to
me. Of course I did not recognise the name of Ethel's husband, for I
had never heard it. She told the Parkinsons the day before yesterday
she intended calling on me. Mrs Parkinson was struck by my name, and
so it all came out.'

George mused awhile at the strange ways things come about. Then he
said, 'You were at the same table with Mrs Burns at New York. You
visited to-day where she visited two days before. She, a perfect
stranger to you, is the means of bringing you and your old friend
together. At the same table sat Mr Nevill, whom you meet here
accidentally, and you sit at the same table with him.'

'By the way,' said Marie, 'don't you think we have treated Mr Nevill
very badly? I never thought of him till now.'

'After all,' said George, following his thought, 'to those who move
about much the great world is no larger than a parish is to those who
do not move about at all.'

'Don't you think we have treated Mr Nevill very badly?' she repeated.

'I really never thought of him until now.'

'I did not think of him either. What do you say, Kate?'

'I think we have not been very considerate.'

'But, Kate, have you thought of how wretchedly we have been treating
him?'

'Yes.'

Marie looked at George, rubbed the third finger of her left hand
where, under her glove, lay the ring with five rubies.

'I beg your pardon,' said George. 'Did you speak?'

'How stupid men are!' said Marie, by way of comment on George's want
of intelligence in not knowing she meant to call attention to Kate's
vague but significant answer.

Kate had often thought during the afternoon and evening that the cool
way in which they had ignored him would give him additional cause to
fancy they all--she among the number--considered him a fool. She had
often during the evening seen, in her imagination, his plain face full
of humiliation and pain at the way they had forgotten him who had
hitherto formed a member of their parties and schemes.

When they arrived at the boarding-house they learned Mr Nevill had
gone out for the evening, and would not be in till midnight, or past
midnight.

'So,' said Miss Gordon, 'we cannot apologise until to-morrow.'

Neither brother nor sister said anything.

When Kate got to her room that night she found a note on her
dressing-table. It had come through the post. She looked long at the
postmark. There was only one, 'E.C.,' of that day's date. She looked
again at the writing. She felt perfectly certain she had never seen it
before.

With an expression of surprise and curiosity on her face she opened
the envelope and took out the enclosure. It proved to be the
undomiciled, undated, unsigned lines running as follows:--

'I am in great distress. I fear your avoidance of me since morning has
been the result of some foolish things I said to you about what you
thought of me. You must not mind me. You must attach no meaning or
importance to these most random wicked words of mine. You know I am an
inveterate talker. If my talk of to-day has made any bad impression, I
beg of you, for God's sake, to give me a chance of removing it! There
is no woman on earth I respect more than you; no woman on earth whose
good opinion is essential to me but yours, for I love you! I implore
you to give me a chance, just one, of redeeming my stupid blunder. If
you do not give me this one chance, I do not know what will become of
me. Forget my flippant manner. I am as terribly in earnest now as ever
man was. You will answer this. I cannot look at you again until I know
I am forgiven. Will you write as soon as you can to me, care of Messrs
Stainsforth & Co., Bankers, Lombard Street? I shall tell the housemaid
here, as though from you, that if any letters come for you this
evening they are to be brought to your room, so you may be saved the
inconvenience of reading this in the presence of anyone.'


That night George Osborne once more found himself too excited for
sleep. The day had been thick with incidents, full of conflicting
emotions. The anxious morning, the solemn betrothal, the peace
following it, the sharp shock of meeting Parkinson once more, the
introduction to that man by his sweetheart, the strange feeling of
reassurance and peace which had come upon him during the early part of
his visit to Parkinson's house, the subsequent despair, followed by
the cry that went up from him when he heard the plea for mercy sung by
that superb voice, and the later discovery that this voice was
Marie's--all crowded into one day, had left him nervous and tremulous
and wakeful.

He walked heavily to the window, drew back the curtains, raised up the
blind, and looked out.

Beneath him lay miles of dark roofs lit by the broad full moon.
Fantastic gables and weird-looking vanes broke up the dull monotony of
the view. Here and there deep chasms of shadow stretched right and
left, leading to large pools of intense darkness where the streets
broadened into squares. High above the plain of roofs and gables and
vanes, like fair white spars, rose the steeples and towers and spires
of a thousand churches.

The peaceful beauty of the night melted his heart and soothed his
troubled brain like an anodyne. All was peace abroad; and whose peace
could it be but God's? How the white moonlight swept worry and doubt
and tumult away! In the light of day man might lift impious eyes to
heaven, for he was drunk with a foolish sense of security and
importance. In the dark of night man was exposed to a thousand unmanly
fears. But who could look upon the moonlight and not feel the
assurance that God was near, and was the friend of man? Moonlight was
the white altar-cloth of earth, and when it was spread the heart of
man must send up the incense of worship.

Now was not the hour to sing _Miserere_ but _Laudamus_. Here was no
oppressive consciousness of sin, no abject pleading for mercy. Here
were simple worship and confidence. No repining, no doubt, no
superstitious fears or vague misgivings; no arrogance, but a full
quiet sense of protection and future advancement, and of worship and
love. Much has been said about the moonlight and lovers, but it seemed
more fit for solitary commune between man and his Maker.

Why was not life all moonlight? Why had we ever the fiery heat and
passion of noon? What fools men are to allow themselves to be dragged
this way and that at the beck of every passion, at the call of every
party, at the decree of every sect? Were not this world here around,
this beautiful moon, and the all-just God in heaven above, enough for
the heart and soul of man? Ample. What could be added to these three
things? After all, there may be much in the quietist's ideas. A man
might do worse, provided he had no home ties, than spend his life in
the vineyards and on the olive-clad slopes of Mount Athos.

It was late when Osborne pulled down the blind, drew the curtains, and
faced his room once more. The gas was burning brightly: its flame had
warmed the room.

Still he felt no inclination to go to bed. There was an old-fashioned
elbow-chair by the dressing-table, and on one side of the
dressing-table the books lent him by Nevill; on the other side those
lent him that night by Parkinson.

He took the latter pile, consisting of five books, and, holding them
pressed together between his right and left hand, he read the backs
carefully.

He should never be able to look through these books with more
unconcern than this night, the night of the betrothal, a scathless
visit to Parkinson, that calm and peaceful commune with God above the
moonlit city.

Three o'clock struck, and he read on. Four, five, six, and still he
did not rise from that chair. At seven he had finished the book, and
at seven he rose, went to the window, and once more pulled back the
curtains and drew up the blind.

The moon had set. The sun had not yet risen.

'All is dark,' he thought, 'all is dark. This is my second vigil
within a few days. My second vigil. All is dark. I suppose Marie is
sleeping still. The city is slowly waking. I can hear the mutter of
traffic, but I can see nothing, for all is dark.

'I wonder where the song is Marie sung last night? Quenched in this
dense darkness. How strange to stand here and listen to the waking
notes of this vast city! Gog and Magog are turning in their dreams.
What a wonderful city this is! Its wakening cries are louder than the
noonday voice of Stratford; but I miss the delicate tones of the
river.

'The birds are still sleeping in the trees around our house at
Stratford, and mother and Alice are sleeping too. In Stratford now you
could not hear a sound but the soft secret lispings of the Avon. An
hour before the dawn a river speaks as at no other time of day or
night. Often in coming home from fishing I have stood to listen to the
river beginning to speak. The first voice after sunset does not come
from near where you stand, but from round a bend or some part you are
not looking at. You think it is a late bird until you weigh the sound
in your ear, and then you find no bird could touch so delicate a note,
reach so weird a meaning. Then all at once a hundred soft whispers
steal along the shore and from the surface of the stream, and you wait
and listen minute after minute in the hope or fear the whisperings
will shape themselves in some human speech. You wait until
disappointment yields to despair. Then you turn to go. You have taken
only one step, when you hear the river saying distinctly, "Stay,
stay." You remain immoveable for awhile, only to be tantalised by
whisperings and mutterings less unlike human speech than before.

'I suppose a man never had a better mother or better sister than I.
Nothing in the world keeps a man so clear of that most vulgar of all
mental vices, cynicism, as a good mother and good sisters. It is good
women who keep men in well-ordered mind. Men are not afraid of telling
their weaknesses to other men, but it hurts and degrades a man when
evil news of him come to ears at home. There is one sure way of making
any man careless of his conduct: make his mother and sisters believe
he is not what he should be. A man's wife is theoretically his equal;
but in practice who ever saw this theory hold? She must govern him or
he her.

'There's Jim Truscot at Stratford. He is a hunchback and lame, and
eight years younger than I. I have known him all my life. When he was
a boy and I a lad, I used to watch him as he looked at the other boys
playing cricket. He would clap his hands and shout when a ball was
well hit or a player well stumped. No one had such judgment or
knowledge of the game as poor Jim Truscot, and yet he could never
swing a bat or bowl a ball. Often have I watched the boy, and grieved
for him, until the tears would run into my eyes; and I would have
handed the boy the bat and given up the game, if poor Jim might play
one game. Jim is at home in Stratford now, hardly awake yet. Yes, poor
Jim is no doubt lying asleep now in Stratford, his deformed withered
legs stretched out, his misshapen breast heaving quickly! Poor Jim!
perhaps now he does not care for cricket as much as formerly. Perhaps
the spirit that inhabited the poor tenement has now fallen down in
worship before some young girl of pastoral and woodland Warwickshire.
If this were so with the man, what had been the boy's sorrow? A
passing cloud compared to a life-long gloom.

'Far away there, under the pall of lingering darkness, ran the little
river, now whispering as it had never whispered at any other time. The
sounds came closer together, there was a hurry, a confusion in the
tones. The sounds were tremulous and the accents full of fear. They
came nearer to speaking a human tongue. The river seemed anxious to
communicate some secret of vital importance. It appeared to make a
final effort to render itself intelligible before dawn came in the
broad east and silenced the voice of the river.

'Now I listen once more to these whispers. I have found the key to the
tongue they speak, I know now what they have tried to say and could
not. It was,--

'"Fools! Fools, you men! You think you are of some importance to the
Creator. You are nothing. You are like us, merely the result of the
great current of life striking the shore. While the river flows by
banks, you have voice, as we. But in the great ocean beyond the shores
of time you shall be like us, dumb. You are no better than we, or
these rushes here, in anything you can show, except that you enjoy
more privileges. Fools, why should you not be content? Is it not much
to be lords of earth, without aspiring to be peers of heaven?"

'Has it all come to this? Has it all come to this at last? Mother and
Alice away in Stratford, are they nothing more than ripples on the
stream of life? If my mother does not get a reward on earth for all
her goodness, will she get no reward for it hereafter? Monstrous
thought! Will poor Jim Truscot go into his coffin, and find in his
coffin nothing but nothingness? Was that poor misshapen creature
brought into the world merely to be the sport of Fate? No, no; this
cannot be. I will not believe it.'

The cold grey dawn of midwinter was now in the east.

'And here, under this roof, sleeps my gentle sister Kate, and all the
good and kindly people of the place. Are they all but ripples on the
stream?

'And she, my Marie, she who is dearer than all the world beside, is
she to be to me only for the span of this poor vulgar world, wherein
love and time are broken up by the round of petty daily cares? Am I to
clasp her in this world only to lose her in the next? I, who spent all
my youth in visions of perfected love hereafter! I who held that we
were sent on earth merely to learn love, that we might hereafter enjoy
it in the peace as unencumbered souls!'

He paused awhile, drew back from the window. He put his hand to his
head in a bewildered way. He took down his hands, crying out, in a
low, resolute voice,--

'No, no. No, no, no. That is absurd. Quite absurd. I must be losing my
reason. Staying up at night is bad, everyone says, and everyone is
always right. You may stay up a night now and then, but not two nights
in such quick succession as these two.

'I can't sleep, and I don't want to read or to think. What should I
do?

'Go out for a walk and get the jaded look off my face before my love,
my Marie, comes down. Yes; that is a good idea.'

He changed his clothes, stole quietly down the stairs, took his
overcoat off the hall rack, and went out.

The morning was damp, and raw, and cold. He had no definite intention.
He wandered about the streets aimlessly. He did not know whither he
went. He did not care what road he took. He simply wanted to kill time
and thought by walking. The streets had not awoke yet. Life beat in
languid pulses at the crossings where great courses of traffic crossed
one another. Odd cabs rolled by, carrying figures, well muffled up, to
and from early trains. The 'All hot!' men still lingered in important
thoroughfares. London would not be awake for an hour. London would not
be at work for two.

At the usual hour the breakfast-bell rang. Shortly afterwards it was
found Mr Osborne and Mr Nevill had gone out and had not returned, and
that the latter had left word he should not be back for the day.



                            CHAPTER VIII.

                           DERELICT WOMEN.


'Good gracious!' cried white-haired Mrs Barclay from the top of the
table, 'what can have happened to the two? They must have gone out
together. Gone out a raw wretched morning like this without breakfast!
I never heard of such a thing. Miss Osborne, have you any notion of
what has become of your brother?'

'No, Mrs Barclay, not the least. He said nothing about it last night,
and he left no message. Perhaps he got a letter or telegram this
morning obliging him to go out early.'

'Maybe so. Maybe so! I'll ring and ask. Without his breakfast such a
morning! Why, it's enough to give him his death.'

A servant answered.

'Did you take the letters out of the box this morning?'

'Yes, ma'am.'

'Were there any for Mr Osborne?'

'No, ma'am.'

'Nor a telegram?'

'No, ma'am.'

'Well, I'm sure I never heard of such a thing. They must have gone out
together. But it is strange that Mr Nevill should have said nothing
about going out. Miss Osborne, are you sure there is nothing the
matter? You are looking very white.'

'I am quite well,' answered Kate. She felt perplexed about her
brother, and confused about Nevill. She had passed a wakeful night.
Two or three times before a man had seemed to court her society, but
upon the introduction of anything like sentiment she had immediately
and resolutely drawn back, and given the candidate wooer to understand
she desired him to abandon the pursuit.

Nevill had of late amused and diverted her. At first she had stood in
mortal terror of that rattling tongue which dealt so freely with
everyone, everything. Of late that feeling had worn away, and she
could listen to his nonsense with a relish. She had never met anyone
like him before; and when the shock of novelty had been overcome by
time, she felt no repulsion from him or his rodomontade. She had never
thought of the possibility of his falling in love. He was, she
imagined, the last man in the world likely to marry and settle down.
She had no more thought of his falling in love with her than of the
Archbishop of Canterbury asking her to run away with him.

What he had said when they were alone yesterday struck her as being
peculiar, nothing more. It perplexed, puzzled, distressed her, that
was all. It had, to her, no more indicated love than a polite bow
indicates a proposal of marriage. All it had meant to her was that
insensibly she had given him cause of disquietude. She would have been
glad to remove that uneasiness by any assurance or proof she could
give; but he had clung to the delusion with the greatest pertinacity
until he turned over a new leaf of his mysterious book, and confessed
he had been only playing at being hurt! He had, he said, invented a
grievance to try an experiment, the nature of which he would not then
divulge. She had tried to guess what that experiment could be, but
failed. She had felt surprised and alarmed to think this man had been,
unknown to her, trying experiments on her; but whether these
experiments had been in repartee or mesmerism, she could not say. She
had had no clue whatever to his meaning.

Now she held the clue, but what an extraordinary, what an unlooked-for
one it was! Although she had the clue to the experiment, she did not
know what the experiment was. The clue was, he loved her!

Could anything be more extraordinary than that he who had been over
half the world, had seen girls of every degree of accomplishments and
beauty, should single out her as the woman he would make his wife? She
could not believe he was in earnest. She would again read the letter
over after breakfast.

When she found herself in the privacy of her own room, she took the
letter out of her pocket and read it twice over carefully. Beyond all
doubt, he was in earnest. Besides, no man of ordinary feeling plays at
such matters.

He asked for an immediate reply, and there was every reason for
answering him at once. What should she say? What should she say? The
position was one of the greatest difficulty. George was gone away.
That was extraordinary enough. Even Marie did not know where George
had gone. How awkward! No doubt Mr Nevill had gone out and taken
George with him, to break to him what he had done, and to hear his
opinion.

What should she do? It was plain this letter ought to be answered in
some way at once. George was out, and there were no means of learning
when he would be back. What should she do? It was very awkward and
depressing. What should she do?'

There was no one she could talk to but Marie. She would go to Marie
and tell her of this thing. Marie was now almost her sister, and
having had such great experience in the world, no doubt she could tell
her exactly what to do.

Marie was greatly puzzled by George's absence. She thought it almost
careless of him to leave no word when he was going out that he would
not be back for breakfast. The people at the place now knew something
was going on between them, and leaving in this way aroused remark and
drew eyes upon her. When saying good-night last night, he had been
most affectionate, had thanked her for that song, and blessed God his
sweetheart had a voice that was better than a sermon. She wasn't in
the least angry with him. Who could be angry with George? Her George!
her master! her lord!

What they were to do to-day she did not know. Nothing had been settled
yesterday. How she wished George would come back! Breakfast had been
so lonely and dreary without him. She had never been in love before.
It was infinitely delightful, but it was hard to bear when he was
away. Love was peace and rest and security when he was by; but when he
was away it was a sick, sad yearning, a growing want. How often at
breakfast that morning she felt when the door-handle moved she could
see his face through the door. When the door did open and admitted a
servant or some stout guest, she had felt first as if she wished that
person dead, and then as if she would like to go up to her room and
cry.

Of course George had an excellent reason for going out and staying
away; but what was the use of reason when she wanted to see George? It
was all very well saying, 'He has a good reason; he has a good
reason.' You might go on saying that with your mind or your lips as
long as you liked, but the minute you stopped, your heart called out
twice as loud, 'I want George. I want my love.'

'O'Connor, is that you?'

'The same, if it be pleasing to you, Miss Gordon.'

'Why are you so very stately, O'Connor?'

'Out of regard to what is on your third finger, Miss Gordon. You are
now the next thing to a married lady, and of course it's only right
and proper you should have more respect from me now than before.'

'O'Connor.'

'Yes, Miss Gordon.'

'Have you had your breakfast?'

'Yes, Miss Gordon.'

'I think your month was up last Saturday.

'Yes, miss.'

'Well, you have often expressed a wish to leave me. You can do so now,
if you wish.'

'Child, do you mean it?'

'Yes, I mean it.'

'Why? What have I done?'

'Did you not come into this room now with the intention of annoying
me?'

'Of course I did.'

'Well, I can have no more of this.'

'But you didn't let me. You stopped me before I began.'

'I saw what was coming. I might have borne it, only for the very
circumstance of which you spoke. I gave you full scope before, but
now I can no longer allow you to speak of my private affairs in an
ill-tempered way; you would be sure and say something I could not
endure. You must go, O'Connor. I'll pay you what I owe you and three
months' wages. You can go back to Cork, and no doubt it will be for
your benefit.'

'Child, what way are you talking?'

'I mean what I say, all of it, O'Connor.'

'And you're turning me away really, after all this time, for saying
what you never let me say? Is that fair or reasonable?'

'I am letting you go because you would be quite sure to annoy me
beyond endurance in a few days, and I will not run that risk.'

'But maybe I wouldn't, child. Maybe you'd stop me then as you did
now.'

'No, O'Connor. We must part.'

'When I gave you impudence before, you always told me not to say I'd
go away to Cork; and now, before I give you any impudence at all, you
tell me to go. Child!'

'Yes, I am listening.'

'Let me say what I was going to say, child, and if I say anything
about going back to Cork, stop me and tell me to go away for a foolish
girl, and forgive me, child, forgive me this once. Let it be like the
old time, before any man came between us. Do, child, do. For the love
of heaven don't send me away like that. There, child, you're crying as
bad as I am myself. Don't break our two hearts. I'll be foolish no
more. There, child, forgive me this once. You know I'd die for you.
You know I worship the ground you walk on. It's only when my love gets
out of my heart into my head I forget myself and all I owe you. Child,
do not send me away. Give me one more chance. The time is cold enough
without sending me away. There, child, don't cry. Don't cry. Don't
cry. Is it I made you cry? Oh, misfortune on me, is it I made her cry?
God above, forgive me. Child, child, is it because I am staying, not
going, as you told me, you are crying? Is it? tell me, and I'll go at
once. Tell me, child, is it because I am staying when you tell me to
go that you are crying?'

'No.'

'And is it because you are sending me away you are crying? Tell me,
child. Is it because you are sending me away you are crying?'

'It is.'

'There, now. There, now, don't cry any more. Don't cry any more. Why,
child, do you think if it makes you cry for me to leave you that any
mortal body could ever make me go? Not he. Why, yourself couldn't. The
foolishness of your sending me away and making yourself cry when you
can keep me and dry up your tears! There, there, now, dry up your
eyes. You needn't be in the least afraid I'll go. Nothing in the world
would make me go now. I did often think of leaving you, but now I
won't speak of it again. Dry up your eyes now, child, and say no more
about it. I'm not a bit put out. I'm not indeed. That's right. Now
you're looking yourself again. When Cork catches a hold of me never
mind. You mustn't let Mr Osborne see your eyes red like that; for if
he found out that I did that, he'd turn cross on me and want me to go
away, which of course I couldn't do. Here's the rose-water and the
glass. That's it. There, now. Sit back and rest yourself. I'll go
away. You don't want me. Won't you ring, child, if you want me? I'll
sit on the stairs. Who's there? Miss Osborne!'

'Marie, I want a little chat with you, if you have time.'

'Come over and sit down, Kate,' said Miss Gordon, as Judith O'Connor
left the room, shutting the door after her.

'Marie,' said Kate, standing over the other, 'you have been crying
because George went out without telling you he was going. I can tell
you why he is gone, although I don't know where.'

'No, Kate, I have not been crying about George. I am quite satisfied
with him. I know he has good reason for everything he does. O'Connor
has been annoying me.'

'O'Connor ought not to be borne with. Why don't you send her about her
business? You tell me she is always threatening to leave you. Why
don't you let her go?'

'I told her to go this morning.'

'Well?'

'And she refused.'

'Why not make her go?'

'She won't go. I told her most plainly, but she said nothing would
ever make her leave me. I know I shall carry her with sorrow to the
grave. Let us not bother about O'Connor, dear. You said you knew why
George had gone away. If you like, you may tell me.'

'I don't like to tell you. But I fear I must.'

'Fear you must! Is it very bad?' asked Marie, looking up with alarm in
her eyes.

'Oh no. Not bad that way,' said Kate, moving towards the window, and
looking out to conceal a marked rise of colour.

'Then bad what way? What is it about?'

'About me.'

'And what is it about you, Kate?'

'Mr Nevill--'

'Oh, I see. Mr Nevill has spoken out at last, has he?'

'No.'

'Well, then, I'm at a loss. I don't know what else could have
happened. Are he and George gone out together?'

'I think so.'

'Rut why on earth all this mystery on their part?' Why didn't George
know last night?'

'Didn't know what?'

'Why, Kate, you are as mysterious as the men.'

'That Mr Nevill had written to me.'

'Write, did he? Oh, I see--I see. And what did he say?'

'He said he likes me.'

'Well, that is not a very remarkable thing. Now, if he said he didn't,
I'd answer his letter by telling him I thought him very original; but
as it is, Kate, you cannot say anything more complimentary than that
you have every reason to believe his judgment in this matter is
perfectly sound.'

'And--and he says he'd like I'd like him.'

Marie rose and went to the window, and put her arm silently round the
other girl's waist and drew her softly towards her.

'And I think,' went on Kate, averting her head, 'he must have gone to
George's room early this morning and taken George with him.'

Marie said nothing, but drew Kate still closer to her. Kate went on,--

'And I am in a great difficulty, for this letter ought to be answered
at once; and George is out, and I don't know what to say, so I have
come to you for advice.'

'Do, Kate, whatever you think best.'

'If I was to do what I should like, I'd call a cab and drive to the
railway station, and go home at once, without answering the letter at
all.'

'But that would be cruel to him, and I suppose he has not done
anything to annoy or offend you.'

'Oh no, he has been most kind. I do not mean to do anything of the
sort. I mean to answer his letter at once, but I don't know what to
say.'

'The only way I can help you is to suggest that you write him such a
letter as you would have wished me to write if George had written to
me. Can't you do that?'

'I'll try!'

Marie kissed Kate, and Kate sobbed awhile, and then went back to her
own room to answer Nevill's offer of love.

That evening late she posted the following letter to Nevill, addressed
to the care of Messrs Stainsforth & Co., Lombard Street:--


'Dear Mr Nevill,--I am greatly pained to think you should have thought
we avoided you yesterday. When we were called out of the drawing-room
we were introduced to the husband of a great friend of Miss Gordon's.
He asked us to dinner, and we promised to go. When we got back to the
drawing-room you had gone. George must have forgotten to leave a
message with the servants for you.

'You have done me honour far above my merits in offering me your love.
I was unprepared for anything of the kind. I will be quite frank with
you. I have never thought of marrying, and have never thought of your
asking me to marry you. My feelings towards you are those merely of
friendship, and more I cannot promise. I hope you will believe me that
I have a sincere regard for you, nothing more. If I have given you any
cause to think I looked on you in any other light than that of a
friend, I hope you will forgive me. Believe me, I never thought of you
as anything else.

'Let me again thank you for the honour you have done me, and ask your
forgiveness for any uneasiness I have unknowingly caused you; and I
wish you all the happiness and success in the world, and that you may
soon forget           KATE OSBORNE.'


She finished the writing of this letter by two o'clock. Still George
had not come back. She remained in her own room most of that day,
fearing if she went down she might meet Mr Nevill. Of a meeting with
him she now stood in deadly terror. She would do anything on earth now
rather than meet William Nevill; why this was she could not tell.

Three, four, five came, and still no George. What could have happened
to him?

At ten minutes past five Marie came up. She had been out shopping. She
had asked and learned that neither Nevill nor Osborne had been in the
house since morning.

This absence of both for so long a time could scarcely be explained by
the mere fact of Nevill wanting to speak to Gordon about his proposal
to Kate, What could it mean? If that letter was to go by to-night's
post, it must be carried downstairs now.

Marie rang for O'Connor, and the letter was sent away for post.

Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and still neither came.

As eleven struck, the door of the drawing-room opened, and George
Osborne, pale as a ghost, walked into the room!



                             CHAPTER IX.

                     THE PILGRIMAGE TO ST PAUL'S.


When it grew near the breakfast-hour of that day, George Osborne
paused awhile in his walking, and, leaning against the parapet of
London Bridge, thought for a few moments.

'She will miss me if I am not in for breakfast. My Marie will miss me
if I do not go back now. Miss me.'

Something in the word hurt his heart, and, instead of turning back
into the City, he crossed the bridge and walked straight on. It was
now day, and thousand after thousand of people passed him hurrying
into the City for the day's work. The dull and listless condition of
mind in which he had set out had gradually left him, and he was now
looking about him, and trying to interest himself in the people and
things surrounding him.

How eager these people seemed hastening to their daily toil! They
looked chiefly of the clerk class. What a dreadful thing it must be to
live all the daylight of one's life over a desk! Never to see wooded
valley or corn-plains! These men had less than three pounds a-week,
and had to dress decently. Most of them were married men with
families. How did they live? What pleasure could they take in their
lives? Daily they rose at seven, ate breakfast, and hurried into the
warehouses. There they drew laboured breath over dreary desks hour
after hour, until the warehouse closed. There were hundreds of
thousands of such men now in the City, or speeding towards it. And
what was all this dull routine for? Merely that they might live.
Nothing more. There was before ninety-nine out of a hundred clerks no
chance of promotion. Here they were rushing by hundreds of battalions
into their pent-up offices, merely that they might live another week.
What object could life be to them? Why should they submit to such a
lot for the mere privilege of drawing breath a few more hours, when
there was no room for speculation in these hours? When there was an
absolute certainty of future days being exact counterparts of past
ones. It was humiliating to think of man, who was destined to rule the
earth while upon it, and hereafter to--

'Ugh! that terrible thought again. What, could it be all things should
come to nothingness? All things? All people? Philosophers had held
life a comedy or a tragedy. Here, if there was anything in what had
lately reached him, life was a farce, a hideous hollow farce. A wicked
cruel farce. A farce for whose enjoyment? No. It can't be a farce
played by man for his own amusement; for man is not aware it is a
farce, and if he was it would only drive him to desperation.

'And yet the facts are so cogent, the reasoning is so close. I can
make nothing of it. Nothing. Is the individuality of man nothing? Are
my mother and my sisters, who are self-conscious and sympathetic now,
endowed with beautiful spirits and ample faith, are they nothing but
what we can see and feel and hear? Is man merely a machine for the
carriage and use of five senses? Monstrous!'

He put the thought away and occupied himself with the things around
him.

The Elephant and Castle, the best-known public-house in the world, had
changed hands for forty thousand pounds. What an enormous price for
one house of that size. Here again what surprising traffic! Day and
night this goes on without cessation. Of course the people are fewer
by night, but there are always some passing. There are always people
of some kind passing this point. In the most quiet watches of the
morning, from two to five, stragglers go by. Some coming home jaded
after a night of pleasure, some heavy with the burden or the spoil of
a night of crime, some to heal the sick, some to receive the last
words of the dying, some to hear the first cry of the newborn, some
flying from their homes for ever, some returning after an absence of
many years, some fleeing in terror the scene of their first sin, some
coming back after what is destined, though they know it not, to be a
last carouse, some on their way to Bedlam, some on their way to
Waterloo Bridge and the Morgue.

London Road. What a world of suggestion there is in the name of this
street, and what an arrogance! As though this were the only road
leading to this enormous town. This vast concrement of humanity. Blow
all the bugles of the British regular army. Sound the alarm: all the
troops of the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland that can be
got together, are needed for the defence of London against a foreign
foe. March them all in here, by this London Road. See the prodigious
length they stretch to, the infantry in fours, the cavalry in twos,
the artillery gun after waggon, waggon after gun. Men and horses, what
a splendid show! Where will they find barrack-room, this army? Not in
houses, surely. They must camp in the parks and squares. Mile after
mile of men. Ten hours these men take to march through London Road,
the infantry in fours, the cavalry in twos, the artillery waggon after
gun, gun after waggon. Thirty miles of men, more than enough to allow
a man for every ten yards in the circumference described within the
twelve-mile radius. More than enough to stretch in a solid column
marching in fours and twos from Her Majesty's Arsenal at Woolwich to
Her Majesty's Castle at Windsor.

This vast host, with all its baggage, could never find house-room even
in vast London?

As easily as a single traveller at a great hotel.

Every year this town adds a greater number of souls to its millions
that are in than army, absorbs a vastly greater number of horses, and
ten times the personal baggage.

For what are these thousands of men hurrying into this vast human camp
every year? To seek employment, pleasure, oblivion, fame, instruction,
solitude, wealth, friends--and to find in the end--a grave. Yearly an
army equal to that just passed through London Road comes to increase
London, over and above its yearly loss.

Among those who had come into London to find pleasure and instruction
was he himself. What had he found? Love. Oh Life, thou givest to us
woman and earth. Oh Love, thou transmutest woman and earth into
goddess and Paradise! Oh Life, thou givest to us full sensations in
our pulses! Oh Death, thou takest Goddess and Paradise and sensations
all away! Cruel Life, to give us woman and earth! Vile Love, to give
us goddess and Paradise! Blessed be kindly Death, that putteth all our
pains and all our longings, all our hopes and all our sorrows, all our
memories and all our dreams away for ever in the great sable
storehouse of forlorn void!

Once more George Osborne banished thought as, leaving London Road, he
passed through St George's Circus into Westminster Bridge Road. Here
he confined himself to observing the surging traffic and the general
broken-down look of shops, houses, people.

He crossed Westminster Bridge, and stood at the end of the bridge
under the Clock Tower.

'London Bridge, which I crossed this morning, is the bridge of
commerce. This is the bridge of conquest and of power. At London
Bridge begins the sea England rules; at Westminster Bridge lies the
first rood of land England owns and legislates for. That is the bridge
of enterprise, this of dominion. This is the bridge of contrasts.
Here, in Westminster, are the richest and the poorest people of all
England, cheek-by-jowl. Here all the laws for the country are made;
here, under the shadow of this tower, new laws are first broken.
Statesmen and legislators sit here night after night, giving their
time and knowledge and experience and energy to framing laws against
the predatory and murderous castes of the State. While the legislators
are devising means for the protection of infant life, from the Terrace
may be heard the splash of the helpless bundle of life dropped into
the river by the murderous mother. She has walked quickly by the
Millbank Penitentiary, and dropped her child over the wall of Millbank
Row. In front of a prison, by night, is the most secure place for
murder. While the light burns on that Tower where they are discussing
the propriety of applying the cat-o'-nine-tails to the garroter,
within view of that light shines another upon the bloodstained watch
and chain passing from the hands of the garroter to the hand of the
receiver of stolen goods.

'Here above me stand the Houses of Parliament, that hospital for
diseases of the State. Across the water is that noble range of
buildings for diseases of the body; and there behind stands the Abbey
for diseases of the--behind there stands Westminster Abbey for--the
burial, of the illustrious dead. Is that all the Abbey does for man?
Good God! if that is so, what are the whole three worth?'

He turned away from the parapet of the bridge, and, passing up Great
George Street, continued his way by Birdcage Walk. He had not moved
very rapidly. It was now eleven o'clock. He had paused frequently on
the way, and more than once he had thought of telegraphing to her, but
something, he did not try to find out, had stopped him. 'I can explain
all when I see her,' he had two or three times said to himself. And
then, with a mental shudder, he had added, 'Can I? Ah! can I?' He had
a theory that nothing cleared up a man's mind so much as a long walk.
The variety of objects and persons, the exhibition of various arts and
trades and occupations in operation, dwarfed one's personality. The
manifestation of multitudinous interests, the cries and sounds, the
broken sentences caught from mouth after mouth as he went by, enlarged
the horizon, and placed a man more in the position of an audience than
an improvisatore. In a room, or any small circumscribed place, a man's
own importance insisted on attention; but out in this great bustling
world of London, who but a fool could think his own affairs, worldly
or spiritual, of much moment?

At Buckingham Palace he drew up. Although the day was dull and
cheerless, and the streets and roads covered with a thin slippery
layer of glutinous mud, many idle people were abroad.

Here, at his back, was the town residence of the Sovereign, the most
constitutional, the mightiest ruler in the world. Generation after
generation had come down, through various channels, the noble blood
which flowed in her veins. What history was so free from records of
tyranny as that of England? In old times, when people knew no better,
deplorable acts had been done. But then the general condition of
things was, from our point of view, deplorable. Bit by bit our great
Constitution had been put together. Bit by bit our great Empire had
been built up. Over the great Council of this Empire for two hundred
years the lawful sovereign had reigned in almost unbroken peace and
security. There was no empire in the world in which it was not
possible to realise a plot to dethrone the sovereign but England. One
could conceive an outburst of socialism in Germany, attended with
danger to the Emperor. But if any man said there was in England a
conspiracy to remove the Queen from the throne, we should look upon
him as one suffering from acute hallucination. The rulers of England
had come down through generation after generation hand-in-hand with
the people. Here was St James's Park, into which the windows of the
royal residence looked, and in which Her Majesty could see many of the
least rich or gifted of her subjects enjoying themselves quietly and
innocently. What an anachronism these sentinels outside the Palace
were! Did the wildest for a moment fancy anyone wanted to harm the
Queen? But then there were those two mounted men at the Horse Guards;
and yet it was to be supposed no one thought any burglar had an
intention of carrying off the clock. What a glorious thing to see
people and sovereign linked so together, keeping in the front rank of
civilisation, and carrying civilisation and Christianity--carrying
civilisation, Christianity--

'Great God, deliver me from this terrible haunting spirit of doubt!
Give me back full faith and peace.'

Now he began to hurry. He went up Constitution Hill, crossed
Piccadilly, and entered the Park at Hyde Park Corner.

There were very few people here now. It was dreary and desolate. The
bare trees looked sad and deserted in the bleak grey air. They seemed
the forgotten skeletons of funeral plumes that had waved over the dead
season. Nothing here appealed to his imagination. He continued his
walk.

Having followed the Serpentine for some minutes, he broke off from it
near the Humane Society's House, and found his way out of the Park in
the Bayswater Road through the Victoria Gate.

He walked to his left, and turned up into Kensington Garden Terrace,
and thence into the Grand Junction Road. Keeping north and following
the bend of the road, he came into the Marylebone Road. He held on
until he came to Park Square; he turned into the west side of Park
Square; then taking a wheel to the right, and then one to the left, he
entered the Broad Walk of Regent's Park.

'The Zoological Gardens!' he exclaimed to himself, with an inward
shudder. He was moving away to go, when he suddenly thought, 'Coward.'
Am I a coward? Am I afraid to look any of God's creatures in the
face?'

He turned on his heel and entered the Gardens. Like the Park, they
were almost deserted. But, unlike the Park, they were full of interest
to him. Some of the books he had recently been looking into, had begun
as treatises on natural history, and ended as indictments against
faith. It was a little past two o'clock, and few people were in front
of the cages, so he had every opportunity of inspecting the
collection.

He looked into cage after cage with steady disliking eyes. There was a
feeling of impulsion towards the cages, and repulsion from the
creatures behind the bars. The grey and gloomy day deadened his
spirits. He had slept nothing the night before. He had eaten nothing
that day. He did not notice the weather was dull. He did not remember
he had not slept. He had no knowledge of whether he had eaten or not.
All he knew was, he was trying to beat down his mind, and he thought
open air and exercise were the best remedies for his disease. But this
zoological collection had been thrown across his path like a
challenge, and come what might, he had taken up the glove.

For half-an-hour he wandered from cage to cage, until at last he stood
in front of the monkey-house. He paused awhile here, looked from right
to left, as though he would avoid the place if he could, then set his
face resolutely, and entered. As with the rest of the place, the
monkey-house was almost deserted. There were not more than a dozen
people in it.

In chill fear he wandered around, looking with mingled fascination and
loathing at the chattering crew.

Moment after moment his spirit sank lower until all the light and
beauty had faded out of the world for him; and he stood in the
presence of ruin and desolation more complete than reigns over the
site of Carthage or Babylon.

Stone by stone that splendid Palace of his dreams was falling. This
shock made a rift, that shock cast down a tower. Now a delicate
campanile fell, anon a noble dome collapsed.

It was weary work watching these men and these creatures shaking the
foundation of that beautiful Palace of Belief. All, all was going. All
was gone. There was nothing but a dreary waste, a vast sandy void,
littered here and there with the shaft of a shattered column, here and
there a frieze, here the acme stone of an arch, there the copper of a
cupola, here a marble altar-stone, and there a cross.

One of the attendants touched him on the arm, saying, 'We have
something new here, sir, if you care to see.'

With a shudder, Osborne followed the man into a small room off the
greater one.

The man led him up to a large square box made of stout wood. In this
was a bundle of rugs or skins; George could not see more, for the
light was dim. The covering moved slightly; with a spasm of horror
Osborne thought of that vision and that dream. What an appalling
coincidence! Was he awake or asleep, sane or mad?

The man bent over him and spoke in a low voice.

'They have just arrived from Africa. They came over in the stoke-hole
of the steamer. They are perfectly quiet and friendly. On the passage
over they lived in that box, where the female sat all day long minding
her baby. But the male made great friends with the men, and, after a
while, used to take the oil-can, crawl or swing himself in among the
machinery, put the back of his left hand on the bearings, and then
pour oil into the oil-wells.'

The man drew away the covering.

Osborne started back in disgust.

'I never saw Niggers like these before,' he whispered.

'Niggers!' said the man. 'These are no Niggers.'

'In the name of God, then, what are they?'

'Chimpanzees,'

Those ruins of the old faith were no longer lifeless. Now over them
leaped and bounded ten thousand forms of loathsome brutes. They leaped
and danced, and howled and screamed and yelled, They grinned at him
and grimaced. They took up the relics of that sacred palace, that holy
fane, and smashed and tore and cast them about.

They broke up the cross, and the most powerful and the most crafty of
the brutes took a piece of the wood between his palms and, keeping one
end of it in the smooth hollow of a stone, turned it and turned it,
until it began to smoke and flame. Then each brute that had a piece of
the wood lit his at the brand, and holding their flaming torches
aloft, they formed a circle round the altar-stone, set upon the stone,
the brute that had made the fire, and all bowed and worshipped him.

'The reign of the Beast! The reign of the Beast! The reign of the
Beast!'

Now he was walking once more through unknown streets, walking wildly,
so that people turned to look after him, and policemen watched him
with professional glances. He did not notice the streets; he did
not see people or police. He was moving at a racing pace, in a
north-easterly direction. His eyes were now blazing with the light of
fever. That carnival of the Beast lay behind him; its sounds were in
his ears. If he looked back he knew he should behold its sight once
more. Anything was better than that. On, on, on!

His face was flushed; the sweat rolled down his forehead; he was all
bespattered with mud. If he met a group on the pathway he did not try
to get through it, he sprang out into the roadway. In the
neighbourhood of the Cattle Market he got into a blind street. When he
reached the end he cast his eyes up at the wall, as though he were
about to try to scale it. He stamped with impatience when he found he
must retrace his steps. When he turned around he ran to the end of the
street, and when he had cleared it walked, at his former high rate of
speed, in a less northerly direction.

To pause was to think; to think was to be lost. When he paused to
think, he should come upon some idea more unendurable than those now
haunting him. That final thought must be avoided at any hazard, any
cost, On, in God's name, on!

The clamour of that hideous rite of the Beasts was in his ears. He
heard them chatter and jabber; he heard them still breaking up the
last fragments of that noble temple, that superb palace, built by the
love and faith and enduring self-sacrifice of ages. He could not hear
the words they uttered, but they were appalling, like human words. He
could hear them singing and clamouring around their hideous god! Ugh!

'On, on, on! Kill thought; dull those odious sounds in the clatter of
one's feet, the beatings of one's heart. On, in God's name, on!

Bride Street, Albion Road, Holloway Road, St Paul's Road, Grosvenor
Road, Newington Green Road, Albion Road, Albion Grove, Victoria Road,
Church Road; then to the right, then to the left, then to the left
again.

'It is getting dark. Where am I?' It was not until night had begun to
fall he asked that question of himself. He stood awhile to get breath;
he wiped his forehead, and leaned against a lamp-post for support. The
strain upon his physique began to tell now, and he felt a little
exhausted. It was close upon five o'clock.

After a few moments he stopped a passer-by, and asked,--

'What street is this?'

'London Road.'

'London Road! Can that be? Have I completed the circle--have I walked
all the way round? But no; this is not the same place--I have not
recrossed the river. Are you quite sure this is London Road?'

'Oh, perfectly sure; I live here. There is another London Road--at
least, I know of one other; there may be several. Pray, where did you
start from?'

'The London Road I speak of is at the Surrey side.'

'Quite right. That is London Road, Lambeth; this is London Road,
Hackney. You are a good way from where you started; as the crow flies
it can't be less than four to five miles.'

'I walked by Buckingham Palace and the Zoological Gardens.'

'By Jove! you have had a long walk! Good-night.'

Another London Road! Another road arrogating the name of the great
capital! This morning he saw pass by him a vast host of men, equal in
number to the yearly increase of this one town. He had been walking
ever since, and had never been out of London, Now he was in another
London Road, and it was dark night!

What solemn procession now approached? What vast host of sable forms
now walked slowly by? They will go on walking thus for thirteen hours
at quick march, and still they will not have all marched by. They will
take two hours more than the host of the morning, and yet they will
not have gone by. They have no horses, they have no baggage; they bear
nothing in their hands, nothing on their backs; they have no
haversacks slung at their sides, no water-bottles at their girdles;
they bear no arms, no accoutrements, no ornaments, no decorations of
any kind. Their hands hang by their sides, they do not look to the
right or the left. They do not speak, or laugh, or curse; their jaws
are tied securely up. This is the contingent marched by death out of
London every year; these are the eighty thousand of our brethren who
every twelve months leave London for the grave.

The grave--the grave, Only the grave!

Yes, a thousand times better the grave and darkness--nothingness--than
life under the reign of the Beast.

'O God, look down upon me--have mercy upon me--have mercy.... Yes,
yes; I'll go there at once. The thought may be an answer to my
prayer.'

'Which is the way to the City, please?' he asked a policeman.

'To the right, into Stoke Newington; then straight on to your left
will bring you into Cornhill.'

He started off once more at his old speed--He felt a little spent at
first, but the excitement soon entered into him, and he swung along
with even greater vigour than early in the day.

'I will think no more till I am there, I will think no more. Now then,
if my limbs are ever to be of any use to me, let it be to-day, On past
the flashing shops, over the slippery flags, out on the grimy road.
Past lamp-post and cart, and barrow and cab, and private house and
doctor's lamp, and policeman and civilians, and women and children,
On, as though they were grass and I a whirlwind. A cab would take me
there sooner, but it would not give me the relief this walking
affords.'

For half-an-hour he kept on this pace. Then he paused, and asked his
way again.

After going on a few hundred yards more he turned to the right out of
Bishopsgate Street into Threadneedle Street, on through the Poultry,
through Cheapside. At the end of Cheapside! It was close upon six
o'clock when he reached the churchyard, and mounting the steps of the
northern porch, entered St Paul's.

The cathedral was dim, silent, solemn. He glanced up and around with a
cowed, hunted look. It was only a few hours since he had been in that
church. What a terrible night and day he had had since! Enough to
break down a man's reason. Yes, this was the proper place to come to
when one was in trouble. No book of reasons had so subtle an influence
as this mighty pile, raised up by religious souls to be a calming
canopy for mental woe and spiritual travail.

He sat down awhile.

Yes, he was growing calmer, cooler, more collected.

He bent his head in prayer. Suddenly he looked around wildly, and
gasped. There were few now in the cathedral, and no one near him.

'It will not come!' he cried mentally. 'It will not come! O God, be
merciful to me, and do not drive me mad!'

A hand was laid on his shoulder. He turned around, and looked up
slowly.

'What, you, Nevill, here, alone!'

'Yes, here, alone,' with a quiet smile that flickered off his face in
a moment, and left an anxious, worn expression behind.

'What are you doing here at this time?'

'I have been very anxious about a certain thing. I could not stay in
the house. I have been here and there, and everywhere all day, and I
came in here this instant to--'

'To what?'

'To ask a great favour from Heaven.'

'What, _you!_' cried Osborne.

'Yes, I.'

'What was the favour made you think of praying? I came here, too, to
ask a great favour.'

'I came here to ask that I might be less irreligious in the future,
and that--that one I have asked to marry may not refuse me.'

'Come away,' said Osborne. 'Come away; I can stay here no longer.'

As they passed into the vestibule, Nevill said,--

'You look queer, Osborne. What is the matter?'

'I came, like you, to ask my faith back.'

'What, you!'

'Yes; and it has not come.'



                           Part the Third.

                           MISERERE NOBIS.



                              CHAPTER I.

                         ANXIETY AND DESPAIR.


As Osborne and Nevill descended the steps of the cathedral, the former
became conscious of weakness. He passed his arm, through one of his
companion's. For awhile both walked on in silence. They were too much
occupied with the conflict between their thoughts and their feelings
for words. Nevill felt: 'Oh, if I should lose her, what will become of
me? I never was serious in my life until now. What a fearful thing it
is to go on all one's days treating life as a jest, and then come
suddenly upon a fair shy girl, whose word can make life a tragedy or
an idyl!' He thought,--

'What can have happened to Osborne? He amazes me. How can he have lost
his faith? Find a love and lose a faith! Monstrous! Find a love and
find a faith was the rule. Love first wakened young men to religion.
They loved; they could not believe the object of their idolatry was
mere clay, destined to melt back into earth, like an apple or snow. He
cannot endure the idea that when his eyes close, or when hers, they
are to see each other no more. That is what roused me up first. It was
the dread that I should lose her for ever when I die that made me
think of what I was taught when I was young, and see its beauty and
its truth. But Osborne, Osborne, Osborne, how is it with him?'

Osborne's thoughts were much less clearly defined. He wondered what
brought Nevill there, but the wonder was ill-defined and weak. He was
in no particular anxiety to find out why Nevill went to St Paul's. He
had a general dim idea that the circumstances fitted in with something
in his own case; he was too indolent, too tired, too worn, too weak,
too miserable, to try and see where the coincidence lay. But his
feelings made up in intensity for the vagueness of his thoughts.
Heaven and heaven on earth were vanishing from him at the one time,
through the one agency. The same sly awful hand that stole his faith
away would steal his darling away also. Oh, misery and desolation! As
a last resource he had come to that great temple. When his mind seemed
tottering, and the ground was tottering beneath his feet, when the
pillars of the heavens were shaken over his head, when the clangour of
words falling headlong into ruin had horrified his ears, he had fled
to that holy fane, that noble pile, raised by pious hands, frequented
by pious souls. He had tried with all his might to force back what had
escaped him. He' had failed. The carnival of the beast continued, and,
hideous thought, loathsome degradation, intolerable fate, he was
compelled not only to look on, but to take part in that revolting
saturnalia of reason.

Lose her? Of course he should lose her. What could prevent him losing
her? Nothing. Oh dreary, bald world, what wert thou made for? What was
he made for? Oh mockery, to call into existence such worship of the
Divine, such loyal, unselfish love of her as his had been, to snatch
both away from him at one swoop, in one fell hour! He could not bear
the idea. In order to shut it out he spoke.

'I have had a very long walk. I have eaten nothing all day. You must
think me mad, Nevill. I am not quite out of my senses, but I am far
from sane,' he said.

'We are just like two newly-convicted felons chained together for the
first time. Each of us knows the other has a story that would interest
him, and that he will hear; each is so absorbed in his own history he
cannot free his mind enough to take any interest in the circumstances
of the other,' said Nevill, by way of reply.

'No felon was ever more wretched than I am now; but in other respects
I am not as you describe. I am very willing, very anxious, to hear
your story. If telling it will relieve your mind, listening to it will
distract mine; and I have now no bitterer enemy than my own thoughts.'

'My story,' cried Nevill, 'is one of the commonest in the world; and
of all men in the world you are the one I most wanted to meet to-day.'

'I am glad to meet you, Nevill, that is if I can be glad for anything
now. What did you want me for?'

'I want to tell you I am in love.'

'Yes, I supposed as much from what you said in the church.'

'I have never been really in love before, and I want you to tell me
what you think of me as a man.'

'My dear Nevill, what a question!'

'It is one I am most anxious you should answer honestly. Stop! I must
not say honestly. I know enough of you to be certain you are incapable
of the smallest, even conventional, dishonesty. Tell me, Osborne, what
you think of me as a man?'

'So far as I have seen, I think very highly of you. What an
extraordinary position you place me in, Nevill!'

'I place you in an awkward position now, in the hope that you will
allow me to place you in a certain other position some day.'

Osborne, for the first time, looked at Nevill. He saw the man was
haggard and scared. He himself was too much exhausted to take more
than a languid interest in the conversation so far. Now he roused up a
little, and said,--

'Go on with what you have to say.'

'What you have told me emboldens me, Osborne. Do you think I should
make a bad husband?'

'No, certainly not. This is a still more extraordinary question to ask
me.'

'You will see, later on, a good deal depends on it. Suppose a girl
were very dear to you, the dearest in all the world, Osborne--'

'Yes,' answered Osborne, drawing up and looking into the eyes of the
other.

'Would you advise her to reject an offer of marriage from me?'

'What on earth do you mean, man? You are putting me in a most horrible
position, and I don't think you are behaving honourably.'

'Honourably, Osborne! Honourably! Take care.' The dull cheeks flushed,
and a light of warning came into the eyes.

'Well, speak on at once, man, and then we shall run no risk of
misunderstanding one another.'

'If I proposed to your sister Kate, and she accepted me, would you
object to her marrying me?'

'My sister Kate! Do you mean my sister Kate?'

'Yes. Who else did you think I meant?'

'Miss Gordon.'

'Miss Gordon! Good heavens! Osborne, you didn't think me such a
scoundrel as to make love or propose to the girl you are engaged to?'

'And have lost,' added Osborne, dropping his chin on his breast, and
resuming walking.

'Lost!' cried Nevill. 'Lost! What do you mean? It is you now who are
mysterious. What do you mean by lost?'

Osborne raised his head and gazed into the other's eyes with a look of
desperate hope.

'Nevill, you will answer me a question if I ask you one, as I have
answered you, honestly?'

'Most assuredly.'

Osborne had not answered the most important question of all, but he
could wait.

'Suppose you loved a woman with all your heart and soul--suppose it
was your first love-'

'All that is very easy, for it is my case.'

'Suppose you had been accepted, that you believed you were loved in
return, that there was no material impediment to your marriage, that
you put on the engaged ring with all the solemnity of a private
religious service, and that, in putting it on, you extracted a vow
from the girl, would you ask that girl to break that vow the next
day?'

'My dear fellow, vows spoken in that way do not bind.'

'I think you an honourable man. If you, at the time of engagement,
exacted a vow from the girl, would you, as an honourable man, ask your
sweetheart to break her vow?'

'It is you who now place me in a horrible position.'

'You can answer. As an honourable man, would you ask your sweetheart
to break her vow?'

'As an honourable man I would not. But how does this lose you Miss
Gordon?'

'Because if she keep her vows she must not have me.'

'But why, in the name of Heaven?'

'Because I made her vow never to marry any man who did not belong to
the church she had been brought up in. She made the vow. And now--'

He paused.

'Well, Osborne, and now--'

'I belong to no church. I have lost my faith. I can never, as an
honourable man, ask her to marry me.'

'But, my dear fellow,' said Nevill, in a tone of encouragement, 'you
never yet knew a woman who refused to marry the man she cared for
because of his religious beliefs or disbeliefs.'

'That has nothing whatever to do with the question. The question is,
should a man ask the woman he loves to break a solemn vow for his
sake?

A quick flush of pleasure shot over Nevill's face. By putting Kate in
such a position towards him, Osborne indicated, unintentionally no
doubt, that he had no objection to him, Nevill, as a brother-in-law.

'Suppose Kate were engaged to you, and at the time of your engagement
you asked her to make a solemn pledge never to marry any man who did
not conform, would you ask her to break that vow and marry you, though
you did not conform?'

'I cannot bring the question home to myself in that way. My case is
the direct opposite. How can you be so silly as to lose your faith now
that you have won all you want in the world?'

'There is no good in our going into an argument, Nevill. We must take
things as they are. I will not press you for an answer. I know what it
would be.'

'Although,' said Nevill slowly, deliberately, 'I cannot bring the
situation home to me so as to make it mine, I am sure I can give you
good advice in the case. You must first of all be prudent, and say
nothing for awhile. What has suddenly left you may suddenly come
back.'

Osborne shook his head drearily.

'I don't say it will. I say it may. Why should it not come back to you
as to me? Surely there is a case in point. Here am I, who have been a
wanderer all my life, who believed I never should settle down, who
cared nothing for spiritual matters, now come almost quite round,
turning religious, and thinking of settling down. Why should not such
things happen to you?'

Again Osborne shook his head.

'You cannot say; you cannot know,' urged Nevill. 'Give yourself time
and a chance. I do not see why you should be in any haste about it.
The day for the wedding is not fixed yet?'

'No.'

'Very good, Osborne. Don't hurry matters,' said Nevill, forcing a
gaiety that would not come naturally. 'Don't hurry matters, and we may
make it a double event.'

Once more Osborne shook his head.

Once more an expression of pleasure passed over Nevill's face. It was
quite plain Osborne would not oppose his approaches to Kate. George
was now in too disturbed a state of mind to press home the question,
and, indeed, there seemed to be no need to press home the question at
all, for he had inferentially answered it favourably.

For hours they walked about arm-in-arm through the chill dark streets.
Now they skirted the enclosures of quiet squares; now they pushed
their way through the crowd of a street thronged with people. Nevill
was killing time, Osborne was trying to leave memory behind. Anything
was better than to recall the past. Even the future might be more
cheerfully faced. The future, the future--what was the future? What
could the future bring to him? What could the future be to him?
Merciful heavens, was he to pass the rest of his days in Benares,
worshipping in the temple of Hunooman? Horrible fate! What had he done
to merit this?

At last, when it was past ten o'clock, Osborne drew up.

'Nevill,' he said,' I can walk no more. Come home.'

'No, no. I am not going back to-night. I could not breathe the air of
that place until I am certain. I shall walk about until I am worn out;
then I'll get a bed at some hotel or other. I cannot go back until I
get Kate's answer. If it is favourable, and I can satisfy you as to my
position, and so on, you won't object to me, will you?'

'No, Nevill; no. She is a good girl, Nevill.'

'The best in the world.'

'Oh, Nevill, I had such a dream of my future life. And now there is
nothing of it left. It is all gone.'

'It will come back again. Give it time.'

'It will never come back again. Nevill, my life is over before it has
well begun.'

'Say nothing to her about it for awhile, and all may be well.'

'She will notice my changed manner.'

'It will be time enough to explain when she speaks.'

'Good-night.'

'Good-night.'



                             CHAPTER II.

                            A BAD WAKING.


When Osborne entered the drawing-room at Peter's Row he was pale,
spent, weak. He could hardly stand for a moment; the place swam round
him, and he swayed to and fro as if about to fall. Some of the guests
looked at him with amazement, some with suspicion, some with fear.
What was wrong with this young man? Why did he come down to breakfast
the other morning in that extraordinary condition? What was the
meaning of any man, half covered with mud, breaking into a
drawing-room? It was very strange. Was he drunk? Why did not Mrs
Barclay tell him to leave?

Kate saw at a glance something dreadful had occurred. She looked
hastily at Marie, but found no explanation there. Marie sat on a couch
fronting the door, and stared in vague apprehension at him. In her,
love was alarmed by an unfamiliar phase of the beloved. Kate rose, and
went to George, saying,--

'What is the matter, George? What is the matter? You look ill.'

'I am only tired--only tired, Kate.' He glanced at Marie. 'She fears
me already,' he thought. 'She fears me. See how she shrinks from me.
She would scream out if I dared to go near her. She would scream. She
sees, with the swift instinct of a woman, that what I swear to-day I
will forswear to-morrow. She loathes me more than the most unsightly
things that crawl on earth. Oh, my Marie, my life--my soul! Have I
lost you for ever--for ever!'

All the guests were still staring mutely at him. He was unconscious of
their presence. He was unconscious of everything but the feeling of
loss. He stood in the midst of a pitiless desert. Neither heaven nor
earth, beast nor man, would take pity on him, would kill him, and put
him out of this awful pain. If he could shut his eyes for ever on her,
for ever on the past, he would be content. For, indeed, what want of
contentment can there be when past, present, and future are no more?
Had he been born to open his eyes on this apparition of supreme
loveliness, merely that he might see it for a brief span, and then
lose it, and all memory of it, for ever? If even memory might remain
he should now be content. But nothing would be left--nothing. He had
been foolish, insane, a moment ago, to wish for oblivion. He would
prefer the memory of her, the mental image of her, with all the sense
of final loss, to forgetfulness. How shallow Dante had been to say
memory of former joys was the crudest pain! Who would give up certain
aspects of his true love for all the pain those pictures could bring?
Memory was the inexhaustible bank of love. As the future is the
fairest, so is the past the most dear. The feeling you must lose all
the heart-savings of a love-time is the most bitter sting that can
enter the soul of man. Ay, but Dante did not think he or anyone should
lose the memory of love at the silent side of the grave. That
accounted for Dante saying, the bitterest thing of all was remembering
brighter hours. Into Dante's code oblivion did not enter. _Miserere
nobis_. _Miserere nobis_.

With a weary, vacant smile he held out his hand to Kate.

'I am very tired, Kate, very tired, and am going to bed. Say
good-night to Marie for me.'

He drew back into the passage, and closed the door.

Marie turned pale. Furtive eyes now sought her. The men looked at her
with anger against him in their eyes. In the glances of the women was
pity. Plainly all was over between her and him. Well, who could expect
any good to come out of such an engagement? No one but a fool. Fancy
people meeting in a common boarding-house, falling in love, and
getting engaged! Why, if such things were to happen and turn out well
there would be no protection to society, and domestic life would have
to be abandoned; and then things would be in a nice state.

The minds of the men took another direction. What had he been doing?
He looked as if he had been on a fearful spree. But how could a man
bengaged to that glorious girl go on a spree? And besides, Osborne was
as steady as a rock. No; it couldn't be a spree. What, then, had cut
him up so dreadfully? He looked all right yesterday, or nearly so. No
matter how wild a man had been for one day, he would not be so cut up.
Evidently something was wrong between this incomparable girl and him.
What could it be? Had he been suddenly seized with illness, or were
there traces of insanity in his family? A man must be mad to quarrel
with such loveliness.

'What's the matter, Kate?' whispered Marie, as soon as the former had
returned to her old place close to the couch.

'I don't know, dear. He looks awful, and says he's tired. What can it
be? There is no quarrel?'

'No. Nor do I know any reason why he should not speak to me.'

'He told me to say good-night to you for him, and that he was very
tired.'

'What! Very tired! Was George too tired to cross this little room to
say good-night to me? Oh, Kate, there is something wrong, something
wrong! Did he say anything about Mr Nevill?'

'No; not a word. I have told you all he said. I never saw George in
such a way before.'

The two girls rose soon after, and went to their rooms.

When George Osborne closed the drawing-room door he walked slowly
upstairs. He undressed, and went to bed. He was completely worn out,
and fell into a profound sleep.

He awoke. What, dark still!

'Who's there?'

'I.'

'Oh, Nevill, is that you? What o'clock is it?'

'You have had a long sleep. It is five o'clock in the afternoon.'

'Five o'clock in the afternoon! What is the matter? Have I been ill? I
forget. Nevill, tell me, have I been ill? Where is Kate?'

'Kate is downstairs. You have not been ill. You know you had a long
walk and great anxiety yesterday. Would you like a light?'

'I remember all now. No, I don't want a light. We can talk in the
dark.'

'How do you feel to-day? Shall I tell them to bring you something to
eat?'

'No, thank you. I shall get up presently. I am not hungry. Have you
seen Marie to-day?'

'I have not. I was not in to breakfast. Even had I been, I should not
have seen her, for neither she nor Kate was down.'

'You awoke me, Nevill, did you not? Have you anything to tell me,
anything to say?'

'I am sorry I disturbed you, Osborne; but I could not rest still. My
dear fellow, you know what I told you last evening about Kate?'

'Yes; that you had proposed to her. Have you got a reply?'

'I have. I called this morning at Lombard Street, and found a letter
there from Kate. The letter, although a refusal, gave me a half notion
I had failed only for the time. So I came on straight here to see her
and you. I have been with her all day, and I cannot tell you how
delighted I am, my dear Osborne, to say to you there is hope I may yet
succeed, though nothing definite has been arranged, nor will she allow
me to call her anything more than Miss Osborne, until her mother's
consent has been obtained, which is quite right.'

'And you want to speak to me now about the matter?' asked Osborne,
sitting up in the darkness.

'Yes, if you have no objection.'

'On the contrary, I shall be glad to listen; it will interest me,
since it concerns Kate, and at present I prefer not to think of my own
affairs. Go on, Nevill; go on.'

'Well, Osborne, I will tell you all I think you would care to hear,
and then I will ask you to do me a great favour. I have knocked
about in the world in my time, and have been no better than most
men--nothing like you. I lived at Rome; and you know that Rome often
lived up a tree. But, upon the whole, I was among the ruck; I don't
think I led. You must know my people were no great swells, only
middle-class merchant-folk. I am alone in the world. My father lived
at New York, and made a little money in corn. I'm thirty years of age.
I have never been in gaol. I have never yet committed bigamy. I have
thirty thousand pounds, and not a soul to leave a penny to. I'd settle
all of it on Kate, and anyone who might come after us. I am a native
of England, of the parish of Stepney, as I was born at sea. I was born
under British colours, on the way out to the States, before either my
father or mother, and I may add before I myself, ever set foot on
American soil. I am an advanced Radical, was reared in the Church of
England faith, and mean henceforth to conform to that creed.'

He paused awhile, and tried to pierce the darkness in the direction
where Osborne sat; but he could see absolutely nothing. Now that there
was silence, Nevill could hear the deep breathing of the silent
listener. At length George spoke,--

'Go on, Nevill. Go on; I am listening to you most attentively.'

'So much for the past and present. Now for the future. You are not, I
suppose, going to live in London always?'

'I cannot say. I do not know.'

'Well, if I prosper in this, I propose to go to Stratford--your old
place-and take a house there, and settle down as a member of a quiet
English family. I will grow into a middle-aged respectable man as soon
as I can, and you and your mother and younger sister and I will be the
greatest friends in the world--a kind of colony of love, down in that
dear old place of Shakespeare's.'

He paused again. No sound from the bed but the breathing, which had
grown more laboured. He waited awhile. He knew that Osborne shuddered;
though how he knew this he could not tell. Then the other spoke in a
constrained voice,--

'I. see nothing whatever to object to in what you propose. I think
nothing would please Kate or my mother more than that Kate's home
should be near Stratford. You said you intended asking me something.
What is it?'

'Oh yes. I want you to take me down to Stratford, introduce me to your
mother, and let me plead my cause with her. In fact, you can arrange
both our affairs--I mean yours and mine--at the one time.'

Nevill paused once more. The breathing had grown quieter. There was
not a sound. The room was as hushed as a stone. Nevill remained
perfectly still. Stop, there was a faint, very faint, sound. A soft,
delicate pat-pat-pat, as though you beat a table very gently with the
top of your finger. It could not be the beating of Osborne's heart. It
was too slow for that. What could it be?

'Why don't you speak, Osborne? What's the matter?'

Pat-pat-pat.

'Good God, Osborne, you are weeping!'

'Oh, my life, my life! Who gave me my life? Who has taken my life
away? Oh, my life, my life! Who gave me sight, and gives me darkness?
Dear God, turn away Thy wrath, and show me mercy! I am humbled and
punished. Let me come back to Thee and peace. Give me faith for this
void, light for this darkness. O God, my life!'

'Osborne! Osborne! Osborne!'

'In a moment.'

'Osborne!'

'A little while longer.'

'Now I am all right. I could not help it, Nevill. It came on me
suddenly. I had no power over myself. Will you forgive me, my dear
friend? I hope I may some day call you brother. It all came upon me at
once. I broke down when I thought of you and Kate being settled at
Stratford, and I--'

'You too will be settled there or somewhere else with Marie soon. Take
my word for it.'

'Ay. I may as well get up; and I may as well stop in bed. It is one of
the advantages of being ruined that all things are alike to you. You
are above or below every-day detail. I'll get up. It must be near six
now.'

'Yes; the quarter-to has struck.'

'I'll get up. Do not leave for a minute. You need not tell anyone I
broke down--Kate least of all. It would only pain her, and do no good.
I'll go up to Stratford with you, and do all I can in your interest. I
do not think my mother will make any objection, for she is a most just
and considerate woman, and has taught all of us to rely on our own
judgments since we were young. I think you may put your mind at rest.
I feel much easier now than I did when you woke me first. You may go
now. I'll get up. If you meet Marie before I go down, do not tell her
anything I have told you. If she asks you anything about me, say I was
merely tired, and overslept myself.'

When Nevill had shut the door, Osborne arose and lit the gas. He was
deadly pale, but refreshed with sleep. He felt weak, and thought some
illness must be coming on him; he forgot he had not eaten anything the
whole of yesterday. He was feeble now from over-exertion and want of
food.

It was six o'clock before he reached the dining-room, where tea was
always set at that hour. The people had not yet sat down. He went over
to where Kate and Marie stood by the fire, and shook hands with both.

'I ought to be ashamed of myself, and I am ashamed of myself.
Yesterday I ran away without a word of explanation, and to-day I sleep
until tea-time. I assure you both I never awoke until Nevill came into
my room about an hour ago. I was quite worn out.'

'But, George,' asked Kate gravely, 'why did you go for such a long
walk yesterday, and eat nothing all day?'

'Mr Nevill told Kate,' said Marie, 'that you ate nothing all
yesterday, and that you would not have anything to eat last night when
he met you. Surely that was too bad of you. You know, George, between
sitting up all night over those books, and then walking about all day
without food, you will very soon find yourself in the hands of the--'

'Hangman,' George concluded the sentence for her.

'No; don't be silly--in the hands of the doctor.'

'I am past cure,' he said gravely, and with a faint sweet smile.

Marie looked up quickly at him. Was his old self coming back? In
saying he was past cure, did he mean he was so much in love nothing
could make him heart-whole again? There was no answering look in his
eyes. What could be the matter? What had happened to George? He was
wholly changed, wholly unlike himself of two days ago. He looked worn
out and dull, more like a man just recovering from a raging fever than
a healthy, hearty lover. What could be the matter? It was sad to think
that, no sooner had she entered upon this fairyland of love, than some
terrible monster invaded the garden also, and she went in constant
dread of being struck down by the beast, and killed or maimed for
ever.

In Mrs Barclay's all meals were served in the dining-room, and it was
customary for the ladies to retire to the drawing-room after
breakfast, dinner, or tea. At tea that evening nothing was spoken of
but the most general subjects. Marie and Kate did not speak beyond the
words necessary in reply to commonplace questions from commonplace
people. Mrs Barclay rallied Osborne on his recent irregular behaviour,
and cautioned him that no doubt such vagaries might be expected from a
bachelor, but very different conduct would be exacted from a married
man. At this there was a general smile, and a sly look from his to
Marie's face.

All else that passed at the table was of the most ordinary and
every-day character. Tea took forty minutes, and at about a quarter to
seven the ladies retired to the drawing-room. Between seven and
eleven was the quietest time of the day at Mrs Barclay's, for men and
women staying at the house went out between those hours, either to
theatres or other places of amusement, or to visit friends whom their
business occupations in the day prevented them calling upon.

When George Osborne entered the drawing-room he found no one in it but
Marie and Kate. He felt refreshed and brightened by the meal. Tea
always had an exquisitely cheering effect upon him. He walked first to
Marie, took her gently by the hand, and said,--

'I was not able to explain to you--do not move, Kate; what I am saying
is intended for both of you--I was not able to explain what must have
seemed extraordinary in my conduct during the past few days. I cannot
yet tell you explicitly what it is, but in a few days I hope to be
able to satisfy you. Both must have faith in me till then. You must
believe that I have got a terrible shock, with which neither of you
has anything to do. I am at present in a state of great mental
anxiety, and you must try to be indulgent to me. No matter how odd I
may seem to you, I ask you not to judge me hastily. Give me time, and
I will tell you both all. Give me time. Will you, Marie--a few days?'

'Yes.'

'Will you Kate--a few days?'

'Yes.'

The two girls were more terrified by this quiet, collected confession
of trouble than by the most erratic thing he had yet done.

Marie thought, 'Oh, my George, my love, my noble, simple-hearted
gentleman, why will you not tell your Marie what troubles you? Why
will you not let her share your anxiety? She would bear all the
anxiety of this world rather than not share his secret pain. Oh, my
love, why are you so white? What will become of me if anything happen
to my love--if anything happen to thee--if anything happen to my
love?'

Kate was too terrified to think; she only prayed--prayed against evil
to him, against evil to any of them. The affair between Nevill and
herself could not have caused any such dreadful result as this.

He spoke again,--

'All the more necessary will it be for you to have confidence in me,
because I am going to leave you both in the care of Mrs Barclay for a
couple of days. Nevill and I are going to Stratford for a day or so.'

Kate was too distressed to feel incommoded. She did not blush, she did
not look down. Marie only thought, 'Oh, why will he not take us? Going
away for two days, and in such a mood! Oh, how shall I get from rising
to lying down while he is away? My love, if my life could save you
this trouble, I would give it for you with joy.'

'We leave to-morrow morning. I shall not see you between this and
then. Mrs Barclay, whom I have just spoken to, promises to look
after you, and'--he smiled faintly--'to see that neither of you elopes
while we are away. Good-night and good-bye now.' He kissed Marie.
'Good-night and good-bye.' He kissed Kate. 'The evening of the day
after to-morrow, or, at latest, the morning following, we hope to be
back. Till then take great care of yourselves, take great care of one
another. Our thoughts will be with you two constantly all the time we
are away.'

He walked slowly out of the room, nodding to them with a feeble smile,
as he closed the door.

'I could not talk to her, or be near her, now. I shall never be able
to talk quietly to her until this fever is past. Nevill is right.
Delay is the best thing now. If I trusted myself with her I should
tell her all. O God, what a hideous, abominable all! Oh thou Maker and
Unmaker, help me, if Thou wilt have mercy!'

When he had gone each girl stood looking into the face of the other.
Gradually they both sank down on a couch. Kate put her arm round
Marie's waist; Marie covered her face with her hands and shuddered.



                             CHAPTER III.

                           MOTHER AND SON.


By an early train Osborne and Nevill left London for Stratford-on-Avon
next day. Marie did not see him after that brief interview in the
drawing-room the previous evening. Nevill asked Osborne if he had any
objection to travel in a smoking compartment. Osborne answered, not
the least. They started with two other men in the compartment. Thus
private conversation was impossible, and neither cared to talk of
general matters. Each read, or affected to read, a newspaper.

When they arrived at Stratford, Osborne took Nevill to The Falcon, and
went straight to his mother's. He found Mrs Osborne at home. She was
surprised to see him; but she was one of those placid, lymphatic
natures not easily disturbed or ruffled. She took off her gold-rimmed
spectacles and placed them on the open page of Tillotson's Sermons
lying on the table at her elbow.

'I did not expect you, George. You did not write to say you were
coming. Where is your sister Kate?'

'I had no reason to think I was coming until it was too late to write
last night, and I did not like telegraphing, lest you might be
alarmed. Kate is in London, and quite well. Where is little Alice?'

'She is gone over to Mrs Craven, who is very bad--believed to be
dying. I do not expect her to be back for an hour or two. Mrs Craven
has been a great sufferer while you have been away. The doctor says
she may die at any moment. Mr Craven is greatly to be pitied.'

'As you may guess, mother, I have not come for nothing. I wish to
speak with you on a matter of importance.'

Mrs Osborne took a letter out of her pocket, opened it on her lap,
and, holding her finger on the sheet, said quietly,--

'I got this letter from you, my son, in which you say you have met a
lady in London whom you intend making your wife, or proposing marriage
to. I daresay it is about that matter you wish to speak with me.'

'It--it is not about that I wish to speak with you now, but another
matter of importance.'

'Very well, my son. I thought now you are in Stratford, now you have
come back to your old home, you might care to say something to your
mother about the lady you are going to make your wife, and about your
approaching marriage. George, you are not looking well. I hope you are
not breaking bad news to me?'

'No, no, mother. I am quite well, and bear no bad news. You must
excuse my not entering upon the--the subject of my--of my mar--of my
own affairs just now.'

'I know you too well, my son, to think you act without sufficient
reason or judgment, and I am certain you act on good reasons when you
do not wish to tell me of this haste--I mean this engagement of yours
to a lady who was quite unknown to you, as I understand, a few weeks
ago. I cannot help my feelings, for I am your mother. You, of course,
are old enough and sensible enough to arrange your marriage yourself;
but, as I said, not wishing, my son, to hurt you, I cannot help having
a mother's feeling in the matter. You are my son.'

'Mother, mother, take my word for it I have good reason for not
alluding to my own affairs at present. I know it must look very
strange to you that I should not open my mind to you on that matter;
but, trust me, I have good reason for not doing so just now.'

'You say no more for yourself than I say for you. Do not for a moment
think I am suspecting you of having poor reasons for your silence.
When you asked Kate to go up to London, I said,--"We know George has
always good reasons for what he does and says." I say so still. I
think it a little strange you should ask Kate up to London--say you
wanted her most particularly--become engaged to a strange lady, and
then come home saying, "I have nothing to tell you about my own
marriage." My son, I do not blame or reproach you. I have the fullest
faith in your good sense and judgment, but good sense and judgment are
not feeling, and you are my son.'

He was sitting in front of her, at the opposite side of the table on
which Tillotson lay. He dropped his head on his hand, and, turning his
white, worn face to the window, looked out at the bare wet trees
standing up in the bare wet winter day.

'I am very sorry, mother, very sorry,' he said, after a long pause.

'Very sorry for what, George?'

'For what I cannot say.'

'You are changed, my child, greatly changed. London has altered you
more in a few days than all the years before. I pray it may be a
wholesome change.'

'Mother, you used, when we were little children, before my father
died, to come into the room we slept in, and pray in a loud whisper,
so that you should not wake us, but that God might know you were in
great earnest.'

'Yes, my child; you were a little fellow then, not up to my elbow.'

'Do you, now that we are grown up, pray for us, mother?'

'Daily, my child, daily, day and night, and often when I am alone in
the daytime, and always when I hear of evil or danger. What have I to
do now, my child, but pray for my children while I am on earth, and
ask God to show me grace and lead me to Him and to the presence of
your good father by-and-by?'

'I have told you I do not care to speak of my own affairs just now. I
ask you, mother, to pray for me. I am in sore trouble.'

'In sore trouble, and will not tell me! In sore trouble about your
marriage? I hope not, my boy.'

'Yes and no. You must not press me, mother. I am troubled, and you
must not press me. Pray for me. All may be right yet, but up to this
all is not right.'

'My dear son, my dear George, you may count on my prayers. What can be
the matter? I hope, George, you have not given away your affections to
any unworthy person. You tell me nothing about her or your marriage,
and now you ask me to pray for you. I hope it is not as I fear?'

'No, no, no, mother. It is I who am unworthy, and need the help of
Heaven towards worthiness, not she. She is all that is good and
amiable.'

'You unworthy, George! Why, no woman alive could be too good for you.
What can have put such a notion in your head? I hope you are not going
to marry anyone with new-fangled religious notions. I hope she is not
one of those for whom the simple religion of the English Church and
England's Queen is not satisfactory; who must set up some foolish
superstition of their own.'

'She was brought up, mother, as you and I were--in the Church of
England; and she now holds the same faith as you. Be not uneasy on
that account; and, mother, as a great favour, let us talk no more of
my affairs for the present. I have other matters on which the
happiness of two people depends, to speak to you about.'

He turned his face away from the window, and looked gravely into his
mother's eyes.

She simply bowed in token that he was to proceed.

'When I went to London, as you know, I had neither friend nor
acquaintance there. I stopped at the private hotel Garvage
recommended. I arrived in London on Saturday night, and on Sunday I
made the acquaintance of a man named Nevill--William Nevill. I have
seen a great deal of him since. I have met him every day since, and I
do not think I am misled when I say he is a respectable man, one whom
you would be glad to know and receive. He has come down to Stratford
expressly to see you, and is now at The Falcon awaiting your
permission to call upon you.'

'I shall be very glad to receive any friend of yours, George. Why did
you not bring him here direct? It scarcely looks hospitable to leave
your friend at an hotel, when you know we have plenty of room and
welcome.'

'He wishes to speak to you on a very important subject, and, as much
will depend on your answer, he and I thought it best he should for the
present put up at The Falcon.'

'Is he any relative of the lady you propose making your wife?'

'No, mother. He has no relatives alive. He is alone in the world, and
thinks of settling down in England. He is an Englishman, but has spent
much time travelling, and has been only a short time in England. He
will settle down somewhere in the Midlands, perhaps here in Stratford,
and he hopes you and he will get on very well together.'

'I am sure I hope so too, with all my heart. I shall always be glad to
meet any friend of yours, and try to be friendly to him. You said he
had some question to ask me, George. What is it? Do you know what it
is?'

'Yes, I know. It may take you by surprise, mother, but it is only in
the nature of things such a request should be made. I think he means
to ask you to allow him to pay his addresses to Kate.'

'What!' cried Mrs Osborne, rising to her feet. 'He wants to take Kate
away from me? London has taken you, and now it is going to take away
my darling Kate. Oh, this is too bad, too bad!'

She sank into her chair and covered her face for a moment.

'He does not mean to take Kate away. On the contrary, he means to live
here in Stratford, close to you.'

'But why need Kate marry an interloping London man, or a traveller?
Was not Mr Garvage good enough for her--an old neighbour, and most
respectable man and family? Surely he is good enough for her. For, of
course, this man would never come to me unless Kate told him; and, of
course, Kate would not tell him to come to me unless she was willing
to have him.'

'When he spoke to Kate, she told him she could give him no answer
until he had spoken to you.'

'I know, of course, Kate would act properly in any such case; but that
is not enough. I think--I think she had no right to favour a stranger
who wants to take her away from me, instead of a settled, respectable,
well-known man like Mr Garvage.'

'But, mother, I have explained to you that he has no intention of
taking Kate away from you. Would you not be glad to see Kate well
settled in Stratford?'

'Yes, in Stratford?'

'Well, you may be easy on that subject. He has money. He will buy a
house in this neighbourhood, and Kate will live close to you.'

'What is this man like?'

'He is not very good-looking. His complexion is dark, and he is thin.'

'What in the name of wonder did Kate see in him?'

'He is very amiable and agreeable and amusing. I don't think you ever
met a man of exactly his kind.'

'I am prepared to meet a man I shall not like.'

'Then I am certain you will be disappointed.'

'What are his means and his family?'

'He is in very fair circumstances. He has thirty thousand pounds.'

'Well, and what family is he of?'

'He has no living relative, as I told you. His father was in trade--a
merchant in New York.'

'A merchant of New York! This is very bad, George. The Americans who
come here are not the kind of people I should care to select a husband
for my daughter from. And a merchant?'

'I don't think he is in trade himself. In fact, I don't think he ever
has been; so great a traveller cannot have had any time for business
matters.'

'I cannot understand how Kate could like him. An American, whose
father, any way, has been in trade, and who is not himself
good-looking. Now, Mr Garvage is a gentleman, and of a good stock and
good property. I can't understand Kate. I can't indeed. Do you think
she has fully made up her mind to accept him?'

'I only know, mother, what I have told you. I am sure Kate has not
made up her mind to anything that does not depend on your decision.'

'I understand that. What I mean is, do you think Kate has made up her
mind to accept this man if I give my consent to his paying her his
addresses?'

'From the fact that Kate refers him to you, I should think so.'

'She has not told you so herself?'

'No, mother. I have not, I must tell you, seen her alone since she
referred Nevill to you.'

'Not seen your sister Kate since this new acquaintance of yours
proposed to her! Indeed, George, you astonish me. What am I to think
of all this? I can scarcely credit my ears.'

'The fact is, I have been and am in such a distracted state of mind
about my own affairs, I could not do anything rational in London. I am
calmer down here. I wish, with all my heart and soul, I had never left
this.'

'My son! What, am I listening to the words of my sane son, or those of
a man whose brain is turned?'

'I think my brain is a little out of order. I fear I greatly
exaggerate things; but they are bad enough with me now. When I came to
you about Kate I had two objects in view--first, to tell you about
that matter, and second, to get away from London, if even for only a
few hours. Coming here has done me good. Until now I had no intention
of telling you; but somehow the peace of this place, and being with
you once again, the silence and freshness, give me ease and comfort
me. And you, mother, above all--you, with your dear kind face and your
simple goodness, have made me a new man almost, although I am still
sorely perplexed.'

'Tell me, child, all your trouble. Am I not your best and most
unselfish friend?'

'Oh yes, mother. But what I have to tell you will shock and pain you
even more than anything I have yet told you. When I left Stratford I
had strong religious feelings.'

'Yes, my son.'

'Well, mother, would you not be greatly shocked if I told you I felt,
since I left this, a strong tendency to join--abandon my creed for
some other?'

'Why do you ask so absurd a question? Of course I should be shocked
and grieved beyond measure.'

'It is worse then even that. I have lost all I had, and have got
nothing back in return.'

'My son, my son, this strange woman has stolen away your brain.'

'No, mother, it is still more desperate. She has stolen my heart, and
God has taken away my reason and wholesomeness, and I wish it would
please God to take away my life too.'

'My son!' She rose and threw her arms round his neck. 'My son, my
darling son! My child, my child! How can you say such things to me,
your mother?'

'Mother, for all sakes, it would be well if I died.'



                             CHAPTER IV.

                          A NERVOUS SUITOR.


It was impossible for George's mother to mistake him. She looked at
his face, and found it pale and careworn and full of definite sorrow.
The tones of his voice left her no choice but to believe he really was
in deep, in desperate mental and spiritual trouble. He sat back in his
chair and looked vacantly at the small table lying between them. She
took up her gold-rimmed spectacles and softly rapped the volume of
Tillotson with them. Mother and son were both silent for a long time.
She broke the silence.

'I have forgotten the name of this gentleman who wishes to see me
about Kate. What is his name?'

'Nevill. William Nevill,' answered Osborne, brightening up and looking
at his mother with more animation than he had yet shown.

'When does he wish to see me?'

'Whenever you please. He would call at any time that may be convenient
to you.'

'This evening?'

'Yes. I am certain he would call this evening, if you give him leave.'

'Then bring him to me this evening. As soon as you have introduced us
you can leave us for an hour, and then come back for your friend.'

From this George took his dismissal, and went back to The Falcon,
where he found Nevill nervously fiddling with a daily paper.

'Well,' asked the parishioner of Stepney eagerly, 'what luck?'

'I can't tell. At first, of course, she seemed shocked--my
own affair being so fresh--I mean that she was a bit taken aback,
the thing coming so suddenly on her. Kate, you know, is a great
favourite--always has been.'

Nevill looked grave.

'No wonder Kate has been a great favourite at home; but she's a great
favourite with me too, Osborne. I hope there will be no final
objection on your mother's side. I am prepared for anything short of
final objection.'

'I don't fear that. My mother is very staid and calm, Nevill.'

'I know. Not a bit like me. But I am staid and far from calm now. I
don't think there is any fear of my old levity breaking out. Do you?'

'No. I think not. I imagine you may rely upon yourself so far.'

'Ay, I may rely on myself, and I may fail, eh, Osborne?'

He screwed up his eyes and peered into the face of the other, as
though trying to recollect who George was.

'Oh, I am sure you may count on yourself. You are not to fancy my
mother is sour or cross-tempered. On the contrary, she is very sweet
and wonderfully even.'

'But suppose I made a pun, eh? Wouldn't that be against me? Suppose I
bounced out some roaring lie? Suppose I was to rap out some story of
my adventures early in life in the slave-trade--'

'Have you ever been in the slave-trade?' asked George apprehensively.

'No, no. My people were Yankees to the backbone, and strong
Abolitionists. But suppose I did blurt out that famous adventure of
mine when in the slave-trade, upon the occasion of our being pursued
by an eighteen-gun British brig? How I, at the head of forty
daredevils, boarded the brig, drove the crew before me like
sheep--sent all the crew below, battened down the hatches, pulled down
the Union Jack and ran up the star-spangled banner of liberty, set
fire to the brig, sent her and her eighty-five hands sky high when the
magazine exploded, and gave five hundred dollars to build a new church
out of the profits of the cargo I then had aboard my own vessel,
called the _Niggers' Paradise_. If I told her that adventure, what
effect do you think it would have?'

'Disastrous.'

'Disastrous! Ah, then there is but one thing to do. I must take
precautions against the chance of making a fool of myself.'

George looked up at him inquisitively for a moment.

'And how are you to take precautions against the danger of a too
inventive mind and a too inventive tongue?'

'My dear George, you have much to learn. When we are all settled down
here--'

George shook his head gravely.

'I say,' persisted Nevill, 'when we are _all_ settled down here
quietly, I shall take you in hand. I shall become your tutor at a
salary of one hundred and fifty pounds a year--you to find rattans for
your own chastisement.'

'I shall never need to find others than I now have,' said George
quietly.

'Nonsense, Osborne! you want only a few days in the country, and a
tonic.'

'Never mind me just now, Nevill, I'd much prefer you would not say
anything about me just now.'

'Then I shall have to choose, contrary to the sound old advice, the
greater evil, and stick to myself. What was I saying about myself? Oh,
ay, I must adopt precautions. Do you know, Osborne, I already feel
greatly refreshed and invigorated since I have come here. That is very
extraordinary, if one thinks that when we set out from London I could
have given you ten out of a hundred in dismals and beaten you hands
down. But stay now. Wait here for me. I am going out for a few
minutes. I sha'n't be long. I want to get something. Here's a
newspaper to amuse you while I am away.'

He took up his hat, and had left the room before Osborne could
question him as to his destination or his plans. He asked his way to
the nearest druggist's, and, having found the shop, entered it. In
less than a quarter of an hour he was back at the hotel, carrying a
small vial in his pocket. He called for a wineglass, poured the
contents of the vial into the glass, and swallowed the fluid. Then,
with a sigh, said, 'Now I'm ready.'

'Nevill, are you ill? What have you swallowed?' asked Osborne
apprehensively.

'Never in better physical health in all my life. I have taken a
powerful sedative to calm me. The result will be marvellous,
revolutionary. I shall now be in no danger of repeating my exploits in
the Gulf of Cabes when I was in the service of an Algerine pirate, or
of the way in which we treated the Christian prisoners who would not
renounce the errors of their faith and become Mussulmans. Ah, Osborne,
that was a bad time, and often since have I regretted it--deeply,
bitterly regretted it. But I am an altered, a reformed man now,
Osborne. I would not now oppress a Christian unless he was a personal
enemy. I would not now take service under the red flag again, for the
thing is too full of risk. Had we not better set out at once?'

'Yes, my dear Nevill; but none of this nonsense over the way.'

'Nonsense! Nonsense! My dear fellow, who gave you liberty to apply
such a word to what I have said? But let us not discuss that. Let us
go. Ah, the air does so improve one. It freshens one up, and makes one
feel one and a half. Osborne, I think I was destined by nature for a
philosopher of--'

'The peripatetic school.'

'No, the platonic. I have a natural genius for writing dialogue and
constructing spiritual theories. I think there is room for a new
philosophy. After all, I don't know that I should follow old Plato. I
could start a new philosophy of my own. Don't you think something
could be done with a philosophy called the dynamitic-psychic
philosophy, which would teach there are only two things in the world,
namely, force and soul? If anyone chose to question your theory, you
could fill his heretical mouth with dynamite and blow his infamous
opinions down his throat. Upon my word, Osborne, I think there is
something in the thing. Eh?'

'Now stop this nonsense, Nevill. Here we are. This is the house.'

'Is that it? Oh, confound it!'

'What's the matter?'

'That wretched sedative has not gripped me yet, and if I went in now
I'd be sure to relate the history of my life when I was one of the
Mormons, and loved my eleven wives most dearly. That would never do;
would it, George?'

'No, certainly not. I really wish you would try and be reasonable.'

'Oh, blame not the bard if he fly to the bower where a narcotic lies
carelessly smiling at pirates. Don't let us go in yet. That drug has
not fetched me, and I am all adrift. But how much better I feel upon
coming back to my native air!'

'I thought you told me you were born at sea?' asked Osborne.

'Oh, bother! What a fellow you are for detail! If I come here and
settle down, does not this become my native air? Do you mean to say
that if a doctor ordered me to my native air I should be obliged to
learn navigation to find out the exact position of the ship I was born
in at the moment I first saw the light, and that I should then have a
kind of raft built and towed there, and that I should have to live on
that raft until my health was fully restored or a devil-fish ate me?
Or do you think if I was recommended to turn myself loose in my native
wilds I'd go and drag out a miserable existence at Stepney? Rubbish! A
man's native place is the place he loves best. At least that is my
definition of it; and in any discussion a man has a right to make his
own definitions, has he not?'

'Undoubtedly. He has a right to his own definitions until they are
challenged.'

'Talking of discussions makes me think of argument, and argument
naturally takes me back to discussion, and backing and filling in that
latitude brings me, Osborne, upon a profound reflection. Let us walk
on awhile till that sedative turns up. You will be able to recognise
its exhibition by a slightly nasal twang and a slightly pious tone.
When you find these symptoms, lead me back. But as I was going to say,
I have come upon a fine rule for the discussion of the future. We all
know a man may start by defining everything to be nothing. Very good.
We also know that never in the history of man has one discussion
caused one man to alter his mind. Now if a man has a right to his
definitions, and if his arguments and deductions can have no influence
on the mind of his adversary, why not postulate his arguments and
deductions at once, and be done with the whole matter? But, Osborne,
this is no better than trifling. In fact, Osborne, it is not even
trifling; it is deliberate folly. I am awfully nervous, and I am in
mortal terror that my nervousness will betray me into some mischief or
other in this coming interview. Do you detect a pious odour? Do you
notice a nasal twang?'

'I think if you intend calling this afternoon you had better go now.'

'Very well. Lead on. Osborne, I never, knew what nervousness was until
now.'

They retraced their steps, and in a few minutes entered the house. The
servant said Mrs Osborne would be down in a short time. Miss Alice was
in the drawing-room.

'You will like little Alice, as we call her, Nevill. She is gayer than
Kate.'

'I am sure I shall like her; but her differing from Kate is not what
will make me like her, but her resembling Kate. What a still quiet
home you have lived in all your life, Osborne, while I have had the
noises of the bustling world about my ears!'

George opened the drawing-room door.

'My sister Alice. Mr Nevill.'

She bowed, ran to her brother, threw her arms round his neck, and
cried out,--

'Oh, dear George, 'Tilda told me you had been here, and that you would
be back some time in the afternoon. And when I came over from Mrs
Craven's and heard you would be here soon, I couldn't spare time to
run up and take off my hat. Where is Kate? Why didn't she come back
with you? Is she quite well? Will you take me to London with you when
you go?'

'We'll see, Alice; we'll see. Kate is quite well. I left her behind me
in London. I am going back there again almost immediately.'

She unclasped her arms, and looked at the stranger. George said,--

'Mr Nevill met Kate in London; so, little Alice, we shall all be as
old friends.'

'Do you like Kate?' asked Alice, looking at Nevill.

'Yes, very much indeed,' he answered, with a quiet smile.

'Oh, George, I am so wretched and lonely since Kate went away. It is
such misery to have no one to tease. Will she come back soon? You saw
mother when you were here before. I have not seen her since I came
back from Mrs Craven's. Do tell me all the news?'

'Mr Nevill,' said George, with a smile, 'you must not mind little
Alice. She seems rudely inattentive to you; but she does not mean to
be rude at all. She generally is what she does not mean to be.'

'Then she must mean never to be charming,' said Nevill, with a suave
bow.

Alice coloured slightly, and looked at the stranger fixedly for the
first time. She thought: 'What a plain-looking man! He isn't ugly
enough for an ornament. What can have induced George to make friends
with him? I declare if Kate were at home I'd give up chaffing her
about Mr Garvage, and say Mr Nevill was the real victim. Oh, my poor
Kate, after all I don't know that I could be so cruel as that.' She
said aloud, 'I hope Mr Nevill will forgive me. I did not mean to be
rude. I am delighted to meet any friend of yours, George, anyone that
knows and likes our foolish Kate. Here's mother.'

'Mother, allow me to introduce to you my friend Mr William Nevill.'

Mrs Osborne looked at the thin man, with his plain sallow face; held
out her hand to him, sighed, and said, 'Welcome to Stratford-on-Avon,
Mr Nevill. I hope you will like the place.'

'I am sure I shall. I have already learned to like some of the
people.'

'By Jove!' he thought, 'that sedative has turned up at last. I am even
in doubt now as to whether I shall pin my fate to my works as a
missionary in Central Africa or my scheme that the English should take
China, Japan, and Eel-pie Island, with a view to converting the
Inhabitants to Christianity.'



                              CHAPTER V.

                          AN UNEASY MOTHER.


When a few commonplaces had passed, George put his arm round Alice,
saying, 'Come with me; I want to have a quiet chat with you;' and led
her out of the room.

As soon as Mrs Osborne found herself alone with Nevill, she turned to
him, and smiling, said,--

'George has informed me you wish to speak with me. We shall not be
interrupted now.'

'I find myself in an exceedingly difficult position, a position in
which I have never found myself before, and in which I hardly know how
to go on.'

She bowed very slightly, and awaited what further he had to say.

'The fact is, I have been a useless, worthless man all my life, Mrs
Osborne, a wanderer over the face of the globe, never doing an honest
day's work, and not caring particularly what happened to me or the
world to-morrow. I am no longer a very young man. I begin to think of
settling down, and I have decided upon settling down in the
neighbourhood of Stratford, if you have no objection.'

'Why should I have any objection to your settling in Stratford?'

'Well, in this way. Suppose I settled in this neighbourhood, and
bought a house, and lived a quiet homely English life, and got into
such respectable society as would admit me, do you think you would
have any objection, just because I'm ugly and the son of an English
merchant, to my coming and seeing you occasionally?'

'Not the least. You must not say rude things of yourself.'

She smiled. There was no denying he was ugly; but it was unusual to
hear a man thus push his ugliness into prominence. Whatever his birth
may have been he was not ashamed to own it. And what on earth could be
better than an English merchant, except an English gentleman? And
practically he was an English gentleman. He was modest enough; and
then he might be so useful. If he would only promise to be useful it
would be an enormous advantage in the unfortunate state of things now
existing.

'I say ho rude things of myself. I know what I am. I have been about
the world long enough to have lost all false shame. I hope I have not
lost true shame with it. I am not ashamed of the business upon which I
came here to you to-day.'

Again she bowed.

'The fact is, Mrs Osborne, as you know, I met your son in London, and
as everyone who meets him must, I took a great liking to him. He was
in every way such a contrast to me; so quiet and retiring, and bashful
and good. I also had the privilege of meeting your daughter, Miss
Osborne, and I have come to you, Mrs Osborne, by her direction, to ask
you if you would have any objection to my paying my addresses to her,
with a view to my marrying her, if you are good enough to give me
permission, and she is good enough to have me. Believe me, I am not
saying what I should like to say in the matter. But I feel awkward. In
fact, I am not accustomed to making--what rubbish am I talking! Be
merciful, and take the will for the deed.'

He paused, and looked at her eagerly. His sallow face was flushed, his
eyes anxious, his hands trembling violently.

'It is a very serious question, Mr Nevill.'

'A very serious question indeed, for you, for her, for me. I am so
much impressed by the gravity of this interview that I do not feel at
all self-possessed. The excitement of the moment has quite changed my
nature.'

Mrs Osborne looked at him long, and not unkindly. 'He is sincere, at
all events,' she thought. She said:--

'George had given me to understand you would say something of this
kind to me, and he has also told me matters of detail, matters of
business which are satisfactory so far as I have heard. But in a grave
affair of this kind we ought to be very careful. It is worth being
careful about one's child, one's daughter. George has told me one
thing, to which I attach the utmost importance. He says you are of the
same faith as Kate.'

'Yes. Mrs Osborne, I desire in this matter to be perfectly candid with
you in all things. I was brought up in the church, and have never been
a member of any other religious body. But I have not been an active or
pious member. You will understand a man going about as much as I, is
not so particular about keeping up observances as if he were settled
down in a quiet English country town.'

'I understand. Although I have lived a very quiet life I can make
allowances for young men, and so long as they do not take up some
new-fangled notions, I am prepared to make allowances. Now, I think
the best thing to be done is to bring Kate home. As you say you think
of settling somewhere hereabout, we shall be glad to see you now and
then, when it pleases you to call; but you will understand I go no
further than giving you leave to call. You may renew the subject of
this conversation later on, that is, if you do not in the meantime
alter your mind.'

'How can I tell you how much obliged I am to you, dear Mrs Osborne!'
he cried, excitedly clasping his own hands, and rising to his feet.
'You don't know what you have done for me to-day. You cannot imagine
the favour you have conferred. It is above all price. I will not say
more now than that, no matter how this affair may turn out, I shall
never forget the confidence and kindness you have shown me, a mere
stranger.'

'There is a subject, Mr Nevill, on which I am exceedingly anxious, one
which has never caused me a moment's uneasiness until to-day. You may
and you may not be able to serve me in it. If you are, you can serve
me greatly. I am uneasy about George.'

'Uneasy about George, Mrs Osborne! In what way?'

'Never lived a better son or brother; but I am afraid he is in more
danger than if he was much less good. I wish you would speak to him
seriously. Try to show him the wickedness and folly and misery of
unbelief. Now if, Mr Nevill, you could only do this, you would earn
more of my gratitude than you could in any other way.'

'I have no great faith in my influence with him, but I will do my very
best. You may rely on that.'

'You will stay for dinner? We dine at six.'

'I shall be very glad if you will allow me to dine with you; but first
I'll run over to The Falcon for a moment, just to counter-order a
dinner there. I shall be back before six.'

He left the house without meeting George. He went straight to that
dreary little railway station. The day was raw and wet, and cold and
miserable, and the railway station is one of the bleakest in England.
To him the day was full of light and gaiety. When he reached the
miserable telegraph-office he smiled at the damp-looking clerk. The
damp-looking clerk did not smile at him. No man in a normal state of
mind could smile on a wet winter's day at the Stratford railway
station.

Nevill took up a telegraph form, and put down his own name boldly.
Then he wrote 'Miss Osborne, care of Mrs Barclay, Peter's Row, London,
E.C.,' with great distinctness and care, touching and retouching the
letters of her name caressingly. Then bit elaborately, and carefully
inspected, the end of his pencil. Meanwhile the damp-looking clerk
faced him with the expression of a martyr to electricity and
suppressed catarrh. Nevill's was not an ordinary case. He was
addressing his first telegram to her who now he had good reason to
think would become his future wife. It was in the nature of his
position he should feel strongly, tenderly, hopefully. But how was a
man to be strong and tender and hopeful in the presence of this damp
clerk? the knowledge that this damp clerk would read the message, and
send it over a hundred miles of damp wires to London, where it would
again be read? What should he say? For a moment he thought he would
not telegraph at all; and then he thought that would look very like
treating Kate carelessly, and surely nothing in the world was further
from his desire than to treat Kate carelessly.

'Well, he couldn't stand there all day staring at that man. The clerk
looked as if he would as soon stand there all day as not; nothing
being of any interest to him. At last Nevill resolved upon the
simplest form, words that could bring no meaning to anyone who had not
the clue. The message ran:--

'I have had a most satisfactory interview. Nothing could have been
kinder. I will write. I dine there this evening.'

As soon as this had been handed in, Nevill returned to The Falcon,
countermanded the dinner, and strolled back to Osborne's. The dinner
passed over without any incident of consequence. Mrs Osborne was
grave, and George dull. Nevill's happiness spoiled his natural free
extravagance, and Alice, who now knew what the stranger had come
about, sat lost in wonder and dismay before the proof of Kate's bad
taste.

Mother and son had a little talk about matters of a purely local
character; and in these Nevill did his utmost to join and take an
interest. Instead of relating his own adventures among pirates, or
gamblers, or bushmen, he listened to all the doings of the little
town, and all the changes the few weeks of George's absence had made
in the neighbouring families and visitors around. Nevill was charmed.
He had never known what a family circle was. He had not left school
when his own home had been broken up; and since then, he had been here
and there and everywhere, but never in a quiet, sweet, wholesome home
like this, where all was orderly and clean and respectful, and there
was no ambition or bitterness, or spite or display. It was a domestic
haven for a weary man, and already Nevill felt perfect peace
descending upon him and clothing him round, as the darkness had that
evening descended upon the silent road, the peaceful garden, and,
clothed them now in repose.

'It is delicious to think I shall, after all,' he thought, 'end my
days under an apple-tree in an English orchard. To think of shaking
off the dust of the weary world, and gathering oneself into this
pastoral Warwick, sunk in the memories of its histories and of its
great son: in an English orchard with gentle Kate, with gentle Kate!

'Oh my Kate! Who could ever have fancied I should turn out such a
lover? Love cannot beautify me, but it beautifies all the rest of the
world for me; and what need I care for my ill-looks so long as my Kate
cares for me and is at my side? Under an apple-tree in an English
garden! What a handsome fellow that Osborne is! He'll be a credit to
me as a brother, and that is more than I shall be to him. What a pair
he and Miss Gordon will make! for of course what Osborne is talking of
is only rubbish. A handsome couple, by Jove! They will make--'

'George,' said Mrs Osborne, interrupting Nevill's thoughts, 'I think
it is now time Kate came home.'

Osborne looked up at his mother as though suddenly reminded of
something he had forgotten. He then started on remembering the
occasion of Kate's visit to London, and the enormous difference in his
hopes and plans since the day he met her at the London railway
terminus.

'I have thought over the _whole_ affair,' continued Mrs Osborne, with
slight emphasis and a significant look, 'and considering the
friendship that has sprung up between--Miss Gordon and Kate, and the
kindness she has shown to Kate, the least we may do is to give her a
most cordial invitation down here, and take no refusal.'

George looked up at his mother with tears of gratitude in his eyes. He
saw the kindly intent of a mother whom he loved with all the force of
his nature, and who, of late years, ever since he had grown to be a
lad, had behaved to him more as a sympathetic friend than as a mother.
She had sought to lead rather than to drive, to take him by the hand
rather than push him by the shoulder. Here was she now, entering into
his schemes, interesting herself in making matters easy for him,
helping him towards that marriage he had set his heart and soul upon
awhile ago. Things were going right with everybody--but his wretched
self. What should he do? Whither should he turn? Where should he go?
Anyway, his reply was plain,--

'I am sure, mother, it would be a very gracious thing to do, and Kate
would be greatly pleased by it.'

'Then, you see,' said Mrs Osborne, more cordially than he had ever in
all his life heard her speak before, 'we shall be a party much the
same as you were in London; for I understand Mr Nevill will not be far
off, and Alice and I will be of the party, and we can have a few
people now and then, and we may go out occasionally.'

George tried to smile, and said, almost inarticulately,--

'You are very good, mother.'

Nevill was delighted. Why, this was as good as giving him a standing
invitation to all the parties at the house, as well as to the ordinary
hospitality! What could be more delicious than this? Nothing in the
world. To woo by day his own sweet, fair, gentle Kate in country
lanes, and then spend the evening with her at a homely hearth! What
could be more fascinating? And then the fact that Mrs Osborne spoke of
arrangements of this kind before him, made him feel she already
regarded him as a member of the family. He had prospered much better
than he had hoped in his wildest dreams.

Mrs Osborne thought, 'If I can only get George to stay here and be
under the old influence, and the influence of this girl, all may go
well, and he may lose the awful doubts and difficulties under which he
now labours.'

When the ladies had retired, the two men left the table and drew their
chairs to the fire.

'You may smoke,' said Osborne; 'no one objects to smoking here, Any of
my friends who use tobacco always smoke here.'

Nevill lit a cigar, and for a long time both men sat looking in
silence at the fire. Nevill spoke first,--

'I have got on to-day much better than I had hoped. I think it will be
all right. What do you think, George?'

'I am almost sure all will be right. I think nothing could have been
better than the way you got on,' answered Osborne, very sedately.

'I don't think I can be wrong now. I will not believe I can be wrong.
Kate would not have referred me to your mother, George, unless she was
willing to listen to me; and your mother would not have spoken as she
did at dinner, unless she had made up her mind not to refuse her
consent. What she said at dinner was more significant than anything
she said to me privately. I don't think I can fail now, do you?'

'I think--I am sure--you have no reason for fear in the matter now. I
should think it unbecoming in either Kate or my mother to go so far
and draw back without very good and strong reason.'

He crossed his legs, leaned his elbow on the table, and his head on
his hand.

'I feel certain I may count on it now. You cannot believe what a
relief it is to me. I would not go through the last week again for all
the money in the Bank of England.'

'Nor would I.'

'From the first moment I found out my feelings towards Kate until now
I have never had a peaceful hour, never a peaceful minute. By day I
had a racking doubt, half fear, half hope. I could not sit still
half-an-hour. I could not fix my mind on anything, on anyone. My mind
was not always occupied with Kate; but when I strove to compel it to
look at anything else, I had a feeling as though something must be
happening to her while my mind was away from her. Of course I should
not speak so freely to any other man; but you and I are in the same
boat, and you will appreciate what my feelings must have been.'

Osborne crossed the leg which had been under over the other, but said
no word.

'And now, George, coming to the practical, do you know any place about
here you think would suit us?'

'Not at the moment. What kind of a place would you like?'

'Well, if I am to settle in the country, I may as well have a little
bit of the country to turn in. I'd like a comfortable house with ten
or twelve acres of land. I have always had an idea of starting as a
tree-grower. You can grow trees on ten or twelve acres. I don't mean
growing timber, mind; I mean trees for planting. I have had a notion
of the whole thing in my mind for years.'

'It would not be easy to get such a place, but you might pick it up.'

'Of course we couldn't live in very good style; but we could have
rashers for breakfast, and bacon and beans for dinner, and watercress
and shrimps for tea.'

'I don't know about the shrimps hereabout. You'd often have to send
for them. We have not a well-supplied fish-market.'

'Well, say tinned beef. We couldn't afford much for that house and
land; say, four thousand, or under. Not much splendour to be got for
that; but quiet comfort, I should think.'

'You ought to be able to get a place to suit you for the money.'

'I'd like it to be thorough rural, not so near the town as this. I'd
like a house on a hill, and would not care to be more than a mile from
a good old church, where five or ten generations of simple folk have
knelt and worshipped until they were gathered into the quiet
churchyard. My dear good George, it would be such a pleasure to me,
who have been kicking about the world so long, owning nothing but my
baggage, having no being on earth more dear to me than the waiter who
last drew a cork for me, to find myself owner of a quiet English house
on the top of one of these gentle hills, overlooking a little valley
with an old-fashioned church in view, and the dearest girl in all the
world by my side, and you and your wife--'

'Yes, I can understand, I can understand,' said Osborne, very softly.
He got up, and leaning his elbows on the chimneypiece, was silent for
awhile. Something in his action and manner caused Nevill to pause. All
at once Osborne turned round, held out his hand, and said, in a firm,
clear voice,--

'Nevill, I hope you may succeed, and realise all your hopes. You are a
good, kindly fellow. I like you very much. I shall be very glad to do
anything I can for you, and to hear you speak on any subject but one.
From this, until I tell you I have removed the injunction, you must
not allude to my affairs.'



                             CHAPTER VI.

                          A TROUBLED HEART.


'And so, miss, we're going down to the country to stay awhile with
Mr---- I mean Miss Osborne's mother. Well, that will be a change anyway,
and it's time we had a change out of London. I'm tired of London for
one! And where are we going after Stratford? Are we coming back to
London?'

'I do not know, O'Connor.'

'And when do we leave London for Stratford?'

'To-morrow afternoon.'

The maid withdrew and left the mistress alone.

Marie sat in an old-fashioned elbow-chair before the fire. Her hands
were clasped in her lap, her head drooped forward. Her eyes were fixed
upon her hands. Her face was dull and expressionless. No light shone
in her eye. The thoughts that visited her came like shadows, and went
like shadows, vague in their approach, leaving nothing after them when
they had gone. She was not thinking so much as musing, not so much
musing as allowing what idea would to stray into her mind. Her heart
had become a weary spectator of her thoughts. She was not dreaming,
for dreaming means dealing with things which are not. She was looking
with heavy, dull, uninterested eyes at a panorama of the immediate
past.

So grave now, and now so restless. What had happened to her George, to
her great fair-faced, calm-minded, loyal gentleman lover? What had
happened to him? His eyes no longer rested on her. They were dim, and
busy with far-off things. He was no longer attentive to her motions or
words as awhile ago. When he came back last evening from Stratford he
was polite and gentle, but there was no ardour in his ways. He had not
seemed to wish for a quiet chat with her. He had not sought a solitary
greeting or leave-taking. He had, in fact, treated her as though she
wore no ring of his giving on her finger. What could be the meaning of
this?

The notion that she could have displeased him seriously was nonsense,
for she knew she had done nothing wrong, and she knew he was of too
simple and manly a nature to be, altered by any trifle. Nothing petty
could have changed him. It must have been something of importance.
What could it be?

He was not a man to change in any respect for a trifle. Why had he
changed towards her? It could not be that the change had been wrought
by his visit to his home, for had he not come back with an invitation
for her to go there? He could not have been displeased with her for
accepting that invitation, for he had handed her his mother's cordial
letter in the presence of Kate and Mr Nevill, and had given her no
opportunity of talking over the matter with him. Besides, why should
he bring the invitation unless he wished her to accept it?

He had not only afforded her no opportunity of discussing that
invitation with him, but immediately before, and ever since his going
to, and since his return from, home he had avoided her; he had never
sought her when they might be alone. It was not so much that he
avoided her, as that he did not seek her. This was inexplicable. She,
if she had her choice, would never be a moment from his side. His
voice was all she wanted to make everything beautiful and gay. The
sense of youthfulness and joy came to her when she heard his voice. It
was as though all the troubles and jars and difficulties and
vexations, which, added upon youth by years, made one feel the loss of
early sprightliness, had been removed, and the full irresponsible
joyousness had been restored. Love in women takes off all
responsibility save the duty of loving. It may add to the cares of man
the burden of which woman is relieved.

But then George had broad shoulders and a brave spirit. The burden of
her own responsibilities had always sat lightly upon her; it surely
could not bow down, much less break down, George. He was no coward; he
was no weakling. He had asked her to make certain pledges, and she had
made them as unhesitatingly as she would follow him all over the
world. If she had any doubt or difficulty now, she would go to him and
tell him all. Why did he not come to her if he were in any doubt or
difficulty? Kate had never seen him in such a way before. What could
it mean?

Kate had never seen him thus before, and Kate must have seen him in
every phase of his character. Yes, in every phase of his character. In
every phase of his character--save one. She had never seen him in love
before. He had been very much in love with her a few days ago. He
showed it in all his acts, he told her so in plain words a hundred
times, and yet Kate did not _then_ say she had never seen George's
general manner such before. It was only since this change towards her
came that Kate noticed the unfamiliar manner. Kate had never seen him
in love before, and yet a week ago his general manner had not been
changed by love. What had changed his particular manner towards her
and his general manner to those around? Had he repented of his hasty
love-making?

Had he repented?

No doubt he had been hasty. Did he now think he had been rash? Ah,
that was a thing to ponder over, but not now, not now. George had come
back; that was the great matter now. But how different he was from
what he had been only a few days ago! Then he had made royal warm love
to her, and she had sat in the sunshine of his love, content and rich.
Now she was going with Kate on a visit to his home, to see the place
in which his nature had expanded and developed. She had pictured to
herself that home for their own home. He had made a sketch of it, and
she had filled in the sketch. There was to be no romance in their
future, but that divinest of all earthly romance, the romance of
wedded love. He was, outside the ordinary duties of his position, to
devote himself to her. He was not to make a goddess of her, but she
was to share all things with him.

What was he sharing with her now?

Ah well, perhaps when she got down to the country, out of this
worrying city, he would tell her all, share his secret with her,
instead of imposing this strange cold gloom. Why did he not come to
her and tell her what his trouble was? Even if it were she, it would
be better for him to come and tell her boldly, and she would know what
to do. She should then merely tell O'Connor to pack up, and they could
go away--whither she cared not, so long as he was relieved. Men talked
about dying for women they loved. She would live in any misery, if
living could do him any good. He was lord of her, and she was his
slave. He had to order, she to obey. She did not want kind words or
gentle consideration. She would be satisfied with anything, so long as
he was happy. He was her lord and master. He should be her lord and
master until her heart had ceased to beat. She would have no other
lord or master, no other all her life. Why did he not come to her and
tell her what was the matter, that she might lay her heart at his
feet? She wanted him only to show her what sacrifice of hers could
ease him in any way.

She had once been proud or vain, she knew not which. She had in the
olden time scorned women who were easily led by men; now she would
follow him to the grave. Nay, she would walk into the grave, although
she knew he was not to follow her; although it was to be their final
separation for time and eternity. Was this infatuation? No. This was
love as she had dreamed of it, as it had always presented itself to
her in the long-ago of unrest and heart fancy-free. Yes, she would
rather see him married to someone not herself, than that he should be
her husband and dissatisfied with his wife.

But would he ever unbosom himself to her? Would he allow her to go
down to his mother's place without explaining the alteration of his
manner? That would be worse than even here. What should she do?
Another girl in her place would refuse the invitation. But he had
brought the note from home, and she was justified in concluding it had
been dictated by his heart. Oh, that there were any way of finding out
what would come of this--death or life!

Gradually, as the minutes went on, the mind of the girl had become
more active. In time the mere dreamy contemplation of dull shadows
passed away, and her ideas assumed sharp edges, and her thoughts exact
formulæ.

'O'Connor, is that you?'

'Yes, miss.'

'What brought you back?'

'A note for you from Mr Osborne.'

With hands that trembled slightly, the mistress took the envelope and
opened it. The contents were:--


'Tell me when you can give me an hour or two. I want to have a quiet
chat with you in the open air somewhere.               George.'


She took up a pencil and wrote back,--


'I can keep any appointment you make.                  Marie.'


He rejoined:--


'Come at once.'


She rose, and said,--

'O'Connor, give me a waterproof; I am going out.'

'Going out, miss! I'm glad of that. I hope it will make you feel
better.'

'Nothing can make me feel worse,' thought Marie.



                             CHAPTER VII.

                           LOVE AND FAITH.


When Marie got downstairs she found George restlessly pacing the hall.
He stopped when he saw her, looked at her sadly, and held out his
hand. She cast one rapid glance at him, and then, fixing her eyes on
the floor, silently held out her hand to him. He stooped, kissed her
glove, and then, having opened the door for her, she passed out,
followed by him.

'Only my glove!' she thought. 'Only my glove!'

As they turned out of Peter's Row he offered her his arm, and said,--

'I want to have a quiet talk with you, Marie.'

She said nothing. She looked down, counting the divisions in the flags
as she passed.

'Only my glove,' she thought drearily; 'only my glove he kissed. More
than a glove has come between his hand and mine--between his lips and
mine. If he had put his arms round me in the hall and kissed me and
said-"My own Marie!" I should have forgotten everything but that I was
his. Now I do not know what to forget. In the old time I belonged to
myself; of late I have belonged to him. Now he seems not to want me,
and I do not want myself only for his sake. God help me, God help me!
I am poorer than the worst-used wife in England. I would rather be
used badly by him than that he should pass me by. If I cannot be happy
with him there is but one thing else I could endure, and that is to be
unhappy with him. God give me guidance and strength! If Thou wilt,
give me my George's love back again!'

They turned into Lincoln's Inn Fields. Not a word had been spoken the
whole way from Peter's Row. As soon as they were out of the turmoil of
Holborn, she said, without raising her eyes or her head,--

'Have I annoyed you, George?'

'Hush, girl, no. Let me speak. I have asked you to give me a few
minutes here, because I want you to grant me a great favour.'

'A favour!' she said to herself, with a joyous cry. 'A favour! George
wants a favour of me! This lord of my life wants a favour of me! Oh,
monstrous happiness, that he should want anything I can give! It must
be my life he wants. It cannot be less than my life he wants; he could
think of nothing else as a great favour. My life, or--or--yes, it may
be that. It may be he is tired of me, and wants my ring back for
another's finger! That would be more than my life, but nothing worth
his taking. How incalculably rich love makes one! A month ago I had
nothing more precious than my life; now I have love, a thousand times
more precious than life. Of course I will give up my sweetheart for my
love's sake. I will give him up as freely as I gave him my love. It
will then be a dark and dreary world for me; but there will be one
bright spot--the place where he dwells in happiness; one memory of
intoxicating pain and sacrificial joy, that of the time when I gave
him up to secure his happiness.'

She raised her head and her left hand. Looking into his eyes for the
first time, she said, in a tone of tender firmness,--

'George, I know what it is. You have been hasty. You now find out you
have been hasty. You are terribly distressed, because you think what
you are going to ask will pain me. Is not what I say true?'

'There is something in it, Marie. But how could you have guessed?' he
asked, in amazement.

For a moment her lips moved, but no words came. Suddenly she turned
deadly pale, her head dropped forward, and she tottered.

He seized her round the waist, and whispered frantically,--

'Marie, Marie, you are faint. Let me get you something. Cab, cab!'

She raised her head slowly, and looked into his face with a sweet dim
smile, saying feebly,--

'No, George, please do not. I am all right. I only grew giddy for a
moment. Don't call a cab. I am all right now.'

'But, Marie, what happened to you? You are looking wretched now. Do
let me get a cab and take you home.'

'No, no, I am quite well now. It was only a passing giddiness. I feel
all right. It will be better for me to walk and keep in the air.'

She had divined truly. It was for his happiness she should never see
him again. All the light had gone out of the world at once. All the
days would be clouded for ever; all the months of the year would be
Octobers. She resumed speaking,--

'I was saying something a moment ago. I cannot recollect what it was
about.'

'Marie, Marie, do not look in that way. Do not speak in that tone. My
God, what have I done to this girl!'

'Oh yes, I remember now. I recollect it all, George. Dear George, you
must not distress yourself about me, about any such trifle. I know,
George, you do not look on a matter of this kind as a trifle. But it
really is. You want me to give you this back, don't you?'

She touched the third finger of her left hand, where, under the glove,
lay his ring.

'No, no, no, Marie, not that! For mercy's sake, don't smile. I think
my heart is breaking. I only want you to be merciful to me. I am in
great difficulties and dangers which I cannot now explain to you.'

'I do not ask you to explain anything to me, George. I only ask you to
tell me what I am to do. What you tell me to do I will do, for I know
you are strong and wise and noble.'

He looked at her for a moment with eyes of infinite tenderness. The
smile which had pained him had faded from her face, and a light of
enthusiastic loyalty gleamed in her eyes. What had he done, what was
he doing--to win such a love and think of losing her now? She looked
pale and anxious--she, his darling! Ah, it was hard on him. But there
was nothing for it but to go on now. He said aloud,--

'No, I do not want you to give me that ring back. I want you to keep
it for awhile, anyway.'

For awhile--for awhile! What could he mean by 'For awhile'?

'I want you, Marie, to give me a little time--a little time.'

'A little time!' she repeated, in dreary perplexity. 'What do you mean
by a little time? You have been too hasty in giving me this ring. Take
it back, and you will have all time.'

'You do not understand.'

'I do not want to understand, George. You say you want time. How can I
give you more time than by returning you this ring, which will make
matters exactly as if you had never said more to me than to any other
girl you know? I feel I am not worthy of you.'

'Marie, Marie, for Heaven's sake do not say such a thing! You not
worthy of me! Monstrous! Such a thought could enter the head of only a
fool.'

'Then, George, I am no better than a fool. For I know and feel I am
not worthy of you; and you even, with all your splendid, manly
generosity, cannot but have found out--have already found out--how
inferior I am to you.'

'Believe me, you are utterly mistaken. Such an idea as your not being
good enough for me never crossed my mind--in fact, it could not enter
my mind: and now even this denial of it seems affronting the respect I
have felt for you. I feel I owe myself an apology for denying I ever
felt anything of the kind. If anyone but you, Marie, had suggested
such a possibility, I should simply laugh at him; I should not
condescend to answer him seriously. It is about myself I feel uneasy;
I do not think I am worthy of you.'

'Oh, George, you cannot be in earnest!'

'In bitter earnest. I do not think I am worthy of you; and I want you
to give me a little time to find out, if I can--to satisfy myself, if
I can--that I am worthy of you.'

'I cannot understand you, George--I cannot understand you. You are, I
know, quite incapable of saying anything you have not good reason for
saying; but I cannot understand you. I am quite content with you; why
are not you content with yourself?'

'Marie, whatever happens between us, there must be no
misunderstanding. Misunderstandings occur between only the vain and
the foolish. When first I spoke of love to you, my belief was that
when people like you and me agreed to love one another on earth, it
was that they simply entered into an apprenticeship of eternal love.'

'I remember every word you have said to me--I have never forgotten
one; and the words you speak of were the sweetest I had ever heard.'

'Suppose I have changed since then?'

'Changed in what?'

'In my idea of the carrying of our loves out of the world. Suppose I
do not think we shall carry any memory out of this world--suppose I
think the grave is the end of man? What then?'

'I am still unable to understand you. Make it plainer for me, George;
you know I am only a dull woman. Tell me exactly what you mean?'

'Suppose I was to say, with Tennyson's "Lotus Eaters," "Death is the
end of life," would you still marry me?'

'George, what difference would that make between you and me?'

'Don't you remember what you promised me when I put the ring on your
finger under St Paul's?'

'Yes.'

'And would you, remembering what you then promised, marry me, even if
I told you I no longer held the faith I then professed?'

'But, George, it is not so. You have not lost your faith. You are not
serious; you are only trying me--George, you are only trying me. Tell
me you are not serious, and let us be happy, George, as we were
before.'

'I am not trying you, Marie. I am in sad earnest. I ask you, if I told
you my opinions had changed, would you still marry me, in face of the
promise you made me under St Paul's?'

'I would.'



                            CHAPTER VIII.

                           ON THE WAY DOWN.


That evening Marie did not leave her room. She did not come down to
dinner, Judith O'Connor took her up some food, which Marie scarcely
touched. She was not in bad spirits; she was not in bad humour. She
was at a loss--at a dead standstill. She could see nothing in the
future, nothing farther back in the past than the events of that
day--the things he had said to her in that memorable walk round the
square.

What had been the meaning of his words? There was no harder riddle to
read on all the earth. He loved her still, and thought her good enough
for him, though she knew she was not. She had given him every faculty
of her heart and soul; she could take none of those back from him; the
spaces they had held were now occupied by love, and when love came to
abide with her, all her possessions had left her as though she had
died.

Now he was asking her to give him time to let him try himself still
further before he asked her to carry out the promise she had given him
of becoming his wife; nay, more than that, he had asked her to
withdraw for the present that promise.

Why?

Because of some scruple which had arisen in his mind with regard to
what took place in St Paul's at their betrothal. Why should religious
scruples separate people who loved one another? People of different
religions married, and were happy. She had heard of an English lady
who married a Mahometan, and having been twenty years his wife,
declined to come back to her people. No doubt pious people were
greatly shocked at a Christian woman marrying a Mahometan; but men and
women of different Christian sects married, and no one made an outcry.
Why should religion make any difference between two people who loved
and were loyal?

George--this noble George, her George--was too conscientious. He had
got some ridiculous notion into his head. He loved her still; she
could see that in all he did and said. He loved her as warmly as ever.
She was essential to his happiness; but some over-scrupulous notion
had affrighted him; and made him think that he was unworthy of her. He
unworthy of her!

What should she do now? Nothing. She would go on as though nothing had
occurred to disturb the relations between them. He told her, before
this cloud had fallen upon them, that his life would be worthless to
him if she did not share it. Now he might do or say what he pleased;
she would never be forced from his side. No; she was engaged to him,
and in ordinary cases, when women are engaged to men, they expect the
men to marry them, unless there is some excellent reason for not doing
so. In this case no reason existed for his not marrying her. If he had
grown tired of her; if he had relented having asked her to marry him;
if he had met anyone he liked better, she would be eager to release
him. But nothing of the kind entered into the present case. He loved
her still, as he had loved her all along, and his life's happiness
would be endangered if she allowed him to break with her now. Besides,
this scruple that was upon him would not last; it would pass away.

What an unlucky coincidence she should have introduced him to
Parkinson! No doubt that man of science had had something--much--to do
with the unfortunate change which had taken place in George. Well,
that could not be helped now. She must only try and undo the harm, and
how could she possibly undo it if she gave him up in this way? No;
whatever might happen, she would never let him go from her, when going
from her would do him harm, not good.

She had no scruple about throwing that foolish promise to the winds;
or rather it was not that the promise was foolish, but that it was
foolish to think it applied to him. When he had extracted that pledge
or promise or vow from her, she most assuredly meant to keep it, as he
and she then meant it; but she had never thought such a condition
could be applied to him. If at the time he had asked her if she would
pledge herself to repudiate him if his religious opinions changed, she
would have refused to do so. To keep that pledge to the letter would
be to break it to the spirit; for the spirit was that she was so to
pledge herself, in order that he and she might not be separated
hereafter. That was the only inducement she recognised in making that
promise. She would not have made it for all the world if she thought
it could possibly come between him and her. Even taking the religious
view solely, she must not think of giving him up. For as he had been
first disturbed in his faith while he was friendly, in love with her,
the best chance of his recovering from his folly would lie in having
her near him always; for not only would this supply him with a quiet,
unobtrusive advocate, but in her, and in her alone, could he have by
him a woman who could not only sympathise with his conscientious
struggles, but who had been near him, and in a way with him, through
the wild terrors of the first onset on his faith. Plainly her duty to
Heaven and to him was refusal of his request for freedom, refusal to
give him up this ring.

Fools would think this resolution unfeminine, unmaidenly. Let fools
think as they pleased. What did she care for what fools thought? She
cared for George more than for all the world, sages and fools,
besides. If it were good for him, she would give him up. If it were
good for him, she would cleave to him all her life. What were fools or
sages to her? Not the tiniest flake of the ashes falling there into an
ashpan of the grate compared to George. He was the sun in her system,
and nothing on earth existed in light that did not proceed from him.

But, after all, was she not trying to make up her mind on a point
which had not yet arisen? He had not asked her to give him up her
ring. He had not told her he wished their engagement at an end. He
loved her, and she loved him, and they had had no quarrel, and there
was no sensible reason for their parting, and they should not part.
No; if all Europe tried to tear her away from his side, she would not
go until he bade her go. And if she thought he was going to send her
away she would go down on her knees and cling to him, and ask him to
kill her there and then rather than send her from him.

'Oh, love, I bless you! All the pains I suffer by love now I would not
change for all the happiness of my former life. It is dearer to suffer
through love than to be joyous without it; for to suffer through love
is to share a lover's pain, and that is the highest of earthly
pleasure save to rejoice in a lover's joy.'

She determined to try and clear up the situation no further, but to
let matters take their course. She told herself she felt no doubt
whatever of the issue; George would become himself again, and he and
she would be just as though no cloud had ever darkened the sky above
them.

She rose, and busied herself about the room, partly in packing, and
partly in turning over a dozen times things she had no need to take
with her.

Early in the afternoon of the next day, the whole party left London
for Stratford-on-Avon.

Fortunately they had a compartment to themselves. At first George
hoped and prayed some stranger might get in; but Nevill did all he
could to prevent this. He insisted upon their making the carriage
present a crowded appearance. He made Kate sit at one of the windows
looking on the platform, and Marie on the other. He littered the seats
with handbags, umbrellas, newspapers, rugs, and every other kind of
light baggage that accompanies the person. He stood up himself, and
made George stand up too, so as to prevent anyone on the platform
seeing into the remoter half of the compartment; and when anyone
looking like a traveller approached, he glanced over his shoulder, and
shook his head regretfully at the traveller.

'Of course I might have reserved this compartment by half-a-crown to
the man, or by booking in advance. But I never tip railway servants. I
consider tipping railway servants a sign of weakness in a traveller.
You don't find a man who has pranced over a dozen continents tipping
railway servants. He would prefer to ride on the buffer. He would
rather walk the distance on his head. He would rather eat hard-boiled
eggs all his life for breakfast, dinner, and supper. Why should you
tip a railway official? Do you tip a soldier on the battle-field when
he has fired each round? And yet a soldier fires at the enemies of his
country, and the railway official only facilitates your chances of
being smashed in a railway accident. There is some sense in giving a
cabman more than his fare, for some time or another he may have the
opportunity of running over you. But why tip a railway porter? Miss
Gordon, do you think a man, when he is lashed to a gun and about to be
blown from it, ought suddenly to put his hand in his pocket, and sing
out to the man with the fuze or trigger-line, "Hallo, Corporal Bosco,
here's sixpence to drink my health when the job is done!"?'

'I don't see how he could put his hand in his pocket if he were very
securely lashed.'

'I did not say "very securely" lashed. I said "lashed." But suppose I
grant you the pocket, and put the thing to you in another way? By
Jove, we're off at last! Ah, this solitude is delightful. Only three
stops on the way down. I think you ought to pass a vote of thanks to
me for securing ourselves against intrusion. Come, we'll put Osborne
in the chair, and give him a casting vote. What makes you look so
blue, Osborne? Only for me you never could have had this _otium cum
dignitate_. Suppose you had undertaken to keep this compartment, you
would have known no other way of doing it than of crawling up
servilely to the guard, touching your hat to him, and tipping him
half-a-dollar-crown, I mean. I don't see why a man of no intellect
like you should be allowed to fatten on my genius. Why should you,
like the gentlemen of England, sit in your compartment at ease, while
I have been squandering my genius to save you from the rude shock of
the world? You owe me half-a-crown, Osborne. As an honourable man you
owe me half-a-crown. Come, my man, pay up. No welshing, my boy; pay
up.'

George made a prodigious effort to rouse himself, and replied, with a
smile,--

'If you had got in anyone in whose presence you would have to be
silent, I should not mind giving him or you a crown.'

'Not bad for you,' Nevill rejoined, with an exaggerated air of a
connoisseur. 'Not bad for you. Well, Osborne, let us drop the
sledge-hammers, and shake hands. Let us patch up a hollow truce, and
await a more favourable opportunity of smashing one another. But to
resume that most important subject, how to keep women out of a
compartment that is not a smoking one. The best plan I know of is to
leave on the seat you intend occupying a bottle of gin, and by its
side a small tumbler. I admit the experiment is a bold one, but it is
effective.'

The train had gradually been gaining in speed, and Nevill had
gradually raised his voice to overcome the growing clatter of the
wheels. Here he paused for awhile, and then ran on again,--

'It is marvellous how one becomes accustomed to anything. When I was
young I could drown the row of a car. Now I can talk eighteen hours
end on in a carriage flying at express rate, and never hurt my throat
a bit. It is a wonder Darwin took no notice of this. I think I'll
suggest to him to write a chapter, and call it "The Survival of the
Shrillest." A hurricane on land, or a storm at sea, is nothing to talk
through. But I confess I was once hurt--deeply hurt. I was taken by a
friend to see the printing of a London morning paper. When we got to
the machine-room there were eight machines all going at the one time.
Such a clash and row I never heard near me before. I had been talking
to the friend who was with me until then. There I stopped. I tried
twice to make him hear, and failed. I looked round, and saw two men
leaning against one of the machines. One was telling the other a long
story. Every now and then they both laughed immoderately. I felt
degraded to think I could not make myself heard, when these men were
talking with as much ease as I am now to you.'

There was a general laugh. Even George could not resist the humour of
hearing this man gravely saying he was talking with ease, while his
voice was raised to a shrill cry, and the great forked vein of his
forehead stood out black upon the plain of his flushed swarthy skin!

He joined in the laugh himself after a moment.

'Never mind,' he cried gaily; 'I haven't had an hour of it yet; and I
am game to go on for fourteen hours more, I lay the odds.'

No one seemed disposed to bet. By this time the noise of the wheels
had become so loud, that it was impossible to talk with ease.

To the mind of melancholy there is hardly anything more depressing
than a railway journey, particularly in winter, through the middle of
England. Leafless trees and isolated houses, with now and then a white
hamlet, town, or village, are the only objects that break the vast
extent of plain. A large stretch of country is under water, and above
the surface of the dismal swamp protrude skeleton trees and the tops
of fences.

George Osborne needed no depressing influence from Nature. He had gone
through more trying hours. That day he took the long walk, starting
from London Bridge, and, having girt half London, ended at St Paul's,
had been much more acutely trying to him; but there was a dull, dark,
cold misery about this journey such as he had never felt the like of
before.

What was he doing? Whither was he leading her? Where was he himself
going? He had not been fair to her. He had not been fair to himself.
She was looking paler than of old, and when his unexpected glances
found her eyes fixed on him, in those eyes there was always a look of
mournful brooding and unextinguishable devotion. What would be the end
of all this? the end of her? the end of him? Would to God the end of
him had come before he had met this girl!

Look at her now! The old sprightliness had left her face, and in its
place dwelt the more subduing expression of melancholy. What man,
being a man and nothing more, and knowing he was dear to that most
dear of women, could forbear folding her in his arms, and pressing her
to his breast? But there was more in man than humanity. Of old he used
to think in addition to humanity there was divinity in man--a possible
high and beautiful spirit better and stronger than the unembodied
angels. Now--ah, what a blank, dreary waste now! Dreary as that waste
of water out there, comfortless as that sky, barren as those ghostly
trees. What had man, according to his present rudderless theory, in
addition to his humanity? What?

Supposing birth was the beginning and death the end of man, what was
there more in man than his humanity? The question had never yet
presented itself to his mind in that light. It was worth looking at
the subject from this point of view before passing it by hastily,
finally. Let him look at the case impartially. No. It was dreary
enough within and without; he could not stand an examination in the
abstract face to face with that dreary landscape, and this dreary
mental interior. Let him regard the matter in the concrete. Here was
Marie. Here was he.

Nothing new had been imported into his humanity since he had seen
Marie; nothing old had been taken away. The same code which governed
his relations with his fellow-man before he had left Stratford was the
code he still held. He would not wilfully injure man or woman now. All
the human qualities he had previously considered admirable in man or
woman he considered admirable still. Because of any change in his
spiritual outlook, he would treat a dog no worse now than a year ago.
He had in no way altered his general conduct, or his moral code. He
loved and respected his mother as much as ever, and felt as
affectionately towards his sisters. What, then, had been changed in
him? Nothing but his faith. His faith had not been changed, but lost.
It was as though he had possessed ten mental faculties heretofore, and
now owned only nine.

He had lost a mental or spiritual faculty--what then? That was his own
individual personal loss. It hurt no one else; it profited no one
else. It was a matter purely between Heaven and himself. It had
shocked his mother, but it had not changed the relations between her
and him.

What! What was he coming at? What was he gradually approaching? What
part of his brain had been dead, benumbed, until now? What glory and
overwhelming joy lay right in his path? Let him put the matter soberly
to himself. Suppose the alteration in his faith had caused no change
in the relations between him and his mother, why should it cause any
change between Marie and himself?

Why should he give up Marie any more than his mother?

There was that Promise, that Vow.

But now he looked on that vow, or the object of it, as valueless. The
very terms of it were now void. It was purposeless. She had made a vow
to him from which he could, of course, release her, since, from his
present standpoint, that vow was of no more value than the breath
which uttered it.

He threw up his head, and looked around. Nevill was directing Kate's
attention to something in the landscape. Marie's eyes were fixed
mournfully upon him. He stooped forward, caught both her hands in his,
and drew her towards him, until his lips could reach her ear. Then he
said,--

'Marie, Marie, forgive me, my darling! I have been a great fool! Oh,
my love, will you forgive me for all my queer conduct, and all my
queer words of late? Nothing of the kind ever can occur again. Never,
my Marie. Will you forgive me?'

She looked in his face with tears of joy in her eyes.

'Oh, thank God; thank God, George!'

'Nothing of the kind shall ever come between us again, my own love.'

She replied with only a radiant smile.

He touched her forehead with his lips, and then released her hands.

The great cloud which had fallen upon them had lifted, and its shadow
was quickly drifting away.



                             CHAPTER IX.

                   MARIE'S PROMISE TO MRS OSBORNE.


When the travellers arrived at Stratford they drove to Mrs Osborne's.
She was expecting them, and was sitting in the drawing-room with
Alice.

'Mother,' said George joyously, 'Miss Gordon.'

Mrs Osborne first held out her right hand, then her left, and caught a
hand of the girl's in each of her own.

Marie smiled and blushed, and tried to bow.

Mrs Osborne looked long and steadily at the girl before she spoke.
When she broke silence she said,--'Thank you, my dear, for coming. You
are most welcome. You and I must be great friends. I and George are
great friends.' She let go the girl's hands, and turning up the
radiant young face, held it a moment between her hands, looking
admiringly at its bright young beauty. Then she kissed the red rounded
cheek, and turning to Alice, said,--'Miss Gordon, this is my younger
daughter Alice. I am sure you and she will be friends.'

Alice approached Marie timidly, and kissed her half fearfully. She had
never in all her life seen beauty like this before, and was a little
overawed by it. Kate was, she knew, beautiful, but this was as
different from Kate as sunshine from moonlight. But although she was
timid and strange, she did not feel repelled. 'I don't wonder,' she
thought, 'at George falling in love with her. If I was a man I should
go crazy over her.'

'And now, Miss Gordon,' said Mrs Osborne, 'if you come with me, I will
show you your room.'

When his mother and sweetheart had left the room, George went to Kate;
and said, in a low voice,--' I never expected my mother to take to
Marie so kindly. I am amazed. Can you make it out, Kate? As a rule,
mother is so slow to get on with people. Did you ever see mother so
amiable before?' he asked, in a tone of proud triumph.

'No; but who can help liking, who can help loving Marie? I know no one
who could resist her. Oh, George, I am so glad to see you looking so
bright and happy to-day.'

'Oh, I am all right now, Kate. It must have been coming back here with
Marie cured me. I have had a terribly hard trial, but it is all over.
I cannot tell you how happy I am now. I think this is the happiest day
of my life. Here are you and Nevill on the best of terms with mother;
and here are Marie and myself a thousand times better received than I
had dared to hope.'

'No one can help loving Marie. Mother will think more and more of her
every day she knows her. I know little Alice liked her too, though she
did look scared. Alice will simply worship her in a week. She is just
the kind of girl little Alice will go mad about. I am sure you cannot
be more glad than I am mother likes Marie so well. I have been very
unhappy of late, George.'

'Very unhappy, very unhappy, Kate! What do you mean? Unhappy about
what? Why did you not tell me?'

'Oh, not about myself. About you. Now that--that we have _all_ got
back here to the old place, and you are once more in good spirits, I
am more than satisfied. I am delighted. But I used to feel very cold
and dismal in London when I thought anything might come between you
and Marie. It is so good of you to be like your old self again,
George.'

He put his arm round her and kissed her tenderly.

Alice and Nevill had been chatting at the fire. Now they turned round
and drew near Kate and George. The brother--went over to the younger
sister, and said to her,--

'Well, little Alice, are you disappointed?'

'I am a good deal disappointed, George. Fearfully disappointed. Kate
wrote me to say she was lovely, and I knew you had some taste. I used
to think you a good-looking man. But to think of such a beautiful
creature as that accepting such a common-place, homely, dull young man
as our George, is beyond my patience.'

'Oh, little Alice,' laughed the brother, 'I thought you meant to say
you did not think her pretty.'

'Pretty! Pretty isn't the word, George, and a moonstruck poet like you
ought to know better. Why, she's simply exquisite. Such a lovely quiet
smile for a home as she has! George, is she awfully stuck up?'

'Not at all. She is wickeder than you.'

'Now, George, if there is one thing I hate it's a paragon, and if such
a lovely girl as that was as wicked as I, she would be a paragon.
Wicked as I! Why, she looks like an angel.'

'And so does little Alice, now,' laughed Nevill.

In the meantime Mrs Osborne had led Marie to her room. On the way she
had said little nothings, mere commonplaces about the things they
passed and the view from the windows.

'This is your room, my dear,' said Mrs Osborne, as they entered. 'I
hope you will find it comfortable. If you want anything let me know.
That is the Avon, there. This place would be perfect only for the
floods.' She shut the door and sat down. 'The house is, as you see, on
a little hill. We are not quite enough out of the town for my taste;
but Mr Osborne built the place before we were married, and of course I
have lived in it all my life quite contented.

'We are a slow-moving people down here, my dear. Mr Osborne was a
stanch Conservative, and did not wish to alter the plan of houses in
use a hundred years ago. He said what had been good enough for his
father was good enough for him. There are other branches of his family
that were more lucky than his. But we must not grumble, my dear; we
must not grumble. I have had a rough and a smooth time of it. When Mr
Osborne died I had my troubles, besides the loss of the best of men. A
good deal of our income went with him, as he had only a life interest
in a large portion of the property; when he died a good deal of it
went back to the head of the family. I am talking to you quite freely,
my dear, as if you were a member of the family.'

Marie coloured and bowed.

'I am quick in my likings and dislikings, and I like you; and when you
are George's wife--'

Marie blushed.

'When you are his wife you will know all the family history; but I am
an old woman, and old women like best to talk of the past I don't
weary you, do I, child?'

'No, Mrs Osborne; it is exceedingly kind of you to speak to me in this
way. It puts me quite at my ease. You could not do me a greater
kindness.'

The girl looked up, and there were tears of gratitude in her dark deep
eyes.

Mrs Osborne took her hand and stroked the back softly, as she
continued,--

'All the Osbornes have been Tories--Conservatives, you know. Some of
the men of the family have been as wild and reckless as any men need
be; but they never forgot their principles or struck their flag.
Church and State has been their cry for as long as the Osbornes have
been settled in Warwickshire; and that goes back to the Conquest, my
dear. A young girl cannot, I know, take as much interest in these
things as an old woman; but, my dear, I was like you once--I was
young, too, and took no interest in politics; but I married into the
family, and I was always with my husband in the great elections long
ago; and you will come to take an interest in them yourself, when you
are married into the family, child. I am not tiring you?'

'Oh no. Please go on. It is very good of you to take such trouble with
me.'

'I am taking no trouble with you; and even suppose I was, with whom
should I take more trouble than the woman who is to be my George's
wife? But it interests me to talk to you in this way. Well, as I was
telling you, root and branch of the Osborne family have always stood
up for Church and State; and it would be a terrible blow to the name
in the county if anything went wrong now with one of the family. I
need hardly say it would be an awful blow to me if anything went wrong
with anyone of the name belonging to me.'

Marie looked up in surprise and fear. Mrs Osborne continued,--

'I have been in great fear of George. I am greatly afraid he has
strayed from the Church. He tells me you are a member of the Church.
So ought he to be. Now, my dear child, I have taken you aside the very
first opportunity, the very first moment you entered our house, to ask
you, who are to be his wife, to do all in your power to bring him back
to faith and reason. There is no better-hearted man in all England
than George, no more honourable gentleman, no son a mother loves more
dearly; but it were better he had never been born than that he should
forego religion. I want you, my dear, to do all you can with him. It
is natural you should now have more influence with him than anyone
else in the world. I want you to do all you can to bring him back
again. In the natural course of things, I shall die long before him;
and it would embitter all my life to my death, and make my dying
moments awful, if I thought my only son, my dear George--'

Marie looked up with a bright look, exclaiming--

'Oh, Mrs Osborne, I am so glad to tell you I think all those foolish
doubts are out of his mind. He has not told me in words that they are,
but I think I may be as sure as if he had told me in words.

'Thank God!' cried the mother devoutly. She clasped her hands and
looked up to heaven. After a pause Mrs Osborne said, 'You are not
sure; you only think.'

'I am sure.'

Mrs Osborne clasped the girl's hand eagerly, and looked up into her
face with beseeching eyes, and spoke rapidly,--

'I am his mother. You are the woman who is to be his wife. We are more
interested in him than all the rest of the world put together. You say
he has got rid of those doubts?'

'Yes; I am sure he has.'

'No time is fixed for the marriage?'

'No.'

'Promise me, his mother, one thing. Promise me, should those doubts
return, you will never fix a day for your wedding until they have gone
away. Promise me you will never marry him while any doubt remains in
his mind. I am his mother who asks you to do this.'

'I promise.'



                              CHAPTER X.

                          A DINNER AT HOME.


When Mrs Osborne and Marie came down to dinner they seemed to be
excellent friends. Mrs Osborne did and said everything she could think
of to put Marie at ease and make her feel at home.

The mother had one of those sedate, orderly intellects which cannot be
comfortable in the presence of any breach in the ordinary rules of
conventional life. She would not have been at all content if she had
an assurance George would never marry. George's father and grandfather
had married, and why should not George? It was true there had been
bachelors on both sides of the family; but she did not approve of
bachelors. At first she had not liked the thought of George marrying a
person whom he had met casually at an hotel in London. She could not
endure hotels herself, and put up at them as seldom as possible. But
her Uncle Frederick had married an Austrian lady whom he first met at
an hotel in the Alps somewhere, and the marriage had turned out
excellently. Besides, much as she had disliked the notion of her son
marrying an alien, the girl had not been two minutes in the room
before she had conceived a liking for her.

Of course she was beautiful, and that was a great deal. Then her hands
and ears were good, and she walked well enough to wear a coronet. No
girl in or about Stratford was so beautiful as Marie. It was not in
women the great difference existed, but in men. The vast majority of
girls made good wives; and if there is unhappiness in many households,
the fault in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred is on the man's side.
But there could be no doubt of this simple, straightforward girl
making a good wife. Though she had not yet known her a day, she felt
as much reliance on her as on one of her own daughters.

And then here was this lover of Kate's. What could she think of him?

Appearances were certainly against him. He was about as plain-looking
a man as she had ever seen. But he had no presumption. Indeed, he
could not presume much on his good looks! But he was candid. Manly and
handsome or fine men did not always make the best husbands; and George
liked him; and when a girl had a careful, sensible brother like George
there was no one better qualified to decide the merits of a sister's
lover than such a brother. He would settle in the neighbourhood, and
that was no small consideration. If George and Kate were comfortably
settled close to Stratford they would be quite a large family. It was
rather hard to think of parting from two children at once; but in the
usual order they would marry some day; and she could not dream of
standing in the way of their happiness or prosperity; and the next
best thing to their staying at home would be that they should live
near the parent house.

Marie had never known such peaceful happiness before. It had been a
great joy to her when she first admitted to herself she loved George
Osborne. From that moment, until the cloud came over him, she had
lived in a world of delightful dreams, of wonderful and beautiful
sensations. His advent had revealed to her the sanctuary of her own
heart. She had known she was physically beautiful--men and women had
told her so. But she had never known the loveliness of her nature
until then. She had appreciated her physical beauty, but had never
boasted of it to herself. But when she found out she loved George, and
that because of that love she was prepared to make any sacrifice for
him, she delighted in telling herself what an unselfish heart she had.

She said, 'I would do anything George asked me. I would go anywhere he
asked me. I am not selfish or vain. How I loathe girls who make slaves
of men; who make their lovers fetch and carry for them, as though
anyone could not fetch and carry while it was possible to love only
one!

'Why should foolish girls think it a privilege to tyrannise over those
who love them? I could never think of tyrannising over George. Fancy
my tyrannising over George! Fancy my trying to make him do anything
that would lower his dignity in the eyes of other men! I! I would die
first. I am not so foolish or so wicked as to play with the man I
love; and I am glad to think my George has not fallen in love with a
woman whose pretty face and figure are all she has worth his
consideration. If I were plain I should be more worthy of George's
admiration than if I were the greatest beauty in England and had a
less unselfish heart.'

Those hours in London had been for Marie full of large and liberal
thoughts. That moment in the train, when she saw the cloud drift away,
had been one of intense relief, followed by strong, vague
thankfulness. But at this dinner the feeling was one of deep,
unanalysed, unthinking pleasure. Here was George looking his own kind,
quiet, contented self again. Now and then he said a word to her; now
and then she found his constant, frank eyes fixed upon her with their
old expression of chivalric admiration and loyal devotion. Here was
his mother, gracious and affectionate, and going out of her way to
make Marie see that the future wife of George was approved of and
highly welcomed. Here was gentle Kate, demurely happy, and looking now
and then with a warning glance at Nevill when he burst forth with his
usual audacity.

All went well and pleasantly. At the beginning Nevill adopted a wise
precaution--he said nothing of himself. He kept chiefly to the Red
Man.

He once knew a red man named Tomahawk Effendi. Tomahawk Effendi was a
man over six feet in height, and as red as a new brick house.

'You remember Tomahawk Effendi, Osborne?'

'It was before I went to London,' said George.

Kate glanced at Nevill.

'I did not know there were any Red Indians in London just now,' said
Mrs Osborne.

'Only a few in the outskirts. They have been almost all shot down by
this time.'

'My goodness, Mr Nevill, what do you mean? I have seen nothing about
the massacre of Indians in London.'

'It was not what you might consider a massacre--'

'But you said shot.'

'I meant killed by London gin. "Pay the shot" means pay the score; and
pay the score means pay for the drink. They are, in ethics,
convertible terms, like _meum_ and _tuum_.'

'And are there really Red Indians in London?'

'In the suburbs only. There is a large tribe of them in Lordship Lane
at present. Owing to the intense susceptibility of the United States
Embassy, these aboriginal Red Indians have been compelled by the
Government to pass themselves off as gipsies; but they are no more
gipsies than I am a Caucasian. You remember, Osborne, the other day,
on the occasion of that demonstration in Hyde Park in favour of
abolishing the laws now regulating fishing on the Newfoundland banks?
You remember one of those so-called gipsies spoke. He wound up by
saying he had a home on the other side of the water as well as on
this, "And by that right we will defend it?" cried the warrior,
throwing down his tomahawk and raising the war-cry of his nation. You
remember it surely, Osborne? It created quite a sensation at the time.
You recollect it?'

'I have some recollection of the words.'

'It was a splendid speech. I am sure Miss Alice Osborne would have
been delighted very much with it.'

'But,' said Alice, putting down her dessert-fork, 'you were going to
tell us something about a man with a horrible name. Is this the man
with the horrible name, or is this the horrible man without the name?'

'This is the horrible man _without_ the name.'

'And who was the man with the name?'

'You mean Clooney O'Keefe, the famous bush-ranger; the man I shot--'

'The man you shot, Mr Nevill!'

'The man I shot _with_, Mrs Osborne. I was about to say _with_. I
paused merely to recall his features. He wore a goatee beard and a
plug-hat. But the most extraordinary thing about Clooney O'Keefe, the
outlawed murderer and robber--'

'With whom you shot, Mr Nevill?' cried Mrs Osborne.

'Accidentally, of course, Mrs Osborne, as one might be shooting at
Wimbledon or Inverness-shire in company with the greatest ruffian
unhung. The curious thing about Clooney O'Keefe was that, although he
was half his time out in the bush, he always wore a blue tight-fitting
frock-coat, a flower in his button-hole, and a pair of six-chambered
revolvers in his back coat-pockets. He said no gentleman could think
of wearing a belt. He had a melancholy end. It created a sensation in
the colony.'

'How did he die?' asked Mrs Osborne, with a faint smile.

'One day, while he was resting after robbing a stoutish man, he put
his gun on the ground and walked a little way from it, to see if the
man whom he had robbed and bound was satisfied, or preferred to be
shot rather than run the risk of not being found by anyone before
he died of starvation. The man elected to live. Poor Clooney turned
round to go back for his rifle, when he saw, to his horror, that a
full-grown kangaroo had taken up the loaded weapon, and was pointing
it at him, poor Clooney. The creature had, no doubt, seen Clooney
cover the traveller with the rifle. The piece might go off at any
moment. Clooney drew out one of his revolvers and fired. The bullet
struck the trigger of the gun; it went off, and Clooney fell. They put
up a monument to the kangaroo, and were very near lynching the
traveller when they found him, for being, in a manner, the cause of
Clooney's death. These colonial people are a queer lot.'

Mrs Osborne rose, and, as he held the door for her, she said, with a
smile in passing, 'I am afraid Mr Nevill has been entertaining us with
nothing better than travellers' tales.'

'I hope with nothing worse,' he said, bowing low. When the door had
been closed he went over to George, and said, 'I am delighted to see
you back in your old form again, Osborne. You look as though the heart
bowed down with weight of woe had gone in for dumb-bells and come
straight in the back again. I hope all is now right between you and
Marie?'

'I think so. I have reason to think so.'

'I am delighted. What an awful fool you were to knock your mind into a
cocked hat over questions you must take as settled by other men! Did I
make a fool of myself--I mean an extra fool of myself--at dinner?'

'No; on the contrary, you got on very well.'

'You don't think I annoyed or displeased your mother?'

'Not in the least. At first she could not make you out. Then she
decided you were treating Alice as a very young girl, and inventing
stories for her amusement.'

'Oh, was that it?' said Nevill. 'I'm delighted. Because, you know,
Osborne, it would never do for your mother to know the truth about me
until after Kate and I are married.'

'Don't talk nonsense, Nevill.'

'Perhaps you think I am now inventing travellers' tales to please a
child. Were you very little better than a child when you were peddling
over your doubts and fears? Why didn't you do as I did? Why didn't you
admit that better men and better informed men believed what you
hesitated to adopt--men, too, who had given the attention of a
lifetime to the subject? Who's that singing? It isn't Kate; her voice
is a soprano. It can't be your younger sister; she's very fair, and
fair women never have contralto voices. What a magnificent voice it
is! What song is that?'

'It is Marie,' said George,' and she is singing the "Miserere nobis."'

'It is very fine. To think you were a doubter a day or two ago!'

'I am one still.'



                             CHAPTER XI.

                        AFTER DINNER AT HOME.


When the singing ended, Nevill looked up quickly into his companion's
face, and cried in surprise,--

'What, another change! Why, the weather-cock and the moon are fixed
stars compared with you! All is right between you and Marie, and all
is wrong between you and yourself. You are as unintelligible as a
woman, and more inconstant. What is your difficulty _now?_'

'I have no difficulty now. All is clear and fair.'

'Then we'll make it a double marriage. I'll give you away, and you'll
give me away. That will be impressive. It reminds me of the time when
I wore a turban.'

'Now, Nevill, Alice isn't here to be amused. Let us talk like men.'

'Severe, but perhaps merited. I am so delighted with all I see and
hear and feel that I am disposed to dry up and become sedate and
middle-aged; at once. Come, Osborne, I'll be middle-aged; you can't
help being. You were born middle-aged. You were intended for the
patriarchal time. You ought to have flocks and herds, and a long white
beard, and five wives. A man with a slow blue eye, like yours, is
always a good judge of cattle. But, as you suggest, let us talk like
men. What is the new position? How have you managed--reconciled your
difficulties?'

'You may remember that day Marie, Kate, and I deserted you in London,
and dined with the husband of a friend of Marie's?'

'Yes, I recollect. It was a case of most inhuman desertion.'

'Well, on that occasion we dined with a man named Parkinson, a very
agreeable, well-read, and thoughtful man. Nothing could have been more
pleasant than the host; the hostess and the two children of the house
were simply charming. Yet, as I told you at the time, Parkinson had
long ceased to occupy his thoughts with anything beyond the world
around us.'

'And you have lately come to the conclusion that--'

'Since Parkinson, notwithstanding his faith or want of faith, could be
a good husband and make a good woman happy, there was no reason why
another man should not do likewise, and no reason why spiritual
matters should stand in the way of earthly ties.'

'Some people look on those ties as more than merely earthly. However,
I will not argue the question with you. But she knows of your new
view, and approves of it?'

'I have not yet had an opportunity of speaking to her about it, but I
am certain she will not make any difficulty.'

'You intend telling her before you are married?'

'Undoubtedly. You do not think me capable of deceiving her?'

'No; but I do think you capable of deceiving yourself unwittingly. How
are you sure Marie will be content with the new departure?'

'I asked her if she would marry me supposing such a case arose, and
she said she would.'

'Well, but, my dear Osborne, more people than Marie are uneasy about
you. I think it would kill your poor mother if she thought your
present condition likely to be permanent.'

'My dear Nevill, what is the good of such thoughts? If I am of opinion
the sky is black at midday, the mere fact that another person is
grieved because I will not alter my opinion can in no way affect my
opinion itself. Neither my mother nor Marie can be more grieved than I
am at my present state. But if I suffer from a defect of sight, which
makes the sky seem black to me, how can the wishes of other people
change my eyes? If I myself could change my eyes, I would.'

'But ten thousand people say the sky at noon is blue for the ten that
say it's black. Has the weight of evidence no value for you?'

'No. Suppose, when we go to the drawing-room, all there gathered round
you and assured you Marie was Kate, would you believe us?'

'Certainly not; but that is not a fair case. Cæsar tells us he
conquered Gaul and Britain. But you have more than Cæsar's word for
it. You have most of the intelligent people of to-day and of eighteen
centuries believing Cæsar's word; and against his word, and the words
of sixty generations, you have only your own individual doubt.'

'My dear fellow, I am familiar with that argument and a hundred
others. Let us drop the subject. No one was ever yet convinced by an
argument when something more than reason did not prompt belief. I have
lost my faith, and can, of my own will, no more recover it than a
child who has lost a parent in a crowd can by its mere will return to
the guardianship of that parent.'

'There may be a good deal in what you say, Osborne. You know most of
my life I was utterly careless of all religious matters. When I came
right, I came right all at once; and you will too in the same way.
Suddenly I felt a great surprise, as if I had lived all my life on the
sea-shore, but had kept my face always towards the land, and believed
there was nothing but land, until suddenly I turned round and saw the
ocean. I am not a religious man like you, and, instead of being
terribly overawed, I felt inclined to laugh out loud at my old foolish
self and my old foolish thoughts. There was the sea as sure as the
land had been.'

'That is a very striking way of illustrating it,' said Osborne sadly.
'If I am to adopt it, I feel as though I had all my life stood upon
firm land and had seen the sea and firm land, but that all at once a
dense fog fell, and I could see nothing.'

'By-the-way, you have never seen the sea?'

'No, never. I shall go there when we are married.'

'But I suppose, now that all is square between you two, you will be
married before summer?'

'Before summer! Before spring, I hope. Why should we wait any longer
than is now absolutely necessary? All is settled between us. My mother
is content, I think, and no friend or relative of Marie's has to be
consulted.'

'I am sorry things are not so far forward between Kate and me. We have
not definitely arranged anything yet, and I have first of all to get a
formal answer from your mother. For that answer I cannot press
immediately--I mean for a week or so. Although I asked you to make it
a double event, I fear I haven't the power to arrange about it now.
Twenty-four hours ago I thought I was much more near the happy state
than you; and now you seem to be on the point of entering it, and I,
although on the road to it, a long way off. Well, we must only take
our luck as it comes. But why do you choose the seaside for your
winter honeymoon?'

'It is a whim of mine, a foolish whim, perhaps. I can't give you a
reason for it. Don't you think all whims foolish?'

'My dear fellow, I am delighted you have a whim; no man can possibly
be perfect without a whim. You have gone up fifteen per cent, in my
esteem within the last two minutes. Think whims foolish? Not I! Why,
they are the bouquet in the wine of a man's nature. A whim is
something out of the common. What is genius but a bundle of whims? Up
to a few moments ago I regarded you as an assemblage of all the
cardinal virtues mixed up humbo-jumbo, mixed up anyway, anyhow, but
without the cement of vice or weakness. Now you are to me like a vast
cathedral, perfect in proportion, perfect in detail. I don't say a
whim is a vice or a crime, but it's a thing an archbishop would think
very little of. Your having a whim reminds me of the time when I was
cast away on a coral island in the Pacific. Just as I rubbed the
salt-water out of my eyes I saw coming towards me--'

'Nevill, you are growing young again. Little Alice is in the
drawing-room, and she will be delighted to hear about that crocodile.'

'Bless my soul, Osborne, you are too bad! The only crocodile I ever
had an encounter with was one that escaped from the Japanese village
at the Alexandra Palace, and took to the reedy shores and uninhabited
islands of the New River at Wood Green. They had been trying to catch
him with a kedge-anchor baited with the flesh of bailiffs; but the
beast would not bite. The reptile naturally had an objection to a man
in possession. I called upon the Mayor of Wood Green--'

'No, no, no! Come on. You have been only playing with the wine, and I
know you like coffee, and it has gone up by this time; and I'm sure
Alice is most anxiously awaiting you.'

'But, my dear fellow, this is not a drawing-room story at all. It is
full of awful language.'

'Well, go on.'

'"D--n you!" said I to the man at my elbow (I told you it was not a
drawing-room story, but that's nothing in the way of swearing like
what's coming), "d--n you!" said I to the man at the wheel, "why don't
you put your helm hard a-port and throw her aback!"'

'Who, the crocodile?'

'No, no; don't be absurd, Osborne. Throw a crocodile aback by porting
the helm of a full-rigged ship! Did anyone but yourself ever conceive
such an idea? Don't you see, it was a stern chase. We were leading. My
object was to throw our vessel suddenly across his bows, and rake him
fore and aft; and then up stick and away again before he knew where he
was. But I fear the description of the fight would be unintelligible
to you, as it is full of technical terms. Tell me honestly, Osborne,
do you know what a spankerboom is?'

'I have not the least idea.'

'Ah, then, there is no use in my going on. You could not understand
the story. I am very sorry for it, Osborne, but I fear there is
nothing left us to do but to rejoin the ladies.'

When they reached the drawing-room Osborne led Nevill to where Alice
was sitting at a small table by herself, and said,--

'Alice, Mr Nevill has a most amusing story to tell you. What is it
about, Nevill?'

'Oh, about the spankerboom. You know nothing about sea terms?'

'I am sorry to say I do not. Should I know before I could understand
the tale?' said Alice, with a smile.

'On the contrary. Nothing I know of embarrasses the narrator of a
sea-story more than technical knowledge in the listener. For if I tell
you we carried away our t'gallant backstay, and you asked me what we
did then, did we splice it or cut it away, you interrupt the even and
straightforward course of the tale--'

At this point Osborne moved away, and went to the couch upon which Mrs
Osborne and Marie sat.

The drawing-room was large and of an L-shape. The shorter arm of the
room was divided from the longer by thick curtains looped and held
back so as to leave but a narrow opening between the curtains. At the
rear of the back drawing-room was a small conservatory. Both rooms
were lighted up, but the conservatory was not; it lay almost
invisible, a place of warm, moist twilight. At the end of less than an
hour Marie and George found themselves seated alone in this dim
retreat.

'I think, George,' said Marie, after a long silence, 'this has been
the happiest day of my life.'

'I am sure, my darling,' he said, pressing her hand, 'it has also been
my happiest; and this is the happiest moment of my happiest day.'

This was the first time they had been alone during the day.

'The change I saw come over you, George, in the train, after all the
anxiety you and I have felt, would by itself have made this one of my
happiest days. But the great kindness of your mother to me astonishes
me, and pleases me more than I can tell.'

'Who could be anything else but kind to my darling?'

'But she was much more kind than anyone could expect or guess. I was
wonderfully surprised. When she came with me to my room that time, she
told me, George, all about your family and politics, until I felt I
had been a great politician for years, ready to die for Church and
State.'

George kissed her and said,--

'In fact, my Marie, she treated you as though you already were her
daughter. Is that not so, my love?'

She answered by pressing his hand.

'She told me how all your family had been Conservatives. I don't
know exactly what Conservatives are. I believe they have
something to do with the Government. Won't you tell me all about
Conservatives--by-and-by?'

'Yes, love; but let us not talk of such things now. Nevill and I had a
chat after dinner to-day, and I was telling him that now all obstacles
had been cleared away, I hope very soon to have my first look at the
sea, and I had made up my mind never to set eyes on it until I go on
my honeymoon. So, love, as I am very anxious to get my first glance at
the sea, I hope you will let me go there as soon as ever you can.
Won't you?'

He felt her tremble and sigh in his arms. She did not answer.

He went on,--

'You know, love, I told you of that awful dream I had in London of the
sea, and of how I lost you. I am sure, not until this moment, not
until now in this middle of peaceful and prosperous England, when my
arm is safely round my own girl, did it occur to me why I had a whim
to pass the honeymoon by the sea. The whim must have arisen in some
way or the other from that dream. No doubt from a half-felt
inclination to avoid the sea until nothing could take my Marie from
me.'

'Not all the world, George. Not all the world could take me from you
now, George.'

She put her arm round him, and clung to him, and then ceased to cling,
and simply leaned against him.

'George,' she continued, after a pause, 'I have travelled a good deal,
and some might think me restless by nature. But I am not. I am quite
content to rest here for ever. Won't you let me, George?'

He pressed her closely to him.

'You shall never leave me, love. What moments these are, Marie!'

'I shall always think of this conservatory as the end of my
wanderings. We did not feel quite sure, my love, did we, until your
mother saw me?'

'I felt quite sure she could not but love my Marie.'

'George, suppose your mother had turned her back on me, would you have
turned your back on me?'

'Why should we vex ourselves now with such questions? My mother likes
you wonderfully well.'

'But suppose she had not received me well, would you have given me
up?'

'Certainly not. Why do you ask such a question? Now that my mother has
behaved so well, it is ungenerous to force such an answer from me.'

'I am not ungenerous, George. There is no harm in your telling me
anything now, is there?'

'No, my love; you are quite right. You have a perfect right to my full
confidence. I was utterly wrong to say you were ungenerous. Indeed, at
the time I said the word, what I meant was that you forced me into
saying an ungenerous thing when we think of how well my mother has
treated me all my life, and especially on this occasion.'

'And if that change had not come over you in the train, if you had
remained in the same state of mind as you were when you left London,
would you, George, have given me up? Would you have sent poor Marie
away from you some day?'

'I cannot tell. I do not know. I did not know. I was nearly mad,
Marie. Cannot we forget all the bad past?'

'But, George, to think of the bad past while your arm is round me here
makes the present more precious.'

'My darling! My darling! The past is nothing to me now! I think of
only the present and the future.'

'Now, suppose you had promised your mother never to marry me if I
became an infidel, would you, upon my becoming an infidel, give me
up?'

'What earthly good can come of such strained and out-of-the-way
suppositions? You are inventing difficulties for consideration just at
the moment all difficulties have disappeared.'

'But there is no harm in your answering the question.'

'Well, I will make a bargain with you. If I answer you that question,
will you promise to fix a day for our marriage?'

'I will.'

'Well, if I had promised my mother not to marry you if you became an
infidel, I should keep my promise.'

'Oh, George, George, George! won't you be always as you are now? Won't
you, love?'

'Yes, darling, I hope so. Now for your promise.'

'The promise I made to your mother?'

'No; the promise you made to me.'

'You said the sooner the better.'

'I said so, and mean it with all my soul, darling Marie.'

'I say so too.'

'God bless you! When shall it be?'

'When you please, George.'

'But you know, sweetheart, it is you who are to decide this matter.'

'I know; but will you do it for me? I am yours now; do with me what
you think best. I will marry you any day you tell me; I will do
everything you tell me from this time. I am yours, George, body and
soul!'

'Hush, hush, sweet love! I am not worthy of this. Shall we say this
day month, my Marie?'

'Ay; I am willing.'

'This day three weeks?'

'If you wish it, George. The sooner the better.'

'Heaven bless my love for ever!'

'And Heaven bless my lover for ever, and keep him as he now is!'

'Amen.'

'Marie, you spoke a moment ago as if you had made my mother some
promise. Have you done so?'

'Yes, George.'

'What was the promise?'

'Not to fix the day for our wedding so long as you were not as you are
now.'

'What do you mean?'

'I told her I knew, by your manner in the train, that you had no
longer those horrible ideas about religion; and as I knew they had
disappeared on the way down from London, I promised not to marry you
while you held them. What--what is the matter, George? Don't leave me,
George. Why did you take your arm away? Why did you stand up? George,
won't you speak to me?'

'My God, girl, what have you done!'

'What have I done? George, speak to me! My George, my love, my lord,
tell me--tell poor Marie what she has done.... George, will you not
look down at me, and tell me what I have done? ... I am on my knees at
your feet.... I am kneeling at your feet, George.... Will you not look
down?... Oh, my heart will burst! Will you not look down at me--say a
word to me?... You will not? Then I will go!'

She rose from her knees, and walked a few paces towards the door of
the conservatory; stood, laid her hand on one of the flower-stands for
support; essayed again to walk, tottered, stood still; and then, with
a weary sigh, sank to the floor.

The sound of her fall roused Osborne from his lethargy; the sound of
his own voice was the last that had reached his consciousness. He
sprang to her side, raised her, and opening the conservatory door,
cried out,--

'Nevill, Kate, help! Marie has fainted.'

When she opened her eyes she found herself lying on a couch in the
drawing-room.

'With the door shut, the heat and closeness of the place were too much
for her. George ought to know no girl could stand that place with the
door shut,' said Mrs Osborne.

'I tried to get to the door, and then I remember no more,' said Marie
feebly.

'It was all my fault,' said George, in a tremulous voice.



                             CHAPTER XII.

                            IN THE STORM.


The mind of George Osborne was vigorous, fearless, and candid. He had
the perception of the poet without the poet's mobility. Once he had
built up an idea, he could not alter the parts without endangering the
whole. He was in everything conservative, except when he was
revolutionary. If corruption existed in an institution, rather than
try to eradicate the evil he would abolish the institution itself.

Without being wrong-headed or a bigot, he could not readily see how
there might be two tolerably fair views to any subject. If he thought
he was right, he felt himself to be entirely right. He would give
perfect liberty to another man to differ from him, but he could not
allow there existed any likelihood the other man was right. He saw all
questions in their totality, not in detail. If it was morally wrong to
hang a man for murder, why not abolish hanging to-morrow morning? If
it was not morally wrong, and if it was necessary for the protection
of the community that murderers should be hung, why, then it must be
fools who could have any aversion from the office of hangman.

He had been brought up in a small, rigid home, and in a dull,
monotonous way. He had bean a student of books, those immutable echoes
of eternal voices. He had been a lover of Nature, which week after
week moves onward to well-ascertained stations, producing anticipated
results. He had rarely been from home, and never far. He knew
absolutely nothing of the world until mighty London surged round him.
Even then he could not realise the magnitude of the great riddle of
man being worked at and abandoned daily by the millions living round
him. It was like giving a man sight for the first time in the middle
of the Atlantic, and expecting him to be able to draw outlines of the
American and European coasts.

In the little town the ordinary affairs of man, the births, deaths,
and marriages, went on in regular routine. No foreign armies camped in
the tree-sheltered fields. To him the news of wars and battles sounded
old-world and obsolete. There had been no sounds of fight here for
many score years. No great famine visited the place, no great
pestilence. Folk died in their beds, and had decent funerals. Neither
great poverty nor great riches distinguished the inhabitants. As a
rule, they went soberly through their lives, and usually left a little
money behind them. There were no fleets arriving from wonderful
climes. All the produce of the East was denationalised by the grocer
or the druggist or the jeweller. For these people there was no place
farther off than London, whence all exotic produce found its way to
the town.

As with all places possessing an ancient fame, which is much visited
by strangers, the popular mind of Stratford was continually driven
back to the days of its idol, when the house of Tudor held the sceptre
of England, and the man of Stratford held the imperial baton in the
universe of song. In the windows, as one walked along the street,
appeared Shakespeare collars and Shakespeare cuffs, and Shakespeare
drinking-cups, and Shakespeare plates, and Shakespeare chairs.
Everything one looked upon drove the mind back to Queen Bess. But it
was not to the weapon named after the virgin queen. Here was no
compulsion to think of foreign wars or approaching Armada. No discords
and bloody broils of armed men broke in upon the ears. This was a
wayside village hard by the Forest of Arden. At the other side of that
hill stood the 'wood not far from Athens.'

No one was in haste here, not even American tourists. The town had
plenty of time for all it had to do. Strangers, when they came to the
place, assumed a grave and deliberate manner. They looked up and down
streets with conciliatory eyes, as though embryo poets might be coming
those ways, and it were only meet to show respect to those of
Shakespeare's cloth. It was a place where the strangers listened and
the inhabitants talked, and talked of little else than Shakespeare. It
was the business of Stratford to do honour to all things which, in
point of time, approach her great son, and to regard the things of
to-day as mere shadows passing across that splendid background formed
by the achievements of her immortal son.

With such a mind and in such a place, George Osborne had reached the
prime of manhood. Had he been dull, or vicious, or fond of pleasure,
he might have braved all the dangers of a plunge from such a history
into London. But he was intellectual rather than intelligent, as Marie
had told him. He dwelt within himself rather than went forth to seek
new things. He had no mastering evil passion, and consequently nothing
which at once gave him an object of pursuit and a reason for darkening
his conscience. He was not a frivolous man, and could not be put off
with toys and bubbles.

But he was religious, profoundly religious. In the presence of the
object of his worship he felt pride in his manhood, diffidence in
himself. He believed that if a man were thoroughly good, that man
could worship worthily. He lifted his eyes and asked help or sympathy
fearlessly when he thought of his manhood; when he thought of himself
he bent his eyes upon the ground. He aspired with all his soul to rise
above evil; the daily routine of petty cares and petty passions
dragged him down. He would have given up his life freely any day for
his fellow-man.

Upon this man, when all the faculties of his intellect, all the
sensibilities of his emotions, had come to their full development, had
burst the passion of love. He was no raw school-boy, sighing after a
pretty face or a neat figure, but a strong man of mature thought,
overwhelmingly convinced by his intellect as well as by his emotions
that this woman alone could save his future life from being a
desert, could make it full of the richest, fullest, most abounding
life. 'Drunk or mad,' as he had said--he did not care what it was
called--drunk or mad, he wanted her; and, if he won her, he could walk
through life with a triumphant tread; without her he could do nothing
but shamble into the grave.

He prospered in his love; and then came that spiritual upheaval,
wherein the records of his life were swallowed up, and all the palaces
he had built thrown down. He stood aghast before the awful ruin. He
had never before conceived so stupendous a disaster. His nerves were
shattered, his reason was shaken. As soon as he got a moment's
respite, a returning ray of faith, he thought of this woman, for the
lightest pain of whose body he would give up his life. He thought she
had been careless once, and if ever she married a man like Parkinson
she would lose all. So at their betrothal, he swore her never to wed
outside the church.

After this came his complete downfall; and then he stood face to face
with the confounding problem: Should he lose his love to save her
faith, or snatch at the woman he loved, and imperil the future
happiness, perhaps, of one for whose sake he would die a thousand
times? It was during this fierce struggle he had behaved so
inexplicably, and asked her to give him time.

At that point he had thought his reason would utterly break down.

This day, on the journey, the question wholly lost its spiritual
aspect. All through the day, at dinner, and during the early part of
that interview in the conservatory, he had been more happy than ever
in all his life before, as he told her. But in those few simple words,
alluding to his infidel ideas, 'I promised not to marry you while you
held them,' a key had been struck which had never been sounded before.
The positions of her and him had been reversed.

He had been trying to save her; now she was trying to save him. This
situation caused all the old agony to flow in upon him, and he did not
hear or see anything until she fell.



                            CHAPTER XIII.

                      CONSERVATORY CONSPIRATORS.


The next morning was bright, clear, crisp. Half-past nine was the hour
for breakfast. At that time all but Miss Osborne and Miss Gordon were
in the parlour. Presently Miss Osborne entered and said,--

'I have just been in with Miss Gordon; she will not come down to
breakfast. She is quite well, but a little tired; only tired.'

'I am sure,' said Mrs Osborne, 'she has been most unfortunate in her
first evening here. I am exceedingly sorry for what happened last
night. I will go up and see her myself.'

'She said, mother,' added Kate, 'that as she had got very little sleep
last night, she would now try and get some. She also said we were not
to put ourselves to the least inconvenience, and that no doubt she
should be down for luncheon.'

'I really don't know, George, what possessed you to keep the poor girl
in that conservatory so long. Even with the doors open, half-an-hour
is as long as I could stand the place.'

'I am exceedingly sorry, mother. I was very thoughtless, I admit. Kate
and Alice have often been in the place with the door shut for a much
longer time, and I never thought that she might not be able to bear
the place as well as they who are used to it. Kate, do you think a
doctor had better see her?'

'Oh no,' answered Kate. 'She will be quite well again as soon as she
has had a sleep.'

'Talking of the overwhelming smell of flowers reminds me,' broke in
Nevill, who saw the conversation bore heavily on George, 'I have to
thank the beautiful azalea-tree for my life. When I was once out West
with my dear old friend Cross-Poll after buffaloes the thing happened.
Cross-Poll was a most remarkable man. He was at least six feet high,
fifty-four inches around the chest, with limbs in proportion. I have
heard he could take a buffalo by the horns and swing the beast around
his head. But, Mrs Osborne, we must not believe all we hear on our
travels--'

'Nor, Mr Nevill,' said Alice, 'all we hear when we sit at home.'

'Nor, Miss Osborne, as you say, all we hear when we sit at home,
except when we have the word of a credible eye-witness. In this case I
would not dream of asking you to believe Cross-Poll caught a bull by
the horns and swung the beast around his head, for I did not see it,
and I make it a point never to accept as true wonders at second hand.
If a thing isn't good enough to happen in my presence, I am not going
to bother my friends or burden my memory with it. My theory is this: I
am, as men go, blessed with a good memory for remarkable facts--'

'And fictions,' added Alice, with a demure smile.

'You may call a thing a fiction, I don't. Well, my theory is: If there
is to be anything remarkable, and it does not go to the trouble of
calling me as a witness, I am not going to bother myself with making
out a report of the case. You, Osborne, remember Cross-Poll at
school?'

'I do not,' said George gravely, 'recollect a boy or man of that name
at any school I was at. He may have been at Rugby, and I forget his
name.' Osborne answered the question seriously.

Alice laughed.

'Don't you remember, George, when you were at school with Mr Nevill in
America?'

George smiled faintly.

'My dear Miss Alice Osborne, you are far too quick for a great
dunderheaded porpoise of stupidity like me. What I meant to say
was, that your brother must remember some of the recorded freaks of
Cross-Poll when he was a boy. You do not, I hope, accuse me,' he asked
sincerely, 'of implying for a moment that your brother and I were at
school together? Why, we never met until we saw one another at
Westpoint. When Cross-Poll was at school he was equally good at a
cock-shot and a hen-roost. He could smash a bottle with a stone at
forty yards, and rob a hen-roost howsoever well defended. From his
fame as a robber of hen-roosts he acquired the familiar nickname of
Chuck-chuck, which he took in good part. But any hint that he was
liable to be called Cockadoodle-do drove him to fury.

'One day the boys asked him to bring them a couple of dozen eggs
to play Blind Tom with. He was in a bad humour; hen-roosts were
getting very shy and wild by this time. The boys set up a cry of
"Cockadoodle-do!" His anger rose, and he went for the whole schoolful
of boys. Before he was tired or satisfied he gave up and bolted for
the West. That afternoon they filled the ward of the hospital out of
what he left behind him in that school, besides sending home ever so
many slight cases in wheelbarrows and trucks. Naturally after that
Cross-Poll could not stay in the town, so he set out for fresh woods
and pastures new.'

'But, Mr Nevill, I thought you were going to tell us how azaleas saved
your life once. How was that?'

'So I was. You must know I was once hunting in Mexico with Cross-Poll.
We had been very low in provisions for a few days, for although we had
seen many buffaloes, we had never been able to get within range. Not a
bird, beast, or fish could we get to eat. Cross-Poll had twice
suggested we should draw lots as to which of us should kill and eat
the other. But I would not hear of this. I said to him, "Cross-Poll,
old man, I could not think of casting lots with you. With any other
man I'm game. But I could not think of making game of you. I remember
how you handled that school. But Cross-Poll, old man, you are welcome
to make game of me. I always was a guy. I'll walk on before you, and,
comrade, when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn." In other words,
old Cross-Poll, for I knew he was not like your brother, a student of
poetry, "in other words, knock me on the head." He caught my hand, and
I thought he'd wring it off as he said, "Son of the pale-face, never.
I'd eat railway-station pork-pie first."'

'You see, Miss Osborne, I knew my man. If we had cast lots and he won,
he'd have just let me gather some grass for my own funeral-pyre, and
then shot me. If he lost he'd have shot me instantly in self-defence.
In a few minutes after that we came upon water and a fine bull
drinking at it. He fired. The bull turned over. We built a fire, and
ate and drank until we were satisfied. As we lay back smoking our
pipes, Cross-Poll said to me, after a long pause--'

'But, Mr Nevill, how about the azaleas saving your life?'

'Ah, little Alice, the impatience of youth! I remember when I was your
age I was consumed by impatience. So impetuous was my curiosity, they
called me Who-What-When-Where-How, as though I was a gorgon, or a
bogie, or a giant in his castle.'

'Mr Nevill,' said Alice, with dignity, gathering her skirt close to
her, and drawing herself up to her full height as she rose from
breakfast, 'what age do you think I am? You treat me as if I was a
child.'

'Fourteen? fifteen? sixteen? seventeen? eighteen?--'

'Yes, quite eighteen.'

'Bless my soul! so you are. I never noticed it until now. I never
noticed before the crowsfeet, the puckers about the mouth, the feeble
gait, the dim eye, the trembling hand, the silver threads among the
gold: it isn't gold, by-the-way, but its nearly nicer than gold. Ah,
madam, you will pardon the levity of your most humble slave. If by the
sprightliness of your sallies and the vivacity of your air I have been
misled into treating you with a lightness unbecoming in me to one of
your age, forgive me. Permit me, revered madam, to lend you the
support of my arm.'

'Now, Mr Nevill, don't be too ridiculous.'

'Do not refuse my arm, my apology, and my offer of future homage.
Permit me to assist you to the conservatory, and while I am there
waiting for your granddaughter Kate to get ready for a stroll I'll
tell you all about the azaleas, and all about everything else I know,
except one thing.'

'And what is the one thing you will not tell me?'

'How much I like my Kate's grandmother.' They were now ascending the
stairs. 'If I spoke all day long, madam, I could not tell you that.
You must know, madam, my Kate has a dainty little sister, who is to be
my sister one of these days, and for whom I have the warmest possible
affection; and I want to talk to you, madam, about her and about her
brother George.'

They were now in the little conservatory.

'You see, madam,' he continued, 'George's mother is very uneasy about
George on religious subjects, and so is Marie, or anyway so she was.
Now last night, after we had all gone to our rooms, George came to
mine. We had a long chat, and George told me all.'

'Is "all" much?' the young girl asked apprehensively. 'I knew there
was something wrong. I did not know what, and now I do not know how
much. Tell me all about it.'

'Well, to be brief, George has been making a fool of himself over a
few scientific books, until he has got his head, which is not at all
suited to science any more than is yours, dear madam, into a muddle;
and he thinks no one can reconcile or understand things he can't
reconcile or understand; and he is unsettled in his mind about his
faith just now. All thoughtful men are at one time or another. It is
only women and asses who are quite sure of everything.'

'Mr Nevill, I will not stand and hear--'

'Excuse me, my dear madam, I completely forgot to offer you a chair.
You will have the goodness, my dear madam, to call me, for the future,
Bill.'

'I'll do nothing of the kind.'

'You will; you will, my dear madam, for if you don't, instead of
telling you about George, I'll tell you about the time I conducted a
travelling circus through the Antarctic Ocean.'

'I will not.'

'Well, you must know at that time I was under the impression that a
fortune was to be made out of performing sea-lions--'

'Please, please don't tell me about the circus now--'

'Bill.'

'Bill.'

'Thank you, madam. May I kiss your hand as a token of my devotion?'

'Yes, if you like; but tell me about George.'

'Now that, dear madam, I have sworn eternal friendship on that hand, I
can no longer call you dear madam. I will call you instead, Mistress
Alice--'

'Don't mind about me, but tell me about George.'

'Tell me about George, Bill.'

'Tell me about George--Bill.'

'Yes; it is a little complicated. It is easy to understand, but not
easy to work out to a satisfactory result. At the betrothal George
made Marie promise most solemnly she would never marry any man who did
not belong to the Church of England. After that those doubts I spoke
of arose in his mind, and he now owes allegiance to no particular form
of belief. When he found himself in this condition he explained
matters to Marie. He then thought her promise would bar her marriage
with him. She took another view, and said she would marry him still,
and that the promise did not apply to him.'

'I think so too.'

'Bill.'

'I think so too, Bill.'

'Thank you, Mistress Alice. I like you better the more I see of you.
Well, even now George was not satisfied; for, conscientiously
believing the girl to be bound by the letter and not the spirit of her
promise, he was loth to do anything which could seem to induce her to
break that promise.'

'But George always was over-scrupulous.'

'Yes; and is still. However, on his way down from London to this place
he changed his mind. He thought, like a sensible man, that his
religious feelings, beliefs, or doubts ought to have nothing to do
with his marrying or his subsequent treatment of a wife. He had been
greatly troubled, not only by the fear of asking Marie to break her
promise, but also by a terror of influencing prejudicially her faith:
for, he says, no matter what his present state of belief may be, he
would give all he has in the world to be back with the peaceful old
times he knew before he left Stratford.'

'I wish he had never left Stratford,' she cried petulantly.

'What, Mistress Alice! Here is ingratitude! Why, only for George's
going to London you would never have met _me!_ Mistress Alice, you
ought to be burned at the stake with green fagots.'

'I didn't mean that; I was thinking only of George.'

'Bill.'

'I was thinking only of George, Bill.'

'That's right. You shall call me dear Bill the day after to-morrow.
But to get forward: you may remember your mother showed Marie to her
room the day she came. Well, there and then she made Marie promise
never to fix a day for the wedding while George had any stupid
doubts.'

'Did she promise that?'

'Yes; for she was sure from George's manner in the train that all
these foolish notions had gone away for ever, whereas they had not.'

'But that was a promise somewhat like the other.'

'Bill.'

'Somewhat like the other, Bill.'

'Yes, it is somewhat like the other, but more binding. Now, George and
I had a long talk over the whole position last night. He is in a
dreadful state of mind. It was not the heat of this place made her
faint last night. He is so confused about all that happened here he
cannot remember what caused her to faint, but it must have been
something he said. Now, this won't do. We can't have George eating
away his heart, and Marie dying by inches.'

'But what can be done?'

'Bill.'

'But what can be done, dear Bill?'

'No. I won't have you so familiar all at once. You must not call me
"dear Bill" until the day after to-morrow, or I shall have to tell you
how it came to be I was called Bill by the Emperor of Morocco. You
must do just what you're told; no more, no less. Now I have made up my
mind to a few things; first, that there is no chance of George coming
round for a little while--a few months; second, that it would be a
crime to let those two hearts be wrecked for ever because of a belief
which went away yesterday and will come back to-morrow; and third,
that Mistress Alice is the person who can smooth away all the
difficulties.'

'I--I?'

'Yes, you. Kate is going out with me for a walk, when she comes down;
George has some business in the town, and Marie will not be down till
luncheon. Go you to your mother; you will know how to reason with her
better than I can tell you. Get her to withdraw that promise from
Marie, and all will be well. We will make two bridesmaids out of you
at the same time, and I'll give you a present of one of the Pharaohs
whom I dug up myself in Egypt, when I was commissioned by Ismail Pasha
to invent a new source for the Nile, and find out if it could not be
proved the so-called Lake M[oe]ris had not been a huge skating-rink
frozen by steam. I don't think I ever told you of that.'

'No. But I'll tell you what I would much rather hear. Why do you think
I, of all of you, could influence my mother?'

'Because she can have less reason for being reserved with you than
with any other of us. She cannot think you have any interest but the
happiness of George at heart. You see she, who has been for many years
so seldom out of her home-circle, must have a prejudice against
strangers like Marie and me, and she would naturally have a suspicion,
if Kate spoke, that it had been settled between Marie and me an
attempt should be made to overcome her scruples. But you are free, and
would have weight with her. You know, in my speaking to you thus, and
suggesting you should do what I have said, I can have no interest but
that in the happiness of George.'

'I am quite sure of that.'

'Well, then, you may urge her all you can. I would recommend you not
to go too directly at the subject. Approach it gently, and I think you
are sure to win.'

'I will do my best, and hope all may go well.'

'Hullo, here is Kate, Come on now, Kate. Alice, I wish you success.
Kate, just as you came in I was telling Alice all about my first
marriage, and about the beauty and amiability of the late Mrs Nevill.
She positively worshipped me. She had copper heaters made for my
slippers. These were filled with boiling water and thrust into my
slippers five minutes before I--'

Kate and Nevill had passed out of the drawing-room, and Alice could
hear no more.



                             CHAPTER XIV.

                           IN A NEW ASPECT.


The chat which George Osborne had with Nevill the night before had
eased and steadied his mind, but had in no way relieved his heart.
There were less hurry and confusion in his thoughts, but his thoughts
were far from pleasant.

His mother had gone out of her way to extract this promise from Marie,
and she must therefore attach a great deal of importance to it. Marie
had attributed a cause quite opposite to the real one for the change
which had come over him in the railway-carriage. If she had not
noticed that change, or if she had not misinterpreted it, matters
might not be in their present hopeless condition. Nevill had said last
night that he would make an effort to mend the situation. But what
could Nevill do?

When he, Osborne, arrived at Stratford, he would have gladly shut his
eyes to his own spiritual condition and married Marie. But this
promise to his mother looked a fatal barrier. In that promise,
extracted from Marie in the cathedral, he might, when the first shock
had passed, have easily agreed that the pledge was never intended to
apply to him, and that in keeping the letter she might break the
spirit of that pledge.

In the present case there was no such loophole. Marie had made a clear
definite promise not to name the day for their marriage, should George
return to the scepticism to which he had given way of late. It was
true, if this were merely a legal question, there were two points
which might make that promise inoperative. First, he had never
abandoned his doubts, and therefore could not be said to go back to
them. Second, the day had been fixed before he knew anything of
Marie's promise. But of course, in conscience, neither of these points
would hold for an instant.

What should he do now? Could he do anything? Of course he could marry
the girl, in spite of his mother. But could he marry her with ease to
his own mind in spite of her promise? That was the question which
perplexed him. Could he ask her to break her deliberate promise, in
order that she might by his side run the risk of infidelity? He knew
not one man in a thousand would hesitate a moment. He knew that in
ordinary cases when a man wished to make a woman his wife he thought
very little of anything else than attaining his object. But he,
Osborne, was not a man of that kind. The mere dread that any shadow of
doubt or difficulty lay between him and her would spoil all.

His head was quite clear, but his heart was troubled sorely.

What, he, for the sake of a few meaningless words, lose all the
sunshine and the glory of his life! What, was his life to be marred
for ever because Marie had uttered a few words to his mother? What
right had words spoken by her to a third person to come between her
and him? It was absurd to think of such a thing. No one out of Bedlam
could dream of such a thing for a moment. Nothing of the kind should
come between him and his love. Nothing. Mere words. What had mere
words to do with him or her? What had mere words to do anywhere? Mere
words, which once breathed disappeared for ever, to stand in the way
of hearts drawn to one another as the moon draws the sea?

What a humdrum thing breakfast had been without her! What a humdrum
thing life had been until he met her! Now life would be simply
intolerable without her. Without her? What nonsense! Promise or no
promise, faith or no faith, he was not going to lose her; he was not
going to lose the great melody of his life for ever. Come fair, come
foul; come weal, come woe, he would make Marie Gordon his wife.

It was a lucky thing he had business in the town. It would occupy him
till luncheon, and then, as soon as he came back, he'd see his
beautiful darling once more.

What had she said last night in the conservatory after his cry? He had
no more recollection than of what happened in the Great Desert at the
time. Could he have muttered anything like a reproach, like words of
farewell?

'Farewell! Ah, God, not that! No, no, no! Farewell, never! There shall
be no farewell. I may be at liberty to break my own heart, but I am
not at liberty to break hers.

'It never struck me in that way before. I have never gone farther than
thinking what I ought to do so as to secure her against danger. If it
would break her heart to part from me, it would be murder to let her
go. Fancy my taking up a knife and killing Marie! Fancy my standing
before her, and firing a loaded pistol at her head! Fancy the look in
her eyes when she saw my arm upraised to strike, extended to fire!
Suppose I said to her, this evening in the drawing-room,--"Marie, I
have made up my mind that, owing to scruples of mine, you and I must
be strangers for evermore. I leave Stratford to see you no more." I
think she would laugh at first. But when she found out I was in
earnest? Oh, I cannot look at her face as I see it now. No, no, no! I
have no right to break her heart; and if she will marry me, nothing
earthly shall induce me to give her up. Fancy her calling after me,
saying, "George, will you not come back to me?" Oh, God, I cannot even
think of it. I will not think of it. I am glad I have this business in
the town. It will kill time and thought until I get back and see my
own love once again.'

He arose, and went into the hall. As he was putting on his overcoat,
O'Connor tripped downstairs.

'Good morning, O'Connor. How is your mistress now?'

'She is in a nice quiet sleep now, sir.'

George beckoned her into the parlour, which was now deserted.

'Was Miss Gordon very bad last night, O'Connor?'

'She was bad enough, sir. I slept in the dressing-room; and about an
hour after she went to bed I heard her saying, "Don't! Oh don't! Don't
send me away!" I thought she was awake at the time, so I went to her,
and spoke to her. But she was fast asleep. I came out, and sat in her
room; and all through the night she never stopped waking and falling
asleep again; and as soon as she fell asleep she began moaning and
crying in her sleep. I was wondering, sir, maybe Miss Osborne and you
and Mr Nevill and my mistress went to some very mournful play in
London by Shakespeare, and that coming into his native air, sir, may
have made the mournfulness of the play come against her all at once;
for I never saw Miss Gordon like that before.'

'Ay,' answered Osborne vaguely. 'O'Connor, I want you to wait a
minute, while I scribble a few lines for her.'

He took a pencil and wrote,--


'My Darling Marie,--I have no clear recollection of how that scene in
the conservatory ended. O'Connor tells me you are now sleeping. God
bless you! I have to go out on business. We shall meet at luncheon. I
can hardly bear to leave the house where my only love is. I hope I did
not say or do anything very bad in that conservatory. Whatever I then
said or did, believe me, my darling Marie, nothing shall ever separate
Marie from

               'George.'


He folded it up, and handed it to the maid, saying--

'Now, O'Connor, give her this when she awakes.'

Then he walked into the hall, put on his hat and went out.

He did not get back until a few minutes before luncheon. Marie was
down, looking a little pale, but very happy. As he took her hand,
George said,--

'Did you get my note?'

'Yes, and it has made me so glad. I am quite well since I read it.'

When Nevill had said good-afternoon to Marie he went over to where
Alice stood, arranging something on the chimneypiece. He took her
hands, and said gaily,--

'And how has Mistress Alice fared since?'

'Badly. I did my best and failed. She is not coming down to luncheon.'

'Failed! Failed! Then I do not know what will become of it!'



                             CHAPTER XV.

                   OSBORNE'S FINAL RESOLUTION.


When luncheon was served George looked around and asked, 'Kate, where
is mother?'

'She is not coming down,' answered Alice, with averted head.

'Not coming down! Is she ill?'

'She is not quite well,' answered Alice softly.

'Then excuse me a few moments. Don't wait for me, Nevill; you sit here
and look after them until I come back.'

Alice now looked at him and tried to catch his eye, but before she
could succeed he had left the room.

They waited ten minutes. George did not return. At the end of that
time Kate suggested they should wait no more. She said, 'You, Marie,
must be fainting for something to eat.'

'Come on,' cried Nevill, 'I am literally starving. If you keep me any
longer waiting I'll order up my own boots and have a private picnic on
the hearth-rug. It is a rule which never should be broken, to fall to
when a man says, "Don't wait for me." I remember once during the great
Civil War I was stationed with a small body of sappers and miners on
the slope of a hill which was crowned by a church. We were within the
enemy's lines, and had to lie almost motionless among some thick
undergrowth. The enemy had made a barracks of the church, and our
object was to blow up the church at midnight when all the men in the
church were asleep. We had only one day's rations with us, and we made
up our minds not to eat our principal meal until after dusk. I had two
bags, with forty pounds of gunpowder in each. All at once someone said
"There goes the curfew--" Yes, I will have another small piece, if you
please. I wonder what can be keeping George; he is long over his time
already. The brown sherry, thank you. I know it isn't right to take
brown sherry; it looks childish. But we are all children, except
Mistress Alice. She ought to have a little brandy, I think, to stir
the sluggish currents of her blood-- Well, all at once the look-out
cries, "Light ahead!" "Where away?" I sang out, raising my glass, and
sweeping the horizon. I think I told you it was dark?'

'Yes,' said Alice, with a candid smile, 'and blowing hard.'

'It was blowing a whole gale out of the southward and eastward. I have
been at sea many a bad night in my life, but never one like that. The
waves rolled mountains high and the spray was something awful. You
couldn't see the sky for spray, and you couldn't see the sea for
clouds. All at once I heard the cry of 'Man overboard!' I wish George
would come. He can't have missed his way, Kate, and gone down to the
kitchen. I saw your cook to-day as she took in the bread. Wonderfully
pretty girl. Just the kind George in his unguarded moments always told
me he liked--Mistress Alice, will you be good enough to tell me at
what point of the story I left off.'

'When you looked you saw a shark.'

'Oh yes. I was hanging over the taffrail when under the counter I saw
a shark. He was lying on his side and winking at my legs which were
hanging over the taffrail. "Ho, ho! my fine fellow!" cried I, "is that
where you are?" I told you he had been following in the wake of the
ship for several days-- By Jove! George, I thought you'd never come.
Sit down. A wing or a leg, George? No fowl? Ah well, the beef is
excellent. Now, Mistress Alice, where was I in that story?'

'Somewhere about the stern and the wake.'

'Ah yes. It was the saddest thing I ever saw in all my life. You never
saw an Irish wake, Marie?'

'No, never. Tell us about it.'

What had happened to George? He was as pale as death. He ate nothing,
and his mouth was squared and resolute-looking.

'Ah, never (unless you have a much less susceptible heart than I give
you credit for) see a Irish wake. It is most affecting. In this case
the poor fellow had been knocked over the stern of a boat in the Upper
Lake, Killarney. He had been standing up tending the mainsail, when
whiz, bang over goes the boom and knocks the poor fellow into the
water. Of course, as he was connected with boats he couldn't swim a
stroke, and so he was drowned. Most extraordinary thing, no man
connected with ships or boats ever can swim! There ought to be an Act
of Parliament forbidding any man to smell tar until he could swim
round a man-of-war. Suppose a man on the Fire Brigade out of
braggadocio insisted upon going to fires with his uniform steeped in
petroleum, we should lock him up as an idiot. Talking of fires reminds
me--'

Nevill rattled on through the remainder of the time they sat at table,
but it was under a great strain and sense of disadvantage. He could
plainly see by George's face that the interview between son and
mother had not been satisfactory,--in fact, had been decidedly
unsatisfactory; but he did not want, if he could help it, the women to
be vaguely depressed. He knew that under such circumstances Osborne
was incapable of contributing in any way to the ordinary conversation,
and that if he spoke all would at once know something was wrong.

As soon as they stood up from table, Nevill took Osborne by the arm,
led him to another room and said,--'Well. By your appearance I see you
and your mother have talked the whole thing over.'

'Yes, we have; and not very pleasantly; at least, I mean, not with
pleasant result.'

'What was the result?'

'Well, in brief, she says she has made Marie promise her, as you know,
and she means to keep Marie to her promise.'

'And what do you purpose doing?'

'Under the circumstances I cannot stay here. I cannot sleep another
night in this house.'

'Don't be absurd, George.'

'If what I tell you is absurd, then you will have no choice but to
think me absurd. I intend leaving this house to-night. My mother has
made up her mind never to give Marie back her promise; at this time I
can see no chance, however remote, of changing my mind. How then can I
stay here, under my mother's roof, near Marie? When we came here
together it was as two who were going to be married with the approval
of my mother. Now that is changed. My mother not only no longer
approves, but positively forbids our marriage. It is impossible for me
to live under this roof as the accepted lover of Marie, when my mother
has said in effect that I shall never be anything but a lover until I
change certain opinions which I now see no chance of altering.
Honestly, Nevill, you cannot say any other course is open to me; can
you?'

'I own it is a very perplexing case, and I find myself in an
exceedingly awkward position; for while all my sympathy is with you, I
must remember your mother is Kate's mother too.'

'My dear Nevill, I can fully appreciate the difficulty of the
situation, and I beg of you to say or do nothing about the matter to
anyone after this talk. Of course you will tell Kate all I have told
you. What a change since last evening. We had arranged the day. And
now I do not know what is to become of us.'

'Have you had a quiet talk with Marie?'

'No; nor do I intend meeting her in private before I leave. How could
I meet her here, under my mother's roof, and tell her that I was,
because of her presence, obliged to quit my mother's roof? It would be
painful and humiliating and useless. No; I shall leave at once. I will
write a few lines, and go back to London to-night. When I get there I
shall decide what further course I may follow.'

'But she may take queer notions into her head, George, when she finds
you are gone.'

'She may, but I hope she will not. I think I may leave a good deal to
her common-sense.'

'And have you no idea of what your ultimate course will be?'

'I have a very clear idea of what I shall try to do. I shall try to
make Marie accept me as I am, and trust to chance for my reformation.'

'And the only reason you have to think she will not marry you is
because of the promise she gave your mother yesterday?'

'That is the only reason.'

'All I can say is, George, that you deserve well, and I wish you
well.'

'Thank you. I am sure you do.'



                             CHAPTER XVI.

                       WHEN MY GEORGE IS AWAY.


Osborne's mind was finally made up. He would not again speak to Marie
under his mother's roof. He would go away, not only from the house,
but from Stratford. He would go back to London; not of course to Mrs
Barclay's, but to some other quiet place, and there await Marie's
ultimate decision. He would put the issue plainly before her and let
her decide. The situation was most awkward and embarrassing. But, as
far as he was concerned, it was only awkward and embarrassing. It
might seem cruel to leave Marie without a word; but if he met Marie
again in this house it would be impossible for him to deal with the
whole question, and it would be unwise to treat of merely a part.

For aught he knew to the contrary, Marie would leave this house as
soon as he had gone. That was a thing he could not advocate for many
reasons. In the first place, it would be undignified and unworthy of
him and her. In the second place, people would be sure to put a number
of most unjustifiable and injurious constructions on such an act. He
himself was quite above caring for what people said, but Marie's name
must not be placed at their disposal. No; he should take no advantage.
In fact, he would rather place difficulties in the way than seek easy
means to his ends.

Yes, he did not mind difficulties. He preferred that there should be
difficulties. He did not care how many or how great these difficulties
were. In fact, he cared for only one thing now, namely, the absolute
certainty that in the end Marie should be his wife. All his life he
had been placid, docile; but he had never been crossed by anyone in
his schemes or plans. So long as he felt he and he alone was
responsible for Marie, he had been a martyr to scrupulosity. But now
someone else--his mother--had sought to divide either his
responsibility with regard to Marie, or with regard to himself, and he
no longer hesitated or doubted. He had questioned his own ability to
dispose of the situation; but the moment someone else showed a desire,
not only to question his ability to govern the position, but actively
interfered to prevent his action, he rose in revolt.

It was not against his mother personally he rose, but against the idea
that he was not able to take care of himself and Marie. In fact, the
personality of his mother almost wholly disappeared in the question.
The problem had been shifted from, 'Should I allow her to incur this
risk?' to, 'Am I not able to take care of her and myself in any case
of difficulty or danger?' He answered himself passionately a thousand
times that no one could take such care of Marie as he, for no one else
loved her so well.

But while he was quite firm as to his resolution of marrying her, no
matter who might say nay, he was equally resolved not to expose her to
any adverse comment from which he could save her.

Shortly after that interview with Nevill, George left the house. In
the meeting with his mother he had told her the course he proposed
pursuing. He had not asked her opinion or approval. He had no parting
interview with Marie or either of his sisters. When he left Nevill he
went upstairs, put a few things in a bag, wrote a few lines to Marie
saying he had been compelled to leave most unexpectedly, and that he
would write to her from London in a day or two, and that he was her
own always loyal lover, George. This he sent to her by O'Connor. He
then left the house carrying his bag in his hand.

When Marie got the note she was completely confounded. What had
occurred between the writing of the earlier one and this she could not
guess. Why did not George give her some hint of what had caused his
sudden flight? No doubt it had something to do with her. What could
have caused it? This was almost as bad as the bad time in London. It
was not quite as bad, for now she was easy in her mind about George.
Whatever it had been that caused him to behave in so extraordinary a
manner last night there could now be no barrier between them, for the
only thing which could have had enough importance in his mind to
separate them had the day before disappeared.

At four o'clock Mrs Osborne sent word to Marie that she would like to
see her in her own room. Thither Marie went at once, wondering if an
explanation awaited her there.

When she entered the room where George's mother sat, she saw at a
glance that, although Mrs Osborne was now calm, she had been weeping
lately.

'Come and sit by me, Marie,' said the elder woman, in a low, sad
voice. 'Here, child, on this seat. Are you quite well now? You are
looking better than when you went to bed last night, but you are
looking anxious. Give me your hand, child.'

'I am quite well, thank you. I was very sorry you were not well enough
to come down to luncheon. I hope you are better?'

'Like you, child, I am well in body, but anxious, very anxious, and I
want to speak to you seriously. You remember a promise you made me
yesterday? You remember a promise you made me about George?'

'Yes.'

'Have you seen George to-day? Has he said anything particular to you
to-day?'

'He has not said anything particular to me. But he has written me a
few lines saying he is leaving this.'

'He has left, my child. But do you know the reason why?'

'No. He said he would explain all by-and-by.'

'Well, my child, the sad fact is, you have deceived yourself as to the
change for the better you thought you found in George. He has not
changed his opinions since the bad change came over him in London.'

The girl looked into the woman's face with frightened eyes. 'I do
not--I do not understand you.'

'Well, I will explain. I had a long talk to-day with Alice and with
George, one at a time, and from both I was grieved, more grieved than
I can tell you, to learn that since George allowed himself to be
misled by science he has never come back again to his right mind.'

'But, Mrs Osborne, I can hardly have been mistaken--'

'My child, you were. When I spoke to George about the matter he
reflected a long time, and he said he could in no way account for the
conclusion you had come to except you formed it in the train as you
came from London to this.'

'That was the time. And is it not true?'

'Ah no, my dear. I am sorry to say not.'

Marie's face darkened. This statement of Mrs Osborne's explained
George's conduct in the conservatory last night. It explained his
flight. But it left much in doubt. What should she do? What should she
say to George's mother under the circumstances? For a long time
neither woman spoke. At last Marie said,--

'This is dreadful. I thought he was all right again. I am sure I do
not know what to do, Mrs Osborne.'

'You can do nothing, and nothing is the best thing for you to do. He
will come to his senses soon. He will come to his senses when he finds
you are firm in keeping your word. He has gone away. You will stay
with us. You will stay with us until he is cured of this wicked folly;
then he will come home; then he will come back to you and us.'

'But,' thought the girl, 'how long am I to be from him? How long is he
to be from me?' she said aloud. 'But, Mrs Osborne, shall I not be in
your way?'

'In our way, child! not at all. We shall be delighted to have you. You
will be a companion to Alice. Indeed, I do not know what Alice would
do only for the hope of having you.'

'And who will keep me company when my George is away--when my George
is away?' thought Marie.



                            CHAPTER XVII.

                               THE END.


In the afternoon of the day after Osborne left Stratford, Marie got
the following letter from him:--


'My Own Darling Marie,--Here I am once more in London, but not in the
old place. When you answer this, you are to address your letter to
Kaiser's Hotel, E.C.

'I have thought over the whole thing most carefully. I have tried,
with how much success I do not know, to look at the matter
dispassionately, and I have come to a final conclusion. My mind is now
made up to insist upon your marrying me within a month. I have not
waited for a personal interview with you, for two reasons: I did not
care, after my mother's positive refusal to release you from your
promise, to use the house, or your visit to the house, as a means of
urging my right; and I did not think that in an interview I could say
in as forcible and simple a way as I could on paper.

'My reasons now for being so firm are very simple. You told me some
time ago you would marry me, in spite of my religious beliefs or
disbeliefs. After that you, imagining my faith had returned, promise
my mother not to fix the day while I suffer from any form of unbelief.
After that, while you are still under the belief I have come back to
my old faith, you promise to marry me within a month, within three
weeks. Thus you made the promise to my mother and the promise to me
under the same mistake. Both these promises are cancelled, by the fact
that they were made under a false impression. Therefore, neither your
refusing to marry me, nor your marrying me within a month or three
weeks, is obligatory according to your promises, _but_ the promise you
made me in Lincoln's Inn Fields was not qualified, nor has it been
cancelled in any way. It is the only promise I now look upon as
existing between you and me, and I know you are too simple and
honourable a nature to allow yourself in any way to cloud your mind as
to the line of your duty.

'What I have written is, I know, my darling, more like a letter of
business than of love; but then our present business is love, and I
want to put the rational aspect, the just aspect of the position
before you. You will not need to know what my feelings are. In that
most delicious hour in the conservatory you said you were mine, body
and soul. I now claim your obedience to my will in this case.

'My own darling Marie, I can hardly bring myself to think I am so near
as a month to the moment when you will be mine, and no power on earth
can ever part us again. A month, a little month of thirty days! Only a
month. I know many men think the month before they receive the hand
they court a century. To me it seems but an hour, a moment. I am not a
child, impatient to possess a new toy. I am a man who has set his
heart on obtaining a noble object, and I am so profoundly grateful for
my success I can think of nothing but that some day soon you will be
mine. The fact that you will be mine is everything. I could have
waited for you years. But as you said, the sooner the better.--I am,
my darling love, your own sweetheart,                  George.


When she had read this letter she put it down in her lap. A soft,
pensive smile stole over her face, and she murmured, 'My George, my
George, my own George. My great-hearted, my noble love!'

She read the letter again.

Yes, it was quite right. Everything he said was perfectly true and
just. He never could have made it so clear to her if he had been
present, for she would only have heard the music of his voice; and
although she would have taken for granted all he said, her mind would
not have got so clear an idea of her duty as from this letter.

Duty? yes, duty. She owed him duty now. What a soothing, what a
peaceful thought it was that she owed George duty. She would pay him
duty a thousand fold. She had told him she had given herself to him
body and soul, and surely her duty was little to give when she had
given these.

He was her lord and master, and he should command her. The promise she
had made to his mother was made under a mistake. If she had, at the
time of making that promise, known the real state of George's mind,
she never would have given such a pledge.

She would now go straight to Mrs Osborne and tell her she had heard
from George.

Marie found Mrs Osborne in her own room.

'I have got a letter from George, Mrs Osborne.'

'Have you, my child? Where from?'

'London.'

'And what does he say?'

'I think you are aware, Mrs Osborne, that I know about Alice's visit
to you yesterday. She told me you did not think it would be advisable
matters should go any farther between us, while George remained
unconvinced of his errors.'

'Yes, my child, that was my view. That is my view. What does George
say?'

'Mrs Osborne, I find myself in a cruelly awkward position.'

'No doubt, child, I can appreciate your feelings.'

'And--and--and although I am very sorry for it, I think the best thing
I can do is to leave this.'

'Did George ask you to leave this?'

'No; but I feel very awkward. I cannot explain to you, and I am not
content that you do not know everything.'

'Has George asked you to disregard that promise you made me?'

'Yes. Unfortunately I made that promise to you under a false
impression, and under the same false impression I made another promise
to him, and he says I am not bound by either, they having been given
under a mistake; but he says I am bound by a promise given to him
before we came to Stratford.'

'And what is the promise given to him before you came to Stratford?'

'That nothing which might arise could make any difference between him
and me.'


                                   'Bournemouth, 7_th March_ 1880.

'My Dear Mother,--This is to let you know in Cork, that I am now here,
where you may send the yellow handkerchief I told you of last month. I
am not any longer, as you know, in the employ of Miss Gordon, for
there is no such person. She was married in London to Mr Osborne the
day before yesterday, and she and her husband are now staying here. On
the same day, Mr Osborne's sister was married to a gentleman named
Nevill. The other wedding took place in Stratford, that dead-and-alive
hole I told you we were a couple of days in. Mr and Mrs Nevill are
coming on a visit here next month; but I believe the old lady, Mr
Osborne's mother, is not pleased with the marriage of her son, owing
to his having given up going to church, or something of that kind. You
can send the handkerchief in a glove-box, they will give you one for
nothing at any shop where they sell gloves. I enclose a Post-office
order, my dear mother, for a pound. Buy with it any little comfort you
may want.--I am, with duty, your loving daughter,


                             'Judith O'Connor.'



                               The End.



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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.



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