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´╗┐Title: Will Warburton
Author: Gissing, George, 1857-1903
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Will Warburton" ***

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Will Warburton


by

George Gissing



CHAPTER 1


The sea-wind in his hair, his eyes agleam with the fresh memory of
Alpine snows, Will Warburton sprang out of the cab, paid the driver a
double fare, flung on to his shoulder a heavy bag and ran up, two steps
at a stride, to a flat on the fourth floor of the many-tenanted
building hard by Chelsea Bridge. His rat-tat-tat brought to the door a
thin yellow face, cautious in espial, through the narrow opening.

"Is it you, sir?"

"All right, Mrs. Hopper! How are you?--how are you?"

He threw his bag into the passage, and cordially grasped the woman's
hands.

"Dinner ready? Savagely hungry. Give me three minutes, and serve."

For about that length of time there sounded in the bedroom a splashing
and a blowing; then Warburton came forth with red cheeks. He seized
upon a little pile of letters and packets which lay on his
writing-table, broke envelopes, rent wrappers, and read with now an
ejaculation of pleasure, now a grunt of disgust, and again a mirthful
half roar. Then, dinner--the feeding of a famished man of robust
appetite and digestion, a man three or four years on the green side of
thirty. It was a speedy business, in not much more than a quarter of an
hour there disappeared a noble steak and its appurtenances, a
golden-crusted apple tart, a substantial slice of ripe Cheddar, two
bottles of creamy Bass.

"Now I can talk!" cried Will to his servant, as he threw himself into a
deep chair, and began lighting his pipe. "What's the news? I seem to
have been away three months rather than three weeks."

"Mr. Franks called yesterday, sir, late in the afternoon, when I was
here cleaning. He was very glad to hear you'd be back to-day, and said
he might look in to-night."

"Good! What else?"

"My brother-in-law wishes to see you, sir. He's in trouble again--lost
his place at Boxon's a few days ago. I don't exac'ly know how it
happened, but he'll explain everything. He's very unfortunate, sir, is
Allchin."

"Tell him to come before nine to-morrow morning, if he can."

"Yes, sir. I'm sure it's very kind of you, sir."

"What else?"

"Nothing as I can think of just now, sir."

Warburton knew from the woman's way of speaking that she had something
still in her mind; but his pipe being well lit, and a pleasant
lassitude creeping over him, he merely nodded. Mrs. Hopper cleared the
table, and withdrew.

The window looked across the gardens of Chelsea Hospital (old-time
Ranelagh) to the westward reach of the river, beyond which lay
Battersea Park, with its lawns and foliage. A beam of the July sunset
struck suddenly through the room. Warburton was aware of it with
half-closed eyes; he wished to stir himself, and look forth, but
languor held his limbs, and wreathing tobacco-smoke kept his thoughts
among the mountains. He might have quite dozed off had not a sudden
noise from within aroused him--the unmistakable crash of falling
crockery. It made him laugh, a laugh of humorous expostulation. A
minute or two passed, then came a timid tap at his door, and Mrs.
Hopper showed her face.

"Another accident, sir, I'm sorry to say," were her faltering words.

"Extensive?"

"A dish and two plates, I'm sorry to say, sir."

"Oh, that's nothing."

"Of course I shall make them good, sir."

"Pooh! Aren't there plates enough?"

"Oh, quite enough--just yet, sir."

Warburton subdued a chuckle, and looked with friendly smile at his
domestic, who stood squeezing herself between the edge of the door and
the jamb--her habit when embarrassed. Mrs. Hopper had served him for
three years; he knew all her weaknesses, but thought more of her
virtues, chief of which were honest intention and a moderate aptitude
for plain cooking. A glance about this room would have proved to any
visitor that Mrs. Hopper's ideas of cleanliness were by no means rigid,
her master had made himself to a certain extent responsible for this
defect; he paid little attention to dust, provided that things were in
their wonted order. Mrs. Hopper was not a resident domestic; she came
at stated hours. Obviously a widow, she had a poor, loose-hung,
trailing little body, which no nourishment could plump or fortify. Her
visage was habitually doleful, but contracted itself at moments into a
grin of quaint drollery, which betrayed her for something of a humorist.

"My fingers is all gone silly to-day, sir," she pursued. "I daresay
it's because I haven't had much sleep these last few nights."

"How's that?"

"It's my poor sister, sir--my sister Liza, I mean--she's had one of her
worst headaches--the extra special, we call 'em. This time it's lasted
more than three days, and not one minute of rest has the poor thing
got."

Warburton was all sympathy; he inquired about the case as though it
were that of an intimate friend. Change of air and repose were obvious
remedies; no less obviously, these things were out of the question for
a working woman who lived on a few shillings a week.

"Do you know of any place she could go to?" asked Warburton, adding
carelessly, "if the means were provided."

Mrs. Hopper squeezed herself more tightly than ever between door and
jamb. Her head was bent in an abashed way, and when she spoke it was in
a thick, gurgling tone, only just intelligible.

"There's a little lodging 'ouse at Southend, sir, where we used to go
when my 'usband could afford it."

"Well, look here. Get a doctor's opinion whether Southend would do; if
not, which place would. And just send her away. Don't worry about the
money."

Experience enabled Mrs. Hopper to interpret this advice. She stammered
gratitude.

"How's your other sister--Mrs. Allchin?" Warburton inquired kindly.

"Why, sir, she's doing pretty well in her 'ealth, sir, but her baby
died yesterday week. I hope you'll excuse me, sir, for all this bad
news just when you come back from your holiday, and when it's natural
as you don't feel in very good spirits."

Will had much ado not to laugh. On his return from a holiday, Mrs.
Hopper always presumed him to be despondent in view of the resumption
of daily work. He was beginning to talk of Mrs. Allchin's troubles,
when at the outer door sounded a long nervous knock.

"Ha! That's Mr. Franks."

Mrs. Hopper ran to admit the visitor.



CHAPTER 2


"Warburton!" cried a high-pitched voice from the passage. "Have you
seen _The Art World_?"

And there rushed into the room a tall, auburn-headed young man of
five-and-twenty, his comely face glowing in excitement. With one hand
he grasped his friend's, in the other he held out a magazine.

"You haven't seen it! Look here! What d'you think of that, confound
you!"

He had opened the magazine so as to display an illustration, entitled
"Sanctuary," and stated to be after a painting by Norbert Franks.

"Isn't it good? Doesn't it come out well?--deuce take you, why don't
you speak?"

"Not bad--for a photogravure," said Warburton, who had the air of a
grave elder in the presence of this ebullient youth.

"Be hanged! We know all about that. The thing is that it's _there_.
Don't you feel any surprise? Haven't you got anything to say? Don't you
see what this means, you old ragamuffin?"

"Shouldn't wonder if it meant coin of the realm--for your shrewd
dealer."

"For me too, my boy, for me too! Not out of this thing, of course. But
I've arrived, I'm _lance_, the way is clear! Why, you don't seem to
know what it means getting into _The Art World_."

"I seem to remember," said Warburton, smiling, "that a month or two
ago, you hadn't language contemptuous enough for this magazine and all
connected with it."

"Don't be an ass!" shrilled the other, who was all this time circling
about the little room with much gesticulation. "Of course one talks
like that when one hasn't enough to eat and can't sell a picture. I
don't pretend to have altered my opinion about photogravures, and all
that. But come now, the thing itself? Be honest, Warburton. Is it bad,
now? Can you look at that picture, and say that it's worthless?"

"I never said anything of the kind."

"No, no! You're too deucedly good-natured. But I always detected what
you were thinking, and I saw it didn't surprise you at all when the
Academy muffs refused it."

"There you're wrong," cried Warburton. "I was really surprised."

"Confound your impudence! Well, you may think what you like. I maintain
that the thing isn't half bad. It grows upon me. I see its merits more
and more."

Franks was holding up the picture, eyeing it intently. "Sanctuary"
represented the interior of an old village church. On the ground
against a pillar, crouched a young and beautiful woman, her dress and
general aspect indicating the last degree of vagrant wretchedness; worn
out, she had fallen asleep in a most graceful attitude, and the rays of
a winter sunset smote upon her pallid countenance. Before her stood the
village clergyman, who had evidently just entered, and found her here;
his white head was bent in the wonted attitude of clerical benevolence;
in his face blended a gentle wonder and a compassionate tenderness.

"If that had been hung at Burlington House, Warburton, it would have
been the picture of the year."

"I think it very likely."

"Yes, I know what you mean, you sarcastic old ruffian. But there's
another point of view. Is the drawing good or not? Is the colour good
or not? Of course you know nothing about it, but I tell you, for your
information, I think it's a confoundedly clever bit of work. There
remains the subject, and where's the harm in it? The incident's quite
possible. And why shouldn't the girl be good-looking?"

"Angelic!"

"Well why not? There _are_ girls with angelic faces. Don't I know one?"

Warburton, who had been sitting with a leg over the arm of his chair
suddenly changed his position.

"That reminds me," he said. "I came across the Pomfrets in Switzerland."

"Where? When?"

"At Trient ten days ago. I spent three or four days with them. Hasn't
Miss Elvan mentioned it?"

"I haven't heard from her for a long time," replied Franks. "Well, for
more than a week. Did you meet them by chance?"

"Quite. I had a vague idea that the Pomfrets and their niece were
somewhere in Switzerland."

"Vague idea!" cried the artist "Why, I told you all about it, and
growled for five or six hours one evening here because I couldn't go
with them."

"So you did," said Warburton, "but I'm afraid I was thinking of
something else, and when I started for the Alps, I had really forgotten
all about it. I made up my mind suddenly, you know. We're having a
troublesome time in Ailie Street, and it was holiday now or never. By
the bye, we shall have to wind up. Sugar spells ruin. We must get out
of it whilst we can do so with a whole skin."

"Ah, really?" muttered Franks. "Tell me about that presently; I want to
hear of Rosamund. You saw a good deal of her, of course?"

"I walked from Chamonix over the Col de Balme--grand view of Mont Blanc
there! Then down to Trient, in the valley below. And there, as I went
in to dinner at the hotel, I found the three. Good old Pomfret would
have me stay awhile, and I was glad of the chance of long talks with
him. Queer old bird, Ralph Pomfret."

"Yes, yes, so he is," muttered the artist, absently. "But Rosamund--was
she enjoying herself?"

"Very much, I think. She certainly looked very well."

"Have much talk with her?" asked Franks, as if carelessly.

"We discussed you, of course. I forget whether our conclusion was
favourable or not."

The artist laughed, and strode about the room with his hands in his
pockets.

"You know what?" he exclaimed, seeming to look closely at a print on
the wall. "I'm going to be married before the end of the year. On that
point I've made up my mind. I went yesterday to see a house at
Fulham--Mrs. Cross's, by the bye, it's to let at Michaelmas, rent
forty-five. All but settled that I shall take it. Risk be hanged. I'm
going to make money. What an ass I was to take that fellow's first
offer for 'Sanctuary'! It was low water with me, and I felt bilious.
Fifty guineas! Your fault, a good deal, you know; you made me think
worse of it than it deserved. You'll see; Blackstaffe'll make a small
fortune out of it; of course he has all the rights--idiot that I was!
Well, it's too late to talk about that.--And I say, old man, don't take
my growl too literally. I don't really mean that you were to blame. I
should be an ungrateful cur if I thought such a thing."

"How's 'The Slummer' getting on?" asked Warburton good-humouredly.

"Well, I was going to say that I shall have it finished in a few weeks.
If Blackstaffe wants 'The Slummer' he'll have to pay for it. Of course
it must go to the Academy, and of course I shall keep all the
rights--unless Blackstaffe makes a really handsome offer. Why, it ought
to be worth five or six hundred to me at least. And that would start
us. But I don't care even if I only get half that, I shall be married
all the same. Rosamund has plenty of pluck. I couldn't ask her to start
life on a pound a week--about my average for the last two years; but
with two or three hundred in hand, and a decent little house, like that
of Mrs. Cross's, at a reasonable rent--well, we shall risk it. I'm sick
of waiting. And it isn't fair to a girl--that's my view. Two years now;
an engagement that lasts more than two years isn't likely to come to
much good. You'll think my behaviour pretty cool, on one point. I don't
forget, you old usurer, that I owe you something more than a hundred
pounds--"

"Pooh!"

"Be poohed yourself! But for you, I should have gone without dinner
many a day; but for you, I should most likely have had to chuck
painting altogether, and turn clerk or dock-labourer. But let me stay
in your debt a little longer, old man. I can't put off my marriage any
longer, and just at first I shall want all the money I can lay my hands
on."

At this moment Mrs. Hopper entered with a lamp. There was a pause in
the conversation. Franks lit a cigarette, and tried to sit still, but
was very soon pacing the floor again. A tumbler of whisky and soda
reanimated his flagging talk.

"No!" he exclaimed. "I'm not going to admit that 'Sanctuary' is cheap
and sentimental, and all the rest of it. The more I think about it, the
more convinced I am that it's nothing to be ashamed of. People have got
hold of the idea that if a thing is popular it must be bad art. That's
all rot. I'm going in for popularity. Look here! Suppose that's what I
was meant for? What if it's the best I have in me to do? Shouldn't I be
a jackass if I scorned to make money by what, for me, was good work,
and preferred to starve whilst I turned out pretentious stuff that was
worth nothing from my point of view?"

"I shouldn't wonder if you're right," said Warburton reflectively. "In
any case, I know as much about art as I do about the differential
calculus. To make money is a good and joyful thing as long as one
doesn't bleed the poor. So go ahead, my son, and luck be with you!"

"I can't find my model yet for the Slummer's head. It mustn't be too
like the 'Sanctuary' girl, but at the same time it must be a popular
type of beauty. I've been haunting refreshment bars and florists'
shops; lots of good material, but never _quite_ the thing. There's a
damsel at the Crystal Palace--but this doesn't interest you, you old
misogynist."

"Old what?" exclaimed Warburton, with an air of genuine surprise.

"Have I got the word wrong? I'm not much of a classic--"

"The word's all right. But that's your idea of me, is it?"

The artist stood and gazed at his friend with an odd expression, as if
a joke had been arrested on his lips by graver thought.

"Isn't it true?"

"Perhaps it is; yes, yes, I daresay."

And he turned at once to another subject.



CHAPTER 3


The year was 1886.

When at business, Warburton sat in a high, bare room, which looked upon
little Ailie Street, in Whitechapel; the air he breathed had a taste
and odour strongly saccharine. If his eye strayed to one of the walls,
he saw a map of the West Indies; if to another, it fell upon a map of
St. Kitts; if to the third, there was before him a plan of a sugar
estate on that little island. Here he sat for certain hours of the
solid day, issuing orders to clerks, receiving commercial callers,
studying trade journals in sundry languages--often reading some book
which had no obvious reference to the sugar-refining industry. It was
not Will's ideal of life, but hither he had suffered himself to be led
by circumstance, and his musings suggested no practicable issue into a
more congenial world.

The death of his father when he was sixteen had left him with a certain
liberty for shaping a career. What he saw definitely before him was a
small share in the St. Kitts property of Messrs. Sherwood Brothers, a
small share in the London business of the same firm, and a small sum of
ready money--these things to be his when he attained his majority. His
mother and sister, who lived in a little country house down in
Huntingdonshire, were modestly but securely provided for, and Will
might have gone quietly on with his studies till he could resolve upon
a course in life. But no sooner was he freed from paternal restraint
than the lad grew restive; nothing would please him but an adventure in
foreign lands; and when it became clear that he was only wasting his
time at school, Mrs. Warburton let him go to the West Indies, where a
place was found for him in the house of Sherwood Brothers. At St.
Kitts, Will remained till he was one-and-twenty. Long before that, he
had grown heartily tired of his work disgusted with the climate, and
oppressed with home sickness, but pride forbade him to return until he
could do so as a free man.

One thing this apprenticeship to life had taught him--that he was not
made for subordination. "I don't care how poor I am," thus he wrote to
his mother, "but I will be my own master. To be at other people's
orders brings out all the bad in me; it makes me sullen and bearish,
and all sorts of ugly things, which I certainly am not when my true
self has play. So, you see, I must find some independent way of life.
If I had to live by carrying round a Punch and Judy show, I should
vastly prefer it to making a large income as somebody's servant."

Meanwhile, unfortunately for a young man of this temperament, his
prospects had become less assured. There was perturbation in the sugar
world; income from St. Kitts and from Whitechapel had sensibly
diminished, and it seemed but too likely, would continue to do so. For
some half-year Will lived in London, "looking about him," then he
announced that Godfrey Sherwood, at present sole representative of
Sherwood Brothers, had offered him an active partnership in Little
Ailie Street, and that he had accepted it. He entered upon this
position without zeal, but six months' investigation had taught him
that to earn money without surrendering his independence was no very
easy thing; he probably might wait a long time before an opening would
present itself more attractive than this at the sugar-refinery.

Godfrey Sherwood was a schoolfellow of his, but some two or three years
older; much good feeling existed between them, their tastes and tempers
having just that difference in similarity which is the surest bond of
friendship. Judged by his talk, Sherwood was all vigour, energy, fire;
his personal habits, on the other hand, inclined to tranquillity and
ease--a great reader, he loved the literature of romance and adventure,
knew by heart authors such as Malory and Froissart, had on his shelves
all the books of travel and adventure he could procure. As a boy he
seemed destined to any life save that of humdrum commerce, of which he
spoke with contempt and abhorrence; and there was no reason why he
should not have gratified his desire of seeing the world, of leading
what he called "the life of a man." Yet here he was, sitting each day
in a counting-house in Whitechapel, with nothing behind him but a few
rambles on the continent, and certainly with no immediate intention of
going far afield. His father's death left him in sole command of the
business, and his reasonable course would have been to retire from it
as soon as possible, for foreign competition was making itself felt in
the English trade, and many firms more solidly established than that in
Little Ailie Street had either come to grief or withdrawn from the
struggle. But Godfrey's inertia kept him in the familiar routine, with
day-to-day postponement of practical decision. When Warburton came back
from St. Kitts, and their friendship was renewed, Godfrey's talk gave
full play to his imaginative energies. Yes, yes, the refining business
was at a bad pass just now, but this was only temporary; those firms
that could weather the storm for a year or two longer would enter upon
a time of brilliant prosperity. Was it to be supposed that the
Government would allow a great industry to perish out of mere regard
for the fetish of Free Trade? City men with first-hand information
declared that "measures" were being prepared; in one way or another,
the English trade would be rescued and made triumphant over those
bounty-fed foreigners.

"Hold on?" cried Sherwood. "Of course I mean to hold on. There's
pleasure and honour in the thing. I enjoy the fight. I've had thoughts
of getting into Parliament, to speak for sugar. One might do worse, you
know. There'll be a dissolution next year, certain. First-rate fun,
fighting a constituency. But in that case I must have a partner
here--why that's an idea. How would it suit you? Why not join me?"

And so the thing came about. The terms which Godfrey offered were so
generous that Will had to reduce them before he accepted: even thus, he
found his income, at a stroke, all but doubled. Sherwood, to be sure,
did not stand for Parliament, nor was anything definite heard about
that sugar-protecting budget which he still believed in. In Little
Ailie Street business steadily declined.

"It's a disgrace to England!" cried Godfrey. "Monstrous that not a
finger should be lifted to save one of our most important industries.
You, of course, are free to retire at any moment, Will. For my own
part, here I stand, come what may. If it's ruin, ruin let it be. I'll
fight to the last. A man owes me ten thousand pounds. When I recover
it, and I may any day--I shall put every penny into the business."

"Ten thousand pounds!" exclaimed Warburton in astonishment. "A trade
debt, do you mean?"

"No, no. A friend of mine, son of a millionaire, who got into
difficulties some time ago, and borrowed of me to clear himself. Good
interest, and principal safe as Consols. In a year at most I shall have
the money back, and every penny shall go into the business."

Will had his private view of the matter, and not seldom suffered a good
deal of uneasiness as he saw the inevitable doom approach. But already
it was too late to withdraw his share from the concern; that would have
been merely to take advantage of Sherwood's generosity, and Will was
himself not less chivalrous. In Godfrey's phrase, they continued "to
fight the ship," and perhaps would have held out to the moment of
sinking, had not the accession of the Liberals to power in the spring
of this present year caused Sherwood so deep a disgust that he turned
despondent and began to talk of surrender to hopeless circumstance.

"It's all up with us, Will. This Government spells ruin, and will count
it one of its chief glories if we come to grief. But, by Heaven, they
shan't have that joy. We'll square up, quietly, comfortably, with
dignity. We'll come out of this fight with arms and baggage. It's still
possible, you know. We'll sell the St. Kitts estate to the Germans.
We'll find some one to buy us up here--the place would suit a brewer.
And then--by Jove! we'll make jam."

"Jam?"

"Isn't it an idea? Cheap sugar has done for the refiners, but it's a
fortune for the jam trade. Why not put all we can realize into a jam
factory? We'll go down into the country; find some delightful place
where land is cheap; start a fruit farm; run up a building. Doesn't it
take you, Will? Think of going to business every day through lanes
overhung with fruit-tree blossoms! Better that than the filth and
stench and gloom and uproar of Whitechapel--what? We might found a
village for our workpeople--the ideal village, perfectly healthy, every
cottage beautiful. Eh? What? How does it strike you, Will?"

"Pleasant. But the money?"

"We shall have enough to start; I think we shall. If not, we'll find a
moneyed man to join us."

"What about that ten thousand pounds?" suggested Warburton.

Sherwood shook his head.

"Can't get it just yet. To tell you the truth, it depends on the death
of the man's father. No, but if necessary, some one will easily be
found. Isn't the idea magnificent? How it would rile the Government if
they heard of it! Ho, ho!"

One could never be sure how far Godfrey was serious when he talked like
this; the humorous impulse so blended with the excitability of his
imagination, that people who knew him little and heard him talking at
large thought him something of a crack-brain. The odd thing was that,
with all his peculiarities, he had many of the characteristics of a
sound man of business; indeed, had it been otherwise, the
balance-sheets of the refinery must long ago have shown a disastrous
deficit. As Warburton knew, things had been managed with no little
prudence and sagacity; what he did not so clearly understand was that
Sherwood had simply adhered to the traditions of the firm, following
very exactly the path marked out for him by his father and his uncle,
both notable traders. Concerning Godfrey's private resources, Warburton
knew little or nothing; it seemed probable that the elder Sherwood had
left a considerable fortune, which his only son must have inherited. No
doubt, said Will to himself, this large reserve was the explanation of
his partner's courage.

So the St. Kitts estate was sold, and, with all the deliberate dignity
demanded by the fact that the Government's eye was upon them, Sherwood
Brothers proceeded to terminate their affairs in Whitechapel. In July,
Warburton took his three weeks' holiday, there being nothing better for
him to do. And among the letters he found on his table when he
returned, was one from Sherwood, which contained only these words:

"Great opportunity in view. Our fortunes are made!"



CHAPTER 4


When Franks was gone, Warburton took up _The Art World_, which his
friend had left, and glanced again at the photogravure of "Sanctuary."
He knew, as he had declared, nothing about art, and judged pictures as
he judged books, emotionally. His bent was to what is called the
realistic point of view, and "Sanctuary" made him smile. But very
good-naturedly; for he liked Norbert Franks, and believed he would do
better things than this. Unless--?

The thought broke off with an uneasy interrogative.

He turned to the few lines of text devoted to the painter. Norbert
Franks, he read, was still a very young man; "Sanctuary," now on
exhibition at Birmingham, was his first important picture; hitherto he
had been chiefly occupied with work in black and white. There followed
a few critical comments, and prophecy of achievements to come.

Yes. But again the uneasy interrogative.

Their acquaintance dated from the year after Warburton's return from
St. Kitts. Will had just established himself in his flat near Chelsea
Bridge, delighted to be a Londoner, and was spending most of his
leisure in exploration of London's vastness. He looked upon all his
earlier years as wasted, because they had not been passed in the city
on the Thames. The history of London, the multitudinous life of London
as it lay about him, with marvels and mysteries in every highway and
byway, occupied his mind, and wrought upon his imagination. Being a
stout walker, and caring little for any other form of exercise, in his
free hours he covered many a league of pavement. A fine summer morning
would see him set forth, long before milk-carts had begun to rattle
along the streets, and on one such expedition, as he stepped briskly
through a poor district south of the river, he was surprised to see an
artist at work, painting seriously, his easel in the dry gutter. He
slackened his pace to have a glimpse of the canvas, and the painter, a
young, pleasant-looking fellow, turned round and asked if he had a
match. Able to supply this demand, Warburton talked whilst the other
relit his pipe. It rejoiced him, he said, to see a painter engaged upon
such a subject as this--a bit of squalid London's infinite
picturesqueness.

The next morning Warburton took the same walk, and again found the
painter at work. They talked freely; they exchanged invitations; and
that same evening Norbert Franks climbed the staircase to Will's flat,
and smoked his first pipe and drank his first whisky-and-soda in the
pleasant room overlooking Ranelagh. His own quarters were in Queen's
Road, Battersea, at no great distance. The two young men were soon
seeing a great deal of each other. When their friendship had ripened
through a twelvemonth, Franks, always impecunious, cheerily borrowed a
five-pound note; not long after, he mirthfully doubled his debt; and
this grew to a habit with him.

"You're a capitalist, Warburton," he remarked one day, "and a generous
fellow, too. Of course I shall pay what I owe you when I sell a big
picture. Meanwhile, you have the gratification of supporting a man of
genius, without the least inconvenience to yourself. Excellent idea of
yours to strike up a friendship, wasn't it?"

The benefit was reciprocal. Warburton did not readily form intimacies;
indeed Godfrey Sherwood had till now been almost the only man he called
friend, and the peculiarity of his temper exposed him to the risk of
being too much alone. Though neither arrogant nor envious, Will found
little pleasure in the society of people who, from any point of view,
were notably his superiors; even as he could not subordinate himself in
money-earning relations, so did he become ill-at-ease, lose all
spontaneity, in company above his social or intellectual level. Such a
man's danger was obvious; he might, in default of congenial associates,
decline upon inferiors; all the more that a softness of heart, a
fineness of humanity, ever disposed him to feel and show special
kindness for the poor, the distressed, the unfortunate. Sherwood's
acquaintances had little attraction for him; they were mostly people
who lived in a luxurious way, went in for sports, talked about the
money market--all of which things fascinated Godfrey, though in truth
he was far from belonging by nature to that particular world. With
Franks, Will could be wholly himself, enjoying the slight advantage of
his larger means, extending his knowledge without undue obligation, and
getting all the good that comes to a man from the exercise of his
kindliest feelings.

With less of geniality, because more occupied with himself, Norbert
Franks resembled his new friend in a distaste for ordinary social
pleasures and an enjoyment of the intimacies of life. He stood very
much alone in the world, and from the age of eighteen he had in one way
or another supported himself, chiefly by work on illustrated papers.
His father, who belonged to what is called a good family, began life in
easy circumstances, and gained some reputation as a connoisseur of art;
imprudence and misfortune having obliged him to sell his collection,
Mr. Franks took to buying pictures and bric-a-brac for profit, and
during the last ten years of his life was associated in that capacity
with a London firm. Norbert, motherless from infancy and an only child,
received his early education at expensive schools, but, showing little
aptitude for study and much for use of the pencil, was taken by his
father at twelve years old to Paris, and there set to work under a good
art-teacher. At sixteen he went to Italy, where he remained for a
couple of years. Then, on a journey in the East, the elder Franks died.
Norbert returned to England, learnt that a matter of fifty pounds was
all his heritage, and pluckily turned to the task of keeping himself
alive. Herein his foreign sketch-books proved serviceable, but the
struggle was long and hard before he could house himself decently, and
get to serious work as a painter. Later on, he was wont to say that
this poverty had been the best possible thing for him, its enforced
abstinences having come just at the time when he had begun to
"wallow"--his word for any sort of excess; and "wallowing" was
undoubtedly a peril to which Norbert's temper particularly exposed him.
Short commons made him, as they have made many another youth, sober and
chaste, at all events in practice; and when he began to lift up his
head, a little; when, at the age of three-and-twenty, he earned what
seemed to him at first the luxurious income of a pound or so a week;
when, in short, the inclination to "wallow" might again have taken hold
upon him, it was his chance to fall in love so seriously and hopefully
that all the better features of his character were drawn out,
emphasized, and, as it seemed, for good and all established in
predominance.

Not long after his first meeting with Warburton, he one day received,
through the publishers of a book he had illustrated, a letter signed
"Ralph Pomfret," the writer of which asked whether "Norbert Franks" was
the son of an old friend of whom he had lost sight for many years. By
way of answer, Franks called upon his correspondent, who lived in a
pleasant little house at Ashtead, in Surrey; he found a man of
something less than sixty, with a touch of eccentricity in his thoughts
and ways, by whom he was hospitably received, and invited to return
whenever it pleased him. It was not very long before Franks asked
permission to make the Pomfrets acquainted with his friend Warburton, a
step which proved entirely justifiable. Together or separately, the two
young men were often to be seen at Ashtead, whither they were attracted
not only by the kindly and amusing talk of Ralph Pomfret, but at least
as much by the grace and sweetness and sympathetic intelligence of the
mistress of the house, for whom both entertained respect and admiration.

One Sunday afternoon, Warburton, tempted as usual by the thought of tea
and talk in that delightful little garden, went out to Ashtead, and, as
he pushed open the gate, was confused and vexed at the sight of
strangers; there, before the house, stood a middle-aged gentleman and a
young girl, chatting with Mrs. Pomfret. He would have turned away and
taken himself off in disappointment, but that the clank of the gate had
attracted attention, and he had no choice but to move forward. The
strangers proved to be Mrs. Pomfret's brother and his daughter; they
had been spending half a year in the south of France, and were here for
a day or two before returning to their home at Bath. When he had
recovered his equanimity, Warburton became aware that the young lady
was fair to look upon. Her age seemed about two-and-twenty; not very
tall, she bore herself with perhaps a touch of conscious dignity and
impressiveness; perfect health, a warm complexion, magnificent hair,
eyes that shone with gaiety and good-nature, made of Rosamund Elvan a
living picture such as Will Warburton had not often seen; he was shy in
her presence, and by no means did himself justice that afternoon. His
downcast eyes presently noticed that she wore shoes of a peculiar
kind--white canvas with soles of plaited cord; in the course of
conversation he learnt that these were a memento of the Basque country,
about which Miss Elvan talked with a very pretty enthusiasm. Will went
away, after all, in a dissatisfied mood. Girls were to him merely a
source of disquiet. "If she be not fair for me--" was his ordinary
thought; and he had never yet succeeded in persuading himself that any
girl, fair or not, was at all likely to conceive the idea of devoting
herself to his happiness. In this matter, an excessive modesty subdued
him. It had something to do with his holding so much apart from general
society.

On the evening of the next day, there was a thunderous knock at
Warburton's flat, and in rushed Franks.

"You were at Ashtead yesterday," he cried.

"I was. What of that?"

"And you didn't come to tell me about the Elvans!"

"About Miss Elvan, I suppose you mean?" said Will.

"Well, yes, I do. I went there by chance this afternoon. The two men
were away somewhere,--I found Mrs. Pomfret and that girl alone
together. Never had such a delightful time in my life! But I say,
Warburton, we must understand each other. Are you--do you--I mean, did
she strike you particularly?"

Will threw back his head and laughed.

"You mean that?" shouted the other, joyously. "You really don't
care--it's nothing to you?"

"Why, is it anything to _you_?"

"Anything? Rosamund Elvan is the most beautiful girl I ever saw, and
the sweetest, and the brightest, and the altogether flooringest! And,
by heaven and earth, I'm resolved to marry her!"



CHAPTER 5


As he sat musing, _The Art World_ still in his hand, Warburton could
hear his friend's voice ring out that audacious vow. He could remember,
too, the odd little pang with which he heard it, a half spasm of
altogether absurd jealousy. Of course the feeling did not last. There
was no recurrence of it when he heard that Franks had again seen Miss
Elvan before she left Ashtead; nor when he learnt that the artist had
been spending a day or two at Bath. Less than a month after their first
meeting, Franks won Rosamund's consent. He was frantic with exultation.
Arriving with the news at ten o'clock one night, he shouted and
maddened about Warburton's room until finally turned out at two in the
morning. His circumstances being what they were, he could not hope for
marriage yet awhile; he must work and wait. Never mind; see what work
he would produce! Yet it appeared to his friend that all through the
next twelvemonth he merely wasted time, such work as he did finish
being of very slight value. He talked and talked, now of Rosamund, now
of what he was _going_ to do, until Warburton, losing patience, would
cut him short with "Oh, go to Bath!"--an old cant phrase revived for
its special appropriateness in this connection. Franks went to Bath far
oftener than he could afford, money for his journey being generally
borrowed from his long-enduring friend.

Rosamund herself had nothing, and but the smallest expectations should
her father die. Two years before this, it had occurred to her that she
should like to study art, and might possibly find in it a means of
self-support. She was allowed to attend classes at South Kensington,
but little came of this except a close friendship with a girl of her
own age, by name Bertha Cross, who was following the art course with
more serious purpose. When she had been betrothed for about a year,
Rosamund chanced to spend a week in London at her friend's house, and
this led to acquaintance between Franks and the Crosses. For a time,
Warburton saw and heard less of the artist, who made confidantes of
Mrs. Cross and her daughter, and spent many an evening with them
talking, talking, talking about Rosamund; but this intimacy did not
endure very long, Mrs. Cross being a person of marked peculiarities,
which in the end overtried Norbert's temper. Only on the fourth story
flat by Chelsea Bridge could the lover find that sort of sympathy which
he really needed, solacing yet tonic. But for Warburton he would have
worked even less. To Will it seemed an odd result of fortunate love
that the artist, though in every other respect a better man than
before, should have become, to all appearances, less zealous, less
efficient, in his art. Had Rosamund Elvan the right influence on her
lover; in spite of Norbert's lyric eulogy, had she served merely to
confuse his aims, perhaps to bring him down to a lower level of thought?

There was his picture, "Sanctuary." Before he knew Rosamund, Franks
would have scoffed at such a subject, would have howled at such
treatment of it. There was notable distance between this and what
Norbert was painting in that summer sunrise four years ago, with his
portable easel in the gutter. And Miss Elvan admired "Sanctuary"--at
least, Franks said she did. True, she also admired the picture of the
pawnshop and the public-house; Will had himself heard her speak of it
with high praise, and with impatient wonder that no purchaser could be
found for it. Most likely she approved of everything Norbert did, and
had no more serious criterion. Unless, indeed, her private test of
artistic value were the financial result.

Warburton could not altogether believe that. Annoyance with the artist
now and then inclined him to slighting thought of Rosamund; yet, on the
whole, his view of her was not depreciatory. The disadvantage to his
mind was her remarkable comeliness. He could not but fear that so much
beauty must be inconsistent with the sterling qualities which make a
good wife.

Will's eye fell on Sherwood's note, and he went to bed wondering what
the project might be which was to make their fortune.



CHAPTER 6


He had breakfasted, and was smoking his pipe as he wrote a letter, when
Mrs. Hopper announced the visit, by appointment, of her brother-in-law,
Allchin. There entered a short, sturdy, red-headed young fellow, in a
Sunday suit of respectable antiquity; his features were rude, his
aspect dogged; but a certain intelligence showed in his countenance,
and a not unamiable smile responded to the bluff heartiness of
Warburton's greeting. By original calling, Allchin was a grocer's
assistant, but a troublesome temper had more than once set him adrift,
the outcast of grocerdom, to earn a living as best he could by his
vigorous thews, and it was in one of these intervals that, having need
of a porter at the works, Warburton had engaged him, on Mrs. Hopper's
petition. After a month or so of irreproachable service, Allchin fought
with a foreman, and took his discharge. The same week, Mrs. Allchin
presented him with their first child; the family fell into want; Mrs.
Hopper (squeezed between door and jamb) drew her master's attention to
the lamentable case, and help was of course forthcoming. Then, by good
luck, Allchin was enabled to resume his vocation; he got a place at a
grocer's in Fulham Road, and in a few weeks presented himself before
his benefactor, bringing half-a-crown as a first instalment toward the
discharge of his debt; for only on this condition had he accepted the
money. Half a year elapsed without troublesome incident; the man made
regular repayment in small sums; then came the disaster which Mrs.
Hopper had yesterday announced.

"Well, Allchin," cried Warburton, "what's the latest?"

Before speaking, the other pressed his lips tightly together and puffed
out his cheeks, as if it cost him an effort to bring words to the
surface. His reply came forth with explosive abruptness.

"Lost my place at Boxon's, sir."

"And how's that?"

"It happened last Saturday, sir. I don't want to make out as I wasn't
at all to blame. I know as well as anybody that I've got a will of my
own. But we're open late, as perhaps you know, sir, on Saturday night,
and Mr. Boxon--well, it's only the truth--he's never quite himself
after ten o'clock. I'd worked from eight in the morning to something
past midnight--of course I don't think nothing of that, 'cause it's
reg'lar in the trade. But--well, in come a customer, sir, a woman as
didn't rightly know what she wanted; and she went out without buying,
and Mr. Boxon he see it, and he come up to me and calls me the foulest
name he could turn his tongue to. And so--well, sir, there was
unpleasantness, as they say--"

He hesitated, Warburton eyeing him with a twinkle of subdued amusement.

"A quarrel, in fact, eh?"

"It did about come to that, sir!"

"You lost your temper, of course."

"That's about the truth, sir."

"And Boxon turned you out?"

Allchin looked hurt.

"Well, sir, I've no doubt he'd have liked to, but I was a bit
beforehand with him. When I see him last, he was settin' on the
pavement, sir, rubbin' his 'ead."

In spite of his inclination to laugh, Will kept a grave countenance.

"I'm afraid that kind of thing won't do, Allchin. You'll be in serious
trouble one of these days."

"That's what my wife says, sir. I know well enough as it's hard on her,
just after we've lost the baby--as perhaps Mrs. Hopper'll have told
you, sir."

"I was very sorry to hear it, Allchin."

"Thank you, sir. You've always something kind to say. And I'm that
vexed, because I was getting on well with paying my debts. But Mr.
Boxon, sir, he's many a time made me that mad that I've gone out into
the back yard and kicked the wall till my toes were sore, just to ease
my feelings, like. To tell the truth, sir, I don't think he's ever
rightly sober, and I've heard others say the same. And his business is
fallin' off, something shockin'. Customers don't like to be insulted;
that's only natural. He's always going down to Kempton Park, or Epsom,
or some such place. They do say as he lost 'undreds of pounds at
Kempton Park last week. It's my opinion the shop can't go on much
longer. Well, sir, I thought I just ought to come and tell you the
truth of things, and I won't disturb you no longer. I shall do my best
to find another place."

Warburton's impulse was to offer temporary work in Little Ailie Street,
but he remembered that the business was not in a position to increase
expenses, and that the refinery might any day be closed.

"All right," he answered cheerily, "let me know how you get on."

When Allchin's heavy footsteps had echoed away down the stairs, Mrs.
Hopper answered her master's call.

"I suppose they have a little money to go on with?" Warburton inquired.
"I mean, enough for a week or so."

"Yes, I think they have that, sir. But I see how it'll be. My poor
sister'll end in the work'us. Allchin'll never keep a place. Not that I
can blame him, sir, for givin' it to that Boxon, 'cause every one says
he's a brute."

"Well, just let me know if they begin to be in want. But of course
Allchin can always get work as a porter. He must learn to keep his
fists down, if he doesn't want to be perpetually out of employment."

"That's what I tell him, sir. And my poor sister, sir, she's never
stopped talkin' to him, day or night you may say, ever since it
happened--"

"Merciful Heavens!" groaned Warburton to himself.



CHAPTER 7


At half-past nine he reached Little Ailie Street.

"Mr. Sherwood not here yet, I suppose?" asked Will.

"Oh yes, he is, sir," replied the manager; "been here for half an hour."

Warburton went on to the senior partner's room. There sat Godfrey
Sherwood bent over a book which, to judge from the smile upon his face,
could have nothing to do with the sugar-refining question.

"How do, Will?" he exclaimed, with even more than his usual
cheerfulness. "Did you ever read 'The Adventures of a Younger Son'? Oh,
you must. Listen here. He's describing how he thrashed an assistant
master at school; thrashed him, he says, till 'the sweat dropped from
his brows like rain-drops from the eaves of a pig-sty!' Ho-ho-ho! What
do you think of that for a comparison? Isn't it strong? By Jove! a
bracing book! Trelawny, you know; the friend of Byron. As breezy a book
as I know. It does one good."

Godfrey Sherwood was, as regards his visage, what is called a plain
young man, but his smile told of infinite good-nature, and his voice,
notwithstanding its frequent note of energy or zeal, had a natural
softness of intonation which suggested other qualities than the
practical and vigorous.

"Enjoyed your holiday?" he went on, rising, stretching himself, and
offering a box of cigarettes. "You look well. Done any summits? When we
get our affairs in order, I must be off somewhere myself. Northward, I
think. I want a little bracing cold. I should like to see Iceland. You
know the Icelandic sagas? Magnificent! There's the saga of Grettir the
Strong--by Jove! But come, this isn't business. I have news for you,
real, substantial, hopeful news."

They seated themselves in roundbacked chairs, and Will lighted a
cigarette.

"You know my thoughts were running on jam; jam is our salvation; of
that I have long been convinced. I looked about, made a few inquiries,
and by good luck, not long after you went off for your holiday, met
just the man I wanted. You've heard of Applegarth's jams?"

Will said he had seen them advertised.

"Well, I came across Applegarth himself. I was talking to
Linklater--and jams came up. 'You ought to see my friend Applegarth,'
said he; and he arranged for us to meet. Applegarth happened to be in
town, but he lives down in Somerset, and his factory is at Bristol. We
all dined together at the Junior Carlton, and Applegarth and I got on
so well that he asked me down to his place. Oxford man, clever, a fine
musician, and an astronomer; has built himself a little
observatory--magnificent telescope. By Jove! you should hear him handle
the violin. Astonishing fellow! Not much of a talker; rather dry in his
manner; but no end of energy, bubbling over with vital force. He began
as a barrister, but couldn't get on, and saw his capital melting. 'Hang
it!' said he, 'I must make some use of what money I have'; and he
thought of jam. Brilliant idea! He began in a very modest way, down at
Bristol, only aiming at local trade. But his jams were good; the demand
grew; he built a factory; profits became considerable. And now, he
wants to withdraw from active business, keeping an interest. Wants to
find some one who would run and extend the concern--put in a fair
capital, and leave him to draw his income quietly. You see?"

"Seems a good opportunity," said Warburton.

"Good? It's simply superb. He took me over the works--a really
beautiful sight, everything so admirably arranged. Then we had more
private talk. Of course I spoke of you, said I could do nothing till we
had consulted together. I didn't seem too eager--not good policy. But
we've had some correspondence, and you shall see the letters."

He handed them to his partner. Warburton saw that there was a question
of a good many thousand pounds.

"Of course," he remarked, "I could only stand for a very small part in
this."

"Well, we must talk about that. To tell you the truth, Will," Sherwood
continued, crossing his legs and clasping his hands behind his head, "I
don't see my way to find the whole capital, and yet I don't want to
bring in a stranger. Applegarth could sell to a company any moment, but
that isn't his idea; he wants to keep the concern in as few hands as
possible. He has a first-rate manager; the mere jam-making wouldn't
worry us at all; and the office work is largely a matter of routine.
Will you take time to think about it?"

The figures which Warburton had before him were decidedly stimulating;
they made a very pleasant contrast to the balance-sheets with which he
had recently had to deal. He knew roughly what sum was at his disposal
for investment; the winding-up of the business here could be completed
at any moment, and involved no risk of surprises. But a thought had
occurred to him which kept him silently reflecting for some minutes.

"I suppose," he said presently, "this affair has about as little risk
as anything one could put money in?"

"I should say," Godfrey answered, with his man-of-business air, "that
the element of risk is non-existent. What can be more solid than jam?
There's competition to be sure; but Applegarth is already a good name
throughout England, and in the West they swear by it. At Bristol,
Exeter, Dorchester--all over there--Applegarth holds the field. Very
seriously speaking, I see in this proposal nothing but sure and
increasing gain."

"You know as well as I do," Will resumed, "how I stand. I have no
resources of my own beyond what you are aware of. But I've been
thinking--"

He broke off, stared at the window, drummed on the arm of his chair,
Sherwood waiting with a patient smile.

"It's my mother and sister I have in mind," Will resumed. "That
property of theirs; it brings them about a hundred and fifty pounds a
year in cash, and three times that in worry. At any moment they might
sell. A man at St. Neots offers four thousand pounds; I suspect more
might be got if Turnbull, their lawyer, took the matter in hand.
Suppose I advise them to sell and put the money in Applegarth?"

"By Jove!" cried Sherwood. "How could they do better? Splendid idea!"

"Yes--if all goes well. Bear in mind, on the other hand, that if they
lost this money, they would have nothing to live upon, or as good as
nothing. They draw some fifty pounds a year from another source, and
they have their own house--that's all. Ought I to take this
responsibility?"

"I don't hesitate to guarantee," said Sherwood, with glowing gravity,
"that in two years' time their four thousand pounds shall produce three
times what it does now. Only think, my dear fellow! Jam--think what it
means!"

For ten minutes Godfrey rhapsodised on the theme. Warburton was moved
by his eloquence.

"I shall run down to St. Neots," said Will at length.

"Do. And then we'll both of us go down to Bristol. I'm sure you'll like
Applegarth. By the bye, you never went in for astronomy, did you? I
felt ashamed of my ignorance. Why, it's one of the most interesting
subjects a man can study. I shall take it up. One might have a little
observatory of one's own. Do you know Bristol at all? A beastly place,
the town, but perfectly delightful country quite near at hand.
Applegarth lives in an ideal spot--you'll see."

There was a knock at the door and the manager entered. Other business
claimed their attention.



CHAPTER 8


Warburton often returned from Whitechapel to Chelsea on foot, enjoying
the long walk after his day in the office. This evening, a heavily
clouded sky and sobbing wind told that rain was not far off;
nevertheless, wishing to think hard, which he could never do so well as
when walking at a brisk pace, he set off in the familiar direction--a
straight cut across South London.

In Lower Kennington Lane he stopped, as his habit was, at a little
stationer's shop, over which was the name Potts. During his last year
in the West Indies, he had befriended an English lad whose health was
suffering from the climate, and eventually had paid his passage to the
United States, whither the young adventurer wished to go in pursuit of
his fortune. Not long after he received a letter of thanks from the
lad's father, and, on coming to London, he sought out Mr. Potts, whose
gratitude and its quaint expression had pleased him. The acquaintance
continued; whenever Warburton passed the shop he stepped in and made
purchases--generally of things he did not in the least want. Potts had
all the characteristics which were wont to interest Will, and touch his
sympathies; he was poor, weak of body, humble-spirited, and of an
honest, simple mind. Nothing more natural and cordial than Will's
bearing as he entered and held out his hand to the shopkeeper. How was
business? Any news lately from Jack? Jack, it seemed, was doing pretty
well at Pittsburgh; would Mr. Warburton care to read a long letter that
had arrived from him a week ago? To his satisfaction, Will found that
the letter had enclosed a small sum of money, for a present on the
father's birthday. Having, as usual, laden himself with newspapers,
periodicals and notepaper, he went his way.

At grimy Vauxhall he crossed the river, and pursued his course along
Grosvenor Road. Rain had begun to fall, and the driving of the wind
obliged him to walk with the umbrella before his face. Happening to
glance ahead, when not far from home, he saw, at a distance of twenty
yards, a man whom he took for Norbert Franks. The artist was coming
toward him, but suddenly he turned round about, and walked rapidly
away, disappearing in a moment down a side street. Franks it certainly
was; impossible to mistake his figure, his gait; and Warburton felt
sure that the abrupt change of direction was caused by his friend's
desire to avoid him. At the end of the byway he looked, and there was
the familiar figure, marching with quick step into the rainy distance.
Odd! but perhaps it simply meant that Franks had not seen him.

He reached home, wrote some letters, made preparations for leaving town
by an early train next morning, and dined with his customary appetite.
Whilst smoking his after-dinner pipe, he thought again of that queer
little incident in Grosvenor Road, and resolved of a sudden to go and
see Franks. It still rained, so he took advantage of a passing hansom,
and drove in a few minutes to the artist's lodging on the south side of
Battersea Park. The door was opened to him by the landlady, who smiled
recognition.

"No, sir, Mr. Franks isn't at home, and hasn't been since after
breakfast this morning. And I don't understand it; because he told me
last night that he'd be working all day, and I was to get meals for him
as usual. And at ten o'clock the model came--that rough man he's
putting into the new picture, you know, sir; and I had to send him
away, when he'd waited more than an hour."

Warburton was puzzled.

"I'll take my turn at waiting," he said. "Will you please light the gas
for me in the studio?"

The studio was merely, in lodging-house language, the first floor
front; a two-windowed room, with the advantage of north light. On the
walls hung a few framed paintings, several unframed and unfinished,
water-colour sketches, studies in crayon, photographs, and so on. In
the midst stood the easel, supporting a large canvas, the artist's work
on which showed already in a state of hopeful advancement. "The
Slummer" was his provisional name for this picture; he had not yet hit
upon that more decorous title which might suit the Academy catalogue. A
glance discovered the subject. In a typical London slum, between small
and vile houses, which lowered upon the narrow way, stood a tall,
graceful, prettily-clad young woman, obviously a visitant from other
spheres; her one hand carried a book, and the other was held by a
ragged, cripple child, who gazed up at her with a look of innocent
adoration. Hard by stood a miserable creature with an infant at her
breast, she too adoring the representative of health, wealth, and
charity. Behind, a costermonger, out of work, sprawled on the
curbstone, viewing the invader; he, with resentful eye, his lip
suggestive of words unreportable. Where the face of the central figure
should have shone, the canvas still remained blank.

"I'm afraid he's worried about _her_," said the landlady, when she had
lit the gas, and stood with Warburton surveying the picture. "He can't
find a model good-looking enough. I say to Mr. Franks why not make it
the portrait of his own young lady? I'm sure _she's_ good-looking
enough for anything and--"

Whilst speaking, the woman had turned to look at a picture on the wall.
Words died upon her lips; consternation appeared in her face; she stood
with finger extended. Warburton, glancing where he was accustomed to
see the portrait of Rosamund Elvan, also felt a shock. For, instead of
the face which should have smiled upon him, he saw an ugly hole in the
picture, the canvas having been violently cut, or rent with a blow.

"Hallo! What the deuce has he been doing?"

"Well, I never!" exclaimed the landlady. "It must be himself that's
done it! What does _that_ mean now, I wonder?"

Warburton was very uneasy. He no longer doubted that Franks had
purposely avoided him this afternoon.

"I daresay," he added, with a pretence of carelessness, "the portrait
had begun to vex him. He's often spoken of it discontentedly, and
talked of painting another. It wasn't very good."

Accepting, or seeming to accept this explanation, the landlady
withdrew, and Will paced thoughtfully about the floor. He was back in
Switzerland, in the valley which rises to the glacier of Trient. Before
him rambled Ralph Pomfret and his wife; at his side was Rosamund Elvan,
who listened with a flattering air of interest to all he said, but
herself spoke seldom, and seemed, for the most part, preoccupied with
some anxiety. He spoke of Norbert Franks; Miss Elvan replied
mechanically, and at once made a remark about the landscape. At the
time, he had thought little of this; now it revived in his memory, and
disturbed him.

An hour passed. His patience was nearly at an end. He waited another
ten minutes, then left the room, called to the landlady that he was
going, and let himself out.

Scarcely had he walked half a dozen yards, when he stood face to face
with Franks.

"Ah! Here you are! I waited as long as I could--"

"I'll walk with you," said the artist, turning on his heels.

He had shaken hands but limply. His look avoided Warburton's. His
speech was flat, wearied.

"What's wrong, Franks?"

"As you've been in the studio, I daresay you know."

"I saw something that surprised me."

"_Did_ it surprise you?" asked Norbert, in a half-sullen undertone.

"What do you mean by that?" said Will with subdued resentment.

The rain had ceased; a high wind buffeted them as they went along the
almost deserted street. The necessity of clutching at his hat might
have explained Norbert's silence for a moment; but he strode on without
speaking.

"Of course, if you don't care to talk about it," said Will, stopping
short.

"I've been walking about all day," Franks replied; "and I've got hell
inside me; I'd rather not have met you to-night, that's the truth. But
I can't let you go without asking a plain question. _Did_ it surprise
you to see that portrait smashed?"

"Very much. What do you hint at?"

"I had a letter this morning from Rosamund, saying she couldn't marry
me, and that all must be over between us. Does _that_ surprise you?"

"Yes, it does. Such a possibility had never entered my mind."

Franks checked his step, just where the wind roared at an unprotected
corner.

"I've no choice but to believe you," he said, irritably. "And no doubt
I'm making a fool of myself. That's why I shot out of your way this
afternoon--I wanted to wait till I got calmer. Let's say good-night."

"You're tired out," said Warburton. "Don't go any farther this way, but
let me walk back with you--I won't go in. I can't leave you in this
state of mind. Of course I begin to see what you mean, and a wilder
idea never got into any man's head. Whatever the explanation of what
has happened, _I_ have nothing to do with it."

"You say so, and I believe you."

"Which means, that you don't. I shan't cut up rough; you're not
yourself, and I can make all allowances. Think over what I've said, and
come and have another talk. Not to-morrow; I have to go down to St.
Neots. But the day after, in the evening."

"Very well. Good-night."

This time they did not shake hands. Franks turned abruptly, with a wave
of the arm, and walked off unsteadily, like a man in liquor. Observing
this, Warburton said to himself that not improbably the artist had been
trying to drown his misery, which might account for his strange
delusion. Yet this explanation did not put Will's mind at ease.
Gloomily he made his way homeward through the roaring night.



CHAPTER 9


Ten o'clock next morning saw him alighting from the train at St. Neots.
A conveyance for which he had telegraphed awaited him at the station;
its driver, a young man of his own age (they had known each other from
boyhood), grinned his broadest as he ran toward Will on the platform,
and relieved him of his bag.

"Well, Sam, how goes it? Everybody flourishing?--Drive first to Mr.
Turnbull's office."

Mr. Turnbull was a grey-headed man of threescore, much troubled with
lumbago, which made him stoop as he walked. He had a visage of
extraordinary solemnity, and seemed to regard every one, no matter how
prosperous or cheerful, with anxious commiseration. At the sight of
Will, he endeavoured to smile, and his handshake, though the flabbiest
possible, was meant for a cordial response to the young man's
heartiness.

"I'm on my way to The Haws, Mr. Turnbull, and wanted to ask if you
could come up and see us this evening?"

"Oh, with pleasure," answered the lawyer, his tone that of one invited
to a funeral. "You may count on me."

"We're winding up at Sherwood's. I don't mean in bankruptcy; but that
wouldn't be far off if we kept going."

"Ah! I can well understand that," said Mr. Turnbull, with a gleam of
satisfaction. Though a thoroughly kind man, it always brightened him to
hear of misfortune, especially when he had himself foretold it; and he
had always taken the darkest view of Will's prospects in Little Ailie
Street.

"I have a project I should like to talk over with you--"

"Ah?" said the lawyer anxiously.

"As it concerns my mother and Jane--"

"Ah?" said Mr. Turnbull, with profound despondency.

"Then we shall expect you.--Will it rain, do you think?"

"I fear so. The glass is very low indeed. It wouldn't surprise me if we
had rain through the whole month of August."

"Good Heavens! I hope not," replied Will laughing.

He drove out of the town again, in a different direction, for about a
mile. On rising ground, overlooking the green valley of the Ouse, stood
a small, plain, solidly-built house, sheltered on the cold side by a
row of fine hawthorns, nearly as high as the top of its chimneys. In
front, bordered along the road by hollies as impenetrable as a stone
wall, lay a bright little flower garden. The Haws, originally built for
the bailiff of an estate, long since broken up, was nearly a century
old. Here Will's father was born, and here, after many wanderings, he
had spent the greater part of his married life.

"Sam," said Will, as they drew up at the gate, "I don't think I shall
pay for this drive. You're much richer than I am."

"Very good, sir," was the chuckling reply, for Sam knew he always had
to expect a joke of this kind from young Mr. Warburton. "As you please,
sir."

"You couldn't lend me half-a-crown, Sam?"

"I daresay I could, sir, if you really wanted it."

"Do then."

Will pocketed the half-crown, jumped off the trap, and took his bag.

"After all, Sam, perhaps I'd better pay. Your wife might grumble. Here
you are."

He handed two shillings and sixpence in small change, which Sam took
and examined with a grin of puzzlement.

"Well, what's the matter? Don't you say thank you, nowadays?"

"Yes, sir--thank you, sir--it's all right, Mr. Will."

"I should think it is indeed. Be here to-morrow morning, to catch the
6.30 up train, Sam."

As Will entered the garden, there came forward a girl of something and
twenty, rather short, square shouldered, firmly planted on her feet,
but withal brisk of movement; her face was remarkable for nothing but a
grave good-humour. She wore a broad-brimmed straw hat, and her
gardening gloves showed how she was occupied. Something of shyness
appeared in the mutual greeting of brother and sister.

"Of course, you got my letter this morning?" said Will.

"Yes."

"Mr. Turnbull is coming up to-night."

"I'm glad of that," said Jane thoughtfully, rubbing her gloves together
to shake off moist earth.

"Of course he'll prophesy disaster, and plunge you both into the depths
of discouragement. But I don't mind that. I feel so confident myself
that I want some one to speak on the other side. He'll have to make
inquiries, of course.--Where's mother?"

The question was answered by Mrs. Warburton herself, who at that moment
came forth from the house; a tall, graceful woman, prematurely
white-headed, and enfeebled by ill-health. Between her and Jane there
was little resemblance of feature; Will, on the other hand, had
inherited her oval face, arched brows and sensitive mouth. Emotion had
touched her cheek with the faintest glow, but ordinarily it was pale as
her hand. Nothing, however, of the invalid declared itself in her tone
or language; the voice, soft and musical, might have been that of a
young woman, and its vivacity was only less than that which marked the
speech of her son.

"Come and look at the orange lilies," were her first words, after the
greeting. "They've never been so fine."

"But notice Pompey first," said Jane. "He'll be offended in a minute."

A St. Bernard, who had already made such advances as his dignity
permitted, stood close by Will, with eyes fixed upon him in grave and
surprised reproach. The dog's name indicated a historical preference of
Jane in her childhood; she had always championed Pompey against Caesar,
following therein her brother's guidance.

"Hallo, old Magnus!" cried the visitor, cordially repairing his
omission. "Come along with us and see the lilies."

It was only when all the sights of the little garden had been visited,
Mrs. Warburton forgetting her weakness as she drew Will hither and
thither, that the business for which they had met came under
discussion. Discussion, indeed, it could hardly be called, for the
mother and sister were quite content to listen whilst Will talked, and
accept his view of things. Small as their income was, they never
thought of themselves as poor; with one maid-servant and the occasional
help of a gardener, they had all the comfort they wished for, and were
able to bestow of their superfluity in vegetables and flowers upon less
fortunate acquaintances. Until a year or two ago, Mrs. Warburton had
led a life of ceaseless activity, indoors and out; such was the habit
of her daughter, who enjoyed vigorous health, and cared little for
sedentary pursuits and amusements. Their property, land and cottages
hard by, had of late given them a good deal of trouble, and the
proposal to sell had more than once been considered, but Mr. Turnbull,
most cautious of counsellors, urged delay. Now, at length, the
hoped-for opportunity of a good investment seemed to have presented
itself; Will's sanguine report of what he had learnt from Sherwood was
gladly accepted.

"It'll be a good thing for you as well," said Jane. "Yes, it comes just
in time. Sherwood knew what he was doing; now and then I've thought he
was risking too much, but he's a clear-headed fellow. The way he has
kept things going so long in Ailie Street is really remarkable."

"I daresay you had your share in that, Will," said Mrs. Warburton.

"A very small one; my work has never been more than routine. I don't
pretend to be a man of business. If it had depended upon me, the
concern would have fallen to pieces years ago, like so many others.
House after house has gone down; our turn must have come very soon. As
it is, we shall clear out with credit, and start afresh gloriously. By
the bye, don't get any but Applegarth's jams in future."

"That depends," said Jane laughing, "if we like them."

In their simple and wholesome way of living, the Warburtons of course
dined at midday, and Will, who rarely ate without appetite, surpassed
himself as trencherman; nowhere had food such a savour for him as under
this roof. The homemade bread and home-grown vegetables he was never
tired of praising; such fragrant and toothsome loaves, he loudly
protested, were to be eaten nowhere else in England. He began to talk
of his holiday abroad, when all at once his countenance fell, his lips
closed; in the pleasure of being "at home," he had forgotten all about
Norbert Franks, and very unwelcome were the thoughts which attached
themselves to this recollection of his days at Trient.

"What's the matter?" asked Jane, noticing his change of look.

"Oh, nothing--a stupid affair. I wrote to you about the Pomfrets and
their niece. I'm afraid that girl is an idiot. She used the opportunity
of her absence, I find, to break with Franks. No excuse whatever;
simply sent him about his business."

"Oh!" exclaimed both the ladies, who had been interested in the
artist's love story, as narrated to them, rather badly, by Will on
former occasions.

"Of course, I don't know much about it. But it looks bad. Perhaps it's
the best thing that could have happened to Franks, for it may mean that
he hasn't made money fast enough to please her."

"But you gave us quite another idea of Miss Elvan," said his mother.

"Yes, I daresay I did. Who knows? I don't pretend to understand such
things."

A little before sunset came Mr. Turnbull, who took supper at The Haws,
and was fetched away by his coachman at ten o'clock. With this old
friend, who in Will's eyes looked no older now than when he first knew
him in early childhood, they talked freely of the Applegarth business,
and Mr. Turnbull promised to make inquiries at once. Of course, he took
a despondent view of jam. Jam, he inclined to think, was being
overdone; after all, the country could consume only a certain quantity
of even the most wholesome preserves, and a glut of jam already
threatened the market. Applegarth? By the bye, did he not remember
proceedings in bankruptcy connected with that unusual name? He must
look into the matter. And, talking about bankruptcy--oh! how bad his
lumbago was to-night!--poor Thomas Hart, of Three Ash Farm, was going
to be sold up. Dear, dear! On every side, look where one would, nothing
but decline and calamity. What was England coming to? Day by day he had
expected to see the failure of Sherwood Brothers; how had they escaped
the common doom of sugar refiners? Free trade, free trade; all very
fine in theory, but look at its results on corn and sugar. For his own
part he favoured a policy of moderate protection.

All this was not more than Will had foreseen. It would be annoying if
Mr. Turnbull ultimately took an adverse view of his proposal; in that
case, though his mother was quite free to manage her property as she
chose, Will felt that he should hot venture to urge his scheme against
the lawyer's advice, and money must be sought elsewhere. A few days
would decide the matter. As he went upstairs to bed, he dismissed
worries from his mind.

The old quiet, the old comfort of home. Not a sound but that of
pattering rain in the still night. As always, the room smelt of
lavender, blended with that indescribable fragrance which comes of
extreme cleanliness in an old country house. But for changed wall paper
and carpet, everything was as Will remembered it ever since he could
remember anything at all; the same simple furniture, the same white
curtains, the same pictures, the same little hanging shelf, with books
given to him in childhood. He thought of the elder brother who had died
at school, and lay in the little churchyard far away. His only dark
memory, that of the poor boy's death after a very short illness, before
that other blow which made him fatherless.

The earlier retrospect was one of happiness unbroken; for all childish
sorrows lost themselves in the very present sense of peace and love
enveloping those far-away years. His parents' life, as he saw it then,
as in reflection he saw it now, remained an ideal; he did not care to
hope for himself, or to imagine, any other form of domestic
contentment. As a child, he would have held nothing less conceivable
than a moment's discord between father and mother, and manhood's
meditation did but confirm him in the same view.

The mutual loyalty of kindred hearts and minds--that was the best life
had to give. And Will's thoughts turned once more to Norbert Franks;
he, poor fellow, doubtless now raging against the faithlessness which
had blackened all his sky. In this moment of softened feeling, of lucid
calm, Warburton saw Rosamund's behaviour in a new light. Perhaps she
was not blameworthy at all, but rather deserving of all praise; for, if
she had come to know, beyond doubt, that she did not love Norbert
Franks as she had thought, then to break the engagement was her simple
duty, and the courage with which she had taken this step must be set to
her credit. Naturally, it would be some time before Franks himself took
that view. A third person, whose vanity was not concerned, might
moralise thus--

Will checked himself on an unpleasant thought. Was _his_ vanity, in
truth, unconcerned in this story? Why, then, had he been conscious of a
sub-emotion, quite unavowable, which contradicted his indignant
sympathy during that talk last night in the street? If the lover's
jealousy were as ridiculous as he pretended, why did he feel what now
he could confess to himself was an unworthy titillation, when Franks
seemed to accuse him of some part in the girl's disloyalty? Vanity,
that, sure enough; vanity of a very weak and futile kind. He would
stamp the last traces of it out of his being. Happily it was but
vanity, and no deeper feeling. Of this he was assured by the reposeful
sigh with which he turned his head upon the pillow, drowsing to
oblivion.

One unbroken sleep brought him to sunrise; a golden glimmer upon the
blind in his return to consciousness told him that the rain was over,
and tempted him to look forth. What he saw was decisive; with such a
sky as that gleaming over the summer world, who could lie in bed? Will
always dressed as if in a fury; seconds sufficed him for details of the
toilet, which, had he spent minutes over them, would have fretted his
nerves intolerably. His bath was one wild welter--not even the ceiling
being safe from splashes; he clad himself in a brief series of plunges;
his shaving might have earned the applause of an assembly gathered to
behold feats of swift dexterity. Quietly he descended the stairs, and
found the house-door already open; this might only mean that the
servant was already up, but he suspected that the early riser was Jane.
So it proved; he walked toward the kitchen garden, and there stood his
sister, the sun making her face rosy.

"Come and help to pick scarlet runners," was her greeting, as he
approached. "Aren't they magnificent?"

Her eyes sparkled with pleasure as she pointed to the heavy clusters of
dark-green pods, hanging amid leaves and scarlet bloom.

"Splendid crop!" exclaimed Will, with answering enthusiasm.

"Doesn't the scent do one good?" went on his sister. "When I come into
the garden on a morning like this, I have a feeling--oh, I can't
describe it to you--perhaps you wouldn't understand--"

"I know," said Will, nodding.

"It's as if nature were calling out to me, like a friend, to come and
admire and enjoy what she has done. I feel grateful for the things that
earth offers me."

Not often did Jane speak like this; as a rule she was anything but
effusive or poetical. But a peculiar animation shone in her looks this
morning, and sounded in her voice. Very soon the reason was manifest;
she began to speak of the Applegarth business, and declared her great
satisfaction with it.

"There'll be an end of mother's worry," she said, "and I can't tell you
how glad I shall be. It seems to me that women oughtn't to have to
think about money, and mother hates the name of it; she always has
done. Oh, what a blessing when it's all off our hands! We shouldn't
care, even if the new arrangement brought us less."

"And it is certain to bring you more," remarked Will, "perhaps
considerably more."

"Well, I shan't object to that; there are lots of uses for money; but
it doesn't matter."

Jane's sincerity was evident. She dismissed the matter, and her basket
being full of beans, seized a fork to dig potatoes.

"Here, let me do that," cried Will, interposing.

"You? Well then, as a very great favour."

"Of course I mean that. It's grand to turn up potatoes. What sort are
these?"

"Pink-eyed flukes," replied Jane, watching him with keen interest. "We
haven't touched them yet."

"Mealy, eh?"

"Balls of flour!"

Their voices joined in a cry of exultation, as the fork threw out even
a finer root than they had expected. When enough had been dug, they
strolled about, looking at other vegetables. Jane pointed to some Savoy
seedlings, which she was going to plant out to-day. Then there sounded
a joyous bark, and Pompey came bounding toward them.

"That means the milk-boy is here," said Jane. "Pompey always goes to
meet him in the morning. Come and drink a glass--warm."



CHAPTER 10


Back at Chelsea, Will sent a note to Norbert Franks, a line or two
without express reference to what had happened, asking him to come and
have a talk. Three days passed, and there was no reply. Will grew
uneasy; for, though the artist's silence perhaps meant only sullenness,
danger might lurk in such a man's thwarted passion. On the fourth
evening, just as he had made up his mind to walk over to Queen's Road,
the familiar knock sounded. Mrs. Hopper had left; Will went to the
door, and greeted his visitor in the usual way. But Franks entered
without speaking. The lamplight showed a pitiful change in him; he was
yellow and fishy-eyed, unshaven, disorderly in dress indeed, so well
did he look the part of the despairing lover that Warburton suspected a
touch of theatric consciousness.

"If you hadn't come to-night," said Will, "I should have looked you up."

Franks lay limply in the armchair, staring blankly.

"I ought to have come before," he replied in low, toneless voice. "That
night when I met you, I made a fool of myself. For one thing, I was
drunk, and I've been drunk ever since."

"Ha! That accounts for your dirty collar," remarked Will, in his note
of dry drollery.

"Is it dirty?" said the other, passing a finger round his neck. "What
does it matter? A little dirt more or less, in a world so full of it--"

Warburton could not contain himself; he laughed, and laughed again. And
his mirth was contagious; Franks chuckled, unwillingly, dolefully.

"You are not extravagant in sympathy," said the artist, moving with
fretful nervousness.

"If I were, would it do you any good, old fellow? Look here, are we to
talk of this affair or not? Just as you like. For my part, I'd rather
talk about 'The Slummer.' I had a look at it the other day. Uncommonly
good, the blackguard on the curbstone, you've got him."

"You think so?" Franks sat a little straighter, but still with vacant
eye. "Yes, not bad, I think. But who knows whether I shall finish the
thing."

"If you don't," replied his friend, in a matter-of-fact tone, "you'll
do something better. But I should finish it, if I were you. If you had
the courage to paint in the right sort of face--the girl, you know."

"What sort of face, then?"

"Sharp-nosed, thin-lipped, rather anaemic, with a universe of
self-conceit in the eye."

"They wouldn't hang it, and nobody would buy it. Besides, Warburton,
you're wrong if you think the slummers are always that sort. Still, I'm
not sure I shan't do it, out of spite. There's another reason, too--I
hate beautiful women; I don't think I shall ever be able to paint
another."

He sprang up, and paced, as of old, about the room. Will purposely kept
silence.

"I've confessed," Franks began again, with effort, "that I made a fool
of myself the other night. But I wish you'd tell me something about
your time at Trient. Didn't you notice anything? Didn't anything make
you suspect what she was going to do?"

"I never for a moment foresaw it," replied Will, with unemphasised
sincerity.

"Yet she must have made up her mind whilst you were there. Her
astounding hypocrisy! I had a letter a few days before, the same as
usual--"

"Quite the same?"

"Absolutely!--Well, there was no difference that struck me. Then all at
once she declares that for months she had felt her position false and
painful. What a monstrous thing! Why did she go on pretending, playing
a farce? I could have sworn that no girl lived who was more thoroughly
honest in word and deed and thought. It's awful to think how one can be
deceived. I understand now the novels about unfaithful wives, and all
that kind of thing. I always said to myself--'Pooh, as if a fellow
wouldn't know if his wife were deceiving him'! By Jove this has made me
afraid of the thought of marriage. I shall never again trust a woman."

Warburton sat in meditation, only half smiling.

"Of course, she's ashamed to face me. For fear I should run after her,
she wrote that they were just leaving Trient for another place, not
mentioned. If I wrote, I was to address to Bath, and the letter would
be forwarded. I wrote--of course a fool's letter; I only wish I'd never
sent it. Sometimes I think I'll never try to see her again; sometimes I
think I'll make her see me, and tell her the truth about herself. The
only thing is--I'm half afraid--I've gone through torture enough; I
don't want to begin again. Yet if I saw her--"

He took another turn across the room, then checked himself before
Warburton.

"Tell me honestly what you think about it. I want advice. What's your
opinion of her?"

"I have no opinion at all. I don't pretend to know her well enough."

"Well, but," persisted Franks, "your impression--your feeling. How does
the thing strike you?"

"Why, disagreeably enough; that's a matter of course."

"You don't excuse her?" asked Norbert, his eyes fixed on the other.

"I can imagine excuses--"

"What? What excuse can there be for deliberate hypocrisy, treachery?"

"If it _was_ deliberate," replied Warburton, "there's nothing to be
said. In your position--since you ask advice--I should try to think
that it wasn't, but that the girl had simply changed her mind, and went
on and on, struggling with herself till she could stand it no longer.
I've no taste for melodrama quiet comedy is much more in my
line--comedy ending with mutual tolerance and forgiveness. To be sure,
if you feel you can't live without her, if you're determined to fight
for her--"

"Fight with whom?" cried Franks.

"With _her_; then read Browning, and blaze away. It may be the best;
who can tell? Only--on this point I am clear--no self-deception! Don't
go in for heroics just because they seem fine. Settle with yourself
whether she is indispensable to you or not.-- Indispensable? why, no
woman is that to any man; sooner or later, it's a matter of
indifference. And if you feel, talking plainly with yourself, that the
worst is over already, that it doesn't after all matter as much as you
thought; why, get back to your painting. If you can paint only ugly
women, so much the better, I've no doubt."

Franks stood reflecting. Then he nodded.

"All that is sensible enough. But, if I give her up, I shall marry some
one else straight away."

Then he abruptly said good-night, leaving Warburton not unhopeful about
him, and much consoled by the disappearance of the shadow which had
threatened their good understanding.



CHAPTER 11


The Crosses, mother and daughter, lived at Walham Green. The house was
less pleasant than another which Mrs. Cross owned at Putney, but it
also represented a lower rental, and poverty obliged them to take this
into account. When the second house stood tenantless, as had now been
the case for half a year, Mrs. Cross' habitually querulous comment on
life rose to a note of acrimony very afflictive to her daughter Bertha.
The two bore as little resemblance to each other, physical or mental,
as mother and child well could. Bertha Cross was a sensible, thoughtful
girl, full of kindly feeling, and blest with a humorous turn that
enabled her to see the amusing rather than the carking side of her
pinched life. These virtues she had from her father. Poor Cross, who
supplemented a small income from office routine by occasional comic
journalism, and even wrote a farce (which brought money to a theatrical
manager), made on his deathbed a characteristic joke. He had just
signed his will, and was left alone with his wife. "I'm sure I've,
always wished to make your life happy," piped the afflicted woman. "And
I yours," he faintly answered; adding, with a sad, kind smile, as he
pointed to the testamentary document, "Take the will for the deed."

The two sons had emigrated to British Columbia, and Bertha would not
have been sorry to join her brothers there, for domestic labour on a
farm, in peace and health, seemed to her considerably better than the
quasi-genteel life she painfully supported. She had never dreamt of
being an artist, but, showing some facility with the pencil, was sent
by her father to South Kensington, where she met and made friends with
Rosamund Elvan. Her necessity and her application being greater than
Rosamund's, Bertha before long succeeded in earning a little money;
without this help, life at home would scarcely have been possible for
her. They might, to be sure, have taken a lodger, having spare rooms,
but Mrs. Cross could only face that possibility if the person received
into the house were "respectable" enough to be called a paying guest,
and no such person offered. So they lived, as no end of "respectable"
families do, a life of penury and seclusion, sometimes going without a
meal that they might have decent clothing to wear abroad, never able to
buy a book, to hear a concert, and only by painful sacrifice able to
entertain a friend. When, on a certain occasion, Miss Elvan passed a
week at their house (Mrs. Cross approved of this friendship, and hoped
it might be a means of discovering the paying guest), it meant for them
a near approach to starvation during the month that ensued.

Time would have weighed heavily on Mrs. Cross but for her one
recreation, which was perennial, ever fresh, constantly full of
surprises and excitement. Poor as she was, she contrived to hire a
domestic servant; to say that she "kept" one would come near to a
verbal impropriety, seeing that no servant ever remained in the house
for more than a few months, whilst it occasionally happened that the
space of half a year would see a succession of some half dozen
"generals." Underpaid and underfed, these persons (they varied in age
from fourteen to forty) were of course incompetent, careless,
rebellious, and Mrs. Cross found the sole genuine pleasure of her life
in the war she waged with them. Having no reasonable way of spending
her hours, she was thus supplied with occupation; being of acrid
temper, she was thus supplied with a subject upon whom she could
fearlessly exercise it; being remarkably mean of disposition, she saw
in the paring-down of her servant's rations to a working minimum, at
once profit and sport; lastly, being fond of the most trivial gossip,
she had a never-failing topic of discussion with such ladies as could
endure her society.

Bertha, having been accustomed to this domestic turbulence all her life
long, for the most part paid no heed to it. She knew that if the
management of the house were in her hands, instead of her mother's,
things would go much more smoothly, but the mere suggestion of such a
change (ventured once at a moment of acute crisis) had so amazed and
exasperated Mrs. Cross, that Bertha never again looked in that
direction. Yet from time to time a revolt of common sense forced her to
speak, and as the only possible way, if quarrel were to be avoided, she
began her remonstrance on the humorous note. Then when her mother had
been wearying her for half an hour with complaints and lamentations
over the misdoings of one Emma, Bertha as the alternative to throwing
up her hands and rushing out of the house, began laughing to herself,
whereat Mrs. Cross indignantly begged to be informed what there was so
very amusing in a state of affairs which would assuredly bring her to
her grave.

"If only you could see the comical side of it, mother," replied Bertha.
"It really has one, you know. Emma, if only you would be patient with
her, is a well-meaning creature, and she says the funniest things. I
asked her this morning if she didn't think she could find some way of
remembering to put the salt on the table. And she looked at me very
solemnly, and said, 'Indeed, I will, miss. I'll put it into my prayers,
just after 'our daily bread.'"

Mrs. Cross saw nothing in this but profanity. She turned the attack on
Bertha, who, by her soft way of speaking, simply encouraged the
servants, she declared, in negligence and insolence.

"Look at it in this way, mother," replied the girl, as soon as she was
suffered to speak. "To be badly served is bad enough, in itself; why
make it worse by ceaseless talking about it, so leaving ourselves not a
moment of peace and quiet? I'm sure I'd rather put the salt on the
table myself at every meal, and think no more about it, than worry,
worry, worry over the missing salt-cellars from one meal to the next.
Don't you feel, dear mother, that it's shocking waste of life?"

"What nonsense you talk, child! Are we to live in dirt and disorder? Am
I _never_ to correct a servant, or teach her her duties? But of course
everything _I_ do is wrong. Of course _you_ could do everything so very
much better. That's what children are nowadays."

Whilst Mrs. Cross piped on, Bertha regarded her with eyes of humorous
sadness. The girl often felt it a dreary thing not to be able to
respect--nay, not to be able to feel much love for--her mother. At such
times, her thought turned to the other parent, with whom, had he and
she been left alone, she could have lived so happily, in so much mutual
intelligence and affection. She sighed and moved away.

The unlet house was a very serious matter, and when one day Norbert
Franks came to talk about it, saying that he would want a house very
soon, and thought this of Mrs. Cross's might suit him, Bertha rejoiced
no less than her mother. In consequence of the artist's announcement,
she wrote to her friend Rosamund, saying how glad she was to hear that
her marriage approached. The reply to this letter surprised her.
Rosamund had been remiss in correspondence for the last few months; her
few and brief letters, though they were as affectionate as ever, making
no mention of what had formerly been an inexhaustible topic--the
genius, goodness, and brilliant hopes of Franks. Now she wrote as if in
utter despondency, a letter so confused in style and vague in
expression, that Bertha could gather from it little or nothing except a
grave doubt whether Franks' marriage was as near as he supposed. A week
or two passed, and Rosamund again wrote--from Switzerland; again the
letter was an unintelligible maze of dreary words, and a mere moaning
and sighing, which puzzled Bertha as much as it distressed her.
Rosamund's epistolary style, when she wrote to this bosom friend, was
always pitched in a key of lyrical emotion, which now and then would
have been trying to Bertha's sense of humour but for the sincerity
manifest in every word; hitherto, however, she had expressed herself
with perfect lucidity, and this sudden change seemed ominous of
alarming things. Just when Bertha was anxiously wondering what could
have happened,--of course inclined to attribute blame, if blame there
were, to the artist rather than to his betrothed--a stranger came to
inquire about the house to let. It was necessary to ascertain at once
whether Mr. Franks intended to become their tenant or not. Mrs. Cross
wrote to him, and received the briefest possible reply, to the effect
that his plans were changed.

"How vexatious!" exclaimed Mrs. Cross. "I had very much rather have let
to people we know I suppose he's seen a house that suits him better."

"I think there's another reason," said Bertha, after gazing for a
minute or two at the scribbled, careless note. "The marriage is put
off."

"And you knew that," cried her mother, "all the time, and never told
me! And I might have missed twenty chances of letting. Really, Bertha,
I never did see anything like you. There's that house standing empty
month after month, and we hardly know where to turn for money, and you
knew that Mr. Franks wouldn't take it, and yet you say not a word! How
can you behave in such an extraordinary way? I think you really find
pleasure in worrying me. Any one would fancy you wished to see me in my
grave. To think that you knew all the time!"



CHAPTER 12


There passed a fortnight. Bertha heard nothing more of Miss Elvan, till
a letter arrived one morning in an envelope, showing on the back an
address at Teddington. Rosamund wrote that she had just returned from
Switzerland, and was staying for a few days with friends; would it be
possible for Bertha to come to Teddington the same afternoon, for an
hour or two's talk? The writer had so much to say that could not be
conveyed in a letter, and longed above all things to see Bertha, the
only being in whom, at a very grave juncture in her life, she could
absolutely confide. "We shall be quite alone--Mr. and Mrs. Capron are
going to town immediately after lunch. This is a lovely place, and we
shall have it to ourselves all the afternoon. So don't be frightened--I
know how you hate strangers--but come, come, come!"

Bertha took train early in the afternoon. By an avenue of elms she
passed into a large and beautiful garden, and so came to the imposing
front door. Led into the drawing-room, she had time to take breath, and
to gaze at splendours such as she had never seen before; then with
soundless footfall, entered a slim, prettily-dressed girl who ran
towards her, and caught her hands, and kissed her with graceful
tenderness.

"My dear, dear old Bertha! What a happiness to see you again! How good
of you to come! Isn't it a lovely place? And the nicest people. You've
heard me speak of Miss Anderton, of Bath. She is Mrs. Capron--married
half a year ago. And they're just going to Egypt for a year, and--what
do you think?--I'm going with them."

Rosamund's voice sunk and faltered. She stood holding Bertha's hands,
and gazing into her face with eyes which grew large as if in a
distressful appeal.

"To Egypt?"

"Yes. It was decided whilst I was in Switzerland. Mrs. Capron wants a
friend to be with her; one who can help her in water-colours. She
thought, of course, that I couldn't go; wrote to me just wishing it
were possible. And I caught at the chance! Oh, caught at it!"

"That's what I don't understand," said Bertha.

"I want to explain it all. Come into this cosy corner. Nobody will
disturb us except when they bring tea.--Do you know that picture of
Leader's? Isn't it exquisite!--Are you tired, Bertha? You look so, a
little. I'm afraid you walked from the station, and it's such a hot
day. But oh, the loveliness of the trees about here! Do you remember
our first walk together? You were shy, stiff; didn't feel quite sure
whether you liked me or not. And I thought you--just a little critical.
But before we got back again, I think we had begun to understand each
other. And I wonder whether you'll understand me now. It would be
dreadful if I felt you disapproved of me. Of course if you do, I'd much
rather you said so. You will--won't you?"

She again fixed her eyes upon Bertha with the wide, appealing look.

"Whether I say it or not," replied the other, "you'll see what I think.
I never could help that."

"That's what I love in you! And that's what I've been thinking of, all
these weeks of misery--your perfect sincerity. I've asked myself
whether it would be possible for you to find yourself in such a
position as mine; and how you would act, how you would speak. You're my
ideal of truth and rightness, Bertha; I've often enough told you that."

Bertha moved uncomfortably, her eyes averted.

"Suppose you just tell me what has happened," she added quietly.

"Yes, I will. I hope you haven't been thinking it was some fault of
_his_?"

"I couldn't help thinking that."

"Oh! Put that out of your mind at once. The fault is altogether mine.
He has done nothing whatever--he is good and true, and all that a man
should be. It's I who am behaving badly; so badly that I feel hot with
shame now that I come to tell you. I have broken it off. I've said I
couldn't marry him."

Their eyes met for an instant. Bertha looked rather grave, but with her
wonted kindliness of expression; Rosamund's brows were wrinkled in
distress, and her lips trembled.

"I've seen it coming since last Christmas," she continued, in a
hurried, tremulous undertone. "You know he came down to Bath; that was
our last meeting; and I felt that something was wrong. Ah, so hard to
know oneself! I wanted to talk to you about it; but then I said to
myself--what can Bertha do but tell me to know my own mind? And that's
just what I couldn't come to,--to understand my own feelings. I was
changing, I knew that. I dreaded to look into my own thoughts, from day
to day. Above all, I dreaded to sit down and write to him. Oh, the
hateful falsity of those letters--Yet what could I do, what could I do?
I had no right to give such a blow, unless I felt that anything else
was utterly, utterly impossible."

"And at last you did feel it?"

"In Switzerland--yes. It came like a flash of lightning. I was walking
up that splendid valley--you remember my description--up toward the
glacier. That morning I had had a letter, naming the very day for our
marriage, and speaking of the house--your house at Putney--he meant to
take. I had said to myself--'It must be; I can do nothing. I haven't
the courage.' Then, as I was walking, a sort of horror fell upon me,
and made me tremble; and when it passed I saw that, so far from not
having the courage to break, I should never dare to go through with it.
And I went back to the hotel, and sat down and wrote, without another
moment's thought or hesitation."

"What else could you have done?" said Bertha, with a sigh of relief.
"When it comes to horror and tremblings!"

There was a light in her eye which seemed the precursor of a smile; but
her voice was not unsympathetic, and Rosamund knew that one of Bertha
Cross smiles was worth more in the way of friendship than another's
tragic emotion.

"Have patience with me," she continued, "whilst I try to explain it
all. The worst of my position is, that so many people will know what I
have done, and so few of them, hardly any one, will understand why. One
can't talk to people about such things. Even Winnie and father--I'm
sure they don't really understand--though I'm afraid they're both
rather glad. What a wretched thing it is to be misjudged. I feel sure,
Bertha, that it's just this kind of thing that makes a woman sit down
and write a novel--where she can speak freely in disguise, and do
herself justice. Don't you think so?"

"I shouldn't wonder," replied the listener, thoughtfully. "But does it
really matter? If you know you're only doing what you must do?"

"But that's only how it seems to me. Another, in my place, would very
likely see the must on the other side. Of course it's a terribly
complicated thing--a situation like this. I haven't the slightest idea
how one ought to be guided. One could argue and reason all day long
about it--as I have done with myself for weeks past."

"Try just to tell me the reason which seems to you the strongest," said
Bertha.

"That's very simple. I thought I loved him, and I find I don't."

"Exactly. But I hardly see how the change came about."

"I will try to tell you," replied Rosamund. "It was that picture,
'Sanctuary,' that began it. When I first saw it, it gave me a shock.
You know how I have always thought of him--an artist living for his own
idea of art, painting just as he liked, what pleased him, without
caring for the public taste. I got enthusiastic; and when I saw that he
seemed to care for my opinion and my praise--of course all the rest
followed. He told me about his life as an art student--Paris, Rome, all
that; and it was my ideal of romance. He was very poor, sometimes so
poor that he hardly had enough to eat, and this made me proud of him,
for I felt sure he could have got money if he would have condescended
to do inferior work. Of course, as I too was poor, we could not think
of marrying before his position improved. At last he painted
'Sanctuary.' He told me nothing about it. I came and saw it on the
easel, nearly finished. And--this is the shocking thing--I pretended to
admire it. I was astonished, pained--yet I had the worldliness to smile
and praise. There's the fault of my character. At that moment, truth
and courage were wanted, and I had neither. The dreadful thing is to
think that he degraded himself on my account. If I had said at once
what I thought, he would have confessed--would have told me that
impatience had made him untrue to himself. And from that day; oh, this
is the worst of all, Bertha--he has adapted himself to what he thinks
my lower mind and lower aims; he has consciously debased himself, out
of thought for me. Horrible! Of course he believes in his heart that I
was a hypocrite before. The astonishing thing is that this didn't cause
him to turn cold to me. He must have felt that, but somehow he overcame
it. All the worse! The very fact that he still cared for me shows how
bad my influence has been. I feel that I have wrecked his life,
Bertha--and yet I cannot give him my own, to make some poor sort of
amends."

Bertha was listening with a face that changed from puzzled interest to
wondering confusion.

"Good gracious!" she exclaimed when the speaker ceased. "Is it possible
to get into such entanglements of reasoning about what one thinks and
feels? It's beyond me. Oh they're bringing the tea. Perhaps a cup of
tea will clear my wits."

Rosamund at once began to speak of the landscape by Leader, which hung
near them, and continued to do so even after the servant had withdrawn.
Her companion was silent, smiling now and then in an absent way. They
sipped tea.

"The tea is doing me so much good," Bertha said, "I begin to feel equal
to the most complicated reflections. And so you really believe that Mr.
Franks is on the way to perdition, and that you are the cause of it?"

Rosamund did not reply. She had half averted her look; her brows were
knit in an expression of trouble; she bit her lower lip. A moment
passed, and--

"Suppose we go into the garden," she said, rising. "Don't you feel it a
little close here?"

They strolled about the paths. Her companion, seeming to have dismissed
from mind their subject of conversation, began to talk of Egypt, and
the delight she promised herself there.

Presently Bertha reverted to the unfinished story.

"Oh, it doesn't interest you."

"Doesn't it indeed! Please go on. You had just explained all about
'Sanctuary'--which isn't really a bad picture at all."

"Oh, Bertha!" cried the other in pained protest. "That's your good
nature. You never can speak severely of anybody's work. The picture is
shameful, shameful! And its successor, I am too sure, will be worse
still, from what I have heard of it. Oh, I can't bear to think of what
it all means--Now that it's too late, I see what I ought to have done.
In spite of everything and everybody I ought to have married him in the
first year, when I had courage and hope enough to face any hardships.
We spoke of it, but he was too generous. What a splendid thing to have
starved with him--to have worked for him whilst he was working for art
and fame, to have gone through and that together, and have come out
triumphant! That was a life worth living. But to begin marriage at
one's ease on the profits of pictures such as 'Sanctuary'--oh, the
shame of it! Do you think I could face the friends who would come to
see me?"

"How many friends," asked Bertha, "would be aware of your infamy? I
credit myself with a little imagination. But I should never have
suspected the black baseness which had poisoned your soul."

Again Rosamund bit her lip, and kept a short silence.

"It only shows," she said with some abruptness, "that I shall do better
not to speak of it at all, and let people think what they like of me.
If even _you_ can't understand."

Bertha stood still, and spoke in a changed voice.

"I understand very well--or think I do. I'm perfectly sure that you
could never have broken your engagement unless for the gravest
reason--and for me it is quite enough to know that. Many a girl ought
to do this, who never has the courage. Try not to worry about
explanations, the thing is done, and there's an end of it. I'm very
glad indeed you're going quite away; it's the best thing possible. When
do you start?" she added.

"In three days.--Listen, Bertha, I have something very serious to ask
of you. It is possible--isn't it?--that he may come to see you some
day. If he does, or if by chance you see him alone, and if he speaks of
me, I want you to make him think--you easily can--that what has
happened is all for his good. Remind him how often artists have been
spoilt by marriage, and hint--you surely could--that I am rather too
fond of luxury, and that kind of thing."

Bertha wore an odd smile.

"Trust me," she replied, "I will blacken you most effectually."

"You promise? But, at the same time, you will urge him to be true to
himself, to endure poverty--"

"I don't know about that. Why shouldn't poor Mr. Franks have enough to
eat it he can get it?"

"Well--but you promise to help him in the other way? You needn't say
very bad things; just a smile, a hint--"

"I quite understand," said Bertha, nodding.



CHAPTER 13


Warburton had never seen Godfrey Sherwood so restless and excitable as
during these weeks when the business in Little Ailie Street was being
brought to an end, and the details of the transfer to Bristol were
being settled. Had it not been inconsistent with all the hopeful facts
of the situation, as well as with the man's temper, one would have
thought that Godfrey suffered from extreme nervousness; that he lived
under some oppressive anxiety, which it was his constant endeavour to
combat with resolute high spirits. It seemed an odd thing that a man
who had gone through the very real cares and perils of the last few
years without a sign of perturbation, nay, with the cheeriest
equanimity, should let himself be thrown into disorder by the mere
change to a more promising state of things. Now and then Warburton
asked himself whether his partner could be concealing some troublesome
fact with regard to Applegarth's concern; but he dismissed the idea as
too improbable; Sherwood was far too good a fellow, far too
conscientious a man of business, to involve his friend in obvious
risk--especially since it had been decided that Mrs. Warburton's and
her money should go into the affair. The inquiries made by Mr. Turnbull
had results so satisfactory that even the resolute pessimist could not
but grudgingly admit his inability to discover storm-signals. Though a
sense of responsibility made a new element in his life, which would not
let him sleep quite so soundly as hitherto, Will persuaded himself that
he had but to get to work, and all would be right.

The impression made upon him by Applegarth himself was very favourable.
The fact that the jam manufacturer was a university man, an astronomer,
and a musician, had touched Warburton's weak point, and he went down to
Bristol the first time with an undeniable prejudice at the back of his
mind; but this did not survive a day or two's intercourse. Applegarth
recommended himself by an easy and humorous geniality of bearing which
Warburton would have been the last man to resist; he talked of his
affairs with the utmost frankness.

"The astonishing thing to me is," he said, "that I've made this
business pay. I went into it on abstract principle. I knew nothing of
business. At school, I rather think, I learnt something about 'single
and double entry,' but I had forgotten it all--just as I find myself
forgetting how to multiply and divide, now that I am accustomed to the
higher mathematics. However, I had to earn a little money, somehow, and
I thought I'd try jam. And it went by itself, I really don't understand
it, mere good luck, I suppose. I hear of fellows who have tried
business, and come shocking croppers. Perhaps they were classical men
nothing so hopeless as your classic. I beg your pardon; before saying
that, I ought to have found out whether either of you is a classic."

The listeners both shook their heads, and laughed.

"So much the better. An astronomer, it is plain, may manufacture jam; a
fellow brought up on Greek and Latin verses couldn't possibly."

They were together at Bristol for a week, then Sherwood received a
telegram, and told Warburton that he must return to London immediately.

"Something that bothers you?" said Will, noting a peculiar tremor on
his friend's countenance.

"No, no; a private affair; nothing to do with us. You stay on till
Saturday? I might be back in twenty-four hours."

"Good. Yes; I want to have some more talk with Applegarth about that
advertising proposal. I don't like to start with quite such a heavy
outlay."

"Nor I either," replied Godfrey, his eyes wandering. He paused, bit the
end of his moustache, and added. "By the bye, the St. Neots money will
be paid on Saturday, you said?"

"I believe so. Or early next week."

"That's right. I want to get done. Queer how these details fidget me.
Nerves! I ought to have had a holiday this summer. You were wiser."

The next day Warburton went out with Applegarth to his house some ten
miles south of Bristol, and dined there, and stayed over night. It had
not yet been settled where he and Sherwood should have their permanent
abode; there was a suggestion that they should share a house which was
to let not far from Applegarth's, but Will felt uneasy at the thought
of a joint tenancy, doubting whether he could live in comfort with any
man. He was vexed at having to leave his flat in Chelsea, which so
thoroughly suited his habits and his tastes.

Warburton and his host talked much of Sherwood.

"When I first met him," said the jam-manufacturer, "he struck me as the
queerest man of business--except myself--that I had ever seen. He
talked about Norse sagas, witchcraft, and so on, and when he began
about business, I felt uneasy. Of course I know him better now."

"There are not many steadier and shrewder men than Sherwood," remarked
Will.

"I feel sure of that," replied the other. And he added, as if to
fortify himself in the opinion: "Yes, I feel sure of it."

"In spite of all his energy, never rash."

"No, no; I can see that. Yet," added Applegarth, again as if for
self-confirmation, "he has energy of an uncommon kind."

"That will soon show itself," replied Warburton, smiling. "He's
surveying the field like a general before battle."

"Yes. No end of bright ideas. Some of them--perhaps--not immediately
practicable."

"Oh, Sherwood looks far ahead."

Applegarth nodded, and for a minute or two each was occupied with his
own reflections.



CHAPTER 14


Godfrey having telegraphed that he must remain in town, Warburton soon
joined him. His partner was more cheerful and sanguine than ever; he
had cleared off numberless odds and ends of business; there remained
little to be done before the day, a week hence, appointed for the
signature of the new deed, for which purpose Applegarth would come to
London. Mr. Turnbull, acting with his wonted caution, had at length
concluded the sale of Mrs. Warburton's property, and on the day after
his return, Will received from St. Neots a letter containing a cheque
for four thousand pounds! All his own available capital was already in
the hands of Sherwood; a sum not much greater in amount than that
invested by his mother and sister. Sherwood, for his part, put in
sixteen thousand, with regrets that it was all he had at command just
now; before long, he might see his way greatly to increase their
capital, but they had enough for moderate enterprise in the meanwhile.

Not half an hour after the post which brought him the cheque, Warburton
was surprised by a visit from his friend.

"I thought you wouldn't have left home yet," said Godfrey, with a
nervous laugh. "I had a letter from Applegarth last night, which I
wanted you to see at once."

He handed it, and Will, glancing over the sheet, found only an
unimportant discussion of a small detail.

"Well, that's all right," he said, "but I don't see that it need have
brought you from Wimbledon to Chelsea before nine o'clock in the
morning. Aren't you getting a little overstrung, old man?"

Godfrey looked it. His face was noticeably thinner than a month ago,
and his eyes had a troubled fixity such as comes of intense
preoccupation.

"Daresay I am," he admitted with a show of careless good-humour. "Can't
get much sleep lately."

"But why? What the deuce is there to fuss about? Sit down and smoke a
cigar. I suppose you've had breakfast?"

"No--yes, I mean, yes, of course, long ago."

Will did not believe the corrected statement. He gazed at his friend
curiously and with some anxiety.

"It's an unaccountable thing that you should fret your gizzard out
about this new affair, which seems all so smooth, when you took the
Ailie Street worries without turning a hair."

"Stupid--nerves out of order," muttered Godfrey, as he crossed,
uncrossed, recrossed his legs, and bit at a cigar, as if he meant to
breakfast on it. "I must get away for a week or two as soon as we've
signed."

"Yes, but look here." Warburton stood before him, hands on hips,
regarding him gravely, and speaking with decision. "I don't quite
understand you. You're not like yourself. Is there anything you're
keeping from me?"

"Nothing--nothing whatever, I assure you, Warburton."

But Will was only half satisfied.

"You have no doubts of Applegarth?"

"Doubts!" cried the other. "Not a shadow of doubt of any sort, I
declare and protest. No, no; it's entirely my own idiotic excitability.
I can't account for it. Just don't notice it, there's a good fellow."

"There was a pause. Will glanced again at Applegarth's note, whilst
Sherwood went, as usual, to stand before the bookcase, and run his eye
along the shelves.

"Anything new in my way?" he asked. "I want a good long quiet read.
--Palgrave's _Arabia_! Where did you pick up that? One of the most
glorious books I know. That and Layard's _Early Travels_ sent me to
heaven for a month, once upon a time. You don't know Layard? I must
give it to you. The essence of romance! As good in its way as the
_Arabian Nights_."

Thus he talked on for a quarter of an hour, and it seemed to relieve
him. Returning to matters of the day, he asked, half abruptly:

"Have you the St. Neots cheque yet?"

"Came this morning."

"Payable to Sherwood Brothers, I suppose?" said Godfrey. "Right. It's
most convenient so."

Will handed him the cheque, and he gazed at it as if with peculiar
satisfaction. He sat smiling, cheque in one hand, cigar in the other,
until Warburton asked what he was thinking over.

"Nothing--nothing. Well, I suppose I'd better take it with me; I'm on
my way to the bank."

As Will watched the little slip of paper disappear into his friend's
pocket-book, he had an unaccountable feeling of disquiet. Nothing could
be more unworthy than distrust of Godfrey Sherwood; nothing less
consonant with all his experience of the man; and, had the money been
his, he would have handed it over as confidently as when, in fact,
dealing with his own capital the other day. But the sense of
responsibility to others was a new thing to which he could not yet
accustom himself. It occurred to him for the first time that there was
no necessity for accumulating these funds in the hands of Sherwood; he
might just as well have retained his own money and this cheque until
the day of the signing of the new deed. To be sure, he had only to
reflect a moment to see the foolishness of his misgiving; yet, had he
thought of it before--

He, too, was perhaps a little overstrung in the nerves. Not for the
first time, he mentally threw a malediction at business, and all its
sordid appurtenances.

A change came over Sherwood. His smile grew more natural; his eye lost
its fixity; he puffed at his cigar with enjoyment.

"What news of Franks?" were his next words.

"Nothing very good," answered Will, frowning. "He seems to be still
playing the fool. I've seen him only once in the last fortnight, and
then it was evident he'd been drinking. I couldn't help saying a plain
word or two, and he turned sullen. I called at his place last night,
but he wasn't there; his landlady tells me he's been out of town
several times lately, and he's done no work."

"Has the girl gone?"

"A week ago. I have a letter from Ralph Pomfret. The good old chap
worries about this affair; so does Mrs. Pomfret. He doesn't say it
plainly, but I suspect Franks has been behaving theatrically down at
Ashstead; it's possible he went there in the same state in which I saw
him last. Pomfret would have done well to punch his head, but I've no
doubt they've stroked and patted and poor-fellow'd him--the very worst
thing for Franks."

"Or for any man," remarked Sherwood.

"Worse for him than for most. I wish I had more of the gift of
brutality; I see a way in which I might do him good; but it goes
against the grain with me."

"That I can believe," said Godfrey, with his pleasantest look and nod.

"I was afraid he might somehow scrape together money enough to pursue
her to Egypt. Perhaps he's trying for that. The Pomfrets want me to go
down to Ashstead and have a talk with them about him. Whether he
managed to see the girl before she left England, I don't know."

"After all, he _has_ been badly treated," said Sherwood sympathetically.

"Well, yes, he has. But a fellow must have common sense, most of all
with regard to women. I'm rather afraid Franks might think it a fine
thing to go to the devil because he's been jilted. It isn't fashionable
nowadays; there might seem to be a sort of originality about it."

They talked for a few minutes of business matters, and Sherwood briskly
went his way.

Four days passed. Warburton paid a visit to the Pomfrets, and had from
them a confirmation of all he suspected regarding Norbert Franks. The
artist's behaviour at Ashstead had been very theatrical indeed; he
talked much of suicide, preferably by the way of drink, and, when
dissuaded from this, with a burst of tears--veritable tears--begged
Ralph Pomfret to lend him money enough to go to Cairo; on which point,
also, he met with kindliest opposition. Thereupon, he had raged for
half an hour against some treacherous friend, unnamed. Who this could
be, the Pomfrets had no idea. Warburton, though he affected equal
ignorance, could not doubt but that it was himself, and he grew
inwardly angry. Franks had been to Bath, and had obtained a private
interview with Winifred Elvan, in which (Winifred wrote to her aunt) he
had demeaned himself very humbly and pathetically, first of all
imploring the sister's help with Rosamund, and, when she declared she
could do nothing, entreating to be told whether or not he was ousted by
a rival. Rather impatient with the artist's follies than troubled about
his sufferings, Will came home again. He wrote a brief, not unfriendly
letter to Franks, urging him to return to his better mind--the
half-disdainful, half-philosophical resignation which he seemed to have
attained a month ago. The answer to this was a couple of lines;
"Thanks. Your advice, no doubt, is well meant, but I had rather not
have it just now. Don't let us meet for the present." Will shrugged his
shoulders, and tried to forget all about the affair.

He did not see Sherwood, but had a note from him written in high
spirits. Applegarth would be in town two days hence, and all three were
to dine at his hotel. Having no occupation, Warburton spent most of his
time in walking about London; but these rambles did not give him the
wonted pleasure, and though at night he was very tired, he did not
sleep well. An inexplicable nervousness interfered with all his habits
of mind and body He was on the point of running down to St. Neots, to
get through the last day of intolerable idleness, when the morning post
again brought a letter from Sherwood.

"Confound the fellow!" he muttered, as he tore open the envelope. "What
else can he have to say? No infernal postponement, I hope--"

He read the first line and drew himself up like a man pierced with pain.


"My dear Warburton"--thus wrote his partner, in a hand less legible
than of wont--"I have such bad news for you that I hardly know how to
tell it. If I dared, I would come to you at once, but I simply have not
the courage to face you until you know the worst, and have had time to
get accustomed to it. It is seven o'clock; an hour ago I learnt that
all our money is lost--all yours, all that from St. Neots, all
mine--every penny I have. I have been guilty of unpardonable folly--how
explain my behaviour? The truth is, after the settlement in Little
Ailie Street; I found myself much worse off than I had expected. I went
into the money market, and made a successful deal. Counting on being
able to repeat this, I guaranteed the sixteen thousand for Bristol; but
the second time I lost. So it has gone on; all these last weeks I have
been speculating, winning and losing. Last Tuesday, when I came to see
you, I had about twelve thousand, and hoped somehow to make up the
deficiency. As the devil would have it, that same morning I met a City
acquaintance, who spoke of a great _coup_ to be made by any one who had
some fifteen thousand at command. It meant an immediate profit of 25
per cent. Like a fool, I was persuaded--as you will see when I go into
details, the thing looked horribly tempting. I put it all--every penny
that lay at our bank in the name of Sherwood Bros. And now I learn that
the house I trusted has smashed. It's in the papers this
evening--Biggles, Thorpe and Biggles--you'll see it. I dare not ask you
to forgive me. Of course I shall at once take steps to raise the money
owing to you, and hope to be able to do that soon, but it's all over
with the Bristol affair. I shall come to see you at twelve to-morrow.

"Yours,

"G. F. SHERWOOD."



CHAPTER 15


"After all, there's something in presentiment."

This was the first thought that took shape in Will's whirling mind. The
second was, that he might rationally have foreseen disaster. All the
points of strangeness which had struck him in Sherwood's behaviour came
back now with such glaring significance that he accused himself of
inconceivable limpness in having allowed things to go their way--above
all in trusting Godfrey with the St. Neots cheque. On this moment of
painful lucidity followed blind rage. Why, what a grovelling imbecile
was this fellow! To plunge into wild speculation, on the word of some
City shark, with money not his own! But could one credit the story? Was
it not more likely that Sherwood had got involved in some cunning
thievery which he durst not avow? Perhaps he was a mere liar and
hypocrite. That story of the ten thousand pounds he had lent to
somebody--how improbable it sounded; why might he not have invented it,
to strengthen confidence at a critical moment? The incredible baseness
of the man! He, who knew well all that depended upon the safe
investment of the St. Neots money--to risk it in this furiously
reckless way. In all the records of City scoundrelism, was there a
blacker case?

Raging thus, Warburton became aware that Mrs. Hopper spoke to him. She
had just laid breakfast, and, as usual when she wished to begin a
conversation, had drawn back to the door, where she paused.

"That Boxon, the grocer, has had a bad accident, sir."

"Boxon?--grocer?"

"In the Fulham Road, sir; him as Allchin was with."

"Ah!"

Heedless of her master's gloomy abstraction, Mrs. Hopper continued. She
related that Boxon had been at certain races where he had lost money
and got drunk; driving away in a trap, he had run into something, and
been thrown out, with serious injuries, which might prove fatal.

"So much the worse for him," muttered Warburton. "I've no pity to spare
for fools and blackguards."

"I should think not, indeed sir. I just mentioned it, sir, because
Allchin was telling us about it last night. He and his wife looked in
to see my sister, Liza, and they both said they never see such a change
in anybody. And they said how grateful we ought to be to you, sir, and
that I'm sure we are, for Liza'd never have been able to go away
without your kindness."

Listening as if this talk sounded from a vague distance, Warburton was
suddenly reminded of what had befallen himself; for as yet he had
thought only of his mother and sister. He was ruined. Some two or three
hundred pounds, his private bank account, represented all he had in the
world, and all prospect of making money had been taken away from him.
Henceforth, small must be his charities. If he gained his own living,
he must count himself lucky; nothing more difficult than for a man of
his age and position, unexpectedly cut adrift, to find work and
payment. By good fortune, his lease of this flat came to an end at
Michaelmas, and already he had given notice that he did not mean to
renew. Mrs. Hopper knew that he was on the point of leaving London, and
mot a little lamented it, for to her the loss would be serious indeed.
Warburton's habitual generosity led her to hope for some signal
benefaction ere his departure; perhaps on that account she was
specially emphatic in gratitude for her sister's restoration to health.

"We was wondering, sir," she added, now having wedged herself between
door and jamb, "whether you'd be so kind as to let my sister Liza see
you just for a minute or two, to thank you herself as I'm sure she
ought? She could come any time as wouldn't be ill-convenient to you."

"I'm extremely busy, Mrs. Hopper," Will replied. "Please tell your
sister I'm delighted to hear she's done so well at Southend, and I hope
to see her some day; but not just now. By the bye, I'm not going out
this morning, so don't wait, when you've finished."

By force of habit he ate and drank. Sherwood's letter lay open before
him; he read it through again and again. But he could not fix his
thoughts upon it. He found himself occupied with the story of Boxon,
wondering whether Boxon would live or die. Boxon, the grocer--why, what
an ass a man must be, a man with a good grocery business, to come to
grief over drink and betting! Shopkeeping--what a sound and safe life
it was; independent, as far as any money-earning life can be so. There
must be a pleasure in counting the contents of one's till every night.
Boxon! Of course, a mere brute. There came into Will's memory the
picture of Boxon landed on the pavement one night, by Allchin's fist or
toe--and of a sudden he laughed. When he had half-smoked his pipe,
comparative calmness fell upon him. Sherwood spoke of at once raising
the money he owed, and, if he succeeded in doing so, much of the
mischief would be undone. The four thousand pounds might be safely
invested somewhere, and life at The Haws would go on as usual. But was
it certain that Sherwood could "raise" such sums, being himself, as he
declared, penniless? This disclosure showed him in an unpleasantly new
light, as anything but the cautious man of business, the loyal friend,
he had seemed to be. Who could put faith in a money-market gambler?
Why, there was no difference to speak of between him and Boxon. And if
his promise proved futile--what was to be done?

For a couple of hours, Will stared at this question. When the clock on
his mantelpiece struck eleven, he happened to notice it, and was
surprised to find how quickly time had passed. By the bye, he had never
thought of looking at his newspaper, though Sherwood referred him to
that source of information on the subject of Biggles, Thorpe and
Biggles. Yes, here it was. A firm of brokers; unfortunate speculations;
failure of another house--all the old story. As likely as not, the
financial trick of a cluster of thieves. Will threw the paper aside. He
had always scorned that cunning of the Stock Exchange, now he thought
of it with fiery hatred.

Another hour passed in feverish waiting; then, just at mid-day, a knock
sounded at the outer door. Anything but a loud knock; anything but the
confident summons of a friend. Will went to open. There stood Godfrey
Sherwood, shrunk together like a man suffering from cold; he scarcely
raised his eyes.

Will's purpose, on finding Sherwood at his door, was to admit him
without a word, or any form of greeting; but the sight of that changed
face and pitiful attitude overcame him; he offered a hand, and felt it
warmly pressed.

They were together in the room; neither had spoken. Will pointed to a
chair, but did not himself sit down.

"I suppose it's all true, Warburton," began the other in a low voice,
"but I can't believe it yet. I seem to be walking in a nightmare; and
when you gave me your hand at the door, I thought for a second that I'd
just woke up."

"Sit down," said Will, "and let's have it out. Give me the details."

"That's exactly what I wish to do. Of course I haven't been to bed, and
I've spent the night in writing out a statement of all my dealings for
the past fifteen months. Here it is--and here are my pass-books."

Will took the paper, a half-sheet of foolscap, one side almost covered
with figures. At a glance he saw that the statement was perfectly
intelligible. The perusal of a few lines caused him to look up in
astonishment.

"You mean to say that between last September and the end of the year
you lost twenty-five thousand pounds?"

"I did."

"And you mean to say that you still went on with your gambling?"

"Things were getting bad in Ailie Street, you know."

"And you did your best to make them desperate." Sherwood's head seemed
trying to bury itself between his shoulders; his feet hid themselves
under the chair, he held his hat in a way suggestive of the man who
comes to beg.

"The devil of the City got hold of me," he replied, with a miserable
attempt to look Warburton in the face.

"Yes," said Will, "that's clear. Then, a month ago, you really
possessed only nine thousand pounds?"

"That was all I had left, out of nearly forty thousand."

"What astonishes me is, that you won from time to time."

"I did!" exclaimed Godfrey, with sudden animation. "Look at the fifth
of February--that was a great day! It's that kind of thing that tempts
a man on. Afterwards I lost steadily but I might have won any day. And
I had to make a good deal, if we were to come to terms with Applegarth.
I nearly did it. I was as cautious as a man could be--content with
small things. If only I hadn't been pressed for time! It was only the
want of time that made me use your money. Of course, it was criminal.
Don't think I wish to excuse myself for one moment. Absolutely
criminal. I knew what was at stake. But I thought the thing was sure.
It promised at the least twenty-five per cent. We should have started
brilliantly at Bristol--several thousands for advertisement, beyond our
estimate. I don't think the Biggles people were dishonest--"

"You don't _think_ so!" interrupted Will, contemptuously. "If there's
any doubt we know on which side it weighs. Just tell me the facts. What
was the security?"

Sherwood replied with a brief, clear, and obviously honest account of
the speculation into which he had been drawn. To the listener it seemed
astounding that any responsible man should be lured by such gambler's
chance; he could hardly find patience to point out the manifest risks
so desperately incurred. And Sherwood admitted the full extent of his
folly; he could only repeat that he had acted on an irresistible
impulse, to be explained, though not defended, by the embarrassment in
which he found himself.

"Thank Heaven, this is over!" he exclaimed at last, passing his
handkerchief over a moist forehead. "I don't know how I got through
last night. More than once, I thought it would be easier to kill myself
than to come and face you. But there was the certainty that I could
make good your loss. I may be able to do so very soon. I've written
to--"

He checked himself on the point of uttering a name; then with eyes
down, reflected for a moment.

"No; I haven't the right to tell you, though I should like to, to give
you confidence. It's the story of the ten thousand pounds, you
remember? When I lent that money, I promised never to let any one know.
Even if I can't realise your capital at once, I can pay you good
interest until the money's forthcoming. That would be the same thing to
you?"

Warburton gave him a keen look, and said gravely--

"Let's understand each other, Sherwood. Have you any income at all?"

"None whatever now, except the interest on the ten thousand; and
that--well, I'm sorry to say it hasn't been paid very regularly. But in
future it must be--it _shall_ be. Between two and three thousand are
owing to me for arrears."

"It's a queer story."

"I know it is," admitted Godfrey. "But I hope you don't doubt my word?"

"No, I don't--What's to be done about Applegarth?"

"I must see him," replied Sherwood with a groan. "Of course you have no
part in the miserable business. I must write at once, and then go and
face him."

"Of course I shall go with you."

"You will? That's kind of you. Luckily he's a civilised man, not one of
the City brutes one might have had to deal with."

"We must hope he'll live up to his reputation," said Warburton, with
the first smile, and that no cheery one, which had risen to his lips
during this interview.

From that point the talk became easier. All the aspects of their
position were considered, without stress of feeling, for Will had
recovered his self-control; and Sherwood, soothed by the sense of
having discharged an appalling task, tended once more to sanguine
thoughts. To be sure, neither of them could see any immediate way out
of the gulf in which they found themselves; all hope of resuming
business was at an end; the only practical question was, how to earn a
living; but both were young men, and neither had ever known privation;
it was difficult for them to believe all at once that they were really
face to face with that grim necessity which they had thought of as
conquering others, but never them. Certain unpleasant steps, however,
had at once to be taken. Sherwood must give up his house at Wimbledon;
Warburton must look about for a cheap lodging into which to remove at
Michaelmas. Worse still, and more urgent, was the duty of making known
to Mrs. Warburton what had happened.

"I suppose I must go down at once," said Will gloomily.

"I see no hurry," urged the other. "As a matter of fact, your mother
and sister will lose nothing. You undertook to pay them a minimum of
three per cent. on their money, and that you can do; I guarantee you
that, in any case."

Will mused. If indeed it were possible to avoid the disclosure--? But
that would involve much lying, a thing, even in a good cause, little to
his taste. Still, when he thought of his mother's weak health, and how
she might be affected by the news of this catastrophe, he began
seriously to ponder the practicability of well-meaning deception. That,
of course, must depend upon their difficulties with Applegarth
remaining strictly private; and even so, could Mr. Turnbull's scent for
disaster be successfully reckoned with?

"Don't do anything hastily, Warburton, I beg of you," continued the
other. "Things are never so bad as they look at first sight. Wait till
I have seen--you know who. I might even be able to--but it's better not
to promise. Wait a day or two, at all events."

And this Warburton resolved to do; for, if the worst came to the worst,
he had some three hundred pounds of his own still in the bank, and so
could assure, for two years at all events, the income of which his
mother and Jane had absolute need. For himself, he should find some way
of earning bread and cheese; he could no longer stand on his dignity,
and talk of independence, that was plain.

When at length his calamitous partner had gone, he made an indifferent
lunch on the cold meat he found in Mrs. Hopper's precincts, and then
decided that he had better take a walk; to sit still and brood was the
worst possible way of facing such a crisis. There was no friend with
whom he could discuss the situation; none whose companionship would
just now do him any particular good. Better to walk twenty miles, and
tire himself out, and see how things looked after a good night's sleep,
So he put on his soft hat, and took his walking-stick, and slammed the
door behind him. Some one was coming up the stairs; sunk in his own
thoughts he paid no heed, even when the other man stood in front of
him. Then a familiar voice claimed his attention.

"Do you want to cut me, Warburton?"



CHAPTER 16


Warburton stopped, and looked into the speaker's face, as if he hardly
recognised him.

"You're going out," added Franks, turning round. "I won't keep you."

And he seemed about to descend the stairs quickly. But Will at length
found voice.

"Come in. I was thinking of something, and didn't see you."

They entered, and passed as usual into the sitting-room, but not with
the wonted exchange of friendly words. The interval since their last
meeting seemed to have alienated them more than the events which
preceded it. Warburton was trying to smile, but each glance he took at
the other's face made his lips less inclined to relax from a certain
severity rarely seen in them; and Franks succeeded but ill in his
attempt to lounge familiarly, with careless casting of the eye this way
and that. It was he who broke silence.

"I've found a new drink--gin and laudanum. First rate for the nerves."

"Ah!" replied Warburton gravely. "My latest tipple is oil of vitriol
with a dash of strychnine. Splendid pick-me-up."

Franks laughed loudly, but unmirthfully.

"No, but I'm quite serious," he continued. "It's the only thing that
keeps me going. If I hadn't found the use of laudanum in small doses, I
should have tried a very large one before now."

His language had a note of bravado, and his attitude betrayed the
self-conscious actor, but there was that in his countenance which could
only have come of real misery. The thin cheeks, heavy-lidded and
bloodshot eyes, ill-coloured lips, made a picture anything but
agreeable to look upon; and quite in keeping with it was the shabbiness
of his garb. After an intent and stern gaze at him, Will asked bluntly:

"When did you last have a bath?"

"Bath? Good God--how do I know?"

And again Franks laughed in the key of stage recklessness.

"I should advise a Turkish," said Will, "followed by rhubarb of the
same country. You'd feel vastly better next day."

"The remedies," answered Franks, smiling disdainfully, "of one who has
never been through moral suffering."

"Yet efficacious, even morally, I can assure you. And, by the bye, I
want to know when you're going to finish 'The Slummer.'"

"Finish it? Why, never! I could as soon turn to and build a bridge over
the Thames."

"What do you mean? I suppose you have to earn your living?"

"I see no necessity for it. What do I care, whether I live or not?"

"Well, then, I am obliged to ask whether you feel it incumbent upon
you--to pay your debts?"

The last words came out with a jerk, after a little pause which proved
what it cost Warburton to speak them. To save his countenance, he
assumed an unnatural grimness of feature, staring Franks resolutely in
the face. And the result was the artist's utter subjugation; he
shuffled, dropped his head, made confused efforts to reply.

"Of course I shall do so--somehow," he muttered at length.

"Have you any other way--honest way--except by working?"

"Very well, then, I'll find work. Real work. Not that cursed daubing,
which it turns my stomach to think of."

Warburton paused a moment, then said kindly:

"That's the talk of a very sore and dazed man. Before long, you'll be
yourself again, and you'll go back to your painting with an appetite
And the sooner you try the better. I don't particularly like dunning
people for money, as I think you know, but, when you can pay that debt
of yours, I shall be glad. I've had a bit of bad luck since last we saw
each other."

Franks gazed in heavy-eyed wonder, uncertain whether to take this as a
joke or not.

"Bad luck? What sort of bad luck?"

"Why, neither on the turf nor at Monte Carlo. But a speculation has
gone wrong, and I'm adrift. I shall have to leave this flat. How I'm
going to keep myself alive, I don't know yet. The Bristol affair is of
course off. I'm as good as penniless, and a hundred pounds or so will
come very conveniently, whenever you can manage it."

"Are you serious, Warburton?"

"Perfectly."

"You've really lost everything? You've got to leave this flat because
you can't afford it?"

"That, my boy, is the state of the case."

"By Jove! No wonder you didn't see me as I came upstairs. What the
deuce! You in Queer Street! I never dreamt of such a thing as a
possibility. I've always thought of you as a flourishing
capitalist--sound as the Mansion House. Why didn't you begin by telling
me this? I'm about as miserable as a fellow can be, but I should never
have bothered you with my miseries.--Warburton in want of money? Why,
the idea is grotesque; I can't get hold of it. I came to you as men go
to a bank. Of course, I meant to pay it all, some day, but you were so
generous and so rich, I never thought there would be any hurry. I'm
astounded--I'm floored!"

With infinite satisfaction, Warburton saw the better man rising again
in his friend, noted the change of countenance, of bearing, of tone.

"You see," he said, with a nod and a smile, "that you've no choice but
to finish 'The Slummer!'"

Franks looked about him uneasily, fretfully.

"Either that--or something else," he muttered.

"No--_that_! It'll bring you two or three hundred pounds without much
delay."

"I daresay it would. But if you knew how I loathe and curse the very
sight of the thing--Why I haven't burnt it I don't know."

"Probably," said Will, "because in summer weather you take your gin and
laudanum cold."

This time the artist's laugh was more genuine.

"The hideous time I have been going through!" he continued. "It's no
use trying to give you an idea of it. Of course you'd say it was all
damned foolery. Well, I shan't go through it again, that's one
satisfaction. I've done with women. One reason why I loathe the thought
of going on with that picture is because I still have the girl's head
to put in. But I'll do it. I'll go back and get to work at once. If I
can't find a model, I'll fake the head--get it out of some woman's
paper where the fashions are illustrated; that'll do very well. I'll go
and see how the beastly thing looks. It's turned against the wall, and
I wonder I haven't put my boot through it."



CHAPTER 17


Warburton waited for a quarter of an hour after the artist had gone,
then set out for his walk. The result of this unexpected conversation
with Franks was excellent; the foolish fellow seemed to have recovered
his common sense. But Will felt ashamed of himself. Of course he had
acted solely with a view to the other's good, seeing no hope but this
of rescuing Franks from the slough in which he wallowed; nevertheless,
he was stung with shame. For the first time in his life he had asked
repayment of money lent to a friend. And he had done the thing
blunderingly, without tact. For the purpose in view, it would have been
enough to speak of his own calamity; just the same effect would have
been produced on Franks. He saw this now, and writhed under the sense
of his grossness. The only excuse he could urge for himself was that
Franks' behaviour provoked and merited rough handling. Still, he might
have had perspicacity enough to understand that the artist was not so
sunk in squalor as he pretended.

"Just like me," he growled to himself, with a nervous twitching of the
face. "I've no presence of mind. I see the right thing when it's too
late, and when I've made myself appear a bounder. How many thousand
times have I blundered in this way! A man like me ought to live
alone--as I've a very fair chance of doing in future."

His walk did him no good, and on his return he passed a black evening.
With Mrs. Hopper, who came as usual to get dinner for him, he held
little conversation; in a few days he would have to tell her what had
befallen him, or invent some lie to account for the change in his
arrangements, and this again tortured Will's nerves. In one sense of
the word, no man was less pretentious; but his liberality of thought
and behaviour consisted with a personal pride which was very much at
the mercy of circumstance. Even as he could not endure subjection, so
did he shrink from the thought of losing dignity in the eyes of his
social inferiors. Mere poverty and lack of ease did not frighten him at
all; he had hardly given a thought as yet to that aspect of misfortune.
What most of all distressed his imagination (putting aside thought of
his mother and sister) was the sudden fall from a position of genial
authority, of beneficent command, with all the respect and gratitude
and consideration attaching thereto. He could do without personal
comforts, if need were, but it pained him horribly to think of being no
longer a patron and a master. With a good deal more philosophy than the
average man, and vastly more benevolence, he could not attain to the
humility which would have seen in this change of fortune a mere
surrender of privileges perhaps quite unjustifiable. Social grades were
an inseparable part of his view of life; he recognised the existence of
his superiors--though resolved to have as little to do with them as
possible, and took it as a matter of course that multitudes of men
should stand below his level. To imagine himself an object of pity for
Mrs. Hopper and Allchin and the rest of them wrought upon his bile,
disordered his digestion.

He who had regarded so impatiently the trials of Norbert Franks now had
to go through an evil time, with worse results upon his temper, his
health, and whole being, than he would have thought conceivable. For a
whole fortnight he lived in a state of suspense and forced idleness,
which helped him to understand the artist's recourse to gin and
laudanum. The weather was magnificent, but for him no sun rose in the
sky. If he walked about London, he saw only ugliness and wretchedness,
his eyes seeming to have lost the power of perceiving other things.
Every two or three days he heard from Sherwood, who wrote that he was
doing his utmost, and continued to hold out hope that he would soon
have money: but these letters were not reassuring. The disagreeable
interview with Applegarth had passed off better than might have been
expected. Though greatly astonished, and obviously in some doubt as to
the facts of the matter, Applegarth behaved as a gentleman, resigned
all claims upon the defaulters, and brought the affair to a decent
close as quickly as possible. But Warburton came away with a face so
yellow that he seemed on the point of an attack of jaundice. For him to
be the object of another man's generous forbearance was something new
and intolerable. Before parting with Sherwood, he spoke to him
bitterly, all but savagely. A few hours later, of course, repentance
came upon him, and he wrote to ask pardon. An evil time.

At length Sherwood came to Chelsea, having written to ask for a
meeting. Will's forebodings were but too well justified. The disastrous
man came only to say that all his efforts had failed. His debtor for
ten thousand pounds was himself in such straits that he could only live
by desperate expedients, and probably would not be able to pay a penny
of interest this year.

"Happily," said Sherwood, "his father's health is breaking. One is
obliged to talk in this brutal way, you know. At the father's death it
will be all right; I shall then have my legal remedy, if there's need
of it. To take any step of that sort now would be ruinous; my friend
would be cut off with a shilling, if the affair came to his father's
ears."

"So this is how we stand," said Warburton, grimly. "It's all over."

Sherwood laid on the table a number of bank-notes, saying simply:

"There's two hundred and sixty pounds--the result of the sale of my
furniture and things. Will you use that and trust me a little longer?"

Warburton writhed in his chair.

"What have you to live upon?" he asked with eyes downcast.

"Oh, I shall get on all right. I've one or two ideas."

"But this is all the money you have?"

"I've kept about fifty pounds," answered the other, "out of which I can
pay my debts--they're small--and the rent of my house for this quarter."

Warburton pushed back the notes.

"I can't take it--you know I can't."

"You must."

"How the devil are you going to live?" cried Will, in exasperation.

"I shall find a way," replied Sherwood with an echo of his old
confident tone. "I need a little time to look about me, that's all,
There's a relative of mine, an old fellow who lives comfortably in
North Wales, and who invites me down every two or three years. The best
thing will be for me to go and spend a short time with him, and get my
nerves into order--I'm shaky, there's no disguising it. I haven't
exhausted all the possibilities of raising money; there's hope still in
one or two directions; if I get a little quietness and rest I shall be
able to think things out more clearly Don't you think this justifiable?"

As to the money he remained inflexible. Very reluctantly Warburton
consented to keep this sum, giving a receipt in form.

"You haven't said anything to Mrs. Warburton yet?" asked Sherwood
nervously.

"Not yet," muttered Will.

"I wish you could postpone it a little longer. Could you--do you
think--without too much strain of conscience? Doesn't it seem a
pity--when any day may enable me to put things right?"

Will muttered again that he would think of it; that assuredly he
preferred not to disclose the matter if it could decently be kept
secret. And on this Sherwood took his leave, going away with a brighter
face than he had brought to the interview; whilst Will remained
brooding gloomily, his eyes fixed on the bank-notes, in an unconscious
stare.

Little of a man of business as he was, Warburton knew very well that
things at the office were passing in a flagrantly irregular way: he
knew that any one else in his position would have put this serious
affair into legal hands, if only out of justice to Sherwood himself.
More than once he had thought of communicating with Mr. Turnbull, but
shame withheld him. It seemed improbable, too, that the solicitor would
connive at keeping his friends at The Haws ignorant of what had
befallen them, and with every day that passed Will felt more disposed
to hide that catastrophe, if by any means that were possible. Already
he had half committed himself to this deception, having written to his
mother (without mention of any other detail) that he might, after all,
continue to live in London, where Applegarth's were about to establish
a warehouse. The question was how; if he put aside all the money he had
for payment of pretended dividend to his mother and sister, how, in
that case, was he himself to live? At the thought of going about
applying for clerk's work, or anything of that kind, cold water flowed
down his back; rather than that, he would follow Allchin's example, and
turn porter--an independent position compared with bent-backed slavery
on an office-stool. Some means of earning money he must find without
delay. To live on what he had, one day longer than could be helped,
would be sheer dishonesty. Sherwood might succeed in bringing him a few
hundreds--of the ten thousand Will thought not at all, so fantastic did
the whole story sound--but that would be merely another small
instalment of the sum due to the unsuspecting victims at St. Neots.
Strictly speaking, he owned not a penny; his very meals to-day were at
the expense of his mother and Jane. This thought goaded him. His sleep
became a mere nightmare; his waking, a dry-throated misery.

In spite of loathing and dread, he began to read the thick-serried
columns of newspaper advertisement, Wanted! Wanted! Wanted! Wants by
the thousand; but many more those of the would-be employed than those
of the would-be employers, and under the second heading not one in a
hundred that offered him the slightest hint or hope. Wanted! Wanted. To
glance over these columns is like listening to the clamour of a
hunger-driven multitude; the ears sing, the head turns giddy. After a
quarter of an hour of such search, Will flung the paper aside, and
stamped like a madman about his room. A horror of life seized him; he
understood, with fearful sympathy, the impulse of those who, rather
than be any longer hustled in this howling mob dash themselves to
destruction.

He thought over the list of his friends. Friends--what man has more
than two or three? At this moment he knew of no one who wished him well
who could be of the slightest service. His acquaintances were of course
more numerous. There lay on his table two invitations just
received--the kind of invitation received by every man who does not
live the life of a hermit. But what human significance had they? Not a
name rose in his mind which symbolised helpfulness. True, that might be
to some extent his own fault; the people of whom he saw most were such
as needed, not such as could offer, aid. He thought of Ralph Pomfret.
There, certainly, a kindly will would not be lacking, but how could he
worry with his foolish affairs a man on whom he had no shadow of claim?
No: he stood alone. It was a lesson in social science such as reading
could never have afforded him. His insight into the order of a man's
world had all at once been marvellously quickened, the scope of his
reflections incredibly extended. Some vague consciousness of this now
and then arrested him in his long purposeless walks; he began to be
aware of seeing common things with new eyes. But the perception was
akin to fear; he started and looked nervously about, as if suddenly
aware of some peril.

One afternoon he was on his way home from a westward trudge, plodding
along the remoter part of Fulham Road, when words spoken by a woman
whom he passed caught his ears.

"See 'ere! The shutters is up. Boxon must be dead."

Boxon? How did he come to know that name? He slackened his pace,
reflecting. Why, Boxon was the name of the betting and drinking grocer,
with whom Allchin used to be. He stopped, and saw a group of three or
four women staring at the closed shop. Didn't Mrs. Hopper say that
Boxon had been nearly killed in a carriage accident? Doubtless he was
dead.

He walked on, but before he had gone a dozen yards, stopped abruptly,
turned, crossed to the other side of the road, and went back till he
stood opposite the closed shop. The name of the tradesman in great gilt
letters proved that there was no mistake. He examined the building;
there were two storys above the shop; the first seemed to be used for
storage; white blinds at the windows of the second showed it to be
inhabited. For some five minutes Will stood gazing and reflecting;
then, with head bent as before, he pursued his way.

When he reached home, Mrs. Hopper regarded him compassionately; the
good woman was much disturbed by the strangeness of his demeanour
lately, and feared he was going to be ill.

"You look dre'ful tired, sir," she said. "I'll make you a cup of tea at
once. It'll do you good."

"Yes, get me some tea," answered Warburton, absently. Then, as she was
leaving the room, he asked, "Is it true that the grocer Boxon is dead?"

"I was going to speak of it this morning, sir," replied Mrs. Hopper,
"but you seemed so busy. Yes, sir, he's died--died the day before
yesterday, they say, and it'd be surprising to hear as anybody's sorry."

"Who'll take his business?" asked Warburton.

"We was talking about that last night, sir, me and my sister Liza, and
the Allchins. It's fallen off a great deal lately, what else could you
expect? since Boxon got into his bad ways. But anybody as had a little
money might do well there. Allchin was saying he wished he had a few
'undreds."

"A few hundred would be enough?" interrupted the listener, without
noticing the look of peculiar eagerness on Mrs. Hopper's face.

"Allchin thinks the goodwill can be had for about a 'undred, sir; and
the rent, it's only eighty pounds--"

"Shop and house?"

"Yes, sir; so Allchin says. It isn't much of a 'ouse, of course."

"What profits could be made, do you suppose, by an energetic man?"

"When Boxon began, sir," replied Mrs. Hopper, with growing animation,
"he used to make--so Allchin says--a good five or six 'undred a year.
There's a good deal of profit in the grocery business, and Boxon's
situation is good; there's no other grocer near him. But of course--as
Allchin says--you want to lay out a good deal at starting--"

"Yes, yes, of course, you must have stock." said Will carelessly.
"Bring me some tea at once, Mrs. Hopper."

It had suddenly occurred to him that Allchin might think of trying to
borrow the capital wherewith to start this business, and that Mrs.
Hopper might advise her brother-in-law to apply to him for the loan.

But this was not at all the idea which had prompted Will's inquiries.



CHAPTER 18


Another week went by. Warburton was still living in the same restless
way, but did not wear quite so gloomy a countenance; now and then he
looked almost cheerful. That was the case when one morning he received
a letter from Sherwood. Godfrey wrote that, no sooner had he arrived at
his relative's in North Wales than he was seized with a violent
liver-attack, which for some days prostrated him; he was now
recovering, and better news still, had succeeded in borrowing a couple
of hundred pounds. Half of this sum he sent to Warburton; the other
half he begged to be allowed to retain, as he had what might prove a
very fruitful idea for the use of the money--details presently. To this
letter Will immediately replied at some length. The cheque he paid into
his account, which thus reached a total of more than six hundred pounds.

A few days later, after breakfast as usual, he let his servant clear
the table, then said with a peculiar smile.

"I want to have a little talk with you, Mrs. Hopper. Please sit down."

To seat herself in her master's presence went against all Mrs. Hopper's
ideas of propriety. Seeing her hesitate, Will pointed steadily to a
chair, and the good woman, much flurried, placed herself on the edge of
it.

"You have noticed," Warburton resumed, "that I haven't been quite
myself lately. There was a good reason for it. I've had a misfortune in
business; all my plans are changed; I shall have to begin quite a new
life--a different life altogether from that I have led till now."

Mrs. Hopper seemed to have a sudden pain in the side. She groaned under
her breath, staring at the speaker pitifully.

"There's no need to talk about it, you know," Will went on with a
friendly nod. "I tell you, because I'm thinking of going into a
business in which your brother-in-law could help me, if he cares to."

He paused. Mrs. Hopper kept her wide eyes on him.

"Allchin'll be very glad to hear of that, sir. What am I saying? Of
course I don't mean he'll be glad you've had misfortune, sir, and I'm
that sorry to hear it, I can't tell you. But it does just happen as
he's out of work, through that nasty temper of his. Not," she corrected
herself hastily, "as I ought to call him nasty-tempered. With a good
employer, I'm sure he'd never get into no trouble at all."

"Does he still wish to get back into the grocery business?"

"He'd be only too glad, sir, But, of course, any place as _you_ offered
him--"

"Well, it happens," said Warburton, "that it is the grocery business
I'm thinking about."

"You, sir?" gasped Mrs. Hopper.

"I think I shall take Boxon's shop."

"_You_, sir? Take a grocer's shop?--You mean, you'd put Allchin in to
manage it?"

"No, I don't, Mrs. Hopper," replied Will, smiling mechanically. "I have
more than my own living to earn; other people are dependent upon me, so
I must make as much money as possible. I can t afford to pay a manager.
I shall go behind the counter myself, and Allchin, if he cares for the
place, shall be my assistant."

The good woman could find no words to express her astonishment.

"Suppose you have a word with Allchin, and send him to see me this
evening? I say again, there's no need to talk about the thing to
anybody else. We'll just keep it quiet between us."

"You can depend upon me, sir," declared Mrs. Hopper. "But did you
_hever_! It's come upon me so sudden like. And what'll Allchin say!
Why, he'll think I'm having a game with him."

To this point had Will Warburton brought himself, urged by conscience
and fear. Little by little, since the afternoon when he gazed at
Boxon's closed shop, had this purpose grown in his mind, until he saw
it as a possibility--a desirability--a fact. By shopkeeping, he might
hope to earn sufficient for supply of the guaranteed income to his
mother and sister, and at the same time be no man's servant. His
acquaintance with Allchin enabled him to disregard his lack of grocery
experience; with Allchin for an assistant, he would soon overcome
initial difficulties. Only to Godfrey Sherwood had he communicated his
project. "What difference is there," he wrote, "between selling sugar
from an office in Whitechapel, and selling it from behind a counter in
Fulham Road?" And Sherwood--who was still reposing in North
Wales--wrote a long, affectionate, admiring reply. "You are splendid!
What energy! What courage! I could almost say that I don't regret my
criminal recklessness, seeing that it has given the occasion for such a
magnificent display of character." He added, "Of course it will be only
for a short time. Even if the plans I am now working out--details
shortly--come to nothing (a very unlikely thing), I am sure to recover
my ten thousand pounds in a year or so."--"Of course," he wrote in a
postscript, "I breathe no word of it to any mortal."

This letter--so are we made--did Warburton good. It strengthened him in
carrying through the deception of his relatives and of Mr. Turnbull,
for he saw himself as _splendide mendax_. In Sherwood's plans and
assurances he had no shadow of faith, but Sherwood's admiration was
worth having, and it threw a gilding upon the name of grocer. Should he
impart the secret to Norbert Franks? That question he could not decide
just yet. In any case, he should tell no one else; all other
acquaintances must be content--if they cared to inquire--with vague
references to an "agency," or something of the sort. Neither his mother
nor Jane ever came to London for them, his change of address to a
poorer district would have no significance. In short, London, being
London, it seemed perfectly feasible to pass his life in a grocer's
shop without the fact becoming known to any one from whom he wished to
conceal it.

The rent of the shop and house was eighty-five pounds--an increase upon
that paid by Boxon. "Plant" was estimated at a hundred and twenty-five;
the stock at one hundred and fifty, and the goodwill at a round
hundred. This made a total of four hundred and sixty pounds, leaving
Warburton some couple of hundred for all the expenses of his start. The
landlord had consented to do certain repairs, including a repainting of
the shop, and this work had already begun. Not a day must be lost. Will
knew that the first half-year would decide his fate as a tradesman. Did
he come out at the end of six months with sufficient profit to pay a
bare three per cent. on the St. Neots money, all would be safe and
well. If the balance went against him, why then the whole battle of
life was lost, and he might go hide his head in some corner even more
obscure.

Of course he counted largely on the help of Allchin. Allchin, though
pig-headed and pugnacious, had a fair knowledge of the business, to
which he had been bred, and of business matters in general always
talked shrewdly. Unable, whatever his own straits, to deal penuriously
with my one, Will had thought out a liberal arrangement, whereby all
the dwelling part of the house should be given over, rent free, to
Allchin and his wife, with permission to take one lodger; the assistant
to be paid a small salary, and a percentage on shop takings when they
reached a certain sum per month. This proposal, then, he set before the
muscular man on his presenting himself this afternoon. Allchin's
astonishment at the story he had heard from Mrs. Hopper was not less
than that of the woman herself. With difficulty persuaded to sit down,
he showed a countenance in which the gloom he thought decorous
struggled against jubilation on his own account: and Warburton had not
talked long before his listener's features irresistibly expanded in a
happy grin.

"How would something of this kind suit you?" asked Will.

"Me, sir?" Allchin slapped his leg. "You ask how it suits _me_?"

His feelings were too much for him. He grew very red, and could say no
more.

"Then suppose we settle it so. I've written out the terms of your
engagement. Read and sign."

Allchin pretended to read the paper, but obviously paid no attention to
it. He seemed to be struggling with some mental obstacle.

"Something you want to alter?" asked Warburton.

"Why, sir, you've altogether forgot as I'm in your debt. It stands to
reason as you must take that money out before you begin to pay me
anything."

"Oh, we won't say anything more about that trifle. We're making a new
beginning. But look here, Allchin, I don't want you to quarrel with me,
as you do with every one else--"

"With _you_, sir? Ho, ho!"

Allchin guffawed, and at once looked ashamed of himself.

"I quarrel," he added, "with people as are insulting, or as try to best
me. It goes against my nature, sir, to be insulted and to be bested."

They talked about the details of the business, and presently Allchin
asked what name was to be put up over the shop.

"I've thought of that," answered Will. "What do you say to--_Jollyman_?"

The assistant was delighted; he repeated the name a dozen times,
snorting and choking with appreciation of the joke. Next morning, they
met again, and went together to look at the shop. Here Allchin made
great play with his valuable qualities. He pointed out the errors and
negligencies of the late Boxon, declared it a scandal that a business
such as this should have been allowed to fall off, and was full of
ingenious ideas for a brilliant opening. Among other forms of
inexpensive advertisement, he suggested that, for the first day, a band
should be engaged to play in the front room over the shop, with the
windows open; and he undertook to find amateur bandsmen who would
undertake the job on very moderate terms.

Not many days elapsed before the old name had disappeared from the
house front, giving place to that of Jollyman. Whilst this was being
painted up, Allchin stood on the opposite side of the way, watching
delightedly.

"When I think as the name used to be Boxon," he exclaimed to his
employer, "why, I can't believe as any money was ever made here. Boxon!
Why, it was enough to drive customers away! If you ever heard a worse
name, sir, for a shopkeeper, I should be glad to be told of it. But
_Jollyman_! Why, it'll bring people from Putney, from Battersea, from
who knows how far. Jollyman's Teas, Jollyman's sugar--can't you _hear_
'em saying it, already? It's a fortune in itself, that name. Why, sir,
if a grocer called Boxon came at this moment, and offered to take me
into partnership on half profits, I wouldn't listen to him--there!"

Naturally, all this did not pass without many a pang in Warburton's
sensitive spots. He had set his face like brass, or tried to do so; but
in the night season he could all but have shed tears of humiliation, as
he tossed on his comfortless pillow. The day was spent in visits to
wholesale grocery establishments, in study of trade journals, in
calculating innumerable petty questions of profit and loss. When nausea
threatened him: when an all but horror of what lay before him assailed
his mind; he thought fixedly of The Haws, and made a picture to himself
of that peaceful little home devastated by his own fault. And to think
that all this sweat and misery arose from the need of gaining less than
a couple of hundred pounds a year! Life at The Haws, a life of
refinement and goodness and tranquillity such as can seldom be found,
demanded only that--a sum which the wealthy vulgar throw away upon the
foolish amusement of an hour. Warburton had a tumultuous mind in
reflecting on these things; but the disturbance was salutary, bearing
him through trials of nerve and patience and self-respect which he
could not otherwise have endured.

Warburton had now to find cheap lodgings for himself, unfurnished rooms
in some poor quarter not too far from the shop.

At length, in a new little street of very red brick, not far from
Fulham Palace Road at the Hammersmith end, he came upon a small house
which exhibited in its parlour window a card inscribed: "Two
unfurnished rooms to be let to single gentlemen only." The precision of
this notice made him hopeful, and a certain cleanliness of aspect in
the woman who opened to him was an added encouragement; but he found
negotiations not altogether easy. The landlady, a middle-aged widow,
seemed to regard him with some peculiar suspicion; before even
admitting him to the house, she questioned him closely as to his
business, his present place of abode, and so on, and Warburton was all
but turning away in impatience, when at last she drew aside, and
cautiously invited him to enter. Further acquaintance with Mrs. Wick
led him to understand that the cold, misgiving in her eye, the sour
rigidity of her lips, and her generally repellant manner, were
characteristics which meant nothing in particular--save as they
resulted from a more or less hard life amid London's crowd; at present,
the woman annoyed him, and only the clean freshness of her vacant rooms
induced him to take the trouble of coming to terms with her.

"There's one thing I must say to you quite plain, to begin with,"
remarked Mrs. Wick, whose language, though not disrespectful, had a
certain bluntness. "I can't admit female visitors--not on any excuse."

Speaking thus, she set her face at its rigidest and sourest, and stared
past Warburton at the wall. He, unable to repress a smile, declared his
perfect readiness to accept this condition of tenancy.

"Another thing," pursued the landlady, "is that I don't like late
hours." And she eyed him as one might a person caught in flagrant
crapulence at one o'clock a.m.

"Why, neither do I," Will replied. "But for all that, I may be obliged
to come home late now and then."

"From the theatre, I suppose?"

"I very seldom go to the theatre." (Mrs. Wick looked sanguine for an
instant, but at once relapsed into darker suspicion than ever.) "But as
to my hour of returning home, I must have entire liberty."

The woman meditated, profound gloom on her brows.

"You haven't told me," she resumed, shooting a glance of keen distrust,
"exactly what your business may be."

"I am in the sugar line," responded Will.

"Sugar? You wouldn't mind giving me the name of your employers?"

The word so rasped on Warburton's sensitive temper that he seemed about
to speak angrily. This the woman observed, and added at once:

"I don't doubt but that you're quite respectable, sir, but you can
understand as I have to be careful who I take into my house."

"I understand that, but I must ask you to be satisfied with a reference
to my present landlord. That, and a month's payment in advance, ought
to suffice."

Evidently it did, for Mrs. Wick, after shooting one or two more of her
sharpest looks, declared herself willing to enter into discussion of
details. He required attendance, did he? Well it all depended upon what
sort of attendance he expected; if he wanted cooking at late
hours.--Warburton cut short these anticipatory objections, and made
known that his wants were few and simple: plain breakfast at eight
o'clock, cold supper on the table when he came home, a mid-day meal on
Sundays, and the keeping of his rooms in order; that was all. After
morose reflection, Mrs. Wick put her demand for rooms and service at a
pound a week, but to this Warburton demurred. It cost him agonies to
debate such a matter; but, as he knew very well, the price was
excessive for unfurnished lodgings, and need constrained him. He
offered fifteen shillings, and said he would call for Mrs. Wick's
decision on the morrow. The landlady allowed him to go to the foot of
the stairs, then stopped him.

"I wouldn't mind taking fifteen shillings," she said, "if I knew it was
for a permanency."

"I can't bind myself more than by the month."

"Would you be willing to leave a deposit?"

So the matter was settled, and Warburton arranged to enter into
possession that day week.

Without delay the shop repairs were finished, inside and out; orders
for stock were completed; in two days--as a great bill on the shutters
announced--"Jollyman's Grocery Stores" would be open to the public.
Allchin pleaded strongly for the engagement of the brass band; it
wouldn't cost much, and the effect would be immense. Warburton
shrugged, hesitated, gave way, and the band was engaged.



CHAPTER 19


Rosamund Elvan was what ladies call a good correspondent. She wrote
often, she wrote at length, and was satisfied with few or brief letters
in reply. Scarcely had she been a week at Cairo, when some half dozen
sheets of thin paper, covered with her small swift writing, were
dispatched to Bertha Cross, and, thence onwards, about once a fortnight
such a letter arrived at Walham Green. Sitting by a fire kept, for
economical reasons, as low as possible, with her mother's voice
sounding querulously somewhere in the house, and too often a clammy fog
at the window, Bertha read of Egyptian delights and wonders, set
glowingly before her in Rosamund's fluent style. She was glad of the
letters, for they manifested a true affection, and were in every way
more interesting than any others that she received; but at times they
made the cheerless little house seem more cheerless still, and the pang
of contrast between her life and Rosamund's called at such moments for
all Bertha's sense of humour to make it endurable.

Not that Miss Elvan represented herself as happy. In her very first
letter she besought Bertha not to suppose that her appreciation of
strange and beautiful things meant forgetfulness of what must be a
lifelong sorrow. "I am often worse than depressed. I sleep very badly,
and in the night I often shed wretched tears. Though I did only what
conscience compelled me to do, I suffer all the miseries of remorse.
And how can I wish that it should be otherwise? It is better, surely,
to be capable of such suffering, than to go one's way in light-hearted
egoism. I'm not sure that I don't sometimes _encourage_ despondency.
You can understand that? I know you can, dear Bertha, for many a time I
have detected the deep feeling which lies beneath your joking way."
Passages such as this Bertha was careful to omit when reading from the
letters to her mother. Mrs. Cross took very little interest in her
daughter's friend, and regarded the broken engagement with no less
disapproval than surprise; but it would have gravely offended her if
Bertha had kept this correspondence altogether to herself.

"I suppose," she remarked, on one such occasion, "we shall never again
see Mr. Franks."

"He would find it rather awkward to call, no doubt," replied Bertha.

"I shall _never_ understand it!" Mrs. Cross exclaimed, in a vexed tone,
after thinking awhile. "No doubt there's something you keep from me."

"About Rosamund? Nothing whatever, I assure you, mother."

"Then you yourself don't know all, that's _quite_ certain."

Mrs. Cross had made the remark many times, and always with the same
satisfaction. Her daughter was content that the discussion should
remain at this point; for the feeling that she had said something at
once unpleasant and unanswerable made Mrs. Cross almost good humoured
for at least an hour.

Few were the distressful lady's sources of comfort, but one sure way of
soothing her mind and temper, was to suggest some method of saving
money, no matter how little. One day in the winter, Bertha passing
along the further part of Fulham Road, noticed a new-looking grocer's,
the window full of price tickets, some of them very attractive to a
housekeeper's eye; on returning home she spoke of this, mentioning
figures which moved her mother to a sour effervescence of delight. The
shop was rather too far away for convenience, but that same evening
Mrs. Cross went to inspect it, and came back quite flurried with what
she had seen.

"I shall most certainly deal at Jollyman's," she exclaimed. "What a
pity we didn't know of him before! Such a gentlemanly man--indeed,
_quite_ a gentleman. I never saw a shopkeeper who behaved so nicely. So
different from Billings--a man I have always thoroughly disliked, and
his coffee has been getting worse and worse. Mr. Jollyman is quite
willing to send even the smallest orders. Isn't that nice of him--such
a distance! Billings was quite insolent to me the day before yesterday,
when I asked him to send; yet it was nearly a two-shilling order. Never
go into that shop again, Bertha. It's really quite a pleasure to buy of
Mr. Jollyman; he knows how to behave; I really almost felt as if I was
talking to some one of our own class. Without his apron, he must be a
thorough gentleman."

Bertha could not restrain a laugh.

"How thoughtless of him to wear an apron at all!" she exclaimed
merrily. "Couldn't one suggest to him discreetly, that _but_ for the
apron--"

"Don't be ridiculous, Bertha!" interrupted her mother. "You always make
nonsense of what one says. Mr. Jollyman is a shopkeeper, and it's just
because he doesn't forget that, after all, that his behaviour is so
good. Do you remember that horrid Stokes, in King's Road? There was a
man who thought himself too good for his business, and in reality was
nothing but an underbred, impertinent creature. I can hear his 'Yes,
Mrs. Cross--no, Mrs. Cross--thank you, Mrs. Cross'--and once, when I
protested against an overcharge, he cried out, 'Oh, my _dear_ Mrs.
Cross!' The insolence of that man! Now, Mr. Jollyman--"

It was not long before Bertha had an opportunity of seeing this
remarkable shopkeeper, and for once she was able to agree with her
mother. Mr. Jollyman bore very little resemblance to the typical
grocer, and each visit to his shop strengthened Bertha's suspicion that
he had not grown up in this way of life. It cost her some constraint to
make a very small purchase of him, paying a few coppers, and still more
when she asked him if he had nothing cheaper than this or that; all the
more so that Mr. Jollyman seemed to share her embarrassment, lowering
his voice as if involuntarily, and being careful not to meet her eye.
One thing Bertha noticed was that, though the grocer invariable
addressed her mother as "madam," in speaking to _her_ he never used the
grocerly "miss" and when, by chance, she heard him bestow this
objectionable title upon a servant girl who was making purchases at the
same time, Bertha not only felt grateful for the distinction, but saw
in it a fresh proof of Mr. Jollyman's good breeding.

The winter passed, and with the spring came events in which Bertha was
interested. Mr. Elvan, who for his health's sake spent the winter in
the south-west of France, fell so ill early in the year that Rosamund
was summoned from Egypt. With all speed she travelled to St. Jean de
Luz. When she arrived, her father was no longer in danger; but there
seemed no hope of his being able to return to England for some months,
so Rosamund remained with him and her sister, and was soon writing to
her friend at Walham Green in a strain of revived enthusiasm for the
country of the Basques. A postscript to one of these letters, written
in the middle of May, ran as follows: "I hear that N. F. has a picture
in the Academy called 'A Ministering Angel,' and that it promises to be
one of the most popular of the year. Have you seen it?" To this,
Rosamund's correspondent was able to reply that she had seen "N.F's"
picture, and that it certainly was a good deal talked about; she added
no opinion as to the merits of the painting, and, in her next letter,
Miss Elvan left the subject untouched. Bertha was glad of this. "A
Ministering Angel" seemed to her by no means a very remarkable
production, and she liked much better to say nothing about it than to
depreciate the painter; for to do this would have been like seeking to
confirm Rosamund in her attitude towards Norbert Franks, which was not
at all Bertha's wish.

A few weeks later, Rosamund returned to the topic. "N. F's picture,"
she wrote, "is evidently a great success--and you can imagine how I
feel about it. I saw it, you remember, at an early stage, when he
called it 'The Slummer,' and you remember too, the effect it had upon
me. Oh, Bertha, this is nothing less than a soul's tragedy! When I
think what he used to be, what I hoped of him, what he hoped for
himself! Is it not dreadful that he should have fallen so low, and in
so short a time! A popular success! Oh, the shame of it, the bitter
shame!"

At this point, the reader's smile threatened laughter. But, feeling
sure that her friend, if guilty of affectation, was quite unconscious
of it, she composed her face to read gravely on.

"A soul's tragedy, Bertha, and _I_ the cause of it One can see now, but
too well, what is before him. All his hardships are over, and all his
struggles. He will become a popular painter--one of those whose name is
familiar to the crowd, like--" instances were cited. "I can say, with
all earnestness, that I had rather have seen him starved to death.
Poor, poor N. F.! Something whispers to me that perhaps I was always
under an illusion about him. _Could_ he so rapidly sink to this, if he
were indeed the man I thought him? Would he not rather have--oh, have
done _anything_?--Yet this may be only a temptation of my lower self, a
way of giving ease to my conscience. Despair may account for his
degradation. And when I remember that a word, one word, from me, the
right moment, would have checked him on the dangerous path! When I saw
'Sanctuary,' why had I not the courage to tell him what I thought? No,
I became the accomplice of his suicide, and I, alone, am the cause of
this wretched disaster.--Before long he will be rich. Can you imagine
N. F. _rich_? I shudder at the thought."

The paper rustled in Bertha's hand; her shoulders shook; she could no
longer restrain the merry laugh. When she sat down to answer Rosamund,
a roguish smile played about her lips.

"I grieve with you"--thus she began--"over the shocking prospect of N.
F.'s becoming _rich_. Alas! I fear the thing is past praying for; I can
all but see the poor young man in a shiny silk hat and an overcoat
trimmed with the most expensive fur. His Academy picture is everywhere
produced; a large photogravure will soon be published; all day long a
crowd stands before it at Burlington House, and his name--shall we ever
again dare to speak it?--is on the lips of casual people in train and
'bus and tram. How shall I write on such a painful subject? You see
that my hand is unsteady. Don't blame yourself too much. The man
capable of becoming rich _will_ become so, whatever the noble
influences which endeavour to restrain him. I suspect--I feel all but
convinced--that N. F. could not help himself; the misfortune is that
his fatal turn for moneymaking did not show itself earlier, and so warn
you away. I don't know whether I dare send you a paragraph I have cut
from yesterday's _Echo_. Yet I will--it will serve to show you that--as
you used to write from Egypt--all this is Kismet."

The newspaper cutting showed an item of news interesting alike to the
fashionable and the artistic world. Mr. Norbert Franks, the young
painter whose Academy picture had been so much discussed, was about to
paint the portrait of Lady Rockett, recently espoused wife of Sir
Samuel Rockett, the Australian millionaire. As every one knew, Lady
Rockett had made a brilliant figure in the now closing Season, and her
image had been in all the society journals. Mr. Franks might be
congratulated on this excellent opportunity for the display of his
admirable talent as an exponent of female beauty.-- "Exponent" was the
word.



CHAPTER 20


In these summer days, whilst Norbert Franks was achieving popularity,
success in humbler guise came to the humorous and much-enduring artist
at Walham Green. For a year or two, Bertha Cross had spent what time
she could spare upon the illustration of a quaint old story-book, a
book which had amused her own childhood, and still held its place in
her affection. The work was now finished; she showed it to a publisher
of her acquaintance, who at once offered to purchase it on what seemed
to Bertha excellent terms. Of her own abilities she thought very
modestly in deed, and had always been surprised when any one consented
to pay--oftener in shillings than in pounds--for work which had cost
her an infinity of conscientious trouble; now, however, she suspected
that she had done something not altogether bad, and she spoke of it in
a letter to Rosamund Elvan, still in the country of the Basques.

"As you know," Rosamund replied, "I have never doubted that you would
make a success one day, for you are wonderfully clever, and only need a
little more self-confidence in making yourself known. I wish I could
feel anything like so sure of earning money. For I shall have to, that
is now certain. Poor father, who gets weaker and weaker, talked to us
the other day about what we could expect after his death; and it will
be only just a little sum for each of us, nothing like enough to invest
and live upon. I am working at my water-colours, and I have been trying
pastel--there's no end of good material here. When the end comes--and
it can't be long--I must go to London, and see whether my things have
any market value. I don't like the prospect of life in a garret on
bread and water--by myself, that is. You know how joyfully, gladly,
proudly, I would have accepted it, under _other_ circumstances. If I
had real talent myself--but I feel more than doubtful about that. I
pray that I may not fall too low. Can I trust you to overwhelm me with
scorn, if I seem in danger of doing vulgar work?"

Bertha yielded to the temptations of a later summer rich in warmth and
hue, and made little excursions by herself into the country, leaving
home before her mother was up in the morning, and coming back after
sunset. Her sketching materials and a packet of sandwiches were but a
light burden; she was a good walker; and the shilling or two spent on
the railway, which formerly she could not have spared, no longer
frightened her.

In this way, one morning of September, she went by early train as far
as Epsom, walked through the streets, and came into that high-banked
lane which leads up to the downs. Blackberries shone thick upon the
brambles, and above, even to the very tops of the hedge-row trees,
climbed the hoary clematis. Glad in this leafy solitude, Bertha rambled
slowly on. She made no unpleasing figure against the rural background,
for she was straight and slim, graceful in her movements, and had a
face from which no one would have turned indifferently, so bright was
it with youthful enjoyment and with older thought.

Whilst thus she lingered, a footstep approached, that of a man who was
walking in the same direction. When close to her, this pedestrian
stopped, and his voice startled Bertha with unexpected greeting. The
speaker was Norbert Franks.

"How glad I am to see you!" he exclaimed, in a tone and with a look
which vouched for his sincerity. "I ought to have been to Walham Green
long ago. Again and again I meant to come. But this is jolly; I like
chance meetings. Are you often down here in Surrey?"

With amusement Bertha remarked the evidence of prosperity in Franks'
dress and bearing; he had changed notably since the days when he used
to come to their little house to talk of Rosamund, and was glad of an
indifferent cup of tea. He seemed to be in very fair health, his
countenance giving no hint of sentimental sorrows.

Franks noticed a bunch of tinted leafage which she was carrying, and
spoke of its beauty.

"Going to make use of them, no doubt. What are you working at just now?"

Bertha told of her recent success with the illustrated story-book, and
Franks declared himself delighted. Clearly, he was in the mood to be
delighted with everything. Between his remarks, which were uttered in
the sprightliest tone, he hummed phrases of melody.

"Your Academy picture was a great success," said Bertha, discreetly
watching him as she spoke.

"Yes, I suppose it was," he answered, with a light-hearted laugh. "Did
you see it?--And what did you think of it?--No, seriously; I should
like your real opinion. I know you _have_ opinions."

"You meant it to be successful," was Bertha's reply.

"Well, yes, I did. At the same time I think some of the critics--the
high and mighty ones, you know--were altogether wrong about it.
Perhaps, on the whole, you take their view?"

"Oh no, I don't," answered his companion, cheerfully. "I thought the
picture very clever, and very true."

"I'm delighted! I've always maintained that it was perfectly true. A
friend of mine--why, you remember me speaking of Warburton--Warburton
wanted me to make the Slummer ugly. But why? It's just the prettiest
girls--of that kind--who go slumming nowadays. Still, you are quite
right. I did mean it to be 'successful.' I _had_ to make a success,
that's the fact of the matter. You know what bad times I was having. I
got sick of it, that's the truth. Then, I owed money, and money that
had to be paid back, one way or another. Now I'm out of debt, and see
my way to live and work in decent comfort. And I maintain that I've
done nothing to be ashamed of."

Bertha smiled approvingly.

"I've just finished a portrait--a millionaire's wife, Lady Rockett,"
went on Franks. "Of course it was my Slummer that got me the job. Women
have been raving about that girl's head; and it isn't bad, though I say
it. I had to take a studio at a couple of days' notice--couldn't ask
Lady Rockett to come and sit at that place of mine in Battersea; a
shabby hole. She isn't really anything out of the way, as a pretty
woman; but I've made her--well, you'll see it at some exhibition this
winter, if you care to. Pleased? Isn't she pleased! And her husband,
the podgy old millionaire baronet, used to come every day and stare in
delight. To tell you the truth, I think it's rather a remarkable bit of
painting. I didn't quite know I could turn out anything so _chic_. I
shouldn't be surprised if I make a specialty of women's portraits. How
many men can flatter, and still keep a good likeness? That's what I've
done. But wait till you see the thing."

Bertha was bubbling over with amusement; for, whilst the artist talked,
she thought of Rosamund's farewell entreaty, that she would do her
best, if occasion offered, to strengthen Norbert Franks under his
affliction, even by depreciatory comment on the faithless girl; there
came into her mind, too, those many passages of Rosamund's letters
where Franks was spoken of in terms of profoundest compassion mingled
with dark remorse. Perhaps her smile, which quivered on the verge of
laughter, betrayed the nature of her thought. Of a sudden, Franks
ceased to talk; his countenance changed, overcast with melancholy; and
when, after some moments' silence, Bertha again spoke of the landscape,
he gave only a dull assent to her words.

"And it all comes too late," fell from him, presently. "Too late."

"Your success?"

"What's the good of it to me?" He smote his leg with the rattan he was
swinging. "A couple of years ago, money would have meant everything.
Now--what do I care about it!"

Bertha's surprise obliged her to keep an unnaturally solemn visage.

"Don't you think it'll grow upon you," she said, "if you give it time?"

"Grow upon me? Why, I'm only afraid it may. That's just the danger. To
pursue success--vulgar success--when all the better part has gone out
of life--"

He ended on a sigh and again whacked his leg with the stick.

"But" urged his companion, as though gravely, "isn't it easy _not_ to
pursue success? I mean if it really makes you uncomfortable. There are
so many kinds of work in art which would protect you against the perils
of riches."

Franks was watching her as she spoke.

"Miss Cross" he said, "I suspect you are satirical. I remember you used
to have a turn that way. Well, well, never mind; I don't expect you to
understand me."

They had passed out of Ashtead Park and were now ascending by the lane
which leads up to Epsom Common.

"I suppose we are both going the same way," said Franks, who had
recovered all his cheerfulness. "There's a train at something after
five, if we can catch it. Splendid idea of yours to have a whole day's
walking. I don't walk enough. Are you likely to be going again before
long?"

Bertha replied that she never made plans beforehand. Her mood and the
weather decided an excursion.

"Of course. That's the only way. Well, if you'll let me, I must come to
Walham Green, one of these days. How's Mrs. Cross? I ought to have
asked before, but I never do the right thing.--Have you any particular
day for being at home?--All right. If you had had, I should have asked
you to let me come on some other. I don't care much, you know, for
general society; and ten to one, when I do come I shall be rather
gloomy. Old memories, you know.--Really very jolly, this meeting with
you. I should have done the walk to Epsom just as a constitutional,
without enjoying it a bit. As it is--"



CHAPTER 21


It was a week or two after the day in Surrey, that Bertha Cross,
needing a small wooden box in which to pack a present for her brothers
in British Columbia, bethought herself of Mr. Jollyman. The amiable
grocer could probably supply her want, and she went off to the shop.
There the assistant and an errand boy were unloading goods just arrived
by cart, and behind the counter, reading a newspaper--for it was early
in the morning stood Mr. Jollyman himself. Seeing the young lady enter,
he smiled and bowed; not at all with tradesmanlike emphasis, but
rather, it seemed to Bertha, like a man tired and absent-minded,
performing a civility in the well-bred way. The newspaper thrown aside,
he stood with head bent and eyes cast down, listening to her request.

"I think I have something that will do very well," he replied. "Excuse
me for a moment."

From regions behind the shop, he produced a serviceable box just of the
right dimensions.

"It will do? Then you shall have it in about half an hour."

"I'm ashamed to trouble you," said Bertha "I could carry it--"

"On no account. The boy will be free in a few minutes."

"And I owe you--?" asked Bertha, purse in hand.

"The box has no value," replied Mr. Jollyman, with that smile,
suggestive of latent humour, which always caused her to smile
responsively. "And at the same time," he continued, a peculiar twinkle
in his eyes, "I will ask you to accept one of these packets of
chocolate. I am giving one to-day to every customer--to celebrate the
anniversary of my opening shop."

"Thank you very much," said Bertha. And, on an impulse, she added: "I
will put it with what I am sending in the box--a present for two
brothers of mine who are a long way off in Canada."

His hands upon the counter, his body bent forward, Mr. Jollyman looked
her for a moment in the face. A crease appeared on his forehead, as he
said slowly and dreamily:

"Canada? Do they like their life out there?"

"They seem to enjoy it, on the whole. But it evidently isn't an easy
life."

"Not many kinds of life are." rejoined the grocer. "But the open
air--the liberty--"

"Oh yes, that must be the good side of it," assented Bertha.

"On a morning like this--"

Mr. Jollyman's eyes wandered to a gleam of sunny sky visible through
the shop window. The girl's glance passed quickly over his features,
and she was on the point of saying something; but discretion
interposed. Instead of the too personal remark, she repeated her
thanks, bent her head with perhaps a little more than the wonted
graciousness, and left the shop. The grocer stood looking toward the
doorway. His countenance had fallen. Something of bitterness showed in
the hardness of his lips.



CHAPTER 22


Just a year since the day when Allchin's band played at the first floor
windows above Jollyman's new grocery stores.

From the very beginning, business promised well. He and his assistant
had plenty of work; there was little time for meditation; when not
serving customers, he was busy with practical details of grocerdom,
often such as he had not foreseen, matters which called for all his
energy and ingenuity. A gratifying aspect of the life was that, day by
day, he handled his returns in solid cash. Jollyman's gave no credit;
all goods had to be paid for on purchase or delivery; and to turn out
the till when the shop had closed--to make piles of silver and
mountains of copper, with a few pieces of gold beside them--put a
cheering end to the day's labour. Warburton found himself clinking
handfuls of coin, pleased with the sound. Only at the end of the first
three months, the close of the year, did he perceive that much less
than he had hoped of the cash taken could be reckoned as clear profit.
He had much to learn in the cunning of retail trade, and it was a kind
of study that went sorely against the grain with him. Happily, at
Christmas time came Norbert Franks (whom Will had decided _not_ to take
into his confidence) and paid his debt of a hundred and twenty pounds.
This set things right for the moment. Will was able to pay a
three-and-a-half per cent. dividend to his mother and sister, and to
fare ahead hopefully.

He would rather not have gone down to The Haws that Christmastide, but
feared that his failure to do so might seem strange. The needful
prevarication cost him so many pangs that he came very near to
confessing the truth; he probably would have done so, had not his
mother been ailing, and, it seemed to him, little able to bear the
shock of such a disclosure. So the honest deception went on. Will was
supposed to be managing a London branch of the Applegarth business.
Great expenditure on advertising had to account for the smallness of
the dividend at first. No one less likely than the ladies at The Haws
to make trouble in such a matter. They had what sufficed to them, and
were content with it. Thinking over this in shame-faced solitude,
Warburton felt a glow of proud thankfulness that his mother and sister
were so unlike the vulgar average of mankind--that rapacious multitude,
whom nothing animates but a chance of gain, with whom nothing weighs
but a commercial argument. A new tenderness stirred within him, and
resolutely he stamped under foot the impulses of self-esteem, of
self-indulgence, which made his life hard to bear.

It was with a hard satisfaction that he returned to the shop, and found
all going on in the usual way, Allchin grinning a hearty welcome as he
weighed out sugar. Will's sister talked of the scents of her garden,
how they refreshed and inspirited her to him, the odour of the
shop--new-roasted coffee predominated to-day--had its invigorating
effect; it meant money, and money meant life, the peaceful, fruitful
life of those dear to him. He scarcely gave himself time to eat dinner,
laid for him, as usual, by Mrs. Allchin, in the sitting-room behind the
shop; so eager was he to get on his apron, and return to profitable
labour.

At first, he had endured a good deal of physical fatigue. Standing for
so many hours a day wearied him much more than walking would have done,
and with bodily exhaustion came at times a lowness of spirits such as
he had never felt. His resource against this misery was conversation
with Allchin. In Allchin he had a henchman whose sturdy optimism and
gross common sense were of the utmost value. The brawny assistant,
having speedily found a lodger according to the agreement, saw himself
in clover, and determined that, if _he_ could help it, his fortunes
should never again suffer eclipse. He and his wife felt a reasonable
gratitude to the founder of their prosperity--whom, by the bye, they
invariably spoke of as "Mr. Jollyman"--and did their best to smooth for
him the unfamiliar path he was treading.

The success with which Warburton kept his secret, merely proved how
solitary most men are amid the crowds of London, and how easy it is for
a Londoner to disappear from among his acquaintances whilst continuing
to live openly amid the city's roar. No one of those who cared enough
about him to learn that he had fallen on ill-luck harboured the
slightest suspicion of what he was doing; he simply dropped out of
sight, except for the two or three who, in a real sense of the word,
could be called his friends. The Pomfrets, whom he went to see at very
long intervals, supposed him to have some sort of office employment,
and saw nothing in his demeanour to make them anxious about him. As for
Norbert Franks, why, he was very busy, and came not oftener than once a
month to his friend's obscure lodgings; he asked no intrusive
questions, and, like the Pomfrets, could only suppose that Warburton
had found a clerkship somewhere. They were not quite on the old terms,
for each had gone through a crisis of life, and was not altogether the
same as before; but their mutual liking subsisted. Obliged to retrench
his hospitality, Warburton never seemed altogether at his ease when
Franks was in his room; nor could he overcome what seemed to him the
shame of having asked payment of a debt from a needy friend,
notwithstanding the fact, loudly declared by Franks himself, that
nothing could have been more beneficial to the debtor's moral health.
So Will listened rather than talked, and was sometimes too obviously in
no mood for any sort of converse.

Sherwood he had not seen since the disastrous optimist's flight into
Wales; nor had there come any remittance from him since the cheque for
a hundred pounds. Two or three times, however, Godfrey had
written--thoroughly characteristic letters--warm, sanguine,
self-reproachful. From Wales he had crossed over to Ireland, where he
was working at a scheme for making a fortune out of Irish eggs and
poultry. In what the "work" consisted, was not clear, for he had no
money, beyond a small loan from his relative which enabled him to live;
but he sent a sheet of foolscap covered with computations whereby his
project was proved to be thoroughly practical and vastly lucrative.

Meanwhile, he had made one new acquaintance, which was at first merely
a source of amusement to him, but little by little became something
more. In the winter days, when his business was new, there one day came
into the shop a rather sour-lipped and querulous-voiced lady, who after
much discussion of prices, made a modest purchase and asked that the
goods might be sent for her. On hearing her name--Mrs. Cross--the
grocer smiled, for he remembered that the Crosses of whom he knew from
Norbert Franks, lived at Walham Green, and the artist's description of
Mrs. Cross tallied very well with the aspect and manner of this
customer. Once or twice the lady returned; then, on a day of very bad
weather, there came in her place a much younger and decidedly more
pleasing person, whom Will took to be Mrs. Cross's daughter. Facial
resemblance there was none discoverable; in bearing, in look, in tone,
the two were different as women could be; but at the younger lady's
second visit, his surmise was confirmed, for she begged him to change a
five-pound note, and, as the custom is in London shops, endorsed it
with her name--"Bertha Cross." Franks had never spoken much of Miss
Cross; "rather a nice sort of girl," was as far as his appreciation
went. And with this judgment Will at once agreed; before long, he would
have inclined to be more express in his good opinion. Before summer
came, he found himself looking forward to the girl's appearance in the
shop, with a sense of disappointment when--as generally happened--Mrs.
Cross came in person. The charm of the young face lay for him in its
ever-present suggestion of a roguishly winsome smile, which made it
difficult not to watch too intently the play of her eyes and lips.
Then, her way of speaking, which was altogether her own. It infused
with a humorous possibility the driest, most matter-of-fact remarks,
and Will had to guard himself against the temptation to reply in a
corresponding note.

"I suppose you see no more of those people--what's their name--the
Crosses?" he let fall, as if casually, one evening when Franks had come
to see him.

"Lost sight of them altogether," was the reply. "Why do you ask?"

"I happened to think of them," said Will; and turned to another subject.



CHAPTER 23


Was he to be a grocer for the rest of his life?--This question, which
at first scarcely occurred to him, absorbed as he was in the problem of
money-earning for immediate needs, at length began to press and worry.
Of course he had meant nothing of the kind; his imagination had seen in
the shop a temporary expedient; he had not troubled to pursue the
ultimate probabilities of the life that lay before him, but contented
himself with the vague assurance of his hopeful temper. Yet where was
the way out? To save money, to accumulate sufficient capital for his
release, was an impossibility, at all events within any reasonable
time. And for what windfall could he look? Sherwood's ten thousand
pounds hovered in his memory, but no more substantial than any
fairy-tale. No man living, it seemed to him, had less chance of being
signally favoured by fortune. He had donned his apron and aproned he
must remain.

Suppose, then, he so far succeeded in his business as to make a little
more than the household at St. Neots required; suppose it became
practicable to--well, say, to think of marriage, of course on the most
modest basis; could he quite see himself offering to the girl he chose
the hand and heart of a grocer? He laughed. It was well to laugh;
merriment is the great digestive, and an unspeakable boon to the man
capable of it in all but every situation; but what if _she_ also
laughed, and not in the sympathetic way? Worse still, what if she could
_not_ laugh, but looked wretchedly embarrassed, confused, shamed? That
would be a crisis it needed some philosophy to contemplate.

For the present, common sense made it rigorously plain to him that the
less he thought of these things, the better. He had not a penny to
spare. Only by exercising an economy which in the old days would have
appalled him, could he send his mother and sister an annual sum just
sufficient to their needs. He who scorned and loathed all kinds of
parsimony had learnt to cut down his expenditure at every possible
point. He still smoked his pipe; he bought newspapers; he granted
himself an excursion, of the cheapest, on fine Sundays; but these
surely were necessities of life. In food and clothing and the common
expenses of a civilised man, he pinched remorselessly; there was no
choice. His lodgings cost him very little; but Mrs. Wick, whose
profound suspiciousness was allied with unperfect honesty, now and then
made paltry overcharges in her bill, and he was angry with himself for
his want of courage to resist them. It meant only a shilling or two,
but retail trade had taught him the importance of shillings. He had to
remind himself that, if he was poor, his landlady was poorer still, and
that in cheating him she did but follow the traditions of her class. To
debate an excess of sixpence for paraffin, of ninepence for bacon,
would have made him flush and grind his teeth for hours afterwards; but
he noticed the effect upon himself of the new habit of
niggardliness--how it disposed him to acerbity of temper. No matter how
pure the motive, a man cannot devote his days to squeezing out
pecuniary profits without some moral detriment. Formerly this woman,
Mrs. Wick, with her gimlet eyes, and her leech lips, with her spyings
and eavesdroppings, with her sour civility, her stinted discharge of
obligations, her pilferings and mendacities, would have rather amused
than annoyed him. "Poor creature, isn't it a miserable as well as a
sordid life. Let her have her pickings, however illegitimate, and much
good may they do her." Now he too often found himself regarding her
with something like animosity, whereby, to be sure, he brought himself
to the woman's level. Was it not a struggle between him and her for a
share of life's poorest comforts? When he looked at it in that light,
his cheeks were hot.

A tradesman must harden himself. Why, in the early months, it cost him
a wrench somewhere to take coppers at the counter from very poor folk
who perhaps made up the odd halfpenny in farthings, and looked at the
coins reluctantly as they laid them down. More than once, he said, "Oh
never mind the ha'penny," and was met with a look--not of gratitude but
of blank amazement. Allchin happened to be a witness of one such
incident, and, in the first moment of privacy, ventured a respectful
yet a most energetic, protest. "It's the kindness of your 'eart, sir,
and if anybody knows how much of that you have, I'm sure it's me, and I
ought to be the last to find fault with it. But that'll never do behind
the counter, sir, never! Why, just think. The profit on what that woman
bought was just three farthings." He detailed the computation. "And
there you've been and given her a whole ha'penny, so that you've only
one blessed farthing over on the whole transaction! That ain't
business, sir; that's charity; and Jollyman's ain't a charitable
institution. You really must not, sir. It's unjust to yourself." And
Will, with an uneasy shrug, admitted his folly. But he was ashamed to
the core. Only in the second half-year did he really accustom himself
to disregard a customer's poverty. He had thought the thing out, faced
all its most sordid aspects. Yes, he was fighting with these people for
daily bread; he and his could live only if his three farthings of
profit were plucked out of that toil worn hand of charwoman or
sempstress. Accept the necessity, and think no more of it. He was a man
behind the counter; he saw face to face the people who supported him.
With this exception had not things been just the same when he sat in
the counting-house at the sugar refinery? It was an unpleasant truth,
which appearances had formerly veiled from him.

With the beginning of his second winter came a new anxiety, a new
source of bitter and degrading reflections. At not more than five
minutes' walk away, another grocer started business; happily no great
capitalist, but to all appearances a man of enterprise who knew what he
was about. Morning and evening, Warburton passed the new shop and felt
his very soul turn sour in the thought that he must do what in him lay
to prevent that man from gaining custom; if he could make his business
a failure, destroy all his hopes, so much the better. With Allchin, he
held long and eager conferences. The robust assistant was of course
troubled by no scruples; he warmed to the combat, chuckled over each
good idea for the enemy's defeat; every nerve must be strained for the
great Christmas engagement; as much money as possible must be spent in
making a brave show. And it was only by pausing every now and then to
remember _why_ he stood here, in what cause he was so debasing the
manner of his life, that Warburton could find strength to go through
such a trial of body and of spirit. When, the Christmas fight well
over, with manifest triumph on his side he went down for a couple of
days to St. Neots, once more he had his reward. But the struggle was
telling upon his health; it showed in his face, in his bearing. Mother
and sister spoke uneasily of a change they noticed; surely he was
working too hard; what did he mean by taking no summer holiday? Will
laughed.

"Business, business! A good deal to do at first, you know. Things'll be
smoother next year."

And the comfort, the quiet, the simple contentment of that little house
by the Ouse, sent him back to Fulham Road, once more resigned,
courageous.

Naturally, he sometimes contrasted his own sordid existence with the
unforeseen success which had made such changes in the life of Norbert
Franks. It was more than three months since he and Franks had met,
when, one day early in January, he received a note from the artist.
"What has become of you? I haven't had a chance of getting your
way--work and social foolery. Could you come and lunch with me here, on
Sunday, alone, like the old days? I have a portrait to show you." So on
Sunday, Warburton went to his friend's new studio, which was in the
Holland Park region. Formerly it was always he who played the host, and
he did not like this change of positions; but Franks, however sensible
of his good luck, and inclined at times to take himself rather
seriously, had no touch of the snob in his temper; when with him, Will
generally lost sight of unpleasant things in good-natured amusement.
To-day, however, grocerdom lay heavily on his soul. On the return
journey from St. Neots he had caught a cold, and a week of sore throat
behind the counter--a week too, of quarrel with a wholesale house which
had been cheating him--left his nerves in a bad state. For reply to the
artist's cordial greeting he could only growl inarticulately.

"Out of sorts?" asked the other, as they entered the large well-warmed
studio "You look rather bad."

"Leave me alone," muttered Warburton.

"All right. Sit down here and thaw yourself."

But Will's eye had fallen on a great canvas, showing the portrait of a
brilliant lady who reclined at ease and caressed the head of a great
deer-hound. He went and stood before it.

"Who's that?"

"Lady Caroline--I told you about her--don't you think it's rather good?"

"Yes. And for that very reason I'm afraid it's bad."

The artist laughed.

"That's good satire on the critics. When anything strikes them as
good--by a new man, that is--they're ashamed to say so, just because
they never dare trust their own judgment.--But it _is_ good, Warburton;
uncommonly good. If there's a weak point, it's doggy; I can't come the
Landseer. Still, you can see it's meant for a doggy, eh?"

"I guessed it," replied Will, warming his hands.

"Lady Caroline is superb," went on Franks, standing before the canvas,
head aside and hands in his pocket. "This is my specialty, old
boy--lovely woman made yet lovelier, without loss of likeness. She'll
be the fury of the next Academy.--See that something in the eyes,
Warburton? Don't know how to call it. My enemies call it claptrap. But
they can't do the trick, my boy, they can't do it. They'd give the end
of their noses if they could."

He laughed gaily, boyishly. How well he was looking! Warburton, having
glanced at him, smiled with a surly kindness.

"All your doing, you know," pursued Franks, who had caught the look and
the smile. "You've made me. But for you I should have gone to the
devil. I was saying so yesterday to the Crosses."

"The Crosses?"

Will had sharply turned his head, with a curious surprise.

"Don't you remember the Crosses?" said Franks, smiling with a certain
embarrassment, "Rosamund's friends at Walham Green. I met them by
chance not long ago, and they wanted me to go and see them. The old
lady's a bore, but she can be agreeable when she likes; the girl's
rather clever--does pictures for children's books, you know. She seems
to be getting on better lately. But they are wretchedly poor. I was
saying to them--oh, but that reminds me of something else. You haven't
seen the Pomfrets lately?"

"No."

"Then you don't know that Mr. Elvan's dead?"

"No."

"He died a month ago, over there in the South of France. Rosamund has
gone back to Egypt, to stay with that friend of hers at Cairo. Mrs.
Pomfret hints to me that the girls will have to find a way of earning
their living; Elvan has left practically nothing. I wonder whether--"

He smiled and broke off.

"Whether what?" asked the listener.

"Oh, nothing. What's the time?"

"Whether _what_?" repeated Warburton, savagely.

"Well--whether Rosamund doesn't a little regret?"

"Do _you_?" asked Will, without looking round.

"I? Not for a moment, my dear boy! She did me the greatest possible
kindness--only _you_ even did me a greater. At this moment I should
have been cursing and smoking cheap tobacco in Battersea--unless I had
got sick of it all and done the _hic jacet_ business, a strong
probability. Never did a girl behave more sensibly. Some day I hope to
tell her so; of course when she has married somebody else. Then I'll
paint her portrait, and make her the envy of a season--by Jove, I will!
Splendid subject, she'd be. . . . When I think of that beastly
so-called portrait that I put my foot through, the day I was in hell!
Queer how one develops all at a jump. Two years ago I could no more
paint a woman's portrait than I could build a cathedral. I caught the
trick in the Slummer, but didn't see all it meant till Blackstaffe
asked me to paint Lady Rockett.--Rosamund ought to have given me the
sack when she saw that daub, meant for her. Good little girl; she held
as long as she could. Oh, I'll paint her divinely, one of these days."

The soft humming of a gong summoned them to another room, where lunch
was ready. Never had Warburton showed such lack of genial humour at his
friend's table. He ate mechanically, and spoke hardly at all. Little by
little, Franks felt the depressing effect of this companionship. When
they returned to the studio, to smoke by the fireside, only a casual
word broke the cheerless silence.

"I oughtn't to have come to-day," said Will, at length, half
apologetically. "I feel like a bear with a sore head. I think I'm
going."

"Shall I come and see you some evening?" asked the other in his
friendliest tone.

"No--I mean not just yet.--I'll write and ask you."

And Will went out into the frosty gloom.



CHAPTER 24


By way of Allchin, who knew all the gossip of the neighbourhood,
Warburton learnt that his new competitor in trade was a man with five
children and a wife given to drink; he had been in business in another
part of London, and was suspected to have removed with the hope that
new surroundings might help his wife to overcome her disastrous
failing. A very respectable man, people said; kind husband, good
father, honest dealer. But Allchin reported, with a twinkle of the eye,
that all his capital had gone in the new start, and it was already
clear that his business did not thrive.

"We shall starve him out!" cried the assistant, snapping his thumb and
finger.

"And what'll become of him then?" asked Will.

"Oh, that's for him to think about," replied Allchin. "Wouldn't he
starve us, if he could, sir?"

And Warburton, brooding on this matter, stood appalled at the ferocity
of the struggle amid which he lived, in which he had his part. Gone was
all his old enjoyment of the streets of London. In looking back upon
his mood of that earlier day, he saw himself as an incredibly ignorant
and careless man; marvelled at the lightness of heart which had enabled
him to find amusement in rambling over this vast slaughter-strewn field
of battle. Picturesque, forsooth! Where was its picturesqueness for
that struggling, soon-to-be-defeated tradesman, with his tipsy wife,
and band of children who looked to him for bread? "And I myself am
crushing the man--as surely as if I had my hand on his gullet and my
knee on his chest! Crush him I must; otherwise, what becomes of that
little home down at St. Neots--dear to me as his children are to him.
There's no room for both of us; he has come too near; he must pay the
penalty of his miscalculation. Is there not the workhouse for such
people?" And Will went about repeating to himself. "There's the
workhouse--don't I pay poor-rates?--the workhouse is an admirable
institution."

He lay awake many an hour of these winter nights, seeing in vision his
own life and the life of man. He remembered the office in Little Ailie
Street; saw himself and Godfrey Sherwood sitting together, talking,
laughing, making a jest of their effort to support a doomed house.
Godfrey used to repeat legends, sagas, stories of travel, as though
existence had not a care, or the possibility of one; and he, in turn,
talked about some bit of London he had been exploring, showed an old
map he had picked up, an old volume of London topography. The while,
world-wide forces, the hunger-struggle of nations, were shaking the
roof above their heads. Theoretically they knew it. But they could
escape in time; they had a cosy little corner preserved for themselves,
safe from these pestilent worries. Fate has a grudge against the
foolishly secure. If he laughed now, it was in self-mockery.

The night of London, always rife with mysterious sounds, spoke
dreadfully to his straining ear. He heard voices near and far, cries of
pain or of misery, shouts savage or bestial; over and through all, that
low, far-off rumble or roar, which never for a moment ceases, the
groan, as it seemed, of suffering multitudes. There tripped before his
dreaming eyes a procession from the world of wealth and pleasure, and
the amazement with which he viewed it changed of a sudden to fiery
wrath; he tossed upon the bed, uttered his rage in a loud exclamation,
felt his heart pierced with misery which brought him all but to tears.
Close upon astonishment and indignation followed dread. Given health
and strength, he might perhaps continue to hold his own in this
merciless conflict; perhaps, only; but what if some accident, such as
befalls this man or that in every moment of time, threw him among the
weaklings? He saw his mother, in her age and ill-health, reduced to the
pittance of the poorest; his sister going forth to earn her living;
himself, a helpless burden upon both.--Nay, was there not rat-poison to
be purchased?

How--he cried within himself--how, in the name of sense and mercy, is
mankind content to live on in such a world as this? By what devil are
they hunted, that, not only do they neglect the means of solace
suggested to every humane and rational mind, but, the vast majority of
them spend all their strength and ingenuity in embittering the common
lot? Overwhelmed by the hateful unreason of it all, he felt as though
his brain reeled on the verge of madness.

Every day, and all the day long, the shop, the counter. Had he chosen,
he might have taken a half-holiday, now and then; on certain days
Allchin was quite able, and abundantly willing, to manage alone; but
what was the use? To go to a distance was merely to see with more
distinctness the squalor of his position. Never for a moment was he
tempted to abandon this work; he saw no hope whatever of earning money
in any other way, and money he must needs earn, as long as he lived.
But the life weighed upon him with a burden such as he had never
imagined. Never had he understood before what was meant by the
sickening weariness of routine; his fretfulness as a youth in the West
Indies seemed to him now inconceivable. His own master? Why, he was the
slave of every kitchen wench who came into the shop to spend a penny;
he trembled at the thought of failing to please her, and so losing her
custom. The grocery odours, once pleasant to him, had grown nauseating.
And the ever repeated tasks, the weighing, parcel making, string
cutting; the parrot phrases a thousand times repeated; the idiot bowing
and smiling--how these things gnawed at his nerves, till he quivered
like a beaten horse. He tried to console himself by thinking that
things were now at the worst; that he was subduing himself, and would
soon reach a happy, dull indifference; but in truth it was with fear
that he looked forward--fear of unknown possibilities in himself; fear
that he might sink yet more wretchedly in his own esteem.

For the worst part of his suffering was self-scorn. When he embarked
upon this strange enterprise, he knew, or thought he knew, all the
trials to which he would be exposed, and not slight would have been his
indignation had any one ventured to hint that his character might prove
unequal to the test. Sherwood's letter had pleased him so much,
precisely because it praised his resolve as courageous, manly. On
manliness of spirit, Will had always piqued himself; it was his pride
that he carried a heart equal to any lot imposed upon him by duty. Yet
little more than a twelvemonth of shopkeeping had so undermined his
pluck, enfeebled his temper, that he could not regard himself in the
glass without shame. He tried to explain it by failure of health.
Assuredly his physical state had for months been declining and the bad
cold from which he had recently suffered seemed to complete his moral
downfall. In this piercing and gloom-wrapped month of February, coward
thoughts continually beset him. In his cold lodgings, in the cold
streets, in the draughts of the shop, he felt soul and body shrink
together, till he became as the meanest of starveling hucksters.

Then something happened, which rescued him for awhile from this
haunting self. One night, just at closing time--a night of wild wind
and driven rain--Mrs. Hopper came rushing into the shop, her face a
tale of woe. Warburton learnt that her sister "Liza," the ailing girl
whom he had befriended in his comfortable days, had been seized with
lung hemorrhage, and lay in a lamentable state; the help of Mrs.
Allchin was called for, and any other that might be forthcoming. Two
years ago Will would have responded to such an appeal as this with
lavish generosity; now, though the impulse of compassion blinded him
for a moment to his changed circumstances, he soon remembered that his
charity must be that of a poor man, of a debtor. He paid for a cab,
that the two women might speed to their sister through the stormy night
as quickly as possible, and he promised to think of what could be done
for the invalid--with the result that he lost a night's sleep in
calculating what sum he might spare. On the morrow came the news he had
expected; the doctor suggested Brompton Hospital, if admission could be
obtained; home treatment at this time of the year, and in the patient's
circumstances, was not likely to be of any good. Warburton took the
matter in hand, went about making inquiries, found that there must
necessarily be delay. Right or wrong, he put his hand in his pocket,
and Mrs. Hopper was enabled to nurse her sister in a way otherwise
impossible. He visited the sick-room, and for half an hour managed to
talk as of old, in the note of gallant sympathy and encouragement. Let
there be no stint of fire, of food, of anything the doctor might
advise. Meanwhile, he would ask about other hospitals--do everything in
his power. As indeed he did, with the result that in a fortnight's
time, the sufferer was admitted to an institution to which, for the
nonce, Warburton had become a subscriber.

He saw her doctor. "Not much chance, I'm afraid. Of course, if she were
able to change climate--that kind of thing. But, under the
circumstances--"

And through a whole Sunday morning Will paced about his little
sitting-room, not caring to go forth, nor caring to read, caring for
nothing at all in a world so full of needless misery. "Of course, if
she were able to change climate--" Yes, the accident of possessing
money; a life to depend upon that! In another station--though, as
likely as not, with no moral superiority to justify the privilege--the
sick woman would be guarded, soothed, fortified by every expedient of
science, every resource of humanity. Chance to be poor, and not only
must you die when you need not, but must die with the minimum of
comfort, the extreme of bodily and mental distress. This commonplace
struck so forcibly upon Will's imagination, that it was as a new
discovery to him. He stood amazed, bewildered--as men of any thinking
power are wont to do when experience makes real to them the truisms of
life. A few coins, or pieces of printed paper to signify all that! An
explosion of angry laughter broke the mood.

Pacing, pacing, back and fro in the little room, for hour after hour,
till his head whirled, and his legs ached. Out of doors there was
fitfully glinting sunshine upon the wet roofs; a pale blue now and then
revealed amid the grey rack. Two years ago he would have walked twenty
miles on a day like this, with eyes for nothing but the beauty and joy
of earth. Was he not--he suddenly asked himself--a wiser man now than
then? Did he not see into the truth of things; whereas, formerly, he
had seen only the deceptive surface? There should be some solace in
this reflection, if he took it well to heart.

Then his mind wandered away to Norbert Franks, who at this moment was
somewhere enjoying himself. This afternoon he might be calling upon the
Crosses. Why should that thought be disagreeable? It was, as he
perceived, not for the first time. If he pictured the artist chatting
side by side with Bertha Cross, something turned cold within him. By
the bye, it was rather a long time since he had seen Miss Cross; her
mother had been doing the shopping lately. She might come, perhaps, one
day this week; the chance gave him something to look forward to.

How often had he called himself a fool for paying heed to Bertha
Cross's visits?



CHAPTER 25


Again came springtime, and, as he stood behind the counter, Warburton
thought of all that was going on in the world he had forsaken.
Amusements for which he had never much cared haunted his fancy; feeling
himself shut out from the life of grace and intellect, he suffered a
sense of dishonour, as though his position resulted from some personal
baseness, some crime. He numbered the acquaintances he had dropped, and
pictured them as mentioning his name--if ever they did so--with cold
disapproval. Godfrey Sherwood had ceased to write; it was six months
since his last letter, in which he hinted a fear that the Irish
enterprise would have to be abandoned for lack of capital. Even Franks,
good fellow as he was, seemed to grow lukewarm in friendship. The
painter had an appointment for a Sunday in May at Will's lodgings, to
smoke and talk, but on the evening before he sent a telegram excusing
himself. Vexed, humiliated, Warburton wasted the Sunday morning, and
only after his midday meal yielded to the temptation of a brilliant
sky, which called him forth. Walking westward, with little heed to
distance or direction, he presently found himself at Kew; on the bridge
he lingered awhile, idly gazing at boats, and; as he thus leaned over
the parapet, the sound of a voice behind him fell startlingly upon his
ear. He turned, just in time to catch a glimpse of the features which
that voice had brought before his mind's eye, Bertha Cross was passing,
with her mother. Probably they had not seen him. And even if they had,
if they had recognised him--did he flatter himself that the Crosses
would give any sign in public of knowing their grocer?

With his eyes on the graceful figure of Bertha, he slowly followed. The
ladies were crossing Kew Green; doubtless they would enter the Gardens
to spend the afternoon there. Would it not be pleasant to join them, to
walk by Bertha's side, to talk freely with her, forgetting the counter,
which always restrained their conversation? Bertha was nicely dressed,
though one saw that her clothes cost nothing. In the old days, if he
had noticed her at all she would have seemed to him rather a pretty
girl of the lower middle class, perhaps a little less insignificant
than her like; now she shone for him against a background of
"customers," the one in whom he saw a human being of his own kind, and
who, within the imposed limits, had given proof of admitting his
humanity. He saw her turn to look at her mother, and smile; a smile of
infinite kindness and good-humour. Involuntarily his own lips
responded; he walked on smiling--smiling.

They passed through the gates; he, at a distance of a dozen yards,
still followed. There was no risk of detection; indeed he was doing no
harm; even a grocer might observe, from afar off, a girl walking with
her mother. But, after strolling for a quarter of an hour, they paused
beside a bench, and there seated themselves. Mrs. Cross seemed to be
complaining of something; Bertha seemed to soothe her. When he was near
enough to be aware of this Will saw that he was too near. He turned
abruptly on his heels, and--stood face to face with Norbert Franks.

"Hallo!" exclaimed the painter, with an air of embarrassment. "I
thought that was your back!"

"Your engagement was here?" asked Will bluntly, referring to the
other's telegram of excuse.

"Yes. I was obliged to--"

He broke off, his eyes fixed on the figures of Bertha and her mother.

"You were obliged--?"

"You see the ladies there," said Franks in a lower voice, "there, on
the seat? It's Mrs. Cross and her daughter--you remember the Crosses? I
called to see them yesterday, and only Mrs. Cross was at home, and--the
fact is, I as good as promised to meet them here, if it was fine."

"Very well," replied Warburton carelessly, "I won't keep you."

"Go, but--"

Franks was in great confusion. He looked this way and that, as if
seeking for an escape. As Will began to move away, he kept at his side.

"Look here, Warburton, let me introduce you to them. They're very nice
people; I'm sure you'd like them; do let me--"

"Thank you, no. I don't want any new acquaintances."

"Why? Come along old man," urged the other. "You're getting too grumpy;
you live too much alone. Just to please me--"

"No!" answered Will, resolutely, walking on.

"Very well--just as you like. But, I say, should I find you at home
this evening? Say, nine o'clock. I particularly want to have a talk."

"Good. I'll be there," replied Will, and so, with knitted brows strode
away.

Very punctually did the visitor arrive that evening. He entered the
room with that same look of embarrassment which he had worn during the
brief colloquy at Kew; he shook hands awkwardly, and, as he seated
himself, talked about the fall of temperature since sunset, which made
a fire agreeable. Warburton, ashamed of the sullenness he could not
overcome, rolled this way and that in his chair, holding the poker and
making lunges with it at a piece of coal which would not break.

"That was a lucky chance," began Franks at length, "our meeting this
afternoon."

"Lucky? Why?"

"Because it has given me the courage to speak to you about something.
Queerest chance I ever knew that you should be there close by the
Crosses."

"Did they ask who I was?" inquired Warburton after a violent lunge with
the poker, which sent pieces of coal flying into the room.

"They didn't happen to see me whilst I was talking with you. But, in
any case," added Franks, "they wouldn't have asked. They're well-bred
people, you know--really ladies. I suspect you've had a different idea
of them. Wasn't that why you wouldn't let me introduce you?"

"Not at all," answered Will, with a forced laugh. "I've no doubt of
their ladyhood."

"The fact of the matter is," continued the other, crossing and
uncrossing, and re-crossing his legs in nervous restlessness, "that
I've been seeing them now and then since I told you I was going to call
there. You guess why? It isn't Mrs. Cross, depend upon it."

"Mrs. Cross's tea, perhaps?" said Will, with a hard grin.

"Not exactly. It's the worst tea I ever tasted. I must advise her to
change her grocer."

Warburton exploded in a roar of laughter, and cried, as Franks stared
wonderingly at him:

"You'll never make a better joke in your life than that."

"Shows what I can do when I try," answered the artist. "However, the
tea is shockingly bad."

"What can you expect for one and sevenpence halfpenny per pound?" cried
Will.

"How do _you_ know what she pays?"

Warburton's answer was another peal of merriment.

"Well, I shouldn't wonder," Franks went on. "The fact is, you know,
they're very poor. It's a miserable sort of a life for a girl like
Bertha Cross. She's clever, in her way; did you ever see any of her
work? Children's book-illustrating? It's more than passable, I assure
you. But of course she's wretchedly paid. Apart from that, a really
nice girl."

"So this is what you had to tell me?" said Warburton, in a subdued
voice, when the speaker hesitated.

"I wanted to talk about it, old man, that's the truth."

Franks accompanied these words with a shy smiling look of such friendly
appeal that Will felt his hard and surly humour begin to soften, and
something of the old geniality stirring under the dull weight that had
so long oppressed him.

"I suppose it's settled," he asked, staring at the fire.

"Settled? How?"

"When it comes to meetings at Kew Gardens--"

"Oh don't misunderstand," exclaimed Franks nervously, "I told you that
it was with the mother I made the appointment--not with Bertha herself.
I'm quite sure Bertha never heard a word of it."

"Well, it comes to the same thing."

"Not at all! I half wish it did."

"Half?" asked Warburton, with a quick glance.

"Can't you see that I haven't really made up my mind," said Franks,
fidgeting in his chair. "I'm not sure of myself--and I'm still less
sure of her. It's all in the air. I've been there perhaps half a dozen
times--but only like any other acquaintance. And, you know, she isn't
the kind of girl to meet one half way. I'm sorry you don't know her.
You'd be able to understand better.--Then, you see, there's something a
little awkward in her position and mine. She's the intimate friend
of--of the other one, you know; at least, I suppose she still is; of
course we haven't said anything about that. It makes misunderstandings
very possible. Suppose she thought I made friends with her in the hope
of getting round to the other again? You see how difficult it is to
judge her behaviour--to come to any conclusion."

"Yes, I see," Warburton let fall, musingly.

"And, even if I were sure of understanding _her_--there's myself. Look
at the position, now. I suppose I may call myself a successful man;
well on the way to success, at all events. Unless fortune plays me a
dirty trick, I ought soon to be making my three or four thousand a
year; and there's the possibility of double that. Think what that
means, in the way of opportunity. Once or twice, when I was going to
see the Crosses, I've pulled myself up and asked what the deuce I was
doing--but I went all the same. The truth is, there's something about
Bertha--I wish you knew her, Warburton; I really wish you did. She's
the kind of girl any man might marry. Nothing brilliant about
her--but--well, I can't describe it. As different as could be from--the
other. In fact, it isn't easy to see how they became such close
friends. Of course, she knows all about me--what I'm doing, and so on.
In the case of an ordinary girl in her position, it would be
irresistible; but I'm not at all sure that _she_ looks at it in that
way. She behaves to one--well, in the most natural way possible. Now
and then I rather think she makes fun of me."

Warburton allowed a low chuckle to escape him.

"Why do you laugh?--I don't mean that she does it disagreeably. It's
her way to look at things on the humorous side--and I rather like that.
Don't you think it a good sign in a girl?"

"That depends," muttered Will.

"Well, that's how things are. I wanted to tell you. There's nobody else
I should think of talking to about it."

Silence hung between them for a minute or two.

"You'll have to make up your mind pretty soon, I suppose," said
Warburton at length, in a not unpleasant voice.

"That's the worst of it. I don't want to be in a hurry--it's just what
I don't want."

"Doesn't it occur to you," asked Will, as if a sudden idea had struck
him, "that perhaps she's no more in a hurry than you are?"

"It's possible. I shouldn't wonder. But if I seem to be playing the
fool--?"

"That depends on yourself.--But," Will added, with a twinkle in his
eye, "there's just one piece of advice I should like to offer you."

"Let me have it," replied the other eagerly. "Very good of you, old
man, not to be bored."

"Don't," said Warburton, in an impressive undertone, "don't persuade
Mrs. Cross to change her grocer."



CHAPTER 26


This conversation brought Warburton a short relief. Laughter, even
though it come from the throat rather than the midriff, tends to dispel
morbid humours, and when he woke next morning, after unusually sound
sleep, Will had a pleasure in the sunlight such as he had not known for
a long time. He thought of Norbert Franks, and chuckled; of Bertha
Cross, and smiled. For a day or two the toil of the shop was less
irksome. Then came sordid troubles which again overcast the sky. Acting
against his trusty henchman's advice, Will had made a considerable
purchase of goods from a bankrupt stock; and what seemed to be a great
bargain was beginning to prove a serious loss. Customers grumbled about
the quality of articles supplied to them out of this unlucky venture,
and among the dissatisfied was Mrs. Cross, who came and talked for
twenty minutes about some tapioca that had been sent to her, obliging
Mr. Jollyman to make repeated apologies and promises that such a thing
should never occur again. When the querulous-voiced lady at length
withdrew, Will was boiling over with rage.

"Idiot!" he exclaimed, regardless of the fact that Allchin overheard
him.

"You see, sir," remarked the assistant. "It's just as I said; but I
couldn't persuade you."

Will held his lips tight and stared before him.

"There'll be a net loss of ten pounds on that transaction," pursued
Allchin. "It's a principle of honest business, never buy a bankrupt
stock. But you wouldn't listen to me, sir--"

"That'll do, Allchin, that'll do!" broke in the master, quivering with
the restraint he imposed upon himself. "Can't you see I'm not in a mood
for that sort of thing?"

This same day, there was a leakage of gas on the premises, due to bad
workmanship in some new fittings which had cost Will more than he
liked. Then the shop awning gave way, and fell upon the head of a
passer-by, who came into the shop swearing at large and demanding
compensation for his damaged hat. Sundry other things went wrong in the
course of the week, and by closing-time on Saturday night Warburton's
nerves were in a state of tension which threatened catastrophe. He went
to bed at one o'clock; at six in the morning, not having closed his
eves for a moment, he tumbled out again, dressed with fury, and rushed
out of the house.

It was a morning of sunny showers; one moment the stones were covered
with shining moisture, and the next were steaming themselves dry under
unclouded rays. Heedless whither he went, so he did but move quickly
enough, Will crossed the river, and struck southward, till he found
himself by Clapham Junction. The sun had now triumphed; the day would
be brilliant. Feeling already better for his exercise, he stood awhile
reflecting, and decided at length to go by rail into the country. He
might perhaps call on the Pomfrets at Ashtead; that would depend upon
his mood. At all events he would journey in that direction.

It was some three months since he had seen the Pomfrets. He had a
standing invitation to the pleasant little house, where he was always
received with simple, cordial hospitality. About eleven o'clock, after
a ramble about Ashtead Common, he pushed open the garden wicket, and
knocked at the door under the leafy porch. So quiet was the house, that
he half feared he would find nobody at home; but the servant at once
led him in, and announced him at the door of her master's sanctum.

"Warburton?" cried a high, hearty voice, before he had entered. "Good
fellow. Every day this week I've been wanting to ask you to come; but I
was afraid; it's so long since we saw you, I fancied you must have been
bored the last time you were here."

A small, thin, dry-featured man, with bald occiput and grizzled beard,
Ralph Pomfret sat deep in an easy chair, his legs resting on another.
Humour and kindliness twinkled in his grey eye. The room, which was
full of books, had a fair view of meadows, and hill. Garden perfumes
floated in at the open window.

"Kind fellow, to come like this," he went on. "You see that the old
enemy has a grip on me. He pinches, he pinches. He'll get at my vitals
one of these days, no doubt. And I've not even the satisfaction of
having got my gout in an honourable way. If it had come to me from a
fine old three-bottle ancestor! But I, who never had a grandfather, and
hardly tasted wine till I was thirty years old--why, I feel ashamed to
call myself gouty. Sit down, my wife's at church. Strange thing that
people still go to church--but they do, you know. Force of habit, force
of habit. Rosamund's with her."

"Miss Elvan?" asked Warburton, with surprise.

"Ah, yes I forgot you didn't know she was here. Came back with those
friends of hers from Egypt a week ago. She has no home in England now;
don't know where she will decide to live."

"Have you seen Norbert lately?" continued Mr. Pomfret, all in one
breath. "He's too busy to come out to Ashtead, perhaps too prosperous.
But no, I won't say that; I won't really think it. A good lad,
Norbert--better, I suspect, than his work. There's a strange thing now;
a painter without enthusiasm for art. He used to have a little; more
than a little; but it's all gone. Or so it seems to me."

"He's very honest about it," said Warburton. "Makes no pretences--calls
his painting a trick, and really feels surprised, I'm sure, that he's
so successful."

"Poor Norbert! A good lad, a good lad. I wonder--do you think if I
wrote a line, mentioning, by the way, that Rosamund's here, do you
think he'd come?"

The speaker accompanied his words with an intimate glance. Will averted
his eyes, and gazed for a moment at the sunny landscape.

"How long will Miss Elvan stay?" he asked.

"Oh, as long as she likes. We are very glad to have her."

Their looks met for an instant.

"A pity, a pity!" said Ralph, shaking his head and smiling. "Don't
_you_ think so?"

"Why, yes. I've always thought so."

Will knew that this was not strictly the truth. But in this moment he
refused to see anything but the dimly suggested possibility that Franks
might meet again with Rosamund Elvan, and again succumb to her charm.

"Heaven forbid!" resumed Ralph, "that one should interfere where lives
are at stake! Nothing of that, nothing of that. You are as little
disposed for it as I am. But simply to acquaint him with the fact--?"

"I see no harm. If I met him--?"

"Ah! To be sure. It would be natural to say--"

"I owe him a visit," remarked Will.

They talked of other things. All at once Warburton had become aware
that he was hungry; he had not broken his fast to-day. Happily, the
clock on the mantelpiece pointed towards noon. And at this moment there
sounded voices within the house, followed by a tap at the study door
which opened, admitting Mrs. Pomfret. The lady advanced with hospitable
greeting; homely of look and speech, she had caught her husband's
smile, and something of his manner--testimony to the happiness of a
long wedded life. Behind her came the figure of youth and grace which
Warburton's eyes expected; very little changed since he last saw it, in
the Valley of Trient, Warburton was conscious of an impression that the
young lady saw him again with pleasure. In a minute or two, Mrs.
Pomfret and her niece had left the room, but Warburton still saw those
pure, pale features, the emotional eyes and lips, the slight droop of
the head to one side. Far indeed--so he said within himself--from his
ideal; but, he easily understood, strong in seductiveness for such a
man as Franks, whom the old passion had evidently left lukewarm in his
thought of other women.

The bell gave a welcome summons to lunch--or dinner, as it was called
in this household of simple traditions. Helped by his friend's arm,
Ralph managed to hobble to table; he ate little, and talked throughout
the meal in his wonted vein of cheerful reflection. Will enjoyed
everything that was set before him; the good, wholesome food, which did
credit to Mrs. Pomfret's housekeeping, had a rare savour after months
of dining in the little parlour behind his shop, varied only by Mrs.
Wick's cooking on Sundays. One thing, however, interfered with his
ease; seated opposite to Rosamund Elvan, he called to mind the fact
that his toilet this morning had been of the most summary description;
he was unshaven, and his clothing was precisely what he had worn all
yesterday at the counter. The girl's eyes passed observantly over him
now and then; she was critical of appearances, no doubt. That his
aspect and demeanour might be in keeping, he bore himself somewhat
bluffly, threw out brief, blunt phrases, and met Miss Elvan's glance
with a confident smile. No resentment of this behaviour appeared in her
look or speech; as the meal went on, she talked more freely, and
something of frank curiosity began to reveal itself in her countenance
as she listened to him.

Ralph Pomfret having hobbled back to his study chair, to doze, if might
be, for an hour or two, the others presently strolled out into the
garden, where rustic chairs awaited them on the shadowy side.

"You have your pipe, I hope?" said the hostess, as Warburton stretched
himself out with a sigh of content.

"I have."

"And matches?"

"Yes--No! The box is empty."

"I'll send you some. I have one or two things to see to indoors."

So Will and Rosamund sat alone, gazing idly at the summer sky, hearing
the twitter of a bird, the hum of insects, whilst the scents of flower
and leaf lulled them to a restful intimacy. Without a word of ceremony,
Will used the matches that were brought him, and puffed a cloud into
the warm air. They were talking of the beauties of this neighbourhood,
of the delightful position of the house.

"You often come out to see my uncle, I suppose," said Rosamund.

"Not often, I'm seldom free, and not always in the humour."

"Not in the humour for _this_?"

"It sounds strange, doesn't it?" said Will, meeting her eyes. "When I'm
here, I want to be here always; winter or summer, there's nothing more
enjoyable--in the way of enjoyment that does only good. Do you regret
Egypt?"

"No, indeed. I shall never care to go there again."

"Or the Pyrenees?"

"Have you seen them yet?" asked Rosamund.

Will shook his head.

"I remember your saying," she remarked, "you would go for your next
holiday to the Basque country."

"Did I? Yes--when you had been talking much about it. But since then
I've had no holiday."

"No holiday--all this time?"

Rosamund's brows betrayed her sympathy.

"How long is it since we were together in Switzerland?" asked Will,
dreamily, between puffs. "This is the second summer, isn't it? One
loses count of time, there in London. I was saying to Franks the other
day--"

He stopped, but not abruptly; the words seemed to murmur away as his
thoughts wandered. Rosamund's eyes were for a moment cast down. But for
a moment only; then she fixed them upon him in a steady, untroubled
gaze.

"You were saying to Mr. Franks--?"

The quiet sincerity of her voice drew Warburton's look. She was sitting
straight in the cane chair, her hands upon her lap, with an air of
pleasant interest.

"I was saying--oh, I forget--it's gone."

"Do you often see him?" Rosamund inquired in the same calmly interested
tone.

"Now and then. He's a busy man, with a great many friends--like most
men who succeed."

"But you don't mean, I hope, that he cares less for his friends of the
old time, before he succeeded?"

"Not at all," exclaimed Will, rolling upon his chair, and gazing at the
distance. "He's the same as ever. It's my fault that we don't meet
oftener. I was always a good deal of a solitary, you know, and my
temper hasn't been improved by ill-luck."

"Ill-luck?"

Again there was sympathy in Rosamund's knitted brow; her voice touched
a note of melodious surprise and pain.

"That's neither here nor there. We were talking of Franks. If anything,
he's improved, I should say. I can't imagine any one bearing success
better--just the same bright, good-natured, sincere fellow. Of course,
he enjoys his good fortune--he's been through hard times."

"Which would have been harder still, but for a friend of his," said
Rosamund, with eyes thoughtfully drooped.

Warburton watched her as she spoke. Her look and her voice carried him
back to the Valley of Trient; he heard the foaming torrent; saw the
dark fir-woods, felt a cool breath from the glacier. Thus had Rosamund
been wont to talk; then, as now, touching his elementary emotions, but
moving his reflective self to a smile.

"Have you seen Miss Cross since you came back?" he asked, as if
casually.

"Oh, yes. If I stay in England, I hope to live somewhere near her.
Perhaps I shall take rooms in London, and work at water-colours and
black-and-white. Unless I go to the Basque country, where my sister is.
Don't you think, Mr. Warburton, one might make a lot of drawings in the
Pyrenees, and then have an exhibition of them in London? I have to earn
my living, and I must do something of that kind."

Whilst Will was shaping his answer Mrs. Pomfret came toward them from
the house, and the current of the conversation was turned. Presently
Ralph summoned his guest to the book-room, where they talked till the
kindly hour of tea. But before setting out for his homeward journey,
Warburton had another opportunity of exchanging words with Miss Elvan
in the garden.

"Well, I shall hear what you decide to do," he said, bluffly. "If you
go to the Pyrenees--but I don't think you will."

"No, perhaps not. London rather tempts me," was the girl's dreamy reply.

"I'm glad to hear it."

"I must get Bertha's advice--Miss Cross'."

Will nodded. He was about to say something, but altered his mind; and
so the colloquy ended.



CHAPTER 27


Toward ten o'clock that evening, Warburton alighted from a train at
Notting Hill Gate, and walked through heavy rain to the abode of
Norbert Franks. With satisfaction, he saw the light at the great window
of his studio, and learnt from the servant who admitted him that Franks
had no company. His friend received him with surprise, so long was it
since Warburton had looked in unexpectedly.

"Nothing amiss?" said Franks, examining the hard-set face, with its
heavy eyes, and cheeks sunken.

"All right. Came to ask for news, that's all."

"News? Ah, I understand. There's no news."

"Still reflecting?"

"Yes. Keeping away, just to see how I like it. Sensible that, don't you
think?"

Warburton nodded. The conversation did not promise much vivacity, for
Franks looked tired, and the visitor seemed much occupied with his own
thoughts. After a few words about a canvas which stood on the
easel--another woman the artist was boldly transforming into
loveliness--Will remarked carelessly that he had spent the day at
Ashtead.

"By Jove, I ought to go and see those people," said Franks.

"Better wait a little, perhaps," returned the other with a smile. "Miss
Elvan is with them."

"Ah! Lucky you told me--not that it matters much," added Franks, after
a moment's reflection, "at all events as far as I'm concerned. But it
might be a little awkward for her. How long is she staying?"

Will told all he knew of Miss Elvan's projects. He went on to say that
she seemed to him more thoughtful, more serious, than in the old time;
to be sure, she had but recently lost her father, and the subduing
influence of that event might have done her good.

"You had a lot of talk?" said Franks.

"Oh, we gossiped in the garden. Poor old Pomfret has his gout, and
couldn't come out with us. What do you think, by the bye, of her chance
of living by art? She says she'll have to."

"By that, or something else, no doubt," Franks replied disinterestedly.
"I know her father had nothing to leave, nothing to make an income."

"Are her water-colours worth anything?"

"Not much, I'm afraid, I can't quite see her living by anything of that
sort. She's the amateur, pure and simple. Now, Bertha Cross--there's
the kind of girl who does work and gets paid for it. In her modest
line, Bertha is a real artist. I do wish you knew her, Warburton."

"So you have said a good many times," remarked Will. "But I don't see
how it would help you. I know Miss Elvan, and--"

He paused, as if musing on a thought.

"And what?" asked Franks impatiently.

"Nothing--except that I like her better than I used to."

As he spoke, he stood up.

"Well, I can't stay. It's raining like the devil. I wanted to know
whether you'd done anything decisive, that's all."

"I'll let you know when I do," answered Franks, suppressing a yawn.
"Good-night, old man."

For a fortnight, Warburton led his wonted life, shut off as usual from
the outer world. About this time, Allchin began to observe with anxiety
the change in his master's aspect and general behaviour.

"I'm afraid you're not feeling quite yourself, sir," he said at closing
time one night. "I've noticed lately you don't seem quite well."

"Have you? Well, perhaps you are right. But it doesn't matter."

"If you'll excuse _me_, sir," returned the assistant, "I'm afraid it
does matter. I hope, sir, you won't think I speak disrespectful, but
I've been noticing that you didn't seem to care about waiting on
customers lately."

"You've noticed that?"

"I have, sir, if the truth must be told. And I kept saying to myself as
it wasn't like you. What I'm afraid of, sir, if you don't mind me
saying it, is that the customers themselves are beginning to notice it.
Mrs. Gilpin said to me yesterday--'What's come to Mr. Jollyman?' she
says. 'He hasn't a civil word for me!' she says. Of course, I made out
as you'd been suffering from a bad 'eadache, and I shouldn't wonder if
that's the truth, sir."

Warburton set his teeth and said nothing.

"You wouldn't like to take just a little 'oliday, sir?" returned
Allchin. "This next week, I could manage well enough. It might do you
good, sir, to have a mouthful of sea air--"

"I'll think about it," broke in the other abruptly.

He was going away without another word, but, in crossing the shop, he
caught his henchman's eye fixed on him with a troublous gaze.
Self-reproach checked his steps.

"You're quite right, Allchin," he said in a confidential tone. "I'm not
quite up to the mark, and perhaps I should do well to take a holiday.
Thank you for speaking about it."

He walked home, and there, on his table, he found a letter from Franks,
which he eagerly tore open. "I have as good as decided," wrote the
artist. "Yesterday, I went to Ashtead, and saw R. We met like old
friends--just as I wished. Talked as naturally as you and I. I
suspect--only suspect of course--that she knows of my visits to Walham
Green, and smiles at them! Yes, as you say, I think she has
improved--decidedly. The upshot of it all is that I shall call on the
Crosses again, and, when an opportunity offers, try my chance. I think
I am acting sensibly, don't you?"

After reading this, Will paced about his room for an hour or two. Then
he flung himself into bed, but got no sleep until past dawn. Rising at
the usual hour, he told himself that this would not do; to live on in
this way was mere moral suicide; he resolved to run down to St. Neots,
whence, if his mother were capable of the journey, she and Jane might
go for a week or two to the seaside. So, having packed his travelling
bag, he walked to the shop, and arranged with Allchin for a week's
absence, greatly to the assistant's satisfaction. Before noon he was at
The Haws. But the idea of a family expedition to the seaside could not
be carried out: Mrs. Warburton was not strong enough to leave home, and
Jane had just invited a friend to come and spend a week with them.
Disguising as best he could his miserable state of mind and body, Will
stayed for a couple of days. The necessity for detailed lying about his
affairs in London--lying which would long ago have been detected, but
for the absolute confidence of his mother and sister, and the retired
habits of their life--added another cause of unrest to those already
tormenting him, and he was glad to escape into solitude. Though with
little faith in the remedy, he betook himself to a quiet spot on the
coast of Norfolk, associated with memories of holiday in childhood, and
there for the rest of the time he had allowed himself did what a man
could do to get benefit from sea and sky.

And in these endless hours of solitude there grew upon him a perception
of the veritable cause of his illness. Not loss of station, not
overwork, not love; but simply the lie to which he was committed. There
was the root of the matter. Slowly, dimly, he groped toward the fact
that what rendered his life intolerable was its radical dishonesty.
Lived openly, avowedly, it would have involved hardships indeed, but
nothing of this dull wretchedness which made the world a desert. He
began to see how much better, how much easier, it would have been to
tell the truth two years ago. His mother was not so weak-minded a woman
as to be stricken down by loss of money; and as for Sherwood, his folly
merited more than the unpleasantness that might have resulted to him
from disclosure. Grocerdom with a clear conscience would have been a
totally different thing from grocerdom surreptitiously embraced.
Instead of slinking into a corner for the performance of an honourable
act, he should have declared it, frankly, unaffectedly, to all who had
any claim upon him. At once, the enterprise became amusing,
interesting. If it disgraced him with any of his acquaintances, so much
the worse for them; all whose friendship was worth having would have
shown only the more his friends; as things stood, he was ashamed,
degraded, not by circumstances, but by himself.

To undo it all--? To proclaim the truth--? Was it not easy enough? He
had proved now that his business would yield income sufficient for his
mother and sister, as well as for his own needs; the crisis was
surmounted; why not cast off this load of mean falsehood, which was
crushing him to the ground? By Heaven! he would do so.

Not immediately. Better wait till he had heard from Jane that their
mother was a little stronger, which would probably be the case in a
week or two. But (he declared ill his mind) the resolve was taken. At
the first favourable moment he would undo his folly. Before taking this
step, he must of course announce it to Godfrey Sherwood; an unpleasant
necessity; but no matter.

He walked about the beach in a piping wind, waved his arms, talked to
himself, now and then raised a great shout. And that night he slept
soundly.



CHAPTER 28


He got back to Fulham Road in time for the press of Saturday night.
Allchin declared that he looked much better, and customers were once
more gratified by Mr. Jollyman's studious civility. On Sunday morning
he wrote a long letter to Sherwood, which, for lack of other address,
he sent to the care of Godfrey's relative in Wales. This was something
done. In the afternoon he took a long walk, which led him through the
Holland Park region. He called to see Franks, but the artist was not at
home; so he left a card asking for news. And the next day brought
Franks' telegraphic reply. "Nothing definite yet. Shall come to see you
late one of these evenings. I have not been to Walham Green." Though he
had all but persuaded himself that he cared not at all, one way or the
other, this message did Warburton good. Midway in the week, business
being slack, he granted himself a half holiday, and went to Ashtead,
merely in friendliness to Ralph Pomfret--so he said to himself.

From Ashtead station to the Pomfrets' house was a good twenty minutes'
walk. As he strode along, eyes upon the ground, Will all at once saw
the path darkened by a shadow; he then became conscious of a female
figure just in front of him, and heedlessly glancing at the face, was
arrested by a familiar smile.

"You were coming to see us?" asked Miss Elvan, offering her hand. "What
a pity that I have to go to town! Only just time to catch the train."

"Then I'll walk back to the station with you--may I?"

"I shall be delighted, if you don't mind the trouble. I have an
appointment with Miss Cross. She has found rooms which she thinks will
suit me, and we're going to look at them together."

"So you have decided for London?"

"I think so. The rooms are at Chelsea, in Oakley Crescent. I know how
fond you are of London, and how well you know it. And I know so little;
only a street or two here and there. I mean to remedy my ignorance. If
ever you have an afternoon to spare, Mr. Warburton, I should be so glad
if you would let me go with you to see interesting places."

For an instant, Will was surprised, confused, but Rosamund's entire
simplicity and directness of manner rebuked this sensation. He replied
in a corresponding tone that nothing would please him more. They were
now at the railway station, and the train approached. Rosamund having
sprung into a carriage, gave her hand through the window, saying:

"I may be settled in a day or two. You will hear--"

With the sentence unfinished, she drew back, and the train rolled away.
For a minute or two, Warburton stood on the platform, his lips
mechanically prolonging the smile which had answered Miss Elvan's, and
his thoughts echoing her last words. When he turned, he at first walked
slowly; then his pace quickened, and he arrived at the Pomfrets' house,
as though on urgent business. In the garden he caught sight of Ralph,
recovered from his attack of gout, sitting at his ease, pipe in mouth.
Will told of his meeting with Miss Elvan.

"Yes, yes; she's off to London town--wants to live there, like all the
rest of the young people. In thirty years' time she'll have had enough
of it, and be glad to creep into a quiet corner like this. My wife's in
the house, teaching our new maid to make tea-cakes--you shall have some
at five o'clock. I wonder whether any girl could be found nowadays who
knows how to make tea-cakes? There's Rosamund--she knows no more about
that kind of thing than of ship-building. Do you know any young lady
who could make a toothsome tea-cake?"

"I'm not quite sure," answered Will reflectively, "but I have one in
mind who perhaps does--it wouldn't surprise me."

"That's to your credit. By the bye, you know that Norbert has been
here."

"Yes, I heard of it. He wrote to tell me."

"Aye, but he's been twice--did you know that? He was here yesterday."

"Indeed?"

Ralph looked at the other with an odd smile.

"One might have expected a little awkwardness between them," he
continued. "Not a bit of it. There again--your girl of to-day; she has
a way of her own with all this kind of thing. Why they just shook hands
as if they'd never been anything but pleasant friends. All the same, as
I tell you, Norbert has been a second time."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Warburton.

Will had purposed getting back to the shop about seven o'clock. He was,
indeed, back in London at that hour, but his state of mind tempted him
to shirk squalid duty; instead of turning toward Fulham Road, he took
his way into the Strand, and there loitered in the evening sunshine,
self-reproachful, yet enjoying the unwonted liberty. It was
dinner-time; restaurants exhaled their pungent odours, and Will felt
sharpening appetite. For the first time since his catastrophe, he
granted himself the dinner of a well-to-do man, and, as would naturally
befall in such a case, made his indulgence large.

Several days passed and brought no letter from any one. But at midnight
on Saturday, there lay awaiting him a letter addressed in Sherwood's
well-known hand. Godfrey began by excusing himself for his delay in
replying; he had had rather a nasty attack of illness, and was only now
able to hold his pen. But it was lucky he had not written before; this
very morning there had reached him the very best news. "The father of
the man who owes me ten thousand pounds is dying. Off and on he has
been ill for a long time, but I hear at length that there can be no
doubt whatever that the end is near. I can't pretend to any human
feeling in this matter; the man's death means life for us--so the world
goes. Any day now, you may have a telegram from me announcing the
event. Of the prompt payment of the debt as soon as my friend inherits,
there is no shadow of doubt. I therefore urge you very strongly not to
make a disclosure. It will be needless. Wait till we see each other. I
am still in Ireland--for a reason which I will explain when we meet."

Will drew a long breath. If ever news came opportunely, it was this. He
threw up the window of his stuffy little sitting-room, and looked out
into the summer night. The murmur of London once more made music to his
ears.



CHAPTER 29


Rosamund took the Chelsea lodgings proposed to her by Bertha Cross, and
in a few days went to live there. The luggage which she brought from
Ashtead enabled her to add a personal touch to the characterless rooms:
in the place of the landlady's ornaments, which were not things of
beauty, she scattered her own _bibelots_, and about the walls she hung
a number of her own drawings, framed for the purpose, as well as
several which bore the signature, "Norbert Franks." Something less than
a year ago, when her father went abroad, their house at Bath had been
given up, and the furniture warehoused; for the present, Rosamund and
her sister were content to leave things thus. The inheritance of each
amounted only to a few hundred pounds.

"It's enough to save one from worry for a year or two," said Rosamund
to her friend Bertha. "I'm not extravagant; I can live here very
comfortably. And there's a pleasure in the thought that one's work not
only _may_ succeed but _must_."

"I'm sure I hope so," replied Bertha, "but where's the _must_?"

"What am I to do if it doesn't?" asked Miss Elvan, with her sweet
smile, and in a tone of irresistible argument.

"True," conceded her humorous friend. "There's no other way out of the
difficulty."

This was on the day of Rosamund's coming to Chelsea. A week later,
Bertha found the sitting-room brightened with the hanging
water-colours, with curtains of some delicate fabric at the windows,
with a new rug before the fire place.

"These things have cost so little," said Rosamund, half apologetically.
"And--yes, I was obliged to buy this little tea service; I really
couldn't use Mrs. Darby's; it spoilt the taste of the tea. Trifles, but
they really have their importance; they help to keep one in the right
mind. Oh, I must show you an amusing letter I've had from Winnie.
Winifred is prudence itself. She wouldn't spend a sixpence
unnecessarily. 'Suppose one fell ill,' she writes, 'what a blessing it
would be to feel that one wasn't helpless and dependent. Oh, do be
careful with your money, and consider very, very seriously what is the
best course to take in your position.' Poor, dear old Winnie! I know
she frets and worries about me, and pictures me throwing gold away by
the handful. Yet, as you know, that isn't my character at all. If I lay
out a few sovereigns to make myself comfortable here, I know what I'm
doing; it'll all come back again in work. As you know, Bertha, I'm not
afraid of poverty--not a bit! I had very much rather be shockingly
poor, living in a garret and half starved, than just keep myself tidily
going in lodgings such as these were before I made the little changes.
Winnie has a terror of finding herself destitute. She jumped for joy
when she was offered that work, and I'm sure she'd be content to live
there in the same way for years. She feels safe as long as she needn't
touch her money."

Winifred Elvan, since her father's death, had found an engagement as
governess in an English family at St. Jean de Luz. This, in the younger
sister's eyes, involved a social decline, more disagreeable to her than
she chose to confess.

"The one thing," pursued Rosamund, "that I really dread, is the
commonplace. If I were utterly, wretchedly, grindingly poor, there'd be
at all events a savour of the uncommon about it. I can't imagine myself
marrying a prosperous shopkeeper; but if I cared for a clerk who had
nothing but a pound a week, I would marry him to-morrow."

"The result," said Bertha, "might be lamentably commonplace."

"Not if it was the right sort of man.--Tell me what you think of that
bit." She pointed to a framed drawing. "It's in the valley of Bidassoa."

They talked art for a little, then Rosamund fell into musing, and
presently said:

"Don't you think Norbert has behaved very well."

"How well?"

"I mean, it would have been excusable, perhaps, if he had betrayed a
little unkind feeling toward me. But nothing of the kind, absolutely
nothing. I'm afraid I didn't give him credit for so much manliness.
When he came to Ashtead the second time, of course I understood his
motive at once. He wished to show me that his behaviour at the first
meeting wasn't mere bravado and to assure me that I needn't be afraid
of him. There's a great deal of delicacy in that; it really pleased me."

Bertha Cross was gazing at her friend with a puzzled smile.

"You're a queer girl," she remarked.

"Queer? Why?"

"Do you mean that you were really and truly surprised that Mr. Franks
behaved like a gentleman?"

"Oh, Bertha!" protested the other. "What a word!"

"Well, like a man, then."

"Perhaps I oughtn't to have felt that," admitted Rosamund thoughtfully.
"But I did, and it meant a good deal. It shows how very right I was
when I freed myself."

"Are you quite sure of that?" asked Bertha, raising her eyebrows and
speaking more seriously than usual.

"I never was more sure of anything."

"Do you know, I can't help thinking it an argument on the other side."

Rosamund looked her friend in the eyes.

"Suppose it means that you were altogether mistaken about Mr. Franks?"
went on Bertha, in the same pleasant tone between jest and earnest.

"I wasn't mistaken in my own feeling," said Rosamund in her melodious
undertone.

"No; but your feeling, you have always said, was due to a judgment you
formed of Mr. Franks' character and motives. And now you confess that
it looks very much as if you had judged him wrongly."

Rosamund smiled and shook her head.

"Do you know," asked Bertha, after a pause, "that he has been coming to
our house lately?"

"You never mentioned it. But why shouldn't he go to your house?"

"Rather, why should he?" asked Bertha, with a laugh. "Don't trouble to
guess. The reason was plain enough. He came to talk about you."

"Oh!" exclaimed the listener with amused deprecation.

"There's no doubt of it; no--shadow--of--doubt. In fact, we've had very
pleasant little chats about you. Of course I said all the disagreeable
things I could; I knew that was what you would wish."

"Certainly," fell from Rosamund.

"I didn't positively calumniate you, but just the unpleasant little
hints that a friend is so well able to throw out; the sort of thing
likely to chill any one. I hope you quite approve?"

"Quite."

"Well, the odd thing was that they didn't quite have the effect I aimed
at. He talked of you more and more, instead of less and less. Wasn't it
provoking, Rosamund?"

Again their eyes encountered.

"I wish," continued Miss Elvan, "I knew how much of this is truth, and
how much Bertha's peculiar humour."

"It's substantial truth. That there may be humour in it, I don't deny,
but it isn't of my importing."

"When did he last come to see you?" Rosamund inquired.

"Let me see. Just before he went to see you."

"It doesn't occur to you," said Rosamund, slowly meditative, "that he
had some other reason--not the apparent one--for coming to your house?"

"It doesn't occur to me, and never will occur to me," was Bertha's
amused answer.

When it was time for Bertha to walk home wards, Rosamund put her hat
on, and they went out together. Turning to the west, they passed along
Cheyne Walk, and paused awhile by old Chelsea Church. The associations
of the neighbourhood moved Miss Elvan to a characteristic display of
enthusiasm. Delightful to live here! A joy to work amid such memories,
of ancient and of latter time!

"I must get Mr. Warburton to come and walk about Chelsea with me," she
added.

"Mr. Warburton?"

"He's a great authority on London antiquities. Bertha, if you happen to
see Norbert these days, do ask him for Mr. Warburton's address."

"Why not ask your people at Ashtead?" said Bertha.

"I shan't be going there for two or three weeks. Promise to ask
Norbert--will you? For me, of course."

Bertha had turned to look at the river. Her face wore a puzzled gravity.

"I'll try to think of it," she replied, walking slowly on.

"He's a great mystery," were Rosamund's next words. "My uncle has no
idea what he does, and Norbert, they tell me, is just as ignorant, or
at all events, professes to be. Isn't it a queer thing? He came to
grief in business two years ago, and since then he has lived out of
sight. Uncle Ralph supposes he had to take a clerk's place somewhere,
and that he doesn't care to talk about it."

"Is he such a snob?" asked Bertha, disinterestedly.

"No one would think so who knows him. I'm convinced there's some other
explanation."

"Perhaps the truth is yet more awful," said Bertha solemnly. "He may
have got a place _in a shop_."

"Hush! hush!" exclaimed the other, with a pained look. "Don't say such
things! A poor clerk is suggestive--it's possible to see him in a
romantic light--but a shopman! If you knew him,' you would laugh at the
idea. Mystery suits him very well indeed; to tell the truth, he's much
more interesting now than when one knew him as a partner in a
manufactory of some kind. You see he's unhappy--there are lines in his
face--"

"Perhaps," suggested Bertha, "he has married a rich widow and daren't
confess it."



CHAPTER 30


It was on Saturday night that Godfrey Sherwood came at length to
Warburton's lodgings. Reaching home between twelve and one o'clock Will
saw a man who paced the pavement near Mrs. Wick's door; the man, at
sight of him, hastened forward; there were exclamations of surprise and
of pleasure.

"I came first of all at nine o'clock," said Sherwood. "The landlady
said you wouldn't be back before midnight, so I came again. Been to the
theatre, I suppose?"

"Yes," answered Will, "taking part in a play called 'The Grocer's
Saturday Night.'

"I'd forgotten. Poor old fellow! You won't have much more of _that_
thank Heaven!--Are you too tired to talk to-night?"

"No, no; come in."

The house was silent and dark. Will struck a match to light the candle
placed for him at the foot of the stairs, and led the way up to his
sitting-room on the first floor. Here he lit a lamp, and the two
friends looked at each other. Each saw a change. If Warburton was thin
and heavy-eyed, Sherwood's visage showed an even more noticeable
falling-off in health.

"What's been the matter with you?" asked Will. "Your letter said you
had had an illness, and you look as if you hadn't got over it yet."

"Oh, I'm all right now," cried the other. "Liver got out of order--or
the spleen, or something--I forget. The best medicine was the news I
got about old Strangwyn.--There, by Jove! I've let the name out. The
wonder is I never did it before, when we were talking. It doesn't
matter now. Yes, it's Strangwyn, the whisky man. He'll die worth a
million or two, and Ted is his only son. I was a fool to lend that
money to Ted, but we saw a great deal of each other at one time, and
when he came asking for ten thousand--a mere nothing for a fellow of
his expectations--nobody thought his father could live a year, but the
old man has held out all this time, and Ted, the rascal, kept swearing
he couldn't pay the interest on his debt. Of course I could have made
him; but he knew I shouldn't dare to risk the thing coming to his
father's ears. I've had altogether about three hundred pounds, instead
of the four hundred a year he owed me--it was at four per cent. Now, of
course, I shall get all the arrears--but that won't pay for all the
mischief that's been done."

"Is it certain," asked Will, "that Strangwyn will pay?"

"Certain? If he doesn't I sue him. The case is plain as daylight."

"There's no doubt that he'll have his father's money?"

"None whatever. For more than a year now, he's been on good terms with
the old man. Ted is a very decent fellow, of his sort. I don't say that
I care as much for him now as I used to; we've both of us altered; but
his worst fault is extravagance. The old man, it must be confessed,
isn't very good form; he smells rather of the distillery; but Ted
Strangwyn might come of the best family in the land. Oh, you needn't
have the least anxiety. Strangwyn will pay, principal and interest, as
soon as the old man has retired; and that may happen any day, any
hour.--How glad I am to see you again, Will! I've known one or two
plucky men, but no one like you. I couldn't have gone through it; I
should have turned coward after a month of that. Well, it's over, and
it'll be something to look back upon. Some day, perhaps, you'll amuse
your sister by telling her the story. To tell you the truth, I couldn't
bear to come and see you; I should have been too miserably ashamed of
myself.--And not a soul has found you out, all this time?"

"No one that I know of."

"You must have suffered horribly from loneliness.--But I have things to
tell you, important things." He waved his arm. "Not to-night; it's too
late, and you look tired to death."

"Tell on," said Warburton. "If I went to bed I shouldn't sleep--where
are you staying?"

"Morley's Hotel. Not at my own expense," Sherwood added hastily. "I'm
acting as secretary to a man--a man I got to know in Ireland. A fine
fellow! You'll know him very soon. It's about him that I want to tell
you. But first of all, that idea of mine about Irish eggs. The trouble
was I couldn't get capital enough. My cousin Hackett risked a couple of
hundred pounds; it was all lost before the thing could really be set
going. I had a bad time after that, Will, a bad time, I tell you. Yet
good results came of it. For two or three months I lived on next to
nothing--a few pence a day, all told. Of course, if I had let Strangwyn
know how badly off I was, he'd have sent a cheque; but I didn't feel I
had any right to his money, it was yours, not mine. Besides, I said to
myself that, if I suffered, it was only what I deserved; I took it as a
sort of expiation of the harm I'd done. All that time I was in Dublin,
I tried to get employment but nobody had any use for me--until at last,
when I was all but dying of hunger, somebody spoke to me of a certain
Milligan, a young and very rich man living in Dublin. I resolved to go
and see him, and a lucky day it was. You remember Conolly--Bates's
traveller? Well, Milligan is just that man, in appearance; a thorough
Irishman, and one of the best hearted fellows that ever lived. Though
he's rich I found him living in a very plain way, in a room which
looked like a museum, full of fossils, stuffed birds and animals, queer
old pictures, no end of such things. Well, I told him plainly who I
was, and where I was; and almost without thinking, he cried out--'What
could be simpler? Come and be my secretary.'--'You want a
secretary?'--'I hadn't thought of it,' said Milligan, 'but now it
strikes me it's just what I _do_ want. I knew there was something. Yes,
yes, come and be my secretary; you're just the man.' He went on to tell
me he had a lot of correspondence with sellers of curiosities, and it
bored him to write the letters. Would I come for a couple of hours a
day? He'd pay me twenty pounds a month. You may suppose I wasn't long
in accepting. We began the next day, and in a week's time we were good
friends. Milligan told me that he'd always had weak health, and he was
convinced his life had been saved by vegetarianism. I myself wasn't
feeling at all fit just then; he persuaded me to drop meat, and taught
me all about the vegetarian way of living. I hadn't tried it for a
month before I found the most wonderful results. Never in my life had I
such a clear mind, and such good spirits. It remade me."

"So you've come to London to hunt for curios?" interposed Will.

"No, no; let me go on. When I got to know Milligan well, I found that
he had a large estate somewhere in Connaught. And, as we talked, an
idea came to me." Again he sprang up from his chair. "'If I were a
landowner on that scale,' I said, 'do you know what I should do--I
should make a vegetarian colony; a self-supporting settlement of people
who ate no meat, drank no alcohol, smoked no tobacco; a community
which, as years went on, might prove to the world that there was the
true ideal of civilised life--health of mind and of body, true culture,
true humanity!'" The eyes glowed in his fleshless, colourless face; he
spoke with arm raised, head thrown back--the attitude of an
enthusiastic preacher. "Milligan caught at the idea--caught at it
eagerly. 'There's something fine in that!' he said. 'Why shouldn't it
be done?' 'You're the man that could do it,' I told him. 'You'd be a
benefactor to the human race. Isolated examples are all very well, but
what we want is an experiment on a large scale, going on through more
than one generation. Let children be born of vegetarian parents,
brought up as vegetarians, and this in conditions of life every way
simple, natural, healthy. This is the way to convert the world.' So
that's what we're working at now, Milligan and I. Of course there are
endless difficulties; the thing can't be begun in a hurry; we have to
see no end of people, and correspond with the leaders of vegetarianism
everywhere. But isn't it a grand idea? Isn't it worth working for?"

Warburton mused, smiling.

"I want you to join us," said Sherwood abruptly.

"Ho, ho! That's another matter."

"I shall bring you books to read."

"I've no time. I'm a grocer."

"Pooh!" exclaimed Sherwood. "In a few days you'll be an independent
man.--Yes, yes, I know that you'll have only a small capital, when
things are settled; but it's just people with a small capital that we
want to enlist; the very poor and the well-to-do will be no use to us.
It's too late to-night to go into details. We have time to talk, plenty
of time. That you will join us, I feel sure. Wait till you've had time
to think about it. For my own part, I've found the work of my life, and
I'm the happiest man living!"

He walked round and round the table, waving his arms, and Warburton,
after regarding him curiously, mused again, but without a smile.



CHAPTER 31


Behind his counter next morning, Will thought over Sherwood's story,
and laughed to himself wonderingly. Not that any freak of his old
partner's--of the man whom he had once regarded as, above all,
practical and energetic--could now surprise him; but it seemed
astonishing that Godfrey should have persuaded a man of solid means,
even a Celt, to pledge himself to such an enterprise Was the story
true? Did Milligan really exist? If any doubt were possible on this
point, did it not also throw suspicion on the story of Strangwyn, and
the ten thousand pounds? Will grew serious at the reflection. He had
never conceived a moment's distrust of Sherwood's honesty, nor did his
misgiving now take that form; the question which troubled him
throughout to-day was--whether Godfrey Sherwood might be a victim of
delusions. Certainly he had a very strange look; that haggard face,
those brilliant eyes--

So disquieting was the suspicion that, at dosing time, Will could no
longer resist an impulse to betake himself to Morley's Hotel. Sherwood
had said that Milligan was there only for a few days, until the wealthy
Irishman could find a furnished house suitable to his needs whilst he
remained in London. Arrived at the hotel, he inquired for his friend;
Sherwood had dined and gone out. Will hesitated a moment, then asked
whether Mr. Milligan was to be seen. Mr. Milligan, he learnt, had gone
out with Mr. Sherwood. So Milligan did exist. Will's relief at settling
this point banished his doubts on all the others. He turned westward
again, and through a night of soft, warm rain walked all the way to his
lodgings.

On the third day after, late in the evening, Sherwood paid him a second
visit. Godfrey was in high spirits. He announced that Milligan had
taken a house near the Marble Arch, where he also, as secretary, would
have his quarters, and that already a meeting had been convened of the
leading London vegetarians. Things were splendidly in train. Then he
produced an evening newspaper, with a paragraph, which spoke of the
serious illness of Mr. Strangwyn; recovery, it was said, could hardly
be hoped for.

"What's more," cried Sherwood. "I've seen Ted Strangwyn himself. Nobody
could behave better. The old man, he assured me, couldn't last more
than a day or two, and he promised--quite spontaneously, I didn't say a
word--to pay his debt in full as soon as ever his father's will was
proved, which will be done as quickly as possible. --And now, have you
thought over what I said the other night?"

"Thought--yes."

"With not much result, I see. Never mind; you must have time. I want
you to meet Milligan. Could you come to lunch next Sunday? He invites
you."

Warburton shook his head. He had never cared for the acquaintance of
rich men, and was less than ever disposed to sit at their tables. All
his anxieties regarding Sherwood's mental condition having been set at
rest, he would go on with his grocer's life as long as need be,
strengthened with the hope that shone before him.

The end of July had come. After a week of rain, the weather had turned
bright, with a coolness at morning and evening very pleasant at this
time of year in London streets. Warburton had business in the City
which he must needs see to personally; he was on the point of leaving
the shop, dressed as became a respectable citizen, silk hat and all,
when in the doorway appeared Miss Bertha Cross. A certain surprise
marked her smile of recognition; it meant, no doubt, that, never before
having seen Mr. Jollyman save bareheaded and aproned, she was struck
with the change in his aspect when thus equipped for going abroad.
Immediately Mr. Jollyman doffed his hat and stepped behind the counter.

"Please don't let me keep you," said Bertha, with a glance towards
Allchin, who was making parcels at the back of the shop. "I only want
some--some matches, and one or two trifling things."

Never had she seemed so embarrassed in making a purchase. Her eyes
fell, and she half turned away. Mr. Jollyman appeared to hesitate, he
also glancing towards Allchin; but the young lady quickly recovered
herself, and, taking up a packet of something exhibited on the counter,
asked its price. The awkwardness was at an end; Bertha made her
purchases, paid for them, and then left the shop as usual.

It was by the last post on the evening after this day that Warburton
received a letter of which the exterior puzzled him. Whose could be
this graceful, delicate hand? A woman's doubtless; yet he had no female
correspondent, save those who wrote from St. Neots. The postmark was
London. He opened, "Dear Mr. Warburton"--a glance over the leaf showed
him--"Sincerely yours, Rosamund Elvan." H'm!

"Dear Mr. Warburton,--I am settled in my lodgings here, and getting
seriously to work. It has occurred to me that you might be able to
suggest some quaint corner of old London, unknown to me, which would
make a good subject for a water-colour. London has been, I am sure, far
too much neglected by artists; if I could mark out a claim here, as the
colonists say, I should be lucky. For the present, I am just sketching
(to get my hand in) about Chelsea. To-morrow afternoon, about six
o'clock, if this exquisite mellow weather continues, I shall be on the
Embankment in Battersea Park, near the Albert Bridge, where I want to
catch a certain effect of sky and water."

That was all. And what exactly did it mean? Warburton's practical
knowledge of women did not carry him very far, but he was wont to
theorise at large on the subject, and in this instance it seemed to him
that one of his favourite generalities found neat application. Miss
Elvan had in a high degree the feminine characteristic of not knowing
her own mind. Finding herself without substantial means, she of course
meant to marry, and it was natural that she should think of marrying
Norbert Franks; yet she could not feel at all sure that she wished to
do so; neither was she perfectly certain that Franks would again offer
her the choice. In this state of doubt she inclined to cultivate the
acquaintance of Franks' intimate friend, knowing that she might thus,
very probably, gather hints as to the artist's state of mind, and, if
it seemed good to her, could indirectly convey to him a suggestion of
her own. Warburton concluded, then, that he was simply being made use
of by this typical young lady. That point settled, he willingly lent
himself to her device, for he desired nothing better than to see Franks
lured back to the old allegiance, and away from the house at Walham
Green. So, before going to bed, he posted a reply to Miss Elvan's
letter, saying that he should much like a talk with her about the
artistic possibilities of obscure London, and that he would walk next
day along the Battersea Embankment, with the hope of meeting her.

And thus it came to pass. Through the morning there were showers, but
about noon a breeze swept the sky fair, and softly glowing summer
reigned over the rest of the day. In his mood of hopefulness, Warburton
had no scruple about abandoning the shop at tea-time; he did not even
trouble himself to invent a decorous excuse, but told Allchin plainly
that he thought he would have a walk. His henchman, who of late had
always seemed rather pleased than otherwise when Warburton absented
himself, loudly approved the idea.

"Don't you 'urry back, sir. There'll be no business as I can't manage.
Don't you think of 'urrying. The air'll do you good."

As he walked away, Will said to himself that no doubt Allchin would
only be too glad of a chance of managing the business independently,
and that perhaps he hoped for the voluntary retirement of Mr. Jollyman
one of these days. Indeed, things were likely to take that course. And
Allchin was a good, honest fellow, whom it would be a pleasure to see
flourishing.--How much longer would old Strangwyn cumber the world?

With more of elasticity than usual in his rapid stride, Will passed out
of Fulham Road into King's Road, and down to the river at Cheyne Walk,
whence his eye perceived a sitting figure on the opposite bank. He
crossed Albert Bridge; he stepped down into the Park; he drew near to
the young lady in grey trimmed with black, who was at work upon a
drawing. Not until he spoke did she seem aware of his arrival; then
with her brightest smile of welcome, she held out a pretty hand, and in
her melodious voice thanked him for so kindly taking the trouble to
come.

"Don't look at this," she added. "It's too difficult--I can't get it
right--"

What his glance discovered on the block did not strengthen Will's
confidence in Rosamund's claim to be a serious artist. He had always
taken for granted that her work was amateurish, and that she had little
chance of living by it. On the whole, he felt glad to be confirmed in
this view; Rosamund as an incompetent was more interesting to him than
if she had given proof of great ability.

"I mustn't be too ambitious," she was saying. "The river suggests
dangerous comparisons. I want to find little corners of the town such
as no one ever thought of painting--"

"Unless it was Norbert Franks," said Will genially, leaning on his
stick with both hands, and looking over her head.

"Yes, I had almost forgotten," she answered with a thoughtful smile.
"In those days he did some very good things."

".Some remarkably good things. Of course you know the story of how he
and I first met?"

"Oh, yes. Early morning--a quiet little street--I remember. Where was
that?"

"Over yonder." Will nodded southward. "I hope he'll take that up again
some day."

"Oh, but let me do it first," exclaimed Rosamund, laughing. "You
mustn't rob me of my chance, Mr. Warburton? Norbert Franks is
successful and rich, or going to be; I am a poor struggler. Of course,
in painting London, it's atmosphere one has to try for above all. Our
sky gives value, now and then, to forms which in themselves are utterly
uninteresting."

"Exactly what Franks used to say to me. There was a thing I wanted him
to try--but then came the revolution. It was the long London street,
after a hot, fine day, just when the lamps have been lit. Have you
noticed how golden the lights are? I remember standing for a long time
at the end of Harley Street, enjoying that effect. Franks was going to
try it--but then came the revolution."

"For which--you mean, Mr. Warburton--I was to blame."

Rosamund spoke in a very low voice and a very sweet, her head bent.

"Why, yes," replied Will, in the tone of corresponding masculinity,
"though I shouldn't myself have used that word. You, no doubt, were the
cause of what happened, and so, in a sense, to blame for it. But I know
it couldn't be helped."

"Indeed, it couldn't," declared Rosamund, raising her eyes a little,
and looking across the river.

She had not in the least the air of a coquette. Impossible to associate
any such trivial idea with Rosamund's habitual seriousness of bearing,
and with the stamp of her features, which added some subtle charm to
regularity and refinement. By temper critical, and especially disposed
to mistrustful scrutiny by the present circumstances, Warburton was yet
unable to resist the softening influence of this quintessential
womanhood. In a certain degree, he had submitted to it during that
holiday among the Alps, then, on the whole, he inclined to regard
Rosamund impatiently and with slighting tolerance. Now that he desired
to mark her good qualities, and so justify himself in the endeavour to
renew her conquest of Norbert Franks, he exposed himself to whatever
peril might lie in her singular friendliness. True, no sense of danger
occurred to him, and for that very reason his state was the more
precarious.

"You have seen him lately at Ashtead?" was his next remark.

"More than once. And I can't tell you how glad we were to see each
other! I knew in a moment that he had really forgiven me--and I have
always wanted to be assured of that. How thoroughly good and
straightforward he is! I'm sure we shall be friends all our lives."

"I agree with you," he said, "that there's no better fellow living.
Till now, I can't see a sign of his being spoilt by success. And spoilt
in the worst sense, I don't think he ever will be, happen what may,
there's a simplicity about him which makes his safeguard. But, as for
his painting--well, I can't be so sure, I know little or nothing about
it, but it's plain that he no longer takes his work very seriously. It
pleases people--they pay large prices for it--where's the harm? Still,
if he had some one to keep a higher ideal before him--"

He broke off, with a vague gesture. Rosamund looked up at him.

"We must try," she said, with quiet earnestness.

"Oh, I don't know that _I'm_ any use," replied Will, with a laugh. "I
speak with no authority. But you--yes. _You_ might do much. More than
any one else possibly could."

"That is exaggerating, Mr. Warburton," said Rosamund. "Even in the old
days my influence didn't go for much. You speak of the 'revolution'
caused by--by what happened; but the truth is that the revolution had
begun before that. Remember I saw 'Sanctuary' while he was painting it,
and, but we won't talk of that."

"To tell you the truth," returned Warburton, meeting her eyes steadily,
with his pleasantest look, "I saw no harm in 'Sanctuary.' I think he
was quite right to do what he could to earn money. He wanted to be
married; he had waited quite long enough; if he hadn't done something
of the kind, I should have doubted whether he was very much in earnest.
No, no; what I call the revolution began when he had lost all hope. At
the time he would have given up painting altogether, I believe; if it
hadn't been that he owed me money, and knew I wanted it."

Rosamund made a quick movement of interest.

"I never heard about that."

"Franks wouldn't talk about it, be sure. He saw me in a hobble--I lost
everything, all at once--and he went to work like a brick to get money
for me. And that, when he felt more disposed to poison himself than to
paint. Do you think I should criticise the work he did under these
circumstances?"

"No, indeed! Thank you, Mr. Warburton, for telling me that story."

"How exquisite London is at this time of the year!" Rosamund murmured,
as having declared it was time to be walking homewards, they walked
slowly towards the bridge. "I'm glad not to be going away. Look at that
lovely sky! Look at the tones of those houses.-- Oh, I _must_ make use
of it all! Real use, I mean, as splendid material for art, not only for
money-making. Do advise me, Mr. Warburton. Where shall I go to look for
bits?"

Walking with bent head, Will reflected.

"Do you know Camberwell?" he asked. "There are good little corners--"

"I don't know it at all. Could you--I'm afraid to ask. You couldn't
spare time--?"

"Oh yes, easily. That's to say, during certain hours."

"On Monday say? In the afternoon?"

"Yes."

"How kind of you!" murmured Rosamund. "If I were only an amateur,
amusing myself, I couldn't give you the trouble; but it's serious I
_must_ earn money before long. You see, there's nothing else I can do.
My sister--you know I have a sister?--she has taken to teaching; she's
at St. Jean de Luz. But I'm no use for anything of that kind. I must be
independent. Why do you smile?"

"Not at you, but at myself. I used to say the same thing. But I had no
talent of any kind, and when the smash came--"

They were crossing the bridge. Will looked westward, in the direction
of his shop, and it struck him how amusing it would be to startle
Rosamund by a disclosure of his social status. Would she still be
anxious for his company in search of the picturesque? He could not feel
sure--curiosity urged him to try the experiment, but an obscure
apprehension closed his lips.

"How very hard for you!" sighed Rosamund. "But don't think," she added
quickly, "that I have a weak dread of poverty. Not at all! So long as
one can support oneself. Nowadays, when every one strives and battles
for money, there's a distinction in doing without it."

Five minutes more, and they were in Oakley Crescent. Rosamund paused
before reaching the house in which she dwelt, took the camp-stool from
her companion, and offered her hand for good-bye. Only then did
Warburton become aware that he had said nothing since that remark of
hers about poverty; he had walked in a dream.



CHAPTER 32


August came, and Strangwyn, the great whisky distiller, was yet alive.
For very shame, Will kept his thoughts from that direction. The gloomy
mood had again crept upon him, in spite of all his reasons for hope;
his sleep became mere nightmare, and his day behind the counter a
bilious misery.

Since the occasion last recorded, Bertha Cross had not been to the
shop. One day, the order was brought by a servant; a week later, Mrs.
Cross herself appeared. The querulous lady wore a countenance so nearly
cheerful that Warburton regarded her uneasily. She had come to purchase
tea, and remarked that it was for use during a seaside holiday; you
could never depend on the tea at seaside places. Perhaps, thought Will,
the prospect of change sufficed to explain her equanimity. But for the
rest of the day he was so glum and curt, that Allchin frequently looked
at him with pained remonstrance.

At home, he found a telegram on his table. He clutched at it, rent the
envelope. But no; it was not what he expected. Norbert Franks asked him
to look in that evening. So, weary and heartsick as he was, he took the
train to Notting Hill Gate.

"What is it?" he asked bluntly, on entering the studio.

"Wanted a talk, that was all," replied his friend. "Hope I haven't
disturbed you. You told me, you remember, that you preferred coming
here."

"All right. I thought you might have news for me."

"Well," said Franks, smiling at the smoke of his cigarette, "there's
perhaps something of the sort."

The other regarded him keenly.

"You've done it."

"No--o--o; not exactly. Sit down; you're not in a hurry? I went to
Walham Green a few days ago, but Bertha wasn't at home. I saw her
mother. They're going away for a fortnight, to Southwold, and I have a
sort of idea that I may run down there. I half promised."

Will nodded, and said nothing.

"You disapprove? Speak plainly, old man. What's your real objection? Of
course I've noticed before now that you have an objection. Out with it!"

"Have you seen Miss Elvan again?"

"No. Have you?"

"Two or three times."

Franks was surprised.

"Where?"

"Oh, we've had some walks together."

"The deuce you have!" cried Franks, with a laugh.

"Don't you want to know what we talked about," pursued Warburton,
looking at him with half-closed eyelids. "Principally about you."

"That's very flattering--but perhaps you abused me?"

"On the whole, no. Discussed you, yes, and in considerable detail,
coming to the conclusion that you were a very decent fellow, and we
both of us liked you very much."

Franks laughed gaily, joyously.

"_Que vous etes aimables, tous-les-deux_! You make me imagine I'm back
in Paris. Must I round a compliment in reply?"

"That's as you like. But first I'll tell you the upshot of it all, as
it shapes itself to me. Hasn't it even dimly occurred to you that,
under the circumstances, it would be--well, say a graceful thing--to
give that girl a chance of changing her mind again?"

"What--Rosamund?"

"It never struck you?"

"But, hang it all, Warburton!" exclaimed the artist. "How _should_ I
have thought of it? You know very well--and then, it's perfectly
certain she would laugh at me."

"It isn't certain at all. And, do you know, it almost seems to me a
point of honour."

"You're not serious? This is one of your solemn jokes--such as you
haven't indulged in lately."

"No, no. Listen," said Will, with a rigid earnestness on his face as he
bent forward in the chair. "She is poor, and doesn't know how she's
going to live. You are flourishing, and have all sorts of brilliant
things before you; wouldn't it be a generous thing--the kind of thing
one might expect of a fellow with his heart in the right place--? You
understand me?"

Franks rounded his eyes in amazement.

"But--am I to understand that she _expects_ it?"

"Not at all. She hasn't in the remotest way betrayed such a thought--be
assured of that. She isn't the sort of girl to do such a thing. It's
entirely my own thought."

The artist changed his seat, and for a moment wore a look of perturbed
reflection.

"How the deuce," he exclaimed, "can you come and talk to me like this
when you know I've as good as committed myself--?"

"Yes, and in a wobbling, half-hearted way which means you had no right
even to think of committing yourself. You care nothing about that other
girl--"

"You're mistaken. I care a good deal. In fact--"

"In fact," echoed Warburton with good-natured scorn, "so much that
you've all but made up your mind to go down to Southwold whilst she is
there! Bosh! You cared for one girl in a way you'll never care for
another."

"Well--perhaps--yes that may be true--"

"Of course it's true. If you don't marry _her_, go in for a prize
beauty or for an heiress or anything else that's brilliant. Think of
the scope before a man like you."

Franks smiled complacently once more.

"Why, that's true," he replied. "I was going to tell you about my
social adventures. Who do you think I've been chumming with? Sir Luke
Griffin--the great Sir Luke. He's asked me down to his place in
Leicestershire, and I think I shall go. He's really a very nice fellow.
I always imagined him loud, vulgar, the typical parvenu. Nothing of the
kind--no one would guess that he began life in a grocer's shop. Why, he
can talk quite decently about pictures, and really likes them."

Warburton listened with a chuckle.

"Has he daughters?"

"Three, and no son. The youngest, about seventeen, an uncommonly pretty
girl. Well, as you say, why shouldn't I marry her and a quarter of a
million? By Jove! I believe I could. She was here with her father
yesterday. I'm going to paint the three girls together. --Do you know,
Warburton, speaking without any foolish vanity, what astonishes me is
to think of the enormous choice of wives there is for a man of decent
appearance and breeding who succeeds in getting himself talked about.
Without a joke, I am convinced I know twenty girls, and more or less
nice girls, who would have me at once, if I asked them. I'm not a
conceited fellow--am I now? I shouldn't say this to any one else. I'm
simply convinced of its being a fact."

Warburton declared his emphatic agreement.

"Seeing that," he added, "why are you in such a hurry? Your millionaire
grocer is but a steppingstone; who knows but you may soon chum with
dukes? If any man living ought to be cautious about his marriage, it's
you."

The artist examined his friend with a puzzled smile.

"I should like to know, Warburton, how much of this is satire, and how
much serious advice. Perhaps it's all satire--and rather savage?"

"No, no, I'm speaking quite frankly."

"But, look here, there's the awkward fact that I really have gone
rather far with the Crosses."

Will made a movement of all but angry impatience.

"Do you mean," he asked quickly, "that _she_ has committed herself in
any way?"

"No, that she certainly hasn't," was Franks, deliberate reply, in a
voice as honest as the smile which accompanied it.

"My advice then is--break decently off, and either do what I suggested,
or go and amuse yourself with millionaire Sir Luke, and extend your
opportunities."

Franks mused.

"You are serious about Rosamund?" he asked, after a glance at
Warburton's set face.

"Think it over," Will replied, in a rather hard voice. "I saw the thing
like that. Of course, it's no business of mine; I don't know why I
interfere; every man should settle these matters in his own way. But it
was a thought I had, and I've told it you. There's no harm done."



CHAPTER 33


When Warburton reached his lodging the next evening he found a letter
on his table. Again the fine feminine hand; it was the second time that
Rosamund had written to him. A vague annoyance mingled with his
curiosity as he tore the envelope. She began by telling him of a
drawing she had made in Camberwell Grove--not bad, it seemed to her,
but she wished for his opinion. Then, in a new paragraph:

"I have seen Norbert again. I call him Norbert, because I always think
of him by that name, and there's an affectation in writing 'Mr.
Franks.' I felt that, when we talked of him, and I really don't know
why I didn't simply call him Norbert then. I shall do so in future.
You, I am sure, have little respect for silly social conventions, and
you will understand me. Yes, I have seen him again, and I feel obliged
to tell you about it. It was really very amusing. You know, of course,
that all embarrassment was over between us. At Ashtead we met like the
best of friends. So, when Norbert wrote that he wanted to see me, I
thought nothing could be more natural, and felt quite glad. But, as
soon as we met, I saw something strange in him, something seemed to
have happened. And--how shall I tell you? It's only a guess of
mine--things didn't come to foolish extremities--but I really believe
that the poor fellow had somehow persuaded himself that it's his duty
to--no, I can't go on, but I'm sure you will understand. I was never so
amused at anything.

"Why do I write this to you? I hardly know. But I have just a suspicion
that the story may not come to you quite as a surprise. If Norbert
thought he had a certain duty--strange idea!--perhaps friends of his
might see things in the same way. Even the most sensible people are
influenced by curious ideas on one subject. I need not say that, as
soon as the suspicion dawned upon me, I did my best to let him
understand how far astray he was going. I think he understood. I feel
sure he did. At all events he got into natural talk again, and parted
in a thoroughly reasonable way.

"I beg that you won't reply to this letter. I shall work on, and hope
to be able to see you again before long."

Warburton threw the sheet of paper on to the table, as if dismissing it
from his thoughts. He began to walk about the room Then he stood
motionless for ten minutes. "What's the matter with me?" this was the
current of his musing. "I used to think myself a fellow of some energy;
but the truth is, I know my mind about nothing, and I'm at the mercy of
every one who chooses to push me this way or that."

He took up the letter again, and was about to re-read it, but suddenly
altered his mind, and thrust the folded paper into his pocket.

Eight days went by. Will had a visit from Sherwood, who brought news
that the whisky distiller had seemed a little better, but could not
possibly live more than a week or two. As regards the vegetarian colony
all went well; practical men were at work on the details of the scheme;
Sherwood toiled for ten hours a day at secretarial correspondence. Next
day, there came a postcard from Rosamund.

"Work ready to show you. Could you come and have a cup of tea to-morrow
afternoon?"

At the conventional hour Will went to Oakley Crescent. Not, however, as
he had expected, to find Miss Elvan alone; with her sat Mrs. Pomfret,
in London for the afternoon. The simple and kindly lady talked as
usual, but Will, nervously observant, felt sure that she was not quite
at her ease. On the other hand, nothing could have been more naturally
graceful than Rosamund's demeanour; whether pouring out tea, or
exhibiting her water-colours, or leading the talk to subjects of common
interest, she was charming in her own way, a way which borrowed nothing
from the every-day graces of the drawing-room. Her voice, always
subdued, had a range of melodious expression which caressed the ear, no
matter how trifling the words she uttered, and at moments its slightly
tremulous murmur on rich notes suggested depths of sentiment lying
beneath this familiar calm. To her aunt she spoke with a touch of
playful affection; when her eyes turned to Warburton, their look almost
suggested the frankness of simple friendship, and her tone was that of
the largest confidence.

Never had Will felt himself so lulled to oblivion of things external;
he forgot the progress of time, and only when Mrs. Pomfret spoke of the
train she had to catch, made an effort to break the lazy spell and take
his leave.

On the morrow, and on the day after that, he shirked business during
the afternoon, excusing himself with the plea that the heat of the shop
was insufferable. He knew that neglect of work was growing upon him,
and again he observed that Allchin seemed rather pleased than vexed by
these needless absences. The third day saw him behind the counter until
five o'clock, when he was summoned as usual to the back parlour to tea.
Laying before him a plate of watercress and slices of brown bread and
butter, Mrs. Allchin, a discreetly conversational young woman, remarked
on the continued beauty of the weather, and added a hope that Mr.
Jollyman would not feel obliged to remain in the shop this evening.

"No, no, it's your husband's turn," Will replied good-naturedly. "He
wants a holiday more than I do."

"Allchin want a 'oliday, sir!" exclaimed the woman. "Why he never knows
what to do with himself when he's away from business. He enjoys
business, does Allchin. Don't you think of him, sir. I never knew a man
so altered since he's been kept to regular work all the year round. I
used to dread the Sundays, and still more the Bank holidays when we
were here first; you never knew who he'd get quarrelling with as soon
as he'd nothing to do But now, sir, why I don't believe you'll find a
less quarrelsome man anywhere, and he was saying for a joke only
yesterday, that he didn't think he could knock down even a coster, he's
so lost the habit."

Will yielded and stole away into the mellowing sunshine. He walked
westward, till he found himself on the Embankment by Albert Bridge;
here, after hesitating awhile, he took the turn into Oakley Street. He
had no thought of calling to see Miss Elvan; upon that he could not
venture; but he thought it barely possible that he might meet with her
in this neighbourhood, and such a meeting would have been pleasant.
Disappointed, he crossed the river, lingered a little in Battersea
Park, came back again over the bridge,--and, with a sudden leap of the
heart, which all but made his whole body spring forward, saw a slim
figure in grey moving by the parapet in front of Cheyne Walk.

They shook hands without speaking, very much as though they had met by
appointment.

"Oh, these sunsets!" were Rosamund's first words, when they had moved a
few steps together.

"They used to be my delight when I lived there," Will replied, pointing
eastward.

"Show me just where it was, will you?"

They turned, and went as far as Chelsea Bridge, where Warburton pointed
out the windows of his old flat.

"You were very happy there?" said Rosamund.

"Happy--? Not unhappy, at all events. Yes, in a way I enjoyed my life;
chiefly because I didn't think much about it."

"Look at the sky, now."

The sun had gone down in the duskily golden haze that hung above the
river's vague horizon. Above, on the violet sky, stood range over range
of pleated clouds, their hue the deepest rose, shading to purple in the
folds.

"In other countries," continued the soft, murmuring voice, "I have
never seen a sky like that. I love this London!"

"As I used to," said Warburton, "and shall again."

They loitered back past Chelsea Hospital, exchanging brief,
insignificant sentences. Then for many minutes neither spoke, and in
this silence they came to the foot of Oakley Street, where again they
stood gazing at the sky. Scarcely changed in form, the western clouds
had shed their splendour, and were now so coldly pale that one would
have imagined them stricken with moonlight; but no moon had risen, only
in a clear space of yet blue sky glistened the evening star.

"I must go in," said Rosamund abruptly, as though starting from a dream.



CHAPTER 34


She was gone, and Warburton stood biting his lips. Had he shaken hands
with her? Had he said good-night? He could not be sure. Nothing was
present to him but a sense of gawkish confusion, following on a wild
impulse which both ashamed and alarmed him, he stood in a bumpkin
attitude, biting his lips.

A hansom came crawling by, and the driver called his attention--"Keb,
sir?" At once he stepped forward, sprang on to the footboard,
and--stood there looking foolish.

"Where to, sir?"

"That's just what I can't tell you," he answered with a laugh. "I want
to go to somebody's house, but don't know the address."

"Could you find it in the Directory, sir? They've got one at the
corner."

"Good idea."

The cab keeping alongside with him, he walked to the public-house, and
there, midway in whisky-and-soda, looked up in the great red volume the
name of Strangwyn. There it was,--a house in Kensington Gore. He jumped
into the hansom, and, as he was driven down Park Lane, he felt that he
had enjoyed nothing so much for a long time; it was the child's delight
in "having a ride"; the air blew deliciously on his cheeks, and the
trotting clap of the horse's hoofs, the jingle of the bells, aided his
exhilaration. And when the driver pulled up, it was with an
extraordinary gaiety that Will paid him and shouted good-night.

He approached the door of Mr. Strangwyn's dwelling. Some one was at
that moment turning away from it, and, as they glanced at each other, a
cry of recognition broke from both.

"Coming to make inquiry?" asked Sherwood. "I've just been doing the
same thing."

"Well?"

"No better, no worse. But that means, of course, nearer the end."

"Queer we should meet," said Warburton. "This is the first time I've
been here."

"I can quite understand your impatience. It seems an extraordinary
case; the poor old man, by every rule, ought to have died weeks ago.
Which way are you walking?"

Will answered that he did not care, that he would accompany Sherwood.

"Let us walk as far as Hyde Park Corner, then," said Godfrey.
"Delighted to have a talk with you." He slipped a friendly hand under
his companion's arm. "Why don't you come, Will, and make friends with
Milligan? He's a splendid fellow; you couldn't help taking to him. We
are getting on gloriously with our work. For the first time in my life
I feel as if I had something to do that's really worth doing. I tell
you this scheme of ours has inconceivable importance; it may have
results such as one dare not talk about."

"But how long will it be before you really make a start?" asked
Warburton, with more interest than he had yet shown in this matter.

"I can't quite say--can't quite say. The details are of course full of
difficulty--the thing wouldn't be worth much if they were not. One of
Milligan's best points is, that he's a thoroughly practical
man--thoroughly practical man. It's no commercial enterprise we're
about, but, if it's to succeed, it must be started on sound principles.
I'd give anything if I could persuade you to join us, old fellow. You
and your mother and sister--you're just the kind of people we want.
Think what a grand thing it will be to give a new start to
civilisation! Doesn't it touch you?"

Warburton was mute, and, taking this for a sign of the impressionable
moment, Sherwood talked on, ardently, lyrically, until Hyde Park Corner
was reached.

"Think it over, Will. We shall have you yet; I know we shall. Come and
see Milligan."

They parted with a warm hand-grip, and Warburton turned toward Fulham
Road.

When Warburton entered the shop the next morning, Allchin was on the
lookout for him.

"I want to speak to you, sir," he said, "about this golden syrup we've
had from Rowbottom's--"

Will listened, or seemed to listen, smiling at vacancy. To whatever
Allchin proposed, he gave his assent, and in the afternoon, without
daring to say a word he stole into freedom.

He was once more within sight of Albert Bridge. He walked or
prowled--for half an hour close about Oakley Crescent. Then, over the
bridge and into the Park. Back again, and more prowling. At last, weary
and worn, to the counter and apron, and Allchin's talk about golden
syrup.

The next day, just before sunset, he sauntered on the Embankment. He
lifted up his eyes, and there, walking towards him, came the slim
figure in grey.

"Not like the other evening," said Rosamund, before he could speak, her
eyes turning to the dull, featureless west.

He held her hand, until she gently drew it away, and then was
frightened to find that he had held it so long. From head to foot, he
quivered, deliciously, painfully. His tongue suffered a semi-paralysis,
so that, trying to talk, he babbled--something about the sweetness of
the air--a scent from the gardens across the river--

"I've had a letter from Bertha Cross," said his companion, as she
walked slowly on. "She comes home to-morrow."

"Bertha Cross--? Ah, yes, your friend--"

The name sounded to Warburton as if from a remote past. He repeated it
several times to himself.

They stood with face turned toward the lurid south. The air was very
still. From away down the river sounded the bells of Lambeth Church,
their volleying clang softened by distance to a monotonous refrain,
drearily at one with the sadness of the falling night. Warburton heard
them, yet heard them not; all external sounds blended with that within
him, which was the furious beating of his heart. He moved a hand as if
to touch Rosamund's, but let it fall as she spoke.

"I'm afraid I must go. It's really raining--"

Neither had an umbrella. Big drops were beginning to splash on the
pavement. Warburton felt one upon his nose.

"To-morrow," he uttered thickly, his tongue hot and dry, his lips
quivering.

"Yes, if it's fine," replied Rosamund.

"Early in the afternoon?"

"I can't. I must go and see Bertha."

They were walking at a quick step, and already getting wet.

"At this hour then," panted Will.

"Yes."

Lambeth bells were lost amid a hollow boom of distant thunder.

"I must run," cried Rosamund. "Good-bye."

He followed, keeping her in sight until she entered the house. Then he
turned and walked like a madman through the hissing rain--walked he
knew not whither--his being a mere erratic chaos, a symbol of Nature's
prime impulse whirling amid London's multitudes.



CHAPTER 35


Tired and sullen after the journey home from the seaside, Mrs. Cross
kept her room. In the little bay-windowed parlour, Bertha Cross and
Rosamund Elvan sat talking confidentially.

"Now, do confess," urged she of the liquid eyes and sentimental accent.
"This is a little plot of yours--all in kindness, of course. You
thought it best--you somehow brought him to it?"

Half laughing, Bertha shook her head.

"I haven't seen him for quite a long time. And do you really think this
kind of plotting is in my way? It would as soon have occurred to me to
try and persuade Mr. Franks to join the fire-brigade."

"Bertha! You don't mean anything by that? You don't think I am a danger
to him?"

"No, no, no! To tell you the truth, I have tried to think just as
little about it as possible, one way or the other. Third persons never
do any good in such cases, and more often than not get into horrid
scrapes."

"Fortunately," said Rosamund, after musing a moment with her chin on
her hand, "I'm sure he isn't serious. It's his good-nature, his sense
of honour. I think all the better of him for it. When he understands
that I'm in earnest, we shall just be friends again, real friends."

"Then you are in earnest?" asked Bertha, her eyelids winking mirthfully.

Rosamund's reply was a very grave nod, after which she gazed awhile at
vacancy.

"But," resumed Bertha, after reading her friend's face, "you have not
succeeded in making him understand yet?"

"Perhaps not quite. Yesterday morning I had a letter from him, asking
me to meet him in Kensington Gardens. I went, and we had a long talk.
Then in the evening, by chance, I saw Mr. Warburton."

"Has that anything to do with the matter?"

"Oh, no!" replied Miss Elvan hastily. "I mention it, because, as I told
you once before, Mr. Warburton always likes to talk of Norbert."

"I see. And you talked of him?"

"We only saw each other for a few minutes. The thunder-storm came
on.--Bertha, I never knew any one so mysterious as Mr. Warburton. Isn't
it extraordinary that Norbert, his intimate friend, doesn't know what
he does? I can't help thinking he must write. One can't associate him
with anything common, mean."

"Perhaps his glory will burst upon us one of these days," said Bertha.

"It really wouldn't surprise me. He has a remarkable face--the kind of
face that suggests depth and force. I am sure he is very proud. He
could bear any extreme of poverty rather than condescend to ignoble
ways of earning money."

"Is the poor man very threadbare?" asked Bertha. "Has his coat that
greenish colour which comes with old age in cheap material?"

"You incorrigible! As far as I have noticed, he is quite properly
dressed."

"Oh, oh!" protested Bertha, in a shocked tone. "Properly dressed! What
a blow to my romantic imagination! I thought at least his coat-cuffs
would be worn out. And his boots? Oh, surely he is down at heel? Do say
that he's down at heel, Rosamund!"

"What a happy girl you are, Bertha," said the other after a laugh. "I
sometimes think I would give anything to be like you."

"Ah, but you don't know--you can t see into the gloomy depths, hidden
from every eye but my own. For instance, while here we sit, talking as
if I hadn't a care in the world I am all the time thinking that I must
go to Mr. Jollyman's--the grocer's, that is--as we haven't a lump of
sugar in the house."

"Then let me walk with you," said Rosamund. "I oughtn't to have come
worrying you to-day, before you had time to settle down. Just let me
walk with you to the grocer's, and then I'll leave you at peace."

They presently went forth, and walked for some distance westward along
Fulham Road.

"Here's Mr. Jollyman's," said Bertha. "Will you wait for me, or come
in?"

Rosamund followed her friend into the shop. Absorbed in thought, she
scarcely raised her eyes, until a voice from behind the counter replied
to Bertha's "Good-morning"; then, suddenly looking up, she saw that
which held her motionless. For a moment she gazed like a startled deer;
the next her eyes fell, her face turned away; she fled out into the
street.

And there Bertha found her, a few yards from the shop.

"Why did you run away?"

Rosamund had a dazed look.

"Who was that behind the counter?" she asked, under her breath.

"Mr. Jollyman. Why?"

The other walked on. Bertha kept at her side.

"What's the matter?"

"Bertha--Mr. Jollyman is Mr. Warburton."

"Nonsense!"

"But he _is_! Here's the explanation--here's the mystery. A grocer--in
an apron!"

Bertha was standing still. She, too, looked astonished, perplexed.

"Isn't it a case of extraordinary likeness?" she asked, with a grave
smile.

"Oh, dear, no! I met his eye--he showed that he knew me--and then his
voice. A grocer--in an apron?"

"This is very shocking," said Bertha, with a recovery of her natural
humour. "Let us walk. Let us shake off the nightmare."

The word applied very well to Rosamund's condition; her fixed eyes were
like those of a somnambulist.

"But, Bertha!" she suddenly exclaimed, in a voice of almost petulant
protest. "He knew you all the time--oh, but perhaps he did not know
your name?"

"Indeed he did. He's constantly sending things to the house."

"How extraordinary! Did you ever hear such an astonishing thing in your
life?"

"You said more than once," remarked Bertha, "that Mr. Warburton was a
man of mystery."

"Oh, but how _could_ I have imagined--! grocer!"

"In an apron!" added the other, with awed voice.

"But, Bertha, does Norbert know? He declared he had never found out
what Mr. Warburton did. Was that true, or not?"

"Ah, that's the question. If poor Mr. Franks has had this secret upon
his soul! I can hardly believe it. And yet--they are such intimate
friends."

"He must have known it," declared Rosamund.

Thereupon she became mute, and only a syllable of dismay escaped her
now and then during the rest of the walk to the Crosses' house. Her
companion, too, was absorbed in thought. At the door Rosamund offered
her hand. No, she would not come in; she had work which must positively
be finished this afternoon whilst daylight lasted.

Out of the by-street, Rosamund turned into Fulham Road, and there found
a cab to convey her home. On entering the house, she gave instructions
that she was at home to nobody this afternoon; then she sat down at the
table, as though to work on a drawing, but at the end of an hour her
brush had not yet been dipped in colour. She rose, stood in the
attitude of one who knows not what to do, and at length moved to the
window. Instantly she drew back. On the opposite side of the little
square stood a man, looking toward her house; and that man was
Warburton.

From safe retirement, she watched him. He walked this way; he walked
that; again he stood still, his eyes upon the house. Would he cross
over? Would he venture to knock at the door? No, he withdrew; he
disappeared.

Presently it was the hour of dusk. Every few minutes Rosamund
reconnoitred at the window, and at length, just perceptible to her
straining eyes, there again stood Warburton. He came forward. Standing
with hand pressed against her side, she waited in nervous anguish for a
knock at the front door; but it did not sound. She stood motionless for
a long, long time, then drew a deep, deep breath, and trembled as she
let herself sink into a chair.

Earlier than usual, she went up to her bedroom. In a corner of the room
stood her trunk; this she opened, and from the chest of drawers she
took forth articles of apparel, which she began to pack, as though for
a journey. When the trunk was half full, she ceased in weariness,
rested for a little, and then went to bed.

And in the darkness there came a sound of subdued sobbing. It lasted
for some minutes--ceased--for some minutes was again audible. Then
silence fell upon the chamber.

Lying awake between seven and eight next morning, Rosamund heard the
postman's knock. At once she sprang out of bed, slipped on her
dressing-gown, and rang the bell. Two letters were brought up to her;
she received them with tremulous hand. Both were addressed in writing,
unmistakably masculine; the one was thick, the other was thin and this
she opened first.

"Dear Miss Elvan"--it was Warburton who wrote--"I hoped to see you this
evening, as we had appointed. Indeed, I _must_ see you, for, as you may
imagine, I have much to say. May I come to your house? In any case, let
me know place and hour, and let it be as soon as possible. Reply at
once, I entreat you. Ever sincerely yours--"

She laid it aside, and broke the other envelope.

"Dear, dearest Rosamund"--thus began Norbert Franks--"our talk this
morning has left me in a state of mind which threatens frenzy. You know
I haven't too much patience. It is out of the question for me to wait a
week for your answer, though I promised. I can't wait even a couple of
days. I must see you again to-morrow--must, must, _must_. Come to the
same place, there's a good, dear, sweet, beautiful girl! If you don't,
I shall be in Oakley Crescent, breaking doors open, behaving insanely.
Come early--"

And so on, over two sheets of the very best notepaper, with Norbert's
respectable address handsomely stamped in red at the top. (The other
missive was on paper less fashionable, with the address, sadly
plebeian, in mere handwriting.) Having read to the end, Rosamund
finished her dressing and went down to the sitting-room. Breakfast was
ready, but, before giving her attention to it, she penned a note. It
was to Warburton. Briefly she informed him that she had decided to join
her sister in the south of France, and that she was starting on the
journey _this morning_. Her address, she added, would be "c/o Mrs.
Alfred Coppinger, St. Jean de Luz, Basses Pyrenees." And therewith she
remained Mr. Warburton's sincerely.

"Please let this be posted at once," said Rosamund when the landlady
came to clear away.

And posted it was.



CHAPTER 36


His hands upon the counter, Warburton stared at the door by which first
Rosamund, then Bertha Cross, had disappeared. His nerves were
a-tremble; his eyes were hot. Of a sudden he felt himself shaken with
irresistible mirth; from the diaphragm it mounted to his throat, and
only by a great effort did he save himself from exploding in laughter.
The orgasm possessed him for several minutes. It was followed by a
sense of light-heartedness, which set him walking about, rubbing his
hands together, and humming tunes.

At last the burden had fallen from him; the foolish secret was blown
abroad; once more he could look the world in the face, bidding it think
of him what it would.

They were talking now--the two girls, discussing their strange
discovery. When he saw Rosamund this evening--of course he would see
her, as she had promised--her surprise would already have lost its
poignancy; he had but to tell the story of his disaster, of his
struggles, and then to announce the coming moment of rescue. No chance
could have been happier than this which betrayed him to these two at
the same time; for Bertha Cross's good sense would be the best possible
corrective of any shock her more sensitive companion might have
received. Bertha Cross's good sense--that was how he thought of her,
without touch of emotion; whilst on Rosamund his imagination dwelt with
exultant fervour. He saw himself as he would appear in her eyes when
she knew all--noble, heroic. What he had done was a fine thing, beyond
the reach of ordinary self-regarding mortals, and who more capable than
Rosamund of appreciating such courage? After all, fate was kind. In the
byways of London it had wrought for him a structure of romance, and
amid mean pursuits it exalted him to an ideal of love.

And as he thus dreamt, and smiled and gloried--very much like an
aproned Malvolio--the hours went quickly by. He found himself near
Albert Bridge, pacing this way and that, expecting at every moment the
appearance of the slim figure clad in grey. The sun set; the blind of
Rosamund's sitting-room showed that there was lamplight within; and at
ten o'clock Warburton still hung about the square, hoping--against his
reason--that she might come forth. He went home, and wrote to her.

In a score of ways he explained to himself her holding aloof. It was
vexation at his not having confided in her; it was a desire to reflect
before seeing him again; it was--and so on, all through the night,
which brought him never a wink of sleep. Next morning, he did not go to
the shop; it would have been impossible to stand at the counter for ten
minutes, he sent a note to Allchin, saying that he was detained by
private affairs, then set off for a day-long walk in the country, to
kill time until the coming of Rosamund's reply. On his return in the
afternoon, he found it awaiting him.

An hour later he was in Oakley Crescent. He stood looking at the house
for a moment, then approached, and knocked at the door. He asked if
Miss Elvan was at home.

"She's gone away," was the reply of the landlady, who spoke distantly,
her face a respectable blank.

"Left for good?"

"Yes, sir," answered the woman, her eyes falling.

"You don't know where she has gone to?"

"It's somewhere abroad, sir--in France, I think. She has a sister
there."

This was at five o'clock or so. Of what happened during the next four
hours, Will had never a very distinct recollection. Beyond doubt, he
called at the shop, and spoke with Allchin; beyond doubt, also, he went
to his lodgings and packed a travelling bag. Which of his movements
were performed in cabs, which on foot, he could scarce have decided,
had he reflected on the matter during the night that followed. That
night was passed in the train, on a steamboat, then again on the
railway And before sunrise he was in Paris.

At the railway refreshment-room, he had breakfast, eating with some
appetite; then he drove to the terminus of another line. The streets of
Paris, dim vistas under a rosy dawn, had no reality for his eyes; the
figures flitting here and there, the voices speaking a foreign tongue,
made part of a phantasm in which he himself moved no less
fantastically. He was in Paris; yet how could that be? He would wake
up, and find himself at his lodgings, and get up to go to business in
Fulham Road; but the dream bore him on. Now he had taken another
ticket. His bag was being registered--for St. Jean de Luz. A long
journey lay before him. He yawned violently, half remembering that he
had passed two nights without sleep. Then he found himself seated in a
corner of the railway carriage, an unknown landscape slipping away
before his eyes.

Now for the first time did he seem to be really aware of what he was
doing. Rosamund had taken flight to the Pyrenees, and he was in hot
pursuit. He grew exhilarated in the thought of his virile energy. If
the glimpse of him aproned and behind a counter had been too great a
shock for Rosamund's romantic nature, this vigorous action would more
than redeem his manhood in her sight. "Yes, I am a grocer; I have lived
for a couple of years by selling tea and sugar--not to speak of
treacle; but none the less I am the man you drew on to love you. Grocer
though I be, I come to claim you!" Thus would he speak and how could
the reply be doubtful? In such a situation, all depends on the man's
strength and passionate resolve. Rosamund should be his; he swore it in
his heart. She should take him as he was, grocer's shop and all; not
until her troth was pledged would he make known to her the prospect of
better things. The emotions of the primitive lover had told upon him.
She thought to escape him, by flight across Europe? But what if the
flight were meant as a test of his worthiness? He seized upon the idea,
and rejoiced in it. Rosamund might well have conceived this method of
justifying both him and herself. "If he loves me as I would be loved,
let him dare to follow!"

To-morrow morning he would stand before her, grocerdom a thousand miles
away. They would walk together, as when they were among the Alps. Why,
even then, had his heart prompted, had honour permitted, he could have
won her. He believed now, what at the time he had refused to admit,
that Franks' moment of jealous anger was not without its justification.
Again they would meet among the mountains, and the shop in Fulham Road
would be seen as at the wrong end of a telescope--its due proportions.
They would return together to England, and at once be married. As for
the grocery business--

Reason lost itself amid ardours of the natural man.

He paid little heed to the country through which he was passing. He
flung himself on to the dark platform, and tottered drunkenly in search
of the exit. _Billet_? Why, yes, he had a _billet_ somewhere. Hotel?
Yes, yes, the hotel,--no matter which. It took some minutes before his
brain could grasp the idea that his luggage cheque was wanted; he had
forgotten that he had any luggage at all. Ultimately, he was thrust
into some sort of a vehicle, which set him down at the hotel door.
Food? Good Heavens, no; but something to drink, and a bed to tumble
into--quick.

He stood in a bedroom, holding in his hand a glass of he knew not what
beverage. Before him was a waiter, to whom--very much to his own
surprise--he discoursed fluently in French, or something meant for that
tongue. That it was more than sixty hours since he had slept; that he
had started from London at a moment's notice; that the Channel had been
very rough for the time of the year; that he had never been in this
part of France before, and hoped to see a good deal of the Pyrenees,
perhaps to have a run into Spain; that first of all he wanted to find
the abode of an English lady named Mrs. Cap--Cop--he couldn't think of
the name, but he had written it down in his pocket-book.

The door closed; the waiter was gone; but Warburton still talked French.

"Oui, oui--en effet--tres fatigue, horriblement fatiguee! Trois nuits
sans sommeil--trois nuits--trois!"

His clothes fell in a heap on the floor; his body fell in another
direction. He was dead asleep.



CHAPTER 37


Amid struggle and gloom the scene changed. He was in Kew Gardens,
rushing hither and thither, in search of some one. The sun still beat
upon him, and he streamed at every pore. Not only did he seek in vain,
but he could not remember who it was that he sought. This way and that,
along the broad and narrow walks, he hurried in torment, until of a
sudden, at a great distance, he descried a figure seated on a bench. He
bounded forward. In a moment he would see the face, and would know--

When he awoke a sense of strangeness hung about him, and, as he sat up
in bed, he remembered. This was the hotel at St. Jean de Luz. What
could be the time? He had no matches at hand, and did not know where
the bell was. Looking around, he perceived at length a thread of light,
of daylight undoubtedly, which must come from the window. He got out of
bed, cautiously crossed the floor, found the window, and the means of
opening it, then unlatched the shutters which had kept the room in
darkness. At once a flood of sunshine poured in. Looking forth, he saw
a quiet little street of houses and gardens, and beyond, some miles
away, a mountain peak rising against the cloudless blue.

His watch had run down. He rang the bell, and learnt that the hour was
nearly eleven.

"I have slept well," he said in his Anglo-French. "I am hungry. Bring
me hot water. And find out, if you can, where lives Mrs. Coppinger. I
couldn't remember the name last night--Mrs. Coppinger."

In half an hour he was downstairs. The English lady for whom he
inquired lived, they told him, outside St. Jean de Luz, but not much
more than a mile away. Good, he would go there after lunch. And until
that meal was ready, he strolled out to have a look at the sea. Five
minutes' walk brought him on to the shore of a rounded bay, sheltered
by breakwaters against Atlantic storms above a sandy beach lay the
little town, with grassy slopes falling softly to the tide on either
hand.

At noon, he ate and drank heroically, then, having had his way pointed
out to him, set forth on the quest. He passed through the length of the
town, crossed the little river Nivelle, where he paused for a moment on
the bridge, to gaze at the panorama of mountains, all but to the summit
clad in soft verdure, and presently turned into an inland road, which
led him between pastures and fields of maize, gently upwards. On a
height before him stood a house, which he believed to be that he
sought; he had written down its unrememberable Basque name, and inquiry
of a peasant assured him that he was not mistaken. Having his goal in
view, he stood to reflect. Could he march up to the front door, and ask
boldly for Miss Elvan? But--the doubt suddenly struck him--what if
Rosamund were not living here? At Mrs. Coppinger's her sister was
governess; she had bidden him address letters there, but that might be
merely for convenience; perhaps she was not Mrs. Coppinger's guest at
all, but had an abode somewhere in the town. In that case, he must see
her sister--who perhaps, nay, all but certainly, had never heard his
name.

He walked on. The road became a hollow lane, with fern and heather and
gorse intermingled below the thickets on the bank. Another five minutes
would bring him to the top of the hill, to the avenue of trees by which
the house was approached. And the nearer he came, the more awkward
seemed his enterprise. It might have been better to write a note to
Rosamund, announcing his arrival, and asking for an interview. On the
other hand that was a timid proceeding; boldly to present himself
before her would be much more effective. If he could only be sure of
seeing her, and seeing her alone.

For a couple of hours did he loiter irresolutely, ever hoping that
chance might help him. Perhaps, as the afternoon grew cooler, people
might come forth from the house. His patience at length worn out, he
again entered the avenue, half resolved to go up to the door.

All at once he heard voices--the voices of children, and toward him
came two little girls, followed by a young lady. They drew near.
Standing his ground, with muscles tense, Warburton glanced at the young
lady's face, and could not doubt that this was Rosamund's sister; the
features were much less notable than Rosamund's, but their gentle
prettiness made claim of kindred with her. Forthwith he doffed his hat,
and advanced respectfully.

"I think I am speaking to Miss Elvan?"

A nervous smile, a timidly surprised affirmative, put him a little more
at his ease.

"My name is Warburton," he pursued, with the half humorous air of one
who takes a liberty which he feels sure will be pardoned. "I have the
pleasure of knowing your relatives, the Pomfrets, and--"

"Oh, yes, my sister has often spoken of you," said Winifred quickly.
Then, as if afraid that she had committed an indiscretion, she cast
down her eyes and looked embarrassed.

"Your sister is here, I think," fell from Warburton, as he threw a
glance at the two little girls, who had drawn apart.

"Here? Oh, no. Not long ago she thought of coming, but--"

Will stood confounded. All manner of conjectures flashed through his
mind. Rosamund must have broken her journey somewhere. That she had not
left England at all seemed impossible.

"I was mistaken," he forced himself to remark carelessly. Then, with a
friendly smile, "Forgive me for intruding myself. I came up here for
the view--"

"Yes, isn't it beautiful!" exclaimed Winifred, evidently glad of this
diversion from personal topics. And they talked of the landscape, until
Warburton felt that he must take his leave. He mentioned where he was
staying, said that he hoped to spend a week or so at St. Jean de
Luz--and so got away, with an uneasy feeling that his behaviour had not
exactly been such as to recommend him to the timid young lady.

Rosamund had broken her journey somewhere, that was evident; perhaps in
Paris, where he knew she had friends. If she did not arrive this
evening, or to-morrow, her sister would at all events hear that she was
coming. But how was he to be informed of her arrival? How could he keep
an espial on the house? His situation was wretchedly unlike that he had
pictured to himself; instead of the romantic lover, carrying all before
him by the energy of passion, he had to play a plotting, almost
sneaking part, in constant fear of being taken for a presumptuous
interloper. Lucky that Rosamund had spoken of him to her sister. Well,
he must wait; though waiting was the worst torture for a man in his
mood.

He idled through the day on the seashore. Next morning he bathed, and
had a long walk, coming back by way of the Coppingers' house, but
passing quickly, and seeing no one. When he returned to the hotel, he
was told that a gentleman had called to see him, and had left his card
"Mr. Alfred Coppinger." Ho, ho! Winifred Elvan had mentioned their
meeting, and the people wished to be friendly. Excellent! This
afternoon he would present himself. Splendid. Ml his difficulties were
at an end. He saw himself once more in a gallant attitude.

The weather was very hot--unusually hot, said people at the hotel. As
he climbed the hill between three and four o'clock, the sun's ardour
reminded him of old times in the tropics. He passed along the shady
avenue, and the house door was opened to him by a Basque maid-servant,
who led him to the drawing-room. Here, in a dim light which filtered
through the interstices of shutters, sat the lady of the house alone.

"Is it Mr. Warburton?" she asked, rising feebly, and speaking in a
thin, fatigued, but kindly voice. "So kind of you to come. My husband
will be delighted to see you. How did you get up here on such a day?
Oh, the terrible heat!"

In a minute or two the door opened to admit Mr. Coppinger, and the
visitor, his eyes now accustomed to the gloom, saw a ruddy, vigorous,
middle-aged man, dressed in flannels, and wearing the white shoes
called _espadrilles_.

"Hoped you would come," he cried, shaking hands cordially. "Why didn't
you look in yesterday? Miss Elvan ought to have told you that it does
me good to see an Englishman. Here for a holiday? Blazing hot, but it
won't last long. South wind. My wife can't stand it. She's here because
of the doctors, but it's all humbug; there are lots of places in
England would suit her just as well, and perhaps better. Let's have
some tea, Alice, there's a good girl. Mr. Warburton looks thirsty, and
I can manage a dozen cups or so. Where's Winifred? Let her bring in the
kits. They're getting shy; it'll do them good to see a stranger."

Will stayed for a couple of hours, amused with Mr. Coppinger's talk,
and pleased with the gentle society of the ladies. The invitation to
breakfast being seriously repeated, he rejoiced to accept it. See how
Providence favours the daring. When Rosamund arrived, she would find
him established as a friend of the Coppingers. He went his way
exultingly.

But neither on the morrow, nor the day after, did Winifred receive any
news from her sister. Will of course kept to himself the events of his
last two days in London; he did not venture to hint at any knowledge of
Rosamund's movements. A suspicion was growing in his mind that she
might not have left England; in which case, was ever man's plight more
ridiculous than his? It would mean that Rosamund had deliberately
misled him; but could he think her capable of that? If it were so, and
if her feelings toward him had undergone so abruptly violent a change
simply because of the discovery she had made--why, then Rosamund was
not Rosamund at all, and he might write himself down a most egregious
ass.

Had not an inkling of some such thing whispered softly to him before
now? Had there not been moments, during the last fortnight, when he
stood, as it were, face to face with himself, and felt oddly abashed by
a look in his own eyes?

Before leaving his lodgings he had written on a piece of paper "Poste
Restante, St. Jean de Luz, France," and had given it to Mrs. Wick, with
the charge to forward immediately any letter or telegram that might
arrive for him. But his inquiries at the post-office were vain. To be
sure, weeks had often gone by without bringing him a letter; there was
nothing strange in this silence yet it vexed and disquieted him. On the
fourth day of his waiting, the weather suddenly broke, rain fell in
torrents, and continued for forty-eight hours. Had not the Coppingers'
house been open to him he must have spent a wretched time. Returning to
the hotel on the second evening of deluge, he looked in at the
post-office, and this time a letter was put into his hand. He opened
and read it at once.

"Dear old boy, why the deuce have you gone away to the end of the earth
without letting me know? I called at your place this evening, and was
amazed at the sight of the address which your evil-eyed woman showed
me--looking as if she feared I should steal it. I wanted particularly
to see you. How long are you going to stay down yonder? Rosamund and I
start _for our honeymoon_ on Thursday next, and we shall probably be
away for a couple of months, in Tyrol. Does this astonish you? It
oughtn't to, seeing that you've done your best to bring it about. Yes,
Rosamund and I are going to be married, with the least possible delay.
I'll tell you all the details some day--though there's very little to
tell that you don't know. Congratulate me on having come to my senses.
How precious near I was to making a tremendous fool of myself. It's you
I have to thank, old man. Of course, as you saw, I should never have
cared for any one but Rosamund, and it's pretty sure that she would
never have been happy with any one but me. I wanted you to be a witness
at our wedding, and now you've bolted, confound you! Write to my London
address, and it will be forwarded."

Will thrust the letter into his pocket, went out into the street, and
walked to the hotel through heavy rain, without thinking to open his
umbrella.

Next morning, the sky was clear again, the sunny air fresh as that of
spring. Will rose earlier than usual, and set out on an excursion. He
took train to Hendaye, the little frontier town, at the mouth of the
Bidassoa, crossed the river in a boat, stepped on to Spanish soil, and
climbed the hill on which stands Fuenterabbia.

Later he passed again to the French shore, and lunched at the hotel.
Then he took a carriage, and drove up the gorge of Bidassoa, enjoying
the wild mountain scenery as much as he had enjoyed anything in his
life. The road bridged the river; it brought him into Spain once more,
and on as far as to the Spanish village of Vera, where he lingered in
the mellowing afternoon. All round him were green slopes of the
Pyrenees, green with pasture and with turf, with bracken, with woods of
oak. There came by a yoke of white oxen, their heads covered with the
wonted sheepskin, and on their foreheads the fringe of red wool
tassels; he touched a warm flank with his palm, and looked into the
mild, lustrous eyes of the beast that passed near him.

"Vera, Vera," he repeated to himself, with pleasure in the name. He
should remember Vera when he was back again behind the counter in
Fulham Road. He had never thought to see the Pyrenees, never dreamt of
looking at Spain. It was a good holiday.

"Vera, Vera," he again murmured. How came the place to be so called?
The word seemed to mean _true_. He mused upon it.

He dined at the village inn, then drove at dusk back to Hendaye, down
the great gorge; crags and precipices, wooded ravines and barren
heights glooming magnificently under a sky warm with afterglow; beside
him the torrent leapt and roared, and foamed into whiteness.

And from Hendaye the train brought him back to St. Jean de Luz. Before
going to bed, he penned a note to Mr. Coppinger, saying that he was
Unexpectedly obliged to leave for England, at an early hour next day,
and regretted that he could not come to say good-bye. He added a
postscript. "Miss Elvan will, of course, know of her sister's marriage
to Norbert Franks. I hear it takes place to-morrow. Very good news."

This written, he smoked a meditative pipe, and went upstairs humming a
tune.



CHAPTER 38


Touching the shore of England, Will stamped like a man who returns from
exile. It was a blustering afternoon, more like November than August;
livid clouds pelted him with rain, and the wind chilled his face; but
this suited very well with the mood which possessed him. He had been
away on a holiday--a more expensive holiday than he ought to have
allowed himself, and was back full of vigour. Instead of making him
qualmish, the green roarers of the Channel had braced his nerves, and
put him in good heart; the boat could not roll and pitch half enough
for his spirits. A holiday--a run to the Pyrenees and back; who durst
say that it had been anything else? The only person who could see the
matter in another light was little likely to disclose her thoughts.

At Dover he telegraphed to Godfrey Sherwood: "Come and see me
to-night." True, he had been absent only a week, but the time seemed to
him so long that he felt it must have teemed with events. In the
railway carriage he glowed with good fellowship toward the other
passengers; the rain-beaten hop-lands rejoiced his eyes, and the first
houses of London were so many friendly faces greeting his return. From
the station he drove to his shop. Allchin, engaged in serving a lady,
forgot himself at the sight of Mr. Jollyman, and gave a shout of
welcome. All was right, nothing troublesome had happened; trade better
than usual at this time of year.

"He'll have to put up the shutters," said Allchin confidentially, with
a nod in the direction of the rival grocer. "His wife's been making a
row in the shop again--disgraceful scene--talk of the 'ole
neighbourhood. She began throwing things at customers, and somebody as
was badly hit on the jaw with a tin of sardines complained to the
police. We shall be rid of him very soon, you'll see, sir."

This gave Warburton small satisfaction, but he kept his human thoughts
to himself, and presently went home. Here his landlady met him with the
announcement that only a few hours ago she had forwarded a letter
delivered by the post this morning. This was vexatious; several days
must elapse before he could have the letter back again from St. Jean de
Luz. Sure that Mrs. Wick must have closely scrutinised the envelope, he
questioned her as to handwriting and postmark, but the woman declared
that she had given not a glance to these things, which were not her
business. Couldn't she even remember whether the writing looked
masculine or feminine? No; she had not the slightest idea; it was not
her business to "pry" and Mrs. Wick closed her bloodless lips with
virtuous severity.

He had tea and walked back again to the shop, w ere as he girt himself
with his apron, he chuckled contentedly.

"Has Mrs. Cross looked in?" he inquired.

"Yes, sir," answered his henchman, "she was here day before yes'day,
and asked where you was. I said you was travelling for your health in
foreign parts."

"And what did she say to that?"

"She said 'Oh'--that's all, sir. It was a very small order she gave. I
can't make out how she manages to use so little sugar in her 'ouse.
It's certain the servant doesn't have her tea too sweet--what do _you_
think, sir?"

Warburton spoke of something else.

At nine o'clock he sat at home awaiting his visitor. The expected knock
soon sounded and Sherwood was shown into the room. Will grasped his
hand, calling out: "What news?

"News?" echoed Godfrey, in a voice of no good omen. "Haven't you heard?"

"Heard what?"

"But your telegram--? Wasn't that what it meant?"

"What do _you_ mean?" cried Will. "Speak, man! I've been abroad for a
week. I know nothing; I telegraphed because I wanted to see you, that
was all."

"Confound it! I hoped you knew the worst. Strangwyn is dead."

"He's dead? Well, isn't that what we've been waiting for?"

"Not the old man," groaned Sherwood, "not the old man. It's Ted
Strangwyn that's dead. Never was such an extraordinary case of bad
luck. And his death--the most astounding you ever heard of. He was down
in Yorkshire for the grouse. The dogcart came round in the morning, and
as he stood beside it, stowing away a gun or something, the horse made
a movement forward, and the wheel went over his toe. He thought nothing
of it. The next day he was ill; it turned to tetanus; and in a few
hours he died. Did you ever in your life hear anything like that?"

Warburton had listened gravely. Towards the end, his features began to
twitch, and, a moment after Godfrey had ceased, a spasm of laughter
overcame him.

"I can't help it, Sherwood," he gasped. "It's brutal, I know, but I
can't help it."

"My dear boy," exclaimed the other, with a countenance of relief, "I'm
delighted you can laugh. Talk about the irony of fate--eh? I couldn't
believe my eyes when I saw the paragraph in the paper yesterday. But,
you know," he added earnestly, "I don't absolutely give up hope.
According to the latest news, it almost looks as if old Strangwyn might
recover; and, if he does, I shall certainly try to get this money out
of him. If he has any sense of honour--"

Will again laughed, but not so spontaneously.

"My boy," he said, "it's all up, and you know it. You'll never see a
penny of your ten thousand pounds."

"Oh, but I can't help hoping--"

"Hope as much as you like. How goes the other affair?"

"Why, there, too, odd things have been happening. Milligan has just got
engaged, and, to tell you the truth, to a girl I shouldn't have thought
he'd ever have looked twice at. It's a Miss Parker, the daughter of a
City man. Pretty enough if you like, but as far as I can see, no more
brains than a teapot, and I can't for the life of me understand how a
man like Milligan--. But of course, it makes no difference; our work
goes on. We have an enormous correspondence."

"Does Miss Parker interest herself in it?" asked Will.

"Oh, yes, in a way, you know; as far as she can. She has turned
vegetarian, of course. To tell you the truth, Warburton, it vexes me a
good deal. I didn't think Milligan could do such a silly thing. I hope
he'll get married quickly. Just at present, the fact is, he isn't quite
himself."

Again Warburton was subdued by laughter.

"Well, I thought things might have been happening whilst I was away,"
he said, "and I wasn't mistaken. Luckily, I have come back with a
renewed gusto for the shop. By the bye, I'm going to keep that secret
no longer. I'm a grocer, and probably shall be a grocer all my life,
and the sooner people know it the better. I'm sick of hiding away. Tell
Milligan the story; it will amuse Miss Parker, And, talking of Miss
Parker, do you know that Norbert Franks is married? His old love--Miss
Elvan. Of course it was the sensible thing to do. They're off to Tyrol.
As soon as I have their address, I shall write and tell him all about
Jollyman's."

"Of course, if you really feel you must," said Godfrey, with
reluctance. "But remember that I still hope to recover the money. Old
Strangwyn has the reputation of being an honourable man--"

"Like Brutus," broke in Warburton, cheerfully. "Let us hope. Of course
we will hope. Hope springs eternal--"

Days went by, and at length the desired letter came back from St. Jean
de Luz. Seeing at a glance that it was from his sister, Will reproached
himself for having let more than a month elapse without writing to St.
Neots. Of his recent "holiday" he had no intention of saying a word.
Jane wrote a longer letter than usual, and its tenor was disquieting.
Their mother had not been at all well lately; Jane noticed that she was
becoming very weak. "You know how she dreads to give trouble, and
cannot bear to have any one worry about her. She has seen Dr. Edge
twice in the last few days, but not in my presence, and I feel sure
that she has forbidden him to tell me the truth about her. I dare not
let her guess how anxious I am, and have to go on in my usual way, just
doing what I can for her comfort. If you would come over for a day, I
should feel very glad. Not having seen mother for some time, you would
be better able than I to judge how she looks." After reading this
Will's self-reproaches were doubled. At once he set off for St. Neots.

On arriving at The Haws, he found Jane gardening, and spoke with her
before he went in to see his mother.

He had been away from home, he said, and her letter had strayed in
pursuit of him.

"I wondered," said Jane, her honest eyes searching his countenance.
"And it's so long since you sent a word; I should have written again
this afternoon."

"I've been abominably neglectful," he replied, "and time goes so
quickly."

"There's something strange in your look," said the girl. "What is it, I
wonder? You've altered in some way I don't know how."

"Think so? but never mind me; tell me about mother."

They stood among the garden scents, amid the flowers, which told of
parting summer, and conversed with voices softened by tender
solicitude. Jane was above all anxious that her brother's visit should
seem spontaneous, and Will promised not to hint at the news she had
sent him. They entered the house together. Mrs. Warburton, after her
usual morning occupations, had lain down on the couch in the parlour,
and fallen asleep; as soon as he beheld her face, Will understood his
sister's fears, White, motionless, beautiful in its absolute calm, the
visage might have been that of the dead; after gazing for a moment,
both, on the same impulse, put forth a hand to touch the unconscious
form. The eyelids rose a look of confused trouble darkened the features
then the lips relaxed in a happy smile.

"Will--and you find me asleep?--I appeal to Jane; she will tell you
it's only an accident. Did you ever before see me asleep like this,
Jane?"

At once she rose, and moved about, and strove to be herself; but the
effort it cost her was too obvious; presently she had to sit down, with
tremulous limbs, and Will noticed that her forehead was moist.

Not till evening did he find it possible to lead the conversation to
the subject of her health. Jane had purposely left them alone. Her son
having said that he feared she was not so well as usual, Mrs. Warburton
quietly admitted that she had recently consulted her doctor.

"I am not young, Will, you know. Sixty-five next birthday."

"But you don't call that old!" exclaimed her son.

"Yes, it's old for one of my family, dear, None of us, that I know of,
lived to be much more than sixty, and most died long before. Don't let
us wear melancholy faces," she added, with that winning smile which had
ever been the blessing of all about her. "You and I, dear, are too
sensible, I hope, to complain or be frightened because life must have
an end. When my time comes, I trust to my children not to make me
unhappy by forgetting what I have always tried to teach them. I should
like to think--and I know--that you would be sorry to lose me; but to
see you miserable on my account, or to think you miserable after I have
gone--I couldn't bear that."

Will was silent, deeply impressed by the calm voice, the noble thought.
He had always felt no less respect than love for his mother, especially
during the latter years, when experience of life better enabled him to
understand her rare qualities; but a deeper reverence took possession
of him whilst she was speaking. Her words not only extended his
knowledge of her character; they helped him to an understanding of
himself, to a clearer view of life, and its possibilities.

"I want to speak to you of Jane," continued Mrs. Warburton, with a look
of pleasant reflection. "You know she went to see her friend, Miss
Winter, a few weeks ago. Has she told you anything about it?"

"Nothing at all."

"Well, do you know that Miss Winter has taken up flower-growing as a
business, and it looks as if she would be very successful. She is
renting more land, to make gardens of, and has two girls with her, as
apprentices. I think that's what Jane will turn to some day. Of course
she won't be really obliged to work for her living, but, when she is
alone, I'm certain she won't be content to live just as she does
now--she is far too active; but for me, I daresay she would go and join
Miss Winter at once."

"I don't much care for that idea of girls going out to work when they
could live quietly at home," said Will.

"I used to have the same feeling," answered his mother, "but Jane and I
have often talked about it, and I see there is something to be said for
the other view. At all events, I wanted to prevent you from wondering
what was to become of her when she was left alone. To be sure," she
added, with a bright smile, "Jane may marry. I hope she will. But I
know she won't easily be persuaded to give up her independence. Jane is
a very independent little person."

"If she has that in mind," said Will, "why shouldn't you both go and
live over there, in Suffolk? You could find a house, no doubt--"

Mrs. Warburton gently shook her head.

"I don't think I could leave The Haws. And--for the short time--"

"Short time? but you are not seriously ill, mother."

"If I get stronger," said Mrs. Warburton, without raising her eyes, "we
must manage to send Jane into Suffolk. I could get along very well
alone. But there--we have talked enough for this evening, Will. Can you
stay over tomorrow? Do, if you could manage it. I am glad to have you
near me."

When they parted for the night, Will asked his sister to meet him in
the garden before breakfast, and Jane nodded assent.



CHAPTER 39


The garden was drenched in dew, and when about seven o'clock, the first
sunbeam pierced the grey mantle of the east, every leaf flashed back
the yellow light. Will was walking there alone, his eyes turned now and
then to the white window of his mother's room.

Jane came forth with her rosy morning face, her expression graver than
of wont.

"You are uneasy about mother," were her first words. "So am I, very. I
feel convinced Dr. Edge has given her some serious warning; I saw the
change in her after his last visit."

"I shall go and see him," said Will.

They talked of their anxiety, then Warburton proposed that they should
walk a little way along the road, for the air was cool.

"I've something I want to tell you," he began, when they had set forth.
"It's a little startling--rather ludicrous, too. What should you say if
some one came and told you he had seen me serving behind a grocer's
counter in London?"

"What do you mean, Will?"

"Well, I want to know how it would strike you. Should you be horrified?"

"No; but astonished."

"Very well. The fact of the matter is then," said Warburton, with an
uneasy smile, "that for a couple of years I _have_ been doing that. It
came about in this way--"

He related Godfrey Sherwood's reckless proceedings, and the
circumstances which had decided him to take a shop. No exclamation
escaped the listener; she walked with eyes downcast, and, when her
brother ceased, looked at him very gently, affectionately.

"It was brave of you, Will," she said.

"Well, I saw no other way of making good the loss; but now I am sick of
living a double life--_that_ has really been the worst part of it, all
along. What I want to ask you, is--would it be wise or not to tell
mother? Would it worry and distress her? As for the money, you see
there's nothing to worry about; the shop will yield a sufficient
income, though not as much as we hoped from Applegarth's; but of course
I shall have to go on behind the counter."

He broke off, laughing, and Jane smiled, though with a line of trouble
on her brow.

"That won't do," she said, with quiet decision.

"Oh, I'm getting used to it."

"No, no, Will, it won't do. We must find a better way. I see no harm in
shopkeeping, if one has been brought up to it; but you haven't, and it
isn't suitable for you. About mother--yes, I think we'd better tell
her. She won't worry on account of the money; that isn't her nature,
and it's very much better that there should be confidence between us
all."

"I haven't enjoyed telling lies," said Will, "I assure you."

"That I'm sure you haven't, poor boy!--but Mr. Sherwood? Hasn't he made
any effort to help you. Surely he--"

"Poor old Godfrey!" broke in her brother, laughing. "It's a joke to
remember that I used to think him a splendid man of business, far more
practical than I. Why, there's no dreamier muddlehead living."

He told the stories of Strangwyn and of Milligan with such exuberance
of humour that Jane could not but join in his merriment.

"No, no; it's no good looking in that direction. The money has gone,
there's no help for it. But you can depend on Jollyman's. Of course the
affair would have been much more difficult without Allchin. Oh, you
must see Allchin some day!"

"And absolutely no one has discovered the secret?" asked Jane.

Will hesitated, then.

"Yes, one person. You remember the name of Miss Elvan? A fortnight
ago--imagine the scene--she walked into the shop with a friend of hers,
a Miss Cross, who has been one of my customers from the first. As soon
as she caught sight of me she turned and ran; yes, ran out into the
street in indignation and horror. Of course she must have told her
friend, and whether Miss Cross will ever come to the shop again, I
don't know. I never mentioned that name to you, did I? The Crosses were
friends of Norbert Franks. And, by the bye, I hear that Franks was
married to Miss Elvan a few days ago--just after her awful discovery.
No doubt she told him, and perhaps he'll drop my acquaintance."

"You don't mean that?"

"Well, not quite; but it wouldn't surprise me if his wife told him that
really one mustn't be too intimate with grocers. In future, I'm going
to tell everybody; there shall be no more hiding and sneaking. That's
what debases a man; not the selling of sugar and tea. A short time ago,
I had got into a vile state of mind; I felt like poisoning myself. And
I'm convinced it was merely the burden of lies weighing upon me. Yes,
yes, you're quite right; of course, mother must be told. Shall I leave
it to you, Jane? I think you could break it better."

After breakfast, Will walked into St. Neots, to have a private
conversation with Dr. Edge, and whilst he was away Jane told her mother
the story of the lost money. At the end of an hour's talk, she went out
into the garden, where presently she was found by her brother, who had
walked back at his utmost pace, and wore a perturbed countenance.

"You haven't told yet?" were his first words, uttered in a breathless
undertone.

"Why?" asked Jane startled.

"I'm afraid of the result. Edge says that every sort of agitation must
be avoided."

"I have told her," said Jane, with quiet voice, but anxious look. "She
was grieved on your account, but it gave her no shock. Again and again
she said how glad she was you had let us know the truth."

"So far then, good."

"But Dr. Edge--what did he tell you?"

"He said he had wanted to see me, and thought of writing. Yes, he
speaks seriously."

They talked for a little, then Will went into the house alone, and
found his mother as she sat in her wonted place, the usual needlework
on her lap. As he crossed the room, she kept her eyes upon him in a
gaze of the gentlest reproach, mingled with a smile, which told the
origin of Will's wholesome humour.

"And you couldn't trust me to take my share of the trouble?"

"I knew only too well," replied her son, "that your own share wouldn't
content you."

"Greedy mother!--Perhaps you were right, Will. I suppose I should have
interfered, and made everything worse for you; but you needn't have
waited quite so long before telling me. The one thing that I can't
understand is Mr. Sherwood's behaviour. You had always given me such a
different idea of him. Really, I don't think he ought to have been let
off so easily."

"Oh, poor old Godfrey! What could he do? He was sorry as man could be,
and he gave me all the cash he could scrape together--"

"I'm glad he wasn't a friend of mine," said Mrs. Warburton. "In all my
life, I have never quarrelled with a friend, but I'm afraid I must have
fallen out with Mr. Sherwood. Think of the women who entrust their all
to men of that kind, and have no strong son to save them from the
consequences."

After the mid-day meal all sat together for an hour or two in the
garden. By an evening train, Will returned to London. Jane had promised
to let him have frequent news, and during the ensuing week she wrote
twice with very favourable accounts of their mother's condition. A
month went by without any disquieting report, then came a letter in
Mrs. Warburton's own hand.

"My dear Will," she wrote, "I can't keep secrets as long as you. This
is to inform you that a week ago I let The Haws, on annual tenancy, to
a friend of Mr. Turnbull's, who was looking for such a house. The day
after to-morrow we begin our removal to a home which Jane has taken
near to Miss Winter's in Suffolk. That she was able to find just what
we wanted at a moment's notice encourages me in thinking that
Providence is on our side, or, as your dear father used to say, that
the oracle has spoken. In a week's time I hope to send news that we are
settled. You are forbidden to come here before our departure, but will
be invited to the new home as soon as possible. The address is--" etc.

The same post brought a letter from Jane.

"Don't be alarmed by the news," she wrote. "Mother has been so firm in
this resolve since the day of your leaving us, that I could only obey
her. Wonderful and delightful to tell, she seems better in health. I
dare not make too much of this, after what Dr. Edge said, but for the
present she is certainly stronger. As you suppose, I am going to work
with Miss Winter. Come and see us when we are settled, and you shall
hear all our plans. Everything has been done so quickly, that I live in
a sort of a dream. Don't worry, and of course don't on any account
come."

These letters arrived in the evening, and, after reading them,
Warburton was so moved that he had to go out and walk under the starry
sky, in quiet streets. Of course the motive on which his mother had
acted was a desire to free him as soon as possible from the slavery of
the shop; but that slavery had now grown so supportable, that he
grieved over the sacrifice made for his sake. After all, would he not
have done better to live on with his secret? And yet--and yet--



CHAPTER 40


With curiosity which had in it a touch of amusement, Will was waiting
to hear from Norbert Franks. He waited for nearly a month, and was
beginning to feel rather hurt at his friend's neglect, perhaps a little
uneasy on another score, when there arrived an Italian postcard,
stamped Venice. "We have been tempted as far as this," ran the hurried
scrawl. "Must be home in ten days. Shall be delighted to see you
again." Warburton puckered his brows and wondered whether a previous
letter or card had failed to reach him. But probably not.

At the end of September, Franks wrote from his London address, briefly
but cordially, with an invitation to luncheon on the next day, which
was Sunday. And Warburton went.

He was nervous as he knocked at the door; he was rather more nervous as
he walked into the studio. Norbert advanced to him with a shout of
welcome, and from a chair in the background rose Mrs. Franks.
Perceptibly changed, both of them. The artist's look was not quite so
ingenuous as formerly; his speech, resolute in friendliness, had not
quite the familiar note. Rosamund, already more mature of aspect,
smiled somewhat too persistently, seemed rather too bent on showing
herself unembarrassed. They plunged into talk of Tyrol, of the
Dolomites, of Venice, and, so talking, passed into the dining-room.

"Queer little house this, isn't it?" said Mrs. Franks as she sat down
to table. "Everything is sacrificed to the studio; there's no room to
turn anywhere else. We must look at once for more comfortable quarters."

"It's only meant for a man living alone," said the artist, with a
laugh. Franks laughed frequently, whether what he said was amusing or
not. "Yes, we must find something roomier.

"A score of sitters waiting for you, I suppose?" said Warburton.

"Oh, several. One of them such an awful phiz that I'm afraid of her. If
I make her presentable, it'll be my greatest feat yet. But the labourer
is worthy of his hire, you know, and this bit of beauty-making will
have its price."

"You know how to interpret _that_, Mr. Warburton," said Rosamund, with
a discreetly confidential smile. "Norbert asks very much less than any
other portrait painter of his reputation would."

"He'll grow out of that bad habit," Will replied. His note was one of
joviality, almost of bluffness.

"I'm not sure that I wish him to," said the painter's wife, her eyes
straying as if in a sudden dreaminess. "It's a distinction nowadays not
to care for money. Norbert jokes about making an ugly woman beautiful,"
she went on earnestly, "but what he will really do is to discover the
very best aspect of the face, and so make something much more than an
ordinary likeness."

Franks fidgeted, his head bent over his plate.

"That's the work of the great artist," exclaimed Warburton, boldly
flattering.

"Humbug!" growled Franks, but at once he laughed and glanced nervously
at his wife.

Though this was Rosamund's only direct utterance on the subject,
Warburton discovered from the course of the conversation, that she
wished to be known as her husband's fervent admirer, that she took him
with the utmost seriousness, and was resolved that everybody else
should do so. The "great artist" phrase gave her genuine pleasure; she
rewarded Will with the kindest look of her beautiful eyes, and from
that moment appeared to experience a relief, so that her talk flowed
more naturally. Luncheon over, they returned to the studio, where the
men lit their pipes, while Rosamund, at her husband's entreaty,
exhibited the sketches she had brought home.

"Why didn't you let me hear from you?" asked Warburton. "I got nothing
but that flimsy postcard from Venice."

"Why, I was always meaning to write," answered the artist. "I know it
was too bad. But time goes so quickly--"

"With you, no doubt. But if you stood behind a counter all day--"

Will saw the listeners exchange a startled glance, followed by an
artificial smile. There was an instant's dead silence.

"Behind a counter--?" fell from Norbert, as if he failed to understand.

"The counter; _my_ counter!" shouted Will blusterously. "You know very
well what I mean. Your wife has told you all about it."

Rosamund flushed, and could not raise her eyes.

"We didn't know," said Franks, with his nervous little laugh, "whether
you cared--to talk about it--"

"I'll talk about it with any one you like. So you _do_ know? That's all
right. I still owe my apology to Mrs. Franks for having given her such
a shock. The disclosure was really too sudden."

"It is I who should beg you to forgive me, Mr. Warburton," replied
Rosamund, in her sweetest accents. "I behaved in a very silly way. But
my friend Bertha Cross treated me as I deserved. She declared that she
was ashamed of me. But do not, pray do not, think me worse than I was.
I ran away really because I felt I had surprised a secret. I was
embarrassed,--I lost my head. I'm sure you don't think me capable of
really mean feelings?"

"But, old man," put in the artist, in a half pained voice, "what the
deuce does it all mean? Tell us the whole story, do."

Will told it, jestingly, effectively.

"I was _quite_ sure," sounded, at the close, in Rosamund's voice of
tender sympathy, "that you had some noble motive. I said so at once to
Bertha."

"I suppose," said Will, "Miss Cross will never dare to enter the shop
again?"

"She doesn't come!"

"Never since," he answered laughingly. "Her mother has been once or
twice, and seems to regard me with a very suspicious eye. Mrs. Cross
was told no doubt?"

"That I really can't say," replied Rosamund, averting her eyes. "But
doesn't it do one good to hear such a story, Norbert?" she added
impulsively.

"Yes, that's pluck," replied her husband, with the old spontaneity, in
his eyes the old honest look which hitherto had somehow been a little
obscured. "I know very well that _I_ couldn't have done it." Warburton
had not looked at Rosamund since her explanation and apology. He was
afraid of meeting her eyes; afraid as a generous man who shrinks from
inflicting humiliation. For was it conceivable that Rosamund could
support his gaze without feeling humiliated? Remembering what had
preceded that discovery at the shop; bearing in mind what had followed
upon it; he reflected with astonishment on the terms of her
self-reproach. It sounded so genuine; to the ears of her husband it
must have been purest, womanliest sincerity. As though she could read
his thoughts, Rosamund addressed him again in the most naturally
playful tone.

"And you have been in the Basque country since we saw you. I'm so glad
you really took your holiday there at last; you often used to speak of
doing so. And you met my sister--Winifred wrote to me all about it. The
Coppingers were delighted to see you. Don't you think them nice people?
Did poor Mrs. Coppinger seem any better?"

In spite of himself, Will encountered her look, met the beautiful eyes,
felt their smile envelop him. Never till now had he known the passive
strength of woman, that characteristic which at times makes her a force
of Nature rather than an individual being. Amazed, abashed, he let his
head fall--and mumbled something about Mrs. Coppinger's state of health.

He did not stay much longer. When he took his leave, it would have
seemed natural if Franks had come out to walk a little way with him,
but his friend bore him company only to the door.

"Let us see you as often as possible, old man. I hope you'll often come
and lunch on Sunday; nothing could please us better."

Franks' handgrip was very cordial, the look and tone were affectionate,
but Will said to himself that the old intimacy was at an end; it must
now give place to mere acquaintanceship. He suspected that Franks was
afraid to come out and walk with him, afraid that it might not please
his wife. That Rosamund was to rule--very sweetly of course, but
unmistakably--no one could doubt who saw the two together for five
minutes. It would be, in all likelihood, a happy subjugation, for
Norbert was of anything but a rebellious temper; his bonds would be of
silk; the rewards of his docility would be such as many a
self-assertive man might envy. But when Warburton tried to imagine
himself in such a position, a choked laugh of humourous disdain heaved
his chest.

He wandered homewards in a dream. He relived those moments on the
Embankment at Chelsea, when his common sense, his reason, his true
emotions, were defeated by an impulse now scarcely intelligible; he saw
himself shot across Europe, like a parcel despatched by express; and
all that fury and rush meaningless as buffoonery at a pantomime! Yet
this was how the vast majority of men "fell in love"--if ever they did
so at all. This was the prelude to marriages innumerable, marriages
destined to be dull as ditchwater or sour as verjuice. In love,
forsooth! Rosamund at all events knew the value of that, and had saved
him from his own infatuation. He owed her a lifelong gratitude.

That evening he re-read a long letter from Jane which had reached him
yesterday. His sister gave him a full description of the new home in
Suffolk, and told of the arrangement she had made with Miss Winter,
whereby, in a twelvemonth, she would be able to begin earning a little
money, and, if all went well, before long would become self-supporting.
Could he not run down to see them? Their mother had borne the removal
remarkably well, and seemed, indeed, to have a new vigour; possibly the
air might suit her better than at The Haws. Will mused over this, but
had no mind to make the journey just yet. It would be a pain to him to
see his mother in that new place; it would shame him to see his sister
at work, and to think that all this change was on his account. So he
wrote to mother and sister, with more of expressed tenderness than
usual, begging them to let him put off his visit yet a few weeks.
Presently they would be more settled. But of one thing let them be
sure; his daily work was no burden whatever to him, and he hardly knew
whether he would care to change it for what was called the greater
respectability of labour in an office. His health was good; his spirits
could only be disturbed by ill news from those he loved. He promised
that at all events he would spend Christmas with them.

September went by. One of the Sundays was made memorable by a visit to
Ashtead. Will had requested Franks to relate in that quarter the story
of Mr. Jollyman, and immediately after hearing it, Ralph Pomfret wrote
a warm-hearted letter which made the recipient in Fulham chuckle with
contentment. At Ashtead he enjoyed himself in the old way, gladdened by
the pleasure with which his friends talked of Rosamund's marriage. Mrs.
Pomfret took an opportunity of speaking to him apart, a bright smile on
her good face.

"Of course we know who did much, if not everything, to bring it about.
Rosamund came and told me how beautifully you had pleaded Norbert's
cause, and Norbert confided to my husband that, but for you, he would
most likely have married a girl he really didn't care about at all. I
doubt whether a _mere man_ ever did such a thing so discreetly and
successfully before!"

In October, Will began to waver in his resolve not to go down into
Suffolk before Christmas. There came a letter from his mother which
deeply moved him; she spoke of old things as well as new, and declared
that in her husband and in her children no woman had ever known truer
happiness. This was at the middle of the week; Will all but made up his
mind to take an early train on the following Sunday. On Friday he wrote
to Jane, telling her to expect him, and, as he walked home from the
shop that evening he felt glad that he had overcome the feelings which
threatened to make this first visit something of a trial to his
self-respect.

"There's a telegram a-waiting for you, sir," said Mrs. Wick, as he
entered.

The telegram contained four words:

"Mother ill. Please come."



CHAPTER 41


Happen what might in the world beyond her doors, Mrs. Cross led the
wonted life of domestic discomfort and querulousness. An interval there
had been this summer, a brief, uncertain interval, when something like
good-temper seemed to struggle with her familiar mood; it was the month
or two during which Norbert Franks resumed his friendly visitings.
Fallen out of Mrs. Cross's good graces since his failure to become her
tenant a couple of years ago, the artist had but to present himself
again to be forgiven, and when it grew evident that he came to the
house on Bertha's account, he rose into higher favour than ever. But
this promising state of things abruptly ended. One morning, Bertha,
with a twinkle in her eyes, announced the fact of Franks' marriage. Her
mother was stricken with indignant amaze.

"And you laugh about it?"

"It's so amusing," answered Bertha.

Mrs. Cross examined her daughter.

"I don't understand you," she exclaimed, in a tone of irritation. "I do
_not_ understand you, Bertha! All I can say is, behaviour more
disgraceful I _never_--"

The poor lady's feelings were too much for her. She retreated to her
bedroom, and there passed the greater part of the day. But in the
evening curiosity overcame her sullenness. Having obtained as much
information about the artist's marriage as Bertha could give her, she
relieved herself in an acrimonious criticism of him and Miss Elvan.

"I never liked to say what I really thought of that girl," were her
concluding words. "Now your eyes are opened. Of course you'll never see
her again?"

"Why, mother?" asked Bertha. "I'm very glad she has married Mr. Franks.
I always hoped she would, and felt pretty sure of it."

"And you mean to be friends with them both?"

"Why not?--But don't let us talk about that," Bertha added
good-humouredly. "I should only vex you. There's something else I want
to tell you, something you'll really be amused to hear."

"Your ideas of amusement, Bertha--"

"Yes, yes, but listen. It's about Mr. Jollyman. Who do you think Mr.
Jollyman really is?"

Mrs. Cross heard the story with bent brows and lips severely set.

"And why didn't you tell me this before, pray?"

"I hardly know," answered the girl, thoughtfully, smiling. "Perhaps
because I waited to hear more to make the revelation more complete.
But--"

"And this," exclaimed Mrs. Cross, "is why you wouldn't go to the shop
yesterday?"

"Yes," was the frank reply. "I don't think I shall go again."

"And, pray, why not?"

Bertha was silent.

"There's one very disagreeable thing in your character, Bertha,"
remarked her mother severely, "and that is your habit of hiding and
concealing. To think that you found this out more than a week ago!
You're very, very unlike your father. _He_ never kept a thing from me,
never for an hour. But you are always _full_ of secrets. It isn't
nice--it isn't at all nice."

Since her husband's death Mrs. Cross had never ceased discovering his
virtues. When he lived, one of the reproaches with which she constantly
soured his existence was that of secretiveness. And Bertha, who knew
something and suspected more of the truth in this matter, never felt it
so hard to bear with her mother as when Mrs. Cross bestowed such
retrospective praise.

"I have thought it over," she said quietly, disregarding the reproof,
"and on the whole I had rather not go again to the shop."

Thereupon Mrs. Cross grew angry, and for half an hour clamoured as to
the disadvantage of leaving Jollyman's for another grocer's. In the end
she did not leave him, but either went to the shop herself or sent the
servant. Great was her curiosity regarding the disguised Mr. Warburton,
with whom, after a significant coldness, she gradually resumed her old
chatty relations. At length, one day in autumn, Bertha announced to her
that she could throw more light on the Jollyman mystery; she had learnt
the full explanation of Mr. Warburton's singular proceedings.

"From those people, I suppose?" said Mrs. Cross, who by this phrase
signified Mr. and Mrs. Franks. "Then I don't wish to hear one word of
it."

But as though she had not heard this remark, Bertha began her
narrative. She seemed to repeat what had been told her with a quiet
pleasure.

"Well, then," was her mother's comment, "after all, there's nothing
disgraceful."

"I never thought there was."

"Then why have you refused to enter his shop?"

"It was awkward," replied Bertha.

"No more awkward for you than for me," said Mrs. Cross. "But I've
noticed, Bertha, that you are getting rather selfish in some things--I
don't of course say in _everything_--and I think it isn't difficult to
guess where that comes from."

Soon after Christmas they were left, by a familiar accident, without a
servant; the girl who had been with them for the last six months
somehow contrived to get her box secretly out of the house and
disappeared (having just been paid her wages) without warning. Long and
loudly did Mrs. Cross rail against this infamous behaviour.

The next morning, a young woman came to the house and inquired for Mrs.
Cross; Bertha, who had opened the door, led her into the dining room,
and retired. Half an hour later, Mrs. Cross came into the parlour,
beaming.

"There now! If that wasn't a good idea! Who do you think sent that
girl, Bertha?--Mr. Jollyman."

Bertha kept silence.

"I had to go into the shop yesterday, and I happened to speak to Mr.
Jollyman of the trouble I had in finding a good servant. It occurred to
me that he _might_ just possibly know of some one. He promised to make
inquiries, and here at once comes the nicest girl I've seen for a long
time. She had to leave her last place because it was too hard; just
fancy, a shop where she had to cook for sixteen people, and see to five
bedrooms; no wonder she broke down, poor thing. She's been resting for
a month or two: and she lives in the same house as a person named Mrs.
Hopper, who is the sister of the wife of Mr. Jollyman's assistant. And
she's quite content with fifteen pounds--quite."

As she listened, Bertha wrinkled her forehead, and grew rather absent.
She made no remark, until, after a long account of the virtues she had
already descried in Martha--this was the girl's name--Mrs. Cross added
that of course she must go at once and thank Mr. Jollyman.

"I suppose you still address him by that name?" fell from Bertha.

"That name? Why, I'd really almost forgotten that it wasn't his real
name. In any case, I couldn't use the other in the shop, could I?"

"Of course not; no."

"Now you speak of it, Bertha," pursued Mrs. Cross, "I wonder whether he
knows that I know who he is?"

"Certainly he does."

"When one thinks of it, wouldn't it be better, Bertha, for you to go to
the shop again now and then? I'm afraid the poor man may feel hurt. He
_must_ have noticed that you never went again after that discovery, and
one really wouldn't like him to think that you were offended."

"Offended?" echoed the girl with a laugh. "Offended at what?"

"Oh, some people, you know, might think his behaviour strange--using a
name that's not his own, and--and so on."

"Some people might, no doubt. But the poor man, as you call him, is
probably quite indifferent as to what we think of him."

"Don't you think it would be well if you went in and just thanked him
for sending the servant?"

"Perhaps," replied Bertha, carelessly.

But she did not go to Mr. Jollyman's, and Mrs. Cross soon forgot the
suggestion.

Martha entered upon her duties, and discharged them with such zeal,
such docility, that her mistress never tired of lauding her. She was a
young woman of rather odd appearance; slim and meagre and red-headed,
with a never failing simper on her loose lips, and blue eyes that
frequently watered; she had somehow an air of lurking gentility in
faded youth. Undeniable as were the good qualities she put forth on
this scene of innumerable domestic failures, Bertha could not
altogether like her. Submissive to the point of slavishness, she had at
times a look which did not harmonize at all with this demeanour, a
something in her eyes disagreeably suggestive of mocking insolence.
Bertha particularly noticed this on the day after Martha had received
her first wages. Leave having been given her to go out in the afternoon
to make some purchases, she was rather late in returning, and Bertha,
meeting her as she entered, asked her to be as quick as possible in
getting tea; whereupon the domestic threw up her head and regarded the
speaker from under her eyelids with an extraordinary smile; then with a
"Yes, miss, this minute, miss" scampered upstairs to take her things
off. All that evening her behaviour was strange. As she waited at the
supper table she seemed to be subduing laughter, and in clearing away
she for the first time broke a plate; whereupon she burst into tears,
and begged forgiveness so long and so wearisomely that she had at last
to be ordered out of the room.

On the morrow all was well again; but Bertha could not help watching
that singular countenance, and the more she observed, the less she
liked it.

The more "willing" a servant the more toil did Mrs. Cross exact from
her. When occasions of rebuke or of dispute were lacking, the day would
have been long and wearisome for her had she not ceaselessly plied the
domestic drudge with tasks, and narrowly watched their execution. The
spectacle of this slave-driving was a constant trial to Bertha's
nerves; now and then she ventured a mild protest, but only with the
result of exciting her mother's indignation. In her mood of growing
moral discontent, Bertha began to ask herself whether acquiescence in
this sordid tyranny was not a culpable weakness, and one day early in
the year--a wretched day of east-wind--when she saw Martha perched on
an outer window-sill cleaning panes, she found the courage to utter
resolute disapproval.

"I don't understand you, Bertha," replied Mrs. Cross, the muscles of
her face quivering as they did when she felt her dignity outraged.
"What do we engage a servant for? Are the windows to get so dirty we
can't see through them?"

"They were cleaned not many days ago," said her daughter, "and I think
we could manage to see till the weather's less terrible."

"My dear, if we _managed_ so as to give the servant no trouble at all,
the house would soon be in a pretty state. Be so good as not to
interfere. It's really an extraordinary thing that as soon as I find a
girl who almost suits me, you begin to try to spoil her. One would
think you took a pleasure in making my life miserable--"

Overwhelmed with floods of reproach, Bertha had either to combat or to
retreat. Again her nerves failed her, and she left the room.

At dinner that day there was a roast leg of mutton, and, as her habit
was, Mrs. Cross carved the portion which Martha was to take away for
herself. One very small and very thin slice, together with one
unwholesome little potato, represented the servant's meal. As soon as
the door had closed, Bertha spoke in an ominously quiet voice.

"Mother, this won't do. I am very sorry to annoy you, but if you call
that a dinner for a girl who works hard ten or twelve hours a day, I
don't. How she supports life, I can't understand. You have only to look
into her face to see she's starving. I can bear the sight of it no
longer."

This time she held firm. The conflict lasted for half an hour, during
which Mrs. Cross twice threatened to faint. Neither of them ate
anything, and in the end Bertha saw herself, if not defeated, at all
events no better off than at the beginning, for her mother clung
fiercely to authority, and would obviously live in perpetual strife
rather than yield an inch. For the next two days domestic life was very
unpleasant indeed; mother and daughter exchanged few words; meanwhile
Martha was tasked, if possible, more vigorously than ever, and fed
mysteriously, meals no longer doled out to her under Bertha's eyes. The
third morning brought another crisis.

"I have a letter from Emily," said Bertha at breakfast, naming a friend
of hers who lived in the far north of London. "I'm going to see her
to-day."

"Very well," answered Mrs. Cross, between rigid lips.

"She says that in the house where she lives, there's a bed-sitting-room
to let. I think, mother, it might be better for me to take it."

"You will do just as you please, Bertha."

"I shall have dinner to-day with Emily, and be back about tea-time."

"I have no doubt," replied Mrs. Cross, "that Martha will be so obliging
as to have tea ready for you. If she doesn't feel _strong_ enough, of
course I will see to it myself."



CHAPTER 42


On the evening before, Martha had received her month's wages, and had
been promised the usual afternoon of liberty to-day; but, as soon as
Bertha had left the house, Mrs. Cross summoned the domestic, and
informed her bluntly that the holiday must be postponed.

"I'm very sorry, mum," replied Martha, with an odd, half-frightened
look in her watery eyes. "I'd promised to go and see my brother as has
just lost his wife; but of course, if it isn't convenient, mum--"

"It really is not, Martha. Miss Bertha will be out all day, and I don't
like being left alone You shall go to-morrow instead."

Half an hour later, Mrs. Cross went out shopping, and was away till
noon. On returning, she found the house full of the odour of something
burnt.

"What's this smell, Martha?" she asked at the kitchen door, "what is
burning?"

"Oh, it's only a dishcloth as was drying and caught fire, mum,"
answered the servant.

"Only! What do you mean?" cried the mistress, angrily. "Do you wish to
burn the house down?"

Martha stood with her arms akimbo, on her thin, dough-pale face the
most insolent of grins, her teeth gleaming, and her eyes wide.

"What do you mean?" cried Mrs. Cross. "Show me the burnt cloth at once."

"There you are, mum!"

And Martha, with a kick, pointed to something on the floor. Amazed and
wrathful, Mrs. Cross saw a long roller-towel, half a yard of it burnt
to tinder; nor could any satisfactory explanation of the accident be
drawn from Martha, who laughed, sobbed, and sniggered by turns as if
she were demented.

"Of course you will pay for it," exclaimed Mrs. Cross for the twentieth
time. "Go on with your work at once, and don't let me have any more of
this extraordinary behaviour. I can't think what has come to you."

But Martha seemed incapable of resuming her ordinary calm. Whilst
serving the one o'clock dinner--which was very badly cooked--she wept
and sighed, and when her mistress had risen from the table, she stood
for a long time staring vacantly before she could bestir herself to
clear away. About three o'clock, having several times vainly rung the
sitting-room bell, Mrs. Cross went to the kitchen. The door was shut,
and, on trying to open it, she found it locked. She called "Martha,"
again and again, and had no reply, until, all of a sudden, a shrill
voice cried from within--"Go away! Go away!" Beside herself with wrath
and amazement, the mistress demanded admission answer, there came a
violent thumping on the door at the other side, and again the voice
screamed--"Go away! Go away!"

"What's the matter with you, Martha?" asked Mrs. Cross, beginning to
feel alarmed.

"Go away!" replied the voice fiercely.

"Either you open the door this moment, or I call a policeman."

This threat had an immediate effect, though not quite of the kind that
Mrs. Cross hoped. The key turned with a snap, the door was flung open,
and there stood Martha, in a Corybantic attitude, brandishing a
dinner-plate in one hand, a poker in the other; her hair was
dishevelled, her face red, and fury blazed in her eyes.

"You _won't_ go away?" she screamed "There, then--there goes one of
your plates!"

She dashed it to the floor.

"You _won't_ go away?--There goes one of you dishes!--and there goes a
basin!--And there goes a tea-cup!"

One after another, the things she named perished upon the floor. Mrs.
Cross stood paralysed, horror-stricken.

"You think you'll make me pay for them?" cried Martha frantically. "Not
me--not me! It's you as owes me money--money for all the work I've done
as wasn't in my wages, and for the food as I haven't had, when I'd
ought to. What do you call _that_?" She pointed to a plate of something
on the kitchen table. "Is that a dinner for a human being, or is it a
dinner for a beetle? D'you think I'd eat it, and me with money in my
pocket to buy better? You want to make a walkin' skeleton of me, do
you?--but I'll have it out of you, I will--There goes another dish! And
_here_ goes a sugar-basin! And here goes your teapot!"

With a shriek of dismay, Mrs. Cross sprang forward. She was too late to
save the cherished object, and her aggressive movement excited Martha
to yet more alarming behaviour.

"You'd hit me, would you? Two can play at that game--you old skinflint,
you! Come another step nearer, and I'll bring this poker on your head!
You thought you'd get somebody you could do as you liked with, didn't
you? You thought because I was willing, and tried to do my best, as I
could be put upon to any extent, did you? It's about time you learnt
your mistake, you old cheese-parer! You and me has an account to
settle. Let me get at you--let me get at you--"

She brandished the poker so menacingly that Mrs. Cross turned and fled.
Martha pursued, yelling abuse and threats. The mistress vainly tried to
shut the sitting-room door against her; in broke the furious maid, and
for a moment so handled her weapon that Mrs. Cross with difficulty
escaped a dangerous blow. Round and round the table they went, until,
the cloth having been dragged off, Martha's feet caught in it, and she
fell heavily to the floor. To escape from the room, the terrified lady
must have stepped over her. For a moment there was silence. Then Martha
made an attempt to rise, fell again, again struggled to her knees, and
finally collapsed, lying quite still and mute.

Trembling, panting, Mrs. Cross moved cautiously nearer, until she could
see the girl's face. Martha was asleep, unmistakably asleep; she had
even begun to snore. Avoiding her contact with as much disgust as fear,
Mrs. Cross got out of the room, and opened the front door of the house.
This way and that she looked along the streets, searching for a
policeman, but none was in sight. At this moment, approached a familiar
figure, Mr. Jollyman's errand boy, basket on arm; he had parcels to
deliver here.

"Are you going back to the shop at once?" asked Mrs. Cross, after
hurriedly setting down her groceries in the passage.

"Straight back, mum."

"Then run as quickly as ever you can, and tell Mr. Jollyman that I wish
to see him immediately--immediately. Run! Don't lose a moment!"

Afraid to shut herself in with the sleeping fury, Mrs. Cross remained
standing near the front door, which every now and then she opened to
look for a policeman. The day was cold; she shivered, she felt weak,
wretched, ready to sob in her squalid distress. Some twenty minutes
passed, then, just as she opened the door to look about again, a rapid
step sounded on the pavement, and there appeared her grocer.

"Oh, Mr. Jollyman!" she exclaimed. "What I have just gone through! That
girl has gone raving mad--she has broken almost everything in the
house, and tried to kill me with the poker. Oh, I am so glad you've
come! Of course there's never a policeman when they're wanted. Do
please come in."

Warburton did not at once understand who was meant by "that girl," but
when Mrs. Cross threw open the sitting-room door, and exhibited her
domestic prostrate in disgraceful slumber, the facts of the situation
broke upon him. This was the girl so strongly recommended by Mrs.
Hopper.

"But I thought she had been doing very well--"

"So she had, so she had, Mr. Jollyman--except for a few little
things--though there was always something rather strange about her.
It's only today that she broke out. She is mad, I assure you, raving
mad!"

Another explanation suggested itself to Warburton.

"Don't you notice a suspicious odour?" he asked significantly.

"You think it's _that_!" said Mrs. Cross, in a horrified whisper. "Oh,
I daresay you're right. I'm too agitated to notice anything. Oh, Mr.
Jollyman! Do, do help me to get the creature out of the house. How
shameful that people gave her a good character. But everybody deceives
me--everybody treats me cruelly, heartlessly. Don't leave me alone with
that creature, Mr. Jollyman. Oh, if you knew what I have been through
with servants! But never anything so bad as this--never! Oh, I feel
quite ill--I must sit down--"

Fearful that his situation might become more embarrassing than it was,
Warburton supported Mrs. Cross into the dining-room, and by dint of
loudly cheerful talk in part composed her. She consented to sit with
the door locked, whilst her rescuer hurried in search of a policeman.
Before long, a constable's tread sounded in the hall; Mrs. Cross told
her story, exhibited the ruins of her crockery on the kitchen floor,
and demanded instant expulsion of the dangerous rebel. Between them,
Warburton and the man in authority shook Martha into consciousness,
made her pack her box, put her into a cab, and sent her off to the
house where she had lived when out of service; she all the time weeping
copiously, and protesting that there was no one in the world so dear to
her as her outraged mistress. About an hour was thus consumed. When at
length the policeman had withdrawn, and sudden quiet reigned in the
house, Mrs. Cross seemed again on the point of fainting.

"How can I ever thank you, Mr. Jollyman!" she exclaimed, half
hysterically, as she let herself sink into the armchair. "Without you,
what would have become of me! Oh, I feel so weak, if I had strength to
get myself a cup of tea--"

"Let me get it for you," cried Warburton. "Nothing easier. I noticed
the kettle by the kitchen fire."

"Oh, I cannot allow, you, Mr. Jollyman--you are too kind--I feel so
ashamed--"

But Will was already in the kitchen, where he bestirred himself so
effectually that in a few minutes the kettle had begun to sing. Just as
he went back to the parlour, to ask where tea could be found, the front
door opened, and in walked Bertha.

"Your daughter is here, Mrs. Cross," said Will, in an undertone,
stepping toward the limp and pallid lady.

"Bertha," she cried. "Bertha, are you there? Oh, come and thank Mr.
Jollyman! If you knew what has happened whilst you were away!"

At the room door appeared the girl's astonished face. Warburton's eyes
fell upon her.

"It's a wonder you find me alive, dear," pursued the mother. "If one of
those blows had fallen on my head--!"

"Let me explain," interposed Warburton quietly. And in a few words he
related the events of the afternoon.

"And Mr. Jollyman was just getting me a clip of tea, Bertha," added
Mrs. Cross. "I do feel ashamed that he should have had such trouble."

"Mr. Jollyman has been very kind indeed," said Bertha, with look and
tone of grave sincerity. "I'm sure we cannot thank him enough."

Warburton smiled as he met her glance.

"I feel rather guilty in the matter," he said, "for it was I who
suggested the servant. If you will let me, I will do my best to atone
by trying to find another and a better."

"Run and make the tea, my dear," said Mrs. Cross. "Perhaps Mr. Jollyman
will have a cup with us--"

This invitation was declined. Warburton sought for his hat, and took
leave of the ladies, Mrs. Cross overwhelming him with gratitude, and
Bertha murmuring a few embarrassed words. As soon as he was gone,
mother and daughter took hands affectionately, then embraced with more
tenderness than for a long, long time.

"I shall never dare to live alone with a servant," sobbed Mrs. Cross.
"If you leave me, I must go into lodgings, dear."

"Hush, hush, mother," replied the girl, in her gentlest voice. "Of
course I shall not leave you.

"Oh, the dreadful things I have been through! It was drink, Bertha;
that creature was a drunkard of the most dangerous kind. She did her
best to murder me. I wonder I am not at this moment lying dead.-- Oh,
but the kindness of Mr. Jollyman! What a good thing I sent for him! And
he speaks of finding us another servant; but, Bertha, I shall never try
to manage a servant again--never. I shall always be afraid of them; I
shall dread to give the simplest order. You, my dear, must be the
mistress of the house; indeed you must. I give over everything into
your hands. I will never interfere; I won't say a word, whatever fault
I may have to find; not a word. Oh, that creature; that horrible woman
will haunt my dreams. Bertha, you don't think she'll hang about the
house, and lie in wait for me, to be revenged? We must tell the
policeman to look out for her. I'm sure I shall never venture to go out
alone, and if you leave me in the house with a new servant, even for an
hour, I must be in a room with the door locked. My nerves will never
recover from this shock. Oh, if you knew how ill I feel! I'll have a
cup of tea, and then go straight to bed."

Whilst she was refreshing herself, she spoke again of Mr. Jollyman.

"Do you think I ought to have pressed him to stay, dear? I didn't feel
sure."

"No, no, you were quite right not to do so," replied Bertha. "He of
course understood that it was better for us to be alone."

"I thought he would. Really, for a grocer, he is so very gentlemanly."

"That's not surprising, mother."

"No, no; I'm always forgetting that he isn't a grocer by birth. I
think, Bertha, it will only be right to ask him to come to tea some day
before long."

Bertha reflected, a half-smile about her lips.

"Certainly," she said, "if you would like to."

"I really should. He was so very kind to me. And perhaps--what do you
think?--ought we to invite him in his proper name?"

"No, I think not," answered Bertha, after a moment's reflection. "We
are not supposed to know anything about that."

"To be sure not.--Oh, that dreadful creature. I see her eyes, glaring
at me, like a tiger's. Fifty times at least did she chase me round this
table. I thought I should have dropped with exhaustion; and if I had,
one blow of that poker would have finished me. Never speak to me of
servants, Bertha. Engage any one you like, but do, do be careful to
make inquiries about her. I shall never wish even to know her name; I
shall never look at her face; I shall never speak a word to her. I
leave all the responsibility to you, dear. And now, help me upstairs.
I'm sure 'I could never get up alone. I tremble in every limb--"



CHAPTER 43


Warburton's mother was dead. The first effect upon him of the certainty
that she could not recover from the unconsciousness in which he found
her when summoned by Jane's telegram, was that of an acute remorse; it
pierced him to the heart that she should have abandoned the home of her
life-time, for the strangeness and discomfort of the new abode, and
here have fallen, stricken by death--the cause of it, he himself, he so
unworthy of the least sacrifice. He had loved her; but what assurance
had he been wont to give her of his love? Through many and many a year
it was much if he wrote at long intervals a hurried letter. How seldom
had he cared to go down to St. Neots, and, when there, how soon had he
felt impatient of the little restraints imposed upon him by his
mother's ways and prejudices. Yet not a moment had she hesitated, ill
and aged, when, at so great a cost to herself, it seemed possible to
make life a little easier for him. This reproach was the keenest pain
with which nature had yet visited him.

Something of the same was felt by his sister, partly on her own, partly
on his account, but as soon as Jane became aware of his self torment,
her affection and her good sense soon brought succour to them both. She
spoke of the life their mother had led since coming into Suffolk,
related a hundred instances to prove how full of interest and
contentment it had been, bore witness to the seeming improvement of
health, and the even cheerfulness of spirits which had accompanied it.
Moreover, there was the medical assurance that life could not in any
case have been prolonged; that change of place and habits counted for
nothing in the sudden end which some months ago had been foretold. Jane
confessed herself surprised at the ease with which so great and sudden
a change was borne; the best proof that could have been given of their
mother's nobleness of mind. Once only had Mrs. Warburton seemed to
think regretfully of the old home; it was on coming out of church one
morning, when, having stood for a moment to look at the graveyard, she
murmured to her daughter that she would wish to be buried at St. Neots.
This, of course, was done; it would have been done even had she not
spoken. And when, on the day after the funeral, brother and sister
parted to go their several ways, the sadness they bore with them had no
embitterment of brooding regret. A little graver than usual, Will took
his place behind the counter, with no word to Allchin concerning the
cause of his absence. He wrote frequently to Jane, and from her
received long letters, which did him good, so redolent were they of the
garden life, even in mid-winter, and so expressive of a frank, sweet,
strong womanhood, like that of her who was no more.

Meanwhile his business flourished. Not that he much exerted himself, or
greatly rejoiced to see his till more heavily laden night after night,
by natural accretion custom flowed to the shop in fuller stream;
Jollyman's had established a reputation for quality and cheapness, and
began seriously to affect the trade of small rivals in the district. As
Allchin had foretold, the hapless grocer with the drunken wife sank
defeated before the end of the year; one morning his shop did not open,
and in a few days the furniture of the house was carried off by some
brisk creditor. It made Warburton miserable to think of the man's doom;
when Allchin, frank barbarian as he was, loudly exulted. Will turned
away in shame and anger. Had the thing been practicable he would have
given money out of his own pocket to the ruined struggler. He saw
himself as a merciless victor; he seemed to have his heel on the other
man's head, and to crush, crush--

At Christmas he was obliged to engage a second assistant. Allchin did
not conceal his dislike of this step, but he ended by admitting it to
be necessary. At first, the new state of things did not work quite
smoothly; Allchin was inclined to an imperious manner, which the
newcomer, by name Goff, now and then plainly resented. But in a day or
two they were on fair terms, and ere long they became cordial.

Then befell the incident of Mrs. Cross' Martha.

Not without uneasiness had Warburton suggested a servant on the
recommendation of Mrs. Hopper, but credentials seemed to be fairly
good, and when, after a week or two, Mrs. Cross declared herself more
than satisfied, he blessed his good luck. Long ago he had ceased to
look for the reappearance at the shop of Bertha Cross; he thought of
the girl now and then, generally reverting in memory to that day when
he had followed her and her mother into Kew Gardens--a recollection
which had lost all painfulness, and shone idyllically in summer
sunlight, but it mattered nothing to him that Bertha showed herself no
more. Of course she knew his story from Rosamund, and in all likelihood
she felt her self-respect concerned in holding aloof from an
acquaintance of his ambiguous standing. It mattered not a jot.

Yet when the tragi-comedy of Martha's outbreak unexpectedly introduced
him to the house at Walham Green, he experienced a sudden revival of
the emotions of a year ago. After his brief meeting with Bertha, he did
not go straight back to the shop, but wandered a little in quiet
by-ways, thinking hard and smiling. Nothing more grotesque than the
picture of Mrs. Cross amid her shattered crockery, Mrs. Cross pointing
to the prostrate Martha, Mrs. Cross panting forth the chronicle of her
woes; but Mrs. Cross' daughter was not involved in this scene of
pantomime; she walked across the stage, but independently, with a
simple dignity, proof against paltry or ludicrous circumstance. If any
one could see the laughable side of such domestic squalor, assuredly it
was Bertha herself of that Will felt assured. Did he not remember her
smile when she had to discuss prices and qualities in the shop? Not
many girls smile with so much implication of humorous comment.

He had promised to look out for another servant, but hardly knew how to
go to work. First of all, Mrs. Hopper was summoned to an interview in
the parlour behind the shop, and Martha's case was fully discussed.
With much protesting and circumlocution, Mrs. Hopper brought herself at
length to own that Martha had been known to "take too much," but that
was so long ago, and the girl had solemnly declared, etc., etc.
However, as luck would have it, she did know of another girl, a really
good general servant, who had only just been thrown out of a place by
the death of her mistress, and who was living at home in Kentish Town.
Thither sped Warburton; he saw the girl and her mother, and, on
returning, sent a note to Mrs. Cross, in which he detailed all he had
learnt concerning the new applicant. At the close he wrote: "You are
aware, I think, that the name under which I do business is not my own.
Permit me, in writing to you on a private matter, to use my own
signature"--which accordingly followed. Moreover, he dated the letter
from his lodgings, not from the shop.

The next day brought him a reply; he found it on his breakfast table,
and broke the envelope with amused curiosity. Mrs. Cross wrote that
"Sarah Walker" had been to see her, and if inquiries proved
satisfactory, would be engaged. "We are very greatly obliged for the
trouble you have taken. Many thanks for your kind inquiries as to my
health. I am glad to say that the worst of the shock has passed away,
though I fear that I shall long continue to feel its effects." A few
remarks followed on the terrible difficulties of the servant question;
then "Should you be disengaged on Sunday next, we shall be glad if you
will take a cup of tea with us."

Over his coffee and egg, Will pondered this invitation. It pleased him,
undeniably, but caused him no undue excitement. He would have liked to
know in what degree Mrs. Cross' daughter was a consenting party to the
step. Perhaps she felt that, after the services he had rendered, the
least one could do was to invite him to tea. Why should he refuse?
Before going to business, he wrote a brief acceptance. During the day,
a doubt now and then troubled him as to whether he had behaved
discreetly, but on the whole he looked forward to Sunday with pleasant
expectation.

How should he equip himself? Should he go dressed as he would have gone
to the Pomfrets', in his easy walking attire, jacket and soft-felt? Or
did the circumstances dictate chimney-pot and frock-coat? He scoffed at
himself for fidgeting over the point; yet perhaps it had a certain
importance. After deciding for the informal costume, at the last moment
he altered his mind, and went arrayed as society demands; with the
result that, on entering the little parlour--that name suited it much
better than drawing-room--he felt overdressed, pompous, generally
absurd. His cylinder seemed to be about three feet high; his gloves
stared their newness; the tails of his coat felt as though they wrapped
several times round his legs, and still left enough to trail upon the
floor as he sat on a chair too low for him. Never since the most
awkward stage of boyhood had he felt so little at ease "in company."
And he had a conviction that Bertha Cross was laughing at him. Her
smile was too persistent; it could only be explained as a compromise
with threatening merriment.

A gap in the conversation prompted Warburton to speak of a little
matter which was just now interesting him. It related to Mr. Potts, the
shopkeeper in Kennington Lane, whom he used to meet, but of whom for a
couple of years and more, he had quite lost sight. Stirred by reproach
of conscience, he had at length gone to make inquiries; but the name of
Potts was no longer over the shop.

"I went in and asked whether the old man was dead; no, he had retired
from business and was lodging not far away. I found the house--a rather
grimy place, and the door was opened by a decidedly grimy woman. I saw
at once that she didn't care to let me in. What was my business? and so
on; but I held firm, and got at last into a room on the second floor,
an uncomfortable sitting-room, where poor old Potts welcomed me. If
only he had known my address, he said, he should have written to tell
me the news. His son in America, the one I knew, was doing well, and
sent money every month, enough for him to live upon. 'But was he
comfortable in those lodgings? I asked. Of course I saw that he wasn't,
and I saw too that my question made him nervous. He looked at the door,
and spoke in a whisper. The upshot of it was that he had fallen into
the hands of a landlady who victimised him; just because she was an old
acquaintance, he didn't feel able to leave her. 'Shall I help you to
get away?' I asked him, and his face shone with hope. Of course the
woman was listening at the keyhole; we both knew that. When I went away
she had run half down the stairs, and I caught her angry look before
she hid it with a grin. I must find decent lodgings for the old fellow,
as soon as possible. He is being bled mercilessly."

"How very disgraceful!" exclaimed Mrs. Cross. "Really, the meanness of
some women of that class!"

Her daughter had her eyes cast down, on her lips the faintest
suggestion of a smile.

"I wonder whether we could hear of anything suitable," pursued her
mother, "by inquiring of people we know out at Holloway. I'm thinking
of the Boltons, Bertha."

Mr. Potts' requirements were discussed, Bertha interesting herself in
the matter, and making various suggestions. The talk grew more
animated. Warburton was led to tell of his own experience in lodgings.
Catching Bertha's eye, he gave his humour full scope on the subject of
Mrs. Wick, and there was merriment in which even Mrs. Cross made a show
of joining.

"Why," she exclaimed, "do you stay in such very uncomfortable rooms?"

"It doesn't matter," Will replied, "it's only for a time."

"Ah, you have other views?"

"Yes," he answered, smiling cheerfully, "I have other views."



CHAPTER 44


Toward the end of the following week, Mrs. Cross came to the shop. She
had a busy air, and spoke to Warburton in a confidential undertone.

"We have been making inquiries, and at last I think we have heard of
something that might suit your poor friend. This is the address. My
daughter went there this morning, and had a long talk with the woman,
and she thinks it really might do; but perhaps you have already found
something?"

"Nothing at all," answered Will. "I am much obliged to you. I will go
as soon as possible."

"We shall be so glad to hear if it suits," said Mrs. Cross. "Do look in
on Sunday, will you? We are always at home at five o'clock.-- Oh, I
have written out a little list of things," she added, laying her
grocery order on the counter. "Please tell me what they come to."

Warburton gravely took the cash, and Mrs. Cross, with her thinly
gracious smile, bade him good-day.

He did not fail to "look in" on Sunday, and this time he wore his
ordinary comfortable clothing. The rooms recommended for Mr. Potts had
seemed to him just what were needed, and on his own responsibility he
had taken them. Moreover, he had been to Kennington, and had made known
to the nervous old man the arrangements that were proposed for him.

"But will he be allowed to leave?" asked Bertha in her eyes the twinkle
for which Will watched.

"He won't dare, he tells me, to give notice but he'll only have to pay
a week's rent in lieu of it. I have promised to be with him at ten to
morrow morning, to help him to get away. I shall take my heaviest
walking-stick; one must be prepared for every emergency. Glance over
the police news on Tuesday, Mrs. Cross, just to see whether I have come
to harm."

"We shall be very anxious indeed," replied the literal lady, with
pained brow. "Couldn't you let us hear to-morrow evening? I know only
too well what dreadful creatures the women of that class can be. I very
strongly advise you, Mr. Warburton, to be accompanied by a policeman. I
beg you will."

Late on the Monday afternoon, Jollyman's errand boy left a note for
Mrs. Cross. It informed her that all had gone well, though "not without
uproar. The woman shrieked insults from her doorstep after our
departing cab. Poor Mr. Potts was all but paralytic with alarm, but
came round famously at sight of the new lodgings. He wants to thank you
both."

It was on this same evening that Warburton had a visit from Godfrey
Sherwood. A fortnight ago, just after Easter, had taken place the
marriage of Mr. Milligan and Miss Parker; and Sherwood, whilst his
chief was absent on the honeymoon, had run down to the seaside for a
change of air. Tonight, he presented himself unexpectedly, and his face
was the prologue to a moving tale.

"Read that, Warburton--" he held out a letter. "Read that, and tell me
what you think of human nature."

It was a letter from Milligan, who, with many explanations and
apologies, wrote to inform his secretary that the Great Work could not
be pursued, that the vegetarian colony in Ireland, which was to
civilise the world, must--so far as he was concerned--remain a glorious
dream. The fact of the matter was, Mrs. Milligan did not like it. She
had tried vegetarianism; it did not suit her health; moreover, she
objected to living in Ireland, on account of the dampness of the
climate. Sadly, reluctantly, Mrs. Milligan's husband had to forgo his
noble project. In consequence, he would have no need henceforth of a
secretary, and Sherwood must consider their business relations at an
end.

"He encloses a very liberal cheque," said Godfrey. "But what a
downfall! I foresaw it. I hinted my fears to you as soon as Miss Parker
appeared on the scene. Poor old Milligan! A lost man--sunk in the
commonplace--hopelessly whelmed in vulgar matrimony. Poor old fellow!"

Warburton chuckled.

"But that isn't all," went on the other, "Old Strangwyn is dead, really
dead at last. I wrote several times to him; no acknowledgment of my
letters. Now it's all over. The ten thousand pounds--"

He made a despairing gesture. Then:

"Take that cheque, Warburton. It's all I have; take it, old fellow, and
try to forgive me. You won't? Well, well, if I live, I'll pay you yet;
but I'm a good deal run down, and these disappointments have almost
floored me. To tell you the truth, the vegetarian diet won't do. I feel
as weak as a cat. If you knew the heroism it has cost me, down at the
seaside, to refrain from chops and steaks. Now I give it up. Another
month of cabbage and lentils and I should be sunk beyond recovery. I
give it up. This very night I shall go and have a supper, a real
supper, in town. Will you come with me, old man? What's before me, I
don't know. I have half a mind to go to Canada as farm labourer; it
would be just the thing for my health; but let us go and have one more
supper together, as in the old days. Where shall it be?"

So they went into town, and supped royally, with the result that
Warburton had to see his friend home. Over the second bottle, Godfrey
decided for an agricultural life in the Far West, and Will promised to
speak for him to a friend of his, a lady who had brothers farming in
British Columbia; but, before he went, he must be assured that
Warburton really forgave him the loss of that money. Will protested
that he had forgotten all about it; if any pardon were needed, he
granted it with all his heart. And so with affectionate cordiality they
bade each other good-night.

To his surprise, he received a letter from Sherwood, a day or two
after, seriously returning to the British Columbia project, and
reminding him of his promise. So, on Sunday, Will called for the first
time without invitation at Mrs. Cross', and, being received with no
less friendliness than hitherto, began asking news of Bertha's
brothers; whereupon followed talk upon Canadian farming life, and the
mention of Godfrey Sherwood. Bertha undertook to write on the subject
by the next mail; she thought it likely enough that her brothers might
be able to put Mr. Sherwood into the way of earning a living.

"What do you think we did yesterday?" said Mrs. Cross. "We took the
liberty of calling upon Mr. Potts. We had to go and see Mrs. Bolton, at
Holloway, and, as it was so near, we thought we might venture--using
your name as our introduction. And the poor old gentleman was delighted
to see us--wasn't he, Bertha? Oh, and he is so grateful for our
suggestion of the lodgings."

Bertha's smile betrayed a little disquiet. Perceiving this, Warburton
spoke with emphasis.

"It was kind of you. The old man feels a little lonely in that foreign
region; he's hardly been out of Kennington for forty years. A very kind
thought, indeed."

"I am relieved," said Bertha; "it seemed to me just possible that we
had been guilty of a serious indiscretion. Good intentions are very
dangerous things."

When next Warburton found time to go to Holloway, he heard all about
the ladies' visit. He learnt, moreover, that Mr. Potts had told them
the story of his kindness to the sick lad at St. Kitts, and of his
first visit to Kennington Lane.



CHAPTER 45


When Bertha, at her mother's request, undertook the control of the
house, she knew very well what was before her.

During a whole fortnight, Mrs. Cross faithfully adhered to the compact.
For the first time in her life, she declared, she was enjoying peace.
Feeling much shaken in her nervous system, she rose late, retired
early, and, when downstairs, reclined a good deal on the sofa. She
professed herself unable to remember the new servant's name, and
assumed an air of profound abstraction whenever "what do you call her"
came into the room. Not a question did she permit herself as to the
details of household management. Bertha happening (incautiously) to
complain of a certain joint supplied by the butcher, Mrs. Cross turned
a dreamy eye upon it, and said, in the tone of one who speaks of long
ago, "In my time he could always be depended upon for a small
shoulder"; then dismissed the matter as in no way concerning her.

But repose had a restorative effect, and, in the third week, Mrs. Cross
felt the revival of her energies. She was but fifty-three years old,
and in spite of languishing habits, in reality had very fair health.
Caring little for books, and not much for society, how was she to pass
her time if denied the resource of household affairs? Bertha observed
the signs of coming trouble. One morning, her mother came downstairs
earlier than usual, and after fidgeting about the room, where her
daughter was busy at her drawing-board, suddenly exclaimed:

"I wish you would tell that girl to make my bed properly. I haven't
closed my eyes for three nights, and I ache from head to foot. The way
she neglects my room is really shameful--"

There followed intimate details, to which Bertha listened gravely.

"That shall be seen to at once, mother," she replied, and left the room.

The complaint, as she suspected, had very little foundation. It was
only the beginning; day after day did Mrs. Cross grumble about this,
that and the other thing, until Bertha saw that the anticipated moment
was at hand. The great struggle arose out of that old point of debate,
the servant's meals. Mrs. Cross, stealing into the kitchen, had caught
a glimpse of Sarah's dinner, and so amazed was she, so stirred with
indignation to the depth of her soul, that she cast off all show of
respect for the new order, and overwhelmed Bertha with rebukes. Her
daughter listened quietly until the torrent had spent its force, then
said with a smile:

"Is this how you keep your promise, mother?"

"Promise? Did I promise to look on at wicked waste? Do you want to
bring us to the workhouse, child?"

"Don't let us waste time in talking about what we settled a month ago,"
replied Bertha decisively. "Sarah is doing very well, and there must be
no change. I am quite content to pay her wages myself. Keep your
promise, mother, and let us live quietly and decently."

"If you call it living decently to pamper a servant until she bursts
with insolence--"

"When was Sarah insolent to you? She has never been disrespectful to
me. Quite the contrary, I think her a very good servant indeed. You
know that I have a good deal of work to do just now, and--to speak
quite plainly--I can't let you upset the orderly life of the house. Be
quiet, there's a dear. I insist upon it."

Speaking thus, Bertha laid her hands on her mother's shoulders, and
looked into the foolish, angry face so steadily, so imperturbably, with
such a light of true kindness in her gentle eyes, yet at the same time
such resolution about the well-drawn lips that Mrs. Cross had no choice
but to submit. Grumbling she turned; sullenly she held her tongue for
the rest of the day; but Bertha, at all events for a time, had
conquered.

The Crosses knew little and saw less of their kith and kin. With her
husband's family, Mrs. Cross had naturally been on cold terms from an
early period of her married life; she held no communication with any of
the name, and always gave Bertha to understand that, in one way or
another, the paternal uncles and aunts had "behaved very badly." Of her
own blood, she had only a brother ten years younger than herself, who
was an estate agent at Worcester. Some seven years had elapsed since
their last meeting, on which occasion Mrs. Cross had a little
difference of opinion with her sister-in-law. James Rawlings was now a
widower, with three children, and during the past year or two not
unfriendly letters had been exchanged between Worcester and Walham
Green. Utterly at a loss for a means of passing her time, Mrs. Cross,
in these days of domestic suppression, renewed the correspondence, and
was surprised by an invitation to pass a few days at her brother's
house. This she made known to Bertha about a week after the decisive
struggle.

"Of course, you are invited, too, but--I'm afraid you are too busy?"

Amused by her mother's obvious wish to go to Worcester unaccompanied,
Bertha answered that she really didn't see how she was to spare the
time just now.

"But I don't like to leave you alone here--"

Her daughter laughed at this scruple. She was just as glad of the
prospect of a week's solitude as her mother in the thought of temporary
escape from the proximity of pampered Sarah. The matter was soon
arranged, and Mrs. Cross left home.

This was a Friday. The next day, sunshine and freedom putting her in
holiday mood, Bertha escaped into the country, and had a long ramble
like that, a year ago, on which she had encountered Norbert Franks.
Sunday morning she spent quietly at home. For the afternoon she had
invited a girl friend. About five o'clock, as they were having tea,
Bertha heard a knock at the front door. She heard the servant go to
open, and, a moment after, Sarah announced, "Mr. Warburton."

It was the first time that Warburton had found a stranger in the room,
and Bertha had no difficulty in reading the unwonted look with which he
advanced to shake hands.

"No bad news, I hope?" she asked gravely, after presenting him to the
other visitor.

"Bad news?--"

"I thought you looked rather troubled--"

Her carefully composed features resisted Will's scrutiny.

"Do I? I didn't know it--but, yes," he added, abruptly, "you are right.
Something has vexed me--a trifle."

"Look at these drawings of Miss Medwin's. They will make you forget all
vexatious trifles."

Miss Medwin was, like Bertha, a book illustrator, and had brought work
to show her friend. Warburton glanced at the drawings with a decent
show of interest. Presently he inquired after Mrs. Cross, and learnt
that she was out of town for a week or so; at once his countenance
brightened, and so shamelessly that Bertha had to look aside, lest her
disposition to laugh should be observed. Conversation of a rather
artificial kind went on for half an hour, then Miss Medwin jumped up
and said she must go. Bertha protested, but her friend alleged the
necessity of making another call, and took leave.

Warburton stood with a hand upon his chair. Bertha, turning back from
the door, passed by him, and resumed her seat.

"A very clever girl," she said, with a glance at the window.

"Very, no doubt," said Will, glancing the same way.

"Won't you sit down?"

"Gladly, if you don't think I am staying too long. I had something I
wanted to talk about. That was why I felt glum when I came in and found
a stranger here. It's such a long time since I had any part in ordinary
society, that I'm forgetting how to behave myself."

"I must apologise for you to Miss Medwin, when I see her next," said
Bertha, with drollery in her eyes.

"She will understand if you tell her I'm only a grocer," remarked Will,
looking at a point above her head.

"That might complicate things."

"Do you know," resumed Warburton. "I feel sure that the Franks will
never again invite me to lunch or dine there. Franks is very careful
when he asks me to go and see them; he always adds that they'll be
alone--quite alone."

"But that's a privilege."

"So it may be taken; but would it surprise you if they really preferred
to see as little of me as possible?"

Bertha hesitated, smiling, and said at length with a certain
good-humoured irony:

"I think I should understand."

"So do I, quite," exclaimed Will, laughing. "I wanted to tell you that
I've been looking about me, trying to find some way of getting out of
the shop. It isn't so easy. I might get a clerkship at a couple of
pounds a week, but that doesn't strike me as preferable to my present
position. I've been corresponding with Applegarth, the jam
manufacturer, and he very strongly advises me to stick to trade. I'm
not sure that he isn't right."

There was silence. Each sat with drooping eyes.

"Do you know," Warburton then asked, "why I turned grocer?"

"Yes."

"It was a fortunate idea. I don't see how else I should have made
enough money, these three years, to pay the income I owed to my mother
and sister, and to support myself. Since my mother's death--"

Her look arrested him.

"I am forgetting that you could not have known of that. She died last
autumn; by my father's will, our old house, at St. Neots then became
mine; it's let; the rent goes to my sister, and out of the shop profits
I easily make up what her own part of the lost capital used to yield.
Jane is going in for horticulture, making a business of what was always
her chief pleasure, and before long she may be independent; but it
would be shabby to get rid of my responsibilities at her expense--don't
you think so?"

"Worse than shabby."

"Good. I like to hear you speak so decidedly. Now, if you please"--his
own voice was not quite steady--"tell me in the same tone whether you
agree with Applegarth--whether you think I should do better to stick to
the shop and not worry with looking for a more respectable employment."

Bertha seemed to reflect for a moment, smiling soberly.

"It depends entirely on how you feel about it."

"Not entirely," said Warburton, his features nervously rigid; "but
first let me tell you how I do feel about it. You know I began
shopkeeping as if I were ashamed of myself. I kept it a dead secret;
hid away from everybody; told elaborate lies to my people; and the
result was what might have been expected--before long I sank into a
vile hypochrondria, saw everything black or dirty grey, thought life
intolerable. When common sense found out what was the matter with me, I
resolved to have done with snobbery and lying; but a sanguine friend of
mine, the only one in my confidence, made me believe that something was
going to happen--in fact, the recovery of the lost thousands; and I
foolishly held on for a time. Since the awful truth has been divulged,
I have felt a different man. I can't say that I glory in grocerdom? but
the plain fact is that I see nothing degrading in it, and I do my day's
work as a matter of course. Is it any worse to stand behind a counter
than to sit in a counting-house? Why should retail trade be vulgar, and
wholesale quite repeatable? This is what I've come to, as far as my own
thought and feeling go."

"Then," said Bertha, after a moment's pause, "why trouble yourself any
more?"

"Because--"

His throat turned so dry that he had to stop with a gasp. His fingers
were doing their best to destroy the tassels on the arm of his easy
chair. With, an effort, he jerked out the next words.

"One may be content to be a grocer; but what about one's wife?"

With head bent, so that her smile was half concealed, Bertha answered
softly--

"Ah, that's a question."



CHAPTER 46


After he had put the question, the reply to which meant so much to him,
Will's eyes, avoiding Bertha, turned to the window. Though there wanted
still a couple of hours to sunset, a sky overcast was already dusking
the little parlour. Distant bells made summons to evening service, and
footfalls sounded in the otherwise silent street.

"It's a question," he resumed, "which has troubled me for a long time.
Do you remember--when was it? A year ago?--going one Sunday with Mrs.
Cross to Kew?"

"I remember it very well."

"I happened to be at Kew that day," Will continued, still nervously.
"You passed me as I stood on the bridge. I saw you go into the Gardens,
and I said to myself how pleasant it would be if I could have ventured
to join you in your walk. You knew me--as your grocer. For me to have
approached and spoken, would have been an outrage. That day I had
villainous thoughts."

Bertha raised her eyes; just raised them till they met his, then bent
her head again.

"We thought your name was really Jolly man," she said, in a
half-apologetic tone.

"Of course you did. A good invention, by the bye, that name, wasn't it?"

"Very good indeed," she answered, smiling. "And you used to come to the
shop." pursued Will.

"And I looked forward to it. There was something human in your way of
talking to me."

"I hope so."

"Yes, but--it made me ask myself that question. I comforted myself by
saying that of course the shop was only a temporary expedient; I should
get out of it; I should find another way of making money; but, you see,
I'm as far from that as ever; and if I decide to go on
shopkeeping--don't I condemn myself to solitude?"

"It _is_ a difficulty," said Bertha, in the tone of one who lightly
ponders an abstract question.

"Now and then, some time ago, I half persuaded myself that, even though
a difficulty, it needn't be a fatal one." He was speaking now with his
eyes steadily fixed upon her; "but that was when you still came to the
shop. Suddenly you ceased--"

His voice dropped. In the silence, Bertha uttered a little "Yes."

"I have been wondering what that meant--"

His speech was a mere parched gasp. Bertha looked at him, and her
eyebrows contracted, as if in sympathetic trouble. Gently she asked:

"No explanation occurred to you?"

With a convulsive movement, Will changed his position, and by so doing
seemed to have released his tongue.

"Several," he said, with a strange smile. "The one which most plagued
me, I should very likely do better to keep to myself; but I won't; you
shall know it. Perhaps you are prepared for it. Do you know that I went
abroad last summer?"

"I heard of it."

"From Miss Elvan?"

"From Mrs. Franks."

"Mrs. Franks--yes. She told you, then, that I had been to St. Jean de
Luz? She told you that I had seen her sister?"

"Yes," replied Bertha, and added quickly. "You had long wished to see
that part of France."

"That wasn't my reason for going. I went in a fit of lunacy. I went
because I thought Miss Elvan was there. They told me at her Chelsea
lodgings that she had gone to St. Jean de Luz. This was on the day
after she came into the shop with you. I had been seeing her. We met
here and there, when she was sketching. I went crazy. Don't for a
moment think the fault was hers--don't dream of anything of the kind.
I, I alone, ass, idiot, was to blame. She must have seen what had
happened, and, in leaving her lodgings, she purposely gave a false
address, never imagining that I was capable of pursuing her across
Europe. At St. Jean de Luz I heard of her marriage--"

He stopped, breathless. The short sentences had been flung out
explosively. He was hot and red.

"Did you suspect anything of all that?" followed in a more restrained
tone. "If so, of course I understand--"

Bertha seemed to be deep iii meditation. A faint smile was on her lips.
She made no answer.

"Are you saying to yourself," Will went on vehemently, "that, instead
of being merely a foolish man, I have shown myself to be shameless? It
was foolish, no doubt, to dream that an educated girl might marry a
grocer; but when he begins his suit by telling such a story as this--!
Perhaps I needn't have told it at all. Perhaps you had never had a
suspicion of such things? All the same, it's better so. I've had enough
of lies to last me for all my life; but now that I've told you, try to
believe something else; and that is--that I never loved Rosamund
Elvan--never--never!"

Bertha seemed on the point of laughing; but she drew in her breath,
composed her features, let her eyes wander to a picture on the wall.

"Can you believe that?" Will asked, his voice quivering with
earnestness, as he bent forward to her.

"I should have to think about it," was the answer, calm, friendly.

"The fit of madness from which I suffered is very common in men. Often
it has serious results. No end of marriages come about in that way.
Happily I was in no danger of that. I simply made a most colossal fool
of myself. And all the time--all the time, I tell you, believe it or
not, as you will or can--I was in love with _you_."

Again Bertha drew in her breath, more softly than before.

"I went one day from St. Jean de Luz over the border into Spain, and
came to a village among the mountains, called Vera. And there my
madness left me. And I thought of you--thought of you all the way back
to St. Jean de Luz, thought of you as I had been accustomed to do in
England, as if nothing had happened. Do you think it pained me then
that Rosamund was Mrs. Franks? No more than if I had never seen her; by
that time, fresh air and exercise were doing their work, and at Vera I
stood a sane man once more. I find it hard to believe now that I really
behaved in that frantic way. Do you remember coming once to the shop to
ask for a box to send to America? As you talked to me that morning, I
knew what I know better still now, that there was no girl that I
_liked_ as I liked you, no girl whose face had so much meaning for me,
whose voice and way of speaking so satisfied me. But you don't
understand--I can't express it--it sounds stupid--"

"I understand very well," said Bertha, once more on the impartial note.

"But the other thing, my insanity?"

"I should have to think about that," she answered, with a twinkle in
her eyes.

Will paused a moment, then asked in a shamefaced way:

"Did you suspect anything of the sort?"

Bertha moved her head as if to reply, but after all, kept silence.
Thereupon Warburton stood up and clutched his hat.

"Will you let me see you again--soon? May I come some afternoon in this
week, and take my chance of finding you at home?--Don't answer. I shall
come, and you have only to refuse me at the door. It's only--an
importunate tradesman."

Without shaking hands, he turned and left the room.

Dreamily he walked homewards; dreamily, often with a smile upon his
face, he sat through the evening, now and then he pretended to read,
but always in a few minutes forgetting the page before him. He slept
well; he arose in a cheerful but still dreamy, mood; and without a
thought of reluctance he went to his day's work.

Allchin met him with a long-drawn face, saying: "She's dead, sir." He
spoke of his consumptive sister-in-law, whom Warburton had befriended,
but whom nothing had availed to save.

"Poor girl," said Will kindly. "It's the end of much suffering."

"That's what I say, sir," assented Allchin. "And poor Mrs. Hopper,
she's fair worn out with nursing her. Nobody can feel sorry."

Warburton turned to his correspondence.

The next day, at about four o'clock, he again called at the Crosses.
Without hesitation the servant admitted him, and he found Bertha seated
at her drawing. A little gravely perhaps, but not at all inhospitably,
she rose and offered her hand.

"Forgive me," he began, "for coming again so soon."

"Tell me what you think of this idea of a book-cover," said Bertha,
before he had ceased speaking.

He inspected the drawing, found it pretty, yet ventured one or two
objections; and Bertha, after smiling to herself for a little, declared
that he had found the weak points.

"You are really fond of this work?" asked Will. "You would be sorry to
give it up?"

"Think of the world's loss," Bertha answered with raised eyebrows.

He sat down and kept a short silence, whilst the girl resumed her
pencil.

"There were things I ought to have told you on Sunday." Will's voice
threatened huskiness. "Things I forgot. That's why I have come again so
soon. I ought to have told you much more about myself. How can you know
my character--my peculiarities--faults? I've been going over all that.
I don't think I'm ill-tempered, or unjust or violent, but there are
things that irritate me. Unpunctuality for instance. Dinner ten minutes
late makes me fume; failure to keep an appointment makes me hate a
person, I'm rather a grumbler about food; can't stand a potato
ill-boiled or an under-done chop. Then--ah yes! restraint is
intolerable to me. I must come and go at my own will. I must do and
refrain just as I think fit. One enormous advantage of my shopkeeping
is that I'm my own master. I can't subordinate myself, won't be ruled.
Fault-finding would exasperate me; dictation would madden me. Then yes,
the money matter. I'm not extravagant, but I hate parsimony. If it
pleases me to give away a sovereign I must be free to do it. Then--yes,
I'm not very tidy in my habits; I have no respect for furniture; I
like, when it's comfortable, to sit with my boots on the fender; and--I
loathe antimacassars."

In the room were two or three of these articles, dear to Mrs. Cross.
Bertha glanced at them, then bent her head and bit the end of her
pencil.

"You can't think of anything else?" she asked, when Will had been
silent for a few seconds.

"Those are my most serious points." He rose. "I only came to tell you
of them, that you might add them to the objection of the shop."

Bertha also rose. He moved toward her to take leave.

"You will think?"

Turning half way, Bertha covered her face with her hands, like a child
who is bidden "not to look." So she stood for a moment; then, facing
Will again, said:

"I have thought."

"And--?"

"There is only one thing I am sorry for--that you are nothing worse
than a grocer. A grocer's is such a clean, dainty, aromatic trade. Now
if you kept an oil shop--there would be some credit in overlooking it.
And you are so little even of a grocer, that I should constantly forget
it. I should think of you simply as a very honest man--the most honest
man I ever knew."

Warburton's face glowed.

"Should--should?" he murmured. "Can't it be _shall_?"

And Bertha, smiling now without a touch of roguishness, smiling in the
mere joy of her heart, laid a hand in his.



CHAPTER 47


When Mrs. Cross came home she brought with her a changed countenance.
The lines graven by habitual fretfulness and sourness of temper, by
long-indulged vices of the feminine will, could not of course be
obliterated, but her complexion had a healthier tone, her eyes were
brighter, and the smile with which she answered Bertha's welcome
expressed a more spontaneous kindliness than had appeared on her face
for many a year. She had recovered, indeed, during her visit to the
home of her childhood, something of the grace and virtue in which she
was not lacking before her marriage to a man who spoilt her by excess
of good nature. Subject to a husband firm of will and occasionally
rough of tongue, she might have led a fairly happy and useful life. It
was the perception of this truth which had strengthened Bertha in her
ultimate revolt. Perhaps, too, it had not been without influence on her
own feeling and behaviour during the past week.

Mrs. Cross had much to relate. At the tea-table she told all about her
brother's household, described the children, lauded the cook and
housemaid--"Ah, Bertha, if one could get such servants here! But London
ruins them."

James Rawlings was well-to-do; he lived in a nice, comfortable way, in
a pretty house just outside the town. "Oh, and the air, Bertha. I
hadn't been there a day before I felt a different creature." James had
been kindness itself. Not a word about old differences. He regretted
that his niece had not come, but she must come very soon. And the
children--Alice, Tom, and little Hilda, so well-behaved, so
intelligent. She had brought photographs of them all. She had brought
presents--all sorts of things.

After tea, gossip continued. Speaking of the ages of the children, the
eldest eight, the youngest four, Mrs. Cross regretted their motherless
state. A lady-nurse had care of them, but with this person their father
was not quite satisfied. He spoke of making a change. And here Mrs.
Cross paused, with a little laugh.

"Perhaps uncle thinks of marrying again?" said Bertha.

"Not a bit of it, my dear," replied her mother eagerly. "He expressly
told me that he should _never_ do that. I shouldn't wonder if--but let
bygones be bygones. No, he spoke of something quite different. Last
night we were talking, when the children had gone to bed, and all at
once he startled me by saying--'If only you could come and keep house
for me.' The idea!"

"A wonderfully good idea it seems to me," said Bertha, reflectively.

"But how is it possible, Bertha? Are you serious?"

"Quite. I think it might be the very best thing for you. You need
something to do, mother. If Uncle James really wishes it, you ought
certainly to accept."

Fluttered, not knowing whether to look pleased or offended, surprised
at her daughter's decisiveness, Mrs. Cross began urging objections. She
doubted whether James was quite in earnest; he had admitted that Bertha
could not be left alone, yet she could hardly go and live in his house
as well.

"Oh, don't trouble about me, mother," said the listener. "Nothing is
simpler."

"But what would you do?"

"Oh, there are all sorts of possibilities. At the worst"--Bertha paused
a moment, face averted, and lips roguish--"I could get married."

And so the disclosure came about. Mrs. Cross seemed so startled as to
be almost pained; one would have thought that no remotest possibility
of such a thing had ever occurred to her.

"Then Mr. Warburton _has_ found a position?" she asked at length.

"No, he keeps to the shop."

"But--my dear--you don't mean to tell me--?"

The question ended in a mere gasp. Mrs. Cross' eyes were darkened with
incredulous horror.

"Yes," said Bertha, calmly, pleasantly, "we have decided that there's
no choice. The business is a very good one; it improves from day to
day; now that there are two assistants, Mr. Warburton need not work so
hard as he used to."

"But, my dearest Bertha, you mean to say that you are going to be the
wife of a _grocer_?"

"Yes, mother, I really have made up my mind to it. After all, is it so
_very_ disgraceful?"

"What will your friends say? What will--"

"Mrs. Grundy?" interposed Bertha.

"I was going to say Mrs. Franks--"

Bertha nodded, and answered laughingly:

"That's very much the same thing, I'm afraid."



CHAPTER 48


Norbert Franks was putting the last touches to a portrait of his wife;
a serious portrait, full length, likely to be regarded as one of his
most important works. Now and then he glanced at the original, who sat
reading; his eye was dull, his hand moved mechanically, he hummed a
monotonous air.

Rosamund having come to the end of her book, closed it, and looked up.

"Will that do?" she asked, after suppressing a little yawn.

The painter merely nodded. She came to his side, and contemplated the
picture, inclining her head this way and that with an air of
satisfaction.

"Better than the old canvas I put my foot through, don't you think?"
asked Franks.

"Of course there's no comparison. You've developed wonderfully. In
those days--"

Franks waited for the rest of the remark, but his wife lost herself in
contemplation of the portrait. Assuredly he had done nothing more
remarkable in the way of bold flattery. Any one who had seen Mrs.
Franks only once or twice, and at her best, might accept the painting
as a fair "interpretation" of her undeniable beauty; those who knew her
well would stand bewildered before such a counterfeit presentment.

"Old Warburton must come and see it," said the artist presently.

Rosamund uttered a careless assent. Long since she had ceased to wonder
whether Norbert harboured any suspicions concerning his friend's brief
holiday in the south of France. Obviously he knew nothing of the
dramatic moment which had preceded, and brought about, his marriage,
nor would he ever know.

"I really ought to go and look him up." Franks added. "I keep on saying
I'll go to-morrow and to-morrow. Any one else would think me an
ungrateful snob; but old Warburton is too good a fellow. To tell the
truth, I feel a little ashamed when I think of how he's living. He
ought to have a percentage on my income. What would have become of me
if he hadn't put his hand into his pocket when he was well off and I
was a beggar?"

"But don't you think his business must be profitable?" asked Rosamund,
her thoughts only half attentive to the subject.

"The old chap isn't much of a business man, I fancy," Franks answered
with a smile. "And he has his mother and sister to support. And no
doubt he's always giving away money. His lodgings are miserable. It
makes me uncomfortable to go there. Suppose we ask him to lunch on
Sunday?"

Rosamund reflected for a moment.

"If you like--I had thought of asking the Fitzjames girls."

"You don't think we might have him at the same time?"

Rosamund pursed her lips a little, averting her eyes as she answered:

"Would he care for it? And he said--didn't he?--that he meant to tell
everybody, everywhere, how he earned his living. Wouldn't it be just a
little--?"

Franks laughed uneasily.

"Yes, it might be just a little--. Well, he must come and see the
picture quietly. And I'll go and look up the poor old fellow to-night,
I really will."

This time, the purpose was carried out. Franks returned a little after
midnight, and was surprised to find Rosamund sitting in the studio. A
friend had looked in late in the evening, she said, and had stayed
talking.

"All about her husband's pictures, so tiresome? She thinks them
monuments of genius!"

"His last thing isn't half bad," said Franks, good-naturedly.

"Perhaps not. Of course I pretended to think him the greatest painter
of modern times. Nothing else will satisfy the silly little woman. You
found Mr. Warburton?"

Franks nodded, smiling mysteriously.

"I have news for you."

Knitting her brows a little his wife looked interrogation.

"He's going to be married. Guess to whom."

"Not to--?"

"Well--?"

"Bertha Cross--?"

Again Franks nodded and laughed. An odd smile rose to his wife's lips;
she mused for a moment, then asked:

"And what position has he got?"

"Position? His position behind the counter, that's all. Say's he shan't
budge. By the bye, his mother died last autumn; he's in easier
circumstances; the shop does well, it seems. He thought of trying for
something else, but talked it over with Bertha Cross, and they decided
to stick to groceries. They'll live in the house at Walham Green. Mrs.
Cross is going away--to keep house for a brother of hers."

Rosamund heaved a sigh, murmuring:

"Poor Bertha!"

"A grocer's wife," said Franks, his eyes wandering. "Oh, confound it!
Really you know--" He took an impatient turn across the floor. Again
his wife sighed and murmured:

"Poor Bertha!"

"Of course," said Franks, coming to a pause, "there's a good deal to be
said for sticking to a business which yields a decent income, and
promises much more."

"Money!" exclaimed Rosamund scornfully. "What is money?"

"We find it useful," quietly remarked the other.

"Certainly we do; but you are an artist, Norbert, and money is only an
accident of your career. Do we ever talk about it, or think about it?
Poor Bertha! With her talent!"

The artist paced about, his hands in his jacket pockets. He was smiling
uneasily.

"Did you know anything of this kind was going on?" he asked, without
looking at his wife.

"I had heard nothing whatever. It's ages since Bertha was here."

"Yet you don't seem very much surprised."

"And you?" asked Rosamund, meeting his eyes. "Were you profoundly
astonished?"

"Why, yes. It came very unexpectedly. I had no idea they saw each
other--except in the shop."

"And it vexes you?" said Rosamund, her eyes upon his face.

"Vexes? Oh, I can't say that." He fidgeted, turned about, laughed. "Why
should it vex me? After all, Warburton is such a thoroughly good
fellow, and if he makes money--"

"Money!"

"We _do_ find it useful, you know," insisted Franks, with a certain
obstinacy.

Rosamund was standing before the picture, and gazing at it.

"That she should have no higher ambition! Poor Bertha!"

"We can't all achieve ambitions," cried Franks from the other end of
the room. "Not every girl can marry a popular portrait-painter."

"A great artist!" exclaimed his wife, with emphasis.

As she moved slowly away, she kept her look still turned upon the face
which smiled from the easel. Watching her tremulous eyebrows, her
uncertain lips, one might have fancied that Rosamund sought the
solution of some troublesome doubt, and hoped, only hoped, to find it
in that image of herself so daringly glorified.





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About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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