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Title: Fan : The Story of a Young Girl's Life
Author: Hudson, W. H. (William Henry), 1841-1922
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 "Fan : The Story of a Young Girl's Life" ***

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FAN

THE STORY OF A YOUNG GIRL'S LIFE

By Henry Harford

(W.H. Hudson)



NOTE

The novel _Fan_ was originally published in 1892, under the pseudonym
of "Henry Harford." It now makes its appearance under the name of W.H.
Hudson for the first time.

This edition is limited to 498 copies of which 450 copies are for sale.



CHAPTER I


A Misty evening in mid-October; a top room in one of the small dingy
houses on the north side of Moon Street, its floor partially covered
with pieces of drugget carpet trodden into rags; for furniture, an iron
bed placed against the wall, a deal cupboard or wardrobe, a broken iron
cot in a corner, a wooden box and three or four chairs, and a small
square deal table; on the table one candle in a tin candlestick gave
light to the two occupants of the room. One of these a woman sitting in
a listless attitude before the grate, fireless now, although the evening
was damp and chilly. She appeared strong, but just now was almost
repulsive to look at as she sat there in her dirty ill-fitting gown,
with her feet thrust out before her, showing her broken muddy boots. Her
features were regular, even handsome; that, however, was little in her
favour when set against the hard red colour of her skin, which told
of habitual intemperance, and the expression, half sullen and half
reckless, of her dark eyes, as she sat there staring into the empty
grate. There were no white threads yet in her thick long hair that had
once been black and glossy, unkempt now, like everything about her, with
a dusky dead look in it.

On the cot in the corner rested or crouched a girl not yet fifteen years
old, the woman's only child: she was trying to keep herself warm there,
sitting close against the wall with her knees drawn up to enable her to
cover herself, head included, with a shawl and an old quilt. Both were
silent: at intervals the girl would start up out of her wrappings and
stare towards the door with a startled look on her face, apparently
listening. From the street sounded the shrill animal-like cries of
children playing and quarrelling, and, further away, the low, dull,
continuous roar of traffic in the Edgware Road. Then she would drop
back again, to crouch against the wall, drawing the quilt about her,
and remain motionless until a step on the stair or the banging of a door
below would startle her once more.

Meanwhile her mother maintained her silence and passive attitude, only
stirring when the light grew very dim; then she would turn half round,
snuff the wick off with her fingers, and wipe them on her shabby dirty
dress.

At length the girl started up, throwing her quilt quite off, and
remained seated on the edge of her cot, the look of anxiety increasing
every moment on her thin pale face. In the matter of dress she seemed
even worse off than her mother, and wore an old tattered earth-coloured
gown, which came down to within three or four inches of her ankles,
showing under it ragged stockings and shoes trodden down at heel, so
much too large for her feet that they had evidently belonged to her
mother. She looked tall for her years, but this was owing to her extreme
thinness. Her arms were like sticks, and her sunken cheeks showed the
bones of her face; but it was a pathetic face, both on account of the
want and anxiety so plainly written on it and its promise of beauty.
There was not a particle of colour in it, even the thin lips were almost
white, but the eyes were of the purest grey, shaded by long dark lashes;
while her hair, hanging uneven and disordered to her shoulders, was of a
pure golden brown.

"Mother, he's coming!" said the girl.

"Let him come!" returned the other, without looking up or stirring.

Slowly the approaching footsteps came nearer, stumbling up the dark,
narrow staircase; then the door was pushed open and a man entered--a
broad-chested, broad-faced rough-looking man with stubbly whiskers,
wearing the dress and rusty boots of a labourer.

He drew a chair to the table and sat down in silence. Presently he
turned to his wife.

"Well, what have you got to say?" he asked, in a somewhat unsteady
voice.

"Nothing," she returned. "What have you got?"

"I've got tired of walking about for a job, and I want something to eat
and drink, and that's what _I've_ got."

"Then you'd better go where you can get it," said she. "You can't find
work, but you can find drink, and you ain't sober now."

For only answer he began whistling and drumming noisily on the table.
Suddenly he paused and looked at her.

"Ain't you done that charing job, then?" he asked with a grin.

"Yes; and what's more, I got a florin and gave it to Mrs. Clark," she
replied.

"You blarsted fool! what did you do that for?"

"Because I'm not going to have my few sticks taken for rent and be
turned into the street with my girl. That's what I did it for; and if
you won't work you'll starve, so don't you come to me for anything."

Again he drummed noisily on the table, and hummed or tried to hum a
tune. Presently he spoke again:

"What's Fan been a-doing, then?"

"You know fast enough; tramping about the streets to sell a box of
matches. A nice thing!"

"How much did she get?"

To this question no answer was returned.

"What did she get, I arsk you?" he repeated, getting up and putting his
hand heavily on her shoulder.

"Enough for bread," she replied, shaking his hand off.

"How much?" But as she refused to answer, he turned to the girl and
repeated in a threatening tone, "How much?"

She sat trembling, her eyes cast down, but silent.

"I'll learn you to answer when you're spoken to, you damn barstard!" he
said, approaching her with raised hand.

"Don't you hit her, you brute!" exclaimed his wife, springing in sudden
anger to her feet.

"Oh, father, don't hit me--oh, please don't--I'll tell--I'll tell! I got
eighteenpence," cried the girl, shrinking back terrified.

He turned and went back to his seat, grinning at his success in getting
at the truth. Presently he asked his wife if she had spent eighteenpence
in bread.

"No, I didn't. I got a haddock for morning, and two ounces of tea, and a
loaf, and a bundle of wood," she returned sullenly.

After an interval of a couple of minutes he got up, went to the
cupboard, and opened it.

"There's the haddy right enough," he said. "No great things--cost
you thrippence, I s'pose. Tea tuppence-ha'penny, and that's
fivepence-ha'penny, and a ha'penny for wood, and tuppence-ha'penny for
a loaf makes eightpence-ha'penny. There's more'n ninepence over, Margy,
and all I want is a pint of beer and a screw. Threepence--come now."

"I've nothing to give you," she returned doggedly.

"Then what did you do with it? How much gin did you drink--eh?"

"As much as I could get," she answered defiantly.

He looked at her, whistled and drummed, then got up and went out.

"Mother, he's gone," whispered Fan.

"No such luck. He's only going to ask Mrs. Clark if I gave her the
florin. He won't be long you'll see."

Very soon he did return and sat down again. "A pint and a screw, that's
all I want," he said, as if speaking to himself, and there was no
answer. Then he got up, put his hand on her shoulder, and almost shook
her out of her chair. "Don't you hear?" he shouted.

"Let me alone, you drunken brute; I've got nothing, I tell you," she
returned, and after watching his face a few moments settled down again.

"All right, old woman, I'll leave you," he said, dropping his hands. But
suddenly changing his mind, he swung round and dealt her a heavy blow.

She sprang up with a scream of anger and pain, and taking no notice
of Fan's piteous cries and pleadings, rushed at him; they struggled
together for some moments, but the man was the strongest; very soon he
flung her violently from him, and reeling away to some distance, and
unable to recover her balance, she finally fell heavily on to the floor.

"Oh, mother, mother, he has killed you," sobbed Fan, throwing herself
down beside the fallen woman and trying to raise her head.

"That I will, and you too," remarked the man, going back to his seat.

The woman, recovering from the shock, struggled to her feet and sat
down again on her chair. She was silent, looking now neither angry nor
frightened, but seemed half-dazed, and bending forward a little she
covered her eyes with her hand.

"Oh, mother, poor mother--are you hurt?" whispered Fan, trying to draw
the hand away to look into the bowed face.

"You go back to your corner and leave your mother to me," he said; and
Fan, after hesitating a few moments, rose and shrank away.

Presently he got up again, and seizing his wife by the wrist, dragged
her hand forcibly from her face.

"Where's the coppers, you blarsted drunkard?" he shouted in her ear.
"D'ye think to get off with the little crack on the crown I've giv' you?
I'll do for you to-night if you won't hand over."

"Oh, father, father!" cried the girl, starting up in an agony of terror.
"Oh, have mercy and don't hit her, and I'll go out and try to get
threepence. Oh, father, there's nothing in the house!"

"Then go, and don't be long about it," he said, going back to his seat.

The mother roused herself at this.

"You sha'n't stir a step to-night, Fan," she said, but in a voice not
altogether resolute. "What'll come to you, going into the streets at
this time of night?"

"Something grand, like what's come to her mother, perhaps," said he with
a laugh.

"Not a step, Fan, if I die for it," retorted the mother, stung by his
words. But the girl quickly and with trembling hands had already thrust
on her old shapeless hat, and wrapped her shawl about her; then she took
a couple of boxes of safety matches, old and greasy from long use, and
moved towards the door as her mother rose to prevent her from going out.

"Oh, mother, let me go," she pleaded. "It's best for all of us. It'll
kill me to stay in. Let me go, mother; I sha'n't be long."

Her mother still protested; but Fan, seeing her irresolution, slipped
past her and was out of the door in a moment.

Once out of the house she ran swiftly along the dark sloppy street until
she came to the wide thronged thoroughfare, bright with the flaring
gas of the shops; then, after a few moments' hesitation, walked rapidly
northwards.

Even in that squalid street where she lived, those who knew Fan from
living in the same house, or in one of those immediately adjoining
it, considered it a disgraceful thing for her parents to send her out
begging; for that was what they called it, although the begging was made
lawful by the match-selling pretext. To them it was a very flimsy one,
since the cost of a dozen such boxes at any oil-shop in the Edgware
Road was twopence-three-farthings--eleven farthings for twelve boxes
of safety matches! The London poor know how hard it is to live and pay
their weekly rent, and are accustomed to make every allowance for each
other; and those who sat in judgment on the Harrods--Fan's parents--were
mostly people who were glad to make a shilling by almost any means;
glad also, many of them, to get drunk occasionally when the state of
the finances allowed it; also they regarded it as the natural and right
thing to do to repair regularly every Monday morning to the pawnbroker's
shop to pledge the Sunday shoes and children's frocks, with perhaps a
tool or two or a pair of sheets and blankets not too dirty and ragged to
tempt the cautious gentleman with the big nose.

But they were not disreputable, they knew where to draw the line. Had
Fan been a coarse-fibred girl with a ready insolent tongue and fond of
horse-play, it would not have seemed so shocking; for such girls, and a
large majority of them are like that, seem fitted to fight their way
in the rough brutish world of the London streets; and if they fall and
become altogether bad, that only strikes one as the almost inevitable
result of girlhood passed in such conditions. That Fan was a shy,
modest, pretty girl, with a delicate type of face not often seen among
those of her class, made the case look all the worse for those who sent
her out, exposing her to almost certain ruin.

Poor unhappy Fan knew what they thought, and to avoid exciting remarks
she always skulked away, concealing her little stock-in-trade beneath
her dilapidated shawl, and only bringing it out when at a safe distance
from the outspoken criticisms of Moon Street. Sometimes in fine
weather her morning expeditions were as far as Netting Hill, and as
she frequently appeared at the same places at certain hours, a few
individuals got to know her; in some instances they had began by
regarding the poor dilapidated girl with a kind of resentment, a feeling
which, after two or three glances at her soft grey timid eyes, turned to
pity; and from such as these who were not political economists, when
she was so lucky as to meet them, she always got a penny, or a
threepenny-bit, sometimes with even a kind word added, which made the
gift seem a great deal to her. From others she received many a sharp
rebuke for her illicit way of getting a living; and these without a
second look would pass on, little knowing how keen a pang had been
inflicted to make the poor shamefaced child's lot still harder to bear.

She had never been out so late before, and hurrying along the wet
pavement, trembling lest she should run against some Moon Street
acquaintance, and stung with the thought of the miserable scene in store
for her should she be compelled to return empty-handed, she walked not
less than half a mile before pausing. Then she drew forth the concealed
matches and began the piteous pleading--"Will you please buy a box of
matches?" spoken in a low tremulous voice to each passer-by, unheeded by
those who were preoccupied with their own thoughts, by all others
looked scornfully at, until at last, tired and dispirited, she turned to
retrace the long hopeless road. And now the thoughts of home became at
every yard of the way more painful and even terrifying to her. What a
misery to have to face it--to have to think of it! But to run away and
hide herself from her parents, and escape for ever from her torturing
apprehensions, never entered her mind. She loved her poor drink-degraded
mother; there was no one else for her to love, and where her mother was
there must be her only home. But the thought of her father was like a
nightmare to her; even the remembrance of his often brutal treatment
and language made her tremble. Father she had always called him, but for
some months past, since he had been idle, or out of work as he called
it, he had become more and more harsh towards her, not often addressing
her without calling her "barstard," usually with the addition of one of
his pet expletives, profane or sanguineous. She had always feared and
shrunk from him, regarding him as her enemy and the chief troubler of
her peace; and his evident dislike of her had greatly increased during
her last year at the Board School, when he had more than once been
brought before a magistrate and fined for her non-attendance. When that
time was over, and he was no longer compelled by law to keep her at
school, he had begun driving her out to beg in the streets, to make good
what her "book-larning," as he contemptuously expressed it, had cost
him. And the miserable wife had allowed it, after some violent scenes
and occasional protests, until the illegal pence brought in each
day grew to be an expected thing, and formed now a constant cause of
wrangling between husband and wife, each trying to secure the lion's
share, only to spend it at the public-house.

At last, without one penny of that small sum of threepence, which she
had mentally fixed on as the price of a domestic truce, she had got back
to within fifteen minutes' walk of Moon Street. Her anxiety had made her
more eager perhaps, and had given a strange tremor to her voice and made
her eyes more eloquent in their silent pathos, when two young men pushed
by her, walking fast and conversing, but she did not let them pass
without repeating the oft-repeated words.

"No, indeed, you little fraud!" exclaimed one of the young men; while
his companion, glancing back, looked curiously into her face.

"Stop a moment," he said to his friend. "Don't be afraid, I'm not going
to pay. But, I say, just look at her eyes--good eyes, aren't they?"

The other turned round laughing, and stared hard at her face. Fan
reddened and dropped her eyes. Finally he took a penny from his pocket
and held it up before her. "Take," he said. She took the penny, thanking
him with a grateful glance, whereupon he laughed and turned away,
remarking that he had got his money's worth.

She was nearly back to her own street again before anyone else noticed
her; then she met a very large important-looking gentleman, with a lady
at his side--a small, thin, meagre woman, with a dried yellow face,
wearing spectacles. The lady stopped very deliberately before Fan, and
scrutinised her face.

"Come along," said her husband or companion. "You are not going to stop
to talk to that wretched little beggar, I hope."

"Yes, I am, so please be quiet.--Now, my girl, are you not ashamed to
come out begging in the streets--do you not know that it is very wrong
of you?"

"I'm not begging--I'm selling matches," answered Fan sullenly, and
looking down.

"You might have known that she'd say that, so come on, and don't waste
more time," said the impatient gentleman.

"Don't hurry me, Charles," returned the lady. "You know perfectly well
that I never bestow alms indiscriminately, so that you have nothing to
fear.--Now, my girl, why do you come out selling matches, as you call
it? It is only a pretext, because you really do not sell them, you know.
Do your parents send you out--are they so poor?"

Then Fan repeated the words she had been instructed to use on occasions
like the present, which she had repeated so often that they had lost all
meaning to her. "Father's out of work and mother's ill, and I came out
because we're starving."

"Just so, of course, what did you think she would say!" exclaimed the
big gentleman. "Now I hope you are satisfied that I was right."

"That's just where you are mistaken, Charles. You know that I never give
without a thorough investigation beforehand, and I am now determined to
look narrowly into this case, if you will only let me go quietly on in
my own way.--And now, my girl," she continued, turning to Fan, "just
tell me where you live, so that I can call on your mother when I have
time, and perhaps assist her if it is as you say, and if I find that her
case is a deserving one."

Fan at once gave the address and her mother's name.

"There now, Charles," said the lady with a smile. "That is the test;
you see there is no deception here, and I think that I am able to
distinguish a genuine case of distress when I meet with one.--Here is a
penny, my girl"--one penny after all this preamble!--"and I trust your
poor mother will find it a help to her." And then with a smile and a nod
she walked off, satisfied that she had observed all due precautions in
investing her penny, and that it would not be lost: for he who "giveth
to the poor lendeth to the Lord," but certainly not to all the London
poor. Her husband, with a less high opinion of her perspicacity, for he
had muttered "Stuff and nonsense" in reply to her last remark, followed,
pleased to have the business over.

Fan remained standing still, undecided whether to go home or not, when
to her surprise a big rough-looking workman, without stopping in his
walk or speaking to her, thrust a penny into her hand. That made up the
required sum of threepence, and turning into Moon Street, she ran home
as fast as those ragged and loose old shoes would let her.

The candle was still burning on the table, throwing its flickering
yellow light on her mother's form, still sitting in the same listless
attitude, staring into the empty grate. The man was now lying on the
bed, apparently asleep.

On her entrance the mother started up, enjoining silence, and held out
her hand for the money; but before she could take it her husband awoke
with a snort.

"Drop that!" he growled, tumbling himself hastily off the bed, and Fan,
starting back in fear, stood still. He took the coppers roughly from
her, cursing her for being so long away, then taking his clay-pipe from
the mantelpiece and putting on his old hat, swung out of the room; but
after going a few steps he groped his way back and looked in again. "Go
to bed, Margy," he said. "Sorry I hit you, but 'tain't much, and we must
give and take, you know." And then with a nod and grin he shut the door
and took himself off.

Meanwhile Fan had gone to her corner and removed her old hat and kicked
off her muddy shoes, and now sat there watching her mother, who had
despondently settled in her chair again.

"Go to bed, Fan--it's late enough," she said.

Instead of obeying her the girl came and knelt down by her side, taking
one of her mother's listless hands in hers.

"Mother"--she spoke in a low tone, but with a strange eagerness in her
voice--"let's run away together and leave him."

"Don't talk nonsense, child! Where'd we go?"

"Oh, mother, let's go right away from London--right out into the
country, far as we can, where he'll never find us, where we can sit on
the grass under the trees and rest."

"And leave my sticks for him to drink up? Don't you think I'm such a
silly."

"Do--_do_ let's go, mother! It's worse and worse every day, and he'll
kill us if we don't."

"No fear. He'll knock us about a bit, but he don't want a rope round
_his_ neck, you be sure. And he ain't so bad neither, when he's not in
the drink. He's sorry he hit me now."

"Oh, mother, I can't bear it! I hate him--I hate him; and he _isn't_
my father, and he hates me, and he'll kill me some day when I come home
with nothing."

"Who says he isn't your father--where did you hear that, Fan?"

"He calls me bastard every day, and I know what that means. Mother, _is_
he my father?"

"The brute--no!"

"Then why did you marry him, mother? Oh, we could have been so happy
together!"

"Yes, Fan, I know that _now_, but I didn't know it then. I married him
three months before you was born, so that you'd be the child of honest
parents. He had a hundred pounds with me, but it all went in a year; and
it's always been up and down, up and down with us ever since, but now
it's nothing but down."

"A hundred pounds!" exclaimed Fan in amazement "And who was my father?"

"Go to bed, Fan, and don't ask questions. I've been very foolish to say
so much. You are too young to understand such things."

"But, mother, I do understand, and I want to know who my father is. Oh,
do--do tell me!"

"What for?"

"Because when I know I'll go to him and tell him how--how _he_ treats
us, and ask him to help us to go away into the country where he'll never
find us any more." Her mother laughed. "You're a brave girl if you'd do
that," she said, her face softening. "No, Fan, it can't be done."

"Oh, please tell me, and I'll do it. Why can't it be done, mother?"

"I can't tell you any more, child. Go to bed, and forget all about it.
You hear bad things enough in the street, and it 'ud only put badness
into your head to hear talk of such things."

Fan's pleading eyes were fixed on her mother's face with a strange
meaning and earnestness in them; then she said:

"Mother, I hear bad things in the street every day, but they don't make
_me_ bad. Oh, do tell me about my father, and why can't I go to him?"

The unhappy woman looked down, and yet could hardly meet those grey
beautiful eyes fixed so earnestly on her face. She hesitated, and passed
her trembling fingers over Fan's disordered hair, and finally burst into
tears.

"Oh, Fan, I can't help it," she said, half sobbing. "You have just his
eyes, and it brings it all back when I look into them. It was wicked of
me to go wrong, for I was brought up good and honest in the country; but
he was a gentleman, and kind and good to me, and not a working-man and
a drunken brute like poor Joe. But I sha'n't ever see him again. I don't
know where he is, and he wouldn't know me if he saw me; and perhaps he's
dead now. I loved him and he loved me, but we couldn't marry because he
was a gentleman and me only a servant-girl, and I think he had a wife.
But I didn't care, because he was good to me and loved me, and he gave
me a hundred pounds to get married, and I can't ever tell you his name,
Fan, because I promised never to name him to anyone, and kissed the Book
on it when he gave me the hundred pounds, and it would be wicked to
tell now. And Joe, he wanted to marry me; he knew it all, and took the
hundred pounds and said it would make no difference. He'd love you just
the same, he said, and never throw it up to me; and that's why I married
Joe. Oh, what a fool I was, to be sure! But it can't be helped now, and
it's no use saying more about it. Now go to bed, Fan, and forget all
I've said to you."

Fan rose and went sorrowfully to her bed; but she did not forget, or
try to forget, what she had heard. It was sad to lose that hope of ever
seeing her father, but it was a secret joy to know that he had been kind
and loving to her poor mother, and that he was a gentleman, and not one
like Joe Harrod; that thought kept her awake in her cold bed for a long
time--long after Joe and his wife were peacefully sleeping side by side.



CHAPTER II


That troubled evening was followed by a quiet period, lasting from
Wednesday to Saturday, during which there were no brawls indoors, and
Fan was free of the hateful task of going out to collect pence in the
streets. Joe had been offered a three or four days' job; he had accepted
it gratefully because it was only for three or four days, and for that
period he would be the sober, stolid, British workman. The pleasures of
the pot-house would claim him on Saturday, when he would have money in
his pockets and the appetite that comes from abstention.

On Saturday morning after he had left the house at six o'clock, Fan
started up from her cot and came to her mother's side at the table.

"Mother, may I go out to the fields to-day?" she asked. "I know if I go
straight along the Edgware Road I'll come to them soon. And I'll be home
early."

"No, Fan, don't you try it. It's too far and'll tire you, and you'd be
hungry and maybe get lost."

"Can't I take some bread, mother? Do let me go! It will be so nice to
see the fields and trees, and they say it isn't far to walk."

"You're not fit to be seen walking, Fan. Wait till you've got proper
shoes to your feet, and a dress to wear. Perhaps I'll git you one next
week."

"But if I wait I'll never go! He'll finish his work to-day and spend the
money, and on Monday he'll send me out just the same as before."

And as she continued to plead, almost with tears, so intent was she on
this little outing, her mother at length gave her consent. She even got
her scissors to cut off the ragged fringing from the girl's dress to
make her look more trim, and mended her torn shoes with needle and
thread; then cut her a hunk of bread for her dinner.

"I never see a girl so set on the country," she said, when Fan was about
to start, her thin pale face brightening with anticipation. "It's a
long tramp up the Edgware Road, and not much to see when you git to the
fields."

There would be much to see, Fan thought, as she set out on her
expedition. She had secretly planned it in her mind, and had thought
about it by day and dreamed about it by night--how much there would be
to see!

But the way was long; so long that before she got out of London--out of
that seemingly endless road with shops on either hand--she began to be
very tired. Then came that wide zone surrounding London, of uncompleted
streets and rows of houses partly occupied, separated by wide spaces
with brick-fields, market-gardens, and waste grounds. Here she might
have turned aside to rest in one of the numerous huge excavations,
their bottoms weedy and grass-grown, showing that they had been long
abandoned; but this was not the country, the silent green woods and
fields she had come so far to seek, and in spite of weariness she
trudged determinedly on.

At first the day had promised to be fine; now a change came over it, the
sky was overcast with grey clouds, and a keen wind from the north-west
blew in her face and made her shiver with cold. Many times during that
long walk she drew up beside some gate or wooden fence, and leaned
against it, feeling almost too tired and dispirited to proceed further;
but she could not sit down there to rest, for people were constantly
passing in traps, carts and carriages, and on foot, and not one passed
without looking hard at her; and by-and-by, overcoming her weakness,
she would trudge on again, all the time wishing herself back in the
miserable room in Moon Street once more.

At last she got beyond the builders' zone, into the country; from an
elevated piece of ground over which the road passed she was able to see
the prospect for miles ahead, and the sight made her heart sink within
her. The few trees visible were bare of foliage, and the fields, shut
within their brown ragged hedges, were mostly ploughed and black, and
the green fields were as level as the ploughed, and there was no shelter
from the cold wind, no sunshine on the pale damp sward. It was in the
middle of October; the foliage and beauty of summer had long vanished;
she had seen the shed autumn leaves in Hyde Park many days ago, yet she
had walked all the weary distance from Moon Street, cheered with the
thought that in the country it would be different, that there would
still be sunshine and shadow there, and green trees and flowers. It
was useless to go on, and impossible in her weak exhausted condition
to attempt to return at once. The only thing left for her to do was
to creep aside and lie down under the shelter of some hedge, and get
through the time in the best way she could. Near the road, some distance
ahead, there was a narrow lane with a rough thorny hedge on either side,
and thither she now went in quest of a shelter of some kind from the
rain which was beginning to fall. The lane was on the east side of the
road, and under the hedge on one hand there was an old ditch overgrown
with grass and weeds; here Fan crouched down under a bush until the
shower was over, then got out and walked on again. Presently she
discovered a gap in the hedge large enough to admit her body, and after
peering cautiously through and seeing no person about, she got into the
field. It was small, and the hedge all round shut out the view on every
side; nevertheless it was a relief to be there, safe out of sight of all
men for a little while. She walked on, still keeping close to the hedge,
until she came to a dwarf oak tree, with a deep hollow in the ground
between its trunk and the hedge; the hollow was half filled with fallen
dead leaves, and Fan, turning them with her foot, found that under the
surface they were dry, and this spot being the most tempting one she
had yet seen, she coiled herself up in the leafy bed to rest. And lying
there in the shelter, after eating her bread, she very soon fell asleep,
in spite of the cold.

From her sleep, which lasted for some hours, she woke stiff and chilled
to the marrow. It was late in the day, and the occasional watery gleams
the sun shot through the grey clouds came from low down in the western
sky. She started up, and scarcely able at first to use her sore, cramped
limbs, set out on her return. She was hungry and thirsty and sore--sore
also in mind at her disappointment--and the gusty evening wind blew
chill, and more than one shower of rain fell to wet her; but she reached
Paddington at last. In the Edgware Road the Saturday evening market was
in full progress when she passed, too tired and miserable to take any
interest in the busy bustling scene. And by-and-by the dense moving
crowds, noise of bawling costermongers, and glare of gas and naphtha
torches were left behind, when she reached the welcome gloom and
comparative quiet of her own squalid street. There was also welcome
quiet in the top room when she entered, for her parents were out. A
remnant of fire was in the grate, and the teapot had been left on
the fender to keep warm. Fan poured herself out some tea and drank it
thirstily; then hanging her dress over a chair to dry by the heat of
the embers, and nestling into her rickety bed in the corner, she very
quickly fell asleep. From her sleep she was at length roused by Mrs.
Clark, the landlady, who with her husband and children inhabited the
ground-floor.

"When did you come in, Fan?" she asked.

"I think it was half-past seven," said the girl.

"Well, your mother went out earlier than that, and now it's half-past
ten, and she not in yet. It's a shame for them always to stay out like
that when they've got a bit of money. I think you'd better go and see if
you can find her, and make her come in. She went to buy the dinner,
and look for Joe in Crawford Street. That's where you'll find her, I'm
thinking."

Fan rose obediently, shivering with cold, her eyes still heavy with
sleep, and putting on her damp things went out into the streets again.
In a few minutes she was in Crawford Street. It is long, narrow,
crooked, and ill-paved; full of shops, but of a meaner description
than those in the adjacent thoroughfare, with a larger proportion of
fishmongers, greengrocers, secondhand furniture and old clothes sellers.
Here also was a Saturday evening market, an overflow from the Edgware
Road, composed chiefly of the poorer class of costermongers--the
vendors of cheap damaged fruits and vegetables, of haddock and herring,
shell-fish, and rabbits, the skins dangling in clusters at each end of
the barrow. Public-houses were numerous here; on the pavement before
them groups of men were standing, pipe in mouth, idly talking; these
were men who had already got rid of their week's earnings, or of that
portion they had reserved for their own pleasures, but were not yet
prepared to go home, and so miss the chance of a last half-pint of beer
from some passing still solvent acquaintance. There were other larger
groups and little crowds gathered round the street auctioneers,
minstrels, quacks, and jugglers, whose presence in the busier
thoroughfare was not tolerated by the police.

It was late now, and the money spending and getting nearly over;
costermongers, some with half their goods still unsold, were leaving;
the groups were visibly thinning, the doors of the public-houses
swinging to and fro less frequently. As Fan hurried anxiously along, she
peeped carefully through the clouded window-panes into the "public bar"
department of each drinking place in search of her mother, and paused
for a few moments whenever she came to a group of spectators gathered
round some object of curiosity at a street corner. After satisfying
herself that her mother was not in the crowd, she would remain for a few
moments looking on with the others.

At one spot her attention was painfully held by a short, dark, misshapen
man with no hands nor arms, but only the stump of an arm, with a stick
tied to it. Before him on a rough stand was a board, with half a dozen
thick metal wires stretched across it. Rapidly moving his one poor
stump, he struck on the wires with his stick and so produced a
succession of sounds that roughly resembled a tune. Poor man, how she
pitied him; how much more miserable seemed his life than hers! It was
cold and damp, yet the perspiration stood in great drops on his sallow,
wasted face as he violently wriggled his deformed body about, playing
without hands on his rude instrument--all to make a few pence to save
himself from starvation, or from that living tomb into which, with a
humanity more cruel than Nature's cruelty, we thrust the unfit ones away
out of our sight! No one gave him anything for his music, and with a
pang in her heart she hurried away on her quest.

Not all the street scenes were ghastly or painful. She came to
one crowd, ranged motionless and silent before a large, fat,
dignified-looking man, in good broad-cloth garments, white tie, and
wearing a fez; he was calmly sitting on a camp-stool, and held a small
phial in one hand. Not a word did he speak for a long time. At length
one of the onlookers, a tipsy working-man, becoming impatient, addressed
him:

"Ain't you going to do nothing, mister? Here I've been a-waiting with
these other ladies and gentl'men more'n ten minutes, and you ain't done
nothing yet, nor yet said nothing."

The fat man placed a hand on his broad shirt-front, rolled up his eyes,
and solemnly shook his head.

"Fools, fools!" he said, as if speaking to himself. "But what does
it matter to me if they won't be saved--if they'd rather die of their
complaints? In the East it's different, because I'm known there. I've
been to Constantinople, and Morocco, and everywhere. Let them ask the
heathen what I have done for them. Do they think I cure them for the
sake of their dirty pence? No, no; those that like gold, and jewels, and
elephants to ride on, can have it all in the East, and I came away from
there. Because why? I care more for these. _I_ don't ask them what's the
matter with them! Is there such a thing as a leper in this crowd? Let
them bring me a leper here, and I'll cure him for nothing, just to show
them what this medicine is. As for rheumatics, consumption, toothache,
palpitations of the 'art--what you like, that's all nothing. One drop
and it's gone. Sarsaparilla, and waters this, and pills that, what they
give their pence for, and expect it's going to do them good. Rubbish, I
call it. They buy it, as much as they can put in their insides, and die
just the same. This is different. Twenty years in the East, and this is
what I got. Doctors! I laugh at such people."

Here, with a superior smile, he cast down his eyes again and relapsed
into silence.

No one laughed. Then Fan heard someone near her remark: "He has
book-learning, that's what he has"; to which another voice replied, "Ah,
you may say it, and he has more'n that."

Next to Fan stood a gaunt, aged woman, miserably dressed, and she, too,
listened to these remarks; and presently she pushed her way to the wise
man of the East, and began, "Oh, sir, my heart's that bad--"

"Hush, hush! don't say another word," he interrupted with a majestic
wave of his hand. "You needn't tell me what you have. I saw it all
before you spoke."

He uncorked the phial. "One drop on your tongue will make you whole for
ever. Poor woman! poor woman! how much you have suffered. I know it all.
Sixpence first, if you please. If you were rich I would say a hundred
pounds; but you are poor, and your sixpence shall be more to you in the
Day of Judgment than the hundred pounds of the rich man."

With trembling fingers she brought out her money and counted out
fivepence-halfpenny.

"It's ahl I have," she sorrowfully said, offering it to him.

He shook his head, and she was about to retire when someone came forward
and placed a halfpenny in her hand. He took his fee, and then all
pressed closer round to watch with intense interest while a drop of
brown liquid was poured on to the poor woman's tongue, thrust far out so
that none of that balsam of life should be lost. After witnessing this
scene, Fan hurried on once more.

At length, near Blandford Square, she came against a crowd so large that
nothing short of a fight, or the immediate prospect of one, could have
caused it to collect at that late hour. A temporary opening of the crowd
enabled her to see into the middle of it, and there, in a small space
which had been made for them, two women stood defiantly facing each
other. The dim light from the windows of the public-house they had been
drinking in fell on their heads, and she instantly recognised them both:
one was her mother, excited by alcohol and anger; the other a tall,
pale-faced, but brawny-looking woman, known in the place as "Long
'Liza," a noted brawler, once a neighbour of the Harrods in Moon Street,
but now just out of prison and burning to pay off old scores. In vain
Fan struggled to reach her mother; the ring of people closed up again;
she was flung roughly back and no regard paid to her piteous appeals and
sobs.

It was anguish to her to have to stand there powerless on the outer edge
of the ring of people, to listen to the frantic words of the insult
and challenge of the two women and the cries and cheers of the excited
crowd. But it was plain that a war of words was not enough to satisfy
the onlookers, that they were bent on making the women come to blows.
The crowd increased every moment; she was pushed further and further
back, and in the hubbub could only catch portions of what the two
furious women were saying.

"No, you won't fight, you ----; that's not your way, but wait till one's
down, and then.... And if you got six weeks with hard, it's a pity, I
say, as it wasn't six months.... But if I was a ---- blab like you I
could say worse things of you than you and your ---- Moon Street crew
can say of me any day.... And you'll out with it if you don't want your
head knocked on the stones for nothing.... Not by you, you ----; I'm
ready, if you want to try your strength with me, then we'll see whose
head 'ull be knocked on the stones.... Yes, I'll fight you fast enough,
but first.... If you'll have it, where's the girl you send into the
streets to beg? You and your man to git drunk on the coppers she gits!
More too if you'd like to hear it.... But you can't say more, nor that
neither, you ----.... Smash my teeth, then! Who was her father, or did
the poor fool marry you off the streets when he was drunk?"

With a scream and a curse her antagonist sprang at her, and in a moment
they were striking and tearing at each other like a couple of enraged
wild animals. With a burst of cheering the people pressed closer
round, but after a few moments they interposed and forcibly pulled
the combatants apart. Not that there was any ruth in their hearts, any
compassionate desire to shield these two miserable women of their own
class from their insane fury; their only fear was that the fighters
would exhaust themselves too soon, encumbered as they were with their
jackets and shawls. Not one in the throng remembered that he had an
old mother, a pale-faced wife and little children at home, and sisters,
working-girls perhaps. For the working-man has a sporting instinct as
well as his betters; he cannot gratify it by seeing stripped athletic
men pounding each other with their fists at Pelican Clubs; he has only
the occasional street fight to delight his soul, and the spectacle of
two maddened women tearing each other is not one to be ungrateful for.

Having pulled off their hats and stripped them to their corsets, their
friends and backers released them with encouraging words and slaps on
the back, just as dog-fighters set their dogs on each other. Again there
were yells and curses, tearing of hair and garments, and a blind, mad
rain of blows; until Long 'Liza, striking her foot on the curb, measured
her length on the stones, and instantly her adversary was down on her
chest, pounding her face with clenched fists.

Groans and shouts of protest arose from the onlookers, and then several
of them rushed in and dragged her off, after which the two women were
set on their feet and encouraged to renew the fight. Round after round
was fought with unabated fury, invariably ending by one going down, to
be stamped on, beaten, and kicked by her opponent until rescued by the
spectators, who wished only to prolong the contest. But the last round
ended more disastrously; locked in a close tussle, 'Liza exerted her
whole strength to lift her antagonist from the ground and hurl her down,
and succeeded, falling heavily on her, then quickly disengaging herself
she jumped on her as if with the object of trampling her life out, when
once more the spectators rushed in and dragged her off, still struggling
and yelling with baffled rage. But the fallen woman could not be roused;
the back of her head had struck the edge of the kerbstone; she was
senseless, and her loosened hair becoming saturated with fast-flowing
blood.

Fan, sobbing and pressing her hands together in anguish and terror, was
no longer kept back; as if by magic the crowd had dissipated, while half
a dozen men and women surrounded 'Liza and hurried her, still struggling
and cursing, from the ground. Fan was on her knees beside the fallen
woman, trying to raise her; but presently she was pushed roughly aside
by two policemen who had just arrived on the scene. Of the crowd,
numbering about a hundred and fifty persons, only a dozen or twenty men
still lingered on the spot, and some of these assisted the policemen in
raising the woman and bathing her head with cold water. Then, finding
that she was seriously injured, they put her into a four-wheeler and
drove off to St. Mary's Hospital.

Left alone, Fan stood for a few moments not knowing what to do, then she
set off running after the cab, crying as she ran; but it went too fast
for her, and before she got to the end of Crawford Street it was out of
sight. Still she kept on, and at last, crossing Edgware Road, plunged
into a wilderness of narrow dark streets, still hoping to reach St.
Mary's not long after the cab. But though well acquainted with the
hospital, and all the streets leading to it, on this occasion she became
bewildered, and after wandering about for some time, and feeling utterly
worn-out with her long fatiguing day and the painful emotions she had
experienced, she sat down on a doorstep in a lonely dark street, not
knowing where she had got to.

Then a poor woman came by and was able to direct her, and she hurried on
once more; but when close to the gate she met her father, who asked her
in a surly tone what she did there at that late hour. He had witnessed
the whole fight to the end, only keeping well in the background to
escape observation, and was just returning from the hospital when he met
Fan. Hearing that she was going to see her mother, he ordered her home,
saying that at the hospital they would admit no one at that hour, and
that she must go in the morning to inquire. Sick with grief and misery,
she followed him back to Moon Street, which they reached at about
half-past twelve.



CHAPTER III


Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday passed sadly and slowly enough, and at five
o'clock on the evening of the last day Fan was told at St. Mary's--that
Margaret Harrod was dead. During those three miserable days of suspense
she had spent most of her time hanging about the doors of the hospital,
going timidly at intervals to inquire, and to ask to be allowed to see
her mother. But her request was refused. Her mother was suffering from
concussion of the brain, besides other serious injuries, and continued
unconscious; nothing was to be gained by seeing her.

Without a word, without a tear, she turned away from the dreary gates
and walked slowly back to Moon Street; and at intervals on her homeward
walk she paused to gaze about her in a dazed way, like a person who had
wandered unknowingly into some distant place where everything wore a
strange look. The old familiar streets and buildings were there, the
big shop-windows full of cheap ticketed goods, the cab-stand and
the drinking-fountain, the omnibuses and perpetual streams of'
foot-passengers on the broad pavement. She knew it all so well, yet now
it looked so unfamiliar. She was a stranger, lost and alone there in
that place and everywhere. She was walking there like one in a dream,
from which there would be no more waking to the old reality; no more
begging pence from careless passers-by in the street; no more shrinking
away and hiding herself with an unutterable sense of shame and
degradation from the sight of some neighbour or old school acquaintance;
no more going about in terror of the persecution and foul language
of the gangs of grown-up boys and girls that spent their evenings in
horse-play in the streets; no more going home to the one being she
loved, and who loved her, whose affection supplied the food for which
her heart hungered.

Arrived at her home, she did not go up as was her custom to her
dreary room at the top, but remained standing in the passage near the
landlady's door; and presently Mrs. Clark, coming out, discovered her
there.

"Well, Fan, how's mother now?" she asked in a kind voice.

"She's dead," returned Fan, hanging her head.

"Dead! I thought it 'ud be that! Dear, dear! poor Margy, so strong as
she was only last Saturday, and dead! Poor Margy, poor dear--we was
always friendly"--here she wiped away a tear--"as good a soul as ever
breathed! _That_ she was, though she did die like that; but she never
had a chance, and went to the bad all on account of him. Dead, and he on
the drink--Lord only knows where he gits it--and lying there asleep in
his room, and his poor wife dead at the hospital, and never thinking how
he's going to pay the rent. I've stood it long enough for poor Margy,
poor dear, because we was friends like, and she'd her troubles the same
as me, but I ain't going to stand it from him. That I'll let him know
fast enough; and now she's dead he can take himself off, and good
riddance. But how're _you_ going to live--begging about the street? A
big girl like you--I'm ashamed of such goings on, and ain't going to
have it in my house."

Fan shook her head: the slow tears were beginning to fall now. "I'd do
anything for mother," she said, with a half sob, "but she's dead, and
I'll never beg more."

"That's a good girl, Fan. But you always was a good girl, I must say,
only they didn't do what's right by you. Now don't cry, poor dear, but
run up to your room and lie down; you're dead tired."

"I can't go there any more," murmured Fan, in a kind of despairing way.

"And what are you going to do? He'll do nothing for you, but 'll only
make you beg and abuse you. I know Joe Harrod, and only wish he'd got
his head broke instead of poor Margy. Ain't you got no relation you know
of to go to? She was country-bred, Margy was; she come from Norfolk, I
often heard her say."

"I've got no one," murmured Fan.

"Well, don't cry no more. Come in here; you look starved and tired to
death. When my man comes in you'll have tea with us, and I'll let you
sleep in my room. But, Fan, if Joe won't keep you and goes off and
leaves you, you'll have to go into the House, because _I_ couldn't keep
you, if I wanted ever so."

Fan followed her into her room on the ground-floor: there was a fire in
the grate, which threw a dim flickering light on the dusty-looking walls
and ceiling and the old shabby furniture, but it was very superior to
the Harrods' bare apartment, and to the poor girl it seemed a perfect
haven of rest. Retreating to a corner she sat down, and began slowly
pondering over the words the landlady had spoken. The "House" she had
always been taught to look on as a kind of prison where those who were
unfit to live, and could not live, and yet would not die, were put away
out of sight. For those who went to gaol for doing wrong there was hope;
not so for the penniless, friendless incapables who drifted or were
dragged into the dreary refuge of the "House." They might come out again
when the weather was warm, and try to renew the struggle in which they
had suffered defeat; but their case would be then like that of the
fighter who has been felled to the earth, and staggers up, half stunned
and blinded with blood, to renew the combat with an uninjured opponent.
And yet the words she had heard, while persistently remaining in her
mind, did not impress her very much then. She was tired and dazed,
and had nothing to live for, and was powerless to think and plan
for herself: she was ready to go wherever she was bidden, and ask
no questions and make no trouble. So she went and sat down in a dark
corner, without making any reply. With eyes closed and her tired
head resting against the wall, she remained for half an hour in that
impassive state, saying no word in answer to Mrs. Clark's occasional
remarks, as she moved about preparing the six o'clock meal.

Then the husband came in, and being a silent man, said nothing when his
wife told him that Margaret was dead at the hospital. When she proceeded
to add that Joe would sell the sticks and go off, leaving Fan on their
hands, and that Fan would have to go to the House, he only nodded his
head and went on with his tea.

Fan drank her tea and ate her bread-and-butter, and then once more
returned to her seat, and after some time she fell asleep, leaning her
head against the wall. She woke with a start two hours later to find
herself alone in the room, but there was still some fire in the grate,
and a candle burning on the table. The heavy steps of a man on the
stairs had woke her, and she knew that Joe Harrod was coming down from
his room. He came and knocked at the door.

"Is Fan here?" he called huskily. "Where's the girl got to, I'd like to
know?"

She remained silent, shrinking back trembling in her corner; and after
waiting a while and getting no answer he went grumbling away, and
presently she heard him go out at the street door. Then she sprang to
her feet, and stood for a while intently listening, with a terror and
hatred of this man stronger than she had ever felt before urging her to
fly and place herself for ever beyond his reach. Somewhere in this great
city she might find a hiding-place; it was so vast; in all directions
the great thoroughfares stretched away into the infinite distance,
bright all night with the flaring gas and filled with crowds of people
and the noise of traffic; and branching off from the thoroughfares there
were streets, hundreds and thousands of streets, leading away into black
silent lanes and quiet refuges, in the shadow of vast silent buildings,
and arches, and gateways, where she might lie down and rest in safety.
So strong on her was this sudden impulse to fly, that she would have
acted on it had not Mrs. Clark returned at that moment to the room.

"Come, Fan, I've made you up a bed in my room, and if he comes bothering
for you to-night, I'll soon send him about his business. Don't you fear,
my girl."

Fan followed her silently to the adjoining room, where a bed of rugs and
blankets had been made for her on four or five chairs. For the present
she felt safe; but she could not sleep much, even on a bed made
luxurious by warmth, for thinking of the morrow; and finally she
resolved to slip away in the morning and make her escape.

At six o'clock next morning the Clarks were up, one to go to his work,
the other to make him his breakfast. When they had left the bedroom Fan
also got up and dressed herself in all haste, and after waiting till
she heard the man leave the house, she went into the next room, and Mrs.
Clark gave her some coffee and bread, and expressed surprise at seeing
her up so early. Fan answered that she was going out to look for
something to do.

"It's not a bit of use," said the other. "They won't look at you with
them things on. Just you stop in quiet, and I'll see he don't worry you;
but by-and-by you'll have to go to the House, for Joe Harrod's not the
man to take care of you. They'll feed you and give you decent clothes,
and that's something; and perhaps they'll send you to some place where
they take girls to learn them to be housemaids and kitchen-maids, and
things like that. Don't you go running about the streets, because it'll
come to no good, and I won't have it."

Fan had intended to ask her to let her go out and try just once, and
when once clear of the neighbourhood, to remain away, but Mrs. Clark had
spoken so sharply at the last, that she only hung her head and remained
silent.

But presently the opportunity came when the woman went away to look
after some domestic matter, and Fan, stealing softly to the door, opened
it, and finding no person in sight, made her escape in the direction of
Norfolk Crescent. Skirting the neighbourhood of squares and gardens and
large houses, she soon reached Praed{035} Street, and then the Harrow
Road, along which she hurriedly walked; and when it began to grow light
and the shopkeepers were taking down their shutters, she had crossed
the Regent's Canal, and found herself in a brick-and-mortar wilderness
entirely unknown to her.

Here she felt perfectly safe for the time, for the Clarks, she felt
sure, would trouble themselves no further about her, for she was nothing
to them; and as for Joe Harrod, she had heard them say that he would be
called that day to identify his wife's body at the inquest, and give his
evidence about the way in which she had met her death.

About these unknown streets Fan wandered for hours in an aimless kind of
way, not seeking work nor speaking to anyone; for the words Mrs. Clark
had spoken about the uselessness of seeking employment dressed as she
was still weighed on her mind and made her ashamed of addressing any
person. Towards noon hunger and fatigue began to make her very faint;
and by-and-by the short daylight would fail, and there would be no food
and no shelter for the night. This thought spurred her into action.
She went into a small side street of poor mean-looking houses and a few
shops scattered here and there among the private dwellings. Into one of
these--a small oil-shop, where she saw a woman behind the counter--she
at last ventured.

"What for you?" said the woman, the moment she put her foot inside the
door.

"Please do you want a girl to help with work--"

"No, I don't want a girl, and don't know anyone as does," said the woman
sharply; then turned away, not well pleased that this girl was no buyer
of an honest bundle of wood, a ha'porth of treacle, or a half-ounce of
one-and-four tea; for out of the profits of such small transactions she
had to maintain herself and children.

Fan went out; but by-and-by recovering a little courage, and urged by
need, she went into other shops, into all the shops in that mean little
street at last, but nobody wanted her, and in one or two instances
she was ordered out in sharp tones and followed by sharp eyes lest she
should carry off something concealed under her shawl.

Then she wandered on again, and at length finding a quiet spot, she sat
down to rest on a doorstep. The pale October sunshine which had been
with her up till now deserted her; it was growing cold and grey, and at
last, shivering and faint, she got up and walked aimlessly on once more,
resolving to go into the next shop she should come to, and to speak to
the next woman she should see standing at her door, with the hope of
finding someone at last to take her in and give her food and a place to
lie down in. But on coming to the shop she would pass on; and when she
saw a woman standing outside her door, with keen hard eyes looking her
from head to foot, she would drop her own and walk on; and at last,
through very weariness, she began to lose that painful apprehension of
the cold night spent out of doors; even her hunger seemed to leave
her; she wanted only to sit down and fall asleep and remember no more.
By-and-by she found herself again in the Harrow Road, but her brain was
confused, so that she did not know whether she was going east or west.
It was growing colder now and darker, and a grey mist was forming in the
air, and she could find no shelter anywhere from the cold and mud
and mist, and from the eyes of the passers-by that seemed to look so
pitilessly at her. The sole of one of her shoes was worn through, and
the cold flag-stones of the footway and the mud of the streets made
her foot numb, so that she could scarcely lift it. Near Paddington
Green--for she had been for some time walking back towards the Edgware
Road--she paused at the entrance of a short narrow street, running up
to the canal. It had a very squalid appearance, and a number of ragged
children were running about shouting at their play in it, but it was
better than the thoroughfare to rest in, and advancing a few yards, she
paused on the edge of the pavement and leant against a lamp-post. A
few of the dirty children came near and stared at her, then returned
to their noisy sports with the others. A little further on women were
standing at their doors exchanging remarks. Presently a thin sad-looking
woman, in a rusty black gown, carrying something wrapped in a piece of
newspaper in her hand, came by from the thoroughfare. She paused near
Fan, looked at her once or twice, and said:

"What name be you looking for? The numbers is mostly rubbed off the
doors. Maybe they never had none."

"I wasn't looking for anyone," said Fan.

"I thought you was, seeing you standing as if you didn't know where to
go, like."

Fan shook her head, feeling too tired to say anything. She had no
friend, no one she knew even in these poor tenements, and only wished
to rest a little there out of sight of the passing people. The woman was
still standing still, but not watching her.

"Maybe you're waiting for someone?" she suggested.

"No."

"No? you're not." And after a further interval she began studying
the little loosely-wrapped parcel in her hand; and finally, with slow
deliberation, she unfolded it. It contained a bloater: she felt it
carefully as though to make sure that it had a soft roe, and then smelt
it to make sure that it was good, after which she slowly wrapped it
up again. "Maybe you've no home to go to," she remarked tentatively,
looking away from Fan as if speaking to some imaginary person.

"No, I haven't," said Fan.

"You don't look a bad 'un. P'r'aps they treated you badly and you ran
away."

Fan nodded.

"And you've no place to go to, and no money?"

"No."

Again the woman's eyes wandered absently away; then she began studying
the parcel, and appeared about to unfold it once more, then thought
better of it, and at last said, still speaking in the same absent
mournful tone: "I've got a room to myself up there," indicating the
upper end of the street. "You can come and sleep along with me, if you
like. One bloater ain't much for two, but there's tea and bread, and
that'll do you good."

"Thank you, I'll come," said Fan, and moving along at her side they
walked about forty yards further on to an open door, before which stood
a dirty-looking woman with bare folded arms. She moved aside to let
them pass, and going in they went up to a top room, small and dingy,
furnished with a bed, a small deal table, one chair, and a deal box,
which served as a washing-stand. But there was a fire burning in the
small grate, with a kettle on; and a cottage loaf, an earthenware teapot
with half its spout broken off, and one cup and saucer, also a good deal
damaged, were on the table, the poor woman having made all preparations
for her tea before going out to buy her bloater.

"Take off your hat and sit here," she said, drawing her one
cane-bottomed chair near the fire.

Fan obeyed, putting her hat on the bed, and then sat warming herself,
too tired and sad to think of anything.

Meanwhile her hostess took off her boots and began quietly moving about
the room, which was uncarpeted, finishing her preparations for tea. The
herring was put down to toast before the coals and the tea made; then
she went downstairs and returned with a second cup. Finally she drew the
little table up to the bed, which would serve as a second seat. It was
all so strangely quiet there, with no sound except the kettle singing,
and the hissing and sputtering of the toasting herring, that the
unaccustomed silence had the effect of rousing the girl, and she glanced
at the woman moving so noiselessly about the room. She was not yet past
middle age, but had the coarsened look and furrowed skin of one whose
lot in life had been hard; her hair was thin and lustreless, sprinkled
with grey, and there was a faraway look of weary resignation in her
dim blue eyes. Fan pitied her, and remembering that but for this poor
woman's sympathy she would have been still out in the cold streets, with
no prospect of a shelter for the night, she bent down her face and began
to cry quietly.

The woman took no notice, but continued moving about in her subdued way,
until all was ready, and then going to the window she stood there gazing
out into the mist and darkness. Only when Fan had finished crying she
came back to the fireside, and they sat down to their tea. It was a
silent meal, but when it was over, and the few things washed and put
away, she drew the deal box up to the fire and sat down by Fan. Then
they talked a little: Fan told her that her mother was just dead, that
she was homeless and trying to find something to do for a living. The
woman, on her side, said she worked at a laundry close by. "But they
don't want no more hands there," she added, in a desponding way. "And
you ain't fit for such work neither. You must try to find something for
yourself to-morrow, and if you can't find nothing, which I don't think
you will, come back and sleep with me. It don't cost much to give you
tea, and I ain't owing any rent now, and it's company for me, so you
needn't mind."

After this short conversation they went to bed and to sleep, for they
were both tired.



CHAPTER IV


The result of Fan's second day's search for employment proved no
more promising than the first. She wandered about the Westbourne Park
district, going as far west as Ladbroke Grove Road, still avoiding
the streets, gardens, and squares of the larger houses. But she was
apparently not good enough for even the humbler class of dwellings,
for no one would so much as ask her what she could do, or condescend to
speak to her, except in one house, to which she had been directed by a
woman in a greengrocer's shop; there she was scoffingly asked if she had
a "character" and decent clothes to wear.

When the woman who had given her shelter on the previous evening
returned at five o'clock from her work, she found Fan in Dudley Grove,
for that was the beautiful name of the slum she lived in, standing, as
before, beside the lamp-post; and after a few words of greeting took
her to her room. While preparing the tea she noticed the girl's weak and
starved condition, for Fan had eaten nothing all day, and went out and
presently returned with a better supply of food--brawn, and salt butter,
and a bundle of water-cress--quite a variety.

As on the evening before, they sat for a while by the small fire after
their meal, speaking a few words, and those not very hopeful ones, and
then presently they went to bed, and to sleep as soon as their heads
touched the pillow. After their modest breakfast next morning the woman
said:

"Are you going back to your friends to-day?"

Fan glanced at her in sudden fear and cast down her eyes.

"You was tired and had nothing to eat yesterday, and couldn't git
nothing to do. Didn't it make you wish to go back to them again?"

"No, I'll not go back. I've no friends," said Fan; and then she added
timidly, "You don't want me to come back here no more?"

"Yes; you come back if you don't find nothing. The tea and bread ain't
much, and I don't mind it, and it's company to me to have you."

And without more words they went out together, separating in the Harrow
Road.

On this morning Fan took a different route, and going south soon found
herself in wide, clean streets, among very big stuccoed and painted
houses. It was useless to seek for anything there, she thought, and yet
presently something happened in this place to put a new hope into
her heart. It was very early, and at some of the houses the cooks or
kitchen-maids were cleaning the doorsteps, and while passing one of
these doors she was accosted by the woman and asked if she would clean
the steps. She consented gladly enough, and received a penny in payment.
Then she remembered that she had often seen poor girls, ill-dressed
as herself, cleaning the steps of large houses, and had heard that the
usual payment was one penny for the task. After walking about for some
time she began timidly ringing the area bells of houses where the steps
had not yet been cleaned, and asking if a girl was wanted to do them.
Almost invariably she was sent away with an emphatic "No!" from a
servant angry at being disturbed; but twice again during that day she
received a penny for step-cleaning, so that she had earned threepence.
After midday, finding she could get no more work, and feeling faint
with hunger, she bought a penny loaf, and going to a shelter facing
the fountains in Kensington Gardens, made her modest dinner, and rested
afterwards until it was time to return to Dudley Grove.

In the evening as she sat by the fire after tea she gave an account of
her success, and exhibited the two remaining pence, offering them to the
poor woman who had sheltered her.

She only shook her head. "You'll maybe want something to eat to-morrow,"
she said; and presently continued, "Step-cleaning ain't no good. There's
too many at it. And you a growing girl, and always hungry, you'd starve
at it. Saturdays is not bad, because there's many houses where they only
clean the steps once a week, and they has a girl to do it. You might
make sixpence or a shilling on a Saturday. But other days is bad. You
can't live at it. There's nothing you can do to live."

Fan was profoundly discouraged; but thinking over the subject, she
remembered that she had seen other girls out on the same quest as
herself that day, and though all of them had a dirty draggled look, as
was natural considering the nature of the work, some of them, at all
events, looked well-fed, healthy, and not unhappy, and this had made her
more hopeful. At last she said:

"If other girls get their living at it, why can't I? If I could make
sixpence a day, couldn't I live on that?"

"No, nor yet on ninepence, nor yet on a shilling. You're a tall growing
girl, and you ain't strong, and you are hungry, and want your dinner in
the middle of the day; and if you don't get it, you'll be down ill, and
then what'll you do? You can't do it on sixpence, nor yet on a shilling,
because you've got no home to go to, and must pay for a room; and no one
to find you clothes and shoes, you must buy them. Them girls you see are
stronger than you, and have homes to go to, and don't go about like
you to find steps to clean, but go to the houses they know, where
they always clean the steps. And they don't get only a penny; they get
tuppence, and make a shilling a day--some of them as knows many houses;
and on Saturdays they make more'n three shillings. But you can't do
it, because you don't know nobody, and have no clothes and no home, and
there's too many before you."

It looked as if this poor woman had worked at step-cleaning herself for
a living, she was so pessimistic about it, and appeared to be so very
familiar with the whole subject. People never believe that a fortune
is to be made at any business in which they have been unsuccessful
themselves.

Fan was discouraged, but there was nothing else for her to do, and it
was hard for her to give up this one chance.

"Won't you let me try just a few days?" she asked at length.

"Yes, you can try; but it ain't no use, there's so many at it. In a few
days your clothes'll be dropping off you, and then what'll you do? It's
rough work, and not fit for a girl like you. I don't mind, because your
tea don't cost much, and it's company to have you here, as it ain't all
giving, but it's give-and-take like between us."

The same dreary words were repeated evening after evening, when Fan
returned from her daily peregrinations; but still the poor girl hoped
against hope, and clung desperately to the only occupation she had been
able to discover. It was a hard miserable life, and each succeeding day
only seemed to bring her nearer to the disastrous end prophesied by
the mournful laundrywoman of Dudley Grove. How weary she often was with
walking hour after hour, sometimes feeling so famished that she could
hardly refrain from picking up the orange-peels from the street to
appease the cruel pangs of hunger! And when she was more lucky and had
steps to clean, then the wet and grime of the hearthstone made her poor
gown more worn and soiled and evil-looking than ever, while her shoes
were in such a state that it was hard, by much mending every evening, to
keep them from falling to pieces. Every day seemed to bring her nearer
to the end, when she would be compelled to sit down and say "I can do no
more--I must starve"; yet with the little renewal of strength which
the evening meal and drearily-expressed sympathy of her friend and the
night's rest would bring her, she would go forth each morning to wander
about for another day.

Ten or twelve days had gone by in this way, and acting on a little
practical advice given by the poor laundrywoman, she had forsaken the
neighbourhood of squares and big houses close to Hyde Park to go further
afield into the district lying west of Westbourne Grove, where the
houses were smaller, and fewer servants were kept in them.

About ten o'clock one morning she stopped before a house in Dawson
Place, a wide clean street of pretty detached, moderate-sized houses,
each with a garden in front and a larger garden and trees behind. The
house had a trim well-kept appearance, and five or six broad white steps
led up to the front door, which was painted deep blue. Fan, looking
critically at the steps, could not make out whether they had been
already cleaned or not, so white and clean, yet dry, did they look. And
the steps of all the houses in Dawson Place had the same white look,
so that there seemed no chance of anything for her to do there; but
she felt tired already, and stood resting beside the area gate, not
venturing to ring.

By-and-by the front door opened and a lady came out and down the steps,
and on reaching the pavement stood still and looked hard at Fan. She was
tall, and had a round shapely figure, a well-developed bust, and looked
about five-and-twenty years old. Fan thought her marvellously beautiful,
but felt a little frightened in her presence, she was so tall and
stately, and her face had such a frowning, haughty expression. Beautiful
women-faces had always had a kind of fascination for her--the gentle,
refined face, on which she would gaze with a secret intense pleasure,
and a longing to hear some loving word addressed to herself from a
sister with sweet lips, so strong that it was like a sharp pain at her
heart. The proud masterful expression of this beautiful face affected
her differently--she feared as well as admired.

The lady was fashionably dressed, and wore a long dark blue velvet
jacket, deeply trimmed with brown fur, and under the shadow of a rather
broad fur hat her hair looked very black and glossy; her straight
eyebrows were also black, and her eyes very dark, full and penetrating.
Her skin was of that beautiful rich red colour not often seen in London
ladies, and more common in Ireland than in England. Her features were
fine, the nose slightly aquiline, the red lips less full, and the
mouth smaller than is usual in faces of so luxuriant a type; a shapely,
beautiful mouth, which would have been very sweet but for its trick of
looking scornful.

"What do you want?" she said in a sharp imperative tone--just the tone
one would have expected from so imperious-looking a dame.

"Please, do you want the steps cleaned?" Fan asked very timidly.

"No, of course not. What an absurd little goose you must be to ask such
a thing! Servants are kept for such a purpose."

For a few moments Fan still remained standing there, her eyes cast
down, then shyly glanced up at that richly-coloured beautiful face, and
encountered the dark strong eyes intently watching her.

"Yes, you may clean them," said the lady. "When you have finished go
down to the kitchen, and tell the cook to pay you and give you something
to eat." Then she walked away, but after going about a dozen yards, came
back and sharply rang the area-bell to bring out the cook, and repeated
the order to her.

"Very well, ma'am," said the cook, wiping her hands on her apron; but
she did not return at once to her kitchen, for her mistress was still
standing there watching Fan.

"Never mind, cook, you needn't pay her," said the lady, speaking again.
"Let her wait in the kitchen till I return. I am going to the Grove, and
shall be back in half an hour."

Then she walked away, her head well up, and with that stately bird-like
gait seen in some women. When Fan had finished the steps she went into
the kitchen, and the cook gave her some bread and cheese and a glass of
ale, which revived her and made her more strong and hopeful than she
had felt for many a day. Then she began to wonder what the fine lady was
going to say to her, and whether she would give her twopence instead of
the usual penny. Or perhaps it was intended to present her with an
old gown or pair of boots. Such things had happened, she knew, and the
thought that such a thing might happen again, and to her, made her heart
beat fast; and though it was so pleasant resting there in that bright
warm kitchen, she began to wish for the lady's return, so that her
suspense might end. And while she sat there occupied with her thoughts,
the cook, a staid-looking woman of about forty--the usual age of the
London cook--made up her fire and went about doing a variety of things,
taking no notice of her guest.

Then the housemaid came running down the stairs singing into the
kitchen, dusting-brush and dust-pan in her hands--a pretty girl
with dark merry bright eyes, and her brown hair worn frizzled on her
forehead.

"My!" she exclaimed, starting back at seeing Fan. And after surveying
her for some time with a mocking smile playing about the corners of her
pretty ripe mouth, she said, "Is this one of your poor relations, Mrs.
Topping?"

"No, Rosie; that she ain't. The missus gave her the steps to clean, and
told her to wait here till she got back."

The maid burst into a ringing peal of laughter. "Fancy, Miss Starbrow!"
she exclaimed. "Where do you come from?" she continued, addressing Fan.
"Whitechapel? Seven Dials?"

Fan reddened with shame and anger, and refused to reply: stubborn
silence was her only shield against those who scoffed at her extreme
poverty; and that this pretty girl was mocking her she knew very
well. Then the maid sat down and stared at her, and amused herself and
fellow-servant with malicious comments on Fan's dress.

"May I ask you, miss, where you got that lovely hat?" she said. "From
Madame Elise? Why, of course, how could I ask! I assure you it is most
charmingly becoming. I shall try to get one like it, but I'm afraid
I can't go beyond six guineas. And your shawl--a Cashmere, I see. A
present from her Majesty, no doubt."

"Oh, do be quiet, Rosie; you'll kill me!" cried the cook, overcome with
laughter at such exquisite wit. But Rosie, seeing the effects of
it, only became more lively and satirical, until Fan, goaded beyond
endurance, started up from her seat, determined to make her escape.
Fortunately at that moment the lady of the house returned, and the maid
scampered off to open the door to her. Soon she returned and dropped Fan
a mocking curtsey. "Please follow me this way," she said. "Miss Starbrow
regrets that she has been detained so long, and is now quite ready to
receive you."

Fan followed her up the kitchen stairs to the hall, where Miss Starbrow,
with her hat on as she had come in, stood waiting to see her. She looked
keenly at the girl's flushed and tearful face, and turned to Rosie for
an explanation; but that lively damsel, foreseeing storms, had already
vanished up the stairs.

"Has she been teasing you?" said the lady. "Well, never mind, don't
think any more about it. She's an impudent hussy, I know--they all are,
and one has to put up with them. Now sit down here and tell me your
name, and where you live, and all about yourself, and why you go out
cleaning steps for a living."

Then she also sat down and listened patiently, aiding with an occasional
question, while the girl in a timid, hesitating way related the
principal events in her unhappy life.

"Poor girl!" was Miss Starbrow's comment when the narrative was
finished. She had drawn off her glove and now took Fan's hand in hers.
"How can you do that hard rough work with such poor thin little hands?"
she said. "Let me look at your eyes again--it is so strange that you
should have such eyes! You don't seem like a child of such people as
your parents were."

Fan glanced timidly at her again, her eyes brightening, a red colour
flushing her pale cheeks, and her lips quivering.

"You have an eloquent face--what do you wish to say?" asked the lady.

Fan still hesitated.

"Trust me, my poor girl, and I shall help you. Then is something in your
mind you would like to say."

Then Fan, losing all fear, said:

_"He_ was not my father--the man that married mother. My father was a
gentleman, but I don't know his name."

"I can very well believe it. Especially when I look at your eyes."

"Mother said my eyes were just like my father's," said Fan, with growing
confidence and a touch of pride.

"Perhaps they are like his in one way, my poor girl," said the other,
a little frown clouding her forehead. "In another way they are very
different, I should think. No one who ever did a cruel thing could have
had that expression in his eyes."

After sitting in silence for some time, still with that frown on her
beautiful face, her eyes resting thoughtfully on the tessellated floor,
she roused herself, and taking out her purse, gave Fan half-a-crown.

"Go home now," she said, "and come again to-morrow at the same hour."

Fan went from the door with a novel sense of happiness filling her
heart. At intervals she took out the half-crown from her pocket to
look at it. What a great broad noble coin it looked to her eyes! It was
old--nearly seventy years old--and the lines on it were blurred, and
yet it seemed wonderfully bright and beautiful to Fan; even the face
of George the Third on it, which had never been called beautiful, now
really seemed so to her. But very soon she ceased thinking about the
half-crown and all that it represented; it was not that which caused the
strange happiness in her heart, but the gentle compassionate words that
the proud-looking lady had spoken to her. Never before had so sweet
an experience come to her; how long it would live in her memory--the
strange tender words, the kindly expression of the eyes, the touch of
the soft white hand--to refresh her like wine in days of hunger and
weariness!

It was early still in the day, and many hours before she could return
to Dudley Grove; and so she continued roaming about, and found another
doorstep to clean, and received threepence for cleaning it, to her
surprise. With the threepence she bought all the food she required.
The half-crown she would not break into; that must be shown to the poor
washer-woman just as she had received it. When the woman saw it in the
evening she was very much astonished, and expressed the feeling, if it
be not a contradiction to say so, by observing a long profound silence.
But like the famous parrot she "thought the more," and at length she
gave it as her opinion that the lady intended taking Fan as a servant in
her house.

"Oh, do you really think so?" exclaimed Fan, becoming excited at the
prospect of such happiness. And after a while she added, "Then I'll
leave you the half-crown for all you've done for me."

The poor woman would not listen to such a proposal; but next morning she
consented to take charge of it, promising, if Fan should not return, to
use it.



CHAPTER V


Fan did not fail to be at Dawson Place at the time, or a little before
the time, appointed. "Oh, I hope that girl won't open the door when I
ring," she said to herself, giving the door-bell a little hesitating
pull. But the summons was promptly answered by the undesirable person
in question, and she greeted the visitor with a mocking curtsey. She had
little time, however, in which to make Fan miserable, for Miss Starbrow
was quickly on the scene, looking very gracious and very beautiful in a
dark red morning gown.

"Come here and sit down," she said, placing herself in one hall chair
and making Fan take the other. "Now listen. Would you like to come and
live here as my servant? You are not fit for such a place, I know--at
all events, not at present; and I should not put you with the other
servants, and upstairs you could do nothing. However that does not
signify. The thing is this. If you would like to come and live with me
you must stay here now, and never go back to those places where you have
lived, and try if possible to forget all about them."

"Oh yes, ma'am, I promise!" she replied, trembling with joy at the very
thought of escaping from that life of bitter want and anxiety.

"Very well, that's settled then. Come this way with me."

She then led the way to a large bath-room, a few steps above the
first-floor landing.

"Now," she said, "undress yourself, and put all your clothes and hat and
shoes in a bundle in the corner--they are shocking to look at, and must
be taken away--and give yourself a hot bath. See, I am turning on the
water for you. That will be enough. And stay in as long as you like,
or can, and try not only to wash off all the dirt on your skin, but all
thought and recollection of Moon Street and Harrow Road and doorsteps,
and all the foul evil things you have seen and heard in your life; and
when you have washed all that off, Fan, and dried yourself, wrap this
shawl around you, and run into that open room you see facing the bath."

Left to herself, Fan proceeded to obey the instructions she had
received. It was a great luxury to be in that smooth enamelled basin,
where she could lie at full length and move her limbs freely about,
experiencing the delicious sensation of the hot water over her whole
body at the same time.

In the dressing-room she found her mistress waiting for her. There were
clothes there ready for her, and now, for the first time in her life,
she dressed herself in new, clean, sweet garments, over all a gown of
a soft grey material, loose at the waist, and reaching nearly to the
ankles--a kind of "Maid Marian" costume. There were also black stockings
and new shoes. Everything fitted well, although they had all been made
the day before by guess in Westbourne Grove.

Miss Starbrow made her stand in the middle of the room, and turned
her round, while Fan glanced shyly at her own reflection in the tall
cheval-glass, almost wondering "if this be I."

"Yes, that will do well enough for the present," said her mistress.
"But your hair is all uneven, Fan, and such lovely hair to be spoilt by
barbarous neglect. Let me cut it even for you, and by-and-by we'll find
out how to arrange it. Well, no; just now it looks best hanging loose on
your back. When it grows long again, we'll put it up. Now come here to
the light, and let me, see what you're like. Nearly fifteen years old,
and pale and very thin, poor girl, which makes you look tall. Golden
hair, good features, and a very pure skin for a girl who has lived a
grimy life. And your eyes--don't be afraid to show them, Fan. If you
had not looked at me yesterday with those eyes, I should have thought no
more about you. Long lashes. Eyes grey--yes, grey decidedly, though at
times they look almost sapphire blue; but the pupils are so large--that
is perhaps the secret of their pathetic expression. That will do. You
think it strange, do you not, Fan? that I should take you into my house
and clothe you--a poor homeless girl; for I don't suppose that you can
do anything for me, and you will therefore only be an extra expense.
A great piece of folly, my friends would probably say. But don't be
afraid, I care nothing for what others say. What I do, I do only to
please myself, and not others. If I am disappointed in you, and find you
different from what I imagine, I shall not keep you, and there will be
an end of it all. Now don't look so cast-down; I believe that you are at
heart a good, pure, truthful girl. I think I can see that much in
your eyes, Fan. And there is, after all, something you can do for
me--something which few can do, or do so well, which will be sufficient
payment for all I am doing for you."

"Oh, ma'am, will you please tell me what it is?" exclaimed Fan, her
voice trembling with eagerness.

"Perhaps you will do it without my telling you, Fan. I shall leave you
to think about it and find out what it is for yourself. I must only tell
you this; I have not taken you into my house because I am charitable and
like doing good to the poor. I am not charitable, and care nothing about
the poor. I have taken you in for my own pleasure; and as I think well
of you, I am going to trust you implicitly. You may stay in this room
when I am out, or go into the back room on this floor, where you can
look out on the garden, and amuse yourself with the books and pictures
till I come back. I am going out now, and at one o'clock Rosie will give
you some dinner. Take no notice of her if she teases you. Mind me, and
not the servants--they are nothing."

Miss Starbrow then changed her dress and went out, leaving Fan to her
own devices, wondering what it was that she could do for her mistress,
and feeling a little trouble about the maid who would give her her
dinner at one o'clock; and after a while she went to explore that
apartment at the back Miss Starbrow had spoken of. It was a large
room, nearly square, with cream-coloured walls and dark red dado, and a
polished floor, partly covered with a Turkish carpet; but there was very
little furniture in it, and the atmosphere seemed chill and heavy, for
it was the old unrenewed air of a room that was never used. On a large
centre table a number of artistic objects were lying together in a
promiscuous jumble: Japanese knick-knacks; an ivory card-case that had
lost its cover, and a broken-bladed paper-knife; glove and collar and
work-boxes of sandal-wood, mother-of-pearl, and papier-mâché,
with broken hinges; faded fans and chipped paper-weights; gorgeous
picture-books with loosened covers, and a magnificent portrait-album
which had been deflowered and had nothing left in it but the old and
ugly, the commonplace middle-aged, and the vapid young; with many other
things besides, all more or less defective.

This round table seemed like an asylum and last resting-place of things
which had never been useful, and had ceased to be ornamental, which were
yet not quite bad enough to be thrown into the dust-bin. To Fan it was
a sort of South Kensington Museum, where she was permitted to handle
things freely, and for some time she continued inspecting these rich
treasures, after which she once more began to glance round the room.
Such a stately room, large enough to shelter two or three families, so
richly decorated with its red and cream colours, yet silent and cold and
dusty and untenanted! On the mantelpiece of grey marble stood a
large ornamental clock, which ticked not and the hands of which were
stationary, supported on each side by bronzes--a stalwart warrior in
a coat of mail in the act of drawing his sword, and a long-haired
melancholy minstrel playing on a guitar. A few landscapes in oil were
also hanging on the walls--representations of that ideal world of green
shade and peace which was so often in Fan's mind. Facing the fireplace
stood a tall bookcase, and opening it she selected a book full of poetry
and pictures, and took it to an old sofa, or couch, to read. The sofa
was under the large window, which had panes of coloured glass, and
remembering that Miss Starbrow had told her that it looked on to the
garden, she got on to the sofa and pushed the heavy sash up.

There was a good-sized garden without, and trees in it--poplar, lime,
and thorn, now nearly leafless; but it was very pleasant to see them and
to feel the mild autumn air on her face, so pleasant that Fan thought
no more about her book. Ivy grew in abundance against the walls of the
garden, and there were laurel and other evergreen shrubs in it, and a
few China asters--white, red, and purple--still blooming. No sound came
to her at that quiet back window, except the loud glad chirruping of the
sparrows that had their home there. How still and peaceful it seemed!
The pale October sunshine--pale, but never had sunshine seemed
so divine, so like a glory shining on earth from the far heavenly
throne--fell lighting up the dark leaves of ivy and laurel, stiff and
green and motionless as if cut out of malachite, and the splendid red
and purple shields of the asters; and filling the little dun-coloured
birds with such joy that their loud chirping grew to a kind of ringing
melody.

Oh, that dark forsaken room in Moon Street, full of bitter memories of
miserable years! Oh, poor dead mother lying for ever silent and cold in
the dark earth! Oh, poor world-weary woman in Dudley Grove, and all
the countless thousands that lived toiling, hungry, hopeless lives in
squalid London tenements--why had she, Fan, been so favoured as to be
carried away from it all into this sweet restful place? Why--why? Then,
even while she asked, wondering, thinking that it was all like a strange
beautiful dream, unable yet to realise it, suddenly as by inspiration
the meaning of the words Miss Starbrow had spoken to her flashed into
her mind; and the thought made her tremble, the blood rushed to her
face, and she felt her eyes growing dim with tears of joy. Was it
true, could it be true, that this proud, beautiful lady--how much more
beautiful now to Fan's mind than all other women!--really loved her, and
that to be loved was all she desired in return? She was on her knees on
the sofa, her arms resting on the window-sill, and forgetful now of the
sunshine and leaves and flowers, and of the birds on the brown twigs
talking together in their glad ringing language, she closed her eyes and
resigned herself wholly to this delicious thought.

"Oh, here you are, sly little cat! Who said you might come into this
room?"

Fan, starting up in alarm, found herself confronted with the pretty
housemaid. But the pretty eyes were sparkling vindictively, the breath
coming short and quick, and the pretty face was white with resentment.

"The lady told me to come here," returned Fan, still a little
frightened.

"Oh, did she! and pray what else did she tell you? And don't lie,
because I shall find you out if you do."

Fan was silent.

"You won't speak, you little sneak! When your mistress is out you must
mind _me_--do you hear? Go instantly and take your filthy rags to the
dust-bin, and ask cook for a bottle of carbolic acid to throw over them.
We don't want any of your nasty infectious fevers brought here, if you
please."

Fan hesitated a few moments, and then replied, "I'll only do what the
lady tells me."

"You'll only do what the lady tells you!" she repeated, with a mocking
whine. Then, in unconscious imitation of the scornful caterpillar in the
wonderful story of Alice, she added, "You! And who are _you_! Shall I
tell you what you are? A filthy, ragged little beggar picked out of the
gutter, a sneaking area thief, put into the house for a spy! You vile
cat, you! A starving mangy cur! Yes, I'll give you your dinner; I'll
feed you on swill and dog-biscuits, and that's better than you ever had
in your life. You, a diseased, pasty-faced little street-walker, too
bad even for the slums, to keep you, to be dressed up and waited on by
respectable servants! How dare you come into this house! I'd like to
wring your miserable sick-chicken's neck for you!"

She was in a boiling rage, and stamped her foot and poured out her
words so rapidly that they almost ran into each other; but Fan's whole
previous life had served to make her indifferent to hard words, however
unjust, and the housemaid's torrent of abuse had not the least effect.

Rosie, on her side, finding that her rage was wasted, sat down to
recover herself, and then began to jeer at her victim, criticising her
appearance, and asking her for the cast-off garments--"for which
your la'ship will have no further use." Finding that her ridicule was
received in the same silent passive way, she became more demonstrative.
"Somebody's been trimming you," she said. "I s'pose Miss Starbrow was
your barber--a nice thing for a lady! Well, I never! But there's one
thing she forgot. Here's a pair of scissors. Now, little sick monkey,
sit still while I trim your eyelashes. It'll be a great improvement,
I'm sure. Oh, you won't! Well, then I'll soon make you." And putting the
pair of small scissors between her lips, she seized Fan by the arms and
tried to force her down on the sofa. Fan resisted silently and with all
her strength, but her strength was by no means equal to Rosie's, and
after a desperate struggle she was overcome and thrown on to the couch.

"Now, will you be quiet and let me trim you!" said the maid.

"No."

In speaking, Rosie had dropped the scissors from her mouth, and not
being able to use her hands occupied in holding her victim down, she
could do nothing worse than make faces, thrust out her tongue, and
finally spit at Fan. Then she thought of something better. "If you won't
be quiet and let me trim you," she said, "I'll pinch your arms till
they're black and blue."

No reply being given, she proceeded to carry out her threat, and Fan set
her teeth together and turned her face away to hide the tears. At length
the other, tired of the struggle, released her. Fan bared her arm,
displaying a large discoloration, and moistened it with her mouth to
soothe the pain. She had a good deal of experience in bruises. "It'll be
black by-and-by," she said, "and I'll show it to the lady when she comes
back."

"Oh, you'll show it to her, you little tell-tale sneak! Then I'll be
even with you and put rat's-bane in your dinner."

"Why don't you leave me alone, then?" said Fan.

Rosie considered for some time, and finally said, "I'll leave you alone
if you'll tell me what you are here for--everything about yourself,
mind, and no lies; and what Miss Starbrow is going to do with you."

"I don't know, and I sha'n't say a word more," returned Fan, whereupon
Rosie slapped her face and ran out of the room.

In spite of the rough handling she had been subjected to, and the pain
in her arm, Fan very soon recovered her composure. Her happiness was too
great to be spoiled by so small a matter, and very soon she returned to
her place at the open window and to her pleasant thoughts.

About midday the maid came again bringing a tray. "Here's your food,
starved puppy; lap it up, and may it choke you," she said, and left the
room.

After she had been gone a few minutes, Fan, beginning to feel hungry,
went to the table, and found a plate of stewed meat and vegetables,
with bread and cheese, and a glass of ale. But over it all Rosie had
carefully sprinkled ashes, and had also dropped a few pinches into the
ale, making it thick and muddy. Now, although on any previous day of her
hungry orphaned existence she would have wiped off the ashes and eaten
the food, on this occasion she determined not to touch it. Her new
surroundings and dress, and the thought that she was no longer without
someone to care for her, had served to inspire in her a pride which was
stronger than hunger. Presently she noticed that the door had a key to
it, and in her indignation at the maid's persecution she ran and locked
it, resolved to let the dinner remain there untasted until Miss Starbrow
should return.

Presently Rosie came back, and finding the door locked, began knocking
and calling. "Open, you cat!" she cried. "I must take the things down,
now you've gobbled up your pig's food. Open, you spiteful little devil!"

"I haven't touched the dinner, and I sha'n't open the door till the lady
comes," she answered, and would say no more.

After a good deal more abuse, Rosie in despair went away; but presently
the cook came up, and Fan opened to her. She had a second supply of food
and beer, without any ashes in it this time, and put it on the table.
"Now, have your dinner, miss," she said, with mock humility. She was
taking away the first tray, but at the door she paused and, looking
back, said, "You won't say nothing to the missus, will you, miss?"

"If she'll let me be I'll not say anything," said Fan.

"Very well, miss, she won't trouble you no more. But, lors, she
don't mean no harm; it's only her little funny ways." And having thus
explained and smoothed matters over, she went off to the kitchen.

About five o'clock Miss Starbrow came in and found Fan still sitting by
the open window in the darkening room.

"Why, my poor girl, you must be half frozen," she said, coming to the
sofa.

But how little Fan felt the chill evening air, when she started up at
the kind greeting, her eyes brightening and her face flushing with that
strange new happiness now warming her blood and making her heart beat
quick!

"Oh no, ma'am, I'm not a bit cold," she said.

The other pulled off her glove and touched the girl's cheek with her
fingers.

"Your skin feels cold enough, anyhow," she returned. "Come into my room;
it is warmer there."

Fan followed into the adjoining large bedroom, where a bright fire was
burning in the grate; and Miss Starbrow, taking off her hat and cloak,
sat down. After regarding the girl for some time in silence, she said
with a little laugh, "What can I do with you, Fan?"

Fan was troubled at this, and glanced anxiously at the other's face,
only to drop her eyes abashed again; but at last, plucking up a little
courage, she said:

"Will you please let me do something in the house, ma'am?" And after a
few moments she added, "I wish I could do something, and--and be your
servant."

Miss Starbrow laughed again, and then frowned a little and sat silent
for some time.

"The fact is," she said at length, "now that you are here I don't quite
know what to do with you. However, that doesn't signify. I took you for
my own pleasure, and it doesn't make much difference to have you in the
house, and if it did I shouldn't care. But you must look after yourself
for the present, as I have just got rid of one servant and there are
only two to do everything. They are anxious for me not to engage a
third just now, and prefer to do all the work themselves, which means, I
suppose, that there will be more plunder to divide between them."

"And can't I help, ma'am?" said Fan, whose last words had not yet been
answered.

"I fancy you would look out of place doing housework," said Miss
Starbrow. "It strikes me that you are not suited for that sort of thing.
If it hadn't been so, I shouldn't have noticed you. The only way in
which I should care to employ you would be as lady's-maid, and for that
you are unfit. Perhaps I shall have you taught needlework and that kind
of thing by-and-by, but I am not going to bother about it just now. For
the present we must jog along just how we can, and you must try to make
yourself as happy as you can by yourself."

Just then the housemaid came up with tea for her mistress.

"Get me another cup--a large one, and some more bread-and-butter," said
Miss Starbrow.

"The young person's tea is in the back room, ma'am," returned Rosie,
with a tremor in her voice.

Miss Starbrow looked at her, but without speaking; the maid instantly
retired to obey the order, and when she set the cup and plate of
bread-and-butter on the tray her hand trembled, while her mistress,
with a slight smile on her lips, watched her face, white with suppressed
rage.

After tea, during which Miss Starbrow had been strangely kind and gentle
to the girl, she said:

"Perhaps you can help me take off my dress, Fan, and comb out my hair."

This was strange work for Fan, but her intense desire to do something
for her mistress partly compensated for her ignorance and awkwardness,
and after a little while she found that combing those long rich black
tresses was an easy and very delightful task. Miss Starbrow sat with
eyes half-closed before the glass, only speaking once or twice to tell
Fan not to hurry.

"The longer you are with my hair the better I like it," she said.

Fan was only too glad to prolong the task; it was such a pleasure to
feel the hair of this woman who was now so much to her; if the glass had
not been before them--the glass in which from time to time she saw
the half-closed eyes studying her face--she would more than once have
touched the dark tresses she held in her hand to her lips.

Miss Starbrow, however, spoke no more to her, but finishing her dressing
went down to her seven o'clock dinner, leaving Fan alone by the fire.
After dinner she came up again and sat by the bedroom fire in the dark
room. Then Rosie came up to her.

"Captain Horton is in the drawing-room, ma'am," she said.

Miss Starbrow rose to go to her visitor.

"You can stay where you are, Fan, until bed-time," she said. "And
by-and-by the maid will give you some supper in the back room. Is Rosie
impudent to you--how has she been treating you to-day?"

Fan was filled with distress, remembering her promise, and cast down her
eyes.

"Very well, say nothing; that's the best way, Fan. Take no notice of
what anyone says to you. Servants are always vile, spiteful creatures,
and will act after their kind. Good-night, my girl," and with that she
went downstairs.

Fan sat there for half an hour longer in the grateful twilight and
warmth of that luxurious room, and then Rosie's voice startled her
crying at the door:

"Doggie! doggie! come and have its supper."

Fan got up and went to the next room, where her supper and a lighted
lamp were on the centre table. Rosie followed her.

"Can you tell the truth?" she said.

"Yes," returned Fan.

"Well, then, have you told Miss Starbrow?"

"No."

"Did she ask you anything?"

"Yes, and I didn't tell her."

"Oh, how very kind!" said Rosie; and giving her a box on the ear, ran
out of the room.

Not much hurt, and not caring much, Fan sat down to her supper.
Returning to the bedroom she heard the sound of the piano, and paused on
the landing to listen. Then a fine baritone voice began singing, and was
succeeded by a woman's voice, a rich contralto, for they were singing
a duet; and voice following voice, and anon mingling in passionate
harmony, the song floated out loud from the open door, and rose and
seemed to fill the whole house, while Fan stood there listening,
trembling with joy at the sound.

The singing and playing continued for upwards of an hour, and Fan still
kept her place, until the maid came up with a candle to show her to
her bedroom. They went up together to the next floor into a small
neatly-furnished room which had been prepared for her.

"Here's your room," said Rosie, setting down the candle on the table,
"and now I'm going to give you a good spanking before you go to bed."

"If you touch me again I'll scream and tell Miss Starbrow everything,"
said Fan, plucking up a spirit.

Rosie shut and locked the door. "Now you can scream your loudest, cat,
and she'll not hear a sound."

For a few moments Fan did not know what to do to save herself; then
all at once the memory of some old violent wrangle came to her aid,
and springing forward she blew out the candle and softly retreated to a
corner of the room, where she remained silent and expectant.

"You little wretch!" exclaimed the other. "Speak, or I'll kill you!" But
there was no answer. For some time Rosie stumbled about until she found
the door, and after some jeering words retreated downstairs, leaving Fan
in the dark.

She had defeated her enemy this time, and quickly locking the door, went
to bed without a light.



CHAPTER VI


The next few days, although very sweet and full to Fan, were uneventful;
then, early on a Wednesday evening, once more Miss Starbrow made her sit
with her at her bedroom fire and talked to her for a long time.

"What did you tell me your name is?" she asked.

"Frances Harrod."

"I don't like it. I call it _horrid_. It was only your stepfather's name
according to your account, and I must find you a different one. Do you
know what your mother's name was--before she married, I mean?"

"Oh yes, ma'am; it was Margaret Affleck."

"Affleck. It is not common and not ugly. Frances Affleck--that sounds
better. Yes, that will do; your name, as long as you live with me, shall
be Affleck; you must not forget that."

"No, ma'am," Fan replied humbly. But she had some doubts, and after a
while said, "But can you change my name, ma'am?"

"Change your name! Why, of course I can. It is just as easy to do that
as to give you a new dress; easier in fact. And what do you know, Fan?
What did they teach you at the Board School? Reading, I suppose; very
well, take this book and read to me."

She took the book, but felt strangely nervous at this unexpected call to
display her accomplishments, and began hurriedly reading in a low voice.

Miss Starbrow laughed.

"I can't stand that, Fan," she said. "You might be gabbling Dutch or
Hindustani. And you are running on without a single pause. Even a bee
hovering about the flowers has an occasional comma, or colon, or
full stop in its humming. Try once more, but not so fast and a little
louder."

The good-humoured tone in which she spoke served to reassure Fan; and
knowing that she could do better, and getting over her nervousness, she
began again, and this time Miss Starbrow let her finish the page.

"You _can_ read, I find. Better, I think, than any of the maids I have
had. You have a very nice expressive voice, and you will do better when
you read a book through from the beginning, and feel interested in it. I
shall let you read every day to me. What else did you learn--writing?"

"Yes, ma'am, I always got a high mark for that. And we had Scripture
lessons, and grammar, and composition, and arithmetic, and geography;
and when I was in the fifth form I had history and drawing."

"History and drawing--well, what next, I wonder! That's what we are
taxed a shilling in the pound for, to give education to a--well, never
mind. But can you really draw, Fan? Here's pencil and paper, just draw
something for me."

"What shall I draw, ma'am?" she said, taking the pencil and feeling
nervous again.

"Oh, anything you like."

Now it happened that her drawing lessons had always given her more
pleasure than anything else at school, but owing to Joe Harrod's
having taken her away as soon as he was allowed to do so, they had not
continued long. Still, even in a short time she had made some progress;
and even after leaving school she had continued to find a mournful
pleasure in depicting leaf and flower forms. Left to choose her own
subject, she naturally began sketching a flower--a-rosebud, half-open,
with leaves.

"Don't hurry, Fan, as you did with your reading. The slower you are the
better it will be," said Miss Starbrow, taking up a volume and beginning
to read, or pretending to read, for her eyes were on the face of the
girl most of the time.

Fan, happily unconscious of the other's regard, gave eight or ten
minutes to her drawing, and then Miss Starbrow took it in her hands to
examine it.

"This is really very well done," she said, "but what in goodness' name
did they teach you drawing for!' What would be the use of it after
leaving school? Well, yes, it might be useful in one way. It astonishes
me to think how you were trying to live, Fan. You were certainly not fit
for that hard rough work, and would have starved at it. You were made,
body and mind, in a more delicate mould, and for something better. I
think that with all you have learnt at school, and with your appearance,
especially with those truthful eyes of yours and that sweet voice, you
might have got a place as nursery governess, to teach small children, or
something of that sort. Why did you go starving about the streets, Fan?"

"But no one would take me with such clothes, ma'am. They wouldn't look
at me or speak to me even in the little shops where I went to ask for
work."

Miss Starbrow uttered a curious little laugh.

"What a strange thing it seems," she said, "that a few shillings to buy
decent clothes may alter a person's destiny. With the shillings--about
as many as the man of God pays for his sirloin--shelter from the weather
and temptations to evil, three meals a day, a long pleasant life,
husband and children, perhaps, and at last--Heaven. And without them,
rags and starvation and the streets, and--well, this is a question for
the mighty intellect of a man and a theologian, not for mine. I dare say
you don't know what I'm talking about, Fan?"

"Not all, ma'am, but I think I understand a little."

"Very little, I should think. Don't try to understand too much, my
poor girl. Perhaps before you are eighty, if you live so long, you will
discover that you didn't even understand a little. Ah, Fan, you have
been sadly cheated by destiny! Childhood without joy, and girlhood
without hope. I wish I could give you happiness to make up for it all,
but I can't be Providence to anyone."

"Oh, ma'am, you have made me so happy!" exclaimed Fan, the tears
springing to her eyes.

Miss Starbrow frowned a little and turned her face aside. Then she said:

"Just because I fed and dressed and sheltered you, Fan--does happiness
come so easily to you?"

"Oh no, ma'am, not that--it isn't that," with such keen distress that
she could scarcely speak without a sob.

"How then have I made you happy? Will you not answer me? I took you
because I believed that you would trust me, and always speak openly from
your heart, and hide nothing."

"Oh, ma'am, I'm afraid to say it. I was so happy because I
thought--because--" and here she sunk her voice to a trembling
whisper--"I thought that you loved me."

Miss Starbrow put her arm round the girl's waist and drew her against
her knees.

"Your instinct was not at fault, Fan," she said in a caressing tone. "I
_do_ love you, and loved you when I saw you in your rags, and it pained
my heart when I told you to clean my doorsteps as if you had been my
sister. No, not a sister, but something better and sweeter; my sisters
I do not love at all. And do you know now what I meant, Fan, when I said
that there was something you could do for me?"

"I think I know," returned Fan, still troubled in her mind and anxious.
"It was that made me feel so happy. I thought--that you wanted me to
love you."

"You are right, my dear girl; I think that I made no mistake when I took
you in."

On that evening Fan had tea with her mistress, and afterwards, earlier
than usual, was allowed to comb her hair out--a task which gave her the
greatest delight. Miss Starbrow then put on an evening dress, which Fan
now saw for the first time, and was filled with wonder at its richness
and beauty. It was of saffron-coloured silk, trimmed with black lace;
but she wore no ornaments with it, except gold bracelets on her round
shapely arms.

"What makes you stare so, Fan?" she said with a laugh, as she stood
surveying herself in the tall glass, and fastening the bracelets on.

"Oh, ma'am, you do look so beautiful in that dress! Are you going to the
theatre to-night?"

"No, Fan. On Wednesday evenings I always have a number of friends come
in to see me--all gentlemen. I have very few lady friends, and care very
little for them. And, now I think of it, you can sit up to-night until I
tell you to go to bed."

"Yes, ma'am."

Miss Starbrow was moving towards the door. Then she paused, and finally
came back and sat down again, and drew Fan against her knee as before.

"Fan," she said, "when you speak about me to others, and to me in the
presence of others, or of the servants, call me Miss Starbrow. I don't
like to hear you call me ma'am, it wounds my ear. Do you understand?"

"Yes--Miss Starbrow."

"But when we are alone together, as we are now, let me hear you call me
Mary. That's my Christian name, and I should like to hear you speak it.
Will you remember?"

"Yes"; and then from her lips trembled the name "Mary."

"It sounds very loving and sweet," said the other, and, drawing the girl
closer, for the first time she kissed her.

With the memory of those tender words and the blissful sensation left
by that unexpected kiss, Fan spent the evening alone, hearing, after
her supper, the arrival of visitors, and the sound of conversation and
laughter from the drawing-room, and then music and singing. Later in
the evening the guests went to sup into the dining-room, and there they
stayed playing cards until eleven o'clock or later, when she heard them
leaving the house.

They were not all gone, however; three of Miss Starbrow's intimate
friends still lingered, drinking whisky-and-water and talking. There
was Captain Horton--captain by courtesy, since he was no longer in the
army--a tall, fine-looking man, slightly horsy in his get-up, with a
very large red moustache, reddish-brown hair, and keen blue eyes. He
wore a cut-away coat, and was standing on the hearthrug, his hands
thrust into his trousers pockets, and smiling as he talked to a young
clerical gentleman near him--the Rev. Octavius Brown. The Rev. Octavius
was curate of a neighbouring ritualistic church, but in his life he was
not ascetic; he loved whisky-and-water not wisely but too well, and he
was passionately devoted to the noble game of Napoleon. Mr. Brown had
just won seven shillings, and was in very high spirits; for being poor
he had a great dread of losing, and played carefully for very small
stakes, and seldom won more than half-a-crown or three shillings. At
some distance from them a young gentleman reclined in an easy-chair,
smoking a cigarette, and apparently not listening to their conversation.
This was Mr. Merton Chance, clerk in the Foreign Office, and supposed
by his friends to be extremely talented. He was rather slight but
well-formed, a little under the medium height, clean shaved, handsome,
colourless as marble, with black hair and dark blue eyes that looked
black.

Miss Starbrow, who had left the room a few minutes before, came in, and
standing by the table listened to the curate.

"Miss Starbrow," said he, appealing to her, "is it not hard? Captain
Horton either doubts my veracity or believes that I am only joking when
I assure him that what I have just told him is plain truth."

"Well, let me hear the whole story," she replied, "and I'll act as
umpire."

"I couldn't wish for a juster one--nor for a fairer," he replied with
a weak smile. "What I said was that I had once attended a dinner to the
clergy in Yorkshire, at which there were sixteen of us present, and
the surnames of all were names of things--objects or offices or
something--connected with a church."

"Well, what were the names?"

"You see he remembers only one--a Mr. Church," said Captain Horton.

"No, pardon me. A Mr. Church, and a Mr. Bishop, and a Mr. Priest, and a
Mr. Cross, and--and oh, yes, Mr. Bell."

"Five of your sixteen," said Captain Horton, checking them off on his
fingers.

"And a Mr. Graves, and a Mr. Sexton, and--and--of course, I can't
remember all the names now. Can you expect it, Miss Starbrow?"

"No, of course not; but you have only named seven. If you can remember
ten I shall decide in your favour."

"Thank you. There was a Mr. Church--"

"No, no, old man, we've had that already," cried the Captain.

"Mr. Tombs," he continued, and fell again to thinking.

"That makes eight," said Miss Starbrow. "Cheer up, Mr. Brown, you'll
soon remember two others."

"Your own name makes nine, Mr. Brown," broke in Mr. Chance, "only I
can't make out what connection it has with a church."

The other two laughed.

"I'm afraid it looks very bad for you," said Miss Starbrow.

"No, no, Miss Starbrow, please don't think that. Wait a minute and let
me see if I can remember how that was," said the poor curate. "I _think_
I said that all present at the table except myself--"

"No, there was no exception," interrupted Captain Horton. "Now, if you
sixteen fellows had been Catholic priests instead of in the Established
Church, and you were Scarlett by name instead of Brown--"

"Don't say any more--please!" cried the curate, lifting his hand. "You
are going too far, Captain Horton. I like a little innocent fun
well enough, but I draw the line at sacred subjects. Let us drop the
subject."

"Oh, yes, of course, that's a good way of getting out of it. And as
for jesting about sacred matters, I always understood that one couldn't
prove his zeal for Protestantism better than by having a shot at the
Roman business."

"I am happy to say that I do not class myself with Prots," said the
curate, getting up from his chair very carefully, and then consulting
his watch. "I must run away now--"

"You can't do it," interrupted the Captain.

Miss Starbrow laughed. "Don't go just yet, Mr. Brown," she said. "I wish
you all to help me with your advice, or with an opinion at least. You
know that I have taken in a young girl, and I have not yet decided what
to do with her. I shall call her down for you to see her, as you are all
three my very candid friends, and you shall tell me what you think of
her appearance."

She then opened the door and called Fan down, and the poor girl was
brought into the neighbourhood of the three gentlemen, and stood with
eyes cast down, her pale face reddening with shame to find herself the
centre of so much curiosity.

Miss Starbrow glanced at the Captain, who was keenly studying Fan's
face, as he stood before the fire, stroking his red moustache.

"Well, if I'm to give a candid opinion," he said, "all I can say is that
she looks an underfed little monkey."

"I think you are excessively rude!" returned Miss Starbrow, firing up.
"She is too young to feel your words, perhaps, but they are nothing less
than insulting to my judgment."

"Oh, confound it, Pollie, you are always flying out at me! I dare say
she's a good girl--she looks it, but if you want me to say that she's
good-looking, I can't be such a hypocrite even to please you."

Miss Starbrow flashed a keen glance at him, and then without replying
turned to Mr. Brown.

"Really--honestly, Miss Starbrow," he said, "you couldn't have selected
a more charming-looking girl. But your judgment is always--well, just
what it should be; that goes without saying."

She turned impatiently from him and looked at Mr. Chance, still
gracefully reclining in his chair.

"Is my poor opinion really worth anything to you?" he said, and rising
he walked over to the girl and touched her hand, which made her start a
little. "I wish to see your eyes--won't you look at me?" He spoke very
gently.

Fan glanced up into his face for a moment.

"Thank you--just what I thought," said he, returning to his seat.

"Well?" said Miss Starbrow.

"Must I put it in words--those poor symbols?" he returned. "I know so
well that you can understand without them."

"Perhaps I might if I tried very hard, but I choose not to try," she
replied, with a slight toss of her head.

"It is a pleasure to obey; but the poor girl looks nervous and
uncomfortable, and would be so glad _not_ to hear my personal remarks."

"Oh yes, it was thoughtless of me to keep her here--thanks for reminding
me," said Miss Starbrow, with a strange softening of her voice her
friends were not accustomed to hear. "Run up to your room, Fan, and go
to bed. I'm sorry I've kept you up so late, poor child."

And Fan, with a grateful look towards Mr. Chance, left the room gladly
enough.

"When she first came into the room I wondered what had attracted you,"
said Mr. Chance. "I concluded that it must be something under those long
drooping eyelashes, and when I looked there I found out the secret."

"Intelligent eyes--very intelligent eyes--I noticed that also," said Mr.
Brown.

"Oh no, heaven forbid--I did not mean anything of the kind," said Mr.
Chance. "Intelligence is a masculine quality which I do not love to see
in a woman: it is suitable for us, like a rough skin and--moustachios,"
with a glance at Captain Horton, and touching his own clean-shaven upper
lip. "The more delicate female organism has something finer and higher
than intelligence, which however serves the same purpose--and other
purposes besides."

"I don't quite follow you," said the curate, again preparing to take his
leave. "I dare say it's all plain enough to some minds, but--well, Mr.
Chance, you'll forgive me for saying that when you talk that way I don't
know whether I'm standing on my head or my heels."

"Naturally, you wouldn't," said Captain Horton, with a mocking smile.
"But don't go yet, Brown; have some more whisky-and-water."

"No, thanks, no more. I never exceed two or three glasses, you know.
Thank you, my dear Miss Starbrow, for a most delightful evening." And
after shaking hands he made his way to the door, bestowing a kindly
touch on each chair in passing, and appearing greatly relieved when he
reached the hall.

Captain Horton lit a cigarette and threw himself into an easy-chair. Mr.
Chance lit another cigarette; if the other was an idle man, he (Chance)
was in the Foreign Office, and privileged to sit up as late as he liked.

"On the whole," he said in a meditative way, "I am inclined to think
that Brown is a rather clever fellow."

Miss Starbrow laughed: she was still standing. "You two appear to be
taking it very quietly," she said. "It is one o'clock--why will you
compel me to be rude?"

Then they started up, put on their coats, exchanged a few words at the
door with their hostess, and walked down the street together. Presently
a hansom came rattling along the quiet street.

"Keb, sir?" came the inevitable question, in a tone sharp as a
whip-crack, as the driver pulled up near the kerb.

"Yes, two cabs," said Captain Horton. "I'll toss you for the first,
Chance"; and pulling out a florin he sent it spinning up and deftly
caught it as it fell. "Heads or tails?"

"Oh, take it yourself, and I'll find another."

"No, no, fair play," insisted the Captain.

"Very well then, heads."

"Tails!" cried the other, opening his hand. "Goodnight, old man, you're
sure to find one in another minute. Oxford Terrace," he cried to the
driver, jumping in. And the cabman, who had watched the proceedings with
the deep interest and approval of a true sporting man, shook the reins,
flicked the horse's ears with his whip, clicked with his tongue, and
drove rapidly away.

Left to himself, Mr. Chance sauntered on in no hurry to get home, and
finally stood still at a street corner, evidently pondering some matter
of considerable import to him. "By heaven, I'm more than half resolved
to try it!" he exclaimed at last. And after a little further reflection,
he added, "And I shall--

   "He either fears his fate too much,
      Or his deserts are small,
    Who dares not put it to the touch
      To win or lose it all."

Then he turned and walked deliberately back to Dawson Place: coming to
the house which he had lately quitted, he peered anxiously at windows
and doors, and presently caught sight of a faint reflection from burning
gas or candle within on the fanlight over the street door, which, he
conjectured, came from the open dining-room.

"Fortune favours me," he said to himself. "'Faint heart never won fair
lady.' A happy inspiration, I am beginning to think. Losing that toss
will perhaps result in my winning a higher stake. There's a good deal of
dash and devilry in that infernal blackguard Horton, and doubtless
that is why he has made some progress here. Well then, she ought to
appreciate my spirit in coming to her at this time of night, or morning,
rather. There's a wild, primitive strain in her; she's not to be wooed
and won in the usual silly mawkish way. More like one of the old Sabine
women, who liked nothing better than being knocked down and dragged off
by their future lords. I suppose that a female of that antique type
of mind can be knocked down and taken captive, as it were, with good
vigorous words, just as formerly they were knocked down with the fist or
the butt end of a spear."

His action was scarcely in keeping with the daring, resolute spirit of
his language: instead of seizing the knocker and demanding admittance
with thunderous racket, he went cautiously up the steps, rapped softly
on the door with his knuckles, and then anxiously waited the result of
his modest summons.

Miss Starbrow was in the dining-room, and heard the tapping. Her
servants had been in bed two hours; and after the departure of her late
guests she had turned off the gas at the chandelier, and was leaving the
room, when seeing a _Globe_, left by one of her visitors, she took it
up to glance at the evening's news. Something she found in the paper
interested her, and she continued reading until that subdued knocking
attracted her attention. Taking up her candle she went to the door and
unfastened it, but without letting down the chain. Her visitor hurriedly
whispered his name, and asked to be admitted for a few minutes, as he
had something very important to communicate.

She took down the chain and allowed him to come into the hall. "Why
have you come back?" she demanded in some alarm. "Where is Captain
Horton?--you left together."

"He went home in the first cab we found. We tossed for it, and he won,
for which I thank the gods. Then, acting on the impulse of the moment, I
came back to say something to you. A very unusual--very eccentric thing
to do, no doubt. But when something involving great issues has to be
done or said, I think the best plan is _not_ to wait for a favourable
opportunity. Don't you agree with me?"

"I don't understand you, Mr. Chance, and am therefore unable to agree
with you. I hope you are not going to keep me standing here much
longer."

"Not for a moment! But will you not let me come inside to say the few
words I have to say?"

"Oh yes, you may come in," she returned not very graciously, and
leading the way to the dining-room, where decanters, tumblers, and cards
scattered about the table, seen by the dim light of one candle, gave it
a somewhat disreputable appearance. "What do you wish to say to me?" she
asked a little impatiently, and seating herself.

He took a chair near her. "You are a little unkind to hurry me in this
way," he said, trying to smile, "since you compel me to put my request
in very plain blunt language. However, that is perhaps the best plan.
Twice I have come to you intending to speak, and have been baffled by
fate--"

"Then you might have written, or telegraphed," she interrupted, "if the
matter was so important."

"Not very well," he returned, growing very serious. "You know that as
well as I do. You must know, dear Miss Starbrow, that I have admired you
for a long time. Perhaps you also know that I love you. Miss Starbrow,
will you be my wife and make me happy?"

"No, Mr. Chance, I cannot be your wife and make you happy. I must
decline your offer."

Her cold, somewhat ironical tone from the first had prepared him for
this result, and he returned almost too quickly, "Oh, I see, you are
offended with me for coming to you at this hour. I must suffer the
consequences of my mistake, and study to be more cautious and proper in
the future. I have always regarded you as an unconventional woman. That,
to my mind, is one of your greatest charms; and when I say that I say a
good deal. I never imagined that my coming to you like this would have
prejudiced you against me."

She gave a little laugh, but there was an ominous cloud on her face
as she answered: "You imagined it was the right thing to do to come at
half-past one o'clock in the morning to offer me your hand! Your opinion
of my conduct is not a subject I am the least interested in; but whether
I am unconventional or not, I assure you, Mr. Chance, that I am not to
be pushed or driven one step further than I choose to go."

"I should never dream of attempting such a thing, Miss Starbrow. But it
would be useless to say much more; whatever line I take to-night only
makes matters worse for me. But allow me to say one thing before bidding
you good-night. The annoyance you feel at the present moment will not
last. You have too much generosity, too much intellect, to allow it
to rest long in your bosom; and deeply as I feel this rebuff, I am not
going to be so weak as to let it darken and spoil my whole life. No, my
hope is too strong and too reasonable to be killed so easily. I shall
come to you again, and again, and again. For I know that with you for a
wife and companion my life would be a happy one; and not happy only,
for that is not everything. An ambitious man looks to other greater and
perhaps better things."

The cloud was gone from her brows, and she sat regarding him as he spoke
with a slight smile on her lips and a curious critical expression in
her eyes. When he finished speaking she laughed and said, "But is _my_
happiness of such little account--do you not propose to make _me_ happy
also, Mr. Chance?"

"No," he returned, his face clouding, and dropping his eyes before her
mocking gaze. "You shall not despise me. Single or married, you must
make your own happiness or misery. You know that; why do you wish to
make me repeat the wretched commonplaces that others use?"

"I'm glad you have so good an opinion of yourself, Mr. Chance," she
replied. "I was vexed with you at first, but am not so now. To watch
the changes of your chameleon mind, not always successful in getting
the right colour at the right moment, is just as good as a play. If you
really mean to come again and again I shall not object--it will amuse
me. Only do not come at two o'clock in the morning; it might compromise
me, and, unconventional as I am, I should not forgive you a second time.
But honestly, Mr. Chance, I don't believe you will come again. You know
now that I know you, and you are too wise to waste your energies on me.
I hope you will not give up visiting me--in the daytime. We admire each
other, and I have always had a friendly feeling for you. That is a real
feeling--not an artificial one like the love you spoke of."

He rose to go. "Time will show whether it is an artificial feeling or
not," he said; and after bidding good-night and hearing the door close
after him, he walked away towards Westbourne Grove. He had gone from her
presence with a smile on his lips, but in the street it quickly vanished
from his face, and breaking into a rapid walk and clenching his fists,
he exclaimed, between his set teeth, "Curse the jade!"

It was not a sufficient relief to his feelings, and yet he seemed unable
to think of any other expression more suitable to the occasion, for
after going a little further, he repeated, "Curse the jade!"

Then he walked on slower and slower, and finally stopped, and turning
towards Dawson Place, he repeated for the third time, "Curse the jade!"



CHAPTER VII


Fan saw no more company after that evening, for which she was not sorry;
but that had been a red-letter day to her--not soon, perhaps never, to
be forgotten.

Great as the human adaptiveness is at the age at which Fan then was,
that loving-kindness of her mistress--of one so proud and beautiful
above all women, and, to the girl's humble ideas, so rich "beyond
the dreams of avarice"--retained its mysterious, almost incredible,
character to her mind, and was a continual cause of wonder to her, and
at times of ill-defined but anxious thought. For what had she--a poor,
simple, ignorant useless girl--to keep the affection of such a one as
Miss Starbrow? And as the days and weeks went by, that vague anxiety did
not leave her; for the more she saw of her mistress, the less did she
seem like one of a steadfast mind, whose feelings would always remain
the same. She was touchy, passionate, variable in temper; and if her
stormy periods were short-lived, she also had cold and sullen moods,
which lasted long, and turned all her sweetness sour; and at such times
Fan feared to approach her, but sat apart distressed and sorrowful. And
yet, whatever her mood was, she never spoke sharply to Fan, or seemed
to grow weary of her. And once, during one of those precious half-hours,
when they sat together at the bedroom fire before dinner, when Miss
Starbrow in a tender mood again drew the girl to her side and kissed
her, Fan, even while her heart was overflowing with happiness, allowed
something of the fear that was mixed with it to appear in her words.

"Oh, Mary, if I could do something for you!" she murmured. "But I can do
nothing--I can only love you. I wish--I wish you would tell me what to
do to--to keep your love!"

Miss Starbrow's face clouded. "Perhaps your heart is a prophetic one,
Fan," she said; "but you must not have those dismal forebodings, or if
they will come, then pay as little heed to them as possible. Everything
changes about us, and we change too--I suppose we can't help it. Let us
try to believe that we will always love each other. Our food is not less
grateful to us because it is possible that at some future day we shall
have to go hungry. Oh, poor Fan, why should such thoughts trouble your
young heart? Take the goods the gods give you, and do not repine because
we are not angels in Heaven, with an eternity to enjoy ourselves in.
I love you now, and find it sweet to love you, as I have never loved
anyone of my own sex before. Women, as a rule, I detest. You can do, and
are doing, more than you know for me."

Fan did not understand it all; but something of it she did understand,
and it had a reassuring effect on her mind.

Her life at this period was a solitary one. After breakfast she would go
out for a walk, usually to Kensington Gardens, and returning by way of
Westbourne Grove, to execute some small commissions for her mistress.
Between dinner and tea the time was mostly spent in the back room on the
first floor, which nobody else used; and when the weather permitted she
sat with the window open, and read aloud to improve herself in the art,
and practised writing and drawing, or read in some book Miss Starbrow
had recommended to her. With all her time so agreeably filled she did
not feel her loneliness, and the life of ease and plenty soon began
to tell on her appearance. Her skin became more pure and transparent,
although naturally pale; her eyes grew brighter, and could look glad
as well as sorrowful; her face lost its painfully bony look, and was
rounder and softer, and the straight lines and sharp angles of her
girlish form changed to graceful curves from day to day. Miss Starbrow,
regarding her with a curious and not untroubled smile, remarked:

"You are improving in your looks every day, Fan; by-and-by you will be a
beautiful girl--and then!"

The attitude of the servants had not changed towards her, the
cook continuing to observe a kind of neutrality which was scarcely
benevolent, while the housemaid's animosity was still active; but it
had ceased to trouble her very much. Since the evening on which Fan
had baffled her by blowing out the candle, Rosie had not attempted to
inflict corporal punishment beyond an occasional pinch or slap, but
contented herself by mocking and jeering, and sometimes spitting at her.

Rosie is destined to disappear from the history of Fan's early life in
the first third of this volume; but before that time her malice bore
very bitter fruit, and for that and other reasons her character is
deserving of some description.

She was decidedly pretty, short but well-shaped, with a small English
slightly-upturned nose; small mouth with ripe red lips, which were never
still except when she held them pressed with her sharp white teeth to
make them look redder and riper than ever. Her brown fluffy hair
was worn short like a boy's, and she looked not unlike a handsome
high-spirited boy, with brown eyes, mirthful and daring. She was
extremely vivacious in disposition, and active--too active, in fact, for
she got through her housemaid's work so quickly that it left her many
hours of each day in which to listen to the promptings of the demon of
mischief. It was only because she did her work so rapidly and so well
that her mistress kept her on--"put up with her," as she expressed
it--in spite of her faults of temper and tongue. But Rosie's heart was
not in her work. She was romantic and ambitious, and her shallow little
brain was filled with a thousand dreams of wonderful things to be. She
was a constant and ravenous reader of _Bow Bells_, the _London Journal_,
and one or two penny weeklies besides; and not satisfied with the
half-hundred columns of microscopical letterpress they afforded her,
she laid her busy hands on all the light literature left about by her
mistress, and thought herself hardly treated because Miss Starbrow was
a great reader of French novels. It was exceedingly tantalising to know
that those yellow-covered books were so well suited to her taste, and
not be able to read them. For someone had told her what nice books they
were--someone with a big red moustache, who was as fond of pretty red
lips as a greedy school-boy is of ripe cherries.

Many were the stolen interviews between the daring little housemaid and
her gentleman lover; sometimes in the house itself, in a shaded part
of the hall, or in one of the reception-rooms when a happy opportunity
offered--and opportunities always come to those who watch for them;
sometimes out of doors in the shadow of convenient trees in the
neighbouring quiet street and squares after dark. But Rosie was not too
reckless. There was a considerable amount of cunning in that small
brain of hers, which prevented her from falling over the brink of the
precipice on the perilous edge of which she danced like a playful kid so
airily. It was very nice and not too naughty to be cuddled and kissed
by a handsome gentleman, with a big moustache, fine eyes, and baritone
voice! but she was not prepared to go further than that--just yet; only
pretending that by-and-by--perhaps; firing his heart with languishing
sighs, the soft unspoken "Ask me no more, for at a touch I yield"; and
then she would slip from his arms, and run away to put by the little
present of sham jewellery, and think it all very fine fun. They were
amusing themselves. His serious love-making was for her mistress.
She--Rosie--had a future--a great splendid future, to which she must
advance by slow degrees, step by step, sometimes even losing ground a
little--and much had been lost since that starved white kitten had come
into the house.

When Miss Starbrow, in a fit of anger, had dismissed her maid some
months before, and then had accepted some little personal assistance in
dressing for the play, and at other times, from her housemaid, Rosie at
once imagined that she was winning her way to her mistress's heart, and
her silly dream was that she would eventually get promoted to the vacant
and desirable place of lady's-maid. The cast-off dresses, boots, pieces
of finery, and many other things which would be her perquisites would
be a little fortune to her, and greatly excited her cupidity. But there
were other more important considerations: she would occupy a much higher
position in the social scale, and dress well, her hands and skin would
grow soft and white, and her appearance and conversation would be that
of a lady; for to be a lady's-maid is, of course, the nearest thing to
being a lady. And with her native charms, ambitious intriguing brain,
what might she not rise to in time? and she had been so careful, and,
she imagined, had succeeded so well in ingratiating herself with her
mistress; and by means of a few well-constructed lies had so filled Miss
Starbrow with disgust at the ordinary lady's-maid taken ready-made out
of a registry-office, that she had begun to look on the place almost
as her own. She had quite overlooked the small fact that she was not
qualified to fill it, and never would be. If she had proposed such an
arrangement, Miss Starbrow would have laughed heartily, and sent the
impudent minx away with a flea in her ear; but she had not yet ventured
to broach the subject.

Fan's coming into the house had not only filled her with the indignation
natural to one of her class and in her position at being compelled
to wait on a girl picked up half-starved in the streets; but when it
appeared that her mistress meant to keep Fan and make much of her, then
her jealousy was aroused, and she displayed as much spite and malice as
she dared. She had not succeeded in frightening Fan into submission, and
she had not dared to invent lies about her; and unable to use her only
weapon, she felt herself for the time powerless. On the other hand, it
was evident that Fan had made no complaints.

"I'd like to catch the little beggar daring to tell tales of me!" she
exclaimed, clenching her vindictive little fists in a fury. But when her
mistress gave her any commands about Fan's meals, or other matters,
her tone was so sharp and peremptory, and her eyes so penetrating, that
Rosie knew that the hatred she cherished in her heart was no secret. The
voice, the look seemed to say plainly, as if it had been expressed in
words, "One word and you go; and when you send to me for a character,
you shall have justice but no mercy."

This was a terrible state of things for Rosie. There was nothing she
could do; and to sit still and wait was torture to one of her restless,
energetic mind. When her mistress was out of the house she could give
vent to her spite by getting into Fan's room and teasing her in every
way that her malice suggested. But Fan usually locked her out, and would
not even open the door to take in her dinner when it was brought; then
Rosie would wait until it was cold before leaving it on the landing.

When Miss Starbrow was in the house, and had Fan with her to comb her
hair or read to her, Rosie would hang about, listening at keyholes, to
find out how matters were progressing between "lady and lady's-maid."
But nothing to give her any comfort was discovered. On the contrary,
Miss Starbrow showed no signs of becoming disgusted at her own
disgraceful infatuation, and seemed more friendly towards the girl than
ever. She took her to the dressmaker at the West End, and had a very
pretty, dark green walking-dress made for her, in which Fan looked
prettier than ever. She also bought her a new stylish hat, a grey fur
cape, and long gloves, besides giving her small pieces of jewellery, and
so many things besides that poor Rosie was green with envy. Then, as a
climax, she ordered in a new pretty iron bed for the girl, and had it
put in her own room.

"Fan will be so much warmer and more comfortable here than at the top of
the house," she remarked to Rosie, as if she too had a little malice in
her disposition, and was able to take pleasure in sprinkling powder on a
raw sore.



CHAPTER VIII


Not until the end of November did anything important occur to make a
break in Fan's happy, and on the whole peaceful, life in Dawson Place;
then came an eventful day, which rudely reminded her that she was
living, if not on, at any rate in the neighbourhood of a volcano. One
morning that was not wet nor foggy Miss Starbrow made up her mind to
visit the West End to do a little shopping, and, to the maid's unbounded
disgust, she took Fan with her. An hour after breakfast they started in
a hansom and drove to the Marble Arch, where they dismissed the cab.

"Now," said Miss Starbrow, who was in high spirits, "we'll walk to
Peter Robinson's and afterwards to Piccadilly Circus, looking at all the
shops, and then have lunch at the St. James's Restaurant; and walk home
along the parks. It is so beautifully dry underfoot to-day."

Fan was delighted with the prospect, and they proceeded along Oxford
Street. The thoroughfares about the Marble Arch had been familiar to her
in the old days, and yet they seemed now to have a novel and infinitely
more attractive appearance--she did not know why. But the reason was
very simple. She was no longer a beggar, hungry, in rags, ashamed, and
feeling that she had no right to be there, but was herself a part of
that pleasant world of men and women and children. An old Moon Street
neighbour, seeing her now in her beautiful dress and with her sweet
peaceful face, would not have recognised her.

At Peter Robinson's they spent about half an hour, Miss Starbrow making
some purchases for herself, and, being in a generous mood, she also
ordered a few things for Fan. As they came out at the door they met a
Mr. Mortimer, an old friend of Miss Starbrow's, elderly, but dandified
in his dress, and got up to look as youthful as possible. After warmly
shaking hands with Miss Starbrow, and bowing to Fan, he accompanied
them for some distance up Regent Street. Fan walked a little ahead. Mr.
Mortimer seemed very much taken with her, and was most anxious to find
out all about her, and to know how she came to be in Miss Starbrow's
company. The answers he got were short and not explicit; and whether
he resented this, or merely took a malicious pleasure in irritating his
companion, whose character he well knew, he continued speaking of Fan,
protesting that he had not seen a lovelier girl for a long time, and
begging Miss Starbrow to note how everyone--or every _man_, rather,
since man only has eyes to see so exquisite a face--looked keenly at the
girl in passing.

"My dear Miss Starbrow," he said, "I must congratulate you on
your--ahem--late repentance. You know you were always a great
woman-hater--a kind of she-misogynist, if such a form of expression
is allowable. You must have changed indeed before bringing that fresh
charming young girl out with you." He angered her and she did not
conceal it, because she could not, though knowing that he was studying
to annoy her from motives of revenge. For this man, who was old enough
to be her father, and had spent the last decade trying to pick up a
woman with money to mend his broken fortunes--this watery-eyed, smirking
old beau, who wrote himself down young, going about Regent Street on a
cold November day without overcoat or spectacles--this man had had the
audacity to propose marriage to her! She had sent him about his business
with a burst of scorn, which shook his old, battered moral constitution
like a tempest of wind and thunder, and he had not forgotten it. He
chuckled at the successful result of his attack, not caring to conceal
his glee; but this meeting proved very unfortunate for poor Fan. After
dismissing her old lover with scant courtesy, Miss Starbrow caught up
with the girl, and they walked on in silence, looking at no shop-windows
now. One glance at the dark angry face was enough to spoil Fan's
pleasure for the day and to make her shrink within herself, wondering
much as to what had caused so great and sudden a change.

Arrived at Piccadilly Circus, Miss Starbrow called a cab.

"Get in, Fan," she said, speaking rather sharply. "I have a headache and
am going home."

The headache seemed so like a fit of anger that Fan did not venture to
speak one word of sympathy.

After reaching home, Miss Starbrow, without saying a word, went to her
room. Fan ventured to follow her there.

"I wish to be left alone for the rest of the day," said her mistress.
"Tell Rosie that I don't wish to be disturbed. After you have had your
dinner go down to the drawing-room and sit there by the fire with your
book. And--stay, if anyone calls to see me, say that I have a headache
and do not wish to be disturbed."

Fan went sorrowfully away and had her dinner, and was mocked by Rosie
when she delivered the message, and then taking her book she went to the
drawing-room on the ground-floor. After she had been there half an hour
she heard a knock, and presently the door was opened and Captain Horton
walked in.

"What, alone, Miss Affleck! Tell me about Miss Starbrow," he said,
advancing and taking her hand.

Fan explained that Miss Starbrow was lying down, suffering from a
headache, and did not wish to be disturbed.

"I am sorry to hear it," he said. "But I can sit here and have a little
conversation with you, Fan--your name is Fan, is it not?"

He sat down near the fire still keeping her hand in his, and when she
tried gently to withdraw it, his grasp became firmer. His hand was very
soft, as is usual with men who play cards much--and well; and it held
tenaciously--again a characteristic of the card-playing hand.

"Oh, please, sir, let me go!" she said.

"Why, my dear child, don't you know it's the custom for a gentleman
to hold a girl's hand in his when he talks to her? But you have always
lived among the very poor--have you not?--where they have different
customs. Never mind, Fan, you will soon learn. Now look up, Fan, and
let me see those wonderful eyes of yours; yes, they are very pretty. You
don't mind my teaching you a little, do you, Fan, so that you will know
how to behave when you are with well-bred people?"

"No, sir; but please, sir, will you let me go?"

"Why, you foolish child, I am not going to hurt you. You don't take me
for a dentist, do you?" he continued, trying to make her laugh. But his
smile and the look in his eyes only frightened her. "Look here, Fan,
I will teach you something else. Don't you know that it is the custom
among ladies and gentlemen for a young girl to kiss a gentleman when he
speaks kindly to her?"

"No," said Fan, reddening and trying again to free herself.

"Don't be so foolish, child, or you will never learn how to behave. Do
you know that if you make a noise or fuss you'll disturb your mistress
and she will be very angry with you. Come now, be a good dear little
girl."

And with gentle force he drew her between his knees and put his arm
round her. Fan, afraid to cry out, struggled vainly to get free; he held
her firmly and closely, and had just put his lips to her face when the
door swung open, and Miss Starbrow sailed like a tragedy-queen into
the room, her head thrown back, her face white as marble and her eyes
gleaming.

The visitor instantly rose, while Fan, released from his grip, her face
crimson with shame, slunk away, trembling with apprehension.

"Captain Horton, what is the meaning of this?" demanded the lady.

"Why nothing--a mere trifle--a joke, Pollie. Your little girl doesn't
mind being kissed by a friend of the family--that's all."

"Come here, Fan," she said, in a tone of concentrated rage; and the
girl, frightened and hesitating, approached her. "This is the way you
behave the moment my back is turned. You corrupt-minded little wretch!
Take that!" and with her open hand she struck the girl's face a cruel
blow, with force enough to leave the red print of her fingers on the
pale cheek.

Fan, covering her face with her hands, shrunk back against the wall,
sobbing convulsively.

"Oh, come, Pollie!" exclaimed Horton, "don't be so hard on the poor
monkey--she's a mere child, you know, and didn't think any harm."

Miss Starbrow made no reply, but standing motionless looked at
him--watched his face with a fierce, dangerous gleam in her half-closed
eyes.

"Don't stand snivelling here," she spoke, turning to Fan. "Go up
instantly to the back room, and stay there. I shall know how to trust a
girl out of the slums another time."

Crying bitterly she left the room, and her mistress shut the door after
her, remaining there with her lover.

Fan found the window of the back room open, but she did not feel cold;
and kneeling on the sofa, with her face resting on her hands, and still
crying, she remained there for a long time. A little wintry sunshine
rested on the garden, brightening the brown naked branches of the trees
and the dark green leaves of ivy and shrub, and gladdening the sparrows.
By-and-by the shortlived sunshine died away, and the sparrows left. It
was strangely quiet in the house; distinctly she heard Miss Starbrow
come out of the drawing-room and up the stairs; she trembled a little
then and felt a little rebellious stirring in her heart, thinking that
her mistress was coming up to her. But no, she went to her own room, and
closed the door. Then Rosie came in, stealing up to her on tiptoe, and
curiously peering into her face.

"Oh I say--something's happened!" she exclaimed, and tripped joyfully
away. Half an hour later she came up with some tea.

"I've brought your la'ship a cup of tea. I'm sure it will do your head
good," she said, advancing with mincing steps and affecting profound
sympathy in her tone.

"Take it away--I shan't touch it!" returned Fan, becoming angry in her
misery.

"Oh, but your la'ship's health is so important! Society will be so
distressed when it hears that your la'ship is unwell! I'll leave the cup
in the window in case your la'ship--"

Fan pushed cup and saucer angrily away, and over they went, falling
outside down to the area, where they struck with a loud crash and were
shivered to pieces.

Rosie laughed and clapped her hands in glee. "Oh, I'm so glad you've
smashed it!" she exclaimed. "I'll tell Miss Starbrow, and then you'll
see! That cup was the thing she valued most in the house. She bought it
at a sale at Christie and Manson's and gave twenty-five guineas for it.
Oh, how mad she'll be!"

Fan paid no heed to her words, knowing that there was no truth in them.
While pushing it away she had noticed that it was an old kitchen cup,
chipped and cracked and without a handle; the valuable curio had as a
fact been fished out of a heap of rubbish that morning by the maid, who
thought that it would serve very well for "her la'ship's tea."

Rosie got tired of tormenting her, and took herself off at last; then
another hour went slowly by while it gradually grew dark; and as the
lights faded her rebellious feelings left her, and she began to hope
that Miss Starbrow would soon call her or come to her. And at length,
unable to bear the loneliness and suspense, she went to the bedroom door
and softly knocked. There was no answer, and trying the door she found
that it was locked. She waited outside the door for about half an hour,
and then hearing her mistress moving in the room she tapped again, with
the same result as before. Then she went back despairingly to the back
room and her place beside the window. The night was starry and not very
cold, and to protect herself from the night air she put on her fur cape.
Hour after hour she listened to the bells of St. Matthew's chiming the
quarters, feeling a strange loneliness each time the chimes ceased; and
then, after a few minutes' time, beginning again to listen for the next
quarter. It was getting very late, and still no one came to her, not
even Rosie with her supper, which she had made up her mind not to touch.
Then she dropped her head on her hands, and cried quietly to herself.
She had so many thoughts, and each one seemed sadder than the last. For
the great tumult in her soul was over now, and she could think about it
all, and of all the individuals who had treated her cruelly. She felt
very differently towards them. Captain Horton she feared and hated, and
wished him dead with all her heart; and Rosie she also hated, but not so
intensely, for the maid's enmity had not injured her. Against Mary she
only felt a great anger, but no hatred; for Mary had been so kind, so
loving, and she could not forget that, and all the sweetness it had
given her life. Then she began to compare this new luxurious life in
Dawson Place to the old wretched life in Moon Street, which now seemed
so far back in time; and it seemed strange to her that, in spite of the
great difference, yet to-night she felt more unhappy than she had ever
felt in the old days. She remembered her poor degraded mother, who had
never turned against her, and cried quietly again, leaning her face on
the window-sill. Then she had a thought which greatly perplexed her,
and she asked herself why it was in those old days, when hard words
and unjust blows came to her, she only felt a fearful shrinking of the
flesh, and wished like some poor hunted animal to fly away and hide
herself from her tormentors, while now a spirit of resentment and
rebellion was kindled in her and burnt in her heart with a strange fire.
Was it wrong to feel like that, to wish that those who made her suffer
were dead? That was a hard question which Fan put to herself, and she
could not answer it.

Her long fast and the excitement she had experienced, with so many
lonely hours of suspense after it, began to tell on her and make her
sleepy. It was eleven o'clock; she heard the servants going round to
fasten doors and turn off the gas, and finally they passed her landing
on their way to bed. It was getting very cold, and giving up all hope
of being called by her mistress, she closed the window and, with an
old table-cover for covering, coiled herself up on the sofa and went to
sleep.

When she woke it was with a start; her face had grown very cold, and she
felt a warm hand touching her cheek. The hand was quickly withdrawn when
she woke, and looking round Fan saw someone seated by her, and although
there was only the starlight from the window in the dim room, she knew
that it was her mistress. She raised herself to a sitting position on
the sofa, but without speaking. All her bitter, resentful feelings had
suddenly rushed back to her heart.

"Well, you have condescended to wake at last," said Miss Starbrow. "Do
you know that it is nearly one o'clock in the morning?"

"No," returned Fan.

"No! well then, I say yes. It is nearly one o'clock. Do you intend to
keep me here waiting your pleasure all night, I wonder!"

"I don't want you to come here. I had no place to sleep because you
locked me out of your room."

"And for an excellent reason," said the other sharply. "How could
I admit you into my room after the outrageous scene I witnessed
downstairs! You seem to think that you can behave just how you like in
my house, and that it will make no difference."

Fan was silent.

"Oh, very well, Miss Fan, if you have nothing to say for yourself!"

"What do you want me to say?"

"Say! I wonder at the question. I want you to tell me the truth, of
course. That is, if you can. How did it all happen--you must tell me
everything just as it occurred, without concealment or prevarication."

Fan related the facts simply and clearly; she remembered every word the
Captain had spoken only too well.

"I wish I knew whether you have told me the simple truth or not," said
Miss Starbrow.

"May God strike me dead if I'm not telling the truth!" said Fan.

"There, that will do. A young lady is supposed to be able to answer
a question with a simple yes or no, without swearing about it like a
bargee on the Regent's Canal."

"Then why don't you believe me when I say yes and no, and--and why
didn't you ask me before you struck me?"

"I shouldn't have struck you if I had not thought you were a little to
blame. It is not likely. You ought to know that after all my kindness to
you--but I dare say that is all forgotten. I declare I have been treated
most shamefully!" And here she dropped her face into her hands and began
crying.

But the girl felt no softening of the heart; that strange fire was still
burning in her, and she could only think of the cruel words, the unjust
blow.

Miss Starbrow suddenly ceased her crying. "I thought that you, at any
rate, had a little gratitude and affection for me," she said. "But of
course I was mistaken about that as I have been about everything else.
If you had the faintest spark of sympathy in you, you would show a
little feeling, and--and ask me why I cry, or say something."

For some moments Fan continued silent, then she moved and touched the
other's hand, and said very softly, for now all her anger was melting
away, "Why do you cry, Mary?"

"You know, Fan, because I love you, and am so sorry I struck you. What
a brute I was to hurt you--a poor outcast and orphan, with no friend
but me in the world. Forgive me, dear Fan, for treating you so cruelly!"
Then she put her arms about the girl and kissed her, holding her close
to her breast.

"Oh, Mary, dear," said Fan, now also crying; "you didn't hurt me very
much. I only felt it because--because it was you."

"I know, Fan, and that's why I can't forgive myself. But I shall never,
never hurt you again, for I know that you are truth itself, and that
I can trust you. And now let us go down and have some supper together
before going to bed. I know you've had nothing since lunch, and I
couldn't touch a morsel, I was so troubled about that wretch of a man. I
think I have been sitting here quite two hours waiting for you to wake."

Together they went down to the dining-room, where a delicate little
supper, such as Miss Starbrow loved to find on coming home from the
play, was laid out for them. For the first time Fan sat at table with
her mistress; another new experience was the taste of wine. She had a
glass of Sauterne, and thought it very nice.



CHAPTER IX


On the next morning, after a sharp frost, the sun shone brightly as in
spring. Fan was up early and enjoyed her breakfast, notwithstanding the
late supper, and not in the least disturbed by the scornful words flung
at her by the housemaid when she brought up the tray. After breakfasting
she went to Miss Starbrow's room, to find her still in bed and not
inclined to get up.

"Put on your dress and go for a walk in Kensington Gardens," she said.
"I think it is a fine day, for a wonder. You may stop out until one
o'clock, if you like, and take my watch, so as to know the time. And
if you wish to rest while out don't sit down on a bench, or you will
be sure to have someone speak to you. According to the last census, or
Registrar-General's report, or whatever it is, there are twenty thousand
young gentlemen loafers in London, who spend their whole time hanging
about the parks and public places trying to make the acquaintance of
young girls. Sit on a chair by yourself when you are tired--you can
always find a chair even in winter--and give the chairman a penny when
he comes to you."

"I haven't got a penny, Mary. But it doesn't matter; I'll not get
tired."

"Then I must give you a purse and some money, and you must never go out
without it, and don't mind spending a little money now and then, and
giving away a penny when you feel inclined. Give me my writing desk and
the keys."

She opened the desk and took out a small plush purse, then some silver
and coppers to put in it, and finally a sovereign.

"The silver you can use, the sovereign you must not change, but keep it
in case you should require money when I am not with you."

With all these fresh proofs of Mary's affection to make her happy, in
her lovely new dress and hat, and the beautiful gold chain on her bosom,
Fan went out for her walk feeling as light-hearted as a linnet. It was
the last day of November, usually a dreary time in London, but never had
the world looked so bright and beautiful to Fan as on that morning; and
as she walked along with swift elastic tread she could hardly refrain
from bursting bird-like into some natural joyous melody. Passing into
the Gardens at the Queen's Road entrance, she went along the Broad Walk
to the Round Pond, and then on to the Albert Memorial, shining with gold
and brilliant colours in the sun like some fairy edifice. Running up the
steps she walked round and round the sculptured base of the monument,
studying the marble faces and reading the names, and above all admiring
the figures there--blind old Homer playing on his harp, with Dante,
Shakespeare, Milton, and all the immortal sons of song, grouped about
him listening. But nothing to her mind equalled the great group of
statuary representing Asia at one of the four corners, with that
colossal calm-faced woman seated on an elephant in the centre. What a
great majestic face, and yet how placid and sweet it looked, reminding
her a little of Mary in her kindly moods. But this noble face was of
marble, and never changed; Mary's changed every hour, so that the soft
expression when it came seemed doubly sweet. By-and-by she walked away
towards the bridge over the Serpentine, and in the narrow path, thickly
bordered with trees and shrubs and late flowers, she stepped aside to
make room for a lady to pass, who held by the hand a little angel-faced,
golden-haired child, dressed in a quaint pretty costume. The child stood
still and looked up into Fan's face, and then she also involuntarily
stopped, so taken was she with the little thing's beauty.

"Mammy," said the child, pointing to Fan, "I'se like to tiss the pretty
laly."

"Well, my darling, perhaps the young lady will kiss you if you ask very
nicely," said the mother.

"Oh, may I kiss her?" said Fan, reddening with pleasure, and quickly
stooping she pressed her lips to the little cherub face.

"I loves you--what's your name?" said the child.

"No, darling, you must not ask questions. You've got your kiss and that
ought to satisfy you"; and with a smile and nod to Fan she walked on.

Fan pursued her walk to the Serpentine, with a new delicious sensation
in her heart. It was so strange and sweet to be spoken to by a lady, a
stranger, and treated like an equal! And in the days that were not so
long ago with what sad desire in her eyes had she looked at smiling
beautiful faces, like this lady's face, and no smile and no gentle word
had been bestowed on her, and no glance that did not express pity or
contempt!

At the head of the Serpentine she stood for ten or fifteen minutes to
watch the children and nursemaids feeding the swans and ducks. The swans
were very stately and graceful, the ducks very noisy and contentious,
and it was great fun to see them squabbling over the crumbs of bread.
But after leaving the waterside she came upon a scene among the great
elms and chestnuts close by which amused her still more. Some poor
ragged children--three boys and a girl--were engaged in making a great
heap of the old dead fallen leaves, gathering them in armfuls and
bringing them to one spot. By-and-by the little girl came up with a
fresh load, and as she stooped to put it on the pile, the boys, who had
all gathered round, pushed her over and covered her with a mass of old
leaves; then, with a shout of laughter at their rough joke, they ran
away. She struggled out and stood up half-choked with dust, her face
covered with dirt, and dress and hair with the black half-rotten leaves.
As soon as she got her breath she burst out in a prolonged howl, while
the big tears rushed out, making channels on her grimy cheeks.

"Oh, poor little girl, don't cry," said Fan, going up to her, but the
child only howled the louder. Then Fan remembered her money and Mary's
words, and taking out a penny she offered it to the little girl.
Instantly the crying ceased, the child clutched the penny in her dirty
little fist, then stared at Fan, then at the penny, and finally turned
and ran away as fast as she could run, past the fountains, out at the
gate, and into the Bayswater Road.

When she was quite out of sight Fan resumed her walk, laughing a little,
but with misty eyes, for it was the first time in her life that she had
given a penny away, and it made her strangely happy. Before quitting
the Gardens, however, one little incident occurred to interfere with
her pleasure. Close to the Broad Walk she suddenly encountered Captain
Horton walking with a companion in the opposite direction. There was no
time to turn aside in order to avoid him; when she recognised him he was
watching her face with a curious smile under his moustache which made
her feel a little uncomfortable; then, raising his hat, he passed her
without speaking.

"You know that pretty girl?" she heard his friend ask, as she hurried
away a little frightened towards the Queen's Road gate.

Miss Starbrow appeared very much put out about this casual encounter in
the Gardens when Fan related the incidents of her walk.

"I'll not walk there again, Mary, so as not to meet him," said Fan
timidly.

"On the contrary, you shall walk there as often as you like--I had
almost said whether you like it or not; and in the Grove, where you are
still more likely to meet him." She spoke angrily; but after a while
added, "He couldn't well have done less than notice you when he met you,
and I do not think you need be afraid of anything. It is not likely
that he would address you. He put an altogether false complexion on that
affair yesterday--a cowardly thing to do, and caused us both a great
deal of pain, and for that I shall never forgive him. Think no more
about it, Fan."

It was pretty plain, however, that she permitted herself to think more
about it; for during the next few days she was by no means cheerful,
while her moody fits and bursts of temper were more frequent than
usual. Then, one Wednesday evening, when Fan assisted her in dressing
to receive her visitors, she seemed all at once to have recovered her
spirits, and talked to the girl and laughed in a merry light-hearted
way.

"Poor Fan, how dull it must always be for you on a Wednesday evening,
sitting here so long by yourself," she said.

"Oh no, Mary, I always open the door and listen to the music; I like the
singing so much."

"That reminds me," said Miss Starbrow. "Who do you think is coming this
evening?"

"Captain Horton," she answered promptly.

Miss Starbrow laughed. "Yes; how quick you are at guessing. I must tell
you all about it; and do you know, Fan, I find it very delightful to
have a dear trusty girl to talk to. I suppose you have noticed how
cross I have been all these days. It was all on account of that man. He
offended me so much that day that I made up my mind never to speak to
him again. But he is very sorry; besides, he looked on you as little
more than a child, and really meant it only for a joke. And so I
have half forgiven him, and shall let him visit me again, but only on
Wednesday evenings when there will be others. I shall not allow him to
come whenever he likes, as he used to do. Fan was silent. Miss Starbrow,
sitting before the glass, read the ill-concealed trouble in the girl's
face reflected there.

"Now don't be foolish, Fan, and think no more about it," she said. "You
are very young--not nearly sixteen yet, and gentlemen look on girls of
that age as scarcely more than children, and think it no harm to kiss
them. He's a thoughtless fellow, and doesn't always do what is right,
but he certainly did not think any harm or he would not have acted that
way in my house. That's what he says, and I know very well when I hear
the truth."

After finishing her hair, Miss Starbrow, not yet satisfied that she had
removed all disagreeable impression, turned round and said, "Now, my
solemn-faced girl, why are you so silent? Are you going to be cross with
me? Don't you think I know best what is right and believe what I tell
you?"

The tears came to the girl's eyes. "I do believe you know best, Mary,"
she said, in a distressed voice. "Oh, please don't think that I am
cross. I am so glad you like to talk to me."

Miss Starbrow smiled and touched her cheek, and at length stooped and
kissed her; and this little display of confidence and affection chased
away the last remaining cloud, and made Fan perfectly happy.

The partial forgiveness extended to Captain Horton did not have exactly
the results foretold. Miss Starbrow was fond of affirming that when her
mind was once made up about anything it was not to be moved; but in
this affair she had already yielded to persuasion, and had permitted
the Captain to visit her again; and by-and-by the second resolution also
proved weak, and his visits were not confined to Wednesday evenings. She
had struggled against her unworthy feeling for him, and knowing that
it was unworthy, that the strength she prided herself so much on was
weakness where he was concerned, she was dissatisfied in mind and angry
with herself for making these concessions. She really believed in the
love he professed for her, and did not think much the worse of him for
being a man without income or occupation, and a gambler to boot; but
she feared that a marriage with him would only make her miserable, and
between her love for him, which could not be concealed, and the fear
that he would eventually win her consent to be his wife, her mind was in
a constant state of anxiety and restlessness. The little indiscretion he
had been guilty of with Fan she had forgiven in her heart: that he had
actually conceived a fondness for this poor young girl she could not
believe, for in that case he would have been very careful not to do
anything to betray it to the woman he wished to marry; but though she
had forgiven him, she was resolved not to let him know it just yet,
and so continued to be a little distant and formal in her manner, never
calling him by his christian name, "Jack," as formerly, and not allowing
him to call her "Pollie."

All this was nothing to Fan, as she very rarely saw him, but on the
few occasions when she accidentally met him, in the house or when out
walking, he always had that curious smile on his lips, and studied
her face with a bold searching look in his eyes, which made her
uncomfortable and even a little afraid.

One day, about the middle of December, Miss Starbrow began to speak to
her about her future.

"You have improved wonderfully, Fan, since you first came," she said,
"but I fear that this kind of improvement will not be of much practical
use, and my conscience is not quite satisfied about you. I have taken
this responsibility on myself, and must not go on shutting my eyes to
it. Some day it will be necessary for you to go out into the world to
earn your own living; that is what we have got to think about. Remember
that you can't have me always to take care of you; I might go abroad, or
die, or get married, and then you would be left to your own resources.
You couldn't make your living by simply looking pretty; you must be
useful as well as ornamental; and I have taught you nothing--teaching is
not in my line. It would be a thousand pities if you were ever to sink
down to the servant-girl level: we must think of something better than
that. A young lady generally aspires to be a governess. But then
she must know everything--music, drawing, French, German, Latin,
mathematics, algebra; all that she must have at her finger-ends, and be
able to gabble political economy, science, and metaphysics to boot. All
that is beyond you--unattainable as the stars. But you needn't break
your heart about it. She doesn't get much. Her wages are about equal to
those of a kitchen-maid, who can't spell, but only peel potatoes. And
the more learned she is, the more she is disliked and snubbed by her
betters; and she never marries, in spite of what the _Family Herald_
says, but goes on toiling until she is fifty, and then retires to live
alone on fifteen shillings a week in some cheap lodging for the remnant
of her dreary life. No, poor Fan, you can't hope to be anything as grand
as a governess."

Fan laughed a little: she had grown accustomed to and understood
this half-serious mocking style of speech in which her mistress often
indulged.

"But," she continued, "you might qualify yourself for some other kind
of employment less magnificent, but still respectable, and even genteel
enough. That of a nursery-governess, for instance; you are fond of
children, and could teach them their letters. Or you could be companion
to a lady; some simple-minded, old-fashioned dame who stays at home, and
would not require you to know languages. Or, better still perhaps, you
might go into one of the large West End shops. I do not think it
would be very difficult for you to get a place of that kind, as your
appearance is so much in your favour. I know that your ambition is not
a very soaring one, and a few months ago you would not have ventured
to dream of ever being a young lady in a shop like Jay's or Peter
Robinson's. Yet for such a place you would not have to study for years
and pass a stiff examination, as a poor girl is obliged to do before
she can make her living by sitting behind a counter selling penny
postage-stamps. Homely girls can succeed there: for the fine shop a
pretty face, an elegant figure, and a pleasing lady-like manner are
greatly prized--more than a knowledge of archaeology and the higher
mathematics; and you possess all these essentials to start with. But
whether you are destined to go into a shop or private house, it is
important that you should make a better use of your time just now, while
you are with me, and learn something--dressmaking, let us say, and all
kinds of needlework; then you will at least be able to make your own
clothes."

"I should like to learn that very much," said Fan eagerly.

"Very well, you shall learn then. I have been making inquiries, and find
that there is a place in Regent Street, where for a moderate premium
they do really succeed in teaching girls such things in a short time. I
shall take you there to-morrow, and make all arrangements."

Very soon after this conversation Fan commenced her new work of learning
dressmaking, going every morning by omnibus to Regent Street, lunching
where she worked, and returning to Dawson Place at four o'clock. After
the preliminary difficulties, or rather strangeness inseparable from
a new occupation, had been got over, she began to find her work very
agreeable. It was maintained by the teachers in the establishment she
was in that by means of their system even a stupid girl could be taught
the mystery of dressmaking in a little while. And Fan was not stupid,
although she had an extremely modest opinion of her own abilities,
and was not regarded by others as remarkably intelligent; but she was
diligent and painstaking, and above everything anxious to please her
mistress, who had paid extra money to ensure pains being taken with her.
So rapid was her progress, that before the end of January Miss Starbrow
bought some inexpensive material, and allowed her to make herself a
couple of dresses to wear in the house; and these first efforts resulted
so well that a better stuff was got for a walking-dress.

The winter had thus far proved a full and happy one to Fan; in February
she was even more fully occupied, and, if possible, happier; for after
leaving the establishment in Regent Street, Miss Starbrow sent her to
the school of embroidery in South Kensington to take lessons in a
new and still more delightful art. But at the end of that month Fan
unhappily, and from no fault of her own, fell into serious disgrace. She
had gone to the Exhibition Road with a sample of her work on the morning
of a bright windy day which promised to be dry; a little later Miss
Starbrow also went out. Before noon the weather changed, and a heavy
continuous rain began to fall. At one o'clock Miss Starbrow came home in
a cab, and as she went into the house it occurred to her to ask the maid
if Fan had got very wet or had come in a cab. She knew that Fan had not
taken an umbrella.

"No, ma'am; she walked home, but didn't get wet. A young gentleman came
with her, and I s'pose he kept her dry with his umbrella."

"A young gentleman--are you quite sure?"

"Yes, ma'am, quite sure," she returned, indignant at having her sacred
word doubted. "He was with her on the steps when I opened the door, and
shook hands with her just like an old friend when he went away; and she
was quite dry."

Miss Starbrow said no more. She knew that the servant, though no
friend to Fan, would not have dared to invent a story of this kind,
and resolved to say nothing, but to wait for the girl to give her own
account of the matter.

Fan said nothing about it. On leaving the school of embroidery, seeing
how threatening the sky was, she was hurrying towards the park, when the
rain came down, and in a few moments she would have been wet through if
help had not come in the shape of an umbrella held over her head by an
attentive young stranger. He kept at her side all the way across the
Gardens to Dawson Place, and Fan felt grateful for his kindness; she
conversed with him during the walk, and at the door she had not refused
to shake hands when he offered his. In ordinary circumstances, she would
have made haste to tell her mistress all about it, thinking no harm;
unfortunately it happened that for some days Miss Starbrow had been in
one of her worst moods, and during these sullen irritable periods Fan
seldom spoke unless spoken to.

When Miss Starbrow found the girl in her room on going there, she looked
keenly and not too kindly at her, and imagined that poor Fan wore a look
of guilt on her face, whereas it was nothing but distress at her own
continued ill-temper which she saw.

"I shall give her till to-morrow to tell me," thought the lady, "and
if she says nothing, I shall conclude that she has made friends out of
doors and wishes to keep it from me."

Fan knew nothing of what was passing in the other's mind; she only saw
that her mistress was even less gracious to her than she had been, and
thought it best to keep out of her sight. For the rest of the day not
one word passed between them.

Next morning Fan got ready to go to Kensington, but first came in to her
mistress as was her custom. Miss Starbrow was also dressed in readiness
to go out; she was sitting apparently waiting to speak to Fan before
leaving the house.

"Are you going out, Mary?" said Fan, a little timidly.

"Yes, I am going out," she returned coldly, and then seemed waiting for
something more to be said.

"May I go now?" said Fan.

"No," the other returned after some moments. "Change your dress again
and stay at home to-day." Presently she added, "You are learning a
little too much in Exhibition Road--more, I fancy, than I bargained
for."

Fan was silent, not knowing what was meant.

Then Miss Starbrow went out, but first she called the maid and told her
to remove Fan's bed and toilet requisites out of her room into the back
room.

Greatly distressed and perplexed at the unkind way she had been spoken
to, Fan changed her dress and sat down in the cold back room to do
some work. After a while she heard a great noise as of furniture being
dragged about, and presently Rosie came in with the separate pieces of
her dismantled bed.

"What are you doing with my things?" exclaimed Fan in surprise.

"Your things!" retorted Rosie, with scorn. "What your mistress told me
to do, you cheeky little beggar! Your things indeed! 'Put a beggar on
horseback and he'll ride to the devil,' and that's what Miss Starbrow's
beginning to find out at last. And quite time, too! Embroidery! That's
what you're going to wear perhaps when you're back in the slums you came
from! I thought it wouldn't last!" And Rosie, banging the things about,
pounding the mattress with clenched fist, and shaking the pillows like
a terrier with a rat, kept up this strain of invective until she had
finished her task, and then went off, well pleased to think that the day
of her triumph was not perhaps very far distant.

On that day, however, Rosie herself was destined to experience great
trouble of mind, and an anxiety about her future even exceeding that of
Fan, who was spending the long hours alone in that big, cold, fireless
room, grieving in her heart at the great change in her beloved mistress,
and dropping many a tear on the embroidery in her hands.

It was about three o'clock, and feeling her fingers quite stiff with
cold, she determined to go quietly down to the drawing-room in the hope
of finding a fire lighted there so as to warm her hands. Miss Starbrow
had not returned, and the house was very still, and after standing a few
moments on the landing, anxious not to rouse the maid and draw a fresh
volley of abuse on herself, she went softly down the stairs, and opened
the drawing-room door. For a moment or two she stood motionless, and
then muttering some incoherent apology turned and fled back to her room.
For there, very much at his ease, sat Captain Horton, with Rosie on his
knees, her arms about his neck, and her lips either touching his or in
very close proximity to them.

Rosie slipped from her seat, and the Captain stood up, but the intruder
had seen and gone, and their movements were too late.

"The spy! the cat!" snapped Rosie, grown suddenly pale with anger and
apprehension.

"It's very fine to abuse the girl," said the Captain; "but it was all
through your infernal carelessness. Why didn't you lock the door?"

"Oh, you're going to blame me! That's like a man. Perhaps you're in love
with the cat. I s'pose you think she's pretty."

"I'd like to twist her neck, and yours too, for a fool. If any trouble
comes you will be to blame."

"Say what you like, I don't care. There'll be trouble enough, you may be
sure."

"Do you mean to say that she will dare to tell?"

"Tell! She'll only be too glad of the chance. She'll tell everything to
Miss Starbrow, and she hates me and hates you like poison. It would be
very funny if she didn't tell."

He walked about the room fuming.

"It will be as bad for you as for me," he said.

"No, it won't. I can get another place, I s'pose."

"Oh, yes; very fine, and be a wretched slavey all your life, if you like
that. You know very well that I have promised you two hundred pounds the
day I marry your mistress."

"Yes; because I'm not a fool, and you can't help yourself. Don't think
_I_ want to marry you. Not me! Keep your love for Miss Starbrow, and
much you'll get out of her!"

"You idiot!" he began; but seeing that she was half sobbing he said no
more, and continued walking about the room. Presently he came back to
her. "It's no use quarrelling," he said. "If anything can be done to
get out of this infernal scrape it will only be by our acting together.
Since this wretched Fan has been in the house, Miss Starbrow is harder
than ever to get on with; and even if Fan holds her tongue about this--"

"She won't hold her tongue."

"But even if she should, we'll never do any good while she has that girl
to amuse herself with. You know perfectly well, Rosie, that if there is
anyone I really love it is you; but then we've both of us got to do the
best we can for ourselves. I shall love you just the same after I am
married, and if you still should like me, why then, Rosie, we might be
able to enjoy ourselves very well. But if Fan tells at once what she saw
just now, then it will be all over with us--with you, at any rate."

"She won't tell at once--not while her mistress is in her tantrums.
The little cat keeps out of her way then. Not to-day, and perhaps not
to-morrow; and the day after I think Miss Starbrow's going to visit her
friends at Croydon. That's what she said; and if she goes, she'll be out
all day."

"Oh!" ejaculated the Captain; then rising he carefully closed and locked
the door before continuing the conversation. They were both very much
interested in it; but when it was at last over, and the Captain took
his departure, Rosie did not bounce away as usual with tumbled hair and
merry flushed face. She left the drawing-room looking pale and a little
scared perhaps, and for the rest of the day was unusually silent and
subdued.



CHAPTER X


To Fan no comfort came that evening, and an hour after supper she went
to bed to get warm, without seeing her mistress, who had returned to
dinner. Next day she was no better off; she did not venture to ask
whether she might go out or not, or even to go to Miss Starbrow's room,
but kept to her own cold apartment, working and grieving, and seeing
no one except the maid. Rosie came and went, but she was moody, or else
afraid to use her tongue, and silent. On the following morning Miss
Starbrow left the house at an early hour, and Fan resigned herself to
yet another cold solitary day. About eleven o'clock Rosie came running
up in no little excitement with a telegram addressed to "Miss Affleck."
She took it, wondering a little at the change in the maid's manner,
but not thinking much about it, for she had never received a telegram
before, and it startled and troubled her to have one thrust into her
hand. Rosie stood by, anxiously waiting to hear its contents.

"How long are you going to be about it?" she exclaimed. "Let me read it
for you."

Fan held it back, and went on perusing it slowly. It was from Miss
Starbrow at Twickenham, and said: "Come to me here by train from
Westbourne Park Station. Bring two or three dresses and all you will
require in my bag. Shall remain here several days. The housekeeper will
meet you at Twickenham Station."

She allowed Rosie to read the message, and was told that Twickenham was
very near London; that she must take a cab to get quickly to Westbourne
Park Station, so as not to keep Miss Starbrow waiting. Then, while Fan
changed her dress and got herself ready, the maid selected one of Miss
Starbrow's best bags and busied herself in folding up and packing as
many of Fan's things as she could cram into it. Then she ran out to call
a cab, leaving Fan again studying the telegram and feeling strangely
perplexed at being thus suddenly sent for by her mistress, who had gone
out of the house without speaking one word to her.

In a few minutes the cab was at the door, and Rosie officiously helped
the girl in, handed her the bag, and told her to pay the cabman one
shilling. After it started she rushed excitedly into the road and
stopped it.

"Oh, I forgot, Miss Fan, leave the telegram, you don't want it any
more," she said, coming to the side of the cab.

Fan mechanically pulled the yellow envelope from her pocket and gave it
to her without question, and was then driven off. But in her agitation
at the sudden summons she had thrust the missive and the cover
separately into her pocket, so that Rosie had after all only got the
envelope. It was a little matter--a small oversight caused by hurry--but
the result was important; in all probability Fan's whole after life
would have been different if she had not made that trivial mistake.

She was quickly at the station, and after taking her ticket had only
a few minutes to wait for a train; half an hour later she was at
Twickenham Station. As soon as the platform was clear of the other
passengers who had alighted, a respectably-dressed woman got up from one
of the seats and came up to Fan. "You are Miss Affleck," she said, with
a furtive glance at the girl's face. "Miss Starbrow sent me to meet you.
She is going to stay a few days with friends just outside of Twickenham.
Will you please come this way?"

She took the bag from Fan, then led the way not to, but round the
village, and at some distance beyond it into a road with trees planted
in it and occasional garden-seats. They followed this road for about a
quarter of a mile, then left it, and the villas and houses near it, and
struck across a wide field. Beyond it, in an open space, they came to an
isolated terrace of small red-brick cottages. The cottages seemed newly
built and empty, and no person was moving about; nor had any road been
made, but the houses stood on the wet clay, full of deep cart-wheel
ruts, and strewn with broken bricks and builders' rubbish. In the
middle of the row Fan noticed that one of the cottages was inhabited,
apparently by very poor people, for as she passed by with her guide,
three or four children and a woman, all wretchedly dressed, came out and
stared curiously at her. Then, to her surprise, her guide stopped at the
last house of the row, and opened the door with a latchkey. The windows
were all closed, and from the outside it looked uninhabited, and as
they went into the narrow uncarpeted hall Fan began to experience some
nervous fears. Why had her mistress, a rich woman, with a luxurious home
of her own, come into this miserable suburban cottage? The door of a
small square room on the ground-floor was standing open, and looking
into it she saw that it contained a couple of chairs and a table, but no
other furniture and no carpet.

"Where's Miss Starbrow?" she asked, becoming alarmed.

"Upstairs, waiting for you. This way, please"; and taking Fan by the
hand, she attempted to lead her up the narrow uncarpeted stairs. But
suddenly, with a cry of terror, the girl snatched herself free and
rushed down into the open room, and stood there panting, white and
trembling with terror, her eyes dilated, like some wild animal that
finds itself caught in a trap.

"What ails you?" said the woman, quickly following her down.

"Captain Horton is there--I saw him looking down!" said Fan, in a
terrified whisper. "Oh, please let me out--let me out!"

"Why, what nonsense you are talking, to be sure! There's no Captain
Horton here, and what's more, I don't know who Captain Horton is. It was
Miss Starbrow you saw waiting for you on the landing."

"No, no, no--let me out! let me out!" was Fan's only reply.

The woman then made a dash at her, but the girl, now wild with fear,
sprang quickly from her, and running round the room came to the window
at the front, and began madly pulling at the fastenings to open it.
There she was seized, but not to be conquered yet, for the sense of the
terrible peril she was in gave her an unnatural strength, and struggling
still to return to the window, her only way of escape, they presently
came violently against it and shattered a pane of glass. At this moment
the woman, exerting her whole strength, succeeded in dragging her back
to the middle of the room; and Fan, finding that she was being overcome,
burst forth in a succession of piercing screams, which had the effect of
quickly bringing Captain Horton on to the scene.

"Oh, you've come at last! There--manage her yourself--the wild beast!"
cried the woman, flinging the girl from her towards him.

He caught her in his arms. "Will you stop screaming?" he shouted; but
Fan only screamed the louder.

"Stop her--stop her quick, or we'll have those people and the police
here," cried the woman, running to the window and peering out at the
broken pane to see if the noise had attracted their neighbours.

He succeeded in getting one of his hands over her mouth, and still
keeping her clasped firmly with the other arm, began drawing her towards
the door. But not even yet was she wholly overcome; all the power which
had been in her imprisoned arms and hands appeared suddenly to have gone
into the muscles of her jaws, and in a moment her sharp teeth had cut
his hand to the bone.

"Oh, curse the hell-cat!" he cried; and maddened with rage at the pain,
he struck her from him, and her head coming violently in contact with
the sharp edge of the table, she was thrown down senseless on the floor.
Her forehead was deeply cut, and presently the blood began flowing over
her still, white face.

The woman now became terrified in her turn.

"You have killed her!" she cried. "Oh, Captain, you have killed her, and
you'll hang for it and make me hang too. Oh God! what's to be done now?"

"Hold your noise, you cursed fool!" exclaimed the other, in a rage. "Get
some cold water and dash it over her face."

She obeyed quickly enough, and kneeling down washed the blood from the
girl's face and hair, and loosened her dress. But the fear that they
would be discovered unnerved her, her hands shook, and she kept on
moaning that the girl was dead, that they would be found out and tried
for murder.

"She's not dead, I tell you--damn you for a fool!" exclaimed Captain
Horton, dashing the blood from his wounded hand and stamping on the
floor in a rage.

"She is! she is! There's not a spark of life in her that I can feel! Oh,
what shall I do?"

He pushed her roughly aside and felt for the girl's pulse, and placed
his hand over her heart, but was perhaps too much agitated himself to
feel its feeble pulsations.

"Good God, it can't be!" he said. "A girl can't be killed with a light
knock in falling like that. No, no, she'll come to presently and be all
right. And we're safe enough--not a soul knows where she is."

"Oh, don't you think that!" returned the woman, again kneeling down and
chafing and slapping Fan's palms, and moistening her face. "The people
at the other house were all there watching us when I brought the girl
in. They're curious about it, and maybe suspect something; and when the
policeman comes round you may be sure they'll tell him, and they'll have
heard the screams too, and they'll be watching about now. Oh, what a
blessed fool I was to have anything to do with it!"

Captain Horton began cursing her again; but just then Fan's bosom moved,
she drew a long breath, and presently her eyes opened.

They were watching her with a feeling of intense relief, thinking that
they had now escaped from a great and terrible danger. Fan looked up
into the face of the woman bent over her, and gazed at her in a dazed
kind of way, not yet remembering where she was or what had befallen her.
Then she glanced at the man's face, a little distance off, shivered and
closed her eyes, and in her stillness and extreme pallor seemed to have
become insensible again, although her white lips twitched at intervals.

"Go away, for God's sake! Go to the other room--it kills her to see
you!" said the woman, in an excited whisper.

He moved away and slipped out at the door very quietly, but presently
called softly to the woman.

"Here, make her swallow a little brandy," he said, giving her a pocket
flask.

In about half an hour Fan had recovered so far that she could sit up in
a chair; but with her strength her distress and terror came back, and
feeling herself powerless she began to cry and beg to be let out.

The woman went to the door and spoke softly to her companion.

"It's all right now; she's getting over it."

"It's all wrong, I tell you," said the other with an oath, and in a tone
of concentrated rage. "There are two of your neighbour's boys prying
about in front and trying to peer through the window. For heaven's sake
get rid of her and let her go as soon as you can."

She was about to return to Fan when he called her back.

"Take her to the station yourself," he said; and proceeded to give her
some directions which she promised to obey, after which she came back to
Fan, to find her at the window feebly struggling to unfasten the stiff
catch.

"Don't you be afraid any more, my dear," she said effusively. "I'll take
you back to the station as soon as you're well enough to walk. You've
had a fall against the table and hurt yourself a little, but you'll soon
be all right."

Fan looked at her and shrunk away as she approached, and then turned her
eyes, dilating again with fear, towards the door.

"He's gone, my dear, and won't come near you again, so don't you fear.
Sit down quietly and I'll make you a cup of tea, and then you'll be able
to walk to the station."

But Fan would not be reassured, and continued piteously begging the
woman to let her out.

"Very well, you shall go out; only take a little brandy first to give
you strength to walk."

Fan thrust the flask away, and then putting her hand to her forehead,
cried out:

"Oh, what's this on my head?"

"Only a bit of sticking-plaster where you hit yourself against the
table, my dear."

Then she smoothed out Fan's broken hat, and with a wet sponge cleaned
the bloodstains from her gown, and finally opening the door and with the
bag in her hand, she accompanied the girl out.

Once in the cold keen air Fan began to recover strength and confidence,
but she was still too weak to walk fast, and when they had got to the
long road where the benches were, she was compelled to sit down and rest
for some time.

"Where are you going after I leave you at the station?" asked the woman.

"To London--to Westbourne Park."

"And then?"

"I don't know--I can't think. Oh, please leave me here!"

"No, my dear, I'll see you in your train at the station."

"Perhaps _he_'ll be there," said Fan, in sudden fear.

"Oh no, bless you, _he_ won't be there. He didn't mean any harm, don't
you believe it. We were only going to shut you up in the house just for
a few days because Miss Starbrow wanted us to."

"Miss Starbrow!"

"Why, yes; didn't you get her telegram telling you to come to Twickenham
to her, and that I'd meet you at the station?"

"Yes, I remember. Where is she?"

"The Lord knows, my dear. But it seems she's taken a great hatred to
you, and can't abide you, and that's all I know. She came this morning
with Captain Horton, and they arranged it all together; and she
telegraphed and then went away, and said she hated the very sight of
your face; and hoped I'd keep you safe because she never wanted to see
you again, and was sorry she ever took you."

"But why--why--what had I done?" moaned Fan, the tears coming to her
eyes.

"There's no knowing why, except that she's a cruel, wicked, bad woman.
That's all I know about it. Where is the telegram--have you got it?"

Fan put her hand into her pocket and then drew it out again.

"No, I haven't got it; I gave it to Rosie before I left--I remember now
she asked me for it when I was in the cab."

"That's all right; it doesn't matter a bit. But tell me, where are you
going when you get back to London--back to Miss Starbrow?"

Fan looked at her, puzzled and surprised at the question. "But you say
she sent for me to shut me up because she hated me, and never wished to
see me again."

"Yes, my dear, that's quite right what I told you. But what are you
going to do in London? Where will you go to sleep to-night? Here's your
bag you'd forgotten all about; if you go and forget it you'll have no
clothes to change; and perhaps you'll lose yourself in London, and
when they ask you where you belong, you'll let them take you to Miss
Starbrow's house."

The woman in her anxiety was quite voluble; while Fan slowly turned
it all over in her mind before replying. "My head is paining so, I was
forgetting. But I shan't lose my bag, and I'll find some place to sleep
to-night. No, I'll never, never go back to Mary--to Miss Starbrow."

"And you'll be able to take care of yourself?"

"Yes; will you let me go now?"

"Come then, I'll put you in your train with your bag; and don't you go
and speak to anyone about what happened here, and then you'll be quite
safe. Let Miss Starbrow think you are shut up safe out of her sight, and
then she won't trouble herself about you."

"There's no one I can speak to--I have no one," said Fan, mournfully;
after which they went on to the station, and she was put into her
train with her bag, and about three o'clock in the afternoon arrived at
Westbourne Park Station.

There were clothes enough in her bag to last her for some time with
those she was wearing, and money in her purse--two or three shillings
in small change and the sovereign which had been in her possession for
several months. Food and shelter could therefore be had, and she was not
a poor girl in rags now, but well dressed, so that she could go without
fear or shame to any registry office to seek an engagement. These
thoughts passed vaguely through her brain; her head seemed splitting,
and she could scarcely stand on her legs when she got out of the train
at Westbourne Park. It would be a dreadful thing if she were to fall
down in the streets, overcome with faintness, she thought, for then her
bag and purse might be stolen from her, or worse still, she might be
taken back to the house of her cruel enemy. Clinging to her bag, she
walked on as fast as she could seeking for some humble street with rooms
to let--some refuge to lie down in and rest her throbbing head. She
passed through Colville Gardens, scarcely knowing where she was; but the
tall, gloomy, ugly houses there were all too big for her; and she did
not know that in some of them were refuges for poor girls--servants and
governesses out of place--where for a few shillings a week she might
have had board and lodging. Turning aside, she came into the long,
narrow, crooked Portobello Road, full of grimy-looking shops, and after
walking a little further turned at last into a short street of small
houses tenanted by people of the labourer class.

At one of these houses she was shown a small furnished room by a
suspicious-looking woman, who asked four-and-sixpence a week for it,
including "hot water." Fan agreed to take it for a week at that rent.
The poor woman wanted the money, but seemed undecided. Presently she
said, "You see, miss, it's like this, you haven't got no box, and ain't
dressed like one that lodges in these places, and--and I couldn't let
you the room without the money down."

"Oh, I'll pay you now," said Fan; and taking the sovereign from her
purse, asked the woman to get change.

"Very well, miss; if you'll go downstairs, I'll put the room straight
for you."

"Oh, I must lie down now, my head is aching so," said Fan, feeling that
she could no longer stand.

"What ails you--are you going to be ill?"

"No, no; this morning I had a fall and struck my head and hurt it
so--look," and taking off her hat, she showed the plaster on her
forehead.

That satisfied the woman, who had only been thinking of fever and her
own little ones, who were more to her than any stranger, and her manner
became kind at once. She imagined that her lodger was a young lady
who for some reason had run away from her friends. Smoothing down the
coverlet, she went away to get change, closing the door after her, and
then, with a sigh of relief, Fan threw herself on to the poor bed.

The pain she was in, and state of exhaustion after the violent emotions
and the rough handling she had experienced, prevented her from thinking
much of her miserable forlorn condition. She only wished for rest Yet
she could not rest, but turned her hot flushed face and throbbing head
from side to side, moaning with pain. By-and-by the woman came back with
the change and a very big cup of hot tea.

"This'll do your head good," she said. "Better drink it hot, miss; I
always say there's nothing like a cup of tea for the headache."

Fan took it gratefully and drank the whole of it, though it was rougher
tea than she had been accustomed to of late. And the woman proved a
good physician; it had the effect of throwing her into a profuse
perspiration, and before she had been alone for many minutes she fell
asleep.

She did not wake until past nine o'clock, and found a lighted candle on
her table; her poor landlady had been up perhaps more than once to visit
her. She felt greatly refreshed; the danger, if there had been any,
was over now, but she was still drowsy--so drowsy that she longed to
be asleep again; and she only got up to undress and go to bed in a more
regular way. The time to think had not come yet; sleep alone seemed
sweet to her, and in its loving arms she would lie, for it seemed like
one that loved her always, like her poor dead mother who had never
turned against her and used her cruelly. Before she closed her heavy
eyes the landlady came into her room again to see her, and Fan gave her
a shilling to get some tea and bread-and-butter for her breakfast next
day.



CHAPTER XI


When Fan awoke, physically well and refreshed by her long slumber, it
had been light some time, with such dim light as found entrance through
the clouded panes of one small window. The day was gloomy, with a
bitterly cold blustering east wind, which made the loose window-sashes
rattle in their frames, and blew the pungent smell of city smoke in
at every crack. She sat up and looked round at the small cheerless
apartment, with no fireplace, and for only furniture the bed she was
lying on, one cane-chair over which her clothes were thrown, and a
circular iron wash-stand, with yellow stone jug and ewer, and underneath
a shelf for the soap dish.

She shivered and dropped her head again on the pillow. Then, for the
first time since that terrible experience of the previous day, she
began to realise her position, and to wonder greatly why she had been
subjected to such cruel treatment. The time had already come of
which Mary had once spoken prophetically, when they would be for ever
separated, and she would have to go out into the world unaided and fight
her own battle. But, oh! why had not Mary spoken to her, and told her
that she could no longer keep her, and sent her away? For then there
would still have been affection and gratitude in her heart for the woman
who had done so much for her, and she would have looked forward with
hope to a future meeting. Love and hope would have cheered her in her
loneliness, and made her strong in her efforts to live. But now all
loving ties had been violently sundered, now the separation was eternal.
Even as death had divided her from her poor mother, this cruel deed had
now put her for all time apart from the one friend she had possessed in
the world. What had she done, what had she done to be treated so hardly?
Had she not been faithful, loving her mistress with her whole heart? It
was little to give in return for so much, but it was her all, and Mary
had required nothing more from her. It was not enough; Mary had grown
tired of her at last. And not tired only: her loving-kindness had turned
to wormwood and gall; the very sight of the girl she had rescued and
cared for had become hateful to her, and her unjust hatred and anger had
resulted in that cruel outrage. Now she understood the reason of that
change in Mary, when she grew silent and stern and repellent before that
fatal morning when she went away to carry out her heartless scheme of
revenge. But revenge for what?--and Fan could only moan again and again,
"What had I done? what had I done?" What had she ever done that she
should not be loved and allowed to live in peace and happiness--what had
she done to her brutal stepfather, or to Captain Horton and to Rosie,
that they should take pleasure in tormenting her?

When the woman came in with the breakfast she found Fan lying sobbing on
her pillow.

"Oh, that's wrong to cry so," she said, putting the tray on the table
and coming to the bedside. "Don't take on so, my poor young lady.
Things'll come right by-and-by. You'll write to your mother and
father----"

"I've no mother and father," said Fan, trying to repress her sobs.

"Then you'll have brothers and sisters and friends."

"No, I've got no one. I only had one friend, and she's turned against
me, and I'm alone. I'm not a young lady; my mother was poorer than you,
and I must get something to do to make my living."

This confession was a little shock to the woman, for it spoilt her
romance, and the result was that her interest in her young lodger
diminished considerably.

"Well, it ain't no use taking on, all the same," she said, in a tone
somewhat less deferential and kind than before. "And it's too bad a
day for you to go out and look for anything. It's going to snow,
I'm thinking; so you'd better have your breakfast in bed and stay in
to-day."

Fan took her advice and remained all day in her room, thinking only of
the strange thing that had happened to her, of the misery of a life with
no one to love. Mary's image remained persistently in her mind, while
the bitter wind without made strange noises in the creaking zinc
chimney-pots, and rattled the window and hurled furious handfuls of
mingled dust and sleet against the panes. And yet she felt no anger in
her heart; unspeakable grief and despair precluded anger, and again and
again she cried, her whole frame convulsed with sobs, and the tears and
sobs exhausted her body but brought no relief to her mind.

Next day there was no wind, though it was still intensely cold, with a
dull grey cloud threatening snow over the whole sky; but it was time
for her to be up and doing, and she went out to seek for employment. She
wandered about in a somewhat aimless way, until, in the Ladbroke Grove
Road, she found a servants' registry-office, and went in to apply for a
place as nursemaid or nursery-governess. Mary had once told her that she
was fit for such a place, and there was nothing else she could think of.
A woman in the office took down her name and address, and promised to
send for her if she had any applications. She did not know of anyone
in need of a nursemaid or nursery-governess. "But you can call again
to-morrow and inquire," she added.

On the following day she was advised to wait in the office so as to be
on the spot should anyone call to engage a girl. After waiting for
some hours the woman began to question her, and finding that she had no
knowledge of children, and had never been in service and could give
no references, told her brusquely that she was giving a great deal of
unnecessary trouble, and that she need not come to the office again, as
in the circumstances no lady would think of taking her.

Fan returned to her lodgings very much cast down, and there being no one
else to seek counsel from, told her troubles to her landlady. But the
poor woman had nothing very hopeful to say, and could only tell Fan of
another registry-office in Notting Hill High Street, and advise her to
apply there.

This was a larger place, and after her name, address, and other
particulars had been taken down in a book, she ventured to ask whether
her not having been in a place before, and being without a reference,
would make it very difficult for her to get a situation; the woman of
the office merely said, "One never knows."

This was not very encouraging, but she was told that she could come
every day and sit as long as she liked in the waiting-room. There were
always several girls and women there--a row of them sitting chatting
together on chairs ranged against the wall--house, parlour, and
kitchen-maids out of places; and a few others of a better description,
modest-looking, well-dressed young women, who came and stood about for
a few minutes and then went away again. Of the girls of this kind
Fan alone remained patiently at her post, taking no interest in the
conversation of the others, anxious only to avoid their bold inquisitive
looks and to keep herself apart from them. Yet their conversation, to
anyone wishing to know something of the lights and shadows of downstair
life, was instructive and interesting enough.

"Only seven days in your last place!"

"Oh, I say!"

"But what did you leave for?"

"Because she was a beast--my missus was; and what I told her was that it
was seven days too much."

"You never did!"

"Oh, I say!"

"And what did she say?"

"Well, it was like this. I was a-doing of my hair in the kitchen with
the curling-iron, when down comes Miss Julia. 'Oh, you are frizzing your
hair!' she says. 'Yes, miss,' I says, 'have you any objection?' I says.
'Ma won't let you have a fringe,' she says. When I loses my temper, and
I says, 'Well, Miss Himperence, you can go and tell your ma that she can
find a servant as can do without a fringe.'"

"Oh, I say!" etc., etc., etc.

They also made critical remarks on Fan's appearance, wondering what a
"young lady" wanted among servants. She felt no pride at being taken for
a lady; she had no feeling and no thought that gave her any pleasure,
but only a dull aching at the heart, only the wish in her mind to find
something to do and save herself from utter destitution.

For three days she continued to attend at the office, and beyond a short
"Good morning" from the woman that kept it each day, not a word was
spoken to her. The third day was Saturday, when the office would close
early; and after twelve o'clock, seeing that the others were all going,
she too left, to spend the time as best she could until the following
Monday. The day was windless and bright, and full of the promise of
spring. Not feeling hungry she did not return to her lodgings, but went
for a short walk in Kensington Gardens. Leaving the Broad Walk, she went
into that secluded spot near the old farm-like buildings of Kensington
Palace and sat down on one of the seats among the yews and fir trees.
The new gate facing Bayswater Hill has changed that spot now, making
it more public, but it was very quiet on that day as she sat there by
herself. On that beautiful spring morning her heart seemed strangely
heavy, and her life more lonely and desolate than ever. The memory of
her loss came over her like a bitter flood, and covering her face with
her hands she gave free vent to her grief. There was no person near,
no one to be attracted by her sobs. But one person was passing at some
distance, and glancing in her direction through the trees, saw her,
and stopped in her walk. It was Miss Starbrow, and in the figure of the
weeping girl she had recognised Fan. Her face darkened, and she walked
on, but presently she stopped again, and stood irresolute, swinging
the end of her sunshade over the young grass. At length she turned and
walked slowly towards the girl, but Fan was sobbing with covered face,
and did not hear her steps and rustling dress. For some moments Miss
Starbrow continued watching her, a scornful smile on her lips and a
strange look in her eyes as of a slightly cruel feeling struggling
against compassion. At length she spoke, startling Fan with her voice
sounding so close to her.

"Crying? Well, I am glad that your sin has found you out! Glad you have
met with some thief cleverer than yourself, who has stolen your booty, I
suppose, and left you penniless--a beggar as I found you! I admire your
courage in coming here, but you needn't be afraid; I'll have mercy on
you. You have punished yourself more than I could punish you; and some
day I shall perhaps see you again in rags, starving in the streets, and
shall fling a penny to you."

Fan had started at first with an instinctive fear--a vague apprehension
that she would be seized and dragged away to be shut up and tortured
as Miss Starbrow had desired. But suddenly this feeling gave place to
another, to a burning resentment experienced for the first time against
this woman who had made her suffer so cruelly, and now came to taunt her
and mock at her misery. It suffocated and made her dumb for a time. Then
she burst out: "You wicked bad woman! You beast--you beast, how I hate
you! Oh, I wish God would strike you dead!"

"How dare you say such things to me, you ungrateful, shameless little
thief!"

"You liar--you beast of a liar!" exclaimed Fan, still torn with the rage
that possessed her. "Go away, you liar! Leave me, you wicked devil! I
hate you! I hate you!"

Miss Starbrow uttered a little scornful laugh. "You would have some
reason to hate me if I were to shut you up for six months with hard
labour," she answered, turning aside as if about to walk away.

To shut her up for six months! Yes, that was what she had tried to do
with the assistance of a strong man and woman. And what other tortures
and sufferings had she intended to inflict on her victim! It was too
much to be reminded of this. It turned her blood into liquid fire, and
maddened her brain; and struggling to find words to speak the rage
that overmastered her, suddenly, as if by a miracle, every evil term of
reproach, every profane and blasphemous expression of drunken brutish
anger she had heard and shuddered at in the old days in Moon Street,
flashed back into her mind, and she poured them out in a furious
torrent, hurled them at her torturer; and then, exhausted, sunk back
into her seat, and covering her face again, sobbed convulsively.

Miss Starbrow's face turned crimson with shame, and she moved two or
three steps away; then she turned, and said in cold incisive tones:

"I see, Fan, that you have not forgotten all the nice things you learnt
before I took you out of the slums to shelter and feed and clothe
you. This will be a lesson to me: I had not thought so meanly of
the suffering poor as you make me think. They say that even dogs are
grateful to those that feed them. And I did more than feed you, Fan.
That's the last word you will ever hear from me."

She was moving away, but Fan, stung by a reproach so cruelly unjust,
started to her feet with a cry of passion.

"Yes, I know you gave me these things--oh, I wish I could tear off this
dress you gave me! And this is the money you gave me--take it! I hate
it!" And drawing her purse from her pocket, she flung it down at Miss
Starbrow's feet. Then, searching for something else to fling back to the
donor, she drew out that crumpled pink paper which had been all the time
in her pocket. "And take this too--the wicked telegram you sent me. It
is yours, like the money--take it, you bad, hateful woman!"

Miss Starbrow still remained standing near, watching her, and in spite
of her own great anger, she could not help feeling very much astonished
at such an outburst of fury from a girl who had always seemed to her so
mild-spirited. She touched the crumpled piece of paper with her foot,
then glanced back at the girl seated again with bowed head and covered
face. What had she meant by a telegram? Curiosity overcame the impulse
to walk away, and stooping, she picked up the paper and smoothed it
out and read, "From Miss Starbrow, Twickenham. To Miss Affleck, Dawson
Place."

She had not been to Twickenham, and had sent no telegram to Fan. Then
she read the message and turned the paper over, and read it again and
again, glancing at intervals at the girl. Then she went up to her and
put her hand on her shoulder. Fan started and shook the hand off, and
raised her eyes wet with tears and red with weeping, but still full of
anger.

Miss Starbrow caught her by the arm. "Tell me what this means--this
telegram; when did you get it, and who gave it to you?" she said in such
a tone that the girl was compelled to obey.

"You know when you sent it," said Fan.

"I never sent it! Oh, my God, can't you understand what I say?
Answer--answer my question!"

"Rosie gave it to me."

"And you went to Twickenham?"

"Yes."

"And what happened?"

"And the woman you sent to meet me--"

"Hush! don't say that. Are you daft? Don't I tell you I never sent it.
Tell me, tell me, or you'll drive me mad!"

Fan looked at her in astonishment. Could it be that it had never entered
into Mary's heart to do this cruel thing? That raging tempest in her
heart was fast subsiding. She began to collect her faculties.

"The woman met me," she continued, "and took me a long way from the
station to a little house. She tried to take me upstairs. She said you
were waiting for me, but I looked up and saw Captain Horton peeping over
the banisters--"

Miss Starbrow clenched her hands and uttered a little cry. Her face had
become white, and she turned away from the girl. Presently she sat down,
and said in a strangely altered voice, "Tell me, Fan, did you take some
jewels from my dressing-table--a brooch and three rings, and some other
things?"

"I took nothing except what you--what the telegram said, and Rosie put
the things in a bag and got the cab for me."

For a minute or two Miss Starbrow sat in silence, and then got up and
said:

"Come, Fan."

"Where?"

"Home with me to Dawson Place." Then she added, "Must I tell you again
that I have done nothing to harm you? Do you not understand that it was
all a wicked horrible plot to get you away and destroy you, that the
telegram was a forgery, that the jewels were taken to make it appear
that you had stolen them and run away during my absence from the house?"

Fan rose and followed her, and when they got to the Bayswater Road Miss
Starbrow called a cab.

"Where is your bag--where did you sleep last night?" she asked; and when
Fan had told her she said, "Tell the man to drive us there," and got in.

In a few minutes they arrived at her lodging, and Fan got out and went
in to get her bag. She did not owe anything for rent, having paid in
advance, but she gave the woman a shilling.

"I knew I was right," said the woman, who was now all smiles. "Bless
you, miss, you ain't fit to make your own living like one of us. Well,
I'm real pleased your friends has found you."

Fan got into the cab again, and they proceeded in silence to Dawson
Place. A small boy in buttons, who had only been engaged a day or two
before, opened the door to them. They went up to the bedroom on the
first floor.

"Sit down, Fan, and rest yourself," said Miss Starbrow, closing and
locking the door; then after moving about the room in an aimless way for
a little while, she came and sat down near the girl. "Before you tell me
this dreadful story, Fan," she said, "I wish to ask you one thing more.
One day last week when it was raining you came home from Kensington with
a young man. Who was he--a friend of yours?"

"A friend of mine! oh no. I was hurrying back in the rain when he came
up to me and held his umbrella over my head, and walked to the door with
me. It was kind of him, I thought, because he was a stranger, and I had
never seen him before."

"It was a small thing, but you usually tell me everything, and you did
not tell me this?"

"No, I was waiting to tell you that--and something else, and didn't tell
you because you seemed angry with me, and I was afraid to speak to you."

"What was the something else you were going to tell me?"

Fan related the scene she had witnessed in the drawing-room. It had
seemed a great thing then, and had disturbed her very much, but now,
after all she had recently gone through, it seemed a very trivial
matter.

To the other it did not appear so small a matter, to judge from her
black looks. She got up and moved about the room again, and then once
more sat down beside the girl.

"Now tell me your own story--everything from the moment you got the
telegram up to our meeting in the Gardens."

With half-averted face she listened, while the girl again began the
interrupted narration, and went on telling everything to the finish,
wondering at times why Mary sat so silent with face averted, as if
afraid to meet her eyes. But when she finished Mary turned and took her
hand.

"Poor Fan," she said, "you have gone through a dreadful experience, and
scarcely seem to understand even now what danger you were in. But there
will be time enough to talk of all this--to congratulate you on such a
fortunate escape; just now I have got to deal with that infamous wretch
of a girl who still poisons the house with her presence."

She rose and rung the bell sharply, and when the boy in buttons answered
it, she ordered him to send Rosie to her.

"She's gone," said he.

"Gone! what do you mean--when did she go?"

"Just now, ma'am. She came up to speak to you when you came in, and then
she got her box down and went away in a cab."

Miss Starbrow then sent for the cook. "What does this mean about Rosie's
going?" she demanded of that person. "How came you to let her go without
informing me?"

"She came down and said she had had some words with you, and was going
to leave because Miss Fan had been took back."

"And the wretch has then got away with my jewellery! What else did she
say?"

"Nothing very good, ma'am. I'd rather not tell you."

"Tell me at once when I order you."

"I asked if she was going without her wages and a character, and she
said as you had paid her her wages, \and she didn't want a character,
because she didn't consider the house was respectable."

Miss Starbrow sent her away and closed the door; presently she sat
down at some distance from Fan, but spoke no word. Fan was in a low
easy-chair near the window, through which the sun was shining very
brightly. She looked pale and languid, resting her cheek on her palm and
never moving; only at intervals, when Miss Starbrow, with an exclamation
of rage, would rise and take a few steps about the room and then drop
into her seat again, the girl would raise her eyes and glance at her.
All the keen suffering, the strife, the bitterness of heart and anger
were over, and the reaction had come. It had all been a mistake; Mary
had never dreamt of doing her harm: the whole trouble had been brought
about by Captain Horton and Rosie; but she remembered them with a
strange indifference; the fire of anger had burnt itself out in her
heart and could not be rekindled.

With the other it was different. It had been a great shock to her to
discover that the girl she had befriended, and loved as she had never
loved anyone of her own sex before, was so false, so unutterably base.
For some little time she refused to believe it, and a horrible suspicion
of foul play had crossed her mind. But the proofs stared her in the
face, and she remembered that Fan had kept that acquaintance she had
formed with someone out of doors a secret. On returning to the house in
the evening, she was told that shortly after she had gone out for the
day a letter was brought addressed to Fan, and, when questioned, she had
refused to tell Rosie who it was from. At one o'clock Rosie had gone
up with her dinner, and, missing her, had searched for her in all the
rooms, and was then amazed to find that most of the girl's clothes
had also disappeared. But she did not know that anything else had
been taken. Miss Starbrow missed some jewels she had put on her
dressing-table, and on a further search it was discovered that other
valuables, and one of her best travelling bags, were also gone. The
astonishment and indignation displayed by the maid, who exclaimed that
she had always considered Fan a sly little hypocrite, helped perhaps to
convince her mistress that the girl had taken advantage of her absence
to make her escape from the house. Miss Starbrow remembered how confused
and guilty she had looked for two or three days before her flight, and
came to the conclusion that the young friend out of doors, not being
able to see Fan, had kept a watch on the house, and had cunningly
arranged it all, and finally sent or left the letter instructing her
where to meet him, also probably advising her what to take.

But Miss Starbrow had not been entirely bound up in the girl: she had
other affections and interests in life, and great as the shock had been
and the succeeding anger, she had recovered her self-possession, and had
set herself to banish Fan from her remembrance. She was ashamed to let
her servants and friends see how deeply she had been wounded by the
little starving wretch she had compassionately rescued from the streets.
Outwardly she did not appear much affected; and when Rosie, with
well-feigned surprise, asked if the police were not to be employed
to trace the stolen articles and arrest the thief, she only laughed
carelessly and replied: "No; she has punished herself enough already,
and the trinkets have no doubt been sold before now, and could not be
traced."

Rosie hurried away to hide the relief she felt, for she had been
trembling to think what might happen if some cunning detective were to
be employed to make investigations in the house.

Now, however, when Mary began to recover from the amazement caused by
Fan's narrative, a dull rage took such complete possession of her that
it left no room for any other feeling. The girl sitting there with bent
head seemed no more to her than some stranger who had just come in, and
about whom she knew and cared nothing. All that Fan had suffered was
forgotten: she only thought of herself, of the outrage on her feelings,
of the vile treachery of the man who had pretended to love her, whom she
had loved and had treated so kindly, helping him with money and in other
ways, and forgiving him again and again when he had offended her. She
could not rest or sit still when she thought of it, and she thought of
it continually and of nothing else. She rose and paced the room, pausing
at every step, and turning herself from side to side, like some savage
animal, strong and lithe and full of deadly rage, but unable to spring,
trapped and shut within iron bars. Her face had changed to a livid
white, and looked hard and pitiless, and her eyes had a fixed stony
stare like those of a serpent. And at intervals, as she moved about the
room, she clenched her hands with such energy that the nails wounded her
palms. And from time to time her rage would rise to a kind of frenzy,
and find expression in a voice strangely harsh and unnatural, deeper
than a man's, and then suddenly rising to a shrill piercing key that
startled Fan and made her tremble. Poor Fan! that little burst of
transitory anger she had experienced in the Gardens seemed now only a
pitifully weak exhibition compared with the black tempest raging in this
strong, undisciplined woman's soul.

"And I have loved him--loved that hell-hound! God! shall I ever cease
to despise and loathe myself for sinking into such a depth of infamy!
Never--never--until his viper head has been crushed under my heel! To
strike! to crush! to torture! How?--have I no mind to think? Nothing can
I do--nothing--nothing! Are there no means? Ah, how sweet to scorch the
skin and make the handsome face loathsome to look at! To burn the eyes
up in their sockets--to shut up the soul for ever in thick blackness!...
Oh, is there no wise theologian who can prove to me that there is a
hell, that he will be chained there and tortured everlastingly! That
would satisfy me--to remember it would be sweeter than Heaven."

Suddenly she turned in a kind of fury on Fan, who had risen trembling
from her seat. "Sit down!" she said. "Hide your miserable white face
from my sight! You could have warned me in time, you could have saved me
from this, and you failed to do it! Oh, I could strike you dead with my
hand for your imbecile cowardice!... And he will escape me! To blast his
name, to hold him up to public scorn and hatred, years of imprisonment
in a felon's cell--all, all the suffering we can inflict on such a
fiendish wretch seems weak and childish, and could give no comfort to
my soul. Oh, it drives me mad to think of it--I shall go mad--I shall
go mad!" And shrieking, and with eyes that seemed starting from their
sockets, she began madly tearing her hair and clothes.

Fan had risen again, white and trembling at that awful sight; and unable
to endure it longer, she sprang to the door, and crying out with terror,
flew down to the kitchen. The cook returned with her, and on entering
the room they discovered their mistress in a mad fit of hysterics,
shrieking with laughter, and tearing her clothes off. The woman was
strong, and seeing that prompt action was needed, seized her mistress in
her arms and threw her on to the couch, and held her there in spite of
her frantic struggles. Assisted by Fan, she then emptied the contents
of the toilet jug over her face and naked bosom, half drowning her; and
after a while Miss Starbrow ceased her struggles, and sank back gasping
and half fainting on the cushion, her eyes closed and her face ghostly
white.

"You see," said the cook to Fan, "she never had one before, and she's a
strong one, and it's always worse for that sort when it do come. Lor',
what a temper she must have been in to take on so!"

Between them they succeeded in undressing and placing her on her bed,
where she lay for an hour in a half-conscious state; but later in the
day she began to recover, and moved to the couch near the fire, while
Fan sat beside her on the carpet, watching the face that looked so
strange in its whiteness and languor, and keeping the firelight from the
half-closed eyes.

"Oh, Fan, how weak I feel now--so weak!" she murmured. "And a little
while ago I felt so strong! If he had been present I could have torn the
flesh from his bones. No tiger in the jungle maddened by the hunters has
such strength as I felt in me then. And now it has all gone, and he has
escaped from me. Let him go. All the kindly feeling I had for him--all
the hopes for his future welfare, all my secret plans to aid him--they
are dead. But it was all so sudden. Was it to-day, Fan, that I saw you
sitting in Kensington Gardens, crying by yourself, or a whole year ago?
Poor Fan! poor Fan!"

The girl had hid her face against Mary's knee.

"But why do you cry, my poor girl?"

"Oh, dear Mary, will you ever forgive me?" said Fan, half raising her
tearful face.

"Forgive you, Fan! For what?"

"For what I said to-day in the Gardens. Oh, why, why did I say such
dreadful things! Oh, I am so--so sorry--I am so sorry!"

"I remember now, but I had forgotten all about it. That was nothing,
Fan--less than nothing. It was not you that spoke, but the demon of
anger that had possession of you. I forgive you freely for that, poor
child, and shall never think of it again. But I shall never be able to
feel towards you as I did before. Never, Fan."

"Mary, Mary, what have I done!"

"Nothing, child. It is not anything you have done, or that you have left
undone. But I took you into my house and into my heart, and only asked
you to love and trust me, and you forgot it all in a moment, and
were ready to believe the worst of me. A stranger told you that I had
secretly planned your destruction, and you at once believed it. How
could you find it in your heart to believe such a thing of me--a thing
so horrible, so impossible?"

Fan, with her face hidden, continued crying.

"But don't cry, Fan. You shall not suffer. If you could lose all faith
in me, and think me such a demon of wickedness, you are not to blame.
You are not what I imagined, but only what nature made you. Where I
thought you strong you are weak, and it was my mistake."

Suddenly Fan raised her eyes, wet with tears, and looked fixedly at the
other's face; nor did she drop them when Mary's eyes, opening wide
and expressing a little surprise at the girl's courage, and a little
resentment, returned the look.

"Mary," she said, speaking in a voice which had recovered its firmness,
"I loved you so much, and I had never done anything wrong, and--and
you said you would always love and trust me because you knew that I was
good."

"Well, Fan?"

"And you believed what Rosie said about me, and that I was a thief, and
had taken your jewels and ran away."

Mary cast down her eyes, and the corners of her mouth twitched as if
with a slight smile.

"That is true," she said slowly. "You are right, Fan; you are not so
poor as I thought, but can defend yourself with your tongue or your
teeth, as occasion requires. Perhaps my sin balances yours after all,
and leaves us quits. Perhaps when I get over this trouble I shall love
you as much as ever--perhaps more."

"And you are not angry with me now, Mary?"

"No, Fan, I was not angry with you: kiss me if you like. Only I feel
very, very tired--tired and sick of my life, and wish I could lie down
and sleep and forget everything."



CHAPTER XII


On the very next day Miss Starbrow was herself again apparently, and
the old life was resumed just where it had been broken off. But although
outwardly things went on in the old way, and her mistress was not
unkind, and she had her daily walk, her reading, sewing, and embroidery
to fill her time, the girl soon perceived that something very precious
to her had been lost in the storm, and she looked and waited in vain for
its recovery. In spite of those reassuring well-remembered words Mary
had spoken to her, the old tender affection and confidence, which had
made their former relations seem so sweet, now seemed lost. Mary was not
unkind, but that was all. She did not wish Fan to read to her, or give
her any assistance in dressing, or to remain long in her room, but
preferred to be left alone. When she spoke, her words and tone were not
ungentle, but she no longer wished to talk, and after a few minutes she
would send her away; and then Fan, sad at heart, would go to her own
room--that large back room where her bed had been allowed to remain, and
where she worked silent and solitary, sitting before her own fire.

One day, just as she came in from her morning walk, a letter was left
by the postman, and Fan took it up to her mistress, glad always of an
excuse to go to her--for now some excuse seemed necessary.

Miss Starbrow, sitting moodily before her fire in her bedroom, took it;
but the moment she looked at the writing she started as if a snake had
bitten her, and flung the letter into the fire. Then, while watching it
blaze up, she suddenly exclaimed:

"I was a fool to burn it before first seeing what was in it!"

Before she finished speaking Fan darted her hand into the flame, and
tossing the burning letter on the rug, stamped out the fire with her
foot. The envelope and the outer leaf of the letter were black and
charred, but the inner leaf, which was the part written on, had not
suffered.

"Thanks, Fan; that was clever," said Miss Starbrow, taking it; and then
proceeded to read it, holding it far from her face as if her eyesight
had suddenly fallen into decay.

  Dear Pollie [ran the letter], When I saw that girl back in your
  house I knew that it would be all over between us. It is a terrible
  thing for me to lose you in that way, but there is no help for it now;
  I know that you will not forgive me. But I don't wish you to think of
  me worse than I deserve. You know as well as I do that since you took
  Fan into the house you have changed towards me, and that without
  quite throwing me over you made it as uncomfortable for me as you
  could. As things did not improve, I became convinced that as long as
  you had her by you it would continue the same, so I resolved to get
  her out of the way. I partially succeeded, and she would have been
  kept safely shut up for a few days, and then sent to a distant part
  of the country, to be properly taken care of. That is the whole of my
  offence, and I am very sorry that my plan failed. Nothing more than
  that was intended; and if you have imagined anything more you have
  done me an injustice. I am bad enough, I suppose, but not so bad as
  that; and I hate and always have hated that girl, who has been my
  greatest enemy, though perhaps unintentionally. That is all I have to
  say, except that I shall never forget how different it once was--how
  kind you could be, and how happy you often made me before that
  miserable creature came between us.

  Good-bye for ever,

  JACK.


Miss Starbrow laughed bitterly. "There, Fan, read it," she said. "It is
all about you, and you deserve a reward for burning your fingers. Coward
and villain! why has he added this infamous lie to his other crimes? It
has only made me hate and despise him more than ever. If he had had the
courage to confess everything, and even to boast of it, I should not
have thought so meanly of him."

The wound was bleeding afresh. Her face had grown pale, and under her
black scowling brows her eyes shone as if with the reflected firelight.
But it was only the old implacable anger flashing out again.

Fan, after reading the letter for herself, and dropping it with
trembling fingers on to the fire, turned to her mistress. Her face had
also grown very pale, and her eyes expressed a new and great trouble.

"Why do you look at me like that?" exclaimed Miss Starbrow, seizing her
by the arm. "Speak!"

Fan sank down on to her knees, and began stammeringly, "Oh, I can't bear
to think--to think--"

"To think what?--Speak, I tell you!"

"_Did_ I come between you?--oh, Mary, are you sorry--"

"Hush!" and Miss Starbrow pushed her angrily from her. "Sorry! Never
dare to say such a thing again! Oh, I don't know which is most hateful
to me, his villainy or your whining imbecility. Leave me--go to your
room, and never come to me unless I call you."

Fan went away, sad at heart, and cried by herself, fearing now that the
sweet lost love would never again return to brighten her life. But after
this passionate outburst Miss Starbrow was not less kind and gentle than
before. Once at least every day she would call Fan to her room and speak
a few words to her, and then send her away. The few words would even be
cheerfully spoken, but with a fictitious kind of cheerfulness; under
it all there was ever a troubled melancholy look; the clouds which had
returned after the rain had not yet passed away. To Fan they were very
much, those few daily words which served to keep her hope alive, while
her heart hungered for the love that was more than food to her.

Even in her sleep this unsatisfied instinct of her nature and perpetual
craving made her dreams sad. But not always, for on more than one
occasion she had a very strange sweet dream of Mary pressing her lips
and whispering some tender assurance to her; and this dream was so
vivid, so like reality, that when she woke she seemed to feel still on
face and hands the sensation of loving lips and other clasping hands,
so that she put out her hands to return the embrace. And one night from
that dream she woke very suddenly, and saw a light in the room--the
light of a small shaded lamp moving away towards the door, and Mary,
in a white wrapper, with her dark hair hanging unbound on her back, was
carrying it.

"Mary, Mary!" cried the girl, starting up in bed, and holding out her
arms.

The other turned, and for a little while stood looking at her; no ghost
nor somnambulist was she in appearance, with those bright wakeful eyes,
the curious smile that played about her lips, and the rich colour,
perhaps from confusion or shame at being detected, surging back into
her lately pale face. She did not refuse the girl's appeal, or try any
longer to conceal her feelings. Setting the lamp down she came to the
bedside, and taking Fan in her arms, held her in a long close embrace.
When she had finished caressing the girl she remained standing for some
time silent beside the bed, her eyes cast down as if in thought, and
an expression half melancholy but strangely tender and beautiful on her
face.

Presently she bent down over the girl again and spoke.

"Don't fret, dearest, if I seem bad-tempered and strange. I love you
just the same; I have come here more than once to kiss you when you were
asleep. Do you remember how angry you made me when you asked if you
had come between that man and me, and if I were sorry? You _did_ come
between us, Fan, in a way that his wholly corrupt soul would never
understand. But you could not have done me a greater service than
that--no, not if you had spilt your heart's blood for me. You have
repaid me for all that I have done, or ever can do for you, and have
made me your debtor besides for the rest of my life."

That midnight interview with her mistress had thereafter a very bright
and beautiful place in Fan's memory, and still thinking of it she would
sometimes lie awake for hours, wishing and hoping that Mary would come
to her again in one of her tender moods. But it did not happen again;
for Mary was not one to recover quickly from such a wound as she
had suffered, and she still brooded, wrapped up in her own thoughts,
dreaming perhaps of revenge. And in the meantime bitter blustering March
wore on to its end, the sun daily gaining power; and then, all at once,
it was April, with sunshine and showers; and some heavenly angel passed
by and touched the brown old desolate elms in Kensington Gardens with
tenderest green; and as by a miracle the baskets of the flower-girls in
Westbourne Grove were filled to overflowing with spring flowers--pale
primroses that die unmarried; and daffodils that come before the swallow
dares, shining like gold; and violets dim, but sweeter than the lids of
Juno's eyes, or Cytherea's breath.



CHAPTER XIII


One afternoon, returning from Westbourne Grove, where she had been out
to buy flowers for the table, on coming into the hall, Fan was surprised
to hear Miss Starbrow in the dining-room talking to a stranger, with a
cheerful ring in her voice, which had not been heard for many weeks. She
was about to run upstairs to her room, when her mistress called out, "Is
that you, Fan? Come in here; I want you."

Miss Starbrow and her visitor were sitting near the window. How changed
she looked, with her cheeks so full of rich red colour, and her dark
eyes sparkling with happy, almost joyous excitement! But she did not
speak when Fan, blushing a little with shyness, advanced into the
room and stood before them, her eyes cast down in a pretty confusion.
Smiling, she watched the girl's face, then the face of her guest, her
eyes bright and mirthful glancing from one to the other. Fan, looking
up, saw before her a tall broad-shouldered young man with good features,
hair almost black; no beard, but whiskers and moustache, very dark
brown; and, in strange contrast, grey-blue eyes. Over these eyes, too
light in colour to match the hair, the eyelids drooped a little,
giving to them that partially-closed sleepy appearance which is often
deceptive. Just now they were studying the girl standing before him with
very keen interest. A slender girl, not quite sixteen years old, in a
loose and broad-sleeved olive-green dress, and yellow scarf at the neck;
brown straw hat trimmed with spring flowers; flowers also in her hand,
yellow and white, and ferns, in a great loose bunch; and her golden hair
hanging in a braid on her back. But the face must be imagined, white and
delicate and indescribably lovely in its tender natural pallor.

"Fan," said Miss Starbrow at last, and speaking with a merry smile,
"this is my brother Tom, from Manchester, you have so often heard me
speak of. Tom, this is Fan."

"Well," exclaimed Miss Starbrow, after he had shaken hands with Fan and
sat down again, "what do you think of my little girl? You have heard
all about her, and now you have seen her, and I am waiting to hear your
opinion."

"Do you remember the old days at home, Mary, when we were all together?
How you do remind me of them now!"

"Oh, bother the old days! You know how I hated them, and I--why don't
you answer my question, Tom?"

"That's just it," he returned. "It was always the same: you always
wanted an answer before the question was out of your mouth. Now, it was
quite different with the rest of us."

"Yes, you were a slow lot. Do you remember Jacob?--it always took him
fifteen minutes to say yes or no. There's an animal--I forget what it's
called--rhinoceros or something--at the Zoo that always reminds me of
him; he was so fearfully ponderous."

"Yes, that's all very well, Mary, but I fancy he's more than doubled the
fortune the gov'nor left him; so he has been ponderous to some purpose."

"Has he? how? But what do I care! Tom, you'll drive me crazy--why can't
you answer a simple question instead of going off into fifty other
things?"

"Well, Mary, if you'll kindly explain which of all the questions you
have asked me during the last minute or two, I'll try my best."

She frowned, made an impatient gesture, then laughed.

"Go upstairs and take off your things, Fan," she said. "Well?" she
continued, turning to her brother again, and finding his eyes fixed on
her face. "Do you tell me, Mary, that this white girl was born and bred
in a London slum, that her drunken mother was killed in a street fight,
and that she had no other life but that until you picked her up?"

"Yes."

"Good God!"

"Can't you say _Mon Dieu_, Tom? Your north-country expressions sound
rather shocking to London ears."

He rose, and coming to her side put his arm about her and kissed her
cheek very heartily.

"You were always a good old girl, Mary," he said, "and you are one
still, in spite of your vagaries."

"Thank you for your very equivocal compliments," she returned,
administering a slight box on his ear. "And now tell me what you think
of Fan?"

"I'll tell you presently, if you have not guessed already; but I'd like
to know first what you are going to do with her."

"I don't know; I can't bother about it just now. There's plenty of time
to think of that. Perhaps I'll make a lady's-maid of her, though it
doesn't seem quite the right thing to do."

"No, it doesn't. Don't go and spoil what you have done by any such folly
as that."

"Do you want me to make a lady of her--or what?"

"A lady? Well that is a difficult question to answer; but I have heard
that sometimes ladies, like poets, are born, not made. At all events, it
would not be right, I fancy, to keep the girl here. It might give rise
to disagreeable complications, as you always have a parcel of fellows
hanging about you."

Her face darkened with a frown.

"Now, Mary, don't get into a tantrum; it is best for us to be frank. And
I say frankly that you never did a better thing in your life than when
you took this girl into your house, if my judgment is worth anything.
My advice is, send her away for a time--for a year or two, say. She is
young, and would be better for a little more teaching. There are poor
gentlefolks all over the country who are only too glad to take a girl
when they can get one, and give her a pleasant home and instruction for
a moderate sum. Find out some such place, and give her a year of it
at least; and then if you should have her back she would be more of a
companion for you, and, if not, she would be better able to earn her own
living. Take my advice, Mary, and finish a good work properly."

"A good work! You have nearly spoilt the effect of everything you said
by that word. I never have done and never will do good works. It is not
my nature, Tom. What I have done for Fan is purely from selfish motives.
The fact is I fell in love with the girl, and my reward is in being
loved by her and seeing her happy. It would be ridiculous to call that
benevolence."

He smiled and shook his head. "You can abuse yourself if you like, Mary;
we came from Dissenters, and that's a fashion of theirs--"

"Cant and hypocrisy is a fashion of theirs, if you like," she
interrupted. "You are not going the right way about it if you wish me to
pay any attention to your advice."

"Come, Mary, don't let us quarrel. I'll agree with you that we are all
a lot of selfish beggars; and I'll even confess that I have a selfish
motive in advising you to send the girl away to the country for a time."

"What is your motive?" she asked.

"Well, I hate going slap-dash into the middle of a thing without any
preface; I like to approach it in my own way."

"Yes, I know; _your_ way of approaching a subject is to walk in a circle
round it. But please dash into the middle of it for once."

"Well, then, to tell you the plain truth, I am beginning to think that
money-getting is not the only thing in life--"

"What a discovery for a Manchester man to make! The millennium must have
dawned at last on your smoky old town!"

He laughed at her words, but refused to go on with the subject.

"I was only teasing you a little," he said. "It gladdens me even to see
you put yourself in a temper, Mary--it brings back old times when we
were always such good friends, and sometimes had such grand quarrels."

Mary also laughed, and rang the bell for afternoon tea. She was curious
to hear about the "selfish motive," but remembered the family failing,
and forbore to press him.

According to his own accounts, Mr. Tom Starbrow was up in town on
business; apparently the business was not of a very pressing nature,
as most of his time during the next few days was spent at Dawson Place,
where he and his sister had endless conversations about old times. Then
he would go with Fan to explore Whiteley's, which seemed to require a
great deal of exploring; and from these delightful rambles they would
return laden with treasures--choice bon-bons, exotic flowers and
hot-house grapes at five or six shillings a pound; quaint Japanese
knick-knacks; books and pictures, and photographs of celebrated
men--great beetle-browed philosophers, and men of blood and thunder;
also of women still more celebrated, on and off the stage. Mr. Starbrow
would have nothing sent; the whole fun of the thing, he assured Fan,
was in carrying all their purchases home themselves; and so, laden with
innumerable small parcels, they would return chatting and laughing like
the oldest and best of friends, happy and light-hearted as children.

At last one day Mr. Starbrow went back to the old subject. "Mary, my
girl," he said, "have you thought over the advice I gave you about this
white child of yours?"

"No, certainly not; we were speaking of it when you broke off in the
middle of a sentence, if you remember. You can finish the sentence now
if you like, but don't be in a hurry."

"Well then, to come at once to the very pith of the whole matter, I
think I've been sticking to the mill long enough--for the present. And
it may come to pass that some day I shall be married, and then----"

"Your second state will be worse than your first."

"That will be according to how it turns out. I was only going to say
that a married man finds it more difficult to do some things."

"To flirt with pretty young girls, for instance?"

"No, no. But I haven't finished yet. I haven't even come to the matter
at all."

"Oh, you haven't! How strange!"

He smiled and was silent.

"I hope, Tom, you'll marry a big strong woman."

"Why, Mary?"

"Because you want an occasional good shaking."

"You see, my difficulty is this," he began again, without noticing the
last speech. "When I tell you what I want, I'm afraid you'll only laugh
at me and refuse my request."

"It won't hurt you much, poor old Tom, if I do laugh."

"No, perhaps not--I never thought of that." Then he proceeded to explain
that he had made up his mind to spend two or three years in seeing
the world, or at all events that portion of it to be found outside of
England; and the first year he wished to spend on the Continent. Alone
he feared that he would have a miserable time of it; but if his sister
would only consent to accompany him, then he thought it would be most
enjoyable; for he would have her society, and her experience of travel,
and knowledge of German and French, would also smooth the way. "Now,
Mary," he concluded--it had taken him half an hour to say this--"don't
say No just yet. I know I shall be an awful weight for you to drag
about, I'll be so helpless at hotels and stations and such places. But
there will perhaps be one advantage to you. I know you spend rather
freely, and your income is not too large, and I dare say you have
exceeded it a little. Now, if you will give a year to me, and have your
house shut up or let in the meantime, there would be a year's income
saved to put you straight again."

"That means, Tom, that you would pay all my expenses while we were
abroad?"

"Well, sis, I couldn't well take you away from your own life and
pleasures and ask you to pay your own. That would be a strangely
one-sided proposal to make."

"I must take time to think about it."

"That's a good girl. And, Mary, what would it cost to put this girl with
some family where she would have a pleasant home and be taught for a
year?"

"About sixty or seventy pounds, I suppose. Then there would be her
clothing, and pocket-money, and incidental expenses--altogether a
hundred pounds, I dare say."

"And you would let me pay this also?"

"No indeed, Tom. Three or four months would be quite time enough to put
me straight; and if I consent to go, it must be understood that there
are to be no presents, and nothing except travelling expenses."

"All right, Mary; you haven't consented yet definitely, but it is a
great relief that you do not scout the idea, and tell me to go and buy a
ticket at Ludgate Circus."

"Well, no, I couldn't well say that, considering that you are the only
one of the family who has treated me rightly, and that I care anything
about." She laughed a little, and presently continued: "I dare say the
others are all well enough in their way; they are all honest men, of
course, and someone says, 'An honest man's the noblest work of God.' For
my part, I think it His poorest work. Fancy dull, slow old calculating
Jacob being the noblest work of the Being that created--what shall I
say?--this violet, or--"

"Fan," suggested her brother.

"Yes, Fan if you like. By the way, Tom, before I forget to mention it, I
think you are a little in love with Fan."

Tom, taken off his guard, blushed hotly, which would not have mattered
if his sister's keen eyes had not been watching his face.

"What nonsense you talk!" he exclaimed a little too warmly. "In love
with a child!"

"Yes, I know she's but a lassie yet," replied his sister with a mocking
laugh.

It was too much for his Starbrow temper, and taking up his hat he rose
and marched angrily out of the room--angry as much with himself as with
his sister. But in a moment she was after him, and before he could open
the hall door her arms were round his neck.

"Oh, Tom, you foolish fellow, can't you take a little joke
good-humouredly?" she said. "I'm afraid our year on the Continent will
be a very short one if you are going to be so touchy."

"Then you will consent?" he said, glad to change the subject and be
friendly again.

And a day or two later she did finally consent to accompany him. His
proposal had come at an opportune moment, when she was heartsore,
and restless, and anxious to escape from the painful memories and
associations of the past month.

One of her first steps was to advertise in the papers for a home with
tuition for a girl under sixteen, in a small family residing in a rural
district in the west or south-west of England. The answers were to be
addressed to her newspaper agent, who was instructed not to forward them
to her in driblets, but deliver them all together.

Mr. Starbrow stayed another week in town, and during that time he went
somewhere every day with his sister and Fan; they drove in the Park,
went to picture galleries, to morning concerts, and then, if not tired,
to a theatre in the evening. It was consequently a very full week to
Fan, who now for the first time saw something of the hidden wonders and
glories of London. And she was happy; but this novel experience--the
sight of all that unimagined wealth of beauty--was even less to her than
Mary's perfect affection, which was now no longer capricious, bursting
forth at rare intervals like sunshine out of a stormy sky. Then that
week in fairyland was over, and Tom Starbrow went back to Manchester
to arrange his affairs; but before going he presented Fan with a very
beautiful lady's watch and chain, the watch of chased gold with blue
enamelled face.

"I do not wish you to forget me, Fan," he said, holding her hand in
his, and looking into her young face smilingly, yet with a troubled
expression in his eyes, "and there is nothing like a watch to remind
you of an absent friend; sometimes it will even repeat his words if you
listen attentively to its little ticking language. It is something like
the sea-shell that whispers about the ocean waves when you hold it to
your ear."

That pretty little speech only served to make the gift seem more
precious to Fan; for she was not critical, and it did not sound in the
least studied to her. It was delivered, however, when Mary was out of
the room; when she returned and saw the watch, after congratulating the
girl she threw a laughing and somewhat mocking glance at her brother;
for which Tom was prepared, and so he met it bravely, and did not blush
or lose his temper.

In due time the answers to the advertisement arrived--in a sack, for
they numbered about four hundred.

"Oh, how will you ever be able to read them all!" exclaimed Fan, staring
in a kind of dismay at the pile, where Miss Starbrow had emptied them on
the carpet.

"I have no such mad intention," said the other with a laugh, and turning
them over with her pretty slippered foot. "As a rule people that answer
advertisements--especially women--are fools. If you advertise for a
piece of old point lace, about a thousand people who have not got such a
thing will write to say that they will sell you wax flowers, old books,
ostrich feathers, odd numbers of _Myra's Journal_, or any rubbish they
may have by them; I dare say that most of the writers of these letters
are just as wide of the mark. Sit here at my feet, Fan; and you shall
open the letters for me and read the addresses. No, not that way with
your fingers. If you stop to tear them to pieces, like a hungry cat
tearing its meat, it will take too long. Use the paper-knife, and open
them neatly and quickly."

Fan began her task, and found scores of letters from the suburbs of
London and all parts of the kingdom, from Land's End to the north of
Scotland; and in nine cases out of ten after reading the address her
mistress would say, "Tear it twice across, and throw it into the basket,
Fan."

It seemed a pity to Fan to tear them up unread; for some were so long
and so beautifully written, with pretty little crests at the top of the
page; but Mary knew her own mind, and would not relent so far as even to
look at one of these wasted specimens of calligraphic art. In less than
an hour's time the whole heap had been disposed of, with the exception
of fifteen or twenty letters selected for consideration on account of
their addresses. These Miss Starbrow carefully went over, and finally
selecting one she read it aloud to Fan. It was from a Mrs. Churton, an
elderly lady, residing with her husband, a retired barrister, and her
daughter, in their own house at a small place called Eyethorne, in
Wiltshire. She offered to take the girl into her house, treat her as
her own child, and give her instruction, for seventy pounds a year. The
tuition would be undertaken by the daughter, who was well qualified for
such a task, and could teach languages--Latin, German, and French were
mentioned; also mathematics, geology, history, music, drawing, and a
great many other branches of knowledge, both useful and ornamental.

Fan listened to this part of the letter with a look of dismay on her
face, which made Miss Starbrow laugh.

"Why, my child, what more can you want?" she said.

"Don't you think it a little too much, Mary?" she returned with some
distress, which made the other laugh again.

"Well, my poor girl, you needn't study Greek and archaeology and
logarithms unless you feel inclined. But if you ever take a fancy for
such subjects it will always be a comfort to know that you may dive down
as deeply as you like without knocking your head on the bottom. I mean
that you will never get to know too much for Miss Churton, who knows
more than all the professors put together."

"Do you think she will be nice?" said Fan, wandering from the subject.

"Nice! That depends on your own taste. I fancy I can draw a picture
of what she is like. A tall thin lady of an uncertain age. Thin
across here"--placing her hands on her own shoulders. "And very flat
here,"--touching her own well-developed bust.

"But I should like to know about her face."

"Should you? I'm afraid that it is not a very bright smiling face, that
it is rather yellow in colour, that the hair is rather dead-looking, of
the door-mat tint, and smoothed flat down. The eyes are dim, no
doubt, from much reading, and the nose long, straddled with a pair of
spectacles, and red at the end from dyspepsia and defective circulation.
But never mind, Fan, you needn't look so cast down about it. Miss
Churton will be your teacher, and I wish you joy, but you will have
plenty of time for play, and other things to think of besides study.
When your lessons are over you can chase butterflies and gather flowers
if you like. Luckily Miss Churton has not included botany and entomology
in the long list of her acquirements."

Fan did not quite understand all this; her mistress was always mocking
at something, she knew; she only asked if it was really in the country
where she would live.

Miss Starbrow took up the letter and read the remaining portion, which
contained a description of Wood End House--the Churtons' residence--and
its surroundings. The house, the writer said, was small, but pretty and
comfortable; and there was a nice garden and a large orchard with fruit
in abundance. There were also some fields and meadows, her own property,
let to neighbouring farmers. East of the house, and within fifteen
minutes walk, was the old picturesque village of Eyethorne, sheltered
by a range of grassy hills; also within a few minutes' walk began the
extensive Eyethorne woods, celebrated for their beauty.

Nothing could have been more charming than this, and the picture of
garden and orchard, green meadows and hills and shady woods, almost
reconciled Fan to the prospect of spending a whole year in the society
of an aged and probably ailing couple, and a lady of uncertain age,
deeply learned and of unprepossessing appearance--for she could not rid
her mind of the imaginary portrait drawn by Mary.

For some mysterious reason, or for no reason, Miss Starbrow resolved to
close at once with the Churtons; and as if fearing that her mind might
alter, she immediately tore up the other letters, although in some
of them greater advantages had been held out, lower terms, and the
companionship of girls of the same age as Fan. And in a very few days,
after a little further correspondence, everything was settled to the
entire satisfaction of everyone concerned, and it was arranged that Fan
should go down to Eyethorne on the 10th of May, which was now very near.

"I shall have one good dress made for you," said Miss Starbrow, "and
you can take the material to make a second for yourself; you are growing
just now, Fan. A nice dress for Sundays; down in the country most people
go to church. And, by the way, Fan, have you ever been inside a church
in your life?"

She seemed not to know how to answer this question, but at length spoke,
a little timidly. "Not since I have lived with you, Mary."

"Is that intended for a sarcasm, Fan? But never mind, I know what you
mean. When you are at Eyethorne you must still bear that in mind,
and even if questioned about it, never speak of that old life in Moon
Street. I suppose I must get you a prayer-book, and--show you how to
use it. But about dress. Your body is very much more important than
your soul, and how to clothe it decently and prettily must be our first
consideration. We must go to Whiteley's and select materials for half a
dozen pretty summer dresses. Blue, I fancy, suits you best, but you can
have other colours as well."

"Oh, Mary," said the girl with strange eagerness, "will you let me
choose one myself? I have so long wished to wear white! May I have one
white dress?"

"White? You are so white yourself. Don't you think you look simple and
innocent enough as it is? But please yourself, Fan, you shall have as
many white dresses as you like."

So overjoyed was Fan at having this long-cherished wish at last
gratified that, for the first time she had ever ventured to do such
a thing, she threw her arms round Mary's neck and kissed her. Then
starting back a little frightened, she exclaimed, "Mary, was it wrong
for me to kiss you without being told?"

"No, dear, kiss me as often as you like. We have had a rather eventful
year together, have we not? Clouds and storms and some pleasant
sunshine. For these few remaining days there must be no clouds, but only
perfect love and peace. The parting will come quickly enough, and who
knows--who knows what changes another year will bring?"



CHAPTER XIV


At the last moment, when all the preparations were complete, Miss
Starbrow determined to accompany Fan to her new home, and, after
dropping her there, to pay a long-promised visit before leaving England
to an old friend of her girlhood, who was now married and living at
Salisbury. Eyethorne took her some distance out of her way; and at the
small country station where they alighted, which was two and a half
miles from the village, she found from the time-table that her interview
with the Churtons would have to be a short one, as there was only one
train which would take her to Salisbury so as to arrive there at a
reasonably early hour in the evening. At the station they took a fly,
and the drive to Eyethorne brought before Fan's eyes a succession of
charming scenes--green hills, broad meadows yellow with buttercups, deep
shady lanes, and old farm-houses. The spring had been cold and backward;
but since the beginning of May there had been days of warm sunshine with
occasional gentle rains, and the trees, both shade and fruit, had all at
once rushed into leaf and perfect bloom. Such vivid and tender greens as
the foliage showed, such a wealth of blossom on every side, such sweet
fragrance filling the warm air, Fan had never imagined; and yet how her
prophetic heart had longed for the sweet country!

A sudden turn of the road brought them in full sight of the village,
sheltered on the east side by low green hills; and beyond the village,
at some distance, a broad belt of wood, the hills on one hand and green
meadowland on the other. Five minutes after leaving the village they
drew up at the gate of Wood End House, which was at some distance back
from the road almost hidden from sight by the hedge and trees, and was
approached by a short avenue of elms. Arrived at the house, they were
received by Mr. and Mrs. Churton, and ushered into a small drawing-room
on the ground floor; a room which, with its heavy-looking, old-fashioned
furniture, seemed gloomy to them on coming in from the bright sunshine.
Mrs. Churton was rather large, approaching stoutness in her figure,
grey-haired with colourless face, and a somewhat anxious expression; but
she seemed very gentle and motherly, and greeted Fan with a kindliness
in her voice and manner which served in a great measure to remove
the girl's nervousness on coming for the first time as an equal among
gentlefolks.

Mr. Churton had not, in a long married life, grown like his spouse
in any way, nor she like him. He was small, with a narrow forehead,
irregular face and projecting under-lip, which made him ugly. His eyes
were of that common no-colour type, and might or might not have been
pigmented, and classifiable as brown or blue--Dr. Broca himself would
not have been able to decide. But the absence of any definite colour
was of less account than the lack of any expression, good or bad. One
wondered, on seeing his face, how he could be a retired barrister,
unless it meant merely that in the days of his youth he had made some
vague and feeble efforts at entering such a profession, ending in
nothing. Possibly he was himself conscious that his face lacked a
quality found in others, and failed to inspire respect and confidence;
for he had a trick of ostentatiously clearing his throat, and looking
round and speaking in a deliberate and somewhat consequential manner,
as if by these little arts to counterbalance the weakness in the
expression. His whole get-up also suggested the same thought--could
anyone believe the jewel to be missing from a casket so elaborately
chased? His grey hair was brushed sprucely up on each side of his head,
the ends of the locks forming a supplementary pair of ears above the
crown. He was scrupulously dressed in black cloth and spotless linen,
with a very large standing-up collar. In manner he was gushingly amiable
and polite towards Miss Starbrow, and as he stood bowing and smiling and
twirling the cord of his gold-rimmed glasses about his finger, he talked
freely to that lady of the lovely weather, the beauty of the country,
the pleasures of the spring season, and in fact of everything except the
business which had brought her there. Presently she cut short his flow
of inconsequent talk by remarking that her time was short, and inquiring
if Miss Churton were in.

Mrs. Churton quickly replied that she was expecting her every moment;
that she had gone out for a short walk, and had not perhaps seen the fly
arrive. No doubt, she added a little nervously, Miss Starbrow would like
to see and converse with Miss Affleck's future teacher and companion.

"Oh, no, not at all!" promptly replied the other, with the habitual
curling of the lip. "I came to-day by the merest chance, as everything
had been arranged by correspondence, and I am quite satisfied that Miss
Affleck will be in good hands." At which Mr. Churton bowed, and turning
bestowed a fatherly smile on Fan. "It is not at all necessary for me to
see Miss Churton," continued Miss Starbrow, "but there is one thing I
wish to speak to you about, which I omitted to mention in my letters to
you."

Mr. and Mrs. Churton were all attention, but before the other had begun
to speak Miss Churton came in, her hat on, and with a sunshade in one
hand and a book in the other.

"Here is my daughter," said the mother. "Constance, Miss Starbrow and
Miss Affleck."

Miss Churton advanced to the first lady, but did not give her hand as
she had meant to do; for the moment she appeared in the room and her
name was mentioned a cloud had come over the visitor's face, and she
merely bowed distantly without stirring from her seat.

For the real Miss Churton offered a wonderful contrast to that portrait
of her which the other had drawn from her imagination. She might
almost be called tall, her height being little less than that of the
dark-browed lady who sat before her, regarding her with cold critical
eyes; but in figure she was much slimmer, and her light-coloured dress,
which was unfashionable in make, was pretty and became her. She was, in
fact, only twenty-two years old. There were no lines of deep thought on
her pure white forehead when she removed her hat; and no dimness from
much reading of books in her clear hazel eyes, which seemed to Fan the
most beautiful eyes she had ever seen, so much sweet sympathy did they
show, and so much confidence did they inspire. In colour she was very
rich, her skin being of that tender brown one occasionally sees in the
face of a young lady in the country, which seems to tell of a pleasant
leisurely life in woods and fields; while her abundant hair was of a
tawny brown tint with bronze reflections. She was very beautiful, and
when, turning from Miss Starbrow, she advanced to Fan and gave her hand,
the girl almost trembled with the new keen sensation of pleasure she
experienced. Miss Churton was so different from that unlovely mental
picture of her! She imagined for a moment, poor girl, that Mary would
show her feelings of relief and pleasure; but she quickly perceived that
something had brought a sudden cloud over Mary's face, and it troubled
her, and she wondered what it meant.

Before Miss Churton had finished welcoming Fan, Miss Starbrow, looking
at her watch and directly addressing the elder lady, said in a cold
voice:

"I think it would be as well if Miss Affleck could leave us for a few
minutes, and I will then finish what I had begun to say."

Miss Churton looked inquiringly at her, then turned again to Fan.

"Will you come with me to the garden?" she said.

Fan rose and followed her through a back door opening on to a grassy
lawn, beyond which were the garden and orchard. After crossing the lawn
and going a little way among the shrubs and flowers they came in sight
of a large apple-tree white with blossoms.

"Oh, can we go as far as that tree?" asked the girl after a little
delighted exclamation at the sight. When they reached the tree she went
under it and gazed up into the beautiful flowery cloud with wide-open
eyes, and lips half-parted with a smile of ineffable pleasure.

Miss Churton stood by and silently watched her face for some moments.

"Do you think you will like your new home, Miss Affleck?" she asked.

"Oh, how lovely it all is--the flowers!" she exclaimed. "I didn't know
that there was any place in the world so beautiful as this! I should
like to stay here for ever!"

"But have you never been in the country before?" said the other with
some surprise.

"Yes. Only once, for a few days, years ago. But it was not like this. It
was very beautiful in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, but this--"

She could find no words to express her feeling; she could only stand
gazing up, and touching the white and pink clustering blossoms with her
finger-tips, as if they were living things to be gently caressed. "Oh,
it is so sweet," she resumed. "I have always so wished to be in
the country, but before Miss Starbrow took me to live with her, and
before--they--mother died, we lived in a very poor street, and were
always so poor and--" Then she reddened and cast down her eyes and was
silent, for she had suddenly remembered that Miss Starbrow had warned
her never to speak of her past life.

Miss Churton smiled slightly, but with a strange tenderness in her eyes
as she watched the girl's face.

"I hope we shall get on well together, and that you will like me a
little," she said.

"Oh, yes, I know I shall like you if--if you will not think me very
stupid. I know so little, and you know so much. Must you always call me
Miss Affleck?"

"Not if you would prefer me to call you Frances. I should like that
better."

"That would seem so strange, Miss Churton. I have always been called
Fan."

Just then the others were seen coming out to the garden, and Miss
Churton and Fan went back to meet them. Mr. Churton, polite and
bare-headed, hovered about his visitor, smiling, gesticulating,
chattering, while she answered only in monosyllables, and was
blacker-browed than ever. Mrs. Churton, silent and pale, walked at her
side, turning from time to time a troubled look at the dark proud face,
and wondering what its stormy expression might mean.

"Fan," said Miss Starbrow, without even a glance at the lady at Fan's
side, "my time is nearly up, and I wish to have three or four minutes
alone with you before saying good-bye."

The others at once withdrew, going back to the house, while Miss
Starbrow sat down on a garden bench and drew the girl to her side.
"Well, my child, what do you think of your new teacher?" she began.

"I like her so much, Mary, I'm sure--I know she will be very kind to me;
and is she not beautiful?"

"I am not going to talk about that, Fan. I haven't time. But I want to
say something very serious to you. You know, my girl, that when I took
you out of such a sad, miserable life to make you happy, I said that
it was not from charity, and because I loved my fellow-creatures or the
poor better than others; but solely because I wanted you to love me, and
your affection was all the payment I ever expected or expect. But now I
foresee that something will happen to make a change in you--"

"I can never change, or love you less than now, Mary!"

"So you imagine, but I can see further. Do you know, Fan, that you
cannot give your heart to two persons; that if you give your whole heart
to this lady you think so beautiful and so kind, and who will be paid
for her kindness, that her gain will be my loss?"

Fan, full of strange trouble, put her trembling hand on the other's
hand. "Tell me how it will be your loss, Mary," she said. "I don't think
I understand."

"I was everything to you before, Fan. I don't want a divided affection,
and I shall not share your affection with this woman, however beautiful
and kind she may be; or, rather, I shall not be satisfied with what
is over after you have begun to worship her. Your love is a kind of
worship, Fan, and you cannot possibly have that feeling for more than
one person, although you will find it easy enough to transfer it from
one to another. If you do not quite understand me yet, you must think it
over and try to find out what I mean. But I warn you, Fan, that if ever
you transfer the affection you have felt for me to this woman, or this
girl, then you shall cease to be anything to me. You shall be no more to
me than you were before I first saw you and felt a strange wish to take
you to my heart; when you were in rags and half-starved, and without one
friend in the world."

The tears started to the girl's eyes, and she threw her arms round the
other's neck. "Oh, Mary, nothing, nothing will ever make me love you
less! Will you not believe me, Mary?"

"Yes, dear Fan, don't cry. Good-bye, my darling. Write to me at least
once every fortnight, and when you want money or anything let me know,
and you shall have it. And when May comes round again let me see you
unchanged in heart, but with an improved mind and a little colour in
your dear pale face."

After Miss Starbrow's departure Fan was shown to her room, where her
luggage had already been taken by the one indoor servant, a staid,
middle-aged woman. It was a light, prettily furnished apartment on the
first floor, with a large window looking on to the garden at the back.
There were flowers on the dressing-table--Miss Churton had placed them
there, she thought--and the warm fragrant air coming in at the open
window seemed to bring nature strangely near to her. Looking away,
where the trees did not intercept the view, it was all green
country--gently-sloping hills, and the long Eyethorne wood, and
rich meadow-land, where sleepy-looking cows stood in groups or waded
knee-deep in the pasture. It was like an earthly paradise to her senses,
but just now her mind was clouded with a great distress. Mary's strange
words to her, and the warning that she would be cast out of Mary's
heart, that it would be again with her as it had been before entering
into this new life of beautiful scenes and sweet thoughts and feelings,
if she allowed herself to love her new teacher and companion, filled
her with apprehension. She sat by the window looking out, but with a
dismayed expression in her young eyes; and then she remembered how Mary,
in a sudden tempest of rage, had once struck her, and how her heart had
almost burst with grief at that unjust blow; and now it seemed to her
that Mary's words if not her hand had dealt her a second blow, which was
no less unjust; and covering her face with her hands she cried silently
to herself. Then she remembered how quickly Mary had repented and had
made amends, loving her more tenderly after having ill-treated her in
her anger. It consoled her to think that Mary had so great an affection
for her; and perhaps, she thought, the warning was necessary; perhaps if
she allowed her heart to have its way, and to give all that this lovely
and loving girl seemed to ask, Mary would be less to her than she had
been. She resolved that she would strive religiously to obey Mary's
wishes, that she would keep a watch over herself, and not allow any such
tender feelings as she had experienced in the garden to overcome her
again. She would be Miss Churton's pupil, but not the intimate, loving
friend and companion she had hoped to be after first seeing her.

While Fan sat by herself, occupied with her little private trouble,
which did not seem little to her, downstairs in the small drawing-room
there was another trouble.

"Before you go up to your room I wish to speak to you, Constance," said
her mother.

Miss Churton stood swinging her straw hat by its ribbon, silently
waiting to hear the rest.

"All right, Jane," said Mr. Churton to his wife. "I am just going to run
up to the village for an hour. You don't require me any more, do you?"

"I think you should remain here until this matter is settled, and
Constance is made clearly to understand what Miss Starbrow's wishes are.
My wishes, which will be considered of less moment, I have no doubt,
shall be stated afterwards."

"Very well, my dear, I will do anything you like. At the same time, I
think I really must be going. I have been kept in all day, you know, and
should like to take a little--ahem--constitutional."

"Yes, Nathaniel, I have no doubt you would. But consider me a little in
this. I have succeeded in getting this girl, and you know how much the
money will be to us. Do you think it too much to keep away from your
favourite haunt in the village for a single day?"

"Oh, come, come, Jane. It's all right, my dear. I'm sure Miss Starbrow
was greatly pleased at everything. You can settle all the rest with
Constance. I think she's quite intelligent enough to understand the
matter without my presence." And here Mr. Churton gave vent to a slight
inward chuckle.

"I insist on your staying here, Nathaniel. You know how little regard
our daughter has for my wishes or commands; and as Miss Starbrow has
spoken to us both, you cannot do less than remain to corroborate what I
have to tell Constance."

Her daughter reddened at this speech, but remained silent.

"Well, well, my dear, if you will only come to the point!" he exclaimed
impatiently.

"Constance, will you give me your attention?" said her mother, turning
to her.

"Yes, mother, I am attending."

"Miss Starbrow has informed us that Miss Affleck, although of gentle
birth on her father's side, was unhappily left to be brought up in a
very poor quarter of London, among people of a low class. She has had
little instruction, except that of the Board School, and never had the
advantage of associating with those of a better class until this lady
rescued her from her unfortunate surroundings. She is of a singularly
sweet, confiding disposition, Miss Starbrow says, and has many other
good qualities which only require a suitable atmosphere to be developed.
Miss Starbrow will value at its proper worth the instruction you will
give her; and as to subjects, she has added nothing to what she had
written to us, except that she does not wish you to force any study on
the girl to which she may show a disinclination, but rather to find
out for yourself any natural aptitude she may possess. And what she
particularly requests of us is, that no questions shall be put to her
and no reference made to her early life in London. She wishes the girl
to forget, if possible, her suffering and miserable childhood."

"I shall be careful not to make any allusion to it," replied the other,
her face brightening with new interest. "Poor girl! She began to say
something to me about her early life in London when we were in the
garden, and then checked herself. I dare say Miss Starbrow has told her
not to speak of it."

"Then I suppose you had already begun to press her with questions about
it?" quickly returned Mrs. Churton.

"No; she spoke quite spontaneously. The flowers, the garden, the beauty
of the country, so strangely different to her former surroundings--that
suggested what she said, I think."

Her mother looked unconvinced. "Will you remember, Constance, that it
is Miss Starbrow's wish that such subjects are not to be brought up and
encouraged in your conversations with Miss Affleck? I cannot command
you. It would be idle to expect obedience to any command of mine from
you. I can only appeal to your interest, or whatever it is you now
regard as your higher law."

"I have always obeyed you, mother," returned Miss Churton with warmth.
"I shall, as a matter of course, respect Miss Starbrow's and your wishes
in this instance. You know that you can trust me, or ought to know, and
there is no occasion to insult me."

"Insult you, Constance! How can you have the face to say such a thing,
when you know that your whole life is one continual act of disobedience
to me! Unhappy girl that you are, you disobey your God and Creator, and
are in rebellion against Him--how little a thing then must disobedience
to your mother seem!"

Miss Churton's face grew red and pale by turns. "Mother," she replied,
with a ring of pain in her voice, "I have always respected your opinions
and feelings, and shall continue to do so, and try my best to please
you. But it is hard that I should have to suffer these unprovoked
attacks; and it seems strange that the girl's coming should be made the
occasion for one, for I had hoped that her presence in the house would
have made my life more bearable."

"You refer to Miss Affleck's coming," said her mother, without stopping
to reply to anything else, "and I am glad of it, for it serves to remind
me that I have not yet told you my wishes with regard to your future
intercourse with her."

At this point Mr. Churton, unnoticed by his wife, stole quietly to the
door, and stepping cautiously out into the hall made his escape.

"You need not trouble to explain your wishes, mother," said Miss
Churton, with flushing cheeks. "I can very well guess what they are,
and I promise you at once that I shall say nothing to cause you any
uneasiness, or to make any further mention of the subject necessary."

"No, Constance, I have a sacred duty to perform, and our respective
relations towards Miss Affleck must be made thoroughly clear, once for
all."

"Why should you wish to make it clear after telling me that you cannot
trust me to obey your wishes, or even to speak the truth? Mother, I
shall not listen to you any longer!"

"You _shall_ listen to me!" exclaimed the other; and rising and hurrying
past her daughter, she closed the door and stood before it as if to
prevent escape.

Miss Churton made no reply; she walked to a chair, and sitting down
dropped her hat on the floor and covered her face with her hands. How
sad she looked in that attitude, how weary of the vain conflict, and how
despondent! For a little while there was silence in the room, but the
girl's bowed head moved with her convulsive breathing, and there was a
low sound presently as of suppressed sobbing.

"Would to God the tears you are shedding came from a contrite and
repentant heart," said the mother, with a tremor in her voice. "But they
are only rebellious and passing drops, and I know that your stony heart
is untouched."

Miss Churton raised her pale face, and brushed her tears away with an
angry gesture. "Forgive me, mother, for such an exhibition of weakness.
I sometimes forget that you have ceased to love me. Please say what you
wish, make things clear, add as many reproaches as you think necessary,
and then let me go to my room."

Mrs. Churton checked an angry reply which rose to her lips, and sat
down. She too was growing tired of this unhappy conflict, and her
daughter's tears and bitter words had given her keen pain. "Constance,
you would not say that I do not love you if you could see into my heart.
God knows how much I love you; if it were not so I should have ceased to
strive with you before now. I know that it is in vain, that I can
only beat the air, and that only that Spirit which is sharper than a
two-edged sword, and pierceth even to the dividing of the bones and
marrow, can ever rouse you to a sense of your great sin and fearful
peril. I know it all only too well. I shall say no more about it. But I
must speak to you further about this young girl, who has been entrusted
to my care. When I replied to the advertisement respecting her, I
thought too much about our worldly affairs and the importance of this
money to us in our position, and without sufficiently reflecting on the
danger of bringing a girl at so impressible an age under your influence.
The responsibility rests with me, and I cannot help having some very sad
apprehensions. Wait, Constance, you must let me finish. I have settled
what to do, and I have Miss Starbrow's authority to take on myself the
guidance of the girl in all spiritual matters. I spoke to her about it,
and regret to have to say that she seems absolutely indifferent about
religion. I was deeply shocked to hear that Miss Affleck has never been
taught to say a prayer, and, so far as Miss Starbrow knows, has never
entered a church. Miss Starbrow seemed very haughty and repellent in her
manner, and declined, almost rudely, to discuss the subject of religious
teaching with me, but would leave it entirely to me, she said, to teach
the girl what I liked about such things. It is terrible to me to think
how much it may and will be in your power to write on the mind of one so
young and ignorant, and who has been brought up without God. Constance,
I will not attempt to command, I will ask you to promise not to say
things to her to destroy the effect of my teaching, and of the religious
influence I shall bring to bear on her. I am ready to go down on my
knees to you, my daughter, to implore you, by whatever you may yet hold
dear and sacred, not to bring so terrible a grief on me as the loss of
this young soul would be. For into my charge she has been committed, and
from me her Maker and Father will require her at the last day!"

"There is no occasion for you to go on your knees to me, mother. I
repeat that I will obey your wishes in everything. Surely you must know
that, however we may differ about speculative matters, I am not
immoral, and that you can trust me. And oh, mother, let us live in peace
together. It is so unspeakably bitter to have these constant dissensions
between us. I will not complain that you have been the cause of so much
unhappiness to me, and made me a person to be avoided by the few people
we know, if only--if only you will treat me kindly."

"My poor girl, do you not know that it is more bitter to me, a
thousand times, than to you? Oh, Constance, will you promise me one
thing?--promise me that you will go back to the Bible and read the words
of Christ, putting away your pride of mind, your philosophy and critical
spirit; promise that you will read one chapter--one verse even--every
day, and read it with a prayer in your heart that the Spirit who
inspired it will open your eyes and enable you to see the truth."

"No, mother, I cannot promise you that, even to save myself from greater
unhappiness than you have caused me. It is so hard to have to go over
the old ground again and again."

"I have, I hope, made you understand my wishes," returned her mother
coldly. "You can go to your room, Constance."

The other rose and walked to the door, where she stood hesitating for
a few moments, glancing back at her mother; but Mrs. Churton's face had
grown cold and irresponsive, and finally Constance, with a sigh, left
the room and went slowly up the stairs.



CHAPTER XV


For the rest of the day peace reigned at Wood End House. Mr. Churton,
whose absence at mealtime was never made the subject of remark, did not
return to tea when the three ladies met again; for now, according to
that proverb of the Peninsula which says "Tell me who you are with, and
I will tell you who you are," Fan had ceased to belong to the extensive
genus Young Person, and might only be classified as Young Lady, at all
events for so long as she remained on a footing of equality under the
Churton roof-tree.

There was not much conversation. Miss Churton was rather pale and
subdued in manner, speaking little. Fan was shy and ill at ease at this
her first meal in the house. Mrs. Churton alone seemed inclined to
talk, and looked serene and cheerful; but whether the late scene in the
drawing-room had been more transient in its effects in her case, or her
self-command was greater, she alone knew. After tea they all went out
to sit in the garden for an hour; Miss Churton taking a book with her,
which, however, she allowed to rest unread on her lap. Her mother had
some knitting, which occupied her fingers while she talked to Fan. The
girl, she perceived, was not yet feeling at home with them, and she
tried to overcome her diffidence by keeping up an easy flow of talk
which required no answer from the other, chiefly about their garden and
its products--flowers, fruit, and vegetables.

Presently they had a visitor, who came out across the lawn to them
unannounced. He shook hands with the Churtons, and then with Fan, to
whom he was introduced as Mr. Northcott. A large and rather somewhat
rough-looking young man was Mr. Northcott, in a clerical coat, for he
was curate of the church at Eyethorne. His head was large, and the hair
and a short somewhat disorderly beard and moustache brown in colour; the
eyes were blue, deep-set, and habitually down-cast, and had a trick of
looking suddenly up at anyone speaking to him. His nose was irregular,
his mouth too heavy, and there was that general appearance of ruggedness
about him which one usually takes as an outward sign of the stuff that
makes the successful emigrant. To find him a curate going round among
the ladies in a little rural parish in England seemed strange. He had
as little of that professional sleekness of skin and all-for-the-best
placidity of manner one expects to see in a clergyman of the Established
Church as Mr. Churton had of that confident, all-knowing, self-assured
look one would like to see in a barrister's countenance before
entrusting him with a brief.

He at once entered into conversation with Mrs. Churton, replying to some
question she put to him; and presently Fan began to listen with deep
interest, for they were discussing the unhappy affairs of one of the
Eyethorne poor--a bad man who was always getting drunk, fighting with
his wife, and leaving his children to starve. The curate, however, did
not seem deeply interested in the subject, and glanced not infrequently
at Miss Churton, who had resumed her reading; but it was plain to see
that she gave only a divided attention to her book.

Mrs. Churton was at length summoned to the house about some domestic
matter; then, after a short silence, the curate began a fresh
conversation with her daughter. He did not speak to her of parish
affairs and of persons, but of books, of things of the mind, and it
seemed that his heart was more in talk of this description. Or possibly
the person rather than the subject interested him. Miss Churton was
living under a cloud in her village, which was old-fashioned and pious;
to be friendly with her was not fashionable; he alone, albeit a curate,
wished not to be in the fashion. He even had the courage to approach
personal questions.

"Fan, I know what you are thinking of," said Miss Churton, turning
to the girl. "It is that you would like to go and caress the flowers
again--you are such a flower-lover. Would you like to go and explore the
orchard by yourself?"

Fan thanked her gladly, and going from them, soon disappeared among the
trees.

"You live in too small a place, too remote from the world, and old-world
in character, to be allowed to live your own life in peace," said the
curate, at a later stage of the conversation. "Your set here is composed
of barely half a dozen families, and they take their cue from the
vicarage. In London, in any large town, one is allowed to think what
one likes without the neighbours troubling their heads about it. Do you
know, Miss Churton, it is strange to me that with your acquirements and
talent you do not seek a wider and more congenial field."

She smiled. "You must forgive me, Mr. Northcott, for having included you
among the troublers of my peace. It gives me a strange pleasure to tell
you this; it makes me strong to feel that I have your friendship and
sympathy."

"You certainly have that, Miss Churton."

"Thank you. I must tell you why I remain here. I am entirely dependent
on my parents just now, and shrink from beginning a second dependent
life--as a governess, for instance."

"There should be better things than that for you. You might get a good
position in a young ladies' school."

"It would be difficult. But apart from that, I shrink from entering
a profession which would absorb my whole time and faculties, and from
which I should probably find myself powerless to break away. I have
dreams and hopes of other things--foolish perhaps--time will show; but I
am not in a hurry to find a position, to become a crystal. And I wish
to live for myself as well as for others. I have now undertaken to teach
Miss Affleck, who will remain one year at least with us. I am glad that
this has given me an excuse for remaining where I am. I do not wish my
departure to look like running away."

"I am glad that you have so brave a spirit."

"I did not feel very brave to-day," she replied, smiling sadly. "But
a little sympathy serves to revive my courage. Do you remember that
passage in Bacon, 'Mark what a courage a dog will put on when sustained
by a nature higher than its own'? That is how it is with us women--those
of the strong-minded tribe excepted; man is to us a kind of _melior
natura_, without whose sustaining aid we degenerate into abject
cowards."

A red flush came into Mr. Northcott's dull-hued cheeks. "I presume you
are joking, Miss Churton; but if--"

"No, not joking," she quickly returned; "although I perhaps did not mean
as much as I said. But I wish I could show my gratitude for the comfort
you give me--for upholding me with your stronger nature."

"Do you, Miss Churton? Then I will be so bold as to make a request,
although I am perhaps running the risk of offending you. Will you come
to church next Sunday? I don't mean in the morning, but in the evening.
Please don't think for a moment that I have any faith in my power to
influence your mind in any way. I am not such a conceited ass as to
imagine anything of the sort. My motive for making the request was quite
independent of any such considerations. My experience is that those who
lose faith in Christianity do not recover it. I speak, of course, of
people who know their own minds."

"I know my own mind, Mr. Northcott."

"No doubt; and for that very reason I am not afraid to ask you this.
You used occasionally to come to church, so that it can't be scruples
of conscience that keep you away. As a rule, in London we always have a
very fair sprinkling of agnostics in a congregation, and sometimes more
than a sprinkling."

"I am not an agnostic, Mr. Northcott, if I know what that word means.
But let that pass. In London the church-goer is in very many cases a
stranger to the preacher; if he hears hard things spoken in the pulpit
of those who have no creed, he does not take it as a personal attack.
I absented myself from our church because the vicar in his sermon
on unbelief preached against _me_. He said that those who rejected
Christianity had no right to enter a church; that by doing so they
insulted God and man; and that their only motive was to parade their
bitter scornful infidelity before the world, and that they cherish a
malignant hatred towards the faith which they have cast off, and much
more in the same strain. Every person in the congregation had his or her
eyes fixed on me, to see how I liked it, knowing that it was meant for
me; and I dare say that what they saw gave them great pleasure. For a
stronger nature than my own was not sustaining me then, but all were
against me, and the agony of shame I suffered I shall never forget. I
could only shut my eyes and try to keep still; but I felt that all the
blood in my veins had rushed to my face and brain, and that my blood was
like fire. I seemed to be able to see myself fiery red--redder than the
setting sun--in the midst of all those shadowed faces that were watching
me. I have hated that man since, much as it distresses me to have such a
feeling against any fellow-creature."

"I remember the circumstance," said the curate, his face darkening. "I
do not agree with my vicar about some things, and he had no warrant for
what he said in the teachings of his Master. Since you have recalled
this incident to my mind, Miss Churton, I can only apologise for having
asked you to come on Sunday."

"I think I was wrong to let that sermon influence me so much," she
returned. "I feel ashamed of keeping my resentment so long. Mr.
Northcott, I will promise to go on Sunday evening, unless something
happens to prevent me."

He thanked her warmly. "Whatever your philosophical beliefs may be, Miss
Churton, you have the true Christian spirit," he said--saying perhaps
too much. "I am glad for your sake that Miss Affleck has come to reside
with you. Your life will be less lonely."

"Tell me, what do you think of her?"

"She has a rare delicate loveliness, and there is something
indescribable in her eyes which seemed to reveal her whole past life to
me. Do you know, Miss Churton, I often believe I have a strange faculty
of reading people's past history in the expression of their faces?"

"Tell me what you read?"

"When I was talking to your mother about that drunken ruffian in the
village, and his ill-treatment of his miserable children, I caught sight
of the girl's eyes fixed on me, wide open, expressing wonder and pain.
She had never, I feel sure, even heard of such things as I spoke about.
I seemed to know in some mysterious way that she was an only child--the
child, I believe, of a widowed father, who doted on her, and surrounded
her with every luxury wealth could purchase, and permitted no breath of
the world's misery to reach her, lest it should make her unhappy. Now,
tell me, have I prophesied truly?"

She smiled, but had no desire to laugh at his little delusion about a
mysterious faculty. It is one common enough, and very innocent. The girl
was an orphan, and that, she told him, was all she knew of her history.

The curate went away with a feeling of strange elation; for how gracious
she had been to him, how happy he was to have won her confidence, how
sweet the tender music of her voice had seemed when she had freely
told him the secrets of her heart! Poor man! his human nature was a
stumbling-block in his way. By-and-by he would have to reflect that his
sympathy with an unbeliever had led him almost to the point of speaking
evil of dignities--of his vicar, to wit, who paid him seventy pounds a
year for his services. That was about all Mr. Northcott had to live on;
and yet--oh, folly!--a declaration of love, an offer of marriage, had
been trembling on his lips throughout all that long conversation.

Miss Churton hurried off in search of Fan, surprised that she had kept
out of sight so long; and as she walked through the orchard, looking
for her on this side and that, she also felt surprised at her own
light-heartedness. For how strangely happy she felt after a morning so
full of contention and bitterness! Fan saw her coming--saw even at a
distance in her bright face the reflection of a heartfelt gladness. But
the girl did not move to meet her, nor did she watch her coming with
responsive gladness; she stood motionless, her pale face seen in profile
against the green cloud of a horse-chestnut tree that drooped its broad
leaves to touch and mingle with the grass at her very feet. It seemed
strange to Constance as she drew near, still glad, and yet with
lingering footsteps so that the sight might be the longer enjoyed, that
her pupil should have come at that precise period of the day to stand
there motionless at that particular spot; that this pale city girl in
her civilised dress should have in her appearance at that moment no
suggestion of artificiality, but should seem a something natural and
unadulterated as flowering tree and grass and sunshine, a part of
nature, in absolute and perfect harmony with it. The point to which Fan
had wandered was a little beyond the orchard, close to an old sunk fence
or ha-ha separating it from the field beyond. The turf at her feet was
white with innumerable daisies, and the only tree at that spot was the
great chestnut beside which she stood, and against which, in her
white dress and with her pallid face, she looked so strangely pure, so
flower-like and yet ethereal, as if sprung from the daisies whitening
the turf around her, and retaining something of their flower-like
character, yet unsubstantial--a beautiful form that might at any moment
change to mist and float away from sight. In the field beyond, where
her eyes were resting, the lush grass was sprinkled with the gold of
buttercups; and in the centre of the field stood a group of four or five
majestic elm-trees; the sinking sun was now directly behind them, and
shining level through the foliage filled the spaces between the leaves
with a red light, which looked like misty fire. On the vast expanse of
heaven there was no cloud; only low down in the east and south-east,
near the horizon, there were pale vague shadows, which in another
half-hour's time would take the rounded form of clouds, deepening to
pearly grey and flushing red and purple in the setting beams. From the
elms and fields, from the orchard, from other trees and fields further
away, came up the songs of innumerable birds, making the whole air ring
and quiver with the delicate music; so many notes, so various in tone
and volume, had the effect of waves and wavelets and ripples, rising and
running and intersecting each other at all angles, forming an intricate
pattern, as it were, a network of sweetest melody. Loud and close at
hand were heard the lusty notes of thrush and blackbird, chaffinch and
blackcap; and from these there was a gradation of sounds, down to the
faint lispings of the more tender melodists singing at a distance,
reaching the sense like voices mysterious and spiritualised from some
far unseen world. And at intervals came the fluting cry of the cuckoo,
again and again repeated, so aerial, yet with such a passionate depth in
it, as if the Spirit of Nature itself had become embodied, and from some
leafy hiding-place cried aloud with mystic lips.

Listening to that rare melody Fan had stood for a long time, her heart
feeling almost oppressed with the infinite sweetness of nature; so
motionless that the yellow skippers and small blue-winged butterflies
fluttered round her in play, and at intervals alighting on her dress,
sat with spread wings, looking like strange yellow and blue gems on the
snow-white drapery. Her mind was troubled at Miss Churton's approach;
for it now seemed to her that human affection and sympathy were more to
her than they had ever been; that a touch, a word, a look almost, would
be sufficient to overcome her and make her fall from her loyalty to
Mary. Even when the other was standing by her side, curiously regarding
her still pale face, she made no sign, but after one troubled glance
remained with eyes cast down.

"Are you not tired of being alone with nature yet, Fan?" said Miss
Churton, with a smile, and placing her hand on the girl's neck.

"Oh no, Miss Churton; it is so--pleasant to be here!" she replied. But
she spoke in a slow mechanical way, and seemed to the other strangely
cold and irresponsive; she shivered a little, too, when the caressing
hand touched her neck, as if the warm fingers had seemed icy cold.

"Then you were not sorry to be left so long alone?"

"No--I could not feel tired. I think--I could have stayed alone here
until--until--" then her inability to express her thoughts confused her
and she became silent.

"Yes, Fan, until--" said the other, taking her hand. But the hand she
took rested cold and still in hers, and Fan was silent.

At length, reddening a little, she said:

"Miss Churton, I cannot say what I feel."

"Do you feel, Fan, that the sight of nature fills your heart with a
strange new happiness, such as no pleasure in your London life ever
gave, and at the same time a sadness for which you cannot imagine any
cause?"

"Oh, do you feel that too, Miss Churton? Will you tell me what it is?"

The other smiled at the question. "If I could do that, Fan, I should be
a very wise girl indeed. It is a feeling that we all have at times; and
some day when we read the poets together you will find that they often
speak of it. Keats says of the music of the nightingale that it makes
his heart ache to hear it, but he does not know why it aches any more
than we do. We can say what the feeling is which human love and sympathy
give us--the touch of loving hands and lips, the words that are sweet to
hear. This we can understand; but that mixed glad and melancholy feeling
we have in nature we cannot analyse. How can anything in nature know
our heart like a fellow-being--the sun, and wind, and trees, and singing
birds? Yet it all seems to come in love to us--so great a love that
we can hardly bear it. The sun and wind seem to touch us lovingly; the
earth and sky seem to look on us with an affection deeper than man's--a
meaning which we cannot fathom. But, oh, Fan, it is foolish and idle of
me to try to put what we feel into words! Don't you think so?"

"I think I feel what you say, Miss Churton."

"And when you said just now that you could stand here alone, seeing and
hearing, _until--until_--and then stopped, perhaps you wished to say
that you could remain here until you understood it all, and knew the
meaning of that mysterious pain in your heart?"

"Yes--I think I felt that"; and glancing up she met the other's eyes
full on her own, so dark and full of affection, and with a mistiness
rising in their clear depths. She was sorely tempted then to put her
arms about her teacher's neck; the struggle was too much for her; she
trembled, and covering her face with her hands burst into tears.

"Dearest Fan, you must not cry," said Miss Churton, tenderly caressing
her; but there was no response, only that slight shivering of the frame
once more, as if it pained her to be caressed, and she wondered at
the girl's mood, which was so unlike that of the morning. A painful
suspicion crossed her mind. Had her mother, in her anxiety about Fan's
spiritual welfare, already taken the girl into her confidence, as she
had taken others, or dropped some word of warning to prejudice her mind?
Had she told this gentle human dove that she must learn the wisdom
of the serpent _from_ a serpent--a kind of Lamia who had assumed a
beautiful female form for the purpose of instructing her? No, it could
not be; there had been no opportunity for private conversation yet; and
it was also hateful to her to think so hardly of her mother. But she
made no further attempt just then to win her pupil's heart, and in a
short time they returned to the house together.



CHAPTER XVI


Fan was up early next morning--the ringing concert of the orchard, so
different from the dull rumble of the streets, had chased away sleep,
and all desire to sleep--and punctually at eight o'clock she came
down to breakfast. Mr. Churton alone was in the room, looking as
usual intensely respectable in his open frock-coat, large collar, and
well-brushed grey hair. He was standing before the open window looking
out, humming or croaking a little tune, and jingling his chain and seals
by way of accompaniment.

"Ha, my dear, looking fresh as a flower--_and_ as pretty!" he said,
turning round and taking her hand; then, after two or three irresolute
glances at her face, he drew her towards him, and was about to imprint a
kiss on her forehead (let us hope), when, for some unaccountable reason,
she shrank back from him and defeated his purpose.

"Why, why, my dear child, you surely can't object to being kissed!
You must look on me as--ahem--it is quite the custom here--surely, my
dear--"

Just then Mrs. Churton entered the room, and her husband encountering
her quick displeased look instantly dropped the girl's hand.

"My dear," he said, addressing his wife, "I have just been pointing out
the view from the windows to Miss Affleck, and telling her what charming
walks there are in the neighbourhood. I think that as we are so near the
end of the week it would be just as well to postpone all serious
studies until Monday morning and show our guest some of the beauties of
Eyethorne."

"Perhaps it would, Nathaniel," she returned, with a slight asperity.
"But I should prefer it if you would leave all arrangements to me."

"Certainly, my dear; it was merely a suggestion made on the spur of the
moment. I am sure Miss Affleck will be charmed with the--the scenery,
whenever it can conveniently be shown to her."

His wife made no reply, but proceeded to open a Bible and read a few
verses, after which she made a short prayer--a ceremony which greatly
surprised Fan. The three then sat down to breakfast, Miss Churton not
yet having appeared. It was a moderately small table, nearly square, and
each person had an entire side to himself. They were thus placed not too
far apart and not too near.

Presently Miss Churton appeared, not from her room but from an early
walk in the garden, and bringing with her a small branch of May jewelled
with red blossoms. She stood for a few moments on the threshold looking
at Fan, a very bright smile on her lips. How beautiful she looked to the
girl, more beautiful now than on the previous day, as if her face
had caught something of the dewy freshness of earth and of the tender
morning sunlight. Then she came in, walking round the table to Fan's
side, and bidding her parents "Good morning," but omitting the usual
custom of kissing father and mother. Stopping at the girl's side she
stooped and touched her forehead with her lips, then placed the branch
of May by the side of her plate.

"This is for you," she said. "I know what a flower-worshipper you are."

"Constance, you ought not to say that!" said her mother, reprovingly.

"Why not?" said the other, going to her place and sitting down, a red
flush on her face. "It is a common and very innocent expression, I
fancy."

"That may be your opinion. The expression you use so lightly has only
one and a very solemn meaning for me."

Fan glanced wonderingly from one to the other, then dropped her eyes on
her flowers. In a vague way she began to see that her new friends did
not exist in happy harmony together, and it surprised and troubled her.
The bright sunny look had gone from Miss Churton's face, and the meal
proceeded almost in silence to the end.

And yet father, mother, and daughter all felt that there was an
improvement in their relations, that the restraint caused by the
presence of this shy, silent girl would make their morning and midday
meetings at meal-time less a burden than they had hitherto been. To Miss
Churton especially that triangle of three persons, each repelling and
repelled by the two others, had often seemed almost intolerable. Husband
and wife had long ceased to have one interest, one thought, one feeling
in common; while the old affection between mother and daughter had now
so large an element of bitterness mingled with it that all its original
sweetness seemed lost. As for her degenerate, weak-minded, tippling
father, Miss Churton regarded him with studied indifference. She never
spoke of him, and tried never to think of him when he was out of the
way; when she saw him, she looked through him at something beyond, as if
he had no more substance than one of Ossian's ghosts, through whose
form one might see the twinkling of the stars. It was better, she wisely
thought, to ignore him, to forget his existence, than to be vexed with
feelings of contempt and hostility.

Mr. Churton, after finishing his breakfast, retired to his "study," with
the air of a person who has letters to write. His study was really only
a garret which his wife had fitted up as a comfortable smoking den,
where he was privileged to blow the abhorrent tobacco-cloud with
impunity, since the pestilent vapour flew away heavenwards from the open
window; moreover, while smoking at home he was safe, and not fuddling
his weak brains and running up a long bill at the "King William" in the
village.

Miss Churton finished her coffee and rose from the table.

"Constance," said her mother, "I think that as it is Friday to-day
it might be as well to defer your lessons until Monday, and give Miss
Affleck a little time to look about her and get acquainted with her new
home."

"If you think it best, mother," she returned; and then after an interval
added, "Have you formed any plans for to-day--I mean with reference to
Fan?"

"Why do you say Fan?"

"Because she asked me to do so," returned the other a little coldly.

Fan was again looking at them. When they spoke they were either
constrained and formal or offending each other. It was something to
marvel at, for towards herself they had shown such sweet kindliness in
their manner; and she had felt that if it were only lawful she could
love them both dearly, as one loves mother and sister.

With a little hesitation she turned to Mrs. Churton and said, "Will you
please call me Fan too? I like it so much better than Miss Affleck."

"Yes, certainly, if you wish it," said the lady, smiling on her. After a
while she continued--"Fan, my dear child, before we settle about how the
day will be spent, I must tell you that we have arranged to share the
task of teaching you between us." Her daughter looked at her surprised.
"I mean," she continued, correcting herself, "that it will be arranged
in that way. Did Miss Starbrow speak to you about it in the garden
before she left?"

Fan answered in the negative: she had a painfully vivid recollection of
what Miss Starbrow had said in the garden.

"Well, this is to be the arrangement, which Miss Starbrow has
sanctioned. There are several things for you to study, and Miss Churton
will undertake them all except one. It will be for me to instruct you in
religion."

Fan glanced at her with a somewhat startled expression in her eyes.

"Do you not think you would like me to teach you?" asked Mrs. Churton,
noticing the look.

She answered that she would like it; then remembering certain words
of Mary's, added a little doubtfully, "Mrs. Churton, Mary--I mean
Miss Starbrow--said she hoped I would not learn to be religious in the
country."

Mrs. Churton heard this with an expression of pain, then darted a quick
glance at her daughter's face; but she did not see the smile of the
scoffer there; it was a face which had grown cold and impassive, and she
knew why it was impassive, and was as much offended, perhaps, as if the
expected smile had met her sight. To Fan she answered:

"I am very sorry she said that. But you know, Fan, that we sometimes say
things without quite meaning them, or thinking that they will perhaps
be remembered for a long time, and do harm. I am sure--at least I trust
that Miss Starbrow did not really mean that, because I spoke to her
about giving you instruction in religious subjects, and she consented,
and left it to me to do whatever I thought best."

Fan wondered whether Mary "did not quite mean it" when she told her what
the consequences would be if she allowed herself to love Miss Churton.
No, alas! she must have meant that very seriously from the way she
spoke.

"You must not be afraid that we are going to make you study too much,
Fan," the lady continued; "that is not Miss Starbrow's wish. I shall
only give you a short simple lesson every day, and try to explain it, so
that I hope you will find it both easy and pleasant to learn of me. And
now, my dear girl, you shall choose for yourself to-day whether you will
go out for a walk in the woods with Miss Churton, or remain with me and
let me speak with you and explain what I wish you to learn."

The proposed walk in the woods was a sore temptation; she would gladly
have chosen that way of spending the morning, but the secret trouble
in her heart caused by Mary's warning words made her shrink from the
prospect of being alone with Miss Churton so soon again; and it only
increased the feeling to see her beautiful young teacher's eyes eagerly
fixed on her face. With that struggle still going on in her breast, and
compelled to make her choice, she said at length, "I think I should like
to stay with you, Mrs. Churton."

The lady smiled and said she was glad.

Miss Churton moved towards the door, then paused and spoke coldly: "Do
you wish me to understand, mother, that Miss Affleck is to devote her
mornings to you, and that I shall only have the late hours to teach her
in?"

"No, Constance; I am surprised that you should understand it in that
way. Only for these two days Miss Affleck will be with me in the
morning. I know very well that the early part of the day is the best
time for study, when the intellect is fresh and clear; and when
you begin teaching her she will of course devote the morning to her
lessons."

After hearing this explanation her daughter left the room without more
words. In a few minutes she came down again with hat and gloves on, a
book in her hand, and went away by herself, feeling far from happy in
her mind. She had so confidently looked forward to a morning with her
pupil, and had proposed to go somewhat further than she had ventured on
the previous evening in a study of her character. For it seemed to her
at first so simple a character, so affectionate and clinging, reflecting
itself so transparently in her expressive face, and making itself known
so clearly in her voice and manner. Then that mystifying change had
occurred in the orchard, when her words had been eagerly listened to,
and had seemed to find an echo in the girl's heart, while her advances
had met with no response, and her affectionate caresses had been shrunk
from, as though they had given pain. Then the suspicion about her mother
had come to disturb her mind; but she had been anxious not to judge
hastily and without sufficient cause, and had succeeded in putting it
from her as an unworthy thought. Now it came back to her, and remained
and rooted itself in her mind. Now she understood why her mother, with
an ostentatious pretence of fairness, even of generosity, towards her
daughter, had left it to Fan to decide whether she would walk in the
woods or spend the morning receiving religious instruction at home. Now
she understood why Fan, a lover of flowers and of the singing of birds,
had preferred the house and the irksome lessons. Her mother, in her
fanatical zeal, had been too quick for her, and had prejudiced the
girl's mind against her, acting with a meanness and treachery which
filled her with the greatest resentment and scorn.

We know that her judgment was at fault; and her anger was perhaps
unreasonable. _All_ anger is said to be unreasonable by some wise
people, which makes one wonder why this absurd, perverse, and
superfluous affection was ever thrust into our souls. But the feeling
in her was natural, for her mother had indirectly inflicted much
unhappiness on her already, in her mistaken efforts to do her good; and
when we suffer an injury from some unknown hand, we generally jump to
the conclusion that it comes from the enemy we wot of; and, very often,
the surmise is a correct one. She, Miss Churton, certainly regarded this
thing as a personal injury. She had anticipated much pleasure from the
society of her pupil, and after that first conversation in the garden
had resolved to win her love, and be to her friend and sister as well
as teacher. Now it seemed that the girl was to be nothing to her and
everything to her mother, and naturally she was disappointed and angry.
We have all seen women--some of them women who read books, listen to
lectures, and even take degrees, and must therefore be classed with
rational beings--who will cry out and weep, and only stop short of
tearing their raiment and putting ashes on their heads, at the loss of
a pet dog, or cat, or canary; and Miss Churton had promised herself a
greater pleasure from her intercourse with this girl, who had so won her
heart with her pale delicate beauty and her feeling for nature, than it
is possible for a rational being to derive from the companionship of
any dumb brute--even of such a paragon among four-footed things as
a toy-terrier, or pug, or griffon. All through her walk in the shady
woods, and when she sat in a sequestered spot under her favourite tree
with her book lying unread on her lap, she could only think of her
mother's supposed treachery, and of that look of triumph on her face
when Fan had decided to remain in the house with her--rejoicing,
no doubt, at her daughter's defeat. All this seemed hard to endure
uncomplainingly; but she was strong and proud, and before quitting her
sylvan retreat she resolved to submit quietly and with a good grace
to the new position of affairs, though brought about by such unworthy
means. She would make no petulant complaints nor be sullen, nor drop any
spiteful or scornful words to spoil her mother's satisfaction; nor
would she make any overt attempts to supplant her mother in the girl's
confidence, or to win even a share of her affection. She would hide her
own pain, and faithfully perform the dry, laborious task of instruction
assigned her, unrelieved by any such feelings of a personal kind, and
looking for no reward beyond the approval of her own conscience. It was
impossible, she said to herself with bitterness, that she should ever
stoop, even in self-defence, to use one of those weapons which were
to be found in her mother's armoury--the little underhand doings,
hypocrisies, and whispered insinuations which her religion sanctified.



CHAPTER XVII


That decision of Fan's to remain at home had really come with a little
surprise on Mrs. Churton; for although it was what she had hoped, the
hope had been a faint one, and the pleasure it gave her was therefore
all the greater. With this feeling another not altogether to her credit
was mingled--a certain satisfaction at finding her company preferred
to that of her daughter. For it could not be supposed that the girl
experienced just then any eager desire after religious knowledge; she
had just reported Miss Starbrow's scoffing words with such a curious
simplicity, as if she looked on religion merely as a branch of learning,
like mineralogy or astronomy, which was scarcely necessary to her, and
might therefore very well be dispensed with. No, it was purely a matter
of personal preference; and Mrs. Churton, albeit loving and thinking
well of herself, as most people do, could not help finding it a little
strange: for her daughter, notwithstanding that her mind was darkened
by that evil spirit of unbelief, was outwardly a beautiful, engaging
person, ready and eloquent of speech, and seemed in every way one who
would easily win the unsuspecting regard of a simple-minded affectionate
girl like Fan. It was strange and--_providential_. Yes, that explained
the whole mystery, and so fully satisfied her religious mind that she
was instantly relieved from the task of groping after any other cause.

While these thoughts were passing through her mind they were standing
together before the open window, following Miss Churton's form with
their eyes, as she went away in the direction of Eyethorne woods. But
Fan had a very different feeling; she recalled that interview of the
last evening in the orchard, the clear, tender eyes looking invitingly
into hers, the touch of a warm caressing hand, the words in which her
own strange feelings experienced for the first time had been so aptly
described to her; and the thought gave her a dull pain--a vague sense of
some great blessing missed, of something which had promised to make her
unspeakably happy passing from her life.

It was some slight compensation that the scene of that first lesson in
religious doctrine she had expressed herself willing to receive was
in the garden, where they were soon comfortably seated under an
acacia-tree; and that is a tree which does not shut out the heavenly
gladness, like beech and elm and lime, but rather tempers the sunshine
with its loose airy foliage, making a half-brightness that is pleasanter
than shade.

By means of much gentle questioning, herself often suggesting the
answers, Mrs. Churton gradually drew from the girl an account of all she
knew and thought about sacred subjects. She was shocked and grieved
to discover that this young lady from the metropolis was in a state of
ignorance with regard to such subjects that would have surprised her
in any cottage child among the poor she was accustomed to visit in
the neighbourhood. The names of the Creator and of the Saviour were
certainly familiar to Fan; from her earliest childhood she had heard
them spoken with frequency in her old Moon Street home. But that was
all. Her mother had taught her nothing--not even to lisp, when she was
small, the childish rhyme:

    Now I lay me down to sleep,
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

Her Scripture lessons at the Board School had powerfully impressed her,
but in a confused and unpleasant way. Certain portions of the historical
narrative affected her with their picturesque grandeur, and fragments
remained in her memory; the Bible and religion generally came to be
associated in her mind with dire wrath, and war, and the shedding
of blood, with ruin of cities and tribulations without end. It was
processional--a great confused host covered with clouds of dust, shields
and spears, and brass and scarlet, and noise of chariot-wheels and
blowing of trumpets--an awful pageant fascinating and terrifying to
contemplate. And when she stood still, a little frightened, to see a
horde of Salvationists surge past her in the street, with discordant
shouting and singing, waving of red flags and loud braying of brass
instruments, this seemed to her a kind of solemn representation of those
ancient and confused doings she had read about; beyond that it had
no meaning. Before her mother's death she had sometimes gone to St.
Michael's Church on wet or cold or foggy winter evenings; for in better
weather it was always overcrowded, and the vergers--a kind of mitigated
policemen, Fan thought them--would hunt her away from the door. For in
those days she was so ragged and such a sad-looking object, and they
doubtless knew very well what motive she had in going there. She had
gone there only because it was warm and dry, and the decorations and
vestments, the singing and the incense, were sweet to her senses; but
what she had heard had not enlightened her.

Mrs. Churton sighed. How unutterably sad it seemed to her that this
girl, so lovely in her person, so sweet in disposition, with so pure
and saint-like an expression, should be in this dark and heathenish
condition! But there was infinite comfort in the thought that this
precious soul to be saved had fallen into her hands, and not into those
of some worldling like Miss Starbrow herself, or, worse still, of a
downright freethinker like her own daughter. After having made her first
survey of Fan's mind, finding nothing there except that queer farrago
of Scripture lessons which had never been explained to her, and were now
nearly forgotten, it seemed to Mrs. Churton that it was almost a blank
with regard to spiritual things, like that proverbial clean sheet of
paper on which anything good or bad may be written. It troubled her
somewhat, and this was the one cloud on that fair prospect, that her
daughter would have so much to do with Fan's mind. She was anxious to
trust in her daughter's honour, yet felt, with her belief concerning the
weakness of any merely human virtue, that it would scarcely be safe or
right to trust her. She resolved to observe a middle course--to trust
her, but not wholly, to pray but to watch as well, lest the fowls of the
air should come in her absence and devour the sacred seed she was about
to scatter.

These, and many more reflections of a like kind, occurred to her while
she was occupied in turning over that pitiful rubbish, composed of
broken fragments of knowledge, in the girl's mind; then she addressed
herself fervently to the task of planting there the great elementary
truth that we are all alike bad by nature, and that only by faith in the
Son of God who died for our sins can we hope to save our souls alive.
This was unspeakably bewildering to Fan, for in a vague kind of way her
neglected mind had conceived a system of right and wrong of its own,
which was entirely independent of any narrative or set of doctrines, and
did not concern itself with the future of the soul. To her mind there
were good people and bad people, besides others she could not classify,
in whom the two opposite qualities were blended, or who were of
a neutral moral tint. The good were those who loved their
fellow-creatures, especially their relations, and were kind to them
in word and deed. The bad were those who gave pain to others by their
brutality and selfishness, by untruthfulness and deceit, and by speaking
unkind and impure words.

Now to be told that this was all a vain delusion, mere fancy, that
she was a child of sin, as unclean in the sight of Heaven as the
worst person she had ever known--a Joe Harrod or a Captain Horton, for
instance--and that God's anger would burn for ever against her unless
she cast away her own filthy rags--Fan thought that these had been
cast away a long time ago--and clothed herself with the divine
righteousness--all that bewildered and surprised her at first. But
being patient and docile she proved amenable to instruction, and as she
unhesitatingly and at once yielded up every point which her instructress
told her was wrong, there was nothing to hinder progress--if this rapid
skimming along over the surface of a subject can be so described. And as
the lesson progressed it seemed to Mrs. Churton that her pupil took
an ever-increasing interest in it, that her mind became more and more
receptive and her intelligence quicker.

The girl's shyness wore off by degrees, her tremulous voice grew firmer,
her pallid cheeks flushed with a colour tender as that of the wild
almond blossom, and her eyes, bright with a new-born confidence, were
lifted more frequently to the other's face. Their hands touched often
and lingered caressingly together, and when the elder lady smiled,
a responsive smile shone in the girl's raised eyes and played on her
delicately-moulded mouth--a smile that was like sunlight on clear water,
revealing a nature so simple and candid; and deep down, trembling into
light, the crystalline soul which had come without flaw from its Maker's
hands, and in the midst of evil had caught no stain to dim its perfect
purity. It seemed now to Mrs. Churton, as she expounded the sacred
doctrines which meant so much to her, that she had not known so great a
happiness since her daughter, white even to her lips at the thought
of the cruel pain she was about to inflict, yet unable to conceal the
truth, had come to her and said with trembling voice, "Mother, I no
longer believe as you do." For how much grief had the children God had
given her already caused her spirit! Two comely sons, her first and
second-born, had after a time despised her teachings, and had grown up
almost to manhood only to bring shame and poverty on their home; and
had then drifted away beyond her ken to lose themselves in the wandering
tribe of ne'er-do-wells in some distant colony. But her daughter had
been left to her, the clear-minded thoughtful girl who would not be
corrupted by the weakness and vices of a father, nor meet with such
temptations as her brothers had been powerless to resist; and in loving
this dear girl with the whole strength of her nature--this one child
that was left to her to be with her in time and eternity--she had found
consolation, and had been happy, until that dark day had arrived, and
she heard the words that spoke to her heart

    A deeper sorrow
      Than the wail upon the dead.

It is true that she still hoped against hope; that she loved her
daughter with passionate intensity, and clove to her, and was filled
with a kind of terror at the thought of losing her, when Constance
spoke, as she sometimes did, of leaving her home; but this love had no
comfort, no sweetness, no joy in it, and it seemed to her more
bitter than hate. It showed itself like hatred in her looks and words
sometimes; for in spite of all her efforts to bear this great trial with
the meekness her Divine Exemplar had taught, the bitter feeling would
overcome her. "Mother, I know that you hate me!"--that was the reproach
that was hardest to bear from her daughter's lips, the words that stung
her to the quick. For although untrue, she felt that they were deserved;
so cold did her anger and unhappiness make her seem to this rebellious
child, so harsh and so bitter! And sometimes the reproach seemed to have
the strange power of actually turning her love to the hatred she was
charged with, and at such times she could scarcely refrain from crying
out in her overmastering wrath to invoke a curse from the Almighty on
her daughter's head, to reply that it was true, that she did hate her
with a great hatred, but that her hatred was as nothing compared to
that of her God, who would punish her for denying His existence with
everlasting fire. Unable to hide her terrible agitation, she would fly
to her room, her heart bursting with anguish, and casting herself on her
knees cry out for deliverance from such distracting thoughts. After one
of these stormy periods, followed by swift compunction, she would be
able again to meet and speak to her daughter in a frame of mind which by
contrast seemed strangely meek and subdued.

Now, sitting in the garden with Fan, all the old tender motherly
feelings, and the love that had no pain in it, were coming back to her,
and it was like the coming of spring after a long winter; and this girl,
a stranger to her only yesterday, one who was altogether without that
knowledge which alone can make the soul beautiful, seemed already to
have filled the void in her heart.

On the other side it seemed to Fan, as she looked up to meet the grave
tender countenance bent towards her, that it grew every moment dearer
to her sight, It was a comely face still: Miss Churton's beauty was
inherited from her mother--certainly not from her father. The features
were regular, and perhaps that grey hair had once been golden, thought
Fan--and the face now pallid and lined with care full of rich colour.
Imagination lends a powerful aid to affection. She had found someone
to love and was happy once more. For to her love was everything; "all
thoughts, all feelings, all delights" were its ministers and "fed its
sacred flame"; this was the secret motive ever inspiring her, and it was
impossible for her to put any other, higher or lower, in its place. Not
that sweet sickness and rage of the heart which is also called love, and
which so enriches life that we look with a kind of contemptuous pity on
those who have never experienced it, thinking that they have only a dim
incomplete existence, and move through life ghost-like and sorrowful
among their joyous brothers and sisters. Such a feeling had never yet
touched or come near to her young heart; and her ignorance was so great,
and the transition to her present life so recent, that she did not yet
distinguish between the different kinds of that feeling--that which was
wholly gross and animal, seen in foul faces and whispered in her ears by
polluted lips, from which she had fled, trembling and terrified, through
the dark lanes and streets of the City of Dreadful Night; and the same
feeling as it appears, sublimed and beautified, in the refined and the
virtuous. As yet she knew nothing about a beautiful love of that kind;
but she had in the highest degree that purer, better affection which
we prize as our most sacred possession, and even attribute to the
immortals, since our earthly finite minds cannot conceive any more
beautiful bond uniting them. It was this flame in her heart which had
kept her like one alone, apart and unsoiled in the midst of squalor
and vice, which had made her girlhood so unspeakably sad. Her soul had
existed in a semi-starved condition on such affection as her miserable
intemperate mother had bestowed on her, and, for the rest, the sight of
love in which she had no part in some measure ministered to her wants
and helped to sustain her.

One of the memories of her dreary life in Moon Street, which remained
most vividly impressed on her mind, was of a very poor family whose head
was an old man who mended broken-bottomed cane-chairs for a living; the
others being a daughter, a middle-aged woman whose husband had forsaken
her, and her three children. The eldest child was a stolid-looking
round-faced girl about thirteen years old, who had the care of the
little ones while her mother was away at work in a laundry. This family
lodged in a house adjoining the one in which Fan lived, and for several
weeks after they came there she used to shrink away in fear from the old
grandfather whenever she saw him going out in the morning and returning
in the evening. He was a tall spare old man, sixty-five or seventy years
old, with clothes worn almost to threads, a broad-brimmed old felt hat
on his head, and one of his knees stiff, so that he walked like a man
with a wooden leg. But he was erect as a soldier, and always walked
swiftly, even when returning, tired no doubt, from a long day's
wandering and burdened with his bundle of cane and three or four old
broken chairs--his day's harvest. But what a face was that old man's! He
had long hair, almost white, a thin grey stern face with sharp aquiline
features, and, set deep under his feather-like tufty eyebrows, blue
eyes that looked cold and keen as steel. If he had walked in Pall Mall,
dressed like a gentleman, the passer-by would have turned to look after
him, and probably said, "There goes a leader of men--a man of action--a
fighter of England's battles in some distant quarter of the globe." But
he was only an old gatherer of broken chairs, and got sixpence for
each chair he mended, and lived on it; an indomitable old man who lived
bravely and would die bravely, albeit not on any burning plain or in
any wild mountain pass, leading his men, but in a garret, where he would
mend his last broken chair, and look up unflinching in the Destroyer's
face. Whenever he came stumping rapidly past, and turned that swift
piercing eagle glance on Fan, she would shrink aside as if she felt
the sting of sleet or a gust of icy-cold wind on her face. That was
at first. Afterwards she discovered that at a certain hour of the late
afternoon the eldest girl would come down and take up her station in the
doorway to wait his coming. When he appeared her eyes would sparkle and
her whole face kindle with a glad excitement, and hiding herself in the
doorway, she would wait his arrival, then suddenly spring out to startle
him with a joyous cry. The sight of this daily meeting had such a
fascination for Fan that she would always try to be there at the proper
time to witness it; and after it was over she would go about for hours
feeling a kind of reflected happiness in her heart at the love which
gladdened these poor people's lives.

Afterwards, in Dawson Place, Mary's affection for her had made her
inexpressibly happy, in spite of some very serious troubles, and now,
when Mary's last warning words had made any close friendship with Miss
Churton impossible, her heart turned readily to the mother. In this case
there had been no prohibition; Mary's jealousy had not gone so far as
that; Mrs. Churton was the one being in her new home to whom she could
cling without offence, and who could satisfy her soul with the food for
which it hungered.

They had been sitting together over two hours in the garden when Mrs.
Churton at length rose from her seat.

"I hope that I have not tired you--I hope that you have liked your
lesson," she said, taking the girl's hand.

"I have liked it so much," answered Fan. "I like to be with you so much,
because"--she hesitated a little and then finished--"because I think
that you like me."

"I like you very much, Fan," she returned, and stooping, kissed her on
the forehead. "I can say that I love you dearly, although you have only
been with us since yesterday. And if you can love me, Fan, and regard me
as a mother, it will be a great comfort to me and a great help to both
of us in our lessons."

Fan caressed the hand which still retained hers, but at the same time
she cast down her eyes, over which a little shade of anxiety had come.
She was thinking, perhaps, that this relationship of mother and daughter
might not be an altogether desirable one.



CHAPTER XVIII


On Sunday Fan accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Churton to morning service, and
thought it strange that her teacher did not go with them. In the evening
the party was differently composed, the master of the house having
absented himself; then just as Mrs. Churton and Fan were starting,
Constance joined them, prayer-book in hand. Mrs. Churton was surprised,
but made no remark. Fan sat between mother and daughter, and Constance,
taking her book, found the places for her; for Mary had failed after all
to teach her how to use it. Mr. Northcott preached the sermon, and it
was a poor performance. He was not gifted with a good delivery, and
his voice was not of that moist mellifluous description, as of an organ
fattened on cream, which is more than half the battle to the young
cleric, certainly more than passion and eloquence, and of the pulpit
pulpity. There was a restless spirit in Mr. Northcott; he took a
somewhat painful interest in questions of the day, and in preaching
was prone to leave his text, to cast it away as it were, and, taking up
modern weapons, fight against modern sins, modern unbelief.

    His piping took a troubled sound,
    Of storms that rage outside our happy ground;
      He could not wait their passing.

But one who was over him could, and the piping was not pleasing to him,
and scarcely intelligible to the drowsy villagers; and when in obedience
to his vicar's wish he went back to preach again of the Jews and
Jehovah's dealings with them, his sermons were no better and no worse
than those of other curates in other village pulpits. It was a sermon of
this kind that Constance heard. If some old Eyethorner, dead these fifty
years, had risen from his mouldy grave in the adjoining churchyard, and
had come in and listened, he would not have known that a great change
had come, that the bright sea of faith that once girdled the earth had
withdrawn.

    Down the vast edges drear
    And naked shingles of the world.

He took his text from the Old Testament, and spoke of the captivity of
the Israelites in Egypt. It was a dreary discourse, and through it
all Miss Churton sat leaning back with eyes half closed, but whether
listening to the preacher or attending to her own thoughts, there was
nothing in her face to show.

When they came out into the pleasant evening air Mrs. Churton lingered
a little, as was her custom, to exchange a few words with some of her
friends, while Constance and Fan went slowly on for a short distance,
and finally moved aside from the path on to the green turf. Here
presently the curate joined them.

"I am glad you came, Miss Churton," he spoke, pressing her hand. And
after an interval of silence he added, "I hope I have not made you hate
me for inflicting such a horribly dull discourse on you."

"You should be the last person to say that," she returned. "You might
easily have made your sermon interesting--to _me_ I mean; but I should
not have thought better of you if you had done so."

"Thanks for that. I am sometimes troubled with the thought that I made a
mistake in going into the Church, and the doubt troubled me this evening
when I was in the pulpit--more than it has ever done before."

She made no reply to this speech until Fan moved a few feet away to read
a half-obliterated inscription she had been vainly studying for a minute
or two. Then she said, looking at him:

"I cannot imagine, Mr. Northcott, why you should select me to say this
to."

"Can you not? And yet I have a fancy that it would not be so very hard
for you to find a reason. I have been accustomed to mix with people who
read and think and write, and to discuss things freely with them, and I
cannot forget for a single hour of my waking life that the old order has
changed, and that we are drifting I know not whither. I do not wish to
ignore this in the pulpit, and yet to avoid offending I am compelled
to do so--to withdraw myself from the vexed present and look only at
ancient things through ancient eyes. I know that you can understand and
enter into that feeling, Miss Churton--you alone, perhaps, of all
who came to church this evening; is it too much to look for a little
sympathy from you in such a case?"

She had listened with eyes cast down, slowly swinging the end of her
sunshade over the green grass blades.

"I do sympathise with you, Mr. Northcott," she returned, "but at the
same time I scarcely think you ought to expect it, unless it be out of
gratitude for your kindness to me."

"Gratitude! It hurts me to hear that word. I am glad, however, that you
sympathise, but why ought I not to expect it? Will you tell me?"

"Yes, if it is necessary. I cannot pretend to respect your motives for
ignoring questions you consider so important, and which occupy your
thoughts so much. If your heart is really with the thinkers, and your
desire to be in the middle of the fight, why do you rest here in
the shade out of it all, explaining old parables to a set of sleepy
villagers who do not know that there is a battle, and have never heard
of Evolution?"

He listened with a flush on his cheeks, and there was trouble mingled
with the admiration his eyes expressed; but when she finished speaking
he dropped them again. Before he could frame a reply Mrs. Churton
joined them, whereupon he shook hands and left them, only remarking to
Constance in a low voice, "I shall answer you when we meet again--we do
things quietly in Eyethorne."

On their way home Mrs. Churton made a few weak attempts to draw her
daughter into conversation, and was evidently curious to know what
she had been talking about so confidentially with the curate; but her
efforts met with little success and were soon given up.

Mr. Churton met them on their arrival at the house. "What, Constance,
you too! Well, well, wonders will never cease," he cried, smiling and
holding up his hands with a great affectation of surprise.

"Mr. Churton!" exclaimed his wife, rebuke in her look and tones. Then
she added, "It would have been better if you had also gone with us."

"My dear, I fully intended going. But there it is, man proposes
and--ahem--I stayed talking with a friend until it was past the time.
Most unfortunate!" and finishing with a little inconsequent chuckle, he
opened the door for them to enter.

He was extremely lively and talkative, and Mrs. Churton had some
difficulty in keeping him within the bounds of strict Sunday-evening
propriety. At supper he became unmanageable.

"What was the text this evening, Constance?" he suddenly asked _à
propos_ of nothing, and still inclined to make a little joke out of her
going to church.

"I don't remember--I think it was from one of the prophets," she
returned coldly.

"That's interesting to know," he remarked, "but a little vague--just a
little vague. Perhaps Miss Affleck remembers better; she is no doubt a
more regular church-goer," and with a chuckle he looked at her.

Fan was distressed at being asked, but Mrs. Churton came almost
instantly to her relief. "It is rather unfair to ask her, Nathaniel,"
she said, with considerable severity in her voice. "The text was from
Exodus--the tenth and eleventh verses of the sixteenth chapter."

"Thanks--thanks, my dear. These tenths and elevenths and sixteenths are
somewhat confusing to one's memory, but you always remember them. Yet,
if my memory does not play me false, that is a text which most young
ladies would remember. It refers, I think, to the Israelitish ladies
making off with the jewellery--always a most fascinating subject."

"It does not, Nathaniel," she said sharply. "And I wish you would
reflect that it is not quite in good taste to discuss sacred subjects in
this light tone before--a stranger."

"My dear, you know very well that I am the last person to speak lightly
on such subjects."

"I hope so. Let us say no more about it."

"Very well, my dear; I'm quite willing to drop the subject. But, my
dear, now that it occurs to me, why should I drop it? Why should you
monopolise every subject connected with--with--ahem--our religious
observances? It strikes me that you are a little unreasonable."

His wife ignored this attack, and turning to Fan, remarked that the
evening was so warm and lovely they might spend half an hour in the
garden after supper.

"Yes, that will be charming," said Mr. Churton. "We'll all go--Constance
too," he added, with a little vindictive cackle of laughter. "Don't
be alarmed, my dear, I sha'n't smoke--pipes and religion strictly
prohibited."

"Mr. Churton!" said his wife.

"Yes, my dear."

Constance rose from her seat.

"Will you come with us, Constance?" said her mother.

"Not this evening, mother. I wish to read a little in my room." After
bidding them good-night, she left the room.

"Wise girl--strong-minded girl, knows her own mind," muttered Mr.
Churton, shaking his head, conscious, poor man, that he had anything but
a strong mind, and that he didn't know it.

His wife darted an angry look at him, but said nothing.

"My dear," he resumed. "On second thoughts I must ask to be excused. I
shall also retire to my room to read a little."

"Very well," she answered, evidently relieved.

"I don't quite agree with you, my dear. I don't think it is very well.
There's an old saying that you can choke a dog with pudding, and I fancy
we have too much religion in this house," and here becoming excited, he
struck the table with his fist.

"Mr. Churton, I cannot listen to such talk!" said his wife, rising from
her seat.

Fan also rose, a little startled at this domestic jangling, but not
alarmed, for it was by no means of so formidable a character as that to
which she had been accustomed in the old days.

"I will join you presently in the garden, Fan," said Mrs. Churton,
and then, left alone with her husband, she proceeded to use stronger
measures; but the little man was in plain rebellion now, and from the
garden Fan could hear him banging the furniture about, and his voice
raised to a shrieky falsetto, making use of unparliamentary language.



CHAPTER XIX


The Monday morning, to which Fan had been looking forward with
considerable apprehension, brought no new and frightful experience: she
was not caught up and instantly plunged fathoms down beyond her depth
into that great cold ocean of knowledge; on the contrary, Miss Churton
merely took her for a not unpleasant ramble along the margin--that old
familiar margin where she had been accustomed to stray and dabble
and paddle in the safe shallows. Miss Churton was only making herself
acquainted with her pupil's mind, finding out what roots of knowledge
already existed there on which to graft new branches; and we know that
the time Fan had spent in the Board School had not been wasted. Miss
Churton was not shocked nor disappointed as her mother had been: the
girl had made some progress, and what she had learnt had not been wholly
forgotten.

If this easy going over old ground was a relief to Fan, she experienced
another and even a greater relief in her teacher's manner towards her.
She was gentle, patient, unruffled, explaining things so clearly, so
forcibly, so fully, as they had never been explained before, so that
learning became almost a delight; but with it all there was not the
slightest approach to that strange tenderness in speech and manner which
Fan had expected and had greatly feared. Feared, because she felt now
that she could not have resisted it; and how strange it seemed that
her finest quality, her best virtue, had become in this instance her
greatest enemy, and had to be fought against, just as some fight against
the evil that is in them.

But Miss Churton never changed. That first morning when she had, so to
speak, looked over her pupil's mind, seeking to discover her natural
aptitudes, was a type of all the succeeding days when they were together
at their studies. The girl's fears were quickly allayed; while Mrs.
Churton more slowly and little by little got over her unjust suspicions.
And the result was that with the exception of little petulant or
passionate outbreaks on the part of Mr. Churton, mere tempests in a
tea-cup, a novel and very welcome peace reigned at Wood End House.
Between mother and daughter there was only one quarrel more--the last
battle fought at the end of a long war. For a few days after that
evening when Constance had accompanied her to church, the poor woman
almost succeeded in persuading herself that a long-desired change was
coming, that the quiet curate, who had all learning, ancient and modern,
at his finger-ends, had succeeded at last in touching her daughter's
hard heart, and in at least partially lifting the scales that darkened
her eyes. For he was always seeking her out, conversing with her, and
it was evident to her mind that he had set himself to bring back
that wanderer to the fold. But the very next Sunday brought a great
disillusion. As usual her daughter did not go to church in the morning,
but when the bells were calling to evening service, and she stood with
Fan ready to leave the house, she still lingered, looking very pale, her
hands trembling a little with her agitation, afraid to go out too soon
lest Constance should also be coming. With sinking heart she at last
came out, but before walking a dozen yards she left Fan and went back to
the house, and going up to her daughter's bedroom, tapped at the door.

Constance opened it at once; her hat was on, and she had a book in her
hand.

"Are you not coming to church with us, Constance?" said the mother,
speaking low as if to conceal the fact that her heart was beating fast.

"No mother, I am only going to the garden to read."

Mrs. Churton turned aside, and then stood for some moments in doubt.
There was such a repelling coldness in her daughter's voice, but it was
hard to have all her sweet hopes shattered again!

"Is it because I have expected it this evening, Constance, and have
asked you to go? Then how unkind you are to me! Last Sunday evening you
went unsolicited."

"You are mistaken," returned the other quietly. "I am not and never have
been unkind. All the unkindness and the enmity, open and secret, has
been on your side. That you know, mother. And I did not go unasked last
Sunday. Do you wish to know why I went?"

"Why did you go?"

"Only to please Mr. Northcott, and because he asked me. He knew, I
suppose, as well as I did myself, that it makes no difference, but I
could not do less than go when he wished it, when he is the only person
here who treats me unlike a Christian."

_"Unlike_ a Christian! Constance, what do you mean?"

"I mean that he has treated me kindly, as one human being should treat
another, however much they may differ about speculative matters."

"May God forgive you for your wicked words, Constance."

"Leave me, mother; Fan is waiting, and you will be late at church. I
have not interfered with you in any way about the girl. Teach her what
you like, make much of her, and let her be your daughter. In return I
only ask to be left alone with my own thoughts."

Then Mrs. Churton went down and joined Fan, deeply disappointed, wounded
to the core and surprised as well. For hitherto in all their contests
she, the mother, had been the aggressor, as she could not help
confessing to herself, while Constance had always been singularly
placable and had spoken but little, and that only in self-defence.
Now her own gentle and kind words had been met with a concentrated
bitterness of resentment which seemed altogether new and strange.
"What," she asked herself, "was the cause of it?" Was this mysterious
poison of unbelief doing its work and changing a heart naturally sweet
and loving into a home of all dark thoughts and evil passions? Her words
had been blasphemous, and it was horrible to reflect on the condition of
this unhappy lost soul.

But these distressing thoughts did not continue long. Mr. Northcott
happened that evening to say a great deal about kindness and its effects
in his sermon; and Mrs. Churton, while she listened, again and again
recalled those words which her daughter had spoken, and which had seemed
so wild and unjust--"All the unkindness and the enmity, open and secret,
has been on your side." Had she in her inconsiderate zeal given any
reason for such a charge? For if Constance really believed such a thing
it would account for her excessive bitterness. Then she remembered
how Fan had been mysteriously won over to her own side; to herself the
girl's action had seemed mysterious, but doubtless it had not seemed
so to Constance; she had set it down to her mother's secret enmity; and
though that reproach had been undeserved, it was not strange that she
had made it.

In the evening when Miss Churton, who had recovered her placid manner,
said good-night and left the room, her mother rose and followed her out,
and called softly to her.

Constance came slowly down the stairs, looking a little surprised.

"Constance, forgive me if I have been unkind to you," said the mother,
with trembling voice.

"Yes, mother; and forgive me if I said too much this evening--I _did_
say too much."

"I have already forgiven you," returned her mother; and then for a few
moments they remained standing together without speaking.

"Good-night, mother," said Constance at length, and offering her hand.

Her mother took it, and after a moment's hesitation drew the girl to her
and kissed her, after which they silently separated.

That mutual forgiveness and kiss signified that they were now both
willing to lay aside their vain dissensions, but nothing more. That it
would mark the beginning of a closer union and confidence between them
was not for a moment imagined. Mrs. Churton had been disturbed in her
mind; her conscience accused her of indiscretion, which had probably
given rise to painful suspicions; she could not do less than ask her
enemy's forgiveness. Constance, on her side, was ready to meet any
advance, since she only desired to be left in possession of the somewhat
melancholy peace her solitary life afforded her.

Meanwhile Fan was happily ignorant of the storm her coming to the house
had raised, and that these two ladies, both so dear to her, one loved
openly and the other secretly, had been fighting for her possession,
and that the battle was lost and won, one taking her as a lawful prize,
while the other had retired, defeated, but calmly, without complaint.
Her new life and surroundings--the noiseless uneventful days, each with
its little cares and occupations, and simple natural pleasures, the
world of verdure and melody of birds and wide expanse of sky--seemed
strangely in harmony with her spirit: it soon became familiar as if
she had been born to it; the town life, the streets she had known from
infancy, had never seemed so familiar, so closely joined to her life.
And as the days and weeks and months went by, her London life, when she
recalled it, began to seem immeasurably remote in time, or else unreal,
like a dream or a story heard long ago; and the people she had known
were like imaginary people. Only Mary seemed real and not remote--a link
connecting that old and shadowy past with the vivid living present.

Her mornings, from nine till one o'clock, were spent with her teacher,
and occasionally they went for a walk after dinner; but as a rule they
were not together during the last half of the day. After school hours
Miss Churton would hand over her pupil, not unwillingly, to her mother,
and, if the state of the weather did not prevent, she would go away
alone with her book to Eyethorne woods.

A strangely solitary and unsocial life, it seemed to Fan; and yet she
felt convinced in her mind that her teacher was warm-hearted, a lover of
her fellow-creatures, and glad to be with them; and that she should seem
so lonely and friendless, so apart even in her own home, puzzled her
greatly. A mystery, however, it was destined to remain for a long time;
for no word to enlighten her ever fell from Mrs. Churton's lips, who
seldom even mentioned her daughter's name, and never without a shade
coming over her face, as if the name suggested some painful thought.
All this troubled the girl's mind, but it was a slight trouble; and
by-and-by, when she had got over her first shyness towards strangers,
she formed fresh acquaintances, and found new interests and occupations
which filled her leisure time. Mrs. Churton often took her when going to
call on the few friends she had in the neighbourhood--friends who, for
some unexplained reason, seldom returned her visits. At the vicarage,
where they frequently went, Fan became acquainted with Mr. Long the
vicar, a large, grey-haired, mild-mannered man; and Mrs. Long, a round
energetic woman, with reddish cheeks and keen eyes; and the three Miss
Longs, who were not exactly good-looking nor exactly young. Before very
long it was discovered that she was clever with her needle, and, better
still, that she had learnt the beautiful art of embroidery at South
Kensington, and was fond of practising it. These talents were not
permitted to lie folded up in a napkin. A new altar-cloth was greatly
needed, and there were garments for the children of the very poor, and
all sorts of things to be made; it was arranged that she should spend
two afternoons each week at the vicarage assisting her new friends in
their charitable work.

But more to her than these friends were the very poor, whose homes,
sometimes made wretched by want or sickness or intemperance, she visited
in Mrs. Churton's company. The lady of Wood End House was not without
faults, as we have seen; but they were chiefly faults of temper--and her
temper was very sorely tried. She could not forget her lost sons, nor
shut her eyes to her husband's worthlessness. But the passive resistance
her daughter always opposed to her efforts, her dogged adherence to a
resolution never to discuss religious questions or give a reason for
her unbelief, had a powerfully irritating, almost a maddening, effect
on her, and made her at times denunciatory and violent. Her daughter's
motive for keeping her lips closed was a noble one, only Mrs. Churton
did not know what it was. But she was conscious of her own failings, and
never ceased struggling to overcome them; and she was tolerant of faults
in others, except that one fatal fault of infidelity in her daughter,
which was too great, too terrible, to be contemplated with calm. In
spite of these small blemishes she was in every sense a Christian,
whose religion was a tremendous reality, and whose whole life was one
unceasing and consistent endeavour to follow in the footsteps of her
Divine Master. To go about doing good, to minister to the sick and
suffering and comfort the afflicted--that was like the breath of life
to her; there was not a cottage--hardly a room in a cottage--within the
parish of Eyethorne where her kindly face was not as familiar as that of
any person outside of its own little domestic circle. Mrs. Churton soon
made the discovery that she could not give Fan a greater happiness than
to take her when making her visits to the poor; to have the gentle girl
she had learnt to love and look on almost as a daughter with her was
such a comfort and pleasure, that she never failed to take her when it
was practicable. At first Fan was naturally stared at, a little rudely
at times, and addressed in that profoundly respectful manner the poor
sometimes use to uninvited visitors of a class higher than themselves,
in which the words border on servility while the tone suggests
resentment. How inappropriate and even unnatural this seemed to her!
For these were her own people--the very poor, and all the privations and
sufferings peculiar to their condition were known to her, and she had
not outgrown her sympathy with them. Only she could not tell them that,
and it would have been a great mistake if she had done so. For no one
loves a deserter--a renegade; and a beggar-girl who blossoms into a lady
is to those who are beggars still a renegade of the worst description.
But the keen interest she manifested in her shy way in their little
domestic troubles and concerns, and above all her fondness for little
children, smoothed the way, and before long made her visits welcome.
She would kneel and take the staring youngster by its dirty hand--so
perfectly unconscious of its dirtiness, which seemed very wonderful in
one so dainty-looking--and start a little independent child's gossip
with it, away from Mrs. Churton and the elders of the cottage. And
she would win the little bucolic heart, and kiss its lips, sweet and
fragrant to her in spite of the dirt surrounding them; and by-and-by
the mother's sharp expression would soften when she met the tender grey
eyes; and thereafter there would be a new happiness when Fan appeared,
and if Mrs. Churton came without her, there would be sullen looks from
the little one, and inquiries from its mother after "your beautiful
young lady from London."

All this was inexpressibly grateful to Mrs. Churton, all the more
grateful when she noticed that these visits they made together to the
very poor seemed to have the effect of drawing the girl more and more to
her. To her mind, all this signified that her religious teachings were
sinking into the girl's heart, that her own lofty ideal was becoming
increasingly beautiful to that young mind.

But she was making a great mistake--one which is frequently made by
those who do not know how easily some Christian virtues and qualities
are simulated by the unregenerate. All the doctrinal religion she had
imparted to Fan remained on the surface, and had not, and, owing to some
defect in her or for some other cause, perhaps could not sink down to
become rooted in her heart. After Mrs. Churton had, as she imagined,
utterly and for ever smashed and pulverised all Fan's preconceived and
wildly erroneous ideas about right and wrong, the girl's mind for some
time had been in a state of chaos with regard to such matters. But
gradually, by means of a kind of spiritual chemistry, the original
elements of her peculiar system came together, and crystallised again in
the old form. Her mental attitude was not like that of the downright and
doggedly-conservative Jan Coggan, who scorned to turn his back on "his
own old ancient doctrines merely for the sake of getting to heaven."
There was nothing stubborn or downright in her disposition, and she was
hardly conscious of the change going on in her--the reversion to her own
past. She assented readily to everything she was told by so good a woman
as Mrs. Churton, and in a way she believed it all, and read her Bible
and several pious books besides, and got the whole catechism by heart.
It was all in her memory--many beautiful things, with others too
dreadful to think about; but it could not make her life any different,
or supplant her old simple beliefs, and she could never grasp the idea
that a living faith in all these things was absolutely essential, or
that they were really more than ornamental. Her lively sympathy for
those of her own class was the only reason for the pleasure she took in
going among the poor, and it also explained her natural unconstrained
manner towards them, which so quickly won their hearts. During these
visits she often recalled her own sad condition in that distant time
when she lived in Moon Street; thinking that it would have made a great
difference if some gracious lady had come to her there, with help in
her hands and words of comfort on her lips. It was this memory, this
thought, which filled her with love and reverence for her companion; it
was gratitude for friendship to the poor, but nothing loftier.

This was a quiet and uneventful period in Fan's life; a time of growth,
mental and physical, and of improvement; but as we have seen, the new
conditions she found herself in had not so far wrought any change in
her character. Those who knew her at Eyethorne, both gentle and simple,
would have been surprised to hear that she was not a lady by birth; in
her soul she was still the girl who had begged for pence in the Edgware
Road, who had run crying through the dark streets after the cab that
conveyed her drunken and fatally-injured mother to St. Mary's Hospital.
Let them disbelieve who know not Fan, who have never known one like her.



CHAPTER XX


One afternoon in early August Fan accompanied Mrs. Churton on a visit to
some cottages on the further side of Eyethorne village; she went gladly,
for they were going to see Mrs. Cawood, a young married woman with three
children, and one of them, the eldest, a sharp little fellow, was her
special favourite. Mrs. Cawood was a good-tempered industrious little
woman; but her husband--Cawood the carpenter--was a thorn in Mrs.
Churton's tender side. Not that he was a black sheep in the Eyethorne
fold; on the contrary, he was known to be temperate, a good husband
and father, and a clever industrious mechanic. But he was never seen at
church; on Sundays he went fishing, being devoted to the gentle craft;
and it was wrong, more so in him because of his good name than in
many another. Mrs. Churton was anxious to point this out to him, but
unfortunately could not see him; he was always out of the way when she
called, no matter when the call was timed. "I wish you could get hold of
Cawood," had been said to her many times by the parson and his wife; but
there was no getting hold of him. The curate had also tried and failed.
Once he had gone to him when he was engaged on some work, but the
carpenter had reminded him very pleasantly that there is a time for
everything, that carpentering and theology mixed badly together.

But all things come to those who wait, and on this August afternoon the
slippery carpenter was fairly caught, like one of his own silly fish;
but whether she succeeded in landing her prize or not remains to be
told. Apparently he did not suspect that there were strangers in the
cottage--some prearranged signal had failed to work, or someone had
blundered; anyhow he walked unconcernedly into the room, and seemed
greatly surprised to find it occupied by two lady visitors. Mrs. Churton
sat with a book in her hand, gently explaining some difficult point
to his wife; while at some distance Fan was carrying on a whispered
conversation with her little friend Billy. The child sprung up with such
sudden violence that he almost capsized her low chair, and rushing to
his father embraced his legs. With a glance at his wife, expressing
mild reproach and a resolution to make the best of it, he saluted his
visitors, then deposited his bag of tools on the floor.

Cawood was a Londoner, who had come down to do some work on a large
house in the neighbourhood, and there "met his fate" in the person of a
pretty Eyethorne girl, whom he straightway married; then, finding that
there was room for him, and good fishing to be had, he elected to stay
in his wife's village among her own people. He was a well-set-up man of
about thirty-five, with that quiet, self-contained, thoughtful look in
his countenance which is not infrequently seen in the London artisan--a
face expressing firmness and intelligence, with a mixture of _bonhomie_,
which made it a pleasant study.

"I am glad you have come in," said the visitor. "I have been wishing to
see you for a long time, but have not succeeded in finding you at home."

"Thank you, ma'am; it's very kind of you to come and see my wife. She
often speaks of your visits. Also of the young lady's"; and here he
looked at Fan with a pleasant smile.

"Yes; your wife is very good. I knew her before you did, Mr. Cawood; I
have held her in my arms when she was a baby, and have known her well up
till now when she is having babies of her own."

"And very good things to have, ma'am--in moderation," he remarked, with
a twinkle in his eye.

"And since she makes you so good a wife, don't you think you ought to
comply with her wishes in some things?"

"Why, yes, ma'am, certainly I ought; and what's more, I do. We get on
amazingly well together, considering that we are man and wife," and with
a slight laugh he sat down.

Mrs. Churton winced a little, thinking for the moment that he had made a
covert allusion to the state of her own domestic relations; but after a
glance at his open genial face, she dismissed the suspicion and returned
to the charge.

"I know you are happy together, and it speaks well for both of you. But
we do not see you at church, Mr. Cawood. Your wife has often promised
me to beg you to go with her; if she has done so you have surely not
complied in this case."

"No, ma'am, no, not in that; but I think she understands how to look at
it; and if she asks me to go with her, she knows that she is asking for
something she doesn't expect to get."

"But why? I want to know why you do not go to church. There are many of
us who try to live good lives, but we are told, and we know, that this
is not enough; that we cannot save ourselves, however hard we may try,
but must go to Him who gave Himself to save us, and who bade us assemble
together to worship Him."

"Well, ma'am, if anyone feels like that, I think he is right to go
to church. I do not object to my wife going; if it is a pleasure and
comfort to her I am glad of it. I only say, let us all have the same
liberty, and go or not just as we please."

"We all have it, Mr. Cawood. But if you believe that there is One who
made us, and is mindful of us, you must know that it is a good thing to
obey His written word, and serve Him in the way He has told us."

"I'm sorry I can't see my way to do as you wish. My wife has given me
all your messages, and the papers and tracts you've been so good as
to leave for me. But I haven't read them. I can't, because you see
my mind's made up about such things, and I don't see the advantage of
unmaking it again."

Here was a stubborn man to deal with! His wife heard him quietly, as if
it were all familiar to her. Fan, on the other hand, listened with
an expression of intense interest. For this man answered not like the
others. He seemed to know his own mind, and did not instantly acquiesce
in what was said, and unhesitatingly make any promise that was asked of
him. But how had he been able to make up his mind? and what to think and
believe? That was what she wanted to know, and was waiting to hear. Mrs.
Churton, glancing round on her small audience, encountered the girl's
eager eyes fixed on her face; and she reflected that even if her words
should avail nothing so far as Cawood was concerned, their effect would
not be lost on others whose hearts were more open to instruction. She
addressed herself to her task once more, and her words were meant for
Fan and for the carpenter's wife as well as for the carpenter.

"I think," she began, "that I can convince you that you are wrong.
There cannot be two rights about any question; and if what you think is
right--that it is useless to attend church and trouble yourself in any
way about your eternal interests--then all the rest of us must be in the
wrong. I suppose you do not deny the truth of Christianity?"

"Since you put it in that way, I do not."

"That makes it all the simpler for me. I know you to be an honest,
temperate man, diligent in your work, and that you do all in your power
to make your home happy. Perhaps you imagine that this is enough. It
would not be strange if you did, because it is precisely the mistake we
are all most liable to fall into. What more is wanted of us? we say; we
are not bad, like so many others; and so we are glad to put the whole
question from us, and go on in our own easy way. Everything is smooth
on the surface, and this pleasant appearance of things lulls us into
security. But it is all a delusion, a false security, as we too often
discover only when death is near. Only then we begin to see how we have
neglected our opportunities, and despised the means of grace, and lived
at enmity with God. For we have His word, which tells us that we are
born in sin, and do nothing pleasing in His sight unless we obey
Him. There is no escape from this: either He is our guide in this our
pilgrimage or He is not. And if He is our guide, then it behoves us to
reflect seriously on these things--to search the Scriptures, to worship
in public, and humbly seek instruction from our appointed teachers."

This was only a small portion of what she said. Mrs. Churton was
experienced in talk of this kind, and once fairly started she could
run on indefinitely, like a horse cantering or a lark singing, with no
perceptible effort and without fatigue.

"I think, ma'am, you could not have put it plainer," said the carpenter,
who had sat through it all, with eyes cast down, in an attitude of
respectful attention. "But if I can't go with you in this matter, then
probably it wouldn't interest you to know what I hold and where I go?"

Now that was precisely what Fan wanted to know; again she looked
anxiously at Mrs. Churton, and it was a great relief when that lady
replied:

"It will interest me very much to hear you state your views, Mr.
Cawood."

"Thank you, ma'am. I must tell you that I've attended more churches, and
heard more good sermons, and read more books about different things,
and heard more good lectures from those who spoke both for and against
religion, than most working-men. In London it was all to be had for
nothing; and being of an inquiring turn of mind, and thinking that
something would come of it all, I used my opportunities. And what was
the result? Why nothing at all--nothing came of it. The conclusion I
arrived at was, that if I could live for a thousand years it would be
just the same--nothing would come of it; so I just made up my mind to
throw the whole thing up. I don't want you to think that I ever turned
against religion. I never did that; nor did I ever set up against those
who say that the Bible is only a mixture of history and fable. I did
something quite different, and I can't agree with you when you say that
we must be either for or against. For here am I, neither for one thing
nor the other. On one side are those who have the Bible in their hands,
and tell us that it is an inspired book--God's word; on the other side
are those who maintain that it is nothing of the sort; and when we ask
what kind of men they are, and what kind of lives do they lead, we find
that in both camps there are as good men as have ever lived, and
along with these others bad and indifferent. And when we ask where the
intelligence is, the answer is the same; it is on this side and on that.
Now my place is with neither side. I stand, so to speak, between the two
camps, at an equal distance from both. Perhaps there is reason and
truth on this side and on that; but the question is too great for me to
settle, when the wisest men can't agree about it. I have heard what they
had to say to me, and finding that I did nothing but see-saw from one
side to the other, and that I could never get to the heart of the thing,
I thought it best to give it all up, and give my mind to something
else."

Mrs. Churton remained silent for some time, her eyes cast down. She was
thinking of her daughter, wondering if her state of mind resembled
that of this man. But no; that careless temper in the presence of great
questions and great mysteries would be impossible to one of her restless
intellect. She had chosen her side, and although she refused to speak
she doubtless cherished an active animosity against religion.

"It grieves me to find you in this negative state," she returned, "and
I can only hope and pray that you will not always continue in it. You do
not deny the truth of Christianity, you say; but tell me, putting aside
all that men say for and against our holy faith, and the arguments that
have pulled you this way and that, is there not something in your own
soul that tells you that you are not here by chance, that there is an
Unseen Power that gave us life, and that it is good for us, even here in
this short existence, if we do that which is pleasing to Him?"

"Yes, I feel that. It is the only guide I have, and I try my best
to follow it. But whether the Unseen Power sees us and reads all our
thoughts as Christians think, or only set things going, so to speak, is
more than I am able to say. I think we are free to do good or evil;
and if there is a future life--and I hope there is--I don't think that
anyone will be made miserable in it because he didn't know things better
than he could know them. That's the whole of my religion, Mrs. Churton,
and I don't think it a bad one, on the whole--for myself I mean; for I
don't go about preaching it, and I don't ask others to think as I do."

With a sigh she resigned the contest; and after a few more words bade
him good-bye, and went out with the carpenter's wife into the garden.

Fan remained standing where she had risen, some colour in her cheeks, a
smile of contentment playing about her lips.

"Good-bye, Mr. Cawood," she said; and after a moment's hesitation held
out her hand to him.

He looked a little surprised. "My hand is not over-clean, miss, as you
see," opening it with a comical look of regret on his face. "I've just
come in from work and haven't washed yet."

"Oh, it's clean enough," she said with a slight laugh, putting her small
white hand into his dusty palm.

On her way home Mrs. Churton talked a good deal to her companion. She
went over her discussion with the carpenter, repeating her own arguments
with much amplification; then passing to his, she pointed out their
weakness, and explained how that neutral state of mind is unworthy of
a rational being, and dangerous as well, since death might come
unexpectedly and give no time for repentance.

Fan listened, readily assenting to everything; but in her heart she felt
like a bird newly escaped from captivity. That restful state she had
been hearing about, in which there was no perpetual distrust of self,
vigilance, heart-searching, wrestling in prayer, looked infinitely
attractive, and suited her disposition and humble intellect.



CHAPTER XXI


A fortnight later, one hot afternoon, Fan was reading beside the open
window of the dining-room. After dinner Mrs. Churton had given her _The
Pleasures of Hope_, in a slim old octavo volume, to read, and for the
last hour she had been poring over it. Greatly did she admire it, it
was so fine, so grand; but all that thunderous roll of rhetoric--the
whiskered Pandoors and the fierce Hussars, and Freedom's shriek when
Kosciusko fell, and flights of bickering comets through illimitable
space--a kind of celestial fireworks on a stupendous scale--and all
the realms of ether wrapped in flames--all this had produced a slight
headache, a confusion or giddiness, like that which is experienced by
a person looking down over a precipice, or when carried too high in a
swing.

Constance came down from her room with her hat on and a book in her
hand.

"Are you going for a walk, Constance?" asked her mother, who was also
sitting by the open window.

"Yes, only to the woods, where I can sit and read in the shade."

Mrs. Churton glanced suspiciously at the book in her daughter's hand--a
thick volume bound in dark-green cloth. There was nothing in its
appearance to alarm anyone, but she did not like these thick green-bound
books that were never by any chance found lying about for one to see
what was in them. However, she only answered:

"Then I wish you would persuade Fan to go with you. She is looking pale,
it strikes me."

"I shall be glad if Fan will go," she answered, a slight accent of
surprise in her tone.

Fan ran up to get her hat and sunshade, and when she returned to them
her pallor and headache had well-nigh vanished at the prospect of an
afternoon spent in the shady woodland paradise. Mrs. Churton, with a
prayer in her heart, watched them going away together--two lovely girls;
it made her anxious when her eyes rested on the portly green volume her
daughter carried, but it struck her as a good augury when she noticed
that the younger girl in her white dress had _The Pleasures of Hope_ in
her hand.

For now a new thought, a hope that was very beautiful, had come into
Mrs. Churton's heart. All her life long she had had the delusion that
"spiritual pride" was her besetting sin; and against this imaginary
enemy she was perpetually fighting. And yet if some shining being had
come down to tell her that her prayers for others had been heard, that
all the worthless and vicious people she wished to carry to heaven with
her would be saved, and all of them, even the meanest, set above her
in that place where the first is last and the last first, joy at such
tidings would have slain her. She had as little spiritual pride as a
ladybird or an ant. Now the new thought had come into her mind that her
daughter would be saved; not in her way, nor by her means, but in a
way that would at the same time be a rebuke to her spiritual pride,
her impatience and bitterness of spirit, and zeal not according
to knowledge. Not she, but this young girl, herself so ignorant of
spiritual things a short time ago, would be the chosen instrument. She
remembered how the girl had taken to her from the first, but had not
taken to her daughter; how in spite of this distance between them, and
of her infidelity, her daughter had continued to love the girl--to Mrs.
Churton it was plain that she loved her--and to hunger for her love in
return. It was all providential and ordered by One

    Who moves in a mysterious way
    His wonders to perform.

"Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength,"
she murmured, praising God who had put this gladness in her heart, the
Christian's and the mother's love filling her eyes with tears. Up
till now it had been her secret aim to keep the girls as much apart
as possible out of school hours; now it seemed best to let them come
together; and on this August afternoon, as we have seen, she went so far
as to encourage a greater intimacy between them. Poor woman!

After they had entered the wood Fan began straying at short intervals
from the path to gather flowers and grasses, or to look more closely at
a butterfly at rest and sunning its open brightly-patterned wings.

"I think I shall sit down on the grass here to read," said Constance at
length. "You can ramble about and gather flowers if you like, and you'll
know where to find me."

They had now reached a spot to which Constance was in the habit of
resorting almost daily, where the ground was free from underwood, and
thickly carpeted with grass not yet wholly dry, and where an oak-tree
shaded a wide space with its low horizontal branches.

Fan thanked her, and dropping her book rambled off by herself, happy in
her flower-hunting, and forgetting all about the magnificent things
she had been reading. Two or three times she returned to the spot where
Constance sat reading, with her hands full of flowers and grasses, and
after depositing them on the turf went away to gather more. Finally
she sat down on the grass, took off her hat and gloves, and set to work
arranging her spoils. This took her a long time, and after making them
up two or three times in various ways she still seemed dissatisfied. At
length she tried a fresh plan, and discarding all the red, yellow, and
purple flowers, she made a loose bunch of the blue and white only,
using only those fine open grass-spears with hair-like stems and minute
flowers that look like mist on the grass. The effect this time was
very pretty, and when she had finished her work she sat for some time
admiring it, her head a little on one side and holding the bunch well
away from her. She did not know how beautiful she herself looked at that
moment, how the blue and white flowers and misty grasses had lent, as it
were, a new grace to her form and countenance--a flower-like expression
that was sweet to see. Looking up all at once she encountered her
companion's eyes fixed earnestly on her face. It was so unexpected that
it confused her a little, and she reddened and dropped her eyes.

"Forgive me, Fan, for watching your face," said Constance. "When I
looked at you I wondered whether it would not be best to tell you what I
was thinking of--something about you."

"About me? Will you tell me, Miss Churton?" returned Fan, a
half-suppressed eagerness in her voice, as if this approach to
confidence had fluttered her heart with pleasure.

"But if I tell you what was in my mind, Fan, I should have to finish by
asking you a question; and perhaps you would not like to be asked."

"I think I can answer any question, Miss Churton, unless it is
about--how we lived at home before Miss Starbrow took me to live with
her. She wishes me not to speak of that, but to forget it."

Constance listened with softening eyes, wondering what that sorrowful
past had been, which had left no trace on the sweet young face.

"I know that, Fan," she replied, "and should be very sorry to question
you about such matters. It saddens me to think that your childhood was
unhappy, and if I could help you to forget that period of your life I
would gladly do so. The question I should have to ask would be about
something recent. Can you not guess what it is?"

"No, Miss Churton--at least I don't think I can. Will you not tell me?"

"You know that my life here is not a happy one."

"Is it not? I am so sorry."

"When I first saw you I imagined that it would be different, that your
coming would make me much better off. I had been wondering so much what
you were like, knowing that we should be so much together. When I at
length saw you it was with a shock of pleasure, for I saw more than I
had dared to hope. A first impression is almost infallible, I think, and
to this day I have never for a single moment doubted that the impression
I received was a right one. But I was greatly mistaken when I imagined
that in your friendship I should find compensation for the coldness of
others; for very soon you put a distance between us, as you know, and it
has lasted until now. That is what was passing through my mind a little
while ago when I watched your face; and now, Fan, can you tell me why
you took a dislike to me?"

"Oh, Miss Churton, I have never disliked you! I like you very, very
much--I cannot say how much!" But even while this assurance sprang
spontaneously from her lips, she remembered Mary's warning words, and
her heart was secretly troubled, for that old danger which she had
ceased to fear had now unexpectedly returned.

"Do you really like me so much, Fan?" said Constance, taking the
girl's hand and holding it against her cheek. "I have thought as much
sometimes--I have almost been sure of it. But you fear me for some
reason; you are shy and reticent when with me, and out of lesson-time
you avoid my company. You imagine that it would be wrong to love me,
or that if you cannot help liking me you must hide the feeling in your
heart."

It startled Fan to find that her companion was so well able to read her
thoughts, but she assented unhesitatingly to what the other had said.
This approach to confidence began to seem strangely sweet to her, all
the sweeter perhaps because so perilous; and that contact of her hand
with the other's soft warm cheek gave her an exquisite pleasure.

"And will you not tell me why you fear me?" asked Constance again.

"I should like you to know so much ... but perhaps it would not be right
for me to say it ... I wish I knew--I wish I knew."

"I know, Fan--I am perfectly sure that I know, and will save you the
trouble and pain of telling it. Shall I tell you? and then perhaps I
shall be able to convince you that you have no reason to be afraid of
me."

"I wish you would," eagerly returned Fan.

"My mother has prejudiced you against me, Fan. She imagines that if we
were intimate and friendly together my influence would be injurious,
that it would destroy the effect of the religious instruction she
gives."

"I do not understand you," said Fan, looking unmistakably puzzled.

"No? And yet I thought it so plain. My mother has told you that I am not
religious--in _her_ way, that is--that I am not a Christian. She does
not know really; I do not go about telling people what I believe or
disbelieve, and prefer to say nothing about religion for fear of hurting
any person's feelings. But that is not her way, and through what she has
said at the vicarage, and elsewhere about me I am now looked upon as
one to be avoided. I see you are reading _The Pleasures of Hope_. Let me
have it. Do you see this passage with pencil-marks against it, and all
the words underscored?

   "Ah me! the laurel wreath that Murder rears,
    Blood-nursed, and watered by the widow's tears,
    Seems not so foul, so tainted, and so dread,
    As waves the nightshade round the sceptic head.

"These words were marked for my benefit--this is what she thinks of
me--her own daughter--because I cannot agree with her in everything
she believes!" And here she flung the volume disdainfully on the grass.
"When I agreed to be your teacher I never imagined that such things
would have been put into your head. Her anxiety about your spiritual
welfare made it seem right in her eyes to do so, I suppose. But I should
not have harmed you, my dear girl, or interfered with your religion in
any way; she might have given me that much credit. When she knew how
lonely my life was, and how much your affection would have been to me,
it was unkind of her to set you also against me from the first."

All this came as a complete surprise on her listener, who now for the
first time began to understand the reason of the estrangement of mother
and daughter. But Constance was allowed to finish her speech without
interruption. She said more than she had meant to say, but her
feelings had carried her away, and when she finished it was with a
half-suppressed sob.

"Dear Miss Churton, I am so sorry you are unhappy," said Fan at length,
taking her hand. "I did not know you were not a Christian, nor why it
was that you and Mrs. Churton were always so cold to each other. But
it would have made no difference if I had known, because--I am not
religious."

Constance looked at her.

"What do you mean by that, Fan?" she said. "It is my turn now, it seems,
to say that I do not understand you."

The other hesitated; then she remembered the carpenter's words, and
began a little doubtfully:

"I mean that I do not think that going to church and--reading the Bible,
and praying, and all that, make any difference. I think we can be
good without that--don't you, Miss Churton? I wish I could tell you
better--it seems so hard to say it. But Mrs. Churton never said anything
to me about you--in that way--I mean about your religion."

Constance listened to all this with the greatest surprise. That this
very simple-minded girl, impressible as soft wax as it seemed to her,
should think independently about such a subject as religion, and that
she should hold views so opposed to those which Mrs. Churton had for
several months been diligently instilling into her mind, seemed almost
incredible. The second statement was nearly as surprising, so sure had
she been that her suspicions were well-founded. "Then I have been very
unjust to my mother in this instance," she said, "and am very sorry I
spoke so warmly about older things which should be forgotten." After an
interval of silence she continued, withdrawing her hand from the other,
"I can make no further guess, Fan; and if you have any secret reason for
keeping apart from me you must forgive me for speaking to you and trying
to win your confidence."

Fan was more distressed than ever now, and the tears started to her eyes
as she felt that the distance was once more widening between them, and
that it all depended on herself whether she was to drink from this sweet
cup or set it down again scarcely tasted.

"I must tell you, Miss Churton," she said at length; and then, not
without much hesitation and difficulty, she explained Miss Starbrow's
views with regard to the impossibility of a woman, or of a girl like
her, loving more than one person, or having more than one friend.

Constance gave a laugh, which, however, she quickly checked.

"Dear Fan," she said, "does not your own heart tell you that it is all a
mistake? And if you feel that you do love me, do you not know from your
own experience, whether you hide the feeling or not, that your love for
others, and chiefly for so dear a friend as Miss Starbrow, remains just
as strong as before?"

Fan gladly answered in the affirmative.

"We are all liable to strange errors about different things, and Miss
Starbrow is certainly in error about this. Besides, my dear girl,
we can't always love or not love as we like; the feeling comes to us
spontaneously, like the wind that blows where it listeth. Be sure that
we are not such poor creatures that we cannot love more than one person
at a time. But Miss Starbrow is not singular in her opinion--if it is
her opinion. I have heard men say that although a man's large heart can
harbour many friendships, a woman is incapable of having more than one
friendship at any time. That is a man's opinion, and therefore it is not
strange that it should be a wrong one, since only a woman can know the
things of a woman. How strange that Miss Starbrow should have so mean an
opinion of her own sex!"

Fan then remembered something which she imagined might throw some light
on this dark subject. "I know," she said, "that she always prefers men
to women for friends. I have heard her say that she hates women."

Constance laughed again.

"She does not hate herself--that is impossible; and that she did not
hate you, Fan, is very evident. Don't you think that, intimate as you
were with Miss Starbrow, you did not always quite understand her way of
speaking, that you took her words too literally? You know now that she
did not really mean it when she spoke of hating women, and perhaps she
did not really mean what she said about your being unable to love more
than one person."

"Yes; I think you are right. I know that she does not always mean what
she says. I am sure you are right."

"And will you be my friend then, and love me a little?"

"You know that I love you dearly, and it makes me so happy to think that
we are friends. But tell me, dear Miss Churton--"

"If we are really friends now you must call me Constance."

"Oh, I shall like that best. Dear Constance, do you think when I write
to Mary that I must tell her all we have talked about?"

"No," said the other, after a moment's reflection. "It is not necessary,
and would not be fair to me, as we have been speaking about her. But you
must be just as open about everything, as I suppose it is your nature
to be, and conceal nothing about your feelings towards others. I do not
think for a moment that you will offend her by being good friends with
your teacher."

That assurance and advice removed the last shadow of anxiety from Fan's
mind, and after some more conversation they returned home, both feeling
very much happier than when they had started for this eventful walk.



CHAPTER XXII


Mrs. Churton was quickly made aware of the now in one sense improved
relations between the girls when they returned from their walk; and with
that new hope in her heart she was not displeased to see it, although
its suddenness startled her a little. She did not know until the
following morning how great the change was. She was an early riser, and
hearing voices and laughter in the garden while dressing, she looked out
of the window, and saw the girls walking in the path, Constance with an
open book in her hand, while Fan at her side had an arm affectionately
thrown over her teacher's shoulder. It was a pretty sight, but it
troubled her; she had not expected so close a friendship as that, which
had made them rise so long before their usual time for the pleasure of
being together. If, after all, a vain hope had deluded her, then there
might be an exceedingly sad end to her experiment. With deep anxiety
and returning jealousy she reflected that the simple-minded affectionate
girl might prove as wax in the hands of her clever godless daughter.
But it was too soon to intervene and try to undo her own work. She would
watch and wait, and hope still that the infinite beauty and preciousness
of a childlike faith would touch the stony heart that nothing had
touched, and win back the wandering feet to the ways of pleasantness.

From her watching nothing much resulted for some days, although she
soon began to suspect that Fan now wore a look of patience, almost of
weariness, whenever she was spoken to on religious subjects, that it
seemed a relief to her when the lesson was finished, and she could go
back to Constance. They were constantly together now, in and out of
doors, and the woods had become their daily haunt. And one day they met
with an adventure. Arriving about three o'clock at their favourite tree,
they saw a young man in a dark blue cycling costume lying on the grass
with his hands clasped behind his head, and gazing up into the
leafy depths above him. At the same moment he saw them, standing and
hesitating which way to turn; and in a moment he sprang to his feet.
He was a handsome young fellow, a little below the medium height, clean
shaved, with black hair and very dark blue eyes, which looked black;
his features were very fine, and his skin, although healthy-looking,
colourless.

"I perceive that I am an intruder here," he said with a smile, and with
an admiring glance at Miss Churton's face.

"Oh, no," she returned, with heightened colour. "This wood is free to
all; we can soon find another spot for ourselves."

"But it is evident that you were coming to sit here," he said, still
smiling. "I suppose you have done so on former occasions, so that you
have acquired a kind of prescriptive right to this place. I am putting
it on very low grounds, you see," he added with a slight laugh, and
raising his cap was about to turn away; but just at that moment he
glanced at Fan, who had been standing a little further away, watching
his face with very great interest. He started, looked greatly surprised,
then quickly recovering his easy self-possessed manner, advanced and
held out his hand to her. "How do you do?" he said. "How strange to meet
you here! You have not forgotten me, I hope?"

Fan had taken his hand. "Oh, no, Mr. Chance," she returned, blushing a
little, "I remember you very well."

"I'm very glad you do. But I am ashamed to have to confess that though
I remember your Christian name very well I can't recall your surname. I
only remember that it is an uncommon one."

"My name is Affleck. But you only saw me once, and it is not strange you
should have forgotten it."

It was true that she had only seen him once; for in spite of the brave
words he had spoken to Miss Starbrow after she had rejected his offer
of marriage, he had never returned to her house. But Fan had heard first
and last a great deal about him, and Mary had even told her the story
of that early morning declaration, not without some scornful laughter.
Nevertheless at this distance from town it seemed very pleasant to see
him once more. It was like meeting an old acquaintance, and vividly
brought back her life in Dawson Place with Mary.

For some minutes he stood talking to her, asking after Miss Starbrow and
herself, and saying that since he left Bayswater he had greatly missed
those delightful evenings; but while he talked to Fan he glanced
frequently at the beautiful face of her companion. Once or twice their
eyes met, and Mr. Chance, judging from what he saw that he had made
a somewhat favourable impression, in his easy way, and with a little
apology, asked Fan to introduce him. This little ceremony over, they all
sat down on the grass and spent an hour very agreeably in conversation.
He told them that he was spending a month's holiday in a bicycle ramble
through the south-west of England, and had turned aside to see the
village of Eyethorne and its woods, which he had heard were worth a
visit. From local scenery the conversation passed by an easy transition
to artistic and literary subjects; in a very short time Fan ceased to
take any part in it, and was satisfied to listen to this new kind of
duet in which harmony of mind was substituted for that of melodious
sound. With a pleased wonder, which was almost like a sense of mystery,
she followed them in this rapid interchange of thoughts about things so
remote from every-day life. They mentioned a hundred names unknown to
her--of those who had lived in ancient times and had written poems in
many languages, and of artists whose works they had never seen and could
yet describe; and in all these far-off things they seemed as deeply
interested as Mrs. Churton was in her religion, her parish work, and
her housekeeping. How curious it was to note their familiarity with an
endless variety of subjects, so that one could not say anything without
a look of quick intelligence and ready sympathy from the other! How well
they seemed to know each other's minds! They were talking familiarly as
if they had been acquainted all their lives!

To Constance the pleasure was more real and far greater; for not only
had her unfortunate opinions concerning matters of faith separated her
from her few educated neighbours, but in that rustic and sleepy-minded
spot there were none among them, excepting the curate, who took any
interest in literary and philosophical questions. Her friends were not
the people she knew, but the authors whose works she purchased with
shillings saved out of the small quarterly allowance her mother made her
for dress. These were the people she really knew and loved, and their
thoughts were of infinitely deeper import to her than the sayings and
doings of the men and women of her little world. In such circumstances,
how pleasant it was to meet with this young stranger, engaging in his
manner and attractive in appearance, and to converse freely with him on
the subjects that constantly occupied her thoughts. There was a glow of
happy excitement on her face, her eyes shone, she laughed in a free glad
way, as Fan had never heard her laugh before; she was surprised at the
extent of her own knowledge--at that miracle of memory, when many fine
thoughts, long forgotten, and multitudes of strange facts, and glowing
passages in verse and prose, came back uncalled to her mind; and above
all she was surprised at a ready eloquence which she had never suspected
herself capable of.

Merton Chance had often conversed with clever and beautiful women, but
this country girl surprised him with the extent of her reading, her
vivacity and wit, and quick sympathy; and the more they talked the more
he admired her.

Then insensibly their conversation took a graver tone, and they passed
to other themes, which, to Constance at least, had a deeper and more
enduring interest. In all philosophical questions she could follow and
even go beyond him, although she didn't know it, and very soon they made
the discovery that towards the faith still professed by a large majority
of their fellow-beings their attitude was the same. Or so it appeared
to Constance. Christianity was one of the forms in which the universal
religious sentiment had found expression for a period among a large
portion of the human race. They were not agnostics, so they both
declared, and yet were contented to be called so by others, not yet
having invented a word better than this one of the materialistic
Professor Huxley to describe themselves by. They had moved onwards and
had left the creed of the Christian behind them, yet were confident that
the vast unbounded prospect before them would not always rest obscured
with clouds. But what the new thing was to be they knew not. Time would
reveal it. They were not left without something to cheer them--gleams
of a spiritual light which, although dim and transient, yet foretold the
perfect day. Like so many others among the choice spirits of the earth,
they turned their eyes this way and that, considering now the hard
and pitiless facts of biology and physics, now the new systems of
philosophy, that come like shadows and so depart, and now the vague
thoughts, or thoughts vaguely expressed, of those the careless world
calls mystics and wild-minded visionaries; and after it all they were
fain to confess that the waters have not yet abated; and that although
for them there could be no return to the ark, they were still without
any rest for the soles of their feet.

If, instead of that young ignorant girl, their listener had been a
grey-haired disillusioned man, he would have shaken his head, and
perhaps remarked that they were a couple of foolish dreamers, that the
light which inspired such splendid hopes was a light from the past--a
dying twilight left in their souls by that sun of faith which for
them had set. But there was nothing to disturb their pleasing
self-complacency--no mocking skeleton to spoil their rare intellectual
feast.

Merton was not yet satisfied, he wished to go more fully into these
great subjects, and pressed her with more and more searching questions.
Constance, on her side, grew more reticent, and seemed troubled in her
mind, glancing occasionally into his face; and at length, dropping her
hand on Fan's, who still listened but without understanding, she said
that for reasons which could not be stated, which he would be able to
guess, further discussion had better be deferred.

He assented with a smile, and returning her look with quick
intelligence. The talk drifted into other channels, and at length they
all rose to their feet, but he did not go at once. He began to ask Fan
about her botanical studies, one of the subjects which Constance had
taught her. He had, he said, studied botany at school and was very
fond of it. Presently he became much interested in a plant, a creeper,
hanging from a low shrub about twenty-five or thirty yards from where
they were standing, and Fan at once started off to get a spray for him
to see.

"I am very glad, Miss Churton, that our discussion is only to be
_deferred,"_ he said. "It has interested me more deeply than you can
imagine, and for various reasons I should be glad to go further with
it."

She did not reply, although looking pleased at his words, and then he
continued:

"I cannot bear to think of leaving this place without seeing you again.
I wished for one thing--please don't think me very egotistical for
saying it--to tell you about some little papers I am writing, and one
or two of which have been printed in a periodical. I think the subject
would interest you. Will you think me very bold, Miss Churton, if I ask
you to let me call on you at your home?"

His request troubled her, and after a little hesitation she answered:

"I shall be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Chance, and perhaps if I tell
you why I can scarcely do what you ask you will not think hardly of me.
I cannot open my lips at home on the subject we have been discussing,
and I am looked on coldly here, in my own village, on account of my
heterodox opinions. My mother would receive you well, but she would
think it wrong in me to invite a sympathiser to the house."

"Then, Miss Churton, how lonely your life must be!"

"You must not think more about me, Mr. Chance."

"You are asking too much," he answered smiling, and the words brought a
blush to her cheek. "But I cannot bear to go away from Eyethorne without
seeing you once more. May I hope to meet you tomorrow in this place?"

"I cannot promise that. But if--no, I cannot say more now."

Fan was back with a spray of the plant, but he had somehow lost all
interest in it. That about his botany had all been pure fiction; but
it had served its purpose, and now, he regretfully remarked, his
plant-lore, he found, had completely faded from his mind. And after a
little further conversation he shook hands and left them.



CHAPTER XXIII


On their way home the conversation of the girls turned chiefly on their
encounter with Mr. Chance. Constance displayed an unusual amount of
feminine curiosity, and asked a great many questions about him. Fan
had nothing to tell, for she dared not tell what she knew. It was a
peculiarity of her character, that if she knew anything to a person's
disadvantage she was anxious to conceal it, as if it had been something
reflecting on herself; apart from this, she felt that Miss Starbrow's
description of Mr. Chance would not be what Miss Churton wished to hear.
For it was plain that Constance had been favourably impressed, and had
taken Merton at his own valuation, which was a high one. While she kept
silence it troubled her to think that one who had been despised and
ridiculed by Mary should be highly esteemed by Constance, since she now
loved (or worshipped) them both in an equal degree.

At the gate it all at once occurred to her to ask whether she should
tell Mrs. Churton about meeting Mr. Chance in the wood or not.

"You may tell her if you like," said the other after a little
hesitation. "He is a friend of Miss Starbrow's; it was only natural that
we should talk with him." Then she added, "I shall say nothing about
it, simply because mother and I never talk about anything. You needn't
mention it unless you care to, Fan. I really don't believe that mother
would feel any interest in the subject."

She reddened a little after speaking, knowing that she had been slightly
disingenuous. Fan understood from her face more than from her words what
she really wished.

"Then I shall not say anything, unless Mrs. Churton asks me about our
walk, and if we met anyone," she returned.

But nothing was asked and nothing told.

At dinner next day Constance heard that Fan was going out with Mrs.
Churton to visit a neighbour. A bright look came into her expressive
face, followed by a swift blush, but she said nothing, and after dinner
went back to her room. As soon as the others had left the house she
began to dress for a walk, paying a great deal more attention to herself
at the glass than she was accustomed to do. Her luxuriant brown hair was
brushed out and rearranged, her artful fingers allowing three or four
small locks to escape and lie unconfined on her forehead and temples.
She studied her face very closely, thinking a great deal about that
peculiar shade of colour which she saw there. But her own face was so
familiar to her, how could she tell what another would think of it, and
whether to city eyes that brown tint would not make it look less
like the face of a Rosalind than of an Audrey? With her dress she was
altogether dissatisfied, and there was nothing to give a touch of beauty
to it but a poor flower--a half-open rose--which she pinned on her
bosom. Then she envied Fan her beautiful watch and chain, the half-score
of rings, bangles, and brooches which Miss Starbrow had given her; and
this reminded her of an ornament she possessed, an old-fashioned gold
brooch with an amethyst in it, and which in the pride of philosophy she
had looked on with a good deal of contempt. Now the rose was flung away,
and the despised jewel put in its place. Taking her book and sunshade
she finally left the house, and turned her steps towards the wood.
Scarcely had she left the gate behind before a tumult of doubts and
fears began to assail her. She was hurrying away alone to the wood, glad
to be alone, solely to meet Mr. Chance. Would he not at once divine the
reason of her strange readiness to obey his wishes? Could she in her
present agitated state, with her cheek full of hot blushes, and her
heart throbbing so that it almost choked her, hide her secret from him?
This thought frightened her and she slackened her pace, and argued that
it would be better not to go to the wood, not to run the risk of such a
self-betrayal and humiliation. But perhaps he would not come after all
to meet her, for no appointment had been made, and no promise of any
kind given--why should she be so anxious in her mind about it? It gave
her a pang to think that the meeting and conversation which had been
so important an event in her life were perhaps very little to him, that
they were perhaps fading out of his mind already, and would soon be,
like his botanical knowledge, altogether forgotten. Perhaps he was even
now on the road speeding away far from Eyethorne on his bicycle. Then
the fear that she might betray her secret was overmastered by this new
fear that she would never see him again, that he had gone out of her
life for ever; and she quickened her slow steps once more, and at last
gaining the wood, and coming to the spot where she had parted from him,
and not finding him there, her excitement left her, and she sat down
with a pang of bitter disappointment in her heart.

But before many minutes had gone by she heard approaching footsteps, and
looking up saw him coming towards her. The tell-tale blood rushed again
to her cheeks and her heart throbbed wildly, but she bent her eyes
resolutely on her book and pretended not to see his approach. Poor girl,
so innocent of wiles! she did not know, she could not guess, that he had
been for upwards of an hour on the spot waiting for her, his heart
also agitated with hopes and fears. He had watched her coming with glad
triumphant feelings, and then, prudent and artful even in his moment of
triumph, had concealed himself from her to come on to the scene after
allowing her a little time to taste her disappointment.

He was already standing before her and speaking, and then in a moment
the outward calm which she had been vainly striving to observe came
unexpectedly to her aid. She shook hands with him and explained why she
was alone, and then, surprised at her own new courage, she added:

"I am glad that we have met again, Mr. Chance; I came here hoping to
meet you; our conversation yesterday gave me so much pleasure, and I
wished so much to hear about your literary work. After to-day I do not
suppose that we shall ever meet again."

"I sincerely hope we shall!" he returned, sitting down near her. "It is
really painful to think that you should be immured in this uncongenial
place with your tastes and--advantages."

"Please do not pity my condition, Mr. Chance. I can endure it very well
for a time, I hope; it is not my intention to stay here always, nor very
much longer, and just now I am not altogether alone, as I have Fan to
teach and for a companion."

"She is a very charming girl," he returned; "and I must tell you that
she has improved marvellously since I last saw her. Miss Starbrow has, I
think, been singularly fortunate in having put her into your hands."

"Thank you," said Constance, with a quick glance at his face. Then she
added, "I suppose you know Miss Starbrow very well?"

"Yes," he returned with a slight smile, and she was curious to know
why he smiled in that meaning way, but feared to ask. "But she is your
friend, I suppose, and you know her as well as I do," he added after a
while.

"Oh no, she is a perfect stranger to me. We only saw her once for a few
minutes when she brought Fan down to us last May."

"How strange! But I should have thought that Miss Affleck would have
told you everything about her before now."

"No; I never question Fan about her London life, and when left to
herself she is a very reticent girl."

"Really!" said he, not ill-pleased at this information. "But, Miss
Churton, how very natural that you should wish to know something about
this lady!"

She smiled without replying, but no reply was needed. He had been
studying her face, and knew that she was curious to hear what he had
to say, and this interest in Miss Starbrow, he thought, was a very new
feeling, and rose entirely out of her interest in himself.

He told her a great deal about the lady, without altogether omitting
her little eccentricities, as he leniently called them, and her
little faults of temper; he paid a tribute to her generous, hospitable
character, only she was, he thought, just a little too hospitable,
judging from the curious specimens one met at her Wednesday evening
gatherings. But he was very good-natured, and touched lightly on the
disagreeable features in the picture, or else kindly toned them down
with a few skilful touches, producing the impression on his listener
that he did not dislike Miss Starbrow, but regarded her with a kind of
amused curiosity. And that, in fact, was precisely the impression he
had wished to make, and he was well pleased with himself when he saw how
well he had succeeded.

Afterwards they spoke of other things, and soon came to those literary
topics in which Miss Churton took so keen an interest. They talked long
and earnestly, and Merton Chance neglected no opportunity of saying
pretty things with a subtle flattery in them at which the other was far
from being displeased.

"You draw your mental nutriment from a distance," he said. "Being
without sympathy from those around you, you are like a person in a
diving-bell, shut in on all sides by a medium through which a current of
life-preserving oxygen comes, but dark and cold and infinitely repelling
to the spirit."

It was true, and very pleasant to meet with appreciation. And finally,
before he left her, he had promised to send, and she had promised to
accept gratefully, some magazines containing contributions from his pen,
also some books which he wished her to read. But he did not say anything
about writing, he did not wish to show himself too eager to continue the
acquaintance which chance had brought about: in his own mind, however,
it was already settled that there was to be a correspondence.



CHAPTER XXIV


After Merton's departure from Eyethorne things drifted back to their old
state at Wood End House, the slight change in Constance becoming less
and less perceptible, until the time came when Fan began to think, with
a secret feeling of relief, that the visitor had after all made only a
passing impression, which was already fading out of her teacher's mind.
But by-and-by there came from London a letter and a packet of books and
periodicals for Constance, and Fan remarked the glad excitement in her
friend's face when she carried her treasures away to her room, and her
subsequent silence on the subject. And after that Constance was
again much occupied with her own thoughts, which, to judge from her
countenance, were happy ones; and Fan quickly came to the conclusion
that the books and letter were from Merton. Mrs. Churton, who knew
nothing about this new acquaintance, imagined only that her daughter had
sucked out all the impiety contained in the books she already possessed,
and had sent for a fresh supply. For, she argued, if there had been
nothing wrong in the books Constance would have allowed her to read or
see them. She made herself very unhappy over it, and was more incensed
than ever against her sinful daughter, but she said nothing, and only
showed her dissatisfaction in her cold, distrustful manner.

Another bitterness in her cup at this period was her inability to
revive Fan's interest in sacred things, for she had begun to notice an
increasing indifference in the girl. All the religious teaching, over
which she had spent so much time and labour, seemed to have failed of
its effect. She had planted, apparently in the most promising soil, and
the vicar and the vicar's wife had watered, and God had not given the
increase. This was a new mystery which she could not understand, in
spite of much pondering over it, much praying for light, and many
conversations on the subject with her religious friends. So sweet and
good and pure-hearted and pliant a girl; but alas! alas! it was only
that ephemeral fictitious kind of goodness which springs from temper or
disposition, which has no value in the eyes of Heaven, cannot stand the
shocks of time and circumstance. It was not through any remissness of
her own; she had never ceased her efforts, yet now after many months she
was fain to confess that this young girl, who had promised such great
things, seemed further than at the beginning from that holiness which
is not of the earth, and which delights only in the contemplation of
heavenly things. She could see it now with what painful clearness! for
her eyes in such matters were preternaturally sharp, like those of a
sailor who has followed the sea all his life with regard to atmospheric
changes; no sooner would the lesson begin than all brightness would fade
from that too expressive countenance, and the girl would listen with
manifest effort, striving to keep her attention from wandering, striving
to understand and to respond; but there was no response from the heart,
and in spite of striving her thoughts, her soul, were elsewhere, and her
eyes wore a distant wistful look. And Mrs. Churton was hot-tempered; in
all the years of her self-discipline she had never been able to wring
from her heart that one drop of black blood; and sometimes when she
talked to Fan, and read and prayed with her, and noticed that impassive
look coming over her face to quench its brightness like a cloud, her old
enemy would get the best of her, and she would start up and hurriedly
leave the room without a word, lest it should betray her into passionate
expression.

"Yes, I have also noticed this in Miss Affleck," the vicar said to her
one day when she had been speaking to him on the subject. "She seemed
at one time so docile, so teachable, so easy to be won, and now it is
impossible not to see that there is something at work neutralising all
our efforts and making her impervious to instruction. But, my dear Mrs.
Churton, we _know_ the reason of this; Miss Affleck is too young, too
ignorant and impressible not to fall completely under the influence of
your daughter."

"But my daughter has promised me and has given me her word of honour
that nothing has been said or will be said or done to alienate her
pupil's mind from religious subjects. And we know, Mr. Long, that even
those who are without God may still be trusted to speak the truth--that
they have that natural morality written on their hearts of which St.
Paul speaks."

"Yes, that's all very well, and I don't say for a moment that your
daughter has deliberately set herself to undo your work and win her
pupil to her own pernicious views. But is it possible for her, even if
she wished it, to conceal them altogether from one who is not only
her pupil but her intimate friend and constant companion? Her whole
life--thoughts, acts, words, and even looks--must be leavened with the
evil leaven; how can Miss Affleck live with her in that intimate way
without catching some of that spirit from her? You know that so long
as they were not thus intimate this girl was everything that could
be desired, that from the time they became close friends she began to
change, and that religion is now becoming as distasteful to her as it is
to her teacher."

Poor woman! she had gone for comfort and counsel to her pastor, and this
was all she got. He was a good hater, and regarded Miss Churton with a
feeling that to his way of thinking was a holy one. "Do not I hate them,
O Lord, that hate Thee? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them
mine enemies." As for separating two inseparable things, the sinner and
the sin (matter and an affection of matter), and loving one and hating
the other, that was an intellectual feat altogether beyond his limited
powers, although he considered it one which Mr. Northcott might be able
to accomplish. He had made it impossible for his enemy to do any injury
in the parish; she had been dropped by Eyethorne "society," and she did
not go among the poor; but this was not enough to satisfy him, and the
sermon he had preached against her, which drove her from the church,
had been deliberately prepared with the object of driving her from the
parish. He had failed in his object, and now he was angry because he
could not separate Fan from her, and, unjust and even cruel in his
anger, he turned on the unhappy mother.

To his words Mrs. Churton could only reply, "What can I do--what can
I do?" And as he refused to answer her, having said his last word, she
rose and went home more unhappy than ever, more angry with Fan, and
embittered against her daughter; for that the vicar had truly shown her
the reason of her failure she could not doubt.

They were both entirely wrong, although the mistake was a very natural
one, and, in the circumstances, almost unavoidable. Constance had
scrupulously observed the compact. Nothing could be further from her
mind than any desire to win others to her way of thinking. The religious
instinct was strong in her, and could flourish without the support of
creed or doctrine; at the same time she recognised the fact that in
others--in a very large majority of persons, perhaps--it is a frail
creeping plant that trails along the ground to perish trodden in the
dust without extraneous support.

Fan, on her side, had drifted into her present way of thinking, or not
thinking, independently of her teacher, and entirely uninfluenced by
her. At the beginning she responded readily to Mrs. Churton's motherly
teaching; but only because the teaching was motherly, and intimately
associated with those purely human feelings which were everything to
her. Afterwards when others, who were strangers and not dear to
her, began to take part in her instruction, then gradually these two
things--human and divine--separated themselves in her mind, and she
clung to the one and lost her interest in the other. It was pleasant to
go to church, to take part in singing and praying with the others,
and to sit with half-closed eyes among well-dressed people during
sermon-time, and think of other things, chiefly of Mary and Constance.
But when religion came to be more than that, it began to oppress her
like a vain show, and it was a relief to escape from all thoughts on the
subject. So low and so earthly, in one sense, was Fan's mind. While she
was in this frame that visit to the carpenter's cottage occurred, and
the carpenter's words had taken a strong hold on her and could not be
forgotten; for they fitted her case so exactly, and seemed so clearly to
express all that she had had in her mind, and all that it was necessary
for her to have, that it had the effect of making her spirit deaf to all
other and higher teachings. If she could have explained it all to Mrs.
Churton it would have been better, at all events for Constance, but she
was incapable of such a thing, even if she had possessed the courage,
and so she kept silence, although she could see that her want of
interest was distressing to her kind friend.

Another great bitterness in Mrs. Churton's cup resulted from the conduct
of her irreclaimable husband. Even Fan, who had never regarded any
living soul with contempt, had soon enough learned to experience such
a feeling towards this man. But it was a kindly contempt, for after
repulsing him two or three times when he had attempted to conduct
himself in too fatherly a manner, he had ceased to trouble her in any
way. He was very unobtrusive in the house, except at intervals, when he
would rebel against his wife and say shocking things and screech at her.
But when cold weather came, then poor Mr. Churton took an extra amount
of alcohol for warmth, and the spirit and cold combined brought on
a variety of ailments which sometimes confined him for days to his
bedroom. At such times he would be deeply penitent, and beg his wife to
sit with him and read the Bible, which she was always ready to do. Never
again would he seek oblivion from pain in the cup that cheers, and,
alas, inebriates, or do anything to make his beloved wife grieve; thus
would he protest, kissing her hand and shedding weak tears. But as soon
as she had nursed him back into better health he would seize the
first opportunity when she was out of the way to slip off "for a
constitutional," which would invariably end at the inn in the High
Street; and in the evening he would return quarrelsome and abusive, or
else groaning and ready to take to bed again.

Mr. Northcott, who might have melted into thin air for all we have seen
or heard of him lately, was also unhappy in his mind at this period. He
loved, and yet when it had almost seemed to him that he had not loved
in vain, partly from prudential motives and partly because his religion
stood in the way of his desire, he had refrained from speaking. Now it
seemed to him that he had let his chance go by, and that Miss Churton,
although still as friendly as any person not actually enamoured of
her could have wished, was not so sympathetic, not so near to him, as
formerly. Nevertheless, he still sought her out at every opportunity,
and engaged her in long conversations which led to nothing; for they
barely touched on the borders of those subjects which both felt most
deeply about, and that other subject which he alone felt they never
approached. His resolution had in some measure recovered its "native
hue," but too late, alas! and at length one day his vicar took him to
task about this inconvenient friendship.

"Mr. Northcott," he said very unexpectedly at the end of a conversation
they had been having, "may I ask you whether you still hope to be able
to win back Miss Churton to a more desirable frame of mind?"

The curate flushed a little, and glancing up encountered the suspicious
eyes of his superior fixed on him.

"I regret that I am compelled to answer with a negative," he returned.

"Then," said the other, "you will not take it amiss if I warn you that
your partiality for Miss Churton's society has been made the subject of
remark among the ladies in the neighbourhood. That your motives are
of the highest I do not question; at the same time, if they are
misunderstood and if your efforts are futile, it would be prudent, I
fancy, not to let it appear that you prefer this lady's company to that
of others."

This about motives did not sound quite sincere; but the vicar was suave
in manner, stroking his curate very kindly with soft velvet hand, only
waiting for some slight movement before unsheathing the sharp hidden
claws. One word of protest and of indignant remonstrance would have been
enough; the reply was on his tongue, "Then, Mr. Northcott, I regret that
we must part company."

But he made no movement such as the other had expected, perhaps even
desired, for we are all cruel, even the best of us--so Bain says, and
therefore it must be true. On the contrary, he took it with strange
meekness--for which he did not fail afterwards to despise himself with
his whole heart--regretting that anything had been said, and thanking
the vicar for telling him. Nevertheless he was very indignant at this
gossip of "a set of malignant old scandal-mongers," as he called the
Eyethorne ladies in his wrath, and bitterly resented the interference of
the vicar in his affairs. Only the hopeless passion that preyed on him,
which made the prospect of a total separation from Miss Churton seem
intolerable, kept him from severing his connection with Eyethorne. But
after that warning he was more circumspect, and gave the ladies, old and
young, less reason for ill-natured remarks.

All these troubles and griefs, real and imaginary, of which they were
indirectly the cause, affected the two young friends not at all. They
did not see these things, or saw them only dimly at a distance: they
were perfectly happy in each other, and almost invariably together both
in and out of doors. The Eyethorne woods still attracted them almost
daily; for although the trees were barren of leaves and desolate,
the robin still made blithe music there, and the wren and thrush were
sometimes heard, and even the mournful cawing of the rooks, and the
weird melodies of the wind in the naked trees inspired their hearts with
a mysterious gladness. And on days when the sun shone--the February days
when winter "wears on its face a dream of spring"--they never tired
of talking about how they were going to spend their time out of doors
during the coming vernal and summer months. For that Fan would remain
another year at Eyethorne was now looked upon as practically settled,
since three-quarters of the first year had gone by and Miss Starbrow had
said no word in her letters about taking her away. They were going to
watch every opening leaf and every tender plant as it sprouted from the
soil, and Fan was to learn the names, vulgar and scientific, and the
special beauty and fragrance, and all the secrets of "every herb that
sips the dew." And the birds were also to be watched and listened to,
and the peculiar melody of each kind noted on its arrival from beyond
the sea.

One circumstance only interfered with Fan's happiness during the winter
months. The letters she received from Mary, which came to her from
various continental addresses, were few and short, growing fewer and
shorter as time went on, and contained no allusion to many things in the
long fortnightly epistles which, the girl imagined, required an answer.
But one day, about the middle of March, when there had been no word for
about six weeks, and Fan had begun to feel a vague anxiety, a letter
came for her. It came while she was with Constance during study hours,
and taking it she ran up to her own room to enjoy it in solitude.

Constance had also received a letter from London by the same post, and
was well pleased to be left to read it by herself; and after reading and
re-reading it, she continued sitting before the fire, the letter
still in her hand and occupied with very pleasant thoughts. At length,
glancing at the clock, she was surprised to find that half an hour had
gone by since Fan left the room, and wondering at her delay, she went to
look for her. Fan was sitting beside her bed, her cheek, wet with recent
tears, resting on her arms on the coverlid; but she did not move when
the other entered the room.

"Fan, dearest Fan, what have you heard?" exclaimed Constance in alarm.

For only reply the girl put a letter she was holding in her hand towards
the other, and Constance, taking it, read as follows:


_Brighton._

DEAR FAN,

Since I wrote last I have had several letters from you, one or two since
I returned to England, but there was nothing in them calling for an
immediate reply.

I do not wish you to answer this, or to write to me again at any time.

After so much travelling about I feel disinclined to settle down in
London, or even in England at present, and have made up my mind to
re-let the house in Dawson Place--that is, if the present tenants should
have any wish to give it up.

My brother and I separated some time ago, and he has gone, or is going,
to India, and will be away two or three years, as, I believe, he also
intends visiting Australia, China, and America. I am therefore quite
alone now, and shall probably go over to France for a few months,
perhaps to remain permanently abroad.

But so far as you are concerned, it does not matter in the least whether
I go or stay, since I cannot take you back to live with me, or have
anything more to do with you.

The clothes you have will, I dare say, last you some time longer, and
I have instructed my agent in London to send you a small sum of money
(£25) to start you with. You must in future take care of yourself, and I
suppose that with all the knowledge you have acquired from Miss Churton,
you will be able to get a situation of some kind.

You have until the middle of next May--I forget the exact date--to
prepare for your new life; and you can mention to Mrs. Churton that my
agent will send her the money for the last quarter before your time at
Eyethorne expires.

I suppose you do not require to be told the reason of the determination
I have come to. You cannot have forgotten the fair warning I gave you
when we parted, and you must know, Fan, if you know me at all, that when
I say a thing I distinctly mean it.

You must take this as my very last word to you.

MARY STARBROW.


"Oh, what a cruel thing to do! What a heartless letter! What a barbarous
woman!" cried Constance, tears of keenest distress starting to her eyes,
as she hastened to Fan's side, holding out her hands.

But Fan would not be caressed; she started as if stung to her feet, her
kindling eyes and flushed cheeks showing that her grief and despondence
had all at once been swallowed up in some other feeling.

"Give me the letter back," she demanded, holding out her hand for it,
and then, when the other hesitated, astonished at her changed manner,
snatched it from her hand, and began carefully smoothing and refolding
it, for Constance had crumpled it up in her indignation.

"Fan, what has come over you? Are you going to quarrel with me because
that unfeeling, purse-proud, half-mad woman has treated you so badly?
Ah, poor Fan, to have been at the mercy of such a creature! I would tear
her bank-notes into shreds and send them back to her agent--"

"Leave me!" screamed Fan at her, stamping on the floor in her rage.

Constance stood staring at her, mute and motionless with astonishment,
so utterly unexpected was this tempest of anger, and so strange in one
who had seemed incapable of any such violent feeling.

"Very well, Fan, I shall leave you if you wish it," she said at length
with some dignity, but in a pained voice. "I did not understand this
outburst at first. I had almost lost sight of the fact that I am in a
sense to blame for your misfortune. I regret it very bitterly, but that
is no comfort to you, and it is only natural that you should begin to
hate me now."

"I do not hate you, Constance," said Fan, recovering her usual tone, but
still speaking with a tremor in her voice. "Why do you say that?--it is
a cruel thing to say. Do you not know that it is false? I shall never
blame you for what has happened. You are not to blame. I have lost Mary,
but she is not what you say. You do not know her--what right have you to
call her bad names? I would go away this moment and never see you again
rather than hear you talk in that way of her, much as I love you."

This speech explained the mystery, but it astonished her as much as the
previous passionate outbreak. That the girl could be so just to her,
so free from the least trace of bitterness against her for having
indirectly caused that great unhappiness, and at the same time so keenly
resent her sympathy, which she could not easily express without
speaking indignantly of Miss Starbrow--this seemed so strange, so almost
incongruous and contradictory, that if the case had not been so sad she
would have burst into a laugh. As it was she only burst into tears, and
threw her arms round the girl's neck.

"Darling Fan," she said, "I understand you now--at last; and shall say
nothing to wound your feelings again. But I hope--with all my heart I
hope that I shall one day meet this--meet Miss Starbrow, to have the
satisfaction of telling her--"

"Telling her what?" exclaimed Fan, the bright resentful red returning to
her pale cheeks.

"Of telling her what she has lost. That she never really knew you, and
what an affection you had for her."

There was no comfort in this to Fan. Her loss--the thought that she
would never see Mary again--surged back to her heart, and turning away,
she went back to her seat and covered her face again from the other's
sight.



CHAPTER XXV


After making her peace with Fan, there remained for Constance the heavy
task of informing her mother. She found her engaged with her needle in
the dining-room.

"Mother," she began, "I have got something very unpleasant to tell you.
Miss Starbrow has written to Fan, casting her off. She tells her to
remain here until her year is up, and then to take care of herself, as
she, Miss Starbrow, will have nothing more to do with her. It is a cold,
heartless letter; and what poor Fan is to do I don't know."

Mrs. Churton made no reply for some time, but the news disturbed her
greatly. Much as she felt for Fan, she could not help thinking also of
her own sad case; for after the last quarter had come, with no word from
Miss Starbrow, she had taken it for granted that Fan was to stay another
year with her. And the money had been a great boon, enabling her to
order her house better, and even to pay off a few old accounts,
and interest on the mortgage which weighed so heavily on her little
property.

Constance, guessing what was passing in her mind, pitied her, but waited
without saying more for her to speak; and at length when she did speak
it was to put the question which Constance had been expecting with some
apprehension.

"What is Miss Starbrow's reason for casting Fan off?" she said.

The other still considered a little before replying.

"Mother," she spoke at length, "will you read Miss Starbrow's letter
for yourself? It is not very easy to see from it what she has to quarrel
with Fan about. Her reason is perhaps only an excuse, it seems so
fantastical. You must judge for yourself."

"I suppose you can tell me whether her quarrel with Fan--you say that
there is a quarrel--is because the girl has been taught things she
disapproves."

"No, nothing of the kind. She writes briefly, and, as I said,
heartlessly. Not one word of affection for Fan or of regret at parting
with her, and no allusion to the subject of her studies with you or me.
Not a word of thinks to us--"

"That I never expected," said Mrs. Churton. "I could not look for such
a thing from a person of Miss Starbrow's description. A kind word or
message from her would have surprised me very much."

While she was speaking Fan had entered the room unnoticed. She was pale
and looked sad, but calmer now, and the traces of tears had been washed
away. Her face flushed when she heard Mrs. Churton's words, and she
advanced and stood so that they could not help seeing her.

"Fan, I am deeply grieved to hear this," said Mrs. Churton. "I cannot
tell you, my poor child, how much I feel this trouble that has come on
you so early in life. But before I can speak fully about it I must know
something more. I am in the dark yet--Constance has not told me why
Miss Starbrow has seen fit to act in such a way. Will you let me see her
letter?" and with trembling fingers she began to wipe her glasses, which
had grown dim.

"I am very sorry, Mrs. Churton, but I cannot show you the letter."

They both looked at her, Constance becoming more and more convinced that
there was a strength in Fan's character which she had never suspected;
while in Mrs. Churton anxiety and sorrow for a moment gave place to a
different feeling.

"You surprise me very much, Fan," she returned. "I understand that you
have already shown the letter to Constance."

"Yes, but I am sorry now. I did it without thinking, and I cannot show
it again."

"Fan, what is the meaning of this? It is only right and natural that
you should confide in me about such a serious matter; and I cannot
understand your motives in refusing to let me see a letter the contents
of which are known to my daughter."

"Mother," said Constance, "I think I can guess her motives, which make
it painful for her to show the letter, and will explain what I think
they are. Fan, dear, will you leave us for a while, and let me tell
mother why Miss Starbrow will not take you back?"

"You can say what you like, Constance, because I can't prevent you,"
said Fan, still speaking with that decision in her tone which seemed
so strange in her. "But I said I was sorry that I let you read Mary's
letter, and if you say anything about it, it will be against my wish."

These words, although spoken in rebuke, were a relief to Constance, for
however "fantastical" she might consider Miss Starbrow's motives to be,
she very much doubted that her mother would take the same view; and she
knew that her mother, though entitled to know the whole matter, would
never ask her to reveal a secret of Fan's.

But Mrs. Churton had not finished yet. "Fan, dear, come to me," she
said, and putting her arm about the girl's waist, drew her to her side.
"I think I have cause to be offended with your treatment of me, but
I shall not be offended, because you are probably only doing what you
think is right. But, dear child, you must allow me to judge for you in
some things, and I am convinced that you are making a great mistake. I
have been a great deal to you during all these months that you have been
with us, and since you received this letter I have become more to you.
You must not imagine that in a little time, in another two months, we
must separate; you are too young, too weak yet to go out into the world,
to face its temptations and struggle for your own livelihood. I have
been a mother to you; look on me as a mother still, a natural protector,
whose home is your home also. It might very well be that Miss Starbrow's
motives for casting you off would be of no assistance to me in the
future--I can hardly think that they could be; for I do not believe that
she has any valid reason for treating you as she has done. Nor is it
from mere curiosity that I ask you to show me her letter; but it is best
that you should do so for various reasons, and chiefly because it will
prove that you love me, and trust me, and are willing to be guided by
me."

The tears rose to Fan's eyes, her strange self-collected mood seemed
to be gone. "Dear Mrs. Churton," she said, with trembling voice,
"please--please don't think me ungrateful! ... You have made me so happy
... oh, what can I do to show how much I love you ... that I do trust
you?"

The girl was conquered, so they thought, mother and daughter; and
Constance, with a little internal sigh and a twinge of shame at her
cowardice, waited to see the letter read and to save Fan the pain of
answering the searching questions which her mother would be sure to ask.

"Dear Fan, let me see the letter," said Mrs. Churton.

"Oh, dear Mrs. Churton, anything but that! I can't let you see it--I am
so sorry! When Constance read it and began to speak angrily of Mary, I
said to myself that no one should ever see it again."

"Have you then destroyed it?"

"Oh, no," she replied, involuntarily touching her bosom with her hand,
"but I cannot show it."

"Very well, Fan, let us say no more about it," returned the other
coldly, and withdrawing her arm from the girl's waist. And after a few
moments of painful silence she rose and left the room.

Fan looking up met her friend's eyes fixed on her face. "Do you think
Mrs. Churton is very angry with me, Constance?" she asked sadly.

"I think that she is offended. And surprised too, I believe." Then she
came nearer and took the girl's hand. "You have surprised me a great
deal, I know. I am not yet quite sure that I understand your motives for
refusing to show the letter. Perhaps your only reason was that you would
not allow Miss Starbrow to be blamed at all--I am not questioning you.
In any case you make me feel ashamed of myself. You have made me feel
such a coward, and--it was a poor spiteful thing to say that I would
tear up the notes and send them back to the giver."

Fan made no reply, but stood with eyes cast down as if thinking of
something else; and before long she made some excuse to go to her room,
where she spent the rest of the day shut up by herself.

From that day a cloud rested on the ladies of Wood End House. Just when
Nature called them to rejoice, when the sun laughed at the storm, and
the blackbird fluted so loud in the orchard, and earth knew once more
the glory of flowers, this great trouble had come on Fan, dimming the
sweet visible world with a mist of tears. The poverty and toil which
she must now face meant so much to her; day and night, at all times,
the thought of it forced itself on her--the perpetual toiling for a
bare subsistence, for bread to satisfy the cravings of hunger; the mean
narrow, sordid, weary life, day after day, with no hope, no dream of
joy to come; and worse than all, the evil things which she had seen and
heard and were associated in her mind with the thought of poverty, all
the things which made her old life seem like a hideous nightmare to her!
The sunshine and flowers and the fluting of the blackbird, that would
soon flute no more for her, could not drive this care from her heart;
she was preoccupied, and silent, and sad, and Constance was sad from
pure sympathy. Mrs. Churton, although still kind and even motherly
in her manner, could not help showing that Fan's offence had not been
forgotten; yet she loved the girl so well that she could not but feel
the deepest pity for her and anxiety about her future. And she even
still hoped to win her confidence.

"Fan," she said one evening, when bidding her good-night, "you must not
think that what passed the other day between us makes any difference
with regard to my plans about your future. What I said to you then still
holds good, and my home while I have one is your home."

Fan knew very well that she might not accept this offer; she knew that
the Churtons were poor and burdened with debt; and that even if it had
not been so, after taking up an independent position in opposition to
Mrs. Churton, she had no right to remain a day beyond the time for which
payment had been made. All this in a faltering way she tried to explain
to her kind friend, and Mrs. Churton confessed to herself that the girl
took the right view. She made no further attempt to win her confidence
or to make her change her mind; towards both Fan and her daughter she
thereafter observed a somewhat cold and distant manner, grieving in her
own heart, yearning over them in secret, but striving to hide it all
from their eyes.

A fortnight after the receipt of Miss Starbrow's letter, one afternoon
the girls came in from their walk, and Constance, seeing her mother at
work in the dining-room, remained standing at the door until Fan went
upstairs. Then she went inside and sat down near her mother. Mrs.
Churton glanced at her with a swift startled glance, then bent her eyes
on her work again. But her heart fluttered in her breast, for she knew
that she was about to hear some new and perhaps painful thing.

"Mother," Constance began presently, "Fan has made up her mind to go
back to London when her time is up with us. She is going to look for a
situation."

"A situation--what do you mean, Constance?"

"Her own idea is that she would like best to be a shop-girl in some
large London shop."

"Then all I can say is that it is very shocking. Does the poor child
know what it means to be a shop-girl in a great city, where she has
no home or friends, where she will associate with ignorant and
vulgar people, and worse perhaps, and be exposed to the most terrible
temptations? But what can I say, Constance, that will have the slightest
weight with either Fan or you?"

"I should like it very much better if Fan could do something
different--if she could find some more ladylike occupation. But nothing
will move her. If she cannot get into a shop, she says that she must
be a servant, because she must earn her own living, and she will not
believe herself capable of anything higher. To be a shop-girl, or
a nursery-governess, or failing that a nursemaid, is as high as her
ambition goes; and though I am sorry that it must be so, I can't help
admiring her independence and resolution."

"I am glad that there is anything in it all to be admired; it only makes
me sad, and just now I can say no more about it. I only hope that before
the time comes she will think better of it."

"I have something else to say to you, mother," said Constance, after a
rather long interval of silence. "I have made up my mind to accompany
Fan to London."

"What do you mean, Constance?" the other asked, with a tremor in her
voice.

"To live in London, I mean. It has long been my wish, and I am surely
as well able to earn my living now as I ever shall be. When Fan goes I
shall not be needed at home any longer. And we are not happy together,
mother."

"I know that, Constance; but you must put this idea of going to London
out of your head. I cannot consent to it--I shall never consent to it."

"Why not, mother?"

"Do not ask me. I cannot say--I scarcely know myself. I dare not think
of such a thing; it is too dreadful. You must not, you cannot go. Do not
speak of it again."

The other's task was all the harder because she knew the reason of her
mother's reluctance, and understood her feeling so well--the terrible
grief which only a mother can feel at the thought of an eternal
separation from her child. She rose to her feet, but instead of going
from the room remained standing, hesitating, twisting and untwisting her
fingers together, and at length she moved to a chair close to her mother
and sat down again.

"I must tell you something else, mother," she said. "I do not quite
belong to myself now, but to another; and if the man I have promised to
marry were to come for me to-morrow, or to send for me to go to him, I
could no longer remain with you. As it happens, we are not going to be
married soon--not for a year at least, perhaps not for two. Before that
time comes I wish to know what it is to live by my own work.... He is
a worker, working with his mind in London: I think it would be a good
preparation for my future, that it would make me a better companion for
him, if I were also to work now and be independent.... If you can only
give me a little money--enough to pay my expenses for a short time--a
few weeks in London, until I begin to make enough to keep myself!"

"And who is this person you speak of, Constance, of whose existence I
now hear for the first time?"

"I have been for some months in correspondence with him, but our
engagement is only recent, and that is why you have not heard of it
before. He is a clerk in the Foreign Office, and from that you will know
that he is a gentleman. He also employs his leisure time in literary
work. I can show you his photograph if you would like to see it,
mother."

"And have you, Constance, engaged yourself to a person you have not even
seen?"

"No, mother, I have of course seen him."

"Where?"

"Here, in Eyethorne. Last August, when I was walking in the woods with
Fan, we met him, and he recognised Fan, whom he had met in London at
Miss Starbrow's house, and spoke to her. We had a long conversation
on that day, and I met him again and talked with him the next day, and
after that we kept up the acquaintance by letter."

"And you and Fan together met this man and never mentioned it to me! Let
me ask you one question more, Constance. Is this person you are engaged
to a Christian or an infidel?"

"Mother, it is not fair to put the question in that way. You call me an
infidel, but I am not an infidel--I do not call myself one."

"Do not let us go into hair-splitting distinctions, Constance. I ask you
again this simple question--Is he a Christian?"

"Not in the way that you understand it. He is not a Christian."

The other turned her face away, a little involuntary moan of pain
escaping her lips; and for the space of two or three minutes there was
silence between them, the daughter repenting that she had vainly given
her confidence, and the mother revolving all she had heard in her mind,
her grief changing gradually into the old wrath and bitterness. And at
length she spoke.

"I don't know why you have condescended to tell me of this engagement.
Was it only to show me how utterly you put aside and despise a mother's
authority--a mother's right to be consulted before taking so important
a step? But that is the principle you have acted on all along--to ignore
and treat with silent contempt your mother's words and wishes. And you
have succeeded in making Fan as bad as yourself. I can see it all better
now. Your example, your teaching, has drawn her away from me, and I am
as little to her now as to you. She would never have entered into these
secret doings and plottings if you had not corrupted her. You have
made her what she is; take her and go where you like together, and ruin
yourself in any way that pleases you best, for I have no longer any
influence over either of you. Only do not ask me to sanction what you
do, or to give you any assistance."

Constance rose and moved away, but before reaching the door she turned
and spoke. "Mother, I cannot pay any attention to such wild, unfounded
accusations. If I must leave home without a shilling in my purse after
teaching Fan for a year, I can only say that you are treating me with
the greatest injustice, and that a stranger would have treated me
better." Then she left the room, and for several days after no word
passed between mother and daughter.

Nevertheless Mrs. Churton was keenly alive and deeply interested in all
that was passing around her. She noted that the hours of study were very
much shortened now, and that the girls were continually together in the
house, and from their bedroom sweepings and stray threads clinging to
their dresses, and the snipping sound of scissors, she judged that they
were busy with their preparations. Fan had gone back to her ancient but
happily not lost art of dressmaking, and was making Constance a dress
from a piece of stuff which the latter had kept by her for some time.
Mrs. Churton had continued hoping against hope, but the discovery that
this garment was being made convinced her at last that her daughter's
resolution was not to be shaken, and that the dreaded separation was
very near.

At length one morning, just after receiving a letter from London, and
when only one week of Fan's time at Wood End House remained, she spoke
to her daughter, calling her into her own room.

"Constance," she said, speaking in a constrained tone and with studied
words, "I fully deserved your reproach the other day. I should not have
let you go from home without a shilling in your purse. I spoke hastily,
in anger, that day, and I hope you will forgive me. Miss Starbrow's
agent has just sent the eighteen pounds for the last quarter; I cannot
do less than hand it over to you, and only wish that I had it in my
power to give you more."

"Thank you, mother; but I would much rather that you kept part of it. I
do not require as much as that."

"You will find it little enough--in London among strangers. We need not
speak any more about it, and you owe me no thanks. It is only right that
you should have one quarter's money of the four I have received." After
an interval of silence, and when her daughter was about to leave the
room, she continued, "Before you go, Constance, let me ask a favour of
you. If you are going away soon this will be our last conversation."

"Our last! What favour, mother?"

"When you go, do so without coming to say goodbye to me. I do not feel
very strong, and--would prefer it if you went away quietly without any
leave-takings."

"If that is your wish, mother," she returned, and then remained
standing, her face full of distress. Then she moved a little nearer and
said, "Mother, if there is to be no good-bye, will you let me kiss you?"

Mrs. Churton's lips moved but made no sound. Constance after a moment's
hesitation came nearer still, and bending forward kissed her cheek, not
in a perfunctory way, but with a lingering, loving kiss; and after the
kiss she still lingered close, so that the breath from her lips came
warm and fragrant on the other's cold pale cheek. But her mother spoke
no word, and remained cold and motionless as a statue, until with a
slight sigh and lingering step the other left the room. Scarcely had she
gone before the unhappy mother dropped on to a chair, and covering her
face with her hands began to shed tears. Why, why, she asked herself
again and again, had she not returned that loving kiss, and clasped
her lost daughter once more to her heart? Too late! too late! She had
restrained her heart and made herself cold as stone, and now that last
caress, that sweet consolation was lost for ever! Ah, if her cold cheek
might keep for all the remaining days of her life the sensation of those
warm caressing lips, of that warm sweet breath! But her bitter tears
of regret were in vain; that dread eternal parting was now practically
over, and out of the infinite depths of her love no last tender word had
risen to her lips!



CHAPTER XXVI


In London once more! It was Fan's birth-place, the home she had known
continuously up till one short year ago; yet now on her return how
strange, how foreign to her soul, how even repelling it seemed! The
change had come so unexpectedly and in such unhappy circumstances, and
the contrast was so great to that peaceful country life and all its
surroundings, which had corresponded so perfectly with her nature. To
Constance, who knew little of London except from reading, the contrast
seemed equally great, but it affected her in a different and much
pleasanter way. To Fan town and town-life could be repelling because,
owing to her past experiences, and to something in her mental character,
she was able vividly to realise her present position. Even when the
brilliant May sun shone on her, and the streets and parks were thronged
with fashionable pleasure-seekers, and London looked not unbeautiful,
she realised it. For all that made town-life pleasant and desirable was
now beyond her reach. It was sweet when Mary loved her and gave her a
home; but in all this vast world of London there was no second Mary
who would find her and take her to her heart. Now she might sink into
a state of utter destitution, and she would be powerless to win help or
sympathy, or even a hearing, from any one of the countless thousands of
fellow-creatures that would pass her in the streets, all engrossed with
their own affairs, so accustomed to the sight of want and suffering that
it affected them not at all. To find some work which she might be able
to do, and for which the payment would be sufficient to provide her
with food, clothing, and shelter, was the most she could hope. She could
dream of no wonderful second deliverance in the long years of humble
patient drudgery that awaited her--no impossible good fortune passing
over the heads of thousands as deserving as herself to light on hers and
give a new joy and glory to her life.

To Constance, with her more vigorous intellect and ardent imagination,
no such dreary prospect could present itself. The thunderous noise
and shifting panorama of the streets, the interminable desert of brick
houses, and even the smoke-laden atmosphere only served to exhilarate
her mind. These things continually reminded her that she was now where
she had long wished to be, in the great intellectual laboratory, where
thousands of men and women once as unknown and poor as herself had made
a reputation. Not without great labour and pains certainly; but what
others had done she could do; and with health and energy, and a bundle
of carefully-prepared manuscripts in her box to begin with, she could
feel no serious anxiety about the future.

During their second day in town they managed after much searching to
find cheap furnished apartments--a bed and small sitting-room--on the
second floor of a house in a monotonous street of yellow brick houses in
the monotonous yellow brick wilderness of West Kensington. Their search
for rooms would not have occupied them very long if Constance had been
as easily satisfied as her companion; but although in most of the places
they visited she found the bedrooms "good enough," wretched as they were
compared with her own fragrant and spotless bower at Wood End House, she
was not so readily pleased with the sitting-room. That, at all events,
must not wear so mean and dingy a look as one usually has to put up with
when the rent is only ten shillings a week; and beyond that sum they
were determined not to go. The reason of this fastidiousness about
a sitting-room presently appeared. Fan was told the secret of the
engagement with Merton Chance; also that Merton was now for the first
time about to be informed of the step Constance had taken without first
consulting him, and asked to visit her at her lodgings. Constance felt
just a little hurt at the way her news was received, for Fan said little
and seemed unsympathetic, almost as if her friend's happiness had been a
matter of indifference to her.

Next day, after moving into their new quarters, Constance wrote her
letter, addressing it to the Foreign Office, posting it herself in the
nearest pillar-box, and then settled herself down to wait the result. It
was weary waiting, she found, when the next morning's post brought her
no answer, and when the whole day passed and no Merton came, and no
message. She was restless and anxious, and in a feverish state of
anxiety, fearing she knew not what; but outwardly she bore herself
calmly; and remembering with some resentment still how little her
engagement had seemed to rejoice her friend, she proudly held her peace.
But she would not leave the house, for the lover might come at any
moment, and it would not do to be out of the way when he arrived. She
remained indoors, pretending to be much occupied with her writing, while
Fan went out for long walks alone. The next day passed in like manner,
the two friends less in harmony and less together than ever; and when
still another morning came and brought no letter, Fan began to feel
extremely unhappy in her mind, for now the long-continued strain was
beginning to tell on her friend, robbing her cheeks of their rich
colour, and filling her hazel eyes with a great unexpressed trouble.
But on that day about three o'clock, while Constance sat at her window,
which commanded a view of the street, she saw a hansom-cab arrive at the
door, and the welcome form of her lover spring rapidly out and run up
the steps. He had come to her at last! But why had he left her so
long to suffer? She heard his steps bounding up the stairs, and stood
trembling with excitement, her hand pressed to her wildly-beating heart.
One glance at his face was enough to show her that her fears had been
idle, that her lover's heart had not changed towards her; the next
moment she was in his arms, feeling for the first time his kisses on her
lips. After the excitement of meeting was over, explanations followed,
and Merton informed her that he had only just received her letter,
and greatly blamed himself for not having sent her his new address
immediately after having left the Foreign Office.

"Left the Foreign Office! Do you mean for good?" asked Constance in a
kind of dismay.

"I hope for good," he replied, smiling at her serious face. "The
uncongenial work I had to do there has chafed me for a long time. It
interfered with the real and serious business of my life, and I threw
it up with a light heart. I must be absolutely free and master of my own
time before I can do, and do well, the work for which I am fitted."

"But, dear Merton, you told me that your work was so light there, and
that the salary you had relieved you from all anxiety, and left you free
to follow the bent of your own mind in literary work."

"Did I? That was one of my foolish speeches then. However light any work
may be, if it occupies you during the best hours of the day, it must to
some extent take the freshness out of you. And to look at the matter in
a practical way, I consider that I am a great gainer, since by resigning
a salary of £250 a year I put myself in a position to make five hundred.
I hope before very long to make a thousand."

His news had given a considerable shock to Constance, but he seemed so
confident of success, laughing gaily at her doubts, that in a little
while he succeeded in raising her spirits, and she began to believe
that this exceedingly clever young man had really done a wise thing in
throwing up an appointment which would have secured him against actual
want for the whole term of his life.

After a while she ventured to speak of her own plans and hopes. He
listened with a slight smile.

"I have not the slightest doubt that you could make your living in that
way," he said; "for how many do it who are not nearly so gifted as you
are! But, Connie, if I understand you rightly, you wish to begin making
money at once, and that is scarcely possible, as you have not been
doggedly working away for years to make yourself known and useful to
editors and publishers."

He then went very fully into this question, and concluded with a comical
description of the magazine editor as a very unhappy spider, against
whose huge geometric web there beats a continuous rain of dipterous
insects of every known variety, besides innumerable nondescripts. The
poor spider, unable to eat and digest more than about half a dozen to a
dozen flies every month, was forced to spend his whole time cutting and
dropping his useless captures from the web. As a rule Merton did not
talk in this strain: the editors had cut away too many of his own
nondescript dipterous contributions to their webs for him to love them;
but for some mysterious reason it suited him just now to take the side
of the enemy in the old quarrel of author _versus_ editor.

"Do you think then that I have made a mistake in coming to London?" she
asked despondingly.

He smiled and drew her closer to him. "Connie, dear, I am exceedingly
glad you did come, for there is no going back, you say; and now that you
are here there is only one thing to do to smooth the path for us, and
that is--to consent to marry me at once."

This did not accord with her wishes at all. To consent would be to
confess herself beaten, and that dream of coming to London and keeping
herself, for a time at all events, by means of her own work, had been
so long and so fondly cherished, and she wished so much to be allowed to
make the trial. But he pleaded so eloquently that in the end he overcame
her reluctance.

"I will promise to do what you wish," she said, "if after you have
thought it over for a few days you should still continue in the same
mind. But, Merton, I hope you will not think me too careful and anxious
if I ask you whether it does not seem imprudent, when you have just
given up your salary and are only beginning to work at something
different, to marry a penniless girl? You have told me that you have no
money, and that you cannot look to your relations for any assistance."

"By no money I simply meant no fortune. Of course we could not get
married without funds, and just now I have a couple of hundreds standing
to my credit in the bank. If we are careful, and content to begin
married life in apartments, we need not spend any more than I am
spending now by myself."

He omitted to say that this money was all that was left of a legacy of
£500 which had come to him from an aunt, and that he had been spending
it pretty freely. His words only gave the impression that he knew the
value of money, and was not one to act without careful consideration.

They were still discussing this point when Fan came in, and after
shaking hands with their visitor sat down in her hat and jacket. Merton,
after expressing his regret that she had lost her protectress, proceeded
to make some remarks about Miss Starbrow's eccentric temper. Nothing
which that lady did, he said, surprised him in the least. Fan sat with
eyes cast down; she looked pale and fatigued, and her face clouded at
his words; then murmuring some excuse, she rose and went to her bedroom.

"I must warn you, Merton," said Constance, "that Fan can't endure to
hear anything said in dispraise of Miss Starbrow. I have discovered that
it is the one subject about which she is capable of losing her temper
and quarrelling with her best friend."

"Is that so?" he returned, laughingly. "Then she must be as eccentric
as Miss Starbrow herself. But what does the poor girl intend doing--she
must do something to live, I suppose?"

Constance told him all about Fan's projects. "Why do you smile?" she
said. "You do not approve, I suppose?"

"You are mistaken, Connie. I neither approve nor disapprove. She does
not ask us to shape her future life for her, and we owe her thanks for
that."

"Yes, but still you are a little shocked that she has not set her mind
on something a little higher."

"Not at all. On the contrary. It is really disgusting to find how many
there are who take 'Excelsior' for their motto. In a vast majority of
cases they get killed by falling over a precipice, or smothered in
the snow, or crawl back to the lower levels to go through life as
frost-bitten, crippled, pitiful objects. You can see scores of these
would-be climbers any day in the streets of London, and know them by
their faces. If you are not a real Whymper it is better not to be in
the crowd of foolish beings who imagine themselves Whympers, but to rest
content, like Fan, in the valley below. I am very glad not to be asked
for advice, but if you ask my opinion I can say, judging from what
I have seen of Fan, that I believe she has made a wise choice. Her
capabilities and appearance would make her a very nice shop-girl."

"Oh, you have too poor an opinion of her!" exclaimed Constance.
Nevertheless she could not help thinking that he was perhaps right. It
was very pleasant to listen to him, this eloquent lover of hers, to see
how

    With a Réaumur's skill his curious mind
    Classed the insect tribes of human kind.

It was impossible to doubt that _he_, at any rate, would know very well
where to set his foot on those perilous heights to which he aspired.

Later in the evening the lovers went out for a walk, from which
Constance came home looking very bright and happy. The girls slept
together, and after going to bed that night there was a curious
little scene between them, in which Fan's part was a very passive
one. "Darling, we have talked so little since we have been here," said
Constance, putting her arm round her friend, "and now I have got so many
things to say to you." And as Fan seemed anxious to hear her story,
she began to talk first about Merton's wish for an early marriage, but
before long she discovered that her companion had fallen asleep. Then
she withdrew her arm and turned away disgusted, all the story of her
happiness untold. "I verily believe," she said to herself, "that I have
credited Fan with a great deal more sensibility than she possesses. To
drop asleep like a plough-boy the moment I begin to talk to her--how
little she cares about my affairs! I think Merton must be right in what
he said about her. She is very keen and wideawake about her shop, and
seems to think and care for nothing else." Much more she thought in her
vexation, and then glanced back at the face at her side, so white and
pure and still, framed in its unbound golden hair, so peaceful and
yet with a shade of sadness mingling with its peacefulness; and having
looked, she could not withdraw her eyes. "How beautiful she looks,"
said Constance, relenting a little. And then, "Poor child, she must have
overtired herself to-day.... And perhaps it is not strange that she has
shown herself so cold about my engagement. She thinks that Merton is
taking me away from her. She is grieving secretly at the thought of
losing me, as she lost her bitter, cruel-hearted Mary. Oh, dearest, I am
not so fantastical as that woman, and you shall never lose me. Married
or single, rich or poor, and wherever you may be, in or out of a shop,
my soul shall cleave to you as it did at Eyethorne, and I shall love
you as I love no other woman--always, always." And bending she lightly
kissed the still white face; but Fan slept soundly and the light kiss
disturbed her not.



CHAPTER XXVII


The next few days were devoted to sightseeing under Merton's guidance,
and a better-informed cicerone they could not well have had. The little
cloud between the girls had quite passed away; and Fan, who was not
always abnormally drowsy after dark, listened to her friend's story and
entered into all her plans. Then a visit to the National Gallery was
arranged for a day when Merton would only have a few hours of the
afternoon to spare: he was now devoting his energies to the business of
climbing. At three o'clock they were to meet at Piccadilly Circus, but
the girls were early on the scene, as they wished to have an hour
first in Regent Street. To unaccustomed country eyes the art treasures
displayed in the shop-windows there are as much to be admired as the
canvases in Trafalgar Square. They passed a large drapery establishment
with swinging doors standing open, and the sight of the rich interior
seemed to have a fascinating effect on Fan. She lingered behind her
companion, gazing wistfully in--a poor, empty-handed peri at the gates
of Paradise. Long room succeeded long room, until they appeared to melt
away in the dim distance; the floors were covered with a soft carpet of
a dull green tint, and here and there were polished red counters, and on
every side were displayed dresses and mantles artistically arranged, and
textures of all kinds and in all soft beautiful colours. Within a few
ladies were visible, moving about, or seated; but it was the hour of
luncheon, when little shopping was done, and the young ladies of the
establishment, the assistants, seemed to have little to occupy them.
They were very fine-looking girls, all dressed alike in black, but their
dresses were better in cut and material than shop-girls usually wear,
even in the most fashionable establishments. At length Fan withdrew her
longing eyes, and turned away, remarking with a sigh, "Oh, how I should
like to be in such a place!"

"Should you?" said Constance. "Well, let's go in and ask if there is a
vacancy. You must make a beginning, you know."

"But, Constance, we can't do that! I don't know how to begin, but I'm
sure you can't get a place by going into a grand shop and asking in that
way."

"Possibly not; but there's no harm in asking. Come, and I'll be
spokesman, and take all the dreadful consequences on my own head. Come,
Fan."

And in she walked, boldly enough, and after a moment's hesitation the
other followed. When they had proceeded a dozen or twenty steps a young
man, a shop-walker, came treading softly to them, and with profoundest
respect in his manner, and in a voice trained to speak so low that at
a distance of about twenty-five inches it would have been inaudible,
begged to know to which department he could have the pleasure of
directing them. He was a very good-looking, or perhaps it would be more
correct to say a very _beautiful_ young man, with raven-black hair,
glossy and curled, and parted down the middle of his shapely head, and
a beautiful small moustache to match. His eyes were also dark and fine,
and all his features regular. His figure was as perfect as his face;
many a wealthy man, made ugly by that mocker Nature, would have gladly
given half his inheritance in exchange for such a physique; and his coat
of finest cloth fitted him to perfection, and had evidently been
built by some tailor as celebrated for his coats as Morris for his
wall-papers, and Leighton for his pictures of ethereal women.

Constance, a little surprised at being obsequiously addressed by
so exquisite a person, stated the object of their visit. He looked
surprised, and, losing his obsequiousness, replied that he was not aware
that an assistant had been advertised for. She explained that they had
seen no advertisement, but had merely come in to inquire, as her friend
wished to get a situation in a shop. He smiled at her innocence--he even
smiled superciliously--and, with no deference left in his manner, told
them shortly that they had made a great mistake, and was about to show
them out, when, wonderful to relate, all at once a great change came
over his beautiful countenance, and he stood rooted to the spot,
cringing, confused, crimson to the roots of his raven ringlets. His
sudden collapse had been caused by the sight of a pair of cold, keen
grey eyes, with an expression almost ferocious in them, fixed on his
face. They belonged to an elderly man with a short grizzly beard and
podgy nose; a short, square, ugly man, who had drawn near unperceived
with cat-like steps, and was attentively listening to the shop-walker's
words, and marking his manner. He was the manager.

"I am sorry I made a mistake," said Constance a little stiffly, and
turned to go.

The young man made no reply. The manager, still keeping his basilisk
eyes on him, nodded sharply, as if to say, "Go and have your head taken
off." Then he turned to the girls.

"One moment, young ladies," he said. "Kindly step this way, and let me
know just what you want."

They followed him into a small private office, where he placed chairs
for them, and then allowed Constance to repeat what he had already
heard, and to add a few particulars about Fan's history. He appeared to
be paying but little attention to what she said; while she spoke he was
keenly studying their faces--first hers, then Fan's.

"There is no vacancy at present," he replied at length. "Besides, when
there is one, which is not often, we usually have the names of several
applicants who are only waiting to be engaged by us. We have always
plenty to choose from, and of course select the one that offers the
greatest advantages--experience, for instance; and you say that your
friend has no experience. The fact is," he continued, expanding still
more, "our house is so well known that scores of young ladies would
be glad at any moment to throw up the places they have in other
establishments to be taken on here."

Constance rose from her seat.

"It was hardly necessary," she said, with some dignity, "to bring us
into your private office to tell us all this, since we already knew that
we had made a mistake in coming."

"Wait a minute," he returned, with a grim smile. "Please sit down again.
I understand that it is for your friend and not for yourself. Well,
I find it hard to say--" and here with keenly critical eyes he looked
first at her, then at Fan, making little nods and motions with his head,
and moving his lips as if very earnestly talking to himself. "All I can
say is this," he continued, "if this young lady is willing to come for a
month without pay to learn the business, and afterwards, should she suit
us, to remain at a salary of eighteen shillings a week and her board for
the first six months, why, then I might be willing to engage her. You
can give a reference, I suppose?"

Both girls were fairly astonished at the sudden turn the affair had
taken, and could scarcely credit their own senses, so illogically did
this keen grim man seem to act. They did not know his motive.

Not to make a secret of a very simple matter, he thought a great deal
more than most men in his way of life about personal appearance. He made
it an object to have only assistants with fine figures and pretty faces,
with the added advantage of a pleasing manner. When he discovered that
these two young ladies with graceful figures and refined, beautiful
faces had not come into the shop to purchase anything, but in quest of
an engagement for one of them, he instantly resolved not to let slip so
good an opportunity of adding to his collection of fair women. It was
not that he had any soft spot in his heart with regard to pretty women:
so long as his assistants did their duty, he treated them all with
the strictest impartiality, blonde or brunette, grave or gay, and was
somewhat stern in his manner towards them, and had an eagle's eye to
detect their faults, which were never allowed to go unpunished. He
worshipped nothing but his shop, and he had pretty girls in it for the
same reason that he had Adonises for shop-walkers, artistically-dressed
windows, and an aristocratic-looking old commissionaire at the
door--namely, to make it more attractive.

It is true that some great dames, with thin lips, oblique noses, green
complexions, and clay-coloured eyes, hate to be served by a damsel
wearing that effulgent unbought crown of beauty which makes all other
crowns seem such pitiful tinsel gewgaws to the sick soul. That was one
disadvantage, but it was greatly overweighed by a general preference
for beauty over ugliness. The flower-girl with beautiful eyes stands
a better chance than her squinting sister of selling a penny bunch of
violets to the next passer-by. If a girl ceased to look ornamental,
however intelligent or trustworthy she might be, he got rid of her at
once without scruple. His seeming hesitation when he spoke to the girls
before making his offer was due simply to the fact that he was mentally
occupied in comparing them together. Both so perfect in figure, face,
manner--which would he have taken if he had had the choice given him?

For some moments he half regretted that it was not the more developed,
richer-coloured girl with the bronzed tresses who had aspired to join
his staff. Then he shook his head: that exquisite brown tint would not
last for ever in the shade, and the bearing was also just a shade too
proud. He considered the other, with the slimmer figure, the far more
delicate skin, the more eloquent eyes, and he concluded that he had got
the best of the pair.

"I should so like to come," said Fan, for they were both waiting for her
to speak, "but am afraid that I can give no reference."

"Oh, Fan, surely you can!" said the other.

"I have no friend but you, Constance; I could not write to Mary now."

The other considered a little.

"Oh, yes; there is Mr. Northcott," she said, then turning to the manager
asked, "Will the name of a clergyman in the country place where Miss
Affleck has spent the last year be sufficient?"

"Yes, that will do very well," he said, giving her pencil and paper to
write the name and address. Then he asked a few questions about Fan's
attainments, and seemed pleased to hear that she had learnt dressmaking
and embroidery. "So much the better," he said. "You can come to-morrow
to receive instructions about your dress, and to hear when your
attendance will begin. The hours are from half-past eight to half-past
six. Saturdays we close at two. You have breakfast when you come in,
dinner at twelve or one, tea at four. You must find your own lodgings,
and it will be better not to get them too far away."

"May I ask you not to write about Miss Affleck until to-morrow?"
Constance said. "I must write to-day first to Mr. Northcott to inform
him. He will be a little surprised, I suppose, that Miss Affleck is
going into a shop, but he will tell you all about her disposition,
and"--with a pause and a hot blush--"her respectability."

He smiled again grimly.

"I have no doubt that Miss Affleck is a lady by birth," he said. "But
do not run away with the idea that she is doing anything peculiar. There
are several daughters of gentlemen in our house, as she will probably
discover when she comes to associate with them."

"I am glad," said Constance, rising to go.

He was turning the paper with the address on in his hand. "You need not
trouble to write to this gentleman," he said. "I shall not write to
him. If you are fairly intelligent, Miss Affleck, and anxious to do your
best, you will do very well, I dare say. References are of little use
to me; I prefer to use my own judgment. But you must understand clearly
that for every dereliction there is a fine, which is deducted from the
salary. A printed copy of the rules will be given you. And you may be
discharged at a moment's notice at any time."

"Only for some grave fault, I suppose?" said Constance.

"Not necessarily," he returned.

"That seems hard."

"I do not trouble myself about that. The business is of more consequence
than any individual in it," he replied; and then walked to the door with
them and bowed them out with some ceremony.

For the rest of the day Fan was in a state of bewilderment at her own
great good fortune; for this engagement meant so much to her. That
horrible phantom, the fear of abject poverty, would follow her no more.
With £20 in hand and all Mary's presents, and eighteen shillings a week
in prospect, she considered herself rich; and with her evenings, her
Sundays and holidays to spend how she liked, and Constance always near,
how happy she would be! But why, when crowds of experienced girls were
waiting and anxiously wishing to get into this establishment, had she,
utterly ignorant of business, been taken in this sudden off-hand way? It
was a mystery to her, and a mystery also to the clever Constance, and to
the still more clever Merton when he was told about it. Unknowingly
she had submitted herself to a competitive examination in which useless
knowledge was not considered, and in which those who possessed pretty
faces and fine figures scored the most marks. After this she was
scarcely in the right frame to appreciate the works of art they went on
to see. That long interior in Regent Street, with its costly goods and
pretty elegantly-dressed girls, and perfumed glossy shop-walker, and
ugly bristling fierce-eyed manager, continually floated before
her mental vision, even when she looked on the most celebrated
canvases--even on those painted by Turner.

These same celebrated pieces startled Constance somewhat, although she
had come prepared by a childlike faith in Ruskin's infallibility to
worship them. She was, however, too frank to attempt to conceal her real
impressions, and then Merton consolingly informed her that no person
could appreciate a Turner before seeing it many times. One's first
impression is, that over this canvas the artist has dashed a bucket of
soap-suds, and over that a pot of red and yellow ochre. Well, after all,
what was a snowstorm but a bucket of soap-suds on a big scale! Call it
suds, a mad smudge, anything you like, but it was a miracle of art all
the same if it produced the effect aimed at, and gave one some idea of
that darkness and whiteness, and rush and mad mingling of elements, and
sublime confusion of nature.

"But my trouble is," objected Constance, "that, the effect does _not_
seem right--that it is not really like nature."

"No, certainly not. Nature is nature, and you cannot create another
nature in imitation of it, any more than you can comprehend infinity.
This is only art, the highest thing, in this particular direction, which
the poor little creature man has been able to attain. You have doubtless
heard the story of the old lady who said to the painter of these scenes,
'Oh, Mr. Turner, I never saw such lights and colours in nature as you
paint!' 'No, don't you wish you could?' replied the artist. Now the old
lady was perfectly right. You cannot put white quivering tropical heat
on a canvas, but Turner dashes unnatural vermilion over his scene and
the picture is not ridiculous; the effect of noonday heat is somehow
produced. Look at those sunsets! In one sense they are failures, every
one of them; but what a splendid audacity the man had, and what a
genius, to attempt to portray nature in those special moments when it
shines with a glory that seems unearthly, and not to have failed
more signally! Failures they are, but nobler works than other men's
successes. You are perfectly right, Connie, but when you look at a great
picture do not forget to remember that art is long and life short. That
is what the old lady didn't know, and what Turner should have told her
instead of making that contemptuous speech."

Constance was comforted, and continued to listen delightedly as he
led them from room to room, pointing out the most famous pictures and
expatiating on their beauties.

From the Gallery they went to Marshall's in the Strand and drank tea;
then Merton put them in an Underground train at Charing Cross and said
goodbye, being prevented by an engagement from seeing them home. He had
put them into a compartment of a first-class carriage which was empty,
but after the train had started the door was opened, and in jumped two
young gentlemen, almost tumbling against the girls in their hurry.

"Just saved it!" exclaimed one, throwing himself with a laugh into the
seat.

"It was a close shave," said the other. "Did you see that young fellow
standing near the edge of the platform? I caught him on the side and
sent him spinning like a top."

"Why, that was Chance--didn't you know him? I was in too much of a hurry
even to give the poor devil a nod."

"Good gracious, was that Chance--that madman that threw up his clerkship
at the F.O.!"

"No, he didn't," his friend replied. "That's what _he_ says, but the
truth is he got mixed up in a disreputable affair and had to resign. No
doubt he has been going to the 'demnition bow-bows,' as Mr. Mantalini
says, but he wasn't so mad as to throw away his bread just to have the
pleasure of starving. He hasn't a ha'penny."

"Well, _I_ don't care," said the other with a laugh, and then went on to
talk of other things.

During this colloquy Fan had glanced frequently at her companion, but
Constance, who had grown deathly pale, kept her face averted and her
eyes fixed on the window, as if some wide prospect, and not the rayless
darkness of the tunnel, had been before them. From their station they
walked rapidly and in silence home, and when inside, Constance spoke for
the first time, and in a tone of studied indifference.

"So much going about has given me a headache, Fan," she said. "I shall
lie down in my room and have a little sleep, and don't call me, please,
when you have supper. I am sorry to leave you alone all the evening,
but you will have something pleasant to think about as you have been so
successful to-day."

She was about to move away, when Fan came to her side and caught her
hand.

"Don't go just yet, dear Constance," she said. "Why do you try to--shut
me out of your heart? Oh, if you knew how much--how very much I feel for
you!"

"What about?" said the other a little sharply, and drawing herself back.

"What about! We are both thinking of the same thing."

"Yes, very likely, but what of that? Is it such a great thing that you
need to distress yourself so much about it?"

"How can I help being distressed at such a thing; it has changed
everything, and will make you so unhappy. You know that you can't marry
Mr. Chance now after he has deceived you in that way."

"Can't marry Mr. Chance!" exclaimed Constance, putting her friend from
her. "Do you imagine that the wretched malicious gossip of those two men
in the train will have the slightest effect on me! What a mistake you
are making!"

"But you know it is true," returned Fan with strange simplicity; and
this imprudent speech quickly brought on her a tempest of anger. When
the heart is burdened with a great anguish which cannot be expressed
there is nothing like a burst of passion to relieve it. Tear-shedding is
a weak ineffectual remedy compared with this burning counter-irritant of
the mind.

"I do not know that it is true!" she exclaimed. "What right have you to
say such a thing, as if you knew Merton so well, and had weighed him in
an infallible balance and found him wanting! I have heard nothing but
malicious tittle-tattle, a falsehood beneath contempt, set afloat by
some enemy of Merton's. If I could have thought it true for one moment I
should never cease to despise myself. Have you forgotten how you blazed
out against me for speaking my mind about Miss Starbrow when she cast
you off? Yet you did not know her as I know Merton, and how paltry a
thing is the feeling you have for her compared with that which I have
for my future husband! What does it matter to me what they said?--I know
him better. But you have been prejudiced against him from the beginning,
for no other reason but because I loved him. Nothing but selfishness was
at the bottom of that feeling. You imagined that marriage would put an
end to our friendship, and thought nothing about my happiness, but only
of your own."

"Do you believe that of me, Constance?" said Fan, greatly distressed.
"Ah, I remember when we had that trouble about Mary's letter at
Eyethorne, you said that you had not known me until that day. You do not
know me now if you think that your happiness is nothing to me--if you
think that it is less to me than my own."

Her words, her look, the tone of her voice touched Constance to the
heart.

"Oh, Fan, why then do you provoke me to say harsh things?" and then,
turning aside, burst into a passion of weeping and sobs which shook
her whole frame. But when the sobs were exhausted she recovered her
serenity: those violent remedies--anger and tears--had not failed of
their beneficent effect on her mind.

On the following day she seemed even cheerful, as if the whole painful
matter had been forgotten. Merton, at all events, seemed to detect no
change in her when he came to take her to the park in the afternoon.
Only to Fan there appeared a shadow in the clear hazel eyes, and a note
of trouble in the voice which had not been there before.

In a short time after this incident Fan was taken into the great Regent
Street establishment, and had her mind very fully occupied with her new
duties. One afternoon at the end of her first week the manager came up
and spoke to her.

"Are you living with friends?" he said.

"I am living with Miss Churton--the lady who came here with me," she
replied. "But she is going to be married soon, and I must find another
place nearer Regent Street."

"Ah, this then will perhaps be a help to you," and he handed her a
card. "That is the address of a woman who keeps a very quiet respectable
lodging-house. We have known her for years, and if she has a vacancy you
could not do better than go to her."

She thanked him, and took the card gladly. That little act of
thoughtfulness made her feel very happy, and believe that he had a kind
heart in spite of his stern despotic manner. To continue in that belief,
however, required faith on her part, which is the evidence of things not
seen, for he did not go out of his way again to show her any kindness.

Next day being Sunday, the girls were able to go together to see the
lodging-house, which was in Charlotte Street in Marylebone, and found
the landlady, Mrs. Grierson, a very fat and good-tempered woman. She
took them to the top floor to show the only vacant room she had; it was
fairly large for a top room, and plainly and decently furnished, and
the rent asked was six-and-sixpence a week. But the good woman was
so favourably impressed with Fan's appearance, and so touched at the
flattering recommendation given by the manager, that at once, and before
they had said a word, she reduced the price to five shillings, and
then said that she would be glad to let it to the young lady for
four-and-sixpence a week. The room was taken there and then, and a
few days later the friends separated, one to settle down in her lonely
lodging, the other to be quietly married at a registry office,
without relation or friend to witness the ceremony; after which the
newly-married couple went away to spend their honeymoon at a distance
from London.



CHAPTER XXVIII


For several months after that hasty and somewhat inauspicious
marriage--"unsanctified," Mrs. Churton would have said--it seemed as
if the course of events had effectually parted the two girls, and that
their close friendship was destined to be less a reality than a memory,
so seldom were they able to meet. From their honeymoon the Chances came
back to London only to settle down at Putney for the remainder of the
warm season; and this was far from Marylebone, and Fan was only able
to go there occasionally on a Sunday. But in September they moved to
Chelsea, and for a few weeks the friends met more often, and Constance
frequently called at the Regent Street shop to see and speak with Fan
for two or three minutes. This, however, did not last. Suddenly the
Chances moved again, this time to a country town over fifty miles from
London. Merton had made the discovery that journalism and not literature
was his proper vocation, and had been taken on the staff of a country
weekly newspaper, of which he hoped one day to be editor. The girls were
now further apart than ever, and for months there was no meeting. But
during all this time they corresponded, scarcely a week passing without
an exchange of letters, and this correspondence was at this period the
greatest pleasure in Fan's life. For Constance, next to Mary, who was
lost to her, was the being she loved most on earth; nor did she feel
love only. She was filled with gratitude because her friend, although
married to such a soul-filling person as Merton Chance, was not
forgetful of her humble existence, but constantly thought of her and
sent her long delightful letters, and was always wishing and hoping
to be near her again. And yet, strange contradiction! in her heart of
hearts she greatly pitied her friend. Sometimes Constance would write
glowing accounts of her husband's triumphs--an article accepted perhaps,
a flattering letter from a magazine editor, a favourable notice in a
newspaper, or some new scheme which would bring them fame and fortune.
But if she had written to say that Merton actually had become famous,
that all England was ringing with his praise, that publishers and
editors were running after him with blank cheques in their hands,
imploring him to give them a book, an article, she would still have
pitied her friend. For that was Fan's nature. When a thing once entered
into her mind there was no getting it out again. Mary to others might be
a fantastical woman, heartless, a fiend incarnate if they liked, but the
simple faith in her goodness, the old idolatrous affection still
ruled in her heart. The thoughts and feelings which had swayed her in
childhood swayed her still; and the gospel of the carpenter Cawood was
the only gospel she knew. And as to Merton, the contemptuous judgment
Mary had passed on him had become her judgment; the words she had heard
of him in the train were absolutely true; he had deceived his wife with
lies; he was weak and vain and fickle, one it was a disaster to love and
lean upon. Love, gratitude, and pity stirred her heart when she thought
of Constance, and while the pity was kept secret the love was freely and
frequently expressed, and from week to week she told the story of her
life to her sympathetic friend--all its little incidents, trials, and
successes.

There was little to break the monotony of her life out of business hours
at this period; and it was perhaps fortunate for her that she usually
came home tired in the evening, wishing for rest rather than for
distraction. There was nothing in that part of London to make walking
attractive. The Regent's Park was close by, it is true, and thither she
was accustomed to go for a walk on Sundays, except when one or other of
her new acquaintances in the shop, living with her own people, invited
her to dinner or tea. But on weekdays, especially in winter, when the
streets were sloppy, and the atmosphere grey and damp, there was
no inducement to take her out. In such conditions Marylebone is
as depressing a district as any in London. The streets have a dull
monotonous appearance, and the ancient unvenerable houses are grimy
to blackness with the accumulation of soot on them. The inhabitants,
especially in that portion of Marylebone where Fan lived, form a
strange mixture. Artists, men of letters, sober tradesmen, artisans,
day labourers, students, shop-assistants, and foreigners--dynamiters,
adventurers, and waiters waiting for places--may all be found living in
one short street. Bohemianism, vice, respectability, wealth and poverty,
are jumbled together as in no other district in London. The modest wife,
coming out of her door at ten in the morning to do her marketing, meets,
face to face, her next neighbour standing at _her_ door, a jug in
her hand, waiting for some late milkman to pass--a slovenly dame in a
dressing-gown with half the buttons off, primrose-coloured hair loose
on her back, and a porcelain complexion hastily dabbed on a yellow
dissipated face. The Maryleboners (or bonites) being a Happy Family,
in the menagerie sense, do not vex their souls about this condition of
things; the well-fed and the hungry, the pure and the impure, are near
together, but in soul they are just as far apart as elsewhere.

Nevertheless, to a young girl like Fan, living alone, and beautiful
to the eye, the large amount of immorality around her was a serious
trouble, and she never ventured out in the evening, even to go a short
distance, without trepidation and a fast-beating heart, so strong was
that old loathing and horror the leering looks and insolent advances
of dissolute men inspired in her. And in no part of London are such men
more numerous. When the shadows of evening fall their thoughts "lightly
turn" to the tired shop-girl, just released from her long hours of
standing and serving, and the surveillance perhaps of a tyrannical
shop-walker who makes her life a burden. Her cheap black dress, pale
face, and wistful eyes betray her. She is so tired, so hungry for a
little recreation, something to give a little brightness and colour to
her grey life, so unprotected and weak to resist--how easy to compass
her destruction! The long evenings were lonely in her room, but it
was safe there, and sitting before her fire writing to Constance, or
thinking of her, and reading again one of the small collection of books
she had brought from Eyethorne, the hours would pass not too slowly.

At length when the long cold season was drawing to an end, when the mud
in the streets dried into fine dust for the mad March winds to whirl
about, and violets and daffodils were cheap enough for Fan to buy, and
she looked eagerly forward to walks in the grassy park at the end of
each day, during those long summer evenings when the sun hangs low and
does not set, the glad tidings reached her that the Chances were coming
back to London. Journalism, in a country town at all events, had proved
a failure, and Merton, with some new scheme in his brain, was once more
about to return to the great intellectual centre, which, he now said, he
ought never to have left.

"Most men when they want something done," he remarked, "have a vile
way of getting the wrong person to do it. Here have I been wasting my
flowers on this bovine public--whole clusters every week to those who
have no sense of smell and no eye for form and colour. What they want is
ensilage--a coarse fare suited to ruminants."

A few days afterwards Constance wrote from Norland Square in Notting
Hill asking Fan to visit her as soon as convenient. Fan got the letter
on a Saturday morning, and when the shop closed at two she hastened
home to change her dress, and then started for Norland Square, where she
arrived about half-past three o'clock.

There is no greater happiness on earth, and we can imagine no greater in
heaven, than that which is experienced by two loving friends on meeting
again after a long separation; that is, when the reunion has not been
too long delayed. If new interests and feelings have not obscured the
old, if Time has written no "strange defeatures" on the soul, and
the image treasured by memory corresponds with the reality, then the
communion of heart with heart seems sweeter than it ever seemed before
its interruption. And this happiness, this rapture of the soul which
makes life seem angelic for a season, the two friends now experienced in
full measure. For an hour they sat together, holding each other's hands,
feeling a strange inexpressible pleasure in merely listening to the
sound of each other's voices, noting the familiar tones, the old
expressions, the rippling laughter so long unheard, and in gazing into
each other's eyes, bright with the lustre of joy, and tender with love
almost to tears.

"Fan," said her friend, holding her a little away in order to see her
better, "I have been distressing myself about you in vain. I could not
help thinking that there would be one change after all this time, that
your skin would lose that delicacy which makes you look so unfitted
for work of any kind. There would be, I thought, a little of that
unwholesome pallor and the tired look one so often sees in girls who are
confined in shops and have to stand all day on their feet. But you have
the same fresh look and pure delicate skin; nothing alters you. I do
believe that you will never change at all, however long you may live,
and never grow old."

"Or clever and wise like you," laughed the other.

The result of Fan's inspection of her friend's face was not equally
satisfactory; for although Constance had not lost her rich colour nor
grown thin, there was a look of trouble in the clear hazel eyes--the
shadow which had first come there when the girls had overheard a
conversation about Merton in the train, only the shadow was more
persistent now.

"I expect Merton home at five," she said, "and then we'll have tea." Fan
noticed that when she spoke of her husband that shadow of trouble did
not grow less. And by-and-by, putting her arm round the other's neck,
she spoke.

"Dearest Constance, shall I tell you one change I see in you? You are
unhappy about something. Why will you not let me share your trouble? We
were such dear friends always, ever since that day in the woods when you
asked me why I disliked you. Must it be different now because you are
married?"

"It must be a little different in some things," she replied gravely, and
averting her eyes. "I love you as much as I ever did, and shall never
have another friend like you in the world. But, Fan, a husband must have
the first place in a wife's heart, and no friend, however dear, can be
fully taken into their confidence. We are none of us quite happy, or
have everything we desire in our lives; and the only difference now is
that I can't tell you quite all my little secret troubles, as I hope you
will always tell me yours until you marry. Do you not see that it must
be so?"

"If it must be, Constance. But it seems hard, and--I am not sure that
you are right."

"I have, like everyone else, only my own feelings of what is right to
guide me. And now let us talk of something else--of dear old Eyethorne
again."

It was curious to note the change that had come over her mind with
regard to Eyethorne; and how persistently she returned to the subject of
her life there, appearing to find a melancholy pleasure in dwelling on
it. How she had despised its narrowness then--its stolid ignorances
and prejudices, the dull, mean virtues on which it prided itself, the
malicious gossip in which it took delight--and had chafed at the thought
of her wasted years! Now all those things that had vexed her seemed
trivial and even unreal. She thought less of men and women and more
of nature, the wide earth, so tender and variable in its tints, yet so
stable, the far-off dim horizon and infinite heaven, the procession of
the seasons, the everlasting freshness and glory. It was all so sweet
and peaceful, and the years had not been wasted which had been spent in
dreaming. What beautiful dreams had kept her company there--dreams
of the future, of all she would accomplish in life, of all life's
possibilities! Oh no, not possibilities; for there was nothing in actual
life to correspond with those imaginings. Not more unlike were those
Turner canvases, daubed over with dull earthy paint, to the mysterious
shadowy depths, the crystal purity, the evanescent splendours of nature
at morn and noon and eventide, than was this married London life to the
life she had figured in her dreams. That was the reality, the true life,
and this that was called reality only a crude and base imitation. They
were still talking of Eyethorne when Merton returned; but not alone, for
he brought a friend with him, a young gentleman whom he introduced as
Arthur Eden. He had not expected to find Fan with his wife, and a shade
of annoyance passed over his face when he saw her. But in a moment
it was gone, and seizing her hand he greeted her with exaggerated
cordiality.

Constance welcomed her unexpected guest pleasantly, yet his coming
disturbed her a good deal; for they were poor, living in a poor way,
their only sitting-room where they took their meals being small and
musty and mean-looking, with its rickety chairs and sofa covered with
cheap washed-out cretonne, its faded carpet and vulgar little gimcrack
ornaments on the mantelpiece. And this friend gave one the idea that her
husband had fallen from a somewhat better position in life than he was
now in. There was an intangible something about him which showed him to
be one of those favoured children of destiny who are placed above the
need of a "career," who dress well and live delicately, and have nothing
to do in life but to extract all the sweetness there is in it. Very
good-looking was this Mr. Eden, with an almost feminine beauty. Crisp
brown hair, with a touch of chestnut in it, worn short and parted in the
middle; low forehead, straight, rather thin nose, refined mouth and
fine grey eyes. The face did not lack intelligence, but the predominant
expression was indolent good-nature; it was colourless, and looked jaded
and _blasé_ for one so young, his age being about twenty-four. The most
agreeable thing in him was his voice, which, although subdued, had that
quality of tenderness and resonance more common in Italy than in our
moist, thick-throated island; and it was pleasant to hear his light
ready laugh, musical as a woman's. In his voice and easy quiet manner
he certainly contrasted very favourably with his friend. Merton was loud
and incessant in his talk, and walked about and gesticulated, and spoke
with an unnecessary emphasis, a sham earnestness, which more than once
called an anxious look to his wife's expressive face.

"What do you think, Connie!" he cried. "In Piccadilly I ran against
old Eden after not having seen him for over five years! I was never so
overjoyed at meeting anyone in my life! We were at school together at
Winchester, you know, and then he went to Cambridge--lucky dog! And
I--but what does it matter where I went?--to some wretched crammer,
I suppose. Since I lost sight of him he has been all over the
world--India, Japan, America--no end of places, enjoying life and
enlarging his mind, while I was wasting the best years of my life at
that confounded Foreign Office."

"I shouldn't mind wasting the rest of _my_ life in it," said his friend
with a slight laugh.

"Now just listen to me," said Merton, squaring himself before the
other, and prepared to launch out concerning the futility of life in the
Foreign Office; but Constance at that moment interposed to say that
tea was waiting. She had herself taken the tea-things from the general
servant, who had brought them to the door, and was a slatternly girl,
not presentable.

"I must tell you, Connie," began Merton, as soon as they were seated,
for he had forgotten all about the other subject by this time, "that
when I met Eden this afternoon he at once agreed to accompany me home to
make your acquaintance, and take pot-luck with us. Of course I have told
him all about our present circumstances, that we are not settled yet,
and living in a kind of Bohemian fashion."

Eden on his side made several attempts to converse with the ladies, but
they were not very successful, for Merton, although engaged in consuming
cold mutton and pickles with great zest, would not allow them to wander
off from his own affairs.

"I have something grand to tell you, Arthur" he went on, not noticing
his wife's uncomfortable state of mind, and frequent glances in his
direction. "You know all about what I am doing just now. Not bad stuff,
I believe. The editors who know me will take as much of it as I care
to give them. But I am not going to settle down into a mere magazine
writer, although just at present it serves my purpose to scatter a few
papers about among the periodicals. But in a short time I intend to make
a new departure. I dare say it will rather astonish you to hear about
it."

His grand idea, he proceeded to say, was to write a story--the first of
a series--that would be no story at all in the ordinary sense, since it
would have no plot or plan or purpose of any kind. Nor would there be
analysis and description--nothing to skip, in fact. The people of his
brain would do nothing and say nothing--at all events there would be
no dialogue. The characters would be mere faint pencil-marks--something
less than shadows.

Tea was over by the time this subject was exhausted; Eden's curiosity
about his friend's projected novel, described so far by negatives only,
had apparently subsided, for he managed to turn the conversation to some
other subject; and presently Constance was persuaded to sit down to the
piano. She played under difficulties on the dismal old lodging-house
instrument, but declined to sing, alleging a cold, of which there was
no evidence. Merton turned the music for her, and for the first time
his friend found an opportunity of exchanging a few words with Fan. When
first introduced to her their eyes had met for a moment, and his had
brightened with an expression of agreeable surprise; afterwards
during tea, when the flow of Merton's inconsequent chatter had made
conversation impossible, his eyes had wandered frequently to her face as
if they found it pleasant to rest there.

"Mrs. Chance plays skilfully," he said. "Merton is fortunate in such a
wife."

"Yes; but I like her singing best. I am sorry she can't sing this
evening, as it is always such a treat to me to listen to her."

"But you will sing presently, Miss Affleck, will you not? I have been
waiting to ask you."

"I neither sing nor play, Mr. Eden. In music, as in everything else that
requires study and taste, I am a perfect contrast to my friend."

"I fancy you are depreciating yourself too much. But it surprises me
to hear that you don't sing. I always fancy that I can distinguish a
musical person in a crowd, and you, in the expression of your face,
in your movements, and most of all in your voice, seemed to reveal the
musical soul."

"Did you really imagine all that?" returned Fan, reddening a little. "I
am so sorry you were mistaken, for I do love music so much." And then
as he said nothing, but continued regarding her with some curiosity,
she added naïvely, "I'm afraid, Mr. Eden, that I have very little
intellect."

He laughed and answered, "You must let me judge for myself about that."

Mr. Eden was musical himself, although his constitutional indolence had
prevented him from becoming a proficient in the art. Still, he could
sing a limited number of songs correctly, accompanying himself, and he
was heard at his best in a room in which the four walls were not too far
apart, as his voice lacked strength, while good in quality.

About nine o'clock Fan came in from the next room with her hat and
jacket on to say good-bye. Mr. Eden started up with alacrity and begged
her to let him see her home.

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Eden, but you need not trouble," she returned. "I am
going to take an omnibus close by in the Uxbridge Road."

"Then you must let me see you safely in it," he said; and as he insisted
that it was time for him to go she could no longer refuse. The door
closed behind them after many jocular words of farewell from Merton, and
husband and wife were left to finish their evening in privacy.

"Is it far to your home?" asked Eden.

"I live in Marylebone," she replied, giving a rather wide address.

"But is that too far to walk? I fancy I know where Marylebone is--north
of Oxford Street. Will it tire you very much to walk?"

"Oh no, I love walking, but at night I couldn't walk that distance by
myself, and so must ride."

"Then do let me see you home. You are an intimate friend of the Chances,
and I am so anxious, now that I have met Merton, to hear something more
about them. Perhaps you would not mind telling me what you know about
their life and prospects."

"I will walk if you wish, Mr. Eden," she returned after a moment's
hesitation. "Mrs. Chance is my friend, and she was my teacher for a year
in the country, before she married. But I couldn't tell you anything
about their prospects, I know so little."

"Still, you know a great deal more about them than I do, and my only
motive in seeking information is--well, not a bad one. I might be able
to give them a little help in their struggles. It strikes me that Merton
is not going quite the right way to work to get on in life, and that his
wife is not too happy. Do you think I am right?"

And the conversation thus begun continued very nearly to the end of
their long walk, Fan, little by little unfolding the story of her
friend's life in the country, of the journey to London, the sudden
marriage; but concerning Merton, his occupations and prospects, she
could tell him next to nothing, and her secret thoughts about him
were not disclosed, in spite of many ingenious little attempts on her
companion's part to pry into her mind.

"Miss Affleck," he said at length, "I feel the greatest respect for your
motives in concealing what you do from me, for I know there is more to
tell if you chose to tell it. But I am not blind; I can see a great deal
for myself. I fear that your friend has made a terrible mistake in tying
herself to Merton. At school he was considered a clever fellow, and
afterwards when he got his clerkship, his friends--he had some friends
then--would have backed him to win in the race of life. But he has
fallen off greatly since then. It is plain to see that he drinks, and he
has also become an incorrigible liar--"

"Mr. Eden!" exclaimed Fan.

"Do you imagine, Miss Affleck, that there is one atom of truth in all he
says about his interest with editors, and his forthcoming books, and
the rest? Do you think it really the truth that he was insane enough to
throw up his clerkship at the Foreign Office which would have kept want
from him, at all events, and from his wife?"

"I cannot say--I do not know," answered Fan; then added, somewhat
illogically, "But it is so very sad for Constance! I don't want to judge
him, I only want to hope."

"I wish to hope too--and to help if I can. I have tried to help him
to-day, but now I fear that I have made a mistake, and that his wife
will not thank me."

"What have you done, Mr. Eden? Is it a secret, or something you can tell
me?"

He did not answer at once; the question, although it pleased him,
required a little rapid consideration. He had been greatly attracted by
Fan, and had observed her keenly all the evening, and had arrived at the
conclusion that she was deeply attached to her friend Mrs. Chance, but
was by no means a believer in or an admirer of Mr. Chance. All this
provided him with an excellent subject of conversation during their long
walk; for in some vague way he had formed the purpose of touching the
heart-strings of this rare girl with grey pathetic eyes. Accordingly
he affected an interest, which he was far from feeling, in his friend's
affairs, expressing indignation at his conduct, and sympathy with his
wife, and everything he said found a ready echo in the girl's heart.
In this way he had gone far towards winning her confidence, and
establishing a kind of friendly feeling between them. That little
tentative speech about his mistake had produced the right effect and
had made her anxious; it would serve his purpose best, he concluded, to
satisfy her curiosity.

"Perhaps I had no right to say what I did," he answered at length, "as
it is a secret. But I will tell it to you all the same, because I
feel sure that I can trust you, and because we are both friends of the
Chances and interested in their welfare, and anxious about them. When
I met Merton to-day I was a little surprised at his manner and
conversation, but in the end I set it down to excitement at meeting with
an old friend. I was anxious not to believe that he had been drinking,
and I did not know that most of the things he told me were rank
falsehoods. He said that he was doing very well as a writer, and that
he required fifty pounds to make up a sum to purchase an interest in
a weekly paper, and asked me to lend it to him, which I did. I am now
convinced that what he told me was not the truth, and that in lending
him fifty pounds I have gone the wrong way about helping him, and fear
very much--please don't think me cynical for saying it--that he will
keep out of my sight as much as he can. I regret it for his wife's sake.
He might have known that I could have helped him in other and better
ways."

Fan made no remark, and presently he continued:

"But let us talk of something else now. Are you fond of reading novels,
Miss Affleck?--if it is not impertinent in me to speak on such a subject
just after we have heard Merton's harangue on the subject."

Of novels they accordingly talked for the next half-hour; but Fan,
rather to his surprise, had read very few of the books of the day about
which he spoke.

They were near the end of their walk now.

"Let me say one thing more about our friends before we separate," he
said. "I do not believe that I shall see much of Merton now, as I said
before. But I shall be very anxious to know how they get on, and you of
course will know. Will you allow me to call at your house and see you
sometimes?"

"That would be impossible, Mr. Eden."

"Why?" he asked in surprise.

"I must tell you, Mr. Eden--I wish Mr. Chance had told you to prevent
mistakes--that I am only a very poor girl. I am in a shop in Regent
Street, and have only one room in the house where I lodge. I have no
relations in the world, and no friends except Constance."

"Is that so?" he said, his tone betraying his surprise. And with the
surprise he felt was mingled disgust--disgust with himself for having so
greatly mistaken her position, and with Destiny for having placed her
so low. But the disgust very quickly passed away, and was succeeded by a
different feeling--one of satisfaction if not of positive elation.

"This is my door, Mr. Eden," said Fan, pausing before one of the dark,
grimy-looking houses in the monotonous street they had entered.

"I am sorry to part with you so soon," he returned. "I do hope that we
shall meet again some day, and I should be so glad, Miss Affleck, if in
future you could think that Mrs. Chance is not your only friend in the
world. Whether we are destined to meet or not again, I should so like
you to think that I am also your friend."

"Thank you, Mr. Eden, I shall be glad to think of you as a friend," she
replied with simple frankness.

That speech and the glance of shy pleasure which accompanied it almost
tempted him to say more, but he hesitated, and finally concluded not to
go further just then; and after opening the door for her with her humble
latchkey, he shook hands and said good-night.



CHAPTER XXIX


Before leaving Fan at her own door Mr. Eden did not neglect to make a
mental note of the number, although to make it out was not easy owing
to the obscure veil that time, weather, and London smoke had thrown
over the gilded figures. From Charlotte Street he walked slowly and
thoughtfully to his rooms in Albemarle Street. "I feel too tired to go
anywhere to-night," he said. "From the remotest wilds of Notting Hill
to the eastern boundaries of Marylebone--a long walk even with such a
companion. That young person I took for a lady is an all-round fraud.
That delicate style of beauty is very deceptive; she would walk a camel
off its legs."

A fire was burning brightly in his sitting-room; and throwing himself
into a comfortable easy-chair before it, he lit a cigar, and began to
think about things in general.

He did not feel quite settled in his London rooms, which he had taken
furnished, and in which he had lived off and on for a period of eighteen
months. He was always thinking of going abroad again to resume the
wanderings which had been prematurely ended by the tidings of his
father's death. But he was indolent, a lover of pleasure, with plenty
of money, and a year and a half had slipped insensibly by. There was no
need to do things in a hurry, he said; his inclination was everything:
when he had a mind to travel he would travel, and when it suited his
mood he would rest at home. He did not care very much about anything.
His teachers had failed to make anything of him.

His father, who had retired from the military profession rather early
in life, had wished him to go into the army; but he was not urgent,
speaking to him less like a father to a son than a middle-aged gentleman
to a young friend in whom he took a considerable interest, but who was
his own master. "It's all very well to say 'Go into the army,'" his
son would answer; "but I can't do it in the way you did, and I strongly
object to the competitive system." And so the matter ended.

It was perhaps in a great measure due to his easygoing, unambitious
character that he had not taken actively to evil courses. The poet is no
doubt right when he says:

    Satan finds some mischief still
    For idle hands to do.

But it is after all a small amount of mischief and of a somewhat mild
description compared with that which he inspires in the busy, pushing,
energetic man. But in spite of his moral debility and his small sympathy
with enthusiasms of any kind, he was much liked by those who knew him.
In a quiet way he was observant, and not without humour, which gave a
pleasant flavour to his conversation. Moreover he was good-tempered,
even to those who bored him, slow to take offence, easily conciliated,
never supercilious, generous.

"What has come to Merton?" he said. "Confound the fellow! I used to
think him so quiet, but now he would talk a donkey's hind-leg off. He's
going to the dogs, I think, and I'm sorry I met him.... No, not sorry,
since through meeting him I have made the acquaintance of that exquisite
girl.... If I know what it is to be in love--and do I not?--I fancy I am
beginning to feel the symptoms of that sweet sickness. I could not think
of such a face and feel well. I must try to get her photo and have it
enlarged; Mills could do a beautiful water-colour portrait from it....
Figure slim, and a most perfect complexion, with a colour delicate as
the blush on the petals of some white flower. Nose straight enough and
of the right size. It is possible to love, as I happen to know, women
with insignificant noses, but impossible not to feel some contempt
for them at the same time. Mouth--well, of a girl or woman, not a
suckling--not the facial disfigurement called a rose-bud mouth, which
has as little attraction for me as the Connemara or even the Zulu mouth.
But how describe it, since the poets have not taught me? The painters
manage these things better; but even their prince, Rossetti, has
nothing on his canvases to compare with this delicate feature. Hair,
golden-brown, very bright; for it does not lie like grass, beaten flat
and sodden with rain; it is fluffy, loose, crisp, with little stray
tresses on forehead, neck, and temples. About her eyes, those windows of
the soul, I can only say--nothing. Something in their grey, mysterious
depths haunts me like music. I don't know what it is. I have loved many
a girl, from the northern with arsenic complexion, china-blue eyes,
and canary-coloured hair, to the divine image cut in ebony, as some one
piously and prettily says, but I doubt that I have felt quite in this
way before. Yet she is not clever, as she says, and is only a poor
shop-girl, her surname Affleck--that quaint, plebeian name with its
curious associations! I must not forget to ask Merton to tell me her
history. I shall certainly see him to-morrow, although perhaps for the
last time. Fifty pounds should be enough to pay for the information
I require. And that reminds me to ask myself a question--Is it my
intention to follow up this adventure? She is a friend of Mrs. Chance,
and since I met her at my friend's house, would it be a right thing to
do? A nice question, but why bother my brains about it? One can't trust
to appearances; but if she is what she looks no harm will come to her.
If she is like other girls of her class, not too pure and good for human
nature's daily food, then the result might be--not at all unpleasant....
Women, pretty girls even, are very cheap in England--a drug in the
market, as any young man not positively a gorilla of ugliness must know.
It rather saddens me to think what I could do, without being a King
Solomon. But for this young girl who is not clever, and lodges in
Charlotte Street, and goes every day to her shop, I think I could make
a fool of myself. And make her happy perhaps. She should have not only
a shelter from the storm and the tempest, but everything her heart could
desire.... And if the opportunity offers, why should I not make
her happy in the way she might like? Is it bad to wish to possess a
beautiful girl? I fancy I have that part of my nature by inheritance.
My amiable progenitor was, in this respect, something of a rascal, as
someone says of the pious Æneas. Only at last he became religious, and
repented of all his sins: the devil was sick, the devil a saint would
be.... After all, if we are powerless to shape our own destinies, if
what is to be will be, how idle to discuss such a question, to array
conscience and inclination against one another, like two sets of wooden
marionettes made to advance and retire by pulling at the strings! This
battle in the brain, which may be fought out till not an opponent is
left alive on one side, all in the course of half an hour, is only a
mock battle--a mere farce. The real battle will be a bigger affair
and last much longer, and a whole galaxy of gods will be looking down
assisting now this side and now that--Chance, Time, Circumstance, and
others too numerous to mention. This, then, is my conclusion--I am in
the hands of destiny: _che sara sara_."

When Merton, after bidding good-night to his guests at the street-door,
returned to the sitting-room where he had left his wife he did not find
her there; in the bedroom he discovered her with tear-stains on her
face.

The smile faded from his lips, he forgot the things he had come to
say, and sitting down by her side he took her hand in his, but without
speaking. He knew why she had been crying. He loved his wife as much as
it was in his power to love anyone after himself, and to some extent he
appreciated her. He recognised in her a very pure and beautiful spirit,
a great depth of affection, and a clear, cultivated intellect, yet
without any of that offensive pride and insolent scorn which so often
accompanies freedom of thought in a woman and makes her contrast so
badly with her old-fashioned Christian sister. He did not rate her
powers very highly, not high enough in fact, so as to compensate for the
excessive esteem in which he held his own; nevertheless she was to him a
lovely, even a gifted woman, and, what was more, she loved him and took
him at his own valuation, and had linked her life with his when his
fortunes were at their lowest. He was always very tender with her,
and had never yet, even in his occasional moments of irritation and
despondence, spoken an unkind word to her. During the evening he had not
failed to notice that she was ill at ease, and he rightly divined that
something in himself had been the cause; nor was he at a loss to guess
what that something was. Yet he had not allowed the thought to trouble
him overmuch; at all events it had made no perceptible difference in his
manner, his elation at the thought of the fifty pounds he was going to
receive causing this little shadow to seem a very small matter. Now he
was troubled by a feeling of compunction, and when he spoke at length it
was in a gentle, pleading tone.

"Connie," he said, "I needn't ask you why you have been crying. I have
offended you so many times that I know the signs only too well."

"That is a reproach I do not deserve, Merton," she returned.

"I am not reproaching you, dear, but myself for giving you pain."

"Have I shown myself so hard to please, so ready to take offence, that
you know the signs of disapproval so well?"

"No, Connie; on the contrary. But my eyes are quick to see disapproval,
as yours are quick to see anything wrong in me. And I would not have
it different." After a while he continued, a little anxiously, "Do you
think our visitor--I mean Eden, for I care nothing about Fan--noticed
any signs of--noticed what you did?"

"How can I tell, Merton? He looked a little tired, I thought."

"Did he look tired? And yet I think I talked well." She made no
reply, and he continued, "Of course, Connie, you thought I seemed too
excited--that I had been taking stimulants. Is it not so?"

"Yes, I thought that," she replied, averting her eyes, and in a tone of
deep pain. "Oh, Merton, is this going to continue until it grows into a
habit? It will break my heart!"

"My dear girl, you needn't imagine anything so terrible. You can trust
me to keep my word. I shall become a total abstainer; not because
alcohol has now or ever can have any fatal attraction for me, but solely
because you wish it, Connie. I confess that to-day I came home unusually
excited, but it was not because I had exceeded. It was because I had met
with an unexpected stroke of good luck. When I met Eden to-day, and was
telling him about my new career and my struggles as a beginner, he at
once very kindly offered to lend me fifty pounds to assist me."

"And are you going to borrow money from your friend?"

"I should not think of asking him for money; but when he offered me this
small sum--for to him it _is_ small--I could not think of refusing. It
would have been foolish when our funds are so low, and I shall soon be
in a position to repay him."

"And you took the money?"

"No, I am to have it to-morrow. I am going to meet him at his club."

"I wish, Merton, that you could do without this fifty pounds," she said
after a while. "I see no prospect of repaying it, there is so little
coming in. And I seem unable to help you in the least--my last
manuscript came back to-day, declined like the others. I am afraid that
this borrowing will do us more harm than good. It is the way to lose
your friends, I think, and the friendship of a man in Mr. Eden's
position should be worth more to you than fifty pounds, even looking at
the matter in a purely interested way."

"You need not fear, Connie. Besides, even if you are right in what
you say, I should really prefer to have this little help than Eden's
friendship. You see he is a mere butterfly, without any interest in
things of the mind, and it is not likely that he will be very much to us
in our new life, which will be among intellectual and artistic people, I
hope."

"With so poor an opinion of him I can't imagine how you can take his
money and lay yourself under so great an obligation."

"Pooh, Connie, the obligation will be very light indeed. In three or
four months the money will be repaid, and he will think as little about
it as he does of inviting me to lunch or giving me a good cigar. I shall
always be friendly with him, and invite him sometimes to see us when we
are comfortably established; but he is not a man I should ever wish to
grapple to my breast with hooks of steel. And so you see, wifie dear,
you have been making yourself unhappy without sufficient cause. And now
won't you kiss and forgive me, and acknowledge that I am not so black as
your imagination painted me?"

She kissed him freely, and accepted as simple truth the explanation he
had given of his excited condition during the evening; nevertheless, she
was not quite happy in her mind. The return of that last manuscript--a
long article which had cost her much pains to write, and about which she
had been very hopeful--had made her sore, and he had paid no
attention to what she had said about it, and the words of sympathy and
encouragement she had looked for had not been spoken. Then it had jarred
on her mind to hear her husband talk so disparagingly of the friend from
whom he was borrowing money. She had herself formed a better opinion of
Mr. Eden's character and capabilities. And about the borrowing, what
he had said had not altered her mind; but it was her way whenever she
disagreed with her husband to reason and even plead with him, and if she
then found, as she generally did, that he still adhered to his own view,
to yield the point and say no more about it.



CHAPTER XXX


Next day the friends met at Eden's club, and after lunching they had
an hour's conversation in the smoking-room. But their characters of the
previous evening now seemed to be reversed--Eden talked and the other
listened. An inexplicable change had come over the loquacious man of
letters; he listened and seemed to be on his guard, drinking little, and
saying nothing about his plans and prospects. "Damn the fellow, I can't
make him out at all," thought Eden, vexed that the other gave him no
opportunity of introducing the subject he had been thinking so much
about. He did not wish to introduce it himself, but in the end he was
compelled to do so.

"By the way, Merton, before I forget it," he said at length, "tell me
about Miss Affleck, whom I met at your house last evening."

Merton glanced at him and did not appear to be pleased at the question.
"Oh, I see," thought his friend, "the subject is not one that he finds
agreeable. I must know why."

"She is a friend of my wife's, but I have never seen much of her,"
replied Merton. "She is an orphan, without money or expectations, I
believe." After an interval he added--"But I dare say you know as much
as I can tell you about her, as you walked home or part of the way home
with her last evening."

This of course was a mere guess on Merton's part.

"Yes, I did, but I didn't question her, and I wanted to know where her
people came from, the Afflecks--"

"Oh, I can soon satisfy your curiosity on that point. That is really not
her name. She was adopted or something by a lady who took an interest
in her for some reason, or for no reason, and who thought proper to give
her that name because Miss Affleck's real surname didn't please her."

"What was her real name?"

"I can't remember. Barnes, or Thompson, or Wilkins--one of those sort of
names."

"And how came the lady to call her Affleck?"

"A mere fancy for an uncommon name, I believe, and because Frances
Affleck sounded better than Frances Green or Black or anything she could
think of. Of course she didn't really adopt the girl at all, but she
brought her up and educated her."

Eden was not yet satisfied with what he had heard, and as Merton seemed
inclined to drop the subject, which was not what he wanted, he remarked
tentatively:

"How curious then that Miss Affleck should now be compelled to make her
own living as a shop-assistant!"

"Oh, you got that out of her!" exclaimed Merton, in a tone of
undisguised annoyance.

"Don't say I got it out of her," returned the other a little sharply.
"I did not question her about her affairs, of course. She gave me that
information quite spontaneously. I can't remember what it was that
brought the subject up." Here he paused to reflect, remarking mentally,
"This fellow is teaching me to be as great a liar as he is himself."
Then he continued--"Ah, yes, I remember now; we were talking about
books, and I asked her why she had not read all the popular novels I
mentioned, and then she explained her position."

"Then," said Merton, transferring his resentment to Fan, "I think it
would have shown better taste if she had been a little more reticent
with a stranger about her private affairs; more especially with one she
has met in my house. For she knows that she took to this life against
our wishes and advice, and that by so doing she has placed a great
distance between herself and Mrs. Chance."

"Perhaps you are right. It is certainly a rare thing in England to see
a young lady in Miss Affleck's position so well suited in appearance and
manner to mix with those who are better placed."

"Quite so. She was never intended for her present station in life.
And since you know what you do know about her through her own want of
discretion, you must let me explain how she comes to be a visitor in my
house, and received as a friend by my wife. My wife's father, a retired
barrister living on a small and not very productive estate of his own in
Wiltshire, consented to receive Miss Affleck to reside for a year in his
house, and during that time my wife gave her instruction. Unhappily the
lady who had made Miss Affleck her _protégée,_ and who happens to be
an extremely crotchety and violent-tempered woman, so full of fads
and fancies that she is more suited to be in a lunatic asylum than at
large--"

"Old, I suppose?" remarked Eden, amused at this sudden flow of talk.

"Old? Well, yes; getting on, I should say. One of those bewigged and
painted wretches that hate to be thought over forty. Well, for some
unexplained reason,--probably because Miss Affleck was young and pretty
and attracted too much admiration--she quarrelled with the poor girl and
cast her off. It was a barbarous thing to do, and we would gladly have
given her a home, and my wife's mother also offered to help her. But
as she wished not to be dependent, Mrs. Chance was anxious to get her
a place as governess or school-teacher. The girl, however, who is
strangely obstinate, would not be persuaded, and eventually got this
situation for herself. This explains what you have heard, and what must
have surprised you very much. Out of pity for the girl, who had been
hardly treated, and because of my wife's affection for her, I have
allowed this thing to continue, and have not given her to understand
that by taking her own course in opposition to our wishes, she has cut
herself off from her friends."

Eden, as we know, had become possessed of the idea that Merton would not
tell the truth if a lie could serve his purpose equally well, and he did
not therefore attach much importance to what he had heard. Nevertheless,
it pleased him. Merton was evidently ashamed at having a shop-girl
received as an equal by his wife, and would be glad, like the bewigged
and evil-tempered old woman he had spoken of, to cast her off. "His
house!" thought Eden contemptuously; "a couple of wretched rooms in the
shabby neighbourhood of Norland Square."

"Well," he said, rising and looking at his watch, "it is greatly to be
regretted that she did not follow your wife's advice, as there is no
question that she is too good for her present station in life."

Merton also rose; the fifty pounds were in his pocket (and his I O U in
his friend's pocket), and there was nothing more to detain him.

"You seem to have been very much attracted by her," he said with a
smile. "Perhaps you intend to cultivate her acquaintance."

Eden smiled also, for his friend's eyes were on his face. "She is a
charming girl, Chance, and--I met her at _your_ house. Unless I meet her
there on some future occasion, I do not suppose that I shall ever see
her again. She has chosen her own path in life, and I only hope that she
may not find it unpleasant."

Then they shook hands and separated; Merton to attend to a little
business matter, then to go home to his wife, with some new things
to tell her. Eden's mental remark was, "I may see--I hope to see Miss
Affleck again, not once, but scores and hundreds of times; but I shall
not grieve much, my veracious and noble-minded friend, if I should never
again run against _you_ in Piccadilly or any other thoroughfare."

From his visit to Eden, which, in different ways, had proved
satisfactory to both gentlemen, Merton returned at six o'clock to dine
with his wife, their usual midday meal having been put off until that
hour to suit his convenience. He had brought a bottle of good wine with
him; for with fifty pounds in his pocket he could afford to be free for
once, and at table he made himself very entertaining.

"This has been a red-letter day," he said, "and I shall finish it by
being as lazy as I like to be. I shouldn't care to sit down now to
work after such a good dinner. Rest and be thankful is my motto for the
moment, and perhaps by-and-by you will treat me to some of your music.
Eden has rather a taste for music, and admires your playing greatly."

He was very lively, and chattered on in this strain until the wine was
finished, and then Constance played and sung a few of his favourite
pieces. But after the singing was over, and when she was doing a little
needlework, she noticed that he had grown strangely silent, and sat
staring into the fire with clouded face; and thinking that there was
perhaps something on his mind which he might like to speak about, she
put down her work and went to him.

"What is it, Merton, dear?" she said; "are there any dead flies in that
little pot of apothecary's ointment you brought home to-day?"

"No, not one--not even the proboscis of a fly has been left sticking in
it. By the way, here it is, all but five pounds which I had to change
to-day. Take it, Connie, and stick to it like old boots. No, dear, it
was not that; I was thinking of something different--something that has
vexed me a little. When is your friend Fan coming again?"

"Fan! I don't know. We made no arrangement. I am to write to let her
know when to come. Has Fan anything to do with the vexation you speak
of?"

"Yes, to some extent she has; but I really had no intention of speaking
of it just now, as I know how sensitive you are on that point, and
biased in her favour."

"Biased in her favour, Merton? What is there wrong in her?--how can she
have vexed you?"

"She has done nothing intentionally to vex me. But, Connie, she is a
very ignorant girl, and I cannot help regretting very much that she was
here last evening when Eden came."

"You are not very complimentary to me when you call her ignorant,
Merton."

"My dear girl, I don't mean ignorant in that sense. I dare say you
taught her as much as most young ladies are supposed to know; perhaps
more. But she is naturally ignorant of social matters, with an ignorance
that is born in her and quite invincible."

"I am more puzzled than ever. I have taught her something--not very
much, I confess, as I only had her for one year. But for the rest, it
has always been my opinion that she possesses a natural refinement, such
as one would expect from her appearance, and that there is a singular
charm in her manner. Perhaps you do not think me capable of forming a
right judgment about such things."

"Don't say that, Connie; but you shall judge yourself whether I am right
or wrong in what I have said when you hear the facts. It appears that
Eden did not see her to the omnibus, but walked home with her last
evening. He spoke of her this morning, and though he assumed an
indifferent tone, it was plain to see that he was very much surprised
to find a shop-girl from Regent Street visiting and on terms of equality
with my wife."

Constance reddened.

"How came your friend to know that she was a shopgirl in Regent Street?"

"That's just where the cause of vexation lies," said Merton. "She told
him that herself, not in answer to any question from him, but simply
because she thought proper to explain who and what she was. She did not
think it was wrong, no doubt, but what can you do with such a person?
Surely she must be ignorant to talk about her squalid affairs to a
gentleman of Mr. Eden's standing after meeting him in our house! To tell
you the truth, I think it was kind of Eden to mention the matter to me.
It was as if he had said in so many words, 'If your visitors and dearest
friends are chosen from the shop-girl class, you will find it a rather
difficult matter to better your position in the world.'"

"I am very sorry you have been annoyed, Merton. But I could not very
well speak to Fan about it. She would imagine, and it would be very
natural, that we were getting a little too fastidious."

"You are right, she would, and I advise you to say nothing about it.
A far better plan would be to break off this unequal friendship, which
will only distress and be a hindrance to us in various ways, and would
have to come to an end some day."

"Oh, Merton, that would be cruel to her and to me as well! Not only is
she my dearest friend, but she is really the only friend I have got."

"Yes, I know; I have thought about that, but it will not be for long,
Connie. You must not imagine that our life is to be spent in this or
any other sordid suburb. The articles I am now engaged on cannot fail
to bring me into notice and give us a fair start in life; and you may be
sure, Connie, that society will very soon find out that you are one of
the gifted ones, both physically and mentally. It will not be suitable
for you to know one in Fan's position, and it will only be a kindness to
the girl if you quietly drop her now."

Constance was not in the least affected by this glittering vision of the
future; she made no reply, but with eyes cast down and a face expressing
only pain she moved from his side, and sat down to her work once more.
To be deprived of her beloved friend, whose friendship was so much to
her in her solitary life, and whose place in her heart no other could
take, and for so slight a cause, seemed very hard and very strange. Why
did her husband consider her so little in this matter? This she asked
herself, and a suspicion which had floated vaguely in her mind before
began to take form. Was this slight cause the real cause of so harsh a
determination? Since he loved her, and was invariably kind and tender,
it seemed more like a pretext. She remembered that from the first he
had depreciated Fan, and had sometimes shown irritation at her visiting
them; did he fear that some disagreeable secret of his past life, known
to Fan, might be betrayed by her? It was a painful suspicion and made
her silent.

Merton was also silent; to himself he said, "I knew that it would grieve
her a little at first, but she is not unreasonable, and in a short time
she will come round to my opinion. The girl is well enough, but not a
fit associate for my wife, and it is better to get rid of-her now before
making new friends."

At half-past ten o'clock Constance, still silent, took her candle and
went to her bedroom, still with that secret trouble gnawing at her
heart.

Merton found a book and read until past twelve, and then came to
the conclusion that the author was an ass. It happened that he knew
something about the author; he knew, for instance, that he was a married
man, and lived in a pretty house at Richmond, and gave garden-parties,
to which a great many well-known people went. Well, if this scribbler
could make enough by his twaddling books to live in that style, what
might not he, Merton, make?

His wife's entrance just then interrupted his pleasant thoughts. She
had risen from her bed after lying awake two or three hours, and came
in with a light wrapper over her nightdress, and her hair unbound on her
shoulders. "Is it not getting very late, Merton?" she asked.

"Connie, come here," he said, regarding her with some surprise, and then
drawing her on to his knee. "My dear girl, you have been crying."

"Yes, ever since I went to bed. But I didn't think you would notice, I
did not mean you to know it."

"Why not, darling? I am very sorry that what I said about Fan distresses
you so much. But why should you hide any grief, little or great, from
me, dearest?" he added, caressing her hair.

"I have never hidden anything from you, Merton, only to-night I felt
strongly inclined to conceal what was in my mind. Let me tell you what
it is; and will you, Merton, on your part, be as open with me and show
the same confidence in my love that I have in yours?"

"Assuredly I will, Connie. We shall never be happy if we hide anything
from each other."

"Then, Merton, I must tell you that your readiness in resenting that
little fault of Fan's, and making it a cause for separating us, makes me
suspect that there is something behind it which you have kept from me.
Tell me, Merton, and do not be afraid to tell me if my suspicion is
correct, is there anything in your past life you wished to keep from me
and which is known to Fan, and might come to my knowledge through her?"

"No, Connie, there is absolutely nothing in my past that I would
hesitate to tell you. If I had had any painful secret I should have told
it to you when I asked you to be my wife, and I am surprised that such
a suspicion should have entered your mind. But I am very glad that you
have told me of it. You shall send for Fan and question her yourself,
for I presume you have never done so before, and after that you will
perhaps cease to doubt me."

"I do not doubt your word, Merton, and trust and believe that I never
shall doubt the truth of what you say. To question Fan about you--that I
could not do, even if the suspicion still lived, but it is over now, and
you must forgive me for having entertained it."

"Perhaps it was not altogether strange, Connie, since you attach so
little importance to these distinctions. But they are very important
nevertheless, and in this keen struggle for life, and for something more
than a bare subsistence, we cannot afford to hamper ourselves in any
way. I am quite sure that, even if I had spoken no word, you would have
discovered after a while that this is an inconvenient friendship. I have
known it all along, but have not hitherto spoken about it for fear of
paining you. But do not distress yourself any more to-night, Connie; let
things remain as they are at present, if it is your wish."

"My wish, Merton! My chief wish is never to do anything of which you
would disapprove. Do I need to remind you that I have never opposed
a wish of mine to yours? I could not let things remain as they are at
present while you think as you do. It will be a great grief to me to
lose Fan, but while you are in this mind I would not ask her to come and
see me again, even if you were a thousand miles from home."

"Then, dear wife, let us think it over for two or three days, and when
I have got over this little vexation, if I see any reason to change my
mind I shall let you know in good time."

And so for the moment the matter ended; but two or three days passed,
and then two or three more, and Merton still kept silence on the
subject.



CHAPTER XXXI


A fortnight went by. Fan, occupied in her shop and happy enough, except
once when she encountered the grisly manager's terrible eyes on her:
then she trembled and glanced down at her dress, fearing that it had
looked rusty or out of shape to him; for in that establishment a heavy
fine or else dismissal would be the lot of any girl who failed to look
well-dressed. Constance, for the most part sitting solitary at home,
trying in vain to write something that would meet the views of some
editor. Merton, busy running about, full to overflowing of all the
things he intended doing. Eden, doing nothing: only thinking, which, in
his case at all events, was "but an idle waste of thought." So inactive
was he at this period, and so much tobacco did he consume to assist his
mental processes, that he grew languid and pale. His friends remarked
that he was looking seedy. This made him angry--very angry for so slight
a cause; and he thought that of all the intolerable things that have to
be put up with this was the worst--that people should remark to a man
that he is looking seedy, when the seediness is in the soul, and the
cause of it a secret of which he is ashamed.

At the end of the fortnight he became convinced that his feeling for the
delicate girl with the pathetic grey eyes was no passing fancy, but a
passion that stirred him as he had never been stirred before, and he
resolved to possess her in spite of the fact that he had met her in his
friend's house.

"Let the great river bear me to the main," he said; although bad, he
was too honest to quote the other line, feeling that he had not striven
against the stream.

Having got so far, he began to consider what the first step was to be in
this enterprise of great pith and moment. For although the insanity of
passionate desire possessed him, he was not going to spoil his chances
by acting in a hurry, or doing anything without the most careful
consideration. The desire to see her again was very insistent, and
by strolling up the street in which she lived in the evening he might
easily have met her, by chance as it were, returning from her shop, but
he would not do that. An enterprise of this kind seemed to him like one
of those puzzle-games in which if a right move is made at first the game
may be won, however many blundering moves may follow; but if the first
move is wrong, then by no possible skill and care can the desired end be
reached.

He recalled their conversation about novels, and remembered the titles
of five popular works he had mentioned which Miss Affleck had not read.
These works he ordered in the six-shilling form, and then spent the best
part of a day cutting the leaves and knocking the books about to give
them the appearance of having been used. He also wrote his name in them,
in each case with some old date; and finally, to make the deception
complete, spilt a little ink over the cover of one volume, dropped some
cigar-ash between the leaves of a second, and concealed a couple of old
foreign letters on thin paper in a third. Then he tied them up together
and sent them to her by a messenger with the following letter:


DEAR MISS AFFLECK,

I have just been looking through my bookshelves, and was pleased to find
that I had some of the novels we spoke about the other evening, which,
if I remember rightly, you said that you had not read. It was lucky I
had so many, as my friends have a habit of carrying off my books and
forgetting to return them. If you will accept the loan of them, do not
be in a hurry to return them; they will be safer in your keeping than in
mine, and one or two, I think, are almost worth a second perusal.

I must not let slip this opportunity, as another might not occur for a
long time, of saying something about our friends at Norland Square. I
saw Merton the day after meeting you, but not since; nor have I heard
from him. I know now that he lost his appointment at the Foreign Office
through his own folly, and that most of his friends have dropped him. I
do honestly think that Mrs. Chance has made a terrible mistake; I pity
her very much. But things may not after all turn out altogether badly,
and if Merton has any good in him he ought to show it now, when he has
such a woman as your friend for a wife and companion. At all events,
I have made up my mind--and this is another secret, Miss Affleck--to
forget all about the past and do what I can to assist him. Not only for
auld lang syne, for we were great friends at school, but also for his
wife's sake. My only fear is that he will keep out of my sight, but
perhaps I am doing him an injustice in thinking so. But as you will
continue to see your friend, may I ask you to let me know should they
at any time be in very straitened circumstances, or in any trouble, or
should they go away from Norland Square? I do hope you will be able to
promise me this.

Believe me, dear Miss Affleck,

Yours sincerely,

ARTHUR EDEN.


To this letter, the writing of which, it is only right to say, actually
caused Mr. Eden to blush once or twice, Fan at once replied, thanking
him for the parcel of books. "I must also thank you," the letter said,
"for telling me to keep them so long, as there is so much to read in
them, and my reading time is only when I am at leisure in the evening. I
shall take great care of them, as I think from their look that you like
to keep your books very clean." In answer to the second part of his
letter she wrote: "I scarcely know what to reply to what you say about
the Chances. Constance and I are such great friends that I am almost
ashamed to discuss her affairs with anyone else, as I am sure that she
would be very much hurt if she knew it. And yet I must promise to do
what you ask. I do not think it would be right to refuse after what you
have said, and I am very glad that Mr. Chance has one kind friend left
in you."

Eden was well satisfied at the result of his first move. There would
have to be a great many more moves before the pretty game ended, but he
now had good reason to hope for a happy ending.

She had accepted his offer of his friendship, the loan of his books, and
had written him a letter which he liked so much that he read it several
times. It was a sunshiny April morning, and after breakfasting he went
out for a stroll, feeling a strange lightness of heart--a sensation like
that which a good man experiences after an exercise of benevolence. And
the feeling actually did take the form of benevolence, and no single
pair of hungry wistful eyes met his in vain during that morning's walk
until he had expended the whole of his small change. "Poor wretches!"
he thought, "I couldn't have imagined there was so much misery and
starvation about." His heart was overflowing with happiness and love
for the entire human race. "After all," he continued, "I don't think I'm
half as bad as that impudent conscience of mine sometimes tries to make
out. I know lots of fellows who sink any amount of money in betting and
other things and never think to give sixpence to a beggar. Of course no
one can be perfect, everyone _must_ have some vice. But I don't
quite look on mine as a vice. Some wise man has called it an amiable
weakness--that's about as good a description as we can have."

Passing along a quiet street where the houses were separated from the
pavement by gardens and stone balustrades, he noticed a black cat seated
on the top of a pillar, its head thrown far back, and its wide-open
eyes, looking like balls of yellow fire, fixed on a sparrow perched high
above on the topmost twig of a tall slender tree. "Puss, puss," said
Eden, speaking to the animal almost unconsciously, and without pausing
in his walk. Down instantly leapt the cat, inside the wall, and dashing
through the shrubbery, shot ahead of him, and springing on to the
balustrade thrust its head forward to catch a passing caress. He touched
the soft black head with his fingers, and passed on with a little laugh.
"An instance of the magical effect of kindness," he soliloquised. "That
cat sees more enemies than friends among the passers-by--the boy whose
soul delights in persecuting a strange cat, and the young man with that
most insolent and aggressive little beast a fox-terrier at his heels.
And yet quick as lightning it understood the tone I spoke to it in,
although the voice was strange, and shot past me and came out just for
a pat on the head. A very sagacious cat; and yet I really felt
no particular kindness towards it; the tone was only assumed. Its
statuesque figure attracted me, as it sat there like a cat carved out
of ebony, with two fiery splendid gems for eyes. I admired the beauty of
the thing, that was all. And as with cats so it is with women. Let them
once think that you are kind, and you have a great advantage. You may
do almost anything after that; your kindness covers it all.... What
an impudent juggler, and what an outrageous fibber, this confounded
conscience is! I may not have felt any great kindness for black pussy
when I spoke to her, but between that and carrying her home under my
coat to vivisect her at leisure there is a vast difference. If I am ever
unkind in act or word or deed to that sweet girl--no, the idea is too
absurd! I can feel nothing but kindness for her, and if I felt convinced
that I could not make her happy, then I would resign her at once, hard
as that would be."

That same evening Eden received a second letter from Fan, but very
short, enclosing the two foreign letters, which she had just found in
one of his books. This was only what he had expected. He replied, also
briefly, thanking her for sending the letters, and for the promise she
had given, and there for the moment he allowed the affair to rest.

Meanwhile Fan was every day expecting an invitation to Norland Square,
and she was deeply disappointed and surprised when a whole week passed
with no letter from Constance. Then a long letter came, which troubled
her a good deal, for she was not asked to go to Norland Square, and no
meeting was arranged, but, on the contrary, she was left to infer that
there would be no meeting for some time to come. A photograph and a
postal order for five shillings were enclosed in the letter, and about
these Constance wrote: "I send you the photo you have so often expressed
a wish to have, and I think you ought to feel flattered, for I have
not been taken before since I was fifteen years old; I don't like the
operation. I think it flatters me, and Merton says that it does not do
me justice, so that it cannot be quite like me, but it will serve well
enough to refresh your memory of me when we are separated for any length
of time. But it is so painful to me to think of losing sight of you
altogether that I have no heart to say more about that just now. Only I
_must_ have your photo: I cannot wait long for it, and you must forgive
me, dearest Fan, for sending the money to have it taken at once. I know,
dear, that you cannot very well afford to spend money on pictures, even
of yourself, and so please don't be vexed with me, but do as I wish;
for since I cannot have you always near me I wish at least to have your
counterfeit presentment. I should like it cabinet size if you can get it
for the money, if not I must have a small vignette, and I hope you will
go to a good man and have it well done, and above all that you will send
it soon."

There was much more in the letter; a sweeter Fan had never received
from her friend, so much affection did it express; but it also expressed
sadness, and the vague hints of probable changes to come, and a long
separation in it, mystified and troubled her.

Before many days the photograph, which cost half-a-guinea, was finished
and sent to Constance, with a letter in which Fan begged her friend to
appoint a day for them to meet.

In the meantime at Norland Square Merton was preparing for a fresh
change in his life, and as usual with a light heart; but in this
instance his wife for the first time had taken the lead. After breakfast
one morning he was getting ready to go to Fleet Street to the office of
a journal there, when Constance asked if she might go with him.

"Yes, dear, certainly, if you wish to see a little of the life and
bustle of London."

"I haven't seen much of London yet, and I should so like to have a
little peep at the East End we hear and read so much about just now.
Can't you manage, after your business is finished at the office, to go
with me there on a little exploring expedition?"

"That's not a bad idea," he returned. "But I shall be lost in that
wilderness, and not know which way to go and what to look for."

"Then I shall be your guide," she said with a smile. "I've been studying
the map, and reading a book about that part of London, and have marked
out a route for us to follow."

"All right, Connie, get ready as soon as you like, and we'll have a day
of adventures in the East."

And as Constance had dressed herself with a view to the journey, she had
only to put on her hat and gloves, and they started at once, taking an
omnibus in the Uxbridge Road to Chancery Lane. From Fleet Street they
went on to Whitechapel, where their travels in a strange region were
to begin. Constance wished in the first place to get some idea of the
extent of that vast district so strangely called East _End,_ as if it
formed but a small part of the great city. The population and number of
tenements, and of miles of streets, were mere rows of figures on a page,
and no help to the mind. Only by seeing it all would she be able to form
any conception of it: she saw a great deal of it in the course of the
day from the tops of omnibuses, and travelled for hours in those long
thoroughfares that seemed to stretch away into infinitude, so that
one finds it hard to believe that nature lies beyond, and fields where
flowers bloom, and last night's dew lies on the untrodden grass. Nor
was she satisfied with only seeing it, or a part of it, in this hasty
superficial way; at various points they left the thoroughfare to stroll
about the streets, and in some of the streets they visited, which were
better than those inhabited by the very poor, Constance entered several
of the houses on the old pretext of seeking lodgings, and made many
minute inquiries about the cost of living from the women she talked
with.

It was seven o'clock in the evening when they got home; and after
dining Merton lit a cigar and stretched himself out on the sofa of their
sitting-room to recover from his fatigue. His wife was also too tired to
do anything, and settled herself near him in the easy-chair.

"Well, Connie," he said with a smile, "what is to be the outcome of the
day's adventures? Of course you had an object in dragging one through
that desert desolate."

"Yes, I had," she answered with a glance at his face. "Can you guess
it?"

"Perhaps I can. But let me hear it. I shall be so sorry if I have to nip
your scheme in the bud."

"I think, Merton, it would be a good plan for us to go and live there
for a time. It is better to move about a little and see some of the
things that are going on in this world of London. I am getting a little
tired of the monotony here; besides, just now when we are so poor it
would be a great advantage. I found out to-day that we can get better
rooms than these for about half the sum we are paying. Provisions and
everything we require are also much cheaper there."

"Yes, dear, that may be, but you forget that the man who aspires to rise
in London must have an address he is not ashamed of. Norland Square is
a poor enough place, but there is at any rate a W. after it. I fancy
it would be very bad economy in the end, just to save a few shillings a
week, to go where there would be an E."

"I don't quite agree with you, Merton. When we have friends to
correspond with and to visit us, then we can think more about where we
live; I have no desire to settle permanently or for any long time in the
east district. But I have not yet told you the principal reason I
have for wishing to go and live in that part of London for a few
months--weeks if you like."

"Well, what is it?"

"I think it will be a great advantage to you, Merton. You will be able
to see and hear for yourself. You speak about East End socialism in the
papers you are writing, but you speak of it, as others do, in a vague
way, as a thing contemptible and yet dangerous to civilisation, or which
might develop into something dangerous. It strikes me that something is
to be gained by studying it more closely, but just now you are dependent
on others for your facts."

"And you think I could see things better than others?" he said, not ill
pleased.

"You can at all events see them with your own eyes, and that will be
better than looking at them through other people's spectacles. Besides,
it is a period of rapid transitions, and the picture painted yesterday,
however faithful to nature the artist may have been, no longer
represents things as they exist to-day."

"You are right there."

"And if you go to the East End with the avowed object of studying
certain phenomena and ascertaining certain facts for yourself, to use in
your articles, I don't think that your residence there would prejudice
you in any way."

"No, of course not. Why, the thing is done every day by well-known
men--brilliant writers some of them--men who are run after by Mr.
Knowles. It is a good idea, Connie, and I am glad you suggested it. The
spread of socialism in London is a grand subject. Of course I know all
about the arguments of the wretched crew of demagogues engaged in this
propaganda. I could easily, to quote De Quincey's words, 'bray their
fungous heads to powder with a lady's fan, and throttle them between
heaven and earth with my finger and thumb.' But we want to know just
how far their doctrines, or whatever they call their crack-brained
fantasies, have taken root in the minds of the people, and what the
minds are like, and what the outcome of it all is to be. If we go to the
East End, and I don't see why we shouldn't, as soon as we find ourselves
settled there I shall begin to go about a great deal among the people,
and attend the meetings of the social democrats, and listen to the wild
words of their orators, and note the effect of what they say on their
hearers What do you say, Connie?"

"I shall be ready to pack up and follow you any day, Merton. And I think
that I might assist you a little; at all events I shall try, and
go about among the women and listen to what they say while you are
listening to the men."

Merton was delighted. "You have a prophetic soul, Connie," he said, "and
I shall be as much astonished as yourself if something grand doesn't
come of this. A great thing in my favour is that I can generally manage
to get at the pith of a thing, while most people can do nothing but
sniff in a hopeless sort of way at the rind. Of course you have noticed
that in me, Connie. I sometimes regret that I am not a barrister, for
I possess the qualities that lead to success in that profession. At the
same time it is a profession that has a very narrowing effect on the
mind--the issues are really in most cases so paltry. Your barrister
never can be a statesman; he has looked at things so closely, to study
the little details, that his eagle vision has changed into the short
sight of the owl. And, by the way, now I think of it, I must have a
little brandy in to-night to drink success to our new scheme."

"Do you really need brandy, Merton? I thought--"

"Yes, I really do--to-night. I feel so thoroughly knocked up, Connie;
and now my brain is in such a state of activity that a little brandy
will have no more effect than so much water. Do you know, it is
an ascertained fact in science that alcohol taken when you are
active--either physically or mentally active--does not go off nor remain
in the tissues, but is oxygenised and becomes food. Besides this, I
fancy, will be about the last bottle I shall allow myself, I know that
you are a Sir Wilfred Lawsonite, and I am determined to respect all your
little prepossessions. Not that you have much to thank me for in this
case, for I really care very little about strong waters."

He rang the bell, and gave the servant-girl six shillings to get a
bottle of Hennessy's brandy. With that bottle of brandy looking very
conspicuous on the table, and her husband more talkative and in need of
her companionship than ever, Constance could not go away to her room,
as she would have liked to do, to be alone with that dull pain at her
heart--the sorrow and sense of shame--or perhaps to forget it in sleep.
She sat on with him into the small hours, while that oxygenising process
was going on, listening, smiling at the right time, entering into all
his plans, and even assisting him to find a startling title for the
series of brilliant articles on the true condition of the East End,
about which all London would no doubt soon be talking.



CHAPTER XXXII


Constance did not reply immediately to Fan's letter, which came to her
with the photograph, but first completed her preparations for leaving
Notting Hill. A visit from her friend was what she most feared, and the
thought of the overwhelming confusion she would feel in the presence of
the guileless girl, and of further and still more painful duplicity on
her part, had the effect of hastening her movements. Before Merton's
enthusiasm had had time to burn itself out--that great blaze which had
nothing but a bundle of wood-shavings to sustain it--they were ready to
depart. But the letter must be written--that sad farewell letter which
for ever or for a long period of time would put an end to their sweet
intercourse; and it was with a heavy heart that Constance set herself to
the task. She herself had gone into the shop to seek an engagement for
her friend, and had been pleased at the result--it had not made a shadow
of difference between them; now, when she thought that she was about to
cast the girl off, although in obedience to her husband's wishes, for
this very thing, her cheeks were on fire with shame, her heart filled
with grief. Brave and honest though she was, she could not in this
instance bear to tell the plain truth. They were hurriedly leaving
Norland Square, she said; they were going away--she did not say how far,
but left the other to infer that it was to a great distance. In their
new home they would be engaged in work which would occupy all their
time, all their thoughts, so that even their correspondence would have
to be suspended.

Their separation would be for a long time--she could not say how long,
but the thought of it filled her with grief, and she had not the courage
to meet Fan to say good-bye. Such partings between dear friends were so
unspeakably sad! There was much more in the letter, and the writer said
all she could to soften the unkind blow she was constrained to inflict.
But when Fan read it, after recovering from her first astonishment, her
heart sank within her. For now it seemed that her second friend,
not less dearly loved than the first, was also lost. A keen sense of
loneliness and desolation came over her, which sadly recalled to her
mind the days when she had wandered homeless and hungry through the
streets of Paddington, and again, long afterwards, when she had been
treacherously enticed away from Dawson Place.

Not until two days after receiving this letter, which she had read a
hundred times and sadly pondered over during the interval, did she
write to Arthur Eden; she could delay writing no longer, since she had
promised to let him know if anything happened at Norland Square. She
wrote briefly, and the reply came very soon.


MY DEAR MISS AFFLECK,

I am much concerned at what you tell me, and fear that Merton has got
into serious trouble. He is not deserving of much pity, I am afraid, but
I do feel sorry for his wife. That she should not have given you her new
address is a curious circumstance, as you say, and a rather disagreeable
one. I can understand their hiding themselves from a creditor, or
any other obnoxious person, but to hide themselves from you seems a
senseless proceeding. However, don't let us judge them too hastily. I
shall send off a note at once to Merton, addressed to Norland Square,
asking him to lunch with me at my club on Saturday next. No doubt he has
left an address with his landlady where letters are to be forwarded, and
if he is out of town, as you imagine, there will be time to get a reply
before Saturday; but I am sure he has not left London, and that I shall
see him. He knows that he has nothing to fear from me, and when he
learns that I am willing to assist him he will perhaps tell me what
the trouble is. Of course I shall not tell him that I have been in
communication with you. Will you be so good as to meet me in the
Regent's Park--near the Portland Road Station entrance--at eleven
o'clock next Sunday? and I shall then let you hear the result.

Yours very sincerely,

ARTHUR EDEN.


It was with a little shock of pleasure that Fan read this letter, so
ready had the writer been to show his sympathy, and so perfectly in
accord were their thoughts; and if these new benevolent designs of Mr.
Eden were to succeed, then how great a satisfaction it would always be
to her to think that she had been instrumental, in a secret humble
way, in her friend's deliverance from trouble! She thought it a little
strange that Mr. Eden should wish to tell her the news he would have by
word of mouth instead of by letter; but the prospect of a meeting
was not unpleasant. On the contrary, it consoled her to know that the
disappearance of Constance had not cast her wholly off from that freer,
sweeter, larger life she had known at Dawson Place and at Eyethorne,
which had made her so happy. A link with it still existed in this
new friendship; and although Arthur Eden could not take the place of
Constance in her heart, from among his own sex fate could not have
selected a more perfect friend for her. The link was a slender one, and
in the future there would probably be no meetings and few letters, but
in spite of that he was and always would be very much to her. With
these thoughts occupying her mind she wrote thanking him for his ready
response to her letter, and promising to meet him on the ensuing Sunday.

When the day at length arrived she set out at half-past ten to keep the
appointment, with many misgivings, not however because she, a pretty
unprotected shop-girl, was going to meet a young gentleman, but solely
on account of the weather. All night and at intervals during the morning
there had been torrents of rain, and though the rain had ceased now the
sky still looked dark and threatening. Unfortunately her one umbrella
was getting shabby, and matched badly with hat, gloves, shoes and dress,
all of which were satisfactory. Mr. Eden, she imagined, judging from his
appearance, was a little fastidious about such things, and in the end
she determined to risk going without the umbrella. When she passed
Portland Road Station, and the sky widened to her sight in the open
space, there were signs of coming fair weather to cheer her; the
fresh breeze felt dry to the skin, the clouds flew swiftly by, and at
intervals the sun appeared, not fiery and dazzling, but like a silver
shield suspended above, rayless and white as the moon, and after
throwing its chastened light over the wet world for a few moments the
flying vapours would again obscure it. She was early, but had scarcely
entered the park before Mr. Eden joined her. The pleasure which shone
in his eyes when he advanced to greet her made her think that he was the
bearer of welcome news; he divined as much, and hastened to undeceive
her.

"I know that you are anxious to hear the result of my inquiries," he
said, "but you must prepare for a disappointment, Miss Affleck."

"You have something bad to tell me?"

"No, I have nothing to tell. My letter to Merton was returned to me on
Friday through the dead letter post. They've gone and left no address.
To make quite sure, I went to Norland Square yesterday to see the
landlady, and she says that they left ten days ago, and that Mr. Chance
told her that he had written to all his correspondents to give them his
new address, and that if any letter came for him or his wife she was to
return it to the postman. Of course she does not know where they have
gone."

Fan was deeply disappointed, and still conversing on this one subject,
they continued walking for an hour about the park, keeping to the paths.

"You must not distress yourself, Miss Affleck," said her companion. "The
thing is no greater a mystery now than it was a week ago, and you must
have arrived at the conclusion as long ago as that, that the Chances
wished to sever their connection with you."

"Do you think that, Mr. Eden--do you think that Constance really wishes
to break off with me? It would be so unlike her." There were tears in
her voice if not in her eyes as she spoke.

He did not answer her question at once. They were now close to the
southern entrance to the Zoological Gardens.

"Let's go in through this gate," he said. "In there we shall be able to
find shelter if it rains." He had tickets of admission in his pocket,
and passing the stile Fan found herself in that incongruous wild animal
world set in the midst of a world of humanity. A profusion of flowers
met her gaze on every side, but she looked beyond the variegated beds,
blossoming shrubs, and grass-plats sprinkled with patches of gay colour,
to the huge unfamiliar animal forms of which she caught occasional
glimpses in the distance. For she had never entered the Gardens before,
this being the one great sight in London which Mary and her brother
Tom had forgotten to show her. And since her return to town she had
not ventured to go there alone, although living so near to the Regent's
Park. Walking there on Sundays, when there was no admission to the
public, she had often paused to listen with a feeling of wonder to
the strange sounds that issued from the enchanted enclosure--piercing
screams of eagles and of cranes; the muffled thunder of lions, mingled
with sharp yells from other felines; and wolf-howls so dismal and long
that they might have been wafted to her all the way from Oonalaska's
shore.

Mr. Eden appeared not to notice the curious glances as he paced
thoughtfully by her side, and presently he recalled her to the subject
they had been discussing.

"Miss Affleck," he said, "has there been any disagreement, or have you
heard any word from Merton or Mrs. Chance which might have led you to
think that they contemplated breaking off their acquaintance with you?"

In answer she told him about the letter from Constance asking for her
photograph.

"Where did you have your picture taken?" he asked somewhat irrelevantly.

Fan told him, and as he said nothing she added, "But why do you ask
that, Mr. Eden?"

He could not tell her that he intended going to the photographer, whose
name he had just heard, to secure a copy of her picture for his own
pleasure, and so he answered:

"It merely occurred to me to ask just to know whether you had gone by
chance to one of the good men I could have recommended. It is evident
that when Mrs. Chance wrote to you in that way she had already planned
this separation. Whatever her motives may have been, it is certainly
hard on you; and I scarcely need assure you, Miss Affleck, that you have
my heartfelt sympathy."

"You are very kind, Mr. Eden," she returned, scarcely able to repress
the tears that rose to her eyes.

After an interval of silence he said:

"If you still wish to find out their address, the quickest way would be
to write to your friend's home. Merton told me that you lived for a year
with his wife's people in Hampshire or Dorset."

"Yes, in Wiltshire. But I know that Constance has not corresponded with
her mother since her marriage. Perhaps you are right in what you said,
Mr. Eden, that they wish--not to know me any longer."

He turned away from the wistful, questioning look in her eyes, and only
remarked, "I shall find it hard to forgive them this."

"But I can't believe that Constance would do anything unkind," she
replied, somewhat illogically.

"No. But Constance is not herself--her real self now, she is Merton's
wife."

"Then you think that Constance--yes, perhaps you are right"; and then in
a pathetic tone she added, "I have no friend now."

"Do not say that, Miss Affleck! Do you not remember that on the occasion
of our first meeting you promised to regard me as a friend?"

"Yes, I do, and I feel very grateful for your kindness to me. When I
said that I meant a lady friend.... That is such a different kind of
friendship. And--and you could never be like one of the two friends I
have lost."

"Two, Miss Affleck! I did not know that you had had the misfortune to
lose more than one."

"The first was the lady I lived with in London before I went to the
Churtons'."

"Oh, yes, I see what you mean. It was a great loss to you in one sense,
but of course you couldn't have the same feeling about her as in the
case of Mrs. Chance. She was, I understand, a toothless old hag, more
than half-crazy--"

"Half-crazy! Toothless! Old! What do you mean, Mr. Eden? She is young
and beautiful, and though I am nothing to her now I love her still with
all my heart."

He looked at her with the utmost surprise, and then burst into a laugh.

"Forgive me for laughing, Miss Affleck," he said. "But I remember now it
was Merton who described her to me as a made-up old lady who ought to
be in an asylum. How stupid of me to believe anything that fellow ever
says, even when he has no motive for being untruthful!"

Fan also laughed, she could not help laughing in spite of the intense
indignation she felt against Mary's rejected suitor for libelling her in
such an infamous manner.

"Do you know that it is beginning to rain?" he said, holding his
umbrella over her head. "We must go in there and wait until it pauses."

It was one o'clock, and the refreshment rooms had just opened. Fan was
conducted into the glittering dining-saloon, and was persuaded to join
her companion in a rather sumptuous luncheon, and to drink a glass of
champagne.

Occasional showers prevented them leaving for some time, and it was
nearly four o'clock when they finally left the Gardens, Fan again
staring curiously round her.

"Mr. Eden," she asked, pointing to a large, blue, cow-like creature,
with goat's horns and a hump, "will you tell me what that animal is?"

"I am not sure quite that I can," he replied with a slight laugh. "Its
name is as outlandish as itself--gnu, or yak, or perhaps Jamrach."

The reply was not very satisfactory, and she felt a little disappointed
that he did not turn aside to let her look at it, or at any of the other
strange beasts and birds near them; but just after leaving he remarked
in a casual way:

"I suppose you are quite familiar with the Gardens, Miss Affleck?"

"Oh, no, I have never been in them before to-day."

"Really! Then how sorry I am that I did not know sooner! We might have
gone in and seen the lions, and monkeys, while it was raining. However,
we could not have seen very much to-day, and if you can manage to come
next Sunday I shall be so glad to show you everything." Seeing that she
hesitated, he added, "I shall make some inquiries during the week, and
may have something to tell you next Sunday if you will come."

That won her consent, and after seeing her to her own door, Eden went on
his way rejoicing, for so far the gods he had once spoken of had shown
themselves favourable.

During the week that followed Fan thought often enough of her friend's
mysterious conduct towards her; but the remembrance of Mr. Eden's
sympathy lightened the pain considerably, and as the time of that second
meeting, which was to be more pleasant even than the first, drew near,
she began to think less of Constance and more of Arthur Eden. She smiled
to herself when she remembered certain things she had heard about
the danger to young girls in her position in life resulting from the
plausible attentions of idle pleasure-seekers like Mr. Eden; for in his
case there could be no danger. His soul was without guile. She had made
his acquaintance in his own friend's house, and it was not in her nature
to suspect evil designs which did not appear in a person's manner and
conversation. If he had been her brother--that ideal brother whose
kindness is un-mixed with contempt for so poor a creature as a
sister--his manner could not have been more free from any suggestion of
a feeling too warm in character. Walking home with her from the park
he had spoken with some melancholy of the changes which the end of the
London season--happily not yet near--must always bring. He still
had thoughts of going abroad, but it saddened him to think that when
returning after a long absence he would be sure to miss some friendly
faces--hers perhaps among others. And all the words he had spoken on
this subject, in his tender musical voice, were treasured in her memory.
He was more to her, far more, she thought, than she could ever be to
him. Only for a time would he remember her face, his life was so full,
his friends so many, but she would not forget, and the pleasant hours
she now spent in his company would shine bright in memory in future
years.

When the eagerly-wished Sunday at last arrived, the spring weather was
perfect. Even London on that morning had the softest of blue skies above
it, with far-up ethereal clouds, white as angels' wings, a brilliant
sunshine, and a breeze elastic yet warm, laden with the perfume of lilac
and may. Fan smiled at her own image in the glass, pleased to think that
she looked well in her new spring hat and dress; and at ten o'clock,
when Mr. Eden met her at the appointed place, and regarded her with
keen critical eyes as she advanced to him under her light sunshade, his
satisfaction was not unmingled with a secret pang, a sudden "conscience
fit," which, however, did not last long. The fashionable tide did not
just then set very strongly towards the Gardens on Sundays, but he felt
with some pride that he could safely appear anywhere in London with Miss
Affleck at his side, and although his friends would not know her, they
would never suspect that in her he had picked up one of the "lower
orders."

While walking across the park they conversed once more about their
vanished friends. Eden had no news to tell, but still cherished hopes
of being able to discover their retreat. When they were once inside the
Gardens, Fan soon forgot everything except the pleasure of the moment.
She could not have had a better guide than her companion, for beside
a fair knowledge of wild animal life, he had the pleasant faculty of
seeing things in a humorous light. And above everything, he knew his
way about, and could show her many little mysterious things, hidden away
behind jealously-guarded doors, of which he had the keys, and pretty
bird performances and amusing mammalian comedies, all of which are
missed by the casual visitor. The laughing jackasses laughed their
loudest, almost frightening her with their weird cachinnatory chorus;
and the laughing hyæna screamed his sepulchral ha-ha-ha's so that he
was heard all the way to Primrose Hill. Pelicans, penguins, darters and
seals captured and swallowed scores of swift slippery fishes for her
pleasure. She was taken to visit the "baby" in its private apartment,
and saw him at close quarters, not without fear and shrinking, for
the baby was as big as a house--the leviathan of the ancients, as some
think. Into its vast open mouth she dropped a bun, which was like giving
a grain of rice to a hungry human giant. Then she was made to take a
large armful of green clover and thrust it into the same yawning red
cavern; and having done so she started quickly back for fear of being
swallowed alive along with the grass. Mr. Eden spent a small fortune on
buns, nuts, and bon-bons for the animals, and she fed everything, from
the biggest elephant and the most tree-like giraffe to the smallest
harvest mouse. But it was most curious with an eagle they looked at.

"Give it a bun," said Eden.

"You shall not laugh at my ignorance this time," said Fan. "I _know_
that eagles eat nothing but flesh."

"Quite right," said he, "but if you will offer it a bun he will gladly
eat it." And as he persisted, she, still incredulous, offered the bun,
which the eagle seized in his crooked claws, and devoured with immense
zest. Fan was amazed, and Eden said triumphantly, "There, I told you
so."

Long afterwards she was alone one day in the Gardens, and going to the
eagle's cage, and feeling satisfied that no one was looking, offered
a bun to an eagle. The bird only stared into her face with its fierce
eyes, as much as to say, "Do you take me for a monkey, or what? You are
making a great mistake, young woman." It happened that someone _did_ see
her--a rude man, who burst into a loud laugh; and Fan walked away with
crimson cheeks, and the mystery remained unexplained. Perhaps someone
has compassionately enlightened her since.

In the snake-house a brilliant green tree-snake of extraordinary length
was taken from its box by the keeper, and Eden wound it twice round
her waist; and looking down on that living, coiling, grass-green
sash, knowing that it was a serpent, and yet would do her no harm, she
experienced a sensation of creepy delight which was very novel, and
curious, and mixed. The kangaroos were a curious people, resembling
small donkeys with crocodile tails, sitting erect on their haunches, and
moving about with a waltzing hop, which was both graceful and comical.
One of them, oddly enough, had a window in the middle of its stomach
out of which a baby kangaroo put its long-eared head and stared at them,
then popped it in again and shut the window. The secretary-bird proved
himself a grand actor; he marched round his cage, bowed two or three
times to Fan, then performed the maddest dance imaginable, leaping
and pounding the floor with his iron feet, just to show how he broke a
serpent's back in South Africa.

From the monkey-house and its perpetual infinitely varied pantomime they
were conducted into a secret silent chamber, where an interesting event
had recently occurred, and Mrs. Monkey, who was very aristocratic and
exclusive, received only a few privileged guests. They found her
sitting up in bed and nursing an infant that looked exceedingly ancient,
although the keeper solemnly assured Fan that it was only three
days old. Mrs. Monkey gravely shook hands with her visitors, and
condescendingly accepted a bon-bon, which she ate with great dignity,
and an assumption of not caring much about it.

"Don't you think, Miss Affleck," said Eden, sinking his voice, "that you
ought to say something complimentary--that the little darling looks like
its mamma, for instance, even if you can't call it pretty?"

Fan laughed merrily, whereat Mrs. Monkey flew into a rage, and seemed
so inclined to commit an assault on her visitors, that they were glad to
make a hasty retreat.

In the blithe open air Fan observed, when she had recovered her gravity:

"How good the keepers are to take so much trouble to show us things!"

"Thanks to you," he replied, hypocritically. "If I had come alone they
wouldn't have troubled to show _me_ things."

Then they roused the nocturnal animals from their slumbers in the
straw--the wingless apteryx, like a little armless man with a very long
nose; the huge misshapen earthy-looking ant-bear, and those four-footed
Rip Van Winkles, the quaint, rusty, blear-eyed armadillos. But the giant
ant-eater was the most wonderful, for he walked on his knuckles, and
strode majestically about, for all the world like a mammalian peacock,
exhibiting his great tail. They also saw his tongue, like a yard of
pink ribbon drawn out by an invisible hand from the tip of his long
cucumber-shaped head. In the parrot-house the shrieking of a thousand
parrots and cockatoos, all trying to shriek each other down, drove them
quickly out.

"I am sorry my nerves are not stronger, but really I can't stand it, Mr.
Eden," said Fan, apologetically.

He laughed. "It's a great row, but not a very sublime one," he answered.
"By-and-by we shall hear something better." And by-and-by they were in
the great lion-house, where the prisoner kings and nobles are, barred
and tawny and striped and spotted, and with flaming yellow eyes. They
were all striding up and down, raging with hunger, for it was near the
feeding-time; and suddenly a lion roared, and then others roared; and
royal tigers, and jaguars, and pumas, and cheetahs, and leopards joined
in with shrieks and with yells, and the awful chorus of the feline
giants grew louder, like the continuous roar of near thunder, until the
whole vast building shook and the solid earth seemed to tremble beneath
them. And Fan also trembled and grew white with fear, and implored her
companion to take her out. If she had shouted her loudest he could not
have heard a sound, but he saw her lips moving, and her pallor, and
led her out; yet no sooner was she out than she wished to return, so
wonderful and so glorious did it seem to stand amidst that awful tempest
of sound!

Thus passed Fan's day, seeing much of animal life, and with welcome
intervals of rest, when they had a nice little dinner in the refreshment
rooms, or sat for an hour on the shady lawn, where Mr. Eden smoked his
cigar, and related some of his adventures in distant lands.

"You have given me so much pleasure, Mr. Eden--I have spent a very happy
day," said Fan, on their walk back to her humble lodgings.

"And I, Miss Affleck?"

"You know it all so well; it could not be so much to you," she returned.

"Have I not been happy then?"

"Yes, I think you have," she answered. "But you were happy principally
because you were giving pleasure to someone else."

"I think," he said, without directly answering her words, "that when I
am far from England again, and see things that are as unfamiliar to me
as this has been to you, which people come from the ends of the earth
to look at, it will all seem very dull and insipid to me when I remember
the pleasure I have had to-day."

For many days past he had in imagination been saying a thousand pretty
and passionate things to Fan--rehearsing little speeches suitable for
every occasion.

And now this little laborious round-about speech, about going abroad,
the pleasures of memory, and the rest of it, which might mean anything
or nothing, was the only speech he could make. And she did not reply to
it.

"Perhaps," thought Eden, as he walked away after leaving her at her
door, "she understood the feeling, but waited to hear it expressed a
little more clearly." Time would show, but it struck him on this evening
that he had made little progress since the first meeting at Norland
Square, and he thought with little satisfaction of his neglected
opportunities, or, as he called them, his sins of omission.



CHAPTER XXXIII


To Fan's mind there was no note of warning in that little vague
complimentary speech, and she thought nothing at all about it. It is
quite impossible for a man to talk all day without saying meaningless
if not foolish things, unless he happens to be a very solemn prig who
carefully considers his words and lays them down like dominoes; and Eden
was not that. His naturalness was his great charm, and she judged his
feelings from her own; his simple transparent kindliness was enough to
account for all his attentions to her. After that day at the Zoological
Gardens she met him on other Sundays and Saturday afternoons, and also
received some letters from him, and more books, all like the first in a
wonderfully clean and well-kept condition.

One summer day Eden went to the City, a very unusual thing for him to
do, and while making his way towards Cheapside through the hurrying
crowd of pedestrians filling the narrow thoroughfare of St. Paul's
Churchyard, he all at once came face to face with the long-lost Merton
Chance. Involuntarily both started and stopped short on coming together.
It was impossible to avoid speaking, which would have happened if
they had recognised each other at a suitable distance. "Eden, is it
possible!" "Chance, how glad I am to see you!" were the words they
exclaimed at the same moment, as they clasped hands with fictitious
warmth; and then, to avoid the crowd, Merton drew his friend aside
through one of the open gates into the cathedral garden.

"Just back again from a trip to the Hindoo Koosh or the Mountains of the
Moon, I suppose?" cried Merton with overflowing gaiety.

"I have not been out of London as it happens," said Eden. "As you might
have known if you had sent me your address. I wrote to you at Norland
Square several weeks ago, asking you to lunch with me one day at the
club, and the letter was returned through the Dead Letter Office, marked
'Gone away--no address.'"

"Ah, yes, I forgot to send you my new address at the time, and ever
since moving I have been so overwhelmed with work and a hundred other
things that I have really had no time to write. I have been anxiously
looking forward to a few hours of leisure to make up all arrears of the
kind."

"Well, then, as it is nearly two o'clock perhaps you will lunch with me
to-day. Is there any place close by where we can get something to eat
and drink? I am all at sea when I get as far east as this."

"Thanks," said Merton, with a laugh. "That just reminds me that I have
had nothing except a cup of tea since seven o'clock this morning. Too
busy even to remember such a thing as food. Yes, there's the Cathedral
Hotel, where you can get anything to eat from locusts and wild honey to
a stalled ox. By the way, since you know so little about East London,
let me take you a little further east; then you will be able to boast
some day that you stood on the volcano and looked down into its seething
crater just before the great eruption. Of course I mean that you will be
able to make that boast if you happen to survive the eruption."

If Eden had little taste for ordinary enthusiasm, he had still less
for downright madness, and he hastily begged his friend to defer the
volcanic question until after luncheon. Merton's language surprised him,
it seemed so wildly irrational, and uttered with so much seriousness. In
his appearance also there were signs of degeneracy: he was thin and pale
and rather shabbily dressed, and wore a broad-brimmed rusty black felt
hat, which he frequently pulled off only to twist it into some new
disreputable shape and thrust it on again. Over a black half-unbuttoned
waistcoat he wore only a light covert coat, which had long seen its
best days; his boots were innocent of polish. Eden noticed all that, and
remembering that his friend had once been quite as fastidious about his
dress as himself, he was a little shocked at his appearance.

In a few minutes they were seated at a table where they were served with
an excellent luncheon, with plenty of variety in it, although it did not
include locusts and wild honey. Rather oddly, Merton appeared to have
leisure enough to make the most of it; he studied the menu with the
interest of a professed _gourmet_, freely advised Eden what to eat, and
partook of at least half a dozen different dishes himself. Nor was
he sparing of the wine; and after adjourning to the smoking-room, and
lighting the fragrant Havannah his friend had given him, he declined
coffee but ordered a second bottle of six-shilling claret.

"It rather surprises me to see a travelled fellow like you, Eden,
drinking English-made coffee," he said. "For my part, until the French
can send it to us as they make it, bottled, I intend to stick to their
light wines."

All this amused Eden; he liked it better than the wild talk about
impending eruptions, and began to feel rather pleased that he had met
Merton after all. Still, he could not help experiencing some curiosity
about his mysterious friend's way of life; and in spite of prudence he
led the way to this dangerous topic.

"Just look at this, Eden; this will show you what I am doing. You Pall
Mall gentlemen are living in a fool's paradise--excuse me for putting
it so bluntly--but personally you are my friend, although in our ways
of thought we are as far as the poles asunder." He had taken a newspaper
from his pocket, a small sheet of coarse paper printed with bad type,
and turning and refolding it he handed it to his friend. The article to
which Eden's attention was drawn was headed "A Last Word," and occupied
three columns, and at the foot appeared the name of Merton Chance.

"I see; but surely you don't expect me to read this now?" said Eden.
"Your last word is a very long one."

"No, you can put the paper in your pocket to read at your leisure. I
think it will have the effect of opening your eyes, Eden. That you may
escape the wrath to come is my devout wish."

"Thanks. So you have gone in for the Salvation Army business?" And he
glanced at the title of the paper, but it was not the _War Cry_. _The
Time Has Come_ was the name of the sheet he held in his hand, to which
Merton Chance had the honour to be a contributor.

"No, Eden," said the other, with a look on his face of such deep and
serious meaning as to be almost tragic. "This is not the war cry you
imagine, but it is a war cry nevertheless. You can shut your ears to
it, if you feel so minded, and persuade yourself that there is no war in
preparation. The streets of London are full of soldiers, but then they
wear no red jackets, and carry no banners, and you needn't know that
they are soldiers at all. You can safely let them march on, since they
march without blare of trumpets and beat of drums."

"All right, Chance, I'll have a shot at it before going to bed
to-night"; and he was again about to thrust the paper into his pocket,
feeling that he was getting tired of this kind of talk.

"Wait a moment, Eden," said the other. "I'm afraid you do not quite know
yet what the matter is all about. Allow me to look at the paper again."
Taking it, he found and asked his friend to read a rather long editorial
paragraph.

This was all about the trumpet-tongued Merton Chance, congratulating
the League on the accession to its ranks of so able a fighter with the
pen--one who was only too ready to handle other weapons in their cause.
It spoke of all he had nobly abandoned--social position, Government
appointment, etc.--to cast in his lot with theirs; his brilliant and
impassioned oratory, pitiless logic, with more in the same strain.

"I presume this is a socialistic print," said Eden, after reading the
paragraph. "Well, I can't say I congratulate you on your new--departure.
Still, it is something to be thought well of by those you are working
with, and you can't complain that your editor has not laid it on thick
enough in this passage."

Merton's brows contracted; he did not like this speech, and before
replying swallowed a glass of claret.

"Eden," he returned, "this is too serious a matter for a jest. But I
do not think that anything is to be gained by discussing it. I should
certainly gain nothing by informing you that everyone has a right to
live, since a certain number of human beings must give up living, or, in
other words, live like dogs, in order that you may have something beyond
the mere necessaries of life--something to make your existence pleasant.
This only I will say. If you are one of those who persistently shut
their eyes to the fact that a change has come, that it will no longer be
as it has been, then all I have to say is, My friend, I have warned you,
and here we part company."

"But not," thought Eden, "before you have finished your second bottle of
claret." He only said, "I really never had any taste for politics," and
then added, "You have not said, Chance, whether your wife is with you in
this new--departure?"

"My wife," said Merton, somewhat loftily, "is always with me." But more
than that he did not say about his domestic affairs; nor did he even
think to give his address before they separated.

Eden did not fail to write to Fan, telling her that he had seen and
talked with Merton, and asking her to meet him at the Marble Arch on
the next Sunday morning, when he would be able to tell her all that had
passed between his friend and himself. She replied on the following day,
promising to meet him, in one of her characteristic letters, which he
always read over a great many times and admired very much, and which
nevertheless had always had the effect of irritating him a little and
making his hope for a time look pale. They were so transparently simple
and straightforward, and expressed so openly the friendly feelings she
had for him.

"What does she expect, what does she imagine, what does she think in
her own heart?" he said, as he sat holding her letter in his hand. "She
can't surely think that I am going to make a shop-girl my wife, and if
she doesn't hope for that, why has she consented to correspond with me,
to receive the books I send her, and to meet me so frequently? Or does
she believe that this is purely a platonic feeling between us--a mere
friendship such as one man has for another? I don't think so. Platonic
love is purely a delusion of the male mind. Women are colder than we
are, but instinctively they know the character of our feelings better
than we do ourselves. She must know that I love her. And yet she
consents to meet me, and she is, I am sure, a very pure-hearted girl.
How are these seeming contradictions to be reconciled? A philosopher has
said that the mind of a child is a clean sheet of paper on which you may
write what you like. I believe that some women have the power of
keeping their minds in that clean-sheet-of-paper condition for their own
advantage. You may write what you like on the paper, but only after you
have paid for the privilege. Of course, this view takes a good deal of
the romance out of life; but I have to deal with facts as I find them,
and women as a rule are not romantic. At all events, I have come to the
conclusion that Miss Affleck is capable of looking at this thing in
a calm practical way. She will be my friend as long as I am hers; she
loses nothing by it, but gains a little. She will also give me her whole
heart if I ask for it, but not until I have given her something better
than the passion, which may not last, in return. A poor girl, without
friends or relations, and with nothing in prospect but a life of dull
drudgery--perhaps I am willing to give her more, far more, than she
dreams or hopes."

So ran _his_ dream; and yet when she met him on the Sunday morning with
a smile on her lips and a look of gladness in her eyes, and when he
listened to her voice again, he was troubled with some fresh doubts
about the correctness of his sheet-of-paper theory.

They walked about a little, and then sat for some time in the shade near
the Grosvenor Gate, while Eden told her everything that Merton had said,
and then made her read Merton's "Last Word" in the socialistic paper.
Then he went over the article, explaining the whole subject to her and
pointing out the writer's errors, which, he said, could only deceive
the very ignorant; but he did not inform her that he had spent two days
working up the subject, all for her benefit. She was made to see that
Merton was wrong in what he said, and that Mr. Eden had a very powerful
intellect; but she confessed ingenuously that she found the subject a
difficult and wearisome one. The intellectual errors of Merton were as
nothing to her compared with the unkindness of her friend in keeping out
of her sight when all the time she was living close by in London. Eden
was secretly glad that she took this view of the matter; from the first
he had felt that a reunion of the girls was the one thing he had
to fear; and now Fan was compelled to believe that her friend had
deliberately thrown her off, and did not wish even to hear from her.

"Miss Affleck--Fan--may I call you Fan?" he said, and having won her
consent, he continued, "I need not tell you again how much I sympathise
with you, but from the first I saw what you only clearly see now, for
you were not willing to believe that of your friend before. Do you
remember when you first lost her that I begged you to regard me as a
friend? You said that no man could take the place of Constance in your
heart. I did not say anything, but I felt, Fan, that you did not know
what a man's friendship can be. I hoped that you would know it some day;
I hope the day will come when you will be able to say from your heart
that my friendship has been something to you."

"It has been a great deal to me, Mr. Eden; I should have said so long
ago if I had thought it necessary."

"It was not necessary, Fan, but it is very pleasant to hear it from your
lips. Will you not call me Arthur?"

She consented to call him Arthur, and then he proposed a trip to Kew
Gardens.

"It will be too late if you go home to get your dinner first," he said.
"If you don't mind we will just have a snack when we get there to keep
up our strength. Or let us have it here at once, and then we can give
all our time to the flowers when we get there. They are looking their
best just now."

She consented, and they adjourned to an hotel close by, where the
"snack" developed into a very elaborate luncheon; and when they slipped
out again a brougham, which Eden had meanwhile ordered, was waiting at
the door to take them.

The drive down, and rambles about the flower-beds, and visit to the
tropical house, gave Fan great pleasure; and then Eden confessed that he
always found the beauty of Kew, or at all events the flowery portion of
it, a little cloying; he preferred that further part where trees grew,
and the grass was longer, with an occasional weed in it, and where
Nature didn't quite look as if an army of horticultural Truefitts were
everlastingly clipping at her wild tresses with their scissors
and rubbing pomatum and brilliantine on her green leaves. To that
comparatively incult part they accordingly directed their steps, and
found a pleasant resting-place on a green slope with great trees behind
them and others but small and scattered before, and through the light
foliage of which they could see the gleam of the Thames, while the
plash of oars and the hum of talk and laughter from the waterway came
distinctly to their ears. But just on that spot they seemed to have the
Gardens to themselves, no other visitors being within sight. The day was
warm and the turf dry, but for fear of moisture Eden spread his light
covert coat for Fan to sit on, and then stretched himself out by her
side.

"In this position I can watch your face," he said. "Usually when we
are sitting or standing together I only half see your eyes. They hide
themselves under those shady lashes like violets under their leaves. Now
I can look straight up into them and read all their secrets."

"I shouldn't like you to do that--I mean to look steadily at my eyes."

"Why not, Fan; is it not a pleasant thing to have a friend look into
one's eyes?"

"Yes, just for a moment, but not--" and then she came to a stop.

"Perhaps you are right," he said after a while, finding she did not
continue. "I wonder if I can guess what was in your mind just then? Was
it that our eyes reveal all they are capable of revealing at a glance,
in an instant; that at a glance we see all that we wish to see; but that
they do not and cannot reveal our inner self, the hidden things of the
soul; and that when our eyes are gazed steadily at it looks like an
attempt to pierce to that secret part of us?"

"Yes, I think that is so."

"And yet I think that friends that love and trust each other ought
not to have that uncomfortable feeling. Why should you have it, for
instance, in a case where your friend freely opens his heart to you, and
tells you every thought and feeling he has about you? For instance, if
I were to open my heart to you now and tell you all that is in it--every
thought and every wish?"

She glanced at him and her lips moved, but she did not speak, and after
a little he continued:

"Listen, Fan, and you shall hear it all. In the first place there is
the desire to see you contented and happy. The desire brings the thought
that happiness results from the possession of certain things, which, in
your case, fate has put out of your reach. Your future is uncertain, and
in the event of a serious illness or an accident, you might at any time
be deprived of your only means of subsistence; so that to free you from
that anxiety about the future which makes perfect happiness impossible,
a fixed income sufficient for anything and settled on you for life would
be required. And now, Fan, may I tell you how I should like to act to
put these thoughts and feelings about you into practice?"

"How?" said Fan, glancing for a moment with some curiosity at his face.

"This is what I should do--how gladly! I should invest a sum of money
for your benefit, and appoint trustees who would pay you the interest
every year as long as you lived. I should also buy a pretty little house
in some nice neighbourhood, like this one of Kew, for instance, and have
it beautifully decorated and furnished, and make you a present of it,
so that you would have your own home. If you wished to study music
or painting, or any other art or subject, I should employ masters to
instruct you. And I should also give you books, and jewels, and dresses,
and go with you to plays and concerts, and take you abroad to see other
countries more beautiful than ours."

Here he paused as if expecting some reply, but she spoke no word; she
only glanced for a moment at his upturned face with a look of wonder and
trouble in her eyes.

Then he continued, "And in return for all that, Fan, and for my
love--the love I have felt for you since I saw you on that evening at
Norland Square--I should only ask you to be my friend still, but with a
sweeter, closer, more precious friendship than you have hitherto had for
me."

Again she glanced at him, but only for an instant; for a few moments
more she continued silent, deeply troubled, then with face still
averted, pressed her hand on the ground to assist her in rising; but he
caught her by the wrist and detained her.

"Have you nothing to say to me, Fan?" he asked.

"Only that I wish to stand up, Arthur, if you will let me."

She spoke so quietly, in a tone so like her usual one, using his
Christian name too, that he looked searchingly at her, not yet knowing
how his words had affected her. Her cheeks were flushed, but she was
evidently not angry, only a little excited perhaps at his declaration.
Her manner only served to raise his hopes.

"Then let me assist you," he said, springing lightly to his feet, and
drawing her up. But before she could steady herself his arms were round
her waist, and she was drawn and held firmly against his breast while he
kissed her two or three times on the cheek.

After freeing herself from his embrace, still silent, she walked
hurriedly away; then Eden, snatching up his coat from the grass, ran
after her and was quickly at her side.

"Dearest Fan, are you angry with me that you refuse to speak?" he said,
seizing her hand.

"I have nothing to say, Mr. Eden. Will you release my hand, as I wish to
go home?"

"I must go back to town with you, Fan," he returned. "I will release
your hand if you will sit down on this bench and let me speak to you. We
must not part in this way."

After a few moments' hesitation she sat down, still keeping her face
averted from him. Then he dropped her hand and sat down near her. His
hopes were fast vanishing, and he was not only deeply disappointed but
angry; and with these feelings there mingled some remorse, he now began
to think that he had surprised and pained her. Never had she seemed more
sweet and desirable than now, when he had tempted her and she had turned
silently away.

"For heaven's sake don't be so angry with me, Fan," he said at
length. "It is not just. I could not help loving you; and if you have
old-fashioned ideas about such things, and can't agree to my proposals,
why can't we agree to differ, and not make matters worse by quarrelling?
My only wish, goodness knows, was to make you happy; there is no
sacrifice I would not gladly make for your sake, for I do love you, Fan,
with all my heart."

She listened quietly, but every sentence he uttered only had the effect
of widening the distance between them. Her only answer was, "I wish to
go home now--will you let me go by myself?"

But he caught her hand again when she attempted to rise, and forced her
to remain on the seat.

"No, Fan, you must not go before you have answered me," he returned, his
face darkening with anger. "You have no right to treat me in this way.
What have I said to stir up such a tempest?"

"There is no tempest, Mr. Eden. What can I say to you except that we
have both been mistaken? I was wrong to meet you, but I did not know--it
did not seem wrong. That was my mistake."

Her voice was low and trembled a little, and there was still no note of
anger in it. It touched his heart, and yet he could not help being angry
with her for destroying his hopes, and it was with some bitterness that
he replied:

"You have told me your mistake; now what was mine?"

"That you know already."

"Yes, I know it; but I do not know what you imagine. I may be able to
show you yet that you are too harsh with me."

After an interval of silence she answered:

"Mr. Eden, I believe you have heard the story of my origin from Mr.
Chance. I suppose that he knows what I came from. No doubt he thought
it right to separate his wife from me for the same reason that made you
think that you could buy me with money, just as you could buy anything
else you might wish to have. You would not have made such a proposal to
one in your own class, though she might be an orphan and friendless and
obliged to work for her living."

"You are altogether mistaken," he returned warmly. "I know absolutely
nothing of your origin, and if I had known all about it that would not
have had the slightest effect. Gentle birth or not, I should have made
the same proposal; and if you imagine that ladies do not often receive
and accept such proposals, you know little of what goes on in the world.
But you must not think for a moment that I ever tried to find out your
history from Merton. I put one question to him about you, and one only.
Let me tell you what it was, and the answer he gave me. I asked him
where you came from, or what your people were, and gave him a reason
for my question, which was that the surname of Affleck had a peculiar
interest for me. There was nothing wrong in that, I think? He said that
you were an orphan, that the lady you lived with, not liking your own
name, gave you the name of Affleck, solely because it took her fancy, or
was uncommon, not because you had any relations of that name."

"He did not know, I suppose, that it was my mother's name," said Fan.

But the moment she had spoken it flashed across her mind that by that
incautious speech she had revealed the secret of her birth, and her face
crimsoned with shame and confusion.

But the other did not notice it; and without raising his eyes from the
ground he returned--"Your mother's name--what was her name?"

"Margaret Affleck," she answered; and thinking that it was not too late
to repair the mistake she had made, and preserve her secret, she added,
"That was her maiden name, and when the lady I lived with heard it, she
preferred to call me by it because she did not like my right name."

"And what was your father's name?"

"I cannot answer any more questions, Mr. Eden," she returned, after an
interval of silence. "It cannot matter to you in the least. Perhaps you
say truly that it would have made no difference to you if I had come of
a good family. That does not make me less unhappy, or alter my opinion
of you. My only wish now is to go away, and to be left alone by you."

He continued silently prodding at the turf with his stick, his eyes
fixed on the ground. She was nervous and anxious to make her escape,
and could not help glancing frequently at his face, so strange in its
unaccustomed gloom and look of abstraction. Suddenly he lifted his eyes
to hers and said:

"And if I refuse to leave you alone, Fan?"

"Must I, then, go away altogether?" she returned with keen distress.
"Will you be so cruel as to hunt me out of the place where I earn my
bread? I have no one to protect me, Mr. Eden--surely you will not carry
out such a threat, and force me to hide myself in some distant place!"

"Do you think you could hide yourself where I would not find you, Fan?"
he answered, looking up with a strange gleam in his eyes and a smile on
his lips.

She did not reply, although his words troubled her strangely. After a
while he added:

"No, Fan; you need not fear any persecution from me. You are just as
safe in your shop in Regent Street, where you earn your bread, as you
would be at the Antipodes."

"Thank you," she returned. "Will you let me go home now?"

"We must go back together as we came," he said.

"I am sorry you think we must go back together. Is it only to annoy me?"

"Why should you think that, my girl?" he said, but in an indifferent
tone, and still sullenly prodding at the ground with his stick. After a
time he continued, "I don't want to lose sight of you just yet, Fan,
or to think when we part it will be for ever. If you knew how heavy my
heart is you would not be so bitter against me. Perhaps before we
get back to town you will have kinder thoughts. When you remember the
pleasant hours we have spent together you will perhaps be able to give
me your hand and say that you are my friend still."

Up to this moment she had felt only the pain of her wound and the desire
to escape and hide herself from his sight; but his last words had the
effect of kindling her anger--the anger which took so long to kindle,
and which now, as on one or two former occasions, suddenly took complete
possession of her and instantly drove out every other feeling. Her face
had all at once grown white, and starting to her feet, she stood facing
him.

"Mr. Eden," she said, her words coming rapidly, with passion, from her
lips, "do you wish me to say more than I have said? Would you like to
know what I think of you?"

"Yes; what do you think of me, Fan? I think it would be rather
interesting to hear."

"I think you have acted very treacherously all along. I believe that
from the first you have had it in your mind to--to make me this offer,
but you have never let me suspect such a thing. Your kindness and
interest in the Chances--it was all put on. I believe you are incapable
of an unselfish feeling. Your love I detest, and every word you have
spoken since you told me of it has only made me think worse of you. You
thought you could buy me, and if your heart is heavy it is only because
you have not succeeded--because I will not sell myself. I dare say you
have plenty of money, but if you had ten times as much you couldn't buy
a better opinion of you than I have given. My only wish is never to see
you again. I wish I could forget you! I detest you! I detest you!"

Not one word did he reply; nor had he listened to her excited words
with any show of interest; but his eyes continued cast down, and the
expression of his face was still dark and strangely abstracted.

For some moments she remained standing before him, still white and
trembling with the strength of her emotions; then turning, she walked
away through the trees. He did not follow her this time; and when, still
fearing, she cast back one hurried glance at him from a considerable
distance, he was sitting motionless in the same attitude, with eyes
fixed on the ground before him.



CHAPTER XXXIV


With a mind agitated with a variety of emotions--her still active
resentment, grief at her loss, and a burning sense of shame at the
thought that her too ready response to Eden's first advances had misled
and tempted him--Fan set about destroying and putting from her all
reminders of this last vanished friendship.

She burnt the letters, and made up his books into a large package: there
were about fifteen volumes by this time, including one that she had been
reading with profound interest. She would never know the end of that
tale--the pathetic history of a beautiful young girl, friendless like
herself in London; nor would she ever again see that book or hear its
title spoken without experiencing a pain at her heart. The parcel was
addressed in readiness to be sent off next morning, and there being
nothing more to occupy her hands, she sat down in her room, overcome
with a feeling of utter loneliness. Why was she alone, without one
person in all the world to care for her? Was it because of her poverty,
her lowly origin, or because she was not clever? She had been called
pretty so often--Mary, Constance, all of them had said so much in praise
of her beauty; but how poor a thing this was if it could not bind a
single soul to her, if all those who loved for a time parted lightly
from her--those of her own sex; while the feeling that it inspired in
men was one she shrunk fearfully from.

During the next few days she was ill at ease, and in constant fear
of some action on Mr. Eden's part, dictated by passion or some other
motive. But she saw and heard nothing of him; even the parcel of books
was not acknowledged, and by Thursday she had almost convinced herself
that he had abandoned the pursuit. On the evening of that day,
just after she had gone up to her room at the top of the house, her
heavy-footed landlady was heard toiling up after her, and coming into
the room, she sank down panting in a chair.

"These stairs do try my heart, miss," she said, "but you didn't hear me
call from my room when you came up. There's a gentleman waiting to see
you in the parlour. I took him in there because he wouldn't go away
until he had seen you."

"Mr. Eden--oh, why has he come here to make me more unhappy?" thought
Fan, turning pale with apprehension.

"He's that impatient, miss, you'd better go down soon. He's been ringing
the bell every five minutes to see if you'd come, and says you are very
late." Then she got up and set out on her journey downstairs, but paused
at the door. "Oh, here's the gentleman's card--I quite forgot it." And
placing it on the table, she left the room.

For some moments Fan stood hesitating, then without removing her hat,
and with a wildly-beating heart, moved to the door. As she did so she
glanced at the card, and was astonished to find that it was not Arthur
Eden's. The name on it was "Mr. Tytherleigh," and beneath, in the
left-hand corner, "Messrs. Travers, Enwright, and Travers, Solicitors,
Lincoln's Inn Fields."

Who was Mr. Tytherleigh? And what had she, a poor friendless girl, to do
with a firm of lawyers? Then it occurred to her that it was Arthur Eden
after all who wished to see her, and that he had sent her up this false
card only to inveigle her into an interview. Her ideas about the code
of a gentleman were somewhat misty. It is true that Eden had taken
advantage of her friendless position, and had lied to her, and worn a
mask, and deliberately planned to make her his mistress; but he would
no more have taken another man's name in order to see her than he would
have picked a pocket or sent a libellous post-card. Being ignorant of
these fine distinctions, she went down to the little sitting-room on the
ground floor greatly fearing. Her visitor was standing at the window
on the opposite side of the room, and turned round as she entered; a
natty-looking man, middle-aged, with brown moustache, shrewd blue eyes,
and a genial expression.

"Miss Affleck?" he said, bowing and coming a few steps forward.

"Yes, that is my name," she returned, greatly relieved at finding a
stranger.

"You look pale--not quite well, I fear. Will you sit down?" he said.
Then he added with a smile, "I hope my visit has not alarmed you, Miss
Affleck? It is a very simple and harmless matter I have come to you
about. We--the firm of Travers and Co.--have been for a long time trying
to trace a person named Affleck, and hearing accidentally that a young
lady of that name lodged here, I called to make a few inquiries." While
speaking he had taken a newspaper--the _Standard_--from his pocket, and
pointing out an advertisement in the second column of the first page,
asked her to read it.

She read as follows:

Margaret Affleck (maiden name). Messrs. Travers, Enwright, and Travers,
Solicitors, Lincoln's Inn Fields, wish to communicate with this person,
who was in service in London about sixteen years ago, and is supposed to
have married about that time. A reward will be given for any information
relating to her.

"That was my mother's name," said Fan.

"Then may I ask you, why did you not reply to this advertisement, which,
you see, is upwards of three years old, and was inserted repeatedly in
several papers?"

"I never saw it--I did not read the newspapers. But my mother has been
dead a long time. I should not have answered this if I had seen it."

"No? That sounds strange. Will you kindly tell me why you call yourself
by your mother's maiden name?"

She coloured and hesitated for some moments, and then returned,
"I cannot tell you that. If my mother was the Margaret Affleck you
advertised for, and something has been left to her, or some relation
wishes to trace her, it is too late now. She is dead, and it is nothing
to me."

This she said with some bitterness and a look of pain; he, meanwhile,
closely studying her face.

"Nothing to you, Miss Affleck? If money had been left to your mother,
it would, I imagine, be something to you, she being dead. As it
happens--there is no legacy--no money--nothing left; but I think I know
what you mean by saying that it would be of no advantage to you."

"What do I mean?" she said, still led on to speak after resolving to say
no more.

"You mean that your mother was never married."

Her face flushed hotly, and she rose from her chair. Mr. Tytherleigh
also rose quickly from his seat, fearing that she was about to leave the
room without saying more.

"Miss Affleck," he said, "will you allow me to make a little explanation
before asking you any more questions? I have said that there is no
money left to Margaret Affleck, but I can safely say that if you are
the daughter of that Margaret advertised for so long ago, you can lose
nothing by giving us any information you may possess. Certainly you can
lose nothing by assisting us, but you might gain a great deal. Please
look again at this advertisement--'supposed to have married'--but _was_
your mother ever married?"

"Yes, she was," answered Fan, a little reluctantly. "Her husband's name
was Joseph Harrod; but I do not know where he is. I left him years ago."

"Nor do we want him. But tell me this, Miss Affleck, and please do not
be offended with me for asking so painful a question; but everything
hinges on it. Are you the child of this Joseph Harrod--your mother's
husband?"

She cast down her eyes. It was a hard question to answer; but the kind
tone in which he had spoken had won her heart, for kindness was very
precious to her just now, and quickly had its effect, in spite of her
recent sad experience. She could not help trusting him. "No, he was not
my father," she answered.

"And who was your father, Miss Affleck?"

"I do not know."

"But do you know absolutely nothing about him--did your mother never
mention him to you? How do you come to know that Joseph Harrod was not
your father?"

"My mother told me. She said that my father was a gentleman, and--that
I looked like him. She would not tell me his name, because she had taken
an oath never to reveal it to anyone."

He was watching her face as she spoke, her--eyes cast down. "One
question more, Miss Affleck: do you happen to know where your mother was
born?"

"She came from Norfolk."

Mr. Tytherleigh rested an elbow on the table, and thrusting his fingers
through his hair, stared down at the note-book in which he had been
writing down her answers. "How strange--how very strange!" he remarked.
Presently he added, "We must find out where you were baptised, Miss
Affleck; you do not know, I suppose?"

She could not tell him, and after some further conversation, and hearing
a brief sketch of her life, her visitor rose to go. "Mr. Tytherleigh,"
said Fan, "I remember something now I wish to tell you. One day, when
I was about twelve years old, I went with mother to a street near
Manchester Square, where she had some work, and on the way back to
Edgware Road we passed a small curious old-looking church with a
churchyard crowded thick with grave-stones. It was a very narrow street,
and the grave-stones were close to the pavement, and I stopped to read
the words on one. Then mother said, 'That is the church I was married
in, Fan, and where you were christened.' But I do not know the name of
the church, nor of the street it is in."

Mr. Tytherleigh took down this information. "I shall soon find it,"
he said; and promising to write or see her again in two or three days'
time, he left her.

She had not so long to wait. On the next day, after returning from
Regent Street, she was called down to see Mr. Tytherleigh once more.

"Miss Affleck," he said, advancing with a smile to meet her, "I am very
glad to be able to tell you that our inquiries have satisfied us that
you are the daughter of the Margaret Affleck we advertised for. And I
can now add that when we were seeking for your mother, or information of
her, our real object was to find _you._"

"To find me!" exclaimed Fan, starting up from her seat, a new hope in
her heart. "Do you know then who my father is?"

_"Was_--yes. You have no father living. I did not wish to say too much
yesterday, but from the moment I saw you and heard your voice, I was
satisfied that I had found the right person."

"Is it then true that I resemble my father?"

"When I said that I was thinking less of your father than of your
father's son."

"Then I have a brother living!" she exclaimed excitedly, an expression
on her face in which anxiety and a new glad hope were strangely blended.
"Have I sisters too? Oh, how I have wished to have a sister! Can you
tell me?" Then suddenly her face clouded, and dropping her voice, she
said, "But they will not know me--they will be ashamed to own me. I
shall never see them--I shall be nothing to them!"

"No, Miss Affleck, you have no sisters. Your father, Colonel Eden, had
only one son, Mr. Arthur Eden, whom you know."

"Colonel Eden! Mr. Arthur Eden!" she repeated, with a strange bewildered
look. "Is he my brother--Arthur--Arthur!" And while the words came like
a cry of anguish from her lips, she turned away, and with hands clasped
before her, took a few uncertain steps across the room, then sinking on
to the sofa, burst into a great passion of tears and sobs.

Mr. Tytherleigh went to the window and stared at the limited view at
the back; after a while he came to her side. "Miss Affleck," he said, "I
fully believed when I came to see you that I had welcome news to tell. I
am sorry to see you so much distressed."

Restraining her sobs she listened, and his words and tone of surprise
served to rouse and alarm her, since such a display of emotion on her
part might make him suspect her secret--that hateful secret of Arthur
Eden's passion, which must be buried for ever. In the brief space of
time which had passed since he had made his announcement, and that cry
of pain had risen from her lips, a change had already taken place in her
feelings. All the bitter sense of injury and insult, and the anger mixed
with apprehension, had vanished; her mind had reverted to the condition
in which it had been before the experience at Kew Gardens; only the
feeling of affection had increased a hundred-fold. She remembered now
only all that had seemed good in him, his sweet courteous manner, his
innumerable acts and words of kindness, and the goodness was no longer a
mask and a sham, but a reality. For he was her brother, and the blood of
one father ran in their veins; and now that dark cloud, that evil dream,
which had come between them, had passed away, and she could cast herself
on her knees before him to beg him to forgive and forget the cruel false
words she had spoken to him in her anger, and take her to his heart. But
in the midst of all the tumult of thoughts and feelings stirring in her,
there was the fear that he would now be ashamed of his base-born sister
and avoid her.

"I am afraid that I have no cause to feel happy," she returned at last.
"Arthur Eden knows me so well, and if he had not felt ashamed of finding
a sister in me, he would have come to me himself instead of sending a
stranger. But perhaps," she added with fresh hope, "he does not know
what you have told me?"

"Yes, he knows certainly, since it was he who discovered that you
were the daughter of a Margaret Affleck. I have been acting on his
instructions, and told him to-day when I saw him that there was no doubt
that you were Colonel Eden's child. It was better, he thought, and I
agreed with him, that you should hear this from me. He is anxious to see
you himself, and until you see him you must not allow such fancies to
disturb you. He had no sooner made the discovery I have mentioned the
day before yesterday--Wednesday--than he hastened to us to instruct us
what to do in the case."

Wednesday! But he had heard about Margaret Affleck on Sunday--why had he
kept silence all that time? She could not guess, but it seemed there
had been some delay, some hesitation, on his part. The thought sorely
troubled her, but she kept it to herself. "Do you think he will come to
see me this evening?" she asked, with some trouble in her voice.

"He said to-morrow. And, by-the-bye, Miss Affleck, he asked me to say
that he hopes you will be in when he calls to see you."

"But I must go to my place for the day."

"About that, Mr. Eden thinks you had better not go yourself. I shall see
or write to your employer this evening to let him know that you will be
unable to attend to-morrow."

"But I might lose my place then," said Fan, surprised at the cool way
in which Mr. Tytherleigh invited her to take a holiday, and thinking of
what the grim and terrible manager would say.

"I cannot say more," he returned. "I have only stated Mr. Eden's wishes,
and certainly think it would be better not to risk missing him by
going out tomorrow. In any case I shall see or communicate with your
employer."

He left her with an excited mind which kept her awake a greater part of
the night, and next morning she resolved to do as she had been told and
remain in all day, even at the risk of losing her situation. Then as the
hours wore on and Arthur came not, her excitement increased until it
was like a fever in her veins, and made her lips dry, and burnt in her
cheeks like fire. She could not read, nor work, nor sit still; nor could
she take any refreshment, with that gnawing hunger in her heart; but
hour after hour she moved about her narrow room until her knees trembled
under her, and she was ready to sink down, overcome with despair that
the brother she had found and loved was ashamed to own her for a sister.
Finally she set the door of her room open, and at every sound in
the house she flew to the landing to listen; and at last, about five
o'clock, on going for the hundredth time to the landing, she heard a
visitor come into the hall and ask for "Miss Affleck." She hurried
down to the ground floor, passing the servant girl who had admitted her
brother and was going up to call her. When she entered the sitting-room
Eden was standing on the further side staring fixedly at a picture on
the wall. It was a picture of a fashionable young lady of bygone days,
taken out of one of L.E.L.'s or Lady Blessington's _Beauty Books;_ she
was represented wearing a shawl and flounced dress, and with a row of
symmetrical curls on each side of her head--a thing to make one laugh
and weep at the same time, to think of the imbecility of the human mind
of sixty years ago that found anything to admire in a face so utterly
inane and lackadaisical. So absorbed was Eden in this work of art that
he did not seem to hear the door open and his sister's steps on the worn
carpet.

"Arthur--at last!" she cried, advancing to him, all her sisterly
affections and anxiety thrilling in her voice.

He half turned towards her with a careless "How d'ye do, Fan?" and then
once more became absorbed in contemplating the picture.

Her first impulse on entering the room had been to throw her arms about
his neck, but the momentary glimpse of his face she had caught when he
turned to greet her arrested her steps. His face was deathly pale, and
there was an excited look in his eye which seemed strangely to contrast
with his light, indifferent tone.

"A very fine picture that; I shouldn't mind having it if the owner
cares to part with it," he said at length, and then half turning again,
regarded her out of the corners of his eyes. "Well, Fan, what do you
think of all this curious business?" he added, with a slight laugh.

For how many hours she had been trying to picture this meeting in her
mind, now imagining him tender and affectionate as she wished him to
be, now cold or contemptuous or resentful; and in every case her heated
brain had suggested the very words he would use to her; but for this
careless tone, and the inexplicable look on his face, according so ill
with his tone, she was quite unprepared, and for some time she could
make no reply to his words.

"Arthur," she spoke at last, "if you could have known how anxiously I
have been waiting for you since yesterday, I think you would in mercy
have come a little sooner."

"Well, no, Fan, I think not," he returned, still careless.

She advanced two or three steps nearer.

"Have you then come at last only to confirm my worst fears? Tell me,
Arthur--my brother! Are you sorry to have me for a sister?"

Again he laughed.

"What a simple maiden you must be to ask such a question!" he said.
"Sorry? Good God, I should think so! Sorry is no word for it. If Fate
thought it necessary to thrust a sister on me I wish it had rather been
some yellow-skinned, sour old spinster, but not you."

"Do you hate me then?" she exclaimed, misinterpreting his meaning in
her agitation. "Oh what have I done to deserve such unhappiness? Have
I brought it on myself by those cruel words I spoke to you when we last
met?"

He had turned again towards her and was watching her face, but when she
looked at him his eyes dropped.

"Yes, I remember your words, Fan," he said. "You abused me at Kew
Gardens, and you think I am having my revenge. You would remember me,
you said, only to detest me. Am I less a monster now because I am your
relation?"

"Arthur, forgive me--can you not say that you forgive me?" coming still
nearer, and putting out her hands pleadingly to him.

His lips moved but made no sound; and she, urged on by that great
craving in her heart, at length stood by his side, but he averted his
face from her.

"Arthur," she spoke again in pleading tones, "will you not look at me?"
Then, with sudden anguish, she added, "Have I lost everything you once
saw in me to make you love me?" But he still made no sign; and growing
bolder she put her arm round his neck. "Arthur, speak to me," she
pleaded. "It will break my heart if you cannot love me."

All at once he looked her full in the face, and their eyes met in a long
gaze, hers tender and pleading, his wild and excited. His lips had grown
dry and almost of the colour of his cheeks, and his breath seemed like
a flame to her skin. "Arthur, will you refuse to love me, your sister?"
she murmured tenderly, drawing her arm more tightly about his neck until
his face was brought down to hers, then pressing her soft lips to his
dry mouth.

He did not resist her caress, only a slight shiver passed through his
frame, and closing his eyes, he dropped his forehead on her shoulder.

"Do you know what you are doing, Fan?" he murmured. "I have had such a
hard fight, and now--my victory is turned to defeat! You ask me to
love you; poor girl, it would be better if I scorned you and broke
your heart! Darling, I love you--you cannot conceive how much. If you
could--if one spark of this fire that burns my blood could drop into
yours, then it would be sweeter than heaven to live and die with you!"

He lifted his face again, and his lips sought hers, to cling long and
passionately to them, while he gathered her in his arms and drew her
against his breast, closer and closer, until she could scarcely refrain
from crying out with pain. Then suddenly he released her, almost
flinging her from him, and walking to the sofa on the other side of the
room, he sat down and buried his face in his hands.

Fan remained standing where he had left her, too stunned and confused
by this violent outburst of passion to speak or move. At length he rose,
and without a word, without even casting a look at her, left the room.
Then, recovering possession of her faculties, she hurried out after him,
but on gaining the hall found that he had already left the house.

Not knowing what to think or fear, she went to her room and sat down.
The meeting to which she had looked forward so impatiently had come and
was over, and now she did not know whether to rejoice or to lament. For
an hour she sat in her close hot room, unable to think clearly on the
subject, oppressed with a weak drowsy feeling she could not account for.
At last she remembered that she had spent an anxious sleepless night,
and had taken no refreshment during the day, and rousing herself she
went downstairs to ask the landlady to give her some tea. It refreshed
her, and lying down without undressing on her bed, she fell into a
deep sleep, from which she did not awake until about ten o'clock. Lying
there, still drowsy, and again mentally going through that interview
with Arthur, her eye was attracted by the white gleam of an envelope
lying on the dusky floor--a letter which the servant had thrust in under
the door for her. It was from Arthur.

MY DEAR SISTER [he wrote], I fear I have offended you more deeply than
ever; I was scarcely sane when I saw you to-day. Try, for God's sake, to
forget it. I am leaving London to-morrow for a few weeks, and trust that
when I return you will let me see you again; for until you assure me
with your own lips, Fan, that I am forgiven, the thought of my behaviour
to-day will be a constant misery. And will you in the meantime let
yourself be guided by Mr. Travers, who was our father's solicitor
and friend, and who can tell you what his last wishes about you were?
Whatever you may receive from Mr. Travers will come to you, _not from
me,_ but from your father. If Mr. Travers asks you to his house please
go, and look on him as your best friend. I believe that Mr. Tytherleigh
intends calling on you to-morrow at one o'clock, and I think that he has
already informed your employer that it will not be convenient for you to
attend again at Regent Street.

Good-bye for a time, dear sister, and try, try to think as kindly as you
can of Your affectionate brother,

ARTHUR EDEN.

This letter had the effect of dissipating every sad and anxious thought,
and Fan undressed and went to bed, only to lie awake thinking of her
happiness. Her heart was overflowing with love for her brother; for how
great a comfort, a joy, it was to know that after all that had happened
he was good and not bad! He was indeed more than good in the ordinary
sense of the word, for what kindness and generosity and delicacy he had
displayed towards her in his letter. So far did her leniency go that she
even repeated his mad words, "Darling, I love you, you cannot conceive
how much," again and again with a secret satisfaction; for how hard it
would have been if that passionate love he had felt for her, which
only the discovery of their close relationship had made sinful, or
inconvenient, had changed to aversion or cold indifference; and
this would certainly have happened if Arthur Eden had not been so
noble-minded a person.

When morning came she could not endure the thought that he was going
away without that assurance from her own lips of which he had spoken.
Mr. Tytherleigh would call to see her at one o'clock, but there were
three or four long hours to get rid of before then, and in the end she
dressed herself and went boldly to his apartments in Albemarle Street,
where she arrived about eleven o'clock.

The servant who answered her knock did not know whether she could see
Mr. Eden, and summoned her mistress.

"Mr. Eden has only been home about an hour," said this lady, a little
stiffly. "He said he was going to sleep, and that he was not to be
disturbed on any account."

"But he is going to leave town to-day, and I _must_ see him," returned
Fan. Then, with a blush brightening her cheeks, she added, "I am his
sister."

"Why, miss, so you are!" exclaimed the woman astonished, and breaking
out in smiles. "I never knew that Mr. Eden had a sister, but I might
have guessed it when I saw you, for you are his very image. I'll just go
up and ask him if he can see you."

Fan, in her impatience, followed her up into Eden's sitting-room on
the first floor. At the further end of the room the woman rapped at the
door.

"What the devil do you want now? I told you not to disturb me," was
shouted in no amiable voice from inside.

Fan hurried to the door and called through the keyhole, "Arthur, I must
see you before you leave town."

"Oh, Fan, is that you? I really beg your pardon," he replied. "All
right; make yourself comfortable, and I'll be with you in five minutes."

Fan, left alone, began an inspection of her brother's "den," about
which she had often heard him speak, and the first object which took her
attention was a brown-paper parcel lying on a chair against the wall. It
was the parcel of novels she had returned to him a few days before,
not yet opened. But when she looked round for that large collection of
books, about which he had spoken to her, she found it not, nor anything
in the way of literature except half a dozen volumes lying on the table,
bearing Mudie's yellow labels on their covers. Near the chair on which
the parcel was lying a large picture rested on the carpet, leaning
against the wall. A sheet of tissue paper covered it, which her
curiosity prompted her to remove, and then how great was her surprise
at being confronted with her own portrait, exquisitely done in
water-colours, half the size of life, and in a very beautiful silver
frame. How it got there was a mystery, but not for one moment did she
doubt that it was her own portrait; only it looked, she thought, so much
more beautiful than the reality. She had never worn her hair in that
picturesque way, nor had she ever possessed an evening dress; yet she
appeared in a lovely pale-blue dress, her neck and arms bare, a delicate
cream-coloured lace shawl on one arm resting on her shoulder.

She was still standing before it, smiling with secret pleasure, and
blushing a little, when Eden, coming in, surprised her.

"I see you have made a discovery, Fan," he said.

She turned quickly round, the bright colour suffusing her cheeks, and
held out her hand to him. He was pale and haggard, but the strange
excited look had left his face, and he smiled pleasantly as he took her
hand and touched her finger-tips to his lips.

"Why did you come to me here?" he asked, beginning to move restlessly
about the room.

"To give you that assurance with my own lips you asked for--I could not
let you go away without it. Will you not kiss me, Arthur?"

"No, not now. Do sit down, Fan. I thought that you would only feel the
greatest aversion to me, yet here you are in my own den trying to--You
imagine, I suppose, that a man is a kind of moral barrel-organ, and that
when the tune he has been grinding out for a long time gets out of date,
all he has got to do is to change the old cylinder for a new one and
grind out a fresh tune. Do you understand me, Fan?"

She considered his words for a little while and then answered, "Arthur,
I think it will be better--if you will not avoid me--if you will believe
that all my thoughts of you are pleasant thoughts. I do not think you
can be blamed for feeling towards me as you do." She reddened and cast
down her eyes, dimmed with tears, then continued, "It was only that
chance discovery that makes you think so badly of yourself."

"You are strangely tolerant," he said, sitting down near her. "Strangely
and sweetly rational--so lenient, that if I did not know you as well as
I do, I might imagine that your moral sense is rather misty. Your words,
dear girl, make me sick of deceit and hypocrisy, and I shall not try to
see myself as you see me. I am worse than you imagine; if you knew
all you would not be so ready to invent excuses for me--you would not
forgive me." Then he got up, and added, "But I am glad you came to see
me, Fan; your visit has done me ever so much good."

"Don't send me away so soon, Arthur," she returned. "What is it that
I could not forgive? You should not say that before you put me to the
test."

"Good heavens, Fan, do you wish me to do that? Well, perhaps that would
be best. I said that I was sick of deceit, and I ought to have the
courage of my opinions. Do you know that when Mr. Tytherleigh called
to see you, my lawyers had only just learnt the secret I had discovered
several days before?"

"Yes, I knew that."

"But you don't know--you couldn't imagine why I kept back the
information."

"I thought that the delay was because I had offended you--I didn't think
much about it."

"Of course that was not the reason."

"Then you must tell me, Arthur."

"Must I tell you, dear sister? When you left me alone at Kew I asked
myself whether it would not be better to conceal what I had heard and
marry you. I don't know what madness possessed me. The instant you spoke
the words that Margaret Affleck was your mother's name, I was convinced
that you were my half-sister--the mystery of something in you, which had
always puzzled and baffled me, was made plain. Your voice at times was
like my father's voice, and perhaps like my own; and in your face and
your expression you are like my father's mother in a miniature of her
taken when she was a girl, and which I often used to see. And yet"--he
paused and turned his face from her,--"this very conviction that you
were so closely related to me made my feeling only stronger. Every
scornful word you uttered only made it stronger; it seemed to me that
unless I possessed you my life would not be worth having.... Even my
father's dying wishes were nothing to me.... And for three days and
nights.... How can you forgive me, Fan, when I had it in my heart to do
such a thing?"

"But I should not have consented to marry you," said Fan simply.

"Consider, Fan; you, a poor friendless girl in London, with nothing to
look forward to. In a little while you would have recovered from your
anger, and in the end, when you knew how great my love was, you would
have consented. For I knew that you liked me very much; and perhaps you
loved me a little."

"I did love you, Arthur, from the very first, but it was not that kind
of love. I know that I should never have felt it for you. I did not know
that you were my brother, but I think that my heart must have known it."

"Perhaps so, Fan; perhaps in hearts of such crystal purity as yours
there is some divine instinct which grosser natures are without. But you
ignore the point altogether. My crime was in the intention, and if it
had proved as you think, my guilt would have been just as great. That is
my sin, Fan; the thought was in my heart for days and nights, and though
the days and nights were horrible, I refused to part with my secret."

"But, Arthur, you _did_ part with it in the end. No one compelled you to
give it up."

"No, no one. I was afraid, I think, that some horrible thing would
happen to me--that I would perhaps go mad if I carried out my intention;
and I was driven at last, not by conscience, but by servile fear to make
a clean breast of it."

"But, Arthur," she persisted, in a voice of keen pain, "is there any
difference between conscience and what you call fear? I know that I
would sometimes do wrong, and that fear prevents me. We have all good
and bad in us, and--the good overcame the bad in you."

There was silence for some time between them, then Eden said, "Fan, what
a strange girl you are! The whiteness of your soul is such that it has
even pained me to think of it; and now that I have shown you all the
blackness of my own, and am sick of it myself, you look very calmly at
it, and even try to persuade me that it is not black at all. The one
thing you have said which sounds artificial, and like a copy-book
lesson, is that we all have good and bad in us. What is the bad in you,
Fan--what evil does it tempt you to do?"

This question seemed to disturb her greatly.

"For one thing," she said hesitatingly, and casting her eyes down, "I
always hate those who injure me--and--and I am very unforgiving." Then,
raising her eyes, which looked as if the tears were near them, she
added, "But, Arthur, please don't be offended with me if I say that I
don't think you are right to put such a question to me--just now."

"No, dear, it isn't right. From me to you it is a brutal question, and I
shall not offend again. But to hear you talk of your unforgiving temper
gives me a strange sensation--a desire to laugh and cry all at the same
time." He looked at his watch. "I don't wish to drive you away, Fan, but
poor Mr. Tytherleigh will be at his wits' end if he misses you."

"What is he going to see me about, Arthur?"

"I don't know at all. You are in Mr. Travers' hands."

He was about to rise; but Fan, coming quickly to his side, stopped him.

"Good-bye, Arthur--my darling brother," she said, stooping and kissing
him quickly on his cheek, then on his lips. "May I take one thing away
with me?"

"Your picture? Yes; you may take it if you like: that is to say, you may
keep it for a time. I shall not give it to you."

"But it is mine--my own portrait," said Fan, with a happy laugh. "Though
I do not know by what magic you got it."

"That's easily explained. When I heard where you had had your photo
taken, I went and ordered a copy for myself. The negative had been
preserved. Then I had it enlarged, and the water-colour taken from it.
And there are your books, Fan--take them too."

"I will take one, Arthur; I was just reading it when--" She did not
finish the sentence, but began hastily untying the parcel to get the
book, while her brother rang the bell, and ordered a cab "for Miss
Eden."

How strange--how sweet it sounded to her!

"Is that my name, Arthur?" she asked, turning to him with a look of glad
surprise.

"Yes, until you change it; and, by the way, you had better order
yourself some cards."

A few minutes later and she was speeding northwards in a hansom, feeling
that the motion, so unlike that of the familiar lumbering omnibus, had
a wonderfully exhilarating effect on her. It was a pleasure she had not
tasted since the time when she lived in London with Mary, and that now
seemed to her a whole decade ago. But never in those past days had she
faced the fresh elastic breeze in so daintily-built a cab, behind so
fiery, swift-stepping a horse. Never had she felt so light-hearted. For
now she was not alone in life, but had a brother to love; and he loved
her, and had shown her his heart--all the good and the evil that was in
it; and all the evil she could forgive, and was ready to forget, and it
was nothing to her. She was even glad to think that when he had first
seen her in that little shabby sitting-room in Norland Square it had
been to love her.



CHAPTER XXXV


Mr. Tytherleigh was already at her lodgings, and seeing her arrive, he
hurried out to ask her not to alight. Mr. Travers, he said, wished her
to move into better apartments; he had a short list in his pocket, and
offered to go with her to choose a place. Fan readily consented, and
when he had taken the picture into the house for her, he got into the
cab, and they drove off to the neighbourhood of Portman Square.
In Quebec Street they found what they wanted--two spacious and
prettily--furnished rooms on a first floor in a house owned by a Mrs.
Fay. A respectable woman, very attentive to her lodgers, Mr. Tytherleigh
said, and known to Mr. Travers through a country client of his having
used the house for several years. He also pronounced the terms very
moderate, which rather surprised Fan, whose ideas about moderation were
not the same as his.

From Quebec Street they went to the London and Westminster Bank in
Stratford Place, where Fan was made to sign her name in a book; and as
she took the pen into her hand, not knowing what meaning to attach to
all these ceremonies, Mr. Tytherleigh, standing at her elbow, whispered
warningly--"_Frances Eden_." She smiled, and a little colour flushed her
cheeks. Did he imagine that she had forgotten? that the name of Affleck
was anything more to her than a bit of floating thistledown, which had
rested on her for a moment only to float away again, to be carried by
some light wind into illimitable space, to be henceforth and for ever
less than nothing to her? After signing her new name a cheque-book was
handed to her; then Mr. Tytherleigh instructed her in the mysterious art
of drawing a cheque, and as a beginning he showed her how to write one
payable to self for twenty-five pounds; then after handing it over the
counter and receiving five bank-notes for it, they left the bank and
proceeded to a stationer's in Oxford Street, where Fan ordered her
cards.

Mr. Tytherleigh, as if reluctant to part from her, returned to Charlotte
Street in the cab at her side. During their ride back she began to
experience a curious sensation of dependence and helplessness. It would
have been very agreeable to her if this freer, sweeter life which she
had tasted formerly, and which was now hers once more, had come to her
as a gift from her brother; but he had distinctly told her that she
had nothing to thank him for, and only some very vague words about her
father's dying wishes had been spoken. Who then was she dependent on?
She had not been consulted in any way; her employer had simply been told
that it would not be convenient for her to attend again at the place of
business, and now she was sent to live alone in grand apartments, where
she would have a cheque-book and some five-pound notes to amuse herself
with. For upwards of a year she had been proud of her independence, of
her usefulness in the world, of the room she rented, and had made pretty
with bits of embroidery and such art as she possessed, and now she could
not help experiencing a little pang of regret at seeing all this taken
from her--especially as she did not know who was taking it, or changing
it for something else.

These thoughts were occupying her mind when she was led into her
landlady's little sitting-room, and hoped that the lawyer or lawyer's
clerk had only come to explain it all to her.

"I don't know when I shall see you again, Miss Eden," he said; she
noticed that he and her brother had begun calling her Miss Eden on the
same day; "but if there is anything more I can do for you now I shall be
glad. If I can assist you in moving to Quebec Street, for instance----"

"Oh no, thank you; all my luggage will go easily on a cab. Are you in a
hurry to leave, Mr. Tytherleigh?"

"Oh no, Miss Eden, my time is at your disposal"; and he sat down again
to await her commands.

"I should so like to ask you something," she said. "For the last few
hours I have scarcely known what was happening to me, and I feel--a
little bewildered at being left alone with this cheque-book and money.
And then, whose money is it, Mr. Tytherleigh--you can tell me that, I
suppose?"

"Why, I should say your own, Miss Eden, else--you could hardly have it
to spend."

"But how is it mine? I forgot to ask my brother today to explain some
things in a letter I had from him last night. He wishes me to be guided
by Mr. Travers, and says that what I receive does not come from him, but
from my father."

"Quite right," said the other with confidence.

"But, Mr. Tytherleigh, you told me some days ago that no money was left
to my mother or to anyone belonging to her."

"Ah, yes, it does seem a little contradictory, Miss Eden. I was quite
correct in what I told you, and--for the rest, you must of course take
your brother's word."

"Yes; but what am I to understand--can you not explain it all to me?"

"Scarcely," he returned, with the regulation solicitor smile. "I think I
have heard that Mr. Travers will see you himself before long. Perhaps
he will make it clear to you, for I confess that it must seem a little
puzzling to you just now."

"When shall I see Mr. Travers?"

"I cannot say. He is an elderly man, not very strong, and does not often
go out of his way. In the meantime, I hope you will take my word for it
that it is all right, and that when you require money you will freely
use your cheque-book."

And that was all the explanation she got from Mr. Tytherleigh.

Fan, alone in her fine apartments, her occupation gone, found the time
hang heavily on her hands. To read a little, embroider a little, walk
a little in Hyde Park each day, was all she could do until Mr. Travers
should come to her and explain everything and be her guide and friend.
But the slow hours, the long hot days passed, and Mr. Travers still
delayed his coming, until to her restless heart the leisure she enjoyed
seemed a weariness and the freedom a delusion. Every day she spent more
and more time out of doors. At home the profound silence and seeming
emptiness of the house served but to intensify her craving for
companionship. Her landlady, who was her own cook, never entered into
conversation with her, and only came to her once or twice a day to ask
her what she would have to eat. But to Fan it was no pleasure to sit
down to eat by herself, and for her midday meal she was satisfied to
have a mutton chop with a potato--that hideously monotonous mutton chop
and potato which so many millions of unimaginative Anglo-Saxons are
content to swallow on each recurring day. And Mrs. Fay, her landlady,
had a soul; and her skill in cooking was her pride and glory. Cookery
was to her what poetry and the worship of Humanity, and Esoteric
Buddhism are to others; and from the time when she began life as a
kitchen-maid in a small hotel, she had followed her art with singleness
of purpose and unflagging zeal. She felt it as a kind of degradation to
have a lodger in her house who was satisfied to order a mutton chop
and a potato day after day. It was no wonder then that she grew more
reticent and dark-browed and sullen every day, and that she went about
the house like a person perpetually brooding over some dark secret. Some
awful midnight crime, perhaps--some beautiful and unhappy young heiress,
left in her charge, and smothered with a pillow for yellow gold, still
haunting her in Quebec Street. So might one have imagined; but it would
have been a mistake, for the poor woman was haunted by nothing more
ghastly than the image of her lodger's mutton chop and potato. And at
last she could endure it no longer, and spoke out.

"I beg your pardon for saying it, Miss," she said in an aggrieved tone,
"but I think it very strange you can't order anything better for your
dinner."

"It does very well for me," said Fan innocently. "I never feel very
hungry when I'm alone."

"No, miss; and no person would with nothing but a chop to sit down to. I
was told by the gentleman from Mr. Travers' office that brought you here
that I was to do my best for you. But how can I do my best for you when
you order me to do my worst?" Here she appeared almost at the point of
crying. "It is not for me to say anything, but I consider, miss, that
you're not doing yourself justice. I mean only with respect to eating
and drinking----" with a glance full of meaning at Fan's face, then
at her dress. "About other things I haven't anything to say, because I
don't interfere with what doesn't concern me."

"But what can I do, Mrs. Fay?" said Fan distressed. "I have not been
accustomed to order my meals, but to sit down without knowing what there
was to eat. And I like that way best." Then, in a burst of despair, she
added, "Can't you give me just whatever you like, without asking me?"

Mrs. Fay's brow cleared, and she smiled as Fan had not seen her smile
before.

"That I will, miss; and I don't think you'll have any reason to complain
that you left it to me."

From that time Fan was compelled to fare delicately, and each day in
place of the simple quickly-eaten and soon-forgotten chop, there came to
her table a soup with some new flavour, a bit of fish--salmon cutlets,
or a couple of smelts, or dainty whitebait with lemon and brown
bread-and-butter, or a red mullet in its white wrapper--and
exquisitely-tasting little made dishes, and various sweets of unknown
names. Nor was there wanting bright colour to relieve the monotony of
white napery and please the eye--wine, white and red, in small cut-glass
decanters, and rose and amber-coloured wineglasses, and rich-hued fruits
and flowers. Of all the delicacies provided for her she tasted, yet
never altogether free from the painful thought that while she was thus
faring sumptuously, many of her fellow-creatures were going about the
streets hungry, even as she had once gone about wishing for a penny to
buy a roll. Still, Mrs. Fay was happy now, and that was one advantage
gained, although her lodger was paying dearly for it with somebody's
money.

But here she drew the line, being quite determined not to spend any
money on dress until Mr. Travers should come to her to relieve her
doubts, and yet she knew very well that to be leading this easy idle
life she was very poorly dressed. Many an hour she spent sitting in the
shade in Hyde Park, watching the perpetual stream of fashionable people,
on foot and in carriages--she the only unfashionable one there, the
only one who exchanged greetings and pleasant words with no friend or
acquaintance. What then did it matter how meanly she dressed? she said
to herself every day, determined not to spend that mysterious money.
Then one day a great temptation--a new thought--assailed her, and she
fell. She was passing Marshall and Snelgrove's, about twelve o'clock
in the morning, when the broad pavement is most thronged with shopping
ladies and idlers of both sexes, when out of the door there came
a majestic-looking elderly lady, followed by two young ladies, her
daughters, all very richly dressed. Seeing Fan, the first put out her
hand and advanced smilingly to her.

"My dear Miss Featherstonehaugh," she exclaimed, "how strange that we
should meet here!"

"Oh, mamma, it is _not_ Miss Featherstonehaugh!" broke in one of the
young ladies; and after surveying Fan from top to toe with a slightly
supercilious smile, she added, "How _could_ you make such a mistake!"

"I beg your pardon," said the old lady loftily, as if Fan had done
her some injury, and also surveying the girl, apparently surprised at
herself for mistaking this badly-dressed young woman for one of her own
friends.

Fan, arrested in her walk, had been standing motionless before them, and
her eyes, instinctively following the direction of the lady's glance,
travelled down her dress to her feet, where one of her walking-boots,
old and cracked, was projecting from her skirt. She reddened with shame
and confusion, and walked hurriedly on. What would her brother's feeling
have been, she asked herself, if he had met her accidentally there and
had noticed those shabby boots? and with all that money, which she had
been told to use freely, in her purse! A fashionable shoe-shop caught
her eye at that moment, and without a moment's hesitation she went in
and purchased a pair of the most expensive walking-shoes she could get,
and a second light pretty pair to wear in the house. That was only the
first of a series of purchases made that day. At one establishment
she ordered a walking-dress to be made, a soft blue-grey, with
cream-coloured satin vest; and at yet another a hat to match. And many
other things were added, included a sunshade of a kind she admired very
much, covered with cream-coloured lace. With a recklessness which was in
strange contrast to her previous mood, she got rid of every shilling
of her money in a few hours, and then went boldly to the bank. Then her
courage forsook her, and her face burned hotly, and her hand shook while
she wrote out a second cheque for twenty-five pounds. Not without fear
and trembling did she present it at the cashier's desk; but the clerk
said not a word, nor did he look at her with a stern, shocked expression
as if reproaching her for such awful extravagance. On the contrary he
smiled pleasantly, remarking that it was a warm day (which Fan knew),
and then bowed, and said "Good-day" politely.

The feeling of guilt as of having robbed the bank with which she left
Stratford Place happily wore off in time; and when the grey dress was
finished, and she found herself arrayed becomingly, the result made her
happy for a season. She surveyed her reflection in the tall pier-glass
in her bedroom with strange interest--or not strange, perhaps--and
thought with a little feeling of triumph that the grand lady and her
daughters would not feel disgusted at their dimness of vision if they
once more mistook her for their friend "Miss Featherstonehaugh."

"Even Constance would perhaps think me good enough for a friend now,"
she said, a little bitterly; and then remembering that she had no friend
to show herself to, she felt strongly inclined to sit down and cry.

"Oh, how foolish I have been to spend so much on myself, when it doesn't
matter in the least what I wear--until Arthur comes back!"

And Arthur was not coming back just now, for only after all her finery
had been bought, on that very day she had received a letter from him
dated from Southampton, telling her that he had joined a friend who was
about to start for Norway in his yacht, and that he would be absent not
less than two months. This was a sore disappointment, but a note from
Mr. Travers accompanied Eden's letter, sent in the first place to
Lincoln's Inn, which gave her something to expect and think about. The
lawyer wrote to say that he would call to see her at twelve o'clock on
the following morning.

Fan, in her new dress, and with a slight flush caused by excitement, was
waiting for him when he arrived. He was a tall spare man, over seventy
years old, with a slight stoop in his shoulders, and hair and whiskers
almost white. He had an aquiline nose and a firm mouth and chin, and
yet the expression was far from severe, and under his broad, much-lined
forehead the deep-set clear blue eyes looked kindly to the girl. When
in repose there was an expression of weariness on his grey face, and
a far-off look in the eyes, like that of one who gazes on a distant
prospect shrouded in mist or low-trailing clouds. He had thought and
wrought much, and perhaps, unlike that stern-browed and dauntless old
chair-mender that Fan remembered so well, he was growing tired of his
long life-journey, and not unwilling to see the end when there would be
rest. But when talking or listening his face still showed animation,
and was pleasant to look upon. Fan remembered certain words of her
brother's, and felt that even if they had never been uttered, here was a
man in whom she could trust implicitly.

At first he did not say much, and after explaining the cause of his
delay in visiting her, contented himself with listening and observing
her quietly. At length, catching sight of the water-colour portrait of
Fan, which was hanging on the wall, he got up from his seat and placed
himself before it.

"It is a very beautiful picture, Miss Eden," he said with a smile, as
Fan came to his side.

"Yes, I think it is," she returned naïvely. "But that is the artist's
work. I never had a dress like that--I never had a dinner dress in my
life. It was taken from a photograph, and the painter has made a fancy
picture of it."

"It is very like you, Miss Eden--an excellent portrait, I think. Do you
not know that you are beautiful?"

"No, I did not know--at least, I was not sure. But I am glad you think
so. I should like very much to be beautiful."

"Why?" he asked with a smile.

"Because I am not clever, and perhaps it would not matter so much if
people thought me pretty. They might like me for that."

He smiled again. "I do not know you very well yet, Miss Eden, but
judging from the little I have seen of you and what I have heard, I
think you have a great deal to make people like you."

"Thank you," she returned a little sadly, remembering how her dearest
friends had quickly grown tired of her.

"How strange it is--how very strange!" he remarked after a while,
repeating Mr. Tytherleigh's very words. "I can scarcely realise that I
am here talking to Colonel Eden's daughter."

"Yes, it is very strange. That I should have got acquainted in that
chance way with my brother, and--"

"That he should have fallen in love with his sister," added Mr. Travers,
as if speaking to himself rather than to her.

She looked up with a startled expression, then suddenly became crimson
to the forehead and cast down her eyes. "Oh, I am so sorry--so sorry
that you know," she spoke in a low sad voice. "Why, why did Arthur
tell you that? No person knew except ourselves; and it would have been
forgotten and buried, and now--now others know, and it will not be
forgotten!"

"My dear Miss Eden, you must not think such a thing," he returned. "Your
secret is safe with me, but perhaps you did not know that. Do you know
that your father and I were close friends? There was little that he kept
from me, and I am glad that Arthur Eden has inherited his father's trust
in me; and perhaps, Miss Eden, when you know me better, and have heard
all I intend telling you about your father, you will have the same
feeling. But when I spoke of its being so strange, I was not thinking
about you and Arthur becoming acquainted. That was strange, certainly,
but it was no more than one of those coincidences which frequently
occur, and which make people remark so often that truth is stranger than
fiction."

"What were you thinking of then, Mr. Travers?" she asked, a little
timidly.

"Are you not aware, Miss Eden, that your father never knew of your
existence at all? That is the strangest part of the story. But I must
not go into that now. You shall hear it all before long. Would you not
like to see your father's portrait?"

"Oh yes, very much; but Arthur never told me that he had one."

"I am not sure that he has one; but I possess a very fine portrait
of him, in oils, by a good artist, which, I hope, will belong to your
brother some day, for I do not wish to live for ever, Miss Eden. I
should like to show it you very much. And that leads me to one object
of my visit to-day. Mrs. Travers and I wish you to pay us a visit if
you will. We live at Kingston, and should like you to stay with us a
fortnight."

Fan thanked him and accepted the invitation, and it was agreed that she
should go to Kingston that day week.

"I have found out one thing since I came to see you, Miss Eden," he
said, "and it is that you are singularly frank. One effect of that is to
make me wish to be frank with you. Now I am going to confess that I
came today with some misgivings. I remembered, my dear child, the
circumstances of your birth and bringing up, and could not help fearing
that your brother had been a little blinded by his feelings, and had
seen a little more in you than you possessed. But I do not wonder now at
what he said of you. If your father had lived till now I think that he
would have been proud of his child, and yet he was a fastidious man."

"Thank you, Mr. Travers; but you, perhaps, think all that because I
am--because you think I am pretty."

Mr. Travers smiled. "Well, your prettiness is a part of you--an
appropriate part, I think, but only a part after all. You see I am not
afraid of spoiling you. You are strangely like your father; in the shape
of your face, the colour of your eyes, and in your voice you are like
him."

She was looking up at him, drinking in his words with eager pleasure.

"I see that you like to hear about him," he said, taking her hand. "But
all I have to tell you must be put off until we meet at Kingston. I
am only sorry that you will find no young people there. My sons and
daughters are all married and away. I have some grandchildren as old
as you are, and they are often with us, but at present Mrs. Travers is
alone."

After a few more words, he bade her good-bye and left her, and only
after he had gone Fan remembered that she had intended to confess to
him, among other things, that she had been extravagant with somebody's
money.



CHAPTER XXXVI


The lawyer's visit had given her something to think of and to do;
forthwith she began to prepare for her fortnight's stay at Kingston
with much zeal and energy. It was a great deal to her to be able to
look forward to the companionship for a short time of even an elderly,
perhaps very dignified, lady, her loneliness did so weigh upon her.
It had not so weighed before; she had had her daily occupations, the
companionship of her fellow-assistants, and had always felt tired and
glad to rest in the evening. Now that this strange new life had come to
her, that the days were empty yet her heart full, to be so completely
cut off from her fellows and thrown back on herself, to have not one
sympathetic friend among all these multitudes around her, appeared
unnatural, and made all the good things she possessed seem almost a
vanity and a delusion.

Sitting in the shade in Hyde Park, she had begun to find a vague
pleasure in recognising individuals she had seen and noticed on
previous occasions in the moving well-dressed crowd--the same tall spare
military-looking gentleman with the grey moustache; the same three slim
pretty girls with golden hair and dressed alike in grey and terra-cotta;
the same two young gentlemen together, both wearing tight morning
coats, silk hats, and tan gloves, but in their faces so different! one
colourless, thoughtful, with eyes bent down; the other burnt brown by
tropical heats and looking so glad to be in London once more. Were they
brothers, or dear friends, reunited after a long separation, with many
strange experiences to tell? To see them again day after day was like
seeing people she knew; it was pleasant and painful at the same time.
But as the slow heavy days went on, and after all her preparations were
complete, and still other days remained to be got through before she
could leave London, the dissatisfied feeling grew in her until she
thought that it would be a joy even to meet that poor laundry-woman
who had given her shelter at Dudley Grove, only to look once more into
familiar friendly eyes. During these days the memory of Constance and
Mary was persistently with her; for these two had become associated
together in her mind, as if the two distinct periods of her life at
Dawson Place and Eyethorne had been the same, and she could not think of
one without the other. She had loved and still loved them both so much;
they were both so beautiful and strong and proud in their different
ways; and in their strength perhaps both had alike despised her weak
clinging nature, had grown tired of her affection. And at last this
perpetual want in her heart, this disquieting "passion of the past,"
reached its culminating point, when, one day after dinner, she went out
for a short stroll in the park.

The Row at that hot hour being forsaken, instead of crossing the park to
seek her favourite resting-place, she turned into the fresh shade of the
elms growing near its northern unfashionable side. She walked on until
the fountains were passed and she was in the deeper shade of Kensington
Gardens. She was standing on the very spot where she had watched three
ragged little children playing together, heaping up the old dead brown
leaves. The image of the little girl struggling up from the heap in
which her rude playfellows had thrown her, with tearful dusty face, and
dead leaves clinging to her clothes and disordered hair, made Fan laugh,
and then in a moment she could scarcely keep back the tears. For now a
hundred sweet memories rushed into her heart--her walks in the Gardens,
all the little incidents, the early blissful days when she lived with
Mary; and so vividly was the past seen and realised, yet so immeasurably
far did it seem to her and so irrecoverably lost, that the sweetness was
overmastered by the pain, and the pain was like anguish. And yet with
that feeling in her heart, so strong that it made her cheeks pallid and
her steps languid, she went on to visit every spot associated in her
mind with some memory of that lost time. Under that very tree, one
chill October day, she had given charity unasked to a pale-faced man,
shivering in thin clothes; and there too she had comforted a poor
wild-haired little boy whose stronger companions had robbed him of all
the chestnut-burs and acorns he had gathered; and on this sacred spot
a small angelic child walking with its mamma had put up its arms and
demanded a kiss. Even the Albert Memorial was not overlooked, but she
went not there to admire the splendour of colour and gold, and the
procession of marble men of all ages and all lands, led by old Homer
playing on his lyre. She looked only on the colossal woman seated on her
elephant, ever gazing straight before her, shading her eyes from the
hot Asiatic sun with her hand, for that majestic face of marble, and the
proud beautiful mouth that reminded her of Mary, had also memories
for her. And at last her rambles brought her to the extreme end of
the Gardens, to the once secluded grove between Kensington Palace and
Bayswater Hill; for even that bitter spot among the yew and pine-trees
must be visited now. She found the very seat where she had rested
on that unhappy day in early spring, shortly after her adventure at
Twickenham, when, as she then imagined, her beloved friend and protector
had so cruelly betrayed and abandoned her. How desolate and heart-broken
she had felt, seated there alone on that morning in early spring, in
that green dress which Mary had given her--how she had sobbed there by
herself, abandoned, unloved, alone in the world! And after all Mary had
done her no wrong, and Mary herself had found her in that lonely place!
The whole scene of their meeting rose with a painful distinctness before
her mind. In memory she heard again the slight rustle of a dress, the
tread of a light foot on a dead leaf that had startled her; she listened
again to all the scornful cutting words that had the effect at last
of waking such a strange frenzy of rage in her, a rage that was like
insanity. And now how gladly would she have dismissed the rest, but the
tyrant Memory would not let her be, she must re-live it all again, and
not one feeling, thought, or word be left out. Oh, why, why did she
remember it all now--when, starting from her seat as if some demon had
possessed her, she turned on her mocker with words such as had never
defiled her lips before, which she now shuddered to recall? Unable to
shake these hateful memories off, and with face crimsoned with shame,
she rose from the seat and hurriedly walked away towards Bayswater
Hill. Issuing from the Gardens she stood hesitating for some time, and
finally, as if unable to resist the strange impulse that was drawing
her, she turned into St. Petersburg Place, looking long at each familiar
building--the fantastic, mosque-like red-brick synagogue; and just
beyond it St. Sophia, the ugly Greek cathedral, yellow, squat, and
ponderous; and midway between these two--a thing of beauty--St.
Matthew's Church, grey and Gothic, with its slender soaring spire. In
Pembridge Square she paused to ask herself if it was not time to
turn back. No, not yet, a few steps more would bring her to the old
turning--that broad familiar way only as long as the width of two houses
with their gardens, from which she might look for a few moments into
that old beloved place where she had lived with Mary. And having reached
the opening, and even ventured a few paces into it, she thought, "No,
not there, I must not go one step further, for to see the dear old house
would be too painful now." But against her will, and in spite of pain
and the fear of greater pain, her feet carried her on, slowly, step by
step, and in another minute she was walking on the broad clean pavement
of Dawson Place.

How familiar it looked, lovely and peaceful under the hot July sun; the
detached houses set well back from the road, still radiant as of old
with flowers in the windows and gardens! It was strangely quiet, and
only two persons beside herself were walking there--a lady with a girl
of ten or twelve carrying a bunch of water-lilies in her hand, which she
had probably just bought at Westbourne Grove. They passed her, talking
and laughing, and went into one of the houses; and after that it seemed
stiller than ever. Only a sparrow burst out into blithe chirruping
notes, which had a strangely joyous ring in them. And here where she had
expected greater pain her pain was healed. Something from far, something
mysterious, seemed to rest on that spot, to make it unlike all other
places within the great city. What was it--this calm which stilled her
throbbing heart; this touch of glory and subtle fragrance entering her
soul and turning all bitterness there to sweetness? Perhaps the shy
spirit of life and loveliness, mother of men and of wild-flowers and
grasses, had come to it, bringing a whiter sunshine and the mystic
silence of her forests, and touching every flowery petal with her
invisible finger to make it burn like fire, and giving a ringing
woodland music to the sparrow's voice.

In that brightness and silence she could walk there, thinking calmly of
the vanished days. How real it all seemed--Mary, and her life with Mary:
all the rest of her life seemed pale and dream-like in comparison, and
the images of all other men and women looked dim in her mind when she
thought of the woman, sweet, strong, and passion-rocked, who had taken
her to her heart. Slowly she walked along the pavement, looking at each
well-known house as she passed, and when she reached the house where
she had lived, walking slower still, while her eyes rested lovingly,
lingeringly on it. And as she passed it, both to leave it so soon, it
occurred to her that she could easily invent some innocent pretext for
calling. She would see the lady of the house to ask for Miss Starbrow's
present address. Not that she would ever write to Mary again, even if
the address were known, but it would be an excuse to go to the door
with, to see the interior once more--the shady tessellated hall, perhaps
the drawing-room. Turning in at the gate, she ascended the broad white
steps, and their whiteness made her smile a little sadly, reminding her
of the old dark days before Mary had been her friend.

Her knock was answered by a neat-looking parlourmaid.

"I called to see the lady of the house," said Fan. "Is she in?"

"Yes, miss; will you please walk in," and she led the way to the
drawing-room. "What name shall I say, miss?" said the girl.

Fan gave her a card, and then, left alone, sat down and began eagerly
studying the well-remembered room. There were ferns and blossoming
plants in large blue pots about the room, and some pictures, and a few
chairs and knick-knacks she had never seen, and a new Persian carpet on
the floor; but everything else was unchanged. The grand piano was in the
old place, open, with loose sheets of music lying on it, just as if Mary
herself had been there practising an hour before.

She was sitting with her back to the door, and did not hear it open. The
slight rustling sound of a dress caught her ear, and turning quickly,
she beheld Mary herself standing before her. It might have been only
yesterday that Mary had spoken those cruel-kind words and left her
in tears at Eyethorne. For there was no change in her--in that strong
beautiful face, the raven hair and full dark eyes, the proud, sweet
mouth--which Foley might have had for a model when he chiselled his
"Asia"--and that red colour on her cheeks, richer and softer than ever
burned on sea-shell or flower.

The instant that Fan turned she recognised her visitor, and remained
standing motionless, holding the girl's card in her hand, her face
showing the most utter astonishment. If a visitor from the other world
had appeared to her she could not have looked more astonished. Meanwhile
Fan, forgetting everything else in the joy of seeing Mary again, had
started to her feet, and with a glad cry and outstretched arms moved
towards her. Then the other regained possession of her faculties; she
dropped her hand to her side, the colour forsook her face, and it grew
cold and hard as stone, while the old black look came to her brows.

"Pray resume your seat, Miss Paradise--I beg your pardon, Miss----" here
she consulted the card--"Miss Eden," she finished, her lips curling.

"Oh, I forgot about the card," exclaimed Fan deeply distressed. "You are
vexed with me because--because it looks as if I wished to take you by
surprise. Will you let me explain about my change of name?"

"You need not take that trouble, Miss--Eden. I have not the slightest
interest in the subject. I only desire to know the object of this
visit."

"My object was only to--to see the inside of the house again. I did
not know that you were living here now. I had invented an excuse for
calling. But if I had know you were here--oh, if you knew how I have
wished to see you!"

"I do not wish to know anything about it, Miss Eden. Have you so
completely forgotten the circumstances which led to our parting, and the
words I wrote to you on that occasion?"

"No, I have not forgotten," said Fan despairingly; "but when I saw you
I thought--I hoped that the past would not be remembered--that you would
be glad to see me again."

"Then you made a great mistake, Miss Eden; and I hope this interview
will serve to convince you, if you did not know it before, that I am not
one to change, that I never repent of what I do, or fail to be as good
as my word."

"Then I must go," said Fan, scarcely able to keep back the tears that
were gathering thick in her eyes. "But I am so sorry--so sorry! I
wish--I wish you could think differently about it and forgive me if I
have offended you."

"There is nothing to be gained by prolonging this conversation, which is
not pleasant to me," returned the other haughtily, advancing to the bell
to summon the servant.

"Wait one moment--please don't ring yet," cried Fan, hurrying forward,
the tears now starting from her eyes. "Oh, Mary, will you not shake
hands with me before I go?"

Miss Starbrow moved back a step or two and stared deliberately at her
face, as if amazed and angered beyond measure at her persistence. And
for some moments they stood thus, not three feet apart, gazing into each
other's eyes, Fan's tearful, full of eloquent pleading, her hands still
held out; and still the other delayed to speak the cutting words that
trembled on her lips. A change came over her scornful countenance;
the corners of her mouth twitched nervously, as if some sharp pang had
touched her heart; the dark eyes grew misty, and in another moment Fan
was clasped to her breast.

"Oh, Fan!--dearest Fan!--darling--you have beaten me again!" she
exclaimed spasmodically, half-sobbing. "Oh what a strange girl you are!
... To come and--take me by storm like that! ... And I was so determined
never to relent--never to go back from what I said.... But you have
swept it all away--all my resolutions--everything. Oh, Fan, can you
ever, ever forgive me for being such a brute? But I had to act in that
way--there was no help for it. I couldn't break my word--I never do.
You know, Fan, that I never change.... Is it really you?--oh, I can't
believe it--I can't realise it--here in my own house! Let me look at
your dear face again."

And drawing back their heads they gazed into each other's faces once
more, Fan crying and laughing by turns, while Mary, the strong woman,
could do nothing but cry now.

"The same dear grey eyes, but oh, how beautiful you have grown," she
went on. "I shall never forgive myself--never cease to hate myself after
this. And yet, dearest, what could I do? I had solemnly vowed never to
speak to you again if we met. I should have been a poor weak creature if
I hadn't--you must know that. And now--oh, how could I resist so long,
and be so cruel? I know I'm very illogical, but--I hate it, there!--I
mean logic--don't you?"

"I hardly know what it is, Mary, but if you hate it, so do I with all my
heart."

"That's a dear sensible girl. How sweet it is to hear that 'Mary' from
your lips again! How often I have wished to hear it!--the wish has even
made me cry. For I have never ceased to think of you and love you,
Fan, even when I was determined never to speak to you again. But let me
explain something. Though you disobeyed me, Fan, and spoke so lightly
about it, just as if you believed that you could do what you liked with
me, I still might have overlooked it if it had not been for my brother
Tom's interference. I was very much offended with you, and when we spoke
of you I said that I intended giving you up, but I don't think I really
meant it in my heart. But he put himself into a passion about it, and
abused me, and called me a demon, and dared me to do what I threatened,
and said that if I did he would never speak to me again. That settled
it at once. To be talked to in that way by anyone--even by Tom--is more
than my flesh and blood can stand. And so we parted--it was at Ravenna,
an old Italian city--and of course I did what I said, and from that day
to this we have not exchanged a line, nor ever shall until he apologises
for his words. That's how it happened, and what woman with any
self-respect--would not _you_ have acted in the same way, Fan, in such a
case?"

"No, Mary, I don't think so. But we are so different, you so strong and
I so weak."

"Are you really weak? I am not so sure. You have taken me captive,
at all events." And then her eyes suddenly growing misty again, she
continued: "Fan, you have a strength which I never had, which, in the
old days when you lived with me, used to remind me of Longfellow's
little poem about a meek-eyed maid going through life with a lily in her
hand, one touch of which even gates of brass could not withstand. You
will forgive me, I know, but tell me now from your heart, don't you
think it was cruel--wicked of me to receive you as I did just now?"

"You wouldn't have been so hard with me, Mary, if you had known what I
felt. All day long I have been thinking of you, and wishing--oh, how I
wished to see you again! And before coming here to see Dawson Place once
more I went and sat down on that very seat in Kensington Gardens
where you found me crying by myself on that day--do you remember?--and
where--and where--oh, how I cried again only to think of it! How could
I speak to you as I did--in that horrible way--when you had loved me so
much!"

"Hush, Fan, for heaven's sake! You make me feel as if you had put your
hand down into me and had wound all the strings of my heart round your
fingers, and--I can't bear it. I think nothing of what you said in your
anger, but only of my cruelty to you then and on other occasions. Oh,
do let's speak of something else. Look, there is your card on the floor
where I dropped it. Why do you call yourself Miss Eden--how do you come
to be so well-dressed, and looking more like some delicately-nurtured
patrician's daughter than a poor girl? Do tell me your story now."

And the story was told as they sat together by the open window in
the pleasant room; and when they had drank tea at five o'clock, much
remaining yet to be told--much in spite of the gaps Fan saw fit to leave
in her narrative--Mary said:

"Will you dine with me, Fan? You shall name the hour yourself if you
will only stay--seven, eight, nine if you like."

"I shall only be too glad to stay for as long as you care to have me,"
said Fan.

"Then will you sleep here? I have a guest's room all ready, a lovely
little room, only I think if you sleep there I shall sit by your bedside
all night."

"Then if I stay I shall sleep with you, Mary, so as not to keep you up,"
said Fan laughing. "Can I send a telegram to my landlady to say that I
shall not be home to-night?"

"Yes; after it gets cool we might walk to the post-office in the Grove
to send it."

And thus it was agreed, and so much had they to say to each other
that not until the morning light began to steal into their bedroom,
to discover them lying on one pillow, raven-black and golden tresses
mingled together, did any drowsy feeling come to them. And even then at
intervals they spoke.

"Mary," said Fan, after a rather long silence, "have you ever heard of
Rosie since?"

"No; but I saw her once. I went to the Alhambra to see a ballet that was
admired very much, and I recognised Rosie on the stage in spite of her
paint and ballet dress. I couldn't stay another moment after that.
I should have left the theatre if--if--well, never mind. Don't speak
again, Fan, we must go to sleep now."

But another question was inevitable. "Just one word more, Mary; have you
never heard of Captain Horton since?"

"Ah, I thought that was coming! Yes, once. Just about the time when
I returned from abroad, I had a letter from my bankers to say that
he--that man--had paid a sum of money--about two hundred and thirty
pounds--to my account. It was money I had lent him a long time before,
and he had the audacity to ask them to send him a receipt in my
handwriting! I told them to send the man a receipt themselves, and to
inform him from me that I was sorry he had paid the money, as it had
reminded me of his hateful existence."

After another interval Fan remarked, "I am glad he paid the money,
Mary."

"Why--do you think I couldn't afford to lose that? I would rather have
lost it."

"I wasn't thinking of the money. But it showed that he had some right
feelings--that he was not altogether bad."

"You should be the last person to say that, Fan. You should hate his
memory with all your heart."

"I am so happy to be with you again, Mary; I feel that I cannot hate
anyone, however wicked he may be."

"Yes, you are like that Scotch minister who prayed for everything he
could think of in earth and heaven, and finally finished up by praying
for the devil. But are you really so happy, dear Fan? Is your happiness
quite complete--is there nothing wanting?"

"I should like very, very much to know where Constance is."

"Well, judging from what you have told me, I should think she must be
very miserable indeed. They are very poor, no doubt, and in ordinary
circumstances poverty would perhaps not make her unhappy, for, being
intellectual, she would always have the beauty of her own intellect and
the stars to think about."

"Do you really think that, Mary--that she is miserable?"

"I do indeed. When she, poor fool! married Merton Chance, she leant on
a reed, and it would be strange if it had not broken and pierced her to
the quick."

And after that there was silence, broken only by a sad sigh from Fan;
which meant that she knew it and always had known it, but had gone on
hoping against hope that the fragile reed would not break to pierce that
loved one.



CHAPTER XXXVII


Nearly the whole of Fan's remaining time before going to Kingston was
passed at Dawson Place. Her happiness was perfect, like the sunshine she
had found resting on that dear spot on her return to it, pure, without
stain of cloud. For into Mary's vexed heart something new seemed to have
come, something strange to her nature, a novel meekness, a sweetness
that did not sour, so that their harmony continued unbroken to the end.
And, oddly enough, or not oddly perhaps, since she was not "logical,"
she seemed now greatly to sympathise with Fan's growing anxiety about
the lost Constance. Not one trace of the petty jealous feeling which had
caused so much trouble in the past remained; she was heartily ashamed of
it now, and was filled with remorse when she recalled her former unkind
and capricious behaviour.

At length Fan went on her visit, not without a pang of regret at parting
so soon again, even for a short time, from the friend she had recovered.
She was anxious to hear that "strange story" about her father which the
lawyer had promised to relate; apart from that, she did not anticipate
much pleasure from her stay at Kingston.

The Travers' house was at a little distance from the town, and stood
well back on the road, screened from sight by trees and a high brick
wall. It was a large, low, old-fashioned, rambling house, purchased by
its owner many years before, when he had a numerous family with him, and
required plenty of house-room; but its principal charm to Fan was the
garden, covering about four acres of ground, well stocked with a great
variety of shrubs and flowers, and containing some trees of noble
growth.

Mrs. Travers was not many years younger than her husband; and yet
she did not look old, although her health was far from good, her
more youthful appearance being due to a false front of glossy
chestnut-coloured hair, an occasional visit to the rouge-pot, and other
artificial means used by civilised ladies to mitigate the ravages
of time. In other things also she offered a striking contrast to her
husband, being short and stout, or fat; she was also a dressy dame, and
burdened her podgy fingers and broad bosom with too much gold and too
many precious stones--yellow, blue, and red; and her silk dresses were
also too bright-hued for a lady of her years and figure. Her favourite
strong blues and purples would have struck painfully on the refined
colour-sense of an aesthete. On the other hand, to balance these
pardonable defects, she was kind-hearted; not at all artificial in her
manner and conversation, or unduly puffed up with her position, as one
might have expected her to be from her appearance; and, to put her
chief merit last, she reverenced her husband, and believed that in all
things--except, perhaps, in those small matters sacred to femininity,
which concerned her personal adornment--"he knew best." She was
consequently prepared to extend a warm welcome to her young visitor,
and, for her husband's sake, to do as much to make her visit pleasant
as if she had been the lawful daughter of her husband's late friend and
client, Colonel Eden.

Nevertheless, after the days she had spent with Mary, Fan did not find
Mrs. Travers' society exhilarating. The lady had given up walking,
except a very little in the garden, but on most days she went out for
carriage exercise in the morning, after Mr. Travers had gone to town. At
two o'clock the ladies would lunch, after which Fan would be alone until
the five o'clock tea, when her hostess would reappear in a gay dress,
and a lovely carmine bloom on her cheeks--the result of her refreshing
noonday slumbers. After tea they would spend an hour together in the
garden talking and reading. Mrs. Travers, having bad eyesight, accepted
Fan's offer to read to her. She read nothing but periodicals--short
social sketches, smart paragraphs, jokes, and occasionally a tale, if
very short, so that Fan found her task a very light one. She had
_The World, Truth, The Whitehall Review, The Queen_ and _The Lady's
Pictorial_ every week; and in the last-named paper Fan read out a little
sketch--one of a series called "Eastern Idylls"--which she liked better
than anything else for its graceful style and delicate pathos. So much
did it please her, that she looked up the back numbers of the paper, and
read all the sketches in them, each relating some little domestic East
End incident or tale, pathetic or humorous, or both, with scenes and
characters lightly drawn, yet with such skilful touches, and put so
clearly before the mind, that it was impossible not to believe that
these pictures were from life.

At half-past six Mr. Travers would return from town, and at seven they
dined, sitting long at table; and afterwards, if there were friends,
there would be a rubber of whist. It was a quiet almost sleepy
existence, and Fan began to look forward with a little impatience to the
end of her fortnight, when she would be able to return to her friend.
For Mary's last words had been, "I shall not leave London without
you." But she first wished to hear the "strange story" Mr. Travers
had promised to tell, but about which he had spoken no word since her
arrival. Every day she was reminded of it, for in the dining-room was
the portrait of her father, painted, life-size, by a Royal Academician,
and showing a gentleman aged about thirty-five years, with a handsome
oval face, grey eyes, thin straight nose, and hair and well-trimmed
moustache and Vandyke beard of a deep golden brown, the moustache not
altogether hiding the pleasant, somewhat voluptuous mouth. And it seemed
to Fan when she looked at it and the grey eyes gazed back into hers, and
the pleasant lips seemed to smile on her, that she had never seen among
living men a more beautiful and lovable face.

The sixth day of her visit was Sunday. Mr. Travers breakfasted alone
with her, his wife not having risen yet, and after breakfast he asked
her if she wished to go to church.

"Not unless you are going or wish me to go," returned Fan.

"Then, Miss Eden, let us stay at home, and have a morning to ourselves
in the garden. We have not yet had much time to talk, as I am generally
rather tired in the evenings. And besides, what I wish to talk to you
about is one of _my_ secrets, and it could not be mentioned before
another."

They were out in the garden sitting in the shade, when he surprised her
by saying, "Are you at all superstitious, Miss Eden?"

"I am not quite sure that I understand you," replied Fan, with a little
hesitation. "Do you mean religious, Mr. Travers?"

"Well, no, not exactly. But superstition is undoubtedly a word of many
meanings, and some people give it a very wide one, as your question
implies. I used the word in a more restricted sense--in the sense in
which we say that believers in dreams, presentiments, and apparitions
are superstitious. My belief was--I am not sure whether I can say
_is_--that your father was infected with superstitions of this kind.
But I must tell you the whole story, and then you will understand what
I mean when I say that it is a strange one. He was one of several
children; and, by the way, that reminds me that--but let that pass."

"Do you mean--have I--has my brother many relations--uncles, aunts, and
cousins, Mr. Travers?" said Fan, a little eagerly.

"Well," he answered, smiling a little and stroking his chin, "yes. Your
half-brother's mother had two married sisters, both with large families;
but I do not think that Mr. Arthur Eden is intimate with them. I think I
have heard him say as much."

Fan, noting that he cautiously confined himself to her brother's
relations on the mother's side, grew red, and secretly resolved never to
ask such a question again, even of Arthur.

The other continued: "Being one of several children, and not the eldest,
his income was a small one for a young man of rather expensive habits
and in the army. He was in difficulties on several occasions, and it
was at that period that our acquaintance ripened into a very close
friendship--as warm a friendship as can exist between two men living
totally different lives, moving in different social worlds, and with a
considerable difference in their ages.

"When about thirty-eight years old he married a lady with a considerable
fortune, which was not in any way settled on herself, and consequently
became his. It was not a happy marriage, and after the birth of their
son--their only child--and Mrs. Eden not being in good health, she went
to live at Winchester, where she had relations and where her son was
educated; and for several years husband and wife lived apart. His wife
died about fourteen years after her marriage, and, I am glad to say, he
was with her during her last illness, but afterwards he returned to his
old life in London, and went very much into society. Finally his health
failed; and when he discovered that his malady, although a slow, was an
incurable one, his habits and disposition changed, and he grew morbid, I
think--possibly from brooding too much on his condition.

"Up to this time he had paid no attention to religion; now it became the
sole subject of his thoughts. He attended a ritualistic church in the
neighbourhood of Oxford Street, and gave up the house he had occupied
before, and took another only a few doors removed from the church, so as
to be able to attend all the services, one of which was held daily at a
very early hour of the morning. In this church, confession and penances,
and other things in which the ritualists imitate the Roman Catholics,
are in use, and the vicar, or priest as he is called, gained a great
influence over Colonel Eden's mind.

"He had at this time entirely given up going into society, but his
intimacy with me, which had lasted so many years, continued to the end.
Shortly before he died, and about three years and a half to four years
ago, he told me that he had had a strange dream, which he persisted in
regarding as of the supernatural order. This dream came to him on three
consecutive nights, and after several conversations with his priest and
confessor on the subject, and being encouraged by him in the belief that
it was something more than a mere wandering of the disordered fancy, he
consulted me about it. It was then that for the first time he told me
the story of Margaret Affleck, a girl in a humble position in life who
had engaged his affections some fourteen years before, and from whom he
had parted after a few months' acquaintance. He assured me that he had
all but forgotten this affair; that when parting from her he had given
her some money as a compensation for the trouble he had brought on her;
while, on her side, she had told him that she would not be disgraced,
but that she would marry a young man in her own class, who was willing
and anxious to take her.

"At all events, during those fourteen years he had never seen nor heard
anything of her. Then comes the dream. He dreamt that he was in the
church for early matins, and that he heard a voice calling 'Father,
father!' to him, and on looking round saw a poor girl in ragged clothes,
and with a pale, exceedingly sad face, and that he had no sooner looked
on her than he knew that she was his child, and the child of Margaret
Affleck. She was crying piteously, and wringing her hands and imploring
him to deliver her from her misery; and in his struggling efforts to go
to her he woke.

"This dream, as I said, returned to him night after night, and so preyed
on his mind that he interpreted it as a command from some Superior Power
to seek out this lost child and save her. I tried my best to argue him
out of his delusion, for I was convinced that it was nothing more; but
seeing him so determined, and so fully persuaded in his own mind that
unless he made atonement his sins would not be forgiven, I gave way,
and had inquiries made in various directions. I advertised for Margaret
Affleck; for I could not, of course, advertise for a child of whose
existence there was not any evidence. But though we advertised a
great many times both in the London and Norfolk papers--Colonel Eden
remembered that the girl belonged to Norfolk--we could not find the
right person. Colonel Eden, however, still clung to the belief that
the daughter he believed in would eventually be found, and he even
contemplated adding a clause to his will, in which everything was left
unconditionally to his son, to make provision for her. This intention
was not carried out, but shortly before his death he told me that he had
left a sealed letter for his son, who was abroad at the time, informing
him of the dream, or revelation, and asking him to continue the search,
and to provide generously for the child when she should be found. He
never for a moment seemed to doubt that she would be found; but his
belief was that we would find in her not, my dear girl, one like
yourself--fresh and unsullied as the flower in your hand, beautiful in
spirit as in person."

"What did he believe you would find? Will you please tell me, Mr.
Travers?" said Fan, a tremor in her voice.

"He believed when he had that dream that you were in the lowest depths
of poverty--in misery, and exposed to all the dangers and temptations
which surround a destitute young girl, motherless perhaps, and
friendless, and homeless, in London. Dear child, I cannot tell you
all or what he feared," he finished, putting his hand lightly on her
shoulder.

There were tears in her eyes, and she averted her face to hide the rush
of crimson to her cheeks.

Mr. Travers continued: "The news of Colonel Eden's death reached Arthur
in Mexico, and he came home at once. He showed me the letter I have
mentioned, and asked me to advise him what to do. But from the first
he had taken the same view of the matter which I had taken, and which I
suppose that ninety-nine men out of every hundred would take, and I must
say that he did not do much to find the girl, nor was there anything to
be done after our advertisements had failed. The rest of the story you
know, Miss Eden. When I last saw your brother I told him that after
making your acquaintance, if I found you what he had painted, I should
in all probability tell you this story, and he made no objection. I fear
it has given you pain, still it was best that you should know it. And
perhaps now you will not think that your brother was wrong in opening
his heart to me."

"No, I think he was right, and I am very, very grateful to you for
telling me about my father." After a while she continued: "But, Mr.
Travers, I hardly know what to say about the dream. I have heard and
read of such things, and--I was just what he imagined--just like the
girl he saw in his dream. And when my life was so miserable, if I had
known where to find him--if mother could have told me--I should have
gone to him to ask him to save me. But--how can I say it? Don't you
think, Mr. Travers, that if dreams and warnings were sent to us--if good
spirits could let us know things in that way and tell us what to do,
that it would happen oftener? ... There are always so many in distress
and danger, and sometimes so little is needed to save one--a few pence,
a few kind words--and yet how many fall, how many die! Even in the
Regent's Canal how many poor women throw their lives away--and nothing
saves them.... I am not glad to hear that it was a dream that first made
my father wish to find mother--and me. I should have preferred to hear
that he thought of her--of us, before he fell into such bad health, and
when he was strong and happy.... Do you think his dream was sent from
heaven, Mr. Travers?"

"I am not prepared to express an opinion as to that, Miss Eden," he
replied, with a grave smile. "But I have been listening to your words
with great interest and a little surprise. Most young ladies, I fancy,
would have been deeply impressed with such a narrative, and they would
readily and gladly have adopted the view that some supernatural agency
had been concerned in the matter. You, strange to say, do not seem to
look on yourself as a special favourite of the powers above, and think
that others have as much right as yourself to be rescued miraculously
from perils and sufferings. Well--you have not a romantic mind, Miss
Eden."

"No, I don't think I have--I have had the same thing said to me two or
three times before," replied Fan naïvely. "But I wish you would tell
me more about my father when he was healthy and happy. Was he really as
handsome as he looks in the portrait? It seems so life-like that when I
am looking at it I can hardly realise that he is not somewhere living on
the earth, that I shall never hold his hand and hear his voice."

The old lawyer was quite ready to gratify her curiosity on the point,
and told her a great deal about her father's life. "There is one thing
I omitted to mention before," he said at the end. "Your brother would
gladly do anything in his power to make you happy; at the same time he
wishes you to understand that in providing for you he is only carrying
out his father's intentions, and that you will owe it to your father,
and not to him."

"But I shall still feel the same gratitude to my brother, Mr. Travers."

"Well, no harm can come of that, and--we cannot help our feelings. Just
now it is your brother's fancy to leave you in ignorance of the amount
of your income, which I think you will find sufficient. For a year or
so you have as it were _carte blanche_ to do what you like in the way
of spending, and if you should exceed your income by fifty or a hundred
pounds I don't think anything alarming will happen. And now, Miss Eden,
is there nothing I can do for you? Nothing you would like to ask my
advice about?"

"Oh yes, thank you, there is one thing," and she told him all about her
friend Constance, and her anxiety to find her.

Mr. Travers made a note of the matter. "There will be no difficulty in
finding them," he said. "I shall have inquiries made to-morrow. I hope,"
he added with a smile, "you are not going to become a convert to Mr.
Merton Chance's doctrines."

"Oh no," she replied laughing. "My only wish is to find Mrs. Chance.
Mrs. Churton once said, when she was a little vexed with me, that it was
like pouring water on a duck's back to give me religious instruction.
I am sure that if Mr. Chance ever speaks to me about his new beliefs I
shall have my feathers well oiled."

Meanwhile Mrs. Travers had been keeping the luncheon back, and watching
them engaged in that long conversation from her seat at the window. The
good woman had been the wife of her husband for a great many years, but
she had not yet outlived that natural belief that a wife has to "know
everything" her husband knows; and she had guessed that those two were
discussing secret matters which they had no intention of imparting to
her. A woman has a faculty about such things which corresponds to scent
in the terrier; the little mystery is there--the small rodent lurks
behind the wainscot; she is consumed with a desire to get at it--to
worry its life out; and if it refuse to leave its hiding-place she
cannot rest and be satisfied. It was her nature; and though she asked no
questions, knowing that her husband was not to be caught in that way, he
did not fail to remark the slight frost which had fallen on her manner
and her polite and distant tone towards their guest. Well aware of
the cause, and too old to be annoyed, it only gave him a little secret
amusement. He had warned the girl, and that was enough. The little chill
would pass off in time, and no harm would result.

It did not pass off quickly, however, but lasted three or four days,
during which time Mrs. Travers was somewhat distant in her manner, and
declined Fan's offer to read to her; and Fan remarked the change, but
was at a loss to account for it. But one day, after lunch, when they
rose from the table, she said, "Oh, Mrs. Travers, do you know that
the _Pic_. is in the drawing-room? I have been anxiously waiting since
Saturday to know what the last 'Eastern Idyll' is about."

"And why have you not read it, Miss Eden?" said the other, a little
stiffly.

"I thought that you would perhaps let me read it to you--I did not wish
to read it first."

The good woman smiled and consented. Her sight was not good, and the
sketches were always printed in a painfully small type; and besides,
they seemed different to her when the girl read them; her low musical
voice, so clear and penetrating, yet pathetic, had seemed to interpret
the writer's feeling so well. And so the frost melted, and she became
more kind and friendly than ever.

Mr. Travers, much to his own surprise, failed to discover Fan's lost
friends. One thing he had done was to send a clerk to the office of
the paper with the singular title to ask for Mr. Chance's address. The
answer he received from a not over-polite gentleman he met there was,
"We don't know nothing about Mr. Merton Chance in this horfice, and
don't want to, nether."

Mr. Travers had to confess that he could not find Merton Chance.



CHAPTER XXXVIII


Before Fan's visit came to an end, the Travers gave a dinner to some of
their Kingston friends and neighbours. The hour was seven, and all the
guests, save one, arrived at the right time, and after fifteen minutes'
grace had been allowed, Mrs. Travers discovered to her dismay that
they would sit down thirteen at table. She was superstitious, in the
restricted sense in which her husband used the word, and was plainly
distressed. Two or three of the ladies, including Fan, who were in the
secret, were discussing this grave matter with her.

"I shall not dine, Mrs. Travers; do please let me stop out!" said Fan.

"No, my dear Miss Eden, I couldn't think of such a thing," said Mrs.
Travers.

Then another lady offered to eat her dinner standing, for so long as
they did not sit down thirteen "it would be all right," she said. But it
was one of those unfortunate remarks which sound personal, the obliging
lady being very tall and slender, while her short and stout hostess did
not look much higher when standing than when seated.

"It is really too bad of him!" was her sole remark.

"Is he nice?" asked another lady.

"Not very, I think, if he makes us sit down thirteen, and leaves Miss
Eden with no one to take her in. But you can judge for yourself, for
here he is--I am _so_ glad!"

The late guest advancing to them was now shaking hands with his hostess,
and apologising for being the last to arrive; while Fan, who had
suddenly turned very pale, shrank back as if anxious to avoid being
seen by him. It was Captain Horton, not much changed in appearance, but
thinner and somewhat care-worn and jaded. Mrs. Travers at once proceeded
to introduce him to Fan, and asked him to take her in to dinner, and
being preoccupied she did not notice the girl's altered and painfully
distressed appearance. He bowed and offered his arm, but he started
perceptibly when first glancing at her face. Fan, barely resting her
fingers on his sleeve, moved on by his side, her eyes cast down, as they
followed the other guests, both keeping silence. At the table, their
neighbours on either side being deeply engaged in conversation with
their respective partners, Captain Horton found himself placed in an
exceedingly trying position, but until he had finished his soup, which
he ate but did not taste, he made no attempt to speak. The name of Eden
mystified him, and more than once his eyes wandered to that portrait
hanging on the wall opposite to where he was sitting, to find its grey
eyes watching him; yet he had no doubt in his mind that the young lady
by his side was the girl he had known at Dawson Place as Fan Affleck.
At length, to avoid attracting attention, he felt compelled to say
something, and made some commonplace remarks about the weather--its
excessive heat and dryness; it had not been so hot for years. "At
noon in the City to-day," he said, "the thermometer marked eighty-nine
degrees in the shade."

Fan's monosyllabic replies were scarcely audible; she was very pale, and
kept her eyes religiously fixed on the table before her. At length she
ventured to glance at him, and could not help noticing, in spite of
her distress, that he seemed as ill at ease as herself. He crumbled his
bread to powder on the cloth, and when he raised his glass to drink,
which he did often enough to fill up the time, his hand shook so as
almost to spill his wine. Seeing him so nervous, she began to experience
a kind of pity for him--some such complex feeling as a very humane
person might have for a reptile he has been taught to loathe and fear
when seeing it in pain--and at length surprised him by asking if he
lived in Kingston. He replied that he usually spent the summer months
there for the sake of the boating; and then, as if afraid that they
would drop into silence again, he put the same question to her. Fan
replied that she was only staying for a few days with her friends the
Travers. A few vapid remarks about Kingston and the river was all they
could find to say after that, and it was an immense relief when the
ladies at length rose and left the room.

Mrs. Travers led the way through the drawing-room to the garden, but
when all her guests, except Fan, who came last, had passed out, she came
back to speak alone to the girl.

"I am afraid you are not feeling well, my dear," she said. "You look as
pale as a ghost, and I noticed that you scarcely ate anything at dinner,
and were very silent.

"Please don't think anything of it, Mrs. Travers. I feel quite well
now--perhaps it was the heat."

"It _was_ hot, but it never seems like dinner unless we have the gas
lighted and draw the curtains."

"I suppose I must have seemed very stupid to--the gentleman who took me
in," remarked Fan. "Can you tell me something about him, Mrs. Travers?
Is he a friend of yours and Mr. Travers?"

"Are you really interested in him, Miss Eden?" said the other, with a
disconcerting smile.

The girl's face flushed painfully. After a little reflection she said:

"I was so silent at table, hardly answering a word when he
spoke--perhaps he thought me very strange and shy." She paused, blushing
again at her own disingenuousness. "I must have felt nervous, or
frightened, at something in him. Do you know him well--is he a bad man,
Mrs. Travers?"

"My dear child, what a shocking thing to say--and of a gentleman you
have scarcely spoken to! You shall hear his whole biography, since you
are so curious about him. We have known him a long time: he is a
nephew of an old friend of ours--Mr. George Horton, a stockbroker, very
wealthy. Captain Horton had a small fortune left to him, but he ran
through with it, and so--had to leave the army. He was a sporting man,
and had the misfortune to lose; that, I think, is the worst that can be
said of him. About two years ago he went to his uncle and begged to be
taken on in the office; he was sick of an idle life, he said. His uncle
did not believe that he would do any good in the City, but consented
to give him a trial. Since then he has been as much absorbed in the
business as if he had been in it all his life. His uncle thinks him
wonderfully clever, and I dare say will make him a partner in the firm
before very long. And now, my dear Miss Eden, you must get rid of that
fancy about him, because it is wrong; and later in the evening when you
hear him sing--you are so fond of music!--you will like him as much as
we do."

After this little discourse the good woman took her station at a table
in the garden to pour out the coffee.

But there was a tumult in the girl's heart, a strange feeling she could
not analyse. It was not fear--she feared him no longer; nor hate, since,
as she had said, her happiness had taken from her the power to hate
anyone; yet it was strong as these, importunate, and its object was
clear to her soul, but how to give it expression she knew not.

The hum of conversation suddenly grew loud in the dining-room; the
gentlemen had finished their wine, if not their discussion; they had
risen, and were about to join the ladies in the garden. The impulse in
her was so strong that it was an anguish, and she could not resist it.
Coming to the side of her hostess, she spoke hesitatingly:

"Mrs. Travers, when they come out, I must talk to him--to Captain
Horton, I mean, and--and try to do away with the bad impression I must
have made. He must think me so shy and silent. Will it seem strange if I
should ask him to go with me round the garden to see the roses?"

"Strange! no, indeed," returned the other with a little laugh. "He will
be very glad to look at the roses with you, I should think."

Fan kept her place by the table when the gentlemen came out. Captain
Horton's eyes studiously avoided her face.

"Mrs. Travers," he said, taking a cup of coffee from her hand, "I hope
you will not think worse of me than you already do if I leave you at
once. Unfortunately for me, I have an appointment which must be kept."

"Oh that is really too bad of you," said the lady. "We were anticipating
so much pleasure from your singing this evening. And here is Miss Eden
just waiting to take you round the garden to show you our roses--perhaps
you can spare ten minutes to see them?"

He glanced at the girl's pale, troubled face.

"I shall be very pleased to look at the roses with Miss Eden," he
returned, setting down his cup with a somewhat unsteady hand.

His voice, however, expressed no pleasure, but only surprise, and while
speaking he anxiously consulted his watch. Fan came round to his side at
once, and together they moved towards the lower end of the grounds.

"Do you admire flowers?" She spoke mechanically.

"Yes, I do."

After an interval she spoke again.

"Mr. Travers takes great pride in his roses. They are very lovely."

He made no reply.

Then at last, in a kind of despair, she added:

"But it was not to show you the roses that I asked you to come with me."

He inclined his head slightly, but said nothing.

"You remember me--do you not?" she asked after a while.

He considered the question for a few moments, then answered, "Yes, Miss
Eden."

"Perhaps it surprised you to hear me called by that name. It was my
father's name, and I have now taken it in obedience to my brother's
wish."

At this mention of father and brother he involuntarily glanced at her
face--that same pure delicate face to which he had once brought so
terrified a look and a pallor as of death.

For some minutes more they paced the walks at the end of the garden in
silence, he waiting for her to speak, she unable to say anything.

"Allow me to remind you," he said at length, looking again at his watch,
"that I am a little pressed for time. I understood, or imagined, that
you had something to say to me--not about roses."

"I am so sorry--I can say nothing," she murmured in reply. Then after an
interval, with an effort, "But perhaps it will be the same if you know
what I came out for--if you can guess."

"Perhaps I can guess only too well," he returned bitterly. "You were
kindly going to warn me that you intend bringing some damning accusation
against me to the Travers. You need not have troubled yourself about it;
you might have spared yourself, and me, the misery of this interview.
It surprised me very much to meet you here, as I had no desire to cross
your path. I shall not enter this house again, and Kingston will soon
see the last of me. It would have been better, I think--more maidenly,
if you will allow me to say so--to have met me as a perfect stranger and
made no sign."

"I could not do that," she answered, with a ring of pain in her voice.
"You speak angrily, and take it for granted that I am going to do you
some injury. Oh, what a mistake you are making! Nothing would ever
induce me to breathe one word to the Travers, nor to anyone, of what I
know of you."

He looked surprised and relieved. "Then, in heaven's name, why not try
and forget all about it? You have friends and relations now, and seem to
have made the best of your opportunities. Is there anything to be gained
by stirring up the past?"

"I do not know. I thought so, but perhaps I was wrong."

He looked at her again, openly, and with growing interest. He had hated
her memory, had cursed her a thousand times, for having come between him
and the woman he wanted to marry; but it made a wonderful difference in
his feelings towards her just at present to find that she was not his
enemy. "Will you sit down here, Miss Eden," he said, speaking now not
only without animosity but gently, "and let me hear what you wished to
say? I beg your pardon for the injustice I did you a minute ago, but I
am still in the dark as to your motive in seeking this interview."

She sat down on a garden seat, under the shade of a wide-branching lime;
he a little apart. But she could say nothing, albeit so much was in
her heart, and her impulse had been so strong; so far as her power to
express that strange emotion went, in the dark he would have to remain.
She could not say to him--it was a feeling, not a thought--that her
clear soul had taken some turbidness that was foreign to it from his;
that when she forgot the past and his existence it settled and left her
pure again; she could not say--the thought existed without form in her
mind--that it would have been better if he had never been born because
he had offended; but that just because the offence had been against
herself, something of the guilt seemed to attach itself to her, causing
her to know remorse and shrink from herself; that it was somehow in his
power--he having performed this miracle--to deliver her.

From time to time her companion glanced at her pale face; he did not
press her to speak, he could see that she was powerless; but he was
thinking of many things, and it was borne in on him that if he could
bring about a change in her feelings towards him, it might be well for
him--not in any spiritual sense; he was only thinking of Mary and his
passion for her, which had never filled his heart until the moment of
that separation which had promised to be eternal. In a vague way he
comprehended something of the feeling that was in the girl's heart; for
it was plain that to be near him was unspeakably painful to her, and
yet--strange contradiction!--she had now put herself in his way. He
dropped a few tentative words that seemed to express regret for the
past, and when he remarked that she listened eagerly, and waited for
more, he knew that he was on safe and profitable ground. Safe, and
how easy to walk on! At a moment's notice he had accepted this new,
apparently unsuitable part, and its strange passion at once grew
familiar to him, and could be expressed easily. Perhaps he even deceived
himself, for a few minutes or for half an hour while the process of
deceiving another lasted, that he had actually felt as he said--that his
changed manner of life had resulted from this feeling. "If I have not
known remorse," he said, "I pity the poor fellows who do." And much more
he said, speaking not fluently, but brokenly, with intervals of silence,
as if something that had long remained hidden had at last been wrung
from him.

All this time Fan had said nothing, nor did she speak when he had
finished his story. Nor did he wish it; the strange trouble and pallor
had passed away, and there was a tender light in her eyes that was
better than speech.

They rose and moved slowly towards the house. The drawing-room was
lighted, and the guests were now gathering there to listen to a lady at
the piano singing. They could hear her plainly enough, for her voice,
said to be soprano, was exceedingly shrill, and she was singing, _Tell
me, my heart_--a difficult thing, all flourishes, and she rendered it
like an automaton lark with its internal machinery gone wrong.

"Shall we go in?" said Fan.

"Yes, Miss Eden, if you wish; but don't you think we can hear this song
best where we are? I find it hard to ask you a question I have had in
my mind for some minutes, but I must ask it. Are you still with Miss
Starbrow?"

"Oh, no; we separated a long time ago, and for very long--nearly
eighteen months--I never heard from her."

"I hope you will not think it an impertinent question; but--there must
have been some very serious reason to have kept you apart so long?"

"No, scarcely that. I have always felt the same towards her. She did so
much for me. It was only a misunderstanding."

"And now?"

"Now I am so glad to say that it is all over, and that she is my dearest
friend."

"And is she still living at Dawson Place--and single?"

"Yes." But after a few moments she said, "You had one question more to
ask, Captain Horton, had you not?"

"Yes," he returned. "You must know what it is."

"But it is hard to answer. She mentioned your name once--lately; but her
feelings are just as bitter against you."

"I could not expect it to be otherwise," he returned, and they walked on
towards the house.

Before they reached it Mrs. Travers appeared to them. "Still looking at
the roses?" she said with a laugh. "How fond of flowers you two must be!
Can you spare us another ten minutes before keeping your appointment,
Captain Horton, and sing us one of your songs?"

"As many as you like, Mrs. Travers," he returned. "You see, after going
to see the roses it was too late to keep the appointment. And I am very
glad it was, for I have had a very pleasant conversation with Miss Eden,
about flowers, and the beauties of Kingston, and of the Stock Exchange,
and a dozen things besides."

Fan, sitting a little apart and beside the open window, listened with a
strange pleasure to that fine baritone voice which she now heard again
after so long a time, and wondered to herself whether it would ever
again be joined with Mary's in that rich harmony to which she had so
often listened standing on the stairs.

It was nearly eleven o'clock before Captain Horton found an opportunity
to speak to her again. "Miss Eden," he said, dropping into a seat next
to her, "I am anxious to say one--no, two things, before leaving you.
One is that I know that after this evening I shall be a happier man. The
other is this: if I should ever be able to serve you in any way--if you
could ever bring yourself to ask my assistance in any way, it would give
me a great happiness. But perhaps it is a happiness I have no right to
expect."

Before he had finished speaking her wish to find Constance, and Mr.
Travers' failure, came to her mind, and she eagerly caught at his offer.

"I am so glad you did not leave me before saying this," she replied.
"You can help me in something now, I think."

"How glad I am to hear you say that, Miss Eden! I am entirely at your
service; tell me what I can do for you."

She told him about the marriage of his former friend, Merton Chance,
with Constance, and about their disappearance, and her anxiety to find
her friend.

Captain Horton, after hearing all the particulars, promised to write
to her on her return to Quebec Street to let her know the result of the
inquiries he would begin making on the morrow.



CHAPTER XXXIX


Two days later Fan returned to her apartments, and shortly after
arriving there received a letter from Captain Horton, giving her an
account of what he had been doing for her since their memorable meeting
at Kingston. He had gone to work in a very systematic way, enlisting the
services of a number of clergymen and other philanthropic workers at
the East End to make inquiries for him; and it would be strange, he
concluded, if the Chances escaped being discovered, unless they had
quitted that part of London.

A few days later, about the middle of August, came a second letter,
which made Fan's heart leap with joy. Captain Horton had found out that
the Chances were living at Mile End, but did not know their address yet.
He had come across a gentleman--a curate without a curacy, a kind of
Christian free-lance--who lived in that neighbourhood and knew the
persons sought for intimately, but declined to give their address or
to say anything about them; but he had consented to meet Miss Eden at
Captain Horton's office in the City and speak to her; and the meeting
had been arranged to take place at two o'clock on the following day. Fan
took care to be at the office punctually at two.

"Our friend has not yet arrived," said Captain Horton, after giving her
a chair in the office, "but we can look for him soon, I think, as he
did not seem like a person who would fail to keep an engagement. He is
a very good fellow, I have heard, but seemed rather to resent being
questioned about his mysterious friends, and was very reticent. Ah, here
he is."

"Mr. Northcott!" exclaimed Fan, starting up with a face full of joy;
for it was he, looking older, and with a pale, care-worn face, which,
together with his somewhat rusty clerical coat and hat, seemed to show
that the world had not gone well with him since he had left Eyethorne.

"Miss Affleck--if I had only imagined that it was you! How glad I am to
meet you once more! How glad Mrs. Chance will be to hear from you," he
said, taking her hand.

"But I wish to see her, Mr. Northcott--I _must_ see her," said Fan; and
the curate at once offered to conduct her to her friend's home at Mile
End.

Leaving the office, they took a cab and set out for their destination;
but during the drive Fan had little chance of hearing any details
concerning her friend's life; for what with the noise of the streets and
the rattling of the cab, it was scarcely possible to hear a word; and
whenever there came a quieter interval the curate wished to hear how Fan
had passed her time, and why she had been addressed as Miss Eden.

At length they got to their journey's end, the cab, for some reason,
being dismissed at some distance from the house they had come to visit.
It was one in a row of small, mean-looking tenements containing two
floors each, and facing other houses of the same description on the
opposite side of the narrow macadamised road, which, with the loose
stones and other rubbish in it, presented a dirty, ill-kept appearance.
At the tenth or eleventh house in the row Mr. Northcott stopped and
knocked lightly at the low front door, warped and blistered by the sun
which poured its intolerable heat full upon it.

A woman opened the door and greeted the curate with a smile; then
casting a surprised look at his companion, stood aside to let them pass
into the narrow, dark, stuffy hallway. "He'll be sleeping just now,"
said the woman, pointing up the stairs. "You can just go quietly up.
She'll be there by herself doing of her writing."

"We must go up softly then," he said, turning to Fan. "Poor Chance is
very ill, and sleeps principally in the daytime. That's why I got rid of
the cab some distance from the house."

He led the way up the narrow creaking stairs to a door on the first
landing standing partly open; before it hung a wet chintz curtain,
preventing their seeing into the room. Her conductor tapped lightly
on the doorframe, and presently the wet curtain was moved aside by
Constance, who greeted her visitor with a glad smile while giving him
her hand, but the darkness of the small landing, which had no light from
above, prevented her from seeing Fan for some moments.

"Harold--at last!" she said, her hand still resting in his. "I have
waited two days for you; but I was resolved not to send the manuscript
till you had read it." Then she caught sight of Fan, standing a little
behind him, and started back, a look of the greatest astonishment coming
into her face.

"I have brought you an old friend, Constance," said the curate, stepping
aside.

"Fan--my darling Fan!" she exclaimed, but still in a subdued voice, and
in a moment the two friends were locked in a long and close embrace.

"Constance--what a change! Let me look at your dear face again. Oh, how
unkind of you to keep your address from me all this time!"

The other raised her face, and for some moments they gazed into each
other's eyes, wet with tears. She was indeed changed; and that rich
brown tint, which had looked so beautiful, and made her so different
from others, had quite faded from her pale thin face, so that she no
longer looked like the Constance Churton of the old days. Even her
hair had been affected by trouble and bad health; it was combed out and
hanging loose on her back, and Fan noticed that the fine bronze glint
had gone out of the heavy brown tresses like joy or hope from a darkened
life. She was wearing a very simple cotton wrapper, and though evidently
made of the very cheapest kind of stuff, it had faded almost white with
many washings. Altogether it was plain to see that the Chances were
very poor; and yet the expression on her friend's altered face was not a
desponding one.

"You must forgive me for not writing, dearest Fan," she said at length.
"There would have been things to tell which could not be told without
pain. It was wrong--cowardly in me to keep silence, I know. And it
grieved me to think that you too might be in trouble and want." Then,
after surveying Fan's costume for some moments, she added with a smile.
"But that was a false fear, I hope."

"Yes, dear. At any rate, for some time past I have had everything I
could wish for, and dear friends to care for me. But that is a very long
story, Constance, and I am anxious to hear how your husband is."

All this time the curate had been standing patiently by; he now took his
departure, after arranging to return to see Fan as far west as the City
on her way home at six o'clock in the evening.

Constance raised the wet curtain and led Fan into the sitting-room. It
was small and mean enough, with a very low ceiling, dingy, discoloured
wall-paper, and a few articles of furniture such as one sees in a
working-man's lodging. Near the front window stood a small deal table,
on which were pens, ink, and a pile of closely-written sheets of paper,
showing how Constance had been employed. The two doors--one by which
they had entered, and another leading to the bedroom--also the window,
were open, and before them all wet pieces of chintz were hanging. This
was done to mitigate the intense heat, Constance explained; the sun
shining directly down on the slates made the low-roofed rooms like an
oven, and the quickly evaporating moisture created a momentary coolness.
Merton was asleep in the second room; his nights, she said, were so bad
that he generally fell asleep during the day; he had not risen yet, and
her whole study was to keep the rooms cool and quiet while he rested.

Fan took off her hat and settled down to have a long talk with her
friend.

"Fan, dear," said the other, after returning from the bedroom to
make sure that Merton still slept, "we must talk in as low a tone as
possible, I mean without whispering. And we have so much to say to each
other."

"Yes, indeed; I am dying to hear all about your life since you vanished
from Notting Hill."

"But, Fan, my curiosity about your life is still greater--and no
wonder! I have been constantly thinking about you--crying, too,
sometimes--imagining all sorts of painful things--that you were
destitute and friendless, perhaps, in this cruel London. And now here
you are, I don't know how, like a vision of the West End, with that
subtle perfume about you, and looking more beautiful than I have ever
seen you, except on that one occasion; do you remember?--on that first
evening in the orchard at dear old Eyethorne. Look at _my_ dress, Fan,
my second best! But how much more did it astound me to hear Harold--I
call Mr. Northcott by his Christian name now--addressing you as _Miss
Eden_ when he left. What does it all mean? If he had called you _Mrs._
Eden I might have guessed what wonderful things had happened to you."

Fan was prepared for this. There were some things not to be revealed;
she remembered that Mary had looked into her very soul when she had
heard the strange story, and her quick apprehension and knowledge of
human nature had no doubt supplied the links that were missing in
it. Now by anticipation she had prepared a narrative which would run
smoothly, and began it without further delay; and for half an hour
Constance listened with intense interest, only interrupting to bestow
a kiss and whisper a tender consoling word when her friend was at last
compelled, with faltering speech, to confess that she was no legitimate
child of her father.

"Oh, Fan, I am so glad that this has happened to you. So much more
glad than if I had myself experienced some great good fortune. And your
brother--oh, how nobly he has acted--how much you must love and admire
him! I remember that evening so well when you met him; I thought then
that I had never seen anyone with so charming a manner. And there was
something so melodious and sympathetic in his voice; how strange that
it never struck me as being like yours, and that he was like you in his
eyes, and so many things!"

"But tell me about yourself, Constance."

"I could put it all in twenty words, but that would not be fair, and
would not satisfy you. Since our marriage we have simply been drifting
down the current, getting poorer and poorer, and also moving about from
place to place--I mean since you lost sight of us. And at last it was
impossible for us to go any lower, for we were destitute, and--it will
shock you to hear it--obliged even to pledge our clothes to buy bread."

"And you would not write to me, Constance, nor even to your mother!
I know that, because I wrote to her to ask for your address, and she
replied that she did not know it, that I knew more about your movements
in London than she did."

"I could not write to you, Fan, knowing that you barely had enough to
keep yourself, and that it would only have distressed you. Nor could
I write to them at home. Those poor fields they have to live on are
mortgaged almost up to their value, and after paying interest they have
little left for expenses in the house. Besides, Fan, we had already
received help from Mr. Eden and other friends, and it had proved worse
than useless. It only seemed to have the effect of making us less able
to help ourselves."

"And your husband--was he not earning something with his lecturing and
the articles he wrote?"

"Not with the lecturing, as you call it. With the articles, yes, but
very little. They were political articles, you know, and were printed
in socialistic papers, and not many of them were paid for. But after a
while all his enthusiasm died out; he could not go on with it, and was
not prepared with anything else. He grew to hate the whole thing at
last, and was a little too candid with his former friends when he told
them that they were a living proof of the judgment Carlyle had passed
on his countrymen. It was hardly safe for him to walk about the streets
among the people who had begun to expect great things from him. It is
a dreadful thing to say, but it is the simple truth, that our next move
would have been to the workhouse. And just then his illness began.
He was out all night and met with some accident; it was a pouring wet
night, and he was brought home in the morning bruised and injured,
soaking wet, and the result was a fever and cough, which turned to
something like consumption. He has suffered terribly, and I have
sometimes despaired of his life; but he is better now, I think--I hope.
Only this dreadful heat we are having keeps him so weak. You can't
imagine how anxiously we are looking forward to a change in the weather;
the cool days will so refresh him when they come."

"But, Constance, you haven't told me yet how you escaped what you were
fearing when he first fell ill."

The other looked up, tears starting in her eyes, and a glow of warm
colour coming into her pale cheeks. "Oh, Fan," she said, her voice
trembling with emotion, "have you not yet guessed who came to us in our
darkest hour and saved us from worse things than we had already known?
Yes; Mr. Northcott, a poor unemployed clergyman, without any private
income, struggling for his own subsistence, and frequently in bad
health; but no rich and powerful man could have given us such help and
comfort. How can I tell it all to you? He found us out after we left
Norland Square. He had left Eyethorne shortly after we did, but not
before he had heard from mother about my marriage, and my husband's
name. He introduced himself to Merton one evening at a socialistic
meeting, and after that he occasionally came to see us, and he and
Merton had endless arguments, for he was not a socialist. But they
became great friends, and he was always trying to persuade my husband
to turn his talents to other things. He wished Merton to try his hand at
little descriptive and character sketches, interspersed with incidents
partly true and partly fictitious. He said that I would be able to help;
and one day he related a little incident, minutely describing the
actors in it, and begged us to write it out in the way he suggested,
but unfortunately the idea never took with Merton. He thought it too
trivial; or else he could not work. So I tried my hand alone at it; and
Harold saw what I had done, and asked me to rewrite it, and make some
alterations which he suggested. Then he sent me a rough sketch he had
written and asked me to work it up in the same way as the first; and
when I had finished it I sent him the two papers together. Shortly
afterwards, when Merton was ill and I was at my wits' end, Harold
came to say that he had sold the sketches to the editor of the _Lady's
Pictorial_, who liked them so much that he wished to have more from the
same hand. Imagine how glad I was to get the cheque Harold had brought
me! But about the other sketches asked for, I told him that I could
not write them because I had no materials. He had supplied me with
incidents, characters, and descriptions of localities for the first
time, and I could not go about to find fresh matter for myself. He said
that he had thought of that, and that he was prepared to supply me with
as much material as I required. He would give me facts, and my fancy
would do the rest. He only laughed at the idea that I would be sucking
his brains and depriving him of his own means of subsistence. He was
always about among the poor, he said, and talking to people of all
descriptions, and hearing and seeing things well worth being told
in print, but he was without the special kind of talent and style of
writing necessary to give literary form to such matter. His tastes lay
in other directions, and the only writing he could do was of a very
different kind. Then I gladly consented, and Merton was pleased also,
and promised to help; but--poor fellow--he has not had the strength to
do anything yet."

"Oh, Constance, how glad I am to hear this. But is it not terribly
trying for you to do so much work in this close hot room, and attend to
your husband at the same time? And you get no proper rest at night, I
suppose. Is it not making you ill?"

"No, dear; it comes easier every week, and has made me better, I think.
The heat is very trying, I must say; and I can only write when Merton
is asleep, generally in the early part of the day. But do you know, Fan,
that in spite of our poverty and my great and constant anxiety about
Merton's health, I feel some happiness in my heart now. If I possessed
a morbid mind or conscience I should probably call myself heartless for
being able to feel happiness at such a time--happiness and pride at
my success. But I am not morbid, thank goodness, or at war with my own
nature--with the better part of my nature, I might say. And it is so
sweet--oh, Fan, how unutterably sweet it is, to feel that I am doing
something for him and for myself, that my life is not being wasted, that
my brains are beginning to bear fruit at last!"

"I wonder whether I have ever seen any of your sketches, Constance?
I have read some things, and cried and laughed over them, in the
_Pictorial_, called 'Eastern Idylls.'"

"Yes, Fan, that is the title of my sketches. How strange that you should
have seen them! How glad I am!"

Fan related the circumstances; then Constance paid another visit to the
bedroom to listen to the invalid's breathing. Returning, she presently
resumed, "Fan, is it not wonderful that we should experience such
goodness from one who after all was no more than an acquaintance, and
who has so little of life's good things? He has never offered to help us
even with one shilling in money, and that only shows his delicacy. Had
he been ever so rich and given us help in money there would have been a
sting in it. And yet look how much more than money he gives us--how much
time he spends, and what trouble he takes to keep me supplied with fresh
matter for my writings. I'm sure he goes about with eyes and ears open
to all he sees and hears more for our sakes than for his own. Is it not
wonderful, Fan?"

"Yes; it is very sweet, but not strange, I think," said Fan, smiling;
and after reflecting a few moments she was just about to add: "He
has always loved you, since he knew you at Eyethorne, and he would do
anything for you."

But at that moment Constance half turned her head to listen, and so the
perilous words were not spoken. "Consideration like an angel came," and
before the other turned to her to resume the conversation, Fan looked
back on what she had just escaped with a feeling like that of the
mariner who sees the half-hidden rock only after he has safely passed
it.

They talked on for half an hour longer, when a low moan, followed by a
fit of coughing in the adjoining room, made Constance start up and go
to her husband. She returned in a few minutes, but only to say that she
would be absent some time assisting Merton to dress; then giving Fan the
proof of the last "Idyll" she had sent to the paper to read, she again
left the room.



CHAPTER XL


Fan read the sketch, but her mind was too much occupied with all she
had just heard, in addition to the joy she felt at having recovered her
friend, to pay much attention to it. Moreover the increasing heat began
to oppress her; she marvelled that Constance, accustomed all her life to
the freedom and cool expanse of the country, should find it possible to
work in such an atmosphere and amidst such surroundings.

At length, Merton, who had been coughing a great deal while dressing,
came in assisted by his wife, but quite exhausted with the exertion of
walking from one room to the other; and after shaking hands with their
visitor he sunk into his easy-chair, not yet able to talk. She was
greatly shocked at the change in him; the once fine, marble-like face
was horribly wasted, so that the sharp unsightly bones looked as if they
would cut their way through the deadly dry parchment-yellow skin that
covered them; and the deep blue eyes now looked preternaturally large
and bright--all the brighter for the dark purple stains beneath them. He
was low indeed, nigh unto death perhaps; yet he did not appear cast down
in the least, but even while he sat breathing laboriously, still unable
to speak, the eyes had a pleased hopeful look as they rested on their
visitor's face. A smile, too, hovered about the corners of his mouth as
his glance wandered over her costume. For, in spite of feeling the heat
a great deal, she _looked_ cool in her light-hued summer dress, with its
dim blue pattern on a cream-coloured ground. The loose fashion in which
it was made, the tints, and light frosting of fine lace on neck and
sleeves, harmonised well with the grey tender eyes, the pure delicate
skin, and golden hair.

"You could not have chosen a fitter costume to visit us in," said Merton
at length. "I can hardly believe that you come to us from some other
part of this same foul, hot, dusty London. To my fever-parched fancy you
seem rather to have come from some distant unpolluted place, where green
leaves flutter in the wind and cast shadows on the ground; where crystal
showers fall, and the vision of the rainbow is sometimes seen."

Constance came to his side and bent over him.

"You must not be tyrannical, Connie," he said. "I really must talk. Even
a bird in prison sings its song after a fashion, and why not I?"

And seeing him so anxious to begin she made no further objection,
contenting herself with giving him a draught from his medicine bottle.
She had already told him Fan's story, and he had heard it with some
interest. He congratulated the girl on having found a brother in his old
school-fellow, Arthur Eden, and took some merit to himself for having
brought them together. But he did not make the remark that truth was
stranger than fiction. It was evident that he was impatient to get to
other more important matters.

"You have doubtless heard from my wife," he said, "that I have parted
company with those misguided people that call themselves socialists.
Well, Miss Affleck, the fact is--"

"Eden," corrected Constance with a smile. She was quietly moving about
the room in her list slippers, engaged in remoistening the hangings,
which had now grown dry and hot.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Eden. Yes, thanks--Fan; that will be better
still among such old friends as we are. What I wish to say is, that
my mind was never really carried away with their fantastical
theories--their dreams of a social condition where all men will be
equally far removed from want and excessive wealth. I could have told
them at once that they were overlooking the first and greatest law of
organic nature, that the stone which the builders despised would fall on
them and grind them to powder. At the same time my feelings were engaged
on their side, I am bound to confess; I did think it possible to educe
some good out of this general ferment and dissatisfaction with the
conditions of life. For, after all, this ferment--this great clamour and
shouting and hurrying to and fro--represents force--blind brute force,
no doubt, like that of waves dashing themselves to pieces on the rocks,
or of the tempest let loose on the world. A tempest unhappily without
an angel to guide it; for I look upon the would-be angels--the
Burnses--Morrises--Champions--Hyndmans--merely as so many crows, rooks,
and jackdaws, who have incontinently rushed in to swell the noise with
their outrageous cawing, and to be tossed and blown about, hither and
thither, among the dust, sticks, old newspapers, and pieces of rotten
wood stirred up by the wind. Good would have come of it if it had been
possible to introduce a gleam of sense and reason into the foggy brains
of these wretched men. But that was impossible. I am ashamed to have to
confess that I ever believed it possible--that I assumed, when planning
their welfare, that they were not absolutely irrational. I have not only
thrown the whole thing up, but the disgust, the revulsion of feeling I
have experienced, has had the effect of making me perfectly indifferent
as to the ultimate fate of these people. If some person were to come to
me to-morrow to say that all the East-enders, from Bishopsgate Street to
Bow, had been seized with a kind of frenzy, like that which from time to
time takes possession of the Norway marmots, or bandicoots, or whatever
they are called--"

"Lemmings," said Constance.

"Yes, lemmings. Thanks, Connie, you are a perfect walking encyclopædia.
And--like these Norway lemmings--had rushed into the Thames at Tilbury,
men, women, and children, and been drowned, I should say, 'I am very
pleased to hear it.' For to my mind these people are no more worthy of
being saved than a migrating horde of Norway rats, or than the Gadarene
swine that ran down the steep and were drowned in the sea."

Fan listened with astonishment, and turned to Constance, wondering what
would be the effect of such dreadful sentiments on her, and not without
recalling some of those "Idylls," inspired by a spirit so loving and
gentle and Christian. But she seemed to be paying little attention to
the matter of her husband's discourse, to be concerned only at the state
of his health.

"Merton, dear," she said, "if you talk so much at a stretch you will
bring on another fit of coughing."

"Ah, yes, thanks for reminding me. Let me have another sip of that
mixture. Then I shall speak of other more hopeful things. And the
sweetness of hope shall be like that rosy honey, rose-scented, to soften
my throat, made dry and harsh with barren themes. After all, Connie,
these troubles which have tried us so severely have only proved
blessings in disguise. Yes, Fan, we have been driven hither and thither
about the sea, encountering terrible storms, and sometimes fearing that
our bark was about to founder; but they have at last driven us into a
haven more sweet and restful than storm-tossed mariners ever entered
before. And looking back we can even feel grateful to the furious wind,
and the hateful dark blue wave that brought us to such a goal."

All this figurative language, which was like the prelude to a solemn
piece of music, gave Fan the idea that something of very great
importance was about to follow. But, alas! the mixture, and the
rose-honey sweetness of hope, failed to prevent the attack which
Constance had feared, and he coughed so long and so violently that
Fan, after being a distressed spectator for some time, grew positively
alarmed. By-and-by, glancing at her friend's face as she stood bending
over the sufferer, holding his bowed head between her palms, she
concluded that it was no more than an everyday attack, and that no fatal
results need be feared. Relieved of her apprehension, she began to think
less of the husband and more of the wife; for what resignation, what
courage and strength she had shown since her unhappy marriage, and what
self-sacrificing devotion to her weak unworthy life-partner! Or was it a
mistake, she now asked herself, to regard him as weak and unworthy? Had
not Constance, with a finer insight--her superior in this as in most
things--seen the unapparent strength, the secret hidden virtue, that was
in him, and which would show itself when the right time came? No, Fan
could not believe that. Tom Starbrow and the poor pale-faced curate in
his rusty coat were true strong men, and the woman that married either
of them would not lean on a reed that would break and pierce her to
the quick; and Captain Horton was also a strong man, although he had
certainly been a very bad one. But this man, in spite of his nimble
brains and eloquent tongue, was weak and unstable, hopelessly--fatally.
The suffering and the poverty which had come to these two, which in the
wife's case only made the innate virtue of her spirit to shine forth
with starlike lustre, would make and could make no difference to him.
Words were nothing to Fan; not because of his words had she forgiven
Captain Horton his crime; and if Merton had spoken with the eloquence
of a Ruskin, or an angel, it would have had no effect on her. She
considered his life only, and it failed to satisfy her.

Recovered from his attack, Merton sat resting languidly in his chair,
his half-closed eyes looking straight before him.

"Ah, to lead men," he said, speaking in a low voice, with frequent
pauses, as if soliloquising. "Not higher in their sense--what they with
minds darkened with a miserable delusion call higher.... Up and still
up, and higher still, through ways that grow stonier, where vegetation
shrivels in the bleak winds, and animal life dies for lack of
nourishment. Will they find the Promised Land there, when their toil is
finished, when they have reached their journey's end? A vast plateau of
sand and rock; a Central Asian desert; a cavern blown in by icy winds
for only inn; a 'gaunt and taciturn host' to receive them; and at last,
to perform the last offices, the high-soaring vulture, and the wild wind
scattering dust and sleet on their bones.... Ah, to make them see--to
make them know!... Poor dumb brutish cattle, consumed with fever of
thirst, bellowing with rage, trampling each other down in a pen too
small to hold them! Ah, to show them the gate--the wide-open gate--to
make them lie down in green pastures, to lead them beside the still
waters!... Better for me, if I cannot lead, to leave them; to go away
and dwell alone! to seek in solitary places, as others have done, some
wild bitter root to heal their distemper; to come back with something in
my hands;... to consider by what symbols to address them; to send them
from time to time a message, to be scoffed at by most and heard with
kindling hope by those whose souls are not wholly darkened."

After a long silence he spoke again to ask his wife to get him a book
from his bedroom, which he had been reading that morning, to find in it
many sweet comforting things. She had been seated at some distance from
him, apparently paying no attention to his enigmatical words, but now
quickly put down her work and got the book for him from the next room.

"Thanks," he said, taking it. "Yes, here it is. I wish to read you this
passage, Connie: 'Now they began to go down the hill into the Valley of
Humiliation. It was a steep hill, and their way was slippery, but
they were very careful, so they got down pretty well. Then said Mr.
Great-heart, We need not be afraid in this Valley, for here is nothing
to hurt us, unless we procure it for ourselves. It is true that
Christian did here meet with Apollyon, with whom he also had a sore
combat; but that fray was the fruit of those slips that he got in his
going down the hill; for they that get slips there must look for combats
here.' Do you see what I mean, Connie?"

"Yes, dear," she replied, very quietly.

Then he continued, "'For the common people, when they hear that some
frightful thing has befallen such a one in such a place, are of an
opinion that that place is haunted with some foul fiend or evil spirit,
when, alas! it is for the fruit of their own doing that such things do
befall them there!' Listen, Connie: 'No disparagement to Christian, more
than to many others, whose hap and lot was his; for it is easier going
up than down this hill, and that can be said but of few hills in all
these parts of the world. But we will leave the good man, he is at rest,
he also had a brave victory over his enemy; let Him grant that dwelleth
above that we fare no worse, when we come to be tried, than he. But we
will come again to this Valley of Humiliation. It is fat ground, and,
as you see, consisteth much in meadows, and if a man was to come here in
the summer-time, as we do now, and if he also delighted himself in the
sight of his eyes, he might see that that would be delightful to him.
Behold how green this Valley is, also how beautiful with lilies. Some
have also wished that the next way to their Father's house were here,
that they might be no more troubled with hills and mountains to go over,
but the way is the way, and there is an end.

"'Now, as they were going along and talking, they espied a boy feeding
his father's sheep. The boy was in very mean clothes, but of a very
fresh and well-favoured countenance; and as he sat by himself he sang.
Then said the guide, Do you hear him? I will dare to say, that this boy
lives a merrier life, and wears more of that herb called heart's-ease in
his bosom, than he that is clad in silk and velvet. Here a man shall be
free from noise and the hurryings of this life. All states are full of
noise and confusion, only the Valley of Humiliation is that empty
and solitary place. Here a man shall not be so hindered in his
contemplation, as in other places he is apt to be. This is a valley that
nobody walks in but those that love a pilgrim's life; and I must tell
you that in former times men have met with angels here, have found
pearls here, and here in this place found the words of life.'"

He closed the book and swallowed some more of the mixture, which
Constance, standing at his side, had been holding in readiness for him.

Fan by this time had come to the conclusion that Merton had become
religious, although the scornful way in which he had spoken of the
inhabitants of East London scarcely seemed to favour such an idea. But
she knew that he had been reading from _The Pilgrim's Progress_, a book
which Mrs. Churton had put in her hands, and helped her to understand.
She did not know that he was putting an interpretation of his own on the
allegory which might have made the glorious Bedford tinker clench his
skeleton fist and hammer a loud "No--no!" on his mouldy coffin-lid.

"Fan, my dear girl," he said, after a while, "I cannot expect you to
understand what I am talking about. You must be satisfied to wait many
days longer before it is all made plain. I have a thousand things to say
which will be said in good time. A thousand thousand things. Books to
write--volume following volume; so much to do for poor humanity that the
very thought of it would make my heart fail were it not for the great
faith that is in me. But the paper is still white, and the pen lies idle
waiting for this unnerved hand to gain strength to hold it. For you must
know that in my descent into this valley I have met with many a slip and
fall, and have suffered the consequences: Apollyon has come forth to
bar my way, and I have not done with him yet, nor he with me. I
have answered all his sophistical arguments, have resisted all his
temptations, and it has come to a life-and-death struggle between us.
With what deadly fury his thrusts and cuts are made, my poor wife will
tell you. My days are comparatively peaceful; I feel that I am near the
green meadows, beautiful with lilies, and can almost hear the singing of
the light-hearted shepherd-boy. But at night the shadows come again; the
shouts and vauntings of my adversary are heard; I can see his crimson
eyeballs, full of malignant rage, glaring at me. To drop metaphor, my
dear girl, my nights are simply hellish. But I shall conquer yet; my
time will come. Only, to me, a sufferer turning on his bed and wishing
for the dawn, how long the time delays its coming! If I could only feel
the fresh breeze in my lungs once more; if instead of this loathsome
desert of squalid streets and slums I could look on the cool green
leafy earth again, and listen to nature's sounds, bidding me be of good
courage, then these dark days would be shortened and the new and better
life begin."

This was something easy to understand, even to Fan's poor intellect, and
she had begun to listen to his words attentively. Here was matter for
her practical mind to work upon, and her reply followed quick on his
speech. "It must be dreadful for you to remain here all through the hot
weather, Mr. Chance. I wish--I wish----" But at this moment the face of
Constance, who had drawn near and was bending over her husband's chair,
caught her eye, and she became silent, for the face had suddenly clouded
at her words.

"What were you going to say, Fan--what is it that you wish?" said
Merton, with a keener interest than he usually manifested in other
people's words.

"I wish that--that you and Constance would accompany me to some place
a little way out of town--not too far--where you would be out of this
dreadful heat and smoke, and stand----" She was about to add, stand a
better chance of recovery, but at this stage she broke off again and
cast down her eyes, fearing that she had offended her friend.

"Most willingly we will go with you, my dear girl, if you will only ask
us," said Merton, finding that she was unable to finish her speech.

"Oh, I should be so glad--so very glad!" returned Fan, in her excitement
and relief rising from her seat. "Dear Constance, what do you say?"

But the other did not answer at once. This sudden proposal had come on
her as a painful surprise. For the last few weeks she had, even in the
midst of anxiety and suffering, rejoiced that she was self-dependent at
last, and had proudly imagined that her strength and talents would now
be sufficient to keep them in health and in sickness. And now, alas! her
husband had eagerly clutched at this offer of outside help; and, most
galling of all, from the very girl who, a short time before when she
was poor and friendless, he had found not good enough to be his wife's
associate.

At length she raised her head and spoke, but there was a red flush on
her cheek, and a tone of pain, if not of displeasure, in her voice.
"Fan," she said, "I am so sorry you have made us this offer. It is very,
very kind of you; but, dearest, we cannot, cannot accept it."

"And for what reason, Connie?" said her husband.

She looked down on his upturned face, and for a moment was sorely
tempted to stoop and whisper the true reason in his ear, to reply that
it would be dishonourable--a thing to be remembered after with a burning
sense of shame--to accept any good gift at the hands of this girl, who
had been thrown over and left by them without explanation or excuse a
short time before, only because circumstances had made her for a time
their inferior--their inferior, that is, according to a social code,
which they might very well have ignored in this case, since it related
to a society they had never been privileged to enter since their
marriage, which knew and cared nothing for them. But as she looked down,
the yellow skin and sunken cheek and the hollow glittering eyes that met
her own made her heart relent, and she could not say the cruel words.
She kept silence for a few moments, and then only said, "How can we go,
Merton? We cannot move without money, and besides, we have nothing fit
to wear."

"Pshaw, Connie, do you put such trifles in the scale? Have you so little
faith in our future as to shrink from this small addition to our debt?
Fan, of course, knows our circumstances and just what we would require.
Why, a paltry two or three pounds would take us out of London; and as
for clothes--well, you know how much we raised on them--a few miserable
shillings. You are proud, I know, but you mustn't forget that Fan is
Arthur Eden's sister--my old school-fellow and familiar friend; and also
that she is your old pupil, and--as I have heard you say times without
number--the dearest friend you have on earth."

He did not see the effect of these words, and that her face had reddened
again with anger and shame, and a feeling that was almost like scorn.
Fan, seeing her distress, half-guessing its cause, went to her side and
put her arm round her.

"Constance dear," she said, "you only need a little help at first, and I
shall be very careful and economical, and some day, when things improve,
you shall repay me every shilling I spend now. Oh, you don't know how
hard it is for me to say this to you! For I know, Constance, that if our
places were changed you would wish to act as a sister to me, and--and
you will not let me be a sister to you."

The other kissed her and turned aside to hide her tears. Merton smiled,
and taking Fan's hand in his, stroked and caressed it.

"My dear girl," he said, "I cannot express to you all I feel now; but
away out of this stifling atmosphere, this nightmare of hot bricks and
slates and smoking chimney-pots, in some quiet little green retreat
where you will take us, I shall be able to speak of it. What a blessing
this visit you have made us will prove! It refreshed my soul only to see
you; with that clear loveliness on which the evil atmosphere and life
of this great city has left no mark or stain, and in this dress with its
tender tints and its perfume, you appeared like a messenger of returning
peace and hope from the great Mother we worship, and who is always
calling to us when we go astray and forget her. How appropriate, how
natural, how almost expected, this kind deed of yours then seems to me!"

Constance, seeing him so elated at the prospect of the change, made no
further objection, but waited Mr. Northcott's return before discussing
details. The curate when he at last appeared suggested that it would be
well to consult a young practitioner in the neighbourhood who had been
attending Merton; and in the end he went off to look for him. While
he was gone the two girls talked about the proposed removal in a quiet
practical way, and Merton, quite willing to leave the subject of ways
and means to his wife and her friend, took no part in the conversation.
Then the curate returned with the doctor's opinion, which was that the
change of air would be beneficial, if Merton could stand being removed;
but that the journey must be short and made easy: he suggested a
well-covered van, with a bed to lie on, and protected from draughts, as
better than the railroad.

Fan at once promised to find a van as well as a house near East London
to go to, and after she had prevailed on Constance to accept a loan of a
few pounds for necessary expenses, she set out with Mr. Northcott on her
return to the West End.



CHAPTER XLI


Fan resolved to employ Captain Horton again, and as it was too late
in the day to see him at his office on her way home, she wrote that
evening, asking him to find her a suitable house near East London,
removed from other houses, with garden and trees about it, and with two
cool rooms for her friends on the ground floor, and a room for herself.
She knew, she wrote, that she was putting him to great inconvenience,
but felt sure that he would be glad to serve her.

When the next day came she began to be sorely troubled in her mind;
or rather the trouble which had been in it ever since her return from
Kingston, and which she had tried not to think about, had to be faced,
and it looked somewhat formidable. For she had not yet seen Mary, in
spite of her promise made at their last parting to go to her immediately
on her return from Kingston. But much had happened since their parting:
she had met and had become friendly with the man that Mary hated with a
great hatred; and she feared that when she came to relate these things,
which would have to be related, there would be a storm. But she could
no longer delay to encounter it, and Fan knew, better than most perhaps,
how to bow her head and escape harm; and so, putting a bold face on
it--though it was not a very bold face--she got into a cab about noon
and had herself driven to Dawson Place.

Her friend received her in a strangely quiet way, with just a kiss which
was not warm, a few commonplace words of welcome, and a smile which did
not linger long on her lips.

"Why are you so cold, Mary?"

"Why are you shamefaced, Fan?"

"Am I shamefaced? I did not know."

"Yes, and I can guess the reason. You did not keep your word to
me, though you knew how anxious I was to see you at the end of your
fortnight at Kingston; and the reason is that you have something on your
mind which you fear to tell me--which you are ashamed to tell."

"No, Mary, that is not so. I am not ashamed, but----"

"Oh yes, of course, I quite understand--_but!_"

"Dear Mary, if you will be a little patient with me you shall know
everything I have to tell, and then you will know exactly why I didn't
come to you the moment I got back to town. For the last two or three
days I have been in pursuit of the Chances, and have at last found
them."

"How did you find them?"

"It is a very long story, Mary, and someone you know and that you
are not friendly with is mixed up with it. I met him accidentally at
Kingston, where there was a dinner-party and he was among the guests.
Mrs. Travers introduced him to me, and he took me in to dinner; and it
was very painful to me--to both of us; but after a time a thought came
into my head--Mary, listen to me, I can't tell you how it all came
about--how I found Constance--without speaking of him. Don't you think
it would be better to tell you everything, from my first chance meeting
with him, and all that was said as well as I can remember it now?"

Miss Starbrow had listened quietly, with averted face, which Fan
imagined must have grown very black; she was silent for some time, and
at last replied:

"Fan, I can hardly credit my own senses when you talk in that calm way
about a person who--of course I know who you mean. What are you made of,
I wonder--are you merely a wax figure and not a human being at all? Once
I imagined that you loved me, but now I see what a delusion it was; only
those who can hate are able to love, and you are as incapable of the one
as of the other."

After delivering herself of this protest she half turned her back on
her friend, and for a time there was silence between them, and then Fan
spoke.

"Mary, you have not yet answered me; am I to tell you about it or not?"

"You can tell me what you like; I have no power to prevent you from
speaking. But I give you a fair warning. I know, and it would be useless
to try to hide it, that you have great power over me, and that I could
make any sacrifice, and do anything within reason for you, and be glad
to do it. But if you go too far--if you attempt to work on my feelings
about this--this person, or try to make _me_ think that he is not--what
I think him, I shall simply get up and walk out of the room."

"You need not have said all that, Mary--I am not trying to work on your
feelings. I simply wanted to tell you what happened, and--how _he_ came
to be mixed up with it."

As the other did not reply, she began her story, and related what had
happened at the Travers' dinner-party faithfully; although she was as
unable now to give a reason for her own strange behaviour as she had
been to answer Captain Horton when he had asked her what she had to say
to him.

At length she paused.

"Have you finished?" said Mary sharply, but the sharpness this time did
not have the true ring.

"No. If your name was mentioned, Mary, must I omit that part?--because I
wish to tell you everything just as it happened."

"You can tell me what you like so long as you observe my conditions."

But when the story was all finished she only remarked, although speaking
now without any real or affected asperity:

"I am really sorry for your friend Mrs. Chance. I could not wish an
enemy a greater misfortune than to be tied for life to such a one
as Merton. Poor country girl, ignorant of the world--what a terrible
mistake she made!"

She was in a much better temper now, willing to discuss the details of
the expedition, to give her friend advice, and help with money if it
should be needed. Fan was surprised and delighted at the change in her,
and at last they parted very pleasantly.

"If you can find time before leaving town, Fan, come and say good-bye.
I shall be at home in the afternoon to-morrow and next day, and then you
can tell me all your arrangements."

By the first post on the following morning she received a letter from
the Captain, who had taken a day from the office to look for a place,
and had succeeded in finding a pleasant farm-house, within easy
distance of Mile End and about a mile from Edmonton, as rural a spot
in appearance as one could wish to be in. He had also exceeded his
instructions by engaging a covered van, with easy springs, to convey
the invalid to his new home. The letter contained full particulars, and
concluded with an expression of the sincere pleasure the writer felt at
having received this additional proof of Miss Eden's friendly feelings
towards him, and with the hope that the change of air would benefit his
poor old friend Merton Chance.

Fan replied at once, asking him to send the van next day at noon to Mile
End. Then she telegraphed to the people of the house to have the rooms
ready for them on the morrow, and also wrote to Constance to inform
her of the arrangements that had been made; and the rest of the day was
spent in preparing for her sojourn in the country.

In the evening she went to Dawson Place to see and say good-bye to her
friend. Mary was at home, and glad to see her.

"My dear Fan," she said, embracing the girl, "I have had two or three
callers this evening, and was not at home to them only because I thought
you might turn up, and I wished to have you all to myself for a little
while before you leave. Goodness only knows when we shall meet again!"

"Why, Mary, are you thinking of going away for a long time? I hope not."

"Well, I don't know what I'm thinking of. Of course it's very disgusting
and unnatural to be in London at this time of the year; but the worst of
the matter is, I had hoped to get you to go somewhere with me. But
now this affair has completely thrown me out. Have you made your
arrangements?"

"Yes, I got the letter I expected this morning, and it explains
everything. You had better read it for yourself."

Mary pushed the letter back with an indignant gesture.

"Oh, very well," returned Fan, not greatly disconcerted. "Then I suppose
I can read it to you, as it tells just what arrangements have been
made."

The other frowned but said nothing, and Fan proceeded to read the
letter. Mary made no remark on its contents; but when she went on to
speak of other things, there was no trace of displeasure in her voice.
They were together until about ten o'clock, and then, after taking some
refreshment, Fan rose to go. But the parting was not to be a hurried
one; her friend embraced and clung to her with more than her usual
warmth.

"Mary dear," said Fan, bending back her head so as to look into her
friend's face, "you were very angry with me yesterday, but to-day--now
you love me as much as you ever did. Is it not so?"

"Yes, Fan, I think I love you more to-night than ever. I know I cling to
you more and seem afraid to lose you from my sight. But you must not get
any false ideas into your head."

"To prevent that, Mary, you must tell me why you cling to me to-night?"

"Because--Fan, is it necessary that I should tell you something which I
have a dim, vague idea that you already know? Is it known to you, dear
girl, that in all our hearts there are things our lips refuse to speak,
even to those who are nearest and dearest to our souls? Did you feel
that, Fan, when you came to me again, after so long a time, and told me
all--_all_ that had befallen you since our parting?"

Fan reddened, but her lips remained closed.

"That which my lips refuse to speak you cannot know," continued Mary;
"but there is another simple reason I can give you. I cling to you
because you are going away to be with people I am not in sympathy with.
As far as giving poor miserable Merton a chance to live, I dare say you
are doing only what is right, but----"

Fan stopped her mouth. "You shall say no more, Mary. Long, long ago you
thought that because I and Constance were friends I could not have the
same feeling I had had for you. Oh, what a mistake you made! Nothing,
nothing could ever make you less dear to me. Even if you should break
with me again and refuse to see me--"

"And that is what I fear, Fan; I really do fear it, when it is actually
in your heart to get me to forgive things which it would be unnatural
and shameful to forgive. I must warn you again, Fan, if you cannot pluck
that thought out of your heart, if I cannot have you without that man's
existence being constantly brought to my mind, that there will be a
fatal rupture between us, and that it will never be healed."

Fan drew back a little and looked with a strange, questioning gaze into
her friend's face; but Mary, for once, instead of boldly meeting the
look, dropped her eyes and reddened a little.

"There will never, never be any rupture, Mary. If you were to shut your
door against me, I would come and sit down on the doorstep, which I
once--"

"Be quiet!" exclaimed Mary, with sudden passion. "How can you have
the courage to speak of such things! The little consideration! If your
memory of the past is so faithful--so--so _unforgetting_, I dare say you
can remember only too well that I once--"

"You must be quiet now," said Fan, stopping her friend's mouth with her
hand for the second time, and with a strange little laugh that was half
sob. "I only remember, Mary darling, that I was homeless, hungry, in
rags, and that you took me in, and were friend and sister and mother to
me. Promise, promise that you will never quarrel with me."

"Never, Fan--unless you, with your wild altruism, drive me to it."

Fan went home, wondering all the way what her wild altruism was, ashamed
of her ignorance. She looked in her dictionary, but it was an old cheap
one, and the strange word was not in it. Perhaps Mary had coined it. As
to that she would consult Constance, who knew everything.



CHAPTER XLII


Miss Starbrow did not leave London after all, but day followed day only
to find her in the same unsettled mind as at first. Having no one else
to quarrel with, she quarrelled with and mocked at herself. "I shall
wait till the heats are over," she said, "and then stay on to see the
end of the November fogs; then I can go north to winter at Aberdeen or
some such delightful place." But these late London days, while her mind
was in this unsatisfactory state, studying to deceive itself, had one
great pleasure--the letters which came at intervals of two or three days
from her loved friend. Even to her eyes they looked beautiful. The girl
of the period, when she writes to her friend, usually dips the handle of
her sunshade in a basin of ink, and scrawls characters monstrous in
size and form, an insult to the paper-maker's art and shocking to man's
aesthetic feelings. Now from the first Fan had spontaneously written
a small hand, with fine web-like lines and flourishes, which gave it
a very curious and delicate appearance; for, unlike the sloping prim
Italian hand, it was all irregular, and the longer curves and strokes
crossed and recrossed through words above and beneath, so that, while
easy enough to read, at first sight it looked less like writing than an
intricate pattern on the paper, as if a score of polar gnats had been
figure-skating on the surface with inked skates. To her complaint that
she was not clever, not musical, like other girls, Mary had once said:

"Ah, yes; all your cleverness and originality has gone into your
handwriting."

"It is such a comfort, such a pleasure," said Fan in one of her letters,
"to have you to write to and put Mary--Mary--Mary twenty times over in
a single letter, wondering whether it gives you the same pleasure to see
your name written by me as you often say it is to hear it from my lips.
Do you remember that when I promised to write everything you sneered and
told me not to forget to make the usual mental reservations? That is the
way you always talk to me, Mary; but I make no reservation, I tell you
everything, really and truly--everything I see and hear and think.
I know very well that Constance will never tell me any of her
secrets--that she will never open her heart to anyone, as one friend
does to another, except her husband; so that it was quite safe for me to
make you that promise."

Again she wrote: "For some hidden reason Constance consented very
reluctantly to take Merton out of town, and I feel convinced that it
was not on account of the risk there would be in moving him, nor because
they were too poor to move away from Mile End. There was some other
reason, and I feel pretty sure that if the proposal had come from some
other person, even a stranger, instead of from me, it would not have
given the same feeling. That it should give her pain was a surprise to
me, and has puzzled me a great deal, because I know that Constance loves
me as much as she ever did, and that she would gladly do as much and
more for me if it were in her power at any time. Perhaps she thinks,
poor Constance, that when she and her husband suddenly went away from
Netting Hill and left no address, and never wrote to me again, although
she knew that I had no other friend in London at that time, that she had
treated me badly. Once or twice, since we have been together here, she
has mentioned that going away, so sadly, almost with tears, speaking as
if circumstances had compelled her to act unkindly, but without giving
any explanation. I do not believe, I cannot believe, she left me in that
way of her own will; I can only guess the reason, but shall probably
never really know; but I feel that this has brought a shadow into our
friendship, and that while we are as dear as ever to each other, we both
feel that there is something that keeps us apart."

Another letter spoke more particularly of Merton: "I am sure you would
like to know what I think of him now, after living under the same roof
for the first time, and seeing so much of him every day. I cannot say
what I think of him. As a rule he is out in the garden after eleven
o'clock; and then he sends Constance away. 'You have had enough of me
now,' he says, 'and if I wish to talk, I can talk to Fan--she is a good
listener.' This reminds me of one thing which is a continual vexation to
me. He does not seem to appreciate her properly. He does not believe,
I think, that she has any talent, or, at any rate, anything worthy of
being called talent compared with his own. Just fancy, she is usually up
all night, fearing to sleep lest he should need something; and then when
he comes out, and is made comfortable on the garden-seat, he tells her
to go and have an hour if she likes at her 'idyllic pastimes,' as he
calls her writing; and if he mentions her literary work at all,
he speaks of it just as another person would of a little piece of
crochet-work or netting, or something of that sort.

"After she goes in he talks to me, for an hour sometimes, and when it
is over I always feel that I am very little wiser, and what he has said
comes back to me in such an indistinct or disconnected way that it would
be impossible for me to set it down on paper. I do wish, Mary, that you
could come and sit next to me--invisible to him, I mean--and listen for
half an hour, and then tell me what it all means."

Mary laughed. "Tell you, sweet simple child? I wish Fan, that you
could come here and sit down next to me for half an hour and read out a
chapter from _Alice in Wonderland_, and then tell me what it all means.
It was Sir Isaac Newton, I think, who said of poetry that it was a
'beautiful kind of nonsense'; at all events, if he did not say it he
thought it, being a scientific man. And that is the best description I
can give of Merton's talk. That's his merit, his one art, which he
has cultivated and is proficient in. He reminds me of those street
performers who swallow match-boxes and tie themselves up with fifty
knots and then wriggle out of the rope, and keep a dozen plates, balls,
and knives and forks all flying about at one time in the air. The
mystery is how a woman like his wife--who is certainly clever, judging
from the sketches I have read, and beautiful, as I have good reason to
remember--should have thrown herself away on such a charlatan. Love is
blind, they say, but I never imagined it to be quite so blind as that!"

Here Miss Starbrow suddenly remembered the case of another woman, also
clever and beautiful; and with a scornful glance at her own image in the
glass, she remarked, "Thou fool, first pluck the beam out of thine own
eye!"

Then she returned to the letter: "Another thing that seems strange to
me is his cheerfulness, for he is really very bad, and Constance is
in great fear lest his cough should bring on consumption; and it is
sometimes so violent that it frightens me to hear it. Yet he is always
so lively and even gay, and sometimes laughs like a child at the things
he says himself; and I sometimes know from the way Constance receives
them that they can't be very amusing, for I do not often see the point
myself. He firmly believes that he will soon throw his illness off, and
that when he is well he will do great things. The world, he says,
knows nothing of its greatest men, and he will be satisfied to be an
obscurity, even a laughing-stock, for the next thirty or thirty-five
years. But when he is old, and has a beard, like Darwin's, covering his
breast and whiter than snow, then his name will be great on the earth.
Then it will be said that of all leaders of men he is greatest; for
whereas others led men into a barren wilderness without end, to be
destroyed therein by dragons and men-eating monsters, he led them back
to that path which they in their blind eager hurry had missed, and by
which alone the Promised Land could be reached.

"Perhaps you will think, Mary, from my telling you all this, that I am
beginning to change my mind about him, that I am beginning to think that
there is something more in him than in others, and that it will all come
out some day. But it would be a mistake; what I have always thought I
think still."

"Sensible girl," said Mary, putting the letter down with a smile.

And thus did these two not infallible women, seeing that which
appeared on the surface--empty quick--vanishing froth and iridescent
bubbles--pass judgment on Merton Chance.

One afternoon, coming in from a walk, Mary found a letter from Fan on
the hall table, and taking it up was startled to see a superfluous black
seal over the fastening. Guessing the news it contained, she carried it
up to her bedroom before opening it. "It is all over," the letter ran;
"Merton died this morning, and it was so unexpected, so terribly sudden;
and I was with him at the last moment. How shall I tell you about it?
It is anguish to think of it, and yet think of it I must, and of nothing
else; and now at ten o'clock at night I feel that I cannot rest until
I have described it all to you, and imagined what you will feel and say
to-morrow when you read my letter.

"For the last two or three days he had seemed so much better; but this
morning after breakfasting he coughed violently for a long time, and
seemed so shaken after it that we tried to persuade him not to go out.
But he would not be persuaded; and it was such a lovely morning, he
said, and would do him good; and he felt more hopeful and happy than
ever--a sure sign that he had reached the turning-point and was already
on the way to recovery. So we came out, he leaning on our arms, to a
garden-seat under the trees at the end of a walk, quite near to the
house. When he had settled himself comfortably on the seat with some
rugs and cushions we had got with us, he said, 'Now, Connie, you can go
back if you like and leave me to talk to Fan. She is our guardian angel,
and will watch over me, and keep away all ugly phantoms and crawling
many-legged things--spiders, slugs, and caterpillars. And I shall repay
her angelic guardianship with wise, instructive speech.'

"'But an angel looks for no instruction--no reward,' said Constance.

"'Not so,' he replied. 'An angel is not above being taught even by a
creature of earth. And in Fan there is one thing lacking, angel though
she be, and this I shall point out to her. I can find no mysticism in
her: what she knows she knows, and with the unknowable, which may yet
be known, she concerns herself not. Who shall say of the seed I scatter
that it will not germinate in this fair garden without weeds and tares,
and strike root and blossom at last? For why should she not be a mystic
like others?'

"Constance laughed and answered, 'Can an angel be a mystic?'

"'Yes, certainly,' he said. 'An angel need not necessarily be a mystic,
else Fan were no angel, but even to angels it adds something. It is not
that splendour of virtue and immortality which makes their faces shine
like lightning and gives whiteness to their raiment; but it is the
rainbow tint on their wings, the spiritual melody which they eternally
make, which the old masters symbolised by placing harps and divers
strange instruments in their hands--that melody which faintly rises even
from our own earthly hearts.'

"Constance smiled and looked at me--at the white dress I had on--shall
I ever wear white again?--and answered that she had first liked me in
white, and thought it suited me best, and would have to see the rainbow
tints before saying that they would be an improvement.

"Then she went back to the house, and from the end of the walk turned
round and gave us a smile, and Merton threw her a kiss.

"Then he turned to me and said, 'Fan, do you hear that robin--that
little mystic robin-redbreast? Listen, he will sing again in less than
twenty seconds.' And almost before he had finished speaking, while I was
looking at him, a change came over him, and his face was of the colour
of ashes; and he said, with a kind of moan and so low that I could
scarcely catch the last words, 'Oh, this is cruel, cruel!' And almost
at the same moment there came a rush of blood from his mouth, and he
started forward and would have fallen to the ground had I not caught him
and held him in my arms. I called to Constance, over and over again, but
she did not hear me--no one in the house heard me. Oh, how horrible
it was--for I knew that he was dying--to hear the sounds of the house,
voices talking and the maid singing, and a boy whistling not far off,
and to call and call and not be heard! Then a dreadful faintness came
over me, and I could call no more; I shivered like a leaf and closed my
eyes, and my heart seemed to stand still, and still I held him, his head
on my breast--held him so that he did not fall. Then at last I was able
to call again, and someone must have heard, for in a few moments I saw
Constance coming along the walk running with all her speed, and the
others following. But I knew that he was already dead, for he had grown
quite still, and his clenched hand opened and dropped like a piece of
lead on my knee.

"After that I only remember that Constance was kneeling before him,
calling out so pitifully, 'Oh, Merton, my darling, what is it? Merton,
Merton, speak to me--speak to me--one word, only one word!' Then I
fainted. When I recovered my senses I was lying on a sofa in the house,
with some of them round me doing what they could for me; and they told
me that they had sent for a doctor, and that Merton was dead.

"But how shall I tell you about Constance? I have done nothing but cry
all day, partly from grief, and partly from a kind of nervous terror
which makes me imagine that I am still covered with those red stains,
although I took off all my things, even my shoes and stockings, and made
the servant-girl take them away out of my sight. But she does not shed a
tear, and is so quiet, occupied all the time arranging everything about
the corpse. And there is such a still, desolate look on her face; her
eyes seem to have lost all their sweetness; I am afraid to speak to
her--afraid that if I should attempt to speak one word of comfort she
would look at me almost with hatred. This afternoon I was in the room
where they have laid him, and he looked so different, younger, and his
face so much clearer than it has been looking, that it reminded me of
the past and of the first time I saw him, when he spoke so gently to me
at Dawson Place, and asked me to look up to show my eyes to him. I could
not restrain my sobs. And at last Constance said, 'Fan, if you go on in
this way you will make me cry for very sympathy.' I could not bear it
and left the room. It was so strange for her to say that! Perhaps I am
wrong to think it, but I almost believe from her tone and expression
that all her love for me has turned to bitterness because I, and not
she, was with him at the end, and heard his last word, and held him in
my arms when he died.

"She has refused to sleep in my room, and now that the whole house is
quiet I am almost terrified at being alone, and to think that I must
spend the night by myself. I know that if I sleep I shall start up from
some dreadful dream, that I shall feel something on my hands, after so
many washings, and shall think of that last look on his ashen face, and
his last bitter words when he knew that the end had so suddenly come to
him. I wish, I wish, Mary, that I had you with me to-night, that I could
rest with your arms about me, to gain strength with your strength, for
you are so strong and brave, I so weak and cowardly. But I am alone in
my room, and can only try to persuade myself that you are thinking of
me, that when you sleep you will be with me in your dreams."

Having finished reading the letter, Mary covered her eyes with her hand
and cried to herself quietly for a while. Cried for despised Merton
Chance; and remembered, no longer with mocking laughter, some fragments
of the "beautiful nonsense" which he had spoken to her in bygone days.
For in that bright sunshine of the late summer, among the garden trees,
the Black Angel had come without warning to him, and with one swift
stroke of his weapon had laid him, with all his dreams and delusions,
in the dust; and its tragic ending had given a new dignity, a touch of
mournful glory, and something of mystery, to the vain and wasted life.

After a while, drying her eyes, she rose and went out again, and in
Westbourne Grove ordered a wreath for Merton's coffin, and instructed
the florist to send it on the following day to the house of mourning.

That mention of her first meeting with Merton in the girl's letter
had brought up the past very vividly to Mary's mind; at night, after
partially undressing, as she sat combing out her dark hair before the
glass, she thought of the old days when Fan had combed it for her, and
of her strange mixed feelings, when she had loved the poor girl she had
rescued from misery, and had studied to hide the feeling, being ashamed
of it, and at the same time had scorned herself for feeling shame--for
being not different from others in spite of her better instincts and
affected independence of a social code meant for meaner slavish natures.
How well she remembered that evening when Merton had amused her with his
pretty paradoxes about women not being reasonable beings, and had come
back later to make her an offer of marriage; and how before going to bed
she had looked at herself in the glass, proud of her beauty and strength
and independence, and had laughed scornfully and said that to no Merton
Chance would she give her hand; but that to one who, although stained
with vice, had strength of character, and loved her with a true and
not a sham love, she might one day give it. And thus thinking the blood
rushed to her face and dyed it red; even her neck, shoulders, and bosom
changed from ivory white to bright rose, and she turned away, startled
and ashamed at seeing her own shame so vividly imaged before her.
And moving to the bedside, while all that rich colour faded away, she
dropped languidly into a chair, and throwing her white arms over the
coverlid, laid her cheek on them with a strange self-abandonment, "Do
you call me strong and brave, Fan?" she murmured sadly. "Ah, poor child,
what a mistake! I am the weak and cowardly one, since I dare not tell
you this shameful secret, and ask you to save me. Oh, how falsely I put
it to you when I said that there are things in every heart which cannot
be told, even to the nearest and dearest! when I hinted to you that you
had not told me _all_ the story of your acquaintance with Arthur Eden.
That which you kept back was his secret as well as yours. This is mine,
only mine, and I have no courage to tell you that you are only working
my ruin--that the heart you are trying to soften has no healthy hardness
in it. I shall never tell you. Only to one being in the whole world
could I tell it--to my brother Tom. But to think of him is futile; for I
shall keep my word, and never address him again unless he first begs
my forgiveness for insulting me at Ravenna, when he called me a demon.
Never, never, and he will not do that, and there is no hope of help
from him. You shall know the result of your work one day, Fan, and how
placable this heart is. And it will perhaps grieve you when you know
that your own words, your own action, gave me back this sickness of the
soul--this old disease which had still some living rootlet left in me
when I thought myself well and safe at last. How glad I shall be to
see you again, Fan! And you will not know that under that open healthy
gladness there will be another gladness, secret and base. That I shall
eagerly listen again to hear the name my false lips forbade you to
speak--to hear it spoken with some sweet word of praise. And in a little
while I shall sink lower, and be glad to remember that my courage was
so small; and lower still, and give, reluctantly and with many protests,
the forgiveness which will prove to you--poor innocent child!--that I
have a very noble spirit in me. How sweet it is to think of it, and
how I loathe myself for the thought! And I know what the end will be. I
shall gain my desire, but my gain will be small and my loss too great to
be measured. And then farewell to you, Fan, for ever; for I shall never
have the courage to look into your eyes again, and the pure soul that
is in them. I shall be a coward still. Just as all that is weak and
unworthy in me makes me a coward now, so whatever there is that is good
in me will make me a coward then."



CHAPTER XLIII


A couple of days after the funeral Fan, accompanied by her friend,
returned to London, and the rooms she had occupied in Quebec Street.
Fortunately for her young lodger's peace of mind, now less inclined for
delicate feeding than ever, Mrs. Fay had gone off on her annual holiday.
Not that her health required change of air, nor because she took any
delight in the sublime and beautiful as seen in the ocean and nature
generally, but because it was a great pleasure to her to taste of many
strange dishes, and criticise mentally and gloat over the abominable
messes which other lodging--and boarding-house keepers are accustomed to
put before their unhappy guests. And as the woman left in charge of
the establishment knew not Francatelli, and never rose above the rude
simplicity of "plain" cookery--depressing word!--and was only too
glad when nothing was required beyond the homely familiar chop, with
a vegetable spoiled in the usual way, dinner at Quebec Street, if no
longer a pleasure, was not a burden.

That strange quietude, tearless and repellent, concerning which Fan had
spoken in her letter, still had possession of Constance. But it was not
the quietude experienced by the overwrought spirit when the struggle is
over, and the reaction comes--the healing apathy which nature sometimes
gives to the afflicted. It was not that, nor anything like it. The
struggle had been prolonged and severe; he was gone in whom all her
hopes and affections had been centred, and life seemed colourless
without him; but she knew that it would not always be so, that the time
would come when she would again take pleasure in her work, when the
applause of other lips than those now cold would seem sweet to her. The
quietude was only on the surface; under it smouldered a sullen fire of
rebellion and animosity against God and man, because Merton had perished
and had not lived to justify his existence; and if the thought ever
entered her soul--and how often it was there to torture her!--that the
world had judged him rightly and she falsely, it only served to increase
her secret bitterness.

When spoken to by those around her, she would converse, unsmilingly,
neither sad nor cheerful, with but slight interest in the subject
started; it was plain to see that she preferred to be left alone, even
by her two dearest friends, Fan and the curate, who had attended the
funeral and had come afterwards two or three times to see her. After
a few days Fan had proposed moving to town, and Constance had at once
consented. In her present frame of mind the solitude of London seemed
preferable to that of the country. For two or three days Fan almost
feared that the move had been a mistake; for now Constance spent more
time than ever in silence and seclusion, never going out of the house,
and remaining most of the time in her own room. Even when they were
together she would sit silent and apathetic unless forced to talk; and
the effect was that Fan grew more and more reluctant to address her,
although her heart was overcharged with its unexpressed love and
sympathy. Only once, a few days after their return to town, did
Constance give way to her poignant feelings, and that was on the
occasion of a visit from Mr. Northcott to their rooms. She saw him
reluctantly, and was strangely cold and irresponsive in her manner,
and as it quickly discouraged him when his kindly efforts met with no
appreciation, the conversation they had was soon over. When taking his
leave he spoke a few kind sympathetic words to her, to which she made no
reply, but her hand trembled in his, and she averted her face. Not
that she had tears to hide; on the contrary, it seemed to Fan, who was
watching her face, that the rising colour and brightening eyes expressed
something like resentment at the words he had spoken. When he had gone
she remained standing in the middle of the room, but presently glancing
up and encountering her friend's eyes fixed wonderingly on her face, she
turned away, and dropping into a chair burst into a passion of tears.

Fan moved to her side. "Dear Constance," she said, putting a hand on the
other's shoulder, "it is better to cry than to be as you have been all
these days."

But Constance, mastering her sobs with a great effort, rose to her feet
and put her friend's hand aside.

"Do you think tears are a relief to me?" she said with bitterness. "You
are mistaken. They are caused by his words--his pretended grief and
sympathy with me for what he calls my great loss. But; I know that he
never understood and never appreciated my husband--I know that in his
heart of hearts he thinks, as _you_ think, Fan, that my loss is a
gain. I understood him as you and Harold never could. You knew only his
weakness, which he would have outgrown, not the hidden strength behind
it. I know what I have lost, and prefer to be left alone, and to hear no
condolences from anyone." Then, bursting into tears again, she left the
room.

This was unspeakably painful to Fan--chiefly because the words Constance
had spoken were true. They were cruel words to come from her friend's
lips, but she considered that they had been spoken hastily, in a sudden
passion of grief, and she felt no resentment, and only hoped that in
time kindlier feelings would prevail. Her manner lost nothing of its
loving gentleness, but she no longer tried to persuade Constance to go
out with her; it was best, she thought, to obey her wish and leave her
alone. She herself, loving exercise, and taking an inexhaustible delight
in the life and movement of the streets, spent more time than ever out
of doors. Her walks almost invariably ended in Hyde Park, where she
would sit and rest for half an hour under the grateful shade of the elms
and limes; and then, coming out into the Bayswater Road, she would stand
irresolute, or walk on for a little distance into Oxford Street, with
downcast eyes and with slower and slower steps. For at home there
would be Constance, sitting solitary in her room and indisposed for any
communion except that with her own sorrow-burdened heart; while on the
other hand, within a few minutes' drive, there was Dawson Place--bright
with flowers and pleasant memories--and above all, Mary, who was always
glad to see her, and would perhaps be wishing for her and expecting her
even now. And while considering, hesitating, the welcome tingling "Keb!"
uttered sharp and clear like the cry of some wild animal, would startle
her. For that principal league-long thoroughfare of London is "always
peopled with a great multitude of"--no, not "vanities," certainly not!
but loitering hansoms, and cabby's sharp eye is quick to spot a person
hesitating where to go (and able to pay for a ride), as the trained
rapacious eye of the hawk is to spy out a wounded or sickly bird. Then
the swift wheels would be drawn up in tempting proximity to the kerb,
and after a moment's hesitation Fan would say "Dawson Place," and step
inside, and in less than twenty minutes she would be in her friend's
arms.

These flying improvised visits to her friend were very dear to her,
and always ended with the promise given to repeat the visit very
soon--"perhaps to-morrow"; then she would hurry home, feeling a little
guilty at her own happiness while poor Constance was so lonely and so
unhappy.

But one day there seemed to be a change for the better. Constance talked
with Fan, for some time, asking questions about Miss Starbrow, of the
books she had been reading, and showing a return of interest in life.
When she was about to leave the room Fan came to her side and put an arm
round her neck.

"Constance," she said, "I have been waiting anxiously to ask you when
you are going to begin your sketches again? I think--I'm sure it would
be good for you if you could write a little every day."

Constance cast down her eyes and reflected for a few moments.

"I could never take that up again," she said.

"I am so sorry," was all that Fan could say in reply, and then the other
without more words left her.

But in the evening she returned to the subject of her own accord.

"Fan, dear," she said, "I must ask your forgiveness for the way I have
acted towards you since we have been here together. It would not have
been strange if you had resented it--if you had judged me ungrateful.
But you never changed; your patience was so great. And now that he
has gone you are more to me than ever. Not only because you have acted
towards me like a very dear sister, but also because you did that for
him which I was powerless to do. Your taking us away out of that hot
place made his last days easier and more peaceful. And you were with him
at the last, Fan. Now I can speak of that--I _must_ speak of it! Death
seemed cruel to him, coming thus suddenly, when hope was so strong
and the earth looked so bright. And how cruel it has seemed to me--the
chance that took me from his side when that terrible moment was so near!
How cruel that his dying eyes should not have looked on me, that he
should not have felt my arms sustaining him! So hard has this seemed
to me that I have thought little about you--of the agony of pain and
suspense you suffered, of the strength and courage which enabled you to
sustain him and yourself until it was all over."

She was crying now, and ceased speaking. She had not told, nor would
she ever tell, the chief cause of the bitterness she felt at the
circumstances attending her husband's death. It was because Fan, and
no other, had been with him, sustaining him--Fan, who had always been
depreciated by him, and treated so hardly at the last; for she could
not remember that he had treated any other human creature with so little
justice. It had been hard to endure when the girl they had left, hiding
themselves from her, ashamed to know her, had found them in their
depressed and suffering condition, only to heap coals of fire on
their heads. Hard to endure that her husband seemed to have forgotten
everything, and readily took every good thing from her hands, as if it
had been only his due. But that final scene among the garden trees had
seemed to her less like chance than the deliberately-planned action of
some unseen power, that had followed them in all their wanderings, and
had led the meek spirit they had despised to their hiding-place, to give
it at last a full and perfect, yea, an angelic revenge.

After a while, drying her eyes, she resumed:

"But I particularly wish to speak about what you said this morning. I
could not possibly go back to those East-End sketches of life--even the
name of the paper I wrote them for is so painfully associated in my mind
with all that Merton and I went through. I was struggling so hard--oh,
so hard to keep our heads above water, and seemed to be succeeding. I
was so hopeful that better days were in store for us, and the end seemed
to come so suddenly ... and my striving had been in vain ... and the
fight was lost. I know that I must rouse myself, that I have to work for
a living, only just now I seem to have lost all desire to do anything,
all energy. But I know, Fan, that this will not last. Grief for the
dead does not endure long--never long enough. I must work, and there
is nothing I shall ever care to do for a living except literary work. I
have felt and shall feel again that a garret for shelter and dry bread
for food would be dearer to me earned in that way than every comfort and
luxury got by any other means. During the last day or two, while I have
been sitting by myself, an idea has slowly been taking shape in my mind,
which will make a fairly good story, I think, if properly worked out.
But that will take time, and just now I could not put pen to paper,
even to save myself from starving. For a little longer, dear, I must be
contented to live on your charity."

"My charity, Constance! It was better a little while ago when you said
that I had been like a very dear sister to you. But now you make me
think that you did not mean that, that there is some bitterness in your
heart because you have accepted anything at my hands."

"Darling, don't make that mistake. The word was not well-chosen. Let me
say your love, Fan--the love which has fed and sheltered my body, and
has done so much to sustain my soul."

And once more they kissed and were reconciled. From that day the
improvement for which Fan had been waiting began to show itself.
Constance no longer seemed strange and unlike her former self; and she
no longer refused to go out for a walk every day. But she would not
allow her walks with Fan to interfere with the latter's visits to
Miss Starbrow. "She must be more to you than I can ever be," she would
insist. "Well, dear, she cannot be _less_, and while she and you are in
town it is only natural that you should be glad to see each other every
day." And so after a walk in the morning she would persuade Fan to go
later in the day to Dawson Place.

One evening as they sat together talking before going to bed, Fan asked
her friend if she had written to inform Mrs. Churton of Merton's death.

"Yes," replied Constance. "A few days after his death I wrote to mother;
it was a short letter, and the first I have sent since I wrote to tell
her that I was married. She replied, also very briefly, and coldly I
think. She expressed the hope that my husband had left some provision
for me, so that she knows nothing about how I am situated."

After a while she spoke again.

"How strange that you should have asked me this to-night, Fan! All day I
have been thinking of home, and had made up my mind to say something to
you about it--something I wish to do, but I had not yet found courage to
speak."

"Tell me now, Constance."

"I think I ought to write again and tell mother just how I am left, and
ask her to let me go home for a few weeks or months. I have no wish to
go and stay there permanently; but just now I think it would be best
to go to her--that is, if she will have me. I think the quiet of the
country would suit me, and that I might be able to start my writing
there. And, Fan--you must not take offence at this--I do not think it
would be right to live on here entirely at your expense. But if I should
find it impossible to remain any time at home, perhaps I shall be glad
to ask you to shelter me again on my return to town."

She looked into Fan's eyes, but her apprehensions proved quite
groundless.

"I am so glad you have thought of your home just now," Fan replied.
"Perhaps after all you have gone through it will be different with your
mother. But, Constance, may I go with you?"

"With me! And leave Miss Starbrow?"

"Yes, I must leave her for a little while. I was going to ask you to go
with me to the seaside for a few weeks, but it will be so much better at
Eyethorne. Perhaps Mrs. Churton still feels a little offended with
me, but I hope she will not refuse to let me go with you--if you will
consent, I mean."

"There is nothing that would please me better. I shall write at once and
ask her to receive us both, Fan."

"If you will, Constance; but I must also write and ask her for myself.
I cannot go to live on them, knowing that they are poor, and I must ask
her to let me pay her a weekly sum."

Constance reflected a little before answering.

"Do you mind telling me, Fan, what you are going to offer to pay? You
must know that I can only go as my mother's guest, that if you accompany
me you must not pay more than for one."

"Yes, I know that. I think that if I ask her to take me for about two
guineas a week it will be very moderate. It costs me so much more now
in London. And the money I am spending besides in cabs and finery--I am
afraid, Constance, that I am degenerating because I have this money, and
that I am forgetting how many poor people are in actual want."

The result of this conversation was that the two letters were written
and sent off the following day.

In the afternoon Fan went to Dawson Place, and Mary received her gladly,
but had no sooner heard of the projected visit to Wiltshire than a
change came.

"You knew very well," she said, "that I wanted you to go with me to the
seaside, or somewhere; and now that Mrs. Chance is going home you might
have given a little of your time to me. But of course I was foolish to
imagine that you would leave your friend for my society."

"I can't very well leave her now, Mary--I scarcely think it would be
right."

"Of course it wouldn't, since you prefer to be with her," interrupted
the other. "I am never afraid to say that I do a thing because it
pleases me, but you must call it duty, or by some other fine name."

She got up and moved indignantly about the room, pushing a chair out of
her way.

"I'm sorry you take it in that way," said Fan. "I was going to ask you
to do something to please me, but after what you said have--"

"Oh, that needn't deter you," said Mary, tossing her head, but evidently
interested. "If it would be pleasing to you I would of course do it. I
mean if it would be pleasing to _me_ as well. I am not quite so crazy as
to do things for which I have no inclination solely to please some other
person."

"Not even to please me--when we are such dear friends?"

"Certainly not, since our friendship is to be such a one-sided affair.
If I had any reason to suppose that you really cared as much for me as
you say, then everything that pleased you would please me, and I should
not mind putting myself out in any way to serve you. Before I promise
anything I must know what you want."

"Before I tell you, Mary, let me explain why I wish to go to Eyethorne.
You know how Constance has been left, and that she is my guest. Well,
I had meant to take her with me to the seaside for a few weeks when she
said this about going home. It is the best thing she could do, but you
know from what I have told you before that she cannot count on much
sympathy from her parents, that she will perhaps be worse off under
their roof than if she were to go among strangers. If all she has gone
through since her marriage should have no effect in softening Mrs.
Churton towards her, then her home will be a very sad place, and it is
for this reason I wish to accompany her, for it may be that she will
want a friend to help her. Don't you think I am right, Mary?"

"You must not ask me," said the other. "I shall not interfere with
anything that concerns Mrs. Chance. She is your friend and not mine, and
I would prefer not to hear anything about her. And now you can go on to
the other matter."

"I can't very well do that, since it concerns Constance, and you forbid
me to speak of her."

"Oh, it concerns Constance!" exclaimed Mary, and half averting her face
to conceal the disappointment she felt. "Then I'm pretty sure that I
shall not be able to please you, Fan. But you may say what you like."

Fan moved near to her--near enough to put her hand on the other's arm.

"Mary, it seems very strange and unnatural that you two--you and
Constance--should be dear to me, and that you should not also know and
love each other."

"You are wasting your words, Fan. I shall never know her, and we should
not love each other. I have seen her once, and have no wish to see her
again. Oil and vinegar will not mix."

"It is not a question of oil and vinegar, Mary, but of two women--"

"So much the worse--I hate women."

"Two women, both beautiful, both clever, and yet so different! Which do
you think sweetest and most beautiful--rose or stephanotis?"

"Don't be a silly flatterer, Fan. _She_ is beautiful, I know, because
I saw her; and I was not mistaken when I knew that her beauty would
enslave you."

"She _was_ beautiful, Mary, and I hope that she will be so again. Now
she is only a wreck of the Constance you saw at Eyethorne. But more
beautiful than you she never was, Mary."

"Flattery, flattery, flattery!"

"Which of those two flowers are you like, and which is she like? Let me
tell you what _I_ think. You are most like the rose, Mary--that is to me
the sweetest and most beautiful of all flowers."

Mary turned away, shaking the caressing hand off with a gesture of
scorn.

"And I, Mary, between two such flowers, what am I?" continued Fan.
"Someone once called me a flower, but he must have been thinking of some
poor scentless thing--a daisy, perhaps."

"Say a heart's-ease, Fan," said Mary, turning round again to her friend
with a little laugh.

"But I haven't finished yet. Both so proud and high-spirited, and yet
with such loving, tender hearts."

"That is the most arrant nonsense, Fan. You must be a goose, or what is
almost as bad, a hypocrite, to say that I have any love or tenderness in
me. I confess that I did once have a little affection for you, but that
is pretty well over now."

Fan laughed incredulously, and put her arms round her friend's neck.

"No," said the other resolutely, "you are not going to wheedle me in
that way. I hate all women, I think, but especially those that have any
resemblance to me in character."

"She is your exact opposite in everything," said Fan boldly. "Darling
Mary, say that you will see her just to please me. And if you can't like
her then, you needn't see her a second time."

Mary wavered, and at length said:

"You can call with her, if you like, Fan."

"No, Mary, I couldn't do that. You are both proud, but you are rich and
she is poor--too poor to dress well, but too proud to take a dress as a
present from me."

"Then, Fan, I shall make no promise at all. I am not going out of my way
to cultivate the acquaintance of a person I care nothing about and do
not wish to know merely to afford you a passing pleasure." After a while
she added, "At the same time it is just possible that some day, if the
fancy takes me, I may call at your rooms. If I happen to be in that
neighbourhood, I mean. If I should not find you in so much the better,
but you will not be able to say that I refused to do what you asked. And
now let's talk of something else."

The words had not sounded very gracious, but Fan was well satisfied, and
looked on her object as already gained. The discovery which she made,
that she had a great deal of power over Mary, had moreover given her a
strange happiness, exhilarating her like wine.



CHAPTER XLIV


For the next two days Fan was continually on the tiptoe of expectation,
shortening her walks for fear of missing Mary, and not going to Dawson
Place, and still her friend came not. On the third day she came about
three o'clock in the afternoon, when Fan by chance happened to be out.

Miss Starbrow, on hearing at the door that Miss Eden was not at home,
considered for a few moments, and then sent up her card to Constance,
who was greatly surprised to see it, for Fan had said nothing to make
her expect such a visit. She concluded that it was for Fan, and that
Miss Starbrow wished to wait or leave some message for her. In the
sitting-room they met, Constance slightly nervous and looking pale in
her mourning, and regarded each other with no little curiosity.

"I am sorry Fan is out," said Constance, "but if you do not mind waiting
for her she will perhaps come in soon."

"I shall be glad to see her--she has forsaken me for the last few days.
But I called to-day to see you, Mrs. Chance."

Constance looked surprised. "Thank you, Miss Starbrow, it is very kind
of you," she answered quietly.

There was a slight shadow on the other's face; she had come only to
please Fan, and was not at ease with this woman, who was a stranger to
her, and perhaps resented her visit. Then she remembered that Constance
had become acquainted with Merton Chance only through Fan's having seen
him once at her house, reflecting with a feeling of mingled wonder and
compassion that through so trivial a circumstance this poor girl's life
had been so darkly clouded. They had sat for some moments in silence
when Miss Starbrow, with a softened look in her eyes and in a gentler
tone, spoke again.

"We have met only once before," she said, "and that is a long time ago,
but I have heard so much of you from Fan that I cannot think of you as
a stranger, and the change I see in you reminds me strongly of all you
have suffered since."

"Yes, I suppose I must seem greatly changed," returned the other, not
speaking so coldly as at first. Then, with a searching glance at her
visitor's face, she added, "You knew my husband before I did, Miss
Starbrow."

Ever since her marriage she had been haunted with the thought that there
had been something more than a mere acquaintance between Merton and
this lady. Her husband himself had given her that suspicion by the
disparaging way he had invariably spoken of her, and his desire to know
everything that Fan had said about her. That Fan had never told her
anything was no proof that there was nothing to tell, since the girl was
strangely close about some things.

"Yes," returned Miss Starbrow, noting and perhaps rightly interpreting
the other's look. "He used occasionally to come to my house on Wednesday
evenings. I never saw him except at these little gatherings, but I liked
him very much and admired his talents. I was deeply shocked to hear of
his death."

Constance dropped her eyes, which had grown slightly dim. "Your words
sound sincere," she returned.

"That is a strange thing to say, I think," returned Miss Starbrow
quickly. "It is not my custom to be insincere." And then her sincerity
almost compelled her to add, "But about your late husband I have said
too much." For that was what she felt, and it vexed her soul to have to
utter polite falsehoods.

"I fear I did not express myself well," apologised Constance. "But
I have grown a little morbid, perhaps, through knowing that the few
friends I have, who knew my husband, had formed a somewhat disparaging
and greatly mistaken opinion of him. I am sorry they knew him so little;
but it is perhaps natural for us to think little of any man until he
succeeds. What I meant to say was that your words did not sound as if
they came only from your lips."

"Perhaps you are a little morbid, Mrs. Chance--forgive me for saying it.
For after all what does it matter what people say or think about any
of us? I dare say that if your husband had by chance invented a new
button-hook or something, and had been paid fifty thousand pounds for
the patent, or if someone had died and left him a fortune, people would
have seen all the good that was in him and more."

"Yes, I suppose so. And yet it seems a cynical view to take. I should
like to believe that it is not necessary to be wealthy, or famous, or
distinguished in any way above my fellows, in order to win hearts--to
make others know me as I know myself."

"Perhaps the view I took was cynical, Mrs. Chance. At all events,
without being either wealthy or famous, you have won at least one friend
who seems to know you well, and loves you with her whole heart."

Again Constance looked searchingly at her, remembering that old jealousy
of her visitor, and not quite sure that the words had not been spoken
merely to draw her out. And Mary guessed her thought and frowned again.

"Yes," quickly returned Constance, casting her suspicion away, "I have
in Fan a friend indeed. A sweeter, more candid and loving spirit it
would be impossible to find on earth. Not only does she greatly love,
but there is also in her a rare faculty of inspiring love in those she
encounters."

"Yes, I know that," said Mary, thinking how much better she knew it
than the other, and of the two distinct kinds of love it had been Fan's
fortune to inspire.

"I blame myself greatly for having kept away from her for so long,"
continued Constance. "But she is very tenacious. It has sometimes seemed
strange to me that one so impressionable and clinging as she is should
be so unchangeable in her affections."

"Yes, I think she is that."

"You have reason to think it, Miss Starbrow. You have, and always have
had, the first place in her heart, and her feelings towards you have
never changed in the least from the first."

"You wish to remind me that _my_ feelings have changed, and that more
than once," returned the other, with some slight asperity.

"No, please do not imagine that, Miss Starbrow. But it is well that you
should know from me, since Fan will probably never tell it, that when
that letter from you came to her at Eyethorne, the only anger she
displayed was at hearing unkind words spoken of you."

"But who spoke unkind words of me?"

"I did."

"You are certainly frank, Mrs. Chance."

"Am I too frank? I could not help telling you this; now that we have met
again my conscience would not let me keep silence. I spoke then hastily,
angrily, and, I am glad now to be able to confess, unjustly."

"That I cannot say, but I like you all the better for your frankness,
and I hope that you will let me be your friend."

Constance turned her face, smiling and flushed with pleasure at the
words; their eyes met, then their hands.

When Fan returned shortly afterwards she found them sitting side by
side on the sofa, conversing like old and intimate friends, and it was
a happy moment to her, as her heart had been long set on bringing them
together. But she had little time to taste this new happiness; hardly
had she kissed Mary and expressed her pleasure at seeing her, when the
servant came up with a visitor's card, and the visitor himself quickly
followed, and almost before Fan had read the name, Captain Horton was in
the room. Constance, as it happened, knew nothing about him except that
he was a friend of Fan's, whom he had met formerly at Miss Starbrow's
house, but his sudden unexpected entrance had an almost paralysing
effect on the other two. Fan advanced to meet him, but pale and
agitated, and then Mary also rose from her seat, her face becoming
livid, and seizing Fan by the arm drew her back; while the visitor, the
smile with which he had entered gone from his face, stood still in the
middle of the room, his eyes fixed on the white angry countenance before
him.

For days past, ever since Fan's return to London after Merton's funeral,
Mary had been impatiently waiting to hear this man's name spoken
again--to hear Fan say favourable things of him, and plead for pardon;
and because the wished words had not been spoken, she had felt secretly
unhappy, and even vexed, with the girl for her silence. Again and
again it had been on her lips to ask, "How are you getting on with
that charming new friend of yours?" but for very shame she had held her
peace. And now that the thing she had wished had come to her--that the
man she had secretly pined to see was in her presence--all that softness
she had lamented, or had pretended to herself to lament, was gone in
one moment. For her first thought was that his coming at that moment had
been prearranged, that Fan had planned to bring about the reconciliation
in her own way; and that was more than she could stand. In time the
reconciliation would have come, but as she would have it, slowly, little
by little, and her forgiveness would be given reluctantly, not forced
from her as it were by violence. Now she could only remember the
treatment she had received at his hands--the insult, the outrage, and
his audacity in thus coming on her by surprise stung and roused all the
virago in her.

"Fan, I see it all now," she exclaimed, her voice ringing clear and
incisive. "I see through the hypocritical reason you had for asking me
to come here. But you will gain nothing by this mean trick to bring me
and that man together. It was a plot between you two, and the result
will be a breach between us, and nothing more."

Constance had also risen now, and was regarding them with undisguised
astonishment.

"A plot, Mary! Oh, what a mistake you are making! I have not seen
Captain Horton for weeks, and had no idea that he meant to call on me
here. Your visit was also unexpected, Mary, and it surprised me when I
came in and found you here a few minutes ago."

"Then I have made a mistake--I have done you an injustice and must ask
your forgiveness. But you know, Fan, what I feel about Captain Horton,
and that it is impossible for me to remain for a moment under the same
roof with him, and you and Mrs. Chance must not think it strange if I
leave you now."

"No, Miss Starbrow, you shall not cut your visit short on my account,"
said the Captain, speaking for the first time and very quietly. "I did
not expect you here, and if my presence in the room for a few moments
would be so obnoxious to you I shall of course go away."

"I am so sorry it has happened," said Fan.

But Miss Starbrow was not willing to let him depart before giving
him another taste of her resentment. "Did you imagine, sir, that your
presence could be anything but obnoxious to me?" she retorted. "Did you
think I had forgotten?"

"No, not that," he replied.

"What then?" came the quick answer, the sharp tone cutting the senses
like a lash.

He hesitated, glancing at her with troubled eyes, and then replied--"I
thought, Miss Starbrow, that when you heard that I was trying to live
down the past--trying very hard and not unsuccessfully as I imagined--it
would have made some difference in your feelings towards me. To win your
forgiveness for the wrong I did you has been the one motive I have had
for all my strivings since I last saw you. That has been the goal I have
had before me--that only. Latterly I have hoped that Miss Eden, who
had as much reason to regard me with enmity as yourself, would be my
intercessor with you. By a most unhappy chance we have met too soon,
and I regret it, I cannot say how much; for you make the task I have set
myself seem so much harder than before that I almost despair."

She made no reply, but after one keen glance at his face turned aside,
and stood waiting impatiently, it seemed, for him to go.

He then expressed his regrets to Fan for having come without first
writing to ask her permission, and after shaking hands with her and
bowing to Constance, turned away. As he moved across the floor Fan kept
her eye fixed on Mary's face, and seemed at last about to make an appeal
to her, when Constance, standing by her side, and also observing Mary,
touched her hand to restrain her.

"Captain Horton," spoke Mary, and he at once turned back from the door
and faced her. "You have come here to see Miss Eden, and I do not wish
to drive you away before you have spoken to her. I suppose we can sit in
the same room for a few minutes longer."

"Thank you," he replied, and coming back took a seat at Fan's side.

Mary on her part returned to the sofa and attempted to renew her
interrupted conversation with Constance. It was, however, a most
uncomfortable quartette, for Captain Horton gave only half his attention
to Fan, and seemed anxious not to lose any of Mary's low-spoken words;
while Mary on her side listened as much or more to the other two as to
Constance. In a few minutes the visitor rose to go, and after shaking
hands a second time with Fan, turned towards the other ladies and
included them both in a bow, when Constance stood up and held out her
hand to him. As he advanced to her Mary also rose to her feet, as if
anxious to keep the hem of her dress out of his way, and stood with
averted face. From Constance, after he had shaken hands with her, he
glanced at the other's face, still averted, which had grown so strangely
white and still, and for a moment longer hesitated. Then the face turned
to him, and their eyes met, each trying as it were to fathom the other's
thought, and Mary's lips quivered, and putting out her hand she spoke
with trembling voice--"Captain Horton--Jack--for Fan's sake--I forgive
you."

"God bless you for that, Mary," he said in a low voice, taking her hand
and bending lower and lower until his lips touched her fingers. Next
moment he was gone from the room.

Mary dropped back on to the sofa, and covered her eyes with her hand:
then Constance, seeing Fan approaching her, left the room.

"Dear Mary, I am so glad," said the girl, putting her hand on the
other's shoulder.

But Mary started as if stung, and shook the hand off. "I don't want your
caresses," she said, after hastily glancing round the room to make sure
that Constance was not in it. "I am not glad, I can assure you. I was
wrong to say that you had plotted to get me to meet him; it was not the
literal truth, but I had good grounds to think it. All that has happened
has been through your machinations. I should have gone on hating him
always if you had not worked on my feelings in that way. _You_ have made
me forgive that man, and I almost hate you for it. If the result
should be something you little expect--if it brings an end to our
friendship--you will only have yourself to thank for it."

Fan looked hurt at the words, but made no reply. Mary sat for some time
in sullen silence, and then rose to go.

"I can't stay any longer," she said. "I feel too much disgusted with
myself for having been such a fool to remain any longer with you." Then,
in a burst of passion, she added, "And that girl--Mrs. Chance--unless
she is as pitifully meek and lamb-like as yourself, what a contemptible
creature she must think me! Of course you have told her the whole
delightful story. And she probably thinks that I am still--fond of him!
It is horrible to think of it. For _your_ sake I forgave him, but I wish
I had died first."

Fan caught her by the hand. "Mary, are you mad?" she exclaimed. "Oh,
what a poor opinion you must have of me if you imagine that I have ever
whispered a word to Constance about that affair."

"Oh, you haven't!" said Mary beginning to smooth her ruffled plumes.
"Well, I'm sorry I said it; but what explanations are you going to give
of this scene? It must have surprised her very much."

"I shall simply tell her that you were deeply offended at something
you had heard about Captain Horton, and had resolved never to see him
again--never to forgive him."

"That's all very well about me; but he said in her hearing some rubbish
about you being his intercessor, and that he had been as much your enemy
as mine. What will you say about that?"

"Nothing. I'm not a child, Mary, to be made to tell things I don't wish
to speak about. But you don't know Constance, or you would not think her
capable of questioning me."

"Then, dear Fan, I must ask you again to forgive me. I ought to have
known you better than to fear such a thing for a moment. But, Fan, you
must make some allowance; it was so horrible trying to meet him in that
way, and--my anger got the better of me, and one is always unjust at
such times. They say," she added with a little laugh, "that an angry
woman's instinct is always to turn and rend somebody, and after he had
gone I had nobody but you to rend."

Her temper had suddenly changed; she was smiling and gracious and
bright-eyed, and full of rich colour again.

"Then, Mary, you will stay a little longer and take tea with us?" said
Fan quietly, but about forgiveness she said nothing.

Just then Constance came back to the room.

"Oh, Mrs. Chance," said Mary, "I have been waiting to say good-bye to
you, and--to apologise to you for having made such a scene the first
time we have been together. I am really ashamed of myself, but Fan will
tell you"--glancing at the girl--"that I had only too good reason to be
deeply offended with that--with Captain Horton. Fan wants me to stay to
tea, but I will do so only on the condition that you both take tea with
me at Dawson Place to-morrow afternoon."

Constance agreed gladly; Fan less gladly, which caused Mary to look
searchingly at her. During tea she continued in the same agreeable
temper, evidently anxious only to do away with the unpleasant impression
she had made on Mrs. Chance by her disordered manner and language, which
had contrasted badly with the Captain's quiet dignity.

Finally, when she took her departure, Fan, still strangely quiet and
grave-eyed, accompanied her to the door. "Thank you so much for coming,
Mary," she said, a little coldly. They were standing in the hall, and
the other attentively studied her face for some moments.

"Are you still so deeply offended with me?" she said. "Can you not
forgive me, Fan?"

"Not now, Mary," the other returned, casting down her eyes. "I can't
forgive you just yet for treating me in that way--for saying such things
to me. I shall try to forget it before to-morrow."

Mary made no reply, nor did she move; and Fan, after waiting some time,
looked at her, not as she had expected, to find her friend's eyes fixed
on her own, but to see them cast down and full of tears.

"I am sorry you are crying, dear Mary," she said, with a slight tremor
in her voice. "But--it can make no difference--I mean just now. I feel
that I cannot forgive you now."

"How unfeeling you are, Fan! Do you remember what you said the other
night, that if I shut my door against you you would come and sit on the
doorstep?"

"Yes, I remember very well."

"And it makes no difference?"

"No, not now."

"And I have so often treated you badly--so badly, and you have always
been ready to forgive me. Shall I tell you all the wicked things I have
done for which you have forgiven me?"

"No, you need not tell me. When you have treated me unkindly I have
always felt that there was something to be said for you--that it was a
mistake, and that I was partly to blame. But this is different. You
said a little while ago that you turned on me, when you were angry with
someone else, simply because I happened to be there for you to rend.
That is what I thought too."

"If I were to go down on my knees to you, would you forgive me?" said
Mary, with a slight smile, but still speaking with that unaccustomed
meekness.

"No, I should turn round and leave you. I do not wish to be mocked at."

Mary looked at her wonderingly. "Dear child, I am not mocking, heaven
knows. Will you not kiss me good-bye?"

Fan kissed her readily, but with no warmth, and murmured, "Good-bye,
Mary."

And even after that the other still lingered a few moments in the hall,
and then, glancing again at Fan's face and seeing no change, she opened
the door and passed out.



CHAPTER XLV


Returned from her visit, Miss Starbrow appeared for a time to have
recovered her serenity, and proceeded to change her dress for dinner,
softly humming an air to herself as she moved about the room. "Poor
Fan," she said, "how barbarous of me to treat her in that way--to say
that I almost hated her! No wonder she refused to forgive me; but her
resentment will not last long. And she does not know--she does not
know." And then suddenly, all the colour fading from her cheeks again,
she burst into a passion of weeping, violent as a tropical storm when
the air has been overcharged with electricity. It was quickly over, and
she dressed herself, and went down to her solitary dinner. After sitting
for a few minutes at the table, playing with her spoon, she rose and
ordered the servant to take the dinner away--she had no appetite. The
lamps were lighted in the drawing-room, and for some time she moved
about the floor, pausing at times to take up a novel she had been
reading from the table, only to throw it down again. Then she would go
to the piano, and without sitting down, touch the keys lightly. She was
and she was not in a mood to play. She was not in voice, and could not
sing. And at last she went away to a corner of the room which was most
in shadow, and sat down on a couch, and covered her eyes with her hand
to shut out the lamplight. "If he knew how it is with me to-night he
would certainly be here," she said. "And then it would all be over soon.
But he does not know--thank God!... Oh, what a fool I was to call him
'Jack'! That was the greatest mistake I made. But there is no help for
it now--he knows what I feel, and nothing, nothing can save me. Nothing,
if he were to come now. I wish he would come. If he knows that I am at
his mercy why does he not come? No, he will not come. He is satisfied;
he has got so much to-day--so much more than he had looked to get for
a long time to come. He will wait quietly now for fear of overdoing it.
Until Christmas probably, and then he will send a little gift, perhaps
write me a letter. And that is so far off--three months and a half--time
enough to breathe and think."

Just then a visitor's knock sounded loud at the door, and she started
to her feet, white and trembling with agitation. "Oh, my God! he has
come--he has guessed!" she exclaimed, pressing her hand on her throbbing
breast.

But it was a false alarm. The visitor proved to be a young gentleman
named Theed, aged about twenty-one, who was devoted to music and
sometimes sang duets with her. She would have none of his duets
to-night. She scarcely smiled when receiving him, and would scarcely
condescend to talk to him. She was in no mood for talking with this
immature young man--this boy, who came with his prattle when she wished
to be alone. It was very uncomfortable for him.

"I hope you are not feeling unwell, Miss Starbrow," he ventured to
remark.

"Feeling sick, the Americans say," she corrected scornfully. "Do I look
it?"

"You look rather pale, I think," he returned, a little frightened.

"Do I?" glancing at the mirror. "Ah, yes, that is because I am out of
rouge. I only use one kind; it is sent to me from Paris, and I let it
get too low before ordering a fresh supply."

He laughed incredulously.

Miss Starbrow looked offended. "Are you so shortsighted and so innocent
as to imagine that the colour you generally see on my face is natural,
Mr. Theed? What a vulgar blowzy person you must have thought me! If I
had such a colour naturally, I should of course use _blanc de perle_ or
something to hide it. There is a considerable difference--even a very
young man might see it, I should think--between rouge and the crude
blazing red that nature daubs on a milkmaid's cheeks."

He did not quite know how to take it, and changed the conversation, only
to get snubbed and mystified in the same way about other things,
until he was made thoroughly miserable; and in watching his misery she
experienced a secret savage kind of pleasure.

No sooner had he gone than she sat down to the piano, and began singing,
song after song, as she had never sung before--English, German, French,
Italian--songs of passion and of pain--Beethoven's _Kennst du das Land_,
and Spohr's _Rose softly blooming_, and Blumenthal's _Old, Old Story_,
and then _Il Segreto_ and _O mio Fernando_ and _Stride la vampa_, and
rising to heights she seldom attempted, _Modi ab modi_ and _Ab fors'
è lui che l'anima_; pouring forth without restraint all the long-pent
yearing of her heart, all the madness and misery of a desire which might
be expressed in no other way; until outside in the street the passers-by
slackened their steps and lingered before the windows, wondering at that
strange storm of melody. And at last, as an appropriate ending to such
a storm, Domencio Thorner's _Se solitaria preghi la sera_--that perfect
echo of the heart's most importunate feeling, and its fluctuatons, when
plangent passion sinks its voice like the sea, rocking itself to
rest, and nearly finds forgetful calm; until suddenly the old pain
revives--the pain that cannot keep silence, the hunger of the heart,
the everlasting sorrow--and swells again in great and greater waves of
melody.

There could be no other song after that. She shut the piano with a bang,
which caused the servants standing close to the door outside to jump and
steal hurriedly away on tiptoe to the kitchen.

Only ten o'clock! How was she to get through this longest evening of her
life? So early, but too late now to expect anyone; and as it grew later
that faintness of her heart, that trembling of her knees, which had
made her hold on to a chair for support--that shadow which his expected
coming had cast on her heart--passed off, and she was so strong and so
full of energy that it was a torture to her.

Alone there, shut up in her drawing-room, what could she do with her
overflowing strength? She could have scaled the highest mountain in the
world, and carried Mr. Whymper up in her arms; and there was nothing to
do but to read a novel, and then go to bed. She rose and angrily pushed
a chair or two out of the way to make a clear space, and then paced the
floor up and down, up and down, like some stately caged animal of the
feline kind, her lustrous eyes and dry pale lips showing the dull rage
in her heart. When eleven struck she rang the bell violently for the
servants to turn off the gas, and went to her room, slamming the doors
after her. After partly undressing she sat pondering for some time, and
then rose suddenly with a little laugh, and got her writing-case and
took paper and pen, and sat herself down to compose a letter. "Your time
has passed, Jack," she said. "I shall never make that mistake again. No,
I shall not bide your time. I shall use the opportunity you have given
me--poor fool!--and save myself. I shall write to Tom and confess my
weakness to him, and then all danger will be over. Poor old Tom, I
deserved all he said and more, and can easily forgive him to-night. And
then, Captain Jack, you can 'God-bless-you-for-that-Mary' me as much
as you like, and shed virtuous tears, and toil on in the straight and
narrow path until your red moustache turns white; and all the angels
in heaven may rejoice over your repentance if they like. _I_ shall not
rejoice or have anything more to do with you." But though the pen was
dashed spitefully into the ink many times, the ink dried from it again,
and the letter was not written; and at last she flung the pen down and
went to bed.

There was no rest to be got there; she tossed and turned from side
to side, and flung her arms about this way and that, and finding the
bedclothes too oppressive kicked them off. At length the bedroom clock
told the hour of twelve in its slow soft musical language. And still
she tossed and turned until it struck one. She rose and drew aside the
window-curtains to let the pale starlight shine into the room, and then
going back to bed sat propped up with the pillows. "Must I really wait
all that time," she said, "sitting still, eating my own heart--wait
through half of September, October, November, December--only to put my
neck under the yoke at last? Only to give myself meekly to one I shall
never look upon, even if I look on him every hour of every day to the
end of my days, without remembering the past? without remembering to
what a depth I have fallen--despising myself without recalling all the
hatred and the loathing I have felt for my lord and master! Oh, what
a poor weak, vile thing I am! No wonder I hate and despise women
generally, knowing what I am myself--a woman! Yes, a very woman--the
plaything, the creature, the slave of a man! Let him only be a man and
show his manhood somehow, by virtue or by vice, by god-like deeds or
by crimes, be they black as night, and she _must_ be his slave. Yes,
I know, 'Hell has no fury like a woman scorned'; but did _he_ know,
Congreve, or whoever it was, what a poor contemptible thing that fury
is? A little outburst of insanity, such as scores of miserable wretches
experience any day at Hanwell, and are strapped down, or thrust into a
padded room, have cold water dashed over them, until the fit is passed.
No doubt she will do any mad thing while it lasts, things that no man
would do, but it is quickly over, this contemptible short-lived fury;
and then she is a woman again, ready to drag herself through the mire
for her tyrant, ready to kiss the brutal hand that has smitten her--to
watch and wait and pine and pray for a smile from the lying bestial
lips, as the humble Christian prays for heaven! A woman--oh, what a poor
thing it is!"

The clock struck two. The sound started her, and changed the current
of her thoughts. "Even now it is not too late to write," she said. "The
pillar-boxes are cleared at three o'clock, the letter would be re-posted
to him to-morrow, and if he is in America he would get it in eight or
nine days." She got out of bed, lit a candle, and sat down again to her
letter, and this time she succeeded in writing it, but it was not the
letter she had meant to write.


  MY DEAR TOM [the letter ran],--If you are willing to let bygones
  be bygones I shall be very glad. I told you when we parted that I
  would never speak to you again, but I of course meant not until you
  made some advance and expressed sorrow for what you said to me; but I
  have altered my mind now, as I have a perfect right to do. At the
  same time I wish you to understand that I do not acknowledge having
  been in the wrong. On the contrary, I still hold, and always shall,
  that no one has any right to assume airs or authority over me, and
  dictate to me as you did. I should not suffer it from a husband, if I
  ever do such a foolish thing as to marry, certainly not from a
  brother. The others always went on the idea that they could dictate
  to me with impunity, but I suppose they see their mistake now, when I
  will not have anything to do with them, and ignore them altogether.
  You were always different and took my part, I must say, and I have
  never forgotten it, and it was therefore very strange to have you
  assuming that lofty tone, and interfering in my private affairs. For
  that is what it comes to, Tom, however you may try to disguise it and
  make out that it was a different matter. I do not wish to be
  unfriendly with you, as if you were no better than the other
  Starbrows; and I should be so glad if it could be the same as it was
  before this unhappy quarrel. For though I will never be dictated to
  by anyone about _anything_, it is a very good and pleasant thing
  to have someone in the world who is not actuated by mercenary motives
  to love and trust and confide in.

  If you have recovered from the unbrotherly temper you were in by
  this time, and have made the discovery that you were entirely to
  blame in that affair, and as unreasonable as even the best of men
  can't help being sometimes, I shall be very glad to see you on your
  return to England.

  I hope you are enjoying your travels, and that you find the
  _Murracan_ language easier to understand, if not to speak, than
  the French or German; also I sincerely hope that one effect of your
  trip will be to make you detest the Yankees as heartily as I do.

  Your loving Sister,

  Mary Starbrow.

  P.S.--Do not delay to come to me when you arrive, as I am most
  anxious to consult you about something, and shall also have some news
  which you will perhaps be pleased to hear. You will probably find me
  at home in London.


She had written the letter rapidly, and then, as if afraid of again
changing her mind about it, thrust it unread into the envelope, and
directed it to her brother's London agent, to be forwarded immediately.
Then she went to the window and raised the sash to look out and listen.
There was no sound at that hour except the occasional faintly-heard
distant rattling of a cab. Only half-past two! What should she do to
pass the time before three o'clock? Smiling to herself she went back
to the table, and still pausing at intervals to listen, wrote a note to
Fan.


  Darling Fan,--I am so sorry--so very sorry that I grieved you to-day--I
  mean yesterday--with my unkind words, and again ask your forgiveness. I
  know that you will forgive me, dearest, and perhaps you forgave me before
  closing your eyes in sleep, for you must be sleeping now. But when I
  meet you to-morrow--I mean to-day--and see forgiveness in your sweet
  eyes, I shall be as glad as if I had hoped for no such sweet thing.
  Since I parted from you I have felt very unhappy about different
  things--too unhappy to sleep. It is now forty minutes past two, and
  if this letter is posted by three you will get it in the morning. I
  have my bedroom window open so as to hear if a policeman passes; but
  if one should not pass I will just slip an ulster over my nightdress
  and run to the pillar-box myself Good-night, darling--I mean
  good-morning.

  MARY.

  P.S.--It has been raining, I fancy, as the pavement looks wet, and
  it seems cold too; but as a little penance for my unkindness to you,
  I shall run to the post with bare feet. But be not alarmed, child; if
  inflammation of the lungs carries me off in three weeks' time I shall
  not be vexed with you, but shall look down smilingly from the sky,
  and select one of the prettiest stars there to drop it down on your
  forehead.


That little penance was not required; before many minutes had
elapsed the slow, measured, elephantine tread of the perambulating
night-policeman woke the sullen echoes of Dawson Place, and if there
were any evil-doers lurking thereabouts, caused them to melt away into
the dim shadows. Taking her letters, a candle, and a shilling which she
had in readiness, Miss Starbrow ran down to the door, opened it softly
and called the man to her, and gave him the letters to post and the
shilling for himself. And then, feeling greatly relieved and very
sleepy, she went back to bed, and tossed no more.



CHAPTER XLVI


The unbroken greyness out of doors, and the gusty wind sending the dead
curled-up leaves whirling through the chilly air, or racing over the
pavement of Dawson Place, made Miss Starbrow's dining-room look very
warm and pleasant one morning early in the month of October. The
fire burning brightly in the grate, and the great white and yellow
chrysanthemums in the blue pot on the breakfast-table, spoke of autumn
and coming cold; and the fire and the misty flowers in their colours
looked in harmony with the lady's warm terra-cotta red dressing-gown,
trimmed with slaty-grey velvet; in harmony also with her face, so richly
tinted and so soft in its expression, as she sat there leisurely sipping
her coffee and reading a very long letter which the morning post had
brought her. The letter was as follows:


DEAR MARY,--We have now been here a whole week, and I have more to tell
you than I ever put in one letter before. Why do we always say that time
flies quickly when we are happy? I am happiest in the country, and yet
the days here seem so much longer than in town; and I seem to have lived
a whole month in one week, and yet it has been such an exceedingly happy
one. How fresh and peaceful and _homelike_ it all seemed to me when we
arrived! It was like coming back to my birthplace once more, and having
all the sensations of a happy childhood returning to me. My _happy_
childhood began so late!

But I must begin at the beginning and tell you everything. At first it
was a little distressing. In the house, I mean, for out of doors there
could be no change. You can't imagine how beautiful the woods look in
their brown and yellow foliage. And the poor people I used to visit all
seemed so glad to see me again, and all called me "Miss Affleck," which
made it like old times. But Mrs. Churton received us almost as if
we were strangers, and I could see that she had not got over the
unhappiness both Constance and I had caused her. She was not unkind
or cold, but she was not _motherly_; and while she studied to make us
comfortable, she spoke little, and did not seem to take any interest in
our affairs, and left us very much to ourselves. It seemed so unnatural.
And one morning, when we had been three days in the house, she was not
well enough to go out after breakfast, and Constance offered to go and
do something for her in the village. She consented a little stiffly, and
when we were left alone together I felt very uncomfortable, and at last
sat down by her and took her hand in mine. She looked surprised but said
nothing, which made it harder for me; but after a moment I got courage
to say that it grieved me to see her looking so sad and ill, and that
during all the time since I left Eyethorne I had never ceased to think
of her and to remember that she had made me look on her as a mother.
Then she began to cry; and afterwards we sat talking together for a long
time--quite an hour, I think--and I told her all about our hard life in
town, and she was astonished and deeply pained to hear what Constance
had gone through. For she knew nothing about it; she only knew that her
daughter had married Merton and was a widow and poor. I am so glad I
told her, though it made her unhappy at first, because it has made such
a difference. When Constance at last came in and found us still sitting
there together, Mrs. Churton got up and put her arms round her and
kissed her, but was unable to speak for crying. Since then she has been
so different to both of us; and when she questioned me about spiritual
things she seemed quite surprised and pleased to find that I was not an
infidel, and no worse than when I was with her. I think that in her
own heart she sets it down to Constance not having exerted herself to
convert me, thinking, I suppose, that it would have been very easy to
have done so. There is no harm in her thinking that, only it is not
true. Now she even speaks to Constance on such subjects, and tries to
win her back to her old beliefs; and although Constance does not say
much, for she knows how useless it would be, she listens very quietly to
everything, and without any sign of impatience.

With so much to make me happy, will you think me very greedy and
discontented if I say that I should like to be still happier? I confess
that there are several little, or big, things I still wish and hope for
every day, and without them I cannot feel altogether contented. I must
name two or three of them to you, but I am afraid to begin with the most
important. I must slowly work up to that at the end. Arthur has not yet
returned to England, and I am so anxious to see him again; but he says
nothing definite in his letters about returning. I have just had a
letter from him, which I shall show you when I see you, for he speaks
of you in it. After all I have told him about you he must feel that he
knows you very well.

Another thing. Since we have been here Constance has read me the first
chapters of the book she is writing. It is a very beautiful story, I
think; but it will be her first book, and as her name is unknown, she
is afraid that the publishers will not have it. That is one thing that
troubles me, for she says she must make her living by writing, and I am
almost as anxious as she is herself about it.

Another thing is about you, Mary. Why, when we love each other so
much--for you can't deny that you love me as much as I do you, and I
know how much that is--why must we keep apart just now, when you can so
easily get into a train and come to me? To _us_ I should say, for I know
how glad Constance would be to have you here. Dear Mary, will you come,
if only for a fortnight--if only for a week? You remember that you
wanted to go to the seaside or somewhere with me. Well, if you will come
and join us here we might afterwards all go to Sidmouth for a short (or
long) stay; for you and I together would be able to persuade Constance
to go with us. My wish is so strong that it has made me believe you will
come, and I have even spoken to Constance and Mrs. Churton about it, and
they would give you a nice room; and you would be my guest, Mary; and if
you should object to that, then you could pay Mrs. Churton for yourself.
I have a great many other things to say to you, but shall not write
them, in the hope that you will come to hear them from my lips. Only one
thing I must mention, because it might vex you, and had therefore best
be written. You must not think because I go back to the subject that I
have any doubt about Tom being in the wrong in that quarrel you told me
about; but I must say again, Mary, that if he was in the wrong, it is
for you rather than for him to make the first advance. I would rather
people offended me sometimes than not to have the pleasure of forgiving.
Forgive me, dearest Mary, for saying this; but I can say it better than
another, since no one in the world knows so well as I do how good you
are.

And now, dearest Mary, good-bye, and come--come to your loving

FRANCES EDEN.


She had read this letter once, and now while sipping her second cup
of coffee was reading it again, when the door opened and Tom Starbrow
walked into the room.

"Good-morning, Mary," he said, coming forward and coolly sitting down at
some distance from her.

She had not heard him knock, and his sudden appearance made her start
and the colour forsake her cheeks; but in a moment she recovered
her composure, and returned, "Good-morning, Tom, will you have some
breakfast?"

"No, thanks. I breakfasted quite early at Euston. I came up by a night
train, and might have been here an hour or two ago, but preferred to
wait until your usual getting-up hour."

"I suppose you got my letter in America?"

"Yes, I am here in answer to your letter."

"It was very good of you to come so soon, especially as it was entirely
about my private affairs."

"I could not know that, Mary. That high and mighty letter of yours told
me nothing except what I knew already--that I have a sister. In the
postscript you said you wished to consult me about something, and had
things to tell me. Your letter reached me in Canada. I was just
getting ready to return to New York, and had made up my mind to go to
California; then down the Pacific coast to Chili, and from there over
the Andes, and across country to Buenos Ayres on the Atlantic side, and
then by water to Brazil, and afterwards home. After getting your letter
I came straight to England."

"I should think that after coming all that distance you might at least
have shaken hands with your sister."

"No, Mary, the time to shake hands has not yet come; that you must know
very well. You did not say in your letter what you had to tell me, but
only that you had _something_ to tell me; remembering what we parted
in anger about, and knowing that you know how deeply I feel on that
subject, I naturally concluded that you wished to see me about it. I do
not wish to be trifled with."

"I am not accustomed to trifle with you or with anyone," retorted his
sister with temper. "If your imagination is too lively, I am not to
blame for it. I asked you to come and see me on your return to England,
not to rush back in hot haste from America as if on a matter of life and
death. It is quite a new thing for you to be so impetuous."

"Is that all you have to say to me then--have you brought me here only
to talk to me in the old strain?"

"I have--I _had_ a great many things to say to you, but was in no hurry
to say them; and since you have come in this very uncomfortable frame
of mind I think it best to hold my peace. My principal object in writing
was to show you that I did not wish to be unfriendly."

He got up from his chair, looking deeply disappointed, even angry, and
moved restlessly about for a minute or two. Near the door he paused
as if in doubt whether to go away at once without more words or not.
Finally he returned and sat down again. "Mary," he said, "you have not
treated me well; but I am now here in answer to your letter. Perhaps
I was mistaken in its meaning, but I have no wish to make our quarrel
worse than it is. Let me hear what you have to say to me; and if you
require my advice or assistance, you shall certainly have it. If I
cannot feel towards you as I did in the good old times, I shall, at any
rate, not forget that you are my sister."

"That's a good old sensible boy," she returned, smiling. "But, Tom,
before we begin talking I should like you to read this letter, which I
was reading when you came in so suddenly. Probably you noticed that I
took what you said just now very meekly; well, that was the effect of
reading this letter, it is written in such a gentle soothing spirit. If
you will read it it might have the same quieting effect on your nerves
as it did on mine."

He took the letter without a smile, glanced at a sentence here and
there, and looked at the name at the end. "Pooh!" he exclaimed, "do you
really wish me to wade through eight closely-written pages of this sort
of stuff--the outpourings of a sentimental young lady? I see nothing in
it except the very eccentric handwriting, and the fact that this
Frances Eden--girl or woman--doesn't put the gist of the matter into a
postscript."

"You needn't sneer. And you won't read it? Frances Eden is Fan."

"Fan--your Fan! Fan Affleck! Is she married then?"

"No, only changed her name to Eden--it was her father's name. Give me
the letter back."

"Not till I have read it," he calmly returned. "Mary," he said at last,
looking up, "this letter more than justifies what I have said to you
dozens of times. No sweeter spirit ever existed."

"All that about the outpourings of a sentimental girl or woman?"

"I could never have said that if I had read the letter."

"And the eccentric writing--you admire that now, I suppose?"

"I do. I never saw more beautiful writing in my life."

Mary laughed.

"You needn't laugh," he said. "If I were you I should feel more inclined
to cry. Tell me honestly now, from your heart, do you feel no remorse
when you remember how you treated that girl--the girl who wrote you this
letter; that I first saw in this room, standing there in a green dress
with a great bunch of daffodils in her hand, and looking shyly at me
from under those dark eyelashes? I thought then that I had never seen
such tender, beautiful eyes in my life. Come, Mary, don't be too proud
to acknowledge that you acted very harshly--very unjustly."

"No, Tom, I acted justly; she brought it on herself. But I did not act
mercifully, and I will tell you why. When I threatened to cast her off
I spoke in anger--I had good reasons to be angry with her--but I should
not have done it; I should only have taken her away from those Churton
people, and kept her in London, or sent her elsewhere. But my words
brought that storm from you on my head, and that settled it; after that
I could not do less than what I had threatened to do."

"If that is really so I am very sorry," he said. "But all's well that
ends well; only I must say, Mary, that it was unkind of you to receive
me as you did and tease me so before telling me that you were in
correspondence with the girl once more."

"You are making a great mistake, I only tease those I like; but as for
you, you have not even apologised to me yet, and I should not think of
being so friendly with you as to tease you."

He laughed, and going to her side caught her in his strong arms and
kissed her in spite of her resistance.

The resistance had not been great, but presently she wiped the cheek he
had kissed, and said with a look of returning indignation, "I should
not have allowed you to kiss me if I had remembered that you have never
apologised for the insulting language you used to me at Ravenna, when
you called me a demon."

"Did I call you a demon at Ravenna?"

"Yes, you did."

"Then, Mary, I am heartily ashamed of myself and beg your pardon now.
There can be no justification, but at the same time--"

"You wish to justify yourself."

"No, no, certainly not; but I was scarcely myself at that moment, and
you certainly did your best to vex me about Fan and other matters."

"What do you mean by other matters?"

"You know that I am alluding to Mr. Yewdell, and the way you treated
him. I could not have believed it of you. I began to think that I had
the most--well, capricious woman in all Europe for a sister."

"Poor man!"

"No, it is not poor man in this case, but poor woman. For you
contemptuously flung away the best chance of happiness that ever came to
you. I dare say that you have had offers in plenty--you have some money,
and therefore of course you would get offers--but not from Yewdells.
That could not happen to you more than once in your life. A
better-hearted fellow, a truer man--"

"Call him a Nature's nobleman at once and have done with it."

"Yes, a Nature's nobleman; you couldn't have described him better. A man
I should have been proud to call a brother, and who loved you not for
your miserable pelf, for that was nothing to him, but for yourself, and
with a good honest love. And he would have made you happy, Mary, not by
giving way to you as you might imagine from his unfailing good temper
and gentleness, but by being your master. For that is what you want,
Mary--a man that will rule you. And Yewdell was that sort of man, gentle
but firm--"

"Oh, do be original, Tom, and say something pretty about a steel hand
under a silk glove."

"Ah, well, you may scoff if you like, but perhaps you regret now that
you went so far with him. A mercenary man, or even a mean-spirited man,
would have put up with it perhaps, and followed you still. He respected
himself too much to do that. He paid you the greatest compliment a
man has it in his power to pay a woman, and you did not know how to
appreciate it. You scorned him, and he turned away from you for ever. If
you were to go to him now, though you cast yourself on your knees before
him, to ask him to renew that offer, he would look at you with stony
eyes and pass on--"

"Stony fiddlesticks! That just shows, Tom, how well you know your own
sex. Why, Mr. Yewdell and I are the best friends in the world, and he
writes to me almost every week, and very nice letters, only too long, I
think."

Her brother stared at her and almost gasped with astonishment.

"Well, I am surprised and glad," he said, recovering his speech at last.
"It was worth crossing the Atlantic only to hear this."

"Don't make any mistake, Tom. I am no more in love with him now than
when we were in Italy together."

"All right, Mary. In future I shall do nothing but abuse him, and then
perhaps it will all come right in the end. And now about this letter
from Fan. Will you go down to that place where she is staying?"

"I don't know, I should like to go. I have not yet made up my mind."

"Do go, Mary; and then I might run down and put up for a day or two at
the 'Cow and Harrow,' or whatever the local inn calls itself, to have a
stroll with you among those brown and yellow woods she writes about."

She did not answer his words. He was standing on the hearthrug watching
her face, and noticed the change, the hesitancy and softness which had
come over it.

"You are fonder now than ever of this girl," he said. "She draws you to
her. Confess, Mary, that she has great influence over you, and that she
is doing you good."

Her lips quivered a little, and she half averted her face.

"Yes, she draws me to her, and I cannot resist her. But I don't know
about her doing me good, unless it be a good of which evil may come."

"What do you mean, Mary? There is something on your mind. Don't be
afraid to confide in me."

She got up and came to his side; she could not speak sitting there with
his eyes on her.

"Do you remember the confession I made to you when we were at Naples?
When you spoke to me about Yewdell, and I said that I never wished to
marry? I confessed that I had allowed myself to love a man, knowing
him to be no good man. But in spite of reason I loved him, and did not
believe him altogether bad--not too bad to be my husband. Then something
happened--I found out something about him which killed my love, or
changed it to hatred rather. I despised myself for having given him my
heart, and was free again as if I had never seen him. I even thought
that I might some day love someone else, only that the time had not yet
come. But what will you think of the sequel? I did not tell you when I
discovered his true character that Fan was living with me, and knew
the whole affair--knew all that I knew--and that--she was very deeply
affected by it. Now, since Fan and I have been thrown together once
more, she has accidentally met this man again, and has persuaded herself
that he has repented of his evil courses, and she has forgiven him,
and become friendly with him, and, what is worse, has set her heart on
making me forgive him."

"It is heavenly to forgive, Mary."

"Yes, very likely; in _her_ case it might be right enough; she is only
acting according to her--"

"Fanlights," interrupted her brother. "But to what does all this tend?
If you feel inclined to forgive this man his past sins you can do so, I
suppose, without throwing yourself into his arms."

"The trouble is, Tom, that I can't separate the two things. No sooner
did Fan begin to speak to me again of him, telling me about his new
changed life, and insinuating that it would be a gracious and noble
thing in me to forgive him, than all the old feeling came back to me.
I have fought against it with my whole strength, but what is reason
against a feeling like that! And then most unhappily I met him by
chance, and--and I gave him my hand and forgave him, and even called
him by his Christian name as I had been accustomed to do. And now I feel
that--I cannot resist him."

"Good heavens, Mary, are you such a slave to a feeling as that! Who is
this man--what is he like, and how does he live?"

"He is a gentleman, and was in the army, but is now on the Stock
Exchange, and winning his way, I hear, in the world. He is about
thirty-five, tall, very good-looking--_I_ think; and he is also a
cultivated man, and has a very fine voice. Even before I had that
feeling for him I liked him more than any man I ever knew. Perhaps," she
added with a little anxious laugh, "the reason I loved him was because I
knew that--if I ever married him--he--would rule me."

Her brother considered for some time. "I remember what you told me,
Mary. You said that this man had proved himself a scoundrel, but you
sometimes use extravagant language. Now there are a great many bad
things a man may do, and yet not be hopelessly bad. Passion gets the
mastery, the moral feelings may for a time appear obliterated; but in
time they revive--like that feeling of yours; and one who has seemed a
bad man may settle down at last into a rather good fellow. Confide in
me, Mary--I will not judge harshly. Let me hear the very worst you know
of him."

She shook her head, smiling a little.

"You will not? Then how am I to help you, and why have you told me so
much?"

"My trouble is that you can't help me, Tom. My belief is that no man who
is worth anything ever changes. His circumstances change and he adapts
himself to them, but that is all on the surface. Can you imagine your
Mr. Yewdell something vile, degenerate, weak--a gambler, a noisy fool, a
braggart, a tippler--"

"Good heavens, no!"

She laughed. "Nor can I imagine the man we are talking of a good man;
nor can I believe that there is any change in him. If I had thought
that--if I had taken Fan's views, I should not have forgiven him. Then
I should not have been in danger. As it is--" She did not finish the
sentence.

"As it is you are in danger, and deliberately refuse to let me help
you." Then in a kind of despair, he added, "I know how headstrong
you are, and that the slightest show of opposition only makes matters
worse--what _can_ I do?"

"Nothing," she answered in a very low voice. "But, Tom, you must know
that it was hard for me to write you that letter, and that it has been
harder still to make this confession. Can't you see what I mean? Well, I
mean that I find it very refreshing to have a good talk with you. I
hope you are not going to disappear into space again as soon as our
conversation is over."

"No," he returned with a slight laugh, and a glance at her downcast
eyes, "I am an idle man just now, and intend making a long stay in
London."



CHAPTER XLVII


On the beach at Sidmouth, about noon one day in the last week of
November, a day of almost brilliant sunshine despite the season, with
a light dry west wind crinkling the surface of the sea, Mary and
Constance, with Fan between them, were seated on a heap of shingle
sheltered from the wind by a sloping bank. Constance, with hands folded
over the closed book on her lap, sat idly gazing on the blue expanse of
water, watching the white little wave-crests that formed only to vanish
so quickly. The quiet restful life she had experienced since Merton's
death had had its effect; her form had partially recovered its
roundness, her face something of that rich brown tint that had given a
peculiar character to her beauty; the melancholy in her tender eyes was
no longer "o'erlaid with black," but was more like the clear dark of
early morning that tells of the passing of night and of the long day
that is to be. She was like the Constance of the old days at Eyethorne,
and yet unlike; something had been lost, something gained; for Nature,
archaeologist and artist, is wiser than man in her restorations,
restoring never on the old vanished lines. She was changed, but unhappy
experience had left no permanent bitterness in her heart, nor made her
world-weary, nor cynical, nor discontented; life's unutterable sadness
had only served to deepen her love and widen her sympathies. And this
was pure gain, compensation for the loss of that which had vanished and
would not return--the virgin freshness when the tender early light is
in the eye, and the lips are dewy, and no flower has yet perished in the
heart.

To Fan at her side, interested in her novel, yet glancing up from time
to time to see what her friends were doing, and perhaps make a random
guess at their thoughts, these weeks of country and seaside life with
those she loved had added a new brightness to her refined and delicate
face. The autumn sunshine had not embrowned the transparent skin, but
the red of the lips seemed deeper, and the ethereal almond-blossom tint
on the cheeks less uncertain.

Mary was not reading, nor thinking apparently, but sat idly humming a
tune and picking up pebbles only to throw them from her. She appeared
to have no care at her heart, to be satisfied with the mere fact of
existence while the sun shone as it did to-day, and wind and waters made
music. That beautiful red colour that seldom failed her looked richer
than ever on her cheeks; her abundant black hair hung loose on her back
to dry in the wind. For she was a great sea-bather, and while the wintry
cold of the water repelled her companions, she enjoyed her daily swim,
sometimes creating alarm by her boldness in going far out to battle with
the rough waves.

First there had been a pleasant fortnight at Eyethorne; and during those
days of close intimacy in the Churtons' small house and out of doors,
the kindly feelings Mary and Constance had begun to experience towards
each other in London had ripened to a friendship so close that Fan might
very well have been made a little jealous at it if she had been that way
predisposed. She only felt that the highest object of her ambitions had
been gained, that her happiness was complete. There was nothing more to
be desired. The present was enough for her; if she thought of the future
at all it was only in a vague way, as she might think of the French
coast opposite, too far off to be visible, but where she would perhaps
set her foot in other years.

At Eyethorne many letters had come to them all. Letters from Arthur
Eden, who spoke of returning soon from Continental wanderings, and of
coming down to see his sister in the country. And from Captain Horton,
also to Fan, with one at last to Mary, begging them to allow him to come
down from London to spend a few days with them. And from Mr. Northcott
to Constance--letters full of friendliest feeling, no longer resented,
and of some speculative matter; for these two had discovered an infinite
number of deep questions that called for discussion. To those questions
that concerned the spirit and were of first importance, the first place
was given; but there were also worldly affairs to correspond about, for
Constance had sent her manuscript to the curate for his opinion, and he
had kept it some time to get another (more impartial) opinion, and now
wished to submit it to a publisher. He had also expressed the intention
of visiting Eyethorne shortly.

Eventually he came; he even preached once more in the old familiar
pulpit at the invitation of the vicar, who had not treated him too well.
On the Saturday evening before preaching, he said to Constance:

"Once I was eager to persuade you to come to church to hear me; will you
think it strange if I ask you _not_ to come on this occasion?"

"Why?" she returned, looking anxiously at him. "Do you mean that you are
going to make some allusion to--"

"No, Constance. But my discourse will be about my life at the East
End of London, and what I have seen there. I shall talk not of ancient
things but of the present--that sad present we both know. You can
realise it all so vividly--it will be painful to you."

"I had made up my mind to go. Thank you for warning me, but I shall go
all the same."

"I am glad."

"You must not jump to any conclusions, Harold," she said, glancing at
him.

"No," he replied, and went away with a shadow on his face that was
scarcely a shadow.

After all, she was able to listen to his sermon with outward calm. But
it was a happiness to Mrs. Churton when Wood End House sent so large a
contingent of worshippers to the village church, where the pew in which
she had sat alone on so many Sundays--poor Mr. Churton's increasing
ailments having prevented him from accompanying her--was so well filled.
Glancing about her, as was her custom, to note which of her poor were
present and which absent, she was surprised to see the carpenter Cawood,
with his wife and little ones, his eyes resting on the young girl at her
side, and it made her glad to think that she had not perhaps angled in
vain for this catcher of silly fish.

The curate had not been long in the village before Tom Starbrow appeared
and established himself at the "Eyethorne Inn"; but most of his time was
spent at Wood End House, and in long drives and rambles with his sister
and Fan. Then had come the migration to Sidmouth, Tom and the curate
accompanying the ladies. Shortly afterwards Fan heard from her brother;
he was back in London, and proposed running down to pay her a visit. It
was a pleasant letter he wrote, and she had no fear of meeting him now;
he had recovered from his madness, or, to put it another way, from a
feeling that was not convenient.

"Have you answered your brother yet?" said Mary, the morning after
Arthur's letter had been received. "I am awfully anxious to see him."

"No, not yet; I wish to ask you something first. Arthur says he will
come down as soon as he gets my reply. And--I should like Captain Horton
to come with him."

"They are strangers to each other, I believe," said Mary coldly.

"Yes, I know, but my idea was to send a note to Captain Horton at the
same time, asking him to call on Arthur at his rooms, and arrange to
come down with him. But I must ask your consent first."

"Why my consent? Your brother is coming at your invitation, and I
suppose you have the same right you exercise in his case to ask anyone
you like without my permission. You may if you think proper invite all
the people you have ever met in London, and tell them to bring their
relations and friends with them. I am not the proprietor of Sidmouth."

"But, Mary, the cases are so different. You know Captain Horton, and
though he is my friend, and I consider myself greatly in his debt--" The
other laughed scornfully.

"Still, I should not think of asking him to come unless you were willing
to meet him."

"My knowing him makes no difference. I happen to be perfectly
indifferent, and care as little whether he comes or not as if he were an
absolute stranger. Less, in fact, for your brother is a stranger to me,
and I am anxious to meet him."

Fan reflected a little, then, with a smiling look and pleading tone, she
said:

"If you are really quite indifferent about it, Mary, you will not refuse
to let me couple your name with mine when I ask him to come down. That
would be nothing more than common politeness, I think."

"Use my name? I shall consent to nothing of the sort!" But as she turned
to leave the room Fan caught her hand and pulled her back.

"Don't go yet, Mary dear," she said; "we have not yet quite settled what
to do."

The other looked at her, a little frown on her forehead, a half-smile on
her lips.

"Very well, Fan, hear my last word, then take your own course. I quite
understand your wheedling ways, and I have so often given way that you
have come to think you can do just what you like with me. You have yet
to learn that when my mind is once made up about anything you might just
as well attempt to move the Monument as to move me. You shall not couple
my name with yours; and if you are going to ask Captain Horton down
here, I advise you, to prevent mistakes, to inform him that I distinctly
refuse to join you in the invitation."

Fan, without replying, sat down before her writing-case. The other
paused at the door, and after hesitating a few moments came back and put
her hands on the girl's shoulder.

"I know exactly what you are going to do, Fan," she spoke, "for you are
perfectly transparent, and I can read you like a book. You are going
to write one of your very simple candid letters to tell him what I have
said, and then finish by asking him to come down with Mr. Eden."

"Yes, that is what I am going to do."

"Then, my dear girl, I should like to ask you a simple straightforward
question: What is your _motive_ in acting in this way?"

"My motive, Mary! Just now you said you could read me like a book;
must I begin to think that you boast a little too much--or are you only
pretending to be ignorant?"

"You grow impertinent, Miss Eden," said the other with a laugh. "But if
your motive is what I imagine, then, thank goodness, your efforts are
wasted. Listen to this. If, instead of being a young innocent girl, you
were an ancient, shrivelled-up, worldly-minded woman, with a dried-up
puff-ball full of blue dust for a heart, and a scheming brain
manufactured by Maskelyne and Cook; and if you had Captain Horton for a
son, and had singled me out for his victim, you could not have done more
to put me in his power."

Fan glanced into her face, then dropped her eyes and turned crimson.

"Have I frightened the shy little innocent? Doesn't she like to have her
wicked little plans exposed?" said the other mockingly.

"Can you not read me better, Mary?" said Fan; but her face was still
bent over her writing-case, nor would she say more, although the other
stood by waiting.

Nor would Mary question her any further. She had said too much already,
and shame made her silent.

When Captain Horton read her letter one thing only surprised him--the
reality and completeness of the forgiveness he had won from the girl,
her faith in his better nature, the single-hearted friendship she freely
gave him. He could never cease to be surprised at it. Mary's attitude,
so faithfully reported, did not surprise or discourage him; hers was a
more complex nature: she had given him her hand, and he believed that in
spite of everything something of the old wayward passion still existed
in her heart. The opportunity of meeting her again, where he might be
with her a great deal, was not to be neglected, and he did not greatly
fear the result.

Two or three days later he arrived with Arthur Eden at Sidmouth, so that
the party now numbered seven. It was a pleasant gathering, for Mary
did not quarrel with Fan for what she had done; nor was Tom Starbrow
unfriendly towards his sister's lover; and as to Eden, he had grafted
a new and better stock on that wild olive that had flourished so
vigorously; and it thus came to pass that they spent an unclouded
fortnight together. But that is perhaps saying a little too much. Four
men and three women, so that when they broke up there was one dame
always attended by two cavaliers: strange to say, Fan was always the
favoured one. For some occult reason no one contested the curate's right
to have Constance all to himself on such occasions; for what right had
he, a religious man, to monopolise this pretty infidel? Then, too, she
was a widow, entitled by prescription to the largest share of attention;
nevertheless, the curate was allowed to have her all to himself whenever
the party broke up into couples and one inconvenient triplet.

Arthur Eden was most inconsiderate. There were whispers and signs for
those who had ears to hear and eyes to see, but he chose not to see and
hear. On all occasions when he found an opportunity or could make one,
he took possession of Miss Starbrow; while she, on her part, appeared
willing enough to be taken possession of by him. Their sudden liking
to each other seemed strange, considering the great difference in
their dispositions; but about the fact there was no mistake, they were
constantly absent together on long drives and walks, exploring the
adjacent country, lunching at distant rural villages, and coming home to
dinner glowing with health and happy as young lovers.

And while these two were thus taken up with each other, and the curate
and widow soberly paced the cliffs or sat on the beach discoursing
together of lofty matters--of the mysteries of our being and the hunger
of the spirit, and argued of fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,
wandering through eternity without lighting on any fresh discovery of
importance in that extensive field--Fan not infrequently found herself
taking part in a somewhat monotonous trio, with the Captain, baritone,
or basso rather, for he was rather depressed in mind, and Tom, tenor,
an artist who sang with feeling, but with insufficient control over his
voice.

And one day this gentle maiden, having got her brother all to herself,
began "at him":

"I am very glad, Arthur, that you and Mary are such good friends."

"I'm so glad that you are glad that I'm glad," he returned airily,
quoting Mallock.

"At the same time--"

"Oh, yes, now you are going to say something to spoil it all, I
suppose," he interrupted.

"I can't help thinking that it is not quite fair to the others to
carry her off day after day--especially after she has not been with her
brother for so long a time."

"Ah, yes, her brother! Poor girl, I'm afraid you've been sadly bored. We
must somehow manage to reshuffle the cards. Starbrow might have a turn
at Constance, while you could try Northcott. Would that be better?"

"No," she replied gravely, colouring a little, and with a troubled
glance at his face. "I am thinking principally of Mary and Captain
Horton. I know that he would like to see a little more of her, and--I
don't quite see the justice of your monopolising her."

"And why should I give way to Captain Horton, or to any man? That's
not the way to win a lady's favour. I understand that you look on Miss
Starbrow as a species of goddess; don't you think it would be a grand
thing to be sister-in-law to one of the immortals?"

"She could not be more to me than she is; but that you have any feeling
of _that_ kind for Mary, I don't believe, Arthur."

"You are right," he replied, with a laugh. "I am not sure that wooing
Mary would be an altogether pleasant process; but as a friend she is a
treasure--the chummiest woman I ever came across."

He did not tell her that the strongest bond between them was their
feeling for Fan herself. He, on his part, felt that he could never be
sufficiently grateful to the woman who had rescued his half-sister from
such a depth of destitution and misery, and had protected and loved her;
she, on hers, could not sufficiently admire him for the way in which he
had acted, in spite of social prejudices as strong almost as instincts,
when he had once discovered a sister in the poor shop-girl. At different
periods and in different ways they had both treated her badly; but the
something of remorse they could not help feeling on that account only
served to increase their present love and care for her.

At length, one day during one of their expeditions, Arthur spoke to Mary
on a subject about which he had kept silence all along. Replying to
a remark she had made about his resemblance to the girl, he said,
"Everything I resemble her in is inherited from my grandmother on my
father's side." Then he began to laugh.

"I don't quite see where the laugh comes in," said Mary, who had pricked
up her ears at the mention of his grandmother, for she had been waiting
to hear him say something about his relations.

"No, but you would see it if you knew my aunt--my father's sister--and
had heard what passed between us about Fan. She is a widow, and lives in
Kensington with her two daughters--both pretty, clever girls, I think,
though they are my cousins. Let me tell you about her. She is a dear
good creature, and I am awfully fond of her; very religious too, but
what the world thinks and says, and what it will say, is as much to her
as what her Bible says, although it would shock her very much to hear
me say so. When I made the discovery that Fan was my half-sister, I told
aunt all about it. She was greatly troubled in her mind, and I suppose
that her mental picture of the girl must have been rather a disagreeable
one; but she asked no questions on the point, and I gave her no
information. She said that it was right to provide for her, and so on,
but that it would be a great mistake to make her take the family name,
or to bring her forward in any way. After a few days she wrote to me
asking what I had done or was going to do about it. I replied that Fan
was my father's daughter, and as much to me as if we had been born
of one mother as well, and that I had nothing more to say. Then I got
letter after letter, reasoning with me about my quixotic ideas, and
trying to convince me that my action would only result in spoiling the
girl, and in creating a coldness between myself and relations. It was
rather hard, because I am really fond of my aunt and my cousins. My only
answer to all her letters was to give her an account of that dream or
fancy of my father's; her reply was that that made no difference, that
I would do the girl no good by dragging her among people she was not
fitted to associate with.

"So the matter rested until my return to England, when I called to see
her. She was still anxious, and at once asked me if I had come round to
her view. I said no. At last, finding that I was not to be moved, she
asked me to let her see the girl--she did not wish her daughters to see
her. I declined, and that brought us to a deadlock. She informed me that
there was nothing more to be said, but she couldn't help saying more,
and asked me what I intended doing about it. Nothing, I answered; since
she refused to countenance Fan, there was nothing I could do. Not quite
satisfied, she asked whether this disagreement between us would make any
difference. I said that it would make all the difference in the world.
She was angry at that, but got over it by the time my visit came to an
end, and she asked me very sweetly when I was going to see her again. I
laughed, and said that after she had turned me, quixotic ideas and all,
out of her house, I could not very well return. It distressed her very
much; for she knows that I am not all softness, that I can sometimes
stick to a resolution. Then at last came the question that should have
come first: What was this poor girl of the lower orders about whom I had
lost my reason like?

"Before finishing I must tell you something about that grandmother I
have mentioned. She was a gentle, lovely woman, just such a one as Fan
in character, and her memory is almost worshipped by my aunt. And Fan is
exactly like what she was when a girl. I knew that my aunt possessed an
exquisite miniature portrait of her taken before her marriage, which I
had not seen for a long time. I asked her to let me look at it, and
one of the girls went and fetched it. 'This,' I said, 'allowing for the
different arrangement of the hair, might be a portrait of Fan; and in
character, the resemblance is as great as in face. I believe that my
grandmother's soul has come back to earth.'

"'Arthur, I can't believe you!' she exclaimed. 'It is wicked of you to
compare this poor girl, the child of a person of the lower classes, to
my mother--a most heavenly-minded woman!' I only laughed, and then they
begged me to show them a photograph of Fan. I hadn't one to show, but
I got back that picture you have heard about, and forwarded it to
Kensington. Now my aunt and cousins are most anxious to see the girl,
and are rather vexed with me because I am taking my time about it. Now
you know, Mary, why I laughed."

"My dear boy," she said, putting her hand in his, "I thought well of you
before, but better now; you have acted nobly."

"Oh please don't say that. Besides--I think I am too old to be called a
boy--especially by a girl."

Mary laughed. "And you can tell me all this and keep it from Fan, when
it would make her so unutterably happy!"

"She will know it all in good time. It will be a pleasant little
surprise when she is back in London. I have sent my aunt to confer with
Mr. Travers, and his account of Fan has quite excited her."

From all this it will be seen, that if Captain Horton feared Eden's
rivalry, he imagined a vain thing. But it was natural that he should be
disquieted. His only season of pleasure was at the end of the day, when
a reunion took place; for then Mary would lay aside her coldness,
and sing duets with him and talk in the old familiar way. But his
opportunity came at last.

Arthur took Fan to Exeter one morning to show her the cathedral, and at
the same time to pay a visit to an old school-fellow who had a curacy
there. Tom Starbrow went with them, and they were absent all day.
Constance occupied herself with her writing, and Mary would not leave
the house alone, but towards evening they went out for a walk on the
cliff together, and there they were unexpectedly joined by Captain
Horton and Mr. Northcott, who had apparently been consoling each other.
The curate and Constance had some literary matters to discuss, and
presently drifted away from the others. Then Mary's face lost its
gaiety; even the rich colour faded from her cheeks; she was silent and
distressed, then finally grew cold and hard.

"Shall we sit here and rest for a few minutes?" he said at length, as
they came to an old bench on the cliff overlooking the sea.

"I am not tired, thank you."

"But I am, Mary. Or at all events I have an uncomfortable sensation just
now, and should like to sit down if you don't mind."

She sat down without reply, and began gazing seawards, still with that
cloud on her face.

"May I speak to you now, Mary?"

"You may speak, but I warn you not to."

"And if I speak of other things?"

"Then I shouldn't mind."

"When you said you forgave me, did you in very truth forgive?"

"Yes."

"And if I say no more now, will it be better for me afterwards?"

"No, I cannot say that."

"Never?"

But she remained silent, still gazing seawards.

"Will you not say?"

"I warned you not to speak."

"But it is horrible--this silence and suspense."

"We all have to bear horrible things--worse things than this."

"I understand you. I believed you when you told me what you did just
now--of the past."

"What then?" she questioned, turning her eyes full on him for the first
time. For a moment their eyes met; then his dropped and hers were again
turned towards the sea.

"Is it possible, Mary, for us to be together, for our eyes to meet,
our hands to touch, without a return of that feeling you once had for
me--that was strong in you before some devil out of hell caused me to
offend you?"

"Quite possible--that is a short answer to a long speech. It does not
seem quite fair to try and shuffle the responsibility of your actions on
to some poor imaginary devil."

"It was a mere figure of speech. Why should you allude to things that
are forgiven?"

"You alluded to them yourself. You know that they cannot be forgotten.
What do you expect? Let me also talk to you in figurative language. It
happens sometimes that a tree is struck by lightning and killed in an
instant--leaf, branch, and root--killed and turned to dust and ashes."

"And still there may be a living rootlet left in the soil, which will
sprout and renew the dead tree in time."

She glanced at him again and was silent. She had spoken falsely;
the words which she had spoken to herself on a former occasion, when
struggling against the revival of the old feeling, he had now used
against her.

"Will you tell me, Mary, that there is not one living rootlet left?"

She was silent for some moments; then, feeling the blood forsake her
cheeks, replied deliberately, "Not one. Can I speak plainer?"

He, too, grew white as she spoke, and was silent for a while, then said,
"Mary, has some new growth taken the place of the old roots, which you
say were killed and turned to ashes? There would be a hollow place where
they existed--an emptiness which is hateful to Nature."

"Still pounding away at the same metaphor!" she returned, trying with
poor success to speak in a mocking tone, and laughing in a strange,
almost hysterical way.

"Yes, still at the same metaphor," he returned, with a keen glance at
her face. Her tone, her strained laughter, something in her expression,
told him that she had spoken falsely--that he might still hope. "You
have not answered my question, Mary."

"You have no right to expect an answer," she returned, angry at her own
weakness and his keenness in detecting it. "But I don't mind telling
you that no other growth has occupied that hollow empty place you
described." Her voice had recovered its steadiness, and growing bolder
she added, "I don't believe that Nature really hates hollow empty
places, as you say--the world itself is hollow. Anyhow, it doesn't
matter to me in the least what she hates or likes: Nature is Nature, and
I am I."

"But answer me this: If you can suffer me, are not my chances equally
good with those of any other man?"

"Jack, I am getting heartily tired of this. Why do you keep on harking
back to the subject when I have spoken so plainly? Whether I shall ever
feel towards any other man as I did towards you, to my sorrow, I cannot
say; but this I can say, even if that dead feeling I once had for you
should come to life again, it would avail you nothing. I shall say no
more--except one thing, which you had better know. I shall always be
friendly, and shall never think about the past unless you yourself
remind me of it, as you did just now. This much you owe to Fan."

He took the proffered hand in his, and bending, touched his lips to it.
Then they rose and walked on in silence--she grave, yet with a feeling
of triumph in her heart, for the feared moment had come, and she had not
been weak, and the cup of shame had passed for ever from her lips; he
profoundly sad, for it had been revealed to him that the old feeling,
in spite of her denial, was not wholly dead, and yet he knew that he had
lost her.

Meanwhile that important literary matter was being discussed on another
portion of the cliff by the curate and Constance. It referred to the
tale she had written, which he had submitted to a publisher, who had
offered a small sum for the copyright. The book, the publisher had said,
was moderately good, but it formed only one volume; readers preferred
their novels in three volumes, even if they had to put up with inferior
quality. Besides, there was always a considerable risk in bringing out a
book by an unknown hand, with more in the same strain of explanation of
the smallness of the sum offered for the manuscript. The price being so
small, Constance was not strongly tempted to accept it. Then she wanted
to get the manuscript back. The thought of appearing as a competitor for
public favour in the novel-writing line began to produce a nervousness
in her similar to the stage-fright of young actors on their first
appearance. She had not taken pains enough, and could improve the work
by introducing new and better scenes; she had imprudently said things
she ought not to have said, and could imagine the reviewers (orthodox
to a man) tearing her book to pieces in a fine rage, and scattering its
leaves to the four winds of heaven.

Mr. Northcott smiled at her fears. He maintained that the one fault of
the book was that the style was too good--for a novel. It was not well,
he said, to write too well. On the contrary, a certain roughness and
carelessness had their advantage, especially with critical readers, and
served to show the hand of the professed novelist who, sick or well, in
the spirit or not, fills his twenty-four or thirty-six quarto pages per
diem. A polished style, on the other hand, exhibited care and looked
amateurish. He had no very great opinion of this kind of writing, and
advised her to get rid of the delusion that when she wrote a novel she
made literature. To clinch the argument, he proceeded to put a series of
uncomfortable questions to her. Did she expect to live by novel-writing?
How long would it take her to write three volumes? How long could she
maintain existence on the market price of a three-volume novel? It was
clear that, unless she was prepared to live on bread-and-cheese, she
could not afford to re-write anything. As for the reviewers, if they
found her book tiresome, they would dismiss it in a couple of colourless
or perhaps contemptuous paragraphs; if they found it interesting, they
would recommend it; but about her religious opinions expressed in it
they would not think it necessary to say anything.

When this matter had been settled, and she had agreed, albeit with some
misgivings, to accept the publisher's offer and let the book take its
chance, they passed to other subjects.

"I shall feel it most," said Constance, referring to his intended
departure on the morrow.

"These words," he returned, "will be a comfort to me when I am back in
London, after the peaceful days we have spent together."

"You needed this holiday more than any of us, Harold. I am glad it has
given you fresh strength for your sad toiling life in town."

"Not sad, Constance, so long as I have your sympathy."

"You know that you always have that. It is little to give when I think
of all you were to me--to us, at that dark period of our life." She
turned her face from him.

"Do you call it little, Constance?" He spoke with an intensity of
feeling that made his voice tremble. "It is inexpressibly dear to me;
it sweetens existence; without it I know that my life would be dark
indeed."

"Dark, Harold! For me, and all who think with me, there is nothing to
guide but the light of nature that cannot satisfy you--that you regard
as a pale false light; it is not strange, therefore, that we make so
much of human sympathy and affection--that it sustains us. But if there
is any reality in that divine grace supposed to be given to those who
are able to believe in certain things, in spite of reason, then you are
surely wrong in speaking as you do."

Her earnestness, a something of bitterness imparted into her words,
seemed strange, considering that as a rule she avoided discussions of
this kind. Now she appeared eager for the fray; but it was a fictitious
eagerness, a great fear had come into her heart, and she was anxious to
turn the current of his thoughts from personal and therefore dangerous
subjects.

"I do not know--I cannot say," he returned, evading the point. "I only
know that we are no longer like soldiers in opposing camps. Perhaps I
have had some influence on you--everything we do and say must in some
degree affect those around us. I know that you have greatly changed me.
Your words, and more than your words, the lesson of your life, has sunk
into my heart, and I cannot rebuke you. For though you have not Christ's
Name on your lips, the spirit which gives to the Christian religion its
deathless vitality is in your soul, and shines in your whole life."

They walked on in silence, he overcome with deep feeling, she unable to
reply, still apprehending danger. Then sinking his voice, he said:

"Your heart does not blame, do not let your reason blame me for thinking
so much of your sympathy." After a while he went on, his voice still
lower and faltering, as if hope faltered--"Constance, you have done so
much for me.... You have made my life so much more to me than it was....
Will you do more still? ... Will you let me think that the sympathy,
the affection you have so long felt for me, may in time ripen to another
feeling which will make us even more to each other than we are now?"

His voice had grown husky and had fallen almost to a whisper at the end.
They were standing now, she pale and trembling, tears gathering in her
eyes, her fingers clasped together before her.

"Oh, I am to blame for this," she spoke at last with passion. "But
your kindness was more to me than wine to the faint, and I believed--I
flattered myself that it was nothing more than Christian kindness, that
it never would, never could be more. I might have known--I might have
known! Harold, if you knew the pain I suffer, you would try for my sake
as well as your own to put this thought from you. The power to feel as
you would wish has gone from me--it is dead and can never live again.
Ah, why has this trouble come to divide us when our friendship was so
sweet--so much to me!"

Every word she had spoken had pierced him; but at the end his spirit
suddenly shook off despondency, and he returned eagerly, "Constance, do
not say that it will divide us. Nothing can ever change the feelings of
deep esteem and affection I have had for you since I first knew you at
Eyethorne; nothing can make your sympathy less to me than it has been
in the past. Can you not forgive me for the pain I have caused you, and
promise that you will not be less my friend than you have been up till
now?"

Strangely enough, the very declaration that her power to feel as he
wished was dead, and could not live again, which might well have made
his case seem hopeless, had served to inspire him with fresh hope;
and while begging for a continuance of her friendship he had said to
himself, "Once I shilly-shallied, and was too late; now I have spoken
too soon; but my time will come, for so long as the heart beats its
power to love cannot be dead."

She could not read his thoughts; his words relieved and made her glad,
and she freely gave him her hand in token of continued friendship and
intimacy, just about the time when Captain Horton, with no secret hope
in his heart, was touching his red moustache to Mary's wash-leather
glove.



CHAPTER XLVIII


"A Pebble for your thoughts, Constance," said Mary, tossing one to
her feet. "But I can guess them--for so many sisters is there not one
brother?"

"Are you so sorry that they have all left us?" returned the other,
smiling and coming back from the realms of fancy.

"I'm sure _I_ am," said Fan, looking up from her book. "It was so
delightful to have them with us at this distance from London."

"But why at this distance from London?" objected Mary. "According to
that, our pleasure would have been greater if we had met them at the
Canary Islands, and greater still at Honolulu or some spot in Tasmania.
Imagine what it would be to meet them in one of the planets; but if the
meeting were to take place in the furthest fixed star the delight would
be almost too much for us. At that distance, Sidmouth would seem little
further from London than Richmond or Croydon."

Fan bent her eyes resolutely on her book.

"You have not yet answered my question, Mary," said Constance.

"Nor you mine, which has the right of priority. But I am not a stickler
for my rights. Listen, both of you, to a confession. I don't feel sorry
at being left alone with you two, much as I have been amused, especially
by Arthur, who has a merrier soul than his demure little sister."

"Why will you call me _little_, Mary? I am five feet six inches and a
half, and Arthur says that's as tall as a woman ought to be."

"A sneer at me because I am two inches taller! What other disparaging
things did he say, I wonder?"

"You don't say that seriously, Mary--you are so seldom serious about
anything! You know, I dare say, that he is always praising you."

"That's pleasant to hear. But what did he say--can't you remember
something?"

"Well, for one thing, he said you had a sense of humour--and that covers
a multitude of sins."

The others laughed. "_À propos_ of what did he pay me that pretty
compliment?" asked Mary.

Fan, reddening a little at being laughed at, returned somewhat
defiantly, "He was comparing you to me--to your advantage, of
course--and said that I had no sense of humour. I answered that you were
always mocking at something, and if that was what he meant by a sense of
humour, I was very pleased to be without it."

"Oh, traitress! it was you then who abused me behind my back."

"And what about me?" asked Constance. "Did he say that I had any sense
of humour?"

"I asked him that," said Fan, not joining in the laugh. "He said that
women have a sense of humour of their own, quite different from man's;
that it shows in their conversation, but can't be written. What they put
in their books is a kind of imitation of man's humour, and very bad.
He said that George Eliot was a very mannish woman, but that even _her_
humour made him melancholy."

"Oh, then I shall be in very good company if I am so fortunate as to
make this clever young gentleman melancholy."

"I quite agree with him," said Mary, wishing to tease Constance. "As a
rule, there is something very depressing about a woman's writing when
she wishes to be amusing."

But the other would not be teased. "Do you know, Mary," she said,
returning to the first subject, "I was in hopes that you were going to
make a much more important confession. I'm sure we both expected it."

"You must speak for yourself about a confession," said Fan. "But I did
feel sorry to see how cast down poor Captain Horton looked before going
away."

"The more I see of him," continued Constance, heedless of Mary's
darkening brow, "the better I like him. He is the very type of what a
man should be--strong and independent, yet gentle, so patient when his
patience is tried. It was easy to see that he was not happy, and that
the cause of it was the coldness of one Mary Starbrow."

"Why not _your_ coldness, or Fan's coldness?" snapped the other.

"I was not, and could not, be cold to him, and as to Fan----"

"Why, he was constantly with me; we were the best of friends, as you
know very well, Mary."

"So handsome too, and he has such a fine voice," continued Constance.
"Sometimes when he and Mary sang duets together, and when he seemed so
grateful for her graciousness, I thought what a splendid couple they
would make. Didn't you think the same, Fan?"

"Yes," she replied a little doubtfully.

"Yes!" mocked Mary. "It would be a great pleasure to me to duck you in
the sea for slavishly echoing everything Constance says."

"Thank you, Mary, but I'm not so fond of getting wet as you are," said
Fan, with a somewhat troubled smile.

Constance went on pitilessly:

    Oh, he was the half part of a better man
    Left to be finished by such as she;
    And she a fair divided excellence
    Whose fullness of perfection was in him.

"And pray what are you, Constance?" retorted the other. "A fair divided
excellence or an excellence all by yourself, or what? If you find
pleasure in contemplating a deep romantic attachment, think a little
more of Mr. Northcott. He is the type of a gentleman, if you like--brave
and gentle, and without stain. And how was _he_ rewarded for his
devotion? At all events he did not look quite like a conquering hero
when he went away."

Constance reddened. "He is everything you say, Mary--you can't say more
in praise of him than he deserves; but you have no right to assume what
you do, and if you can't keep such absurd fancies out of your head, I
think you might refrain from expressing them."

"But, Constance dear, what harm can there be in expressing them?" said
Fan. "They are not absurd fancies any more than what you were saying
just now. I am quite sure that Mr. Northcott is very fond of you."

"That is your opinion, Fan; but I would rather you found some other
subject of conversation."

"No doubt," said Mary, not disposed to let her off so easily; "but let
me warn you first that unless you treat Mr. Northcott better in future
there will be a split in the Cabinet, and Fan, I think, will be on my
side."

"I certainly shall," said Fan.

"In that case," said Constance with dignity, "I shall try to bear it."

"We'll boycott you," said Mary.

"And refuse to read your books," said Fan.

"And tell everyone that the creator of tender-hearted heroines is
anything but tender-hearted herself."

"This amuses you, Mary," said Constance, "but you don't seem to reflect
that it gives me pain."

"I'm sorry, Constance, if anything I have said has given you pain,"
spoke Fan. "At the same time I can't understand why it should: it must
surely be a good thing to be--loved by a good man."

"Then, Fan, you must feel very happy," retorted the other, suddenly
changing her tactics.

"I don't know what you mean, Constance."

"What sweet simplicity! Do you imagine that we are so blind, Fan, as not
to see how devoted Mr. Starbrow is to you?"

The girl reddened and darted a look at Mary, who only smiled, observing
strict neutrality.

"You are wrong, Constance, and most unkind to say such a thing. You say
it only to turn the conversation from yourself. No one noticed such a
thing; but about Mr. Northcott it was quite different--everybody saw
it."

"I beg you will not allude to that subject again. When I have distinctly
told you that it is annoying--that it is painful to me, you should have
a little more consideration."

"This grows interesting," broke in Mary. "The conspirators have
quarrelled among themselves, and I shall now perhaps discover in whose
breast the evil thought was first hatched."

The others were silent, a little abashed; Fan still blushing and
agitated after her hot protest, fearing perhaps that it had failed of
its effect.

Mary went on: "Are we then to hear no more of these delightful
revelations? Considering that the Mr. Starbrow whose name has been
brought into the case happens to be my brother--"

She said no more, for just then Fan burst into tears.

"Oh, you are unkind, both of you, to say such things, when you
know--when you know--"

"That there is no truth in them?" interrupted Mary. "Then, my dear girl,
why take it to heart?"

"You brought it on yourself, Fan," said Constance.

"No, Constance, it was all your doing. Even Mary never said a word till
you began it."

"_Even_ Mary--who is not as a rule responsible for her words," said that
lady vindictively.

"I shall not stay here any longer," exclaimed Fan, picking up her book
and attempting to rise.

But the others put out their arms and prevented her.

"Dear Fan," said Constance, "let us say no more to vex each other; the
remark I made was a very harmless one. And you forget, dear, that I am
different to you and Mary--that words about some things, though
spoken in jest, may hurt me very much." After a while she continued
hesitatingly--"I am sure that neither of you will return to the subject
when you know how I feel about it. I shall never love again. To others
my husband is dead, but not to me; his place can be taken by no other."

Fan, who had recovered her composure, although still a little "teary
about the lashes," answered:

"And I am equally sure that I shall never want to--change my name. I
have Arthur to love and--and to think of, and that will be enough to
make me happy."

"And I shall get a cat," said Mary, in a broken voice, and
ostentatiously wiping her eyes, "and devote myself to it, and love it
with all the strength of my ardent nature, and that will be enough to
make _me_ happy. I shall name it Constance Fan, out of compliment to you
two, and feed it on the most expensive canaries. Of course it will be a
very beautiful cat and very intelligent, with opinions of its own about
the sense of humour and other deep questions."

Constance looked offended, while Fan laughed uncomfortably. Mary was
satisfied; she had turned the tables on her persecutor and provoked
a little tempest to vary the monotony of life at the seaside. Without
saying more they got up and moved towards the town, it being near their
luncheon hour. Fan lagged behind reading, or pretending to read, as she
walked.

"Oh, let's stay and see this race," said Mary, pausing beside a bench
on the beach near an excited group of idlers, mostly boys, with one
white-headed old man in the midst, who was arranging a racing contest
between one youngster mounted on a small, sleepy-looking, longhaired
donkey, and his opponent, dirty as to his face and argumentative,
seated on one of those archaeological curiosities commonly called
"bone-shakers," which are occasionally to be seen at remote country
places. But the preliminaries were not easily settled, and Constance
grew impatient.

"I can't stay," she said. "I have a letter to write before lunch."

"All right, go on," said Mary, "and I'll wait for that lazy-bones Fan."

As soon as Constance had gone Fan quickened her steps.

"Mary," she spoke, coming to the other's side, "will you promise me
something?"

"What is it, dear?" said her friend, looking into her face, surprised to
see how flushed it was.

"I suppose that Constance was only joking when she said that to me; but
promise, Mary, that you will never speak to Mr. Starbrow about such a
thing?"

"Why?"

"Promise, Mary--do promise," pleaded the girl.

"But, Fan, I have already talked to him more than once on that same
dreadful subject."

"Oh, how could you do it, Mary! You had no right to speak to him of such
a thing."

"You must not blame me, Fan. He spoke to me first about it."

"He did! I can hardly believe it. Was it right of him to speak of such a
thing to you?"

"And not to you first, Fan? Poor Tom spoke to me because he was afraid
to speak to you--afraid that you had no such feeling for him as he
wished you to have. He wanted sympathy and advice, and so the poor
fellow came to me."

"And what did you say, Mary?"

"Of course I told him the simple truth about you. I said that you were
cold and stern in disposition, very strong-minded and despotic; but
that at some future time, if he would wait patiently, you might perhaps
condescend to make him happy and take him just for the pleasure of
possessing a man to tyrannise over."

Fan did not laugh nor reply. Her face was bent down, and when the other
stooped and looked into it, there were tears in her eyes.

"Crying! Oh, you foolish, sensitive child! Was it true, then, that you
did not know--never even suspected that Tom loved you?"

"No; I think I have known it for some time. But it was so hard to hear
it spoken of in that way. I have felt so sorry; I thought it would never
be noticed--never be known--that he would see that it could never be,
and forget it. Why did you say that to him, Mary--that some day I might
feel as he wished? Don't you know that it can never be?"

"But why can't it be, Fan? You are so young, and your feelings may
change. And he is my brother--would you not like to have me for a
sister?"

"You _are_ my sister, Mary--more than a sister. If Arthur had had
sisters it would have made no difference. But about Tom, you must
believe me, Mary; he is just like a brother to me, and I know I shall
never change about that."

"Ah, yes; we are all so wise about such things," returned the other with
a slight laugh, and then a long silence followed.

There was excuse for it, for just then, the arguments about the
conditions of the race had waxed loud, degenerating into mere clamour.
It almost looked as if the more excited ones were about to settle
their differences with their flourishing fists. But Mary was scarcely
conscious of what was passing before her; she was mentally occupied
recalling certain things which she had heard two or three days ago; also
things she had seen without attention. Fan, Tom, and Arthur had told
her about that day spent in Exeter. At their destination their party had
been increased to four by Arthur's clerical friend, Frank Arnold.
This young gentleman had acted as guide to the cathedral, and had also
entertained them at luncheon, which proved a very magnificent repast
to be given by a young curate in apartments. It was all a dull wretched
affair, according to Tom; the young fellow had never left off making
himself agreeable to Fan until she had got into her carriage to return
to Sidmouth. And yet Fan had scarcely mentioned Mr. Arnold, only saying
that she had passed a happy day. How happy it must have been, thought
Mary, a new light dawning on her mind, for the sparkle of it to have
lasted so long!

"Shall you meet your brother's friend, Mr. Arnold, again?" she asked a
little suddenly.

"I--I think so--yes," returned Fan, a little confused. "He is coming to
London next month, and will be a great deal with Arthur, and--of course
I shall see him. Why do you ask, Mary?"

But Mary was revolving many things in her mind, and kept silent.

"What are you thinking about, Mary?" persisted the other.

"Oh, about all kinds of things; mysteries, for instance, and about how
little we know of what's going on in each other's minds. You are about
as transparent a person as one could have, and yet half the time, now I
come to think of it, I don't seem to know what you would be at. A little
while ago you joined with Constance in that attack on me. I am just
asking myself, 'Would it have been pleasant to you if Jack had gone away
yesterday happy and triumphant--if I had promised him my hand?'"

"Your hand, Mary--how can you ask such a question? How could you imagine
such a thing?"

"Does it seem so dreadful a thing? Have you not worked on me to make
me forgive and think well of him? You do not think his repentance all
a sham; you have forgotten the past, are his friend, and trust him. Do
you, in spite of it all, still think evil of him and separate him from
other men? Was the thief on the cross who repented a less welcome guest
at that supper he was invited to because of his evil deeds? And is this
man, in whose repentance you really believe, less a child of God than
other men, that you make this strange distinction?"

The girl cast down her eyes and was silent for some time.

"Mary," she spoke at length, "I can't explain it, but I do feel that
there is a difference--that it is not wrong to make such a distinction.
It is in us already made, and we can't unmake it. I know that I feel
everything you have said about him, and I am very, very glad that
you too have forgiven him and are his friend. But it would have been
horrible if you had felt for him again as you did once."

Mary turned her face away, her eyes growing dim with tears of mingled
pain and happiness; for how long it had taken her to read the soul that
was so easy to read, so crystalline, and how much it would have helped
her if she could have understood it sooner! But now the shameful cup
had passed for ever from her, and the loved girl at her side had never
discovered, never suspected, how near to her lips it had been.

And while she stood thus, while Fan waited for her to turn her face,
hard by there sounded a great clatter and rattling of the old ramshackle
machine, and pounding of the donkey's hoofs on the gravel, and vigorous
thwacks from sticks and hands and hats on his rump by his backers,
accompanied with much noise of cheering and shouting.

"Oh, look; it is all over!" cried Mary. "What a shame to miss it after
all--what could we have been thinking about! Come, let's go and find out
who won. I shall give sixpence to the winner, just to encourage local
sport."

"And I," said Fan, "shall give a shilling to the loser--to encourage--"
In her haste she did not say what.





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