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

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Crown of Life" ***

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THE CROWN OF LIFE


by

George Gissing



CHAPTER I


Amid the throng of suburban arrivals volleyed forth from Waterloo
Station on a May morning in the year '86, moved a slim, dark,
absent-looking young man of one-and-twenty, whose name was Piers Otway.
In regard to costume--blameless silk hat, and dark morning coat with
lighter trousers--the City would not have disowned him, but he had not
the City countenance. The rush for omnibus seats left him unconcerned;
clear of the railway station, he walked at a moderate pace, his eyes
mostly on the ground; he crossed the foot-bridge to Charing Cross, and
steadily made his way into the Haymarket, where his progress was
arrested by a picture shop.

A window hung with engravings, mostly after pictures of the day; some
of them very large, and attractive to a passing glance. One or two
admirable landscapes offered solace to the street-wearied imagination,
but upon these Piers Otway did not fix his eye; it was drawn
irresistibly to the faces and forms of beautiful women set forth with
varied allurement. Some great lady of the passing time lounged in
exquisite array amid luxurious furniture lightly suggested; the faint
smile of her flattered loveliness hovered about the gazer; the subtle
perfume of her presence touched his nerves; the greys of her complexion
transmuted themselves through the current of his blood into life's
carnation; whilst he dreamed upon her lips, his breath was caught, as
though of a sudden she had smiled for him, and for him alone. Near to
her was a maiden of Hellas, resting upon a marble seat, her eyes bent
towards some AEgean isle; the translucent robe clung about her perfect
body; her breast was warm against the white stone; the mazes of her
woven hair shone with unguent. The gazer lost himself in memories of
epic and idyll, warming through worship to desire. Then his look
strayed to the next engraving; a peasant girl, consummate in grace and
strength, supreme in chaste pride, cheek and neck soft-glowing from the
sunny field, eyes revealing the heart at one with nature. Others there
were, women of many worlds, only less beautiful; but by these three the
young man was held bound. He could not satisfy himself with looking and
musing; he could not pluck himself away. An old experience; he always
lingered by the print shops of the Haymarket, and always went on with
troubled blood, with mind rapt above familiar circumstance, dreaming
passionately, making wild forecast of his fate.

At this hour of the morning not many passers had leisure to stand and
gaze; one, however, came to a pause beside Piers Otway, and viewed the
engravings. He was a man considerably older; not so well dressed, but
still, on the strength of externals, entitled to the style of
gentleman; his brown, hard felt hat was entirely respectable, as were
his tan gloves and his boots, but the cut-away coat began to hint at
release from service, and the trousers owed a superficial smartness
merely to being tightly strapped. This man had a not quite agreeable
face; inasmuch as it was smoothly shaven, and exhibited a peculiar
mobility, it might have denoted him an actor; but the actor is wont to
twinkle a good-natured mood which did not appear upon this visage. The
contour was good, and spoke intelligence; the eyes must once have been
charming. It was a face which had lost by the advance of years; which
had hardened where it was soft, and seemed likely to grow harder yet;
for about the lips, as he stood examining these pictures, came a
suggestion of the vice in blood which tends to cruelty. The nostrils
began to expand and to tremble a little; the eyes seemed to project
themselves; the long throat grew longer. Presently, he turned a glance
upon the young man standing near to him, and in that moment his
expression entirely altered.

"Why," he exclaimed, "Piers!"

The other gave a start of astonishment, and at once smiled recognition.

"Daniel! I hadn't looked--I had no idea----" They shook hands, with
graceful cordiality on the elder man's part, with a slightly
embarrassed goodwill on that of the younger. Daniel Otway, whose age
was about eight-and-thirty, stood in the relation of half-brotherhood
to Piers, a relation suggested by no single trait of their visages.
Piers had a dark complexion, a face of the square, emphatic type, and
an eye of shy vivacity; Daniel, with the long, smooth curves of his
countenance and his chestnut hair was, in the common sense, better
looking, and managed his expression with a skill which concealed the
characteristics visible a few moments ago; he bore himself like a suave
man of the world, whereas his brother still betrayed something of the
boy in tone and gesture, something, too, of the student accustomed to
seclusion. Daniel's accent had nothing at all in keeping with a shabby
coat; that of the younger man was less markedly refined, with much more
of individuality.

"You live in London?" inquired Daniel, reading the other's look as if
affectionately.

"No. Out at Ewell--in Surrey."

"Oh yes, I know Ewell. Reading?"

"Yes for the Civil Service. I've come up to lunch with a man who knows
father--Mr. Jacks."

"John Jacks, the M.P.?"

Piers nodded nervously, and the other regarded him with a smile of new
interest.

"But you're very early. Any other engagements?"

"None," said Piers. It being so fine a morning, he had proposed a long
ramble about London streets before making for his destination in the
West End.

"Then you must come to my club," returned Daniel. "I shall be glad of a
talk with you, very glad, my dear boy. Why, it must be four years since
we saw each other. And, by the bye, you are just of age, I think?"

"Three days ago."

"To be sure. Heard anything from father?--No?--You're looking very
well, Piers--take my arm. I understood you were going into business.
Altered your mind? And how is the dear old man?"

They walked for a quarter of an hour, turning at last into a quiet,
genteel byway westward of Regent Street, and so into a club house of
respectable appearance. Daniel wrote his brother's name, and led up to
the smoking-room, which they found unoccupied.

"You smoke?--I am very glad to hear it. I began far too young, and have
suffered. It's too early to drink--and perhaps you don't do that
either?--Really? Vegetarian also, perhaps?--Why, you are the model son
of your father. And the regime seems to suit you. _Per Bacco_! couldn't
follow it myself: but I, like our fat friend, am little better than one
of the wicked. So you are one-and-twenty. You have entered upon your
inheritance, I presume?"

Piers answered with a look of puzzled inquiry.

"Haven't you heard about it? The little capital due to you."

"Not a word!"

"That's odd. _Was soil es bedeuten_?--By the bye, I suppose you speak
German well?"

"Tolerably."

"And French?"

"Moderately."

"_Benissimo_!" Daniel had just lit a cigar; he lounged gracefully,
observing his brother with an eye of veiled keenness. "Well, I think
there is no harm in telling you that you are entitled to
something--your mother's money, you know."

"I had no idea of it," replied Piers, whom the news had in some degree
excited.

"Apropos, why don't you live with father? Couldn't you read as well
down there?"

"Not quite, I think, and--the truth is, the stepmother doesn't much
like me. She's rather difficult to get on with you know."

"I imagined it. So you're just in lodgings?"

"I am with some people called Hannaford. I got to know them at
Geneva--they're not very well off; I have a room and they board me."

"I must look you up there--Piers, my dear boy, I suppose you know your
mother's history?"

It was asked with an affected carelessness, with a look suggestive of
delicacy in approaching the subject. More and more perturbed, Piers
abruptly declared his ignorance; he sat in an awkward attitude, bending
forward; his brows were knit, his dark eyes had a solemn intensity, and
his square jaw asserted itself more than usual.

"Well, between brothers, I don't see why you shouldn't. In fact, I am a
good deal surprised that the worthy old man has held his peace about
that legacy, and I don't think I shall scruple to tell you all I know.
You are aware, at all events, that our interesting parent has been a
little unfortunate in his matrimonial adventures. His first wife--not
to pick one's phrase--quarrelled furiously with him. His second, you
inform me, is somewhat difficult to live with."

"His _third_," interrupted Piers.

"No, my dear boy," said the other gravely, sympathetically. "That
intermediate connection was not legal."

"Not----? My mother was not----?"

"Don't worry about it," proceeded Daniel in a kind tone. "These are the
merest prejudices, you know. She could not become Mrs. Otway, being
already Mrs. Somebody-else. Her death, I fear, was a great misfortune
to our parent. I have gathered that they suited each other--fate, you
know, plays these little tricks. Your mother, I am sure, was a most
charming and admirable woman--I remember her portrait. _A l'heure qu'il
est_, no doubt, it has to be kept out of sight. She had, I am given to
understand, a trilling capital of her own, and this was to become
yours."

Piers stared at vacancy. When he recovered himself he said with
decision:

"Of course I shall hear about it. There's no hurry. Father knows I
don't want it just now. Why, of course he will tell me. The exam. comes
off in autumn, and no doubt he keeps the news back as a sort of reward
when I get my place. I think that would be just like him, you know."

"Or as a solatium, if you fail," remarked the other genially.

"Fail? Oh, I'm not going to fail," cried Piers in a voice of
half-resentful confidence.

"Bravo!" laughed the other; "I like that spirit. So you're going to
lunch with John Jacks. I don't exactly know him, but I know friends of
his very well. Known him long?"

Piers explained that as yet he had no personal acquaintance with Mr.
Jacks; that he had, to his surprise, received a written invitation a
few days ago.

"It may be useful," Daniel remarked reflectively. "But if you'll permit
the liberty, Piers, I am sorry you didn't pay a little more attention
to costume. It should have been a frock coat--really it should."

"I haven't such a thing," exclaimed the younger brother, with some
annoyance and confusion. "And what can it matter? You know very well
how father would go."

"Yes, yes; but Jerome Otway the democratic prophet and young Mr. Piers
Otway his promising son, are very different persons. Never mind, but
take care to get a frock coat; you'll find it indispensable if you are
going into that world. Where does Jacks live?"

"Queen's Gate."

Daniel Otway meditated, half closing his eyes as he seemed to watch the
smoke from his cigar. Dropping them upon his brother, he found that the
young man wore a look of troubled thoughtfulness.

"Daniel," began Piers suddenly, "are you quite sure about all you have
told me?"

"Quite. I am astonished it's news to you."

Piers was no longer able to converse, and very soon he found it
difficult to sit still. Observant of his face and movements, the elder
brother proposed that they should resume their walk together, and forth
they went. But both were now taciturn, and they did not walk far in
company.

"I shall look you up at Ewell," said Daniel, taking leave. "Address me
at that club; I have no permanent quarters just now. We must see more
of each other."

And Piers went his way with shadowed countenance.



CHAPTER II


Straying about Kensington Gardens in the pleasant sunshine, his mind
occupied with Daniel's information, Piers Otway lost count of time, and
at last had to hurry to keep his engagement. As he entered the house in
Queen's Gate, a mirrored image of himself made him uneasy about his
costume. But for Daniel, such a point would never have troubled him. It
was with an unfamiliar sense of Irritation and misgiving that he moved
into the drawing-room.

A man of sixty or so, well preserved, with a warm complexion, broad
homely countenance and genial smile, stepped forward to receive him.
Mr. Jacks was member for the Penistone Division of the West Riding; new
to Parliament, having entered with the triumphant Liberals in the
January of this year 1886. His friends believed, and it seemed
credible, that he had sought election to please the lady whom, as a
widower of twenty years' endurance, he had wedded only a short time
before; politics interested him but moderately, and the greater part of
his life had been devoted to the manufacturing business which brought
him wealth and local influence. Not many people remembered that in the
days of his youth John Jacks had been something of a Revolutionist,
that he had supported the People's Charter; that he had written, nay
had published, verses of democratic tenor, earning thereby dark
reputation in the respectable society of his native town. The
turning-point was his early marriage. For a while he still wrote
verses--of another kind, but he ceased to talk about liberty, ceased to
attend public meetings, and led an entirely private life until, years
later, his name became reputably connected with municipal affairs.
Observing Mr. Jacks' face, one saw the possibility of that early
enthusiasm; he had fine eyes full of subdued tenderness, and something
youthful, impulsive, in his expression when he uttered a thought.
Good-humoured, often merry, abounding in kindness and generosity, he
passed for a man as happy as he was prosperous; yet those who talked
intimately with him obtained now and then a glimpse of something not
quite in harmony with these characteristics, a touch of what would be
called fancifulness, of uncertain spirits. Men of his world knew that
he was not particularly shrewd in commerce; the great business to which
his name was attached had been established by his father, and was kept
flourishing mainly by the energy of his younger brother. As an
occasional lecturer before his townsfolk, he gave evidence of wide
reading and literary aptitudes. Of three children of his first
marriage, two had died; his profound grief at their loss, and the
inclination for domestic life which always appeared in the man, made it
matter for surprise that he had waited so long before taking another
wife. It would not have occurred to most of those who knew him that his
extreme devotion to women made him shy, diffident, all but timorous in
their presence. But Piers Otway, for all his mental disturbance at this
moment, remarked the singular deference, the tone and look of admiring
gentleness, with which Mr. Jacks turned to his wife as he presented
their guest.

Mrs. Jacks was well fitted to inspire homage. Her age appeared to be
less than five-and-twenty; she was of that tall and gracefully
commanding height which became the English ideal in the last quarter of
the century--her portrait appears on every page illustrated by Du
Manner. She had a brilliant complexion, a perfect profile; her smile,
though perhaps a little mechanical, was the last expression of
immutable sweetness, of impeccable self-control; her voice never
slipped from the just note of unexaggerated suavity. Consummate as an
ornament of the drawing-room, she would be no less admirably at ease on
the tennis lawn, in the boat, on horseback, or walking by the seashore.
Beyond criticism her breeding; excellent her education. There appeared,
too, in her ordinary speech, her common look, a real amiability of
disposition; one could not imagine her behaving harshly or with
conscious injustice. Her manners--within the recognised limits--were
frank, spontaneous; she had for the most part a liberal tone in
conversation, and was evidently quite incapable of bitter feeling on
any everyday subject. Piers Otway bent before her with unfeigned
reverence; she dazzled him, she delighted and confused his senses. As
often as he dared look at her, his eye discovered some new elegance in
her attitude, some marvel of delicate beauty in the details of her
person. A spectator might have observed that this worship was manifest
to Mr. Jacks, and that it by no means displeased him.

"You are very like your father, Mr. Otway," was the host's first remark
after a moment of ceremony. "Very like what he was forty years ago." He
laughed, not quite naturally, glancing at his wife. "At that time he
and I were much together. But he went to London; I stayed in the North;
and so we lost sight of each other for many a long year. Somewhere
about 1870 we met by chance, on a Channel steamer; yes, it was just
before the war; I remember your father prophesied it, and foretold its
course very accurately. Then we didn't see each other again until a
month ago--I had run down into Yorkshire for a couple of days and stood
waiting for a train at Northallerton. Someone came towards me, and
looked me in the face, then held out his hand without speaking; and it
was my old friend. He has become a man of few words."

"Yes, he talks very little," said Piers. "I've known him silent for two
or three days together."

"And what does he do with himself there among the moors? You don't know
Hawes," he remarked to the graciously attentive Mrs. Jacks. "A little
stony town at the wild end of Wensleydale. Delightful for a few months,
but very grim all the rest of the year. Has he any society there?"

"None outside his home, I think. He sits by the fire and reads Dante."

"Dante?"

"Yes, Dante; he seems to care for hardly anything else. It has been so
for two or three years. Editions of Dante and books about Dante crowd
his room--they are constantly coming. I asked him once if he was going
to write on the subject, but he shook his head."

"It must be a very engrossing study," remarked Mrs. Jacks, with her
most intelligent air. "Dante opens such a world."

"Strange!" murmured her husband, with his kindly smile. "The last thing
I should have imagined."

They were summoned to luncheon. As they entered the dining-room, there
appeared a young man whom Mr. Jacks greeted warmly.

"Hullo, Arnold! I am so glad you lunch here to-day. Here is the son of
my old friend Jerome Otway."

Arnold Jacks pressed the visitor's hand and spoke a few courteous words
in a remarkably pleasant voice. In physique he was quite unlike his
father; tall, well but slenderly built, with a small finely-shaped
head, large grey-blue eyes and brown hair. The delicacy of his
complexion and the lines of his figure did not suggest strength, yet he
walked with a very firm step, and his whole bearing betokened habits of
healthy activity. In early years he had seemed to inherit a very feeble
constitution; the death of his brother and sister, followed by that of
their mother at an untimely age, left little hope that he would reach
manhood; now, in his thirtieth year, he was rarely troubled on the
score of health, and few men relieved from the necessity of earning
money found fuller occupation for their time. Some portion of each day
he spent at the offices of a certain Company, which held rule in a
British colony of considerable importance. His interest in this colony
had originated at the time when he was gaining vigour and enlarging his
experience in world-wide travel; he enjoyed the sense of power, and his
voice did not lack weight at the Board of the Company in question. He
had all manner of talents and pursuits. Knowledge--the only kind of
knowledge he cared for, that of practical things, things alive in the
world of to-day--seemed to come to him without any effort on his part.
A new invention concealed no mysteries from him; he looked into it;
understood, calculated its scope. A strange piece of news from any part
of the world found him unsurprised, explanatory. He liked mathematics,
and was wont to say jocosely that an abstract computation had a fine
moral affect, favouring unselfishness. Music was one of his foibles; he
learnt an instrument with wonderful facility, and, up to a certain
point, played well. For poetry, though as a rule he disguised the fact,
he had a strong distaste; once, when aged about twenty, he startled his
father by observing that "In Memoriam" seemed to him a shocking
instance of wasted energy; he would undertake to compress the whole
significance of each section, with its laborious rhymings, into two or
three lines of good clear prose. Naturally the young man had undergone
no sentimental troubles; he had not yet talked of marrying, and cared
only for the society of mature women who took common-sense views of
life. His religion was the British Empire; his saints, the men who had
made it; his prophets, the politicians and publicists who held most
firmly the Imperial tone.

Where Arnold Jacks was in company, there could be no dullness. Alone
with his host and hostess, Otway would have found the occasion rather
solemn, and have wished it over, but Arnold's melodious voice, his
sprightly discussion and anecdotage, his frequent laughter, charmed the
guest into self-oblivion.

"You are no doubt a Home Ruler, Mr. Otway," observed Arnold, soon after
they were seated.

"Yes, I am," answered Piers cheerily. "You too, I hope?"

"Why, yes. I would grant Home Rule of the completest description, and I
would let it run its natural course for--shall we say five years? When
the state of Ireland had become intolerable to herself and dangerous to
this adjacent island, I would send over dragoons. And," he added
quietly, crumbling his bread, "the question would not rise again."

"Arnold," remarked Mr. Jacks, with good humour, "you are quite
incapable of understanding this question. We shall see. Mr. Gladstone's
Bill----"

"Mr. Gladstone's _little_ Bill--do say his _little_ Bill."

"Arnold, you are too absurd!" exclaimed the hostess mirthfully.

"What does your father think?" Mr. Jacks inquired of their guest. "Has
he broken silence on the subject?"

"I think not. He never says a word about politics."

"The little Bill hasn't a chance," cried Arnold. "Your majority is
melting away. You, of course, will stand by the old man, but that is
chivalry, not politics. You don't know what a picturesque figure you
make, sir; you help me to realise Horatius Codes, and that kind of
thing."

John Jacks laughed heartily at his own expense, but his wife seemed to
think the jest unmannerly. Home Rule did not in the least commend
itself to her sedate, practical mind, but she would never have
committed such an error in taste as to proclaim divergence from her
husband's views.

"It is a most difficult and complicated question," she said, addressing
herself to Otway. "The character of the people makes it so; the Irish
are so sentimental."

Upon the young man's ear this utterance fell strangely; it gave him a
little shock, and he could only murmur some commonplace of assent. With
men, Piers had plenty of moral courage, but women daunted him.

"I heard a capital idea last night," resumed Arnold Jacks, "from a man
I was dining with--interesting fellow called Hannaford. He suggested
that Ireland should be made into a military and naval depot--used
solely for that purpose. The details of his scheme were really very
ingenious. He didn't propose to exterminate the natives----"

John Jacks interrupted with hilarity, which his son affected to resent:
the look exchanged by the two making pleasant proof of how little their
natural affection was disturbed by political and other differences. At
the name of Hannaford, Otway had looked keenly towards the speaker.

"Is that Lee Hannaford?" he asked. "Oh, I know him. In fact, I'm living
in his house just now."

Arnold was interested. He had only the slightest acquaintance with
Hannaford, and would like to hear more of him.

"Not long ago," Piers responded, "he was a teacher of chemistry at
Geneva--I got to know him there. He seems to speak half a dozen
languages in perfection; I believe he was born in Switzerland. His
house down in Surrey is a museum of modern weapons--a regular armoury.
He has invented some new gun."

"So I gathered. And a new explosive, I'm told."

"I hope he doesn't store it in his house?" said Mr. Jacks, looking with
concern at Piers.

"I've had a moment's uneasiness about that, now and then," Otway
replied, laughing, "especially after hearing him talk."

"A tremendous fellow!" Arnold exclaimed admiringly. "He showed me, by
sketch diagrams, how many men he could kill within a given space."

"If this gentleman were not your friend, Mr. Otway," began the host, "I
should say----"

"Oh, pray say whatever you like! He isn't my friend at all, and I
detest his inventions."

"Shocking!" fell sweetly from the lady at the head of the table.

"As usual, I must beg leave to differ," put in Arnold. "What would
become of us if we left all that kind of thing to the other countries?
Hannaford is a patriot. He struck me as quite disinterested; personal
gain is nothing to him. He loves his country, and is using his genius
in her service."

John Jacks nodded.

"Well, yes, yes. But I wish your father were here, Mr. Otway, to give
his estimate of such genius; at all events if he thinks as he did years
ago. Get him on that topic, and he was one of the most eloquent men
living. I am convinced that he only wanted a little more
self-confidence to become a real power in public life--a genuine
orator, such, perhaps, as England has never had."

"Nor ever will have," Arnold interrupted. "We act instead of talking."

"My dear boy," said his father weightily, "we talk very much, and very
badly; in pulpit, and Parliament, and press, We want the man who has
something new to say, and knows how to say it. For my own part, I don't
think, when he comes, that he will glorify explosives. I want to hear
someone talk about Peace--and _not_ from the commercial point of view.
The slaughterers shan't have it all their own way, Arnold; civilisation
will be too strong for them, and if Old England doesn't lead in that
direction, it will be her shame to the end of history."

Arnold smiled, but kept silence. Mrs. Jacks looked and murmured her
approval.

"I wish Hannaford could hear you," said Piers Otway.

When they rose from the table, John Jacks invited the young man to come
with him into his study for a little private talk.

"I haven't many books here," he said, noticing Otway's glance at the
shelves. "My library is down in Yorkshire, at the old home; where I
shall be very glad indeed to see you, whenever you come north in
vacation-time. Well now, let us make friends; tell me something about
yourself. You are reading for the Civil Service, I understand?"

Piers liked Mr. Jacks, and was soon chatting freely. He told how his
education had begun at a private school in London, how he had then gone
to school at Geneva, and, when seventeen years old, had entered an
office of London merchants, dealing with Russia.

"It wasn't my own choice. My father talked to me, and seemed so anxious
for me to go into business that I made no objection. I didn't
understand him then, but I think I do now. You know"--he added in a
lower tone--"that I have two elder brothers?"

"Yes, I know. And a word that fell from your father at Northallerton
the other day--I think I understand."

"Both went in for professions," Otway pursued, "and I suppose he wasn't
very well satisfied with the results. However, after I had been two
years in the office, I felt I couldn't stand it, and I began privately
to read law. Then one day I wrote to my father, and asked whether he
would allow me to be articled to a solicitor. He replied that he would,
if, at the age of twenty, I had gone steadily on with the distasteful
office work, and had continued to read law in my leisure. Well, I
accepted this, of course, and in a year's time found how right he had
been; already I had got sick of the law books, and didn't care for the
idea of being articled. I told father that, and he asked me to wait six
months more, and then to let him know my mind again. I hadn't got to
like business any better, and one day it seemed to me that I would try
for a place in a Government office. When the time came, I suggested
this, and my father ultimately agreed. I lived with him at Hawes for a
month or two, then came into Surrey, to work on for the examination. We
shall see what I get."

The young man spoke with a curious blending of modesty and
self-confidence, of sobriety beyond his years and the glow of a fervid
temperament. He seemed to hold himself consciously in restraint, but,
as if to compensate for subdued language, he used more gesticulation
than is common with Englishmen. Mr. Jacks watched him very closely,
and, when he ceased, reflected for a moment.

"True; we shall see. You are working steadily?"

"About fourteen hours a day."

"Too much! too much!--All at the Civil Service subjects?"

"No; I manage a few other things. For instance, I'm trying to learn
Russian. Father says he made the attempt long ago, but was beaten. I
don't think I shall give in."

"Your father knew Herzen and Bakounine, in the old days. Well, don't
overdo it; don't neglect the body. We must have another talk before
long."

Again Mr. Jacks looked thoughtfully at the keen young face, and his
countenance betrayed a troublous mood.

"How you remind me of my old friend, forty years ago--forty years ago!"



CHAPTER III


A little apart from the village of Ewell, within sight of the noble
trees and broad herbage of Nonsuch Park, and looking southward to the
tilth and pasture of the Downs, stood the house occupied by Mr. Lee
Hannaford. It was just too large to be called a cottage; not quite old
enough to be picturesque; a pleasant enough dwelling, amid its green
garden plot, sheltered on the north side by a dark hedge of yew, and
shut from the quiet road by privet topped with lilac and laburnum. This
day of early summer, fresh after rains, with a clear sky and the sun
wide-gleaming over young leaf and bright blossom, with Nature's perfume
wafted along every alley, about every field and lane, showed the spot
at its best. But it was with no eye to natural beauty that Mr.
Hannaford had chosen this abode; such considerations left him
untouched. He wanted a cheap house not far from London, where his
wife's uncertain health might receive benefit, and where the simplicity
of the surroundings would offer no temptations to casual expense. For
his own part, he was a good deal from home, coming and going as it
suited him; a very small income from capital, and occasional earnings
by contribution to scientific journalism, left slender resources to
Mrs. Hannaford and her daughter after the husband's needs were
supplied. Thus it came about that they gladly ceded a spare room to
Piers Otway, who, having boarded with them during his student time at
Geneva, had at long intervals kept up a correspondence with Mrs.
Hannaford, a lady he admired.

The rooms were indifferently furnished; in part, owing to poverty, and
partly because neither of the ladies cared much for things domestic.
Mr. Hannaford's sanctum alone had character; it was hung about with
lethal weapons of many kinds and many epochs, including a memento of
every important war waged in Europe since the date of Waterloo. A
smoke-grimed rifle from some battlefield was in Hannaford's view a
thing greatly precious; still more, a bayonet with stain of blood;
these relics appealed to his emotions. Under glass were ranged minutiae
such as bullets, fragments of shells, bits of gore-drenched cloth or
linen, a splinter of human bone--all ticketed with neat inscription. A
bookcase contained volumes of military history, works on firearms,
treatises on (chiefly explosive) chemistry; several great portfolios
were packed with maps and diagrams of warfare. Upstairs, a long garret
served as laboratory, and here were ranged less valuable possessions;
weapons to which some doubt attached, unbloody scraps of accoutrements,
also a few models of cannon and the like.

In society, Hannaford was an entertaining, sometimes a charming, man,
with a flow of well-informed talk, of agreeable anecdote; his friends
liked to have him at the dinner-table; he could never be at a loss for
a day or two's board and lodging when his home wearied him. Under his
own roof he seldom spoke save to find fault, rarely showed anything but
acrid countenance. He and his wife were completely alienated; but for
their child, they would long ago have parted. It had been a love match,
and the daughter's name, Olga, still testified to the romance of their
honeymoon; but that was nearly twenty years gone by, and of these at
least fifteen had been spent in discord, concealed or flagrant. Mrs.
Hannaford was something of an artist; her husband spoke of all art with
contempt--except the great art of human slaughter. She liked the
society of foreigners; he, though a remarkable linguist, at heart
distrusted and despised all but English-speaking folk. As a girl in her
teens, she had been charmed by the man's virile accomplishments, his
soldierly bearing and gay talk of martial things, though Hannaford was
only a teacher of science. Nowadays she thought with dreary wonder of
that fascination, and had come to loathe every trapping and habiliment
of war. She knew him profoundly selfish, and recognised the other
faults which had hindered so clever a man from success in life;
indolent habits, moral untrustworthiness, and a conceit which at times
menaced insanity. He hated her, she was well aware, because of her cold
criticism; she returned his hate with interest.

Save in suicide, of which she had sometimes thought, Mrs. Hannaford saw
but one hope of release. A sister of hers had married a rich American,
and was now a widow in falling health. That sister's death might
perchance endow her with the means of liberty; she hung upon every
message from across the Atlantic.

She had a brother, too; a distinguished, but not a wealthy man. Dr.
Derwent would gladly have seen more of her, gladly have helped to cheer
her life, but a hearty antipathy held him aloof from Lee Hannaford.
Communication between the two families was chiefly maintained through
Dr. Derwent's daughter Irene, now in her nineteenth year. The girl had
visited her aunt at Geneva, and since then had occasionally been a
guest at Ewell. Having just returned from a winter abroad with her
father, and no house being ready for her reception in London, Irene was
even now about to pass a week with her relatives. They expected her
to-day. The prospect of Irene's arrival enabled Mrs. Hannaford and Olga
to find pleasure in the sunshine, which otherwise brought them little
solace.

Neither was in sound health. The mother had an interesting face; the
daughter had a touch of beauty; but something morbid appeared on the
countenance of each. They lived a strange life, lonely, silent; the
stillness of the house unbroken by a note of music, unrelieved by a
sound of laughter. In the neighbourhood they had no friends; only at
long intervals did a London acquaintance come thus far to call upon
them. But for the presence of Piers Otway at meals, and sometimes in
the afternoon or evening, they would hardly have known conversation.
For when Hannaford was at home, his sour muteness discouraged any kind
of talk; in his absence, mother and daughter soon exhausted all they
had to say to each other, and read or brooded or nursed their headaches
apart.

With the coming of Irene, gloom vanished. It had always been so, since
the beginning of her girlhood; the name of Irene Derwent signified
miseries forgotten, mirthful hours, the revival of health and hope.
Unable to resist her influence, Hannaford always kept as much as
possible out of the way when she was under his roof; the conflict
between inclination to unbend and stubborn coldness towards his family
made him too uncomfortable. Vivaciously tactful in this as in all
things, Irene had invented a pleasant fiction which enabled her to meet
Mr. Hannaford without embarrassment; she always asked him "How is your
neuralgia?" And the man, according as he felt, made answer that it was
better or worse. That neuralgia was often a subject of bitter jest
between Mrs. Hannaford and Olga, but it had entered into the life of
the family, and at times seemed to be believed in even by the imagined
sufferer.

Nothing could have been more characteristic of Irene. Wit at the
service of good feeling expressed her nature.

Her visit this time would be specially interesting, for she had passed
the winter in Finland, amid the intellectual society of Helsingfors.
Letters had given a foretaste of what she would have to tell, but Irene
was no great letter-writer. She had an impatience of remaining seated
at a desk. She did not even read very much. Her delight was in
conversation, in movement, in active life. For several years her father
had made her his companion, as often as possible, in holiday travel and
on the journeys prompted by scientific study. Though successful as a
medical man, Dr. Derwent no longer practised; he devoted himself to
pathological research, and was making a name in the world of science.
His wife, who had died young, left him two children; the elder,
Eustace, was an amiable and intelligent young man, but had small place
in his father's life compared with that held by Irene.

She was to arrive at Ewell in time for luncheon. Her brother would
bring her, and return to London in the afternoon.

Olga walked to the station to meet them. Mrs. Hannaford having paid
unusual attention to her dress--she had long since ceased to care how
she looked, save on very exceptional occasions--moved impatiently,
nervously, about the house and the garden. Her age was not yet forty,
but a life of disappointment and unrest had dulled her complexion, made
her movements languid, and was beginning to touch with grey her soft,
wavy hair. Under happier circumstances she would have been a most
attractive woman; her natural graces were many, her emotions were vivid
and linked with a bright intelligence, her natural temper inclined to
the nobler modes of life. Unfortunately, little care had been given to
her education; her best possibilities lay undeveloped; thrown upon her
inadequate resources, she nourished the weaknesses instead of the
virtues of her nature. She was always saying to herself that life had
gone by, and was wasted; for life meant love, and love in her
experience had been a flitting folly, an error of crude years, which
should, in all justice, have been thrown aside and forgotten, allowing
her a second chance. Too late, now. Often she lay through the long
nights shedding tears of misery. Too late; her beauty blurred, her
heart worn with suffering, often poisoned with bitterness. Yet there
came moments of revolt, when she rose and looked at herself in the
mirror, and asked----But for Olga, she would have tried to shape her
own destiny.

To-day she could look up at the sunshine. Irene was coming.

A sound of young voices in the quiet road; then the shimmer of a bright
costume, the gleam of a face all health and charm and merriment. Irene
came into the garden, followed by her brother, and behind them Olga.

Her voice woke the dull house; of a sudden it was alive, responding to
the cheerful mood of its inhabitants. The rooms had a new appearance;
sunlight seemed to penetrate to every shadowed comer; colours were
brighter, too familiar objects became interesting. The dining-room
table, commonly so uninviting, gleamed as for a festival. Irene's eyes
fell on everything and diffused her own happy spirit. Irene had an
excellent appetite; everyone enjoyed the meal. This girl could not but
bestow something of herself on all with whom she came together; where
she felt liking, her influence was incalculable.

"How much better you look than when I last saw you." she said to her
aunt. "Ewell evidently suits you."

And at once Mrs. Hannaford felt that she was stronger, younger, than
she had thought. Yes, she felt better than for a long time, and Ewell
was exactly suited to her health.

"Is that pastel yours, Olga? Admirable! The best thing of yours I ever
saw."

And Olga, who had thought her pastel worthless, saw all at once that it
really was not bad; she glowed with gratification.

The cousins were almost of an age, of much the same stature; but Olga
had a pallid tint, tawny hair, and bluish eyes, whilst Irene's was a
warm complexion, her hair of dark-brown, and her eyes of hazel. As
efficient human beings, there could be no comparison between them; Olga
looked frail, despondent, inclined to sullenness, whilst Irene
impressed one as in perfect health, abounding in gay vitality, infinite
in helpful resource. Straight as an arrow, her shoulders the perfect
curve, bosom and hips full-moulded to the ideal of ripe girlhood, she
could not make a gesture which was not graceful, nor change her
position without revealing a new excellence of form. Yet a certain
taste would have leant towards Miss Hannaford, whose traits had more
mystery; as an uncommon type, she gained by this juxtaposition. Miss
Derwent, despite her larger experience of the world, her vastly better
education, was a much younger person than Olga; she had an occasional
_naivete_ unknown to her cousin; her sex was far less developed. To the
average man, Olga's proximity would have been troubling, whereas
Irene's would simply have given delight.

During the excitement of the arrival, and through the cheerful meal
which followed, Eustace Derwent maintained a certain reserve, was
always rather in the background. This implied no defect of decent
sentiment; the young man--he was four-and-twenty--could not regard his
aunt and cousin with any fond emotion, but he did not dislike them, and
was willing to credit them with all the excellent qualities perceived
by Irene, wondering merely how his father's sister, a member of the
Derwent family, could have married such a "doubtful customer" as Lee
Hannaford. Eustace never became demonstrative; he had in perfection the
repose of a self-conscious, delicately bred, and highly trained
Englishman. In a day of democratisation, he supported the ancient fame
of the University which fostered gentlemen. Balliol was his College.
His respect for that name, and his reverence for the great master who
ruled there, were not inconsistent with a private feeling that,
whatever he might owe to Balliol, Balliol in turn lay under a certain
obligation to him. His academic record had no brilliancy; he aimed at
nothing of the kind, knowing his limitations--or rather his
distinctions; but he was quietly conscious that no graduate of his year
better understood the niceties of decorum, more creditably represented
the tone of that famous school of manners.

Eustace Derwent was in fact a thoroughly clear-minded and well-meaning
young man; sensitive as to his honour; ambitious of such social
advancement as would illustrate his name; unaffectedly attached to
those of his own blood, and anxious to fulfil with entire propriety all
the recognised duties of life. He was intelligent, with originality; he
was good-natured without shadow of boisterous impulse. In countenance
he strongly resembled his mother, who had been a very handsome woman
(Irene had more of her father's features), and, of course, he well knew
that the eyes of ladies rested upon him with peculiar interest; but no
vulgar vanity appeared in his demeanour. As a matter of routine, he
dressed well, but he abhorred the hint of foppishness. In athletics he
had kept the golden mean, as in all else; he exercised his body for
health, not for the pride of emulation. As to his career, he was at
present reading for the Bar. In meditative moments it seemed to him
that he was, perhaps, best fitted for the diplomatic service.

Not till this gentleman had taken his leave, which he did (to catch a
train) soon after lunch, was there any mention of the fact that the
Hannafords had a stranger residing under their roof: in coarse English,
a lodger.

To Eustace, as his aunt knew, the subject would necessarily have been
painful; and not only in the snobbish sense; it would really have
distressed him to learn that his kinsfolk were glad of such a
supplement to their income. But soon after his retirement, Mrs.
Hannaford spoke of the matter, and no sooner had she mentioned Piers
Otway's name than Irene flashed upon her a look of attentive interest.

"Is he related to Jerome Otway, the agitator?--His son? How delightful!
Oh, I know all about him; I mean, about the old man. One of our friends
at Helsingfors was an old French revolutionist, who has lived a great
deal in England; he was always talking about his English friends of
long ago, and Jerome Otway often came in. He didn't know whether he was
still alive. Oh, I must write and tell him."

The ladies gave what information they could (it amounted to very
little) about the recluse of Wensleydale; then they talked of the young
man.

"We knew him at Geneva, first of all," said Mrs. Hannaford. "Indeed, he
lived with us there for a time; he was only a boy, then, and such a
nice boy! He has changed a good deal--don't you think so, Olga? I don't
mean for the worse; not at all; but he is not so talkative and
companionable. You'll find him shy at first, I fancy."

"He works terrifically," put in Olga. "It's certain he must be injuring
his health."

"Then," exclaimed Irene, "why do you let him?"

"Let him? We have no right to interfere with a young man of
one-and-twenty."

"Surely you have, if he's behaving foolishly, to his own harm. But what
do you call terrific work?"

"All day long, and goodness knows how much of the night. Somebody told
us his light had been seen burning once at nearly three o'clock."

"Is he at it now?" asked Irene, with a comical look towards the ceiling.

They explained Otway's absence.

"Oh, he lunches with Members of Parliament, does he?"

"It's a very exceptional thing for him to leave home," said Mrs.
Hannaford. "He only goes out to breathe the air for half an hour or so
in an afternoon."

"You astonish me, aunt! You oughtn't to allow it--_I_ shan't allow it,
I assure you."

The listeners laughed gaily.

"My dear Irene," said her aunt, "Mr. Otway will be much flattered, I'm
sure. But his examination comes on very soon, and he was telling us
only yesterday that he didn't want to lose an hour if he could help it."

"He'll lose a good many hours before long, at this rate. Silly fellow!
That's not the way to do well at an exam! I must counsel him for his
soul's good, I must, indeed. Will he dine here to-night?"

"No doubt."

"And make all haste to get away when dinner is over," said Olga, with a
smile.

"Then we won't let him. He shall tell us all about the Member of
Parliament; and then all about his famous father. I undertake to keep
him talking till ten."

"Then, poor fellow, he'll have to work all night to make it up."

"Indeed, no! I shall expressly forbid it. What a shocking thing if he
died here, and it got into the papers! Aunt, do consider; they would
call you his _landlady_!"

Mrs. Hannaford reddened whilst laughing, and the girl saw that her joke
was not entirely relished, but she could never resist the temptation to
make fun of certain prejudices.

"And when you give your evidence," she went on, "the coroner will
remark that if the influence of a lady so obviously sweet and
right-feeling and intelligent could not avail to save the poor youth,
he was plainly destined to a premature end."

At which Mrs. Hannaford again laughed and reddened, but this time with
gratification.

If Irene sometimes made a mistake, no one could have perceived it more
quickly, and more charmingly have redeemed the slip.



CHAPTER IV


When Piers Otway got back to Ewell, about four o'clock, he felt the
beginning of a headache. The day of excitement might have accounted for
it, but in the last few weeks it had been too common an experience with
him, a warning, naturally, against his mode of life, and of course
unheeded. On reaching the house, he saw and heard no one; the door
stood open, and he went straight up to his room.

He had only one, which served him for study and bedchamber. In front of
the window stood a large table, covered with his books and papers, and
there, on the blotting pad, lay a letter which had arrived for him
since his departure this morning. It came, he saw, from his father. He
took it up eagerly, and was tearing the envelope when his eye fell on
something that stayed his hand.

The wide-open window offered a view over the garden at the back of the
house, and on the lawn he saw a little group of ladies. Seated in
basket chairs, Mrs. Hannaford and her daughter were conversing with a
third person whom Piers did not know, a tall, fair-faced girl who stood
before them and seemed at this moment to be narrating some lively
story. Even had her features been hidden, the attitude of this
stranger, her admirable form and rapid, graceful gestures, must have
held the young man's attention; seeing her with the light full on her
countenance, he gazed and gazed, in sudden complete forgetfulness of
his half-opened letter. Just so had he stood before the print shop in
London this morning, with the same wide eyes, the same hurried
breathing; rapt, self-oblivious.

He remembered. The Hannafords' relative, Miss Derwent, was expected
to-day; and Miss Derwent, doubtless, he beheld.

The next moment it occurred to him that his observation, within earshot
of the group, was a sort of eavesdropping; he closed his window and
turned away. The sound must have drawn attention, for very soon there
came a knock at the door, and the servant inquired of him whether he
would have tea, as usual, in his room, or join the ladies below.

"Bring it here, please," he replied. "And--yes, tell Mrs. Hannaford
that I shall not come down to dinner--you can bring me anything you
like--just a mouthful of something."

Now there went, obscurely, no less than three reasons to the quick
shaping of this decision. In the first place, Piers had glanced over
his father's letter, and saw in it matter for long reflection.
Secondly, his headache was declared, and he would be better alone for
the evening. Thirdly, he shrank from meeting Miss Derwent. And this
last was the predominant motive. Letter and headache notwithstanding,
he would have joined the ladies at dinner but for the presence of their
guest. An inexplicable irritation all at once possessed him; a
grotesque resentment of Miss Derwent's arrival.

Why should she have come just when he wanted to work harder than ever?
That was how things happened--the perversity of circumstance! She would
be at every meal for at least a week; he must needs talk with her, look
at her, think about her. His annoyance became so acute that he tramped
nervously about the floor, muttering maledictions.

It passed. A cup of tea brought him to his right mind, and he no longer
saw the event in such exaggerated colours. But he was glad of his
decision to spend the evening alone.

His father's letter had come at the right moment; in some degree it
allayed the worry caused by his brother Daniel's talk this morning.
Jerome Otway wrote, as usual, briefly, on the large letter-paper he
always used; his bold hand, full of a certain character, demanded
space. He began by congratulating Piers on the completion of his
one-and-twentieth year. "I am late, but had not forgotten the day; it
costs me an effort to put pen to paper, as you know." Proceeding, he
informed his son that a sum of money, a few hundred pounds, had become
payable to him on the attainment of his majority. "It was your
mother's, and she wished you to have it. A man of law will communicate
with you about the matter. Speak of it to me, or not, as you prefer. If
you wish it, I will advise; if you wish it not, I will keep silence."
There followed a few words about the beauty of spring in the moorland;
then: "Your ordeal approaches. An absurdity, I fear, but the wisdom of
our day will have it thus. I wish you success. If you fall short of
your hopes, come to me and we will talk once more. Befall what may, I
am to the end your father who wishes you well." The signature was very
large, and might have drawn censure of affectation from the
unsympathetic. As, indeed, might the whole epistle: very significant of
the mind and temper of Jerome Otway.

To Piers, the style was too familiar to suggest reflections besides, he
had a loyal mind towards his father, and never criticised the old man's
dealing with him. The confirmation of Daniel's report about the legacy
concerned him little in itself; he had no immediate need of money, and
so small a sum could not affect the course of his life; but, this being
true, it seemed probable that Daniel's other piece of information was
equally well founded. If so, what matter? Already he had asked himself
why the story about his mother should have caused him a shock. His
father, in all likelihood, would now never speak of that; and, indeed,
why should he? The story no longer affected either of them, and to
worry oneself about it was mere "philistinism," a favourite term with
Piers at that day.

In replying, which he did this same night, he decided to make no
mention of Daniel. The name would give his father no pleasure.

When he rang to have his tea-things taken away, Mrs. Hannaford
presented herself. She was anxious about him. Why would he not dine?
She wished him to make the acquaintance of Miss Derwent, whose talk was
sure to interest him. Piers pleaded his headache, causing the lady more
solicitude. She entreated. As he could not work, it would be much
better for him to spend an hour or two in company. Would he not? to
please her?

Mrs. Hannaford spoke in a soft, caressing voice, and Piers returned her
look of kindness; but he was firm. An affection had grown up between
these two; their intercourse, though they seldom talked long together,
was much like that of mother and son.

"You are injuring you health," said Mrs. Hannaford gravely, "and it is
unkind to those who care for you."

"Wait a few weeks," he replied cheerily, "and I'll make up the health
account."

"You refuse to come down to please me, this once?"

"I must be alone--indeed I must," Piers replied, with unusual
abruptness. And Mrs. Hannaford, a little hurt, left the room without
speaking.

He all but hastened after her, to apologise; but the irritable impulse
overcame him again, and he had to pace the room till his nerves grew
steady.

Very soon after it was dark he gave up the effort to read, and went to
bed. A good night's sleep restored him. He rose with the sun, felt the
old appetite for work, and when the breakfast bell rang had redeemed
more than three good hours. He was able now to face Miss Derwent, or
anyone else. Indeed, that young lady hardly came into his mind before
he met her downstairs. At the introduction he behaved with his natural
reserve, which had nothing, as a rule, of awkwardness. Irene was
equally formal, though a smile at the corner of her lips half betrayed
a mischievous thought. They barely spoke to each other, and at table
Irene took no heed of him.

But with the others she talked as brightly as usual, managing, none the
less, to do full justice to the meal. Miss Derwent's vigour of mind and
body was not sustained on air, and she never affected a delicate
appetite. There was still something of the healthy schoolgirl in her
manner. Otway glanced at her once or twice, but immediately averted his
eyes--with a slight frown, as if the light had dazzled him.

She was talking of Finland, and mentioned the name of her father's
man-servant, Thibaut. It entered several times into the narrative, and
always with an approving epithet, the excellent Thibaut, the brave
Thibaut.

"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Hannaford, presently, "do tell Mr. Otway the story
of Thibaut."

"Yes, do!" urged Olga.

Piers raised his eyes to the last speaker, and moved them timidly
towards Irene. She smiled, meeting his look with a sort of merry
satisfaction.

"Mr. Otway is occupied with serious thoughts," was her good-humoured
remark.

"I should much like to hear the story of Thibaut," said Piers, bending
forward a little.

"Would you? You shall--Thibaut Rossignol; delightful name, isn't it?
And one of the most delightful of men, though only a servant, and the
son of a village shopkeeper. It begins fifteen years ago, just after
the Franco-Prussian War. My father was taking a holiday in eastern
France, and he came one day to a village where an epidemic of typhoid
was raging. _Tant mieux_! Something to do; some help to be given. If
you knew my father--but you will understand. He offered his services to
the overworked couple of doctors and was welcomed. He fought the
typhoid day and night--if you knew my father! Well, there was a bad
case in a family named Rossignol: a boy of twelve. What made it worse
was that two elder brothers had been killed in the war, and the parents
sat in despair by the bedside of their only remaining child. The father
was old and very shaky; the mother much younger, but she had suffered
dreadfully from the death of her two boys--you should hear my father
tell it! I make a hash of it; when _he_ tells it people cry. Madame
Rossignol was the sweetest little woman--you know that kind of
Frenchwoman, don't you? Soft-voiced, tender, intelligent, using the
most delightful phrases; a jewel of a woman. My father settled himself
by the bedside and fought; Madame Rossignol watching him with eyes he
did not dare to meet--until a certain moment. Then--_then_ the soft
voice for once was loud. '_Ii est sauve_!' My father shed tears;
everybody shed tears--except Thibaut himself."

Piers hung on the speaker's lips. No music had ever held him so rapt.
When she ceased he gazed at her.

"No, of course, that's not all," Irene proceeded, with the mischievous
smile again; and she spoke much as she might have done to an eagerly
listening child. "Six years pass by. My father is again in the east of
France, and he goes to the old village. He is received with enthusiasm;
his name has become a proverb. Rossignol _pere_, alas, is dead, long
since. Dear Madame Rossignol lives, but my father sees at a glance that
she will not live long. The excitement of meeting him was almost too
much for her--pale, sweet little woman. Thibaut was keeping shop with
her, but he seemed out of place there; a fine lad of eighteen; very
intelligent, wonderfully good-humoured, and his poor mother had no
peace, night or day, for the thought of what would become of him after
her death; he had no male kinsfolk, and certainly would not stick to a
dull little trade. My father thought, and after thinking, spoke.
'Madame, will you let me take your son to England, and find something
for him to do?' She screamed with delight. 'But will Thibaut consent?'
Thibaut had his patriotic scruples; but when he saw and heard his poor
mother, he consented. Madame Rossignol had a sister near by, with whom
she could live. And so on the spot it was settled."

Piers hung on the speaker's lips; no tale had ever so engrossed him.
Indeed, it was charmingly told; with so much girlish sincerity, so much
womanly feeling.

"No, that's not all. My father went to his inn for the night. Early in
the morning he was hastily summoned; he must come at once to the house
of the Rossignols; something was wrong. He went, and there, in her bed,
lay the little woman, just as if asleep, and a smile on her face--but
she was dead."

Piers had a lump in his throat; he straightened himself, and tried to
command his features. Irene, smiling, looked steadily at him.

"From that day," she added, "Thibaut has been my father's servant. He
wouldn't be anything else. This, he always says, would best have
pleased his mother. He will never leave Dr. Derwent. The good Thibaut!"

All were silent for a minute; then Piers pushed back his chair.

"Work?" said Mrs. Hannaford, with a little note of allusion to last
evening.

"Work!" Piers replied grimly, his eyes down.

"Well, now," exclaimed Irene, turning to her cousin, "what shall we do
this splendid morning? Where can we go?"

Piers left the room as the words were spoken. He went upstairs with
slower step than usual, head bent. On entering his room (it was always
made ready for him while he was at breakfast), he walked to the window,
and stared out at the fleecy clouds in the summer blue, at the trees
and the lawn. He was thinking of the story of Thibaut. What a fine
fellow Dr. Derwent must be! He would like to know him.

To work! He meant to give an hour or two to his Russian, with which he
had already made fair progress. By the bye, he must tell his father
that; the old man would be pleased.

An hour later, he again stood at his window, staring at the clouds and
the blue. Russian was against the grain, somehow, this morning. He
wondered whether Miss Derwent had learnt any during her winter at
Helsingfors.

What a long day was before him! He kept looking at his watch. And,
instead of getting on with his work, he thought and thought again of
the story of Thibaut.



CHAPTER V


At lunch Piers was as silent as at breakfast; he hardly spoke, save in
answer to a chance question from Mrs. Hannaford. His face had an
unwonted expression, a shade of sullenness, a mood rarely seen in him.
Miss Derwent, whose animation more than made up for this muteness in
one of the company, glanced occasionally at Otway, but did not address
him.

As his habit was, he went out for an afternoon walk, and returned with
no brighter countenance. On the first landing of the staircase, as he
stole softly to his room, he came face to face with Miss Derwent,
descending.

"We are going to have tea in the garden," she exclaimed, with the
friendliest look and tone.

"Are you? It will be enjoyable--it's so warm and sunny."

"You will come, of course?"

"I'm sorry--I have too much to do."

He blundered out the words with hot embarrassment, and would have
passed on. Irene did not permit it.

"But you have been working all the morning?"

"Oh, yes----"

"Since when?"

"Since about--oh, five o'clock----"

"Then you have already worked something like eight hours, Mr. Otway.
How many more do you think of working?"

"Five or six, I hope," Piers answered, finding courage to look into her
face, and trying to smile.

"Mr. Otway," she rejoined, with an air of self-possession which made
him feel like a rebuked schoolboy, "I prophesy that you will come to
grief over your examination."

"I don't think so, Miss Derwent," he said, with the firmness of
desperation, as he felt his face grow red under her gaze.

"I am the daughter of a medical man. Prescriptions are in my blood.
Allow me to tell you that you have worked enough for one day, and that
it is your plain duty to come and have tea in the garden."

So serious was the note of interest which blended with her natural
gaiety as she spoke these words that Piers felt his nerves thrill with
delight. He was able to meet her eyes, and to respond in becoming terms.

"You are right. Certainly I will come, and gladly."

Irene nodded, smiled approval, and moved past him.

In his room he walked hither and thither aimlessly, still holding his
hat and stick. A throbbing of the heart, a quickening of the senses,
seemed to give him a new consciousness of life. His mood of five
minutes ago had completely vanished. He remembered his dreary ramble
about the lanes as if it had taken place last week. Miss Derwent was
still speaking to him; his mind echoed again and again every word she
had said, perfectly reproducing her voice, her intonation; he saw her
bright, beautiful face, its changing lights, its infinite subtleties of
expression. The arch of her eyebrows and the lovely hazel eyes beneath;
the small and exquisitely shaped mouth; the little chin, so delicately
round and firm; all were engraved on his memory, once and for ever.

He sat down and was lost in a dream. His arms hung idly; all his
muscles were relaxed. His eyes dwelt on a point of the carpet which he
did not see.

Then, with a sudden start of activity, he went to the looking-glass and
surveyed himself. His tie was the worse for wear. He exchanged it for
another. He brushed his hair violently, and smoothed his moustache.
Never had he felt such dissatisfaction with his appearance. Never had
it struck him so disagreeably before that he was hard-featured, sallow,
anything but a handsome man. Yet, he had good teeth, very white and
regular; that was something, perhaps. Observing them, he grinned at
himself grotesquely--and at once was so disgusted that he turned with a
shudder away.

Ordinarily, he would have awaited the summons of the bell for tea. But,
after making himself ready, he gazed from the window and saw Miss
Derwent walking alone in the garden; he hastened down.

She gave him a look of intelligence, but took his arrival as a matter
of course, and spoke to him about a flowering shrub which pleased her.
Otway's heart sank. What had he expected? He neither knew nor asked
himself; he stood beside her, seeing nothing, hearing only a voice and
wishing it would speak on for ever. He was no longer a reflecting,
reasoning young man, with a tolerably firm will and fixed purposes, but
a mere embodied emotion, and that of the vaguest, swaying in dependence
on another's personality.

Olga Hannaford joined them. Olga, for all the various charms of her
face, had never thus affected him. But then, he had known her a few
years ago, when, as something between child and woman, she had little
power to interest an imaginative boy, whose ideal was some actress seen
only in a photograph, or some great lady on her travels glimpsed as he
strayed about Geneva. She, in turn, regarded him with the coolest
friendliness, her own imagination busy with far other figures than that
of a would-be Government clerk.

Just as tea was being served, there sounded a voice welcome to no one
present, that of Lee Hannaford. He came forward with his wonted air of
preoccupation; a well-built man, in the prime of life, carefully
dressed, his lips close-set, his eyes seemingly vacant, but in reality
very attentive; a pinched ironical smile meant for cordiality. After
greetings, he stood before Miss Derwent's chair conversing with her; a
cup of tea in his steady hand, his body just bent, his forehead
curiously wrinkled--a habit of his when he talked for civility's sake
and nothing else. Hannaford could never be at ease in the presence of
his wife and daughter if others were there to observe him; he avoided
speaking to them, or, if obliged, did so with awkward formality.
Indeed, he was not fond of the society of women, and grew less so every
year. His tone with regard to them was marked with an almost
puritanical coldness; he visited any feminine breach of the proprieties
with angry censure. Yet, before his marriage, he had lived, if
anything, more laxly than the average man, and to his wife he had
confessed (strange memory nowadays), that he owed to her a moral
redemption. His morality, in fact, no one doubted; the suspicions Mrs.
Hannaford had once entertained when his coldness to her began, she now
knew to be baseless. Absorbed in meditations upon bloodshed and havoc,
he held high the ideal of chastity, and, in company agreeable to him,
could allude to it as the safeguard of civil life.

When he withdrew into the house, Mrs. Hannaford followed him. Olga,
always nervous when her father was near, sat silent. Piers Otway, with
a new reluctance, was rising to return to his studies, when Miss
Derwent checked him with a look.

"What a perfect afternoon!"

"It is, indeed," he murmured, his eyes falling.

"Olga, are you too tired for another walk?"

"I? Oh, no! I should enjoy it."

"Do you think"--Irene looked roguishly at her cousin--"Mr. Otway would
forgive us if we begged him to come, too?"

Olga smiled, and glanced at the young man with certainty that he would
excuse himself.

"We can but ask," she said.

And Piers, to her astonishment, at once assented. He did so with sudden
colour in his cheeks, avoiding Olga's look.

So they set forth together; and, little by little, Piers grew
remarkably talkative. Miss Derwent mentioned his father, declared an
interest in Jerome Otway, and this was a subject on which Piers could
always discourse to friendly hearers. This evening he did so with
exceptional fervour, abounded in reminiscences, rose at moments to
enthusiasm. His companions were impressed; to Irene it was an
unexpected revelation of character. She had imagined young Otway dry
and rather conventional, perhaps conceited; she found him impassioned
and an idealist, full of hero-worship, devoted to his father's name and
fame.

"And he lives all the year round in that out-of-the-way place?" she
asked. "I must make a pilgrimage to Hawes. Would he be annoyed? I could
tell him about his old friends at Helsingfors----"

"He would be delighted to see you!" cried Piers, his face glowing. "Let
me know before--let me write----"

"Is he quite alone?"

"No, his wife--my stepmother--is living."

Irene's quick perception interpreted the change of note.

"It would really be very interesting--if I can manage to get so far,"
she said, less impulsively.

They walked the length of the great avenue at Nonsuch, and back again
in the golden light of the west. Piers Otway disregarded the beauty of
earth and sky, he had eyes for nothing but the face and form beside
him. At dinner, made dull by Hannaford's presence, he lived still in
the dream of his delight, listening only when Irene spoke, speaking
only when she addressed him, which she did several times. The meal
over, he sought an excuse for spending the next hour in the
drawing-room; but Mrs. Hannaford, unconscious of any change in his
habits, offered no invitation, and he stole silently away.

He did not light his lamp, but sat in the dim afterglow till it faded
through dusk into dark. He sat without movement, in an enchanted
reverie. And when night had fallen, he suddenly threw off his clothes
and got into bed, where for hours he lay dreaming in wakefulness.

He rose at eight the next morning, and would, under ordinary
circumstances, have taken a book till breakfast. But no book could hold
him, for he had already looked from the window, and in the garden below
had seen Irene. Panting with the haste he had made to finish his
toilet, he stepped towards her.

"Three hours' work already, I suppose," she said, as they shook hands.

"Unfortunately, not one. I overslept myself."

"Come, that's reasonable! There's hope of you. Tell me about this
examination. What are the subjects?"

He expounded the matter as they walked up and down. It led to a
question regarding the possibilities of such a career as he had in view.

"To tell the truth, I haven't thought much about that," said Piers,
with wandering look. "My idea was, I fancy, to get a means of earning
my living which would leave me a good deal of time for private work."

"What, literary work?"

"No; I didn't think of writing. I like study for its own sake."

"Then you have no ambitions, of the common kind?"

"Well, perhaps not. I suppose I have been influenced by my father's
talk about that kind of thing."

"To be sure."

He noticed a shrinking movement in Miss Derwent and saw that Hannaford
was approaching. This dislike of the man, involuntarily betrayed, gave
Piers an exquisite pleasure. Not only because it showed they had a
strong feeling in common; it would have delighted him in any case, for
he was jealous of any human being who approached Irene.

Hannaford made known at breakfast that he was leaving home again that
afternoon, and might be absent for several days. A sensitive person
must have felt the secret satisfaction caused all round the table by
this announcement; Hannaford, whether he noticed it or not, was
completely indifferent; certain letters he had received took most of
his attention during the meal. One of them related to an appointment in
London which he was trying to obtain; the news was favourable, and it
cheered him.

An hour later, as he sat writing in his study, Mrs. Hannaford brought
in a parcel, which had just arrived for him.

"Ah, what's that?" he asked, looking up with interest.

"I'm sure I don't know," answered his wife. "Something with blood on
it, I dare say."

Hannaford uttered a crowing laugh of scorn and amusement.

Through the afternoon Piers Otway sat in the garden with the ladies.
After tea he again went for a walk with Olga and Irene. After dinner he
lingered so significantly that Mrs. Hannaford invited him to the
drawing-room, and with unconcealed pleasure he followed her thither.
When at length he had taken his leave for the night, there was a short
silence, Mrs. Hannaford glancing from her daughter to Irene, and
smiling reflectively.

"Mr. Otway seems to be taking a holiday," she said at length.

"Yes, so it seemed to me," fell from Olga, who caught her mother's eye.

"It'll do him good," was Miss Derwent's remark. She exchanged no glance
with the others, and seemed to be thinking of something else.

Next morning, though the sun shone brilliantly, she did not appear in
the garden before breakfast. From a window above, eyes were watching,
watching in vain. At the meal Irene was her wonted self, but she did
not enter into conversation with Otway. The young man had grown silent
again.

Heavily he went up to his room. Mechanically he seated himself at the
table. But, instead of opening books, he propped his head upon his
hands, and so sat for a long, long time.

When thoughts began to shape themselves (at first he did not think, but
lived in a mere tumult of emotions) he recalled Irene's question: what
career had he really in view? A dull, respectable clerkship, with two
or three hundred a year, and the chance of dreary progress by seniority
till it was time to retire on a decent pension? That, he knew, was what
the Civil Service meant. The far, faint possibility of some assistant
secretaryship to some statesman in office; really nothing else. His
inquiries had apprised him of this delightful state of things, but he
had not cared. Now he did care. He was beginning to understand himself
better.

In truth, he had never looked forward beyond a year or two. Ambition,
desires, he possessed in no common degree, but as a vague, unexamined
impulse. He had dreamt of love, but timidly, tremulously; that was for
the time to come. He had dreamt of distinction; that, also, must be
patiently awaited. In the meantime, labour. He enjoyed intellectual
effort; he gloried in the amassing of mental riches.

    "To follow Knowledge like a sinking star
    Beyond the
    utmost bound of human thought--"

these lines were frequently in his mind, and helped to shape his
enthusiasm. Consciously he subdued a great part of himself, binding his
daily life in asceticism. He would not live in London because he
dreaded its temptations. Gladly he adhered to his father's principles
in the matter of food and drink; this helped him to subdue his body, or
at least he thought so. He was happiest when, throwing himself into bed
after some fourteen hours of hard reading, he felt the stupor of utter
weariness creep upon him, with certainty of oblivion until the next
sunrise.

He did not much reflect upon the course of his life hitherto, with its
false starts, its wavering; he had not experience enough to understand
their significance. Of course his father was mainly responsible for
what had so far happened. Jerome Otway, whilst deciding that this
youngest son of his should be set in the sober way of commerce, to
advance himself, if fate pleased, through recognised grades of social
respectability, was by no means careful to hide from the lad his own
rooted contempt of such ideals. Nothing could have been more
inconsistent than the old agitator's behaviour in attempting to
discharge this practical duty. That he meant well was all one could say
of him; for it was not permissible to suppose Jerome Otway defective in
intelligence. Perhaps the outcome of solicitude in the case of his two
elder sons had so far discouraged him, that, on the first symptoms of
instability, he ceased to regard Piers as within his influence.

Piers, this morning, had a terrible sense of loneliness, of
abandonment. The one certainty by which he had lived, his delight in
books, his resolve to become erudite, now of a sudden vanished. He did
not know himself; he was in a strange world, and bewildered. Nay, he
was suffering anguish.

Why had Miss Derwent disregarded him at breakfast? He must have
offended her last night. And that could only be in one way, by
neglecting his work to loiter about the drawing-room. She had respected
him at all events; now, no doubt she fancied he had not deserved her
respect.

This magnificent piece of self-torturing logic sufficed to occupy him
all the morning.

At luncheon-time he was careful not to come down before the bell rang.
As he prepared himself, the glass showed a drawn visage, heavy eyes; he
thought he was uglier than ever.

Descending, he heard no voices. With tremors he stepped into the
dining-room, and there sat Mrs. Hannaford alone.

"They have gone off for the day," she said, with a kind look. "To
Dorking, and Leith Hill, and I don't know where."

Piers felt a stab through the heart. He stammered something about a
hope that they would enjoy themselves. The meal passed very silently,
for Mrs. Hannaford was meditative. She paid unusual attention to Piers,
trying to tempt his appetite; but with difficulty he swallowed a
mouthful. And, the meal over, he returned at once to his room.

About four o'clock--he was lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling--a
knock aroused him. The servant opened the door.

"A gentleman wanting to see you, sir--Mr. Daniel Otway."

Piers was glad. He would have welcomed any visitor. When Daniel--who
was better dressed than the other day--came into the room, Piers shook
hands warmly with him.

"Delightful spot!" exclaimed the elder, with more than his accustomed
suavity. "Charming little house!--I hope I shan't be wasting your time?"

"Of course not. We shall have some tea presently. How glad I am to see
you!--I must introduce you to Mrs. Hannaford."

"Delighted, my dear boy! How well you look!--stop though; you are _not_
looking very well----"

Piers broke into extravagant gaiety.



CHAPTER VI


There had only been time to satisfy Daniel's profound and touching
interest in his brother's work for the examination when the tea bell
rang, and they went down to the drawing-room. Piers noticed that Mrs.
Hannaford had made a special toilet; so rarely did a new acquaintance
enter the house that she was a little fluttered in receiving Daniel
Otway, whose manners evidently impressed and pleased her. Had he known
his brother well, Piers would have understood that this exhibition of
fine courtesy meant a peculiar interest on Daniel's part. Such interest
was not difficult to excite; there needed only an agreeable woman's
face of a type not familiar to him, in circumstances which offered the
chance of intimacy. And Mrs. Hannaford, as it happened, made peculiar
appeal to Daniel's sensibilities. As they conversed, her thin cheeks
grew warm, her eyes gathered light; she unfolded a charm of personality
barely to be divined in her usual despondent mood.

Daniel's talk was animated, varied, full of cleverness and character.
No wonder if his hostess thought that she had never met so delightful a
man. Incidentally, in quite the permissible way, he made known that he
was a connoisseur of art; he spoke of his travels on the track of this
or that old master, of being consulted by directors of great Galleries,
by wealthy amateurs. He was gracefully anecdotic; he allowed one to
perceive a fine enthusiasm. And Piers listened quite as attentively as
Mrs. Hannaford, for he had no idea how Daniel made his living. The
kernel of truth in this fascinating representation was that Daniel
Otway, among other things, collected _bric-a-brac_ for a certain
dealer, and at times himself disposed of it to persons with more money
than knowledge or taste. At the age of thirty-eight this was the point
he had reached in a career which once promised brilliant things. In
whatever profession he had steadily pursued, Daniel would have come to
the front; but precisely that steady pursuit was the thing impossible
to him. His special weakness, originally amiable, had become an
enthralling vice; the soul of goodness in the man was corrupted, and
had turned poisonous.

The conversation was still unflagging when Olga and her cousin returned
from their day's ramble. Daniel was presented to them. Olga at once
noticed her mother's strange vivacity, and, sitting silent, closely
observed Mr. Otway. Irene, also, studied him with her keen eyes; not,
one would have guessed, with very satisfactory results. As time was
drawing on, Mrs. Hannaford presently asked Daniel if he could give them
the pleasure of staying to dine; and Daniel accepted without a moment's
hesitation. When the ladies retired to dress, he went up to Piers'
room, where a little dialogue of some importance passed between the
brothers.

"Have you heard anything about that matter I spoke of?" Daniel began by
asking, confidentially.

Piers answered in the affirmative, and gave details, much to the
elder's satisfaction. Thereupon, Daniel began talking in a strain of
yet closer confidence, sitting knee to knee with Piers and tapping him
occasionally in a fraternal way. It might interest Piers to know that
he was writing a book--a book which would revolutionise opinion with
regard to certain matters, and certain periods of art. The work was all
but finished. Unfortunately, no publisher could be found to bear the
entire expense of this publication, which of course appealed to a very
small circle of readers. The illustrations made it costly, and--in
short, Daniel found himself pressingly in need of a certain sum to
complete this undertaking, which could not but establish his fame as a
connoisseur, and in all likelihood would secure his appointment as
Director of a certain Gallery which he must not name. The money could
be had for the asking from twenty persons--a mere bagatelle of a
hundred and fifty pounds or so; but how much pleasanter it would be if
this little loan could be arranged between brothers Daniel would engage
to return the sum on publication of the book, probably some six months
hence. Of course he merely threw out the suggestion--

"I shall be only too glad to help," exclaimed Piers at once. "You shall
have the money as soon as I get it."

"That's really noble of you, my dear boy--By the bye, let all this be
very strictly _entre nous_. To tell you the truth. I want to give the
dear old philosopher of Wensleydale a pleasant surprise. I'm afraid he
misjudges me; we have not been on the terms of perfect confidence which
I should desire. But this book will delight him, I know. Let it come as
a surprise."

Piers undertook to say nothing; and Daniel after washing his hands and
face, and smoothing his thin hair, was radiant with gratification.

"Charming girl, Miss Derwent--eh, Piers? I seem to know the name--Dr.
Derwent? Why, to be sure! Capital acquaintance for you. Lucky rascal,
to have got into this house. Miss Hannaford, too, has points. Nothing
so good at your age, my dear boy, as the habit of associating with
intelligent girls and women. _Emollit mores_, and something more than
that. An excellent influence every way. I'm no preacher, Piers, but I
hold by morality; it's the salt of life--the salt of life!"

At dinner, Daniel surpassed himself. He told admirable stories, he
started just the right topics, and dealt with them in the right way; he
seemed to know intuitively the habits of thought of each person he
addressed. The hostess was radiant; Olga looked almost happy; Irene,
after a seeming struggle with herself, which an unkind observer might
have attributed to displeasure at being rivalled in talk, yielded to
the cheery influence, and held her own against the visitor in wit and
merriment. Not till half-past ten did Daniel resolve to tear himself
away. His thanks to Mrs. Hannaford for an "enjoyable evening" were
spoken with impressive sincerity, and the lady's expression of hope
that they might meet again made his face shine.

Piers accompanied him to the station. After humming to himself for a
few moments, as they walked along the dark lane, Daniel slipped a hand
through his brother's arm and spoke affectionately.

"You don't know how glad I am that we have met, old boy! Now don't let
us lose sight of each other--By the bye, do you ever hear of Alec?"

Alexander, Jerome Otway's second son, had not communicated with his
father for a good many years. His reputation was that of a good-natured
wastrel. Piers replied that he knew nothing whatever of him.

"He is in London," pursued Daniel, "and he is rather anxious to meet
_you_. Now let me give you a word of warning. Alec isn't at all a bad
sort. I confess I like him, for all his faults--and unfortunately he
has plenty of them; but to you, Piers, he would be dangerous.
Dangerous, first of all, because of his want of principle--you know my
feelings on that point. Then, I'm afraid he knows of your little
inheritance, and he _might_--I don't say he would--but he might be
tempted to presume upon your good nature. You understand?"

"What is he doing?" Piers inquired.

"Nothing worth speaking of, I fear. Alec has no stability--so unlike
you and me in that. You and I inherit the brave old man's love of work;
Alec was born an idler. If I thought you might influence him for
good--but no, it is too risky. One doesn't like to speak so of a
brother, Piers, but I feel it my duty to warn you against poor Alec.
_Basta_!"

That night Piers did not close his eyes. The evening's excitement and
the unusual warmth of the weather enhanced the feverishness due to his
passionate thoughts. Before daybreak he rose and tried to read, but no
book would hold his attention. Again he flung himself on to the bed,
and lay till sunrise vainly groaning for sleep.

With the new day came a light rain, which threatened to continue.
Dullness ruled at breakfast. The cousins spoke fitfully of what they
might do if the rain ceased.

"A good time for work," said Irene to Piers. "But perhaps it's all the
same to you, rain or shine?

"Much the same," Piers answered mechanically.

He passed a strange morning. Though to begin with he had seated himself
resolutely, the attempt to study was ridiculous; the sight of his books
and papers moved him to loathing. He watched the sky, hoping to see it
broken. He stood by his door, listening, listening if perchance he
might hear the movements of the girls, or hear a word in Irene's voice.
Once he did hear her; she called to Olga, laughingly; and at the sound
he quivered, his breath stopped.

The clouds parted; a fresh breeze unveiled the summer blue. Piers stood
at the window, watching; and at length he had his reward; the cousins
came out and walked along the garden paths, conversing intimately. At
one moment, Olga gave a glance up at his window, and he darted back,
fearful of having been detected. Were they talking of him? How would
Miss Derwent speak of him? Did he interest her in the least?

He peeped again. Irene was standing with her hands linked at the back
of her head, seeming to gaze at a lovely cloud above the great elm
tree. This attitude showed her to perfection. Piers felt sick and dizzy
as his eyes fed upon her form.

At an impulse as sudden as irresistible, he pushed up the sash.

"Miss Hannaford! It's going to be fine, you see."

The girls turned to him with surprise.

"Shall you have a walk after lunch?" he continued.

"Certainly," replied Olga. "We were just talking about it."

A moment's pause--then:

"Would you let me go with you?"

"Of course--if you can really spare the time."

"Thank you."

He shut down the window, turned away, stood in an agony of shame. Why
had he done this absurd thing? Was it not as good as telling them that
he had been spying? Irene's absolute silence meant disapproval, perhaps
annoyance. And Olga's remark about his ability to spare time had hinted
the same thing: her tone was not quite natural; she averted her look in
speaking. Idiot that he was! He had forced his company upon them, when,
more likely than not, they much preferred to be alone. Oh, tactless
idiot! Now they would never be able to walk in the garden without a
suspicion that he was observing them.

He all but resolved to pack a travelling-bag and leave home at once. It
seemed impossible to face Irene at luncheon.

When the bell rang, he stole, slunk, downstairs. Scarcely had he
entered the dining-room, when he began an apology; after all, he could
not go this afternoon; he must work; the sky had tempted him, but----

"Mr. Otway," said Irene, regarding him with mock sternness, "we don't
allow that kind of thing. It is shameful vacillation--I love a long
word--What's the other word I was trying for?--still longer--I mean,
tergiversation! it comes from _tergum_ and _verso_, and means turning
the back. It is rude to turn your back on ladies."

Piers would have liked to fall at her feet, in his voiceless gratitude.
She had rescued him from his shame, had put an end to all awkwardness,
and, instead of merely permitting, had invited his company.

"That decides it, Miss Derwent. Of course I shall come. Forgive me for
being so uncivil."

At lunch and during their long walk afterwards, Irene was very gracious
to him. She had never talked with him in such a tone of entire
friendliness; all at once they seemed to have become intimate. Yet
there was another change less pleasing to the young man; Irene talked
as though either she had become older, or he younger. She counselled
him with serious kindness, urged him to make rational rules about study
and recreation.

"You're overdoing it, you know. To-day you don't look very well."

"I had no sleep last night," he replied abruptly, shunning her gaze.

"That's bad. You weren't so foolish as to try to make up for lost time?"

"No, no! I _couldn't_ sleep."

He reddened, hung his head. Miss Derwent grew almost maternal. This,
she pointed out, was the natural result of nerves overstrained. He must
really use common sense. Come now, would he promise?

"I will promise you anything!"

Olga glanced quickly at him from one side; Irene, on the other, looked
away with a slight smile.

"No," she said, "you shall promise Miss Hannaford. She will have you
under observation; whereas you might play tricks with me after I'm
gone. Olga, be strict with this young gentleman. He is well-meaning,
but he vacillates; at times he even tergiversates--a shocking thing."

There was laughter, but Piers suffered. He felt humiliated. Had he been
alone with Miss Derwent, he might have asserted his manhood, and it
would have been _her_ turn to blush, to be confused. He had a couple of
years more than she. The trouble was that he could not feel this
superiority of age; she treated him like a schoolboy, and to himself he
seemed one. Even more than Irene's, he avoided Olga's look, and walked
on shamefaced.

The remaining days, until Miss Derwent departed, were to him a mere
blank of misery. Impossible to open a book, and sleep came only with
uttermost exhaustion. How he passed the hours, he knew not. Spying at
windows, listening for voices, creeping hither and thither in torment
of multiform ignominy, forcing speech when he longed to be silent, not
daring to break silence when his heart seemed bursting with desire to
utter itself--a terrible time. And Irene persevered in her elder-sister
attitude; she was kindness itself, but never seemed to remark a
strangeness in his look and manner. Once he found courage to say that
he would like to know Dr. Derwent; she replied that her father was a
very busy man, but that no doubt some opportunity for their meeting
would arise--and that was all. When the moment came for leave-taking,
Piers tried to put all his soul into a look; but he failed, his eyes
dropped, even as his tongue faltered. And Irene Derwent was gone.

If, in the night that followed, a wish could have put an end to his
existence, Piers would have died. He saw no hope in living, and the
burden seemed intolerable. Love-anguish of one-and-twenty; we smile at
it, but it is anguish all the same, and may break or mould a life.



CHAPTER VII


A week went by, and Piers was as far as ever from resuming his regular
laborious life. One day he spent in London. His father's solicitor had
desired to see him, in the matter of the legacy; Piers received his
money, and on the same day made over one hundred and fifty pounds to
Daniel Otway, whom he met by appointment; in exchange, Daniel handed
him a beautifully written I.O.U., which the younger brother would
pocket only with protest.

Another week passed. Piers no longer pretended to keep his usual times;
he wandered forth whenever home grew intolerable, and sometimes
snatched his only sleep in the four-and-twenty hours under the hawthorn
blossom of some remote meadow. His mood had passed into bitterness. "I
was well before; why did she interfere with me? She did it knowing what
would happen; it promised her amusement. I should have kept to myself,
and have been safe. She waylaid me. That first meeting on the
stairs----"

He raged against her and against all women.

One evening, towards sunset, he came home dusty and weary and with a
hang-dog air, for he had done something which made him ashamed. Miles
away from Ewell thirst and misery had brought him to a wayside inn,
where--the first time for years--he drank strong liquor. He drank more
than he needed, and afterwards fell asleep in a lane, and woke to new
wretchedness.

As he entered the house and was about to ascend the stairs, a voice
called to him. It was Mrs. Hannaford's; she bade him come to her in the
drawing-room. Reluctantly he moved thither. The lady was sitting idle
and alone; she looked at him for a moment without speaking, then
beckoned him forward.

"Your brother has been here," she said, in a low voice not quite her
own.

"Daniel?"

"Yes. He called very soon after you had gone out. He wouldn't--couldn't
stay. He'll let you know when he is coming next time."

"Oh, all right."

"Come and sit down." She pointed to a chair next hers. "How tired you
look!"

Her tone was very soft, and, as he seated himself, she touched his arm
gently. The room was scented with roses. A blind, half-drawn on the
open window, broke the warm western rays; upon a tree near by, a garden
warbler was piping evensong.

"What is it?" she asked, with a timid kindness. "What has happened?
Won't you tell me?"

"You know--I am sure you know----"

His voice was choked into silence.

"But you will get over it--oh, yes, you will! Your work----"

"I can't work!" he broke out vehemently--"I shall never work again. She
has changed all my life. I must find something else to do--I don't care
what. I can't go in for that examination."

Then abruptly he turned to her with a look of eagerness.

"Would it be any use? Suppose I got a place in one of the offices?
Would there be any hope for me?"

Mrs. Hannaford's eyes dropped.

"Don't think of her," she answered. "She has such brilliant
prospects--it is so unlikely. You think me unsympathetic--oh, I'm not!"
Again she let her fingers rest on his arm. "I feel so much with you
that I daren't offer imaginary hopes. She belongs to such a different
world, try, try to forget her."

"Of course I know she cares and thinks nothing about me now. But if I
made my way----"

"She will marry very early, and someone----"

With an upward movement of her hand the speaker, was sufficiently
explicit. Otway, he knew not why, tried to laugh, and frightened
himself with the sound.

"She is not the only girl, good and beautiful," Mrs. Hannaford
continued, pleading with him.

"For me she is," he replied, in a hard voice. "And I believe she will
be always."

For a minute or two the little warbler sang in silence, then Piers, of
a sudden, stood up, and strode hastily away.

Mrs. Hannaford fell into reverie. Her daughter was in London to-day,
her husband absent somewhere else. But she had not been solitary, for
Daniel Otway, failing to meet his brother, lingered a couple of hours
in the drawing-room. As she sat dreaming under the soft light, her face
relieved for the moment of its weariness and discontent, had a beauty
more touching than that of youth.

Upstairs, Piers found a letter awaiting him. He did not know the
writing, and found with surprise that it came from his brother
Alexander, who had addressed it to him through their father's
solicitor. Alexander wrote from the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury Square;
it was an odd letter, beginning formally, almost paternally, and
running off into chirruping facetiousness, as if the writer had tried
in vain to subdue his natural gaiety. There were extraordinary phrases.
"I congratulate you on being gazetted major in the regiment of Old
Time." "For my own part I am just beginning my thirty-fifth round with
knuckly life, and I rejoice to say that I have come up smiling.
Floorers I have suffered, not a few, in the rounds preceding, but I am
harder for it, harder and gamer." "Shall we not crack a bottle together
on this side of the circumfluent Oceanus?" And so on, to the effect
that Alexander much wished for a meeting with his brother, and urged
him to come to Theobald's Road as soon as possible, at his own
convenience.

It gave Piers--what he needed badly--something new to think about. From
what he remembered of Alexander, he did not dislike him, and this
letter made, on the whole, an agreeable impression; but he remembered
Daniel's warning. In any case, there could be no harm in calling on his
brother; it made an excuse for a day in London, the country stillness
having driven him all but to frenzy. So he replied at once, saying that
he would call on the following afternoon.

Alexander occupied the top floor of a great old house in Theobald's
Road. Whether he was married or not, Piers had not heard; the
appearance of the place suggested bachelor quarters, but, as he knocked
at what seemed the likely door, there sounded from within an infantine
wail, which became alarmingly shrill when the door was thrown open by a
dirty little girl. At sight of Piers this young person, evidently a
servant, drew back smiling, and said with a strong Irish accent:

"Please to come in. They're expecting of you."

He passed into a large room, magnificently lighted by the sunshine, but
very simply furnished. A small round table, two or three chairs and a
piano were lost on the great floor, which had no carpeting, only a
small Indian rug being displayed as a thing of beauty, in the very
middle. There were no pictures, but here and there, to break the
surface of the wall, strips of bright-coloured material were hung from
the cornice. At the table, next the window, sat a man writing, also, as
his lips showed, whistling a tune; and on the bare boards beside him
sat a young woman with her baby on her lap, another child, of two or
three years old, amusing itself by pulling her dishevelled hair.

"Here's your brother, Mr. Otw'y," yelled the little servant. "Give that
baby to me, mum. I know what'll quoiet him, bless his little heart."

Alexander sprang up, waving his arm in welcome. He was a stoutish man
of middle height, with thick curly auburn hair, and a full beard;
geniality beamed from his blue eyes.

"Is it yourself, Piers?" he shouted, with utterance suggestive of the
Emerald Isle, though the man was so loudly English. "It does me good to
set eyes on you, upon my soul, it does! I knew you'd come. Didn't I say
he'd come, Biddy?--Piers, this is my wife, Bridget the best wife living
in all the four quarters of the world!"

Mrs. Otway had risen, and stood smiling, the picture of cordiality. She
was not a beauty, though the black hair broad-flung over her shoulders
made no common adornment; but her round, healthy face, with its merry
eyes and gleaming teeth, had an honest attractiveness, and her soft
Irish tongue went to the heart. It never occurred to her to apologise
for the disorderly state of things. Having got rid of her fractious
baby--not without a kiss--she took the other child by the hand and with
pride presented "My daughter Leonora"--a name which gave Piers a little
shock of astonishment.

"Sit down, Piers," shouted her husband. "First we'll have tea and talk;
then we'll have talk and tobacco; then we'll have dinner and talk
again, and after that whatever the gods please to send us. My day's
work is done--_ecce signum_!"

He pointed to the slips of manuscript from which he had risen.
Alexander had begun life as a medical student, but never got so far as
a diploma. In many capacities, often humble but never disgraceful, he
had wandered over Broader Britain--drifting at length, as he was bound
to do, into irregular journalism.

"And how's the old man at home?" he asked, whilst Mrs. Otway busied
herself in getting tea. "Piers, it's the sorrow of my life that he
hasn't a good opinion of me. I don't say I deserve it, but, as I live,
I've always meant to And I admire him, Piers. I've written about him;
and I sent him the article, but he didn't acknowledge it. How does he
bear his years, the old Trojan? And how does his wife use him? Ah, that
was a mistake, Piers; that was a mistake. In marriage--and remember
this, Piers, for your time'll come--it must be the best, or none at
all. I acted upon that, though Heaven knows the trials and temptations
I went through. I said to myself--the best or none! And I found her,
Piers; I found her sitting at a cottage door by Enniscorthy, County
Wexford, where for a time I had the honour of acting as tutor to a
young gentleman of promise, cut short, alas!--'the blind Fury with the
abhorred shears!' I wrote an elegy on him, which I'll show you. His
father admired it, had it printed, and gave me twenty pounds, like the
gentleman he was!"

There appeared a handsome tea-service; the only objection to it being
that every piece was chipped or cracked, and not one thoroughly clean.
Leonora, a well-behaved little creature who gave earnest of a striking
face, sat on her mother's lap, watching the visitor and plainly afraid
of him.

"Well," exclaimed Mrs. Otway, "I should never have taken you two for
brothers--no, not even the half of it!"

"He has an intellectual face, Biddy," observed her husband. "Pale just
now, but it's 'the pale cast of thought.' What are you aiming at,
Piers?"

"I don't know," was the reply, absently spoken.

"Ah, but I'm sorry to hear that. You should have concentrated yourself
by now, indeed you should. If I had to begin over again, I should go in
for commerce."

Piers gave him a look of interest.

"Indeed? You mean that?"

"I do. I would apply myself to the science and art of money-making in
the only hopeful way--honest buying and selling. There's something so
satisfying about it. I envy even the little shopkeeper, who reckons up
his profits every Saturday night, and sees his business growing. But
you must begin early; you must learn money-making like anything else.
If I had made money, Piers, I should be at this moment the most
virtuous and meritorious citizen of the British Empire!"

Alexander was vexed to find that his brother did not smoke. He lit his
pipe after tea, and for a couple of hours talked ceaselessly, relating
the course of his adventurous life; an entertaining story, told with
abundant vigour, with humorous originality. Though he had in his
possession scarce a dozen volumes, Alexander was really a bookish man
and something of a scholar; his quotations, which were frequent, ranged
from Homer to Horace, from Chaucer to Tennyson. He recited a few of his
own poetical compositions, and they might have been worse; Piers made
him glow and sparkle with a little praise.

Meanwhile, Bridget was putting the children to bed and cooking the
evening meal--styled dinner for this occasion. Both proceedings were
rather tumultuous, but, amid the clamour they necessitated, no word of
ill-temper could be heard; screams of laughter, on the other hand, were
frequent. With manifest pride the little servant came in to lay the
table; she only broke one glass in the operation, and her "Sure now,
who'd have thought it!" as she looked at the fragments, delighted
Alexander beyond measure. The chief dish was a stewed rabbit, smothered
in onions; after it appeared an immense gooseberry tart, the pastry
hardly to be attacked with an ordinary table knife. Compromising for
the nonce with his teetotalism as well as his vegetarianism--not to
pain the hosts--Piers drank bottled ale. It was an uproarious meal. The
little servant, whilst in attendance, took her full share of the
conversation, and joined shrilly in the laughter. Mrs. Otway had
arrayed herself in a scarlet gown, and her hair was picturesquely
braided. She ceased not from hospitable cares, and set a brave example
in eating and drinking. Yet she was never vulgar, as an untaught London
woman in her circumstances would have been, and many a delightful
phrase fell from her lips in the mellow language of County Wexford.

When the remnants of dinner were removed, a bottle of Irish whisky came
forth, with the due appurtenances. Then it was that Alexander, with
pride in his eyes, made known Bridget's one accomplishment; she had a
voice, and would presently use it for their guest's delectation. She
was trying to learn the piano, as yet with small success; but Alexander
who had studied music concurrently with medicine, and to better result,
was able to furnish accompaniments. The concert began, and Piers, who
had felt misgivings, was most agreeably surprised. Not only had Bridget
a voice, a very sweet mezzo-contralto, but she sang with remarkable
feeling. More than once the listener had much ado to keep tears out of
his eyes; they were at his throat all the time, and his heart swelled
with the passionate emotion which had lurked there to the ruin of his
peace. But music, the blessed, the peacemaker (for music called martial
is but a blustering bastard), changed his torments to ecstasy; his
love, however hopeless, became an inestimable possession, and he seemed
to himself capable of such great, such noble things as had never
entered into the thought of man.

The crying of her baby obliged Bridget to withdraw for a little.
Alexander, who had already made a gallant inroad on the whisky bottle,
looked almost fiercely at his brother, and exclaimed:

"What do you day to _that_? Isn't that a woman? Isn't that a wife to be
proud of?"

Piers replied with enthusiasm.

"Not long ago," proceeded the other, "when we were really hard up, she
wanted me to let her try to earn money with her voice. She could, you
know! But do you think I'd allow it? Sooner I'll fry the soles of my
boots and make believe they're beefsteak!--Look at her, and remember
her when you're seeking for a wife of your own. Never mind if you have
to wait; it's worth it. When it comes to wives, the best or none!
That's my motto."

In his emotional mood, Piers had an impulse. He bent forward and asked
quietly:

"Are things all right now? About money, I mean."

"Oh, we get on. We could do with a little more furniture, but all in
good time."

Piers again listened to his impulse. He spoke hurriedly of the money he
had received, and hinted, suggested, made an embarrassed offer.
Impossible not to remark the gleam of joy that came into Alexander's
eyes; though he vehemently, almost angrily, declared such a thing
impossible, it was plain he quivered to accept. And in the end accept
he did--a round fifty pounds. A loan, strictly a loan, of course, the
most binding legal instrument should be given in acknowledgment of the
debt; interest should be paid at the rate of three and a half per cent.
per annum--not a doit less! And just when this was settled, Bridget
came back again, the sleepless baby at her breast.

"He wants to have his share of the good company," she exclaimed. "And
why shouldn't he, bless um!"

Alexander grew glorious. It was one of his peculiarities that, when he
had drunk more than enough, he broke into noisy patriotism.

"Piers, have you ever felt grateful enough for being born an
Englishman? I've seen the world, and I know; the Englishman is the top
of creation. When I say English, I mean all of us, English, Irish, or
Scotch. Give me an Englishman and an Irishwoman, and let all the rest
of the world go hang!--I've travelled, Piers, my boy. I've seen what
the great British race is doing the world round; and I'm that proud of
it I can't find words to express myself."

"I've seen something of other races," interposed Piers, lifting his
glass with unsteady hand, "and I don't think we've any right to despise
them."

"I don't exactly despise them, but I say, What are they compared with
us? A poor lot! A shabby lot!--I'm a journalist, Piers, and let me tell
you that we English newspaper men have the destiny of the world in our
hands. It makes me proud when I think of it. We guard the national
honour. Let any confounded foreigner insult England, and he has to
reckon with _us_. A word from _us_, and it means war, Piers, glorious
war, with triumphs for the race and for civilisation! England means
civilisation; the other nations don't count."

"Oh, come----"

"I tell you they don't count!" roared Alexander, his hair wild and his
beard ferocious. "You're not one of the muffs who want to keep England
little and tame, are you?"

"I think pretty much with father about these things."

"The old man! Oh, I'd forgotten the old man. But he's not of our time,
Piers; he's old-fashioned, though a good old man, I admit. No, no; we
must be armed and triple-armed; we must be so strong that not all the
confounded foreigners leagued together can touch us. It's the cause of
civilisation, Piers. I preach it whenever I get the chance; I wish I
got it oftener. I stand for England's honour, England's supremacy on
sea and land. I st-tand----"

He tried to do so, to reach the bottle, which proved to be empty.

"Send for another, Biddy--the right Irish, my lass! Another bottle to
the glory of the British Empire! Piers, we'll make a night of it. I
haven't a bed to offer you, but Biddy'll give you a shake-down here on
the floor. You're the right sort, Piers. You're a noble-minded,
generous-hearted Englishman."

Mrs. Otway, with a glance at the visitor, only made pretence of sending
for more whisky, and Piers, after looking at his watch, insisted on
taking leave. Alexander would have gone with him to the station, but
Bridget forbade this. The patriot had to be content with promises of
another such evening, and Piers, saying significantly "You will hear
from me," hastened to catch his train.



CHAPTER VIII


When he awoke next morning from a heavy sleep, Piers suffered the
half-recollection of some reproachful dream. His musty palate and dull
brain reminded him of Alexander's whisky; matter, that, for
self-reproach; but in the background was something more. He had dreamt
of his father, and seemed to have discharged in sleep a duty still in
reality neglected; that, namely, of responding to the old man's offer
of advice respecting the use he should make of his money. Out of four
hundred pounds, two hundred were already given away--for he had no
serious expectation that his brothers would repay the so-called loans.
Plainly it behoved him to be frank on this subject. Affectionate
loyalty to his father had ever been a guiding principle in Piers
Otway's life; he was uneasy under the sense that he had begun to slip
towards neglectfulness, towards careless independence.

He would have written this morning, but, after all, it was better to
wait until he had settled the doubt which made havoc of his days. At
heart he knew that he would not present himself for the Civil Service
examination; but he durst not yet put the resolve into words. It seemed
a sort of madness, after so many months of laborious preparation, and
the fixity of purpose which had grown with his studious habit. And what
a return for the patient kindness with which his father had counselled
and assisted him! He thought of Daniel and Alexander. Was he, too,
going to drift in life, instead of following a steadfast, manly course?
The perception and fear of such a danger were something new to him.
Piers had seen himself as an example of moral and intellectual vigour.
His abandonment of commerce had shown as a strong step in practical
wisdom; the fourteen hours of daily reading had flattered his pride.
Thereupon came this sudden collapse of the whole scheme. He could no
longer endure the prospects for which he had toiled so strenuously.

But for shame, he would have bundled together all the books that lay on
his table, and have flung them out of sight.

In the afternoon, he sought a private conversation with Mrs. Hannaford.
It was not easily managed, as Hannaford and Olga were both at home;
but, by watching and waiting, he caught a moment when the lady stood
alone in the garden.

"Do you think," he asked, with tremulous, sudden speech, "that I might
call at Dr. Derwent's?"

"Why not?" was the answer, but given with troubled countenance. "You
mean"--she smiled--"call upon Miss Derwent. There would be no harm; she
is the lady of the house, at present."

"Would she be annoyed?"

"I don't see why. But of course I can't answer for another person in
such things."

Their eyes met. Mrs. Hannaford gazed at him sadly for an instant, shook
her head, and turned away. Piers went back to lonely misery.

Early next day he stole from the house, and went to London. His
business was at the tailor's; he ordered a suit of ceremony--the frock
coat on which his brother Daniel had so pathetically insisted--and
begged that it might be ready at the earliest possible moment. Next he
made certain purchases in haberdashery. Through it all, he had a most
oppressive feeling of self-contempt, which--Piers was but
one-and-twenty--he did not try to analyze. Every shop-mirror which
reflected him seemed to present a malicious caricature; he hurried away
on to the pavement, small, ignoble, silly. His heart did battle, and at
moments assailed him in a triumph of heroic desire; but then again came
the sinking moments, the sense of a grovelling fellowship with people
he despised.

It was raining. His shopping done, he entered an omnibus, which took
him as far as the Marble Arch; thence, beneath his umbrella, he walked
in search of Bryanston Square. Here was Dr. Derwent's house. Very much
like a burglar, a beginner at the business, making survey of his field,
he moved timidly into the Square, and sought the number; having found
it with unexpected suddenness, he hurried past. To be detected here
would be dreadful; he durst not go to the opposite side, lest Irene
should perchance be at a window; yet he wanted to observe the house,
and did, from behind his umbrella, when a few doors away.

Never had he known what it was to feel such an insignificant mortal.
Standing here in the rain, he saw no distinction between himself and
the ragged, muddy crossing-sweeper; alike, they were lost in the huge
welter of common London. On the other hand, there in the hard-fronted,
exclusive-looking house sat Irene Derwent, a pearl of women, the prize
of wealth, distinction, and high manliness. What was this wild dream he
had been harbouring? Like a chill wind, reality smote him in the face;
he turned away, saying to himself that he was cured of folly.

On the journey home he shaped a project. He would seek an interview
with the head of the City house in which he had spent so much time and
worked so conscientiously, a quite approachable man as he knew from
experience, and would ask if he might be allowed to re-enter their
service not, however, in London, but in their place of business at
Odessa. He had made a good beginning with Russian, and living in
Russia, might hope soon to master the language. If necessary, he would
support himself at Odessa for a time, until he was capable of serving
the firm in some position of trust. Yes, this was what he would do; it
gave him a new hope. For Alexander, foolish fellow as he might be in
some respects, had spoken the truth on the subject of money-making; the
best and surest way was by honourable commerce. Money he must have; a
substantial position; a prospect of social advance. Not for their own
sake, these things, but as steps to the only end he felt worth living
for--an ideal marriage.

He marvelled that the end of life should have been so obscure to him
hitherto. Knowledge! What satisfaction was there in that? Fame! What
profit in that by itself? Yet he had thought these aims predominant;
had been willing to toil day and night in such pursuits. His eyes were
opened. His first torturing love might be for ever frustrate, but it
had revealed him to himself. He looked forth upon the world, its
activities, its glories, and behold there was for him but one prize
worth winning, the love of the ideal woman.

He found a letter at Ewell. It contained a card of invitation; Mrs.
John Jacks graciously announced to him that she would be at home on an
evening a week hence, at nine o'clock.

How came he to have forgotten the Jacks family? Not once had he
mentioned to Miss Derwent that he was on friendly terms with these most
respectable people. What a foolish omission! It would at once have
given him a better standing in her sight, have smoothed their social
relations.

Instantly, his plan of exile was forgotten. He would accept this
invitation, and on the same day, in the afternoon, he would boldly call
at the Derwents'. Why not?--as Mrs. Hannaford said. John Jacks, M.P.,
was undoubtedly the social superior of Dr. Derwent; admitted to the
house at Queen's Gate, one might surely with all confidence present
oneself in Bryanston Square. Was he not an educated man, by birth a
gentleman? If he had no position, why, who had at one-and-twenty? How
needlessly he had been humiliating and discouraging himself! In the
highest spirits he went down into the garden to talk with Mrs.
Hannaford and Olga. They gazed at him, astonished; he was a new
creature; he joked and laughed and could hardly contain his exuberance
of joy. When there fell from him a casual mention of Mrs. Jacks' card,
no one could have imagined that this was the explanation of his altered
mood. Mrs. Hannaford felt sure that he had been to see Irene, and had
received, or fancied, some sort of encouragement. Olga thought so too,
and felt sorry to see him in a fool's paradise.

That very evening he sat down and resolved to work. He had an appetite
for it once more. He worked till long after midnight, and on the morrow
kept his old hours. Moreover, he wrote a long letter to Hawes, a good,
frank letter, giving his father a full account of the meetings with
Daniel and Alexander, and telling all about the pecuniary
transactions:--"I hope you will not think I behaved very foolishly.
Indeed, it has given me pleasure to share with them. My trouble is lest
you should think I acted in complete disregard of you; but, if I am
glad to do a good turn, remember, dear father, that it is to you I owe
this habit of mind. And I shall not need money. I feel it practically
certain that I shall get my office, and then it will go smoothly. The
examination draws near, and I am working like a Trojan!"

"I cannot carp at you," wrote Jerome Otway in reply, "but tighten the
purse-strings after this, and be not overmuch familiar with Alexander
the Little or Daniel the Purblind. Their ways are not mine; let them
not be yours!"

He had to run up to town for the trying-on of his new garments, and
this time the business gave him satisfaction. In future he would be
seeing much more society; he must have a decent regard for appearances.

His spirits faltered not; they were in harmony with the June weather.
Never had he laboured to such purpose. Everything seemed easy; he
strode with giant strides into the field of knowledge. Papers such as
would be set him at the examination were matter for his mirth, mere
schoolboy tests. Now and then he rose from study with a troublesome
dizziness, and of a morning his head generally ached a little; but
these were trifles. _Prisch zu_!--as a German friend of his at Geneva
used to say.

Even on the morning of the great day he worked; it was to prove his
will-power, his worthiness. After lunch, clad in the garb of
respectability, he went up by a quick train.

His evening suit he had previously despatched to Alexander's abode,
where he was to dine and dress.

At four o'clock he was in Bryanston Square, tremulous but sanguine, a
different man from him who had sneaked about here under the umbrella.
He knocked. The servant civilly informed him that Miss Derwent was not
at home, asked his name, and bowed him away.

It was a shock. This possibility had not entered his mind, so engrossed
was he in forecasting, in dramatising, the details of the interview.
Looking like one who has received some dreadful news, he turned slowly
from the door and walked away with head down. Probably no event in all
his life had given him such a sense of desolating frustration. At once
the sky was overcast, the ways were woebegone; he shrank within his new
garments, and endured once more the feeling of personal paltriness.

Though the time before him was so long, he had no choice but to go at
once to Theobald's Road, where at all events friendly faces would greet
him. The streets of London are terrible to one who is both lonely and
unhappy; the indifference of their hard egotism becomes fierce
hostility; instead of merely disregarding, they crush. As soon as he
could command his thoughts, Piers made for the shortest way, and
hurried on.

Mrs. Otway admitted him; Alexander, she said, was away on business, but
would soon return. On entering the large room, Piers was startled at
the change in its appearance. The well-carpeted floor, the numerous
chairs of inviting depth and softness, the centre-table, the handsome
bureau, the numerous pictures, and a multitude of knickknacks not to be
taken in at one glance, made it plain that most of the money he had
lent his brother had been expended at once in this direction. Bridget
stood watching his face, and at the first glimmer of a smile broke into
jubilation. What did he think? How did he like it? Wasn't it a room to
be proud of? She knew it would do his kind heart good to see such
splendours! Let him sit down--after selecting his chair--and take it
all in whilst she got some tea. No wonder it took away his breath! She
herself had hardly yet done gazing in mute ecstasy.

"It's been such a feast for my eyes, Mr. Piers, that I've scarcely
wanted to put a bit in my mouth since the room was finished!"

When Alexander arrived, he greeted his brother as though with rapturous
congratulation; one would have thought some great good fortune had
befallen the younger man.

"Biddy!" he shouted, "I've a grand idea! We'll celebrate the occasion
with a dinner out; we'll go to a restaurant. Hanged if you shall have
the trouble of cooking on such a day as this! Get ready; make yourself
beautiful--though you're always that. We'll dine early, as Piers has to
leave us at nine o'clock."

Outcries and gesticulations confirmed the happy thought. Tea over,
Piers was dismissed to the bedroom (very bare and uncomfortable, this)
to don his evening suit, and by six o'clock the trio set forth. They
drove in a cab to festive regions, and, as one to the manner born,
Alexander made speedy arrangements for their banquet. An odd-looking
party; the young man's ceremonious garb and not ungraceful figure
contrasting with his brother's aspect of Bohemian carelessness and
jollity, whilst Bridget, adorned in striking colours, would have passed
for anything you like but a legitimate and devoted spouse. Once again
did Piers stifle his conscience in face of the exhilarating bottle;
indeed, he drank deliberately to drown his troubles, and before the
second course had already to some extent succeeded.

Alexander talked of his journalistic prospects. Whether there was any
special reason for hopefulness, Piers could not discover; it seemed
probable that here also the windfall of fifty pounds had changed the
aspect of the world. To hear him, one might have supposed that the
struggling casual contributor had suddenly been offered some brilliant
appointment on a great journal; but he discoursed with magnificent
vagueness, and could not be brought to answer direct questions. His
attention to the wine was unremittent; he kept his brother's glass
full, nor was Bridget allowed to shirk her convivial duty. At dessert
appeared a third bottle; by this time, Piers was drinking without heed
to results; jovially, mechanically, glass after glass, talking, too, in
a strain of nebulous imaginativeness. There could be little doubt, he
hinted, that one of his Parliamentary friends (John Jacks had been
insensibly multiplied) would give him a friendly lift. A secretaryship
was sure to come pretty quickly, and then, who knew what opening might
present itself! He wouldn't mind a consulship, for a year or two, at
some agreeable place. But eventually--who could doubt it?--he would
enter the House. "Why, of course!" cried Alexander; the outline of his
career was plain beyond discussion. And let him go in strong for Home
Rule. That would be the great question for the next few years, until it
was triumphantly settled. Private information--from a source only to be
hinted at--assured him that Mr. Gladstone (after the recent defeat) was
already hard at work preparing another Bill. Come now, they must drink
Home Rule--"Justice to Ireland, and the world-supremacy of the British
Empire!"--that was his toast. They interrupted their sipping of green
Chartreuse to drink it in brimming glasses of claret.

"We'll drive you to Queen's Gate!" said Alexander, when Piers began to
look at his watch. "No hurry, my boy! The night is young! 'And'"--he
broke into lyric quotation--"'haply the Queen Moon is on her throne,
clustered around with all her starry fays.'--I shall never forget this
dinner; shall you, Biddy? We'll have a song when we get home."

One little matter had to be attended to, the paying of the bill. Having
glanced carelessly at the total, Alexander began to search his pockets.

"Why, hang it!" he exclaimed. "What a fellow I am! Piers, it's really
too absurd, but I shall have to ask you to lend me a sovereign; I can't
make up enough--stupid carelessness! Biddy, why didn't you ask me if
I'd got money?--No, no; just a sovereign, Piers; I have the rest. I'll
pay you back to-morrow morning."

With laughter at such a capital joke, Piers disbursed the coin. Quaint,
comical fellow, this brother of his I He liked him, and was beginning
to like Biddy too.

A cab bore them all to Queen's Gate, Alexander and his wife making the
journey just for the fun of the thing. Piers would have paid for the
vehicle back to Theobald's Road, but this his brother declined; he and
Mrs. Otway preferred the top of a 'bus this warm night. They parted at
Mr. Jacks' door, where carriages and cabs were stopping every minute or
two.

"I'll sit up for you, Piers," roared Alexander genially. "You'll want a
whisky-and-soda after this job. Come along, Biddy!"

In another frame of mind, Piers would have felt the impropriety of
these loud remarks at such a moment. Even as it was, he would doubtless
have regretted the incident had he turned his head to observe the two
persons who had just alighted and were moving up the steps close behind
him. A young, slim, perfectly equipped man, with features expressive of
the most becoming sentiment; a lady--or girl--of admirable figure, with
bright, intelligent, handsome face. These two exchanged a look; they
exchanged a discreet murmur; and were careful not to overtake Piers
Otway in the hall.

He, hat and overcoat surrendered, moved up the gleaming staircase. A
sound of soft music fluttered his happy temper. Seeing his form in a
mirror, he did not at once recognise himself; for his face had a high
colour, with the result of making him far more comely than at ordinary
times. He stepped firmly on, delighted to be here, eager to perceive
his hostess. Mrs. Jacks, for a moment, failed to remember him; but
needless to say that this did not appear in her greeting, which, as she
recollected, dropped upon a tone of special friendliness. To her, Piers
Otway was the least interesting of young men; but her husband had
spoken of him very favourably, and Mrs. Jacks had a fine sense of her
duty on such points. Piers was dazzled by the lady's personal charm;
her brilliantly pure complexion, her faultless shoulders and soft white
arms, her pose of consummate dignity and courtesy. Happily, his
instincts and his breeding held their own against perilous
circumstance; excited as he was, nothing of the cause appeared in his
brief colloquy with the hostess, and he acquitted himself very
creditably. A little farther on, John Jacks advanced to him with
cordial welcome.

"So glad you could come. By the bye"--he lowered his voice--"if you
have any trouble about trains back to Ewell, do let us put you up for
the night. Just stay or not, as you like. Delighted if you do."

Piers replied that he was staying at his brother's. Whereupon John
Jacks became suddenly thoughtful, said, "Ah, I see," and with a
pleasant smile turned to someone else. Only when it was too late did
Piers remember that Mr. Jacks possibly had a private opinion about
Jerome Otway's elder sons. He wished, above all things, that he could
have accepted the invitation. But doubtless it would be repeated some
other time.

As he looked about him at the gathering guests, he recalled his
depression this afternoon in Bryanston Square, and it seemed to him so
ridiculous that he could have laughed aloud. As if he would not have
other chances of calling upon Irene Derwent! Ah, but, to be sure, he
must provide himself with visiting-cards. A trifling point, but he had
since reflected on it with some annoyance.

A hand was extended to him, a pink, delicate, but shapely hand, which
his eyes fell upon as he stood in half-reverie. He exchanged civilities
with Arnold Jacks.

"I think some particular friends of yours are here," said Arnold. "The
Derwents----"

"Indeed! Are they? Miss Derwent?"

Piers' vivacity caused the other to examine him curiously.

"I only learned a day or two ago," Arnold pursued, "that you knew each
other."

"I knew Miss Derwent. I haven't met Dr. Derwent or her brother. Are
they here yet? I wish you would introduce me."

Again Arnold, smiling discreetly, scrutinised the young man's
countenance, and for an instant seemed to reflect as he glanced around.

"The Doctor perhaps hasn't come. But I see Eustace Derwent. Shall we go
and speak to him?"

They walked towards Irene's brother, Piers gazing this way and that in
eager hope of perceiving Irene herself. He was wild with delight. Could
fortune have been kinder? Under what more favourable circumstance could
he possibly have renewed his relations with Miss Derwent? Eustace,
turning at the right moment, stood face to face with Arnold Jacks, who
presented his companion, then moved away. Had he lingered, John Jacks'
critical son would have found hints for amused speculation in the scene
that followed. For Eustace Derwent, remembering, as always, what he
owed to himself and to society, behaved with entire politeness; only,
like certain beverages downstairs, it was iced. Otway did not
immediately become aware of this.

"I think we missed each other only by an hour or two, when you brought
Miss Derwent to Ewell. That very day, curiously, I was lunching here."

"Indeed?" said Eustace, with a marble smile.

"Miss Derwent is here, I hope?" pursued Piers; not with any offensive
presumption, but speaking as he thought, rather impetuously.

"I believe Miss Derwent is in the room," was the answer, uttered with
singular gravity and accompanied with a particularly freezing look.

This time, Piers could not but feel that Eustace Derwent was speaking
oddly. In his peculiar condition, however, he thought it only an
amusing characteristic of the young man. He smiled, and was about to
continue the dialogue, when, with a slight, quick bow, the other turned
away.

"Disagreeable fellow, that!" said Piers to himself. "I hope the Doctor
isn't like him. Who could imagine him Irene's brother?"

His spirits were not in the least affected; indeed, every moment they
grew more exuberant, as the wine he had drunk wrought progressively
upon his brain. Only he could have wished that his cheeks and ears did
not burn so; seeing himself again in a glass, he decided that he was
really too high-coloured. It would pass, no doubt. Meanwhile, his eyes
kept seeking Miss Derwent. The longer she escaped him, the more
vehement grew his agitation. Ah, there!

She was seated, and had been hidden by a little group standing in
front. At this moment, Eustace Derwent was bending to speak to her; she
gave a nod in reply to what he said. As soon as the objectionable
brother moved from her side, Piers stepped quickly forward.

"How delightful to meet you here! It seems too good to be true. I
called this afternoon at your house--called to see you--but you were
not at home. I little imagined I should see you this evening."

Irene raised her eyes, and let them fall back upon her fan; raised them
again, and observed the speaker attentively.

"I was told you had called, Mr. Otway."

How her voice thrilled him! What music like that voice! It made him
live through his agonies again, which by contrast heightened the
rapture of this hour.

"May I sit down by you?"

"Pray do."

He remarked nothing of her coldness; he was conscious only of her
presence, of the perfume which breathed from her and made his heart
faint with longing.

Irene again glanced at him, and her countenance was troubled. She
looked to left and right, sure that they were not overheard, and
addressed him with quick directness.

"Where did you dine, Mr. Otway?"

"Dine?--Oh, at a restaurant, with one of my brothers and his wife."

"Did your brother and his wife accompany you to this house?"

Piers was startled. He gazed into her face, and Irene allowed him to
meet her eyes, which reminded him most unpleasantly of the look he had
seen in those of Eustace.

"Why do you ask that, Miss Derwent?" he faltered.

"I will tell you. I happened to be just behind you as you entered, and
couldn't help hearing the words shouted to you by your brother. Will
you forgive me for mentioning such a thing? And, as your friend, will
you let me say that I think it would be unfortunate if you were
introduced to my father this evening? He is not here yet, but he will
be--I have taken a great liberty, Mr. Otway; but it seemed to me that I
had no choice. When an unpleasant thing _has_ to be done, I always try
to do it quickly."

Piers was no longer red of face. A terrible sobriety had fallen upon
him; his lips quivered; cold currents ran down his spine. He looked at
Irene with the eyes of a dog entreating mercy.

"Had I"--his dry throat forced him to begin again--"had I better go
now?"

"That is as you think fit."

Piers stood up, bowed before her, gave her one humble, imploring look,
and walked away.

He went down, as though to the supper-room; in a few minutes, he had
left the house. He walked to Waterloo Station, and by the last train
returned to Ewell.



CHAPTER IX


At the head of Wensleydale, where rolling moor grows mountainous toward
the marches of Yorkshire and Westmorland, stands the little market-town
named Hawes. One winding street of houses and shops, grey,
hard-featured, stout against the weather; with little byways climbing
to the height above, on which rises the rugged church, stern even in
sunshine; its tower, like a stronghold, looking out upon the
brooding-place of storms. Like its inhabitants, the place is harsh of
aspect, warm at heart; scornful of graces, its honest solidity speaks
the people that built it for their home. This way and that go forth the
well-kept roads, leading to other towns, their sharp tracks shine over
the dark moorland, climbing by wind-swept hamlets, by many a lonely
farm; dipping into sudden hollows, where streams become cascades, and
guiding the wayfarers by high, rocky passes from dale to dale. A
country always impressive by the severe beauty of its outlines;
sometimes speaking to the heart in radiant stillness, its moments of
repose mirthful sometimes, inspiring joyous life, with the gleams of
its vast sky, the sweet, keen breath of its heaths and pastures; but
for the most part shadowed, melancholy, an austere nurse of the
striving spirit of man, with menace in its mountain-rack, in the
rushing voice of its winds and torrents.

Here, in a small, plain cottage, stone-walled, stone-roofed, looking
over the wide and deep hollow of a stream--a beck in the local
language--which at this point makes a sounding cataract on its course
from the great moor above, lived Jerome Otway. It had been his home for
some ten years. He lived as a man of small but sufficient means, amid
very plain household furniture, and with no sort of social pretence.
With him dwelt his wife, and one maidservant.

On an evening of midsummer, still and sunny, the old man sat among his
books; open before him the great poem of Dante. His much-lined face,
austere in habitual expression, yet with infinite possibilities of
radiance in the dark eyes, of tenderness on the mobile lips, was
crowned with hair which had turned iron-grey but remained wonderfully
thick and strong; the moustache and beard, only a slight growth, were
perfectly white. He had once been of more than average stature; now his
bent shoulders and meagre limbs gave him an appearance of shortness,
whilst he suffered on the score of dignity by an excessive disregard of
his clothing. He sat in a round-backed wooden chair at an ordinary
table, on which were several volumes ranked on end, a large blotter,
and an inkstand. The room was exclusively his, two bookcases and a few
portraits on the walls being almost the only other furniture; but at
this moment it was shared by Mrs. Otway, who, having some sort of
woman's work on her lap, sat using her fingers and her tongue with
steady diligence. She looked about forty, had a colourless but healthy
face, not remarkable for charm, and was dressed as a sober,
self-respecting gentlewoman. In her accents sounded nothing harsh,
nothing vehement; she talked quietly, without varied inflections, as if
thoughtfully expounding an agreeable theme; such talk might well have
inclined a disinterested hearer to somnolence. But her husband's
visage, and his movements, betokened no such peaceful tendency; every
moment he grew more fidgety, betrayed a stronger irritation.

"I suppose," Mrs. Otway was saying, "there are persons who live without
any religious conscience. It seems very strange; one would think that
no soul could be at rest in utter disregard of its Maker, in complete
neglect of the plainest duties of a creature endowed with human
intelligence--which means, of course, power to perceive spiritual
truths. Yet such persons seem capable of going through a long life
without once feeling the impulse to worship, to render thanks and
praise to the Supreme Being. I suppose they very early deaden their
spiritual faculties; perhaps by loose habits of life, or by the
indulgence of excessive self-esteem, or by----"

Jerome made a quick gesture with his hands, as if defending himself
against a blow; then he turned to his wife, and regarded her fixedly.

"Will it take you much longer," he asked, with obvious struggle for
self-command, but speaking courteously, "to exhaust this theme?"

"It annoys you?" said the lady, very coldly, straightening herself to
an offended attitude.

"I confess it does. Or rather, it worries me. If I may beg----"

"I understood you to invite me to your room."

"I did. And the fact of my having done so ought, I should think, to
have withheld you from assailing me with your acrid tedium."

"Thank you," said Mrs. Otway, as she rose to her full height. "I will
leave you to your own tedium, which must be acrid enough, I imagine, to
judge from the face you generally wear."

And she haughtily withdrew.

A scene of this kind--never more violent, always checked at the right
moment--occurred between them about once every month. During the rest
of their time they lived without mutual aggression; seldom conversing,
but maintaining the externals of ordinary domestic intercourse. Nor was
either of them acutely unhappy. The old man (Jerome Otway was
sixty-five, but might have been taken for seventy) did not, as a rule,
wear a sour countenance; he seldom smiled, but his grave air had no
cast of gloominess; it was profoundly meditative, tending often to the
rapture of high vision. The lady had her own sufficient pursuits, chief
among them a rigid attention to matters ecclesiastical, local and
national. That her husband held notably aloof from such interests was
the subject of Mrs. Otway's avowed grief, and her peculiar method of
assailing his position brought about the periodical disturbance which
seemed on the whole an agreeable feature of her existence.

He lived much in the past, brooding upon his years of activity as
author, journalist, lecturer, conspirator, between 1846 and 1870. He
talked in his long days of silence with men whose names are written in
history, men whom he had familiarly known, with whom he had struggled
and hoped for the Better Time. Mazzini and Herzen, Kossuth and
Ledru-Rollin, Bakounine, Louis Blanc, and a crowd of less eminent
fighters in the everlasting war of human emancipation. The war that
aims at Peace; the strife that assails tyranny, and militarism, and
international hatred. Beginning with Chartism (and narrowly escaping
the fierce penalties suffered by some of his comrades), he grew to
wider activities, and for a moment seemed likely to achieve a bright
position among the liberators of mankind; but Jerome Otway had more
zeal than power, and such powers as he commanded were scattered over
too wide a field of enthusiastic endeavour. He succeeded neither as man
of thought nor as man of action. His verses were not quite poetry; his
prose was not quite literature; personally he interested and exalted,
but without inspiring confidence such as is given to the born leader.
And in this year 1886, when two or three letters on the Irish Question
appeared over his signature, few readers attached any meaning to the
name. Jerome Otway had fought his fight and was forgotten.

He married, for the first time, at one-and-twenty, his choice being the
daughter of an impoverished "county" family, a girl neither handsome
nor sweet-natured, but, as it seemed, much in sympathy with his
humanitarian views. Properly speaking, he did not choose her; the men
who choose, who deliberately select a wife, are very few, and Jerome
Otway could never have been one of them. He was ardent and impulsive;
marriage becoming a necessity, he clutched at the first chance which in
any way addressed his imagination; and the result was calamitous. In a
year or two his wife repented the thoughtlessness with which she had
sacrificed the possibilities of her birth and breeding for marriage
with a man of no wealth. Narrow of soul, with a certain frothy
intelligence, she quickly outgrew the mood of social rebellion which
had originated in personal discontent, and thenceforward she had
nothing but angry scorn for the husband who allowed her to live in
poverty. Two sons were born to them; the elder named Daniel (after
O'Connell), the second called Alexander (after the Russian Herzen). For
twelve years they lived in suppressed or flagrant hostility; then Mrs.
Otway died of cholera. To add to the bitterness of her fate, she had
just received, from one of her "county" relatives, a legacy of a couple
of thousand pounds.

This money, which became his own, Otway invested in a newspaper then
being started by certain of his friends; a paper, as it seemed, little
likely to have commercial success, but which, after many changes of
editorship, ultimately became an established organ of Liberalism. The
agitator retained an interest in this venture, and the small income it
still continued to yield him was more than enough for his personal
needs; it enabled him to set a little aside, year after year, thus
forming a fund which, latterly, he always thought of as destined to
benefit his youngest son--the child of his second marriage.

For he did not long remain solitary, and his next adventure was
somewhat in keeping with the character he had earned in public
estimate. Living for a time in Switzerland, he there met with a young
Englishwoman, married, but parted from her husband, who was maintaining
herself at Geneva as a teacher of languages; Jerome was drawn to her,
wooed her, and won her love. The husband, a Catholic, refused her legal
release, but the irregular union was a true marriage. It had lasted for
about four years when their only child was born. In another
twelvemonth, Jerome was again a widower. A small sum of money which had
belonged to the dead woman, Jerome, at her wish, put out at interest
for their boy, if he should attain manhood. The child's name was Piers;
for Jerome happened at that time to be studying old Langland's
"Vision," with delight in the brave singer, who so long ago cried for
social justice--one of the few in Christendom who held by the spirit of
Christ.

He was now forty-five years old; he mourned the loss of his comrade, a
gentle, loving woman, whom, though she seldom understood his views of
life, his moods and his aims, he had held in affection and esteem. For
eight years he went his way alone; then, chancing to be at a seaside
place in the north of England, he made the acquaintance of a mother and
daughter who kept a circulating library, and in less than six months
the daughter became Mrs. Otway. Aged not quite thirty, tall, graceful,
with a long, pale face, distinguished by its air of meditative
refinement, this lady probably never made quite clear to herself her
motives in accepting the wooer of fifty-three, whose life had passed in
labours and experiences with which she could feel nothing like true
sympathy. Perhaps it was that she had never before received offer of
marriage; possibly Jerome's eloquent dark eyes, of which the gleam was
not yet dulled, seconded the emotional language of his lips, and
stirred her for the moment to genuine feeling. For a few months they
seemed tolerably mated, then the inevitable divergence began to show
itself. Jerome withdrew into his reveries, became taciturn, absorbed
himself at length in the study of Dante; Mrs. Otway, resenting this
desertion, grew critical, condemnatory, and, as if to atone for her
union with a man who stood outside all the creeds, developed her mild
orthodoxy into a peculiarly virulent form of Anglican puritanism. The
only thing that kept them together was their common inclination for a
retired existence, and their love of the northern moorland.

Looking back upon his marriages, the old man wondered sadly. Why had he
not--he who worshipped the idea of womanhood--sought patiently for his
perfect wife? Somewhere in the world he would have found her, could he
but have subdued himself to the high seriousness of the quest. In a
youthful poem, he had sung of Love as "the crown of life," believing it
fervently; he believed it now with a fervour more intense, because more
spiritual. That crown he had missed, even as did the multitude of
mankind. Only to the elect is it granted--the few chosen, where all are
called. To some it falls as if by the pure grace of Heaven, meeting
them as they walk in the common way. Some, the fewest, attain it by
merit of patient hope, climbing resolute until, on the heights of noble
life, a face shines before them, the face of one who murmurs "_Guardami
ben_!"

He thought much, too, about his offspring. The two children of his
first marriage he had educated on the approved English model, making
them "gentlemen." Partly because he knew not well how else to train
them, for Jerome was far too weak on the practical side to have shaped
a working system of his own--a system he durst rely upon; and partly,
too, because they seemed to him to inherit many characteristics from
their mother, and so to be naturally fitted for some conventional
upper-class career. The result was grievous failure. In the case of
Piers, he decided to disregard the boy's seeming qualifications, and,
after having him schooled abroad for the sake of modern languages, to
put him early into commerce. If Piers were marked out for better
things, this discipline could do him no harm. And to all appearances,
the course had been a wise one. Piers had as yet given no cause for
complaint. In wearying of trade, in aiming at something more liberal,
he claimed no more than his rights.

With silent satisfaction, Jerome watched the boy's endeavours, his
heart warming when he received one of those well-worded and dutiful,
yet by no means commonplace letters, which came from Geneva and from
London. On Piers he put the hope of his latter day; and it gladdened
him to think that this, his only promising child, was the offspring of
the union which he could recall with tenderness.

When Mrs. Otway had withdrawn with her sour dignity, the old man sighed
and lost himself in melancholy musing. The house was, as usual, very
still, and from without the only sound was that of the beck, leaping
down over its stony ledges. Jerome loved this sound. It tuned his
thoughts; it saved him from many a fit of ill-humour. It harmonised
with the melody of Dante's verses, fit accompaniment to many a passage
of profound feeling, of noble imagery. Even now he had been brooding
the anguish of Maestro Adamo who hears for ever

    Li ruscelletti che de' verdi colli
    Del Casentin discendon giuso in Arno--"

and the music of the Tuscan fountains blended with the voice of this
moorland stream.

There was a knock at the door; the maid-servant handed him a letter; it
came from Piers. The father read it, and, after a few lines, with grave
visage. Piers began by saying that, a day or two ago, he had all but
resolved to run down to Hawes, for he had something very serious to
speak about; on the whole, it seemed better to make the communication
in writing.

"I have abandoned the examination, and all thought of the Civil
Service. If I invented reasons for this, you would not believe them,
and you would think ill of me. The best way is to tell you the plain
truth, and run the risk of being thought a simpleton, or something
worse. I have been in great trouble, have gone through a bad time. Some
weeks ago there came to stay here a girl of eighteen or nineteen, the
daughter of Dr. Lowndes Derwent (whose name perhaps you know). She is
very beautiful, and I was unlucky enough--if I ought to use such a
phrase--to fall in love with her. I won't try to explain what this
meant to me; you wouldn't have patience to read it; but it stopped my
studies, utterly overthrew my work. I was all but ill; I suffered
horribly. It was my first such experience; I hope it may be the
last--in that form. Indeed, I believe it will, for I can't imagine that
I shall ever feel towards anyone else in the same way, and--you will
smile, no doubt--I have a conviction that Irene Derwent will remain my
ideal as long as I live."

Enough of that. It being quite clear to me that I simply could not go
in for the examination, I hit upon another scheme; one, it seemed to
me, which might not altogether displease you. I went to see Mr.
Tadworth, and told him that I had decided to go back into business;
could he, I asked, think of giving me a place in their office at
Odessa? If necessary, I would work without salary till I had thoroughly
learned Russian, and could substantially serve them. Well, Mr. Tadworth
was very kind, and, after a little questioning, promised to send me out
to Odessa in some capacity or other, still to be determined. I am to go
in about ten days.

"This, father, is my final decision. I shall give myself to the
business, heartily and energetically. I think there is no harm in
telling you that I hope to make money. If I do so, it will be done, I
think, honourably, as the result of hard work. I had better not see
you; I should be ashamed. But I beg you will write to me soon. I hope I
shall not have overtried your patience. Bear with me, if you can, and
give me the encouragement I value."

Jerome pondered long. He looked anything but displeased: there was
tenderness in his smile, and sympathy; something, too, of pride. Very
much against his usual practice, he wrote a reply the same day.

"So be it, my dear lad! I have no fault to find, no criticism to offer.
Your letter is an honest one, and it has much moved me. Let me just say
this: you rightly doubt whether you should call yourself unlucky. If,
as I can imagine, the daughter of Dr. Derwent is a girl worth your
homage, nothing better could have befallen you than this discovery of
your 'ideal.' Whether you will be faithful to be faithful to it, the
gods alone know. If you _can_ be, even for a few years of youth, so
much the happier and nobler your lot!

"Work at money-making, then. And, as I catch a glimmer of your meaning
in this resolve, I will tell you something for your comfort. If you
hold on at commerce, and verily make way, and otherwise approve
yourself what I think you, I promise that you shall not lack
advancement. Plainly, I have a little matter of money put by, for
sundry uses; and, if the day comes when something of capital would
stead you (after due trial, as I premise), it shall be at your disposal.

"Write to me with a free heart. I have lived my life; perchance I can
help you to live yours better. The will, assuredly, is not wanting.

"Courage, then! Pursue your purpose--

    'Con l'animo che vince ogni battaglia,
     Se col suo grave corpo non s'accascia.'

"And, believe me that you could have no better intimate for leisure
hours than the old Florentine, who knew so many things; among them,
your own particular complaint."



CHAPTER X


Clad for a long railway journey on a hot day; a grey figure of fluent
lines, of composedly decisive movements; a little felt hat
close-fitting to the spirited head, leaving full and frank the soft
rounded face, with its quietly observant eyes, its lips of contained
humour--Irene Derwent stepped from a cab at Euston Station and went
forward into the booking-office. From the box-seat of the same vehicle
descended a brisk, cheerful little man, looking rather like a courier
than an ordinary servant, who paid the cabman, saw to the luggage, and,
at a respectful distance, followed Miss Derwent along the platform; it
was Thibaut Rossignol.

Grey-clad also, with air no less calm and sufficient, a gentleman
carrying newspapers in Britannic abundance moved towards the train
which was about to start. Surveying for a moment, with distant
curiosity, the travellers about him, his eye fell upon that maiden of
the sunny countenance just as she was entering a carriage; he stopped,
insensibly drew himself together, subdued a smile, and advanced for
recognition.

"I am going to Liverpool, Miss Derwent. May I have the pleasure----?"

"If you will promise not to talk politics, Mr. Jacks."

"I can't promise that. I want to talk politics."

"From here to Crewe?"

"As far as Rugby, let us say. After that--morphology, or some other of
your light topics."

It seemed possible that they might have the compartment to themselves,
for it was mid-August, and the tumult of northward migration had
ceased. Arnold Jacks, had he known a moment sooner, would have settled
it with the guard. He looked forbiddingly at a man who approached; who,
in his turn, stared haughtily and turned away.

Irene beckoned to Thibaut, and from the window gave him a trivial
message for her father, speaking in French; Thibaut, happy to serve
her, put a world of chivalrous respect into his "Bien, Mademoiselle!"
Arnold Jacks averted his face and smiled. Was she girlish enough, then,
to find pleasure in speaking French before him? A charming trait!

The train started, and Mr. Jacks began to talk. It was not the first
time that they had merrily skirmished on political and other grounds;
they amused each other, and, as it seemed, in a perfectly harmless way;
the English way of mirth between man and maid, candid, inallusive,
without self-consciousness. Arnold made the most of his thirty years,
spoke with a tone something paternal. He was wholly sure of himself,
knew so well his own mind, his scheme of existence, that Irene's beauty
and her charm were nothing more to him than an aesthetic perception.
That she should feel an interest in him, a little awe of him, was to be
hoped and enjoyed: he had not the least thought of engaging deeper
emotion--would, indeed, have held himself reprobate had such purpose
entered his head. Nor is it natural to an Englishman of this type to
imagine that girls may fall in love with him. Love has such a
restricted place in their lives, is so consistently kept out of sight
in their familiar converse. They do not entirely believe in it; it ill
accords with their practical philosophy. Marriage--that is another
thing. The approaches to wedlock are a subject of honourable
convention, not to be confused with the trivialities of romance.

"I'm going down to Liverpool," he said, presently, "to meet Trafford
Romaine."

It gratified him to see the gleam in Miss Derwent's eyes the'
announcement had its hoped-for effect. Trafford Romaine, the Atlas of
our Colonial world; the much-debated, the universally interesting
champion of Greater British interests! She knew, of course, that Arnold
Jacks was his friend; no one could talk with Mr. Jacks for half an hour
without learning that; but the off-hand mention of their being about to
meet this very day had an impressiveness for Irene.

"I saw that he was coming to England."

"From the States--yes. He has been over there on a holiday--merely a
holiday. Of course, the papers have tried to find a meaning in it. That
kind of thing amuses him vastly. He says in his last letter to me----"

Carelessly, the letter was drawn from an inner pocket. Only a page and
a half; Arnold read it out. A bluff and rather slangy epistolary style.

"May I see his hand?" asked Irene, trying to make fun of her wish.

He gave her the letter, and watched her amusedly as she gazed at the
first page. On receiving it back again, he took his penknife, carefully
cut out the great man's signature, and offered it for Irene's
acceptance.

"Thank you. But you know, of course, that I regard it as a mere
curiosity."

"Oh, yes! Why not? So do I the theory of Evolution."

By a leading question or two, Miss Derwent set her companion talking at
large of Trafford Romaine, his views and policies. The greatest man in
the Empire! he declared. The only man, in fact, who held the true
Imperial conception, and had genius to inspire multitudes with his own
zeal. Arnold's fervour of admiration betrayed him into no excessive
vivacity, no exuberance in phrase or unusual gesture such as could
conflict with "good form"; he talked like the typical public schoolboy,
with a veneering of wisdom current in circles of higher officialdom.
Enthusiasm was never the term for his state of mind; instinctively he
shrank from that, as a thing Gallic, "foreign." But the spirit of
practical determination could go no further. He followed Trafford
Romaine as at school he had given allegiance to his cricket captain;
impossible to detect a hint that he felt the life of peoples in any way
more serious than the sports of his boyhood, yet equally impossible to
perceive how he could have been more profoundly in earnest. This made
the attractiveness of the man; he compelled confidence; it was felt
that he never exaggerated in the suggestion of force concealed beneath
his careless, mirthful manner. Irene, in spite of her humorous
observation, hung upon his speech. Involuntarily, she glanced at his
delicate complexion, at the whiteness and softness of his ungloved
hand, and felt in a subtle way this combination of the physically fine
with the morally hard, trenchant, tenacious. Close your eyes, and
Arnold Jacks was a high-bred bulldog endowed with speech; not otherwise
would a game animal of that species, advanced to a world-polity, utter
his convictions.

"You take for granted," she remarked, "that our race is the finest
fruit of civilisation."

"Certainly. Don't you?"

"It's having a pretty good conceit of ourselves. Is every foreigner who
contests it a poor deluded creature? Take the best type of Frenchman,
for instance. Is he necessarily fatuous in his criticism of us?"

"Why, of course he is. He doesn't understand us. He doesn't understand
the world. He has his place, to be sure, but that isn't in
international politics. We are the political people; we are the
ultimate rulers. Our language----"

"There's a quotation from Virgil----"

"I know. We are very like the Romans. But there are no new races to
overthrow us."

He began to sketch the future extension of Britannic lordship and
influence. Kingdoms were overthrown with a joke, continents were
annexed in a boyish phrase; Armageddon transacted itself in sheer
lightness of heart. Laughing, he waded through the blood of nations,
and in the end seated himself with crossed legs upon the throne of the
universe.

"Do you know what it makes me wish?" said Irene, looking wicked.

"That you may live to see it?"

"No. That someone would give us a good licking, for the benefit of our
souls."

Having spoken it, she was ashamed, and her lip quivered a little. But
the train had slackened speed; they entered a station.

"Rugby!" she exclaimed, with relief. "Have you any views about
treatment of the phylloxera?"

"Odd that you should mention that. Why?"

"Only because my father has been thinking about it: we have a friend
from Avignon staying with us--all but ruined in his vineyards."

Jacks had again taken out his letter-case. He selected a folded sheet
of paper, and showed what looked like a dry blade of grass. The wheat,
he said, on certain farms in his Company's territory had begun to
suffer from a strange disease; here was an example of the
parasite-eaten growth; no one yet had recognised the disease or
discovered a check for it.

"Let my father have it," said Irene. "He is interested in all that kind
of thing."

"Really? Seriously?"

"Quite seriously. He would much like to see it."

"Then I will either call on him, or write to him, when I get back."

Miss Derwent had not yet spoken of her destination. She mentioned, now,
that she was going to spend a week or two with relations at a country
place in Cheshire. She must change trains at Crewe. This gave a lighter
turn to the conversation. Arnold Jacks launched into frank gaiety, and
Irene met him with spirit. Not a little remarkable was the absence of
the note of sex from their merry gossip in the narrow seclusion of a
little railway compartment. Irene was as safe with this
world-conquering young man as with her own brother; would have been so,
probably, on a desert island. They were not man and woman, but English
gentleman and lady, and, from one point of view, very brilliant
specimens of their kind.

At Crewe both alighted, Arnold to stretch his legs for a moment.

"By the bye," he said, as Miss Derwent, having seen to her luggage, was
bidding him farewell, "I'm sorry to hear that young Otway has been very
ill."

"Ill?--I had no knowledge of it. In Russia?"

"Yes. My father was speaking of it yesterday. He had heard it from his
friend, old Mr. Otway. A fever of some kind. He's all right again, I
believe."

"We have heard nothing of it. There's your whistle. Good-bye!"

Jacks leapt into his train, waved a hand from the window, and was
whirled away.

For the rest of her journey, Irene seemed occupied with an alternation
of grave and amusing thoughts. At moments she looked seriously
troubled. This passed, and the arrival found her bright as ever; the
pink of modern maidenhood, fancy free.

The relatives she was visiting were two elderly ladies, cousins of her
mother; representatives of a family native to this locality for
hundreds of years. One of the two had been married, but husband and
child were long since dead; the other, devoted to sisterly affection,
had shared in the brief happiness of the wife and remained the solace
of the widow's latter years. They were in circumstances of simple
security, living as honoured gentlewomen, without display as without
embarrassment; fulfilling cheerfully the natural duties of their
position, but seeking no influence beyond the homely limits; their life
a humanising example, a centre of charity and peace. The house they
dwelt in came to them from their yeoman ancestors of long ago; it was
held on a lease of one thousand years from near the end of the
sixteenth century, "at a quit-rent of one shilling," and certain pieces
of furniture still in use were contemporary with the beginning of the
tenure. No corner of England more safely rural; beyond sound of railway
whistle, bosomed in great old elms, amid wide meadows and generous
tillage; sloping westward to the river Dee, and from its soft green
hills descrying the mountains of Wales.

Here in the old churchyard lay Irene's mother. She died in London, but
Dr. Derwent wished her to rest by the home of her childhood, where
Irene, too, as a little maid, had spent many a summer holiday. Over the
grave stood a simple slab of marble, white as the soul of her it
commemorated, graven thereon a name, parentage, dates of birth and
death--no more. Irene's father cared not to tell the world how that
bereavement left him.

Round about were many kindred tombs, the most noticeable that of Mrs.
Derwent's grandfather, a ripe old scholar, who rested from his mellow
meditations just before the century began.

  "GULIELMI W----
  Pii, docti, integri,
  Reliquiae seu potius exuviae."

It was the first Latin Irene learnt, and its quaint phrasing to this
day influenced her thoughts of mortality. Standing by her mother's
grave, she often repeated to herself "_seu potius exuviae_," and
wondered whether her father's faith in science excluded the hope of
that old-world reasoning. She would not have dared to ask him, for all
the frank tenderness of their companionship. On that subject Dr.
Derwent had no word to say, no hint to let fall. She knew only that, in
speaking of her they had lost, his voice would still falter; she knew
that he always came into this churchyard alone, and was silent,
troubled, for hours after the visit. Instinctively, too, she understood
that, though her father might almost be called a young man, and had
abounding vitality, no second wife would ever obscure to him that
sacred memory. It was one of the many grounds she had for admiring as
much as she loved him. His loyalty stirred her heart, coloured her view
of life.

The ladies had some little apprehension that their young relative,
fresh from contact with a many-sided world, might feel a dulness in
their life and their interests; but nothing of the sort entered Irene's
mind. She was intelligent enough to appreciate the superiority of these
quiet sisters to all but the very best of the acquaintances she had
made in London or abroad, and modest enough to see in their entire
refinement a correction of the excessive _sans-gene_ to which society
tempted her. They were behind the times only in the sense of escaping,
by seclusion, those modern tendencies which vulgarise. An excellent
library of their own supplied them with the essentials of culture, and
one or two periodicals kept them acquainted with all that was worth
knowing in the activity of the day. They belonged to the very small
class of persons who still read, who have mind and leisure to find
companionship in books. Their knowledge of languages passed the common;
in earlier years they had travelled, and their reminiscences fostered
the liberality which was the natural tone of their minds. To converse
familiarly with them was to discover their grasp of historical
principles, their insight into philosophic systems, their large
apprehension of world-problems. At the same time, they nurtured
jealously their intellectual preferences, differing on such points from
each other as they did from the common world. One of them would betray
an intimate knowledge of some French or Italian poet scarce known by
name to ordinary educated people; something in him had appealed to her
mind at a certain time, and her memory held him in gratitude. The other
would be found to have informed herself exhaustively concerning the
history of some neglected people, dear to her for some subtle reason of
affinity or association. But in their table-talk appeared no pedantry;
things merely human were as interesting to them as to the babbler of
any drawing-room, and their inexhaustible kindliness sweetened every
word they spoke.

Nothing more salutary for Irene Derwent than this sojourn with persons
whom she in every way respected--with whom there was not the least
temptation to exhibit her mere dexterities. In London, during this past
season, she had sometimes talked as a young, clever and admired girl is
prone to do; always to the mockery of her sager self when looking back
on such easy triumphs. How very easy it was to shine in London
drawing-rooms, no one knew better. Here, in the country stillness, in
this beautiful old house sacred to sincerity of heart and mind, to aim
at "smartness" would indeed have been to condemn oneself. Instead of
phrasing, she was content, as became her years, to listen; she enjoyed
the feeling of natural youthfulness, of spontaneity without misgiving.
The things of life and intellect appeared in their true proportions;
she saw the virtue of repose.

When she had been here a day or two, the conversation chanced to take a
turn which led to her showing the autograph of Trafford Romaine; she
said merely that a friend had given it to her.

"An interesting man, I should think," remarked the elder of the two
sisters, without emphasis.

"An Englishman of a new type, wouldn't you say?" fell from the other.

"So far as I understand him. Or perhaps of an old type under new
conditions."

Irene, paying close attention, was not sure that she understood all
that these words implied.

"He is immensely admired by some of our friends," she said with
restraint. "They compare him to the fighting heroes of our history."

"Indeed?" rejoined the elder lady. "But the question is: Are those the
qualities that we want nowadays? I admire Sir Walter Raleigh, but I
should be sorry to see him, just as he was, playing an active part in
our time."

"They say," ventured Irene, with a smile, "that but for such men, we
may really become a mere nation of shopkeepers."

"Do they? But may we not fear that their ideal is simply a shopkeeper
ready to shoot anyone who rivals him in trade? The finer qualities I
admit; but one distrusts the objects they serve."

"We are told," said Irene, "that England _must_ expand."

"Probably. But the mere necessity of the case must not become our law.
It won't do for a great people to say, 'Make room for us, and we
promise to set you a fine example of civilisation; refuse to make room,
and we'll blow your brains out!' One doubts the quality of the
civilisation promised."

Irene laughed, delighted with the vigour underlying the old lady's calm
and gentle habit of speech. Yet she was not convinced, though she
wished to be. A good many times she had heard in thought the suavely
virile utterances of Arnold Jacks; his voice had something that pleased
her, and his way of looking at things touched her imagination. She
wished these ladies knew Arnold Jacks, that she might ask their opinion
of him.

And yet, she felt she would rather not have asked it.



CHAPTER XI


From this retreat, Irene wrote to her cousin Olga Hannaford, and in the
course of the letter made inquiry whether anything was known at Ewell
about a severe illness that had befallen young Mr. Otway. Olga replied
that she had heard of no such event; that they had received no news at
all of Mr. Otway since his leaving England. This did not allay an
uneasiness which, in various forms, had troubled Irene ever since she
heard that her studious acquaintance had abandoned his ambitions and
gone back to commerce. A few weeks more elapsed, and--being now in
Scotland--she received a confirmation of what Arnold Jacks had
reported. Immediately on reaching Odessa, Piers Otway had fallen ill,
and for a time was in danger. Irene mused. She would have preferred not
to think of Otway at all, but often did so, and could not help it. A
certain reproach of conscience connected itself with his name. But as
time went on, and it appeared that the young man was settled to his
mercantile career in Russia, she succeeded in dismissing him from her
mind.

For the next three years she lived with her father in London; a life
pretty evenly divided between studies and the amusements of her world.

Dr. Derwent pursued his quiet activity. In a certain sphere he had
reputation; the world at large knew little or nothing of him. All he
aimed at was the diminution of human suffering; whether men thanked him
for his life's labour did not seem to him a point worth considering. He
knew that only his scientific brethren could gauge the advance in
knowledge, and consequent power over disease, due to his patient toil;
it was a question of minute discoveries, of investigations
unintelligible to the layman. Some of his colleagues held that he
foolishly restricted himself in declining to experimentalise _in
corpore vili_, whenever such experiments were attended with pain; he
was spoken of in some quarters as a "sentimentalist," a man who might
go far but for his "fads." One great pathologist held that the whole
idea of pursuing science for mitigation of human ills was nothing but a
sentimentality and a fad. A debate between this personage and Dr.
Derwent was brought to a close by the latter's inextinguishable mirth.
He was, indeed, a man who laughed heartily, and laughter often served
him where another would have waxed choleric.

"Only a dog!" he exclaimed once to Irene, apropos of this subject, and
being in his graver mood. "Why, what assurance have I that any given
man is of more importance to the world than any given dog? How can I
know what is important and what is not, when it comes to the ultimate
mystery of life? Create me a dog--just a poor little mongrel puppy--and
you shall torture him; then, and not till then. And in that event I
reserve my opinion of the----" He checked himself on the point of a
remark which seemed of too wide bearing for the girl's ears. But Irene
supplied the hiatus for herself, as she was beginning to do pretty
often when listening to her father.

Dr. Derwent was, in a sense, a self-made man; in youth he had gone
through a hard struggle, and but for his academic successes he could
not have completed the course of medical training. Twenty years of very
successful practice had made him independent, and a mechanical
invention--which he had patented--an ingenuity of which he thought
nothing till some friend insisted on its value--raised his independence
to moderate wealth. For his children's sake he was glad of this
comfort; like every educated man who has known poverty at the outset of
life, he feared it more than he cared to say.

His wife had brought him nothing--save her beauty and her noble heart.
She wedded him when it was still doubtful whether he would hold his own
in the fierce fight for a living; she died before the days of his
victory. Now and then, a friend who heard him speak of his wife's
family smiled with the thought that he only just escaped being
something of a snob. Which merely signified that a man of science
attached value to descent. Dr. Derwent knew the properties of such
blood as ran in his wife's veins, and it rejoiced him to mark the
characteristics which Irene inherited from her mother.

He often suffered anxiety on behalf of his sister, Mrs. Hannaford, whom
he knew to be pinched in circumstances, but whom it was impossible to
help. Lee Hannaford he disliked and distrusted; the men were poles
apart in character and purpose. The family had now left Ewell, and
lived in a poor house in London. Olga was trying to earn money by her
drawing, not, it seemed, with much success. Hannaford was always said
to be on the point of selling some explosive invention to the British
Government, whence would result a fortune; but the Government had not
yet come to terms.

"What a shame it is," quoth Dr. Derwent, "that an honest man who
facilitates murder on so great a scale should be kept waiting for his
reward!"

Hannaford pursued his slight acquaintance with Arnold Jacks, who, in
ignorance of any relationship, once spoke of him to Miss Derwent.

"An ingenious fellow. I should like to make some use of him, but I
don't quite know how."

"I am sorry to say he belongs by marriage to our family," replied Irene.

"Indeed? Why sorry?"

"I detest his character. He is neither a gentleman, nor anything else
that one can respect."

It closed a conversation in which they had differed more sharply than
usual, with--on Irene's part--something less than the wonted gaiety of
humour. They did not see each other very often, but always seemed glad
to meet, and always talked in a tone of peculiar intimacy, as if
conscious of mutual understanding. Yet no two acquaintances could have
been in greater doubt as to each other's mind and character. Irene was
often mentally occupied with Mr. Jacks, and one of the questions she
found most uncertain was whether he in turn ever thought of her with
like interest. Now she seemed to have proof that he sought an
opportunity of meeting; now, again, he appeared to have forgotten her
existence. He interested her in his personality, he interested her in
his work. She would have liked to speak of him with her father; but Dr.
Derwent never broached the subject, and she could not herself lead up
to it. Whenever she saw his name in the paper--where it often stood in
reports of public festivities or in items of social news--her eye dwelt
upon it, and her fancy was stirred. Curiosity, perhaps, had the greater
part in her feeling. Arnold Jacks seemed to live so "largely," in
contact with such great affairs and such eminent people. One day, at
length, a little paragraph in an evening journal announced that he was
engaged to be married, and to a lady much in the light, the widowed
daughter of a Conservative statesman. It was only an hour or two after
reading this news that Irene met him at dinner, and spoke with him of
Hannaford; neither to Arnold himself nor to anyone else did she allude
to the rumoured engagement; but that night she was not herself.

About lunch time on the next day she received a note from Jacks. His
attention had been drawn--he wrote--to an absurd bit of gossip
connecting his name with that of a lady whose friend he was, and
absolutely nothing more. Would Miss Derwent, if occasion arose, do him
the kindness to contradict this story in her circle? He would be
greatly obliged to her.

Irene was something more than surprised. It struck her as odd that
Arnold Jacks should request her services in such a matter as this. In
an obscure way she half resented the brief, off-hand missive. And she
paid no further attention to it.

A month later, she, her father and brother, were on their way to
Switzerland. Stepping into the boat at Dover, she saw in front of her
Arnold Jacks. It was a perfectly smooth passage, and they talked all
the way; for part of the time, alone.

"I think," said Arnold, at the first opportunity, looking her in the
face, "you never replied to a letter of mine last month about a certain
private affair?"

"A letter? Oh, yes. I didn't think it required an answer."

"Don't you generally answer letters from your friends?"

Irene, in turn, gave him a steady look.

"Generally, yes. But not when I have the choice between silence and
being disagreeable."

"You were both silent _and_ disagreeable," said Arnold, smiling. "Do
you mind being disagreeable again, and telling me what your answer
would have been?"

"Simply that I never, if I can help it, talk about weddings and rumours
of weddings, and that I couldn't make an exception in your case."

Arnold laughed in the old way.

"A most original rule, Miss Derwent, and admirable. If all kept to it I
shouldn't have been annoyed by that silly chatter. It occurs to me that
I perhaps ought not to have sent you that note. I did it in a moment of
irritation--wanting to have the stupid thing contradicted right and
left, as fast as possible. I won't do it again."

They were on excellent terms once more. Irene felt a singular pleasure
in his having apologised; it was one of the very rare occasions of his
yielding to her on any point whatever. Never had she felt so kindly
disposed to him.

Arnold was going to Paris, and on business; he hinted at something
pending between his Company and a French Syndicate.

"You are a sort of informal diplomatist," said Irene, her interest keen.

"Now and then, yes. And"--he added with the frankness which was one of
his more amiable points--"I rather like it."

"One sees that you do. Better, I suppose, than the thought of going
into Parliament."

"That may come some day," he answered, glancing at a gull that hovered
above the ship. "Not whilst my father sits there."

"You would be on different sides, I suppose."

Arnold smiled, and went on to say that he was uneasy about his father's
health. John Jacks had fallen of late into a habit of worry about
things great and small, as though age were suddenly telling upon him.
He fretted over public affairs; he suffered from the death of old
friends, especially that of John Bright, whom he had held in
affectionate regard for a lifetime. Irene was glad to hear this
expression of anxiety. For it sometimes seemed to her that Arnold Jacks
had little, if any, domestic feeling.

She wished they could have travelled further together. Their talks were
always broken off too soon, just when she began to get a glimpse of
characteristics still unknown to her. On the journey she thought
constantly of him; not with any sort of tender emotion, but with much
curiosity. It would have gratified her to know what degree of truth
there was in that rumour of his engagement a month ago; some,
undoubtedly, for she had noticed a peculiar smile on the faces of
persons who alluded to it. His apparent coldness towards women in
general might be natural, or might conceal mysteries. So difficult a
man to know! And so impossible to decide whether he was really worth
knowing!

Among intimates of her own sex Irene had a reputation for a certain
chaste severity becoming at moments all but prudery. It did not
altogether harmonise with the tone of highly taught young women who
rather prided themselves on freedom of thought, and to some extent of
utterance. Singular in one so far from cold-blooded, so abounding in
vitality. Towards men, her attitude seemed purely intellectual; no one
had ever so much as suspected a warmer interest. A hint of things
forbidden with regard to any male acquaintance caused her to turn away,
silent, austere. That such things not seldom came to her hearing was a
motive of troubled reflection, common enough in all intelligent girls
who live in touch with the wider world. Men puzzled her, and Irene did
not like to be puzzled. As free from unwholesome inquisitiveness as a
girl can possibly be, she often wished to know, once for all, whatever
was to be learnt about the concealed life of men; to know it and to
have done with it; to settle her mind on that point, as on any other
that affected the life of a reasonable being. Yet she shrank from all
such enquiry, with a sense of womanly pride, doing her best to believe
that there was no concealment in the case of any man with whom she
could have friendly relations. She scorned the female cynic; she
disliked the carelessly liberal in moral judgment. Profoundly
mysterious to her was everything covered by the word "passion"--a word
she detested.

Her way of seeing life on the amusing side aided, of course, her
maidenly severity against trouble of sense and sentiment. This she had
from her father, a man of quips and jokes on the surface of his
seriousness. As she grew older, it threatened a decline of intimacy
between her and her cousin Olga, who, never naturally buoyant, was
becoming so cheerless, so turbid of temper, that Irene found it
difficult to talk with her for long together. Domestic miseries might
greatly account for the girl's mood, but Irene had insight enough to
perceive that this was not all. And she felt uncomfortably helpless. To
jest seemed unfeeling; sympathy of the sentimental sort she could not
give. She feared that Olga was beginning to shrink from her.

Since the Hannaford's removal to London, they had not been able to see
much of each other. Irene understood that she was not very welcome in
the little house at Hammersmith, even before her aunt wrote to ask her
not to come. Lee Hannaford's aloofness from his wife's relatives had
turned to hostility; he spoke of them with increasing bitterness, threw
contempt on Dr. Derwent's scientific work, and condemned Irene as a
butterfly of fashion. Olga ceased to visit the house in Bryanston
Square, and the cousins only corresponded. It was Dr. Derwent's opinion
that Hannaford could not be quite sane; he was much troubled on his
sister's account, and had often pondered extreme measures for her
rescue from an intolerable position.

At length there came to pass the event to which Mrs. Hannaford had
looked as her only hope. The widowed sister in America died, and, out
of her abundance, her children all provided for, left to the unhappy
wife in England a substantial bequest. News of this came first to Dr.
Derwent, who was appointed trustee.

But before he had time to communicate with Mrs. Hannaford, a letter
from her occasioned him new anxiety. His sister wrote that Olga was
bent on making a most undesirable marriage, having fallen in love with
a penniless nondescript who called himself an artist; a man given, it
was suspected, to drink, and without any decent connection that one
could hear of. A wretched, squalid affair! Would the Doctor come at
once and see Olga? Her father was away, as usual; of course the girl
would not be influenced by _him_, in any case; she was altogether in a
strange, wild, headstrong state, and one could not be sure how soon the
marriage might come about.

With wrinkled brows, the vexed pathologist set forth for Hammersmith.



CHAPTER XII


A semi-detached dwelling in a part of Hammersmith just being invaded by
the social class below that for which it was built; where, in
consequence, rents had slightly fallen, and notices of "apartments"
were beginning to rise; where itinerant vendors, finding a new market,
strained their voices with special discord; where hired pianos vied
with each other through party walls; where the earth was always very
dusty or very muddy, and the sky above in all seasons had a
discouraging hue. The house itself furnished half-heartedly, as if it
was felt to be a mere encampment; no comfort in any chamber, no air of
home. Hannaford had not cared to distribute his mementoes of battle and
death in the room called his own; they remained in packing-cases. Each
member of the family, unhappy trio, knew that their state was
transitional, and waited rather than lived.

With the surprise of a woman long bitter against destiny, Mrs.
Hannaford learnt that something _had_ happened, and that it was a piece
of good, not ill, fortune. When her brother left the house (having
waited two hours in vain for Olga's return), she made a change of garb,
arranged her hair with something of the old grace, and moved restlessly
from room to room. A light had touched her countenance, dispelling
years of premature age; she was still a handsome woman; she could still
find in her heart the courage for a strong decision.

There was no maid--Mrs. Hannaford herself laid upon the table what was
to serve for an evening meal; and she had just done so when her
daughter came in. Olga had changed considerably in the past three
years; at one-and-twenty she would have passed for several years older;
her complexion was fatigued, her mouth had a nervous mobility which
told of suppressed suffering, her movements were impatient, irritable.
But at this moment she did not wear a look of unhappiness; there was a
glow in her fine eyes, a tremour of resolve on all her features. On
entering the room where her mother stood, she at once noticed a change.
Their looks met: they gazed excitedly at each other.

"What is it? Why have you dressed?"

"Because I am a free woman. My sister is dead, and has left me a lot of
money."

They rushed into each other's arms; they caressed with tears and sobs;
it was minutes before they could utter more than broken phrases and
exclamations.

"What shall you do?" the girl asked at length, holding her mother's
hand against her heart. Of late there had been unwonted conflict
between them, and in the reaction of joy they became all tenderness.

"What I ought to have done long ago--go and live away----"

"Will it be possible, dear?"

"It shall be!" exclaimed the mother vehemently. "I am not a slave--I am
not a wife! I ought to have had courage to go away years since. It was
wrong, wrong to live as I have done. The money is my own, and I will be
free. He shall have a third of it every year, if he leaves me free.
One-third is yours, one mine."

"No, no!" said Olga drawing back. "For me, none of it!"

"Yes, you will live with me--you will, Olga! This makes everything
different. You will see that you cannot do what you thought of! Don't
speak of it now--think--wait----"

The girl moved apart. Her face lost its brightness; hardened in
passionate determination.

"I can't begin all that again," she said, with an accent of weariness.

"No! I won't speak of it now, Olga. But will you do one thing for me?
Will you put it off for a short time? I'll tell you what I've planned;
your uncle and I talked it all over. I must leave this house before
_he_ comes back, to-morrow morning. I can't go to your uncle's house,
as he asked me; you see why it is better not, don't you? The best will
be to go into lodgings for a time, and not to let _him_ know where I
am, till I hear whether he will accept the terms I offer. Look, I have
enough money for the present." She showed gold that had been left with
her by Dr. Derwent. "But am I to go alone? Will you desert me in my
struggle? I want you, dear; I need your help. Oh, it would be cruel to
leave me just now! Will you put it off for a few weeks, until I know
what my life is going to be? You won't refuse me this one thing, Olga,
after all we have gone through together?"

"For a few weeks: of course I will do that," replied the girl, still in
an attitude of resistance. "But you mustn't deceive yourself, mother.
My mind is made up; _nothing_ will change it. Money is nothing to me;
we shall be able to live----"

"I can count on you till the struggle is over?"

"I won't leave you until it is settled. And perhaps there will be no
struggle at all. I should think it will be enough for you to say what
you have decided----"

"Perhaps. But I can't feel sure. He has got to be such a tyrant, and it
will enrage him--But perhaps the money--Yes, he will be glad of the
money."

Presently they sat down to make a pretence of eating; it was over in a
few minutes. Mrs. Hannaford made known in detail what she had rapidly
decided with her brother. Tonight she would pack her clothing and
Olga's; she would leave a letter for her husband; and early in the
morning they would leave London. Not for any distant hiding-place; it
was better to be within easy reach of Dr. Derwent, and a retreat in
Surrey would best suit their purposes, some place where lodgings could
be at once obtained. The subject of difference put aside, they talked
again freely and affectionately of this sudden escape from a life which
in any case Mrs. Hannaford could not have endured much longer. About
nine o'clock, the quiet of the house was broken by a postman's knock;
Olga ran to take the letter, and exclaimed on seeing the address--

"Why, it's from Mr. Otway, and an English stamp!"

Mrs. Hannaford found a note of a few lines. Piers Otway had reached
London that morning, and would be in town for a day or two only, before
going on into Yorkshire. Could he see his old friends to-morrow? He
would call in the afternoon.

"Better reply to-night," said Olga, "and save him the trouble of coming
here."

The letter in her hand, Mrs. Hannaford stood thinking, a half-smile
about her lips.

"Yes; I must write," she said slowly. "But perhaps he could come and
see us in the country. I'll tell him where we are going."

They talked of possible retreats, and decided upon Epsom, which was not
far from their old home at Ewell; then Mrs. Hannaford replied to Otway.
Through the past three years she had often heard from him, and she knew
that he was purposing a visit to England, but no date had been
mentioned. After writing, she was silent, thoughtful. Olga, too, having
been out to post the letter, sat absorbed in her own meditations. They
did some hasty packing before bedtime, but talked little. They were to
rise early, and flee at once from the hated house.

A sunny morning--it was July--saw them start on their journey,
tremulous, but rejoicing. Long before midday they had found lodgings
that suited them, and had made themselves at home. The sense of liberty
gave everything a delightful aspect; their little sitting-room was
perfection the trees and fields had an ideal beauty after Hammersmith,
and they promised themselves breezy walks on the Downs above. Not a
word of the trouble between them. The mother held to a hope that the
great change of circumstance would insensibly turn Olga's thoughts from
her reckless purpose; and, for the moment, Olga herself seemed happy in
self-forgetfulness.

The man to whom she had plighted herself was named Kite. He did not
look like a bird of prey; his countenance, his speech, were anything
but sinister; but for his unlucky position, Mrs. Hannaford would
probably have rather taken to him. Olga's announcement came with
startling suddenness. For a twelvemonth she had been trying to make
money by artistic work, and to a small extent had succeeded, managing
to sell a few drawings to weekly papers, and even to get a poor little
commission for the illustrating of a poor little book. In this way she
had made a few acquaintances in the so-called Bohemian world, but she
spoke seldom of them, and Mrs. Hannaford suspected no special intimacy
with anyone whose name was mentioned to her. One evening (a week ago)
Olga said quietly that she was going to be married.

Mr. Kite was summoned to Hammersmith. A lank, loose-limbed,
indolent-looking man of thirty or so, with a long, thin face, tangled
hair, gentle eyes. The clothes he wore were decent, but suggested the
idea that they had been purchased at second-hand; they did not fit him
well; perhaps he was the kind of man whose clothes never do fit. Unless
Mrs. Hannaford was mistaken, his breath wafted an alcoholic odour; but
Mr. Kite had every appearance of present sobriety. He seemed
chronically tired; sat down with a little sigh of satisfaction;
stretched his legs, and let his arms fall full length. To the maternal
eye, a singular, problematic being, anything but likely to inspire
confidence. Yet he talked agreeably, if oddly; his incomplete sentences
were full of good feeling; above all, he evidently meant to be frank,
put his poverty in the baldest aspect, set forth his hopes with extreme
moderation. "We seem to suit each other," was his quiet remark, with a
glance at Olga; and Mrs. Hannaford could not doubt that he meant well.
But what a match! Scarcely had he gone, when the mother began her
dissuasions, and from that moment there was misery.

For Olga, Mrs. Hannaford had always been ambitious. The girl was
clever, warm-hearted, and in her way handsome. But for the disastrous
father, she would have had every chance of marrying "well." Mrs.
Hannaford was not a worldly woman, and all her secret inclinations were
to romance, but it is hard for a mother to dissociate the thought of
marriage from that of wealth and respectability. Mr. Kite, well-meaning
as he might be, would never do.

To-day there was truce. They talked much of Piers Otway, and in the
afternoon, as had been arranged by letter, both went to the railway
station, to meet the train by which it was hoped he would come--Piers
arrived.

"How much improved!" was the thought of both. He was larger, manlier,
and though still of pale complexion had no longer the bloodless look of
years ago. Walking, he bore himself well; he was self-possessed in
manner, courteous in not quite the English way; brief, at first, in his
sentences, but his face lit with cordiality. On the way to the ladies'
lodgings, he stole frequent glances at one and the other; plainly he
saw change in them, and perhaps not for the better.

Mrs. Hannaford kept mentally comparing him with the scarecrow Kite. A
tremor of speculation took hold upon her; a flush was on her cheeks,
she talked nervously, laughed much.

Nothing was to be said about the flight from home; they were at Epsom
for a change of air. But Mrs. Hannaford could not keep silence
concerning her good fortune; she had revealed it in a few nervous
words, before they reached the house.

"You will live in London?" asked Otway.

"That isn't settled. It would be nice to go abroad again. We liked
Geneva."

"I must tell you about a Swiss friend of mine," Piers resumed. "A man
you would like; the best, jolliest, most amusing fellow I ever met; his
name is Moncharmont. He is in business at Odessa. There was talk of his
coming to England with me, but we put it off; another time. He's a man
who does me good; but for him, I shouldn't have held on."

"Then you don't like it, after all?" asked Mrs. Hannaford.

"Like it? No. But I have stuck to it--partly for very shame, as you
know. I've stuck to it hard, and it's getting too late to think of
anything else. I have plans; I'll tell you."

These plans were laid open when tea had been served in the little
sitting-room. Piers had it in mind to start an independent business,
together with his friend Moncharmont; one of them to live in Russia,
one in London.

"My father has promised the money. He promised it three years ago. I
might have had it when I liked; but I should have been ashamed to ask
till a reasonable time had gone by. It won't be a large capital, but
Moncharmont has some, and putting it together, we shall manage to
start, I think."

He paused, watching the effect of his announcement. Mrs. Hannaford was
radiant with pleasure; Olga looked amused.

"Why do you laugh?" Piers asked, turning to the girl.

"I didn't exactly laugh. But it seems odd. I can't quite think of you
as a merchant."

"To tell you the truth, I can't quite think of myself in that light
either. I'm only a bungler at commerce, but I've worked hard, and I
have a certain amount of knowledge. For one thing, I've got hold of the
language; this last year I've travelled a good deal in Russia for our
firm, and it often struck me that I might just as well be doing the
business on my own account. I dreamt once of a partnership with our
people; but there's no chance of that. They're very close; besides,
they don't make any serious account of me; I'm not the type that gains
English confidence. Strange that I get on so much better with almost
any other nationality--with men, that is to say."

He smiled, reddened, turned it off with a laugh. For the moment he was
his old self, and his wandering eyes kept a look such has had often
been seen in them during that month of torture three years ago.

"You are quite sure," said Mrs. Hannaford, "that it wouldn't be better
to use your capital in some other way?"

"Don't, don't!" Piers exclaimed, tossing his arm in exaggerated dread.
"Don't set me adrift again. I've thought about it; it's settled. This
is the only way of making money, that I can see."

"You are so set on making money?" said Olga, looking at him in surprise.

"Savagely set on it!"

"You have really come to see that as the end of life?" Olga asked,
regarding him curiously.

"The end? Oh, dear no! The means of life, only the means!"

Olga was about to put another question, but she met her mother's eye,
and kept silence. All were silent for a space, and meditative.

They went out to walk together. Looking over the wide prospect from the
top of the Downs, the soft English landscape, homely, peaceful, Otway
talked of Russia. It was a country, he said, which interested him more
the more he knew of it. He hoped to know it very well, and
perhaps--here he grew dreamy--to impart his knowledge to others. Not
many Englishmen mastered the language, or indeed knew anything of it;
that huge empire was a mere blank to be filled up by the imaginings of
prejudice and hostility. Was it not a task worth setting before
oneself, worth pursuing for a lifetime, that of trying to make known to
English folk their bugbear of the East?

"Then this," said Olga, "is to be the end of your life?"

"The end? No, not even that."

On their return, he found himself alone with Mrs. Hannaford for a few
minutes. He spoke abruptly, with an effort.

"Do you see much of the Derwents?"

"Not much. Our lives are so different, you know."

"Will you tell me frankly? If I called there--when I come south
again--should I be welcome?"

"Oh, why not?" replied the lady, veiling embarrassment. "I see."
Otway's face darkened. "You think it better I shouldn't. I understand."

Olga reappeared, and the young man turned to her with resolute
cheerfulness. When at length he took leave of his friends, they saw
nothing but good spirits and healthful energy. He would certainly see
them again before leaving England, and before long would let them know
all his projects in detail. So he went his way into the summer night,
back to the roaring world of London; one man in the multitude who knew
his heart's desire, and saw all else in the light thereof.

For three days, Mrs. Hannaford and her daughter lived expectant; then
arrived in answer to the letter left behind at Hammersmith. It came
through Dr. Derwent's solicitor, whose address Mrs. Hannaford had given
for this purpose. A curt, dry communication, saying simply that the
fugitive might do as she chose, and would never be interfered with.
Parting was, under the circumstances, evidently the wise course; but it
must be definite, legalised; the writer had no wish ever to see his
wife again. As to her suggestion about money, in that too she would
please herself; it relieved him to know her independent, and he was
glad to be equally so.

For all that, Lee Hannaford made no objection to receiving the portion
of his wife's income which she offered. He took it without thanks,
keeping his reflections to himself. And therewith was practically
dissolved one, at least, of the innumerable mock marriages which burden
the lives of mankind. Mrs. Hannaford's only bitterness was that in law
she remained wedded. It soothed her but moderately to reflect that she
was a martyr to national morality.

She was pressed to come and stay for a while in Bryanston Square, but
Olga would not accept that invitation. Her mother's affairs being
satisfactorily settled, the girl returned to her fixed purpose; she
would hear of no further postponement of her marriage. Thereupon Mrs.
Hannaford took a step she feared to be useless, but which was the only
hope remaining to her. She wrote to Kite; she explained to him her
circumstances; she asked him whether, out of justice to Olga, who might
repent a hasty union, he would join her (Mrs. Hannaford) in a decision
to put off the marriage for one year. If, in a twelvemonth, Olga were
still of the same mind, all opposition should be abandoned, and more
than that, pecuniary help would be given to the couple. She appealed to
his manhood, to his generosity, to his good sense.

And, much to her surprise, the appeal was successful. Kite wrote the
oddest letter in reply, all disjointed philosophising, with the gist
that perhaps Mrs. Hannaford was right. No harm in waiting a year;
perhaps much good. Life was a mystery; love was uncertain. He would get
on with his art, the only stable thing from his point of view.

From her next meeting with her lover, Olga came back pale and wretched.

"I must go and live alone, mother," she said. "I must go to London and
work. This life would be impossible to me now."

She would hear of nothing else. Her marriage was postponed; they need
say no more about it. If her mother would let her have a little money,
till she could support herself, she would be grateful; but she must
live apart. And so, after many tears it was decided. Olga went by
herself into lodgings, and Mrs. Hannaford accepted her brother's
invitation to Bryanston Square.



CHAPTER XIII


Piers Otway spent ten days in Yorkshire. His father was well, but more
than ever silent, sunk in prophetic brooding; Mrs. Otway kept the
wonted tenor of her life, apprehensive for the purity of the Anglican
Church (assailed by insidious papistry), and monologising at large to
her inattentive husband upon the godlessness of his impenitent old age.

"Piers," said the father one day, with a twinkle in his eye, "I find
myself growing a little deaf. Your stepmother is fond of saying that
Providence sends blessings in disguise, and for once she seems to have
hit upon a truth."

On a glorious night of stars, he walked with his son up to the open
moor. A summer breeze whispered fitfully between the dark-blue vault
and the grey earth; there was a sound of water that leapt from the
bosom of the hills; deep answering to deep, infinite to infinite. After
standing silent for a while, Jerome Otway laid a hand on his
companion's shoulder, and muttered, "The creeds--the dogmas!"

They had two or three long conversations. Most of his time Piers spent
in rambling alone about the moorland, for health and for weariness.
When unoccupied, he durst not be physically idle; the passions that
ever lurked to frenzy him could only be baffled at such times by
vigorous exercise. His cold bath in the early morning was followed by
play of dumb-bells. He had made a cult of physical soundness; he looked
anxiously at his lithe, well-moulded limbs; feebleness, disease, were
the menaces of a supreme hope. Ideal love dwells not in the soul alone,
but in every vein and nerve and muscle of a frame strung to perfect
service. Would he win his heart's desire?--let him be worthy of it in
body as in mind. He pursued to excess the point of cleanliness. With no
touch of personal conceit, he excelled the perfumed exquisite in care
for minute perfections. Not in costume; on that score he was
indifferent, once the conditions of health fulfilled. His inherited
tone was far from perfect; with rage he looked back upon those
insensate years of study, which had weakened him just when he should
have been carefully fortifying his constitution. Only by conflict daily
renewed did he keep in the way of safety; a natural indolence had ever
to be combated; there was always the fear of relapse, such as had
befallen him now and again during his years in Russia; a relapse not
alone in physical training, but from the ideal of chastity. He had
cursed the temper of his blood; he had raved at himself for vulgar
gratifications; and once more the struggle was renewed. Asceticism in
diet had failed him doubly; it reduced his power of wholesome exertion,
and caused a mental languor treacherous to his chief purpose. Nowadays
he ate and drank like any other of the sons of men, on the whole to his
plain advantage.

A day or two after receiving a letter from Mrs. Hannaford, in which she
told him of her removal to Dr. Derwent's house, he bade farewell to his
father.

To his hotel in London, that night, came a note he had expected. Mrs.
Hannaford asked him to call in Bryanston Square at eleven the next
morning.

As he approached the house, memories shamed him. How he had slunk about
the square under his umbrella; how he had turned away in black despair
after that "Not at home"; his foolish long-tailed coat, his glistening
stovepipe! To-day, with scarce a thought for his dress, he looked
merely what he was: an educated man, of average physique, of
intelligent visage, of easy bearing. For all that, his heart throbbed
as he stood at the door, and with catching breath, he followed the
servant upstairs.

Before Mrs. Hannaford appeared, he had time to glance round the
drawing-room, which was simpler in array than is common in such houses.
His eye fell upon a portrait, a large crayon drawing, hung in a place
of honour; he knew it must represent Irene's mother; there was a
resemblance to the face which haunted him, with more of sweetness, with
a riper humanity. Whilst his wife still lived, Dr. Derwent had not been
able to afford a painting of her; this drawing was done and well done,
in the after days from photographs. On the wall beneath it was a little
bracket, supporting a little glass vessel which held a rose. The year
round, this tiny altar never lacked its flower.

Mrs. Hannaford entered. Her smile of greeting was not untroubled, but
seeing her for the first time somewhat ornately clad, and with suitable
background, Piers was struck by the air of youth that animated her
features. He had always admired Mrs. Hannaford, had always liked her,
and as she took his hand in both her own, he felt a warm response to
her unfeigned kindliness.

"Well, is it settled?"

"It is settled. I go back to Odessa, remain with the firm for another
six months, then make the great launch!"

They laughed together, both nervously. Piers' eyes wandered, and Mrs.
Hannaford, as she sat down, made an obvious effort to compose herself.

"I didn't ask you, the other day," she began, as if on a sudden
thought, "whether you had seen either of your brothers."

Piers shook his head, smiling.

"No. Alexander, I hear, is somewhere in the North, doing provincial
journalism. Daniel--I believe he is in London, but I'm not very likely
to meet him."

"Don't you wish to?" asked the other lightly.

"Oh, I'm not very anxious. Daniel and I haven't a great interest in
each other, I'm afraid. You haven't seen him lately?"

"No, no," Mrs. Hannaford answered, with an absent air. "No--not for a
long time. I have hoped to see an announcement of his book."

"His book?--Ah, I remember. I fear we shall wait long for that."

"But he really was working at it," said Mrs. Hannaford, bending forward
with a peculiar earnestness. "When he last spoke to me about it, he
said the material grew so on his hands. And then, there is the expense
of publication. Such a volume, really well illustrated, must cost much
to produce, and the author would have to bear----"

Piers was smiling oddly; she broke off, and observed him, as if the
smile pained her.

"Let us have faith," said Otway. "Daniel is a clever man no doubt, and
may do something yet."

Mrs. Hannaford abruptly changed the subject, returning to Piers'
prospects. They talked for half an hour, the lady's eyes occasionally
turning towards the door, and Otway sometimes losing himself as he
glanced at the crayon portrait. He was thinking of a reluctant
withdrawal, when the door opened. He heard a soft rustle, turned his
head, and rose.

It was Irene! Irene in all the grace of her earlier day, and with
maturer beauty; Irene with her light step, her bravely balanced head,
her smile of admirable courtesy, her golden voice. Otway knew not what
she said to him; something frank, cordial, welcoming. For an instant he
had held her hand, and felt its coolness thrill him to his heart of
hearts; he had bent before her, mutely worshipping. His brain was on
fire with the old passion newly kindled. He spoke, he was beginning to
converse; the room grew real again; he was aware once more of Mrs.
Hannaford's presence, of a look she had fixed upon him. A look half
amused, half compassionate; he answered it with a courageous smile.

Miss Derwent was in her happiest mood; impossible to be kinder and
friendlier in that merry way of hers. Scarce having expected to meet
her, still keeping in his mind the anguish of that calamitous and
shameful night three years ago when he fled before her grave reproof,
Piers beheld her and listened to her with such a sense of passionate
gratitude that he feared lest some crazy word should escape him. That
Irene remembered, no look or word of hers suggested; unless, indeed,
the perfection of her kindness aimed at assuring him that the past was
wholly past. She made inquiry about his father's health; she spoke of
his life at Odessa, and was full of interest when he sketched his
projects. To crown all, she said, with her eyes smiling upon him:

"My father would so like to know you; could you dine with us one
evening before you go?"

Piers declared his absolute freedom for a week to come.

"Suppose, then, we say Thursday? An old friend of ours will be with us,
whom you may like to meet."

She spoke a name which surprised and delighted him; that of a
scientific man known the world over. Piers went his way with raptures
and high resolves singing at his heart.

For the rest of daytime it was enough to walk about the streets in sun
and shower, seeing a glorified London, one exquisite presence obscuring
every mean thing and throwing light upon all that was beautiful. He did
not reason with himself about Irene's friendliness; it had cast a spell
upon him, and he knew only his joy, his worship. Three years of
laborious exile were trifling in the balance; had they been passed in
sufferings ten times as great, her smile would have paid for all.

Fortunately, he had a little business to transact in London; on the two
mornings that followed he was at his firm's house in the City, making
reports, answering inquiries--mainly about wool and hemp. Piers was
erudite concerning Russian wool and hemp. He talked about it not like
the ordinary business man, but as a scholar might who had very
thoroughly got up the subject. His firm did not altogether approve this
attitude of mind; they thought it _queer_, and would have smiled
caustically had they known Otway's purpose of starting as a merchant on
his own account. That, he had not yet announced, and would not do so
until he had seen his Swiss friend at Odessa again.

The evening of the dinner arrived, and again Piers was rapt above
himself. Nothing could have been more cordial than Dr. Derwent's
reception of him, and he had but to look into the Doctor's face to
recognise a man worthy of reverence; a man of genial wisdom, of the
largest humanity, of the sanest mirth. Eustace Derwent was present; he
behaved with exemplary good-breeding, remarking suavely that they had
met before, and betraying in no corner of his pleasant smile that that
meeting had been other than delightful to both. Three guests arrived,
besides Otway, one of them the distinguished person whose name had
impressed him; a grizzled gentleman, of bland brows, and the simplest,
softest manner.

At table there was general conversation--the mode of civilised beings.
His mind in a whirl at first, Otway presently found himself quite
capable of taking part in the talk. Someone had told a story
illustrative of superstition in English peasant folk, and Piers had
only to draw upon his Russian experiences for pursuit of the subject.
He told how, in a time of great drought, he had known a corpse dug up
from its grave by peasantry, and thrown into a muddy pond--a vigorous
measure for the calling down of rain; also, how he had seen a priest
submit to be dragged on his back across a turnip field, that thereby a
great crop might be secured. These things interested the great man, who
sat opposite; he beamed upon Otway, and sought from him further
information regarding Russia. Piers saw that Irene had turned to him;
he held himself in command, he spoke neither too much nor too little,
and as the things he knew were worth knowing, his share in the talk
made a very favourable impression. In truth, these three years had
intellectually much advanced him. It was at this time that he had begun
to use the brief, decisive turn of speech which afterwards became his
habit; a mode of utterance suggesting both mental resources and force
of character.

Later in the evening, he found himself beside Mrs. Hannaford in a
corner of the drawing-room. He had hoped to speak a little with Miss
Derwent, in semi-privacy, but of that there seemed no chance; enough
that he had her so long before his eyes. Nor did he venture to speak of
her to her aunt, though with difficulty subduing the desire. He knew
that Mrs. Hannaford understood what was in his mind, and he felt
pleased to have her for a silent confidante. She, not altogether at
ease in this company, was glad to talk to Otway of everyday things; she
mentioned her daughter, who was understood to be living elsewhere for
the convenience of artistic studies.

"I hope you will be able to meet Olga before you go. She shuts herself
up from us a great deal--something like you used to do at Ewell, you
remember."

"I do, only too well. Why mayn't I go and call on her?"

Mrs. Hannaford shook her head, vaguely, trying to smile.

"She must have her own way, like all artists. If she succeeds, she will
come amongst us again."

"I know that spirit," said Piers, "and perhaps it's the right one. Give
her my good wishes--they will do no harm."

The image of Olga Hannaford was distinct before his mind's eye, but did
not touch his emotions. He thought with little interest of her
embarking on an artist's career, and had small belief in her chances of
success. Under the spell of Irene, he felt coldly critical towards all
other women; every image of feminine charm paled and grew remote when
hers was actually before him, and it would have cost a great effort of
mind to assure himself that he had not felt precisely thus ever since
the days at Ewell. The truth was, of course, that though imagination
could always restore Irene's supremacy, and constantly did so, though
his intellectual being never failed from allegiance to her, his blood
had been at the mercy of any face sufficiently alluring. So it would be
again, little as he could now believe it.

Before he departed, he had his wish of a few minutes' talk with her.
The words exchanged were insignificant. Piers had nothing ready to his
tongue but commonplace, and Miss Derwent answered as became her. As he
left the room he suffered a flush of anger, the natural revolt of every
being who lives by emotion against the restraints of polite
intercourse. At such moments one _feels_ the bonds wrought for
themselves by civilised mankind; commonly accepted without
consciousness of voluntary or involuntary restraint. In revolt, he
broke through these trammels of self-subduing nature, saw himself free
man before her free woman, in some sphere of the unembarrassed impulse,
and uttered what was in him, pleaded with all his life, conquered by
vital energy. Only when he had walked back to the hotel was he capable
of remembering that Irene, in taking leave, had spoken the kindest
wishes for his future, assuredly with more than the common
hostess-note. Dr. Derwent, too, had held his hand with a pleasant grip,
saying good things. It was better than nothing, and he felt humanly
grateful amid the fire that tortured him.

In his room the sight of pen, ink and paper was a sore temptation. At
Odessa he had from time to time written what he thought poetry (it was
not quite that, yet as verse not contemptible), and now, recalling to
memory some favourite lines, he asked himself whether he might venture
to write them out and send them to Miss Derwent. Could he leave
England, this time, without confessing himself to her? Faint heart--he
mused over the proverb. The thought of a laboured letter repelled him,
and perhaps her reply--if she replied at all--would be a blow scarce
endurable. In the offer of a copy of verses there is no undue
presumption; it is a consecrated form of homage; it demands no
immediate response. But were they good enough, these rhymes of his?--He
would decide to-morrow, his last day.

And as was his habit, he read a little before sleeping, in one of the
half-dozen volumes which he had chosen for this journey. It was _Les
Chants du Crepuscule_, and thus the page sang:

  "Laisse-toi donc aimer! Car l'amour, c'est la vie,
  C'est tout ce qu'on regrette et tout ce qu'on envie
  Quand on voit sa jeunesse au couchant décliner.
  Sans lui rien n'est complet, sans lui rien ne rayonne.
  La beauté c'est le front, l'amour c'est la couronne.
      Laisse-toi couronner!"

His own lines sounded a sad jingle; he grew ashamed of them, and in the
weariness of his passions he fell asleep.

He had left till to-morrow the visit he owed to John Jacks. It was not
pleasant, the thought of calling at the house at Queen's Gate; Mrs.
Jacks might have heard strange things about him on that mad evening
three years ago. Yet in decency he must go; perhaps, too, in
self-interest. And at the wonted hour he went.

Fortunately; for John Jacks seemed unfeignedly glad to see him, and
talked with him in private for half an hour after the observances of
the drawing-room, where Mrs. Jacks had been very sweetly proper and
properly sweet. In the library, much more at his ease, Otway told what
he had before him, all the details of his commercial project.

"It occurs to me," said John Jacks--who was looking far from well, and
at times spoke with an effort--"that I may be able to be of some use in
this matter. I'll think about it, and--leave me your address--I shall
probably write to you. And now tell me all about your father. He is
hale and hearty?"

"In excellent health, I think," Piers replied cheerfully. "Dante
suffices him still."

"Odd that you should have come to-day. I don't know why, I was thinking
of your father all last night--I don't sleep very well just now. I
thought of the old days, a lifetime ago; and I said to myself that I
would write him a letter. So I will, to-day. And in a month or two I
shall see him. I'm a walking-copybook-line; procrastination--nothing
but putting off pleasures and duties these last years; I don't know how
it is. But certainly I will go over to Hawes when I'm in Yorkshire. And
I'll write today, tell him I've seen you."

Much better in spirits, Piers returned to the hotel. Yes, after all, he
would copy out those verses of his, and send them to Miss Derwent. They
were not bad; they came from his heart, and they might speak to hers.
Just his name at the end; no address. If she desired to write to him,
she could easily learn his address from Mrs. Hannaford. He would send
them!

"A telegram for you, sir," said the porter, as he entered.

Wondering, he opened it.

"Your father has suddenly died. Hope this will reach you in time.

EMMA OTWAY."

For a minute or two, the message was meaningless. He stood reading and
re-reading the figures which indicated hour of despatch and of
delivery. Presently he asked for a railway-guide, and with shaking
hands, with agony of mental confusion, sought out the next train
northwards. There was just time to catch it; not time to pack his bag.
He rushed out to the cab.



CHAPTER XIV


"The circumstances are these. On the day after I said good-bye to him,
my father went for his usual morning walk, and was absent for two
hours. He returned looking very pale and disturbed, and with some
difficulty was persuaded (you know how he disliked speaking of himself)
to tell what had happened. It seems that, somewhere on the lonely road,
he came across two men, honest-looking country folk, engaged in a
violent quarrel; their language made it clear that one accused the
other of some sort of slander, a very trivial affair. Just as my father
came up to them, they began fighting. He interfered, tried to separate
them--as he would have done, I am sure, had they been armed with
pistols, for the sight of fighting was intolerable to him, it put him
beside himself with a sort of passionate disgust. They were great
strong fellows, and one of them, whether intentionally or not, dealt
him a fierce blow on the chest, knocking him down. That put an end to
the fight. My father had to sit by the roadside for a time before he
could go home.

"The next day he did not look well, but spent his time as usual, and on
the morning after, he seemed to be all right again. The next day again
he went for his walk, and did not return. When his absence became
alarming, messengers were sent to look for him, and by one of these he
was found lying on the moorside, dead. The postmortem showed that the
blow he had received affected the heart, which was already diseased (he
did not know that). Of course the man who struck him cannot be
discovered, and I don't know that it matters. My father would no doubt
have been glad to foresee such a death as this. It was sudden (for that
he always hoped), and it came of a protest against the thing he most
hated, brutal violence."

So Piers Otway wrote in a letter to John Jacks. He did not add that his
father had died intestate, but of that he was aware before any
inquiries had been set on foot; in one of their last talks, Jerome had
expressly told his son that he would shortly make a will, not having
hitherto been able to decide how his possessions should be distributed.
This intestacy meant (if Daniel Otway had spoken truth) that Piers
would have no fruit whatever of his father's promises; that his recent
hopes and schemes would straightway fall to the ground.

And so it was. A telegram from Piers brought down into Yorkshire the
solicitor who had for many years been Jerome Otway's friend and
adviser; he answered the young man's inquiries with full and decisive
information. Mrs. Otway already knew the fact; whence her habitual
coldness to Piers, and the silent acerbity with which she behaved to
him at this juncture.

"Mrs. Otway," said Piers to her, on the day of the inquest, "I shall
stay for my father's funeral, and to avoid gossip I still ask your
hospitality. I do it with reluctance, but you will very soon see the
last of me."

"You are of course welcome to stay in the house," replied the lady.
"There is no need to say that we shall in future be strangers, and I
only hope that the example of this shockingly sudden death in the midst
of----"

His blood boiling, Piers left the room before the sentence was finished.

Had he obeyed his conscience, he would have followed the coffin in the
clothes he was wearing, for many a time he had heard his father speak
with dislike of the black trappings which made a burial hideous; but
enforced regard for public opinion, that which makes cowards of good
men and hampers the world's progress, sent him to the outfitter's,
where he was duly disguised. With the secret tears he shed, there
mingled a bitterness at being unable to show respect to his father's
memory in such small matters. That Jerome Otway should be buried as a
son of the Church, to which he had never belonged, was a ground of
indignation, but neither in this could any effective protest be made.
Mute in his sorrow, Piers marvelled with a young man's freshness of
feeling at the forms and insincerities which rule the world. He had a
miserable sense of his helplessness amid forces which he despised.

On the day of the inquest arrived Daniel Otway, Piers having
telegraphed to the club where he had seen his brother three years ago.
Before leaving London, Daniel had provided himself with solemn black,
of the latest cut; Hawes people remarked him with curiosity, saying
what a gentleman he looked, but whispering at the same time rumours and
doubts; for the little town had long gossiped about Jerome, a man not
much to its mind. A day later came Alexander. With him there had been
no means of communicating, and a newspaper paragraph informed him of
his father's death. Appearing in rough tweeds, with a felt hat, he
inspired more curiosity than respect. Both brothers greeted Piers
cordially; both were curt and formal with the widow, but, for
appearances' sake, accepted a cramped lodging in the cottage. Piers
kept very much to himself until the funeral was over; he was then
invited by Daniel to join a conference in what had been his father's
room. Here the man of law (Jerome's name for him) expounded the posture
of things; with all professional, and some personal, tact and delicacy.
Will there was certainly none; Daniel, in the course of things, would
apply for letters of administration. The estate, it might be said,
consisted of certain shares in a prosperous newspaper, an investment
which could be easily realised, and of a small capital in consols; to
the best of the speaker's judgment, the shares were worth about six
thousand pounds, the consols amounted to nearly fifteen hundred. This
capital sum, the widow and the sons would divide in legal proportion.
Followed technicalities, with conversation. Mrs. Otway kept dignified
silence; Piers, in the background, sat with eyes sunk.

"I think," remarked the solicitor gravely and firmly, "that, assembled
as we are in privacy, I am only doing my duty in making known that the
deceased had in view (as I know from hints in his correspondence) to
assist his youngest son substantially, as soon as that son appeared
likely to benefit by such pecuniary aid. I think I am justified in
saying that that time had arrived, that death interposed at an
unfortunate moment as regards such plans. I wished only to put the
point before you, as one within my own knowledge. Is there any question
you would like to ask me at present, Mrs. Otway?"

The widow shook her head (and her funeral trappings). Thereupon sounded
Piers Otway's voice.

"I should like to say that as I have no legal claim whatever upon my
father's estate, I do not wish to put forward a claim of any other
kind. Let that be understood at once."

There was silence. They heard the waters of the beck rushing over its
stony channel. For how many thousand years had the beck so murmured?
For how many thousand would it murmur still?

"As the eldest son," then observed Daniel, with his Oxford accent, and
a sub-note of feeling, "I desire to say that my brother"--he generously
emphasised the word--"has expressed himself very well, in the spirit of
a gentleman. Perhaps I had better say no more at this moment. We shall
have other opportunities of--of considering this point."

"Decidedly," remarked Alexander, who sat with legs crossed. "We'll talk
it over."

And he nodded with a good-natured smile in Piers' direction.

Later in the day--a family council having been held at which Piers was
not present--Daniel led the young man apart.

"You insist on leaving Hawes to-night? Well, perhaps it is best. But,
my dear boy, I can't let you go without saying how deeply I sympathise
with your position. You bear it like a man, Piers; indeed you do. I
think I have mentioned to you before how strong I am on the side of
morals."

"If you please," Piers interrupted, with brow dark.

"No, no, no!" exclaimed the other. "I was far from casting any
reflection. _De mortuis_, you know; much more so when one speaks of a
father. I think, by the bye, Alec ought to write something about him
for publication; don't you? I was going to say, Piers, that, if I
remember rightly, I am in your debt for a small sum, which you very
generously lent me. Ah, that book! It grows and grows; I _can't_ get it
into final form. The fact is Continental art critics-- But I was going
to say that I must really insist on being allowed to pay my
debt--indeed I must--soon as this business is settled."

He paused, watching Piers' face. His own had not waxed more spiritual
of late years, nor had his demeanour become more likely to inspire
confidence; but he was handsome, in a way, and very fluent, very suave.

"Be it so," replied Piers frankly; "I shall be glad of the money, I
confess."

"To be sure! You shall have it with the least possible delay. And,
Piers, it has struck us, my dear fellow, that you might like to choose
a volume or two of the good old man's library as a memento. We beg you
will do so. We beg you will do it at once, before you leave."

"Thank you. I should like the Dante he used to carry in his pocket."

"A most natural wish, Piers. Take it by all means. Nothing else, you
think?"

"Yes. You once told me that you had seen a portrait of my mother. Do
you think it still exists?"

"I will inquire about it," answered Daniel gravely. "It was a framed
photograph, and at one time--many years ago--used to stand on his
writing-table. I will inquire, my dear boy."

Next, Alexander sought a private colloquy with his disinherited brother.

"Look here, Piers," he began bluffly, "it's a cursed shame! I'm hanged
if it isn't! If we weren't so solemn, my boy, I should quote Bumble
about the law. Of course it's the grossest absurdity, and as far as I'm
concerned----. By Jove, Piers!" he cried, with sudden change of
subject, "if you knew the hard times Biddy and I have been going
through! Eh, but she's a brick, is Biddy; she sent you her love, old
boy, and that's worth something, I can tell you. But I was going to say
that you mustn't suppose I've forgotten about the debt. You shall be
repaid as soon as ever we realise this property; you shall, Piers! And,
what's more, you shall be repaid with interest; yes, three per cent. It
would be cursed meanness if I didn't."

"The fifty pounds I shall be glad of," said Piers. "I want no interest.
I'm not a money-lender."

"We won't quarrel about that," rejoined Alexander, with a merry look.
"But come now, why don't you let a fellow hear from you now and then?
What are you doing? Going back among the Muscovites?"

"Straight back to Odessa, yes."

"I may look you up there some day, if Biddy can spare me for a few
weeks. A glimpse of the bear--it might be useful to me. Terrible
savages I suppose?"

Piers laughed impatiently, and gave no other answer.

"Well, the one thing I really wanted to say, Piers--you _must_ let me
say it--I, for one, shall take a strong stand about your moral rights
in this business here, Of course your claim is every bit as good as
ours; only a dunder-headed jackass would see it in any other way.
Daniel quite agrees with me. The difficulty will be that woman. A
terrible woman! She regards you as sealed for perdition by the mere
fact of your birth. But you will hear from us, old boy, be sure of
that. Give me your Muscovite address."

Piers carelessly gave it. He was paying hardly any attention to his
brother's talk, and would have felt it waste of energy to reassert what
he had said in the formal conclave. Weariness had come upon him after
these days of grief and indignant tumult; he wanted to be alone.

The portrait for which he had asked was very quickly found. It lay in a
drawer, locked away among other mementoes of the past. With a shock of
disappointment, Piers saw that the old photograph had faded almost to
invisibility. He just discerned the outlines of a pleasant face, the
dim suggestion of womanly charm--all he would ever see of the mother
who bore him.

"It seems to me," said Daniel, after sympathising with his chagrin,
"that there must be a lot of papers, literary work, letters, and that
kind of thing, which will have more interest for you than for anyone
else. When we get things looked through, shall I send you whatever I
think you would care for?"

With gratitude Piers accepted what he could not have brought himself to
ask for.

On the southward journey he kept taking from his pocket two letters
which had reached him at Hawes. One was from John Jacks, full of the
kindliest condolence; a manly letter which it did him good to read. The
other came from Mrs. Hannaford, womanly, sincere; it contained a
passage to which Piers returned again and again. "My niece is really
grieved to hear of your sudden loss; happening at a moment when all
seemed to be going well with you. She begs me to assure you of her very
true sympathy, and sends every good wish." Little enough, this, but the
recipient tried to make much of it. He had faintly hoped that Irene
might send him a line in her own hand. That was denied, and perhaps he
was foolish even to have dreamt of it.

He could not address his verses to her, now. He must hurry away from
England, and try to forget her.

Of course she would hear, one way or another, about the circumstances
of his birth. It would come out that he had no share in the property
left by his father, and the reason be made known. He hoped that she
might also learn that death had prevented his father's plan for
benefiting him. He hoped it; for in that case she might feel
compassion. Yet in the same moment he felt that this was a delusive
solace. Pity for a man because he had lost money does not incline to
warmer emotion. The hope was sheer feebleness of spirit. He spurned it;
he desired no one's compassion.

How would Irene regard the fact of his illegitimacy? Not, assuredly,
from Mrs. Otway's point of view; she was a century ahead of that.
Possibly she was capable of dismissing it as indifferent. But he could
not be certain of her freedom from social prejudice. He remembered the
singular shock with which he himself had first learnt what he was; a
state of mind quite irrational, but only to be dismissed with an effort
of the trained intelligence. Irene would undergo the same experience,
and it might affect her thought of him for ever.

Not for one instant did he visit these troubles upon the dead man. His
loyalty to his father was absolute; no thought, or half-thought, looked
towards accusation.

He arrived at his hotel in London late at night, drank a glass of
spirits and went to bed. The sleep he hoped for came immediately, but
lasted only a couple of hours. Suddenly he was wide awake, and a horror
of great darkness enveloped him. What he now suffered he had known
before, but with less intensity. He stared forward into the coming
years, and saw nothing that his soul desired. A life of solitude, of
bitter frustration. Were it Irene, were it another, the woman for whom
he longed would never become his. He had not the power of inspiring
love. The mere flesh would constrain him to marriage, a sordid union, a
desecration of his ideal, his worship; and in the latter days he would
look back upon a futile life. What is life without love? And to him
love meant communion with the noblest. Nature had kindled in him this
fiery ambition only for his woe.

All the passion of the great hungry world seemed concentrated in his
sole being. Images of maddening beauty glowed upon him out of the
darkness, glowed and gleamed by he knew not what creative mandate;
faces, forms, such as may visit the delirium of a supreme artist. Of
him they knew not; they were worlds away, though his own brain bodied
them forth. He smothered cries of agony; he flung himself upon his
face, and lay as one dead.

For the men capable of passionate love (and they are few) to miss love
is to miss everything. Life has but the mockery of consolation for that
one gift denied. The heart may be dulled by time; it is not comforted.
Illusion if it be, it is that which crowns all other illusions whereof
life is made. The man must prove it, or he is born in vain.

At sunrise, Piers dressed himself, and made ready for his journey. He
was worn with fever, had no more strength to hope or to desire. His
body was a mechanism which must move and move.



CHAPTER XV


In the saloon of a homeward-bound steamer, twenty-four hours from port,
and that port Southampton, a lady sat writing letters. Her age was
about thirty; her face was rather piquant than pretty; she had the air
of a person far too intelligent and spirited to be involved in any life
of mere routine, on whatever plane. Two letters she had written in
French, one in German, and that upon which she was now engaged was in
English, her native tongue; it began "Dearest Mother."

"All's well. A pleasant and a quick voyage. The one incident of it
which you will care to hear about is that I have made friends--a real
friendship, I think--with a delightful girl, of respectability which
will satisfy even you. Judge for yourself; she is the daughter of Dr.
Derwent, a distinguished scientific man, who has been having a glimpse
of Colonial life. When we were a day or two out I found that Miss
Derwent was the object of special interest; she and her father had been
the guests of no less a personage than Trafford Romaine, and it was
reported that the great man had offered her marriage! Who started the
rumour I don't know, but it is quite true that Romaine _did_ propose to
her--and was refused! I am assured of it by a friend of theirs on
board, Mr. Arnold Jacks, an intimate friend of Romaine; but he declared
that he did not start the story, and was surprised to find it known.
Miss Derwent herself? No, my dear cynical mamma! She isn't that sort.
She likes me as much as I like her, I think, but in all our talk not a
word from her about the great topic of curiosity. It is just possible,
I fear, that she means to marry Mr. Arnold Jacks, who, by the bye, is a
son of a Member of Parliament, and rather an interesting man, but, I am
quite sure, not the man for _her_. If she will come down into Hampshire
with me may I bring her? It would so rejoice your dear soul to be
assured that I have made such a friend, after what you are pleased to
call my riff-raff foreign intimacies."

A few words more of affectionate banter, and she signed herself "Helen
M. Borisoff."

As she was addressing the envelope, the sound of a book thrown on to
the table just in front of her caused her to look up, and she saw Irene
Derwent.

"What's the matter? Why are you damaging the ship's literature?" she
asked gaily.

"No, I can't stand that!" exclaimed Irene. "It's too imbecile. It
really is what our slangy friend calls 'rot,' and very dry rot. Have
you read the thing?"

Mrs. Borisoff looked at the title, and answered with a headshake.

"Imagine! An awful apparatus of mystery; blood-curdling hints about the
hero, whose prospects in life are supposed to be utterly blighted. And
all because--what do you think? Because his father and mother forgot
the marriage ceremony."

The other was amused, and at the same time surprised. It was the first
time that Miss Derwent, in their talk, had allowed herself a remark
suggestive of what is called "emancipation." She would talk with
freedom of almost any subject save that specifically forbidden to
English girls. Helen Borisoff, whose finger showed a wedding ring, had
respected this reticence, but it delighted her to see a new side of her
friend's attractive personality.

"I suppose in certain circles"--she began.

"Oh yes! Shopkeepers and clerks and so on. But the book is supposed to
deal with civilised people. It really made me angry!"

Mrs. Borisoff regarded her with amused curiosity. Their eyes met. Irene
nodded.

"Yes," she continued, as if answering a question, "I know someone in
just that position. And all at once it struck me--I had hardly thought
of it before--what an idiot I should be if I let it affect my feelings
or behaviour!"

"I think no one would have suspected you of such narrowness."

"Indeed I hope not!--Have you done your letters? Do come up and watch
Mrs. Smithson playing at quoits--a sight to rout the brood of cares!"

In the smoking-room on deck sat Dr. Derwent and Arnold Jacks,
conversing gravely, with subdued voices. The Doctor had a smile on his
meditative features; his eyes were cast down he looked a trifle
embarrassed.

"Forgive me," Arnold was saying, with some earnestness, "if this course
seems to you rather irregular."

"Not at all! Not at all! But I can only assure you of my honest
inability to answer the question. Try, my dear fellow! _Solvitur
quaerendo_!"

Jacks' behaviour did, in fact, appear to the Doctor a little odd. That
the young man should hint at his desire to ask Miss Derwent to marry
him, or perhaps ask the parental approval of such a step, was natural
enough; the event had been looming since the beginning of the voyage
home. But to go beyond this, to ask the girl's father whether he
thought success likely, whether he could hold out hopes, was scarcely
permissible. It seemed a curious failure of tact in such a man as
Arnold Jacks.

The fact was that Arnold for the first time in his life, had turned
coward. Having drifted into a situation which he had always regarded as
undesirable, and had felt strong enough to avoid, he lost his head, and
clutched rather wildly at the first support within reach. That Irene
Derwent should become his wife was not a vital matter; he could
contemplate quite coolly the possibility of marrying some one else, or,
if it came to that, of not marrying anyone at all. What shook his
nerves was the question whether Irene would be sure to accept him.

Six months ago, he had no doubt of it. He viewed Miss Derwent with an
eye accustomed to scrutinise, to calculate (in things Imperial and
other), and it amused him to reflect that she might be numbered among,
say, half a dozen eligible women who would think it an honour to marry
him. This was his way of viewing marriage; it was on the woman's side a
point of ambition, a gratification of vanity; on the man a dignified
condescension. Arnold conceived himself a brilliant match for any girl
below the titled aristocracy; he had grown so accustomed to magnify his
place, to regard himself as one of the pillars of the Empire, that he
attributed the same estimate to all who knew him. Of personal vanity he
had little; purely personal characteristics did not enter, he imagined,
into a man's prospects of matrimony. Certain women openly flattered
him, and these he despised. His sense of fitness demanded a woman
intelligent enough to appreciate what he had to offer, and sufficiently
well-bred to conceal her emotions when he approached her. These
conditions Miss Derwent fulfilled. Personally she would do him credit
(a wife, of course, must be presentable, though in the husband
appearance did not matter), and her obvious social qualities would be
useful. Yet he had had no serious thought of proposing to her. For one
thing, she was not rich enough.

The change began when he observed the impression made by her upon
Trafford Romaine. This was startling. Romaine, the administrator of
world-wide repute, the man who had but to choose among Great Britain's
brilliant daughters (or so his worshippers believed), no sooner looked
upon Irene Derwent than he betrayed his subjugation. No woman had ever
received such honour from him, such homage public and private. Arnold
Jacks was pricked with uneasiness; Irene had at once a new value in his
eyes, and he feared he had foolishly neglected his opportunities. If
she married Romaine, it would be mortifying. She refused the great
man's offer, and Arnold was at first astonished, then gratified. For
such refusal there could be only one ground: Miss Derwent's "heart" was
already disposed of. Women have "hearts"; they really do grow fond of
the men they admire; a singular provision of nature.

He would propose during the voyage.

But the voyage was nearly over; he might have put his formal little
question fifty times; it was still to be asked--and he felt afraid.
Afraid more than ever, now that he had committed himself with Dr.
Derwent. The Doctor had received his confession so calmly, whereas
Arnold hoped for some degree of effusiveness. Was he--hideous
doubt--preparing himself for an even worse disillusion?

Undoubtedly the people on board had remarked his attentions; for all he
knew, jokes were being passed, nay, bets being made. It was a serious
thing to proclaim oneself the wooer of a young lady who had refused
Trafford Romaine; who was known to have done so, and talked about with
envy, admiration, curiosity. You either carried her off, or you made
yourself fatally ridiculous. Half a dozen of the passengers would
spread this gossip far and wide through England. There was that
problematic Mrs. Borisoff, a frisky grass widow, who seemed to know
crowds of distinguished people, and who was watching him day by day
with her confounded smile! Who could say what passed between her and
Irene, intimates as they had become? Did they make fun of him? Did they
_dare_ to?

Arnold Jacks differed widely from the common type of fatuous young man.
He was himself a merciless critic of fatuity; he had a faculty of
shrewd observation, plenty of caustic common sense. Yet the position
into which he had drifted threatened him with ridiculous extremes of
self-consciousness. Even in his personal carriage, he was not quite
safe against ridicule; and he felt it. This must come to an end.

He sought his moment, and found it at the hour of dusk. The sun had
gone down gloriously upon a calm sea; the sky was overspread with
clouds still flushed, and the pleasant coolness of the air foretold
to-morrow's breeze on the English Channel. With pretence of watching a
steamer that had passed, Arnold drew Miss Derwent to a part of the deck
where they would be alone.

"You will feel," he said abruptly, "that you know England better now
that you have seen something of the England beyond seas."

"I had imagined it pretty well," replied Irene.

"Yes, one does."

Under common circumstances, Arnold would have scornfully denied the
possibility of such imagination. He felt most unpleasantly tame.

"You wouldn't care to make your home out yonder?"

"Heaven forbid!"

This was better. It sounded like emphatic rejection of Trafford
Romaine, and probably was meant to sound so.

"I myself," he pursued absently, "shall always live in England. If I
know myself, I can be of most service at the centre of things.
Parliament, when the moment arrives----"

"The moment when you can be most mischievous?" said Irene, with a
glance at him.

"That's how you put it. Yes, most mischievous. The sphere for mischief
is growing magnificent."

He talked, without strict command of his tongue, just to gain time;
spoke of expanding Britain, and so on, a dribble of commonplaces. Irene
moved as if to rejoin her company.

"Don't go just yet--I want you--now and always."

Sheer nervousness gave his voice a tremor as if of deep emotion. These
simple words, which had burst from him desperately, were the best he
could have uttered--Irene stood with her eyes on the darkening horizon.

"We know each other pretty well," he continued, "and the better we know
each other, the more we find to talk about. It's a very good
sign--don't you think? I can't see how I'm to get along without you,
after this journey. I don't like to think of it, and I _won't_ think of
it I Say there's no need to."

Her silence, her still attitude, had restored his courage. He spoke at
length like himself, with quiet assurance, with sincerity; and again it
was the best thing he could have done.

"I am not quite sure, Mr. Jacks, that I think about it in the same way."

Her voice was subdued to a very pleasant note, but it did not tremble.

"I can allow for that uncertainty--though I have nothing of it myself.
We shall both be in London for a month or so. Let me see you as often
as I can, and, before you leave town, let me ask whether the doubt has
been overcome."

"I hold myself free," said Irene impulsively.

"Naturally."

"I do you no wrong if it seems to me impossible."

"None whatever."

His eyes were fixed on her face, dimly beautiful in the fading shimmer
from sea and sky. Irene met his glance for an instant, and moved away,
he following.

Arnold Jacks had never known a mood so jubilant. He was saved from the
terror of humiliation. He had comported himself as behoved him, and the
result was sure and certain hope. He felt almost grateful, almost
tender, towards the woman of his choice.

But Irene as she lay in her berth, strangely wakeful to the wash of the
sea as the breeze freshened, was frightened at the thought of what she
had done. Had she not, in the common way of maidenhood, as good as
accepted Arnold Jacks' proposal? She did not mean it so; she spoke
simply and directly in saying that she was not clear about her own
mind; on any other subject she would in fact, or in phrase, have
reserved her independence. But an offer of marriage was a thing apart,
full of subtle implications, needing to be dealt with according to
special rules of conscience and of tact. Some five or six she had
received, and in each case had replied decisively, her mind admitting
no doubt. As when to her astonishment, she heard the frank and large
confession of Trafford Romaine; the answer was an inevitable--No! To
Arnold Jacks she could not reply thus promptly. Relying on the easy
terms of their intercourse, she told him the truth; and now she saw
that no form of answer could be less discreet.

For about a year she had thought of Arnold as one who _might_ offer her
marriage; any girl in her position would have foreseen that
possibility. After every opportunity which he allowed to pass, she felt
relieved, for she had no reply in readiness. The thought of accepting
him was not at all disagreeable; it had even its allurements; but
between the speculation and the thing itself was a great gap for the
leaping of mind and heart. Her relations with him were very pleasant,
and she would have been glad if nothing had ever happened to disturb
them.

When her father suggested this long journey in Arnold's company, she
hesitated. In deciding to go, she said to herself that if nothing
resulted, well and good; if something did, well and good also. She
would get to know Arnold better, and on that increase of acquaintance
must depend the outcome, as far as she was concerned. She was helped in
making up her mind by a little thing that happened. There came to her
one day a letter from Odessa; on opening it, she found only a copy of
verses, with the signature "P.O." A love poem; not addressed to her,
but about her; a pretty poem, she thought, delicately felt and
gracefully worded. It surprised her, but only for a moment; thinking,
she accepted it as something natural, and was touched by the tribute.
She put it carefully away--knowing it by heart.

Impertinence! Surely not. Long ago she had reproached herself with her
half-coquetry to Piers Otway, an error of exuberant spirits when she
was still very young. There was no obscuring the fact; deliberately she
had set herself to draw him away from his studies; she had made it a
point of pride to show herself irresistible. Where others failed in
their attack upon his austere seclusion, _she_ would succeed, and
easily. She had succeeded only too well, and it never quite ceased to
trouble her conscience. Now, learning that even after four years her
victim still remained loyal, she thought of him with much gentleness,
and would have scorned herself had she felt scorn of his devotion.

No other of her wooers had ever written her a poem; no other was
capable of it. It gave Piers a distinction in her mind which more than
earned her pardon.

But--poor fellow!--he must surely know that she could never respond to
his romantic feeling. It was pure romance, and charming--if only it did
not mean sorrow to him and idle hopes. Such a love as this, distant,
respectful, she would have liked to keep for years, for a lifetime. If
only she could be sure that romance was as dreamily delightful to her
poet as to her!

The worst of it was that Piers Otway had suffered a sad wrong, an
injustice which, when she heard of it, made her nobly angry. A month
after the death of the old philosopher at Hawes, Mrs. Hannaford
startled her with a strange story. The form it took was this: That
Piers, having for a whispered reason no share in his father's
possessions, had perforce given up his hopes of commercial enterprise,
and returned to his old subordinate position at Odessa. The two
legitimate sons would gladly have divided with him their lawful due,
but Piers refused this generosity, would not hear of it for a moment,
stood on his pride, and departed. Thus Mrs. Hannaford, who fully
believed what she said; and as she had her information direct from the
eldest son, Daniel Otway, there could be no doubt as to its
correctness. Piers had behaved well; he could not take alms from his
half-brothers. But what a monstrous thing that accident and the law of
the land left him thus destitute! Feeling strongly about it, Irene
begged her aunt, when next she wrote to Odessa, to give Piers, from
her, a message of friendly encouragement; not, of course, a message
that necessarily implied knowledge of his story, but one that would
help him with the assurance of his being always kindly remembered by
friends in London.

Six months after came the little poem, which Irene, without purposing
it, learnt by heart.

A chapter of pure romance; one which, Irene felt, could not possibly
have any relation to her normal life. And perhaps because she felt.
that so strongly, perhaps because her conscience warned her against the
danger of still seeming to encourage a lover she could not dream of
marrying, perhaps because these airy nothings threw into stronger
relief the circumstances which environed her, she forthwith made up her
mind to go on the long journey with her father and Arnold Jacks. Mrs.
Hannaford did not fail to acquaint Piers Otway with the occurrence.

And those two months of companionship told in Arnold's favour. Jacks
was excellent in travel; he had large experience, and showed to
advantage on the highways of the globe. No more entertaining companion
during the long days of steamship life; no safer guide in unfamiliar
lands. His personality made a striking contrast with the robustious
semi-civilisation of the colonists with whom Irene became acquainted;
she appreciated all the more his many refinements. Moreover, the
respectful reception he met with could not but impress her; it gave
reality to what Miss Derwent sometimes laughed at, his claim to be a
force in the great world. Then, that eternal word "Empire" gained
somewhat of a new meaning. She joked about it, disliking as much as
ever its baser significance but she came to understand better the
immense power it represented. On that subject, her father was emphatic.

"If," remarked Dr. Derwent once, "if our politics ever fall into the
hands of a stock-jobbing democracy, we shall be the hugest force for
evil the poor old world has ever known."

"You think," said Irene, "that one can already see some danger of it?"

"Well, I think so sometimes. But we have good men still, good men."

"Do you mind telling me," Miss Derwent asked, "whether our
fellow-traveller seems to you one of them?"

"H'm! On the whole, yes. His faults are balanced, I think, by his
aristocratic temper. He is too proud consciously to make dirty
bargains. High-handed, of course; but that's the race--the race. Things
being as they are, I would as soon see him in power as another."

Irene pondered this. It pleased her.

On the morning after Arnold's proposal, she knew that he and her father
had talked. Dr. Derwent, a shy man, rather avoided her look; but he
behaved to her with particular kindliness; as they stood looking
towards the coast of England, he drew her hand through his arm, and
stroked it once or twice--a thing he had not done on the whole journey.

"The brave old island!" he was murmuring. "I should be really disturbed
if I thought death would find me away from it. Foolish fancy, but it's
strong in me."

Irene was taciturn, and unlike herself. The approach to port enabled
her to avoid gossips, but one person, Helen Borisoff, guessed what had
happened; Irene's grave countenance and Arnold Jacks' meditative smile
partly instructed her. On the railway journey to London, Jacks had the
discretion to keep apart in a smoking-carriage. Dr. Derwent and his
daughter exchanged but few words until they found themselves in
Bryanston Square.

During their absence abroad, Mrs. Hannaford had been keeping house for
them. With brief intervals spent now and then in pursuit of health, she
had made Bryanston Square her home since the change in her
circumstances two years ago. Lee Hannaford held no communication with
her, content to draw the modest income she put at his disposal, and
Olga, her mother knew not why, was still unmarried, though declaring
herself still engaged to the man Kite. She lived here and there in
lodgings, at times seeming to maintain herself, at others accepting
help; her existence had an air of mystery far from reassuring.

On meeting her aunt, Irene found her looking ill and troubled. Mrs.
Hannaford declared that she was much as usual, and evaded inquiries.
She passed from joy at her relatives' return to a mood of silent
depression; her eyes made one think that she must have often shed tears
of late. In the past twelvemonth she had noticeably aged; her beauty
was vanishing; a nervous tremor often affected her thin hands, and in
her speech there was at times a stammering uncertainty, such as comes
of mental distress. Dr. Derwent, seeing her after two months' absence,
was gravely observant of these things.

"I wish you could find out what's troubling your aunt," he said to
Irene, next day. "Something is, and something very serious, though she
won't admit it. I'm really uneasy about her."

Irene tried to win the sufferer's confidence, but without success. Mrs.
Hannaford became irritable, and withdrew as much as possible from sight.

The girl had her own trouble, and it was one she must needs keep to
herself. She shrank from the next meeting with Arnold Jacks, which
could not long be postponed. It took place three days after her return,
when Arnold and Mrs. Jacks dined in Bryanston Square. John Jacks was to
have come, but excused himself on the plea of indisposition. As might
have been expected of him, Arnold was absolute discretion; he looked
and spoke, perhaps, a trifle more gaily than usual, but to Irene showed
no change of demeanour, and conversed with her no more than was
necessary. Irene felt grateful, and once more tried to convince herself
that she had done nothing irreparable. In fact, as in assertion, she
was free. The future depended entirely on her own will and pleasure.
That her mind was ceaselessly preoccupied with Arnold could only be
deemed natural, for she had to come to a decision within three or four
weeks' time. But--if necessary the respite should be prolonged.

Eustace Derwent dined with them, and Irene noticed--what had occurred
to her before now--that the young man seemed to have particular
pleasure in the society of Mrs. Jacks; he conversed with her more
naturally, more variously, than with any other lady of his friends; and
Mrs. Jacks, through the unimpeachable correctness of her exterior,
almost allowed it to be suspected that she found a special satisfaction
in listening to him. Eustace was a frequent guest at the Jacks'; yet
there could hardly be much in common between him and the lady's elderly
husband, nor was he on terms of much intimacy with Arnold. Of course
two such excellent persons, such models of decorum, such examples of
the English ideal, masculine and feminine, would naturally see in each
other the most desirable of acquaintances; it was an instance of social
and personal fitness, which the propriety of our national manners
renders as harmless as it is delightful. They talked of art, of
literature, discovering an entire unanimity in their preferences, which
made for the safely conventional. They chatted of common acquaintances,
agreeing that the people they liked were undoubtedly the very nicest
people in their circle, and avoiding in the suavest manner any severity
regarding those they could not approve. When Eustace apologised for
touching on a professional subject (he had just been called to the
Bar), Mrs. Jacks declared that nothing could interest her more. If he
ventured a jest, she smiled with surpassing sweetness, and was all but
moved to laugh. They, at all events, spent a most agreeable evening.

Not so Mrs. Hannaford, who, just before dinner, had received a letter,
which at once she destroyed. The missive ran thus:

"DEAR MRS. HANNAFORD--I am distressed to hear that you suffer so in
health. Consult your brother; you will find that the only thing to do
you good will be a complete change of climate and of habits. You know
how often I have urged this; if you had listened to me, you would by
now have been both healthy and happy--yes, happy. Is it too late? Don't
you value your life? And don't you care at all for the happiness of
mine? Meet me to-morrow, I beg, at the Museum, about eleven o'clock,
and let us talk it all over once more. Do be sensible; don't wreck your
life out of respect for social superstitions. The thing once over, who
thinks the worse of you? Not a living creature for whom you need care.
You have suffered for years; put an end to it; the remedy is in your
hands. Ever yours,

D.O."



CHAPTER XVI


A few days after her return, Irene left home in the morning to make an
unceremonious call. She was driven to Great Portland Street and
alighted before a shop, which bore the number of the house she sought.
Having found the private entrance--a door that stood wide open--and
after ringing once or twice without drawing anyone's attention, she
began to ascend the uncarpeted stairs. At that moment there came down a
young woman humming an air; a cheery-faced, solidly-built damsel,
dressed with attention to broad effect in colours which were then--or
recently had been--known as "aesthetic." With some diffidence, for the
encounter was not of a kind common in her experience, Irene asked this
person for a direction to the rooms occupied by Miss Hannaford.

"Oh, she's my chum," was the genial reply. "Top floor, front. You'll
find her there."

With thanks the visitor passed on, but had not climbed half a dozen
steps when the clear-sounding voice caused her to stop.

"Beg your pardon and all that kind of thing, but would you mind telling
her that Tomkins is huffy? I forgot to mention it before I came out.
Thanks, awfully."

Puzzled, if not disconcerted, Miss Derwent reached the top floor and
knocked. A voice she recognised bade her enter. She found herself in a
bare-floored room, furnished with a table, a chair or two, and a divan,
on the walls a strange exhibition of designs in glaring colours which
seemed to be studies for street posters. At the table, bending over a
drawing-board, sat Olga Hannaford, her careless costume and the
disorder of her hair suggesting that she had only just got up. She
recognised her visitor with some embarrassment.

"Irene--I am so glad--I really am ashamed--we keep such hours
here--please don't mind!"

"Not I, indeed! What is there to mind? I spoke to someone downstairs
who gave me a message for you. I was to say that Tomkins was huffy. Do
you understand?"

Olga bit her lip in vexation, and to restrain a laugh.

"No, that's too bad! But just like her. That was the girl I live
with--Miss Bonnicastle. She's very nice really--not a bit of harm in
her; but she will play these silly practical jokes."

"Ah, it was a joke?" said Irene, not altogether pleased with Miss
Bonnicastle's facetiousness. But the next moment, good humour coming to
her help, she broke into merriment.

"That's what she does," said Olga, pointing to the walls. "She's
awfully clever really, and she'll make a great success with that sort
of thing before long, I'm sure. Look at that advertisement of Honey's
Castor Oil. Isn't the child's face splendid?"

"Very clever indeed," assented Irene, and laughed again, her cousin
joining in her mirth. Five minutes ago she had felt anything but
hilarious; the impulse to gaiety came she knew not how, and she
indulged it with a sense of relief.

"Are you doing the same sort of thing, Olga?"

"Wish I could. I've a little work for a new fashion paper; have to fill
in the heads and arms, and so on. It isn't high art, you know, but they
pay me."

"Why in the world do you do it? _Why_ do you live in a place like this?"

"Oh, I like the life; on the whole. It's freedom; no society
nonsense--I beg your pardon, Irene----"

"Please don't. I hope I'm not much in the way of society nonsense. Sit
down; I want to talk. When did you see your mother?"

"Not for a long time," answered Olga, her countenance falling. "I sent
her the new address when I came here, but she hasn't been yet."

"Why don't you go to her?"

"No! I've broken with that world. I can't make calls in Bryanston
Square--or anywhere else. That's all over."

"Nonsense!"

"It isn't nonsense!" exclaimed Olga, flushing angrily. "Why do you come
to interfere with me? What right have you, Irene? I'm old enough to
live as I please. I don't come to criticise your life!"

Irene was startled into silence for a moment. She met her cousin's
look, and so gravely, so kindly, that Olga turned away in shame.

"You and I used to be friends, and to have confidence in each other,"
resumed Irene. "Why can't that come over again? Couldn't you tell me
what it all means, dear?"

The other shook her head, keeping her eyes averted.

"My first reason for coming," Irene pursued, "was to talk to you about
your mother. Do you know that she is very far from well? My father
speaks very seriously of her state of health. Something is weighing on
her mind, as anyone can see, and we think it can only be _you_--your
strange life, and your neglect of her."

Olga shook her head.

"You're mistaken, I know you are."

"You know? Then can you tell us how to be of use to her? To speak
plainly, my father fears the worst, if something isn't done."

With elbow on knee, and chin in hand, Olga sat brooding. She had a
dishevelled, wild appearance; her cheeks were hollow, her eyes and lips
expressed a reckless mood.

"It is not on my account," she let fall, abstractedly.

"Can you help her, Olga?"

"No one can help her," was the reply in the same dreamy tone.

Then followed a long silence. Irene gazed at one of the flaring
grotesques on the wall, but did not see it.

"May I ask you a question about your own affairs?" she said at length,
very gently. "It isn't for curiosity. I have a deeper interest."

"Of course you may ask Irene. I'm behaving badly to you, but I don't
mean it. I'm miserable--that's what it comes to."

"I can see that, dear. Am I right in thinking that your engagement has
been broken off?"

"I'll tell you; you shall know the whole truth. It isn't broken; yet
I'm sure it'll never come to anything. I don't think I want it to. He
behaves so strangely. You know we were to have been married after the
twelvemonth, with mother's consent. When the time drew near, I saw he
didn't wish it. He said that after all he was afraid it would be a
miserable marriage for me. The trouble is, he has no character, no
will. He cares for me a great deal; and that's just why he won't marry
me. He'll never do anything--in art, I mean. We should have to live on
mother's money, and he doesn't like that. If we had been married
straight away, as I wanted, two years ago, it would have been all
right. It's too late now."

"And this, you feel, is ruining your life?"

"I'm troubled about it, but more on his account than mine. I'll tell
you, Irene, I want to break off, for good and all, and I'm afraid. It's
a hard thing to do."

"Now I understand you. Do you think"--Irene added in another
tone--"that it's well to be what they call in love with the man one
marries?"

"Think? Of course I do!"

"Many people doubt it. We are told that French marriages are often
happier than English, because they are arranged with a practical view,
by experienced people."

"It depends," replied Olga, with a half-disdainful smile, "what one
calls happiness. I, for one, don't want a respectable, plodding,
money-saving married life. I'm not fit for it. Of course some people
are."

"Then, you could never bring yourself to marry a man you merely
liked--in a friendly way?"

"I think it horrible, hideous!" was the excited reply. "And yet"--her
voice dropped--"it may not be so for some women. I judge only by
myself."

"I suspect, Olga, that some people are never in love--never could be in
that state."

"I daresay, poor things!"

Irene, though much in earnest, was moved to laugh.

"After all, you know," she said, "they have less worry."

"Of course they have, and live more useful lives, if it comes to that."

"A useful life isn't to be despised, you know."

Olga looked at her cousin; so fixedly that Irene had to turn away, and
in a moment spoke as though changing the subject.

"Have you heard that Mr. Otway is coming to England again?"

"What!" cried Olga with sudden astonishment. "You are thinking of
_him_--of Piers Otway?"

Irene became the colour of the rose; her eyes flashed with annoyance.

"How extraordinary you are, Olga! As if one couldn't mention anyone
without that sort of meaning! I spoke of Mr. Otway by pure accident. He
had nothing whatever to do with what I was saying before."

Olga sank into dulness again, murmuring, "I beg your pardon." When a
minute had elapsed in silence, she added, without looking up, "He was
dreadfully in love with you, poor fellow. I suppose he has got over it."

An uncertain movement, a wandering look, and Miss Derwent rose. She
stood before one of the rough-washed posters, seeming to admire it;
Olga eyed her askance, with curiosity.

"I know only one thing," Irene exclaimed abruptly, without turning.
"It's better not to think too much about all that."

"How _can_ one think too much of it?" said the other.

"Very easily, I'm afraid," rejoined the other, her eyes still on the
picture.

"It's the only thing in life _worth_ thinking about!"

"You astonish me. We'll agree to differ--Olga dear, come and see us in
the old way. Come and dine this evening; we shall be alone."

But the unkempt girl was not to be persuaded, and Irene presently took
her leave. The conversation had perturbed her; she went away in a very
unwonted frame of mind, beset with troublesome fancies and misgivings.
Olga's state seemed to her thoroughly unwholesome, to be regarded as a
warning; it was evidently contagious; it affected the imagination with
morbid allurement. Morbid, surely; Irene would not see it in any other
light. She felt the need of protecting herself against thoughts which
had never until now given her a moment's uneasiness. Happily she was
going to lunch with her friend Mrs. Borisoff, anything but a
sentimental person. She began to discern a possibility of taking Helen
Borisoff into her confidence. With someone she _must_ talk freely; Olga
would only harm her; in Helen she might find the tonic of sound sense
which her mood demanded.

Olga Hannaford, meanwhile, finished her toilet, and, having had no
breakfast, went out a little after midday to the restaurant in Oxford
Street where she often lunched. Her walking-dress showed something of
the influence of Miss Bonnicastle; it was more picturesque, more likely
to draw the eye, than her costume of former days. She walked, too, with
an air of liberty which marked her spiritual progress. Women glanced at
her and looked away with a toss of the head--or its more polite
equivalent. Men observed her with a smile of interest; "A fine girl,"
was their comment, or something to that effect.

Strolling westward after her meal, intending to make a circuit by way
of Edgware Road, she was near the Marble Arch when a man who had caught
sight of her from the top of an omnibus alighted and hastened in her
direction. At the sound of his voice, Olga paused, smiling, and gave
him her hand with friendliness. He was an Italian, his name Florio;
they had met several times at a house which she visited with Miss
Bonnicastle. Mr. Florio had a noticeable visage, very dark of tone,
eyes which at one time seemed to glow with noble emotion, and at
another betrayed excessive shrewdness; heavy eyebrows and long black
lashes; a nose of classical Perfection; large mouth with thick and very
red lips. He was dressed in approved English fashion, as a man of
leisure, wore a massive watchguard across his buff summer waistcoat,
and carried a silver-headed cane.

"You are taking a little walk," he said, with a very slight foreign
accent. "If you will let me walk with you a little way I shall be
honoured. The Park? A delightful day for the Park! Let us walk over the
grass, as we may do in this free country. I have something to tell you,
Miss Hannaford."

"That's nice of you, Mr. Florio. So few people tell one anything one
doesn't know; but yours is sure to be real news."

"It is--I assure you it is. But, first of all, I was thinking on the
'bus--I often ride on the 'bus, it gives one ideas--I was thinking what
a pity they do not use the back of the 'bus driver to display
advertisements. It is a loss of space. Those men are so beautifully
broad, and one looks at their backs, and there is nothing, nothing to
see but an ugly coat. I shall mention my little scheme to a friend of
mine, a very practical man."

Olga laughed merrily.

"Oh, you are too clever, Mr. Florio!"

"Oh, I have my little ideas. Do you know, I've just come back from
Italy."

"I envy you--I mean, I envy you for having been there."

"Ah, that is your mistake, dear Miss Hannaford! That is the mistake of
the romantic English young lady. Italy? Yes, there is a blue sky--not
always. Yes, there are ruins that interest, if one is educated. And,
there is misery, misery! Italy is a poor country, poor, poor, poor,
poor." He intoned the words as if speaking his own language. "And
poverty is the worst thing in the world. You make an illusion for
yourself, Miss Hannaford. For a holiday when one's rich, yes, Italy is
not bad--though there is fever, and there are thieves--oh, thieves! Of
course The man who is poor will steal--_ecco_! It amuses me, when the
English talk of Italy."

"But you are proud of--of your memories?"

"Memories!" Mr. Florio laughed a whole melody. "One is not proud of
former riches when one has become a beggar. It is you, the English, who
can be proud of the past, because you can be proud of the present. You
have grown free, free, free! Rich, rich, rich, ah!"

Olga laughed.

"I am sorry to say that I have not grown rich."

He bent his gaze upon her, and it glowed with tender amorousness.

"You remind me--I have something to tell you. In Italy, not everybody
is quite poor. For example, my grandfather, at Bologna. I have made a
visit to my grandfather. He likes me; he admires me because I have
intelligence. He will not live very long, that poor grandfather."

Olga glanced at him, and met the queer calculating melancholy of his
fine eyes.

"Miss Hannaford, if some day I am rich, I shall of course live in
England. In what other country can one live? I shall have a house in
the West End; I shall have a carriage; I shall nationalise--you say
naturalise?--myself, and be an Englishman, not a beggarly Italian. And
that will not be long. The poor old grandfather is weak, weak; he
decays, he loses his mind; but he has made his testament, oh yes!"

The girl's look wandered about the grassy space, she was uneasy.

"Shall we turn and walk back, Mr. Florio?"

"If you wish, but slowly, slowly. I am so happy to have met you. Your
company is a delight to me, Miss Hannaford. Can we not meet more often?"

"I am always glad to see you," she answered nervously.

"Good!--A thought occurs to me." He pointed to the iron fence they were
approaching. "Is not that a waste? Why does not the public
authority--what do you call it?--make money of these railings? Imagine!
One attaches advertisements to the rail, metal plates, of course
artistically designed, not to spoil the Park. They might swing in the
wind as it blows, and perhaps little bells might ring, to attract
attention. A good idea, is it not?"

"A splendid idea," Olga answered, with a laugh.

"Ah! England is a great country! But, Miss Hannaford, there is one
thing in which the Italian is not inferior to the Englishman. May I say
what that is?"

"There are many things, I am sure----"

"But there is one thing--that is Love!"

Olga walked on, head bent, and Florio enveloped her in his gaze.

"To-day I say no more, Miss Hannaford. I had something to tell you, and
I have told it. When I have something more to tell we shall meet--oh, I
am sure we shall meet."

"You are staying in England for some time?" said Olga, as if in
ordinary conversation.

"For a little time; I come, I go. I have, you know, my affairs, my
business. How is your friend, the admirable artist, the charming Miss
Bonnicastle?"

"Oh, very well, always well."

"Yes, the English ladies they have wonderful health--I admire them; but
there is one I admire most of all."

A few remarks more, of like tenor, and they drew near again to the
Marble Arch. With bows and compliments and significant looks, Mr.
Florio walked briskly away in search of an omnibus.

Olga, her eyes cast down as she turned homeward, was not aware that
someone who had held her in sight for a long time grew gradually near,
until he stepped to her side. It was Mr. Kite. He looked at her with a
melancholy smile on his long, lank face, and, when at length the girl
saw him, took off his shabby hat respectfully. Olga nodded and walked
on without speaking. Kite accompanying her.



CHAPTER XVII


Olga was the first to break silence.

"You ought to take your boots to be mended," she said gently. "If it
rains, you'll get wet feet, and you know what that means."

"You're very kind to think of it; I will."

"You can pay for them, I hope?"

"Pay? Oh, yes, yes! a trifle such as that--Have you had a long walk?"

"I met a friend. I may as well tell you; it was the Italian, Mr.
Florio."

"I saw you together," said Kite absently, but not resentfully. "I half
thought of coming up to be introduced to him. But I'm rather shabby, I
feared you mightn't like it."

"It wouldn't have mattered a bit, so far as I'm concerned," replied
Olga good-naturedly. "But he isn't the kind of man you'd care for. If
he had been, I should have got you to meet him before now."

"You like him?"

"Yes, I rather like him. But it's nothing more than that; don't imagine
it. Oh, I had a call from my cousin Irene this morning. We don't quite
get on together; she's getting very worldly. Her idea is that one ought
to marry cold-bloodedly, just for social advantage, and that kind of
thing. No doubt she's going to do it, and then we shall never see each
other again, never!--She tells me that Piers Otway is coming to England
again."

"Oh, now I should like to know _him_, I really should!" exclaimed Kite,
with a mild vivacity.

"So you shall, if he stays in London. Perhaps you would suit each
other."

"I'm sure, because you like him so much."

"Do I?" asked Olga doubtfully. "Yes, perhaps so. If he hasn't changed
for the worse. But it'll be rather irritating if he talks about nothing
but Irene still. Oh, that's impossible! Five years; yes, that's
impossible."

"One should think the better of him, in a way," ventured Kite.

"Oh, in a way. But when a thing of that sort is hopeless. I'm afraid
Irene looks down upon him, just because--you know. But he's better than
most of the men she'll meet in her drawing-rooms, that's Certain. Shall
I ask him to come to my place?"

"Do. And I hope he'll stay in England, and that you'll see a good deal
of him."

"Pray, why?"

"Because that's the right kind of acquaintance for you, he'll do you
good."

Olga laughed a little, and said, with compassionate kindness:

"You _are_ queer!"

"I meant nothing unpleasant, Olga," was the apologetic rejoinder.

"Of course you didn't. Have you had dinner yet?"

"Dinner? Oh yes--of course, long ago!"

"I know what that means."

"'Sh! 'Sh! May I come home and talk a little?"

Dinner, it might be feared, was no immutable feature of Mr. Kite's day.
He had a starved aspect; his long limbs were appallingly meagre; as he
strode along, his clothing, thin and disreputable, flapped about him.
But his countenance showed nothing whatever of sourness, or of grim
endurance. Nor did he appear to be in a feeble state of health; for all
his emaciation, his step was firm and he held himself tolerably
upright. One thing was obvious, that at Olga's side he forgot his ills.
Each time he glanced at her, a strange beautiful smile passed like a
light over his hard features, a smile of infinite melancholy, yet of
infinite tenderness. The voice in which he addressed her was invariably
softened to express something more than homage.

They had the habit of walking side by side, and could keep silence
without any feeling of restraint. Kite now and then uttered some word
or ejaculation, to which Olga paid no heed; it was only his way, the
trick of a man who lived much alone, and who conversed with visions.

On ascending to the room in Great Portland Street, they found Miss
Bonnicastle hard at work on a design of considerable size, which hung
against the wall. This young lady, for all her sportiveness, was never
tempted to jest at the expense of Mr. Kite; removing a charcoal holder
from her mouth, she nodded pleasantly, and stood aside to allow the
melancholy man a view of her work.

"Astonishing vigour!" said Kite, in his soft, sincere voice. "How I
envy you!"

Miss Bonnicastle laughed with self-deprecation. She, no less than Olga
Hannaford, credited Kite with wonderful artistic powers; in their view,
only his constitutional defect of energy, his incorrigible dreaminess,
stood between him and great achievement. The evidence in support of
their faith was slight enough; a few sketches, a hint in crayon, or a
wash in water-colour, were all he had to show; but Kite belonged to
that strange order of men who, seemingly without effort or advantage of
any kind, awaken the interest and gain the confidence of certain women.
Even Mrs. Hannaford, though a mother's reasons set her against him, had
felt this seductive quality in Olga's lover, and liked though she could
not approve of him. Powers of fascination in a man very often go
together with lax principle, if not with active rascality; Kite was an
instance to the contrary. He had a quixotic sensitiveness, a morbid
instinct of honour. If it is true that virile force, preferably with a
touch of the brutal, has a high place in the natural woman's heart,
none the less does an ideal of male purity, of the masculine subdued to
gentle virtues, make strong appeal to the imagination in her sex. To
the everyday man, Kite seemed a mere pale grotesque, a creature of
flabby foolishness. But Olga Hannaford was not the only girl who had
dreamed of devoting her life to him. If she could believe his assurance
(and she all but did believe it), for her alone had he felt anything
worthy to be called love, to her alone had he spoken words of
tenderness. The high-tide of her passion had long since ebbed; yet she
knew that Kite still had power over her, power irresistible, if he
chose to exercise it, and the strange fact that he would not, that,
still loving her, he did not seem to be jealous for her love in return,
often moved her to bitterness.

She knew his story. He was the natural son of a spendthrift aristocrat,
who, after educating him decently had died and left a will which seemed
to assure Kite a substantial independence. Unfortunately, the will
dealt, for the most part, with property no longer in existence. Kite's
income was to be paid by one of the deceased's relatives, who, instead
of benefiting largely, found that he came in for a mere pittance; and
the proportion of that pittance due to the illegitimate son was exactly
forty-five pounds, four shillings, and fourpence per annum. It was
paid; it kept Kite alive; also, no doubt, it kept him from doing what
he might have done, in art or anything else. On quarterly pay-day the
dreamer always spent two or three pounds on gifts to those of his
friends who were least able to make practical return. To Olga, of
course, he had offered lordly presents, until the day when she firmly
refused to take anything more from him. When his purse was empty he
earned something by journeyman work in the studio of a portrait
painter, a keen man of business, who gave shillings to this assistant
instead of the sovereigns that another would have asked for the same
labour.

As usual when he came here, Kite settled himself in a chair, stretched
out his legs, let his arms depend, and so watched the two girls at
work. There was not much conversation; Kite never began it. Miss
Bonnicastle hummed, or whistled, or sang, generally the refrains of the
music-hall; if work gave her trouble she swore vigorously--in German, a
language with which she was well acquainted and at the sound of her
maledictions, though he did not understand them, Kite always threw his
head back with a silent laugh. Olga naturally had most of his
attention; he often fixed his eyes upon her for five minutes at a time,
and Olga, being used to this, was not at all disturbed by it.

When five o'clock came, Miss Bonnicastle flung up her arms and yawned.

"Let's have some blooming tea!" she exclaimed. "All right, I'll get it.
I've just about ten times the muscle and go of you two put together;
it's only right I should do the slavey."

Kite rose, and reached his hat. Whereupon, with soft pressure of her
not very delicate hands, Miss Bonnicastle forced him back into his
chair.

"Sit still. Do as I tell you. What's the good of you if you can't help
us to drink tea?"

And Kite yielded, as always, wishing he could sit there for ever.

Three weeks later, on an afternoon of rain, the trio were again
together in the same way. Someone knocked, and a charwoman at work on
the premises handed in a letter for Miss Hannaford.

"I know who this is from," said Olga, looking up at Kite.

"And I can guess," he returned, leaning forward with a look of interest.

She read the note--only a few lines, and handed it to her friend,
remarking:

"He'd better come to-morrow."

"Who's that?" asked Miss Bonnicastle.

"Piers Otway."

The poster artist glanced from one face to the other, with a smile.
There had been much talk lately of Otway, who was about to begin
business in London; his partner, Andre Moncharmont, remaining at
Odessa. Olga had heard from her mother that Piers wished to see her,
and had allowed Mrs. Hannaford to give him her address; he now wrote
asking if he might call.

"I'll go and send him a wire," she said. "There isn't time to write.
To-morrow's Sunday."

When Olga had run out, Kite, as if examining a poster on the wall,
turned his back to Miss Bonnicastle. She, after a glance or two in his
direction, addressed him by name, and the man looked round.

"You don't mind if I speak plainly?"

"Of course I don't," he replied, his features distorted, rather than
graced, by a smile.

The girl approached him, arms akimbo, but, by virtue of a frank look,
suggesting more than usual of womanhood.

"You've got to be either one thing or the other. She doesn't care
_that_"--a snap of the fingers--"for this man Otway, and she knows he
doesn't care for her. But she's playing him against you, and you must
expect more of it. You ought to make up your mind. It isn't fair to
her."

"Thank you," murmured Kite, reddening a little. "It's kind of you."

"Well, I hope it is. But she'd be furious if she guessed I'd said such
a thing. I only do it because it's for her good as much as yours.
Things oughtn't to drag on, you know; it isn't fair to a girl like
that."

Kite thrust his hands into his pockets, and drew himself up to a full
five feet eleven.

"I'll go away," he said. "I'll go and live in Paris for a bit."

"That's for _you_ to decide. Of course if you feel like that--it's none
of my business, I don't pretend to understand _you_; I'm not quite sure
I understand _her_. You're a queer couple. All I know is, it's gone on
long enough, and it isn't fair to a girl like Olga. She isn't the sort
that can doze through a comfortable engagement of ten or twelve years,
and surely you know that."

"I'll go away," said Kite again, nodding resolutely.

He turned again to the poster, and Miss Bonnicastle resumed her work.
Thus Olga found them when she came back.

"I've asked him to come at three," she said. "You'll be out then,
Bonnie. When you come in we'll put the kettle on, and all have tea."
She chanted it, to the old nursery tune. "Of course you'll come as
well"--she addressed Kite--"say about four. It'll be jolly!"

So, on the following afternoon, Olga sat alone, in readiness for her
visitor. She had paid a little more attention than usual to her
appearance, but was perfectly self-possessed; a meeting with Piers
Otway had never yet quickened her pulse, and would not do so to-day. If
anything, she suffered a little from low spirits, conscious of having
played a rather disingenuous part before Kite, and not exactly knowing
to what purpose she had done so. It still rained; it had been gloomy
for several days. Looking at the heavy sky above the gloomy street,
Olga had a sense of wasted life. She asked herself whether it would not
have been better, on the decline of her love-fever, to go back into the
so-called respectable world, share her mother's prosperity, make the
most of her personal attractions, and marry as other girls did--if
anyone invited her. She was doing no good; all the experience to be had
in a life of mild Bohemianism was already tasted, and found rather
insipid. An artist she would never become; probably she would never
even support herself. To imagine herself really dependent on her own
efforts, was to sink into misery and fear. The time had come for a new
step, a new beginning, yet all possibilities looked so vague.

A knock at the door. She opened, and saw Piers Otway.

If they had been longing to meet, instead of scarcely ever giving a
thought to each other, they could not have clasped hands with more
warmth. They gazed eagerly into each other's eyes, and seemed too much
overcome for ordinary words of greeting. Then Olga saw that Otway
looked nothing like so well as when on his visit to England some couple
of years ago. He, in turn, was surprised at the change in Olga's
features; the bloom of girlhood had vanished; she was handsome,
striking, but might almost have passed for a married woman of thirty.

"A queer place, isn't it?" she said, laughing, as Piers cast a glance
round the room.

"Is this your work?" he asked, pointing to the posters.

"No, no! Mine isn't for exhibition. It hides itself--with the modesty
of supreme excellence!"

Again they looked at each other; Olga pointed to a chair, herself
became seated, and explained the conditions of her life here. Bending
forward, his hands folded between his knees, Otway listened with a face
on which trouble began to reassert itself after the emotion of their
meeting.

"So you have really begun business at last?" said Olga.

"Yes. Rather hopefully, too."

"You don't look hopeful, somehow."

"Oh, that's nothing. Moncharmont has scraped together a fair capital,
and as for me, well, a friend has come to my help, I mustn't say who it
is. Yes, things look promising enough, for a start. Already I've seen
an office in the City, which I think I shall take. I shall decide
to-morrow, and then--_avos_!"

"What does that mean?"

"A common word in Russian. It means 'Fire away.'"

"I must remember it," said Olga, laughing. "It'll make a change from
English and French slang--_Avos_!"

There was a silence longer than they wished. Olga broke it by asking
abruptly:

"Have you seen my mother?"

"Not yet."

"I'm afraid she's not well."

"Then why do you keep away from her?" said Piers, with good-humoured
directness. "Is it really necessary for you to live here? She would be
much happier if you went back."

"I'm not sure of that."

"But I am, from what she says in her letters, and I should have thought
that you, too, would prefer it to this life."

He glanced round the room. Olga looked vexed, and spoke with a note of
irony.

"My tastes are unaccountable, I'm afraid. You, no doubt, find it
difficult to understand them. So does my cousin Irene. You have heard
that she is going to be married?"

Piers, surprised at her change of tone, regarded her fixedly, until she
reddened and her eyes fell.

"Is the engagement announced, then?"

"I should think so; but I'm not much in the way of hearing fashionable
gossip."

Still Piers regarded her; still her cheeks kept their colour, and her
eyes refused to meet his.

"I see I have offended you," he said quietly. "I'm very sorry. Of
course I went too far in speaking like that of the life you have
chosen. I had no righ----"

"Nonsense! If you mustn't tell me what you think, who may?"

Again the change was so sudden, this time from coldness to smiling
familiarity, that Piers felt embarrassed.

"The fact is," Olga pursued, with a careless air, "I don't think I
shall go on with this much longer. If you said what you have in your
mind, that I should never be any good as an artist, you would be quite
right. I haven't had the proper training; it'll all come to nothing.
And--talking of engagements--I daresay you know that mine is broken
off?"

"No, I didn't know that."

"It is. Mr. Kite and I are only friends now. He'll look in presently, I
think. I should like you to meet him, if you don't mind."

"Of course I shall be very glad."

"All this, you know," said Olga, with a laugh, "would be monstrously
irregular in decent society, but decent society is often foolish, don't
you think?"

"To be sure it is," Piers answered genially, "and I never meant to find
fault with your preference for a freer way of living. It is only--you
say I may speak freely--that I didn't like to think of your going
through needless hardships."

"You don't think, then, it has done me good?"

"I am not at all sure of that."

Olga lay back in her chair, as if idly amused.

"You see," she said, "how we have both changed. We are both much more
positive, in different directions. To be sure, it makes conversation
more interesting. But the change is greatest in me. You always aimed at
success in a respectable career."

Otway looked puzzled, a little disconcerted.

"Really, is that how I always struck you? To me it's new light on my
own character."

"How did you think of yourself, then?" she asked, looking at him from
beneath drooping lids.

"I hardly know; I have thought less on that subject than on most."

Again there came a silence, long enough to be embarrassing. Then Olga
took up a sketch that was lying on the table, and held it to her
visitor.

"Don't you think that good? It's one of Miss Bonnicastle's. Let us talk
about her; she'll be here directly. We don't seem to get on, talking
about ourselves."

The sketch showed an elephant sitting upright, imbibing with gusto from
a bottle of some much-advertised tonic. Piers broke into a laugh. Other
sketches were exhibited, and thus they passed the time until Miss
Bonnicastle and Kite arrived together.



CHAPTER XVIII


Strangers with whom Piers Otway had business at this time saw in him a
young man of considerable energy, though rather nervous and impulsive,
capable in all that concerned his special interests, not over-sanguine,
inclined to brevity of speech, and scrupulously courteous in a cold
way. He seldom smiled; his clean-cut, intelligent features expressed
tension of the whole man, ceaseless strain and effort without that joy
of combat which compensates physical expenditure. He looked in fair,
not robust, health; a shadowed pallor of complexion was natural to him,
and made noticeable the very fine texture of his skin, which quickly
betrayed in delicate flushes any strong feeling. He shook hands with a
short, firm grip which argued more muscle than one might have supposed
in him. His walk was rapid; his bearing upright; his glance direct,
with something of apprehensive pride. The observant surmised a force
more or less at odds with the facts of life. Shrewd men of commerce at
once perceived his qualities, but reserved their judgment as to his
chances; he was not, in any case, altogether of their world, however
well he might have studied its principles and inured himself to its
practice.

He took rooms in Guildford Street. Indifferent to locality, asking
nothing more than decency in his immediate surroundings, he fell by
accident on the better kind of lodging-house, and was at once what is
called comfortable; his landlady behaved to him with a peculiar
respectfulness, often noticeable in the uneducated who had relations
with Otway, and explained perhaps by his quiet air of authority. To
those who served him, no man was more considerate, but he never became
familiar with them; without a trace of pretentiousness in his
demeanour, he was viewed by such persons as one sensibly above them,
with some solid right to rule.

In the selection of his place of business, he of course exercised more
care, but here, too, luck favoured him. A Russian merchant moving into
more spacious quarters ceded to him a small office in Fenchurch Street,
with furniture which he purchased at a very reasonable price. To begin
with, he hired only a lad; it would be seen in a month or so whether he
had need of more assistance. If business grew, he was ready to take
upon himself a double share, for the greater his occupation the less
his time for brooding. Labour was what he asked, steady, dogged toil;
and his only regret was that he could not work with his hands in the
open air, at some day-long employment followed by hunger and weariness
and dreamless sleep.

The partner whose name he did not wish to mention was John Jacks. Very
soon after learning the result to the young man of Jerome Otway's death
(the knowledge came in an indirect way half a year later), Mr. Jacks
wrote to Piers a letter implying what he knew, and made offer of a
certain capital towards the proposed business. Piers did not at once
accept the offer, for difficulties had arisen on the side of his friend
Moncharmont, who, on Otway's announcement of inability to carry out the
scheme they had formed together, turned in another direction. A year
passed; John Jacks again wrote; and, Moncharmont's other projects
having come to nothing, the friends decided at length to revert to
their original plan, with the difference that a third partner supplied
capital equal to that which Moncharmont himself put into the venture.
The arrangement was strictly business-like; John Jacks, for all his
kindliness, had no belief in anything else where money was concerned,
and Piers Otway would not have listened to any other sort of
suggestion. Piers put into the affair only his brains, his vigour, and
his experience; he was to reap no reward but that fairly resulting from
the exercise of these qualities.

Only a day or two before leaving Odessa he received a letter from Mrs.
Hannaford, in which she hinted that Irene Derwent was likely to marry.
On reaching London, he found at the hotel her answer to his reply; she
now named Miss Derwent's wooer, and spoke as if the marriage were
practically a settled thing. This turned to an ordeal for Piers what
would otherwise have been a pleasure, his call upon John Jacks. He had
to dine at Queen's Gate; he had to converse with Arnold Jacks; and for
the first time in his life he knew the meaning of personal jealousy.

The sight of Irene's successful lover made active in him what had for
years been only a latent passion. All at once it seemed impossible that
he should have lost what hitherto he had scarcely ever felt it possible
to win. An unconsciously reared edifice of hope collapsed about him,
laid waste his life, left him standing in desolate revolt against fate.
Arnold Jacks was the embodiment of a cruel destiny; Piers regarded him,
not so much with hate, as with a certain bitter indignation. He had no
desire to disparage the man, to caricature his assailable points;
rather, in undiminished worship of Irene, he exaggerated the qualities
which had won her, the power to which her gallant pride had yielded.
These qualities, that power, were so unlike anything in himself, that
they gave boundless scope to a jealous imagination. He knew so little
of the man, of his pursuits, his society, his prospects or ambitions.
But he could not imagine that Irene's love would be given to any man of
ordinary type; there must be a nobility in John Jacks' son, and indeed,
knowing the father, one could readily believe it. Piers suffered a
cruel sense of weakness, of littleness, by comparison.

And Arnold behaved so well to him, with such frank graceful courtesy;
to withhold the becoming return was to feel oneself a shrinking
creature, basely envious.

It was at Mrs. Hannaford's suggestion that he asked to be allowed to
call on Olga. A few days later, having again exchanged letters with
Irene's aunt, he sat writing in the office after business hours, his
door and that of the anteroom both open. Footsteps on the staircase had
become infrequent since the main exodus of clerks; he listened whenever
there was a sound, and looked towards the entrance. There, at length,
appeared a lady, Mrs. Hannaford herself. Piers went forward, and
greeted her without words, motioning her with his hand into the inner
office; the outer door he latched.

"So I have tracked you to your lair!" exclaimed the visitor, with a
nervous laugh, as she sank in fatigue upon the chair he placed for her.
"I looked for your name on the wall downstairs, forgetting that you are
Moncharmont & Co."

"It is very, very kind of you to have taken all this trouble!"

He saw in her face the signs of ill-health for which he was prepared,
and noticed with pain her tremulousness and shortness of breath after
the stair-climbing. The friendship which had existed between them since
his boyhood was true and deep as ever; Piers Otway could, as few men
can, be the loyal friend of a woman. A reverent tenderness coloured his
feeling towards Mrs. Hannaford; it was something like what he would
have felt for his mother had she now been living. He did not give much
thought to her character or circumstances; she had always been kind to
him, and he in turn had always liked her: that was enough. Anything in
her service that might fall within his power to do, he would do right
gladly.

"So you saw poor Olga?"

"Yes, and the friend she lives with--and Mr. Kite."

"Ah! Mr. Kite!" The speaker's face brightened. "I have news about him;
it came this morning. He has gone to Paris, and means to stay there."

"Indeed! I heard no syllable of that the other day."

"But it is true. And Olga's letter to me, in which she mentions it;
gives hope that that is the end of their engagement. Naturally, the
poor child won't say it in so many words, but it is to be read between
the lines. What's more, she is willing to come for her holiday with me!
It has made me very happy!--I told you I was going to Malvern; my
brother thinks that is most likely to do me good. Irene will go down
with me, and stay a day or two, and then I hope to have Olga. It is
delightful! I hadn't dared to hope. Perhaps we shall really come
together again, after this dreary time!"

Piers was listening, but with a look which had become uneasily
preoccupied.

"I am as glad, almost, as you can be," he said. "Malvern, I never was
there."

"So healthy, my brother says! And Shakespeare's country, you know; we
shall go to Stratford, which I have never seen. I have a feeling that I
really shall get better. Everything is more hopeful."

Piers recalled Olga's mysterious hints about her mother. Glancing at
the worn face, with its vivid eyes, he could easily conceive that this
ill-health had its cause in some grave mental trouble.

"Have you met your brother?" she asked.

"My brother? Oh no!" was the careless reply. Then on a sudden thought,
Piers added, "You don't keep up your acquaintance with him, do you?"

"Oh--I _have_ seen him--now and then----"

There was a singular hesitancy in her answer to the abrupt question.
Piers, preoccupied as he was, could not but remark Mrs. Hannaford's
constraint, almost confusion. At once it struck him that Daniel had
been borrowing money of her, and the thought aroused strong
indignation. His own hundred and fifty pounds he had never recovered,
for all Daniel's fine speeches, and notwithstanding the fact that he
had taken suggestive care to let the borrower know his address in
Russia. Rapidly he turned in his mind the question whether he ought not
to let Mrs. Hannaford know of Daniel's untrustworthiness; but before he
could decide, she launched into another subject.

"So this is to be your place of business? Here you will sit day after
day. If good wishes could help, how you would flourish! Is it orthodox
to pray for a friend's success in business?"

"Why not? Provided you add--so long as he is guilty of no rascality."

"That, _you_ will never be."

"Why, to tell you the truth, I shouldn't know how to go about it. Not
everyone who wishes becomes a rascal in business. It's difficult enough
for me to pursue commerce on the plain, honest track; knavery demands
an expertness altogether beyond me. Wherefore, let us give thanks for
my honest stupidity!"

They chatted a while of these things. Then Piers, grasping his courage,
uttered what was burning within him.

"When is Miss Derwent to be married?"

Mrs. Hannaford's eyes escaped his hard look. She murmured that no date
had yet been settled.

"Tell me--I beg you will tell me--is her engagement absolutely certain?"

"I feel sure it is."

"No! I want more than that. Do you know that it is?"

"I can only say that her father believes it to be a certain thing. No
announcement has yet been made."

"H'm! Then it isn't settled at all."

Piers sat stiffly upon his chair. He held an ivory paperknife, which he
kept bending across his knee, and of a sudden the thing snapped in two.
But he paid no attention, merely flinging the handle away. Mrs.
Hannaford looked him in the face; he was deeply flushed; his lips and
his throat trembled like those of a child on the point of tears.

"Don't! Oh, don't take it so to heart! It seems impossible--after all
this time----"

"Impossible or not, it _is_!" he replied impetuously. "Mrs. Hannaford,
you will do something for me. You will let me come down to Malvern,
whilst she is with you, and see her--speak with her alone."

She drew back, astonished.

"Oh! how can you think of it, Mr. Otway?"

"Why should I not?" he spoke in a low and soft voice, but with
vehemence. "Does she know all about me?"

"Everything. It was not I who told her. There has been talk----"

"Of course there has"--he smiled--"and I am glad of it. I wished her to
know. Otherwise, I should have told her. Yes, I should have told her!
It shocks you, Mrs. Hannaford? But try to understand what this means to
me. It is the one thing I greatly desire in all the world, shall I be
hindered by a petty consideration of etiquette? A wild desire--you
think. Well, the man sentenced to execution clings to life, clings to
it with a terrible fierce desire; is it less real because utterly
hopeless? Perhaps I am behaving frantically; I can't help myself. As
that engagement is still doubtful--you admit it to be doubtful--I shall
speak before it is too late. Why not have done so before? Simply, I
hadn't the courage. I suppose I was too young. It didn't mean so much
to me as it does now. Something tells me to act like a man, before it
is too late. I feel I _can_ do it. I never could have, till now."

"But listen to me--do listen! Think how extraordinary it will seem to
her. She has no suspicion of----"

"She has! She knows! I sent her: a year ago, a poem--some verses of my
writing, which told her."

Mrs. Hannaford kept silence with a face of distress.

"Is there any harm," he pursued, "in asking you whether she has ever
spoken of me lately--since that time?"

"She has," admitted the other reluctantly, "but not in a way to make
one think----"

"No, no! I expected nothing of the kind. She has mentioned me; that is
enough. I am not utterly expelled from her thoughts, as a creature
outlawed by all decent people----"

"Of course not. She is too reasonable and kind."

"That she is!" exclaimed Piers, with a passionate delight on his visage
and in his voice. "And she would _rather_ I spoke to her--I feel she
would! She, with her fine intelligence and noble heart, she would think
it dreadful that a man did not dare to approach her, just because of
something not his fault, something that made him no bit the less a man,
and capable of honour. I know that thought would shake her with pity
and indignation. So far I can read in her. What! You think I know her
too little? And the thought of her never out of my mind for these five
years! I have got to know her better and better, as time went on. Every
word she spoke at Ewell stayed in my memory, and by perpetual
repetition has grown into my life. Every sentence has given me its full
meaning. I didn't need to be near her to study her. She was in my mind;
I heard her and saw her whenever I wished; as I have grown older and
more experienced in life, I have been better able to understand her. I
used to think this was enough. I had--you know--that exalted sort of
mood; Dante's Beatrice, and all that! It _was_ enough for the time,
seeing that I lived with it, and through it. But now--no! And there is
no single reason why I should be ashamed to stand before her, and tell
her that--What I feel."

He checked himself, and gloomed for an instant, then continued in
another tone:

"Yet that isn't true. There _are_ reasons--I believe no man living
could say that when speaking of such a woman as Irene Derwent. I cannot
face her without shame--the shame of every man who stands before a
pure-hearted girl. We have to bear that, and to hide it as best we can."

The listener bent upon him a wondering gaze, and seemed unable to avert
it, till his look answered her.

"You will give me this opportunity, Mrs. Hannaford?" he added
pleadingly.

"I have no right whatever to refuse it. Besides, how could I, if I
wished?

"When shall I come? I must remember that I am not free to wander about.
If it could be a Sunday----"

"I have forgotten something I ought to have told you already," said
Mrs. Hannaford. "Whilst she was on her travels, Irene had an offer from
someone else."

Piers laughed.

"Can that surprise one? Should I wonder if I were told she had fifty?"

"Yes, but this was not of the ordinary kind. You know that Mr. Jacks is
well acquainted with Trafford Romaine. And it was Trafford Romaine
himself."

The news did not fail of its impression. Piers smiled vaguely, and on
the smile came a look of troubled pride.

"Well, it is not astonishing, but it gives me a better opinion of the
man. I shall always feel a sort of sympathy when I come across his
name. Why did you think I ought to know?"

"For a reason I feel to be rather foolish, now I come to speak of it,"
replied Mrs. Hannaford. "But--I had a feeling that Irene is by nature
rather ambitious; and if, after such an experience as that, she so soon
accepts a man who has done nothing particular, whose position is not
brilliant----"

"I understand. She must, you mean, be very strongly drawn to him. But
then I needed no such proof of her feeling--if it is _certain_ that she
is going to marry him. Could I imagine her marrying a man for any
reason but one? Surely you could not?"

"No--no----"

The denial had a certain lack of emphasis. Otway's eyes flashed.

"You doubt? You speak in that way of Irene Derwent?"

Gazing into Mrs. Hannaford's face, he saw rising tears. She gave a
little laugh, which did not disguise her emotion as she answered him.

"Oh, what an idealist it makes a man!--don't talk of your unworthiness.
If some women are good, it is because they try hard to be what the best
men think them. No, no, I have no doubts of Irene. And that is why it
really grieves me to see you still hoping. She would never have gone so
far----"

"But there's the very question!" cried Piers excitedly. "Who knows how
far she has gone? It may be the merest conjecture on your part, and her
father's. People are so ready to misunderstand a girl who respects
herself enough to be free and frank in her association with men. Let me
shame myself by making a confession. Five years ago, when I all but
went mad about her, I was contemptible enough to think she had treated
me cruelly." He gave a scornful laugh. "You know what I mean. At Ewell,
when I lived only for my books, and she drew me away from them.
Conceited idiot! And she so bravely honest, so simple and direct, so
human! Was it _her_ fault if I lost my head?"

"She certainly changed the whole course of your life," said Mrs.
Hannaford thoughtfully.

"True, she did. And to my vast advantage! What should I have become? A
clerkship at Whitehall--heaven defend us! At best a learned pedant, in
my case. She sent me out into the world, where there is always hope.
She gave me health and sanity. Above all, she set before me an ideal
which has never allowed me to fall hopelessly--never will let me become
a contented brute! If she never addresses another word to me, I shall
owe her an infinite debt as long as I live. And I want her to hear that
from my own lips, if only once."

Mrs. Hannaford held out her hand impulsively.

"Do what you feel you must. You make me feel very strangely. I never
knew what----"

Her voice faltered. She rose.

When she had left him, Piers sat for some time communing with his
thoughts. Then he went home to the simple meal he called dinner, and
afterwards, as the evening was clear, walked for a couple of hours away
from the louder streets. His resolve gave him a night of quiet rest.



CHAPTER XIX


Again Irene was going down into Cheshire, to visit the two old ladies,
her relatives. It was arranged that she should accompany Mrs. Hannaford
to Malvern, and spend a couple of days there. The travellers arrived on
a Friday evening. Before leaving town Mrs. Hannaford had written to
Piers Otway to give him the address of the house at Malvern in which
rooms had been taken for them.

On Saturday morning there was sunshine over the hills. Irene walked,
and talked, but it was evident with thoughts elsewhere. When they sat
down to rest and to enjoy the landscape before them, the rich heart of
England, with its names that echo in history and in song, Irene plucked
at the grass beside her, and presently began to strip a stem, after the
manner of children playing at a tell-fortune game. She stripped it to
the end; her hands fell and she heaved a little sigh. From that moment
she grew merry and talked without pre-occupation.

After lunch she wrote a short letter, and herself took it to the post.
Mrs. Hannaford was lying on the sofa, with eyes closed, but not in
sleep; her forehead and lips betraying the restless thoughts which
beset her now as always. On returning, Irene took a chair, as if to
read; but she gave only an absent glance at the paper in her hands, and
smiled to herself in musing.

"I'm sure those thoughts are worth far more than a penny," fell from
the lady on the couch, who had observed her for a moment.

"I may as well tell you them," was the gently toned reply, as Irene
bent forward. "I have just done something decisive."

Mrs. Hannaford raised herself, a sudden anxiety in her features; she
waited.

"You guess, aunt? Yes, that's it, I have written to Mr. Jacks."

"To--to----?"

"To answer an ultimatum. In the right way, I hope; any way, it's done."

"You have accepted him?"

"Even so."

Mrs. Hannaford tried to smile, but could not smooth away the uneasiness
which had come into her look. She spoke a few of the natural words, and
in doing so looked at the clock.

"There is something I have forgotten," she said, starting to her feet
hurriedly. "You reminded me of it--speaking of a letter; I must send a
telegram at once--indeed I must. No, no, I will go myself, dear. I had
rather!"

She hastened away, leaving Irene in wonder.

When they were together again, Mrs. Hannaford seemed anxious to atone
for her brevity on the all-important subject. She spoke with pleasure
of her niece's decision thought it wise; abounded in happy prophecy;
through the rest of the day she had a face which spoke relief, all but
contentment. The morning of Sunday saw her nervous. She made an excuse
of the slightly clouded sky for lingering within doors; she went often
to the window and looked this way and that along the road, as if
judging the weather, until Irene, when the church bells had ceased,
grew impatient for the open air.

"Yes, we will go," said her aunt. "I think we safely may."

Each went to her room to make ready. At Mrs. Hannaford's door, just as
she was about to come forth, there sounded a knock; the servant
announced that a gentleman had called to see her--Mr. Otway. Quivering,
death-pale, she ran to the sitting-room. Irene had not yet reappeared.
Piers Otway stood there alone.

"You didn't get my telegram?" broke from her lips, in a hurried
whisper. "Oh! I feared it would be too late, and all is too late."

"You mean----"

"The engagement is announced."

She had time to say no more. At that moment Irene entered the room,
dressed for walking. At first she did not seem to recognise the
visitor, then her face lighted up; she smiled, subdued the slight
embarrassment which had succeeded to her perplexity, and stepped
quickly forward.

"Mr. Otway! You are staying here?"

"A few hours only. I came down yesterday on business--which is
finished."

His voice was so steady, his bearing so self-possessed, that Irene
found herself relieved from the immediate restraint of the situation.
She could not quite understand his presence here; there was a mystery,
in which she saw that her aunt was involved; the explanation might be
forthcoming after their visitor's departure. For the moment, enough to
remark that the sun was dispersing the clouds, and that all were ready
to enjoy a walk. Mrs. Hannaford, glancing anxiously at Irene before she
spoke, hoped that Mr. Otway would return with them to lunch; Irene
added her voice to the invitation; and Piers at once accepted.

Talk suggested by the locality occupied them until they were away from
the houses; by that time Irene had thoroughly reassured herself, and
was as tranquil in mind as in manner. Whatever the meaning of Piers
Otway's presence, no difficulty could come about in the few hours he
was to spend with them. Involuntarily she found herself listening to
the rhythm of certain verses which she had received some months ago,
and which she still knew by heart; but nothing in the author's voice or
look indicated a desire to remind her of that romantic passage in their
acquaintance. If they were still to meet from time to time--and why
not?--common sense must succeed to vain thoughts in the poet's mind. He
was quite capable of the transition, she felt sure. His way of talking,
the short and generally pointed sentences in which he spoke on whatever
subject, betokened a habit of lucid reflection. Had it been
permissible, she would have dwelt with curiosity on the problem of
Piers Otway's life and thoughts; but that she resolutely ignored,
strong in the irrevocable choice which she had made only yesterday. He
was interesting, but not to her. She knew him on the surface, and cared
to know no more.

Business was a safe topic; at the first noticeable pause, Irene led to
it.

Piers laughed with pleasure as he began to describe Andre Moncharmont.
A man of the happiest vivacity, of the sweetest humour, irresistibly
amusing, yet never ridiculous--entirely competent in business, yet with
a soul as little mercantile as man's could be. Born a French Swiss, he
had lived a good deal in Italy, and had all the charm of Italian
manners; but in whatever country, he made himself at home, and by
virtue of his sunny temper saw only the best in each nationality. His
recreation was music, and he occasionally composed.

"There is a song of Musset's--you know it, perhaps--beginning '_Quand
on perd, par triste occurrence_'--which he has set, to my mind,
perfectly. I want him to publish it. If he does I must let you see it."

Irene did not know the verses and made no remark.

"There are English men of business," pursued Otway, "who would smile
with pity at Moncharmont. He is by no means their conception of the
merchant. Yet the world would be a vastly better place if its business
were often in the hands of such men. He will never make a large
fortune, no; but he will never fall into poverty. He sees commerce from
the human point of view, not as the brutal pitiless struggle which
justifies every form of ferocity and of low cunning. I never knew him
utter an ignoble thought about trade and money-making. An English
acquaintance asked me once, 'Is he a gentleman?' I was obliged to
laugh--delicious contrast between what _he_ meant by a gentleman and
all I see in Moncharmont."

"I picture him," said Irene, smiling, "and I picture the person who
made that inquiry."

Piers flashed a look of gratitude. He had, as yet, hardly glanced at
her; he durst not; his ordeal was to be gone through as became a man.
Her voice, at moments, touched him to a sense of faintness; he saw her
without turning his head; the wave of her dress beside him was like a
perfume, was like music; part of him yielded, languished, part made
splendid resistance.

"He is a lesson in civilisation. If trade is not to put an end to human
progress, it must be pursued in Moncharmont's spirit. It's only
returning to a better time; our man of business is a creation of our
century, and as bad a thing as it has produced. Commerce must be
humanised once more. We invented machinery, and it has enslaved us--a
rule of iron, the servile belief that money-making is an end in itself,
to be attained by hard selfishness."

He checked himself, laughed, and said something about the beauty of the
lane along which they were walking.

"Don't you think," fell from Irene's lips, "that Mr. John Jacks is a
very human type of the man of business?"

"Indeed he is!" replied Piers, with spirit. "An admirable type."

"I have been told that he owed most of his success to his brothers, who
are a different sort of men."

"His wealth, perhaps."

"Yes, there's a difference," said Irene, glancing at him. "You may be
successful without becoming wealthy; though not of course in the common
opinion. But what would have been the history of England these last
fifty years, but for our men of iron selfishness? Isn't it a fact that
only in this way could we have built up an Empire which ensures the
civilisation of the world?"

Piers could not answer with his true thought, for he knew all that was
implied in her suggestion of that view. He bent his head and spoke very
quietly.

"Some of our best men think so."

An answer which gratified Irene more keenly than he imagined; she
showed it in her face.

When they returned to luncheon, and the ladies went upstairs, Mrs.
Hannaford stepped into her niece's room.

"What you told me yesterday," she asked, in a nervous undertone, "may
it be repeated?"

"Certainly--to anyone."

"Then please not to come down until I have had a few minutes' talk with
Mr. Otway. All this shall be explained, dear, when we are alone again."

On entering the sitting-room Irene found it harder to preserve a
natural demeanour than at her meeting with the visitor a couple of
hours ago. Only when she had heard him speak and in just the same voice
as during their walk was she able to turn frankly towards him. His look
had not changed. Impossible to divine the thoughts hidden by his smile;
he bore himself with perfect control.

At table all was cheerfulness. Speaking of things Russian, Irene
recalled her winter in Finland, which she had so greatly enjoyed.

"I remember," said Otway, "you had just returned when I met you for the
first time."

It was said with a peculiar intonation, which fell agreeably on the
listener's ear; a note familiar, in the permitted degree, yet
touchingly respectful; a world of emotion subdued to graceful
friendliness. Irene passed over the reminiscence with a light word or
two, and went on to gossip merely of trifles.

"Do you like caviare, Mr. Otway?"

"Except perhaps that supplied by the literary censor," was his laughing
reply.

"Now I am _intriguee_. Please explain."

"We call caviare the bits blacked out in our newspapers and
periodicals."

"Unpalatable enough!" laughed Irene. "How angry that would make me!"

"I got used to it," said Piers, "and thought it rather good fun
sometimes. After all, a wise autocrat might well prohibit newspapers
altogether, don't you think? They have done good, I suppose, but they
are just as likely to do harm. When the next great war comes,
newspapers will be the chief cause of it. And for mere profit, that's
the worst. There are newspaper proprietors in every country, who would
slaughter half mankind for the pennies of the half who were left,
without caring a fraction of a penny whether they had preached war for
a truth or a lie."

"But doesn't a newspaper simply echo the opinions and feelings of its
public?"

"I'm afraid it manufactures opinion, and stirs up feeling. Consider how
very few people know or care anything about most subjects of
international quarrel. A mere handful at the noisy centre of things who
make the quarrel. The business of newspapers, in general, is to give a
show of importance to what has no real importance at all--to prevent
the world from living quietly--to arouse bitterness when the natural
man would be quite different."

"Oh, surely you paint them too black! We must live, we can't let the
world stagnate. Newspapers only express the natural life of peoples,
acting and interacting."

"I suppose I quarrel with them," said Piers, once more subduing
himself, "because they have such gigantic power and don't make anything
like the best use of it."

"That is to say, they are the work of men--I don't mean," Irene added
laughingly, "of men instead of women. Though I'm not sure that women
wouldn't manage journalism better, if it were left to them."

"A splendid idea! All men to go about their affairs and women to report
and comment. Why, it would solve every problem of society! There's the
hope of the future, beyond a doubt! Why did I never think of it!"

The next moment Piers was talking about nightingales, how he had heard
them sing in Little Russia, where their song is sweeter than in any
other part of Europe. And so the meal passed pleasantly, as did the
hour or two after it, until it was time for Otway to take leave.

"You travel straight back to London?" asked Irene.

"Straight back," he answered, his eyes cast down.

"To-morrow," said Mrs. Hannaford, "we think of going to Stratford."

Piers had an impulse which made his hands tremble and his head throb;
in spite of himself he had all but asked whether, if he stayed at
Malvern overnight, he might accompany them on that expedition. Reason
prevailed, but only just in time, and the conquest left him under a
gloomy sense of self-pity, which was the worst thing he had suffered
all day. Not even Mrs. Hannaford's whispered words on his arrival had
been so hard to bear.

He sat in silence, wishing to rise, unable to do so. When at length he
stood up, Irene let her eyes fall upon him, and continued to observe
him, as if but half consciously whilst he shook hands with Mrs.
Hannaford. He turned to her, and his lips moved, but what he had tried
to say went unexpressed. Nor did Irene speak; she could have uttered
only a civil commonplace, and the tragic pallor of his countenance in
that moment kept her mute. He touched her hand and was gone.

When the house door had closed behind him, the eyes of the two women
met. Standing as before, they conversed with low voices, with troubled
brows. Mrs. Hannaford rapidly explained her part in what had happened.

"You will forgive me, Irene? I see now that I ought to have told you
about it yesterday."

"Better as it was, perhaps, so far as I am concerned. But he--I'm
sorry----"

"He behaved well, don't you think?"

"Yes," replied Irene thoughtfully, slowly, "he behaved well."

They moved apart, and Irene laid her hand on a book, but did not sit
down.

"How old is he?" she asked of a sudden.

"Six-and-twenty."

"One would take him for more. But of course his ways of thinking show
how young he is." She fluttered the pages of her book, and smiled. "It
will be interesting to see him in another five years."

That was all. Neither mentioned Otway's name again during the two more
days they spent together.

But Irene's mind was busy with the contrast between him and Arnold
Jacks. She pursued this track of thought whithersoever it led her,
believing it a wholesome exercise in her present mood. Her choice was
made, and irrevocable; reason bade her justify it by every means that
offered. And she persuaded herself that nothing better could have
happened, at such a juncture, than this suggestion of an alternative so
widely different.

An interesting boy--six-and-twenty is still a boyish age--with all
sorts of vague idealisms; nothing ripe; nothing that convinced; a
dreary cosmopolite, little likely to achieve results in any direction.
On the other hand, a mature and vigorous man, English to the core,
stable in his tested views of life, already an active participant in
the affairs of the nation and certain to move victoriously onward; a
sure patriot, a sturdy politician. It was humiliating to Piers Otway.
Indeed, unfair!

On Monday, when she returned from her visit to Stratford, a telegram
awaited her. "Thank you, letter tomorrow, Arnold." That pleased her;
the British laconicism; the sensible simplicity of the thing! And when
the letter arrived (two pages and a half) it seemed a suitable reply to
hers of Saturday, in which she had used only everyday words and
phrases. No gushing in Arnold Jacks! He was "happy," he was "grateful";
what more need an honest man say to the woman who has accepted him? She
was his "Dearest Irene"; and what more could she ask to be?

A curious thing happened that evening. Mrs. Hannaford and her niece,
both tired after the day's excursion, and having already talked over
its abundant interests, sat reading, or pretending to read. Suddenly,
Irene threw her book aside, with a movement of impatience, and stood up.

"Don't you find it very close?" she said, almost irritably. "I shall go
upstairs. Good-night!"

Her aunt gazed at her in surprise.

"You are tired, my dear."

"I suppose I am--Aunt, there is something I should like to say, if you
will let me. You are very kind and good, but that makes you, sometimes,
a little indiscreet. Promise me, please, never to make me the subject
of conversation with anyone to whom you cannot speak of me quite
openly, before all the world."

Mrs. Hannaford was overcome with astonishment, with distress. She tried
to reply, but before she could shape a word Irene had swept from the
room.

When they met again at breakfast, the girl stepped up to her aunt and
kissed her on both cheeks--an unusual greeting. She was her bright self
again; talked merrily; read aloud a letter from her father, which
proved that at the time of writing he had not seen Arnold Jacks.

"I must write to the Doctor to-morrow," she said, with an air of
reflection.

At ten o'clock they drove to the station. While Miss Derwent took her
ticket Mrs. Hannaford walked on the platform. On issuing from the
booking-office, Irene saw her aunt in conversation with a man, who, in
the same moment, turned abruptly and walked away. Neither she nor her
aunt spoke of this incident, but Irene noticed that the other was a
little flushed.

She took her seat; Mrs. Hannaford stood awaiting the departure of the
train. Before it moved, the man Irene had noticed came back along the
platform, and passed them without a sign. Irene saw his face, and
seemed to recognise it, but could not remember who he was.

Half an hour later, the face came back to her, and with it a name.

"Daniel Otway!" she exclaimed to herself.

It was five years and more since her one meeting with him at Ewell, but
the man, on that occasion, had impressed her strongly in a very
disagreeable way. She had since heard of him, in relation to Piers
Otway's affairs, and knew that her aunt had received a call from him in
Bryanston Square. What could be the meaning of this incident on the
platform? Irene wondered, and had an unpleasant feeling about it.



CHAPTER XX


On the journey homeward, and for two or three days after, Piers held
argument with his passions, trying to persuade himself that he had in
truth lost nothing, inasmuch as his love had never been founded upon a
reasonable hope. Irene Derwent was neither more nor less to him now
than she had been ever since he first came to know her: a far ideal,
the woman he would fain call wife, but only in a dream could think of
winning. What audacity had speeded him on that wild expedition? It was
well that he had been saved from declaring his folly to Irene herself,
who would have shared the pain her answer inflicted. Nay, when the
moment came, reason surely would have checked his absurd impulse. In
seeing her once more, he saw how wide was the distance between them. No
more of that! He had lost nothing but a moment's illusion.

The ideal remained; the worship, the gratitude. How much she had been
to him! Rarely a day--very rarely a day--that the thought of Irene did
not warm his heart and exalt his ambition. He had yielded to the
fleshly impulse, and the measure of his lapse was the sincerity of that
nobler desire; he had not the excuse of the ordinary man, nor ever
tried to allay his conscience with facile views of life. What times
innumerable had he murmured her name, until it was become to him the
only woman's name that sounded in truth womanly--all others cold to his
imagination. What long evenings had he passed, yonder by the Black Sea,
content merely to dream of Irene Derwent; how many a summer night had
he wandered in the acacia-planted streets of Odessa, about and about
the great square, with its trees, where stands the cathedral; how many
a time had his heart throbbed all but to bursting when he listened to
the music on the Boulevard, and felt so terribly alone--alone! Irene
was England. He knew nothing of the patriotism which is but shouted
politics; from his earliest years of intelligence he had learnt,
listening to his father, a contempt for that loud narrowness; but the
tongue which was Irene's, the landscape where shone Irene's
figure--these were dear to him for Irene's sake. He believed in his
heart of hearts that only the Northern Island could boast the perfect
woman--because he had found her there.

Should he talk of loss--he who had gained so unspeakably by an ideal
love through the hot years of his youth, who to the end of his life
would be made better by it? That were the basest ingratitude. Irene
owed him nothing, yet had enriched him beyond calculation. He did not
love her less; she was the same power in his life. This sinking of the
heart, this menace of gloom and rebellion, was treachery to his better
self. He fought manfully against it.

Circumstances were unfavourable to such a struggle. Work, absorption in
the day's duty, well and good; but when work and duty led one into the
City of London! At first, he had found excitement in the starting of
his business; so much had to be done, so many points to be debated and
decided, so many people to be seen and conversed with, contended with;
it was all an exhilarating effort of mind and body. He felt the joy of
combat; sped to the City like any other man, intent on holding his own
amid the furious welter, seeing a delight in the computation of his
chances; at once a fighter and a gambler, like those with whom he
rubbed shoulders in the roaring ways. He overtaxed his energy, and in
any case there must have come reaction. It came with violence soon
after that day at Malvern.

The weather was hot; one should have been far away from these huge
rampart-streets, these stifling burrows of commerce. But here toil and
stress went on as usual, and Piers Otway saw it all in a lurid light.
These towering edifices with inscriptions numberless, announcing every
imaginable form of trade with every corner of the world; here a vast
building, consecrate in all its commercial magnificence, great windows
and haughty doorways, the gleam of gilding and of brass, the lustre of
polished woods, to a single company or firm; here a huge structure
which housed on its many floors a crowd of enterprises, names by the
score signalled at the foot of the gaping staircase; arrogant
suggestions of triumph side by side with desperate beginnings; titles
of world-wide significance meeting the eye at every turn, vulgar names
with more weight than those of princes, words in small lettering which
ruled the fate of millions of men;--no nightmare was ever so crushing
to one in Otway's mood. The brute force of money; the negation of the
individual--these, the evils of our time, found there supreme
expression in the City of London. Here was opulence at home and superb;
here must poverty lurk and shrink, feeling itself alive only on
sufferance; the din of highway and byway was a voice of blustering
conquest, bidding the weaker to stand aside or be crushed. Here no man
was a human being, but each merely a portion of an inconceivably
complicated mechanism. The shiny-hatted figure who rushed or sauntered,
gloomed by himself at corners or made one of a talking group, might
elsewhere be found a reasonable and kindly person, with traits,
peculiarities; here one could see in him nothing but a money-maker of
this or that class, ground to a certain pattern. The smooth working of
the huge machine made it only the more sinister; one had but to
remember what cold tyranny, what elaborate fraud, were served by its
manifold ingenuities, only to think of the cries of anguish stifled by
its monotonous roar.

Piers had undertaken a task and would not shirk it; but in spite of all
reasonings and idealisms he found life a hard thing during those weeks
of August. He lost his sleep, turned from food, and for a moment feared
collapse such as he had suffered soon after his first going to Odessa.

By the good offices of John Jacks he had already been elected to a
convenient club, and occasionally he passed an evening there; but his
habit was to go home to Guildford Street, and sit hour after hour in
languid brooding. He feared the streets at night-time; in his
loneliness and misery, a gleam upon some wanton face would perchance
have lured him, as had happened ere now. Not so much at the bidding of
his youthful blood, as out of mere longing for companionship, the
common cause of disorder in men condemned to solitude in great cities.
A woman's voice, the touch of a soft hand--this is what men so often
hunger for, when they are censured for lawless appetite. But Piers
Otway knew himself, and chose to sit alone in the dreary lodging-house.
Then he thought of Irene, trying to forget what had happened. Now and
then successfully; in a waking dream he saw and heard her, and knew
again the exalting passion that had been the best of his life, and was
saved from ignoble impulse.

When he was at the lowest, there came a letter from Olga Hannaford, the
first he had ever received in her writing. Olga had joined her mother
at Malvern, and Mrs. Hannaford was so unwell that it seemed likely they
would remain there for a few weeks. "When we can move, the best thing
will be to take a house in or near London. Mother has decided not to
return to Bryanston Square, and I, for my part, shall give up the life
you made fun of. You were quite right; of course it was foolish to go
on in that way." She asked him to write to her mother, whom a line from
him would cheer. Piers did so; also replying to his correspondent, and
trying to make a humorous picture of the life he led between the City
and Guilford Street. It was a sorry jest, but it helped him against his
troubles. When, in a week's time, Olga again wrote, he was glad. The
letter seemed to him interesting; it revived their common memories of
life at Geneva, whither Olga said she would like to return. "What to
do--how to pass the years before me--is the question with me now, as I
suppose it is with so many girls of my age. I must find a _mission_.
Can you suggest one? Only don't let it have anything humanitarian about
it. That would make me a humbug, which I have never been yet. It must
be something entirely for my own pleasure and profit. Do think about it
in an idle moment."

With recovery from his physical ill-being came a new mental
restlessness; the return, rather, of a mood which had always assailed
him when he lost for a time his ideal hope. He demanded of life the joy
natural to his years; revolted against the barrenness of his lot. A
terror fell upon him lest he should be fated never to know the supreme
delight of which he was capable, and for which alone he lived. Even now
was he not passing his prime, losing the keener faculties of youth? He
trembled at the risks of every day; what was his assurance against the
common ill-hap which might afflict him with disease, blight his life
with accident, so that no woman's eye could ever be tempted to rest
upon him? He cursed the restrictions which held him on a straight path
of routine, of narrow custom, when a world of possibilities spread
about him on either hand, the mirage of his imprisoned spirit.
Adventurous projects succeeded each other in his thoughts. He turned to
the lands where life was freer, where perchance his happiness awaited
him, had he but the courage to set forth. What brought him to London,
this squalid blot on the map of the round world? Why did he consume the
irrecoverable hours amid its hostile tumult, its menacing gloom?

On the first Sunday in September he aroused himself to travel by an
early train, which bore him far into the country. He had taken a ticket
at hazard for a place with a pleasant-sounding name, and before village
bells had begun to ring he was wandering in deep lanes amid the weald
of Sussex. All about him lay the perfect loveliness of that rural
landscape which is the old England, the true England, the England dear
to the best of her children. Meadow and copse, the yellow rank of
new-reaped sheaves, brown roofs of farm and cottage amid shadowing
elms, the grassy borders of the road, hedges with their flowered
creepers and promise of wild fruit--these things brought him comfort.
Mile after mile he wandered, losing himself in simplest enjoyment,
forgetting to ask why he was alone. When he felt hungry, an inn
supplied him with a meal. Again he rambled on, and in a leafy corner
found a spot where he could idle for an hour or two, until it was time
to think of the railway station.

He had tired himself; his mind slipped from the beautiful things around
him, and fell into the old reverie. He murmured the haunting
name--Irene. As well as for her who bore it, he loved the name for its
meaning. Peace! As a child he had been taught that no word was more
beautiful, more solemn; at this moment, he could hear it in his
father's voice, sounding as a note of music, with a tremor of deep
feeling. Peace! Every year that passed gave him a fuller understanding
of his father's devotion to that word in all its significance; he
himself knew something of the same fervour, and was glad to foster it
in his heart. Peace! What better could a man pursue? From of old the
desire of wisdom, the prayer of the aspiring soul.

And what else was this Love for which he anguished? Irene herself, the
beloved, sought with passion and with worship, what more could she give
him, when all was given, than content, repose, peace?

He had been too ambitious. It was the fault of his character, and, thus
far on his life's journey, in recognising the error might he not
correct it? Unbalanced ambition explained his ineffectiveness. At
six-and-twenty he had done nothing, and saw no hope of activity
correspondent with his pride. In Russia he had at least felt that he
was treading an uncrowded path: he had made his own a language familiar
to very few western Europeans, and constantly added to his knowledge of
a people moving to some unknown greatness; the position was not
ignoble. But here in London he was lost amid the uproar of striving
tradesmen. The one thing which would still have justified him, hope of
wealth, had all but vanished. He must get rid of his absurd
self-estimate, see himself in the light of common day.

Peace! He could only hope for it in marriage; but what was marriage
without ideal love? Impossible that he should ever love another woman
as he had loved, as he still loved, Irene. The ordinary man seeks a
wife just as he takes any other practical step necessary to his
welfare; he marries because he must, not because he has met with the
true companion of his life; he mates to be quiet, to be comfortable, to
get on with his work, whatever it be. Love in the high sense between
man and woman is of all things the most rare. Few are capable of it; to
fewer still is it granted. "The crown of life!" said Jerome Otway. A
truth, even from the strictly scientific point of view; for is not a
great mutual passion the culminating height of that blind reproductive
impulse from which life begins? Supreme desire; perfection of union.
The purpose of Nature translated into human consciousness, become the
glory of the highest soul, uttered in the lyric rapture of noblest
speech.

That, he must renounce. But not thereby was he condemned to a foolish
or base alliance. Women innumerable might be met, charming, sensible,
good, no unfit objects of his wooing; in all modesty he might hope for
what the world calls happiness. But, put it at the best, he would be
doing as other men do, taking a wife for his solace, for the defeat of
his assailing blood. It was the bitterness of his mere humanity that he
could not hope to live alone and faithful. Five years ago he might have
said to himself, "Irene or no one!" and have said it with the honesty
of youth, of inexperience. No such enthusiasm was possible to him now.
For the thing which is common in fable is all but unknown in life: a
man, capable of loving ardently, who for the sake of one woman, beyond
his hope, sacrifices love altogether. Piers Otway, who read much verse,
had not neglected his Browning. He knew the transcendent mood of
Browning's ideal lover--the beatific dream of love eternal, world after
world, hoping for ever, and finding such hope preferable to every less
noble satisfaction. For him, a mood only, passing with a smile and a
sigh. To that he was not equal; these heights heroic were not for his
treading. Too insistent were the flesh and blood that composed his
earthly being.

He must renounce the best of himself, step consciously to a lower
level. Only let it not prove sheer degradation.

In all his struggling against the misery of loss, one thought never
tempted him. Never for a fleeting instant did he doubt that his highest
love was at the same time highest reason. Men woefully deceive
themselves, yearning for women whose image in their minds is a mere
illusion, women who scarce for a day could bring them happiness, and
whose companionship through life would become a curse. Be it so; Piers
knew it, dwelt upon it as a perilous fact; it had no application to his
love for Irene Derwent. Indeed, Piers was rich in that least common
form of intelligence--the intelligence of the heart. Emotional
perspicacity, the power of recognising through all forms of desire
one's true affinity in the other sex, is bestowed upon one mortal in a
vast multitude. Not lack of opportunity alone accounts for the failure
of men and women to mate becomingly; only the elect have eyes to see,
even where the field of choice is freely opened to them. But Piers
Otway saw and knew, once and for ever. He had the genius of love: where
he could not observe, divination came to his help. His knowledge of
Irene Derwent surpassed that of the persons most intimate with her, and
he could as soon have doubted his own existence as the certainty that
Irene was what he thought her, neither more nor less. But he had erred
in dreaming it possible that he might win her love. That he was not all
unworthy of it, his pride continued to assure him; what he had failed
to perceive was the impossibility, circumstances being as they were, of
urging a direct suit, of making himself known to Irene. His birth, his
position, the accidents of his career--all forbade it. This had been
forced upon his consciousness from the very first, in hours of
despondency or of torment; but he was too young and too ardent for the
fact to have its full weight with him. Hope resisted; passion refused
acquiescence. Nothing short of what had happened could reveal to him
the vanity of his imaginings. He looked back on the years of patient
confidence with wonder and compassion. Had he really hoped? Yes, for he
had lived so long alone.

Paragraphs, morning, evening, and weekly, had long since published Miss
Derwent's engagement. Those making simple announcement of the fact were
trial enough to him when his eye fell upon them; intolerable were those
which commented, as in the case of a society journal which he had idly
glanced over at his club. This taught him that Irene had more social
importance than he guessed; her marriage would be something of an
event. Heaven grant that he might read no journalistic description of
the ceremony! Few things more disgusted him than the thought of a
fashionable wedding; he could see nothing in it but profanation and
indecency. That mattered little, to be sure, in the case of ordinary
people, who were born, and lived, and died, in fashionable routine,
anxious only to exhibit themselves at any given moment in the way held
to be good form; but it was hard to think that custom's tyranny should
lay its foul hand on Irene Derwent. Perhaps her future husband meant no
such thing, and would arrange it all with quiet becomingness. Certainly
her father would not favour the tawdry and the vulgar.

No date was announced. Paragraphs said merely that it would be "before
the end of the year."

After all, his day amid the fields was spoilt. He had allowed his mind
to stray in the forbidden direction, and the seeming quiet to which he
had attained was overthrown once more. Heavily he moved towards the
wayside station, and drearily he waited for the train that was to take
him back to his meaningless toil and strife.

In the compartment he entered, an empty one, some passenger had left a
weekly periodical; Piers seized upon it gladly, and read to distract
his thoughts. One article interested him; it was on the subject of
national characteristics: cleverly written, what is called "smart"
journalism, with grip and epigram, with hint of universal knowledge and
the true air of British superiority. Having scanned the writer's
comment on the Slavonic peoples, Piers laughed aloud; so evidently it
was a report at second or third hand, utterly valueless to one who had
any real acquaintance with the Slavs. This moment of spontaneous mirth
did him good, helped to restore his self-respect. And as he pondered
old ambitions stirred again in him. Could he not make some use of the
knowledge he had gained so laboriously--some use other than that
whereby he earned his living? Not so long ago, he had harboured great
designs, vague but not irrational. And to-day, even in bidding himself
be humble, his intellect was little tuned to humility. He had never, at
his point of darkest depression, really believed that life had no
shining promise for him. The least boastful of men, he was at heart one
of the most aspiring. His moods varied wonderfully. When he alighted at
the London terminus, he looked and felt like a man refreshed by some
new hope.

Half by accident, he kept the paper he had been reading. It lay on his
table in Guildford Street for weeks, for months. Years after, he came
upon it one day in turning out the contents of a trunk, and remembered
his ramble in the Sussex woodland, and smiled at the chances of life.

On Monday morning he had a characteristic letter from Moncharmont, part
English, part French, part Russian. Nothing, or only a passing word,
about business; communications of that sort were all addressed to the
office, and were as concise, as practical, as any trader could have
desired. In his friendly letter, Moncharmont chatted of a certain
Polish girl with whom he had newly made acquaintance, whose beauty,
according to the good Andre, was a thing to dream of, not to tell. It
meant nothing, as Piers knew. The cosmopolitan Swiss fell in love some
dozen times a year, with maidens or women of every nationality and
every social station. Be the issue what it might, he was never unhappy.
He had a gallery of photographs, and delighted to pore over it,
indulging reminiscences or fostering hopes. Once in a twelvemonth or
so, he made up his mind to marry, but never went further than the
intention. It was doubtful whether he would ever commit himself
irrevocably. "It seems such a pity," he often said, with his pensively
humorous smile, "to limit the scope of one's emotions--_borner la
carriere a ses emotions_!" Then he sighed, and was in the best of
spirits.

Not even to Moncharmont--with whom he talked more freely than with any
other man--had Piers ever spoken of Irene. Andre of course suspected
some romantic attachment, and was in constant amaze at Piers' fidelity.

"Ah, you English! you English!" he would exclaim. "You are the stoics
of the modern world. I admire; yes, I admire; but, my friend, I do not
wish to imitate."

The letter cheered Otway's breakfast; he read it instead of the
newspaper, and with vastly more benefit.

Another letter had come to his private address, a note from Mrs.
Hannaford. She was regaining strength, and hoped soon to come South
again. Her brother had already taken a nice little house for her at
Campden Hill, where Olga would have a sort of studio, and, she trusted,
would make herself happy. Both looked forward to seeing Piers; they
sent him their very kindest remembrances.



CHAPTER XXI


The passionate temperament is necessarily sanguine. To desire with all
one's being is the same thing as to hope. In Piers Otway's case, the
temper which defies discouragement existed together with the intellect
which ever tends to discourage, with the mind which probes appearances,
makes war upon illusions. Hence his oft varying moods, as the one or
the other part of him became ascendent. Hence his fervours of idealism,
and the habit of destructive criticism which seemed inconsistent with
them. Hence his ardent ambitions, and his appearance of plodding
mediocrity in practical life.

Intensely self-conscious, he suffered much from a habit of comparing,
contrasting himself with other men, with men who achieved things, who
made their way, who played a part in the world. He could not read a
newspaper without reflecting, sometimes bitterly, on the careers and
position of men whose names were prominent in its columns. So often, he
well knew, their success came only of accident--as one uses the word:
of favouring circumstance, which had no relation to the man's powers
and merits. Piers had no overweening self-esteem; he judged his
abilities more accurately, and more severely, than any observer would
have done; yet it was plain to him that he would be more than capable,
so far as endowment went, of filling the high place occupied by this or
the other far-shining personage. He frankly envied their
success--always for one and the same reason.

Nothing so goaded his imagination as a report of the marriage of some
leader in the world's game. He dwelt on these paragraphs, filled up the
details, grew faint with realisation of the man's triumphant happiness.
At another moment, his reason ridiculed this self-torment. He knew that
in all probability such a marriage implied no sense of triumph,
involved no high emotions, promised nothing but the commonest domestic
satisfaction. Portraits of brides in an illustrated paper sometimes
wrought him to intolerable agitation--the mood of his early manhood, as
when he stood before the print shop in the Haymarket; now that he had
lost Irene, the whole world of beautiful women called again to his
senses and his soul. With the cooler moment came a reminder that these
lovely faces were for the most part mere masks, tricking out a very
ordinary woman, more likely than not unintelligent, unhelpful, as the
ordinary human being of either sex is wont to be. What seemed to _him_
the crown of a man's career, was, in most cases, a mere incident,
deriving its chief importance from social and pecuniary considerations.
Even where a sweet countenance told truth about the life behind it, how
seldom did the bridegroom appreciate what he had won! For the most
part, men who have great good fortune, in marriage, or in anything
else, are incapable of tasting their success. It is the imaginative
being in the crowd below who marvels and is thrilled.

How was it with Arnold Jacks? Did he understand what had befallen him?
If so, on what gleaming heights did he now live and move! What rapture
of gratitude must possess the man! What humility! What arrogance!

Piers had not met him since the engagement was made known; he hoped not
to meet him for a long time. Happily, in this holiday season, there was
no fear of an invitation to Queen's Gate.

Yet the unexpected happened. Early in September, he received a note
from John Jacks, asking him to dine. The writer said that he had been
at the seaside, and was tired of it, and meant to spend a week or two
quietly in London; he was quite alone, so Otway need not dress.

Reassured by the last sentence of the letter, Piers gladly went; for he
liked to talk with John Jacks, and had a troubled pleasure in the
thought that he might hear something about the approaching marriage. On
his arrival, he was shown into the study, where his host lay on a sofa.
The greeting was cordial, the voice cheery as ever, but as Mr. Jacks
rose he had more of the appearance of old age than Piers had yet seen
in him; he seemed to stand with some difficulty, his face betokening a
body ill at ease.

"How pleasant London is in September!" he exclaimed, with a laugh.
"I've been driving about, as one does in a town abroad, just to see the
streets. Strange that one knows Paris and Rome a good deal better than
London. Yet it's really very interesting--don't you think?"

The twinkling eye, the humorous accent, which had won Piers' affection,
soon allayed his disquietude at being in this house. He spoke of his
own recent excursion, confessing that he better appreciated London from
a distance.

"Ay, ay! I know all about that," replied Mr. Jacks, his Yorkshire note
sounding, as it did occasionally. "But you're young, you're young; what
does it matter where you live? To be your age again, I'd live at St.
Helens, or Widnes. You have hope, man, always hope. And you may live to
see what the world is like half a century from now. It's strange to
look at you, and think that!"

John Jacks' presence in London, and alone, at this time of the year had
naturally another explanation than that he felt tired of the seaside.
In truth, he had come up to see a medical specialist. Carefully he kept
from his wife the knowledge of a disease which was taking hold upon
him, which--as he had just learnt--threatened rapidly fatal results.
From his son, also, he had concealed the serious state of his health,
lest it should interfere with Arnold's happy mood in prospect of
marriage. He was no coward, but a life hitherto untroubled by sickness
had led him to hope that he might pass easily from the world, and a
doom of extinction by torture perturbed his philosophy.

He liked to forget himself in contemplation of Piers Otway's youth and
soundness. He had pleasure, too, in Piers' talk, which reminded him of
Jerome Otway, some half-century ago.

Mrs. Jacks was staying with her own family, and from that house would
pass to others, equally decorous, where John had promised to join her.
Of course she was uneasy about him; that entered into her role of model
spouse: but the excellent lady never suspected the true cause of that
habit of sadness which had grown upon her husband during the last few
years, a melancholy which anticipated his decline in health. John Jacks
had made the mistake natural to such a man; wedding at nearly sixty a
girl of much less than half his age, he found, of course, that his wife
had nothing to give him but duty and respect, and before long he
bitterly reproached himself with the sacrifice of which he was guilty.

    "Soar on thy manhood clear of those
     Whose toothless Winter claws at May,
     And take her as the vein of rose
     Athwart an evening grey."

These lines met his eye one day in a new volume which bore the name of
George Meredith, and they touched him nearly; the poem they closed gave
utterance to the manful resignation of one who has passed the age of
love, yet is tempted by love's sweetness, and John Jacks took to heart
the reproach it seemed to level at himself. Putting aside the point of
years, he had not chosen with any discretion; he married a handsome
face, a graceful figure, just as any raw boy might have done. His wife,
he suspected, was not the woman to suffer greatly in her false
position; she had very temperate blood, and a thoroughly English
devotion to the proprieties; none the less he had done her wrong, for
she belonged to a gentle family in mediocre circumstances, and his
prospective "M.P.," his solid wealth, were sore temptations to put
before such a girl. He had known--yes, he assuredly knew--that it was
nothing but a socially sanctioned purchase. Beauty should have become
to him but the "vein of rose," to be regarded with gentle admiration
and with reverence, from afar. He yielded to an unworthy temptation,
and, being a man of unusual sensitiveness, very soon paid the penalty
in self-contempt.

He could not love his wife; he could scarce honour her--for she too
must consciously have sinned against the highest law. Her
irreproachable behaviour only saddened him. Now that he found himself
under sentence of death, his solace was the thought that his widow
would still be young enough to redeem her error--if she were capable of
redeeming it.

Alone with his guest in the large dining-room, and compelled to make
only pretence of eating and drinking, he talked of many things with the
old spontaneity, the accustomed liberal kindliness, and dropped at
length upon the subject Piers was waiting for.

"You know, I daresay, that Arnold is going to marry?"

"I have heard of it," Piers answered, with the best smile he could
command.

"You can imagine it pleases me. I don't see how he could have been
luckier. Dr. Derwent is one of the finest men I know, and his daughter
is worthy of him."

"She is, I am sure," said Piers, in a balanced voice, which sounded
mere civility.

And when silence had lasted rather too long, the host having fallen
into reverie, he added:

"Will it take place soon?"

"Ah--the wedding? About Christmas, I think. Arnold is looking for a
house. By the bye, you know young Derwent--Eustace?"

Piers answered that he had only the slightest acquaintance with the
young man.

"Not brilliant, I think," said Mr. Jacks musingly. "But amiable,
straight. I don't know that he'll do much at the Bar."

Again he lost himself for a little, his knitted brows seeming to
indicate an anxious thought.

"Now you shall tell me anything you care to, about business," said the
host, when they had seated themselves in the library. "And after that I
have something to show you--something you'll like to see, I think."

Otway's curiosity was at a loss when presently he saw his host take
from a drawer a little packet of papers.

"I had forgotten all about these," said Mr. Jacks. "They are
manuscripts of your father; writings of various kinds which he sent me
in the early fifties. Turning out my old papers, I came across them the
other day, and thought I would give them to you."

He rustled the faded sheets, glancing over them with a sad smile.

"There's an amusing thing--called 'Historical Fragment.' I remember, oh
I remember very well, how it pleased me when I first read it."

He read it aloud now, with many a chuckle, many a pause of sly emphasis.

"'The Story of the last war between the Asiatic kingdoms of Duroba and
Kalaya, though it has reached us in a narrative far too concise, is one
of the most interesting chapters in the history of ancient civilisation.

"'They were bordering states, peopled by races closely akin, whose
languages, it appears, were mutually intelligible; each had developed
its own polity, and had advanced to a high degree of refinement in
public and private life. Wars between them had been frequent, but at
the time with which we are concerned the spirit of hostility was all
but forgotten in a happy peace of long duration. Each country was ruled
by an aged monarch, beloved of the people, but, under the burden of
years, grown of late somewhat less vigilant than was consistent with
popular welfare. Thus it came to pass that power fell into the hands of
unscrupulous statesmen, who, aided by singular circumstances, succeeded
in reviving for a moment the old sanguinary jealousies.

"'We are told that a General in the army of Duroba, having a turn for
experimental chemistry, had discovered a substance of terrible
explosive power, which, by the exercise of further ingenuity, he had
adapted for use in warfare. About the same time, a public official in
Kalaya, whose duty it was to convey news to the community by means of a
primitive system of manuscript placarding, hit upon a mechanical method
whereby news-sheets could be multiplied very rapidly and be sold to
readers all over the kingdom. Now the Duroban General felt eager to
test his discovery in a campaign, and, happening to have a quarrel with
a politician in the neighbouring state, did his utmost to excite
hostile feeling against Kalaya. On the other hand, the Kalayan
official, his cupidity excited by the profits already arising from his
invention, desired nothing better than some stirring event which would
lead to still greater demand for the news-sheets he distributed, and so
he also was led to the idea of stirring up international strife. To be
brief, these intrigues succeeded only too well; war was actually
declared, the armies were mustered, and marched to the encounter.

"'They met at a point of the common frontier where only a little brook
flowed between the two kingdoms. It was nightfall; each host encamped,
to await the great engagement which on the morrow would decide between
them.

"'It must be understood that the Durobans and the Kalayans differed
markedly in national characteristics. The former people was
distinguished by joyous vitality and a keen sense of humour; the
latter, by a somewhat meditative disposition inclining to timidity; and
doubtless these qualities had become more pronounced during the long
peace which would naturally favour them. Now, when night had fallen on
the camps, the common soldiers on each side began to discuss, over
their evening meal, the position in which they found themselves. The
men of Duroba, having drunk well, as their habit was, fell into an odd
state of mind. "What!" they exclaimed to one another. "After all these
years of tranquillity, are we really going to fight with the Kalayans,
and to slaughter them and be ourselves slaughtered! Pray, what is it
all about? Who can tell us?" Not a man could answer, save with the
vaguest generalities. And so, the debate continuing, the wonder growing
from moment to moment, at length, and all of a sudden, the Duroban camp
echoed with huge peals of laughter. "Why, if we soldiers have no cause
of quarrel, what are we doing here? Shall we be mangled and killed to
please our General with the turn for chemistry? That were a joke,
indeed!" And, as soon as mirth permitted, the army rose as one man,
threw together their belongings, and with jovial songs trooped off to
sleep comfortably in a town a couple of miles away.

"'The Kalayans, meanwhile, had been occupied with the very same
question. They were anything but martial of mood, and the soldiery, ill
at ease in their camp, grumbled and protested. "After all, why are we
here?" cried one to the other. "Who wants to injure the Durobans? And
what man among us desires to be blown to pieces by their new
instruments of war? Pray, why should we fight? If the great officials
are angry, as the news-sheets tell us, e'en let them do the fighting
themselves." At this moment there sounded from the enemy's camp a
stupendous roar; it was much like laughter; no doubt the Durobans were
jubilant in anticipation of their victory. Fear seized the Kalayans;
they rose like one man, and incontinently fled far into the sheltering
night!

"'Thus ended the war--the last between these happy nations, who, not
very long after, united to form a noble state under one ruler. It is
interesting to note that the original instigators of hostility did not
go without their deserts. The Duroban General, having been duly tried
for a crime against his country, was imprisoned in a spacious building,
the rooms of which were hung with great pictures representing every
horror of battle with the ghastliest fidelity; here he was supplied
with materials for chemical experiment, to occupy his leisure, and very
shortly, by accident, blew himself to pieces. The Kalayan publicist was
also convicted of treason against the state; they banished him to a
desert island, where for many hours daily he had to multiply copies of
his news-sheet--that issue which contained the declaration of war--and
at evening to burn them all. He presently became imbecile, and so
passed away.'"

Piers laughed with delight.

"Whether it ever got into print," said Mr. Jacks, "I don't know. Your
father was often careless about his best things. I'm afraid he was
never quite convinced that ideals of that kind influence the world. Yet
they do, you know, though it's a slow business. It's thought that
leads."

"The multitude following in its own fashion," said Piers drily.
"Rousseau teaches liberty and fraternity; France learns the lesson and
plunges into '93."

"With Nap to put things straight again. For all that a step was taken.
We are better for Jean Jacques--a little better."

"And for Napoleon, too, I suppose. Napoleon--a wild beast with a genius
for arithmetic."

John Jacks let his eyes rest upon the speaker, interested and amused.

"That's how you see him? Not a bad definition. I suppose the truth is,
we know nothing about human history. The old view was good for working
by--Jehovah holding his balance, smiting on one side, and rewarding on
the other. It's our national view to this day. The English are an Old
Testament people; they never cared about the New. Do you know that
there's a sect who hold that the English are the Lost Tribes--the
People of the Promise? I see a great deal to be said for that idea. No
other nation has such profound sympathy with the history and the creeds
of Israel. Did you ever think of it? That Old Testament religion suits
us perfectly--our arrogance and our pugnaciousness; this accounts for
its hold on the mind of the people; it couldn't be stronger if the
bloodthirsty old Tribes were truly our ancestors. The English seized
upon their spiritual inheritance as soon as a translation of the Bible
put it before them. In Catholic days we fought because we enjoyed it,
and made no pretences; since the Reformation we have fought for
Jehovah."

"I suppose," said Piers, "the English are the least Christian of all
so-called Christian peoples."

"Undoubtedly. They simply don't know the meaning of the prime Christian
virtue--humility. But that's neither here nor there, in talking of
progress. You remember Goldsmith--

    'Pride in their port, defiance in their eye,
     I see the lords of human kind pass by.'

"Our pride has been a good thing, on the whole. Whether it will still
be, now that it's so largely the pride of riches, let him say who is
alive fifty years hence."

He paused and added gravely:

"I'm afraid the national character is degenerating. We were always too
fond of liquor, and Heaven knows our responsibility for drunkenness all
over the world; but worse than that is our gambling. You may drink and
be a fine fellow; but every gambler is a sneak, and possibly a
criminal. We're beginning, now, to gamble for slices of the world.
We're getting base, too, in our grovelling before the millionaire--who
as often as not has got his money vilely. This sort of thing won't do
for 'the lords of human kind.' Our pride, if we don't look out, will
turn to bluffing and bullying. I'm afraid we govern selfishly where
we've conquered. We hear dark things of India, and worse of Africa. And
hear the roaring of the Jingoes! Johnson defined Patriotism you know,
as the last refuge of a scoundrel; it looks as if it might presently be
the last refuge of a fool."

"Meanwhile," said Piers, "the real interests of England, real progress
in national life, seem to be as good as lost sight of."

"Yes, more and more. They think that material prosperity is progress.
So it is--up to a certain point, and who ever stops there? Look at
Germany."

"Once the peaceful home of pure intellect, the land of Goethe."

"Once, yes. And my fear is that our brute, blustering Bismarck may be
coming. But," he suddenly brightened, "croakers be hanged! The
civilisers are at work too, and they have their way in the end. Think
of a man like your father, who seemed to pass and be forgotten. Was it
really so? I'll warrant that at this hour Jerome Otway's spirit is
working in many of our best minds. There's no calculating the power of
the man who speaks from his very heart. His words don't perish, though
he himself may lose courage."

Listening, Piers felt a glow pass into all the currents of his life.

"If only," he exclaimed, in a voice that trembled, "I had as much
strength as desire to carry on his work!"

"Why, who knows?" replied John Jacks, looking with encouragement
wherein mingled something of affection.

"You have the power of sincerity, I see that. Speak always as you
believe, and who knows what opportunity you may find for making
yourself heard!"

John Jacks reflected deeply for a few moments.

"I'm going away in a day or two," he said at length, in a measured
voice, "and my movements are uncertain--uncertain. But we shall meet
again before the end of the year."

When he had left the house, Piers recalled the tone of this remark, and
dwelt upon it with disquietude.



CHAPTER XXII


The night being fair, Piers set out to walk a part of the way home. It
was only by thoroughly tiring himself with bodily exercise that he
could get sound and long oblivion. Hours of sleeplessness were his
dread. However soon he awoke after daybreak, he rose at once and drove
his mind to some sort of occupation. To escape from himself was all he
lived for in these days. An ascetic of old times, subduing his flesh in
cell or cave, battled no harder than this idealist of London City
tortured by his solitude.

On the pavement of Piccadilly he saw some yards before him, a man
seemingly of the common lounging sort, tall-hatted and frock-coated,
who was engaged in the cautious pursuit of a female figure, just in
advance. A light and springy and half-stalking step; head jutting a
little forward; the cane mechanically swung--a typical woman-hunter, in
some doubt as to his quarry. On an impulse of instinct or calculation,
the man all at once took a few rapid strides, bringing himself within
sideview of the woman's face. Evidently he spoke a word; he received an
obviously curt reply; he fell back, paced slowly, turned and Piers
became aware of a countenance he knew--that of his brother Daniel.

It was a disagreeable moment. Daniel's lean, sallow visage had no
aptitude for the expression of shame, but his eyes grew very round, and
his teeth showed in a hard grin.

"Why, Piers, my boy! Again we meet in a London street--which is rhyme,
and sounds like Browning, doesn't it? _Comment ca va-t-il_?"

Piers shook hands very coldly, without pretence of a smile.

"I am walking on," he said. "Yours is the other way, I think."

"What! You wish to cut me? Pray, your exquisite reason?"

"Well, then, I think you have behaved meanly and dishonourably to me. I
don't wish to discuss the matter, only to make myself understood."

His ability to use this language, and to command himself as he did so,
was a surprise to Piers. Nothing he disliked more than personal
altercation; he shrank from it at almost any cost. But the sight of
Daniel, the sound of his artificial voice, moved him deeply with
indignation, and for the first time in his life he spoke out. Having
done so, he had a pleasurable sensation; he felt his assured manhood.

Daniel was astonished, disconcerted, but showed no disposition to close
the interview; turning, he walked along by his brother.

"I suppose I know what you refer to. But let me explain. I think my
explanation will interest you."

"No, I'm afraid it will not," replied Piers quietly.

"In any case, lend me your ears. You are offended by my failure to pay
that debt. Well, my nature is frankness, and I will plead guilty to a
certain procrastination. I meant to send you the money; I fully meant
to do so. But in the first place, it took much longer than I expected
to realise the good old man's estate, and when at length the money came
into my hands, I delayed and delayed--just as one does, you know; let
us admit these human weaknesses. And I procrastinated till I was really
ashamed--you follow the psychology of the thing? Then I said to myself:
Now it is pretty certain Piers is not in actual want of this sum, or he
would have pressed for it. On the other hand, a day may come when he
will really be glad to remember that I am his banker for a hundred and
fifty pounds. Yes--I said--I will wait till that moment comes; I will
save the money for him, as becomes his elder brother. Piers is a good
fellow, and will understand. _Voila_!"

Piers kept silence.

"Tell me, my dear boy," pursued the other. "Alexander of course paid
that little sum he owed you?"

"He too has preferred to remain my banker."

"Now I call that very shameful!" burst out Daniel. "No, that's too bad!"

"How did you know he owed me money?" inquired Piers.

"How? Why, he told me himself, down at Hawes, after you went. We were
talking of you, of your admirable qualities, and in his bluff, genial
way he threw out how generously you had behaved to him, at a moment
when he was hard up. He wanted to repay you immediately, and asked me
to lend him the money for that purpose; unfortunately, I hadn't it to
lend. And to think that, after all, he never paid you! A mere fifty
pounds! Why, the thing is unpardonable! In my case the sum was
substantial enough to justify me in retaining it for your future
benefit. But to owe fifty pounds, and shirk payment--no, I call that
really disgraceful. If ever I meet Alexander----!"

Piers was coldly amused. When Daniel sought to draw him into general
conversation, with inquiries as to his mode of life, and where he
dwelt, the younger brother again spoke with decision. They were not
likely, he said, to see more of each other, and he felt as little
disposed to give familiar information as to ask it; whereupon Daniel
drew himself up with an air of dignified offence, and saying, "I wish
you better manners," turned on his heel.

Piers walked on at a rapid pace. Noticing again a well-dressed prowler
of the pavement, whose approaches this time were welcomed, a feeling of
nausea came upon him. He hailed a passing cab, and drove home.

A week later, he heard from Mrs. Hannaford that she and Olga were
established in their own home; she begged him to come and see them
soon, mentioning an evening when they would be glad if he could dine
with them. And Piers willingly accepted.

The house was at Campden Hill; a house of the kind known to agents as
"desirable," larger than the two ladies needed for their comfort, and,
as one saw on entering the hall, furnished with tasteful care. The work
had been supervised by Dr. Derwent, who thought that his sister and his
niece might thus be tempted to live the orderly life so desirable in
their unfortunate circumstances. When Piers entered, Mrs. Hannaford sat
alone in the drawing room; she still had the look of an invalid, but
wore a gown which showed to advantage the lines of her figure. Otway
had been told not to dress, and it caused him some surprise to see his
hostess adorned as if for an occasion of ceremony. Her hair was done in
a new way, which changed the wonted character of her face, so that she
looked younger. A bunch of pale flowers rested against her bosom, and
breathed delicate perfume about her.

"It was discussed," she said, in a low, intimate voice, "whether we
should settle in London or abroad. But we didn't like to go away. Our
only real friends are in England, and we must hope to make more. Olga
is so good, now that she sees that I really need her. She has been so
kind and sweet during my illness."

Whilst they were talking, Miss Hannaford silently made her entrance.
Piers turned his head, and felt a shock of surprise. Not till now had
he seen Olga at her best; he had never imagined her so handsome; it was
a wonderful illustration of the effect of apparel. She, too, had
reformed the fashion of her hair, and its tawny abundance was much more
effective than in the old careless style. She looked taller; she
stepped with a more graceful assurance, and in offering her hand,
betrayed consciousness of Otway's admiration in a little flush that
well became her.

She had subdued her voice, chastened her expressions. The touch of
masculinity on which she had prided herself in her later "Bohemian"
days, was quite gone. Wondering as they conversed, Piers had a
difficulty in meeting her look; his eyes dropped to the little silk
shoe which peeped from beneath her skirt. His senses were gratified; he
forgot for the moment his sorrow and unrest.

The talk at dinner was rather formal. Piers, with his indifferent
appetite, could do but scanty justice to the dainties offered him, and
the sense of luxury added a strangeness to his new relations with Mrs.
Hannaford and her daughter. Olga spoke of a Russian novel she had been
reading in a French translation, and was anxious to know whether it
represented life as Otway knew it in Russia. She evinced a wider
interest in several directions, emphasised--perhaps a little too
much--her inclination for earnest thought: was altogether a more
serious person than hitherto.

Afterwards, when they grouped themselves in the drawing-room, this
constraint fell away. Mrs. Hannaford dropped a remark which awakened
memories of their life together at Geneva, and Piers turned to her with
a bright look.

"You used to play in those days," he said, "and I've never heard you
touch a piano since."

There was one in the room. Olga glanced at it, and then smilingly at
her mother.

"My playing was so very primitive," said Mrs. Hannaford, with a laugh.

"I liked it."

"Because you were a boy then."

"Let me try to be a boy again. Play something you used to. One of those
bits from 'Tell,' which take me back to the lakes and the mountains
whenever I hear them."

Mrs. Hannaford rose, laughing as if ashamed; Olga lit the candles on
the piano.

"I shall have to play from memory--and a nice mess I shall make of it."

But memory served her for the passages of melody which Piers wished to
hear. He listened with deep pleasure, living again in the years when
everything he desired seemed a certainty of the future, depending only
on the flight of time, on his becoming "a man." He remembered his vivid
joy in the pleasures of the moment, the natural happiness now, and for
years, unknown to him. So long ago, it seemed; yet Mrs. Hannaford,
sitting at the piano, looked younger to him than in those days. And
Olga, whom as a girl of fourteen he had not much liked, thinking her
both conceited and dull, now was a very different person to him, a
woman who seemed to have only just revealed herself, asserting a power
of attraction he had never suspected in her. He found himself trying to
catch glimpses of her face at different angles, as she sat listening
abstractedly to the music.

When it was time to go, he took leave with reluctance. The talk had
grown very pleasantly familiar. Mrs. Hannaford said she hoped they
would often see him, and the hope had an echo in his own thoughts. This
house might offer him the refuge he sought when loneliness weighed too
heavily. It was true, he could not accept the idea with a whole heart;
some vague warning troubled his imagination; but on the way home he
thought persistently of the pleasure he had experienced, and promised
himself that it should be soon repeated.

A melody was singing in his mind; becoming conscious of it, he
remembered that it was the air to which his friend Moncharmont had set
the little song of Alfred de Musset. At Odessa he had been wont to sing
it--in a voice which Moncharmont declared to have the quality of a very
fair tenor, and only to need training.

   "Quand on perd, par triste occurrence,
        Son esperance
        Et sa gaité,
    Le remède au mélancolique
        C'est la musique
        Et la beauté.

    Plus oblige et peut davantage
        Un beau visage
        Qu'un homme armé,
    Et rien n'est meilleur que d'entendre
        Air doux et tendre
        Jadis aimé!"


It haunted him after he had gone to rest, and for once he did not mind
wakefulness.

A week passed. On Friday, Piers said to himself that to-morrow he would
go in the afternoon to Campden Hill, on the chance of finding his
friends at home. On Saturday morning the post brought him a letter
which he saw to be from Mrs. Hannaford, and he opened it with pleasant
anticipation; but instead of the friendly lines he expected he found a
note of agitated appeal. The writer entreated him to come and see her
exactly at three o'clock; she was in very grave trouble, had the most
urgent need of him. Three o'clock; neither sooner or later; if he could
possibly find time. If he could not come, would he telegraph an
appointment for her at his office?

With perfect punctuality, he arrived at the house, and in the
drawing-room found Mrs. Hannaford awaiting him. She came forward with
both her hands held out; in her eyes a look almost of terror. Her
voice, at first, was in choking whispers, and the words so confusedly
hurried as to be barely intelligible.

"I have sent Olga away--I daren't let her know--she will be away for
several hours, so we can talk--oh, you will help me--you will do your
best----"

Perplexed and alarmed, Piers held her hand as he tried to calm her. She
seemed incapable of telling him what had happened, but kept her eyes
fixed upon him in a wild entreaty, and uttered broken phrases which
conveyed nothing to him; he gathered at length that she was in fear of
some person.

"Sit down and let me hear all about it," he urged.

"Yes, yes--but I'm so ashamed to speak to you about such things. I
don't know whether you'll believe me. Oh, the shame--the dreadful
shame! It's only because there seems just this hope. How shall I bring
myself to tell you?"

"Dear Mrs. Hannaford, we have been friends so long. Trust me to
understand you. Of course, of course I shall believe what you say!"

"A dreadful, a shameful thing has happened. How shall I tell you?" Her
haggard face flushed scarlet. "My husband has given me notice that he
is going to sue for a divorce. He brings a charge against me--a false,
cruel charge! It came yesterday. I went to the solicitor whose name was
given, and learnt all I could. I have had to hide it from Olga, and oh!
what it cost me! At once I thought of you; then it seemed impossible to
speak to you; then I felt I must, I must. If only you can believe me!
It is--your brother."

Piers was overcome with amazement. He sat looking into the eyes which
stared at him with their agony of shame.

"You mean Daniel?" he faltered.

"Yes--Daniel Otway. It is false--it is false! I am not guilty of this!
It seems to me like a hateful plot--if one could believe anyone so
wicked. I saw him last night. Oh, I must tell you all, else you'll
never believe me--I saw him last night. How can anyone behave so to a
helpless woman? I never did him anything but kindness. He has me in his
power, and he is merciless."

A passion of disgust and hatred took hold on Piers as he remembered the
meeting in Piccadilly.

"You mean to say you have put yourself into that fellow's power?" he
exclaimed.

"Not willingly! Oh, not willingly! I meant only kindness to him. Yes, I
have been weak, I know, and so foolish! It has gone on so long.--You
remember when I first saw him, at Ewell? I liked him, just as a friend.
Of course I behaved foolishly. It was my miserable life--you know what
my life was. But nothing happened--I mean, I never thought of him for a
moment as anything but an ordinary friend--until I had my legacy."

The look on the listener's face checked her.

"I begin to understand," said Piers, with bitterness.

"No, no! Don't say that--don't speak like that!"

"It's not you I am thinking of, Mrs. Hannaford. As soon as money comes
in--. But tell me plainly. I have perfect confidence in what you say,
indeed I have."

"It does me good to hear you say that! I can tell you all, now that I
have begun. It is true, he _did_ ask me to go away with him, again and
again. But he had no right to do that--I was foolish in showing that I
liked him. Again and again I forbade him ever to see me; I tried so
hard to break off! It was no use. He always wrote, wherever I was,
sending his letters to Dr. Derwent to be forwarded. He made me meet him
at all sorts of places--using threats at last. Oh, what I have gone
through!"

"No doubt," said Piers gently, "you have lent him money?"

She reddened again; her head sank.

"Yes--I have lent him money, when he was in need. Just before the death
of your father."

"Once only?"

"Once--or twice----"

"To be sure. Lately, too, I daresay?"

"Yes----"

"Then you quite understand his character?"

"I do now," Mrs. Hannaford replied wretchedly. "But I must tell you
more. If it were only a suspicion of my husband's I should hardly care
at all. But someone must have betrayed me to him, and have told
deliberate falsehoods. I am accused--it was when I was at the seaside
once--and he came to the same hotel--Oh, the shame, the shame!"

She covered her face with her hands, and turned away.

"Why," cried Piers, in wrath, "that fellow is quite capable of having
betrayed you himself. I mean, of lying about you for his own purposes."

"You think he could be so wicked?"

"I don't doubt it for a moment. He has done his best to persuade you to
ruin yourself for him, and he thinks, no doubt, that if you are
divorced, nothing will stand between him and you--in other words, your
money."

"He said, when I saw him yesterday, that now it had come to this, I had
better take that step at once. And when I spoke of my innocence, he
asked who would believe it? He seemed sorry; really he did. Perhaps he
is not so bad as one fears?"

"Where did you see him yesterday?" asked Otway.

"At his lodgings. I was _obliged_ to go and see him as soon as
possible. I have never been there before. He behaved very kindly. He
said of course he should declare my innocence----"

"And in the same breath assured you no one would believe it? And
advised you to go off with him at once?"

"I know how bad it seems," said Mrs. Hannaford. "And yet, it is all my
own fault--my own long folly. Oh, you must wonder why I have brought
you here to tell you this! It's because there is no one else I could
speak to, as a friend, and I felt I should go mad if I couldn't ask
someone's advice. Of course I could go to a lawyer--but I mean someone
who would sympathise with me. I am not very strong; you know I have
been ill: this blow seems almost more than I can bear; I thought I
would ask you if you could suggest anything--if you would see him, and
try to arrange something." She looked at Piers distractedly. "Perhaps
money would help. My husband has been having money from me; perhaps if
we offered him more? Ought I to see him, myself? But there is
ill-feeling between us; and I fear he would be glad to injure me, glad!"

"I will see Daniel," said Piers, trying to see hope where reason told
him there was none. "With him, at all events, money can do much."

"You will? You think you may be able to help me? I am in such terror
when I think of my brother hearing of this. And Irene! Think, if it
becomes public--everyone talking about the disgrace--what will Irene
do? Just at the time of her marriage!" She held out her hands,
pleadingly. "You would be glad to save Irene from such a shame?"

Piers had not yet seen the scandal from this point of view. It came
upon him with a shock, and he stood speechless.

"My husband hates them," pursued Mrs. Hannaford, "and you don't know
what _his_ hatred means. Just for that alone, he will do his worst
against me--hoping to throw disgrace on the Derwents."

"I doubt very much," said Piers, who had been thinking hard, "whether,
in any event, this would affect the Derwents in people's opinion."

"You don't think so? But do you know Arnold Jacks? I feel sure he is
the kind of man who would resent bitterly such a thing as this. He is
very proud--proud in just that kind of way--do you understand? Oh, I
know it would make trouble between him and Irene."

"In that case," Piers began vehemently, and at once checked himself.

"What were you going to say?"

"Nothing that could help us."

When he raised his eyes again, Mrs. Hannaford was gazing at him with
pitiful entreaty.

"For _her_ sake," she said, in a low, shaken voice, "you will try to do
something?"

"If only I can!"

"Yes! I know you! You are good and generous--It ought surely to be
possible to stop this before it gets talked about? If I were guilty, it
would be different. But I have done no wrong; I have only been weak and
foolish. I thought of going straight to my brother, but there is the
dreadful thought that he might not believe me. It is so hard for a
woman accused in this way to seem innocent; men always see the dark
side. He has no very good opinion of me, as it is, I know he hasn't. I
turned so naturally to you; I felt you would do your utmost for me in
my misery.--If only my husband can be brought to see that I am not
guilty, that he wouldn't win the suit, then perhaps he would cease from
it. I will give all the money I can--all I have!"

Piers stood reflecting.

"Tell me all the details you have learnt," he said. "What evidence do
they rely on?"

Her head bowed, her voice broken, she told of place and time and the
assertions of so-called witnesses.

"Why has this plot against you been a year in ripening?" asked Otway.

"Perhaps we are wrong in thinking it a plot. My husband may only just
have discovered what he thinks my guilt in some chance way. If so,
there is hope."

They sat mute for a minute or two.

"If only I can hide this from Olga," said Mrs. Hannaford. "Think how
dreadful it is for me, with her! We were going to ask you to spend
another evening with us--but how is it possible? If I send you the
invitation, will you make an answer excusing yourself--saying you are
too busy? To prevent Olga from wondering. How hard, how cruel it is!
Just when we had made ourselves a home here, and might have been happy!"

Piers stood up, and tried to speak words of encouragement. The charge
being utterly false, at worst a capable solicitor might succeed in
refuting it. He was about to take his leave, when he remembered that he
did not know Daniel's address: Mrs. Hannaford gave it.

"I am sorry you went there," he said.

And as he left the room, he saw the woman's eyes follow him with that
look of woe which signals a tottering mind.



CHAPTER XXIII


Without investigating her motives, Irene Derwent deferred as long as
possible her meeting with the man to whom she had betrothed herself.
Nor did Arnold Jacks evince any serious impatience in this matter. They
corresponded in affectionate terms, exchanging letters once a week or
so. Arnold, as it chanced, was unusually busy, his particular section
of the British Empire supplying sundry problems just now not to be
hurriedly dealt with by those in authority; there was much drawing-up
of reports, and translating of facts into official language, in
Arnold's secretarial department. Of these things he spoke to his
bride-elect as freely as discretion allowed; and Irene found his
letters interesting.

The ladies in Cheshire were forewarned of the new Irene who was about
to visit them; political differences did not at all affect their
kindliness; indeed, they saw with satisfaction the girl's keen mood of
loyalty to the man of her choice. She brought with her the air of
Greater Britain; she spoke much, and well, of the destinies of the
Empire.

"I see it all more clearly since this bit of Colonial experience," she
said. "Our work in the world is marked out for us; we have no choice,
unless we turn cowards. Of course we shall be hated by other countries,
more and more. We shall be accused of rapacity, and arrogance, and
everything else that's disagreeable in a large way; we can't help that.
If we enrich ourselves, that is a legitimate reward for the task we
perform. England means liberty and enlightenment; let England spread to
the ends of the earth! We mustn't be afraid of greatness! We _can't_
stop--still less draw back. Our politics have become our religion. Our
rulers have a greater responsibility than was ever known in the world's
history--and they will be equal to it!"

The listeners felt that a little clapping of the hands would have been
appropriate; they exchanged a glance, as if consulting each other as to
the permissibility of such applause. But Irene's eloquent eyes and
glowing colour excited more admiration than criticism; in their hearts
they wished joy to the young life which would go on its way through an
ever changing world long after they and their old-fashioned ideas had
passed into silence.

In a laughing moment, Irene told them of the proposal she had received
from Trafford Romaine. This betokened her high spirits, and perchance
indicated a wish to make it understood that her acceptance of Arnold
Jacks was no unconsidered impulse. The ladies were interested, but felt
this confidence something of an indiscretion, and did not comment upon
it. They hoped she would not be tempted to impart her secret to persons
less capable of respecting it.

During these days there came a definite invitation from Mrs. Borisoff,
who was staying in Hampshire, at the house of her widowed mother, and
Irene gladly accepted it. She wished to see more of Helen Borisoff,
whose friendship, she felt, might have significance for her at this
juncture of life. The place and its inhabitants, she found on arriving,
answered very faithfully to Helen's description; an old manor-house,
beautifully situated, hard by a sleepy village; its mistress a rather
prim woman of sixty, conventional in every thought and act, but too
good-natured to be aggressive, and living with her two unmarried
daughters, whose sole care was the spiritual and material well-being of
the village poor.

"Where I come from, I really don't know," said Helen to her friend. "My
father was the staidest of country gentlemen. I'm a sport, plainly. You
will see my mother watch me every now and then with apprehension. I
fancy it surprises her that I really do behave myself--that I don't
even say anything shocking. With you, the dear old lady is simply
delighted; I know she prays that I may not harm you. You are the first
respectable acquaintance I have made since my marriage."

In the lovely old garden, in the still meadows, and on the
sheep-cropped hillsides, they had many a long talk. Now that Irene was
as good as married, Mrs. Borisoff used less reserve in speaking of her
private circumstances; she explained the terms on which she stood with
her husband.

"Marriage, my dear girl, is of many kinds; absurd to speak of it as one
and indivisible. There's the marriage of interest, the marriage of
reason, the marriage of love; and each of these classes can be almost
infinitely subdivided. For the majority of folk, I'm quite sure it
would be better not to choose their own husbands and wives, but to
leave it to sensible friends who wish them well. In England, at all
events, they _think_ they marry for love, but that's mere nonsense. Did
you ever know a love match? I never even heard of one, in my little
world. Well," she added, with her roguish smile, "putting yourself out
of the question."

Irene's countenance betrayed a passing inquietude. She had an air of
reflection; averted her eyes; did not speak.

"The average male or female is _never_ in love," pursued Helen. "They
are incapable of it. And in this matter I--_moi qui vous parle_--am
average. At least, I think I am; all evidence goes to prove it, so far.
I married my husband because I thought him the most interesting man I
had ever met. That was eight years ago, when I was two-and-twenty.
Curiously, I didn't try to persuade myself that I was in love; I take
credit for this, my dear! No, it was a marriage of reason. I had money,
which Mr. Borisoff had not. He really liked me, and does still. But we
are reasonable as ever. If we felt obliged to live always together, we
should be very uncomfortable. As it is, I travel for six months when
the humour takes me, and it works _a merveille_. Into my husband's
life, I don't inquire; I have no right to do so, and I am not by nature
a busybody. As for my own affairs, Mr. Borisoff is not uneasy; he has
great faith in me--which, speaking frankly, I quite deserve. I am, my
dear Irene, a most respectable woman--there comes in my parentage."

"Then," said Irene, looking at her own beautiful fingernails, "your
experience, after all, is disillusion."

"Moderate disillusion," replied the other, with her humorously judicial
air. "I am not grievously disappointed. I still find my husband an
interesting--a most interesting--man. Both of us being so thoroughly
reasonable, our marriage may be called a success."

"Clearly, then, you don't think love a _sine qua non_?"

"Clearly not. Love has nothing whatever to do with marriage, in the
statistical--the ordinary--sense of the term. When I say love, I mean
love--not domestic affection. Marriage is a practical concern of
mankind at large; Love is a personal experience of the very few. Think
of our common phrases, such as 'choice of a wife'; think of the
perfectly sound advice given by sage elders to the young who are
thinking of marriage, implying deliberation, care. What have these
things to do with love? You can no more choose to be a lover, than to
be a poet. _Nascitur non fit_--oh yes, I know my Latin. Generally, the
man or woman born for love is born for nothing else."

"A deplorable state of things!" exclaimed Irene, laughing.

"Yes--or no. Who knows? Such people ought to die young. But I don't say
that it is invariably the case. To be capable of loving, and at the
same time to have other faculties, and the will to use them--ah!
There's your complete human being."

"I think----" Irene began, and stopped, her voice failing.

"You think, _belle Irene_?"

"Oh, I was going to say that all this seems to me sensible and right.
It doesn't disturb me."

"Why should it?"

"I think I will tell you, Helen, that my motive in marrying is the same
as yours was."

"I surmised it."

"But, you know, there the similarity will end. It is quite
certain"--she laughed--"that I shall have no six-months' vacations. At
present, I don't think I shall desire them."

"No. To speak frankly, I auger well of your marriage."

These words affected Irene with a sense of relief. She had imagined
that Mrs. Borisoff thought otherwise. A bright smile sunned her
countenance; Helen, observing it, smiled too, but more thoughtfully.

"You must bring your husband to see me in Paris some time next year. By
the bye, you don't think he will disapprove of me?"

"Do you imagine Mr. Jacks----"

"What were you going to say?"

Irene had stopped as if for want of the right word She was reflecting.

"It never struck me," she said, "that he would wish to regulate my
choice of friends. Yet I suppose it would be within his right?"

"Conventionally speaking, undoubtedly."

"Don't think I am in uncertainty about this particular instance," said
Irene. "No, he has already told me that he liked you. But of the
general question, I had never thought."

"My dear, who does, or can, think before marriage of all that it
involves? After all, the pleasures of life consist so largely in the
unexpected."

Irene paced a few yards in silence, and when she spoke again it was of
quite another subject.

Whether this sojourn with her experienced and philosophical friend made
her better able to face the meeting with Arnold Jacks was not quite
certain. At moments she fancied so; she saw her position as wholly
reasonable, void of anxiety; she was about to marry the man she liked
and respected--safest of all forms of marriage. But there came
troublesome moods of misgiving. It did not flatter her self-esteem to
think of herself as excluded from the number of those who are capable
of love; even in Helen Borisoff's view, the elect, the fortunate. Of
love, she had thought more in this last week or two than in all her
years gone by. Assuredly, she knew it not, this glory of the poets. Yet
she could inspire it in others; at all events, in one, whose rhythmic
utterance of the passion ever and again came back to her mind.

A temptation had assailed her (but she resisted it) to repeat those
verses of Piers Otway to her friend. And in thinking of them, she half
reproached herself for the total silence she had preserved towards
their author. Perhaps he was uncertain whether the verses had ever
reached her. It seemed unkind. There would have been no harm in letting
him know that she had read the lines, and--as poetry--liked them.

Was her temper prosaic? It would at any time have surprised her to be
told so. Owing to her father's influence, she had given much time to
scientific studies, but she knew herself by no means defective in
appreciation of art and literature. By whatever accident, the friends
of her earlier years had been notable rather for good sense and good
feeling than for aesthetic fervour; the one exception, her cousin Olga,
had rather turned her from thoughts about the beautiful, for Olga
seemed emotional in excess, and was not without taint of affectation.
In Helen Borisoff she knew for the first time a woman who cared
supremely for music, poetry, pictures, and who combined with this a
vigorous practical intelligence. Helen could burn with enthusiasm, yet
never exposed herself to suspicion of weak-mindedness. Posturing was
her scorn, but no one spoke more ardently of the things she admired.
Her acquaintance with recent literature was wider than that of anyone
Irene had known; she talked of it in the most interesting way, giving
her friend new lights, inspiring her with a new energy of thought. And
Irene was sorry to go away. She vaguely felt that this companionship
was of moment in the history of her mind; she wished for a larger
opportunity of benefiting by it.

Dr. Derwent and his son were now at Cromer; there Irene was to join
them; and thither, presently, would come Arnold Jacks.

On the day of her departure there arose a storm of wind and rain, which
grew more violent as she approached the Norfolk coast; and nothing
could have pleased her better. Her troubled mood harmonised with the
darkened, roaring sea; moreover, this atmospheric disturbance made
something to talk about on arriving. She suffered no embarrassment at
the meeting with her father and Eustace, who of course awaited her at
the station. To their eyes, Irene was in excellent spirits, though
rather wearied after the tiresome journey. She said very little about
her stay in Hampshire.

The last person in the world with whom Irene would have chosen to
converse about her approaching marriage was her excellent brother
Eustace; but the young man was not content with offering his good
wishes; to her surprise, he took the opportunity of their being alone
together on the beach, to speak with most unwonted warmth about Arnold
Jacks.

"I really was glad when I heard of it! To tell you the truth, I had
hoped for it. If there is a man living whom I respect, it is Arnold.
There's no end to his good qualities. A downright good and sensible
fellow!"

"Of course I'm very glad you think so, Eustace," replied his sister,
stooping to pick up a shell.

"Indeed I do. I've often thought that one's sister's choice in marriage
must be a very anxious thing; it would have worried me awfully if I had
felt any doubts about the man."

Irene was inclined to laugh.

"It's very good of you." she said.

"But I mean it. Girls haven't quite a fair chance, you know. They can't
see much of men."

"If it comes to that," said Irene merrily, "men seem to me in much the
same position."

"Oh, it's so different. Girls--women--are good. There's nothing
unpleasant to be known about them."

"Upon my word, Eustace! _On n'est pas plus galant_! But I really feel
it my duty to warn you against that amiable optimism. If you were so
kind as to be uneasy on my account, I shall be still more so on yours.
Your position, my dear boy, is a little perilous."

Eustace laughed, not without some amiable confusion. To give himself a
countenance, he smote at pebbles with the head of his walking-stick.

"Oh, I shan't marry for ages!"

"That shows rather more prudence than faith in your doctrine."

"Never mind. Our subject is Arnold Jacks. He's a splendid fellow. The
best and most sensible fellow I know."

It was not the eulogy most agreeable to Irene in her present state of
mind. She hastened to dismiss the topic, but thought with no little
surprise and amusement of Eustace's self-revelation. Brothers and
sisters seldom know each other; and these two, by virtue of widely
differing characteristics, were scarce more than mutually well-disposed
strangers.

Less emphatic in commendation, Dr. Derwent appeared not less satisfied
with his future son-in-law. Irene's scrutiny, sharpened by intense
desire to read her father's mind, could detect no qualification of his
contentment. As his habit was, the Doctor, having found an opportunity,
broached the subject with humorous abruptness.

"It's no business of mine; I don't wish to be impertinent; but if I
_may_ be allowed to express approval----"

Irene raised her eyes for a moment, bestowing upon him a look of
affection and gratitude.

"He's a thorough Englishman, and that means a good deal in the
laudatory sense. The best sort of husband for an English girl, I've no
manner of doubt."

Dr. Derwent was not effusive; he had said as much as he cared to say on
the more intimate aspect of the matter. But he spoke long and carefully
regarding things practical. Irene had his entire confidence; nothing in
the state of his affairs needed to be kept from her knowledge. He spoke
of the duty he owed to his two children respectively, and in sufficient
detail of Arnold Jacks' circumstances. On the death of John Jacks
(which the Doctor suspected was not remote) Arnold would be something
more than a well-to-do man; his wife, if she aimed that way, might look
for a social position such as the world envied.

"And on the whole," he added, "as society must have leaders, I prefer
that they should be people with brains as well as money. The ambition
is quite legitimate. Do your part in civilising the drawing-room, as
Arnold conceives he is doing his on a larger scale. A good and
intelligent woman is no superfluity in the world of wealth nowadays."

Irene tried to believe that this ambition appealed to her. Nay, at
times it certainly did so, for she liked the brilliant and the
commanding. On the other hand, it seemed imperfect as an ideal of life.
In its undercurrents her thought was always more or less turbid.

A letter from Arnold announced his coming. A day after, he arrived.

Many times as she had enacted in fancy the scene of their meeting,
Irene found in the reality something quite unlike her anticipation.
Arnold, it was true, behaved much as she expected; he was perfect in
well-bred homage; he said the right things in the right tone; his face
declared a sincere emotion, yet he restrained himself within due limits
of respect. The result in Irene's mind was disappointment and fear.

He gave her too little; he seemed to ask too much.

The first interview--in a private sitting-room at the hotel where they
were all staying--lasted about half an hour; it wrought a change in
Irene for which she had not at all prepared herself, though the doubts
and misgivings which had of late beset her pointed darkly to such a
revulsion of feeling. She had not understood; she could not understand,
until enlightened by the very experience. Alone once more, she sat down
all tremulous; pallid as if she had suffered a shock of fright. An
indescribable sense of immodesty troubled her nerves: she seemed to
have lost all self-respect: the thought of going forth again, of facing
her father and brother, was scarcely to be borne. This acute distress
presently gave way to a dull pain, a sinking at the heart. She felt
miserably alone. She longed for a friend of her own sex, not
necessarily to speak of what she was going through, but for the moral
support of a safe companionship. Never had she known such a feeling of
isolation, and of over-great responsibility.

A few tears relieved her. Irene was not prone to weeping; only a great
crisis of her fate would have brought her to this extremity.

It was over in a quarter of an hour--or seemed so. She had recovered
command of her nerves, had subdued the excess of emotion. As for what
had happened, that was driven into the background of her mind, to await
examination at leisure. She was a new being, but for the present could
bear herself in the old way. Before leaving her room, she stood before
the looking-glass, and smiled. Oh yes, it would do!

Arnold Jacks was in the state of mind which exhibited him at his very
best. An air of discreet triumph sat well on this elegant Englishman;
it prompted him to continuous discourse, which did not lack its touch
of brilliancy; his features had an uncommon animation, and his slender,
well-knit figure--of course clad with perfect seaside
propriety--appeared to gain an inch, so gallantly he held himself. He
walked the cliffs like one on guard over his country. Without for a
moment becoming ridiculous, Arnold, with his first-rate English
breeding, could carry off a great deal of radiant self-consciousness.

Side by side, he and Irene looked very well; there was suitability of
stature, harmony of years. Arnold's clean-cut visage, manly yet
refined, did no discredit to the choice of a girl even so striking in
countenance as Irene. They drew the eyes of passers-by. Conscious of
this, Irene now and then flinched imperceptibly; but her smile held
good, and its happiness flattered the happy man.

Eustace Derwent departed in a day or two, having an invitation to join
friends in Scotland. He had vastly enjoyed the privilege of listening
to Arnold's talk. Indeed to his sister's amusement, he plainly sought
to model himself on Mr. Jacks, in demeanour, in phraseology, and in
sentiments; not without success.



CHAPTER XXIV


On one of those evenings at the seaside, Dr. Derwent, glancing over the
newspapers, came upon a letter signed "Lee Hannaford." It had reference
to some current dispute about the merits of a new bullet. Hannaford,
writing with authority, criticised the invention; he gave particulars
(the result of an experiment on an old horse) as to its mode of
penetrating flesh and shattering bone; there was a gusto in his style,
that of the true artist in bloodshed. Pointing out the signature to
Arnold Jacks, Dr. Derwent asked in a subdued tone, as when one speaks
of something shameful:

"Have you seen or heard of him lately?"

"About ten days ago," replied Arnold. "He was at the Hyde Wilson's, and
he had the impertinence to congratulate me. He did it, too, before
other people, so that I couldn't very well answer as I wished. You are
aware, by the bye, that he is doing very well--belongs to a firm of
manufacturers of explosives?"

"Indeed?--I wish he would explode his own head off."

The Doctor spoke with most unwonted fierceness. Arnold Jacks, without
verbally seconding the wish, showed by an uneasy smile that he would
not have mourned the decease of this relative of the Derwents. Mrs.
Hannaford's position involved no serious scandal, but Arnold had a
strong dislike for any sort of social irregularity; here was the one
detail of his future wife's family circumstances which he desired to
forget. What made it more annoying than it need have been was his
surmise that Lee Hannaford nursed rancour against the Derwents, and
would not lose an opportunity of venting it. In the public
congratulation of which Arnold spoke, there had been a distinct touch
of malice. It was not impossible that the man hinted calumnies with
regard to his wife, and, under the circumstances, slander of that kind
was the most difficult thing to deal with.

But in Irene's society these unwelcome thoughts were soon dismissed.
With the demeanour of his betrothed, Arnold was abundantly satisfied;
he saw in it the perfect medium between demonstrativeness and
insensibility. Without ever having reflected on the subject, he felt
that this was how a girl of entire refinement should behave in a
situation demanding supreme delicacy. Irene never seemed in "a
coming-on disposition," to use the phrase of a young person who had not
the advantage of English social training; it was evidently her wish to
behave, as far as possible, with the simplicity of mere friendship. In
these days, Mr. Jacks, for the first time, ceased to question himself
as to the prudence of the step he had taken. Hitherto he had been often
reminded that, socially speaking, he might have made a better marriage;
he had felt that Irene conquered somewhat against his will, and that he
wooed her without quite meaning to do so. On the cliffs and the sands
at Cromer, these indecisions vanished. The girl had never looked to
such advantage; he had never been so often apprised of the general
admiration she excited. Beyond doubt, she would do him credit--in
Arnold's view the first qualification in a wife. She was really very
intelligent, could hold her own in any company, and with experience
might become a positively brilliant woman.

For caresses, for endearments, the time was not yet; that kind of
thing, among self-respecting people of a certain class, came only with
the honeymoon. Yet Arnold never for a moment doubted that the girl was
very fond of him. Of course it was for his sake that she had refused
Trafford Romaine--a most illuminating incident. That she was proud of
him, went without saying. He noted with satisfaction how thoroughly she
had embraced his political views, what a charming Imperialist she had
become. In short, everything promised admirably. At moments, Arnold
felt the burning of a lover's impatience.

They parted. The Derwents returned to London; Arnold set off to pay a
hasty visit or two in the North. The wedding was to take place a couple
of months hence, and the pair would spend their Christmas in Egypt.

A few days after her arrival in Bryanston Square, Irene went to see the
Hannafords. She found her aunt in a deplorable state, unable to
converse, looking as if on the verge of a serious illness. Olga behaved
strangely, like one in harassing trouble of which she might not speak.
It was a painful visit, and on her return home Irene talked of it to
her father.

"Something wretched is going on of which we don't know," she declared.
"Anyone could see it. Olga is keeping some miserable secret, and her
mother looks as if she were being driven mad."

"That ruffian, I suppose," said the Doctor. "What can he be doing?"

The next day he saw his sister. He came home with a gloomy countenance,
and called Irene into his study.

"You were right. Something very bad indeed is going on, so bad that I
hardly like to speak to you about it. But secrecy is impossible; we
must use our common sense--Hannaford is bringing a suit for divorce."

Irene was so astonished that she merely gazed at her father, waiting
his explanation. Under her eyes Dr. Derwent suffered an increase of
embarrassment, which tended to relieve itself in anger.

"It will kill her," he exclaimed, with a nervous gesture. "And then, if
justice were done, that scoundrel would be hanged!"

"You mean her husband?"

"Yes. Though I'm not sure that there isn't another who deserves the
name. She wants to see you, Irene, and I think you must go at once. She
says she has things to tell you that will make her mind easier. I'm
going to send a nurse to be with her: she mustn't be left alone. It's
lucky I went to-day. I won't answer for what may happen in
four-and-twenty hours. Olga isn't much use, you know, though she's
doing what she can."

It was about one o'clock. Saying she would be able to lunch at her
aunt's house, Irene forthwith made ready, and drove to Campden Hill.
She was led into the drawing-room, and sat there, alone, for five
minutes; then Olga entered. The girls advanced to each other with a
natural gesture of distress.

"She's asleep, I'm glad to say," Olga whispered, as if still in a
sickroom. "I persuaded her to lie down. I don't think she has closed
her eyes the last two or three nights. Can you wait? Oh, do, if you
can! She does so want to see you."

"But why, dear? Of course I will wait; but why does she ask for _me_?"

Olga related all that had come to pass, in her knowledge. Only by
ceaseless importunity had she constrained her mother to reveal the
cause of an anguish which could no longer be disguised. The avowal had
been made yesterday, not long before Dr. Derwent's coming to the house.

"I wanted to tell you, but she had forbidden me to speak to anyone.
What's the use of trying to keep such a thing secret? If uncle had not
come, I should have telegraphed for him. Of course he made her tell
him, and it has put her at rest for a little; she fell asleep as soon
as she lay down. Her dread is that we shan't believe her. She wants, I
think, only to declare to you that she has done no wrong."

"As if I could doubt her word!"

Irene tried to shape a question, but could not speak. Her cousin also
was mute for a moment. Their eyes met, and fell.

"You remember Mr. Otway's brother?" said Olga, in an unsteady voice,
and then ceased.

"He? Daniel Otway?"

Irene had turned pale; she spoke under her breath. At once there
recurred to her the unexplained incident at Malvern Station.

"I knew mother was foolish in keeping up an acquaintance with him,"
Olga answered, with some vehemence. "I detested the man, what I saw of
him. And I suspect--of course mother won't say--he has been having
money from her."

An exclamation of revolted feeling escaped Irene. She could not speak
her thoughts; they were painful almost beyond endurance. She could not
even meet her cousin's look.

"It's a hideous thing to talk about," Olga pursued, her head bent and
her hands crushing each other, "no wonder it seems to be almost driving
her mad. What do you think she did, as soon as she received the notice?
She sent for Piers Otway, and told him, and asked him to help her. He
came in the afternoon, when I was out. Think how dreadful it must have
been for her!"

"How could _he_ help her?" asked Irene, in a strangely subdued tone,
still without raising her eyes.

"By seeing his brother, she thought, and getting him, perhaps, to
persuade my father--how I hate the name!--that there were no grounds
for such an action."

"What"--Irene forced each syllable from her lips--"what are the grounds
alleged?"

Olga began a reply, but the first word choked her. Her self-command
gave way, she sobbed, and turned to hide her face.

"You, too, are being tried beyond your strength," said Irene, whose
womanhood fortified itself in these moments of wretched doubt and
shame. "Come, we must have some lunch whilst aunt is asleep."

"I want to get it all over--to tell you as much as I know," said the
other. "Mother says there is not even an appearance of wrong-doing
against her--that she can only be accused by deliberate falsehood. She
hasn't told me more than that--and how can I ask? Of course _he_ is
capable of everything--of any wickedness!"

"You mean Daniel Otway?"

"No--her husband--I will never again call him by the other name."

"Do you know whether Piers Otway has seen his brother?"

"He hadn't up to yesterday, when he sent mother a note, saying that the
man was away, and couldn't be heard of."

With an angry effort Olga recovered her self-possession. Apart from the
natural shame which afflicted her, she seemed to experience more of
indignation and impatience than any other feeling. Growing calmer, she
spoke almost with bitterness of her mother's folly.

"I told her once, quite plainly, that Daniel Otway wasn't the kind of
man she ought to be friendly with. She was offended: it was one of the
reasons why we couldn't go on living together. I believe, if the truth
were known, it was worry about him that caused her breakdown in health.
She's a weak, soft-natured woman, and he--I know very well what _he_
is. He and the other one--both Piers Otway's brothers--have always been
worthless creatures. She knew it well enough, and yet----! I suppose
their mother----"

She broke off in a tone of disgust. Irene, looking at her with more
attentiveness, waited for what she would next say.

"Of course you remember," Olga added, after a pause, "that they are
only half-brothers to Piers Otway?"

"Of course I do."

"_His_ mother must have been a very different woman. You have
heard----?"

They exchanged looks. Irene nodded, and averted her eyes, murmuring,
"Aunt explained to me, after his father's death."

"One would have supposed," said Olga, "that _they_ would turn into the
honourable men, and _he_ the scamp. Nature doesn't seem to care much
about setting us a moral lesson."

And she laughed--a short, bitter laugh. Irene, her brows knit in
painful thought, kept silence.

They were going to the dining-room, when a servant made known to them
that Mrs. Hannaford was asking for her daughter.

"Do have something to eat," said Olga, "and I'll tell her you are here.
You _shall_ have lunch first; I insist upon it, and I'll join you in a
moment."

In a quarter of an hour, Irene went up to her aunt's room. Mrs.
Hannaford was sitting in an easy chair, placed so that a pale ray of
sunshine fell upon her. She rose, feebly, only to fall back again; her
hands were held out in pitiful appeal, and tears moistened her cheeks.
Beholding this sad picture, Irene forgot the doubt that offended her;
she was all soft compassion. The suffering woman clung about her neck,
hid her face against her bosom, sobbed and moaned.

They spoke together till dusk. The confession which Mrs. Hannaford made
to her niece went further than that elicited from her either by Olga or
Dr. Derwent. In broken sentences, in words of shamefaced incoherence,
but easily understood, she revealed a passion which had been her
torturing secret, and a temptation against which she had struggled year
after year. The man was unworthy; she had long known it; she suffered
only the more. She had been imprudent, once or twice all but reckless,
never what is called guilty. Convinced of the truth of what she heard,
Irene drew a long sigh, and became almost cheerful in her ardour of
solace and encouragement. No one had ever seen the Irene who came forth
under this stress of circumstance; no one had ever heard the voice with
which she uttered her strong heart. The world? Who cared for the world?
Let it clack and grin! They would defend the truth, and quietly wait
the issue. No more weakness Brain and conscience must now play their
part.

"But if it should go against me? If I am made free of that man----?"

"Then be free of him!" exclaimed the girl, her eyes flashing through
tears. "Be glad!"

"No--no! I am afraid of myself----"

"We will help you. When you are well again, your mind will be stronger
to resist. Not _that_--never _that_! You know it is impossible."

"I know. And there is one thing that would really make it so. I haven't
told you--another thing I had to say--why I wanted so to see you."

Irene looked kindly into the agitated face.

"It's about Piers Otway. He came to see us here. I had formed a
hope----"

"Olga?"

"Yes. Oh, if that could be!"

She caught the girl's hand in her hot palms, and seemed to entreat her
for a propitious word. Irene was very still, thinking; and at length
she smiled.

"Who can say? Olga is good and clever----"

"It might have been; I know it might. But after this?"

"More likely than not," said Irene, with a half-absent look, "this
would help to bring it about."

"Dear, only your marriage could have changed him--nothing else. Oh, I
am sure, nothing else! He has the warmest and truest heart!"

Irene sat with bowed head, her lips compressed; she smiled again, but
more faintly. In the silence there sounded a soft tap at the door.

"I will see who it is," said Irene.

Olga stood without, holding a letter. She whispered that the
handwriting of the address (to Mrs. Hannaford) was Piers Otway's, and
that possibly this meant important news. Irene took the letter, and
re-entered the room. It was necessary to light the gas before Mrs.
Hannaford could read the sheet that trembled in her hand.

"What I feared! He can do nothing."

She held the letter to Irene, who perused it. Piers began by saying
that as result of a note he had posted yesterday, Daniel had this
morning called upon him at his office. They had had a long talk.

"He declared himself quite overcome by what had happened, and said he
had been away from town endeavouring to get at an understanding of the
so-called evidence against him. Possibly his inquiries might effect
something; as yet they were useless. He was very vague, and did not
reassure me; I could not make him answer simple questions. There is no
honesty in the man. Unfortunately I have warrant for saying this, on
other accounts. Believe me when I tell you that the life he leads makes
him unworthy of your lightest thought. He is utterly, hopelessly
ignoble. It is a hateful memory that I, who feel for you a deep respect
and affection, was the cause of your coming to know him.

"But for the fear of embarrassing you, I should have brought this news,
instead of writing it. If you are still keeping your trouble a secret,
I beseech you to ease your mind by seeing Dr. Derwent, and telling him
everything. It is plain that your defence must at once be put into
legal hands. Your brother is a man of the world, and much more than
that; he will not, cannot, refuse to believe you, and his practical aid
will comfort you in every way. Do not try to hide the thing even from
your daughter; she is of an age to share your suffering, and to
alleviate it by her affection. Believe me, silence is mistaken
delicacy. You are innocent; you are horribly wronged; have the courage
of a just cause. See Dr. Derwent at once; I implore you to do so, for
your own sake, and for that of all your true friends."

At the end, Irene drew a deep breath.

"He, certainly, is one of them," she said.

"Of my true friends? Indeed, he is."

Again they were interrupted. Olga announced the arrival of the nurse
sent by Dr. Derwent to tend the invalid. Thereupon Irene took leave of
her aunt, promising to come again on the morrow, and went downstairs,
where she exchanged a few words with her cousin. They spoke of Piers
Otway's letter.

"Pleasant for us, isn't it?" said Olga, with a dreary smile. "Picture
us entertaining friends who call!"

Irene embraced her gently, bade her be hopeful, and said good-bye.

At home again, she remembered that she had an engagement to dine out
this evening, but the thought was insufferable. Eustace, who was to
have accompanied her, must go alone. Having given the necessary orders,
she went to her room, meaning to sit there until dinner. But she grew
restless and impatient; when the first bell rang, she made a hurried
change of dress, and descended to the drawing-room. An evening
newspaper failed to hold her attention; with nervous movements, she
walked hither and thither. It was a great relief to her when the door
opened and her father came in.

Contrary to his custom, the Doctor had not dressed. He bore a wearied
countenance, but at the sight of Irene tried to smooth away the lines
of disgust.

"It was all I could do to get here by dinner-time. Excuse me, Mam'zelle
Wren; they're the clothes of an honest working-man."

The pet syllable (a joke upon her name as translated by Thibaut
Rossignol) had not been frequent on her father's lips for the last year
or two; he used it only in moments of gaiety or of sadness. Irene did
not wish to speak about her aunt just now, and was glad that the
announcement of dinner came almost at once. They sat through an
unusually silent meal, the few words they exchanged having reference to
public affairs. As soon as it was over, Irene asked if she might join
her father in the library.

"Yes, come and be smoked," was his answer.

This mood did not surprise her. It was the Doctor's principle to combat
anxiety with jests. He filled and lit one of his largest pipes, and
smoked for some minutes before speaking. Irene, still nervous, let her
eyes wander about the book-covered walls; a flush was on her cheeks,
and with one of her hands she grasped the other wrist, as if to
restrain herself from involuntary movement.

"The nurse came," she said at length, unable to keep silence longer.

"That's right. An excellent woman; I can trust her."

"Aunt seemed better when I came away."

"I'm glad."

Volleys of tobacco were the only sign of the stress Dr. Derwent
suffered. He loathed what seemed to him the sordid tragedy of his
sister's life, and he resented as a monstrous thing his daughter's
involvement in such an affair. This was the natural man; the scientific
observer took another side, urging that life was life and could not be
escaped, refine ourselves as we may; also that a sensible girl of
mature years would benefit rather than otherwise by being made helpful
to a woman caught in the world's snare.

"Whilst I was there," pursued Irene, "there came a letter from Mr.
Otway. No, no; not from _him_; from Mr. Piers Otway."

She gave a general idea of its contents, and praised its tone. "I
daresay," threw out her father, almost irritably, "but I shall strongly
advise her to have done with all of that name."

"It's true they are of the same family," said Irene, "but that seems a
mere accident, when one knows the difference between our friend Mr.
Otway and his brothers."

"Maybe; I shall never like the name. Pray don't speak of 'our friend.'
In any case, as you see, there must be an end of that."

"I should like you to see his letter, father. Ask aunt to show it you."

The Doctor smoked fiercely, his brows dark. Rarely in her lifetime had
Irene seen her father wrathful--save for his outbursts against the
evils of the world and the time. To her he had never spoken an angry
word. The lowering of his features in this moment caused her a painful
flutter at the heart; she became mute, and for a minute or two neither
spoke.

"By the bye," said Dr. Derwent suddenly, "it is a most happy thing that
your aunt's money was so strictly tied up. No one can be advantaged by
her death--except that American hospital. Her scoundrelly acquaintances
are aware of that fact no doubt."

"It's a little hard, isn't it, that Olga would have nothing?"

"In one way, yes. But I'm not sure she isn't safer so." Again there
fell silence.

Again Irene's eyes wandered, and her hands moved nervously.

"There is one thing we must speak of," she said at length "If the case
goes on, Arnold will of course hear of it."

Dr. Derwent looked keenly at her before replying.

"He knows already."

"He knows? How?"

"By common talk in some house he frequents. Agreeable! I saw him this
afternoon; he took me aside and spoke of this. It is his belief that
Hannaford himself has set the news going."

Irene seemed about to rise. She sat straight, every nerve tense, her
face glowing with indignation.

"What an infamy!"

"Just so. It's the kind of thing we're getting mixed up with."

"How did Arnold speak to you? In what tone?"

"As any decent man would--I can't describe it otherwise. He said that
of course it didn't concern him, except in so far as it was likely to
annoy our family. He wanted to know whether you had heard,
and--naturally enough--was vexed that you couldn't be kept out of it.
He's a man of the world, and knows that, nowadays, a scandal such as
this matters very little. Our name will come into it, I fear, but it's
all forgotten in a week or two."

They sat still and brooded for a long time. Irene seemed on the point
of speaking once or twice, but checked herself. When at length her
father's face relaxed into a smile, she rose, said she was weary, and
stepped forward to say good-night.

"We'll have no more of this subject, unless compelled," said the
Doctor. "It's worse that vivisection."

And he settled to a book--or seemed to do so.



CHAPTER XXV


Irene passed a restless night. The snatches of unrefreshing sleep which
she obtained as the hours dragged towards morning were crowded with
tumultuous dreams; she seemed to be at strife with all manner of
people, now defending herself vehemently against some formless
accusation, now arraigning others with a violence strange to her
nature. Worst of all, she was at odds with her father, about she knew
not what; she saw his kind face turn cold and hard in reply to a
passionate exclamation with which she had assailed him. The wan glimmer
of a misty October dawn was very welcome after this pictured darkness.
Yet it brought reflections that did not tend to soothe her mind.

Several letters for her lay on the breakfast-table; among them, one
from Arnold Jacks, which she opened hurriedly. It proved to be a mere
note, saying that at last he had found a house which seemed in every
respect suitable, and he wished Irene to go over it with him as soon as
possible; he would call for her at three o'clock. "Remember," he added,
"you dine with us. We are by ourselves."

She glanced at her father, as if to acquaint him with this news; but
the Doctor was deep in a leading-article, and she did not disturb him.
Eustace had correspondence of his own which engrossed him. No one
seemed disposed for talk this morning.

The letter which most interested her came from Helen Borisoff, who was
now at home, in Paris. It was the kind of letter that few people are so
fortunate as to receive nowadays, covering three sheets with gaiety and
good-nature, with glimpses of interesting social life and many an
amusing detail. Mrs. Borisoff was establishing herself for the winter,
which promised all sorts of good things yonder on the Seine. She had
met most of the friends she cared about, among whom were men and women
with far-echoing names. With her husband she was on delightful terms;
he had welcomed her charmingly; he wished her to convey his respectful
homage to the young English lady with whom his wife had become _liee_,
and the hope that at no distant time he might make her acquaintance.
After breakfast, Irene lingered over this letter, which brightened her
imagination. Paris shone luringly as she read. Had circumstances been
different, she would assuredly have spent a month there with Helen.

Well, she was going to Egypt, after--

One glance she gave at Arnold's short note. "My dear Irene"--"In haste,
but ever yours." These lines did not tempt her to muse. Yet Arnold was
ceaselessly in her mind. She wished to see him, and at the same time
feared his coming. As for the house, it occupied her thoughts with only
a flitting vagueness. Why so much solicitude about the house? In any
decent quarter of London, was not one just as good as another? But for
the risk of hurting Arnold, she would have begged him to let her off
the inspection, and to manage the business as he thought fit.

A number of small matters claimed her attention during the morning,
several of them connected with her marriage. Try as she might, she
could not bring herself to a serious occupation with these things; they
seemed trivial and tiresome. Her thoughts wandered constantly to the
house at Campden Hill, which had a tragic fascination. She had promised
to see her aunt to-day, but it would be difficult to find time, unless
she could manage to get there between her business with Arnold and the
hour of dinner. Olga was to telegraph if anything happened. A chill
misgiving took hold upon her as often as she saw her aunt's face, so
worn and woe-stricken; and it constantly hovered before her mind's eye.

The revelation made to her yesterday had caused a mental shock greater
than she had yet realised. That Mrs. Hannaford, a woman whom she had
for many years regarded as elderly, should be possessed and overcome by
the passion of love, was a thing so strange, so at conflict with her
fixed ideas, as to be all but incredible. In her aunt's presence, she
scarcely reflected upon it; she saw only a woman bound to her by
natural affection, who had fallen into dire misfortune and
wretchedness. Little by little the story grew upon her understanding;
the words in which it had been disclosed came back to her, and with a
new significance, a pathos hitherto unfelt. She remembered that Olga's
mother was not much more than forty years old; that this experience
began more than five years ago; that her life had been loveless; that
she was imaginative and of emotional temper. To dwell upon these facts
was not only to see one person in a new light, but to gain a wider
perception of life at large. Irene had a sense of enfranchisement from
the immature, the conventional.

She would have liked to be alone, to sit quietly and think. She wanted
to review once more, and with fuller self-consciousness, the
circumstances which were shaping her future. But there was no leisure
for such meditation; the details of life pressed upon her, urged her
onward, as with an impatient hand. This sense of constraint became an
irritation--due in part to the slight headache, coming and going, which
reminded her of her bad night. Among the things she meant to do this
morning was the writing of several letters to so-called friends, who
had addressed her in the wonted verbiage on the subject of her
engagement. Five minutes proved the task impossible. She tore up a
futile attempt at civility, and rose from the desk with all her nerves
quivering.

"How well I understand," she said to herself, "why men swear!"

At eleven o'clock, unable to endure the house, she dressed for going
out, and drove to Mrs. Hannaford's.

Olga was not at home. Before going into her aunt's room, Irene spoke
with the nurse, who had no very comforting report to make; Mrs.
Hannaford could not sleep, had not closed her eyes for some
four-and-twenty hours; Dr. Derwent had looked in this morning, and was
to return later with another medical man. The patient longed for her
niece's visit; it might do good.

She stayed about an hour, and it was the most painful hour her life had
yet known. The first sight of Mrs. Hannaford's face told her how
serious this illness was becoming; eyes unnaturally wide, lips which
had gone so thin, head constantly moving from side to side as it lay
back on the cushion of the sofa, were indications of suffering which
made Irene's heart ache. In a faint, unsteady, lamenting voice, the
poor woman talked ceaselessly; now of the wrong that was being done
her, now of her miseries in married life, now again of her present
pain. Once or twice Irene fancied her delirious, for she seemed to
speak without consciousness of a hearer. To the inquiry whether it was
in her niece's power to be of any service, she answered at first with
sorrowful negatives, but said presently that she would like to see
Piers Otway; could Irene write to him, and ask him to come?

"He shall come," was the reply.

On going down, Irene met her cousin, just returned. To her she spoke of
Mrs. Hannaford's wish.

"I promised he should be sent for. Will you do it, Olga?"

"It is already done," Olga answered. "Did she forget? One of the things
I went out for was to telegraph to him."

They gazed at each other with distressful eyes.

"Oh, what does the man deserve who has caused this?" exclaimed Olga,
who herself began to look ill. "It's dreadful! I am afraid to go into
the room. If I had someone here to live with me!"

Irene's instinct was to offer to come, but she remembered the
difficulties. Her duties at home were obstacles sufficient. She had to
content herself with promising to call as often as possible.

Returning to Bryanston Square, she thought with annoyance of the
possibility that her father and Piers Otway might come face to face in
that house. Never till now had she taxed her father with injustice. It
seemed to her an intolerable thing that the blameless man should be
made to share in obloquy merited by his brother. And what memory was
this which awoke in her? Did not she herself once visit upon him a
fault in which he had little if any part? She recalled that evening,
long ago, at Queen's Gate, when she was offended by the coarse
behaviour of Piers Otway's second brother. True, there was something
else that moved her censure on that occasion, but she would scarcely
have noticed it save for the foolish incident at the door. Fortune was
not his friend. She thought of the circumstances of his birth, which
had so cruelly wronged him when Jerome Otway died. Now, more likely
than not, her father would resent his coming to Mrs. Hannaford's, would
see in it something suspicious, a suggestion of base purpose.

"I can't stand that!" Irene exclaimed to herself. "If he is
calumniated, I shall defend him, come of it what may!"

At luncheon, Dr. Derwent was grave and disinclined to converse. On
learning where Irene had been, he nodded, making no remark. It was a
bad sign that his uneasiness could no longer be combated with a dry
joke.

As three o'clock drew near, Irene made no preparation for going out.
She sat in the drawing-room, unoccupied, and was found thus when Arnold
Jacks entered.

"You got my note?" he began, with a slight accent of surprise.

Irene glanced at him, and perceived that he did not wear his wonted
countenance. This she had anticipated, with an uneasiness which now
hardened in her mind to something like resentment.

"Yes. I hoped you would excuse me. I have a little headache."

"Oh, I'm sorry!"

He was perfectly suave. He looked at her with a good-natured anxiety.
Irene tried to smile.

"You won't mind if I leave all that to you? Your judgment is quite
enough. If you really like the house, take it at once. I shall be
delighted."

"It's rather a responsibility, you know. Suppose we wait till
to-morrow?"

Irene's nerves could not endure an argument. She gave a strange laugh,
and exclaimed:

"Are you afraid of responsibilities? In this case, you must really face
it. Screw up your courage."

Decidedly, Arnold was not himself. He liked an engagement of banter; it
amused him to call out Irene's spirit, and to conquer in the end by
masculine force in guise of affectionate tolerance. To-day he seemed
dull, matter-of-fact, inclined to vexation; when not speaking, he had a
slightly absent air, as if ruminating an unpleasant thought.

"Of course I will do as you wish, Irene. Just let me describe the
house----"

She could have screamed with irritation.

"Arnold, I entreat you! The house is nothing to me. I mean, one will do
as well as another, if _you_ are satisfied."

"So be it. I will never touch on the subject again."

His tone was decisive. Irene knew that he would literally keep his
word. This was the side of his character which she liked, which had
always impressed her; and for the moment her nerves were soothed.

"You will forgive me?" she said gently.

"Forgive you for having a headache?--Will it prevent you from coming to
us this evening?"

"I should be grateful if you let me choose another day."

He did not stay very long. At leave-taking, he raised her hand to his
lips, and Irene felt that he did it gracefully. But when she was alone
again, his manner, so slightly yet so noticeably changed, became the
harassing subject of her thought. That the change resulted from
annoyance at the scandal in her family she could not doubt; such a
thing would be hard for Arnold to bear. When were they to speak of it?
Speak they must, if the affair went on to publicity. And, considering
the natural difficulty Arnold would find in approaching such a subject,
ought not she to take some steps of her own initiative?

By evening, she saw the position in a very serious light. She asked
herself whether it did not behove her to offer to make an end of their
engagement.

"Your aunt has brain fever," said Dr. Derwent, in the library after
dinner. And Irene shuddered with dread.

Early next morning she accompanied her father to Mrs. Hannaford's. The
Doctor went upstairs; Irene waited in the dining-room, where she was
soon joined by Olga. The girl's face was news sufficient; her mother
grew worse--had passed a night of delirium. Two nurses were in the
house, and the medical man called every few hours. Olga herself looked
on the point of collapse; she was haggard with fear; she trembled and
wept. In spite of her deep concern and sympathy, Irene's more
courageous temper reproved this weakness, wondered at it as unworthy of
a grown woman.

"Did Mr. Otway come?" she asked, as soon as It was possible to converse.

"Yes. He was a long time in mother's room, and just before he left her
your father came."

"They met?"

"No. Uncle seemed angry when I told him. He said, 'Get rid of him at
once!' I suppose he dislikes him because of his brother. It's very
unjust."

Irene kept silence.

"He came down--and we talked. I am so glad to have any friend near me!
I told him how uncle felt. Of course he will not come again----"

"Why not? This is _your_ house, not my father's!"

"But poor mother couldn't see him now--wouldn't know him. I promised to
send him news frequently. I'm going to telegraph this morning."

"Of course," said Irene, with emphasis. "He must understand that _you_
have no such feeling----"

"Oh, he knows that! He knows I am grateful to him--very grateful----"

She broke down again, and sobbed. Irene, without speaking, put her arms
around the girl and kissed her cheek.

Dr. Derwent and his daughter met again at luncheon. Afterwards, Irene
followed into the library.

"I wish to ask you something, father. When you and Arnold spoke about
this hateful thing, did you tell him, unmistakably, that aunt was
slandered?"

"I told him that I myself had no doubt of it."

"Did he seem--do you think that _he_ doubts?"

"Why?"

Irene kept silence, feeling that her impression was too vague to be
imparted.

"Try," said her father, "to dismiss the matter from your thoughts. It
doesn't concern you. You will never hear an allusion to it from Jacks.
Happen what may"--his voice paused, with suggestive emphasis--"you have
nothing to do with it. It doesn't affect your position or your future
in the least."

As she withdrew, Irene was uneasily conscious of altered relations with
her father. The change had begun when she wrote to him announcing her
engagement; since, they had never conversed with the former freedom,
and the shadow now hanging over them seemed to chill their mutual
affection. For the first time, she thought with serious disquiet of the
gulf between old and new that would open at her marriage, of all she
was losing, of the duties she was about to throw off--duties which
appeared so much more real, more sacred, than those she undertook in
their place. Her father's widowerhood had made him dependent upon her
in a higher degree than either of them quite understood until they had
to reflect upon the consequences of parting; and Irene now perceived
that she had dismissed this consideration too lightly. She found
difficulty in explaining her action, her state of mind, her whole self.
Was it really only a few weeks ago? To her present mood, what she had
thought and done seemed a result of youth and inexperience, a condition
long outlived.

When she had sat alone for half an hour in the drawing-room, Eustace
joined her. He said their father had gone out. They talked of
indifferent things till bedtime.

In the morning, the servant who came into Irene's room gave her a note
addressed in the Doctor's hand. It contained the news that Mrs.
Hannaford had died before daybreak. Dr. Derwent himself did not appear
till about ten o'clock, when he arrived together with his niece. Olga
had been violently hysterical; it seemed the wisest thing to bring her
to Bryanston Square; the change of surroundings and Irene's sympathy
soon restored her to calm.

At midday a messenger brought Irene a letter from Arnold Jacks. Arnold
wrote that he had just heard of her aunt's death: that he was deeply
grieved, and hastened to condole with her. He did not come in person,
thinking she would prefer to let this sad day pass over before they
met, but he would call to-morrow morning. In the meantime, he would be
grateful for a line assuring him that she was well.

Having read this, Irene threw it aside as if it had been a tradesman's
circular. Not thus should he have written--if write he must instead of
coming. In her state of agitation after the hours spent with Olga, this
bald note of sympathy seemed almost an insult; to keep silence as to
the real cause of Mrs. Hannaford's death was much the same, she felt,
as hinting a doubt of the poor lady's innocence. Arnold Jacks was
altogether too decorous. Would it not have been natural for a man in
his position to utter at least an indignant word? It might have been as
allusive as his fine propriety demanded, but surely the word should
have been spoken!

After some delay, she replied in a telegram, merely saying that she was
quite well.

Olga, as soon as she felt able, had sat down to write a letter. She
begged her cousin to have it posted at once.

"It's to Mr. Otway," she said, in an unsteady voice. And, when the
letter had been despatched, she added, "It will be a great blow to him.
I had a letter last night asking for news--Oh, I meant to bring it!"
she exclaimed, with a momentary return of her distracted manner. "I
left it in my room. It will be lost-destroyed!"

Irene quieted her, promising that the letter should be kept safe.

"Perhaps he will call," Olga said presently. "But no, not so soon. He
may have written again. I must have the letter if there is one. Someone
must go over to the house this evening."

Through a great part of the afternoon, she slept, and whilst she was
sleeping there arrived for her a telegram, which, Irene did not doubt,
came from Piers Otway. It proved to be so, and Olga betrayed nervous
tremors after reading the message.

"I shall have a letter in the morning," she said to her cousin, several
times; and after that she did not care to talk, but sat for hours busy
with her thoughts, which seemed not altogether sad.

At eleven o'clock next morning, Arnold Jacks was announced. Irene, who
sat with Olga in the drawing-room, had directed that her visitor should
be shown into the library, and there she received him. Arnold stepped
eagerly towards her; not smiling indeed, but with the possibility of a
smile manifest in every line of his countenance. There could hardly
have been a stronger contrast with his manner of the day before
yesterday. For this Irene had looked. Seeing precisely what she
expected, her eyes fell; she gave a careless hand; she could not speak.

Arnold talked, talked. He said the proper things, and said them well;
to things the reverse of proper, not so much as the faintest reference.
This duty discharged, he spoke of the house he had taken; his voice
grew animated; at length the latent smile stole out through his eyes
and spread to his lips. Irene kept silence. Respecting her natural
sadness, the lover made his visit brief, and retired with an air of
grave satisfaction.



CHAPTER XXVI


Olga knew that by her mother's death she became penniless. The income
enjoyed by Mrs. Hannaford under the will of her sister in America was
only for life by allowing a third of it to her husband, she had made
saving impossible, and, as she left no will, her daughter could expect
only such trifles as might legally fall to her share when things were
settled. To her surviving parent, the girl was of course no more than a
stranger. It surprised no one that Lee Hannaford, informed through the
lawyers of what had happened, simply kept silence, leaving his wife's
burial to the care of Dr. Derwent.

Three days of gloom went by; the funeral was over; Irene and her cousin
sat together in their mourning apparel, not simply possessed by natural
grief, but overcome with the nervous exhaustion which results from our
habits and customs in presence of death. Olga had been miserably
crying, but was now mute and still; Irene, pale, with an expression of
austere thoughtfulness, spoke of the subject they both had in mind.

"There is no necessity to take any step at all--until you are quite
yourself again--until you really wish. This is your home; my father
would like you to stay."

"I couldn't live here after you are married," replied the other,
weakly, despondently.

Irene glanced at her, hung a moment on the edge of speech, then spoke
with a self-possession which made her seem many years older than her
cousin.

"I had better tell you now, that we may understand each other. I am not
going to be married."

To Olga's voiceless astonishment she answered with a pale smile. Grave
again, and gentle as she was firm, Irene continued.

"I am going to break my engagement. It has been a mistake. To-night I
shall write a letter to Mr. Jacks, saying that I cannot marry him; when
it has been sent, I shall tell my father."

Olga had begun to tremble. Her features were disturbed with an emotion
which banished every sign of sorrow; which flushed her cheeks and made
her eyes seem hostile in their fixed stare.

"How can you do that?" she asked, in a hard voice "How is it possible?"

"It seems to me far more possible then the alternative--a life of
repentence."

"But--what do you mean, Irene? When everything is settled--when your
house is taken--when everyone knows! What do you mean? Why shall you do
this?"

The words rushed forth impetuously, quivering on a note of resentment.
The flushed cheeks were turning pallid; the girl's breast heaved with
indignant passion.

"I can't fully explain it to you, Olga." The speaker's tones sounded
very soft and reasonable after that outbreak. "I am doing what many a
girl would do, I feel sure, if she could find courage--let us say, if
she saw clearly enough. It will cause confusion, ill-feeling, possibly
some unhappiness, for a few weeks, for a month or two; then Mr. Jacks
will feel grateful to me, and my father will acknowledge I did right;
and everybody else who knows anything about it will have found some
other subject of conversation."

"You are fond of somebody else?"

It was between an exclamation and an inquiry. Bending forward, Olga
awaited the reply as if her life depended upon it.

"I am fond of no one--in that sense."

Irene's look was so fearless, her countenance so tranquil in its
candour, that the agitated girl grew quieter.

"It isn't because you are _thinking_ of someone else that you can't
marry Mr. Jacks?"

"I am thinking simply of myself. I am afraid to marry him. No thought
of the kind you mean has entered my head."

"But how will it be explained to everybody?"

"By telling the truth--always the best way out of a difficulty. I shall
take all the blame on myself, as I ought."

"And you will live on here, just as usual, seeing people----?"

"No, I don't think I could do that. Most likely I shall go for a time
to Paris."

Olga's relief expressed itself in a sigh.

"In all this," continued Irene, "there's no reason why you shouldn't
stay here. Everything, you may be sure, will be settled very quietly.
My father is a reasonable man."

After a short reflection, Olga said that she could not yet make up her
mind. And therewith ended their dialogue. Each was glad to go apart
into privacy, to revolve anxious thoughts, and to seek rest.

That her father was "a reasonable man," Irene had always held a
self-evident proposition. She had never, until a few days ago,
conceived the possibility of a conflict between his ideas of right and
her own. Domestic discord was to her mind a vulgar, no less than an
unhappy, state of things. Yet, in the step she was now about to take,
could she feel any assurance that Dr. Derwent would afford her the help
of his sympathy--or even that he would refrain from censure? Reason
itself was on her side; but an otherwise reasonable man might well find
difficulty in acknowledging it, under the circumstances.

The letter to Arnold Jacks was already composed; she knew it by heart,
and had but to write it out. In the course of a sleepless night, this
was done. In the early glimmer of a day of drizzle and fog, the letter
went to post.

There needed courage--yes, there needed courage--on a morning such as
this, when the skyless atmosphere weighed drearily on heart and mind,
when hope had become a far-off thing, banished for long months from a
grey, cold world, to go through with the task which Irene had set
herself. Could she but have slept, it might have been easier for her;
she had to front it with an aching head, with eyes that dazzled, with
blood fevered into cowardice.

Dr. Derwent was plainly in no mood for conversation. His voice had been
seldom heard during the past week. At the breakfast-table he read his
letters, glanced over the paper, exchanged a few sentences with
Eustace, said a kind word to Olga; when he rose, one saw that he hoped
for a quiet morning in his laboratory.

"Could I see you for half an hour before lunch, father?"

He looked into the speaker's face, surprised at something unusual in
her tone, and nodded without smiling.

"When you like."

She stood at the window of the drawing-room, looking over the enclosure
in the square, the dreary so-called garden, with its gaunt leafless
trees that dripped and oozed. Opposite was the long facade of
characterless houses, like to that in which she lived; the steps, the
door-columns, the tall narrow windows; above them, murky vapour.

She moved towards the door, hesitated, looked about her with
unconsciously appealing eyes. She moved forward again, and on to her
purpose.

"Well?" said the Doctor, who stood before a table covered with
scientific apparatus. "Is it about Olga?"

"No, dear father. It's about Irene."

He smiled; his face softened to tenderness.

"And what about Mam'zelle Wren? It's hard on Wren, all this worry at
such a time."

"If it didn't sound so selfish, I should say it had all happened for my
good. I suppose we can't help seeing the world from our own little
point of view."

"What follows on this philosophy?"

"Something you won't like to hear, I know; but I beg you to be patient
with me. When were you not? I never had such need of your patience and
forbearance as now--Father, I cannot marry Arnold Jacks. And I have
told him that I can't."

The Doctor very quietly laid down a microscopic slide. His forehead
grew wrinkled; his lips came sharply together; he gazed for a moment at
an open volume on a high desk at his side, then said composedly:

"This is your affair, Irene. All I can do is to advise you to be sure
of your own mind."

"I _am_ sure of it--very sure of it!"

Her voice trembled a little; her hand, resting upon the table, much
more.

"You say you have told Jacks?"

"I posted a letter to him this morning."

"With the first announcement of your change of mind?--How do you
suppose he will reply?"

"I can't feel sure."

There was silence. The Doctor took up a piece of paper, and began
folding and re-folding it, the while he meditated.

"You know, of course," he said at length, "what the world thinks of
this sort of behaviour?"

"I know what the world is likely to _say_ about it. Unfortunately, the
world seldom thinks at all."

"Granted. And we may also assume that no explanation offered by you or
Jacks will affect the natural course of gossip. Still, you would wish
to justify yourself in the eyes of your friends."

"What I wish before all, of course, is to save Mr. Jacks from any risk
of blame. It must be understood that I, and I alone, am responsible for
what happens."

"Stick to your philosophy," said her father. "Recognise the fact that
you cannot save him from gossip and scandal--that people will credit as
much or as little as they like of any explanation put forth. Moreover,
bear in mind that this action of yours is defined by a vulgar word,
which commonly injures the man more than the woman. In the world's
view, it is worse to be made ridiculous than to act cruelly."

A look of pain passed over the girl's face.

"Father I am not acting cruelly. It is the best thing I can do, for him
as well as for myself. On his side, no deep feeling is involved, and as
for his vanity--I can't consider that."

"You have come to the conclusion that he is not sufficiently devoted to
you?"

"I couldn't have put it in those words, but that is half the truth. The
other half is, that I was altogether mistaken in my own
feelings--Father, you are accustomed to deal with life and death. Do
you think that fear of gossip, and desire to spare Mr. Jacks a brief
mortification, should compel me to surrender all that makes life worth
living, and to commit a sin for which there is no forgiveness?"

Her voice, thoroughly under control, its natural music subdued rather
than emphasised, lent to these words a deeper meaning than they would
have conveyed if uttered with vehemence. They woke in her father's mind
a memory of long years ago, recalled the sound of another voice which
had the same modulations.

"I find no fault with you," he said gravely. "That you can do such a
thing as this proves to me how strongly you feel about it. But it is a
serious decision--more serious, perhaps, than you realise. Things have
gone so far. The mere inconvenience caused will be very great."

"I know it. I have felt tempted to yield to that thought--to let things
slide, as they say. Convenience, I feel sure, is a greater power on the
whole than religion or morals or the heart. It doesn't weigh with me,
because I have had such a revelation of myself as blinds me to
everything else. I _dare_ not go on!"

"Don't think I claim any authority over you," said the Doctor. "At your
age, my only right as your father is in my affection, my desire for
your welfare, Can you tell me more plainly how this change has come
about?"

Irene reflected. She had seated herself, and felt more confidence now
that, by bending her head, she could escape her father's gaze.

"I can tell you one of the things that brought me to a resolve," she
said. "I found that Mr. Jacks was disturbed by the fear of a public
scandal which would touch our name; so much disturbed that, on meeting
me after aunt's death, he could hardly conceal his gladness that she
was out of the way."

"Are you sure you read him aright?"

"Very sure."

"It was natural--in Arnold Jacks."

"It was. I had not understood that before."

"His relief may have been as much on your account as his own."

"I can't feel that," replied Irene. "If it were true, he could have
made me feel it. There would have been something--if only a word--in
the letter he wrote me about the death. I didn't expect him to talk to
me about the hateful things that were going on; I _did_ hope that he
would give me some assurance of his indifference to their effect on
people's minds. Yet no; that is not quite true. Even then, I had got
past hoping it. Already I understood him too well."

"Strange! All this new light came after your engagement?"

Irene bent her head again, for her cheeks were warm. In a flash of
intellect, she wondered that a man so deep in the science of life
should be so at a loss before elementary facts of emotional experience.
She could only answer by saying nothing.

Dr. Derwent murmured his next words.

"I, too, have a share in the blame of all this."

"You, father?"

"I knew the man better than you did or could. I shirked a difficult
duty. But one reason why I did so, was that I felt in doubt as to your
mind. The fact that you were my daughter did not alter the fact that
you were a woman, and I could not have any assurance that I understood
you. If there had been a question of his life, his intellectual powers,
his views--I would have said freely just what I thought. But there was
no need; no objection rose on that score; you saw the man, from that
point of view, much as I did--only with a little more sympathy. In
other respects, I trusted to what we call women's instinct, women's
perceptiveness. To me, he did not seem your natural mate; but then I
saw with man's eyes; I was afraid of meddling obtusely."

"Don't reproach yourself, father. The knowledge I have gained could
only have come to me in one way."

"Of course he will turn to me, in appeal against you."

"If so, it will be one more proof how rightly I am acting."

The Doctor smiled, all but laughed.

"Considering how very decent a fellow he is, your mood seems severe,
Irene. Well, you have made up your mind. It's an affair of no small
gravity, and we must get through it as best we can. I have no doubt
whatever it's worse for you than for anyone else concerned."

"It is so bad for me, father, that, when I have gone through it, I
shall be at the end of my strength. I shall run away from the after
consequences."

"What do you mean?"

"I shall accept Mrs. Horisoff's invitation and go to Paris. It is
deserting you, but----"

Dr. Derwent wore a doubtful look; he pondered, and began to pace the
floor.

"We must think about that."

Though her own mind was quite made up, Irene did not see fit to say
more at this juncture. She rose. Her father continued moving hither and
thither, his hands behind his back, seemingly oblivious of her
presence. To him, the trouble seemed only just beginning, and he was
not at all sure what the end would be.

"Jacks will come this evening, I suppose?" he threw out, as Irene
approached the door.

"Perhaps this afternoon."

He looked at her with sympathy, with apprehension. Irene endeavouring
to smile in reply, passed from his view.

Olga had gone out, merely saying that she wished to see a friend, and
that she might not be back to luncheon. She did not return. Father and
daughter were alone together at the meal. Contrary to Irene's
expectation, the Doctor had become almost cheerful; he made one or two
quiet jokes in the old way, of course on any subject but that which
filled their minds, and his behaviour was marked with an unusual
gentleness. Irene was so moved by grateful feeling, that now and then
she could not trust her voice.

"Let me remind you," he said, observing her lack of appetite, "that an
ill-nourished brain can't be depended upon for sanity of argument."

"It aches a little," she replied quietly.

"I was afraid so. What if you rest to-day, and let me postpone for you
that interview----?"

The suggestion was dreadful; she put it quickly aside. She hoped with
all her strength that Arnold Jacks would have received the letter
already, and that he would come to see her this afternoon. To pass
another night with her suspense would be a strain scarce endurable.

Fog still hung about the streets, shifting, changing its density, but
never allowing a glimpse of sky. Alone in the drawing-room Irene longed
for the end of so-called day, that she might shut out that
spirit-crushing blotch of bare trees and ugly houses. She thought of a
sudden, how much harder we make life than it need be, by dwelling amid
scenes that disgust, in air that lowers vitality. There fell on her a
mood of marvelling at the aims and the satisfactions of mankind. This
hideous oblong, known as Bryanston Square--how did it come to seem a
desirable place of abode? Nay, how was it for a moment tolerable to
reasoning men and women? This whole London now gasping in foul vapours
that half obscured, half emphasised its inexpressible monstrosity, its
inconceivable abominations--by what blighting of eye and soul did a
nation come to accept it as their world-shown pride, their supreme
City? She was lost in a truth-perceiving dream. Habit and association
dropped away; things declared themselves in their actuality; her mind
whirled under the sense of human folly, helplessness, endurance.

"Irene----"

A cry escaped her; she started at the sound of her name as if
terrified. Arnold Jacks had entered the room, and drawn near to her,
whilst she was deep in reverie.

"I am sorry to have alarmed you," he added, smiling tolerantly.

With embarrassment which was almost shame--for she despised womanish
nervousness--Irene turned towards the fireplace, where chairs invited
them.

"Let us sit down and talk," she said, in a softened voice. "I am so
grateful to you for coming at once."



CHAPTER XXVII


His manner was that to which she had grown accustomed, or differed so
little from it that, in ordinary circumstances, she would have remarked
no peculiarity. He might have seemed, perhaps, a trifle less
matter-of-fact than usual, slightly more disposed to ironic
playfulness. At ease in the soft chair, his legs extended, with feet
crossed, he observed Irene from under humorously bent brows; watched
her steadily, until he saw that she could bear it no longer. Then he
spoke.

"I thought we should get through without it."

"Without what?"

"This little reaction. It comes into the ordinary prognosis, I believe;
but we seemed safe. Yet I can't say I'm sorry. It's better no doubt, to
get this over before marriage."

Irene flushed, and for a moment strung herself to the attitude of
offended pride. But it passed. She smiled to his smile, and, playing
with the tassel of her chair, responded in a serious undertone.

"I hoped my letter could not possibly be misunderstood."

"I understand it perfectly. I am here to talk it over from your own
standpoint."

Again he frowned jocosely. His elbows on the chair-arms, he tapped
together the points of his fingers, exhibiting nails which were all
that they should have been. Out of regard for the Derwents' mourning,
he wore a tie of black satin, and his clothes were of dark-grey, a
rough material which combined the effects of finish and of
carelessness--note of the well-dressed Englishman.

"We cannot talk it over," rejoined Irene. "I have nothing to
say--except that I take blame and shame to myself, and that I entreat
your forgiveness."

Under his steady eye, his good-humoured, watchful mastery, she was
growing restive.

"I was in doubt whether to come to-day," said Jacks, in a reflective
tone. "I thought at first of sending a note, and postponing our
meeting. I understood so perfectly the state of mind in which you
wrote--the natural result of most painful events. The fact is, I am
guilty of bad taste in seeming to treat it lightly; you have suffered
very much, and won't be yourself for some days. But, after all, it
isn't as if one had to do with the ordinary girl. To speak frankly I
thought it was the kindest thing to come--so I came."

Nothing Arnold had ever said to her had so appealed to Irene's respect
as this last sentence. It had the ring of entire sincerity; it was
quite simply spoken; it soothed her nerves.

"Thank you," she answered with a grateful look. "You did right. I could
not have borne it--if you had just written and put it off. Indeed, I
could not have borne it."

Arnold changed his attitude; he bent forward, his arms across his
knees, so as to be nearer to her.

"Do you think _I_ should have had an easy time?"

"I reproach myself more than I can tell you. But you must
understand--you _must_ believe that I mean what I am saying!" Her voice
began to modulate. "It is not only the troubles we have gone through. I
have seen it coming--the moment when I should write that letter.
Through cowardice, I have put it off. It was very unjust to you; you
have every right to condemn my behaviour; I am unpardonable. And yet I
hope--I do so hope--that some day you will pardon me."

In the man's eyes she had never been so attractive, so desirable, so
essentially a woman. The mourning garb became her, for it was moulded
upon her figure, and gave effect to the admirably pure tone of her
complexion. Her beauty, in losing its perfect healthfulness, gained a
new power over the imagination; the heavy eyes suggested one knew not
what ideal of painters and poets; the lips were more sensuous since
they had lost their mocking smile. All passion of which Arnold Jacks
was capable sounded in the voice with which he now spoke.

"I shall never pardon you, because I shall never feel you have injured
me. Say to me what you want to say. I will listen. What can I do better
than listen to your voice? I won't argue; I won't contradict. Relieve
your mind, and let us see what it all comes to in the end."

Irene had a creeping sense of fear. This tone was so unlike what she
had expected. Physical weakness threatened a defeat which would have
nothing to do with her will. If she yielded now, there would be no
recovering her self-respect, no renewal of her struggle for liberty.
She wished to rise, to face him upon her feet, yet had not the courage.
His manner dictated hers. They were not playing parts on a stage, but
civilised persons discussing their difficulties in a soft-carpeted
drawing-room. The only thing in her favour was that the afternoon drew
on, and the light thickened. Veiled in dusk, she hoped to speak more
resolutely.

"Must I repeat my letter?"

"Yes, if you feel sure that it still expresses your mind."

"It does. I made a grave mistake. In accepting your offer of marriage,
I was of course honest, but I didn't know what it meant; I didn't
understand myself. Of course it's very hard on you that your serious
purpose should have for its only result to teach me that I was
mistaken. If I didn't know that you have little patience with such
words, I should say that it shows something wrong in our social habits.
Yet that's foolish; you are right, that is quite silly. It isn't our
habits that are to blame but our natures--the very nature of things. I
had to engage myself to you before I could know that I ought to have
done nothing of the kind."

She paused, suddenly breathless, and a cough seized her.

"You've taken cold," said Jacks, with graceful solicitude.

"No, no! It's nothing."

Dusk crept about the room. The fire was getting rather low.

"Shall I ring for lamps?" asked Arnold, half rising.

Irene wished to say no, but the proprieties were too strong. She
allowed him to ring the bell, and, without asking leave, he threw coals
upon the fire. For five minutes their dialogue suffered interruption;
when it began again, the curtains were drawn, and warm rays succeeded
to turbid twilight.

"I had better explain to you," said Arnold, in a tone of delicacy
overcome, "this state of mind in which you find yourself. It is
perfectly natural; one has heard of it; one sees the causes of it. You
are about to take the most important step in your whole life, and,
being what you are, a very intelligent and very conscientious girl, you
have thought and thought about its gravity until it frightens you.
That's the simple explanation of your trouble. In a week--perhaps in a
day or two--it will have passed. Just wait. Don't think of it. Put your
marriage--put me--quite out of your mind. I won't remind you of my
existence for--let us say before next Sunday. Now, is it agreed?"

"I should be dishonest if I pretended to agree."

"But--don't you think you owe it to me to give what I suggest a fair
trial?"

The words were trenchant, the tone was studiously soft. Irene strung
herself for contest, hoping it would come quickly and undisguised.

"I owe you much. I have done you a great injustice. But waiting will do
no good. I know my mind at last. I see what is possible and what
impossible."

"Do you imagine, Irene, that I can part with you on these terms? Do you
really think I could shake hands, and say good-bye, at this stage of
our relations?"

"What can I do?" Her voice, kept low, shook with emotion. "I confess an
error--am I to pay for it with my life?"

"I ask you only to be just to yourself as well as to me. Let three days
go by, and see me again."

She seemed to reflect upon it. In truth she was debating whether to
persevere in honesty, or to spare her nerves with dissimulation. A
promise to wait three days would set her free forthwith; the temptation
was great. But something in her had more constraining power.

"If I pretended to agree, I should be ashamed of myself. I should have
passed from error into baseness. You would have a right to despise me;
as it is, you have only a right to be angry."

As though the word acted upon his mood, Arnold sprang forward from the
chair, fell upon one knee close beside her, and grasped her hands.
Irene instinctively threw herself back, looking frightened; but she did
not attempt to rise. His face was hot-coloured, his eyes shone
unpleasantly; but before he spoke, his lips parted in a laugh.

"Are you one of the women," he said, "who have to be conquered? I
didn't think so. You seemed so reasonable."

"Do you dream of conquering a woman who cannot love you?"

"I refuse to believe it. I recall your own words."

He made a movement to pass one arm about her waist.

"No! After what I have said----!"

Her hands being free, she sprang up and broke away from him. Arnold
rose more slowly, his look lowered with indignation. Eyes bent on the
ground, hands behind him, he stood mute.

"Must I leave you?" said Irene, when she could steady her voice.

"That is my dismissal?"

"If you cannot listen to me, and believe me--yes."

"All things considered, you are a little severe."

"You put yourself in the wrong. However unjust I have been to you, I
can't atone by permitting what you call conquest. No, I assure you, I
am _not_ one of those women."

His eyes were now fixed upon her; his lips announced a new
determination, set as they were in the lines of resentful dignity.

"Let me put the state of things before you," he said in his softest
tones, just touched with irony. "The fact of our engagement has been
published. Our marriage is looked for by a host of friends and
acquaintances, and even by the mere readers of the newspapers. All but
at the last moment, on a caprice, an impulse you do not pretend to
justify to one's intelligence, you declare it is all at an end. Pray,
how do you propose to satisfy natural curiosity about such a strange
event?"

"I take all the blame. I make it known that I have
behaved--unreasonably; if you will disgracefully."

"That word," replied Jacks, faintly smiling, "has a meaning in this
connection which you would hardly care to reflect upon. Take it that
you have said this to your friends: what do _I_ say to _mine_?"

Irene could not answer.

"I have a pleasant choice," he pursued. "I can keep silence--which
would mean scandal, affecting both of us, according to people's
disposition. Or I can say with simple pathos, 'Miss Derwent begged me
to release her.' Neither alternative is agreeable to me. It may be
unchivalrous. Possibly another man would beg to be allowed to sacrifice
his reputation, to ensure your quiet release. To be frank with you, I
value my reputation, I value my chances in life. I have no mind to make
myself appear worse than I am."

Irene had sunk into her chair again. As he talked, Jacks moved to a
sofa near her, and dropped on to the end of it.

"Surely there is a way," began the girl's voice, profoundly troubled.
"We could let it be known, first of all, that the marriage was
postponed. Then--there would be less talk afterwards."

He leaned towards her, upon his elbow.

"It interests me--your quiet assumption that my feelings count for
nothing."

Irene reddened. She was conscious of having ignored that aspect of the
matter, and dreaded to have to speak of it. For the revelation made to
her of late taught her that, whatever Arnold Jacks' idea of love might
be, it was not hers. Yet perhaps in his way, he loved her--the way
which had found expression a few minutes ago.

"I can only repeat that I am ashamed."

"If you would grant me some explanation," Jacks resumed, with his most
positive air, that of the born man of business. "Don't be afraid of
hurting my sensibilities. Have I committed myself in any way?"

"It is a change in myself--I was too hasty--I reflected afterwards
instead of before----"

"Forgive me if I make the most of that admission. Your hastiness was
certainly not my fault. I did not unduly press you; there was no
importunity. Such being the case, don't you think I may suggest that
you ought to bear the consequences? I can't--I really can't think them
so dreadful."

Irene kept silence, her face bent and averted.

"Many a girl has gone through what you feel now, but I doubt whether
ever one before acted like this. They kept their word; it was a point
of honour."

"I know; it is true." She forced herself to look at him. "And the
result was lives of misery--dishonour--tragedies."

"Oh, come now----"

"You _dare_ not contradict me!" Her eyes flashed; she let her feeling
have its way. "As a man of the world, you know the meaning of such
marriages, and what they may, what they do often, come to. A girl hears
of such facts--realises them too late. You smile. No, I don't want to
talk for effect; it isn't my way. All I mean is that I, like so many
girls who have never been in love, accepted an offer of marriage on the
wrong grounds, and came to feel my mistake--who knows how?--not long
after. What you are asking me to do, is to pay for the innocent error
with my life. The price is too great. You speak of your feelings; they
are not so strong as to justify such a demand--And there's another
thought that surely must have entered your mind. Knowing that I feel it
impossible to marry you, how can you still, with any shadow of
self-respect, urge me to do so? Is your answer, again, fear of what
people will say? That seems to me more than cowardice. How strange that
an honourable man doesn't see it so!"

Jacks abandoned his easy posture, sat straight, and fixed upon her a
look of masculine disdain.

"I simply don't believe in the impossibility of your becoming my wife."

"Then talk is useless. I can only tell you the truth, and reclaim my
liberty."

"It's a question of time. You wouldn't--well, say you couldn't marry me
to-morrow. A month hence you would be willing. Because you suffer from
a passing illusion, I am to unsettle all my arrangements, and face an
intolerable humiliation. The thing is impossible."

With vast relief Irene heard him return upon this note, and strike it
so violently. She felt no more compunction. The man was finally
declared to her, and she could hold her own against him. Her headache
had grown fierce; her mouth was dry; shudders of hot and cold ran
through her. The struggle must end soon.

"I am forgetting hospitality," she said, with sudden return to her
ordinary voice. "You would like tea."

Arnold waved his hand contemptuously.

"No?--Then let us understand each other in the fewest possible words."

"Good." He smiled, a smile which seemed to tighten every muscle of his
face. "I decline to release you from your promise."

She could meet his gaze, and did so as she answered with cold
collectedness:

"I am very sorry. I think it unworthy of you."

"I shall make no change whatever in my arrangements. Our marriage will
take place on the day appointed."

"That can hardly be, Mr. Jacks, if the bride is not there."

"Miss Derwent, the bride will be there!"

He was not jesting. All the man's pride rose to assert dominion. The
prime characteristic of his nation, that personal arrogance which is
the root of English freedom, which accounts for everything best, and
everything worst, in the growth of English power, possessed him to the
exclusion of all less essential qualities. He was the subduer amazed by
improbable defiance. He had never seen himself in such a situation it
was as though a British admiral on his ironclad found himself mocked by
some elusive little gunboat, newly invented by the condemned foreigner.
His intellect refused to acknowledge the possibility of discomfiture;
his soul raged mightily against the hint of bafflement. Humour would
not come to his aid; the lighter elements of race were ousted; he was
solid insolence, wooden-headed self-will.

Irene had risen.

"I am not feeling quite myself. I have said all there is to be said,
and I must beg you to excuse me."

"You should have begun by saying that. It is what I insisted upon."

"Shall we shake hands, Mr. Jacks?"

"To be sure!"

"It is good-bye. You understand me? If, after this, you imagine an
engagement between us, you have only yourself to blame."

"I take the responsibility." He released her hand, and made a stiff
bow. "In three days, I shall call."

"You will not see me."

"Perhaps not. Then, three days later. Nothing whatever is changed
between us. A little discussion of this sort is all to the good.
Plainly, you have thought me a much weaker man than I am: when that
error of judgment is removed, our relations will be better than ever."

The temptation to say one word more overcame Irene's finer sense of the
becoming. Jacks had already taken his hat, and was again bowing, when
she spoke.

"You are so sure that your will is stronger than mine?"

"Perfectly sure," he replied, with superb tranquillity.

No one had ever seen, no one again would ever see, that face of high
disdainful beauty, pain-stricken on the fair brow, which Irene for a
moment turned upon him. As he withdrew, the smile that lurked behind
her scorn glimmered forth for an instant, and passed in the falling of
a tear.

She went to her room, and lay down. The sleep she had not dared to hope
for fell upon her whilst she was trying to set her thoughts in order.
She slept until eight o'clock; her headache was gone.

Neither with her father, nor with Olga, did she speak of what had
passed.

Before going to bed, she packed carefully a large dress-basket and a
travelling-bag, which a servant brought down for her from the box-room.
Again she slept, but only for an hour or two, and at seven in the
morning she rose.



CHAPTER XXVIII


The breakfast hour was nine o'clock. Dr. Derwent, as usual, came down a
few minutes before, and turned over the letters lying for him on the
table. Among them he found an envelope addressed in a hand which looked
very much like Irene's; it had not come by post. As he was reading the
note it contained, Eustace and Olga Hannaford entered together,
talking. He bade them good-morning, and all sat down to table.

"Irene's late," said Eustace presently, glancing at the clock.

The Doctor looked at him with an odd smile.

"She left Victoria ten minutes ago," he said, "by the Calais-boat
express."

Eustace and Olga stared, exclaimed.

"She suddenly made up her mind to accept an invitation from Mrs.
Borisoff."

"But--what an extraordinary thing!" pealed Eustace, who was always
greatly disturbed by anything out of routine. "She didn't speak of it
yesterday!"

Olga gazed at the Doctor. Her wan face had a dawn of brightness.

"How long is she likely to stay, uncle?"

"I haven't the least idea."

"Well, she can't stay long," Eustace exclaimed. "Ah! I have it! Don't
you see, Olga? It means Parisian dresses and hats!"

Dr. Derwent exploded in laughter.

"Acute young man! Now the ordinary male might have lost himself for a
day in wild conjectures. This points to the woolsack, Olga!"

She laughed for the first time in many days, and her appetite for
breakfast was at once improved.

In his heart, Dr. Derwent did not grieve over the singular events of
yesterday and this morning. He had no fault to find with Arnold Jacks,
and could cheerfully accept him as a son-in-law; but it was easy to
imagine a husband more suitable for such a girl as Irene. Moreover, he
had suspected, since the engagement, that she had not thoroughly known
her own mind. But he was far from anticipating such original and
decisive action on the girl's part. The thing being done, he could
secretly admire it, and the flight to Paris relieved his mind from a
prospect of domestic confusion. Just for a moment he questioned himself
as to Irene's security, but only to recognise how firm was his
confidence in her.

Socially, the position was awkward. He had a letter from Jacks, a
sensible and calmly worded letter, saying that Irene was overwrought by
recent agitations, that she had spoken of putting an end to their
engagement, but that doubtless a few days would see all right again.
Arnold must now be apprised of what had happened, and, as all
consideration was due to him, the Doctor despatched a telegram asking
him to call as soon as he could. This brought Jacks to Bryanston Square
at midday, and there was a conversation in the library. Arnold spoke
his mind; with civility, but in unmistakable terms; he accused the
Doctor of remissness. "Paternal authority," it seemed to him, should
have sufficed to prevent what threatened nothing less than a scandal.
Irene's father could not share this view; the girl was turned
three-and-twenty; there could be no question of dictating to her, and
as for expostulation, it had been honestly tried.

"You are aware, I hope," said Jacks stiffly, "that Mrs. Borisoff has
not quite an unclouded reputation?"

"I know no harm against her."

"She is as good as parted from her husband, and leads a very dubious
wandering life."

"Oh, it's all right. People countenance her who wouldn't do so if there
were anything really amiss."

"Well, Dr. Derwent," said the young man in a conclusive tone,
"evidently all is at an end. It remains for us to agree upon the manner
of making it known. Should the announcement come from your side or from
mine?"

The Doctor reflected.

"You no longer propose to wait the effect of a little time?"

"Emphatically, no. This step of Miss Derwent's puts that out of the
question."

"I see--Perhaps you feel that, in justice to yourself, it should be
made known that she has done something of which you disapprove?"

Arnold missed the quiet irony of this question.

"Not at all. Our engagement ended yesterday; with to-day's events I
have nothing to do."

"That is the generous view," said Dr. Derwent, smiling pleasantly. "Do
you know, I fancy we had better each of us tell the story in his own
way. It will come to that in the end, won't it? You had a disagreement;
you thought better of your proposed union; what more simple? I see no
room for scandal."

"Be it so. Have the kindness to acquaint Miss Derwent with what has
passed between us."

After dinner that evening, Dr. Derwent related the matter to his son.
Eustace was astounded, and presently indignant. It seemed to him
inconceivable that Arnold Jacks should have suffered this affront. He
would not look at things from his sister's point of view; absurd to
attempt a defence of her; really, really, she had put them all into a
most painful position! An engagement was an engagement, save in the
event of grave culpability on either side. Eustace spoke as a lawyer;
his professional instincts were outraged. He should certainly call upon
the Jacks' and utterly dissociate himself from his sister in this
lamentable affair.

"Why, what a shock it will be to Mrs. Jacks!"

"She'll get over it, I fancy," remarked the Doctor drily.

The young barrister withdrew to his room, where he read hard until very
late. Eustace was no trifler; he had brains, and saw his way to make
use of them to the one end which addressed his imagination, that of
social self-advancement. His studies to-night were troubled with a
resentful fear lest Irene's "unwomanly" behaviour (a generation ago it
would have been "unladylike") should bring the family name into some
discredit. Little ejaculations escaped him, such as "Really!" and "Upon
my word!" Eustace had never been known to use stronger language.

When his son had retired, Dr. Derwent stepped up to the drawing-room,
where Olga Hannaford was sitting. After kindly regretting that she
should be alone, he repeated to his niece what he had just told
Eustace. Doubtless she would here very soon from Irene.

"I have already heard something about this," said Olga. "I'm sure she
has done right, but no one will ever know what it cost her."

"That's the very point we have all been losing sight of," observed her
uncle, gratified. "It would have been a good deal easier, no doubt, to
go on to the marriage."

"Easier!" echoed the girl. "She has done the most wonderful thing! I
admire her, and envy her strength of character."

The Doctor's eyes had fallen upon that crayon portrait which held the
place of honour on the drawing-room walls. Playing with superstition,
as does every man capable of high emotional life, he was wont to see in
the pictured countenance of his dead wife changes of expression,
correspondent with the mood in which he regarded it. At one time the
beloved features smiled upon him; at another they were sad, or anxious.
To-night, the eyes, the lips were so strongly expressive of gladness
that he felt startled as he gazed. A joy from the years gone by
suddenly thrilled him. He sat silent, too deeply moved by memories for
speech about the present. And when at length he resumed talk with Olga,
his voice was very gentle, his words all kindliness. The girl had never
known him so sympathetic with her.

On the morrow--it was Saturday--Olga received a letter from Piers
Otway, who said that he had something of great importance to speak
about, and must see her; could they not meet at the Campden Hill House,
it being inadvisable for him to call at Dr. Derwent's? Either this
afternoon or to-morrow would do, if Olga would appoint a time.

She telegraphed, appointing this afternoon at three.

Half an hour before that, she entered the house, which was now occupied
only by a caretaker. Dr. Derwent was trying to let it furnished for the
rest of the short lease. Olga had a fire quickly made in the
drawing-room, and ordered tea. She laid aside her outdoor things,
viewed herself more than once in a mirror, and moved about restlessly.
When there sounded a visitor's knock at the front door, she flushed and
was overcome with nervousness; she stepped forward to meet her friend,
but could not speak. Otway had taken her hand in both his own; he
looked at her with grave kindliness. It was their first meeting since
Mrs. Hannaford's death.

"I hesitated about asking you to see me here," he said. "But I
thought--I hoped----"

His embarrassment increased, whilst Olga was gaining self-command.

"You were quite right," she said. "I think I had rather see you here
than anywhere else. It isn't painful to me--oh! anything but painful!"

They sat down. Piers was holding a large envelope, bulgy with its
contents, whatever they were, and sealed; his eyes rested upon it.

"I have to speak of something which at first will sound unwelcome to
you; but it is only the preface to what will make you very glad. It is
about my brother. I have seen him two or three times this last week on
a particular business, in which at length I have succeeded. Here," he
touched the envelope, "are all the letters he possessed in your
mother's writing."

Olga looked at him in distressful wonder and suspense.

"Not one of them," he pursued, "contains a line that you should not
read. They prove absolutely, beyond shadow of doubt, that the charge
brought against your mother was false. The dates cover nearly five
years--from a simple note of invitation to Ewell--you remember--down to
a letter written about three weeks ago. Of course I was obliged to read
them through; I knew to begin with what I should find. Now I give them
to you. Let Dr. Derwent see them. If any doubt remains in his mind,
they will make an end of it."

He put the packet into Olga's hands. She, overcome for the moment by
her feelings, looked from it to him, at a loss for words. She was
struck with a change in Otway. That he should speak in a grave tone,
with an air of sadness, was only natural; but the change went beyond
this; he had not his wonted decision in utterance; he paused between
sentences, his eyes wandering dreamily; one would have taken him for an
older man than he was wont to appear, and of less energy. Thus might he
have looked and spoken after some great effort, which left him wearied,
almost languid, incapable of strong emotion.

"Why didn't he show these letters before?" she asked, turning over the
sealed envelope.

"He had no wish to do so," answered Piers, in an undertone.

"You mean that he would have let anything happen--which he could have
prevented?"

"I'm afraid he would."

"But he offered them now?"

"No--or rather yes, he offered them," Piers smiled bitterly. "Not
however, out of wish to do justice."

Olga could not understand. She gazed at him wistfully.

"I bought them," said Piers. "It made the last proof of his baseness."

"You gave money for them? And just that you might give them to me?"

"Wouldn't you have done the same, to clear the memory of someone you
loved?"

Olga laid the packet aside; then, with a quick movement, stepped
towards him, caught his hand, pressed it to her lips. Piers was taken
by surprise, and could not prevent the action; but at once Olga's own
hand was prisoned in his; they stood face to face, she blushing
painfully, he pale as death, with lips that quivered in their vain
effort to speak.

"I shall be grateful to you as long as I live," the girl faltered,
turning half away, trying gently to release herself.

Piers kissed her hand, again and again, still speechless. When he
allowed her to draw it away, he stood gazing at her like a man
bewildered; there was moisture on his forehead; he seemed to struggle
for breath.

"Let us sit down again and talk," said Olga, glancing at him.

But he moved towards her, the strangest look in his eyes, the fixed
expressionless gaze of a somnambulist.

"Olga----"

"No, no!" she exclaimed, as if suddenly stricken with fear, throwing
out her arms to repel him. "You didn't mean that! It is my fault. You
never meant that."

"Yes! Give me your hand again!" he said in a thick voice, the blood
rushing into his cheeks.

"Not now. You misunderstood me. I oughtn't to have done that. It was
because I could find no word to thank you."

She panted the sentences, holding her chair as if to support herself,
and with the other hand still motioning him away.

"I misunderstood----?"

"I am ashamed--it was thoughtless--sit down and let us talk as we were
doing. Just as friends, it is so much better. We meant nothing else."

It was as if the words fell from her involuntarily; they were babbled,
rather than spoken; she half laughed, half cried. And Otway, a mere
automaton, dropped upon his chair, gazing at her, trembling.

"I will let my uncle see the letters at once," Olga went on, in
confused hurry. "I am sure he will be very grateful to you. But for
you, we should never have had this proof. I, of course, did not need
it; as if I doubted my mother! But he--I can't be sure what he still
thinks. How kind you have always been to us!"

Piers stood up again, but did not move toward her. She watched him
apprehensively. He walked half down the room and back again, then
exclaimed, with a wild gesture:

"I never knew what a curse one's name could be! I used to be proud of
it, because it was my father's; now I would gladly take any other."

"Just because of that man?" Olga protested. "What does it matter?"

"You know well what it matters," he replied, with an unnatural laugh.

"To me--nothing whatever."

"You try to think not. But the name will be secretly hateful to you as
long as you live."

"Oh! How can you say that! The name is yours, not his. Think how long
we knew you before we heard of him! I am telling the simple truth. It
is you I think of, when----"

He was drawing nearer to her, and again that strange, fixed look came
into his eyes.

"I wanted to ask you something," said Olga quickly. "Do sit down--will
you? Let us talk as we used to--you remember?"

He obeyed her, but kept his eyes on her face.

"What do you wish to ask, Olga?"

The name slipped from his tongue; he had not meant to use it, and did
not seem conscious of having done so.

"Have you seen old Mr. Jacks lately?"

"I saw him last night."

"Last night?" Her breath caught. "Had he anything--anything interesting
to say?"

"He is ill. I only sat with him for half an hour. I don't know what it
is. It doesn't keep him in bed; but he lies on a sofa, and looks
dreadfully ill, as if he suffered much pain."

"He told you nothing?"

Their eyes met.

"Nothing that greatly interested me," replied Piers heavily, with the
most palpable feint of carelessness. "He mentioned what of course you
know, that Arnold Jacks is not going to be married after all."

Olga's head drooped, as she said in a voice barely audible:

"Ah, you knew it."

"What of that?"

"I see--you knew it----"

"What of that, Olga?" he repeated impatiently. "I knew it as a bare
fact--no explanation. What does it mean? You know, I suppose?"

In spite of himself, look and tones betrayed his eagerness for her
reply.

"They disagreed about something," said Olga. "I don't know what. I
shouldn't wonder if they make it up again."

At this moment the woman in care of the house entered with the
tea-tray. To give herself a countenance, Olga spoke of something
indifferent, and when they were alone again, their talk avoided the
personal matters which had so embarrassed both of them. Olga said
presently that she was going to see her friend Miss Bonnicastle
to-morrow.

"If I could see only the least chance of supporting myself, I would go
to live with her again. She's the most sensible girl I know, and she
did me good."

"How, did you good?"

"She helped me against myself," replied Olga abruptly. "No one else
ever did that."

Then she turned again to the safer subjects.

"When shall I see you again?" Otway inquired, rising after a long
silence, during which both had seemed lost in their thoughts.

"Who knows?--But I will write and tell you what my uncle says about the
letters, if he says anything. Again, thank you!"

She gave her hand frankly. Piers held it, and looked into her face as
once before.

"Olga----"

The girl uttered a cry of distress, drew her hand away, and exclaimed
in a half-hysterical voice:

"No! What right have you?"

"Every right! Do you know what your mother said to me--her last words
to me----?"

"You mustn't tell me!" Her tones were softer. "Not to-day. If we meet
again----"

"Of course we shall meet again!"

"I don't know. Yes, yes; we shall. But you must go now; it is time I
went home."

He touched her hand again, and left the room without looking back.
Before the door had closed behind him, Olga ran forward with a stifled
cry. The door was shut. She stood before it with tears in her eyes, her
fingers clenched together on her breast, and sobbed miserably.

For nearly half an hour she sat by the fire, head on hands, deeply
brooding. In the house there was not a sound. All at once it seemed to
her that a voice called, uttering her name; she started, her blood
chilled with fear. The voice was her mother's; she seemed still to hear
it, so plainly had it been audible, coming from she knew not where.

She ran to her hat and jacket, which lay in a corner of the room, put
them on with feverish haste, and fled out into the street.



CHAPTER XXIX


"I will be frank with you, Piers," said Daniel Otway, as he sat by the
fireside in his shabby lodgings, his feet on the fender, a cigarette
between his fingers. He looked yellow and dried up; shivered now and
then, and had a troublesome cough. "If I could afford to be generous, I
would be; I should enjoy it. It's one of the worst evils of poverty,
that a man can seldom obey the promptings of his better self. I can't
give you these letters; can't afford to do so. You have glanced through
them; you see they really are what I said. The question is, what are
they worth to you?"

Piers looked at the threadbare carpet, reflected, spoke.

"I'll give you fifty pounds."

A smile crept from the corners of Daniel's shrivelled lips to his
bloodshot eye.

"Why are you so anxious to have them," he said, "I don't know and don't
ask. But if they are worth fifty to you, they are worth more. You shall
have them for two hundred."

And at this figure the bundle of letters eventually changed hands. It
was a serious drain on Piers Otway's resources, but he could not
bargain long, the talk sickened him. And when the letters were in his
possession, he felt a joy which had no equivalent in terms of cash.

He said to himself that he had bought them for Olga. In a measure, of
course, for all who would be relieved by knowing that Mrs. Hannaford
had told the truth; but first and foremost for Olga. On Olga he kept
his thoughts. He was persuading himself that in her he saw his heart's
desire.

For Piers Otway was one of those men who cannot live without a woman's
image to worship. Irene Derwent being now veiled from him, he turned to
another beautiful face, in whose eyes the familiar light of friendship
seemed to be changing, softening. Ambition had misled him; not his to
triumph on the heights of glorious passion; for him a humbler happiness
a calmer love. Yet he would not have been Piers Otway had this mood
contented him. On the second day of his dreaming about Olga, she began
to shine before his imagination in no pale light. He mused upon her
features till they became the ideal beauty; he clad her, body and soul,
in all the riches of love's treasure-house; she was at length his
crowned lady, his perfect vision of delight.

With such thoughts had he sat by Mrs. Hannaford, at the meeting which
was to be their last. He was about to utter them, when she spoke Olga's
name. "In you she will always have a friend? If the worst happens----?"
And when he asked, "May I hope that she would some day let me be more
than that?" the glow of joy on that stricken face, the cry of rapture,
the hand held to him, stirred him so deeply that his old love-longing
seemed a boyish fantasy. "Oh, you have made me happy! You have blotted
out all my follies and sufferings!" Then the poor tortured mind lost
itself.

This was the second death which had upon Piers Otway the ageing effect
known to all men capable of thoughts about mortality. The loss of his
father marked for him the end of irresponsible years; he entered upon
manhood with that grief blended of reverence and affection. By the
grave of Mrs. Hannaford (he stood there only after the burial) he was
touched again by the advancing shadow of life's dial, and it marked the
end of youth. For youth is a term relative to heart and mind. At
six-and-twenty many a man has of manhood only the physique; many
another is already falling through experience to a withered age. Piers
had the sense of transition; the middle years were opening before him.
The tears he shed for his friend were due in part to the poignant
perception of utter severance with boyhood. But a few weeks ago,
talking with Mrs. Hannaford, he could revive the spirit of those old
days at Geneva, feel his identity with the Piers Otway of that time. It
would never be within his power again. He might remember, but memory
showed another than himself.

A note from John Jacks summoned him to Queen's Gate. Not till
afterwards did he understand that Mr. Jacks' real motive in sending for
him was to get light upon the rupture between Arnold and Miss Derwent.
Piers' astonishment at what he heard caused his friend to quit the
subject.

In the night that followed, Piers for the first time in his life felt
the possibility of base action. The experience has come to all men,
and, whatever the result, always leaves its mark. Looking at the fact
of Irene's broken engagement, he could explain it only in one way; the
cause must be Mrs. Hannaford--the doubt as to her behaviour, the
threatened scandal. Idle to attempt surmises as to the share of either
side in what had come about; the difference had been sufficiently grave
to part them. And this parting was to him a joy which shook his whole
being. He could have raised a song of exultation.

And in his hands lay complete evidence of the dead woman's
guiltlessness. To produce it was possibly to reconcile Arnold Jacks and
Irene. Viewed by his excited mind, the possible became certain; he
evolved a whole act of drama between those two, turning on prejudices,
doubts, scruples natural in their position; he saw the effect of their
enlightenment. Was it a tempting thought, that he could give Irene back
again into her bridegroom's arms.

It brought sweat to his forehead; it shook him with the fierce torture
of a jealous imagination. He fortified base suggestion by the natural
revolt of his flesh. Once had he passed through the fire; to suffer
that ordeal again was beyond human endurance. Irene was free. He paced
the room, repeating wildly that Irene was free. And the mere fact of
her freedom proved that she did not love the man--so it seemed to him,
in his subordination of every motive to that passionate impulse. To him
it brought no hope--what of that! Irene did not belong to another man.

The fire needed stirring. As he broke the black surface of coal, a
flame shot up, red, lambent, a serpent's tongue. It had a voice; it
tempted. He took the packet of letters from the table.

He had not yet read them through; had only tested them here and there
under his brother's eye. Yes, they were the letters of a woman, who,
suffering (as he knew) the strongest temptation to which her nature
could be exposed, subdued herself in obedience to what she held the law
of duty. He read page after page. Again and again she all but said, "I
love you"; again and again she told her tempter that his suit was
useless, that she would rather die than yield. Daniel Otway had used
every argument to persuade her to defy the world and follow him--easy
to understand his motives. One saw that, if she had been alone, she
would have done so; but there was her daughter, there was her brother;
to them she sacrificed what seemed to her the one chance of happiness
left in a wasted life.

Piers interrupted his reading to hear once more the voice that
counselled baseness. Whom would it injure, if he destroyed these
papers? Certainly not Irene, his first thought, who, he held it proved,
was well rescued from a mistaken marriage. Not Dr. Derwent, or Olga,
who, he persuaded himself, had already no doubt whatever of Mrs.
Hannaford's innocence. Not the poor dead woman herself----

What was this passage on which his eye had fallen? "I have long had a
hope that your brother Piers might marry Olga. It would make me very
happy; I cannot imagine for her a better husband. It came first into my
mind years ago, at Geneva, and I have never lost the wish. Ah! how
grateful you would make me, if, forgetting ourselves, you would join me
in somehow trying to bring about this happiness for those two! Piers is
coming to live in London. Do see as much of him as you can. I think
very, very highly of him, and he is almost as dear to me as a son of my
own. Speak to him of Olga. Sometimes a suggestion--and you know that I
desire only his good."

The voice spoke to him from the grave; it had a sweeter tone than that
other. He read on; he came to the last sheet--so sad, so hopeless, that
it brought tears to his eyes.

"Cannot you defend me? Cannot you prove the falsehood of that story?
Cannot you save me from this bitter disgrace? Oh, who will show the
truth and do me justice?"

Could he burn that letter? Could he close his ears against that cry of
one driven to death by wrong?

He drew a deep sigh, and looked about him as if waking from a bad
dream. Why, he had come near to whole brotherhood with a man as coldly
cruel and infamous as any that walked the earth! Destroying these
letters, he would have been worse than Daniel.

Straightway he wrote to Olga, requesting the appointment with her. Upon
Olga once more he fixed his mind. He resolved that he would not part
from her without asking her to be his wife. If he had but done so
before hearing that news from John Jacks! Then it seemed to him that
Olga was his happiness.

From the house at Campden Hill he came away in a strangely excited
mood; glad, sorry; cold, desirous; torn this way and that by conflict
of passions and reasons. The only clear thought in his mind was that he
had done a great act of justice. How often does it fall to a man to
enjoy this privilege? Not once in a lifetime to the multitude such
opportunity is the signal favour of fate. Had he let it pass, Piers
felt he must have sunk so in his own esteem, that no light of noble
hope would ever again have shone before him. He must have gone plodding
the very mire of existence--Daniel's brother, never again anything but
Daniel's brother.

Would Dr. Derwent give him a thought of thanks? Would Irene hear how
these letters were recovered?

Sunday passed, he knew not well how. He wrote a letter to Olga, but
destroyed it. On Monday he was very busy, chiefly at the warehouses of
the Commercial Docks; a man of affairs; to look upon, not strikingly
different from many another with whom he rubbed shoulders in Fenchurch
Street and elsewhere. On Tuesday he had to go to Liverpool, to see an
acquaintance of Moncharmont who might perchance be useful to them. The
journey, the change, were not unpleasant. He passed the early evening
with the man in question, who asked him at what hotel he meant to
sleep. Piers named the house he had carelessly chosen, adding that he
had not been there yet; his bag was still at the station.

"Don't go there," said his companion. "It's small and uncomfortable and
dear. You'll do much better at----"

Without giving a thought to the matter, Otway accepted this advice. He
went to the station, withdrew his bag, and bade a cabman drive him to
the hotel his acquaintance had named. But no sooner had the cab started
than he felt an unaccountable misgiving, an uneasiness as to this
change of purpose. Strange as he was to Liverpool, there seemed no
reason why he should hesitate so about his hotel; yet the mental
disturbance became so strong that, when all but arrived, he stopped the
cab and bade his driver take him to the other house, that which he had
originally chosen. A downright piece of superstition, he said to
himself, with a nervous laugh. He could not remember to have ever
behaved so capriciously.

The hotel pleased him. After inspecting his bedroom, he came down again
to smoke and glance over the newspapers; it was about half-past nine.
Half a dozen men were in the smoking-room; by ten o'clock there
remained, exclusive of Piers, only three, of whom two were discussing
politics by the fireside, whilst the third sat apart from them in a
deep chair, reading a book. The political talk began to interest Otway;
he listened, behind his newspaper. The louder of the disputants was a
man of about fifty, dressed like a prosperous merchant; his cheeks were
flabby, his chin triple or quadruple, his short neck, always very red,
grew crimson as he excited himself. He was talking about the
development of markets for British wares, and kept repeating the phrase
"trade outlets," as if it had a flavour which he enjoyed. England, he
declared, was falling behind in the competition for the world's trade.

"It won't do. Mark my word, if we don't show more spirit, we shall be
finding ourselves in Queer Street. Look at China, now! I call it a
monstrous thing, perfectly monstrous, the way we're neglecting China."

"My dear sir," said the other, a thin, bilious man, with an undecided
manner, "we can't force our goods on a country----"

"What! Why, that's exactly what we _can_ do, and ought to do! What we
always _have_ done, and always _must_ do, if we're going to hold our
own," vociferated he of the crimson neck. "I was speaking of China, if
you hadn't interrupted me. What are the Russians doing? Why, making a
railway straight to China! And we look on, as if it didn't matter, when
the matter is national life or death. Let me give you some figures. I
know what I'm talking about. Are you aware that our trade with China
amounts to only half a crown a head of the Chinese population? Half a
crown! While with little Japan, our trade comes to something like
eighteen shillings a head. Let me tell you that the equivalent of that
in China would represent about three hundred and sixty millions per
annum!"

He rolled out the figures with gusto culminating in rage. His eyes
glared; he snorted defiance, turning from his companion to the two
strangers whom he saw seated before him.

"I say that it's our duty to force our trade upon China. It's for
China's good--can you deny that? A huge country packed with wretched
barbarians! Our trade civilises them--can you deny it? It's our duty,
as the leading Power of the world! Hundreds of millions of poor
miserable barbarians. And"--he shouted--"what else are the Russians, if
you come to that? Can _they_ civilise China? A filthy, ignorant nation,
frozen into stupidity, and downtrodden by an Autocrat!"

"Well," murmured the diffident objector, "I'm no friend of tyranny; I
can't say much for Russia----"

"I should think you couldn't. Who can? A country plunged in the
darkness of the Middle Ages! The country of the _knout_! Pah! Who _can_
say anything for Russia?"

Vociferating thus, the champion of civilisation fixed his glare upon
Otway, who, having laid down the paper, answered this look of challenge
with a smile.

"As you seem to appeal to me," sounded in Piers' voice, which was
steady and good-humoured, "I'm bound to say that Russia isn't
altogether without good points. You spoke of it, by the bye, as the
country of the knout; but the knout, as a matter of fact, was abolished
long ago."

"Well, well--yes; yes--one knows all about that," stammered the loud
man. "But the country is still ruled in the _spirit_ of the knout. It
doesn't affect my argument. Take it broadly, on an ethnological basis."
He expanded his chest, sticking his thumbs into the armholes of his
waistcoat. "The Russians are a Slavonic people, I presume?"

"Largely Slav, yes."

"And pray, sir, what have the Slavs done for the world? What do we owe
them? What Slavonic name can anyone mention in the history of progress?"

"Two occur to me," replied Piers, in the same quiet tone, "well worthy
of a place in the history of intellectual progress. There was a Pole
named Kopernik, known to you, no doubt, as Copernicus, who came before
Galileo; and there was a Czech named Huss--John Huss--who came before
Luther."

The bilious man was smiling. The fourth person present in the room, who
sat with his book at some distance, had turned his eyes upon Otway with
a look of peculiar interest.

"You've made a special study, I suppose, of this sort of thing," said
the fat-faced politician, with a grin which tried to be civil,
conveying in truth, the radical English contempt for mere intellectual
attainment. "You're a supporter of Russia, I suppose?"

"I have no such pretension. Russia interests me, that's all."

"Come now, would you say that in any single point Russia, modern
Russia, as we understand the term, had shown the way in _practical_
advance?"

All were attentive--the silent man with the book seeming particularly
so.

"I should say in one rather important point," Piers replied. "Russia
was the first country to abolish capital punishment for ordinary crime."

The assailant showed himself perplexed, incredulous. But this state of
mind, lasting only for a moment, gave way to genial bluster.

"Oh, come now! That's a matter of opinion. To let murderers go
unhung----"

"As you please. I could mention another interesting fact. Long before
England dreamt of the simplest justice for women, it was not an
uncommon thing for a Russian peasant who had appropriated money earned
by his wife, to be punished with a flogging by the village commune."

"A flogging! Why, there you are!" cried the other, with hoarse
laughter--"What did I say? If it isn't the knout, it's something
equivalent. As if we hadn't proved long ago the demoralising effect of
corporal chastisement! We should be ashamed, sir, to flog men nowadays
in the army or navy. It degrades: we have outgrown it-- No, no, sir, it
won't do! I see you have made a special study and you've mentioned very
interesting facts; but you must see that they are wide of the
mark--painfully wide of the mark--I must be thinking of turning in;
have to be up at six, worse luck, to catch a train. Good-night, Mr.
Simmonds! Good-night to you, sir--good-night!"

He bustled away, humming to himself; and, after musing a little, the
bilious man also left the room. Piers thought himself alone, but a
sound caused him to turn his head; the person whom he had forgotten,
the silent reader, had risen and was moving his way. A tall, slender,
graceful man, well dressed, aged about thirty. He approached Otway,
came in front of him, looked at him with a smile, and spoke.

"Sir, will you permit me to thank you for what you have said in defence
of Russia--my country?"

The English was excellent; almost without foreign accent. Piers stood
up, and held out his hand, which was cordially grasped. He looked into
a face readily recognizable as that of a Little Russian; a rather
attractive face, with fine, dreamy eyes and a mouth expressive of quick
sensibility; above the good forehead, waving chestnut hair.

"You have travelled in Russia?" pursued the stranger.

"I lived at Odessa for some years, and I have seen something of other
parts."

"You speak the language?"

Piers offered proof of this attainment, by replying in a few Russian
sentences. His new acquaintance was delighted, again shook hands, and
began to talk in his native tongue. They exchanged personal
information. The Russian said that his name was Korolevitch; that he
had an estate in the Government of Poltava, where he busied himself
with farming, but that for two or three months of each year he
travelled. Last winter he had spent in the United States; he was now
visiting the great English seaports, merely for the interest of the
thing. Otway felt how much less impressive was the account he had to
give of himself, but his new friend talked with such perfect
simplicity, so entirely as a good-humoured man of the world, that any
feeling of subordination was impossible.

"Poltava I know pretty well," he said gaily. "I've been more than once
at the July fair, buying wool. At Kharkoff too, on the same business."

They conversed for a couple of hours, at first amusing themselves with
the rhetoric and arguments of the red-necked man. Korolevitch was a
devoted student of poetry, and discovered not without surprise the
Englishman's familiarity with that branch of Russian literature. He
heard with great interest the few words Otway let fall about his
father, who had known so many Russian exiles. In short, they got along
together admirably, and, on parting for the night, promised each other
to meet again in London some ten days hence.

When he had entered his bedroom, and turned the key in the lock, Piers
stood musing over this event. Of a sudden there came into his mind the
inexplicable impulse which brought him to this hotel, rather than to
that recommended by the Liverpool acquaintance. An odd incident,
indeed. It helped a superstitious tendency of Otway's mind, the
disposition he had, spite of obstacle and misfortune, to believe that
destiny was his friend.



CHAPTER XXX


At home again, Piers wrote to Olga, the greater part of the letter
being occupied with an account of what had happened at Liverpool. It
was not a love-letter, yet differed in tone from those he had hitherto
written her; he spoke with impatience of the circumstances which made
it difficult for them to meet, and begged that it might not be long
before he saw her again. Olga's reply came quickly; it was frankly
intimate, with no suggestion of veiled feeling. Her mother's letters,
she said, were in Dr. Derwent's hands. "I told him who had given them
to me, and how you obtained them. I doubt whether he will have anything
to say to me about them, but that doesn't matter; he knows the truth."
As for their meeting, any Sunday afternoon he would find her at Miss
Bonnicastle's, in Great Portland Street. "I wish I were living there
again," she added. "My uncle is very kind, but I can't feel at home
here, and I hope I shall not stay very long."

So, on the next Sunday, Piers wended his way to Great Portland Street.
Arriving about three o'clock, he found the artist of the posters
sitting alone by her fire, legs crossed and cigarette in mouth.

"Ah, Mr. Otway!" she exclaimed, turning her head to see who entered in
reply to her cry of "Don't be afraid!" Without rising, she held a hand
to him. "I didn't think I should ever see you here again. How are you
getting on? Beastly afternoon--come and warm your toes."

The walls were hung with clever brutalities of the usual kind. Piers
glanced from them to Miss Bonnicastle, speculating curiously about her.
He had no active dislike for this young woman, and felt a certain
respect for her talent, but he thought, as before, how impossible it
would be ever to regard her as anything but an abnormality. She was not
ill-looking, but seemed to have no single characteristic of her sex
which appealed to him.

"What do you think of that?" she asked abruptly, handing him an
illustrated paper which had lain open on her lap.

The page she indicated was covered with some half-dozen small drawings,
exhibiting scenes from a popular cafe in Paris, done with a good deal
of vigour, and some skill in the seizing of facial types.

"Your work?" he asked.

"Mine?" she cried scoffingly. "I could no more do that than swim the
channel. Look at the name, can't you?"

He found it in a corner.

"Kite? Our friend?"

"That's the man. He's been looking up since he went to Paris. Some
things of his in a French paper had a lot of praise; nude
figures--queer symbolical stuff, they say, but uncommonly well done. I
haven't seen them; in London they'd be called indecent, the man said
who was telling me about them. Of course that's rot. He'll be here in a
few days, Olga says."

"She hears from him?"

"It was a surprise letter; he addressed it to this shop, and I sent it
on--that's only pot-boiling, of course." She snatched back the paper.
"But it's good in its way--don't you think?"

"Very good."

"We must see the other things they talk about--the nudes."

There was a knock at the door. "Come along!" cried Miss Bonnicastle,
craning back her head to see who would enter. And on the door opening,
she uttered an exclamation of surprise.

"Well, this is a day of the unexpected! Didn't know you were in
England."

Piers saw a slim, dark, handsome man, who, in his elegant attire,
rather reminded one of a fashion plate; he came briskly forward,
smiling as if in extreme delight, and bent over the artist's hand,
raising it to his lips.

"Now, _you'd_ never do that," said Miss Bonnicastle, addressing Otway,
with an air of mock gratification. "This is Mr. Florio, the
best-behaved man I know. Signor, you've heard us speak of Mr. Otway.
Behold him!"

"Ah! Mr. Otway, Mr. Otway!" cried the Italian joyously. "Permit me the
pleasure to shake hands with you! One more English friend! I collect
English friends, as others collect pictures, bric-a-brac, what you
will. Indeed, it is my pride to add to the collection--my privilege, my
honour."

After exchange of urbanities, he turned to the exhibition on the walls,
and exhausted his English in florid eulogy, not a word of which but
sounded perfectly sincere. From this he passed to a glorification of
the art of advertisement. It was the triumph of our century, the
supreme outcome of civilisation! Otway, amusedly observant, asked with
a smile what progress the art was making in Italy.

"Progress!" cried Florio, with indescribable gesture. "Italy and
progress!--Yet," he proceeded, with a change of voice, "where would
Italy be, but for advertisements? Italy lives by advertisements. She is
the best advertised country in the world! Suppose the writers and
painters ceased to advertise Italy; suppose it were no more talked
about; suppose foreigners ceased to come! What would happen to Italy, I
ask you?"

His face conveyed so wonderfully the suggestion of ravenous hunger,
that Miss Bonnicastle screamed with laughter. Piers did not laugh, and
turned away for a moment.

Soon after, there entered Olga Hannaford. Seeing the two men, she
reddened and looked confused, but Miss Bonnicastle's noisy greeting
relieved her. Her hand was offered first to Otway, who pressed it
without speaking; their eyes met, and to Piers it seemed that she made
an appeal for his forbearance, his generosity. The behaviour of the
Italian was singular. Mute and motionless, he gazed at Olga with a
wonder which verged on consternation; when she turned towards him, he
made a profound bow, as though he met her for the first time.

"Don't you remember me, Mr. Florio?" she asked, in an uncertain voice.

"Oh--indeed--perfectly," was the stammered reply.

He took her fingers with the most delicate respectfulness, again bowing
deeply; then drew back a little, his eyes travelling rapidly to the
faces of the others, as if seeking an explanation. Miss Bonnicastle
broke the silence, saying they must have some tea, and calling upon
Olga to help her in preparing it. For a minute or two the men were left
alone. Florio, approaching Piers on tiptoe, whispered anxiously:

"Miss Hannaford is in mourning?"

"Her mother is dead."

With a gesture of desolation, the Italian moved apart, and stood
staring absently at a picture on the wall. For the next quarter of an
hour, he took scarcely any part in the conversation; his utterances
were grave and subdued; repeatedly he glanced at Olga, and, if able to
do so unobserved, let his eyes rest upon her with agitated interest.
But for the hostess, there would have been no talk at all, and even she
fell far short of her wonted vivacity When things were at their most
depressing, someone knocked.

"Who's that, I wonder?" said Miss Bonnicastle. "All right!" she called
out. "Come along."

A head appeared; a long, pale, nervous countenance, with eyes that
blinked as if in too strong a light. Miss Bonnicastle started up,
clamouring an excited welcome. Olga flushed and smiled. It was Kite who
advanced into the room; on seeing Olga he stood still, became painfully
embarrassed, and could make no answer to the friendly greetings with
which Miss Bonnicastle received him. Forced into a chair at length, and
sitting sideways, with his long legs intertwisted, and his arms
fidgeting about, he made known that he had arrived only this morning
from Paris, and meant to stay in London for a month or two--perhaps
longer--it depended on circumstances. His health seemed improved, but
he talked in the old way, vaguely, languidly. Yes, he had had a little
success; but it amounted to nothing; his work--rubbish! rubbish!
Thereupon the cafe sketches in the illustrated papers were shown to
Florio, who poured forth exuberant praise. A twinkle of pleasure came
into the artist's eyes.

"But the other things we heard about?" said Miss Bonnicastle. "The
what-d'ye-call 'ems, the figures----"

Kite shrugged his shoulders, and looked uneasy.

"Oh, pot-boilers! Poor stuff. Happened to catch people's eyes. Who told
you about them?"

"Some man--I forget. And what are you doing now?"

"Oh, nothing. A little black-and-white for that thing," he pointed
contemptuously to the paper. "Keeps me from idleness."

"Where are you going to live?"

"I don't know. I shall find a garret somewhere. Do you know of one
about here?"

Olga's eyes chanced to meet a glance from Otway. She moved, hesitated,
and rose from her chair. Kite and the Italian gazed at her, then cast a
look at each other, then both looked at Otway, who had at once risen.

"Do you walk home?" said Piers, stepping towards her.

"I'd better have a cab."

It was said in a quietly decisive tone, and Piers made no reply. Both
took leave with few words. Olga descended the stairs rapidly, and,
without attention to her companion, turned at a hurried pace down the
dark street. They had walked nearly a hundred yards when she turned her
head and spoke.

"Can't you suggest some way for me to earn my living? I mean it. I must
find something."

"Have you spoken to your uncle about it?" asked Piers mechanically.

"No; it's difficult. If I could go to him with something definite."

"Have you spoken to your cousin?"

Olga delayed an instant, and answered with an embarrassed abruptness.

"She's gone to Paris."

Before Piers could recover from his surprise, she had waved to an empty
hansom driving past.

"Think about it," she added, "and write to me. I must do something.
This life of loneliness and idleness is unbearable."

And Piers thought; to little purpose, for his mind was once more turned
to Irene, and it cost him a painful effort to dwell upon Olga's
circumstances. He postponed writing to her, until shame compelled him,
and the letter he at length despatched seemed so empty, so futile, that
he could not bear to think of her reading it. With astonishment he
received an answer so gratefully worded that it moved his heart. She
would reflect on the suggestions he had made; moreover, as he advised,
she would take counsel frankly with the Doctor; and, whatever was
decided, he should hear at once. She counted on him as a friend, a true
friend; in truth, she had no other. He must continue to write to her,
but not often, not more than once a fortnight or so. And let him be
assured that she never for a moment forgot her lifelong debt to him.

This last sentence referred, no doubt, to her mother's letters. Dr.
Derwent, it seemed, would make no acknowledgment of the service
rendered him by a brother of the man whom he must regard as a pitiful
scoundrel. How abhorred by him must be the name of Otway!

And could it be less hateful to his daughter, to Irene?

The days passed. A pleasant surprise broke the monotony of work and
worry when, one afternoon, the office-boy handed in a card bearing the
name Korolevitch. The Russian was spending a week in London, and Otway
saw him several times; on one occasion they sat talking together till
three in the morning. To Piers this intercourse brought vast mental
relief, and gave him an intellectual impulse of which he had serious
need in his life of solitude, ever tending to despondency. Korolevitch,
on leaving England, volunteered to call upon Moncharmont at Odessa. He
had wool to sell, and why not sell it to his friends? But he, as well
as Piers, looked for profit of another kind from this happy
acquaintance.

It was not long before Otway made another call upon Miss Bonnicastle,
and at this time, as he had hoped, he found her alone, working. He led
their talk to the subject of Kite.

"You ought to go and see him in his garret," said Miss Bonnicastle.
"He'd like you to."

"Tell me, if you know," threw out the other, looking into her broad,
good-natured face. "Is he still interested in Miss Hannaford?"

"Why, of course! He's one of the stupids who keep up that kind of thing
for a lifetime. But 'he that will not when he may'! Poor silly fellow!
How I should enjoy boxing his ears!"

They laughed, but Miss Bonnicastle seemed very much in earnest.

"He's tormenting his silly self," she went on, "because he has been
unfaithful to her. There was a girl in Paris. Oh, he tells me
everything! We're good friends. The girl over there did him enormous
good, that's all I know. It was she that set him to work, and supplied
him with his model at the same time! What better could have happened.
And now the absurd creature has qualms of conscience!"

"Well," said Piers, smiling uneasily, "it's intelligible."

"Bosh! Don't be silly! A man has his work to do, and he must get what
help he can. I shall pack him off back to Paris."

"I'll go and see him, I think. About the Italian, Florio. Has he also
an interest?"

"In Olga? Yes, I fancy he has, but I don't know much about him. He
comes and goes, on business. There's a chance, I think, of his dropping
in for money before long. He isn't a bad sort--what do you think?"

That same afternoon Piers went in search of Kite's garret. It was a
garret literally, furnished with a table and a bed, and little else,
but a large fire burned cheerfully, and on the table, beside a
drawing-board, stood a bottle of wine. When he had welcomed his
visitor, Kite pointed to the bottle.

"I got used to it in Paris," he said, "and it helps me to work. I
shan't offer you any, or you might be made ill; the cheapest claret on
the market, but it reminds me of--of things."

There rose in Otway's mind a suspicion that, to-day at all events, Kite
had found his cheap claret rather too seductive. His face had an
unwonted warmth of colour, and his speech an unusual fluency. Presently
he opened a portfolio and showed some of the work he had done in Paris:
drawings in pen-and-ink, and the published reproductions of others;
these latter, he declared, were much spoilt in the process work. The
motive was always a nude female figure, of great beauty; the same face,
with much variety of expression; for background all manner of fantastic
scenes, or rather glimpses and suggestions of a poet's dreamland.

"You see what I mean?" said Kite. "It's simply Woman, as a beautiful
thing, as a--a--oh, I can't get it into words. An ideal, you
know--something to live for. Put her in a room--it becomes a different
thing. Do you feel my meaning? English people wouldn't have these, you
know. They don't understand. They call it sensuality."

"Sensuality!" cried Piers, after dreaming for a moment. "Great heavens!
then why are human bodies made beautiful?"

The artist gave a strange laugh of gratification.

"There you hit it! Why--why? The work of the Devil, they say."

"The worst of it is," said Piers, "that they're right as regards most
men. Beauty, as an inspiration, exists only for the few. Beauty of any
and every kind--it's all the same. There's no safety for the world as
we know it, except in utilitarian morals."

Later, when he looked back upon these winter months, Piers could
distinguish nothing clearly. It was a time of confused and obscure
motives, of oscillation, of dreary conflict, of dull suffering. His
correspondence with Olga, his meetings with her, had no issue. He made
a thousand resolves; a thousand times he lost them. But for the day's
work, which kept him in an even tenor for a certain number of hours, he
must have drifted far and perilously.

It was a life of solitude. The people with whom he talked were mere
ghosts, intangible, not of his world. Sometimes, amid a crowd of human
beings, he was stricken voiceless and motionless: he stared about him,
and was bewildered, asking himself what it all meant.

His health was not good; he suffered much from headaches; he fell into
languors, lassitude of body and soul. As a result, imagination seemed
to be dead in him. The torments of desire were forgotten. When he heard
that Irene Derwent had returned to London, the news affected him only
with a sort of weary curiosity. Was it true that she would not marry
Arnold Jacks? It seemed so. He puzzled over the story, wondered about
it; but only his mind was concerned, never his emotions.

Once he was summoned to Queen's Gate. John Jacks lay on a sofa, in his
bedroom; he talked as usual, but in a weaker voice, and had the face of
a man doomed. Piers saw no one else in the house, and on going away
felt that he had been under that roof for the last time.

His mind was oppressed with the thought of death. As happens, probably,
to every imaginative man at one time or another, he had a conviction
that his own days were drawing to a premature close. Speculation about
the future seemed idle; he had come to the end of hopes and fears.
Night after night his broken sleep suffered the same dream; he saw Mrs.
Hannaford, who stretched her hands to him, and with a face of silent
woe seemed to implore his help. Help against Death; and his
powerlessness wrung his heart with anguish. Waking, he thought of all
the women--beautiful, tender, objects of infinite passion and
worship--who even at that moment lay smitten by the great destroyer;
the gentle, the loving, racked, disfigured, flung into the horror of
the grave. And his being rose in revolt; he strove in silent agony
against the dark ruling of the world.

One day there was of tranquil self-possession, of blessed calm. A
Sunday in January, when, he knew not how, he found himself amid the
Sussex lanes, where he had rambled in the time of harvest. The weather,
calm and dry and mild, but without sunshine, soothed his spirit. He
walked for hours, and towards nightfall stood upon a wooded hill,
gazing westward. An overcast, yet not a gloomy sky; still,
soft-dappled; with rifts and shimmerings of pearly blue scattered among
multitudinous billows, which here were a dusky yellow, there a deep
neutral tint. In the low west, beneath the long dark edge, a soft
splendour, figured with airy cloudlets, waited for the invisible
descending sun. Moment after moment the rifts grew longer, the tones
grew warmer; above began to spread a rosy flush; in front, the glory
brightened, touching the cloud-line above it with a tender crimson.

If all days could be like this! One could live so well, he thought, in
mere enjoyment of the beauty of earth and sky, all else forgotten.
Under this soft-dusking heaven, death was welcome rest, and passion
only a tender sadness.

He said to himself that he had grown old in hopeless love--only to
doubt in the end whether he had loved at all.



CHAPTER XXXI


The lad he employed in his office was run over by a cab one slippery
day, and all but killed. Piers visited him in the hospital, thus seeing
for the first time the interior of one of those houses of pain, which
he always disliked even to pass. The experience did not help to
brighten his mood; he lacked that fortunate temper of the average man,
which embraces as a positive good the less of two evils. The long,
grey, low-echoing ward, with its atmosphere of antiseptics; the rows of
little white camp-beds, an ominous screen hiding this and that; the
bloodless faces, the smothered groan, made a memory that went about
with him for many a day.

It strengthened his growing hatred of London, a huge battlefield
calling itself the home of civilisation and of peace; battlefield on
which the wounds were of soul no less than of body. In these gaunt
streets along which he passed at night, how many a sad heart suffered,
by the dim glimmer that showed at upper windows, a hopeless solitude
amid the innumerable throng! Human cattle, the herd that feed and
breed, with them it was well; but the few born to a desire for ever
unattainable, the gentle spirits who from their prisoning circumstance
looked up and afar how the heart ached to think of them! Some girl, of
delicate instinct, of purpose sweet and pure, wasting her unloved life
in toil and want and indignity; some man, whose youth and courage
strove against a mean environment, whose eyes grew haggard in the vain
search for a companion promised in his dreams; they lived, these two,
parted perchance only by the wall of neighbour houses, yet all huge
London was between them, and their hands would never touch. Beside this
hunger for love, what was the stomach-famine of a multitude that knew
no other?

The spring drew nigh, and Otway dreaded its coming. It was the time of
his burning torment, of imagination traitor to the worthier mind; it
was the time of reverie that rapt him above everything ignoble, only to
embitter by contrast the destiny he could not break. He rose now with
the early sun; walked fast and far before the beginning of his day's
work, with an aim he knew to be foolish, yet could not abandon. From
Guildford Street, along the byways, he crossed Tottenham Court Road,
just rattling with its first traffic, crossed Portland Place, still in
its soundest sleep, and so onward till he touched Bryanston Square. The
trees were misty with half-unfolded leafage birds twittered cheerily
among the branches; but Piers heeded not these things. He stood before
the high narrow-fronted house, which once he had entered as a guest,
where never again would he be suffered to pass the door. Irene was
here, he supposed, but could not be sure, for on the rare occasions
when he saw Olga Hannaford they did not speak of her cousin. Of the
course her life had taken, he knew nothing whatever. Here, in the chill
bright morning, he felt more a stranger to Irene than on the day, six
years ago, when with foolish timidity he ventured his useless call. She
was merely indifferent to him then; now she shrank from the sound of
his name.

On such a morning, a few weeks later, he pursued his walk in the
direction of Kensington, and passed along Queen's Gate. It was between
seven and eight o'clock. Nearing John Jacks house, he saw a carriage at
the door; it could of course be only the doctor's, and he became sad in
thinking of his kind old friend, for whom the last days of life were
made so hard. Just as he was passing, the door opened, and a man,
evidently a doctor, came quickly forth. With movement as if he were
here for this purpose, Otway ran up the steps; the servant saw him, and
waited with the door still open.

"Will you tell me how Mr. Jacks is?" he asked.

"I am sorry to say, sir," was the subdued answer, "that Mr. Jacks died
at three this morning."

Piers turned away. His eyes dazzled in the sunshine.

The evening papers had the news, with a short memoir--half of which was
concerned not with John Jacks, but with his son Arnold.

It seemed to him just possible that he might receive an invitation to
attend the funeral; but nothing of the kind came to him. The slight, he
took it for granted, was not social, but personal. His name, of course,
was offensive to Arnold Jacks, and probably to Mrs. John Jacks; only
the genial old man had disregarded the scandal shadowing the Otway name.

On the morrow, it was made known that the deceased Member of Parliament
would be buried in Yorkshire, in the village churchyard which was on
his own estate. And Otway felt glad of this; the sombre and crowded
hideousness of a London cemetery was no place of rest for John Jacks.

A fortnight later, at eleven o'clock on Sunday morning, Piers mounted
with a quick stride the stairs leading to Miss Bonnicastle's abode. The
door of her workroom stood ajar; his knock brought no response; after
hesitating a little, he pushed the door open and went in.

Accustomed to the grotesques and vulgarities which generally met his
eye upon these walls, he was startled to behold a life-size figure of
great beauty, suggesting a study for a serious work of art rather than
a design for a street poster. It was a woman, in classic drapery,
standing upon the seashore, her head thrown back, her magnificent hair
flowing unrestrained, and one of her bare arms raised in a gesture of
exultation. As he gazed at the drawing with delight, Miss Bonnicastle
appeared from the inner room, dressed for walking.

"What do you think of _that_?" she exclaimed.

"Better than anything you ever did!"

"True enough! That's Kite. Don't you recognise his type?"

"One thinks of Ariadne," said Piers, "but the face won't do for her."

"Yes, it's Ariadne--but I doubt if I shall have the brutality to finish
out my idea. She is to have lying on the sand by her a case of
Higginson's Hair-wash, stranded from a wreck, and a bottle of it in her
hand. See the notion? Her despair consoled by discovery of Higginson!"

They laughed, but Piers broke off in half-serious anger.

"That's damnable! You won't do it. For one thing, the mob wouldn't
understand. And in heaven's name do spare the old stories! I'm amazed
that Kite should consent to it."

"Poor old fellow!" said Miss Bonnicastle, with an indulgent smile,
"he'll do anything a woman asks of him. But I shan't have the heart to
spoil it with Higginson; I know I shan't."

"After all," Piers replied, "I don't know why you shouldn't. What's the
use of our scruples? That's the doom of everything beautiful."

"We'll talk about it another time. I can't stop now. I have an
appointment. Stay here if you like, and worship Ariadne. I shouldn't
wonder if Olga looks round this morning, and it'll disappoint her if
there's nobody here."

Piers was embarrassed. He had asked Olga to meet him, and wondered
whether Miss Bonnicastle knew of it. But she spared him the necessity
of any remark by speeding away at once, bidding him slam the door on
the latch when he departed.

In less than ten minutes, there sounded a knock without, and Piers
threw the door open. It was Olga, breathing rapidly after her ascent of
the stairs, and a startled look in her eyes as she found herself face
to face with Otway. He explained his being here alone.

"It is kind of you to have come!"

"Oh, I have enjoyed the walk. A delicious morning! And how happy one
feels when the church bells suddenly stop!"

"I have often known that feeling," said Piers merrily. "Isn't it
wonderful, how London manages to make things detestable which are
pleasant in other places! The bells in the country!--But sit down. You
look tired----"

She seated herself, and her eyes turned to the beautiful figure on the
wall. Piers watched her countenance.

"You have seen it already?" he said.

"A few days ago."

"You know who did it?"

"Mr. Kite, I am told," she answered absently. "And," she added, after a
pause, "I think he disgraced himself by lending his art to such a
purpose."

Piers said nothing, and looked away to hide his smile of pleasure.

"I asked you to come," were his next words, "to show you a letter I
have had from John Jacks' solicitors."

Glancing at him with surprise, Olga took the letter he held out, and
read it. In this communication, Piers Otway was informed that the will
of the late Mr. Jacks bequeathed to him the capital which the testator
had invested in the firm of Moncharmont & Co., and the share in the
business which it represented.

"This is important to you," said the girl, after reflecting for a
moment, her eyes down.

"Yes, it is important," Piers answered, in a voice not quite under
control. "It means that, if I choose, I can live without working at the
business. Just live; no more, at present, though it may mean more in
the future. Things have gone well with us, for a beginning; much better
than I, at all events, expected. What I should like to do, now, would
be to find a man to take my place in London. I know someone who, just
possibly, might be willing--a man at Liverpool."

"Isn't it a risk?" said Olga, regarding him with shamefaced anxiety.

"I don't think so. If _I_ could do so well, almost any real man of
business would be sure to do better. Moncharmont, you know, is the
indispensable member of the firm."

"And--what would you do? Go abroad, I suppose?"

"For a time, at all events. Possibly to Russia--I have a purpose--too
vague to speak of yet--I should frighten myself if I spoke of it. But
it all depends upon----" He broke off, unable to command his voice. A
moment's silence, during which he stared at the woman on the wall, and
he could speak again. "I can't go alone. I can't do--can't think
of--anything seriously, whilst I am maddened by solitude!"

Olga sat with her head bent. He drew nearer to her.

"It depends upon you. I want you for my companion--for my wife----"

She looked him in the face--a strange, agitated, half-defiant look.

"I don't think that is true! You don't want _me_----"

"You! Yes, you, Olga! And only you!"

"I don't believe it. You mean--any woman." Her voice all but choked.
"If that one"--she pointed to the wall--"could step towards you, you
would as soon have her. You would _rather_, because she is more
beautiful."

"Not in my eyes!" He seized her hand, and said, half laughing, shaken
with the moment's fever, "Come and stand beside her, and let me see how
the real living woman makes pale the ideal!"

Flushing, trembling at his touch, she rose. Her lips parted; she had
all but spoken; when there came a loud knock at the door of the room.
Their hands fell, and they gazed at each other in perturbation.

"Silence!" whispered Otway. "No reply!"

He stepped softly to the door; silently he turned the key in the lock.
No sooner had he done so, than someone without tried the handle; the
door was shaken a little, and there sounded another knock, loud,
peremptory. Piers moved to Olga's side, smiled at her reassuringly,
tried to take her hand; but, with a frightened glance towards the door,
she shrank away.

Two minutes of dead silence; then Otway spoke just above his breath.

"Gone! Didn't you hear the footstep on the stairs?"

Had she just escaped some serious peril, Olga could not have worn a
more agitated look. Her hand resisted Otway's approach; she would not
seat herself, but moved nervously hither and thither, her eyes
constantly turning to the door. It was in vain that Piers laughed at
the incident, asking what it could possibly matter to them that some
person had wished to see Miss Bonnicastle, and had gone away thinking
no one was within; Olga made a show of assenting, she smiled and
pretended to recover herself, but was still tremulous and unable to
converse.

He took her hands, held them firmly, compelled her to meet his look.

"Let us have an end of this, Olga! Your life is unhappy--let me help
you to forget. And help _me_! I want your love. Come to me--we can help
each other--put an end to this accursed loneliness, this longing and
raging that eats one's heart away!"

She suffered him to hold her close--her head bent back, the eyes half
veiled by their lids.

"Give me one day--to think----"

"Not one hour, not one minute! Now!"

"Because you are stronger than I am, that doesn't make me really
yours." She spoke in stress of spirit, her eyes wide and fearful. "If I
said 'yes,' I might break my promise. I warn you! I can't trust
myself--I warn you not to trust me!"

"I will take the risk!"

"I have warned you. Yes, yes! I will try!--Let me go now, and stay here
till I have gone. I _must_ go now!" She shook with hysterical passion.
"Else I take back my promise!--I will see you in two days; not here; I
will think of some place."

She drew towards the exit, and when her one hand was on the key, Piers,
with sudden self-subdual, spoke.

"You have promised!"

"Yes, I will write very soon."

With a look of gratitude, a smile all but of tenderness, she passed
from his sight.

On the pavement, she looked this way and that. Fifty yards away, on the
other side of the street, a well-dressed man stood supporting himself
on his umbrella, as if he had been long waiting; though to her
shortness of sight the figure was featureless, Olga trembled as she
perceived it, and started at a rapid walk towards the cabstand at the
top of the street. Instantly, the man made after her, almost running.
He caught her up before she could approach the vehicles.

"So you were there! Something told me you were there!"

"What do you mean, Mr. Florio?"

The man was raging with jealous anger; trying to smile, he showed his
teeth in a mere grin, and sputtered his words.

"The door was shut with the key! Why was that?"

"You mustn't speak to me in this way," said Olga, with troubled
remonstrance rather than indignation. "When I visit my friend, we don't
always care to be disturbed-----"

"Ha! Your friend--Miss Bonnicastle--was _not_ there! I have seen her in
Oxford Street! She said no one was there this morning, but I doubted--I
came!"

Whilst speaking, he kept a look turned in the direction of the house
from which Olga had come. And of a sudden his eyes lit with fierce
emotion.

"See! Something told me! _That_ is your friend!"

Piers Otway had come out. Olga could not have recognised him at this
distance, but she knew the Italian's eyes would not be deceived.
Instantly she took to flight, along a cross-street leading eastward.
Florio kept at her side, and neither spoke until breathlessness stopped
her as she entered Fitzroy Square.

"You are safe," said her pursuer, or companion. "He is gone the other
way. Ah! you are pale! You are suffering! Why did you run--run--run?
There was no need."

His voice had turned soothing, caressing; his eyes melted in compassion
as they bent upon her.

"I have given you no right to hunt me like this," said Olga, panting,
timid, her look raised for a moment to his.

"I take the right," he laughed musically. "It is the right of the man
who loves you."

She cast a frightened glance about the square, which was almost
deserted, and began to walk slowly on.

"Why was the door shut with the key?" asked Florio, his head near to
hers. "I thought I would break it open And I wish I had done so," he
added, suddenly fierce again.

"I have given you no right," stammered Olga, who seemed to suffer under
a sort of fascination, which dulled her mind.

"I take it!--Has _he_ a right? Tell me that! You are not good to me;
you are not honest to me; you deceive--deceive! Why was the door shut
with the key? I am astonished! I did not think this was done in
England--a lady--a young lady!"

"Oh, what do you mean?" Olga exclaimed, with a face of misery. "There
was no harm. It wasn't _I_ who wished it to be locked!"

Florio gazed at her long and searchingly, till the blood burned in her
face.

"Enough!" he said with decision, waving his arm. "I have learnt
something. One always learns something new in England. The English are
wonderful--yes, they are wonderful. _Basta_! and _addio_!"

He raised his hat, turned, moved away. As if drawn irresistibly, Olga
followed. Head down, arms hanging in the limpness of shame, she
followed, but without drawing nearer. At the corner of the square,
Florio, as if accidentally, turned his head; in an instant, he stood
before her.

"Then you do not wish good-bye?"

"You are very cruel! How can I let you think such things? You _know_
it's false!"

"But there must be explanation!"

"I can easily explain. But not here--one can't talk in the street----"

"Naturally!--Listen! It is twelve o'clock. You go home; you eat: you
repose. At three o'clock, I pay you a visit. Why not? You said it
yourself the other day, but I could not decide. Now I have decided. I
pay you a visit; you receive me privately--can you not? We talk, and
all is settled!"

Olga thought for a moment, and assented. A few minutes afterwards, she
was roiling in a cab towards Bryanston Square.

On Monday evening, Piers received a note from Olga. It ran thus:

"I warned you not to trust me. It is all over now; I have, in your own
words, 'put an end to it.' We could have given no happiness to each
other. Miss Bonnicastle will explain. Good-bye!"

He went at once to Great Portland Street. Miss Bonnicastle knew
nothing, but looked anxious when she had seen the note and heard its
explanation.

"We must wait till the morning," she said. "Don't worry. It's just what
one might have expected."

Don't worry! Piers had no wink of sleep that night. At post-time in the
morning he was at Miss Bonnicastle's, but no news arrived. He went to
business; the day passed without news; he returned to Great Portland
Street, and there waited for the last postal delivery. It brought the
expected letter; Olga announced her marriage that morning to Mr. Florio.

"It's better than I feared," said Miss Bonnicastle. "Now go home to
bed, and sleep like a philosopher."

Good advice, but not of much profit to one racked and distraught with
amorous frenzy, with disappointment sharp as death. Through the warm
spring night, Piers raved and agonised. The business hour found him
lying upon his bed, sunk in dreamless sleep.



CHAPTER XXXII


Again it was springtime--the spring of 1894. Two years had gone by
since that April night when Piers Otway suffered things unspeakable in
flesh and spirit, thinking that for him the heavens had no more
radiance, life no morrow. The memory was faint; he found it hard to
imagine that the loss of a woman he did not love could so have
afflicted him. Olga Hannaford--Mrs. Florio--was matter for a smile; he
hoped that he might some day meet her again, and take her hand with the
old friendliness, and wish her well.

He had spent the winter in St. Petersburg, and was making arrangements
for a visit to England, when one morning there came to him a letter
which made his eyes sparkle and his heart beat high with joy. In the
afternoon, having given more than wonted care to his dress, he set
forth from the lodging he occupied at the lower end of the Nevski
Prospect, and walked to the Hotel de France, near the Winter Palace,
where he inquired for Mrs. Borisoff. After a little delay, he was
conducted to a private sitting-room, where again he waited. On a table
lay two periodicals, at which he glanced, recognising with a smile
recent numbers of the _Nineteenth Century_ and the _Vyestnik Evropy_.

There entered a lady with a bright English face, a lady in the years
between youth and middle age, frank, gracious, her look of interest
speaking a compliment which Otway found more than agreeable.

"I have kept you waiting," she said, in a tone that dispensed with
formalities, "because I was on the point of going out when they brought
your card----"

"Oh, I am sorry----"

"But I am not. Instead of twaddle and boredom round somebody or other's
samovar, I am going to have honest talk under the chaperonage of an
English teapot--my own teapot, which I carry everywhere. But don't be
afraid; I shall not give you English tea. What a shame that I have been
here for two months without our meeting! I have talked about
you--wanted to know you. Look!"

She pointed to the periodicals which Piers had already noticed.

"No," she went on, checking him as he was about to sit down, "_that_ is
your chair. If you sat on the other, you would be polite and grave
and--like everybody else; I know the influence of chairs. That is the
chair my husband selects when he wishes to make me understand some
point of etiquette. Miss Derwent warned you, no doubt, of my
shortcomings in etiquette?"

"All she said to me," replied Piers, laughing, "was that you are very
much her friend."

"Well, that is true, I hope. Tell me, please; is the article in the
_Vyestnik_ your own Russian?"

"Not entirely. I have a friend named Korolevitch, who went through it
for me."

"Korolevitch? I seem to know that name. Is he, by chance, connected
with some religious movement, some heresy?"

"I was going to say I am sorry he is; yet I can't be sorry for what
honours the man. He has joined the Dukhobortsi; has sold his large
estate, and is devoting all the money to their cause. I'm afraid he'll
go to some new-world colony, and I shall see little of him henceforth.
A great loss to me."

Mrs. Borisoff kept her eyes upon him as he spoke, seeming to reflect
rather than to listen.

"I ought to tell you," she said, "that I don't know Russian.
Irene--Miss Derwent almost shamed me into working at it; but I am so
lazy--ah, so lazy! you are aware, of course, that Miss Derwent has
learnt it?"

"Has learnt Russian?" exclaimed Piers. "I didn't know--I had no
idea----"

"Wonderful girl! I suppose she thinks it a trifle."

"It's so long," said Otway, "since I had any news of Miss Derwent. I
can hardly consider myself one of her friends--at least, I shouldn't
have ventured to do so until this morning, when I was surprised and
delighted to have a letter from her about that _Nineteenth Century_
article, sent through the publishers. She spoke of you, and asked me to
call--saying she had written an introduction of me by the same post."

Mrs. Borisoff smiled oddly.

"Oh yes; it came. She didn't speak of the _Vyestnik_?"

"No."

"Yet she has read it--I happen to know. I'm sorry I can't. Tell me
about it, will you?"

The Russian article was called "New Womanhood in England." It began
with a good-tempered notice of certain novels then popular, and passed
on to speculations regarding the new ideals of life set before English
women. Piers spoke of it as a mere bit of apprentice work, meant rather
to amuse than as a serious essay.

"At all events, it's a success," said his listener. "One hears of it in
every drawing-room. Wonderful thing--you don't sneer at women. I'm told
you are almost on our side--if not quite. I've heard a passage read
into French--the woman of the twentieth century. I rather liked it."

"Not altogether?" said Otway, with humorous diffidence.

"Oh! A woman never quite likes an ideal of womanhood which doesn't
quite fit her notion of herself. But let us speak of the other thing,
in the _Nineteenth Century_--'The Pilgrimage to Kief.' For life,
colour, sympathy, I think it altogether wonderful. I have heard
Russians say that they couldn't have believed a foreigner had written
it."

"That's the best praise of all."

"You mean to go on with this kind of thing? You might become a sort of
interpreter of the two nations to each other. An original idea. The
everyday thing is to exasperate Briton against Russ, and Russ against
Briton, with every sort of cheap joke and stale falsehood. All the same
Mr. Otway, I'm bound to confess to you that I don't like Russia."

"No more do I," returned Piers, in an undertone. "But that only means,
I don't like the worst features of the Middle ages. The
Russian-speaking cosmopolitan whom you and I know isn't Russia; he
belongs to the Western Europe of to-day, his country represents Western
Europe of some centuries ago. Not strictly that, of course; we must
allow for race; but it's how one has to think of Russia."

Again Mrs. Borisoff scrutinised him as he spoke, averting her eyes at
length with an absent smile.

"Here comes my tutelary teapot," she said, as a pretty maid-servant
entered with a tray. "A phrase I got from Irene, by the bye--from Miss
Derwent, who laughs at my carrying the thing about in my luggage. She
has clever little phrases of that sort, as you know."

"Yes," fell from Piers, dreamily. "But it's so long since I heard her
talk."

When he had received his cup of tea, and sipped from it, he asked with
a serious look:

"Will you tell me about her?"

"Of course I will. But you must first tell me about yourself. You were
in business in London, I believe?"

"For about a year. Then I found myself with enough to live upon, and
came back to Russia. I had lived at Odessa----"

"You may presuppose a knowledge of what came before," interrupted Mrs.
Borisoff, with a friendly nod.

"I lived for several months with Korolevitch, on his estate near
Poltava. We used to talk--heavens! how we talked! Sometimes eight hours
at a stretch. I learnt a great deal. Then I wandered up and down
Russia, still learning."

"Writing, too?"

"The time hadn't come for writing. Korolevitch gave me no end of useful
introductions. I've had great luck on my travels."

"Pray, when did you make your studies of English women?"

Piers tried to laugh; declared he did not know.

"I shouldn't wonder if you generalise from one or two?" said his
hostess, letting her eyelids droop as she observed him lazily. "Do you
know Russian women as well?"

By begging for another cup of tea, and adding a remark on some other
subject, Piers evaded this question.

"And what are you going to do?" asked Mrs. Borisoff "Stay here, and
write more articles?"

"I'm going to England in a few days for the summer."

"That's what I think I shall do. But I don't know what part to go to.
Advise me, can you? Seaside--no; I don't like the seaside. Do you
notice how people--our kind of people, I mean--are losing their taste
for it in England? It's partly, I suppose, because of the excursion
train. One doesn't grudge the crowd its excursion train, but it's so
much nicer to imagine their blessedness than to see it. Or are you for
the other point of view?"

Otway gave an expressive look.

"That's right. Oh, the sham philanthropic talk that goes on in England!
How it relieves one to say flatly that one does _not_ love the
multitude!--No seaside, then. Lakes--no; Wales--no; Highlands--no.
Isn't there some part of England one would like if one discovered it?"

"Do you want solitude?" asked Piers, becoming more interested.

"Solitude? H'm!" She handed a box of cigarettes, and herself took one.
"Yes, solitude. I shall try to get Miss Derwent to come for a time. New
Forest--no, Please, please, do suggest! I'm nervous; your silence
teases me."

"Do you know the Yorkshire dales?" asked Otway, watching her as she
watched a nice little ring of white smoke from the end of her cigarette.

"No! That's an idea. It's your own country, isn't it?"

"But--how do you know that?"

"Dreamt it."

"I wasn't born there, but lived there as a child, and later a little.
You might do worse than the dales, if you like that kind of country.
Wensleydale, for instance. There's an old Castle, and a very
interesting one, part of it habitable, where you can get quarters."

"A Castle? Superb!"

"Where Queen Mary was imprisoned for a time, till she made an
escape----"

"Magnificent! Can I have the whole Castle to myself?"

"The furnished part of it, unless someone else has got it already for
this summer. There's a family, the caretakers, always in possession--if
things are still as they used to be."

"Write for me at once, will you? Write immediately! There is paper on
the desk."

Piers obeyed. Whilst he sat penning the letter, Mrs. Borisoff lighted a
second cigarette, her face touched with a roguish smile. She studied
Otway's profile for a moment; became grave; fell into a mood of
abstraction, which shadowed her features with weariness and melancholy.
Turning suddenly to put a question, Piers saw the change in her look,
and was so surprised that he forgot what he was going to say.

"Finished?" she asked, moving nervously in her chair.

When the letter was written, Mrs. Borisoff resumed talk in the same
tone as before.

"You have heard of Dr. Derwent's discoveries about diphtheria?-- That's
the kind of thing one envies, don't you think? After all, what can we
poor creatures do in this world, but try to ease each other's pain? The
man who succeeds in _that_ is the man I honour."

"I too," said Piers. "But he is lost sight of, nowadays, in comparison
with the man who invents a new gun or a new bullet."

"Yes--the beasts!" exclaimed Mrs. Borisoff, with a laugh. "What a
world! I'm always glad I have no children. But you wanted to speak, not
about Dr. Derwent, but Dr. Derwent's daughter."

Piers bent forward, resting his chin on his hand.

"Tell me about her--will you?"

"There's not much to tell. You knew about the broken-off marriage?"

"I knew it _was_ broken off."

"Why, that's all anyone knows, except the two persons concerned. It
isn't our business. The world talks far too much about such
things--don't you think? when we are civilised, there'll be no such
things as public weddings, and talk about anyone's domestic concerns
will be the grossest impertinence. That's an _obiter dictum_. I was
going to say that Irene lives with her father down in Kent. They left
Bryanston Square half a year after the affair. They wander about the
Continent together, now and then. I like that chumming of father and
daughter; it speaks well for both."

"When did you see her last?"

"About Christmas. We went to a concert together. That's one of the
things Irene is going in for--music. When I first knew her, she didn't
seem to care much about it, though she played fairly well."

"I never heard her play," fell from Piers in an undertone.

"No; she only did to please her father now and then. It's a mental and
moral advance, her new love of music. I notice that she talks much less
about science, much more about the things one really likes--I speak for
myself. Well, it's just possible I have had a little influence there. I
confess my inability to chat about either physic or physics. It's weak,
of course, but I have no place in your new world of women."

"You mistake, I think," said Piers. "That ideal has nothing to do with
any particular study. It supposes intelligence, that's all."

"So much the better. You must write about it in English; then we'll
debate. By the bye, if I go to your Castle, you must come down to show
me the country."

"I should like to."

"Oh, that's part of the plan. If we don't get the Castle, you must find
some other place for me. I leave it in your hands--with an apology for
my impudence."

After a pause, during which each of them mused smiling, they began to
talk of their departure for England. Otway would go direct in a few
days' time; Mrs. Borisoff had to travel a long way round, first of all
accompanying her husband to the Crimea, on a visit to relatives. She
mentioned her London hotel, and an approximate date when she might be
heard of there.

"Get the Castle if you possibly can," were her words as they parted. "I
have set my heart on the Castle."

"So have I," said Piers, avoiding her look.

And Mrs. Borisoff laughed.



CHAPTER XXXIII


Once in the two years' interval he had paid a short visit to England.
He came on disagreeable business--to see his brother Daniel, who had
fallen into the hands of the police on an infamous charge, and only by
the exertions of clever counsel (feed by Piers) received the benefit of
a doubt and escaped punishment. Daniel had already written him several
begging letters, and, when detected in what looked like crime, declared
that poverty and ill-health were his excuse. He was a broken man.
Surmising his hidden life, Piers wondered at the pass a man can be
brought to, in our society, by his primitive instincts; instincts which
may lead, when they are impetuous, either to grimiest degradation or
loftiest attainment. To save him, if possible, from the worst
extremities, Piers granted him a certain small income, to be paid
weekly, and therewith bade him final adieu.

The firm of Moncharmont & Co. grew in moderate prosperity. Its London
representative was a far better man, from the commercial point of view,
than Piers Otway, and on visiting the new offices--which he did very
soon after reaching London, in the spring of 1894--Piers marvelled how
the enterprise had escaped shipwreck during those twelve months which
were so black in his memory with storm and stress. The worst twelve
month of his life!--with the possible exception of that which he spent
part at Ewell, part at Odessa.

Since, he had sailed in no smooth water; had seen no haven. But at
least he sailed onward, which gave him courage. Was courage to be now
illumined with hope? He tried to keep that thought away from him; he
durst not foster it. Among the papers he brought with him to England
was a letter, which, having laid it aside, he never dared to open
again. He knew it by heart--unfortunately for his peace.

He returned to another London than that he had known, a London which
smiled welcome. It was his duty, no less than his pleasure, to call
upon certain people for whom he had letters of introduction from
friends in Russia, and their doors opened wide to him. Upon formalities
followed kindness; the season was beginning, and at his modest lodgings
arrived cards, notes, bidding to ceremonies greater and less; one or
two of these summonses bore names which might have stirred envy in the
sons of fashion.

_Solus feci_! He allowed himself a little pride. His doing, it was
true, had as yet been nothing much to the eye of the world; but he had
made friends under circumstances not very favourable, friends among the
intelligent and the powerful. That gift, it seemed, was his, if no
other--the ability to make himself liked, respected. He, by law the son
of nobody, had begun to approve himself true son of the father he loved
and honoured.

His habits were vigorous. Rising very early, he walked across the Park,
and had a swim in the Serpentine. The hours of the solid day he spent,
for the most part, in study at the British Museum. Then, if he had no
engagement, he generally got by train well out of town, and walked in
sweet air until nightfall; or, if weather were bad, he granted himself
the luxury of horse-hire, and rode--rode, teeth set against wind and
rain. This earned him sleep--his daily prayer to the gods.

At the date appointed, he went in search of Mrs. Borisoff, who welcomed
him cordially. Her first inquiry was whether he had got the Castle.

"I have got it," Piers replied, and entered into particulars. They
talked about it like children anticipating a holiday. Mrs. Borisoff
then questioned him about his doings since he had been in England. On
his mentioning a certain great lady, a Russian, with whom he was to
dine next week, his friend replied with a laugh, which she refused to
explain.

"When can you spend an evening here? I don't mean a dinner. I'll give
you something to eat, but it doesn't count; you come to talk, as I know
you can, though you didn't let me suspect it at Petersburg. I shall
have one or two others, old chums, not respectable people. Name your
own day."

When the evening came, Piers entered Mrs. Borisoff's drawing-room with
trepidation. He glanced at the guest who had already arrived--a lady
unknown to him. When again the door opened, he looked, trembling. His
fearful hope ended only in a headache, but he talked, as was expected
of him, and the hostess smiled approval.

"These friends of yours," he said aside to her, before leaving, "are
nice people to know. But----"

And he broke off, meeting her eyes.

"I don't understand," said his hostess, with a perplexed look.

"Then I daren't try to make you."

A few days after, at the great house of the great Russian lady, he
ascended the stairs without a tremor, glanced round the room with
indifference. No one would be there whom he could not face calmly.
Brilliant women awed him a little at first, but it was not till
afterwards, in the broken night following such occasions as this, that
they had power over his imagination; then he saw them, drawn upon
darkness, their beauty without that halo of worldly grandeur which
would not allow him to forget the gulf between them. The hostess
herself shone by quality of intellect rather than by charm of feature;
she greeted him with subtlest flattery, a word or two of simple
friendliness in her own language, and was presenting him to her
husband, when, from the doorway, sounded a name which made Otway's
heart leap, and left him tongue-tied.

"Mrs. Borisoff and Miss Derwent."

He turned, but with eyes downcast: for a moment he durst not raise
them. He moved, insensibly, a few steps backward, shadowed himself
behind two men who were conversing together. And at length he looked.

With thrill of marvelling and rapture, with chill of self-abasement.
When, years ago, he saw Irene in the dress of ceremony, she seemed to
him peerlessly radiant; but it was the beauty and the dignity of one
still girlish. What he now beheld was the exquisite fulfilment of that
bright promise. He had not erred in worship; she who had ever been to
him the light of life, the beacon of his passionate soul, shone before
him supreme among women. What head so noble in its unconscious royalty!
What form so faultless in its mould and bearing! He heard her
speak--the graceful nothings of introduction and recognition; it was
Irene's voice toned to a fuller music. Then her face dazzled, grew
distant; he turned away to command himself.

Mrs. Borisoff spoke beside him.

"Have you no good-evening for me?"

"So this is what you meant?"

"You have a way of speaking in riddles."

"And you--a way of acting divinely. Tell me," his voice sank, and his
words were hurried. "May I go up to her as any acquaintance would? May
I presume that she knows me?"

"You mean Miss Derwent? But--why not? I don't understand you."

"No--I forget--it seems to you absurd. Of course--she wrote and
introduced me to you----"

"You are amusing--which is more than can be said of everyone."

She bent her head and turned to speak with someone else. Piers, with
what courage he knew not, stepped across the carpet to where Miss
Derwent was sitting. She saw his approach, and held her hand to him as
if they had met only the other day. That her complexion was a little
warmer than its wont, Piers had no power of perceiving; he saw only her
eyes, soft-shining as they rose to his, in their depths an infinite
gentleness.

"How glad I am that you got my letter just before leaving Petersburg!"

"How kind of you to introduce me to Mrs. Borisoff!"

"I thought you would soon be friends."

It was all they could say. At this moment, the host murmured his
request that Otway would take down Mrs. Borisoff; the hostess led up
someone to be introduced to Miss Derwent. Then the procession began.

Piers was both disappointed and relieved. To have felt the touch upon
his arm of Irene's hand would have been a delight unutterable, yet to
desire it was presumption. He was not worthy of that companionship; it
would have been unjust to Irene to oblige her to sit by him through the
dinner, with the inevitable thoughts rising in her mind. Better to see
her from a distance--though it was hard when she smiled at the
distinguished and clever-looking man who talked, talked. It cost him,
at first, no small effort to pay becoming attention to Mrs. Borisoff;
the lady on his other hand, a brilliant beauty, moved him to a feeling
almost hostile--he knew not why. But as the dinner progressed, as the
kindly vintage circled in his blood, he felt the stirrings of a deep
joy. By his own effort he had won reception into Irene's world. It was
something; it was much--remembering all that had gone before.

He spoke softly to his partner.

"I am going to drink a silent health--that of my friend Korolevitch. To
him I owe everything."

"I don't believe _that_, but I will drink it too--I was speaking of him
to Miss Derwent. She wants to know all about the Dukhobortsi. Instruct
her, afterwards, if you get a chance. Do you think her altered?"

"No--yes!"

"By the bye, how long is it really since you first knew her?"

"Eight years--just eight years."

"You speak as if it were eighty."

"Why, so it seems, when I look back. I was a boy, and had the strangest
notions of the world."

"You shall tell me all about that some day," said Mrs. Borisoff,
glancing at him. "At the Castle, perhaps----"

"Oh yes! At the Castle!"

When the company divided, and Piers had watched Irene pass out of
sight, he sat down with a tired indifference. But his host drew him
into conversation on Russian subjects, and, as had happened before now
in gatherings of this kind, Otway presently found himself amid
attentive listeners, whilst he talked of things that interested him. At
such moments he had an irreflective courage, which prompted him to
utter what he thought without regard to anything but the common
civilities of life. His opinions might excite surprise; but they did
not give offence; for they seemed impersonal, the natural outcome of
honest and capable observation, with never a touch of national
prejudice or individual conceit. It was well, perhaps, for the young
man's natural modesty, that he did not hear certain remarks afterwards
exchanged between the more intelligent of his hearers.

When they passed to the drawing-room, the piano was sounding there. It
stopped; the player rose, and moved away, but not before Piers had seen
that it was Irene. He felt robbed of a delight. Oh, to hear Irene play!

Better was in store for him. With a boldness natural to the hour, he
drew nearer, nearer, watching his opportunity. The chair by Irene's
side became vacant; he stepped forward, and was met with a frank
countenance, which invited him to take the coveted place. Miss Derwent
spoke at once of her interest in the Russian sectaries with whom--she
had heard--Otway was well acquainted, the people called Dukhobortsi,
who held the carrying of arms a sin, and suffered persecution because
of their conscientious refusal to perform military service. Piers spoke
with enthusiasm of these people.

"They uphold the ideal above all necessary to our time. We ought to be
rapidly outgrowing warfare; isn't that the obvious next step in
civilisation? It seems a commonplace that everyone should look to that
end, and strive for it. Yet we're going back--there's a military
reaction--fighting is glorified by everyone who has a loud voice, and
in no country more than in England. I wish you could hear a Russian
friend of mine speak about it, a rich man who has just given up
everything to join the Dukhobortsi. I never knew before what religious
passion meant. And it seems to me that this is the world's only
hope--peace made a religion. The forms don't matter; only let the
supreme end be peace. It is what people have talked so much about--the
religion of the future."

His tones moved the listener, as appeared in her look and attitude.

"Surely all the best in every country lean to it," she said.

"Of course! That's our hope--but at the same time the pitiful thing;
for the best hold back, keep silence, as if their quiet contempt could
prevail against this activity of the reckless and the foolish."

"One can't _make_ a religion," said Irene sadly. "It is just this
religious spirit which has decayed throughout our world. Christianity
turns to ritualism. And science--we were told you know, that science
would be religion enough."

"There's the pity--the failure of science as a civilising force. I
know," added Piers quickly, "that there are men whose spirit, whose
work, doesn't share in that failure; they are the men--the very
few--who are above self-interest. But science on the whole, has come to
mean money-making and weapon-making. It leads the international
struggle; it is judged by its value to the capitalist and the soldier."

"Isn't this perhaps a stage of evolution that the world must live
through--to its extreme results?"

"Very likely. The signs are bad enough."

"You haven't yourself that enthusiastic hope?"

"I try to hope," said Piers, in a low, unsteady voice, his eyes falling
timidly before her glance. "But what you said is so true--one can't
create the spirit of religion. If one hasn't it----" He broke off, and
added with a smile, "I think I have a certain amount of enthusiasm. But
when one has seen a good deal of the world, it's so very easy to feel
discouraged. Think how much sheer barbarism there is around us, from
the brutal savage of the gutter to the cunning savage of the Stock
Exchange!"

Irene had a gleam in her eyes; she nodded appreciation.

"If," he went on vigorously, "if one could make the multitude really
understand--understand to the point of action--how enormously its
interest is peace!"

"More hope that way, I'm afraid," said Irene, "than through idealisms."

"Yes, yes. If it comes at all, it'll be by the way of self-interest.
And really it looks as if the military tyrants might overreach
themselves here and there. Italy, for instance. Think of Italy, crushed
and cursed by a blood-tax that the people themselves see to be futile.
One enters into the spirit of the men who freed Italy from
foreigners--it was glorious; but how much more glorious to excite a
rebellion there against her own rulers! Shouldn't you enjoy doing that?"

At times, there is no subtler compliment to a woman than to address her
as if she were a man. It must be done involuntarily, as was the case
with this utterance of Otway's. Irene rewarded him with a look such as
he had never had from her, the look of rejoicing comradeship.

"Indeed I should! Italy is becoming a misery to those who love her. Is
no plot going on? Couldn't one start a conspiracy against that infamous
misgovernment?"

"There's an arch-plotter at work. His name is Hunger. Let us be glad
that Italy can't enrich herself by manufactures. Who knows? The
revolution against militarism may begin there, as that against
feudalism did in France. Talk of enthusiasm! How should we feel if we
read in the paper some morning that the Italian people had formed into
an army of peace--refusing to pay another centesimo for warfare?

"The next boat for Calais! The next train for Rome!" Their eyes met,
interchanging gleams of laughter.

"Oh, but the crowd, the crowd!" sighed Piers. "What is bad enough to
say of it? who shall draw its picture with long enough ears?"

"It has another aspect, you know."

"It has. At its best, a smiling simpleton; at its worst, a murderous
maniac."

"You are not exactly a socialist," remarked Irene, with that smile
which, linking past and present, blended in Otway's heart old love and
new--her smile of friendly irony.

"Socialism? I seldom think of it; which means, that I have no faith in
it.--When we came in, you were playing."

"I miss the connection," said Irene, with a puzzled air.

"Forgive me. I am fond of music, and it has been in my mind all the
time--the hope that you would play again."

"Oh, that was merely the slow music, as one might say, of the
drawing-room mysteries--an obligato in the after-dinner harmony. I play
only to amuse myself--or when it is a painful duty."

Piers was warned by his tactful conscience that he had held Miss
Derwent quite long enough in talk. A movement in their neighbourhood
gave miserable opportunity; he resigned his seat to another expectant,
and did his best to converse with someone else.

Her voice went with him as he walked homewards across the Park, under a
fleecy sky silvered with moonlight; the voice which now and again
brought back so vividly their first meeting at Ewell. He lived through
it all again, the tremors, the wild hopes, the black despair of eight
years ago. How she encountered him on the stairs, talked of his long
hours of study, and prophesied--with that indescribable blending of
gravity and jest, still her characteristic--that he would come to grief
over his examination. Irene! Irene! Did she dream what was in his mind
and heart? The long, long love, his very life through all labours and
cares and casualties--did she suspect it, imagine it? If she had
received his foolish verses (he grew hot to think of them), there must
have been at least a moment when she knew that he worshipped her, and
does such knowledge ever fade from a woman's memory?

Irene! Irene! Was she brought nearer to him by her own experience of
heart-trouble? That she had suffered, he could not doubt; impossible
for her to have given her consent to marriage unless she believed
herself in love with the man who wooed her. It could have been no
trifling episode in her life, whatever the story; Irene was not of the
women who yield their hands in jest, in pique, in lighthearted
ignorance. The change visible in her was more, he fancied, than could
be due to the mere lapse of time; during her silences, she had the look
of one familiar with mental conflict, perhaps of one whose pride had
suffered an injury. The one or two glances which he ventured whilst she
was talking with the man who succeeded to his place beside her,
perceived a graver countenance, a reserve such as she had not used with
him; and of this insubstantial solace he made a sort of hope which
winged the sleepless hours till daybreak.

He had permission to call upon Mrs. Borisoff at times alien to polite
routine. Thus, when nearly a week had passed, he sought her company at
midday, and found her idling over a book, her seat by a window which
viewed the Thames and the broad Embankment with its plane trees, and
London beyond the water, picturesque in squalid hugeness through summer
haze and the sagging smoke of chimneys numberless. She gave a languid
hand, pointed to a chair, gazed at him with embarrassing fixity.

"I don't know about the Castle," were her first words. "Perhaps I shall
give it up."

"You are not serious?"

Piers spoke and looked in dismay; and still she kept her heavy eyes on
him.

"What does it matter to _you_?" she asked carelessly.

"I counted on--on showing you the dales----"

Mrs. Borisoff nodded twice or thrice, and laughed, then pointed to the
prospect through the window.

"This is more interesting. Imagine historians living a thousand years
hence--what would they give to see what we see now!"

"Oh, one often has that thought. It's about the best way of making
ordinary life endurable."

They watched the steamers and barges, silent for a minute or two.

"So you had rather I didn't give up the castle?"

"I should be horribly disappointed."

"Yes--no doubt you would. Why did you come to see me to-day? No, no,
no! The real reason.

"I wanted to talk about Miss Derwent," Piers answered, bracing himself
to frankness.

Mrs. Borisoff's lips contracted, in something which was not quite a
smile, but which became a smile before she spoke.

"If you hadn't told the truth, Mr. Otway, I would have sent you about
your business. Well, talk of her; I am ready."

"But certainly not if it wearies you----"

"Talk! talk!"

"I'll begin with a question. Does Miss Derwent go much into society?"

"No; not very much. And it's only the last few months that she has been
seen at all in London--I mean, since the affair that people talked
about."

"Did they talk--disagreeably?"

"Gossip--chatter--half malicious without malicious intention--don't you
know the way of the sweet creatures? I would tell you more if I could.
The simple truth is that Irene has never spoken to me about it--never
once. When it happened, she came suddenly to Paris, to a hotel, and
from there wrote me a letter, just saying that her marriage was off; no
word of explanation. Of course I fetched her at once to my house, and
from that moment to this I have heard not one reference from her to the
matter. You would like to know something about the hero? He has been
away a good deal--building up the Empire, as they say; which means, of
course, looking after his own and other people's dividends."

"Thank you. Now let us talk about the Castle."

But Mrs. Borisoff was not in a good humour to-day, and Piers very soon
took his leave. Her hand felt rather hot; he noticed this particularly,
as she let it lie in his longer than usual--part of her
absent-mindedness.

Piers had often resented, as a weakness, his susceptibility to the
influence of others' moods; he did so to-day, when having gone to Mrs.
Borisoff in an unusually cheerful frame of mind, he came away languid
and despondent. But his scheme of life permitted no such idle brooding
as used to waste his days; self-discipline sent him to his work, as
usual, through the afternoon, and in the evening he walked ten miles.

The weather was brilliant. As he stood, far away in rural stillness,
watching a noble sunset, he repeated to himself words which had of late
become his motto, "Enjoy now! This moment will never come again." But
the intellectual resolve was one thing, the moral aptitude another. He
did not enjoy; how many hours in all his life had brought him real
enjoyment? Idle to repeat and repeat that life was the passing minute,
which must be seized, made the most of; he could not live in the
present; life was to him for ever a thing postponed. "I will live--I
will enjoy--some day!" As likely as not that day would never dawn.

Was it true, as admonishing reason sometimes whispered, that happiness
cometh not by observation, that the only true content is in the moments
which we pass without self-consciousness? Is all attainment followed by
disillusion? A man aware of his health is on the verge of malady. Were
he to possess his desire, to exclaim, "I am happy," would the Fates
chastise his presumption?

That way lay asceticism, which his soul abhorred. On, rather, following
the great illusion, if this it were! "The crown of life"--philosophise
as he might, that word had still its meaning, still its inspiration.
Let the present pass untasted; he preferred his dream of a day to come.

Next morning, very unexpectedly, he received a note from Mrs. Borisoff
inviting him to dine with her a few days hence. About her company she
said nothing, and Piers went, uncertain whether it was a dinner
_tete-a-tete_ or with other guests. When he entered the room, the first
face he beheld was Irene's.

It was a very small party, and the hostess wore her gayest countenance.
A delightful evening, from the social point of view; for Piers Otway a
time of self-forgetfulness in the pleasures of sight and hearing. He
could have little private talk with Irene; she did not talk much with
anyone; but he saw her, he heard her voice, he lived in the glory of
her presence. Moreover, she consented to play. Of her skill as a
pianist, Otway could not judge; what he heard was Music, music
absolute, the very music of the spheres. When it ceased, Mrs. Borisoff
chanced to look at him; he was startlingly pale, his eyes wide as if in
vision more than mortal.

"I leave town to-morrow," said his hostess, as he took leave. "Some
friends are going with me. You shall hear how we get on at the Castle."

Perhaps her look was meant to supplement this bare news. It seemed to
offer reassurance. Did she understand his look of entreaty in reply?

Music breathed about him in the lonely hours. It exalted his passion,
lulled the pains of desire, held the flesh subservient to spirit. What
is love, says the physiologist, but ravening sex? If so, in Piers
Otway's breast the primal instinct had undergone strange
transformation. How wrought?--he asked himself. To what destiny did it
correspond, this winged love soaring into the infinite? This rapture of
devotion, this utter humbling of self, this ardour of the poet soul
singing a fellow-creature to the heaven of heavens--by what alchemy
comes it forth from blood and tissue? Nature has no need of such lyric
life her purpose is well achieved by humbler instrumentality. Romantic
lovers are not the ancestry of noblest lines.

And if--as might well be--his love were defeated, fruitless, what end
in the vast maze of things would his anguish serve?



CHAPTER XXXIV


After his day's work, he had spent an hour among the pictures at
Burlington House. He was lingering before an exquisite landscape,
unwilling to change this atmosphere of calm for the roaring street,
when a voice timidly addressed him:

"Mr. Otway!"

How altered! The face was much, much older, and in some indeterminable
way had lost its finer suggestions. At her best, Olga Hannaford had a
distinction of feature, a singularity of emotional expression, which
made her beautiful in Olga Florio the lines of visage were far less
subtle, and classed her under an inferior type. Transition from
maidenhood to what is called the matronly had been too rapid; it was
emphasised by her costume, which cried aloud in its excess of modish
splendour.

"How glad I am to see you again!" she sighed tremorously, pressing his
hand with fervour, gazing at him with furtive directness. "Are you
living in England now?"

Piers gave an account of himself. He was a little embarrassed but quite
unagitated. A sense of pity averted his eyes after the first wondering
look.

"Will you--may I venture--can you spare the time to come and have tea
with me? My carriage is waiting--I am quite alone--I only looked in for
a few minutes, to rest my mind after a lunch with, oh, such tiresome
people!"

His impulse was to refuse, at all costs to refuse. The voice, the
glance, the phrases jarred upon him, shocked him. Already he had begun
"I am afraid"--when a hurried, vehement whisper broke upon his excuse.

"Don't be unkind to me! I beg you to come! I entreat you!"

"I will come with pleasure," he said in a loud voice of ordinary
civility.

At once she turned, and he followed. Without speaking, they descended
the great staircase; a brougham drove up; they rolled away westward.
Never had Piers felt such thorough moral discomfort; the heavily
perfumed air of the carriage depressed and all but nauseated him; the
inevitable touch of Olga's garments made him shrink. She had begun to
talk, and talked incessantly throughout the homeward drive; not much of
herself, or of him, but about the pleasures and excitements of the
idle-busy world. It was meant, he supposed, to convey to him an idea of
her prosperous and fashionable life. Her husband, she let fall, was for
the moment in Italy; affairs of importance sometimes required his
presence there; but they both preferred England. The intellectual
atmosphere of London--where else could one live on so high a level?

The carriage stopped in a street beyond Edgware Road, at a house of
more modest appearance than Otway had looked for. Just as they
alighted, a nursemaid with a perambulator was approaching the door;
Piers caught sight of a very pale little face shadowed by the hood, but
his companion, without heeding, ran up the steps, and knocked
violently. They entered.

Still the oppressive atmosphere of perfumes. Left for a few minutes in
a little drawing-room, or boudoir, Piers stood marvelling at the
ingenuity which had packed so much furniture and bric-tate-brac, so
many pictures, so much drapery, into so small a space. He longed to
throw open the window; he could not sit still in this odour-laden
hothouse, where the very flowers were burdensome by excess. When Olga
reappeared, she was gorgeous in flowing tea-gown; her tawny hair hung
low in artful profusion; her neck and arms were bare, her feet
brilliantly slippered.

"Ah! How good, how good, it is to sit down and talk to you once
more!--Do you like my room?"

"You have made yourself very comfortable," replied Otway, striking a
note as much as possible in contrast to that of his hostess. "Some of
these drawings are your own work, no doubt?"

"Yes, some of them," she answered languidly. "Do you remember that
pastel? Ah, surely you do--from the old days at Ewell!"

"Of course!--That is a portrait of your husband?" he added, indicating
a head on a little easel.

"Yes--idealised!"

She laughed and put the subject away. Then tea was brought in, and
after pouring it, Olga grew silent. Resolute to talk, Piers had the
utmost difficulty in finding topics, but he kept up an everyday sort of
chat, postponing as long as possible the conversation foreboded by his
companion's face. When he was weary, Olga's opportunity came.

"There is something I _must_ say to you----"

Her arms hung lax, her head drooped forward, she looked at him from
under her brows.

"I have suffered so much--oh, I have suffered! I have longed for this
moment. Will you say--that you forgive me?"

"My dear Mrs. Florio"--Piers began with good-natured expostulation, a
sort of forced bluffness; but she would not hear him.

"Not that name! Not from _you_. There's no harm; you won't--you can't
misunderstand me, such old friends as we are. I want you to call me by
my own name, and to make me feel that we are friends still--that you
can really forgive me."

"There is nothing in the world to forgive," he insisted, in the same
tone. "Of course we are friends! How could we be anything else?"

"I behaved infamously to you! I can't think how I had the heart to do
it!"

Piers was tortured with nervousness. Had her voice and manner declared
insincerity, posing, anything of that kind, he would have found the
situation much more endurable; but Olga had tears in her eyes, and not
the tears of an actress; her tones had recovered something of their old
quality, and reminded him painfully of the time when Mrs. Hannaford was
dying. She held a hand to him, her pale face besought his compassion.

"Come now, let us talk in the old way, as you wish," he said, just
pressing her fingers. "Of course I felt it--but then I was myself
altogether to blame. I importuned you for what you couldn't give.
Remembering that, wasn't your action the most sensible, and really the
kindest?"

"I don't know," Olga murmured, in a voice just audible.

"Of course it was! There now, we've done with all that. Tell me more
about your life this last year or two. You are such a brilliant person.
I felt rather overcome----"

"Nonsense!" But Olga brightened a little. "What of your own brilliancy?
I read somewhere that you are a famous man in Russia----"

Piers laughed, spontaneously this time, and, finding it a way of
escape, gossiped about his own achievements with mirthful exaggeration.

"Do you see the Derwents?" Mrs. Florio asked of a sudden, with a
sidelong look.

So vexed was Otway at the embarrassment he could not wholly hide, and
which delayed his answer, that he spoke the truth with excessive
bluntness.

"I have met Miss Derwent in society."

"I don't often see them," said Olga, in a tone of weariness. "I suppose
we belong to different worlds."

At the earliest possible moment, Piers rose with decision. He felt that
he had not pleased Mrs. Florio, that perhaps he had offended her, and
in leaving her he tried to atone for involuntary unkindness.

"But we shall see each other again, of course!" she exclaimed,
retaining his hand. "You will come again soon?"

"Certainly I will."

"And your address--let me have your address----"

He breathed deeply in the open air. Glancing back at the house when he
had crossed the street, he saw a white hand waved to him at a window;
it hurried his step.

On the following day, Mrs. Florio visited her friend Miss Bonnicastle,
who had some time since exchanged the old quarters in Great Portland
Street for a house in Pimlico, where there was a larger studio
(workshop, as she preferred to call it), hung about with her own and
other people's designs. The artist of the poster was full as ever of
vitality and of good-nature, but her humour had not quite the old
spice; a stickler for decorum would have said that she was decidedly
improved, that she had grown more womanly; and something of this change
appeared also in her work, which tended now to the graceful rather than
the grotesque. She received her fashionable visitant with off-hand
friendliness, not altogether with cordiality.

"Oh, I've something to show you. Do you know that name?"

Olga took a business-card, and read upon it: "Alexander Otway, Dramatic
& Musical Agent."

"It's his brother," she said, in a voice of quiet surprise.

"I thought so. The man called yesterday--wants a fetching thing to boom
an Irish girl at the halls. There's her photo."

It represented a piquant person in short skirts; a face neither very
pretty nor very young, but likely to be deemed attractive by the public
in question. They amused themselves over it for a moment.

"He used to be a journalist," said Olga. "Does he seem to be doing
well?"

"Couldn't say. A great talker, and a furious Jingo."

"Jingo?"

"This woman is to sing a song of his composition, all about the Empire.
Not the hall; the British. Glorifies the Flag, that blessed rag--a
rhyme I suggested to him, and asked him to pay me for. It's a taking
tune, and we shall have it everywhere, no doubt. He sang a verse--I
wish you could have heard him. A queer fish!"

Olga walked about, seeming to inspect the pictures, but in reality much
occupied with her thoughts.

"Well," she said presently, "I only looked in, dear, to say
how-do-you-do."

Miss Bonnicastle was drawing; she turned, as if to shake hands, but
looked her friend in the face with a peculiar expression, far more
earnest than was commonly seen in her.

"You called on Kite yesterday morning."

Olga, with slight confusion, admitted that she had been to see the
artist. For some weeks Kite had suffered from an ailment which confined
him to the house; he could not walk, and indeed could do nothing but
lie and read, or talk of what he would do, when he recovered his
health. Cheap claret having lost its inspiring force, the poor fellow
had turned to more potent beverages, and would ere now have sunk into
inscrutable deeps but for Miss Bonnicastle, who interested herself in
his welfare. Olga, after losing sight of him for nearly two years, by
chance discovered his whereabouts and his circumstances, and twice in
the past week had paid him a visit.

"I wanted to tell you," pursued Miss Bonnicastle, in a steady,
matter-of-fact voice, "that he's going to have a room in this house,
and be looked after."

"Indeed?"

There was a touch of malice in Olga's surprise. She held herself rather
stiffly.

"It's just as well to be straightforward," continued the other. "I
should like to say that it'll be very much better if you don't come to
see him at all."

Olga was now very dignified indeed.

"Oh, pray say no more I quite understand--quite!"

"I shouldn't have said it at all," rejoined Miss Bonnicastle, "if I
could have trusted your--discretion. The fact is, I found I couldn't."

"Really!" exclaimed Olga, red with anger. "You might spare me insults!"

"Come, come! We're not going to fly at each other, Olga. I intended no
insult; but, whilst we're about it, do take advice from one who means
it well. Sentiment is all right, but sentimentality is all wrong. Do
get rid of it, there's a good girl. You're meant for something better."

Olga made a great sweep of the floor with her skirts, and vanished in a
whirl of perfume.

She drove straight to the address which she had seen on Alexander
Otway's card. It was in a decently sordid street south of the river; in
a window on the ground floor hung an announcement of Alexander's name
and business. As Olga stood at the door, there came out, showily
dressed for walking, a person in whom she at once recognised the
original of the portrait at Miss Bonnicastle's. It was no other than
Mrs. Otway, the "Biddy" whose simple singing had so pleased her
brother-in-law years ago.

"Is it the agent you want to see?" she asked, in her tongue of County
Wexford. "The door to the right."

Alexander jumped up, all smiles at the sight of so grand a lady. He had
grown very obese, and very red about the neck; his linen might have
been considerably cleaner, and his coat better brushed. But he seemed
in excellent spirits, and glowed when his visitor began by saying that
she wished to speak in confidence of a delicate matter.

"Mr. Otway, you have an elder brother, his name Daniel."

The listener's countenance fell.

"Madam, I'm sorry to say I have."

"He has written to me, more than once, a begging letter. My name
doesn't matter; I'll only say now that he used to know me slightly long
ago. I wish to ask you whether he is really in want."

Alexander hesitated, with much screwing of the features.

"Well, he may be, now and then," was his reply at length. "I have
helped him, but, to tell the truth, it's not much good. So far as I
know, he has no regular supplies--but it's his own fault."

"Exactly." Olga evidently approached a point still more delicate. "I
presume he has worn out the patience of _both_ brothers?"

"Ah!" The agent shook his head, "I'm sorry to say that the _other's_
patience--I see you know something of our family circumstances--never
allowed itself to be tried. He's very well off, I believe, but he'll do
nothing for poor Dan, and never would. I'm bound to admit Dan has his
faults, but still----"

His brows expressed sorrow rather than anger on the subject of his
hard-fisted relative.

"Do you happen to know anything," pursued Olga, lowering her voice, "of
a transaction about certain--certain letters, which were given up by
Daniel Otway?"

"Why--yes. I've heard something about that affair."

"Those letters, I always understood, were purchased from him at a
considerable price."

"That's true," replied Alexander, smiling familiarly as he leaned
across the table. "But the considerable price was never paid--not one
penny of it."

Olga's face changed. She had a wondering lost, pained look.

"Mr. Otway, are you _sure_ of that?"

"Well, pretty sure. Dan has talked of it more than once, and I don't
think he could talk as he does if there wasn't a real grievance. I'm
very much afraid he was cheated. Perhaps I oughtn't to use that word; I
daresay Dan had no right to ask money for the letters at all. But there
was a bargain, and I'm afraid it wasn't honourably kept on the other
side."

Olga reflected for a moment, and rose, saying that she was obliged,
that this ended her business. Alexander's curiosity sought to prolong
the conversation, but in vain. He then threw out a word concerning his
professional interests; would the lady permit him to bespeak her
countenance for a new singer, an Irish girl of great talent, who would
be coming out very shortly?

"She has a magnificent song, madam! The very spirit of
Patriotism--stirring, stirring! Let me offer you one of her photos.
Miss Ennis Corthy--you'll soon see the announcements."

Olga drove away in a troubled dream.



CHAPTER XXXV


"The 13th will suit admirably," wrote Helen Borisoff.

"That morning my guests leave, and we shall be quiet--except for the
popping of guns round about. Which reminds me that my big, healthy
Englishman of a cousin (him you met in town) will be down here to
slaughter little birds in aristocratic company, and may most likely
look in to tell us of his bags. I will meet you at the station."

So Irene, alone, journeyed from King's Cross into the North Riding. At
evening, the sun golden amid long lazy clouds that had spent their
showers, she saw wide Wensleydale, its closing hills higher to north
and south as the train drew onward, green slopes of meadow and woodland
rising to the beat and the heather. At a village station appeared the
welcoming face of her friend Helen. A countryman with his homely gig
drove them up the hillside, the sweet air singing about them from
moorland heights, the long dale spreading in grander prospect as they
ascended, then hidden as they dropped into a wooded glen, where the
horse splashed through a broad beck and the wheels jolted over boulders
of limestone. Out again into the sunset, and at a turn of the climbing
road stood up before them the grey old Castle, in its shadow the church
and the hamlet, and all around the glory of rolling hills.

Of the four great towers, one lay a shattered ruin, one only remained
habitable. Above the rooms occupied by Mrs. Borisoff and her guests was
that which had imprisoned the Queen of Scots; a chamber of bare stone,
with high embrasure narrowing to the slit of window which admitted
daylight, and, if one climbed the sill, gave a glimpse of far
mountains. Down below, deep under the roots of the tower, was the
Castle's dungeon, black and deadly. Early on the morrow Helen led her
friend to see these things. Then they climbed to the battlements, where
the sun shone hot, and Helen pointed out the features of the vast
landscape, naming heights, and little dales which pour their
tributaries into the Ure, and villages lying amid the rich pasture.

"And yonder is Hawes," said Irene, pointing to the head of the dale.

"Yes; too far to see."

They did not exchange a look. Irene spoke at once of something else.

There came to lunch Mrs. Borisoff's cousin, a grouse-guest at a house
some miles away. He arrived on horseback, and his approach was watched
with interest by two pairs of eyes from the Castle windows. Mr. March
looked well in the saddle, for he was a strong, comely man of about
thirty, who lived mostly under the open sky. Irene had met him only
once, and that in a drawing-room; she saw him now to greater advantage,
heard him talk freely of things he understood and enjoyed, and on the
whole did not dislike him. With Helen he was a favourite; she affected
to make fun of him, but had confessed to Irene that she respected him
more than any other of her county-family kinsfolk. As he talked of his
two days' shooting, he seemed to become aware that Miss Derwent had no
profound interest in this subject, and there fell from him an
unexpected apology.

"Of course it isn't a very noble kind of sport," he said, with a laugh.
"One is invited--one takes it in the course of things. I prefer the big
game, where there's a chance of having to shoot for your life."

"I suppose one _must_ shoot something," remarked Irene, as if musing a
commonplace.

March took it with good nature, like a man who cannot remember whether
that point of view ever occurred to him, but who is quite willing to
think about it. Indeed, he seemed more than willing to give attention
to anything Miss Derwent choose to say: something of this inclination
had appeared even at their first meeting, and to-day it was more
marked. He showed reluctance when the hour obliged him to remount his
horse. Mrs. Borisoff's hope that she might see him again before he left
this part of the country received a prompt and cheerful reply.

Later, that afternoon, the two friends climbed the great hillside above
the Castle, and rambled far over the moorland, to a windy height where
they looked into deep wild Swaledale. Their talk was only of the scenes
around them, until, on their way back, they approached a line of
three-walled shelters, built of rough stone, about the height of a man.
In reply to Irene's question, Helen explained the use of these
structures; she did so in an off-hand way, with the proper terms, and
would have passed on, but Irene stood gazing.

"What! They lie in ambush here, whilst the men drive the birds towards
them, to be shot?"

"It's sport," rejoined the other indifferently.

"I see. And here are the old cartridges." A heap of them lay close by
amid the ling. "I don't wonder that Mr. March seemed a little ashamed
of himself."

"But surely you knew all about this sort of thing!" said Mrs. Borisoff,
with a little laugh of impatience.

"No, I didn't."

She had picked up one of the cartridge-cases, and, after examining it,
her eyes wandered about the vast-rolling moor. The wind sang low; the
clouds sailed across the mighty dome of heaven; not a human dwelling
was visible, and not a sound broke upon nature's infinite calm.

"It amazes me," Irene continued, subduing her voice.

"Incredible that men can come up here just to bang guns and see
beautiful birds fall dead! One would think that what they _saw_ here
would stop their hands--that this silence would fill their minds and
hearts, and make it impossible!"

Her voice had never trembled with such emotion in Helen's hearing. It
was not Irene's habit to speak in this way. She had the native
reticence of English women, preferring to keep silence when she felt
strongly, or to disguise her feeling with irony and jest. But the hour
and the place overcame her; a noble passion shone in her clear eyes,
and thrilled in her utterance.

"What barbarians!"

"Yet you know they are nothing of the kind," objected Helen. "At least,
not all of them."

"Mr. March?--You called him, yourself, a fine barbarian, quoting from
Matthew Arnold. I never before understood how true that description
was."

"I assure you, it doesn't apply to him, whatever I may have said in
joke. This shooting is the tradition of a certain class. It's one of
the ways in which great, strong men get their necessary exercise. Some
of them feel, at moments, just as you do, I've no doubt; but there they
are, a lot of them together, and a man can't make himself ridiculous,
you know."

"You're not like yourself in this, Helen," said Irene. "You're not
speaking as you think. Another time, you'll confess it's abominable
savagery, with not one good word to be said for it. And more
contemptible than I ever suspected! I'm so glad I've seen this. It
helps to clear my thoughts about--about things in general."

She flung away the little yellow cylinder-flung it far from her with
disgust, and, as if to forget it, plucked as she walked on a spray of
heath, which glowed with its purple bells among the redder ling.
Helen's countenance was shadowed. She spoke no more for several minutes.

When two days had passed, March again came riding up to the Castle, and
lunched with the ladies. Irene was secretly vexed. At breakfast she had
suggested a whole day's excursion, which her friend persuaded her to
postpone; the reason must have been Helen's private knowledge that Mr.
March was coming. In consequence, the lunch fell short of perfect
cheerfulness. For reasons of her own, Irene was just a little formal in
her behaviour to the guest; she did not talk so well as usual, and bore
herself as a girl must who wishes, without unpleasantness, to check a
man's significant approaches.

In the hot afternoon, chairs were taken out into the shadow of the
Castle walls, and there the three sat conversing. Someone drew near, a
man, whom the careless glance of Helen's cousin took for a casual
tourist about to view the ruins. Helen herself, and in the same moment,
Irene, recognised Piers Otway. It seemed as though Mrs. Borisoff would
not rise to welcome him; her smile was dubious, half surprised. She
cast a glance at Irene, whose face was set in the austerest
self-control, and thereupon not only stood up, but stepped forward with
cordial greeting.

"So you have really come! Delighted to see you! Are you walking--as you
said?"

"Too hot!" Piers replied, with a laugh. "I spent yesterday at York, and
came on in a cowardly way by train."

He was shaking hands with Irene, who dropped a word or two of mere
courtesy. In introducing him to March, Mrs. Borisoff said, "An old
friend of ours," which caused her stalwart cousin to survey the dark,
slimly-built man very attentively.

"We'll get you a chair, Mr. Otway----"

"No, no! Let me sit or lie here on the grass. It's all I feel fit for
after the climb."

He threw himself down, nearer to Helen than to her friend, and the talk
became livelier than before his arrival. Irene emerged from the
taciturnity into which she had more and more withdrawn, and March, not
an unobservant man, evidently noted this, and reflected upon it. He had
at first regarded the new-comer with a civil aloofness, as one not of
his world; presently, he seemed to ask himself to what world the
singular being might belong--a man who knew how to behave himself, and
whose talk implied more than common _savoir-vivre_, yet who differed in
such noticeable points from an Englishman of the leisured class.

Helen was in a mischievous mood. She broached the subject of grouse,
addressing to Otway an ambiguous remark which led March to ask, with
veiled surprise, whether he was a sportsman.

"Mr. Otway's taste is for bigger game," she exclaimed, before Piers
could reply. "He lives in hope of potting Russians on the Indian
frontier."

"Well, I can sympathise with him in that," said the large-limbed man,
puzzled but smiling. "He'll probably have a chance before very long."

No sooner had he spoken that a scarlet confusion glowed upon his face.
In speculating about Otway, he had for the moment forgotten his
cousin's name.

"I _beg_ your pardon, Helen!--What an idiot I am Of course you were
joking, and I----"

"Don't, don't, don't apologise, Edward! Tell truth and shame--your
Russian relatives! I like you all the better for it."

"Thank you," he answered. "And after all, there's no harm in a little
fighting. It's better to fight and have done with it than keeping on
plotting between compliments. Nations arc just like schoolboys, you
know; there has to be a round now and then; it settles things, and is
good for the blood."

Otway was biting a blade of grass; he smiled and said nothing. Mrs.
Borisoff glanced from him to Irene, who also was smiling, but looked
half vexed.

"How can it be good, for health or anything else?" Miss Derwent asked
suddenly, turning to the speaker.

"Oh, we couldn't do without fighting. It's in human nature."

"In uncivilised human nature, yes."

"But really, you know," urged March, with good-natured deference, "it
wouldn't do to civilise away pluck--courage--heroism--whatever one
likes to call it."

"Of course it wouldn't. But what has pluck or heroism to do with
bloodshed? How can anyone imagine that courage is only shown in
fighting? I don't happen to have been in a battle, but one knows very
well how easy it must be for any coward or brute, excited to madness,
to become what's called a hero. Heroism is noble courage in ordinary
life. Are you serious in thinking that life offers no opportunities for
it?"

"Well--it's not quite the same thing----"

"Happily, not! It's a vastly better thing. Every day some braver deed
is done by plain men and women--yes, women, if you please--than was
ever known on the battle-field. One only hears of them now and then. On
the railway--on the sea--in the hospital--in burning houses--in
accidents of road and street--are there no opportunities for courage?
In the commonest everyday home life, doesn't any man or woman have
endless chances of being brave or a coward? And this is civilised
courage, not the fury of a bull at a red rag."

Piers Otway had ceased to nibble his blade of grass; his eyes were
fixed on Irene. When she had made a sudden end of speaking, when she
smiled her apology for the fervour forbidden in polite converse, he
still gazed at her, self-oblivious. Helen Borisoff watched him, askance.

"Let us go in and have some tea," she said, rising abruptly.

Soon after, March said good-bye, a definite good-bye; he was going to
another part of England. With all the grace of his caste he withdrew
from a circle, in which, temptations notwithstanding, he had not felt
quite at ease. Riding down the dale through a sunny shower, he was
refreshed and himself again.

"Where do you put up to-night?" asked Helen of Otway, turning to him,
when the other man had gone, with a brusque familiarity.

"At the inn down in Redmire."

"And what do you do to-morrow?"

"Go to see the falls at Aysgarth, for one thing. There's been rain up
on the hills; the river will be grand."

"Perhaps we shall be there."

When Piers had left them, Helen said to her friend

"I wanted to ask him to stay and dine--but I didn't know whether you
would like it."

"I? I am not the hostess."

"No, but you have humours, Irene. One has to be careful."

Irene knitted her brows, and stood for a moment with face half averted.

"If I cause this sort of embarrassment," she said frankly, "I think I
oughtn't to stay."

"It's easily put right, my dear girl. Answer me a simple question. If I
lead Mr. Otway to suppose that his company for a few days is not
disagreeable to us, shall I worry you, or not?"

"Not in the least," was the equally direct answer.

"That's better. We've always got along so well, you know, that it's
annoying to feel there's something not quits understood between us.
Then I shall send a note down to the inn where he's staying, to appoint
a meeting at Aysgarth to-morrow. And I shall ask him to come here for
the rest of the day, if he chooses."

At nightfall, the rain-clouds spread from the hills of Westmorland, and
there were some hours of downpour. This did not look hopeful for the
morrow, but, on the other hand, it promised a finer sight at the falls,
if by chance the weather grew tolerable. The sun rose amid dropping
vapours, and at breakfast-time had not yet conquered the day, but a
steady brightening soon put an end to doubt. The friends prepared to
set forth.

As they were entering the carriage there arrived the postman, with
letters for both, which they read driving down to the dale. One of
Irene's correspondents was her brother, and the contents of Eustace's
letter so astonished her that she sat for a time absorbed in thought.

"No bad news, I hope?" said Helen, who had glanced quickly over the few
lines from her husband, now at Ostend.

"No, but startling. You may as well read the letter."

It was written in Eustace Derwent's best style; really a very good
letter, both as to composition and in the matter of feeling. After duly
preparing his sister for what might come as a shock, he made known to
her that he was about to marry Mrs. John Jacks, the widow of the late
member of Parliament. "I can quite imagine," he proceeded, "that this
may trouble your mind by exciting unpleasant memories, and perhaps may
make you apprehensive of disagreeable things in the future. Pray have
no such uneasiness. Only this morning I had a long talk with Arnold
Jacks, who was very friendly, and indeed could not have behaved better.
He spoke of you, and quite in the proper way; I was to remember him
very kindly to you, if I thought the remembrance would not be
unwelcome. As for my dear Marian, you will find her everything that a
sister should be." Followed sundry details and promise of more
information when they met again in town.

"Describe her to me," said Helen, who had a slight acquaintance with
Irene's brother.

"One word does it--irreproachable. A couple of years older than
Eustace, I think; John Jacks was more than twice her age, so it's only
fair. The dear boy will probably give up his profession, and become an
ornament of society, a model of all the proprieties. Wonderful I shan't
realise it for a few days."

As they drove on to the bridge at Aysgarth, Piers Otway stood there
awaiting them. They exchanged few words; the picture before their eyes,
and the wild music that filled the air, imposed silence. Headlong
between its high banks plunged the swollen torrent, the roaring spate;
brown from its washing of the peaty moorland, and churned into flying
flakes of foam. Over the worn ledges, at other times a succession of
little waterfalls, rolled in resistless fury a mighty cataract; at
great rocks in mid-channel it leapt with surges like those of an angry
sea. The spectacle was fascinating in its grandeur, appalling in its
violence; with the broad leafage of the glen arched over it in warm,
still sunshine, wondrously beautiful.

They wandered some way by the river banks; then drove to other spots of
which Otway spoke, lunched at a village inn, and by four o'clock
returned altogether to the Castle. After tea, Piers found himself alone
with Irene. Mrs. Borisoff had left the room whilst he was speaking, and
so silently that for a moment he was not aware of her withdrawal. Alone
with Irene, for the first time since he had known her; even at Ewell,
long ago, they had never been together without companionship. There
fell a silence. Piers could not lift his eyes to the face which had all
day been before him, the face which seemed more than ever beautiful
amid nature's beauties. He wished to thank her for the letter she had
written him to St. Petersburg, but was fearful of seeming to make too
much of this mark of kindness. Irene herself resumed the conversation.

"You will continue to write for the reviews, I hope?"

"I shall try to," he answered softly.

"Your Russian must be very idiomatic. I found it hard in places."

Overcome with delight, he looked at her and bent towards her.

"Mrs. Borisoff told me you had learnt. I know what that means--learning
Russian in England, out of books. I began to do it at Ewell--do you
remember?"

"Yes, I remember very well. Have you written anything besides these two
articles?"

"Written--yes, but not published. I have written all sorts of things."
His voice shook. "Even--verse."

He repented the word as soon as it was uttered. Again his eyes could
not move towards hers.

"I know you have," said Irene, in the voice of one who smiles.

"I have never been sure that you knew it--that you received those
verses."

"To tell you the truth, I didn't know how to acknowledge them. I never
received the dedication of a poem, before or since, and in my
awkwardness I put off my thanks till it was too late to send them. But
I remember the lines; I think they were beautiful. Shall you ever
include them in a volume?"

"I wrote no more, I am no poet. Yet if you had given a word of
praise"--he laughed, as one does when emotion is too strong--"I should
have written on and on, with a glorious belief in myself."

"Perhaps it was as well, then, that I said nothing. Poetry must come of
itself, without praise--don't you think?"

"Yes, I lived it--or tried to live it--instead of putting it into
metre."

"That's exactly what I once heard my father say about himself. And he
called it consuming his own smoke."

Piers could not but join in her quiet laugh, yet he had never felt a
moment less opportune for laughter. As if to prove that she purposely
changed the note of their dialogue, Irene reached a volume from the
table, and said in the most matter-of-fact voice:

"Here's a passage of Tolstoi that I can't make out. Be my professor,
please. First of all, let me hear you read it aloud for the accent."

The lesson continued till Helen entered the room again. Irene so willed
it.



CHAPTER XXXVI


She sat by her open window, which looked over the dale to the long high
ridge of moors, softly drawn against a moonlit sky. Far below sounded
the rushing Ure, and at moments there came upon the fitful breeze a
deeper music, that of the falls at Aysgarth, miles away. It was an hour
since she had bidden good-night to Helen, and two hours or more since
all else in the Castle and in the cottages had been still and dark. She
loved this profound quiet, this solitude guarded by the eternal powers
of nature. She loved the memories and imaginings borne upon the
stillness of these grey old towers.

The fortress of warrior-lords, the prison of a queen, the Royalist
refuge--fallen now into such placid dreaminess of age. Into the dark
chamber above, desolate, legend-haunted, perchance in some moment of
the night there fell through the narrow window-niche a pale moonbeam,
touching the floor, the walls of stone; such light in gloom as may have
touched the face of Mary herself, wakeful with her recollections and
her fears. Musing it in her fancy, Irene thought of love and death.

Had it come to her at length, that love which was so strange and
distant when, in ignorance, she believed it her companion? Verses in
her mind, verses that would never be forgotten, however lightly she
held them, sang and rang to a new melody. They were not poetry--said he
who wrote them. Yet they were truth, sweetly and nobly uttered. The
false, the trivial, does not so cling to memory year after year.

They had helped her to know him, these rhyming lines, or so she
fancied. They shaped in her mind, slowly, insensibly, an image of the
man, throughout the lapse of time when she neither saw him nor heard of
him. Whether a true image how should she assure herself? She only knew
that no feature of it seemed alien when compared with the impression of
those two last days. Yet the picture was an ideal; the very man she
could honour, love; he and no other. Did she perilously deceive herself
in thinking that this ideal and the man who spoke with her, were one?

It had grown without her knowledge, apart from her will, this
conception of Piers Otway. The first half-consciousness of such a
thought came to her when she heard from Olga of those letters, obtained
by him for a price, and given to the kinsfolk of the dead woman. An
interested generosity? She had repelled the suggestion as unworthy,
ignoble. Whether the giver was ever thanked, she did not know. Dr.
Derwent kept cold silence on the subject, after once mentioning it to
her in formal words. Thanks, undoubtedly, were due to him. To-night it
pained her keenly to think that perhaps her father had said nothing.

She began to study Russian, and in secret; her impulse dark, or so
obscurely hinted that it caused her no more than a moment's reverie.
Looking back, she saw but one explanation of the energy, the zeal which
had carried her through these labours. It shone clear on the day when a
letter from Helen Borisoff told her that an article in a Russian
review, just published, bore the name of Piers Otway. Thence onward,
she was frank with herself. She recognised the meaning of the
intellectual process which had tended to harmonise her life with that
she imagined for her ideal man. There came a prompting of emotion, and
she wrote the letter which Piers received.

All things were made new to her; above all, her own self. She was
acting in a way which was no result of balanced purpose, yet, as she
perfectly understood, involved her in the gravest responsibilities. She
had no longer the excuse which palliated her conduct eight years ago;
that heedlessness was innocent indeed compared with the blame she would
now incur, if she excited a vain hope merely to prove her feelings, to
read another chapter of life. Solemnly in this charmed stillness of
midnight, she searched her heart. It did not fail under question.

A morning sleep held her so much later than usual that, before she had
left her chamber, letters were brought to the door by the child who
waited upon her. On one envelope she saw the Doctor's handwriting; on
the other that of her cousin, Mrs. Florio. Surprised to hear from Olga,
with whom she had had very little communication for a year or two, she
opened that letter first.

"Dear Irene," it began, "something has lately come to my knowledge
which I think I am only doing a duty in acquainting you with. It is
very unpleasant, but not the first unpleasant piece of news that you
and I have shared together. You remember all about Piers Otway and
those letters of my poor mother's, which he said he bought for us from
his horrid brother? Well, I find that he did _not_ buy them--at all
events that he never paid for them. Daniel Otway is now broken-down in
health, and depends on help from the other brother, Alexander, who has
gone in for some sort of music-hall business! Not only did Piers
_cheat_ him out of the money promised for the letters (I fear there's
no other word for it), but he has utterly refused to give the man a
farthing--though in good circumstances, I hear. This is all very
disagreeable, and I don't like to talk about it, but as I hear Piers
Otway has been seeing you, it's better you should know." She added
"very kind regards," and signed herself "yours affectionately." Then
came a postscript. "Mrs. A. Otway is actually on the music-hall stage
herself, in short skirts!"

The paper shook in Irene's hand. She turned sick with fear and misery.

Mechanically the other letter was torn open. Dr. Derwent wrote about
Eustace's engagement. It did not exactly surprise him; he had observed
significant things. Nor did it exactly displease him, for since talking
with Eustace and with Marian Jacks (the widow), he suspected that the
match was remarkable for its fitness. Mrs. Jacks had a large
fortune--well, one could resign oneself to that. "After all, Mam'zelle
Wren, there's nothing to be uneasy about. Arnold Jacks is sure to marry
very soon (a dowager duchess, I should say), and on that score there'll
be no awkwardness. When the Wren makes a nest for herself, I shall
convert this house into a big laboratory, and be at home only to
bacteria."

But the Doctor, too, had a postscriptum. "Olga has been writing to me,
sheer scandal, something about the letters you wot of having been
obtained in a dishonest way. I won't say I believe it, or that I
disbelieve it. I mention the thing only to suggest that perhaps I was
right in not making any acknowledgment of that obligation. I felt that
silence was the wise as well as the dignified thing--though someone
disagreed with me."

When Irene entered the sitting-room, her friend had long since
breakfasted.

"What's the matter?" Helen asked, seeing so pale and troubled a
countenance.

"Nothing much; I overtired myself yesterday. I must keep quiet for a
little."

Mrs. Borisoff herself was in no talkative frame of mind. She, too, an
observer might have imagined, had some care or worry. The two very soon
parted; Irene going back to her room, Helen out into the sunshine.

A malicious letter this of Olga's; the kind of letter which Irene had
not thought her capable of penning. Could there be any substantial
reason for such hostile feeling? Oh, how one's mind opened itself to
dark suspicion, when once an evil whisper had been admitted!

She would not believe that story of duplicity, of baseness. Her very
soul rejected it, declared it impossible, the basest calumny. Yet how
it hurt! How it humiliated! Chiefly, perhaps, because of the evil art
with which Olga had reminded her of Piers Otway's disreputable kinsmen.
Could the two elder brothers be so worthless, and the younger an
honest, brave man, a man without reproach--her ideal?

Irene clutched at the recollection which till now she had preferred to
banish from her mind. Piers was not born of the same mother, might he
not inherit his father's finer qualities, and, together with them,
something noble from the woman whom his father loved? Could she but
know that history The woman was a law-breaker; repeatability gave her
hard names; but Irene used her own judgment in such matters, and asked
only for knowledge of facts. She had as good as forgotten the
irregularity of Piers Otway's birth. Whom, indeed, did it or could it
concern? Her father, least of all men, would dwell upon it as a subject
of reproach. But her father was very capable of pointing to Daniel and
Alexander, with a shake of the head. He had a prejudice against
Piers--this letter reminded her of it only too well. It might be feared
that he was rather glad than otherwise of the "sheer scandal" Olga had
conveyed to him.

Confident in his love of her, which would tell ill on the side of his
reasonableness, his justice, she had not, during these crucial days,
thought much about her father. She saw his face now, if she spoke to
him of Piers. Dr. Derwent, like all men of brains, had a good deal of
the aristocratic temper; he scorned the vulgarity of the vulgar; he
turned in angry impatience from such sorry creatures as those two men;
and often lashed with his contempt the ignoble amusements of the crowd.
Olga doubtless had told him of the singer in short skirts----

She shed a few tears. The very meanness of the injury done her at this
crisis of emotion heightened its cruelty.

Piers might come to the Castle this morning. Now and then she glanced
from her window, if perchance she should see him approaching; but all
she saw was a group of holiday-makers, the happily infrequent tourists
who cared to turn from the beaten track up the dale to visit the
Castle. She did not know whether Helen was at home, or had rambled
away. If Piers came, and his call was announced to her, could she go
forth and see him?

Not to do so, would be unjust, both to herself and to him. The
relations between them demanded, of all things, honesty and courage. No
little courage, it was true; for she must speak to him plainly of
things from which she shrank even in communing with herself.

Yet she had done as hard a thing as this. Harder, perhaps, that
interview with Arnold Jacks which set her free. Honesty and
courage--clearness of sight and strength of purpose where all but every
girl would have drifted dumbly the common way--had saved her life from
the worst disaster: saved, too, the man whom her weakness would have
wronged. Had she not learnt the lesson which life sets before all, but
which only a few can grasp and profit by?

Towards midday she left her room, and went in search of Helen; not
finding her within doors, she stepped out on to the sward, and strolled
in the neighbourhood of the Castle. A child whom she knew approached
her.

"Have you seen Mrs. Borisoff?" she asked.

"She's down at the beck, with the gentleman," answered the little girl,
pointing with a smile to the deep, leaf-hidden glen half a mile away.

Irene lingered for a few minutes and went in again.

At luncheon-time Helen had not returned. The meal was delayed for her,
more than a quarter of an hour. When at length she entered, Irene saw
she had been hastening; but Helen's features seemed to betray some
other cause of discomposure than mere unpunctuality. Having glanced at
her once or twice, Irene kept an averted face. Neither spoke as they
sat down to table; only when they had begun the meal did Helen ask
whether her friend felt better. The reply was a brief affirmative. For
the rest of the time they talked a little, absently, about
trivialities; then they parted; without any arrangement for the
afternoon.

Irene's mind was in that state of perilous commotion which invests with
dire significance any event not at once intelligible. Alone in her
chamber, she sat brooding with tragic countenance. How could Helen's
behaviour be explained? If she had met Piers Otway and spent part of
the morning with him, why did she keep silence about it? Why was she so
late in coming home, and what had heightened her colour, given that
peculiar shiftiness to her eyes?

She rose, went to Helen's door, and knocked.

"May I come in?"

"Of course--I have a letter to write by post-time."

"I won't keep you long," said Irene, standing before her friend's
chair, and regarding her with grave earnestness. "Did Mr. Otway call
this morning?"

"He was coming; I met him outside, and told him you weren't very well.
And"--she hesitated, but went on with a harder voice and a careless
smile--"we had a walk up the glen. It's very lovely, the higher part.
You must go. Ask him to take you."

"I don't understand you," said Irene coldly. "Why should I ask Mr.
Otway to take me?"

"I beg your pardon. You are become so critical of words and phrases. To
take _us_, I'll say."

"That wouldn't be a very agreeable walk, Helen, whilst you are in this
strange mood. What does it all mean? I never foresaw the possibility of
misunderstandings such as this between us. Is it I who am to blame, or
you? Have I offended you?"

"No, dear," was the dreamy response.

"Then why do you seem to wish to quarrel with me?"

Helen had the look of one who strugglingly overcomes a paroxysm of
anger. She stood up.

"Would you leave me alone for a little, Irene? I'm not quite able to
talk. I think we've both of us been doing too much--overtaxing
ourselves. It has got on my nerves."

"Yes I will go," was the answer, spoken very quietly. "And to-morrow
morning I will return to London."

She moved away.

"Irene!"

"Yes----?"

"I have something to tell you before you go." Helen spoke with a set
face, forcing herself to meet her friend's eyes. "Mr. Otway wants an
opportunity of talking with you, alone. He hoped for it this morning.
As he couldn't see you, he talked about you to me--you being the only
subject he could talk about. I promised to be out of the way if he came
this afternoon."

"Thank you--but why didn't you tell me this before?"

"Because, as I said, things have got rather on my nerves." She took a
step forward. "Will you overlook it--forget about it? Of course I
should have told you before he came."

"It's strange that there should be anything to overlook or forget
between _us_," said Irene, with wide pathetic eyes.

"There isn't really! It's not you and I that have got muddled--only
things, circumstances. If you had been a little more chummy with me.
There's a time for silence, but also a time for talking."

"Dear, there are things one _can't_ talk about, because one doesn't
know what to say, even to oneself."

"I know! I know it!" replied Helen, with emphasis.

And she came still nearer, with hand held out.

"All nerves, Irene! Neuralgia of--of the common sense, my dear!"

They parted with a laugh and a quick clasp of hands.



CHAPTER XXXVII


For half an hour Irene sat idle. She was waiting, and could do nothing
but wait. Then the uncertainty as to how long this suspense might hold
her grew insufferable; she was afraid too, of seeing Helen again, and
having to talk, when talk would be misery. A thought grew out of her
unrest--a thought clear-shining amid the tumult of turbid emotions. She
would go forth to meet him. He should see that she came with that
purpose--that she put away all trivialities of prescription and of
pride. If he were worthy, only the more would he esteem her. If she
deluded herself--it lay in the course of Fate.

His way up from Redmire was by the road along which she had driven on
the evening of her arrival, the road that dipped into a wooded glen,
where a stream tumbled amid rocks and boulders, over smooth-worn slabs
and shining pebbles, from the moor down to the river of the dale. He
might not come this way. She hoped--she trusted Destiny.

She stood by the crossing of the beck. The flood of yesterday had
fallen; the water was again shallow at this spot, but nearly all the
stepping-stones had been swept away. For help at such times, a crazy
little wooden bridge spanned the current a few yards above. Irene
brushed through the long grass and the bracken, mounted on to the
bridge, and, leaning over the old bough which formed a rail, let the
voice of the beck soothe her impatience.

Here one might linger for hours, in perfect solitude; very rarely in
the day was this happy stillness broken by a footfall, a voice, or the
rumbling of a peasant's cart. A bird twittered, a breeze whispered in
the branches; ever and ever the water kept its hushing note.

But now someone was coming. Not with audible footstep; not down the
road at which Irene frequently glanced; the intruder approached from
the lower part of the glen, along the beckside, now walking in soft
herbage, now striding from stone to stone, sometimes lifting the bough
of a hazel or a rowan that hung athwart his path. He drew near to the
crossing. He saw the figure on the bridge, and for a moment stood at
gaze.

Irene was aware of someone regarding her. She moved. He stood below,
the ripple-edge of the water touching his foot. Upon his upturned face,
dark eyes wide in joy and admiration, firm lips wistfully subduing
their smile, the golden sunlight shimmered through overhanging foliage.
She spoke.

"Everything around is beautiful, but this most of all."

"There is nothing more beautiful," he answered, "in all the dales."

The words had come to her easily and naturally, after so much trouble
as to what the first words should be. His look was enough. She scorned
her distrust, scorned the malicious gossip that had excited it. Her
mind passed into consonance with the still, warm hour, with the
loveliness of all about her.

"I haven't been that way yet." She pointed up the glen. "Will you come?"

"Gladly! I was here with Mrs. Borisoff this morning, and wished so much
you had been with us."

Irene stepped down from the bridge down to the beckside. The briefest
shadow of annoyance had caused her to turn her face away; there
followed contentment that he spoke of the morning, at once and so
frankly. She was able to talk without restraint, uttering her delight
at each new picture as they went along. They walked very slowly, ever
turning to admire, stopping to call each other's attention with glowing
words. At a certain point, they were obliged to cross the water, their
progress on this side barred by natural obstacles. It was a crossing of
some little difficulty for Irene, the stones being rugged, and rather
far apart; Piers guided her, and at the worst spot held out his hand.

"Jump! I won't let you fall."

She sprang with a happy girlish laugh to his side, and withdrew her
hand very gently.

"Here is a good place to rest," she said, seating herself on a boulder.
And Piers sat down at a little distance.

The bed of the torrent was full of great stones, very white, rounded
and smoothed by the immemorial flow, by their tumbling and grinding in
time of spate; they formed innumerable little cataracts, with here and
there a broad plunge of foam-streaked water, perilously swift and deep.
By the bank the current spread into a large, still pool, of colour a
rich brown where the sunshine touched it, and darkly green where it lay
beneath spreading branches; everywhere limpid, showing the pebbles or
the sand in its cool depths. Infinite were the varyings of light and
shade, from a dazzling gleam on the middle water, to the dense
obscurity of leafy nooks. On either hand was a wood, thick with
undergrowth; great pines, spruces, and larches, red-berried rowans,
crowding on the steep sides of the ravine; trees of noble stature,
shadowing fern and flower, towering against the sunny blue. Just below
the spot where Piers and Irene rested, a great lichened hazel stretched
itself all across the beck; in the upward direction a narrowing vista,
filled with every tint of leafage, rose to the brown of the moor and
the azure of the sky. All about grew tall, fruiting grasses, and many a
bright flower; clusters of pink willow-weed, patches of yellow ragwort,
the perfumed meadowsweet, and, amid bracken and bramble, the purple
shining of a great campanula.

On the open moor, the sun blazed with parching heat; here was freshness
as of spring, the waft of cool airs, the scent of verdure moistened at
the root.

"Once upon a time," said Otway, when both had been listening to their
thoughts, "I fancied myself as unlucky a man as walked the earth. I've
got over that."

Irene did not look at him; she waited for the something else which his
voice promised.

"Think of my good fortune in meeting you this afternoon. If I had gone
to the Castle another way, I should have missed you; yet I all but did
go by the fields. And there was nothing I desired so much as to see you
somewhere--by yourself."

The slight failing of his voice at the end helped Irene to speak
collectedly.

"Chance was in my favour, too. I came down to the beck, hoping I might
meet you."

She saw his hand move, the fingers clutch together. Before he could say
anything, she continued:

"I want to tell you of an ill-natured story that has reached my ears.
Not to discuss it; I know it is untrue. Your two brothers--do you know
that they speak spitefully of you?"

"I didn't know it. I don't think I have given them cause."

"I am very sure you haven't. But I want you to know about it, and I
shall tell you the facts. After the death of my aunt, Mrs. Hannaford,
you got from the hands of Daniel Otway a packet of her letters; he
bargained with you, and you paid his price, wishing those letters to be
seen by my father and my cousin Olga, whose minds they would set at
rest. Now, Daniel Otway is telling people that you never paid the sum
you promised him, and that, being in poverty, he vainly applies to you
for help."

She saw his hand grasp a twig that hung near him, and drag it rudely
down; she did not look at his face.

"I should have thought," Piers answered with grave composure, "that
nothing Daniel Otway said could concern me. I see it isn't so. It must
have troubled you, for you to speak of it."

"It has; I thought about it. I rejected it as a falsehood."

"There's a double falsehood. I paid him the price he asked, on the day
he asked it, and I have since"--he checked himself--"I have not refused
him help in his poverty."

Irene's heart glowed within her. Even thus, and not otherwise, would
she have desired him to refute the slander. It was a test she had
promised herself; she could have laughed for joy. Her voice betrayed
this glad emotion.

"Let him say what he will; it doesn't matter now. But how comes it that
he is poor?"

"That I should like to know." Piers threw a pebble into the still,
brown water near him. "Five years ago, he came into a substantial sum
of money. I suppose--it went very quickly. Daniel is not exactly a
prudent man."

"I imagine not," remarked Irene, allowing herself a glimpse of his
countenance, which she found to be less calm than his tone. "Let us
have done with him. Five years ago," she added, with soft accents,
"some of that money ought to have been yours, and you received nothing."

"Nothing was legally due to me," he answered, in a voice lower than
hers.

"That I know. I mention it--you will forgive me?--because I have
sometimes feared that you might explain to yourself wrongly my failure
to reply when you sent me those verses, long ago. I have thought,
lately, that you might suppose I knew certain facts at that time. I
didn't; I only learnt them afterwards. At no time would it have made
any difference."

Piers could not speak.

"Look!" said Irene, in a whisper, pointing.

A great dragon-fly, a flash of blue, had dropped on to the surface of
the pool, and lay floating. As they watched it rose, to drop again upon
a small stone amid a shallow current; half in, half out of, the sunny
water, it basked.

"Oh, how lovely everything is!" exclaimed Irene, in a voice that
quivered low. "How perfect a day!"

"It was weather like this when I first saw you," said Piers. "Earlier,
but just as bright. My memory of you has always lived in sunshine. I
saw you first from my window; you were standing in the garden at Ewell;
I heard your voice. Do you remember telling the story of Thibaut
Rossignol?"

"Oh yes, yes!"

"Is he still with your father?"

"Thibaut? Why, Thibaut is an institution. I can't imagine our house
without him. Do you know that he always calls me Mademoiselle Irene?"

"Your name is beautiful in any language. I wonder how many times I have
repeated it to myself? And thought, too, so often of its meaning;
longed, for _that_--and how vainly!"

"Say the name--now," she faltered.

"Irene!--Irene!"

"Why, you make music of it! I never knew how musical it sounded. Hush!
look at that thing of light and air!"

The dragon-fly had flashed past them. This way and that it darted above
the shining water, then dropped once more, to float, to sail idly with
its gossamer wings.

Piers stole nearer. He sat on a stone by her side.

"Irene!"

"Yes. I like the name when you say it."

"May I touch your hand?"

Still gazing at the dragon-fly, as if careless of what she did, she
held her hand to him. Piers folded it in both his own.

"May I hold it as long as I live?"

"Is that a new thought of yours?" she asked, in a voice that shook as
it tried to suggest laughter in her mind.

"The newest! The most daring and the most glorious I ever had."

"Why, then I have been mistaken," she said softly, for an instant
meeting his eyes. "I fancied I owed you something for a wrong I did,
without meaning it, more than eight years gone by."

"That thought had come to you?" Piers exclaimed, with eyes gleaming.

"Indeed it had. I shall be more than half sorry if I have to lose it."

"How foolish I was! What wild, monstrous folly! How could you have
dreamt for a moment that such a one as I was could dare to love
you?--Irene, you did me no wrong. You gave me the ideal of my
life--something I should never lose from my heart and mind--something
to live towards! Not a hope; hope would have been madness. I have loved
you without hope; loved you because I had found the only one I could
love--the one I must love--on and on to the end."

She laid her free hand upon his that clasped the other, and bowed him
to her reasoning mood.

"Let me speak of other things--that have to be made plain between you
and me. First of all, a piece of news. I have just heard that my
brother is going to marry Mrs. John Jacks."

Piers was mute with astonishment. It was so long since he had seen Mrs.
Jacks, and he pictured her as a woman much older than Eustace Derwent.
His clearest recollection of her was that remark she made at the
luncheon-table about the Irish, that they were so "sentimental"; it had
blurred her beauty and her youth in his remembrance.

"Yes, Eustace is going to marry her; and I shouldn't wonder if the
marriage turns out well. It leads to the disagreeable thing I have to
talk about. You know that I engaged myself to Arnold Jacks. I did so
freely, thinking I did right. When the time of the marriage drew near,
I had learnt that I had done _wrong_. Not that I wished to be the wife
of anyone else. I loved nobody; I did not love the man I was pretending
to. As soon as I knew that--what was I to do? To marry him was a
crime--no less a crime for its being committed every day. I took my
courage in both hands. I told him I did not love him, I would not marry
him. And--I ran away."

The memory made her bosom heave, her cheeks flush.

"Magnificent!" commented the listener, with a happy smile.

"Ah! but I didn't do it very well. I treated him badly--yes,
inconsiderately, selfishly. The thing had to be done--but there were
ways of doing it. Unfortunately I had got to resent my captivity, and I
spoke to him as if _he_ were to blame. From the point of view of
delicacy, perhaps he was; he should have released me at once, and that
he wouldn't. But I was too little regardful of what it meant to
him--above all to his pride. I have so often reproached myself. I do it
now for the last time. There!" She picked up a pebble to fling away.
"It is gone! We speak of the thing no more."

A change was coming upon the glen. The sun had passed; it shone now
only on the tree-tops. But the sky above was blue and warm as ever.

"Another thing," she pursued, more gravely. "My father----"

Piers waited a moment, then said with eyes downcast:

"He does not think well of me?"

"That is my grief, and my trouble. However, not a serious trouble. Of
you, personally, he has no dislike; it was quite the opposite when he
met you; when you dined at our house--you remember? He said things of
you I am not going to repeat, sir. It was only after the disaster which
involved your name. Then he grew prejudiced."

"Who can wonder?"

"It will pass over. My father is no stage-tyrant. If _he_ is not open
to reason, what man living is? And no man has a tenderer heart. He was
all kindness and forbearance and understanding when I did a thing which
might well have made him angry. Some day you shall see the letter he
wrote me, when I had run away to Paris. In it, he spoke, as never to me
before, of his own marriage--of his love for my mother. Every word
remains in my memory, but I can't trust my voice to repeat them, and
perhaps I ought not--even to you."

"May I go to him, and speak for myself?"

"Yes--but not till I have seen him."

"Can't I spare you that?" said Piers, in a voice which, for the first
time, sounded his triumphant manhood. "Do you think I fear a meeting
with your father, or doubt of its result? If I had gone merely on my
own account, to try to remove his prejudice and win his regard, it
would have been a different thing; indeed, I could never have done
that; I felt too keenly his reasons for disliking me. But now! In what
man's presence should I shrink, and feel myself unworthy? You have put
such words into my heart as will gain my cause for me the moment they
are spoken. I have no false shame--no misgivings. I shall speak the
truth of myself and you, and your father will hear me."

Irene listened with the love-light in her hazel eyes; the face she
turned upon him brought back a ray of sunshine to the slowly shadowing
glen.

"I will think till to-morrow," she said. "Come to the Castle to-morrow
morning, and I shall have settled many things. But now we must go;
Helen will wonder what has become of me; I didn't tell her I was going
out."

He bent over her hand; she did not withdraw it from him as they walked
through the bracken, and beneath the green boughs, and picked their way
over the white stones of the rushing beck.

At the road, they parted.

An hour after sunset, Piers was climbing the hillside towards the
Castle, now a looming shape against a sky still duskily purpled from
the west. He climbed slowly, doubting at each step whether to go
nearer, or to wave his hand and turn. Still, he approached. In the
cottages a few lights were seen; but no one moved; there was no voice.
His own footstep on the sward fell soundless.

He stood before the tower which was inhabited, and looked at the
dim-lighted windows. To the entrance led a long flight of steps, and as
he gazed through the gloom, he seemed to discern a figure standing
there, before the doorway. He was not mistaken; the figure moved,
descended. Motionless, he saw it turn towards him. Then he knew the
step, the form; he sprang forward.

"Irene!"

"You have come to say good-night? See how our thoughts chime; I guessed
you would."

Her voice had a soft, caressing tremor; her hand sought his.

"Irene! You have given me a new life, a new soul!"

Her lips were near as she answered him.

"Rest from your sorrows, my dearest. I love you! I love you!"

He was alone again in the darkness, on the hillside. He heard the voice
of the far-off river, and to his rapturous mood it sounded as a
moaning, brought a sudden sadness. All at once, he thought amid his
triumph of those unhappy ones whom the glory of love would never bless;
those, men and women, born to a vain longing such as he had known,
doomed to the dread solitude from which he by miracle had been saved.
His heart swelled, and his eyes were hot with tears.

But as he went down to the dale, the calm of the silent hour crept over
him. He whispered the beloved name, and it gave him peace; such peace
as follows upon the hallowing of a profound passion, justified of
reason, and proof under the hand of time.





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