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´╗┐Title: Spring Days
Author: Moore, George, 1852-1933
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Spring Days" ***

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SPRING DAYS

By George Moore



PREFACE


When Henry Vizetelly, that admirable scholar, historian, and journalist,
was sent to prison for publishing Zola's novels mine were taken over by
Walter Scott, and all were reprinted except "Spring Days." This book was
omitted from the list of my acknowledged works, for public and private
criticism had shown it no mercy; and I had lost faith in it. All the
welcome it had gotten were a few contemptuous paragraphs scattered
through the Press, and an insolent article in _The Academy_, which I did
not see, but of which I was notified by a friend in the Strand at the
corner of Wellington Street.

"Was the article a long one?"

"No, I don't think they thought your book worth slashing. All I can tell
you is that if any book of mine had been spoken of in that way I should
never write another."

I left my friend, hoping that the number of _The Academy_ would not fall
into the hands of the editor of the great London review, to whom I had
dedicated the book after a night spent listening to him quoting from the
classics, Greek, English, and Latin. "A very poor testimony, one which
he won't thank me for," I muttered, and stopped before St. Clement Danes
to think what kind of letter he would write to me. But he did not even
acknowledge through his secretary the copy I sent to him, and I accepted
the rebuff without resentment, arguing that the fault was mine. "The
proofs should have been submitted to him, but the printers were calling
for them! There's no going back; the mischief is done," and I waited,
putting my trust in time, which blots out all unfortunate things, "even
dedications," I said.

Three months later, on opening my door one day, I found him standing
with a common friend on the landing. I remember wondering what his
reason was for bringing the friend, whether he had come as a sort of
chaperon or witness. He left us after a few minutes, and I sat watching
the great man of my imagination, asking myself if he were going to speak
of "Spring Days," hoping that he would avoid the painful subject. The
plot and the characters of my new book might please him. If he would
only allow me to speak about it he might be persuaded to accept a second
dedication as some atonement for the first.

"You were kind enough to dedicate your novel---"

"'Spring Days'?"

"Yes, 'Spring Days.' I know that you wished to pay me a compliment, and
if I didn't write before it was because----"

"Was it so very bad?"

A butty little man raised Oriental eyes and square hands in protest.

"You have written other books," he said, and proposed that we should go
out together and walk in the Strand.

"Yes, 'The Confessions of a Young Man' was much liked here and in
France. Will you let me give it to you?" We stopped at a book shop. "It
will please you and help you to forget 'Spring Days.'" He smiled. "Never
mention that book again," I added. "I wonder how I could have written
it."

We were in a hansom; he turned his head and looked at me without
attempting to answer my question; and from that day till six months ago
my impulse was to destroy every copy that came my way. A copy of "Spring
Days" excited in me an uncontrollable desire of theft, and whenever I
caught sight of one in a friend's house I put it in my pocket without
giving a thought to the inconvenience that the larceny might cause; the
Thames received it, and I returned home congratulating myself that there
was one copy less in the world of "Spring Days."

When the Boer War drove me out of London I said: "Dublin doesn't contain
a copy of that book;" and for nearly eight years I was left in peace,
only Edward Martyn teasing me, saying that one of these days he must
read the book.

"R---- always says, 'I like "Spring Days".'"

"Insolent little ass," I answered, "I'll cut him dead when we meet
again."

But Edward was not joking as I thought he was, and some time afterwards
he told me that after a good deal of advertising he had succeeded
in obtaining a copy of "Spring Days." The moment he left the room I
searched the table and bookcase for it, but he kept it at Tillyra, else
it would have gone into the Liffey, which receives all things.

"My dear George, I like the book better than any of your novels," he
said one day on his return from Galway. "It is the most original, it is
like no other novel, and that is why people didn't understand it."

Of course it was impossible to quarrel with dear Edward, but I wondered
if I ever should find pleasure in speaking to him again; and when A. E.
told me a few weeks later that he had come upon a novel of mine which he
had never read before--"Spring Days," I said.

"Edward gave it to you?"

"No," he answered, "I haven't seen him for many months."

"The worst book I ever wrote." A. E. did not answer. "What do you think
of it?" To my surprise I found him of the same opinion as Edward.

"My dear A. E., you know how I rely on your judgment. For twenty-five
years I have refused to allow this book to be reprinted. Shall I
relent?"

A. E. did not seem to think the book unworthy of me, and pressed me to
read it.

"I'll lend you my copy."

I received it next day, but returned it to him unread, my courage having
failed me at the last moment.

A few months later I met Richard Best, one of the librarians at the
National Library. He had just returned from his holidays; he had been
spending them in Wales for the sake of the language.

"By the way," he said, "I came across an old novel of yours--'Spring
Days.'"

"You didn't like it?"

"On the contrary, I liked it as well, if not better, than any novel you
have written. It is so entirely original. My wife... I think you value
her opinion--"

"She liked it?"

"Come home with me, and she'll tell you how it struck her."

"I will, on one condition, that you don't mention that you spoke to me
about the book."

Best promised, and we had not been many minutes in the house before
Mrs. Best interrupted my remarks about the weather to tell me what she
thought of "Spring Days."

"The matter is important. Sooner or later I shall have to think about a
collected edition. Is it to be included?"

Mrs. Best, like A. E., offered to lend me her copy, but I could not
bring myself to accept it, and escaped from the book till I came to live
in London. Then Fate thrust it into my hands, the means employed being a
woman to whom I had written for "Impressions and Opinions." She had lost
her copy; there was, however, an old book of mine which she had never
heard me speak of--"Spring Days"--and which, etc., she was sending me
the book.

"Omens are omens," I muttered, "and there's no use kicking against the
pricks eternally;" and cutting the string of the parcel I sat down
to read a novel which I had kept so resolutely out of my mind for
twenty-five years, that all I remembered of its story and characters was
an old gentleman who lived in a suburb, and whose daughters were a great
source of trouble to him. I met the style of the narrative as I might
that of an original writer whose works I was unacquainted with. There
was a zest in it, and I read on and on; I must have read for nearly two
hours, which is a long read for me, laying the book aside from time to
time, so that I might reflect at my ease on the tenacity with which it
had clung to existence. Every effort had been made to drown it;
again and again it had been flung into the river, literally and
metaphorically, but it had managed to swim ashore like a cat. It would
seem that some books have nine hundred and ninety and nine lives, and
God knows how long my meditation might have lasted if the front door
bell had not rung.

"Are you at home, sir, to Mr.--?"

"Yes."

There is time for one word more, dear reader, and whilst my visitor lays
his hat and coat on the table in the passage I will beseech you not
to look forward to a sentimental story; "Spring Days" is as free from
sentiment or morals as Daphnis and Chloe.

G. M.



I



"Miss, I'll have his blood; I will, miss, I will."

"For goodness' sake, cook, go back to your kitchen; put that dreadful
pair of boots under your apron."

"No, miss; I'll be revenged. He has insulted me."

"You can't be revenged now, cook; you see he has shut himself in; you
had better go back to your kitchen."

The groom, who was washing the carriage, stood, mop in hand, grinning,
appreciating the discomfiture of the coachman, who was paying the
penalty of his joke.

"Cook, if you don't go back to your kitchen instantly, I'll give you
notice. It is shameful--think what a scandal you are making in the
stable-yard. Go back to your kitchen--I order you. It is half-past six,
go and attend to your master's dinner."

"He has insulted me, he has insulted me. I'll have your blood!" she
cried, battering at the door. The rattling of chains was heard as the
horses turned their heads.

"Put those boots under your apron, cook; go back to your kitchen, do as
I tell you."

The woman retreated, Maggie following. At intervals there were
stoppages, and cook re-stated her desire to have the coachman's blood.
Maggie did not attempt to argue with her, but sternly repeated her order
to go back to her kitchen, and to conceal the old boots under her apron.

"What business had he to rummage in my box, interfering with my things;
he put them all along the kitchen table; he did it because I told you,
miss, that he was carrying on with the kitchenmaid. He goes with her
every evening into the wood shed, and a married man, too! I wouldn't be
his poor wife."

"Go back to your kitchen, cook; do as I tell you."

With muttered threats cook entered the house, and commanded the
kitchenmaid to interfere no more with the oven, but to attend to her
saucepans.

"What a violent woman," thought Maggie, "horrid woman. I am sure she's
Irish. I'll get rid of her as soon as I can. The place is filthy, but I
daren't speak to her now. She's stirring the saucepan with her finger."

At that moment quick steps were heard coming down the corridor, and
Sally entered.

"Cook, cook, I want you to put back the dinner half an hour. I have to
go down the town."

"O Sally, I beg of you, what will father say?"

"Father isn't everybody. I daresay the train will be a little late; it
often is. He won't know anything about it, that is if you don't tell
him."

"What do you want to go down the town for?"

"Never you mind. I don't ask you what you do."

"You want to go down the slonk," whispered Maggie.

The cook stopped stirring the saucepan, and the kitchenmaid stood
listening greedily.

"Nothing of the kind," Sally answered defiantly. "You're always trying
to get up something against me. Cook, will you keep back the dinner
twenty minutes?"

"Cook, I forbid you. I'm mistress here."

"How dare you insult me before the servants! Grace is mistress here, if
it comes to that."

"Grace has given me over the housekeeping. I am mistress when she is too
unwell to attend to it."

"Nothing of the sort. Grace is the eldest, I would give way to her, but
I'm not going to give way to you. Cook, the dinner won't be ready for
another half hour, will it?"

"I don't know when the dinner will be ready, and I don't care."

"It is a quarter to seven now, dinner won't be ready before seven, will
it, cook? Keep it back a bit. Now I must be off."

And, as Maggie expected, Sally ran past the glass houses and the pear
and apple trees, for there was at the end of the vegetable garden a
door in the brick wall that enclosed the manor house. It was used by the
gardeners, and it communicated with a path leading through some corn and
grass land to the high road. There were five acres of land attached
to the manor house, tennis lawn, shady walks, flower garden, kitchen
garden, stables, and coach house at the back, and all this spoke in
somewhat glaring fashion the wealth and ease of a rich city merchant.

"There she goes," thought Maggie, flaunting her head. "What a fool she
is to bully father instead of humouring him. We shall never hear the
end of this. His dinner put back so that she may continue her flirtation
with Meason! I shall have to tell the truth. Why should I tell a lie?"

"Please, miss," said the butler as Maggie passed through the baize door,
"I think it right to tell you about cook. We find it very hard to put
up with her in the servants' hall. She is a very violent-tempered woman;
nor can I say much for her in other respects. Last week she sold twenty
pounds of dripping, and it wasn't all dripping, miss, it was for the
most part butter."

"John, I really can't listen to any more stories about cook. Has the
quarter-to-seven come in yet?"

"I haven't seen it pass, miss, but I saw Mr. Willy coming up the drive a
minute ago."

Willy entered, and she turned to him and said: "Where have you been to,
Willy?"

"Brighton. Has father come in yet?"

"No. You came by the tramcar?"

"Yes."

With shoulders set well back and toes turned out, Willy came along the
passage. His manner was full of deliberation, and he carried a small
brown paper parcel under his arm as if it were a sword of state. Maggie
followed him up the steep and vulgarly carpeted staircase that branched
into the various passages forming the upper part of the house. Willy's
room was precise and grave, and there everything was held under lock and
key. He put the brown paper parcel on the table; he took off his coat
and laid it on the bed, heaving, at the same time, a sigh.

"Did you notice if the quarter-to-seven has been signalled?"

"Yes, but don't keep on worrying; the train is coming along the
embankment."

"Then there will be a row to-night."

"Why?"

"Sally told cook to keep the dinner back; she has gone down the slonk to
speak to Meason."

"Why didn't you tell cook that she must take her orders from you and no
one else?"

"So I did, but Sally said I was no more mistress here than she was. I
said Grace had given me charge of the house, when she could not attend
to it; but Sally will listen to no one, she'll drive father out of his
mind. There's no one he hates like the Measons."

"What is the matter with Grace? Where is she?"

"She's in her room, lying on the bed crying. She says she wants to die;
she says that she doesn't care what becomes of her. She'll never care
for another man, and father will not give his consent. What's-his-name
has nothing--only a small allowance; he'll never have any more, he isn't
a working man. I know father, he'll never hear of any one who is not a
working man. I wish you'd speak to her."

"I've quite enough to do with my own affairs; I've had bad luck enough
as it is, without running into new difficulties of my own accord."

"If she refuses Berkins, father'll never get over it. I wish you would
speak to her."

"No, don't ask me. I never meddle in other people's affairs. I've had
trouble enough. Now I want to dress."

When Maggie went downstairs, she found her father in the drawing-room.

"The train was a little late to-night. Has Willy come back from
Brighton?"

"Yes, father."

"I've been looking over his accounts and I find he has lost nearly two
thousand pounds in Bond Street, and I don't think he is doing any good
with that agency in Brighton. I never approved of one or the other. I
approve of nothing but legitimate city business. Shops in the West End!
mere gambling. Where is Grace?"

"She's in her room."

"In her room? I suppose she hasn't left it all day? This is very
terrible. I don't know what to do with you. Since your poor mother died
my life has been nothing but trouble and vexation. I can't manage you,
you are too strong for me. So she hasn't left her room; crying her eyes
out, because I won't consent to her marrying a penniless young officer!
But I will not squander my money. I made it all myself, by my own
industry, and I refuse to keep young fellows in idleness."

"I don't give you any trouble, father."

"You are the best, Maggie, but you encourage your sister Sally. I hear
that you, too, were seen walking with young Meason."

"It is not true, I assure you, father. I met him as I was going to the
post-office. I said, 'How do you do?' and I passed on."

"Where is Sally?"

"She went out a few minutes ago."

"Didn't she know the time? She ought to be dressing for dinner. Do you
know where she's gone?"

"I think she went down the slonk."

His children had inherited his straight, sharp features and his small,
black, vivid eyes. Their hair was of various hues of black. Maggie's was
raven black and glossy; Sally's was coarse and of a hue like black-lead;
Grace's was abundant and relieved with sooty shades; Willy's hair
was brown. He was the fair one of the family, and his hair was always
closely cut in military fashion, and he wore a long flowing military
moustache with a tinge of red in it. His father and he were built on the
same lines--long, spare bodies, short necks and legs, and short, spare
arms, and if the father's white hair were dyed the years that separated
him from his son would disappear, for although the son had only just
turned thirty, he was middle-aged in face and feeling.

Sally and Grace were both thickly built, the latter a little inclined
to fat. Maggie was thin and elegantly angular, and often stood in
picturesque attitudes; she stood in one now, with her hands linked
behind her back, and she watched her father, and her look was subtle and
insinuating.

"When I came here," he said, speaking rapidly, and as if he were
speaking to himself, "the place was well enough; there was nothing but
those wretched cottages facing the sea, the green, and a few cottages
about it; but since those villas have been put up, Southwick has become
unbearable. All my troubles," he murmured, "originated in the Southdown
Road."

Maggie turned aside, smiled, and bit her lip; she did not speak,
however, for she knew her father did not care to be interrupted in his
musings.

"A hateful place--glass porticoes, and oleographs on the walls." Here
Mr. Brookes stopped in his walk to admire one of his favourite Friths.
"Those ridiculous haberdashers, with a bas-relief of the founder of
their house over the doorway. The proprietors of the baths, the Measons,
poor as church mice, the son a mate of a merchant vessel--these are not
proper associates for my daughters. I will not know them; I will not
have them in my house."

"The Measons are quite as good as we are, father. They may be poor, but
as far as family goes--"

"You are just the same as the others, Maggie; once there is a young man
to flirt with, you don't care what he is or where he comes from. When
there are no young men, you will snub the old ladies fast enough; and as
for Sally, she is downright rude. I didn't want to see the haberdashers,
but while they were in my house I was polite to them."

"It was the Horlocks who told them to call."

"I know it was. If Mrs. Horlock likes to know these people, let her know
them; but what does she want to force them upon us for? That's what I
want to know. We might never have known any one in the Southdown Road; I
mean we never should, we never could have known any one in the Southdown
Road if Mrs. Horlock hadn't come to live there. We had to call upon
her."

"Every Viceroy in India called upon her. She was the only woman whom
every Viceroy did call upon."

"I know she was. Of course we had to call upon her. Most interesting
woman; the General is very nice, too. I like them exceedingly. I often
go to see them, although the smell of that mastiff is more than I can
bear in the hot weather, especially if lilies or strong smelling flowers
are in the room."

"She feeds the mice, she won't let them be destroyed, she lets the traps
down at night."

"Don't let us go into the animal question. The constant smell of dogs
is unpleasant, but I could put up with it--what I can't stand are her
acquaintances in the Southdown Road, and when I think that we should not
have known any of them if it hadn't been for her! Indirectly--I do not
say directly--she is the cause of all my difficulties. It was at her
house Sally met young Meason; it was at her house Grace met that
young officer for whom she is crying her eyes out; and it was at her
house--yes, I hadn't thought of it before--it was at her house that
Willy met that swindler who induced him to put two thousand pounds into
the Bond Street shop. The Southdown Road might have remained here for
the next five hundred years, and we should have known nothing of it had
it not been for Mrs. Horlock; if she likes to know these people let her
know them, but why force them upon us? It was only the other day she was
talking to me about calling on some new friends of hers who have come
to live there. I dare say it is the custom to call on every one at
Calcutta, but I say that Calcutta etiquette is not Southwick etiquette,
and I don't care how many Viceroys called upon her, I will not know the
Southdown Road."

The enunciation of this last sentence was deliberate and impassioned.
Mr. Brookes walked twice across the room; then he stood, his hands
crossed behind his back, looking at his admired Goodall. His anger
melted, and he mused on the price he had paid, and the price he thought
it was now worth. Fearing he would return to the Southdown Road trouble,
Maggie said: "I am afraid we shall be obliged to get rid of the
new cook. She is Irish. Just before you came in I found her in the
stable-yard threatening to break Holt's head with a pair of dreadful old
boots."

"I don't want to hear about the cook. The money you spend in
housekeeping is enormous. Since your poor mother died I haven't had
a day's peace. If it isn't one thing it is another. You are fit for
nothing but pleasure and flirtation; there isn't a young man in the
place or within ten miles you haven't flirted with. I am often ashamed
to look them in the face at the station. It is past seven; why isn't
dinner ready?"

"Sally told the cook to put the dinner back half an hour."

"Sally told the cook to put my dinner back half an hour!"

Mr. Brookes's face grew livid. The end of all things was at hand; his
dinner had been put back half an hour! This was a climax in the affairs
of his life, which for the moment he failed to grasp or estimate. Was a
father ever cursed with such daughters as his? He had been in the City
all day working for them; he did not marry because he wished to leave
them his money, and this was the return they made to him. His dinner had
been put back half an hour! Passion sustained him for a while; but he
gave way, and, pulling out a silk handkerchief, he sank into a chair.

"Don't cry, father, don't cry. Sally is thoughtless; she didn't mean
it."

Mr. Brookes wept for a few minutes; Maggie strove to soothe him; he
waved her away, he wiped his eyes and in a voice broken with anguish,
"Ah, well," he said, "I suppose it will be all the same a hundred
years hence." In moments of extreme trouble he sought refuge in such
philosophy, but now it seemed inadequate and superficial, and Maggie had
begun to fear the violence of the storm she had brewed. She did not
mind stimulating ill-feeling, but she did not wish Sally to provoke her
father recklessly.

The possibility of his marrying again and having a second family was the
one restraining influence Mr. Brookes still retained over his daughters,
so Maggie, who was always keenly alive to the remotest consequences of
her actions, took care that his home never became quite unbearable to
him; and when Sally entered the room, dark and brilliant in red velvet,
and in no way disposed to admit she had been guilty of heinous wrong in
countermanding the dinner, Maggie attempted a gentle pouring of oil
on the waters. But waving aside her sister's gentle interposition, she
said: "You mustn't think of yourself only, father. I admit I told the
cook to put back the dinner a few minutes. What then?"

"You did it that you might finish your conversation with young Meason,"
said Mr. Brookes, but his words were weak, it being doubtful if even
Meason could add to the original offence, so culminating and final did
it seem to him.

"Maggie didn't tell you that last week she met him on the sea road, and
walked with him into Portslade."

"Father, father, I beg of you, now, don't cry; think of the servants."

And it was in such unity of mind and feeling that this family sat down
to dinner in the great dining-room, rich with all comforts and adorned
with pictures by Frith and Goodall. Sally, who unfortunately knew
no fear, talked defiantly; she addressed herself principally to her
brother, and she questioned him persistently, although the replies
she received were generally monosyllabic. As he chewed his meat
with reflection and precaution, broke his bread with deliberate and
well-defined movements, and filled his mouth with carefully chosen
pieces, he gradually ventured to decide that he would not speak to his
father that evening of the scheme he had been hatching for some months.
It was one of his strictest rules not to think while eating, so it may
be said that it was against his will that he arrived at this conclusion.
Willy suffered from indigestion, and he knew that any exercise of the
brain was most prejudicial at meal times.

After dinner Mr. Brookes and his son retired to the billiard-room to
smoke.

"Your sisters are a great trouble to me--a very great anxiety. Since
your poor mother died I've had no peace, none whatever. Poor Julia,
she's gone; I shall never see her again."

Willy made no answer. He was debating; he was still uncertain whether
the present time could be considered a favourable one to introduce his
scheme to his father's notice, and he had made up his mind that it was,
when he was interrupted by Mr. Brookes, who had again lapsed into one of
his semi-soliloquies.

"Your sisters give me a great deal of trouble, a very great deal of
anxiety. I am all alone. I have no one to help me since the death of
your poor mother."

"My sisters are fitted for nothing but pleasure," Willy replied
severely.



II



Mr. Brookes went to London every day by the five minutes to ten; Willy
walked into Brighton. There he had been for some time striving to found
an agency for artificial manures, and in the twilight of a small office
he brooded over the different means of making money that were open to
him. The young ladies worked or played as it struck their fancy. Sally
admitted that she infinitely preferred walking round the garden with
a young man to doing wool-work in the drawing-room. Maggie shared this
taste, although she did not make bold profession of it. Grace was the
gentlest of the sisters, and had passed unnoticed until she had fallen
in love with a penniless officer, and tortured her father with tears
and haggard cheeks because he refused to supply her with money to keep
a husband. The doctor had ordered her iron; she had been sent to
London for a change, but neither remedy was of much avail, and when
she returned home pale and melancholy she had not taken the keys from
Maggie, but had allowed her to usurp her place inthe house. Sally was
supposed to look after the conservatories, but beyond her own special
flowers she left everything to the gardeners.

On Sundays Mr. Brookes walked through the long drawing-rooms aimlessly.
Sometimes he would stop before one of his pictures. "There, that's a
good picture, I paid a lot of money for it, I paid too much, mustn't do
so again." Passing his daughters, sometimes without speaking, he then
stopped before one of the big chimney-pieces, and, pulling out his large
silk pocket handkerchief, dusted the massive clocks and candlesticks.

In the billiard-room, at a table drawn up close to the coke fire, Willy
slowly and with much care made pencil notes, which he slowly and with
great solemnity copied into his diary.

"Your sisters are a great source of trouble to me, a source of deep
anxiety," said Mr. Brookes, and he flicked the rearing legs of a bronze
horse with his handkerchief.

"My sisters are only fit for pleasure," said Willy and he finished the
tail of the y, passed the blotting paper over, and prepared to begin a
fresh paragraph.

"I am afraid Grace is scarcely any better; she will not leave her room.
I hear she is crying. It is too ridiculous, too ridiculous. What she can
see in that man I can't think; he is only a man of pleasure. I've told
her so, but somehow she can't get to see why I will not settle
money upon her--money that I made myself, by hard work, judicious
investments."

"That's a smack at the shop," thought Willy, as he placed his full stop.

"I'll not settle my money upon her," said Mr. Brookes, as he resumed his
dusting; "and for what? to keep an idle fellow in idleness. No, I'll not
do it. She'll get over it--ah, it will be all the same a hundred years
hence. But tell me, have you noticed--no, you notice nothing--"

"Yes, I do; what do you want me to say, that she is looking very ill?
I can't help it if she is. I've quite enough troubles of my own without
thinking of other people's. I'm sure I am very sorry. I wish she'd never
met the fellow."

"That's what I say, I wish she'd never met the fellow, and she never
would had it not been for that horrible Southdown Road. Southwick has
never been the same since those villas were put up."

"I know nothing about them; I won't know them. I don't go to the
Horlocks because I may meet people there I don't want to know. If you
hadn't allowed the girls to go there, she never would have met him."

"But we had to call on the Horlocks. Every Viceroy that ever came to
India called upon her, and they're excellent people--titled people
come down from London to see them: but I daresay their banking accounts
wouldn't bear looking into. She walks about the green with the chemist's
wife, and has the people of the baths to dinner. Mostextraordinary
woman. I like her, I enjoy her society; but I can't follow her in her
opinions. She says that only men are bad; that all animals are good;
that it is only men who make them bad. Her views on hydrophobia are most
astonishing. She says it is a mild and easy death, and sees no reason
why the authorities should attempt to stamp it out. She quite frightened
me with the story she told me of a mad dog that died in her arms. But
that by the way. The point is not now whether she is right to feed mice
in her bedroom instead of getting rid of them, but whether we should
call on people we don't want to know because she asks us to do so. I say
we should not. When she spoke to me the other day about the lady whose
mother was a housemaid, I said, 'My dear Mrs. Horlock, it is very well
for you to call on those people. I approve of, I admire magnanimity; but
what you can do I cannot do. You have no daughters to bring out; every
Viceroy that ever came to India called on you, your position in the
world is assured, your friends will not think the less of you no matter
how intimately you know the chemist's wife, but you could not do these
things if you had daughters to bring out.'"

"What did she say to that?"

"She was just going out to walk with her pugs. Angel began to--you know,
and for the moment she could think of nothing else; when the little
beast had finished I had forgotten the thread of my argument. However,
I spoke to her about Grace; and she promised that she shouldn't meet
the fellow again. I can't think of his name, I get lost in the different
names, and they are all so alike I scarcely know one from the other. I
have had nothing but trouble since your poor mother died. Your sisters
give me a great deal of trouble, and you have given me a great deal
of trouble. We couldn't get on in business together on account of your
infernal slowness. No man is more for keeping his accounts and letters
straight than I, but your exactitude drives me mad; it drives me mad;
there you are at it again. I should like to know what you are copying
into that diary. One would think you were writing an article for the
_Times_, from the care with which you're drawing out every letter; 'pon
my word it isn't writing at all, it's painting. You can't write for a
pair of boots without taking a copy of the letter, entering it into this
book, and entering it into that book; 'pon my word it is maddening."

Willy laughed. "Each person has his own way of doing business; I don't
see how it interferes with you, or what difference it makes to you, if I
spend three minutes or three days writing a letter."

"Perhaps not, perhaps not; but I am terribly upset about Grace," said
Mr. Brookes, and he walked slowly across the room and stood looking at
his Bouguereau; "she'll get over it, but in any case she'll miss her
chance of marrying Berkins; that is what distresses me. The man stinks
of money. I hear that he has been appointed manager of a colliery, that
alone will bring him another thousand a year. His business is going up,
he must be worth now between seven and eight thousand a year. And he
began as an office boy, he hadn't a penny piece, made it all himself."

"So I should think; a purse-proud ass!"

"Never mind, his eight thousand is as good an eight thousand as any in
the land, better than a great many. I wouldn't give a snap of my fingers
for your broken-down landowners; Berkins has always made excellent
investments, and I hear he is now getting as much as fifteen per cent.
for money invested."

Willy had been to Oxford, and the arrogance and pomposity of this
purse-proud man shocked his sense of decorum. Berkins's vulgarity was
more offensive than that of Mr. Brookes. Mr. Brookes was a simple,
middle-class man, who had made money straightforwardly and honestly,
and he had cultivated his natural taste for pictures to the limit of
his capacities and opportunities. Berkins, however, had been born a
gentleman, but had had to shift for himself, even when a lad, and he had
caught at all chances; he was more sophisticated, he was a gentleman
in a state of retrograde, and was in all points inferior to him whom he
crossed in his descent. Berkins had bought a small place, a villa with
some hundred acres attached to it, on the other side of Preston Park.
There he had erected glass houses, and bred a few pheasants in the
corner of a field, and it surprised him to find that the county families
took no notice of him. Mr. Brookes had sympathised, but the young people
laughed at him and Willy had told a story how he had been to shoot at
----, and when a partridge got up right in front of his gun, Berkins
turned round and shot it, exclaiming: "That's the way to bring them
down!"

And now whenever his name was mentioned, Willy thought of this incident,
so very typical did it seem to him of the man, and he liked to twit his
father with it. But Mr. Brookes could not be brought to see the
joke, and he fell back on the plausible and insidious argument that,
notwithstanding his manners, Berkins was worth eight thousand a year.

"And very few girls get the chance of catching eight thousand a year;
and she'll miss it, she'll miss it if she doesn't take care."

"You talk of it as if it were an absolute certainty; you don't know that
Berkins wants to marry Grace; he hasn't been here for the last month."

"Mr. Berkins is not like the young good-for-nothings your sisters waste
their time with, he is a man of means, of eight thousand a year; you
don't expect him to come round here every evening to tea, and to play
tennis, and to walk in the moonlight and talk nonsense. Berkins is a man
of means, he is a man who can make a settlement."

"Has he spoken to you on the subject, then?"

"No, Mr. Berkins is a man of tact, however you may laugh at him for
having shot your partridge. He spoke to your Aunt Mary, or rather
she spoke to him. Ah, clever woman, your Aunt Mary, wonderful manner,
wonderful will, when she wants a thing done it must be done. Your poor
mother--I mean no disparagement--but I must say she couldn't compare
with her for determination; Sally reminds me of her, but Sally's
determination is misdirected, deplorably misdirected; it is directed
against me, entirely against me. She must be made submissive; when I
spoke to Aunt Mary about her, she said her spirit must be broken; and
if she were here she'd break it. If she were here things would be very
different, your sisters wouldn't be flirting with all the little clerks
in the Southdown Road; but I am alone. I have no one to turn to."

"You were telling me that Berkins had spoken to Aunt Mary about Grace."

"Your Aunt Mary spoke to Berkins about Grace; she told him he ought to
be thinking of marrying; that he wanted a wife. Then the conversation
turned on my daughters, and Mary no doubt mentioned that at my death
they would all have large fortunes."

"Ah, so it is the money that Berkins is after."

"Money comes first. If a man can make a settlement he will naturally
demand a--that is to say he will naturally look forward, he will
consider what her prospects are; not her immediate prospects, that would
be mercenary, but her future prospects."

Willy smiled. "And what did Berkins say?"

"He said he wanted to marry, and he spoke of Grace; he said he admired
her. I shouldn't be surprised if we saw him at church to-day."

"Are you going to ask him to lunch?"

"Certainly, if he's there." Then, after a long silence, Mr. Brookes
said: "He'll come in here to smoke. Of course you'll leave us alone. Do
you mind leaving out your cigars?"

"I have only half a box left; I think really you might keep some in the
house to supply your own guests with. You always object if I interfere
with your things."

"I am out of my best cigars--it is so hard to remember. He won't smoke
more than one."

"I'll put one in the cigar case then."

"You had better fill it; it will look so bad if there is only one; he
won't take it."

"He'll take all he can get; he took my bird, I know that!"

"This is a matter of great importance."

"To you and to Grace, not to me," said Willy, and with very bad grace he
unlocked a drawer, and placed a box of cigars on the table.

"Thank you. Now what time is it? Half-past ten. By Jove! we must be
thinking of starting; I suppose you aren't coming?"

"I am afraid I've too much to do this morning."

The young ladies appeared in new dresses, and with prayer-books in their
hands. Mr. Brookes took his hat and umbrella, and Willy watched them
depart with undisguised satisfaction. "Now I shall be able to get
through some work," he said, untying a large bundle of letters. He wrote
a page in his diary, tied up the letters, diary, and notebook in brown
paper, and, with a sigh, admitting that he did not feel up to much work
to-day, he took up the envelopes that had contained his letters and
began tearing off the stamps, and he did this very attentively as if
he did not trust his dry thick fingers. Somebody had told him that
ten thousand old stamps were worth--he had forgotten the price of old
stamps, and wondering he dozed off. When he awoke he cried: "Half-past
twelve, they must be on their way back; I wonder if Berkins is with
them!" And he strolled out on the gravel.

A few spring flowers marked the brown earth about the trees, and a
beautiful magnolia, white as a bride, shed its shell-like petals in an
angle beneath a window; the gold of the berberis glowed at the end of
the path; and the greenery was blithe as a girl in clear muslin and
ribbons. The blackbirds chattered and ran, and in turn flew to the pan
of water placed for them, and drank, lifting their heads with exquisite
motion. The trees rustled in the cold wind; the sky was white along the
embankment, where an engine moved slowly up and down the line.

Willy was sensible that the scene was pleasant and pretty, and
remembering he was fond of birds, he thrust his hands deeper in his
pockets and walked slowly down the drive, his toes well turned out.
"I wonder if they met Berkins at church?" was the question he put to
himself gravely. "What a cad he is! No wonder the county people fight
shy of us; a fellow like that is enough to close their doors against
us for ever. My father pooh-poohs everything but riches; he positively
flies in their faces, so what can I do? I don't care to ask my Oxford
friends down here; one never knows how he will receive them. He can
talk of nothing but his business. Had I a free hand, had I not been
so hampered, we might have known all the best county families, even
theduke."

The latch of the gate clicked, and Mr. Brookes and his family appeared.
Maggie and Sally walked on the right and left of their father; Grace
came on behind with Berkins, and it seemed to Willy that the city
magnate bore himself with something even more than his usual dignity.
At first sight he suggested that anomalous creature--a footman with a
beard; and the slow, deliberate enunciation marked him as one accustomed
to speak in public. His manner of sitting at a table suggested letters
and dictation of letters, his manner of moving his glasses on his nose
accounts, and at no moment would it have been surprising to see him
place his strong finger at the bottom of a line of figures, and begin
"Gentlemen," etc.

During lunch, Sally and Maggie spoke in undertones; they glanced
occasionally at Grace, who sat by and received Berkins's bald remarks
with deference. The girls trembled with excitement; they had pressed and
extorted from Grace a hurried statement of what had happened. Berkins
had proposed to her, he had told her he had never seen any one except
her whom he would care to make his wife. What had she said? She didn't
know. She couldn't really remember. She had been taken so suddenly, she
was so upset, that she hadn't known what to say. She thought she had
said something about the honour--but she really had not had time to say
much, for at that moment they were at the gate. Did she intend to accept
him? She didn't know; she could not make up her mind. It was a terrible
thing to throw over poor Jack; she didn't think she could do it--no
matter what father might say. However, she knew he would never give his
consent, so it was no use thinking.

"I hope she won't begin to cry," whispered Sally, who had followed
Maggie to the sideboard.

"Father looks as if he were going to cry," replied Maggie, moving the
decanters and pretending to look for a glass.

Seven thousand a year, ten thousand a year! Would Grace have him? What
would father settle on her? The sum he settled on her he must settle
on them when they married. As Berkins's wife Grace would have servants,
jewels, rich dresses, and a house in London, and they thought of the
advantage this marriage would be to them.

The knives clattered; cheese and celery were being eaten. Mr. Brookes
had drunk several glasses of port, and was on the verge of tears.
Berkins's high shoulders and large voice dominated the dining-table;
he was decidedly more than usually impressed by his own worth, and the
worth of the money of which he was the representative. Willy chewed
his cheese; there were many wrinkles about his eyes--deep lines turning
towards the ears; and when he lifted his tumbler one noticed the little
nails, almost worn away, of his lean hands.

At last Mr. Brookes said: "I daresay you would like a cigar,
Berkins--will you come into the billiard-room?"

Berkins inclined to this suggestion. Willy, who had not quite finished,
remained at table. The girls watched each other, and as soon as the
elderly men turned their backs they fled upstairs to their rooms.

"Will you try one of these?" said Mr. Brookes, offering a box of choice
havannas.

"Thank you. My tobacconist--I must ask you to visit his shop--receives
just a few cases of a very special cigar; I have at least two-thirds of
them, sometimes more; when you dine with me I'll give you one. This is
Chartreuse, I think. My wine merchant knows a man whose cousin is one of
the monks. Now the monks set aside the very cream of the liqueur, if I
may so speak, for themselves. This liqueur cannot be bought in the
open market. You may go up to London prepared to write a cheque for
any figure you may like to name, and I will defy you to buy a bottle.
I never have any other. It is really quite delicious. I daresay I could
get you some."

Mr. Brookes expressed thanks for the amiable offer, and both men smoked
on in silence.

"Do you play billiards?"

"No. Do you?"

"No."

Inwardly they congratulated themselves. Presently Mr. Brookes said:
"I hear you have been staying with my sister, Mrs. Haltom. You were
shooting there, were you not?"

"Yes, they were kind enough to ask me. Very nice shooting they have,
too."

"I hear that you have gone in for rearing pheasants."

"Yes; we shot a hundred brace last year."

The conversation dropped, and in an impressive silence both men wondered
what they had better say to lead honourably up to the subject they had
come to speak on.

"Is your house your own design? Did you build it entirely yourself?
Iforget. I ought to know; you told me all about it when I dined with
you."

"There was a house there, but I altered it considerably after my own
idea, and not a bad idea, I flatter myself. I spent a good deal of money
in laying out the grounds, putting up conservatories, and so forth."

"You are a single man?"

"For a single man the house is, of course, too large; but I do not
intend to remain always single, and--and now, Mr. Brookes, as we are on
the subject, I had better tell you that I have asked Miss Brookes to be
my wife."

Mr. Brookes grasped at the first words. "I am sure I am very pleased to
hear it, Mr. Berkins, and I hope the answer was a favourable one."

"Miss Brookes is a modest girl. She has been well brought up, as a girl
who is, I hope, to be my wife should be, and she was naturally a little
overcome. I did not exactly catch what she said, and I didn't like to
press her for an immediate answer. But suppose we assume for the moment
that Miss Brookes's reply will be a favourable one--I have, I confess,
much faith in her good sense--we might consider the business side."

Notwithstanding his admiration of a man who had made three thousand a
year more than he had succeeded in doing, Mr. Brookes could not but feel
irritated at Berkins, who, with increasing gravity, continued to assume
all things to his own advantage. It had not occurred to him to consider
that Grace might refuse him. Why should she refuse him? She could not
hope to do better. She appeared to him as a very nice girl indeed,
one entirely fitted for the position for which he intended her. He
understood that all girls, at least those in society, were innocent and
virtuous; he understood that when they married they made faithful and
dutiful wives; and he had chosen her not because he had fallen in love,
nor yet because he had noticed she was likely to make a better wife than
her sisters, but because she was the eldest. Even so he would be twenty
years his wife's senior, and he had chosen to marry one of the Brookes
girls because he knew them and saw them constantly; because he knew that
at their father's death his fortune would be divided between them. Grace
was, therefore, an heiress in perspective. The prospect was agreeable,
but he foresaw that it would be put forward as an excuse for fixing the
sum of marriage settlements as low as possible. It would, however, be
difficult for Brookes to settle less on his daughter than he, Berkins,
was willing to settle on his wife; so partly in the hopes of forcing
Mr. Brookes, and partly because of the pleasure it gave him to speak of
himself, he continued talking of his position and possessions.

"In dealing with me," he said, "you are dealing, as you know, Mr.
Brookes, with a man of means, a man who can afford to do the thing
properly; you will not misunderstand me--you remember you told me that
you had great difficulty in keeping the little folk who live here out of
your house."

"The neighbourhood has never been the same since they put up that row of
villas. A lot of indigent fortune-hunters, they know my girls will have
large fortunes at my death, so they come sneaking round the place like
so many wolves."

"I can readily sympathise with you; one doesn't make money to keep idle
young fellows in the luxuries of life."

"That is what I say."

"But you aren't sufficiently firm, Mr. Brookes; had you been brought
up in the hard school that I was you would be more firm; firmness is
everything. You married early, I couldn't afford to do that. At sixteen
I had to shift for myself. I was three years a clerk at two pounds a
week, and not many chances to rise come in the way of a clerk at two
pounds a week; he must be pretty sharp, and if he doesn't seize the
little chance when it comes, he will remain a little clerk all his life.
It is the first steps that are difficult, the rest are nothing. You
don't know what the first steps are; I do. Once you've made a thousand
pounds you can swim along a bit, but the first hundred, I shall never
forget it! Afterwards it is just the same; the proportions are changed,
that is all. The first twenty thousand is very uphill work, the second
is on the flat, the third is going downhill--it brings itself along."

"A very good simile indeed. There's no doubt that it is money that makes
money. When you have none you cannot make it. It is like corn; give
a man a handful, and he must be a fool if he can't fill his barn. The
beginnings are hard; none knows that better than I. But for the last ten
years I've been doing fairly well."

"I had never intended to get married, but when money really begins to
accumulate it pushes you along. It is curious how money takes you along.
It is like a tide. You first begin thinking of a little place in the
country where you can stay from Saturday till Monday. The little place
grows; it is extraordinary how it grows. You find you want flowers, and
you put up a glass house; then you begin to get interested in orchids or
roses, and you put up two, maybe half a dozen glass houses. Suddenly you
find the rabbits are breeding in the hedgerows, and you go out yonder
ferretting, but the coachman does not know how to manage the ferrets,
and you start a keeper. The keeper says one morning, 'It wouldn't
require much to get up a stock of pheasants in that little wood.' You
say, 'Very well;' and there you are before you know it, with glass
houses, rabbit-shooting, and a pheasant preserve. You have friends
to stay with you for the shooting, you get talked about in the clubs,
people ask why you aren't married--the place where the wife ought to be
stares you in the face: a man of money, of real money, must get married.
The friends who come and stay with you suggest a little dance, you think
it would be very pleasant; but you know no one in the neighbourhood,
the county people won't visit you, so the thing comes about, and you are
head over heels in settlements before you know where you are."

"Do you find the county people very standoffish over Preston Park way?"

"I am not in a position to judge; they could not very well call on me
situated as I am, a young--well, I will say, a marriageable--man, known
to be wealthy; but I have no doubt when I am married they will call on
us."

"Twirl them round my little finger, stuck-up lot; I should like to know
what they have to be proud of, half of them are broken--their land is
worthless. Give me good sound investments, five or six per cent. For
some money I am getting seven; the waterworks pays fourteen."

The conversation suddenly dropped, they looked at each other blankly;
they felt they had talked a good deal, but without approaching any
nearer the subject they had met to speak on.

"Our intention was," said Berkins, in his most solemn and professional
manner, "assuming that Miss Brookes is not averse from my suit,
to discuss the business side, for there is a business side to all
questions, as you, Mr. Brookes, will be the first to see."

Mr. Brookes had begun to anger; he would have liked to have answered
that such a discussion was altogether premature, but he yielded before
Berkins's authoritative manner, and he replied instead that he would be
glad indeed to hear whatever proposal Mr. Berkins had to make.

"I should like to say, then--I will assume that we stand as man to
man, equal; you have probably more money invested than I; I am making
possibly a larger income--you will forgive me if I am mistaken, but you
told me the other day as we went up in the train that you had had a very
bad year."

"Three thousand dead loss. It does not matter so much to me, my money is
invested, but it would have gone hard with many a man who was relying on
his business. Three thousand pounds dead loss!"

"How was that? I suppose the temperance societies affect you; they must
have had a great effect on the sale of liquor."

"No one who was not in the trade would believe in the falling off in the
quantity of whisky drunk. But it was not that."

"What then?"

"Trade generally, trade depression affects every one; the failure of one
makes bad debts for the other. It was bad debts that did it. It was very
stupid of me, but I was worried at home: those fortune-hunters from the
villas--my daughters are very young, and since their poor mother died
they have had no one to look after them. Willy, too, is a great trial
to me. Poor boy, he is most anxious to do something, but things don't
go right with him; he thought he was going to do a good thing in a Bond
Street shop that was converted into a company, but he lost two thousand
pounds."

"I thought he was in the distillery with you."

"He was for a while, but he irritated me; he is so confoundedly
methodical, everything must go into his diary, he spends half the day
filling it up. Besides after you have conducted a business so many years
you don't want a partner; you have your own way of doing things, and
don't want to be interfered with. He draws a certain income, but he has
nothing now to do with the business. We were talking of settlements."

"You do not act as I should regarding the villa residences. I would
put them down. I would not have it; but, as you say, we were talking
of settlements. I think I said we stood as man to man. In round numbers
your fortune equals mine, mine equals yours--very well, let us act
equally. I will settle five hundred a year on Miss Brookes, do you
likewise; what do you say to that?"

"Pooh, pooh! I couldn't think of such a thing. Five hundred a year!"
said Mr. Brookes, and throwing his cigar into the fireplace, he walked
up the room indignantly. "I was wrong to consent to discuss the matter;
to say the least, it is premature; I never heard of such a thing. Five
hundred a year! This is worse than the Southdown Road, many degrees
worse."

"Sir, such insinuations are most uncalled for; I must beg of you to
withdraw them. I must ask you to remember you are talking to one at
least in the same position as yourself, to a man of seven thousand a
year!"

"Pooh, pooh! seven thousand a year--you are making that to-day,
to-morrow you mayn't be making three. Yours isn't invested money."

Berkins had risen from the great leather armchair, and he stood
expressionless as a piece of office furniture, his grave face divided
by the green shade of the billiard lamp; Mr. Brookes remained with his
back--his straight fat back bound in a new frock coat that defined the
senile fatness of the haunches--turned to his guest. He stooped as if to
examine his favourite Linnell, but, in his passion, he did not see it.
The table, covered with a grey cloth, lay like an account spread out
between the moneyed men.

"Taking your words into due consideration, I think I had better wish you
good-morning, Mr. Brookes."

"Mr. Berkins, I would not wish you to misunderstand me," said Mr.
Brookes, whom the prospect of losing seven thousand a year had suddenly
cooled. "My daughter will have--my children, I should say--will have my
fortune divided amongst them at my death, and when we come to go into
figures you will find--"

"But in the meantime, what do you propose to settle on her?"

Mr. Brookes hesitated. He was angry at being pressed. Berkins's
domineering tone irritated him; he would have liked to bundle him from
the house.

Presently he said: "I think, considering the very large sums of money my
daughters will come into at my death, that a settlement of two hundred a
year is ample."

"Very well, in that case I shall settle the same."

"I could not, I will not, consent to any such arrangement. The man my
daughter marries must settle on her a sum of money equivalent--"

"To what you settle on her."

"To her position, to her expectations," replied Mr. Brookes, growing
more and more angry.

"But I don't know what her expectations are; you may marry again."

"I do not intend to marry again."

"Very possibly, but I know nothing of that; business is business, and I
should be a fool if I settle five hundred to your two hundred."

Mr. Brookes stopped in his walk, and he looked at Berkins, who stood,
his hand laid upon the billiard table as upon a huge balance sheet. The
word business had carried the men back to their offices in London,
and, quite forgetful of the subject of their bargaining, each strove to
obtain an advantage over the other.

"Well, let us say two hundred and fifty, that is my last word."

"Then, Mr. Brookes, I will not take your daughter."



III



"Willy, make haste, I beg of you; I shall miss my train. It is now
exactly half-past nine."

"You had better go without me; I cannot start now. I haven't nearly got
my things together."

"Very well, very well."

Willy walked from room to room tying and untying brown paper parcels in
his most methodical and most dilatory manner. His sisters stood watching
him from the drawing-room door.

"Did father tell you nothing when Berkins left? They had a row, hadn't
they? It isn't off, is it?"

"I wish you would not speak so loud, Sally; you can be heard all over
the house."

"Do tell us."

"But I don't know. Father was very much upset. I couldn't speak to him
about my own business, I know that."

"Well, I suppose we shall hear about it to-night. You are going to meet
Frank in Brighton, aren't you?"

"Yes; he is coming to lunch with me."

"Don't keep him all day; send him on here, we might have a game of
tennis."

Willy did not answer; and he thought as he went upstairs, what a trouble
young girls were in a house. "They think of nothing but pleasure,
nothing but pleasure."

One, two, or three more delays, and he was ready, and with his brown
paper parcel tucked under his arm he set forth. Upon the young blue of
the sky, the fresh green of the buds melted. There were a few elms, but
hardly enough to constitute an avenue. The house looked as if it had
been repeatedly altered. It ran into unexpected corners and angles; but
it was far enough from the road to justify a gate lodge. The swards were
interspersed with shrubs in the most modern fashion, and the sumptuous
glass-houses could be seen gleaming in the sun. It was a hot day,
and the brick wall was dappled with hanging foliage, and further out,
opposite the windows of the "Stag and Hounds," where Steyning's ales
could be obtained, the over-reaching sprays of a great chestnut tree
fell in delicate tracery on the white dust. The road led under the
railway embankment, and looking through the arched opening, one could
see the dirty town, straggling along the canal or harbour, which runs
parallel with the sea. A black stain was the hull of a great steamer
lying on her side in the mud, but the tapering masts of yachts were
beautiful on the sky, and at the end of a row of slatternly houses
there were sometimes spars and rigging so strange and bygone that they
suggested Drake and the Spanish main.

Southwick is half a suburb, half a village. In the summer months the
green seems a living thing. It is there the children talk and tumble
when school is over. They are told to go to the green, they are
forbidden to go to the green, and it is from the green the eldest girl
leads the naughty boy howling. When they are a little older they avoid
the green, it is too public then. It is to the green that elevens come
from far and near to play their matches. All the summer through the
green is a _fete_ of cricket. It is to the green the brass bands come on
Saturday. On the green, bat and trap is played till the ball disappears
in shadow. The green is common; horses and cows are turned out there.
All profit by the green. It is on the edge of the green the housewives
come to talk in the limpid moonlight. It is on the green the fathers
smoke when the little cottage rooms are unbearable with summer heat. It
is on the green that Mrs. Horlock walks with her pugs and the chemist's
wife, to the enormous scandal of the neighbourhood.

To the right, facing the embankment, and overlooking some fields, is
the famous Southdown road, and parallel with the green is Mr. Brookes's
property--a solid five acres, with all modern improvements and
embellishments, and surrounded by a brick wall over six feet high.

Willy hated Southwick. He thought it ugly and vulgar; he regretted
deeply that his father would make no advances, and that they were as far
from county society to-day as when they came to live in the place thirty
years ago. "I knew the best people when I was at Oxford, why can I
not know them now? Here we are doing the same thing from year's end
to year's end; why, with our money we ought to be hob-nobbing with
the duke." In moments of dejection this was one of Willy's commonest
thoughts. "I did my best, but I was opposed. Father doesn't care, and
as for the girls, they'll take up with any man so long as he is young.
Still, in spite of them I should have got on if I hadn't lost my nerve
and had to give up hunting; and without hunting there is no way of
making acquaintances."

Willy had relied on a hunter as Berkins had on pheasants and
glass-houses. But he hated hunting, and finding he got no further than a
few breakfasts, he had told a story of a heavy fall and sold his horses.
He had then insisted on dinner-parties, and some few people more or less
"county" had been collected; the pretext was politics, but Willy and
politics were but a doleful mixture, and the scheme collapsed. The
family was not endowed with any social qualifications, Willy least of
all, and having failed to advance himself individually, and his family
collectively, he threw up the game.

We rarely cultivate for long things in which we may not succeed in--the
lady with a small waist pinches it, the man with pretty feet wears
pretty shoes, and in no circumstances could Willy have shone in society.
He failed to interest the ladies he met on the King's Road, he knew
this; and to sum up his deficiencies, let us say he was lacking in "go."
He was too timid to succeed with the more facile loves whom he met in
the evenings on the pier. All the same he had had his love affair.

Oh! men of inferior aspect and speech, often in you a true heart abides;
you, and you only, are faithful to the end.

To this unromantic person a shred of pure romance was attached.
None knew the whole story, and none spoke of it now; but his sisters
remembered that Willy had fallen in love with a girl whom he had seen
play "Sweet Anne Page." They remembered long letters, tears and wild
looks. He had sent her diamonds; and one night he had attempted suicide.
All was now forgotten; at least it was the past, and nothing remained
but one little melody which he had heard her sing, and which he
sometimes whistled out of tune.

But sooner or later a man's talents, and if not his talents, his tastes,
appear through the mists of youth, and henceforth they lead him. Willy's
efforts in society had resulted in abortive dinner-parties, his efforts
in sport had been cut short by nerves, his efforts in dissipation had
left him with a tolerably well-filled wardrobe, his efforts in love
had brought him tears and a commonplace mistress, whom he kept in the
necessaries of life in various lodging-houses. So his youth had passed;
but in all this mediocrity a certain spirit of resistance endured.
His taste for figures grew more pronounced; he surrounded himself with
account books, letter books, and diaries; he took note of every
penny that passed through his hands. Money-making, profitable
investments--that was to be his aim in life; and as each year closed his
thoughts fixed themselves more definitely and entirely on it; and it was
natural that it should be so, since all other outlets for the passion of
life were barred to him. His forced retirement from the distillery did
not worry him. No one could please his father in business; his uncle
had once threatened to throw his brother out of the window. Besides, the
business was a declining one, and twelve thousand pounds for a junior
partnership was not bad. Nor did his failure to make a success of the
manure agency discourage him; the shop was a different matter, that was
his own idea, he had thought of a fortune, and had lost two thousand
pounds. It had crippled him for life. True enough, there were other
things to do. Some stockbrokers make twenty per cent. on their money,
not in wild speculation, but in straightforward genuine business. He
might go up to London and learn the business--he had heard that it would
not take more than six months or a year to pick it up--and start on his
own account. A thousand pounds would be sufficient to begin with; or he
might buy a partnership--he could do that for three or four thousand.
Either of these courses would suit him, the latter for preference, but
a certain amount of capital would be necessary before he could take
either, and that he hadn't got, and to all appearances it would be very
difficult to persuade his father to consent to drawany more money out of
the distillery.

So Willy's thoughts ran as he ascended the flight of wooden steps that
led to the platform of the little country station. "The folk down here
think there is nothing in me, that I am good for nothing but walking up
and down the King's Road, but they little know what I have in my head.
I'll make them open their eyes one of these days." The sting of vanity
is in us all. Our heads may be greed, our bellies lust, our limbs
charity, faithfulness, truth, and goodwill, but in some cranny of our
tails vanity always lies, only it may be marvellously well hidden, as in
Willy. The keenest observer would not have detected it in him, and
when he came out of his habitual reserve and lamented that bad luck had
always followed him and spoke of his projects, one might have suspected
him of greed, but hardly of vanity. Now he stood leaning on the wooden
paling, and his movements showed the back and loins in strong outline,
marking the thick calves. Without taking any heed, his eyes followed the
cricket ball, which was in turn slogged into the horse-pond and cottage
gardens. Through long familiarity, the green had faded from his notice,
nor did the burnt-up crops on the Downs attract his thoughts, nor yet
the sinuous lines of the hills. From the platform one saw the whole of
Southwick. The green with its cricket match, Mrs. Horlock and her dogs,
the forge, the stile, the various cottages, the long fields full of
green wheat, and, far away, the carriages passing like insects along
the road under the Downs; then on the right were the back gardens of the
cottages, a large inscription announcing the different branches of the
grocery business, a few fields with cows leaning their muzzles over the
rough palings, some more cottages, a barn, and then the magnificent five
acres of the Manor House, rich with glass-houses, and beautiful in a
cloud of trees. From the platform of the station one could see the sea,
not much of it, but one could see the sea; the slates of the street that
went along the water's edge did not quite bar the view. The very small
presence of Southwick contrived to hide the sea; even when one walked to
the water's side the great mass of shingle which forms the outer bank of
the canal allowed only one narrow rim of blue to appear. The inhabitants
forget they live by the sea, and when the breeze fills their gardens
with a smell of boats and nets they think of the sea with surprise.

Tired of the monotonous running to and fro of the cricket players, Willy
walked up the platform. Arrow-like, the line lay in front of him, and
in the tinted distance, in faint lines and flashes of light and shade,
Brighton stretched from hill to hill. Morning was still in the sky, and
the sea was deep blue between the yellow chimney-pots. A puff of steam
showed up upon a distant field, and the train came along from Portslade,
one of the links of the great chain of towns that binds the south coast.
"I hope Frank won't arrive in Brighton before me," thought Willy.

They had been big boy and little boy at school. The vivacity of the Celt
amused the good-natured south Saxon, and when Lord Mount Rorke called to
see his nephew, he found him talking with Brookes. Once Willy had been
invited to spend part of his holidays at Mount Rorke. Afterwards they
visited each other's rooms, and so their friendship had been decided,
and, in spite of--or, perhaps, on account of--a very marked difference
in their characters and temperaments, gathered strength as it matured.
Another link between the men was that Escott had accompanied Willy to
the theatre when he went to see the actress whom he had loved so madly.
Frank had heard her sing the song which Willy whistled when his thoughts
went wandering. Willy confided in no one--great sorrows cannot be and
never are confided; but Frank had seen her, and he played her songs on
the piano, and that was enough for Willy.

The young men had not seen each other for two years. Frank had shown
some taste for painting, and his uncle, whose heir he was, had sent him,
if not to study, at least to think about art in Italy. From Italy he had
gone to Greece and Russia, he had returned home through Germany, he had
visited Holland and France.

"Is the London train come in?" Willy asked when he arrived in Brighton.

"Yes, sir, just come in, about five minutes," said the man as he opened
the door. Willy waited until the train had stopped dead, he got out
carefully, and, looking through the confusion of luggage and bookstall
trade, he saw Escott questioning a porter and hailing a carriage. "By
Jove! I shall miss him," cried Willy, and he hastened his steps and
broke into a sharp trot. "Frank! Frank!" he cried.

"Oh, there you are!" cried Frank, and he lifted his stick, and called
sharply to a large black and white bull-dog that paddled about on its
bow legs, saliva dripping from its huge jaws, looking in its hideousness
like something rare and exquisite from Japan. He dismissed the porter
and the carriage, which he had hailed with an arrogant wave of his
stick. He was tall and he was thin. His trousers were extremely elegant,
a light cloth, black and white check, hung on his legs in graceful
lines, and he wore tiny boots with light brown cloth tops. The jacket
and waistcoat were in dark brown cloth, and the odour of the gardenia
in his buttonhole contrasted with that of the sachet-scented silk
pocket-handkerchief which lay in his side pocket. His throat showed
white and healthy in the high collar tied with a white silk cravat in a
sailor's knot, fastened with a small diamond. His hands were coarse and
brown; he wore two rings, and a bracelet fell out of his cuff when he
dropped his arm. His chest was broad and full, but the shoulders were
too square; the coat was padded. There was little that could be called
Celtic in his face or voice, the admixture of race was manifested in
that dim blue stare, at once vague and wild, which the eyes of the Celt
so often exhibit. The nose was long, low, and straight, the nostrils
were cleanly marked, the mouth was uncertain, the chin was uncertain,
the face was long, deadly pale, rather large, the forehead was high,
receding at the temples. The hair (now he removes his hat, for the air
is heavy and hot, and the sun falls fiercely on the pavement) is pale
brown, and it waves thinly over the high forehead, so expressive of a
vague and ill-considered idealism. Frank Escott was of Saxon origin on
his father's side, but the family had been in Ireland for the last two
hundred years, and had married into many Irish families that had at
different times received direct contributions of Celtic blood. Long
residence in England had removed all Irish accent and modes of
speech; but in hook, and book, and cook he lengthened the vowel sound.
Occasionally a something strange grated on the ear, and declared him not
of the south of England, suggested the north, and insinuated
Cumberland; an actor could not reproduce these trifling differences with
caricaturing them. He was absolutely good-looking, and he was too well
dressed. He laughed a good deal, and his conversation was sprinkled with
cynical remarks and cutting observations.

"You don't seem to go in for dress now as you used to."

"I haven't the money to spend on it; but tell me, don't you like this
suit?"

"Well, pretty well; whose is it? Did Walpole make it? Do you deal with
him still?"

"Yes, it is one of Walpole's, but I have had it turned."

"Had it turned? I have heard of turning an overcoat, but a morning coat!
I did not know it could be done; that's what makes it look so shaky."

"Now don't you get laughing at my coat, it looks very well indeed. I
suppose you think I am not fit to walk with you. I daresay it doesn't
look as smart as yours, which has just come out of Walpole's shop."

The young men had so much to say, and were so genuinely glad to see each
other, that their thoughts hesitated and they were embarrassed.

"I suppose you enjoyed your trip abroad very much," Willy said drily and
punctiliously; "you were more than a year away--nearly eighteen months,
I think."

"About that. I enjoyed myself. I think I liked Italy best; it has
been more painted and described than any country, and yet it is quite
different from what one imagines; it is grey and dim and green and
dusty. It looks--how shall I put it?--it looks worn out and faded."

"The women aren't worn out and faded if all one hears is true," said
Willy, with a short laugh.

"The women are right enough. I must tell you about them one of these
days, lots of stories. There was a little Italian girl I met at Milan.
It was a job to get away from her; she followed me, 'pon my word, she
did; she declared she would commit suicide. I was awfully frightened.
Naples is really too shocking. I'm not a prude, but Naples is really--"

"I suppose it is the same all over the Continent. One of these days I
must go abroad and have a look round. You were a long time in Rome?"

"No, only a few weeks, but I was too taken up with the pictures to think
of anything else. The Michael Angelos are beyond anything any one can
imagine. He is the only one who can compare with the Greeks, and I don't
see why one shouldn't say he is as great. Of course there are things,
the daughters of--I forget the name--the group of two women leaning back
in each other's arms in the British Museum. But I don't know, Michael
Angelo is quite different, and I can't see that anything can be said
to be finer than the figures of Day and Night--how often I have drawn
them--the figure of Night, the heavy breasts to show that she has
suckled the Day."

"But which way are we going? I must go to Truefitt's to have my hair
cut."

"You haven't forgotten the old place, I see. Do you still keep up your
subscription?"

"I suppose mine has run out, I have been abroad so long. Nothing like a
good shampoo; for a guinea a year you can have it done as often as you
like."

"I haven't subscribed lately. There used to be such a pretty girl at the
counter. Do you remember?"

"You dog, always thinking of them," and laughing loudly they passed
through the shop, and it was Frank that stared most at the young lady.
They read _Punch_ aloud to each other; they cracked jokes with the
hairdressers; they snorted and laughed through the soap and jets of hot
and cold water. Frank allowed scent and ivories to be pressed upon him
by the young lady at the counter; Willy declined to be led into such
extravagances.

As he stepped out into the shine of the street, and took step from his
friend, he said: "By George! it makes me feel young again. It is just
like old times."

"Yes, it does make one feel jollier, doesn't it?"

"How jolly it is here; not too warm, just nice. What shall we do? Sit
down on that bench in front of the pier?"

"I'm agreeable. How jolly it is. Just look at those boats! One could
make a picture of that."

Over the sea hung a white veil of mist, but the sun glowed through and
melted into it, and harmonised it with the water green and translucent.
The sea sucked about the shingle with little sudden sighs; the sails
of the pleasure boat waved in the fairy-like depths, and all the
little brown fishing-boats lay becalmed, heaving tremulously like
tired butterflies upon the breast of a blue flower. The nursemaids lay
together on the shingle, and their novels slipped down the stones to
their feet. The children played with the tide and the sand. There were
crowds of women--Jewesses with loud dresses: and the strange world of
bath chairs! Ladies so old that they seem certain to fall to pieces when
they are taken out; ladies with chestnut curls soft and fresh--why were
they in bath chairs? General officers, mounted on white Arabs; acrobats
and songs.

The young men sat facing the sea. Frank called, "Triss, Triss. Splendid
dog that is. If I were to let him he would guzzle the other dog in about
two minutes."

"He looks a ferocious brute."

"You don't like dogs? You couldn't see a handsomer dog than that;
unfortunately, he's the wrong colour; if he were brindle or white, he'd
take a first prize. Come here, you brute."

Amid some little excitement and anxious looks, Triss came up, growling
and showing his teeth. Frank explained that it was only his manner.
Frank took the paw that was extended to him, but Triss's friendliness
seemed somewhat dubious, for he still further uncovered his formidable
fangs.

"I really don't care to sit here with that ferocious brute."

"I assure you he won't bite, it is only his manner. Isn't it, Triss?
Kiss me, kiss me at once," and amid many growls of almost subterranean
awfulness, the dog licked his master's face.

"I wish you would tie him up--to oblige me."

Highly pleased at the fear and wonder his dog had struck in the gaudy
Jewesses and the shaky generals, Frank threatened and finally forced
the dog to lie down. He continued to expatiate on the dog's points--the
number of wrinkles, the bandiness of the legs, etc. The conversation
dropped in heat and glare, and the picturesqueness of the sea.

"How horribly out of tune you do whistle--you go into a different key;
this is more like it."

"Yes, how sweetly she used to sing it. Do you remember the night we went
to see her, the last time the piece was played? I threw her a bouquet,
a splendid one it was, too, cost me three guineas in Covent Garden. We
went afterwards and had supper at Scott's in the Haymarket. How jolly
those days were. I don't seem to be able to enjoy myself now as I used
to then."

"What has become of her? One never hears of her."

"She died soon after."

"I am sorry I spoke of her; I didn't know."

"Oh, it doesn't matter." Then after a long silence, Willy said: "I hear
your engagement is broken off."

"Yes." Frank drew a long and expressive breath, and, with melodramatic
movements of the shoulders, he sighed. "I have not seen you since. Oh,
I had terrible scenes with the father. They had a house up the river.
I followed them, and put up at the Angler's Hotel. She told her father
that I must be allowed to come to the house, and he had to give way. You
don't know the river? Well, it is wonderful to awake at Maidenhead in
the morning and hear the sparrows twittering in a piece of tangled vine;
to see that great piece of water flowing so mildly in all the pretty
summer weather. We used to live in flannels, and spent long afternoons
together in the boat--we had such a spiffing boat, as light and as clean
in the water as a fish--and we used to linger in the bulrushes, and come
back when the moon was rising with our hands full of flowers."

"But why was it broken off?"

"My uncle, old Mount Rorke, wants me to marry an heiress, and I have
nothing except what he allows me, or scarcely anything. She used to wear
a broad-brimmed straw hat, and the shadow fell over her face. I made a
lot of sketches. I must show them to you one of these days when you come
up to town, and I filled an album with verses. I used to write them at
night. My window was right in front of the river, and the moon used
to sail past, and in the morning I used to read her the poems I made
overnight beneath the branches of the cedar, where we used to run the
boat. But the father was a brute. I got the best of him once though. It
was a private view day at the Academy, and he had forbidden Nellie to
speak to me--even to notice me. I went straight up to her, and took her
away under his very nose before he could stop us. We walked about all
day. Oh! he was mad."

"If she was willing to brave her father in that way, why was your
engagement broken off?"

"My uncle was so very difficult to deal with. I didn't see her for some
time." Frank did not say--perhaps, he did not know--that his engagement
had been broken off through his own instability and weakness of
character. The young lady, whom he called Nellie, had told him she would
wait if he would elect a profession and work for a place in it. But
Frank had not been able to forego late hours and restaurants, and Nellie
had married some one who could. "You know I converted her. Doesn't her
father hate me for that! We used to go to high mass at the oratory. I
explained to her the whole of the Catholic religion."

"But I thought you didn't believe in it yourself?"

"I am talking of some time ago; besides, a woman, it isn't quite the
same thing; and if I have saved her soul! I don't know if I told you
that I was writing a novel; I don't think I did. The idea of it is
this: A young man has loved three women. The first charmed him by her
exceeding beauty; he lives with her for a time. The second captivates
him, or rather holds him through his senses; his love for her is merely
a sensuality; then he falls in love with a fair young girl as pure as
falling snow of any stain in deed or in thought; he is engaged to marry
her--or, I don't know, I haven't made up my mind on that point, perhaps
it would be better if he did marry her. Well, the woman whom he has
loved with a merely sensual passion comes back, and to revenge herself
she tries to tempt the good girl to go wrong; she talks to her of men
and pleasures; this is a good idea, I think, for I feel sure it is women
far more than men who lead women astray. Then the first woman whom
he has loved for her beauty merely, comes along and continues
the diabolical work of the first, by suggesting--I don't know,
anything--that the young girl should go in for dress; the young man
finds out the scheme, and to save the girl he murders her, he is thrown
into prison, he is tried, and in the crowded Court he makes a great
speech--he tells how he murdered her to save her from sin, he tells the
judge that on the Judgment Day a pure white soul will plead for him.
What an opportunity for a piece of splendid writing! The Court would be
filled with fashionable women, that weep and sob, they cannot contain
themselves, the judge would wish to stop the young man, but he cannot.
What a splendid scene to describe! And the young man goes to execution
confident, and assured that he has done well. What do you think of it?"

"It is really difficult for me to say; I never like giving an opinion on
a subject I don't understand."

"I know; but what do you think?"

Fortunately for Willy's peace, the conversation was at this moment
violently interrupted by Triss. He rushed forth, and Frank was only in
time to prevent a pitched battle. He returned leading the dog by his
silk handkerchief, amid the murmur of nurse-maids and Jewesses.

"That's the worst of him; he never can see a big dog without wanting to
go for him. Down, sir, down--I won't have you growl at me."

"I can't see what pleasure you can find in a brute like that."

"I assure you he's very good-tempered; he has a habit of growling, but
he does not mean anything by it. What were we talking about?"

"I think we were talking about the ladies. Have you seen anything nice
lately? What's the present Mrs. Escott like, dark or fair?"

"There isn't one, I assure you. I met rather a nice woman at my uncle's,
about two months ago, a Lady Seely. I don't know that you would call her
a pretty woman; rather a turned-up nose, a pinched-in waist, beautiful
shoulders. Hair of a golden tinge, diamonds, and dresses covered with
beads. She flirted a great deal. We talked about love, and we laughed at
husbands, and she asked me to come and see her in rather a pointed way.
It is rather difficult to explain these things, but I think that if I
were to go in for her--"

"That you would pull it off?"

The young men laughed loudly, and then Frank said: "But somehow I don't
much care about her. I met such a pretty girl the other day at the
theatre. There were no stalls, and as I wanted to see the piece very
much, I went into the dress circle. There was only one seat in the
back row. I struggled past a lot of people, dropped into my place, and
watched the piece without troubling myself to see who was sitting next
to me. It was not until the _entr'acte_ that I looked round. I felt my
neighbour's eyes were fixed upon me. She was one of the prettiest girls
you ever saw in your life--a blonde face, pale brown hair, and such
wonderful teeth--her laughter, I assure you, was beautiful. I asked her
what she thought of the piece. She looked away and didn't answer. It
was rather a slap in the face for me, but I am not easily done. I
immediately said: 'I should have apologised before for the way I
inconvenienced you in crushing into my seat, but, really, the place is
so narrow that you don't know how to get by.' This rather stumped her,
she was obliged to say something. The girl on the other side (not half a
bad looking girl, short brown curly hair, rather a roguish face) was the
most civil at first. She wasn't as pretty as the one next to me, but
she spoke the more willingly; the one next to me tried to prevent her.
However, I got on with them, one thing led to another, and when the
piece was over, I fetched their hats and coats and we walked a little
way up the street together. I tried to get them to come to supper; they
couldn't do that, for they had to be in at a certain time, so we went
to Gatti's and had some coffee. I couldn't make out for a long time what
they were; they were evidently not prostitutes, and they did not seem to
me to be quite ladies. What do you think they were?"

"I haven't an idea--actresses?"

"No. They wouldn't tell me for a long time. I got it out of them at
last; they're at the bar in the Gaiety Restaurant."

"Bar girls?"

"Yes."

"Some of those bar girls are very pretty; rather dangerous, though, I
should think."

"They seemed to me to be very nice girls; you would be surprised if you
heard them talk. I assure you the one that sat next to me spoke just
like a lady. You know in these hard times people must do something. Lots
of ladies have to buckle to and work for their bread."

Frank lapsed into silence. Willy sat apparently watching the blue and
green spectacle of the sea. Frank knew that it interested him not the
least, and he wondered if his friend had heard what he had been saying.
Triss, seeing that smelling and fighting were equally vain endeavours,
had laid himself out in the sun, and he returned his master's caresses
by deep growls. One more menacing than the others woke Willy from his
meditation, and he said: "What's the time? It ought to be getting on to
lunch time."

"I daresay it is."

"Where shall we go? Do you know of a good place? What about that
restaurant opposite the pier?"

"Well," said Willy, with a short, abrupt laugh, "the fact is, I must
lunch at my office; but I shall be very glad if you will come."

"I didn't know you had an office--an office for what?"

"I started an agency at the beginning of the year for artificial manure,
but I think I shall drop it. I am arranging to go on the Stock Exchange.
The difficulty is whether I shall be able to get my father to allow me
to take enough money out of the business."

"What business?"

"The distillery."

"Oh, but what about this office? Why are you obliged to lunch at your
office? Are you expecting customers? I know nothing about that sort of
thing."

"No, I wish I were. The fact is, my missis is staying in Brighton for a
few weeks. The child has been ailing a good deal lately, and the doctor
ordered change of air."

"Child! Missis! I know nothing of this."

"A very nice woman, I think you'll like her. She is devoted to me. We've
been together now two years or more, I can't say exactly, I should have
to refer to my diary."

"But the child?"

"The child isn't mine. She had the child before I knew her."

"And what is the matter with it?"

"Curvature of the spine. The doctor says she will outgrow it. Cissy will
be quite strong and healthy although she may never have what you would
call a good figure. But there is a matter on which I want to speak to
you. The fact is, I am going to be married."

"To whom?"

"To the lady whom you will see at lunch, Cissy's mother."

Frank said: "If you really love her I have nothing to say against it."
Willy did not answer. Frank waited for an answer and then broke the
silence: "But do you love her?"

"Yes, I am very fond of her; she is a very good sort."

Frank was implacable. "Do you love her like the other one?" The question
wounded, but Frank was absorbed in his own special sentimentalities.

"I was younger then, it is not the same; I am getting old. How many
years older am I than you--seven, I think? You are three-and-twenty, I
am thirty. How time flies!"

"Yes, I am three-and-twenty--you don't look thirty."

"I feel it, though; few fellows have had so much trouble as I have. Your
life has been all pleasure."

"If a man really loves a woman he is always right to marry her. Why
should we suppose that a woman may not reform--that true love may
not raise her? I was talking to a novelist the other day; he told me
thestory of a book he is writing. It is about a woman who leaves the
husband she has never loved for the man she adores; she goes away with
him, he marries her, and she sinks lower and lower, until she becomes a
common prostitute."

"You are quite mistaken. I am sure that when you see the missis--"

"My dear fellow, pray do not misunderstand me. I would not for worlds.
I am only telling you about a book, if you will only listen. I told him
that I thought the story would be ten times as interesting if, instead
of being degraded, the woman were raised by the love of the man who
took her away from her husband. He made the husband a snivelling little
creature, and the lover good-looking--that's the old game. I would have
made the lover insignificant and the husband good-looking. Nevertheless
she loved the lover better. I know of nothing more noble than for a man
to marry the woman he loves, and to raise her by the force of his love;
he could teach her, instruct her. Nellie will never forget me. I gave
her a religion, I taught her and explained to her the whole of the
Catholic faith--"

"I hope you won't try to convert my sisters."

"You do pull me up so! Don't you understand that I was very young then?
I was only twenty, not much more; besides, I was engaged to Nellie."

"Come back to what we were talking about."

"Well, I have said that if you love her I believe you are quite right to
marry her. But do you love her?"

"Yes, I do; how many times more do you want me to say I do?"

"Of _course_ if you are going to be rude--"

"No--you understand what I mean, don't you? I am very fond of the
missis; if I weren't I shouldn't marry, that goes without saying, but
one likes to have things settled. I have been with her now more thantwo
years. I've thought it out. There's nothing like having things settled.
I'm sure I'm right."

The young men looked at each other in silence--Frank quite at a loss;
he could nowise enter into the feelings of a man whom an undue sense of
order and regularity compelled to marry his mistress, as it did to waste
half his life in copying letters and making entries in a diary.

"Then why did you consult me?" he said, for he came to the point sharply
when his brain was not muddled with sentiment.

"I am not heir to an entailed estate, like you."

"I am not heir to an entailed estate. Mount Rorke might marry
to-morrow."

"He is not likely to do that. It is an understood thing that you are
heir. My father might cut me off with a shilling if he were to hear
I had married without his consent, and I should be left with the few
hundreds which I draw out of the distillery, a poor man all my life."

"If that is so, why marry? You are not in love with her--at least not
what I should call being in love."

"But can't you understand--"

"No, I can't, unless you mean that you are down with marriage fever."

"I have considered the matter carefully, and am convinced I am right,"
he answered, looking at Frank as if he would say, but didn't dare,
"don't let's talk about it any more, it only distresses me." "The
marriage must be kept a secret. If my father were to hear of it I should
be ruined, whereas if Mary will consent to go on living as we are living
now, one of these days she will be a rich woman. I daresay my share of
his money will come to at least fifteen hundred a year, and then I shall
be able to recompense her for the years she has waited for it. Do you
understand?"

"Perfectly. The only thing I don't see is how I am to influence
her. You've no doubt told her and fully explained to her what the
consequences would be if you were to publish the banns."

"I have, but it would strengthen my hand if you were to tell her all you
know of my father. Tell her that he is very obstinate, pig-headed, and
would certainly cut me off; tell her that he is sixty-six, that it is
a hundred to one against his living till he is eighty, even if he did
there would be only fourteen years to wait for fifteen hundred a year;
tell her if she tells that I have married her it is just as if she threw
fifteen hundred a year out of the window."

"And when shall I tell her all this?"

"Now. We are going to have lunch at my offices, she'll be there. We'll
talk the matter over after lunch."

"Very well, let's start. Come along, Triss."

With Triss tugging dangerously at the silk handkerchief whenever he saw
a likely pair of legs or a dog that he fancied, the young men sauntered
up West Street.

"But tell me: how do you manage to have so many people to lunch in your
office; your premises must be pretty extensive?"

"I have the whole house; I was obliged to take it. I couldn't get
another place that would suit me, and I thought I should be able to
let the upper part; I did have a tenant for a little while, but he was
obliged to leave. I believe I am the unluckiest fellow alive. Here's the
place."

"Agency for Artificial Manure" was printed over the door. Willy asked
the office-boy if there were any letters, and they went upstairs. The
windows of the front room were in view of a church spire, and overlooked
a little shadowy cemetery; and at one window Cissy sat, the little
crutches by her side, watching the children playing amid the tombs.

"Where's your mother, Cissy?"

"In the back room cooking herrings, uncle."

Mrs. Brookes was a homely, honest-eyed woman, with dingy yellow hair.

"Let me introduce you. This is my friend, Mr. Escott, you have often
heard me speak of him."

"You must excuse my shaking hands with you, sir, I have been cooking."

"She is an excellent cook, too. Just you wait and see. What have we
got?"

"Some herrings and a piece of steak."

"Is that good enough for you?"

"I love herrings."

"I am glad of that, these are quite fresh; they were caught this
morning. You must excuse me, I must go back; they want a deal of
attending to." Presently she appeared with a tray and a beer jug. Willy
called to the office-boy. "We have no cheese," said Mrs. Brookes.

Cissy begged to be allowed to fetch the cheese and beer.

"No, dear, I am afraid you aren't well enough."

"Yes, I am, uncle; give me a shilling, and let me go with Billy." Then,
breaking off with the unexpected garrulity of children, she continued:
"I am getting quite strong now; I was down on the beach this morning,
and watched the little boys and girls building mounds. When I am quite
well, uncle, won't you buy me a spade and bucket, and mayn't I build
sand mounds, too?"

"We'll see when the time comes."

"Well, let me go with Billy and fetch the cheese."

"No, you can't go now, dear, there are too many people about; this is
not like London."

Cissy had the long sad face of cripples, but beautiful shining curls
hung thickly, hiding the crookedness of the shoulders. She was nine
years old, and was just beginning to awake to a sense of the importance
of her affliction.

After lunch she was sent downstairs to the office-boy. Willy sat rubbing
his hands slowly and methodically. After some hesitation he introduced
the subject they had come to speak on. "Mr. Escott will tell you, Mary,
how important it is that our marriage should be kept secret; he will
tell you how the slightest suspicion of it would ruin my prospects."
He then spoke of his position in the county, and the necessity of
sustaining it. Frank thought this rather bad taste; but he assured Mrs.
Brookes, with much Celtic gesticulation, that her marriage must be kept
a secret till her father-in-law's death. The young men and Mrs. Brookes
remained talking till the rays trailed among the green grass of the
graves, and the blue roofs that descended into the valley, and clung
about the sides of the opposite hill. It had been arranged that Willy
and Mrs. Brookes should go to London to-morrow to be married. Frank was
convinced that she would not break her promise, and he hoped they would
be very happy. She had only raised one objection. She had said: "What
is the use of my being married if I shall have to live with him as his
mistress?"

"A great deal of good. Your position will be secured. Willy will not be
able to leave you, even if he felt inclined, and you will know that only
one life, that of an old man, stands between you and fifteen hundred a
year."

"I want no assurance that my dear Willy will not leave me," she said,
going over and putting her arms about him; "but as you like. I shall
never say anything about the marriage till Willy tells me. I hope I
shall never do anything but what he tells me." And she went over and sat
on his knees.

"You are a dear old thing," he said, squeezing and planting a vigorous
kiss on her neck.

Frank's eyes filled with hot tears, his heart seemed like bursting.
"What a beautiful thing love is!" he said to himself, and the world
melted away from him in the happiness he drew from the contemplation of
these who were about to bind themselves together for life.

"Be most careful what you say to my sisters. I would not trust them.
The temptation to get me cut out of everything might--I ought not to say
that, but one never knows. I dare say no such accident could happen to
any one else, but if I leave the smallest thing to chance I am sure to
come to grief. They will question you. They will want to know what we
did all day."

"I'll say we sat on the beach."

"That's it. Good-bye. I shall be home the day after to-morrow."



IV



When the young ladies at the Manor House did not get their dresses from
London, a dressmaker came from Brighton to help them, and all together
they sat sewing and chattering in the work-room. Maggie would take a
bow or a flower, and moving it quickly, guided by the instinct of a bird
building its nest, would find the place where it decorated the hat or
bonnet best. Neither Sally nor Grace could do this, nor could they drape
a skirt or fit a bodice, but they could work well and enjoy their
work. But what they enjoyed more was the opportunity these working days
afforded for gossip. Mrs. Wood had the Brighton scandal at her tongue's
tip, and what she would not tell, her niece told them when her aunt left
the room. Secrecy was enjoined, but sometimes they forgot, and in Mrs.
Wood's presence alluded too pointedly to stories that had not yet found
their way beyond the precincts of the servants' hall, and then the
dressmaker raised her mild eyes, and looked through large spectacles at
Susan, who sat biting her lips. Susan told the young ladies of her love
affairs; they told Susan of theirs; and the different codes of etiquette
gave added zest to the anecdotes, in themselves interesting. The story
of the young man who had said, "I am afraid that parcel is too heavy for
you, miss," and had been promised a walk in the twilight on the cliff,
evoked visions of liberty, and the story of the officer at the Henfield
ball, with whom Sally had discovered a room that none knew of, did not
fail to impress the little dressmaker. They talked a great deal
about Frank. His face and manner called up the name, and after a few
hesitations they used his Christian name as they did when he came to see
them years ago.

"He is a very good fellow--I don't say he isn't. No one could say he
wasn't nice-looking, but somehow he doesn't make you feel--you know,
right down, you know, through and through."

"Electricity," said Maggie, with a low, subtle laugh, and her thread
cracked through the straw of the hat.

"Yes," cried Sally boisterously. "Electricity, I never heard it called
that before; but it isn't a bad name for it; it is like electricity.
When a man looks at you--you know, in a peculiar way, it goes right down
your back from the very crown of your head."

"No, not down my back; I feel it down my chest, just like forked
lightning. Isn't it horrid? You know that it is coming and you can't
help it. Some men fix their eyes on you."

"It is just when you meet a man's eyes--a man you like, but haven't seen
much of."

"I don't think liking has anything to do with it. I hate it; don't you?"

"No, I don't know that I do. I can't see anything so disagreeable as
that in it. 'Tis rather a shock, a sort of pang."

Mrs. Wood raised her mild face and looked surprised through her thick
spectacles; the merry niece bit her lips, and strove to stay her
laughter. Then Maggie said: "Sue, have you ever felt electricity?"

"Oh, miss! I don't think I understand," and she glanced at her aunt over
the hem she was running.

"Now, come, tell the truth. You mean to say you never felt electricity?"

"I don't think I ever did, miss."

"I don't believe you. Not when that nice young man you were telling us
about looked at you? Come, now, tell the truth."

"Well, miss, I don't know--I thought it was very revolting."

Mrs. Wood said nothing; with her hand in suspended gesture and her
spectacles a-glimmer with round surprise, she sat looking at Miss
Maggie. Her reveries, however, were soon cut short, for Sally not
only asked her if she had ever experienced the doubtful pleasure of
electricity, but advised her when she returned home to try if her
husband's looks could thrill her.

"I don't think the conversation at all nice," said Grace, who had up to
the present taken no part either by looks, or words, or laughter.

"Who cares what you think? You used to be fond enough of sitting out
dances with him. You mean to say he never gave you electricity?"

"No, never."

"Then I hope Berkins will," said Sally, with a coarse laugh.

The association of Berkins with electricity proved so generally
ludicrous that Mrs. Wood, conscious of the respect she owed Miss
Brookes, pretended to look for her handkerchief, and it was for a moment
doubtful if the spectacles would preserve their gravity. Tears started
to Grace's eyes, and she bent over her work to hide them from her
sisters, which was unnecessary, for Maggie and Sally were absorbed in
past experiences.

"What about Frank?" Sally asked, and Susan looked up curious to hear
Maggie's answer.

"Well," said Maggie, staring at the window, "Frank is very good-looking,
but I don't think that he electrifies one... he did once."

"And when was that?" said Sally.

"You remember the first time he came to stay here? Willy brought him
down from London. We went to bed early and left them playing billiards;
I lay awake waiting to hear them come up the stairs, and as he passed my
room Frank stopped and I thought he was coming in. I felt it all down my
spine, but never afterwards. You see, I didn't know him much then."

"And Jimmy?"

"I never liked Jimmy."

"If you don't like him why trouble about him?" Sally replied in her
usually defiant manner. "You always take good care to trouble about my
men. You tried all you could to get Jimmy away from me, yet you pretend
to father that you never flirted with him."

"I didn't flirt with him; once a young man looks at you you think no one
must speak to him but yourself. If young Meason asks me to dance with
him, I cannot refuse; I am not going to make myself ridiculous though
you were to look all the daggers in the world at me, but as for flirting
with him, I never cared enough about him."

"And what about meeting him in London?"

Maggie coloured a little, and repudiated the accusation.

"You told him you were going to London, and you asked him if he were
going, and what he would be doing that day. I don't know what more you
could say."

"I never said any such thing."

"I have it from his own lips."

"It isn't true; I will ask him to your face if he ever said such a
thing; I will tell father that."

"Well, there's no use in quarrelling," said Grace, "and I wouldn't
advise you to worry father about it. You know he can't stand the name
of Meason. It seems to me that neither of you care much whom you flirt
with, you like so many young men."

"It is better to like a dozen young men than one old one."

"I shan't marry Mr. Berkins, no matter what you say. However, you can't
accuse me of interfering in your affairs."

"No, _you_ don't."

"No more do I. If you want Frank, take him, only don't come sneaking
after Charley. I don't want Frank; I don't care twopence about him. If
you want to see it out with him, I shan't interfere; only don't you come
interfering with me and Jimmy, or Charley either."

Maggie did not like the idea of Sally getting two to her one. She would
have liked to have introduced a proviso about Alfred, but the title
Mount Rorke slipped between her thoughts, and she refrained. She knew
the present treaty secured her immunity from Sally only so long as
the affections and attentions of Jimmy and Charley showed no signs of
declension, and she was aware that her promise would only hold good so
long as Frank interested and Charley remained away in London.

The canary that had been twittering, now burst forth into long and
prolonged shrillings. Grace folded up her work along her knees; and
holding it in her hand like a roll of music, she said that they would
never hear the end of this tennis party.

"I don't see why father should ever know anything about it, he has taken
that horrid old Joseph with him, he never says more than a few words
to the footman, and he never sees the cook or housemaid. We have all
to-morrow to get the house straight."

"It is not certain that he is going to stay the night in London."

"Yes it is. Don't fidget. Have you got the wine out? We should have a
dozen of champagne. Mind you make no mistake; '80, that is the wine you
must get. Jimmy is most particular what he drinks, and Alfred has the
most frightful headaches if he drinks anything but the very best. I hope
he'll find the '80 all right."

"That's father's favourite wine; you mean to say that he won't miss
it? Then the port and Burgundy and cherry brandy--I won't take the
responsibility."

"Nobody asked you. All you have to do is to return the keys to Maggie
that you took from her."

"I don't think father will be as angry as you think, Grace; besides
there's no drawing back now the invitations are out. I think it would be
better to tell him that we had a few friends in for tennis. We needn't
tell him who was there--we will suppress the name of the Southdown Road
people; and we can take the bottles out from the back. The wine won't
be missed for a long time, and we will invent some better excuse before
then. We will say that two bottles were drunk at this party and three at
that; and further than that we can't remember."

"And what about the peaches? There are only a few ripe, and Sally says
she'll want them all. Father has been looking forward to them for weeks
and weeks."

"He'll have to do without them; if he wants peaches, he had better bring
some down from Covent Garden."

A knock was heard at the door. "Please Miss, Mr. Escott is in the
drawing-room."

"Tell him I will be downstairs in a moment," cried Maggie.

"Now off you go, my Lady Mount Rorke," said Sally, who had already begun
to regret her promises, and to consider if she had not better break
them.

Maggie asked him what train he came down by, then she called the dog;
"Come here, my beautiful boy, come and kiss me." The bull-dog growled
and wagged his tail.

"He won't hurt you; 'tis only his way of talking."

Maggie laughed, and they walked out on the green sward. "I suppose
you've been to a great many balls this season?"

"I don't know that I have; a few, perhaps. I am glad to get away from
town. I like no place like this. I don't know if it is the place or the
associations."

"You are used to much finer places. I can fancy Mount Rorke--the lakes
and the mountains; somehow I think I can see it. Isn't it strange,
there are certain things and places you can realise so much better than
others, and for no very understandable reason?"

"Yes, that is so," said Frank, obviously pleased by the remark. Then,
after a pause, "Mount Rorke is a pretty place, and I don't think I could
live long away from it. After a time I always find myself sighing for
the bleakness and barrenness of the West. The hedgerows of England are
pretty enough; but I hate the brick buildings."

"What kind of buildings do you have in Ireland?"

"Everything is built of grey stone, a cold grey tint on a background of
green pasture lands and blue mountains. I daresay you wouldn't like it.
It would recall nothing to you, but when I think of it, much less see
it, I re-live my childhood all over again. I am a great person for old
times. That is the reason I like coming down here. I knew you all so
long ago; how well I can remember you--three dark little things. You
used to sit on my knee."

"And do you find nothing nice in the present?"

"Of course I do; it is nice to walk in the garden with you, but it seems
to me you have all moved away from me a little. Grace is engaged, you
are engaged--"

"Who said I was engaged?"

"Ha, ha, you see I hear everything. What is his name--Alfred?"

"I suppose Sally told you."

"I won't tell you who told me, I never betray secrets. You had a
desperate flirtation two years ago, and the man had to go away, and you
promised to wait for him."

"I don't mind telling you--I did meet a man about two years ago whom I
rather liked; I used to see a great deal of him at tennis parties and
balls; he used to ask me to marry him. He wanted me to engage myself to
him, and I told him it would be much better to wait and see what father
would say."

"And what did your father say?"

"Father, he never knew anything about it. You may as well tell me, I
know it was Sally. I suppose she told you I was very much in love with
him?"

"She said, at least, the person who told me said, that you would never
care for any one else."

"So you've been talking about me though you promised you wouldn't talk
any more," Maggie said to herself, "All right, my lady--very well, we
shall see."

"Grace is waving her parasol to us. Lunch must be ready."

Maggie and Grace had calculated that if they could limit the champagne
to half a dozen bottles they would be able to hide the deficit from
their father's scrutiny; but the servants seemed to be always filling
the glasses of the Southdown Road people, and lunch was not half over
when they heard the fourth bottle go pop. Maggie looked at Sally across
the pile of peaches, but Sally had no ears for the report, only for
Jimmy's voice. Her head wagged as she talked, and Maggie wondered if
they were exchanging napkins or rings beneath the table.

At that moment the servant handed a letter on a salver to Maggie,
saying, "From Mrs. Horlock; the servant is waiting an answer, miss."
Grace trembled. Sally whispered to Jimmy, "What can she want?" In a
reassuring voice Maggie said, "She has heard we are having a few people
in to tennis, and she wants to know if she may send us round a young
man; she will come round herself with the General some time during the
afternoon." At the mention of a young man many eyes gleamed, and Sally
said, "You had better go at once and write a note and say that we shall
be delighted." When they went into the verandah coffee was handed
round, and Maggie, as the gentlemen lit their cigarettes, said to Grace,
"Nothing could have happened better; father is sure to hear of this,
we couldn't have kept it from him: now we can say Mrs. Horlock was our
chaperon. None will know when she came, or when she went away." Then
turning to her company, Maggie said, "Now gentlemen, as soon as you have
finished your cigarettes we will begin."

Sally not only insisted on playing, but on playing with Jimmy; and
Grace, who was striving to struggle into the position of Miss Brookes,
could do nothing but set the girl in the florid dress and the man who
stood next to her to play against them. The garden seemed to absorb the
girls, but Maggie, catching sight of Mrs. Horlock, went to meet her.

Mrs. Horlock was sixty, but her figure was like a girl's. She led a
blind pug in a complicated leading apparatus, and several other pugs
in various stages of fat and decrepitude followed her. It was not long
before she raised a discussion on hydrophobia, defending the disease
from all the charges of horror and contagion that had been urged against
it, narrating vehemently how a mad dog had died in her arms licking her
hands and face, and appealing to the General, who denounced muzzling;
but when the mangy mastiff came near him he whispered to Frank, "I wish
they were all shot. You must come and see us; you must come and see us;
I have a pretty little place in the Southdown Road (dreadful place to
mention here, they don't like it; of course the people there aren't
all quite the thing, but what are you to do, you know?). Lunch at two,
dinner at eight--old Indians, you know. I have everything I want. Too
many animals, perhaps, but that can't be helped."

"Do you live here all the year?"

"Yes, all the year round. We don't go away much. We have everything
here--coach-houses, horses, you'll see when you come. The only thing
I want is a little occupation, a little something to bring me out,
you know. I read the _Morning Post_ every morning, and I have the _St
James's_ in the evening; but then there is the middle of the day," and,
with laughter full of genial kindness and goodwill, the General repeated
this phrase: "I want a little something to bring me out, you know."

Forty years of Indian sun! Balls in the Government House in Calcutta!
Viceroys, tigers, horse-racing, elephants, jealousies, flirtations,
deaths, all now forgotten, and if not forgotten, at rest; and now glad
to watch life unfolding itself again in an English village, this old
couple sat in the calm sunlight of an English garden, relics of another
generation, emblems of an England drawing to a close.

At five o'clock Grace was busy at the tea-table; and very hot and moist
Sally threw herself into a cane chair. Maggie, who had suddenly appeared
upon the scene, arranged some fresh sets in which she and Frank did not
take part--she having promised to walk with him; and they went towards
the shade of the sycamores. She had neglected him nearly the whole day,
and he was vexed with her. But she excused herself volubly, accusing
Sally of indifference to all things except her own pleasures, and
impressed upon him that it was her duty to show some politeness to Mrs.
Horlock's friend.

"Sally would play tennis, she played two sets, three if I am not
mistaken, and she never left Jimmy's side. She took no notice of any
one; for that reason I hate having people to the house when she is here;
everything devolves upon Grace and me. It is really too bad. Father
wouldn't mind our giving this party at all, if it weren't for him. If he
hears that he was here, well, I don't know what will happen."

"He doesn't look quite a gentleman, does he? He is a ship's mate, isn't
he?"

"Yes, but it isn't that; father cannot bear those Southdown Road people.
A lot of young men live there--quite as good as ourselves, no doubt, but
they are all so poor, and father thinks of nothing but money. And Sally
meets them. When she goes out driving in the cart she picks them up, and
they go off together. Father doesn't know any of them, and he says they
laugh at him when he goes to the station in the morning. 'Tisn't
true, it is only his imagination; but I can quite well understand his
feelings. You know Sally won't give way in anything. Once she ran into
the kitchen, and told cook to put back the dinner, so that she might run
down the slonk to finish her conversation with him. Of course father
was mad at that, coming home tired from the City, and finding that his
dinner had been put back. You saw the way they went on at lunch, sitting
close together."

"We were all sitting close together."

"Yes, but not like they were. And all that nonsense with their napkins
under the table. If you didn't see it, so much the better. I thought
everybody saw it. I wish Sally wouldn't do it. Father, as you know, has
a lot of money to leave, and if she did really go too far, I fear he
would cut her off."

"But she never would go too far."

"No, I don't think so; I am sure Sally wouldn't do anything that was
really wrong, but she is very imprudent."

"How do you mean?"

"I don't know that I ought to tell you."

"I promise not to tell any one--you know you can trust me."

"Well, she brings people up to her room."

"You don't mean to her bedroom?"

"She says you can't call it a bedroom, but she sleeps there for all
that. She covers up the bed and makes it look like a couch; she keeps
birds and dogs there; Flossie had her puppies there. That's her room,"
said Maggie, lifting one of the boughs. "I shouldn't be surprised if
Jimmy were there with her now."

The foliage glinted in the sunset, and as Maggie stood pointing, still
holding the bough, the picture flashed upon Frank, and he said: "Oh, how
pretty you are now! How I should like to paint you!" And a moment
after he said, interested, solely interested in sentimental affection,
"Sally's ideas of love seem to me very funny; if she really loves
Meason, why doesn't she marry him?"

"He has no money, and father would never hear of it."

"Never hear of it! If I loved a girl, nothing in the world would prevent
my marrying her."

"I wonder if that's true," said Maggie, and she let go the bough and
stood facing him, her hands clasped behind her back.

"Of course it is. What is life for if it isn't to get the woman we
love?"

"It is nice to hear you say so; but I am afraid very few young men think
like you nowadays. One woman is the same as another to them."

"I cannot understand any one thinking so. If it were so, the whole charm
would be lost."

So the young people talked, and lost in the charm of each thrilling
minute, they walked through the shadows and darkening leaves. The soft
garden echoed with the sound of a girl's voice crying, "Cuckoo, cuckoo,"
and the white dresses flew over the sward, and the young men ran after
them and caught them. They were playing hide and seek. Excited
beyond endurance, Triss barked loudly, and forms were seen flying
precipitately.

"Tie him up to this tree," said Maggie.

"No, no, better take him to the house," said Frank; "it would make him
savage to tie him up."

When the ninth bottle of champagne had been opened, and the supper table
was noisy, Frank whispered to Maggie, "Did you ever see _Macbeth_?"

"Yes, but why?"

"Because I can't help thinking what a splendid occasion it would be for
Banquo's ghost to appear."

Maggie pressed his hand and laughed.

Soon after the sound of wheels was heard. Grace turned pale, Sally said:
"Who would have thought it?" A moment after Mr. Brookes, with Berkins
and Willy behind him, entered. He stood amazed, and seeing that the
tears were mounting to his eyes, Maggie said: "Father, how tired and
faint you look. We thought you wouldn't be coming home to-night. Do sit
down and have a glass of wine." But neither winning words nor ways could
soothe this storm, and in reply to a question from Berkins, Mr. Brookes
declared passionately that he knew none of the young men who came to his
house.



V



"Father's just gone downstairs. I think we had better wait a minute or
two. In that way we shall escape a scolding. Father won't miss the ten
o'clock."

"Not a bad idea. You are always up to some cunning dodge. What's the
time?"

"Twenty minutes to nine. I'll slip down the passage and tell Grace to go
down and give him his breakfast. He won't say anything to her; he knows
well that since Fatty went to India she wouldn't see a soul if she could
help it."

"Father never says anything to you either; you tell him a lot of lies,
and leave him to understand that I do everything."

"That's not true; I never speak against you to father; but at the same
time I must say that if it weren't for you we could do as we liked. You
don't try to manage father."

"Manage him, indeed! that's what I can't bear in you, you're always
trying to manage some one; I hate the word."

"You got out of bed the wrong side this morning. However, I must go and
tell Grace to go down at once, or father will be ringing for us."

"What did she say?" said Sally, when Maggie returned.

"'Tis all right; I got her to go, and she said she was always being made
a cat's-paw of. I assure you it wasn't easy to persuade her to go down
to father, but I told her she might be the means of averting a very
serious row."

"I suppose you said there was no counting on what answers I might make
to father?"

This was exactly what Maggie had said.

"Very well; you are always objecting to what I do, and the way I do it.
I wish you would go and do things yourself. You think of nothing but
yourself, or some young man you are after. I wouldn't do what you did
yesterday. I wouldn't go sneaking round the garden with a young man I
had never seen before."

Maggie shrugged her shoulders and went on dressing. Sally, who had taken
a seat on the bed, watched her. She thought how she might best pursue
the quarrel, but her stomach called her thoughts from her sister, and
she said: "I don't know how you feel, but I am dying of hunger. What
time is it now?"

"Nine o'clock."

"Another half-hour. I suppose he won't start before the half-hour."

"Miss," said the maid, knocking at the door, "Mr. Brookes wants to know
if you are coming down to breakfast."

"Say that we are not nearly ready; that there's no use waiting for us."

"I think I had better go back to my room," said Sally.

"I think you had. I wish you wouldn't bring that horrid little dog into
my room. She made a mess here the other day."

"That I am sure she didn't. Flossie is the cleanest dog in the world."

"Clean or unclean, I would rather not have her in my room. There she is
trying to drink out of my jug. Get away, you little beast!"

Sally caught up her dog, and marched out of the room, slamming the door
after her.

"At last I have got rid of her," thought Maggie, and she rolled and
pinned up the last plait of her black hair, but she did not go down to
breakfast until the wheels grated on the gravel and the carriage was
heard moving away. Then she begged Grace to tell her what her father had
said.

"He said his children were persecuting him, that he had not had an
hour's peace since their poor mother died."

"Fudge! Mother knew how to keep him in order. Do you remember when she
threw the carving knife?"

"Sally, for shame! How can you speak of poor mother so?"

"You know it is true, Hypocrisy. There is no harm in coming to the
point."

"It was very nearly coming to the point," said Maggie, giggling.

"Well, what else did he say?"

"He said he didn't know what course he should adopt, but that things
couldn't go on as they were; he thought he should write to Aunts Mary
and Hester, and just as he was going out of the door he said that he'd
prefer to sell the whole place up than continue living here and be the
laughing-stock of the neighbourhood."

At these words all looked frightened, even Sally. She flaunted her head,
however, and said disdainfully: "I wonder he didn't speak of marrying
again."

"Did he say nothing more?" asked Maggie, who determined to know how
matters stood.

"He spoke of Sally; he said it must be put a stop to. I don't know what
he has found out, but I am sure he has found out something."

"Why didn't you ask him?"

"I did. He said the way you were carrying on with young Meason was
something too disgraceful, and that every one was talking of it; he said
that you had been seen crossing the canal locks, and that you had spent
hours with him on the beach, and he spoke about the cart and Bamber--I
don't know if you ever drove there to meet him; I couldn't get anything
more out of him, for he began to cry."

"Didn't he speak of the party?"

"Oh, yes, a great deal. He said that henceforth he would have none of
the Southdown Road people, male or female, at the Manor House. I thought
he was going to curse the Horlocks; but I reminded him of the Viceroys.
As for the Measons, I don't know what he would have said if he hadn't
been crying."

"The Measons are just as good as we are, though they mayn't be so rich.
I should like to know who has been talking to him about me; I wonder
who told him I spent hours on the beach with Jimmy; I met him once there
quite by accident, and we sat down for ten minutes. I daresay it was
Berkins."

"No, Sally, don't," said Grace, clasping her hands. "Father said that
Maggie was nearly as bad, and was a great deal too much disposed towards
young men."

"I should think she is indeed; I wonder what father would say if he had
seen her walking round the garden out of sight of every one with that
fellow, a man she had never seen before."

"There is no harm in walking round the garden with a man, but I should
like to know what father would say if he knew that you brought Jimmy up
to your bed-room."

"My bed-room isn't a bed-room. How dare you make such accusations, how
dare you? I should not be surprised if you were at the bottom of all
this. I know you are mad with jealousy. Do you think I don't know how
you flirted with Jimmy? Do you think I didn't see how you shifted Frank
on to me so that you might walk with Jimmy to the station? But I'll tell
you what, I'll not stand it, and if you try to come between me and him
I'll knock you down."

Sally sprang from her place and raised her fist. Maggie rushed from the
room, or, more correctly speaking, into the arms of Willy.

"What the deuce are you up to?" cried this staid young man, who had been
twisted round and thrown against the wall.

"Oh, save me! Sally says she'll knock me down," cried the girl, clinging
for a moment to her brother's shoulder, but as if conscious of the
dubiousness of his protection, she loosed him and fled upstairs to her
room.

"What damned nonsense this is! The trouble young girls are in a
house!--Nothing but pleasure; from one year's end to another, it is
nothing but pleasure. I am sick of it."

Having by such unusual emphasis of manner reduced his sisters to
silence, Willy sat down, and chewed with gravity and deliberation. Grace
and Sally watched him. After a long and elaborate silence he put some
brief questions, and appeared to devote to them the small part of his
attention not already engaged in the judicious breaking of his bread.
He did not answer nor did he comment; and when he had finished eating he
commenced packing up his diary and letters in a brown paper parcel, and
for three-quarters of an hour he walked up and down stairs collecting
and forgetting; finally he left the house with many parcels.

As some days are sweet and fugitive, others are obtuse, complex, and
tortuous as nightmares--difficult to understand and well-nigh impossible
to relate. And the day after the tennis party was such a day in the
Brookes household, nor did its tumult cease when the lights were turned
out in the billiard-room. It was revived with fierce gusts of passion
and despair during several succeeding days.

In the afternoon both Sally and Maggie wanted to go out in the cart. The
wrangle was a long one, but the argument of the fist eventually brought
it to a close, and Maggie was obliged again to shut herself into her
room. Thence Grace's solicitations could not move her, and she remained
there until she saw her father coming up the drive; then she ran down to
meet him, and made a frank accusation of Sally's treatment of her.
But he was enthralled by his own woes, and without even promising her
protection and immunity, at least from her sister's right arm, the old
gentleman launched forth into more than usual lamentations.

He had had a stormy interview with Berkins going up in the train, and
Berkins had so upset him that he had not been able to get through any
business in the City. Berkins admitted of no equivocation. He had told
him that he would not allow the young lady that was going to be his
wife to spend her days feasting and skylarking with a lot of vulgar and
penniless young men from the Southdown Road. He had declared that it was
time to settle definitely the terms and the day of the marriage. He had
been engaged now more than two months, and was prepared to do his share;
Mr. Brookes must be prepared to do his, viz., to settle four hundred a
year on his daughter.

The idea of parting for ever with so much of his money convulsed Mr.
Brookes. He burst into tears, and their bitterness was neither assuaged
nor softened by Grace's rather haughty statement that she didn't care at
all for Mr. Berkins, and was not at all sure whether she would have him
or not.

"So, father, you may be able to keep your money."

"But did any one ever know me to think of myself?" and he drew his silk
handkerchief forth. In the new trouble, suddenly created, all
other considerations were lost, and Grace became the centre of many
conflicting interests; everybody asked if this marriage so long looked
forward to was going to tumble into ruin among so many ruins? At dinner
Willy seemed to consider himself called from the problem of perfect
mastication, and he said a few words intended to allay this new family
excitement; but his efforts were vain, for it had occurred to Mr.
Brookes that he might find calm in a bottle of '34 port. There were a
few bottles left which he appreciated at their right value. He rang
for the wine, and old Joseph announced, with all the intolerable
indifference of a well-trained servant, that the young gentleman had
drunk it all up yesterday. Mr. Brookes kept his temper better than
the girls anticipated, and it was not until he had drunk a bottle of a
latter-day wine that he seemed to realise the wrong that had been
done to him. He begged of Willy to listen to him, and he talked so
vehemently, and cried so bitterly, and laughed so joyously, and declared
so often that it would be all the same a hundred years hence, that
letters and diary had to be packed away in the brown paper parcel, and
all work abandoned for that evening. The next day and the next passed
in continual quarrel and argument, and at the end of the week the aunts
were summoned.

Aunt Mary's features were sharp, her eyes were bright and she sat bolt
upright on the sofa, her hands crossed over a shawl drawn tightly about
her.

"Now, my dear James," she said, "I am very sorry for you; of course
I am. I know it is very trying, but there is no use in sitting there
lamenting. Put up your silk handkerchief and come to the point. We all
know it will be the same a hundred years hence, but in the meantime
you don't want your dinner put back, so that Sally may continue her
flirtations in the slonk," and Aunt Mary burst into a merry peal of
laughter.

"You are most unsympathetic, I never knew one so unsympathetic; you were
always so, you'll never change."

"Unsympathetic," said Aunt Mary, shaking with laughter; "how can you
say so? I have never done anything all my life but listen to you and
sympathise with you. When you were a boy and sold my books to the boys
at your school, and when you were a young man and took my poor husband
to oyster shops--you remember the stories you used to tell me?"

Mr. Brookes waved his handkerchief, and Aunt Hester, who was a spinster,
cast down her eyes and fidgeted with some papers which she had taken
from her hand-basket.

"Of course, if my afflictions are only a subject for laughter--"

"I am not laughing at your afflictions, my dear James. I laughed because
you said I was not a sympathetic listener. You used to think me so
once." Then becoming instantly serious, Aunt Mary said: "Of course I
think this is a matter of great importance--the health, the welfare of
my dear nieces, and your happiness."

"And their salvation," murmured Aunt Hester.

"If I did not think it important, do you think I would have left home,
and at such a time, when I am most wanted? I always said that that big
place would kill me, I never wanted to leave the Poplars; a little place
like that is no trouble--my greenhouse, a few servants, and just as I
had got everything to look nice--I could do it all in a few hours; but
now I am never still, there is always something to be done. No one can
take up my work. I am behindhand; oh, I assure you when I go back I
shall be afraid to go into the greenhouse. I am worn out, I really am;
it never ends. In a big house like Woborn one is always behindhand. The
days aren't long enough, that's the fact of it; when one thinks one is
getting through one thing one is called away to another. 'Please, mum,
the cook would like to speak with you for a moment.' 'There is no tea in
the house, mum.' 'What! is all the tea I gave out last week gone?' 'Yes,
mum. There was, you remember, the dressmaker here three days, and we had
Mrs. Jones in to help. And we shall want another piece of cheese for
the servants' hall.' I don't know how it is with you, but at Woborn the
cloth is never off the table in the servants' hall. They have five meals
a day--breakfast at eight, and they won't eat cold bacon, they must have
it hot; of course the waste is something fearful; at eleven they have
beer and cheese; at one there is dinner; at five they have tea; and at
nine supper. Five meals a day--it really is terrible, it is wicked,
it really is! You have had none of these troubles, Hester, and you may
think yourself very lucky.

"We have just got rid of our cook; the trouble she gave us, it really
is beyond words. She said she was troubled with fits, hysteria, or
something of that sort--at least that is the reason she gave for her
conduct. I knew there was something wrong, I could see it in her eyes.
I said: 'This is not right; it can't be right.' One night she left the
dinner half cooked and went roaming all over the country; she came back
the next afternoon, and I found her baking. Then there was Robinson. Do
you remember the pretty housemaid? You saw her when you were at Woborn.
I am sure she must have had gentle blood in her veins; she wasn't a bit
like a servant, so elegant and graceful. Those soft blue eyes of hers. I
often used to look at them and think how beautiful they were. Well, she
fell madly in love with West. Notwithstanding his bandy legs, there
was something fascinating about him. He had a way about him that
the maid-servants used to like; Robinson wasn't the first. Well, she
completely lost her head, perfectly frantic--frantic; her eyes on fire.
I saw it at once; you know I am pretty sharp. I just look round, one
look round; I see it all, I take it all in. I said: 'This is not right;
this cannot be right. Robinson is a respectable girl.' Her people I knew
to be most respectable people in Chichester; I had heard all about them
through the Eastwicks. I said, 'Robinson, you must go, I will give you
a month's wages, but you must go back to your people. You know why I am
sending you away; it is for your own good, otherwise I am sorry to part
with you; but you must go.'

"Robinson didn't say much, she was always rather haughty, a reserved
sort of girl; but soon after--I always hear everything--I heard that she
had not gone back to her people, but was living in lodgings in Brighton,
and that West used to go and see her. I didn't say anything about it to
West, but he saw there was something wrong. When I told him to put the
carriage to, he said, 'Yes, mum, where to, mum?' 'Brighton.' I could
see he saw there was something wrong, and when I told him not to put the
carriage up, but to drive up and down the King's Road, and that I would
meet him in about an hour at the bottom of West Street, he looked so
frightened that I could hardly help laughing; he did look so comical,
for he knew now that I was going to see Robinson. (Here the remembrance
of West proved too much for Aunt Mary, and she shook with laughter.)
Of course if I had let him put up the horses he would have run round to
Robinson's and warned her that I was coming. Oh, I shall never forget
that day! It was broiling, the sun came down on the flagstones in those
narrow little back streets, and there was I toiling, toiling up that
dreadful hill, inquiring out the way. I found the street, it was on the
very top of the hill: such a poor, miserable place you never saw. Such a
dreadful old woman opened the door to me, and I said, 'Is Miss Robinson
in?' She said, 'Yes.' I could hear Robinson whispering over the
banisters, saying, 'No, no, no, say I am out.' And then I said, 'It is
no use, Robinson, I must see you, and I will not leave this place until
I have seen you.' I went upstairs to her room. At first she was rather
haughty, rather inclined to impertinence. She said, 'Mum, you have no
right to come after me--you sent me away; I am looking out for a place
in Brighton--I don't want to go back to my people.' I said, 'Robinson,
it is no use trying to deceive me, I know very well why you are in
Brighton; no good can come of this, it is nothing but wickedness.
You must try to be good, Robinson. West has, as you know, a wife and
children, and you must not think of him any more. You have taken this
lodging so that you may see him. You must think of your future; this
can't last.'"

"No, indeed, this life is but a moment," sighed Aunt Hester. "I wish you
had had one of these books to give her."

"I did better, Hester. I told her some plain truths, and she put off her
high and mighty airs and began to cry. I shall never forget it. Oh, how
hot it was in that little room just under the slates, with one garret
window and the sun pouring in. There was scarcely any furniture, and I
was sitting on her bed. I said, 'Now, Robinson, you must give me back
the presents West made you, and you must promise me to go back to
Chichester.' And I didn't leave her until she promised me to go home
next day.

"When I stepped into the carriage you should have seen West's face. He
didn't know what had happened; I didn't speak to him till next day. As
I was going into the garden I called him. I said, 'West, I want to speak
to you.' 'Yes, mum.' We went into the back garden; I was planting there.
Edward was out riding, so I knew we shouldn't be disturbed. I said,
'West, I saw Robinson yesterday, and I have a parcel for you; she has
promised me not to see you, and you must promise me not to see her.'
'Very well, mum, since you say it.' 'This is a very sad affair, West.'
'A bad business, mum--a bad business, mum.' There was always something
in West's stolid face that used to amuse me. You should have heard him.
'I don't think she could help it, mum; she never loved another man--I
really don't. But I was going to tell you, mum, I once knew a servant,
a married man, he was in love with a young woman, and they waited long
years, and when the wife died they married, mum.' 'That was all very
well long ago, West, but wives don't die nowadays.'"

So Aunt Mary talked, realising and giving expression to both the pathos
and the comedy of her story. Then, feeling that she wasdigressing at
too great length, she strove to generalise from the particular incident
which she had related, and get back to the theme of the conversation.

"I don't know what we shall do, I don't know what we are coming to;
servants are getting too strong for us. My last cook gave us no end of
trouble; the butler used to have to lock himself up in the pantry; and
yet I had to give her a character. Of course it was very wrong of me to
enable her to thrust herself upon another family, but what was I to do?
I couldn't deprive her of the means of earning her living. She'll give
trouble wherever she goes. There is no remedy, there really isn't; I
don't know what's to be done unless we ladies combine and refuse to give
them characters."

Here Aunt Mary's thoughts and words began to fail her, for she felt she
was not getting back to the point where she had entered on her various
digressions, and without further ado, and quite undisconcerted, she
said, "But I forget where I was; what were we talking about?"

"We were talking about dear Sally and Maggie, and the need they stand of
counsel and help. Their conduct is to be deeply regretted; but theirs is
only youthful folly. They have not done anything, I am sure, that--"

"Quite so, Hester; of course. But at the same time a stop must be put
to all this nonsense; it cannot be allowed. I have only to look round
to take it all in. They are worrying their father into his grave. His
position is a very trying one. He has no one whom he can depend on--no
one."

"I am alone since poor Julia--"

Aunt Mary and Aunt Hester looked at each other, and they wondered if the
terrors of the carving knife were completely forgotten.

"Poor James," said Aunt Mary, recrossing her hands, "is obliged to go to
London every morning, from ten till, I may say, half-past six."

"I am never home before seven."

"These girls are their own mistresses; they go out when they like, they
order the carriage whenever they like, and they invite here every one it
pleases their fancy to invite without consulting their father. I believe
he doesn't even--"

"I know none of the young men who come to my house. All I know of them
is that they come from the Southdown Road."

"Don't be so silly, James, put up that handkerchief. Of course, the
Southdown Road is one of the great disadvantages of the place. Those
villa residences have brought into Southwick a host of people that a man
living in a big place like the Manor House cannot know--little people
who have--"

"Not two hundred pounds invested--no, nor yet a hundred."

"Well, I don't wish to offend them, I'll say small incomes. They are all
devoured with envy, and all they think of is what goes on at the Manor
House."

"A lot of penniless young jackanapeses. Every morning I see them at the
station watching me over the tops of their newspapers."

"You must understand, Hester, poor James up in London, toiling, not
knowing what is going on in his own home; feasting and pleasure going
on morning, noon, and, I may say, night, for when James returned home
unexpectedly about ten o'clock at night, he found them--how many were
there?"

"About a dozen, the others had gone."

"Feasting, drinking his champagne--his very best."

"The last few bottles of '34 port were drunk; the peaches, that the
gardener has been forcing so carefully for months past, were all eaten.
I returned home unexpectedly; I had intended to spend the night in
London--you know I went there to see about starting Willy on the Stock
Exchange; he has drawn three thousand more out of the distillery; I hope
he won't lose it. Well, I met Berkins in Pall Mall, and he said if I
would return by the late train that he would spend the night here, and
we would go up to town together in the morning. I suspected nothing; I
went into my dining-room, and there I found them all at supper. Had it
not been for Berkins it wouldn't have mattered. He was indignant when
he saw one of those jackanapeses with his arm round the back of Grace's
chair; he says that such company is not fit for the lady that is going
to be his wife; and he now insists on fixing the day, the settlements,
and everything, or of breaking off the match."

"Then why don't you fix the day and the settlements?"

"Grace is not willing; she is quite undecided. She says she doesn't know
whether she will have him or not. Sally tries to set her against him;
she laughs at him, says he is pompous, and imitates him. Of course, it
is quite true that he thinks everything he has is betterthan anybody
else's. She says he is old, and says that kissing him would be like
rubbing your face in a mattress."

"The fact is," said Aunt Mary, "Sally ought to have been a man; had she
been a man, it would have been all right."

Aunt Hester, who had spent her life in a vicarage, glanced uneasily at
her sister, and fidgeted with the papers in her satchel.

"I suppose it will be all the same a hundred years hence."

"No, James, it will not," replied Aunt Hester, with unusual
determination.

The conversation dropped, and the speakers stared at each other at a
loss how to proceed.

"She is a very difficult girl to manage. If it were not for her we could
get on very well; it is she who upsets everything. She can't agree
with Maggie; they are always quarrelling. The day after the party she
threatened to knock her down if she interfered with her young man."

"Is it possible! Did she say that? Well, when it comes to young ladies
knocking each other down! Young ladies were very different in my young
days. It only proves what I said about Sally--she ought to have been a
man, she really ought to have been a man. I see it all; I have only to
give one look round to take it all in one glance. When she came to meet
me in Brighton I understood it all at once; I saw she could not restrain
herself, no powers of self-restraint. Her eyes fixed on every man as
if she couldn't see enough of him; her black eyes flashing. I wanted no
telling--I saw it all; the moment a young man went by her eyes flashed.
Here she was--'Aunt Mary, Aunt Mary, there's Meason, there's Meason,
Aunt Mary, Meason, Meason, Aunt Mary.' It is not right, it can't be
right; and to my thinking Maggie is just as bad--a little more sly
perhaps."

"No, not dear Maggie."

"I say it is not right; girls in good health could not go on like
that. If I were you, James, I would take them up to a first-rate London
physician, the very best that can be had for money. Those girls are
highly organised, highly sensitive; their nerves are highly strung. They
want something to bring them down," said Aunt Mary; but catching at that
moment sight of her sister's face, she laughed consumedly, and, speaking
through her laughter, said, "So-and-so, a first-rate man, I can't think
of his name--he will give you the very best advice."

"I think if our dear nieces could be brought to understand the
sinfulness of their disobedience. I have here one or two little books
which I think it would be advisable for them to read."

"Later on, my dear Hester; the best thing that James can do is to see
to their health. No girls in good health could act as they do; it is
radically impossible."

"I suppose that is what I must do; I don't know if I shall succeed, but
I will try to get them to come up to London and have medical advice.
Since the death of poor Julia I have been all alone; my position is a
very hard one. I have no one to talk to, to assist me, to take my place
in any way. I am obliged to go to London every day, and I assure you my
heart is all of a flutter in the morning when I take the train, for I
don't know what may happen before I return. The girls can do what they
like; they are mistresses of this big house, they take the carriage into
Brighton when they like, Sally takes the cart. I have thought of getting
rid of that cart."

Although passionately fond of talking, Aunt Mary would with patience,
and even with pleasure, cross her hands and settle herself down to
listen to one of Uncle James's interminable lamentations, but Aunt
Hester, a nervous and timid creature who talked but little, not only
declared that she could not bear to hear the same stories over and over
again, but interrupted her brother with firmness and determination.
Indeed, it was only on occasion of Uncle James's soliloquies that she
had ever shown any strength of will.

"We know very well, James, that your position is a trying one--that
since the death of poor Julia you have no one whom you can look to.
There is no use in telling us this over again; it is mere waste of time.
What we have to do now is by all means in our power to convince dear
Sally of the sinfulness of her conduct, and so strive to bring her back
to a state of grace."

"Her spirit must be broken, she must be subdued," interjected Aunt Mary.

"Christ is the real healer, prayer is the true medicine, and by it alone
is the troubled spirit soothed."

It being impossible to contravene these opinions, the conversation came
to a pause, which was at length interrupted by Mr. Brookes, who through
the folds of his handkerchief declared again that it would be all the
same a hundred years hence. Even Aunt Mary's realism did not offend Aunt
Hester as did this un-Christian philosophy; she gathered her strength
for a grave reproof, but was cut short by her sister's laughter. All the
teeth were glittering now, and peal after peal of laughter came. Aunt
Hester's courage died, and her long, freckled face drooped like a sad
flower.

"Now let us hear something about Grace. What about this marriage?
Is Berkins as amorous as ever? That man does amuse me--his waistcoat
buttons are better than any other man's."

"Mary, Mary, I beg of you to remember Mr. Berkins is a man of eight
thousand a-year."

"He may make eight thousand a-year, but he has very little money
invested," said Aunt Mary.

"That is true," Mr. Brookes replied reflectively, and he was about to
rush off into a long financial statement when his sister, who already
regretted her joke, checked him with an abrupt question.

"My dear James, is this marriage to be or not to be? That is what I want
to know."

"I really can't say, Mary; Sally has contrived to upset her sister; she
would have been, I feel sure, glad to marry Mr. Berkins if she had not
been upset by Sally."

"Upset by Sally, what do you mean?"

"I told you that Sally tries to turn Berkins into ridicule, laughs at
his beard among other things."

"I must see Grace about this," said Aunt Mary; "you must excuse my
laughing, but Sally is often very droll."

Choosing the first occasion when Maggie and Sally were absent from the
room, Aunt Mary said, "Come, Gracie, dear, tell me about this marriage.
I hear that your mind is not made up--that you are not at all decided.
This is not acting fairly towards your father. You are placing him in a
very false position."

"I don't think so, aunty. No one, so far as I can make out, is either
decided or satisfied. Mr. Berkins is not satisfied with the society we
see."

"The Southdown Road you mean," interrupted Mr. Brookes, "and very
properly, too."

"And father and he cannot agree upon money matters, and I don't like a
beard--"

"You never objected to a beard until Sally put you against it."

"Yes, I did, father; I always told you--"

"Never mind the beard, tell me about the money matters that your father
and Mr. Berkins can't agree upon."

"Mr. Berkins has offered to settle twelve thousand pounds upon me if
father will settle the same amount. But father won't agree to this; he
wants Mr. Berkins to settle twelve, but does not want to settle more
than seven himself upon me."

"Is this so, James?" asked Aunt Mary.

Mr. Brookes avoided answering the question, and entered into a long and
garrulous statement concerning himself and his money: he had made it
all himself! he spoke of his investments with pride, and pathetically
declared that he would not marry again because he would not deprive his
dear children of anything. Aunt Mary crossed her hands over her shawl,
and set herself to listen to the old gentleman's rigmarole. Aunt Hester
tried several times to cut him short, but this time he would not be
silenced.

Then Aunt Mary started the story of a girl whom she had known intimately
in early life, which she no doubt thought would help Grace to a better
comprehension of her difficulties; but the dear lady lost herself in
the domestic entanglement of many families, on the subject of which she
contributed much curious information, without, however, elucidating the
matter in hand. She wandered so far that at length all hope of return
became impossible, and she was obliged to pull up suddenly and ask what
she had been talking about.

"What was I talking about, James; you have been listening to me--what
was I talking about?"

Mr. Brookes made no attempt to give the information necessary for the
blending of her many narratives, and she was forced to seek unaided for
the lost thread. Soon after the girls came in with their gin and water.
They drank their grog, kissed their relations, and retired to bed.

And the next evening, and the next, and the next, so long as Aunt Mary
and Aunt Hester remained at the Manor House, the evenings passed in
a similar fashion; and, notwithstanding the doleful faces they
occasionally assumed, they found pleasure in lamenting the follies of
the young people. The same stories were told, almost the same words
were uttered. The only malcontent was Willy. He had no interest in
his sisters, and the hours after dinner in the billiard-room when
his sisters were in the drawing-room were those he devoted to looking
through his letters and filling up his diary; so when Sally's name was
mentioned he caught at his short crisp hair and gnashed his teeth.



VI



"My dear fellow, just as I'm settling down to do some work, Aunt Mary
comes along the passage; I know her step so well. And then it begins,
the old story that I have heard twenty times before, all over again. You
have no idea how worrying it is."

Frank laughed, and talked of something else. These discussions of
Sally's character and general behaviour did not appeal to him in either
a comic or serious light, and the havoc they made of Willy's business
hours did not perceptibly move him; he was full of his good looks, his
clothes, his affections, his bull-dog, and the fact that his youth was
going by, as it should go by, among girls, in an old English village, in
a garden by the sea.

Aunt Mary was a woman that a rarer young man would have been attracted
by; indeed the delicacy of a young man may be tested by the sympathy
he may feel for women when age has drawn a veil over, and put sexual
promptings aside. Her bright teeth and eyes, the winsome little face, so
glad, would have at once charmed and led any young man not so brutally
young as Frank Escott. It would have pleased another to watch her, to
wait on her, to listen to her rambling stories all so full of laughter
and the sunshine of kindness and homely wit; it would have pleased him
to note that she was gratified by the admiration of a young man; it
would please him to hear himself called by his Christian name, while he
must address her as Mrs. So-and-so, and in maintaining this difference
they would both become conscious of pleasing restraint.

His comprehension of life was invariably a sentimental one, so the aunts
were to him merely middle-aged women--uninteresting, and useful only
so far as their efforts contributed to render the lives of young people
easy and pleasurable. In abrupt and passing impressions he concluded
that Aunt Mary was bright and pleasant, but tediously voluble, given
to wasting that time which he would have liked to spend talking to the
young ladies of poetry and Italy.

He scorned poor Aunt Hester. She shrank from him, frightened by his
harsh, blunt manners; she was afraid he led a sinful life in London.
Aunt Mary had few doubts on the subject, and her comments made her
sister tremble. She spoke of him as a most desirable husband for Maggie.
"He will be a peer, my dear James. Lord Mount Rorke will never marry
again. He is the acknowledged heir to the title and estates."

And the young man went as he came--full of himself, his clothes, his
good looks; bumptious and arrogant, effusive in his love of his friends,
and yet sincere. He looked out of the railway carriage window to seize
a last look of the green, with its horse pond and its downs, and the
cricketers all in white, running to and fro (young Meason had just made
a three, and Sally was applauding). The porches of the Southdown Road
he could just see over the fields, and Mr. Brooke's glass glittered amid
the summer foliage. At that moment he loved the ugly little village,
with its barren downs and all its anomalous aspects of town and country.
He thought of his friends there, and his life appeared to be theirs, and
theirs his, and he wished it might flow on for ever in this quiet place.
He seemed to understand it all so well, and to love it all so dearly.
He accepted it all, even its vulgarest aspects. Even pompous Berkins
appeared to him under a tenderer light--the light of orange-flowers and
married love. For Aunt Mary had smoothed away all difficulties, hirsute
and monetary, and the wedding had been fixed for the autumn. The gaiety
of the day he had spent with the girls, its feasting and its flirtation,
arose, memorised in a soft halo of imagination--a day of fruit, wine,
and light words, and the dear General, with his St James's politics and
his only desire--"a little something to do--something to bring me out,
you know." The pugs, the mangy mastiff, the hospitable house always
open, its ready welcome, and, above all, the air which it held of the
lives of its occupants; its pictures of white arab horses, and elephants
richly caparisoned; the wonderful goats in the field, and the tropical
birds and animals in the back garden! Above all, the walks on the green
with the chemist's wife, and the annoyance such familiarity caused Mr.
Brookes--how funny, how charming, how amusing! He was smiling through
the tears that rose to his eyes when the train rolled into Brighton.

On arriving in London he drove straight to the Temple. The creaking,
disjointed staircases, with the lanterns of old time in the windows,
jarred his thoughts, which were still of Southwick; and when he entered
his rooms their loneliness struck him with a chill. He pictured Maggie
sitting in the arm-chair waiting for him, and he imagined how she would
lay her book aside and say, "Oh, here you are!" He sat down to read his
letters. One was from Lord Mount Rorke, enclosing a cheque, another a
daintily cut envelope, smelling daintily, came from Lady Seveley.

"DEAR MR ESCOTT,--I have not seen anything of you for a very long time;
you promised to lunch with me before you left town, but I suppose amid
the general gaieties and friends of the season you were carried far away
quite out of my reckoning. However, I hope when you return you will come
and see me. I got your address from Mr. ----, but you need not tell
him that I wrote to you; he is, as you know, a dreadful chatterbox,
and somehow or other, without meaning it, contrives to make gossip and
mischief out of everything.

"The weather here is delicious--perhaps a trifle too hot; and sometimes
I envy you your cool sea-side resort. I wonder what the attraction is?
It must be a very special one to keep you out of London in June.

"Should you be in town next Thursday, come and dine; I have a box for
the theatre. And as an extra inducement I will tell you that I have
two very nice girls staying with me, who will interest you.--Yours very
truly, HELEN SEVELEY."

Some men of thirty would have instantly understood Lady Seveley's
letter. But age gives us nothing we do not already possess, the years
develop what is latent in us in youth, and it is certain that Frank at
thirty would have understood the letter as vaguely and incompletely as
he did to-day. We read our sympathies and antipathies in all we look
upon, and Frank read in this letter an old woman with diamonds and dyed
hair. He had met her twice. The first time was at a ball where he knew
nobody; the second was at a dinner party. She had fixed her eyes upon
him; she had prevented him from talking after dinner to a young girl
whom he had admired across the table during dinner. He did not like her,
and he thought now of the young girls he would meet if he accepted
her invitation. Lady Seveley was a shadow; and when the shadow defined
itself he saw the slight wrinkling of the skin about the eyes, the
almost imperceptible looseness of the flesh about the chin; but, worse
to him than these physical changes, were the hard measured phrases in
which there is knowledge of the savour and worth of life. He unpacked
his portmanteau, and, dallying with his resolutions, he wondered if
he should go to Lady Seveley's: conclusions and determinations were
constitutionally abhorrent, self-deception natural to him. Were he asked
if he intended to turn to the right or the left, although he were
going nowhere and an answer would compromise him in nothing, he would
certainly say he did not know; and if he were expostulated with, he
would reply rudely, arrogantly. This is worthy of notice, for what was
special in his character was the combination it afforded of
degenerate weakness and pride, complicated with a towering sense of
self-sufficiency. Youth's illusions would not pass from him easily; in
his eyes and heart the hawthorn would always be in bloom, young girls
would always be beautiful, innocent, true to the lovers they had
selected; nor was there of necessity degradation nor forced continuance
in any state of vice. Love could raise and purify, love could restore,
love could make whole; if one woman were faithless, another would be
constant; if to-day were dark, to-morrow would be bright. Life had
no deep truth for him, no underlying mysteries; it was not a problem
capable of demonstration, capable of definition; it was not a thing
of limitations and goals and ends; he could feel nothing of this--the
philosophic temperament was absent in him. Life had no deep truth for
him, no underlying mysteries; he did not dream of past times, and he
placed few hopes in the future; life was a thing to be enjoyed in the
moment of living, and the present moment was a very pleasant one. He
leaned over the doors of the hansom resting his gloved hand upon his
crutched stick. He was struck with the pride we feel when we are dressed
for amusement and contemplate those in workaday garb; and in these
sensations of pride he leaned forward, proud of his good looks, his
shirt front, his shirt cuffs, his glazed shoes; he pleasured in the
knowledge that many saw he was going to elegant company, to amusement.
He was full of scorn for the women loitering, for the clerks hurrying,
and especially for the crowds pressing about the entrances of the
theatres.

London opened up upon a little black space of asphalt; crimson clouds
moved over the many windowed walls of the great hotels, the black
monumented square foamed with white water, children played, and the gold
of the inscriptions over the shops caught the eye. London was tall on
the heavens. Regent Street was full of young men as elegant as himself
driving to various pleasures, and Frank wondered what sort of dinners
they would eat, what kind of women they would sit by. Then as he drove
through Mayfair he thought of his own party. He wondered what the girls
would think of him.

Lady Seveley lived in Green Street. When he had rung the bell he
listened impatiently for approaching steps, for he tingled with
presentiment that he would somehow be disappointed, and he dreaded
dinner by himself and his lonely lodgings. Nor was he wholly wrong. The
butler who opened the door seemed surprised at seeing him, and in reply
to his question if Lady Seveley was at home, replied hesitatingly:

"Her ladyship is at home, but she is not at all well, sir. She is, I
think, in her room lying down, sir."

"Oh, but did she not expect me? I was to have dined here to-night."

"I heard nothing about it, sir; but I'd better ask. Will you come in,
sir?"

Lady Seveley's house was a house of scent and soft carpets. The
staircase was covered with pink silk, and in the recess on the first
landing, or rather where the stairs paused, there was an aviary in which
either hawks screeched or owls blinked; generally there was a magpie
there, and the quaint bird now hopped to Frank's finger, casting a
thievish look on his rings. The drawing-room was full of flowers. There
was a grand piano, dark and bright; the skins of tigers Lord Seveley
had shot carpeted the floor, and on their heads, Helen rested her
feet, showing her plump legs to her visitors. On the walls there were
indifferent water-colours, there were gold screens, the cabinets were
full of china, there were three-volume novels on the tea-table--it was
the typical rich widow's house, a house where young men lingered. Frank
stood examining a portrait on china of Lady Seveley, it was happily
hung with blue ribbon from the top of the mirror. It represented a woman
inclined to stoutness, about three and thirty. The chestnut hair was
piled and curled with strange art about the head. Above the face there
was a mask, roses wreathed, and a swallow carrying a love missive,
butterflies and arrows everywhere, and below the face there was a skull
profusely wreathed and almost hidden in roses. This portrait would have
stirred the imagination of many young men, but Frank thought nothing
of it--the theatrical display displeased him, it seemed to him even a
little foolish. He crossed over to the flowers.

"Lady Seveley will be down in a moment, sir," said the maid. A few
minutes after the door opened.

"How do you do? I am so glad to see you. Won't you sit down? I have been
suffering terribly to-day--neuralgia; nothing for it but to lie down in
a dark room."

"I hope you are better now."

"Oh, when I have had some champagne I shall be quite well. Now tell me
something; talk to me."

Helen was sitting thrown back on the little black satin sofa; she had
crossed her legs, and her foot was set on a tiger's head. The ankle was
too thick, the foot slightly fat, but stocking and shoe were perfect,
and these drew Frank's eyes too attentively. Helen noticed this and was
glad.

"So you like Maggie the best?"

"Oh, yes, I like her the best, Sally is too rough. How those girls do
worry their father. He has to go up to town every day; he is in the
City, and the girls give tennis parties, and drink his best wine. There
was an awful row there the other day about the peaches; he had been
going in for forcing, and was counting the days when they would be ripe.
The young men ate them all."

Helen laughed. "A sort of comic King Lear."

"Just so, the girls will have large fortunes at their father's death. I
have known them all my life. I used to spend my holidays with them when
I was a small boy."

"And you haven't seen them for a long time?"

"No, I was in Ireland two years, and then I went to Italy. This was the
first time I saw them since they were really grown up."

"And you say they are beautiful girls and will have large fortunes."

"Yes, I suppose Maggie is a good-looking girl; she is more a fascinating
girl than a beautiful girl." A sudden remembrance of Lizzie Baker
dictated this opinion of Maggie Brookes.

"Dinner is on the table, my lady."

"I think you said in your letter that you were going to have two young
girls staying with you."

"Yes, but they could not come; they were to have been here on Monday.
I am very sorry; had I known for certain that you were coming, I would
have arranged to have some one to meet you."

"I am very glad you didn't." The conversation dropped. "You said you
were going to the theatre. What theatre are you thinking of going to?"

"My neuralgia put all thoughts of the theatre out of my head. I have a
box for the Gaiety. We will go if you like."

The name of the theatre reminded him of Lizzie Baker, and he compared
the pale, refined face of the bar girl with the over-coloured woman--his
hostess. He had not seen Lizzie for a long time. Why had he not gone to
the bar room the last time he was in London?

"You have not answered me--would you like to go to the Gaiety?"

"I am sure I beg your pardon," and then, in a sudden confusion of
memories and desires, he said: "I don't know that I care much about
going to the theatre. You are not feeling well."

"My neuralgia is almost all gone. There's nothing like champagne for it.
Hardwick, Mr. Escott will take some more champagne."

There were engravings after Burne Jones and Rossetti on the walls, and
Frank stopped to look at them as he followed Lady Seveley upstairs. She
went straight to the piano.

"Are you fond of music?" she said.

"Yes; there is nothing I like more than fiddling at the piano."

"Then do play something."

"Oh, no, not for worlds. I only strum, I don't know my notes. I strum on
the piano as I strum on the violin."

"Do you play the violin?"

"I can't call it playing, I was never taught."

"How did you learn, then? It is a most difficult instrument; I couldn't
get on with it at all; I will get mine out if you will play something."

"If you promise not to laugh, I will try, but I assure you I know
nothing about it. I borrowed a violin once, and I taught myself to play
a tune; then I bought a violin, and I amuse myself when I am alone."

"How very clever of you. There, you will find it under the piano behind
that music; do play something, it will be so good of you."

"What shall I play?"

"Anything you like."

Frank had no knowledge of the instrument, but his ear was exquisitely
just and appreciative; his artistic desire was febrile and foolish, but
you thought less of this in his music than in his painting and poetry.
His soul went out in the strain of melody sentimentally; and it leaned
him in varying and beautiful attitudes. The sweeping, music-evoking arm
was beautiful to behold, and the music seemed to cry for love; all about
him was shadow; only the light fell on the long throat, so like a fruit
to the eye; the charm was enervating and nervous. Helen looked at him
again, and shuddering, she rose from the piano.

"What did you break off like that for? Was I playing so badly?"

"No, no--come and sit down here, come and sit by me. I want you to talk
to me." She stretched herself in a low wicker chair by the open window.
There was a church opposite, the painted panes were now full of mitre
and alb, and the vague tumult of the service came in contrast with the
summer murmur of London and the light of the evening skies. The woman's
body moved beneath the silk, and the faint odour of her person dilated
the nostrils of the young man. "Talk to me."

"I don't know what to talk to you about. You would not care for my
conversation any more than you do for my music--one is as bad as the
other."

"No, pray--I assure you--I would not have you think that, no." Helen
made a movement as if she were going to lay her hand on his arm;
checking herself, she said: "I do not think your playing bad; on the
contrary, perhaps I think it too good. How shall I explain? There are
times when I cannot bear music; the pleasure it brings is too near, too
intense, too near to pain; and that 'Chanson d'Eglise' seems to bear
away your very brain; you play it with such fervour, on the violin each
phrase tears the soul."

"But it is so religious."

"Yes, that is just it; no sen--no; well, there is no other word; no
sensuality is so terrible as religious sensuality."

"I don't know what you mean. I can understand any one saying that
Offenbach is sensual, but I don't see how the term can be applied to a
hymn."

"Perhaps not to a hymn, although--but 'La Chanson d'Eglise' is not a
hymn."

Her arm hung along the chair, the flesh showing through the silk as soft
as a flower. He might take it in his hands and bear it to his lips and
kiss it; he might lean and loll and kiss her. He wondered if he might
dare it; but her air of ladyhood was so marked that it seemed impossible
that she would not resent. He could not quite realise what her looks and
words would be afterwards.

"I do not wish to flatter you, but I think you play beautifully. I
do not mean to say that I have never heard any one play the violin
better--that would be ridiculous. Your playing is full of emotion. That
lovely passage thrilled me; I do not know why, nor can I exactly explain
my feeling--nerves perhaps. Now I come to think of it I am ashamed. It
was the summer evening, the perfume of those flowers; it was--" Helen
fixed her eyes on Frank, as if she would like to say, "It was you."
With a sigh she said: "It was the music." Then as if she feared she was
showing too plainly what was passing in her mind, she said: "But it is
nearly nine o'clock. Perhaps you would like to go to the theatre, the
ticket for the box is on the table. I should not be more than a few
minutes changing my dress. Would you like to go?"

"I don't much mind, just as you like. I heard that the new burlesque was
very amusing."

"Then let us go."

Both regretted their words; and, embarrassed, each waited for the
other to say No, let us stay here, it is far sweeter here. But it was
difficult to draw back now without avowal. Helen had rung for her maid.
She put on a white satin. Her opera cloak was edged with deep soft fur,
and she came into the room putting on her long tan gloves.

"Were you ever in love?" Helen asked, and she leaned back behind the
curtain of the box out of sight of the audience.

"I suppose I have been in love; but why do you ask?"

"It just occurred to me."

"I have never been in love with a ballet girl, if you mean that."

In blue tights and symmetrical rows the legs of the chorus ladies were
arranged about the stage; the low comedians cracked jokes close to the
footlights; the stalls laughed, the pit applauded.

"Haven't you? Is that really so? I shouldn't think it would be nice. And
yet, if all we hear is true, young men do make love to low women; I'm
not speaking now of ballet girls, but of cooks and housemaids. A lady,
a friend of mine, cannot keep a housemaid under fifty in her house on
account of her son, and she sent him to Eton."

"Yes, I know; I have heard of such things, but I never could
understand."

"I am glad. But you say you have been in love. Tell me all about it. I
want to know. What was she like? Was she fair or dark?"

"Fair. She used to wear a Gainsborough hat."

"Did you like those great hats?"

"I did on her."

"I suppose she was tall, then."

"No, she was short."

"Then I don't see how she would wear a Gainsborough hat."

"She did, and looked exquisite in it too."

"I suppose you were very much in love with her?"

"Yes; we were engaged, and going to be married."

"Why was it broken off?"

"Her father was a brute."

"Fathers generally are brutes on such occasions, and there are generally
excellent reasons for their brutality."

"Husbands, too, are brutes, and if all I have heard is correct, there
are excellent reasons for their brutality."

Lady Seveley turned pale. "I did not come to the theatre to be
insulted," she said, hesitating whether she should rise from her
seat. Frank Escott was constantly guilty of such indelicate and stupid
speeches, and it would be easy to cite instances in which his conduct
was equally unpractical. Were friends to speak ill of any one he was
especially intimate with, he would answer them in the grossest manner,
forgetful that he was making formidable enemies for himself without
in the least advancing the welfare of him or her whose defence he had
undertaken. With some words and looks the storm was allayed, and they
felt that the wind that might have capsized had carried their craft
nearer the port where they were steering. Their eyes met, and for a
moment they looked into each other's souls. Her arm hung by her side,
white and pure, could he take it and press it to his lips the worst
would be over--he would have admitted his desire. But the box curtain
did not hide him, and the faces opposite seemed to watch; and then
she spoke, and with her words brought a sense of distance, of
conventionality.

"Tell me, did you fall in love with her the first time you saw her?"

"I think so."

"Tell me all about it. When did you see her for the first time?"

"It was on the Metropolitan Railway. We were in the same carriage,
she sat opposite to me; for some time we were alone, and I thought of
speaking to her, but was afraid of offending her."

"Are you always afraid of offending people?"

"I don't know--I don't think I am." Then it struck him that she was
alluding to his rudeness, which she declared she had forgiven, and he
said: "I am sure I can't do more, I told you I was sorry--that I did not
mean--"

"Oh, never mind, that is forgiven; tell me about her."

A little perplexed, he continued: "She was dressed in white, and her
face was like a flower under the great hat."

"It is clear that you can admire no one who doesn't wear a Gainsborough
hat. What will you do now that they have gone out of fashion? I am sure
I can't gratify you."

"I wondered where she was going. I wished I was going to the same house,
I imagined what it would be like, and so the time went till we got to
Kensington. She turned to the right, so did I; I hoped she did not think
I was following her--"

"You were both going to the same house?"

"Yes. There were some carnations behind her in a vase, and you know
how I love the perfume of a carnation--so did she. She told me of the
flowers they had in their cottage at Maidenhead. I love the river,
so did she, and we spoke of the river all the afternoon. And when the
season was over I went up to Maidenhead too. I had my boat there (I must
show you my boat one of these days, one of the prettiest boats on the
river). We used to go out together, and, tying the boat under an alder,
I used to read her Browning. Oh, it was a jolly time." The conversation
came to a pause, then Frank said "Were you ever in love?"

"I suppose I was."

"With your husband?"

"No, I was not in love with my husband, he was twenty years older than
I. When I was eighteen I was very much in love with a young fellow who
used to come to play croquet at our place. But my parents wouldn't hear
of it. I was not at all strong when I was a girl; they said I wouldn't
live, so I didn't care what became of me. Lord Seveley admired me; it
was a very good match, I was anxious to get away from home, so I married
him. You are quite wrong in supposing I treated him badly."

"Forgive me, don't say any more about that."

"We had rows, it is true; he said horrible things about my mother, and I
wouldn't stand that, of course."

"What things?"

"Oh, I can't tell you--no matter. Once I said that I wouldn't have
married him only I thought I was going to die. He never forgave me that.
It was, I admit, a foolish thing to say."

At that moment the curtain came down, and the young men moved out of the
stalls. "There are two men I know," she said, fixing her glass. "Do you
see them? The elder of the two is Harding, the novelist, the other is
Mr. Fletcher, an Irishman."

"I know Fletcher--or, rather, I know of him. His father was a shopkeeper
in Gort, the nearest town to Mount Rorke Castle."

"He is a journalist, isn't he? I hear he is doing pretty well."

"In London, I know, you associate with that class, but in Ireland we
wouldn't think of knowing them."

"I thought you were more liberal-minded than that. If they come up here,
what shall I do? I mustn't introduce you?"

"I don't mind being introduced. I should like to know Harding."

"I can't introduce you to Harding and not to his friend."

"I don't mind being introduced to Fletcher; I'll bow and slink off
to smoke a cigarette. Is it true what they say about him, that he
is irresistible, that no woman can resist him? I don't think he is
good-looking--a good figure, that's all."

"He has the most lovely hands and teeth."

"I see; perhaps you are in love with him?"

A knock came at the door; the young men entered. Lady Seveley introduced
them to Frank; he bowed coldly, and addressed Harding. But Lady Seveley
said: "O Mr. Harding, I want to speak to you about your last novel; I
have just finished reading it."

"What do you think of this piece?" Fletcher asked Escott, in a
hesitating and conciliatory manner.

"I am afraid he will not be able to tell you; he hasn't ceased talking
since we came into the theatre."

"I should have done the same had I been in his place."

Lady Seveley smiled, Frank thought the words presumptuous. "Who the
devil would care to hear you talk--and that filthy accent." And at
that moment he remembered Lizzie Baker. Fletcher and Harding were now
speaking to Lady Seveley, and taking advantage of the circumstance he
slipped out, and, lighting a cigarette, entered the bar room. Behind
the counter the young ladies stood in single file, and through odours of
cigarettes and whisky their voices called "One coffee in order," and
the cry was passed on till it reached the still-room. Frank remembered
having read a description of the place somewhere, he thought for a
moment, and then he remembered that it was in one of Harding's novels.
He could detect no difference in the loafers that leaned over the
counter talking to the barmaids; they were dingy and dull, whereas the
young men from the stalls of the theatre were black and white and clean;
but the keenest eye could note nothing further, and a closer inspection
showed that even a first division rested on no deeper basis than the
chance of evening dress. Civilisation has given us all one face and
mind. He walked to where Lizzie was serving; soldiers were ordering
drinks of her, so he was obliged to apply to the next girl to her for
his brandy and soda. He drank slowly, hoping her admirers would
leave her, but one soldier was stationery, and this spot of red grew
singularly offensive in Frank's eyes, from the clumsy, characterless
boots, to the close-clipped hair set off with the monotonously jaunty
cap. The man sprawled over the counter drinking a glass of porter.
Frank tried to listen to what he was saying. Lizzie smiled, showing many
beautifully shaped teeth, so beautifully shaped that they looked like
sculpture. Behind her there were shelves charged with glasses and
bottles, gilt elephants, and obelisks, a hideous decoration; she passed
up and down with cups of coffee, she filled glasses from various taps,
she saluted Frank.

"How are you this evening? Come to see the piece again?"

"Come to see you."

"Get along; I don't believe you," she said, and she passed back to her
place, and continued talking to the soldier as steadily as her many
occupations would allow her.

A few moments after the bell rang, and Frank went upstairs annoyed.

"Oh, so it is you; you have come back," said Helen, turning; "sit down
here. Nellie Farren has just sung such an exquisitely funny song; they
have encored it; just listen to it, do," and Helen fixed her opera glass
on the actress. The light and shadow played about her neck andarm in
beautiful variations, but noticing nothing, Frank leaned forward.

"Isn't it funny; isn't it delightfully funny?"

"Yes, it is funny."

Having heard one song they listened to the rest of the act. "Now give
me my cloak. Thank you, and now give me your arm." Frank complied. "You
will come home to Green Street with me, and have some supper?"

"I am afraid, I am sorry I can't; I must get home early to-night."

"You have a key, you surely can get in at any hour."

"Yes, but I am afraid--the fact is I am dreadfully tired."

"Oh, just as you like."

Then at the end of an irritating silence, "I am afraid you will have to
wait, I do not think I shall be able to get your carriage yet awhile; in
a few minutes this crowd will disperse. No use getting crushed to death!
What became of Harding and Fletcher? Did they remain long with you?"

"No, not very, they went away just before you came. There is Mr.
Harding. How did you like the piece, Mr. Harding?"

"I always enjoy these pieces, they are so conscientiously illiterate;
what I can't bear is unconscientious illiterateness. Nellie Farren has
caught something of the jangle of modern life; she has something of the
freshness of the music-hall about her that appeals to me very sharply."

"Do you like music-halls? I have always heard they were so vulgar."

"Vulgarity is surely preferable to popularity. The theatre is merely
popular."

While Harding was thus exerting himself with epigram, Fletcher stood
tall and slender, with a grey overcoat hanging over his arm, and his
intense eyes fixed on Lady Seveley. His gaze troubled her, and when he
withdrew his eyes she looked at him, anticipant and fearing. He spoke
to her until Frank, feeling that he was receding out of all interest and
attention, said abruptly, "If you will come now, Lady Seveley, I think
I shall be able to get you your carriage. May I see you home?" he said,
holding the door.

"No thank you, I will not take you out of your way. Go home at once and
get rested, and come and see me one of these days; don't forget." Lady
Seveley smiled, but Frank felt that she was annoyed.

"I wonder if she wanted me to go home with her. That impertinent brute
Fletcher daring to come up to speak to us! I was very nearly telling him
to go and fetch the carriage."

He pushed open the swinging doors with violence, nearly upsetting the
fat porter. The bar was nearly empty, and he found Lizzie disengaged.

"You look very vexed. Has any one been pinching you?"

"I am not vexed."

"What will you have to put you straight?"

"Well, that is a question. Let me see. I don't care about another brandy
and soda, and if I have coffee it may keep me awake."

"Have half milk."

"Very well." He hesitated, but the inclination to speak soon overpowered
him. "I call it bad form, when you are with a lady for another fellow to
come up and speak to her."

"Three of Irish, miss."

"Why, didn't he know her?"

"Of course he knew her, but that doesn't give him a right to come up and
enter into a long conversation when I am with her. I wish I had knocked
him down."

"He might have knocked you down."

"A glass of bitter, miss."

"I should have had to take my chance of that. In London people don't
seem to me to mind whom they speak to--a low-bred Irishman, who never
spoke to a lady until he left his own country."

"Oh! what a rage we are in."

"No, I am not in a rage," said Frank, who at that moment felt the folly
of these confidences. "I don't care a hang. It isn't as if it were a
woman I cared about. Had it been you--"

"Get along, don't you tell me."

"I assure you I speak only in a general way, and you must admit that if
you go out with a fellow it would not be nice of you to begin talking to
some one else."

"Oh! I never do that."

"There, then you admit I was right, I was sure you would; I don't care
a hang for the lady I was with, but I don't intend to allow any one to
insult me. But I wonder how you can speak to soldiers."

"They are no worse than the others. Besides, in our business we have to
be polite to every one."

"Polite, yes--but I wanted to speak to you, I came down from my box on
purpose to speak to you, and I couldn't, you were so engaged with that
soldier."

"He was here before you; you would not like it if you were talking to
me, and I were to rush off to speak to some one else."

"One Scotch and three Irish, miss, and out of the bottle please,
our friend here's most particular, he would like it in a thin glass,
too--wouldn't you, Ted? and if he could have a go at that pretty mouth
he would like it better still. A rare one after the ladies is Teddy.
Aren't you, old chap?"

Full of scorn Frank watched this noisy group. Lizzie remained talking
with them for some little time, and she did not return until he called
to her twice for a cigar.

"How very impatient you are," she said, handing him the box.

"You were talking to me, and you go away to talk to those cads."

"I must serve the customers, you naughty man. You can't have me all to
yourself. I believe you would like to."

"That I should. I wish you would come out with me. I wish you would come
to dinner."

"And what would the lady say who you went to the theatre with to-night,
and were so mad because some one spoke to her?"

"I assure you she is nothing to me, a mere acquaintance. I was angry
because I thought it a piece of impertinence of the fellow to come
intruding his conversation when it wasn't wanted; but as for the woman
I don't care a snap for her; never did, I assure you: she is nothing to
me. I suppose you don't get out much here."

"We are off duty for so many hours every day; but we must be in at a
certain time."

"But you have got Sundays."

"We get Sunday in our turn."

"When will your turn come?"

"I am going out next Sunday."

"I wish you would come with me; I would take you up the river. You know
the river?"

"No, I don't know even what you mean."

"You mean to say you have never been up the river, not even so far as
Twickenham?"

"No."

"Well, then, you have a treat. The most beautiful thing in England is
the Thames--perhaps in the world. Last year I spent nearly three months
at Marlow and Maidenhead--we positively lived in a boat. I have a
beautiful boat. I should like to take you out--you would enjoy it. Are
you fond of boating?"

"I love it. I haven't been in a boat since I left Wales."

"So you are a Welsh girl. My boat is now at Reading. If you could get
away early in the morning we might manage to catch the nine o'clock
express that takes us down in a little over the hour. I'd have the
hamper packed, and we would have our lunch up in Pangbourne Woods. It
would be so jolly. I wish you would come."

"I should like it immensely; I don't know if I could manage it."

"Do you say you will come, do."

Lizzie stood hesitating, her finger on her lip. A girl entered the bar
and whispered something to her as she passed.

"I must go away now, I'm off duty."

"Say you will come."

"I can't say yet; I shall see you again."

As Frank turned to go he caught sight of Harding and Fletcher. He did
not see that they had been watching him, and when they called him he
went over to their table.

"What will you have?" said Harding.

"Nothing, thanks, I could not drink anything more."

"Have a cigarette."

"Thanks, I will; I cannot smoke this beastly cigar. I do not know why I
asked for it."

"Sit down."

The conversation turned on the play, but at the first pause in the
conversation, Harding said: "Pretty girl, that girl you were talking to
at the bar."

"Yes; is she not? I think she is one of the prettiest girls I ever saw
in my life."

"Far better looking than Lady Seveley."

"I should rather think so; Lady Seveley is over thirty."

"The choice would be a nice test of a young man's moral character."

"Did you write that this morning, or are you going to write it to-morrow
morning?"

"You have not told me which, when you do--"

"I see you are not in a hurry to bring your book out."

Harding laughed, and Frank was pleased at the idea of getting the better
of Harding; Fletcher sat with his eyes glittering and his lips slightly
parted. Who would hesitate between a lady of rank and a barmaid? She
might be a pretty girl, but what of that? There are hundreds as pretty.
He had never been the lover of a lady, and his heart was aflame. Soon
after the men parted in the street, and Frank went from them, fearful of
his lonely rooms, and longing for his friends at Southwick.

He lunched every day at the Gaiety, and he at length succeeded in
persuading Lizzie to come to Reading with him.

Town was miserably Sunday when he drove up to Paddington at a quarter
past eight. "If it should rain, if it should turn out a pouring wet day,
what should I do? That would be too terrible!" He felt the boat alive
beneath his oars, the river placid and gentle, and all the charm of
the rushes, the cedars, the locks, and the blonde beautiful girl in the
stern with the parasol he had bought her aslant. Let him have this day,
and he didn't care what happened! He wanted to show her the river, he
wanted to joy for a day in her presence.

He was more than a half an hour in advance. Would she come? She had
promised, but she might disappoint. That would be worse than the rain.
He would wait till ten o'clock. There was another train at ten, but if
they missed the ten to nine the day would be spoilt, lost. Supposing she
did not come, what would he do?--drive back through dingy London and eat
a lonely breakfast in that horrible brick Pump Court? He could scarcely
do that. Would he go to Reading by himself? The light of the flowing
stream, the secrets of the rushes and murmuring woods died; nature
became voiceless.

"It will be a pity if she doesn't come. We shall have a fine day, I
am sure it is going to be a fine day, but we shall miss that train. I
wonder if I can see anything of her. I don't know what side she will
come from. I suppose she'll take a cab. Perhaps she won't come at all;
will she come?--she promised me. By Jove, twenty minutes to nine. If she
isn't here in five minutes we shall miss the train." His passion grew in
intensity, and hope was dead, when he heard sounds of running footsteps,
and saw the great girl holding her hat with one hand and her dress with
the other. The torture of expectation was worth the rapture of relief,
and he said, delighted: "So you have come, have you? One minute more and
you would have been late."

"Why, were you going?"

"No, but the train is. We have three minutes. I'll run and get the
tickets. How is it that you are so late?"

"I just missed the train."

"What train?"

"The Metropolitan."

"The Metropolitan? What nonsense! Why didn't you take a cab?"

She had been afraid of spending the money, fearing she might not see him
after all; and out of breath she followed him along the platform. "No,
not in there; I don't like travelling alone with gentlemen." Frank
looked at her in amazement, and they got into a carriage where an old
gentleman was sitting.

"So you thought I wouldn't come, you naughty boy?"

"Oh, I should have been so disappointed. I don't know what I should have
done."

Lizzie watched the young aristocratic face; his earnestness drew her
towards him, and she wondered she did not like him better. "Now tell me
what we are going to do. I had such difficulty in getting away. It is
against the rules; and the manageress (the fat woman who stands at the
end of the bar and goes round and collects the money) hates me. She
would have stopped me if she could, but I went to the manager; he is a
friend of mine."

"That fellow with the long fair moustache that walks about at the rate
of seven miles an hour, with his frock-coat all unbuttoned. Harding the
novelist--the fellow I was sitting with the other night, said such a
good thing--he said he was a sort of apotheosis of sherry and bitters.
I don't know why it is good, but it is; whether it is the colour of his
face and moustache--"

"He is very proud of his moustache, and your friend is quite right; he
is very fond of sherry and bitters--too fond. I have served him with as
many as three in an afternoon, and I am sure he wouldn't have refused
another if he could have found any one to stand it. Oh, look at the
country! How pretty it is!--the cows, the corn growing, the birds and
all the light clouds; we are going to have a lovely day. Shall we see
much of the country at Reading? Tell me, where are you going to take me?
Shall we go for a walk in the woods? Are there any woods? I hope there
are."

"The most beautiful woods in England--Pangbourne Woods. We shall arrive
in Reading about a quarter to ten. We'll walk down to the river, or
drive if you like; it is only a few minutes to walk to the boat-house.
My boat is there--such a beauty! We'll row up to the--and that reminds
me, I ordered the luncheon basket at the best place in London, you know;
it was to have been at my place last night at eight o'clock, and they
never sent it. We shall have to lunch at the hotel. Such a beautiful
hotel, high up, overlooking the river; I hope you are not disappointed,
it really wasn't my fault. We shall have an excellent lunch, I assure
you, at the hotel."

The miles fled away, and in the comfort and speed of the broad
gaugeline, an hour and a half seemed to them like a minute.

"What kind of town is Reading?" said Lizzie, springing from the
carriage.

"Not much more than a biscuit manufactory. A lot of red brick pill-box
looking buildings scattered over a flat piece of ground. We shan't see
the town. It is a mile from here. Huntley and Palmer, you know--"

"Oh, yes, we deal with them."

"Catch hold of this rug while I get the tickets out. Shall we walk or
drive?"

"Let's walk."

They stepped along gaily, and they were soon standing on the wharf,
Frank criticising the boats and the rowing, Lizzie all white in the
sunlight, a little dumbfounded and astonished. Then he turned into the
boat-house, and reappeared soon after, his arms bare, the sun on his
neck.

"You got my telegram? My boat is ready?"

"Yes, sir, we got her out this morning."

"I suppose a lot of people wanted to have her, they all went for her,
I'll bet."

"Yes, sir, a good many gentlemen asked if they could have her."

It seemed to please Frank that he had caused so many to be disappointed.
"Well, get her out, we have no time to lose."

The man stepped from one fleet of skiffs to another, he caught at
several boats with his boat-hook, but Frank's boat could not be found.
He shouted to his man who was sculling towards an island opposite: "What
has become of Mr. Escott's boat? I took her out myself this morning."

"I should like to know what is the use of my sending you telegrams if I
am delayed in this way?"

"My man will be here in a second, sir."

"Now, then, do be quick, stir yourself, I don't want to stand about here
all day."

The assistant scratched his head. Finally it transpired that that party
down the river--that party just gone away--must have had the boat. He
didn't know anything about it, it wasn't his fault. They said they had
engaged that boat over-night.

"My boat let out for hire! How dare you do this? I never heard of such a
thing; I shall write to the papers."

"I will give you just as good a boat, sir--"

"As good a boat! You haven't a boat like it. How do I know you don't let
my boat out for hire every day?"

"No danger of that, sir; I will give you another boat, one that you will
be pleased with."

"My boat knocked about by some cad! He won't be back till nine o'clock
to-night, perhaps. I never heard of such a thing. Which is it?"

"That one with the lady in the stern--the red parasol."

"He must be caught up, he must. Have you got an outrigger?" Assuring
Lizzie that he would be back in less than half an hour, Frank bent to
his work.

"If he rows like that he will run down some one," muttered the boatman.
"Confound him and his boat!"

The outrigger shot through the water; the various craft paused,
surprised at such furious rowing. Lizzie watched the race, asking the
boatman if there was danger.

"Danger? No; but he'd better not say too much to that gent when he does
catch him up, or there'll be a row, I expect. He's going round the bend;
if he doesn't run into something, he'll catch them," said the boatman.
"Would you like to look through my glass, miss? They'll be coming back
presently."

Angry language was indulged in, but the apologies of the boatmen saved
the young men the unpleasantness of blows, and, elated at his success,
Frank handed Lizzie into the truant boat and paddled out into the
stream. When he had got out of earshot and out of the notice of the
boat-house he rested on his oars. "Did you see me overhaul them?"

"No, you passed out of sight round the bend."

"Yes, by George! I had a good pull for it. There are a lot of red
parasols up higher, and I had to look out for my boat. What did they say
about my rowing?"

"They said you'd catch them if you didn't run into something."

"Did they? I was wild; and--would you believe it?--when I did catch
them up the fellow began to object; he didn't want to come back, if you
please. He said he had hired the boat, that he did not know the boat was
mine--no proof. I said, 'I will give you proof,' and so I would have."

"I was afraid. I began to regret that I had come out with you."

"What nonsense! Done the fellow good if I had punched his head. Well, it
has taken it out of me a bit. I had to put on a bit of a spurt to catch
them; they had such a start, and they were going along a pretty fair
pace, too. It has made me feel a bit peckish, a pull like that on an
empty stomach; it must be close on twelve o'clock. What do you say, are
you beginning to feel that it is lunch time?"

"I am not very hungry, and you forgot the luncheon basket. I ought to
have reminded you to get some sandwiches at the railway station."

"Sandwiches! I don't want sandwiches; I want something more substantial
than sandwiches. I'll paddle on; we aren't more than a tenminutes'
paddle from the 'Roebuck,' a ripping nice hotel, I can tell you."

"Couldn't we have something to eat without going to an hotel?"

"I don't think so. I want a bottle of fizz, and the fizz there is
excellent; one of the best hotels on the river; splendid gardens and
tennis grounds, a great room overlooking the river; the best people go
there; sometimes one can't get a table."

"I don't think I am well dressed enough."

"You look charming, a cotton dress and a parasol is all one wants for
the river."

"You are not ashamed of me, then; you'll take me as I am?"

"Ashamed of you! Steer straight for that post--that's it, bravo!" Frank
shipped the oars, and when he felt the girl's arm laid on his as he
helped her to land, it seemed to him that all the world was happiness.
The spirit of the river, the fields and sky, leaped to his eyes. He
assisted her to ascend the steps cut in the hillside. She laughed and
laughed again, and stopped to rest. At last they stood on the railway
line. It swept round another hill all overshadowed and dark with cedars.

"Here comes a train, let's wait. I must see it go round the curve."

"You should see the Bath express come along the broad gauge at the rate
of sixty miles an hour."

"This is not an express?"

"No."

The luggage train came with an interminable rumble and jingle, and
Lizzie waited till the last truck passed under the branches. Then they
went to an hotel full of daylight and stained wood, with glimpses of
barmaids far away, and waiters running about; the rooms glistened
with table linen; the waiters carved at a sideboard covered with pies,
sirloins, hams, tongues. Only one table was occupied, and the waiters
were lavishing all attention upon it. Lady Seveley leaned back smoking a
cigarette. Fletcher sat next to her, alternately affecting indifference
and fixing her with his eyes. Harding was voluble and observant. There
was about them an air of thirty and the dissipations of thirty. And,
not in the least ashamed of Lizzie, Frank bowed to Lady Seveley; she
returned his bow by a slight nod; and Lizzie, very much embarrassed,
nodded to the men; they smiled in return.

"Who is that lady you saluted?"

"Lady Seveley; the lady I told you about, who I went to the theatre with
the other night."

"Fancy a lady like that smoking a cigarette!"

A waiter approached with the bill of fare. "We had better not have
anything hot, we shall lose the whole day. What do you say?"

"Cold sirloin of beef is excellent, sir; pigeon pie is also very
good--young birds."

"Shall we try the pigeon pie? Get me the wine list. Take off your hat,
Lizzie, do."

"I am afraid my hair will come down."

"Never mind, so much the better."

With some difficulty she extracted her hat from the hairpins, and the
bright hair hung loose about her white plump face. Frank drank a glass
of champagne; he was proud of her beauty.

"By Jove, how this does pick one up! not half bad tipple, is it?"

They hastened through their lunch, unconsciously avoiding the too
critical looks of those at the far corner table; nor did they suspect,
as they descended the hill and got into their boat and rowed away, that
they were still the subject of conversation.

"She is no doubt a very pretty girl. He seems very fond of her. I hope
he won't make a fool of himself."

"I think he is 'mashed.' We saw him the other night in the bar. He
was paying her a great deal of attention--the night we saw you at the
theatre."

Lady Seveley's face slightly altered. Harding noticed the change of
expression, and he said: "She is called the belle of the bar. Hers
is the kind of prettiness that appeals to a young man, for somehow, I
cannot explain, it is a thing you must feel; she epitomises as it were
the beauty of the English girl; she is the typical pretty English girl;
all that English girls have of charm, she has; and the co-ordination is
an irresistible force against some young men; their natures demand the
freshness the spontaneity, the innocence of--"

"Of the Gaiety bar! I have never been there, but from what you tell me
of it, it is the last place to find innocence and freshness."

"That may be or not be. We find a rose blooming in very out-of-the-way
places; but, as a matter of fact, I made no accusation of virtue; vice
does not rob a youth of its spontaneity. You may rouge the cheeks of May
and blacken her eyes, but she is May nevertheless. I say that the lover
of the young girl cannot love the woman of thirty. Her charms touch him
not at all; but there are others who may love only the woman of thirty,
and, strange to say, they are only loved by the woman of thirty. The
universal Don Juan is a myth, and does not exist out of literature.
There is the Don Juan who plays havoc among the women of thirty, there
is the Don Juan who plays havoc among young girls, but--"

"And you think our friend Frank Escott belongs to the latter class?"

"No, I don't. He is good-looking; he is to all appearance a young man
that any woman would like, but I don't think you'd find this to be so if
it were given to you to see into his life. Every man of the world must
have noticed that there are times when, speaking generally, every
second woman will run after him--ladies of rank, prostitutes,
maid-servants--when he may pick and choose his mistresses, and change
his mind as often as he pleases; there are other times when he finds
himself womanless, when none will look at him, when in fact without an
allusion to rings, and sometimes a very direct allusion is required, he
will not be able to persuade a chorus girl to come out to supper with
him. He thinks he is getting old, he looks in the glass with fear."

"You mean to say there are men who look in the glass with fear?"

"Of course, after five-and-thirty the glass whispers as awful truths to
the man as to the woman--worse, for woman's youth is longer than man's.
The contrary is the received opinion, but, like all popular opinions,
it is wrong; a woman is frequently loved after forty, a man never. I was
saying that a man often thinks he is getting old because the chorus
girl took an early opportunity of speaking of rings, because the lady
of fashion begged of the old gentleman who had taken up his hat to go
to stay a little while longer, because the chamber-maid did not look
lusciously round the corner when he passed her in the passage. He looks
in the glass and imagines all kinds of monstrous changes in his person.
His fears have no foundation in fact--or should I say in the flesh? A
year after the duchess makes overtures, the chorus girl threatens to
throw up her engagement for him, and the chambermaid pesters him with
unnecessary questions concerning baths and towels. These facts tend
to show, indeed I think they prove, that love is a magnetism, which
sometimes we possess in almost irresistible strength, and which
sometimes fades away into powerless and apparent extinction."

"Then you think that good looks have nothing to do with the faculty of
making oneself beloved?" said Fletcher.

"The phenomenon of love has hitherto eluded our most eager
investigation; when we have traced each desire to its source, and
classified--"

"We women will have ceased to take any interest in the matter. What a
humbug you are, Mr. Harding; one never knows when you are serious. But
what has all this to do with that poor boy who has gone off with his
barmaid?"

"This: he is unquestionably good-looking, but I don't think he possesses
at all the magnetism, the power--call it what you will--that I have been
speaking of. He will never influence either men or women, he will never
make friends; that is to say, he will never make use of his friends. He
will, I should think, always remain a little outside of success. It will
never quite come to him; he will be one of those muddled, dissatisfied
creatures who rail against luck and bad treatment. I cannot see him
really successful in anything; yes I can, though, I believe he would
make an excellent husband. I have spoken a great deal to him. He has
told me a lot about himself, and I can see that he asks and desires
nothing but leave to devote himself to a woman, to pander to her
caprices. All that violent exterior will wear off, and he will yield
to and love to be led by a woman. He writes a little, and he paints. I
don't know if he has any talent; but he never will be able to work until
he is obliged to work for a woman."

"Then you think he will marry that barmaid?"

"Most probably. He will struggle against it; but unless chance
intervenes--she may die, she may run away with some one to-morrow, for
she does not care for him--he will be sucked into the gulf."

"He is Lord Mount Rorke's heir; he will have twenty thousand a year one
of these days."

"Mount Rorke will never forgive him a bad match. I know Mount Rorke,"
said Lady Seveley, "and you do, too, Mr. Fletcher."

"Yes, a little."

Unfearing prophecy and oracle launched from the windows of the hotel,
the young people rowed, lost to all but each other, amazed at the
loveliness of the river. They floated amid the bulrushes. Cries and
regret when Frank's oar crushed the desired blossom. Never before were
lilies as desirable as those that were gathered that day--that bud, it
must be possessed, that blown flower must not be left behind. Lizzie
dipped her arm to the elbow, and rejoiced in the soft flowing water. The
river rose up into what beautiful views and prospects. The locks, the
sensation of the boat sinking among the slimy piles with Frank erect
holding her off with the boat-hook, or the slow rising till the banks
were overflowed, and the wonderful wooden gates opened, disclosing a
placid stream with overhanging boughs and a barge. And the charming
discoveries they made in this water world, the moorhen's indolence, and
the watchful rat swimming for its hole; each bend was a new picture.
How beautifully expressive of the work of the field were the comfortable
barns. If life is never very fair, a vision of life may be fair indeed,
and once the tears came to the bar girl's eyes, for she, too, suddenly
remembered her life of tobacco and whisky; long weary hours of standing,
politeness, washing glasses, and listening to filthy jokes. Would
there be no change? If she might live her life here! She thought of the
morning light, and the home occupations of the morning, and then the
languid and lazy afternoons in this boat, amid the enchantment of these
river lands.

Frank laid by his oars, and as regardless as a shopboy of observers, he
took her hand and begged of her to confide in him. He thought, too, of
seeing her daily, hourly, of her presence in his daily life; he saw her
amid his painting and poetry, and this pleasant scenery. Then the vision
vanished like the shine upon the stream, she withdrew her hands, a
shadow had fallen.

They passed a summer-house where three girls were sitting; one sat on
the edge of a table and sang the ballad of "Biddy Malone." There was a
house so red, and so full of gables and narrow windows, that Frank said
it was a perfect specimen of Elizabethan architecture; and he treated
Lizzie to all he could pretend to know on the subject, and he condemned
the owner for the glaringly modern garden benches with which the swards
were interspersed. The sun was setting, there was lassitude in every
passing boat, the girls leaned upon the arms of the young men, and the
woods stood up tall and contemplative, as beautiful in the deep blue
river as upon the pale sky.

They landed at Pangbourne Woods by the wide grassy path between the
reedy river and the spreading beeches. There a man was boiling a kettle.
He spoke to them; he instructed them in the life of camping out, and
he invited them to tea. Lizzie went into the tent and got out the
tea-things. Two men came up, jolly fellows enough; and such little
adventures endeared and memorised the day.

They climbed, oh! what a climb it was, Lizzie's ankles and courage
giving way alternately; but at last they reached a pathway, and they
walked at ease into the green solitudes of the wood. It seemed endless,
so soft and so still. He spoke to Lizzie, whom he now called Liz, of
her past, of the reasons that had led her to leave home and "go
to business." Her brother, she said, was a painter, a celebrated
bird-painter.

"Then we should know each other, I am a painter." He told her of his
ideas and projects, of how he had been to France; he might go there
again, unless something happened to keep him in England. He wrote
a little too, in the papers, and he might do something to help her
brother--a paragraph in _Fashion_, he could get one in. For fear of
wounding her he did not ask if her brother was a decorative painter,
employed by a firm, or an artist who exhibited pictures. Her father had
married again. She did not like her stepmother, and that had determined
her to go into business.

Had she ever been in love? Yes, she supposed she had; but it was all
over now. The last words sounded, and died away in a great abyss of
soul.

Parts of the path were marked "Dangerous." The earth had given way,
creating fearful chasms, over which trees leaned dangerously or hung
out fantastically by a few roots. In the dell below there stood a small
green painted table, and the young people leaning on the protecting
railing wondered at this mysterious piece of furniture. There was in
them and about them an illusive sense of death and the beauty of life.
One slight push would hurl them headlong hundreds of feet down to the
painted table.

The silver of the river sparkled through silence and the foliage of
June, and the songs of the boatmen came and went like voices in a dream.

The days of youth are long, and in tender idleness the hours lingered,
their charm unbroken in the rattle of London; and happy with love and
tired with the great air of the river and its leafy scenery, Frank fell
asleep that night.



VII



One of the French artists he had met in Rome wrote to him from Paris.
Why should he not go there? There was nothing for him to do in London;
Lizzie Baker had disappeared, and in the year and a half that he spent
in Paris learning to draw he forgot her and his friends in Southwick.
Nor did he remember them when he returned to London; not until one
evening, strolling down Regent Street, he came upon Willy Brookes
suddenly.

"How do you do, my dear Willy? I haven't seen you for--for--how long?"

"I should think it must be now, let me see, I have got it down
somewhere; when I get home I'll look it up."

"Hang the looking up; better come and look me up."

The young men laughed.

"It must be nearly a year and a half."

"I should think it must. Where are you staying? I am staying at Morley's
Hotel, Trafalgar Square. Come and dine with me to-night."

Willy reflected. He stroked his moustache reflectively.

"No," he said, "I am afraid I can't. I have something to do."

"Nonsense! I don't believe you. What have you to do?"

"I have some cheques to write."

"That won't take you a moment. You can do that at my place."

"I couldn't, I assure you. I must have my books and my own pen. I
wouldn't write a cheque in that way for worlds."

"Why not? We'll go to a music-hall afterwards."

"I am very sorry, but I really couldn't--not to-night."

"You never go in for amusing yourself."

"Yes, I do; but what amuses you doesn't amuse me. I assure you I would
sooner stay at home, write my cheques, and enter them carefully, than go
to a music-hall."

Frank looked at Willy for a moment in mute amazement. Then he said: "But
what's that you have under your arm in that brown paper parcel?"

Willy laughed. "A leg of mutton; I have just been to the stores."

"You mean to say you buy legs of mutton at the stores, and carry them
home? Supposing you met some one, if we were to--"

"Not very likely, a foggy night like this. I have a small house in
Notting Hill. I take the 'bus at the Circus. I shall be very glad if you
will come with me; so will the missus."

"I forgot to ask about her, how is she?"

"Very well. Come and see for yourself. Come and dine with us to-morrow.
I can't give you one of your restaurant dinners, but if leg of mutton
will suit, all I can say is that I shall be very happy."

"I'll come whenever you like."

"Can you come to-morrow?"

"Yes. We might go to the theatre afterwards."

"We might. Be at my place at half-past six, that will give us plenty of
time."

"What a queer fish he is," thought Frank, as he walked down Regent
Street, looking at the women. "Can't come and dine with me because he
has two or three cheques to write, must have all his books out to make
entries--what a clerk for the Government--an ideal clerk! What a genius
for red tape!"

Willy was standing on the steps of the little house, and he commented on
his friend's extravagances as he welcomed him.

"You might have come here for ninepence, third class. You paid that
cabman three shillings, and you took, I don't mind betting, half an
hour longer. Now, don't make a mess, do wipe your feet; we don't keep a
servant, and it gives the missus a lot of trouble cleaning up."

Not a book nor a picture nor a single flower, and every worn carpet
suggested the bare necessaries of life. There was the drawing-room, kept
for show, never entered, barren and blank; there was the room--a little
more alive--where Willy smoked his pipe and kept his accounts, but there
the crumbs, three or four, seemed to speak of the dry, bread-like days
that wore themselves away; life there was too obviously dry and bare,
joyless and mean.

Had Frank's mind been philosophic and deep-seeing, he would have mused
on the admirable patience of the woman who lived here, seeing no one,
making entire sacrifice of her life; he would have contrasted the
humbleness, nay, the meanness, of this unknown house with the reception
rooms of the Manor House; one life wasting in darkness and poverty,
another burning out in light and riches; timeworn truths float on the
surface of this little pool of life, and so modernised are they that
they appear for a moment "new and original." But further than a regret
that there were no flowers in the window, and a sense of the horrible
when his eyes fell on a piece of Swiss scenery, his thoughts did not
wander; they soon were fixed and absorbed in the consideration of the
happiness that Willy had attained by "doing the right thing by the
woman." He was hers, she was his. Dreams of things marital, the
endearments of husband and wife, are the essence of the being of some
men and women, and are to them a perennial delight. Frank was such a
one.

He had brought Cissy a doll, and the child came and sat on his knees,
and put her arms round his neck. He kissed the long face, hollow-eyed,
and stroked the beautiful gold ringlets that cloaked the shoulders.

They went to the theatre in a 'bus. Frank carried Cissy, and he called
indignantly to the crowd not to press him. "Did they not see that he
was carrying a child?" He did not think that his friends might recognise
him, nor would he have felt any shame had he caught sight of some face
in the stalls he knew. He would not have put Cissy aside; nor would he
have pretended that he was not with the pale, worn, shabbily-dressed
woman by his side. He was wholly filled with his friends, their
interests and concerns; so complete was the investment of himself that
Lizzie Baker did not snatch a fugitive thought from them; and it was not
until he sat smoking with Willy in the back parlour that he said:

"I wonder what has become of her? She was a nice girl."

"You mean Lizzie Baker? You lost sight of her all of a sudden, didn't
you? Do you think she went off to live with some one?"

"No, I don't think she was a girl who would do that. By Jove, she was a
pretty girl! Once I took her up the river, up to Reading. We had such
a jolly day in the woods and on the water--amid the water-lilies and
bulrushes, or the shade of the cedars. I wonder you never go up the
river."

"I have no time. Besides, I hate the water. I never go on the water if I
can help it--I am too nervous."

"How odd! Oh, we had a jolly day!"

"But I never understood how it was you lost sight of her. You said in
your letter that she had left the bar; but she must have gone somewhere.
I am sure you didn't make sufficient enquiries. You are too impatient."

"I did all I could. One girl told me that a lot of them--Lizzie among
the number--had suddenly been transferred to Liverpool Street. That was
true, for I saw at Liverpool Street several girls I had known previously
at the 'Gaiety.' Those poor bar girls, how pitiful they look! all over
London they stand behind their bars! Breathing for hours tobacco smoke,
fumes of whisky and beer, listening to abominable jokes, the subjects of
hideous flirtations; and then the little comedy, the effort to appear as
virtuous young ladies--'young ladies of the bar.' It is very pitiful. In
such circumstances how do you expect a girl to keep straight? I do
not think it is the men who do the harm. There are, of course, a few
blackguards who crack filthy jokes over the counter, but if a girl likes
she needn't listen--a girl can always keep a man in his place. Then if
a man flirts with a girl he always loves her, likes her, if you
think 'like' a better word; but you must admit that in the most
beery flirtation there must be a certain amount of liking. There is,
therefore, something to save a girl. I feel sure that it is girls, not
men, who lead innocent girls astray. Those poor bar girls are quite
unprotected; they have a sitting-room into which they may not bring a
friend--a man, I mean. In the bedrooms there is always a lot of illicit
talking and drinking going on. A girl who has gone wrong herself is
never content until she has persuaded another girl to go wrong; a girl
is so mean! I feel very much on this subject. I am thinking of writing
a book on the subject. Did I ever tell you about the novel I intended to
write?"

"You told me once in Brighton about a novel you intended to write. I
forget what it was about, but you said you were going to call it 'Her
Saviour.'"

"Oh, that is another book. I was thinking of writing the story of a
woman who is led into vice. They get her to throw over the man who loves
her; he follows her, never loses sight of her until at last, determined
to save her, and although he knows that he is wrecking his own life, he
marries her. What do you think?"

Being pressed for an answer, Willy stroked his moustache with great
gravity. "I really can't say, my dear fellow; you know I never like
giving opinions on questions I do not understand."

The conversation came to a pause, and Willy began to whistle.

"Just a little flat--quarter of a note wrong there and there!"

"Do you whistle it? Oh, yes, that's it! I can hear the difference! I
wish you had your violin. I should like to hear you play it."

"What, with the missus overhead?"

"She doesn't know anything about it. How prettily _she_ used to sing it;
a pretty tune, isn't it? Good old days they were! Do you remember when
you used to come to the Princess's with me? Didn't she look pretty?"

"You never told me why you didn't marry her; I never heard the end of
that story."

"There is nothing to tell. It's all over now. Do you remember how I
used to dress myself up to go to the theatre? We used to go to supper at
Scott's afterwards. I did not mind what I ate in those days."

"You hardly ever go to the theatre now, do you?"

"Hardly ever. I shouldn't have gone to-night if it had not been for you.
I don't know how it is, but I don't seem to enjoy myself as I used to."

The men ceased talking. Presently Frank broke the silence.

"I hope you are getting on all right on the Stock Exchange. You haven't
mentioned the subject."

"I don't know that there is much to say. Times are very bad just now. I
don't think any one is doing much good."

"But you are with a very good firm. Nothing is going wrong, I hope."

"I don't think any one is making money. We have all been hard hit
lately--war scares. But I daresay it will all come right."

"I never understood what you ever wanted to go into the business for.
What do you, with your handsome place at Southwick, and your father with
his thousands and thousands, want to turn yourself into a city clerk
for?"

"You see, you don't care about making money; I do--it was bred in me.
Besides, I am an unselfish fellow. I never think of myself; I like to
think of others. If I were to make a good thing out of this, I should be
able to leave the missus independent." Then, after a slight pause, Willy
said: "But, by the way, I was forgetting. I got a letter this morning
saying that if I met you in London I was to tell you that you were to
come to Southwick for a ball."

"What ball?"

"A subscription ball at Henfield--a county ball. Will you come?"

"Yes, I don't mind. It should be rather fun. Are you going?"

"Yes, I must go, worse luck, to chaperon my sisters."

"How do you go? Will the governor let you have the horses?"

"Not he! We generally have a large 'bus. I am going down to-morrow by
the twelve o'clock train. Will that be too early for you?"

"Not if I go home now and pack up."

"You won't like that. You had better sleep here and get up early in the
morning; your room is all ready."

"I couldn't manage it. I never could get back to the Temple, pack up,
and meet you at twelve at London Bridge."

"It will be rather a cold walk for you; you are too late for the train,
and the last 'bus, I am afraid, has gone."

"I shall have a hansom. The only thing that worries me is not being able
to say good-bye to the missus."

"She's fast asleep. She won't mind--I'll make that all right."

"Then, at twelve o'clock at London Bridge!"



VIII



Sally rushed down to meet him, and she took him off for a walk in the
garden.

"What a time it is since we have seen you. What have you been
doing--amusing yourself a great deal, I suppose?"

"I have been the whole time in Paris. I have been studying very hard. I
only returned home about two months ago."

"I don't believe about the studying."

"I have been working at my painting. I worked morning and afternoon in
the studio from the nude. Last summer I had a delightful time. I took
a little place on the Seine--a little house near Bas Meudon. I had a
garden; I used to breakfast every morning in the garden--fresh eggs, new
bread, an omelette, such as only a Frenchwoman can make, a cutlet, or a
piece of chicken. The wine, too, so fresh and generous. I don't know how
it is, but Burgundy here is not the same as Burgundy on the banks of
the Seine. I worked all day in my garden, or down by the river. I was
painting a large picture. I haven't finished it yet. I must go back
there in the summer to finish it."

"Why can't you finish it here? Haven't you got it here?"

"Yes, but the Seine is not here."

"Wouldn't the Adour do? The river at Shoreham?"

"No; but the Thames might. My picture is really more English than
French. There were a lot of willow trees there, and my picture
represents a girl lying in a hammock, foot hanging over, showing such a
pretty piece of black stocking. There are two men there, they are both
swinging the hammock, but while one is looking at her ankle the other
only sees her face."

Sally laughed coarsely and evasively.

"What are you laughing at?" he asked, feeling a little nettled.

"Don't you think people will think it rather improper?"

"Not at all. Why should they? The idea I wish to convey is that one man
loves her truly for herself alone, the other only loves her because she
is a pretty girl. I have composed some triolets for the picture, which
will be printed in the catalogue--

      "In a hammock I swing,
        My feet hanging over;
      'Neath Love's bright wing,
        In a hammock I swing,
      Loves come and they bring
        A truth to discover,
      In a hammock I swing,
        My feet hanging over.

"That is the first stanza. There are six, and they tell the story of the
picture. I will copy them into your album, if you like."

"Will you? That will be so nice, if you will. The only thing is, I
haven't an album."

"Haven't you? I'll get you one. I'll send you one from London."

Sally asked him to explain the triolets, and very loyally she strove to
understand.

"Ah, I see a thing when I am told, but I never can understand poetry or
pictures until they are explained to me."

Mollified, Frank thought of going upstairs to fetch the copy book
in which he wrote such things, but speaking out of an unperceived
association of ideas, he said: "What a clever girl your sister is. I had
once a long talk with her about pictures and poetry, and I was surprised
to find how well she talked. She understands everything."

"Maggie is a clever girl; I know she is far cleverer than I am; but if
you knew her as well as I do, you would find she did not understand all
you think she understands."

"How do you mean?"

"Maggie's cleverness lies in being able to pretend she understands what
she knows nothing about; I have often caught her out."

"Really; but how do you get on together now?"

"Pretty well! I don't think there is much love lost on either side. I
don't know why--I never could understand Maggie. You have no idea of the
reports she spreads about me all over the place--the stories she tells
the Grahams, the Prestons, the Wells. She told Mrs. Wells that I fell in
love with every young man that came to Southwick. She said awful things
about me. As for that story about telling cook to put father's dinner
back, I don't think I ever shall hear the last of it. What made father
so angry was because he thought it was to talk to Jimmy in the slonk."

"You told me the last time I was here that you wanted to finish a
conversation with him in the slonk."

"I may have told you that it was to speak to him about his sister
Fanny," Sally replied evasively. "I would not care if I never saw him
again; but I couldn't get on if I weren't allowed to see Fanny. Father
wanted me to promise never to enter the house again!"

"But you have flirted with him?"

"I don't know that I have; certainly not more than Maggie. Last summer
she was hanging round his neck every evening under the sycamores. I
caught them twice."

"I don't see any harm in going under the sycamores. I daresay Maggie has
allowed him to kiss her; so have you!"

"That I assure you I haven't."

"You mean to say a man never kissed you?"

"I didn't say that. I haven't kissed any one for years."

"Who did kiss you?"

"You don't know him. I was only eighteen. He was a married man; it was
very wrong of me."

"I wish I had been he."

"Do you? I hate him; he was a beast for doing it."

Sally often indulged in these half confessions; one of her aunts used to
call them her "side lights." By their aid she succeeded in interesting
Frank. "How candid she is to tell me--to confide in me!" Sally was
handsome now; the evening suited her dark skin and coal black eyes, and
her strong figure was rich and not ungraceful in a dress of ruby velvet.
Should he kiss her? What would she say? He threwhis arm about her.

"I am surprised. Certainly not!"

"I don't see any harm." Then, with a sensation of saying something
foolish, he said: "You told me you kissed a married man."

"That was ages ago--I was very silly. I shouldn't think of doing sonow."

In the silence which followed Frank wondered why he had tried to kiss
her. Decidedly he liked the other better.

Now every evening Maggie went to the writing-table, and all knew what
it meant. Mr. Brookes occasionally lamented in a minor key, but without
having recourse to his handkerchief. Willy said nothing; his losses on
the Stock Exchange had been heavy; and owing to a conversation Frank had
drawn him into during dinner the other day, his digestion, he feared,
was not quite up to the mark. So on the night of the ball he only
answered with an occasional monosyllable the splendid young man of the
embroidered waistcoats who related his pleasures in a deep bass; nor
did he pretend to take any interest in the crude militia officer who
sometimes broke the silence by a declaration that he did not care for
politics or poetry, that he liked history better. The young ladies
listened devoutly to all that the young men said; Mr. Brookes carved
valiantly at the head of the table and appeared resigned. Bouquets were
fixed in button-holes in the billiard-room and the 'bus was announced.
A greasy oil-lamp hung from the roof. Sometimes Sally rubbed the
windows and said she could tell by the bushes where they were, and
the embroidered waistcoat continued to drone out the measure of his
amusements. He would have to run up to London, then he must have a shy
at _trente et quarante_ at Monte Carlo, then he must get back for the
spring meeting at Newmarket. Frank asked him if he didn't think he
could manage to amuse himself without talking it all out beforehand.
But undaunted and unchecked he wandered from Homburg to Paris, and
from Paris to Ross-shire, until the 'bus drew up among a small crowd of
people.

The ball was a failure. When they entered the rooms there were scarcely
twenty people present. It was very cold, and the men said; "How can the
women bear it with their naked shoulders?"

"We shall never get near this fire," said Sally, looking in dismay
on the circle of damsels who stood warming themselves, their dresses
relieved upon the masses of laurel with which the room was decorated;
"there is a beautiful fire in one of those little rooms at the end."

"Very well, let us come and sit there; or shall we dance this waltz
first?"

"Let's dance it."

They danced, and Frank shuddered in his evening clothes as he danced.

"Did you notice," said Sally, as they hurried to the retiring room, "how
upset father seemed at dinner? I thought he was going to cry, but he
bore up to the end better than I expected."

"So he did, but I don't see what there was particularly to upset him
this time. Meason is away at sea, and you have promised not to see him
any more."

"Oh, I wasn't thinking about the Measons--but haven't you heard? I only
heard it through a friend, but I know for a fact that Willy has lost
nearly all his money on the Stock Exchange."

"You don't say so; I am so sorry."

"Father hasn't heard it all yet; if he had he wouldn't have come down to
dinner. I don't fancy he knows more than that things have not been going
well, and that Willy has been a loser."

"But how can he have lost? I thought he was junior partner in an old
established business."

"So he is. I can't tell you how the mischief was done, but I know he has
lost all his money."

"What do you mean by all his money?"

"All the money--three thousand--that father let him draw out of the
distillery."

"This is very sad."

"Yes, isn't it? And particularly for a fellow who has so few amusements,
and only cares about making money. Just look at him now; he wanders
about speaking to no one. Come, let's dance this dance--are you
engaged?"

"No!"

This news about Willy fixed the Harfield ball in Frank's thoughts, and
he remembered the pretty girl in white of whom he could make nothing,
of the raw just-brought-out girl who had bored him, of the communicative
girl who had amused him by her accounts of her dogs and horses; he
remembered, too, how he had seen Maggie disappearing down the ends of
certain passages with a young man whose name he did not catch, and whose
face he had not noticed. He had danced twice with her, only twice; she
was distracted, she did not look at him, her eyes wandered all over the
room, she answered his questions indifferently. Sally, on the contrary,
had devoted herself to him, and on several occasions he thought that her
blunt straightforward manner was better than the other's slyness. The
'bus came with its draughts, its sickly lamp and its doleful jolting.
Sally was too tired to rub the windows and declare how far they were
from home, and the dancers endured their discomforts almost in silence;
even the embroidered waistcoat occasionally ceased to talk about
Homburg; and in all the extreme bitterness and greyness of a March
morning they pulled up before the door of the Manor House.

"I beg of you not to make a noise. If you wake up father he will
never let us go to a ball again. Is there a fire in the billiard-room,
Gardner?"

"Yes, miss, there's a lovely fire; the decanters are on the table and
the kettle is on the hob."

"I think you would all like a glass of something hot," said Maggie.

"Rather!"

"But don't make a noise, please."

They stole along the passages to the billiard-room shivering, their
feet aching, feeling very uncomfortable indeed. The waistcoat was now
considering if it would be good form to come forward in the Conservative
interest at the next election; but every one was too tired, they could
not laugh, and amid a few general remarks the young ladies drank their
gin and water, casting sheep's eyes at the young men, and then, glad and
yet loth to part, all retired limping to their rooms.

Breakfast was a pleasant meal--full of laughter and anecdotes of the
ball, and, laden with Gladstone bags, the young men departed in ones and
twos. Frank was going with Willy to London, and when they disappeared
among the laurels Sally and Maggie turned indoors, conscious of
reaction, and wondering what they should do with the long day that
stretched before them. Maggie walked upstairs; she lingered, undecided,
and then went down the passage to Frank's room. He had forgotten a
shirt stud; on the chest of drawers there was a crumpled white tie and a
soiled pair of white gloves. "How careless he is!" she thought, "I must
send him this," and she put the stud in her pocket. She straightened out
the gloves and determined to send the necktie to the wash. Next time
he came down she would have it to give him, nice, clean, and white--she
must see that it was beautifully made up. Then she found his ball
programme. He had danced four times with Sally--only twice with
her--what a fool she had been; she had wasted her whole evening with
that other fellow. It did make her feel so angry. Then the housemaid
entered and turned the bed down.

"What a lot of washing there will be this week, Gardner."

"There will indeed, miss. Three pairs of sheets, and only slept in
once."

"Yes, isn't it a pity? It seems absurd to send these sheets to the wash,
doesn't it?"

"It do, indeed, miss."

"Absurd!" said Sally, who had just come in. "I want a pair of fresh
sheets for my bed. I'll have these."

"No you won't--I was going to take them."

"I should like to know what right you have to them more than I."

"You promised not to interfere with me, and you have done nothing else.
You did nothing at the ball but ask him for dances."

"That's a lie! I didn't ask him for a dance. You went off to hide; no
one saw anything of you all the evening."

"You mean to say you didn't promise?"

"I never promised anything; if I did I should keep my promise. I am not
like you. I want a pair of sheets, and I mean to have these."

"They are too big for your bed."

Sally seized the sheet and strove to drag it from Maggie, who, although
the weaker, held her own bravely for some time. Finding her strength
failing her, she loosed her hold, letting her sister fall against the
wall, and taking up the pillow she launched it with her full force. "If
you want what he slept in, you can have it all."

"I'll give it to you, my lady," cried the bully, making a rush round the
bed, but Maggie fled through the dressing-room, shutting the door behind
her, and locked herself into her room.



IX



As Willy would not pay the extra fare, Frank had to travel second class.
He was telling his friend of the Stock Exchange, and his losses--nearly
four thousand pounds. He had suspected that the firm of which he was
junior partner had not played fair with him. Anyhow, he was going to
get out of the business, having something better in view--a shop in
Brighton. Yes, a shop in Brighton, a greengrocer's shop. No one had any
idea, until they went into the calculation, of the amount of profit that
was made on vegetables. Lord This and Lord That, every one who had a
handsome place with large gardens, counted on being able to pay his
gardener's wages by the sale of the surplus carrots, artichokes,
potatoes, parsley, onions, tomatoes, especially tomatoes--every one
nowadays ate tomatoes. He had it all down in figures, and was perfectly
astonished at the sums of money that could be made. Grapes had been
overdone, that was true; but a profit could be made out of everything
else. Flowers, especially gardenias, were sold in the London market at
two shillings apiece. Now, there was he within five miles of a large
town like Brighton; the rent of a shop in the Western Road would not
come to more than seventy or eighty pounds a year; the missus he would
put in as shopwoman, and, there was no doubt of it, she would make as
good a shopwoman as you could find, after a little practice; the child
could run on errands, so it should be all profit. "I shall have none of
the expenses that other people have to contend with. In the garden at
the Manor House about three times as much stuff is grown as required. I
shall buy all the fruit, vegetables, and flowers from my father at cost
price, or a little over, and shall sell in my shop at retail price, that
is, twenty or thirty per cent more. There is, therefore, no reason
why the shop should not bring in from three to four hundred a year.
And--would you believe it?--my father, who will be benefited by my
scheme, if not more, quite as much as I shall be, is opposed to it; he
will get a fair price for a lot of things for which he now gets nothing.
But no. He cannot, or will not, see it. I never saw any one like my
father. He will not help himself and you can do nothing to help him. The
distillery business is going very badly. He had a bad year last year.
I know for a fact that he did not make five per cent on his capital.
Putting these things together, I should have thought that he would have
been glad to make a little money to retrench; but no! he prefers to go
on in the old way. He made money in the old way, and he doesn't see
why he shouldn't make money again in the old way. Odd man my father is,
isn't he?"

It appeared to Frank that Mr. Brookes had managed to help himself very
liberally indeed to all the good things in life; but with his false,
facile, Celtic nature, he had no difficulty in re-adjusting his ideas
and adopting a view of Mr. Brookes more in harmony with Willy's. He was,
as usual, enthusiastic about his friends, and was effervescing with love
and goodwill. He saw nothing of their faults--they were the best and
truest people he had ever known, and he could not love them too much.
Indeed he was angry, and regretted the limitations that nature has
set on the human heart, and would if he could have lost himself in one
immense and eternal love of the Brookeses.

When he bade Willy good-bye at London Bridge, and wished him well with
his shop, these sentiments ceased to be active forces in him, and they
lay latent in his life of restaurants and bar rooms until the summer
returned, and he received an invitation from the Manor House to come
down for a garden party at Mrs. Berkins's. When he opened the letter he
basked in thoughts of them--of Maggie and her fascinating subtleties, of
Sally's blunt speech and sturdy good looks, of Willy, and all the quiet
talks they would have together. He counted the tunnels, and, striving
to recall the landscape, guessed extravagantly the number of miles that
separated him from them. He walked up the drive with a beating heart,
looking for the girls between the laurel bushes. He found them, and
their habits which endeared them to him, unchanged; and to slip back
into the old ways without experiencing the slightest difficulty or jar
was like waking from a dream and entering again on a pleasant reality.
There was the excellent dinner and the usual complaints about the
Southdown Road, the cigars in the billiard-room, conversation about
pictures and investments, gin and water, and then a long yarn with
Willy in his bedroom. Life moved at the Manor House without any spring
creaking, without jolt or jar, and it was this beautiful regularity that
made Frank feel so healthily and so unexpectedly happy. He loved the
desolation of Ireland. This was the stronger sense, but there was
another sense, a half stifled sense, that found an echo in these
southern downs interwoven with suburban life--in other words, a faint
resurrection of the original English mind in him. He enjoyed and he grew
akin to this Saxon prosperity; he learned to recognise it as manifested
in the various prospects of the weald and the wold, and he loved this
medley of contradictory aspects--the spires of the village churches,
the porches of the villas, the rich farmhouses and their elm trees, the
orchards jammed between masses of chalk, the shepherds seen against the
sky of the Downs. It is true that he felt that this country was alien
to him, but he was not individually conscious that his love of suburban
Sussex was a morbid affection, opposed to the normal and indissoluble
bonds of inherited aspirations and prejudices, and the forms and colours
that had filled his eyes in childhood. Consciousness in Frank Escott was
always slow, and always so governed and coloured by the sentiment of
the moment that his comprehension of things were always deformed or
incomplete. In his mind the phenomenon of life was ever in nebulae, and
though very often one thought would define itself, no group of
thoughts, or part of a group, ever became clear, so there was no abiding
principle, nothing that he might know and steer by. He was, of course,
aware that the Brookes were not equal to him in rank, but he did not
know, or, rather, he would not know, that they were vulgar; nor did he
think that Mount Rorke might marry again, if he were to marry Maggie or
Sally. All that was really alive and distinct in him was love of
them; and this love thrived in a sensation of class which he would not
acknowledge, even to himself, had any existence. The glass-houses, and
swards, and laurels had a meaning and fascination for him that he could
not account for or describe, and he found these feelings, which were
mainly class feelings of an unusual kind, not only in the aspect of the
country but in the accent and speech of his friends, in the expression
of their eyes and very hands. The English servants pleased him, and he
strove to detect qualities in the carriage and horses, and he compared
them to their advantage with Mount Rorke's. He loved to wrap the rug
about the young ladies' knees, and they seemed to him quite perfect and
delightful as they lay back in their carriage, driving beneath a sky
full of blue, and through the changing views of the Downs, all distinct
with light and shade. Sally and Maggie made much of him, covered him up,
and addressed to him pleasant speeches. His eyes and ears were open and
eager for new impressions, and his heart panted with readiness to admire
and praise all he saw. He was ready to think that he had never seen
anything so lovely as the laurels and the numerous glass-houses; and he
wondered why he had ever thought so little of Berkins, and he listened
with interest to that gentleman's explanation of the superiority of his
possessions over everybody else's possessions. He even allowed himself
to be persuaded that there was no pheasant shooting in the kingdom--for
its size--equal to that in the little wood. Sally, who did not attempt
to conceal her dislike of her brother-in-law, whispered: "That's the way
to bring them down," and Frank was obliged to laugh. Then she and Maggie
disappeared as if the earth had swallowed them for several hours. The
Grenadier Guards played on the lawn, and Frank was introduced to ladies
of all ages and sizes; and as these bored him, he began to see that the
place was vulgar and the people shoddy, and he wondered what Mount Rorke
would say if he were to come suddenly across him. Grace was the subject
of much concern, and obviously _enceinte,_ she passed through the
different groups. She had introduced Frank as Lord Mount Rorke's son,
then as his nephew, then as his heir, and, fearing she might succumb to
the temptation of introducing him as Mount Rorke himself, Frank escaped
from her, and joined a party that Berkins was personally conducting
through the grounds.

The stables had been built by So-and-so on the most approved principles.
There were no stables like them in Sussex--the fittings of the
harness-room alone had cost him three hundred. The horses he had bought
at the Duke's sale, the Duke would not have thought of parting with
them had he known how they would turn out. He had driven them along the
Brighton road at the rate of fifteen miles an hour; he would back them
to do fifteen miles in the hour. There was not a pair of horses in
England equal to them. That was Mrs. Berkins's riding horse--was it
possible to imagine a more perfect cob? He could get a hundred for him
any day, he did not know of anything like him. "Did any of you gentleman
ever see anything like him?" They went to the kennels. A brace of
Irish setters were declared to be the finest dogs that Ireland had
ever produced, they had taken two prizes, one in Dublin and another in
Brighton--and the little fox terrier was the gamest dog in Sussex. She
would go into any hole after a fox, and never leave him till she
brought him out. You couldn't find her equal. Then the glass-houses were
perfect. They contained all the latest improvements, and all these were
fully explained. "Berkins is excelling himself to-day," thought Frank.

Presently they came upon a basket of peaches.

"These peaches were, of course, grown under glass, but I think I am
right in saying, Jackson, that they were produced without artificial
heat."

"Yes, sir, quite right, sir. It couldn't be done nowhere else, sir,
but all the sun in Sussex seems to come down here--a regular little sun
trap, I think that's what you called it the other day, sir, when you
were speaking to me about them there peaches."

"Yes, I did. If you move nearer the sea you get fogs and cold winds,
further inland you lose the sun, but just here the climate is equal
to the south of Europe! I ask you to look at these peaches, it seems
impossible--does it not?--to have peaches like these at the end of May,
and without any heat, merely glass."

"It seems to me quite impossible," declared a little fat man with flaxen
hair. "I am devoted to peach-growing, and I confess I am quite at a
loss. Gardener, did you say that those peaches were grown entirely
without artificial heat?"

The gardener pretended not to hear, and tried to slip away, but the
little man, who had been taken on his hobby, was not to be baulked, and
he pursued the wretched horticulturist.

"You mean to say that these peaches ripened without any artificial heat,
any?"

"You have no idea what a sun we get here, sir. I have never seen
anything like it. In my last situation, when I was living with Lord
----, we couldn't get our fruit forward, use whatever heat he might,
and Houghton is not more than fifty miles from here--the difference of
climate is positively wonderful."

Jackson had reckoned that Mr. Berkins would move on, and that the
inquisitive little man would find himself obliged to follow, but
chance was against him, for Berkins, with his guests around him, stood
listening to the discussion.

"You mean to say that these peaches were grown without heat. I wouldn't
mind giving you five-and-twenty pounds for the recipe for doing it."

"You must take a small place down here, sir, and then you will be able
to do it."

This raised a laugh, but the little man was not to be beaten, and he
said: "I should like to see some of those peaches of yours on the trees.
You haven't plucked them all; let me see them."

"Yes, Jackson, show us the trees. Some will not believe without seeing;
let us see the peaches on the trees."

Jackson appeared to be a little disconcerted; he murmured excuses, and
strove to escape. Driven to bay he brought them into a glass-house where
there were hot water-pipes, and when his tormentor pointed triumphantly
to the pipes he attempted a faint explanation--he had meant to say that
heat had only been used within the last three weeks.

"So you see, Berkins," exclaimed little flaxen-haired fatty, "your south
of Europe is no better than my south of Europe, or anybody else's south
of Europe."

"Jackson, you have told me many deliberate falsehoods about these
peaches. I keep no one in my employment whose word cannot be depended
upon. You take your warning."

"Falsehoods! What do you want a man to do, if you will have everything
better than anybody else's?"

Berkins turned suddenly on his heel, he drew himself up to his full
height, and stood speechless with indignation. Never, not even on the
most important Board meetings, did his friends wait to hear him speak
with more anxiety; but at that moment a crash of flower pots was heard,
and Sally and a young man were discovered hiding in the potting shed;
and to make matters worse, in the very next house they visited, they
suddenly came upon Maggie sitting with another young man in strangely
compromising circumstances. Explanations were attempted, and some stupid
remarks were made. Berkins was seriously annoyed, and he took the first
opportunity of taking Mr. Brookes's arm and leading him away to a quiet
path. Frank saw the men pass through the laurels, and ten minutes after
he saw them return. Evidently Berkins had read Mr. Brookes an exhaustive
lecture on the conduct of his daughters.

"Now, Mr. Brookes, now Mr. Brookes, I must beg of you--calm yourself.
What would my guests think if they found you in tears? What would
they think I had been saying to reduce you to such a condition? It
is veryunfortunate that Sally and Maggie should act as they do,
particularly at my place; but really you must not give way."

"Since the death of their poor mother I am all alone. My position is
a very trying one." Then, with a sudden burst of laughter, "However, I
suppose it will be all the same a hundred years hence!"



X



The girls walked to the station with Escott. A fleecy evening, with the
clouds growing pale towards the sea, the sun like fire in the elms, and
the woods showing upon a purple tinge.

"How delightful!" exclaimed Frank. "How charming this is--this old
English green, the horse pond at one end, the various houses, the inn,
the grocery business, the linen drying in that yard, the smith, and the
wheelwright. I don't like that modern Queen Anne school-house, and I
wish I could remove the dead level of the embankment and see the sea.
The green is better from this side with the view of the Downs--those
lines waving against the sky, where the gorse grows and the sheep feed,
and inclining to the road all the fields pale green and deep green. But
what game are those men playing--what game do you call that?"

"Bat and trap."

"I have passed the green twenty times before, and I never really saw it
till now. It is charming--so thoroughly English. I should like to live
here for a month--for two months. How nice it would be to breakfast in
the morning looking out on the green, to see the cocks and hens and all
the children and all this English life! How different from Pump Court!
I am sick of Pump Court--dirt and smoke, a horrid servant, stale eggs.
I suppose you can always get fresh eggs and new bread here? I would give
anything to spend a month on the green."

"Well, you can!" cried Sally. "I wish you would, and you could come and
play tennis with us every afternoon. Mrs. Heald has some rooms to let;
why it was only last week I heard that she hadn't let her rooms this
season, and was most anxious to do so."

"There's no use my coming here until I begin to write my novel. I am
painting now, and I must see if I can get my picture finished for one of
the autumn exhibitions."

"I knew you would find some excuse."

"No, I assure you, but I can't do anything without a studio, and I'm not
likely to find a studio on Southwick Green."

"I don't suppose Mrs. Heald has a room large enough for a studio," said
Maggie; "but I don't see why you shouldn't find a place where you can
paint."

"Where? Not in that eighteenth-century house where the two old ladies
are standing! Supposing I were to go and ask them if they would let
me have their drawing-room to paint in! That is the only house on the
green, all the rest are cottages."

"I suppose you are not very particular where you paint," said Maggie
reflectively. "You don't mind appearances, I suppose? I wonder if you
could manage to fit up a farm building."

"There is the famous barn where Charles the First hid himself, I don't
suppose the authorities would allow me to turn that into a studio."

"No, probably not; but I think you might find a house that would do."

"What nonsense, Maggie," said Sally, who began to grow jealous of her
sister.

"Why is it nonsense? I see no reason why Frank shouldn't come to some
arrangement with the smith, and turn his house into a studio."

"Which is the smith's house? I'll tell you in a moment if it could be
turned into a studio."

"That house standing quite by itself in the corner of the green."

"That tall narrow house with the bit of broken wall and the elder
bushes?"

"Yes."

"I daresay I could rig up a very nice studio out of that place, indeed
it looks quite picturesque amid its elder bushes. There is the stile,
and there is the cornfield. But I couldn't live there."

"No, you would live at Mrs. Heald's, and you could walk over every
morning to the studio."

"Yes, I could do that. I prefer to live with my work. There is nothing
like walking from the breakfast table across the room to the easel."

"Of course you can find fault with everything; nothing is perfect."

"There goes the train!" cried Sally. "No use in running now, you've
missed it."

"How very provoking; the next isn't till half-past seven--just an hour
to wait."

"Well," said Maggie, "if you have missed the train we may as well go at
once and ask Mrs. Heald if she has let her rooms."

They walked towards a block of cottages--at one end the "Cricketer's
Arms," at the other the grocery business; and the cottage that joined
the grocery business was remarkable for a bit of green paling and wooden
balcony, now covered with Virginia creeper. Frank thought at once
of new-laid eggs, and the sunlight glancing through a great mass of
greenery, and he resolved if a sacrifice were necessary to live at
Southwick, he would put his picture aside and begin his novel. The
people in the house pleased him, and he ran on in his way thinking how
English and trustworthy they seemed, liking the green parrot that rubbed
its head affectionately against the grey ringlets of a very ladylike old
person; and Mrs. Heald, brisk as a bee, notwithstanding her lame leg,
who led the way up the ladder-like cottage staircase.

"How nice and clean everything is; books and engravings along the
passages. How unlike Ireland!"

But the sitting-room was full of horsehair sofas and chairs. These
displeased Frank, but some handsome china--an entire tea service in
Crown Derby--reconciled him to the room. In the bedroom they found
a huge four-poster of old time, with a lengthy bolster and imposing
pillows, and they were shown into another and a similar room. One looked
out on the green, the other on the fields that lay between the green and
the Manor House.

"If that elm were cut down you could see my window," said Sally.

"Which room do you like the best?" said Maggie.

"It is hard to say. The other room looks on the green, but here there
is a nice large wardrobe, and I don't see how I can get on without a
wardrobe."

"If you like the other room best, sir, I can turn out the chest of
drawers."

"Oh, that would be very nice if you can manage it, the room will do very
well. I can have a bath every morning?"

"Yes, sir; there will be no difficulty about that."

Maggie had taken off her hat and was settling her hair before the glass.
Sally opened the wardrobe, revealing various petticoats and skirts, but
she thought of it as full of Frank's light overcoats, the scarves he
wore round his throat when he went out in evening clothes, the patent
leather shoes in the corner. Suddenly the conversation dropped, and
after a pause Frank said: "I think these rooms suit me very well, but I
can do nothing; it is impossible for me to say if I can take them until
I find out if there is any place in the immediate neighbourhood that I
could convert into a studio. Do you know of any such place?"

"No, I do not, sir."

"Mr. Escott was thinking of seeing the smith about his house. I wonder
if Town would let it to Mr. Escott for a consideration," said Maggie.

"Of course, I should have to get leave to make what alterations I
pleased."

"I don't suppose the house belongs to Town, sir; I don't think he is
more than a weekly tenant."

"If that's the case, we must see the landlord. Do you know who is the
landlord?"

"I can't say I do, sir."

"Well, Mrs. Heald, I will let you know in a day or two if I can take
your rooms--you can give me a day or two?"

"Yes, sir, but I should like to know as soon as possible; several people
have been asking after my rooms."

"I'll let you know in a day or two."

"If Town is only a weekly tenant, you'll be able to get his house by
paying a little more for it," said Maggie, as they walked down the green
towards the smith's forge.

"That would be hardly fair; I should like to act squarely by the smith.
What is his name?"

"Town."

Town was cutting out the hoof of a shaggy grey cart horse when his
visitors entered the cindery blackness.

"Town, this gentleman would like to speak to you," said Maggie, raising
her voice above the wheezy bellows. He threw the hoof out of his apron,
and, drawing his blackened arm across his forehead, he came forward.

"Town, I am anxious to find a place on the green that I could convert
into a studio; I think your house would suit my purpose very well. Do
you think we could come to some arrangement? Of course I would give you
a reasonable compensation."

"Well, I really hardly know, sir; I dunno that I hardly understand. You
want my house to turn into a--"

"A studio--a place where I can paint pictures."

"I don't see how I can do without my 'ouse."

"But I will compensate you--make it worth your while."

"You see it is so near my work. Was I to go and live at Ada Terrace,
I should, you see, be out of the way. If people want a job done they
always knows where to find me."

"Yes, but if I compensate you?"

Seeing that Frank was exciting the smith with too wild hopes of wealth,
Sally thought fit to interpose. "Mr. Escott would require permission
to make any alterations in the building he thought proper--you couldn't
give him permission; he would in any case have to see your landlord. Who
is your landlord?"

"I don't see how I can give up my 'ouse to be turned into a painting
place; it wouldn't suit me at all."

"If I make you sufficient compensation--"

Again the smith was reduced to silence. He scratched his head, and Frank
watched the sparks fly, and heard the rhythmical sledge. "I wish he
wouldn't talk so much about compensation," thought Sally. "I don't know
what the man won't be asking if Frank doesn't shut up."

"Do you think we shall be able to come to an understanding? I want to
know."

"Well, you see, sir, my wife is delicate, and I'm that afraid she
wouldn't like to give up her 'ome. But I'll speak to 'er if you like
to-night, sir."

"Mr. Escott will have to see your landlord; he will have to arrange with
him about the alterations."

"There will be no difficulty about the alterations."

"Very probably; but you are only a weekly tenant. It is a question
your landlord must decide. If he agrees to allow Mr. Escott to make the
alterations, Mr. Escott will no doubt compensate you for disturbance."

"It is all very well to talk about compensation. How do I know what your
compensation will be? How do I know you will make it worth my while? I
don't want no compensation. I want my 'ouse. Cheek I calls it, to come
down here wanting to muck me out of my house."

"Now, sir, we want no impertinence. I shall do exactly as I please in
the matter. Your landlord is the person I should have spoken to."

"Spoken to! Who are you, I should like to know, coming round here
interfering in my business?"

All Frank's discussions ended in angry words, and he never came to terms
with any one without threatening blows. Town returned to the forge;
Frank and the young ladies made their way across the green. At the
corner of Southdown Road they found the General, the schoolmaster, and a
retired farmer ardently gossiping; Mrs. Horlock, prim in her black gown
and poke bonnet, waited with admirable patience, and Angel, the blind
pug, in horrible corpulence, waddled and sniffed the grass. The story
of Town's impertinence was told. The General was shocked--it was
surprising. What are we coming to? The retired farmer said that Town was
a hot-tempered man, but not a bad sort when you knew how to take him,
and all, except Mrs. Horlock, agreed that the landlord was the person
who should be consulted.

"I really don't see why you should turn the poor man out of his house if
he doesn't want to go. How would you like some one to come and turn you
out of your house?" she said, turning to her husband.

The General laughed. "My dear Lucy, whatever you say must be right.
So you are coming to live at Southwick. Very glad to hear it. You know
where to find us, the gate's always open; lunch at half-past one, dinner
at eight--old Indians, you know; come in when you like. Pretty place
I have here, everything I want--stables and horses, and (the General
looked to see if Lucy was out of hearing) plenty of dogs, you know--a
few too many; but my wife, you know--" The rest was lost in a burst of
good-natured laughter.

They bade the Horlocks good-night and walked up the Southdown Road,
looking with its line of trees along the pavement like a little mock
boulevard. Frank was particularly severe in his remarks on the trim
privet hedges and the little bronze sphinxes standing before the portico
of yellow glass; he declared that a man must be born to put up such
things, and he clearly thought this sneer a very happy one, for he
repeated it, fearing that Sally had not understood. The grocer who had
placed a bas-relief of himself over his door was greatly wondered at,
and Sally told an amusing anecdote regarding the invitations he sent
out for the first dinner party. The conversation turned on the Measons.
Jack's ship had gone to China, and he was not expected back much before
Christmas.

"That's very sad, Sally. How will you be able to live through so many
months?"

"I don't care for him. I don't care if I never saw him again--it was
Fanny who was my friend. Some nice people have come to live in that
corner house--a young man, who is learning farming. Mr. Berkins insists
on father not allowing us to visit any one in the Southdown Road, and
Mr. Berkins can turn father round his finger, he is so much richer. I'm
not allowed to see Fanny at the Manor House. As for Jack, I daresay you
won't believe me, but I shouldn't care if I never saw him again."

Maggie shrugged her shoulders. The gesture exasperated Sally, and she
turned on her sister.

"You needn't shrug your shoulders at me, miss; I never flirted with him;
you did, and then you set father against me."

"Well, for goodness' sake don't quarrel; what does it matter? The idea
of Berkins telling your father whom he should visit; and the idea of
your father permitting it merely because he makes two or three thousand
a year more! He surely doesn't object to your visiting Mrs. Horlock?"

"No, he couldn't do that."

Still engaged in discussion, they entered the gates of the Manor House,
and Mr. Brookes was told that Frank would stay at Southwick a few days
longer, so that he might arrange about a studio. The news was not
at first wholly pleasing to the old gentleman, but he remembered the
anecdotes he should hear concerning his favourite painters, and was
consoled. The evening passed away in the security and calm of habit,
sweetened by the intimacy of familiar thoughts and customs. There was
the usual expensive dinner; Mr. Brookes lit a cigar, handed the box to
Frank, and said, puffing lustily, "That's a good picture, paid a lot of
money for it, too much money, mustn't do it again. You were a pupil of
Bouguereau; great painter; you have seen him paint; you would know his
touch amid a thousand, I suppose?"

About ten o'clock steps in the passage, then the squeak-squeak of the
cork; then the goggle-guggle of the water, and the young ladies came in
with their grog. They kissed their father and brother, shook hands with
Frank, and went to bed. Further anecdotes concerning the painters were
told; further condemnations of the Southdown Road were pronounced; the
house was locked up; Mr. Brookes retired, and the young men continued
the conversation in their rooms. Willy told Frank all about his shop,
Frank told Willy all about his studio, and they went to sleep delighted
with each other and at peace with the world.

Mr. Brookes had gone when the young men came down next morning. Willy
was down first, and when Frank finished breakfast he found him busy in
the garden making purchases for his shop.

"How much am I to charge for these peaches, sir?" said the gardener.

"I intend to pay the market price for everything. I don't know what
peaches are selling at in Covent Garden. I will look it up and let you
know. I am taking two dozen."

"Yes, sir, there are only very few more ripe."

"It is a pity I can't have them all," Willy whispered to Frank. "There
is a tremendous profit to be made on peaches. Now, I want some new
potatoes. How many can you let me have?"

"Really, sir, we are very short; you see it is so early in the year. We
have only a few, none too many for the house."

"I must have some, if it is only a sample. How much are potatoes selling
at now?"

"Well, sir, I hardly know. Last year we bought some off Hooper at--"

"These are the things I have to contend with. How am I to keep my books
right if I don't know exactly the price things are selling for? I may be
paying more for his potatoes than they are selling in Brighton for. My
father gets more out of the shop than any one, and he isn't satisfied."

The woes of this suburban Lear amused Frank. No sooner was the arch
enemy Meason on the high seas, and the Southdown Road had quieted down,
than another demon had risen up against him; his garden was ravished of
its fairest fruits and vegetables, his carriages were turned into market
carts, and all, as he said, for the sake of practising an elaborate
system of book-keeping. Maggie, who had finished her house-keeping, came
into the garden, and she went with Frank down the town in search of the
landlord of the tall house amid the elder bushes. For a small increase
in the rent, and a promise to undo all alterations before leaving,
putting the house back in the same arrangement of rooms as it at present
stood, the landlord agreed to allow Frank to do his will with the place.
For twenty pounds the smith was silenced, and Frank explained to the
local builder that the house was to be thrown into one room, and the
ceilings of the upper rooms were to be removed. He had thought of having
the rafters painted, but at the builder's suggestion he decided to have
them lined with fresh timber and stained. This would look very handsome.
A large window, some six feet by eight, would have to be put in the
north wall. Of course, all the doors, windows, etc., would have to be
taken away and replaced by new. He would have a book-case in stained
wood. An estimate was drawn up. It came to a good deal more than he had
intended to lay out, and Frank dreaded the expense. But he must live
somewhere, he was sick of Pump Court, and his friends and this little
south-coast village were now ardent in his mind; why not live here? True
that the country was in no way beautiful and offered no temptations to a
landscape painter, but he seldom painted landscapes, and if he wanted a
bit of woodland he would find it over the Downs. Then there was the sea,
and that was always interesting. Perhaps Mount Rorke would let him have
the money. The old fellow had never refused him an extra hundred when he
asked for it. Yes, he would risk it. So the order was given, and all
the delays and broken promises of a builder began to be experienced and
endured. Frank, who now lodged at Mrs. Heald's, hung around the workmen,
counting each brick, and commenting on every piece of woodwork. He at
once took to grumbling at their slowness, and he soon declared that all
hopes of his being able to finish his picture for the Academy were at
an end, and he paraded his misfortunes at the Manor House, at Mrs.
Horlock's, and, indeed, at all the houses he went to for tea or tennis
parties. The painters especially annoyed him, and he even went so far as
to threaten them with an action.

Long before they had finished his pictures had arrived from London, and
several pieces of furniture from Brighton. The ideas of this young
man were now in full revolt against oriental draperies and things from
Japan. The furniture was, therefore, to consist of large cane sofas with
pillows covered with a yellow chintz pattern which pleased him much.
The selection of a carpet was a matter of great moment. He received with
scornful smiles his upholsterer's suggestions of Persian rugs. Turkey,
Smyrna, and Axminster were proposed and rejected, he even thought of
an Aubusson--no one knew anything about Aubusson at Southwick, and the
vivid blues and yellows and symmetrical design would have at least the
merit of disturbing if not of wrecking the artistic opinions of
his friends. He discovered one of these carpets in a back street in
Brighton, and with some cleaning and mending he felt sure it could be
made to look quite well. But no, if you have an Aubusson carpet you must
have Louis XIV. furniture in the room, and Louis XIV. in Southwick would
be too absurd. Clearly the Aubusson scheme must be abandoned--he would
have a rich grey carpet, soft and woolly, and there should be a round
table covered with a dark blue cloth, set off with a yellow margin, and
the chairs drawn about the table should be covered with dark blue and
painted yellow. A grand piano was indispensable in Frank's surroundings,
both for its appearance in the studio and the relaxation it afforded in
the various interludes. Several journeys to London were made before the
lamps to be used were determined on (a modern design was essential), and
the brass fittings to hang candles from the rafters required still more
delicate and cautious consideration; at last it was decided to have
none.

All this while Willy was busy with his shop. He had taken a whole house,
and at first he had thought of letting a room, but for many reasons this
scheme had to be abandoned. He did not know who might take the room.
"Who knows--perhaps one of my own friends, a member of my club, for
instance?" Then it would give the missus a lot of bother and worry, and
she had all she could do in looking after the shop. To make a thing a
success you must think of nothing else. It was a pity, but it wasn't to
be thought of. Otherwise he seemed fairly well satisfied. There was
a back door leading on to a back lane, in turn leading on to a back
street, so with his latch-key he could pop in and out unobserved. All
his books and papers in the drawing-room, the ledger, the day-book,
the cash-book all ready, all to hand, so that after dinner, when he had
smoked his pipe, he could go to work. Frank alone was in the secret.
And how the young men enjoyed going to Brighton together. Frank worried
Willy, who ran up and down stairs collecting his brown paper parcels,
calling upon him to make haste. They set forth, Willy firm and
methodical, his shoulders set well back: Frank loose and swaggering,
over-dressed. How to get to the shop was a matter of anxious
consideration. Willy was fearful of detection, and all sorts of
stratagems were resorted to. Sometimes they would walk down to the Old
Steyne, and suddenly double and get back through a medley of obscure
streets, or else they would publicly walk up and down the King's
Road, and when they thought no one was looking, hurry up one of the
by-streets, and so gain their haven, the lane. Once they were in the
lane they slackened speed, all danger was then over, and they laughed
consumedly at their escapes, and delighted in telling each other how
So-and-so and his daughter had been successfully avoided. Willy always
had his latch-key ready; in a moment they were inside, and Frank would
rush upstairs and throw himself into the armchair, crying: "Here we
are!" One day they were at the window, when, to their amazement, the
Manor House carriage pulled up before the shop, and they had only just
time to dodge behind the curtain and escape Sally's eyes. Never before
had the carriage arrived later than five o'clock, and now it was nearly
six. What could be the meaning of this? Begging of Frank not to move,
Willy went out on the landing and listened to his sisters talking to his
wife. The girls--who were, of course, ignorant of their relationship to
the shop-woman--liked Mrs. Brookes very much, and were fond of a chat
with her; and, looking through the blinds, Frank saw the footman in
all the splendour of six feet and grey livery carrying a small pot of
flowers worth sixpence from the carriage to the shop.

On ordinary days the shop was shut at eight, but when Willy and Frank
dined there it was closed an hour earlier. Frank enjoyed his evenings
there; he enjoyed it all--the homeliness and the quiet. He enjoyed
seeing Willy nurse the missus after dinner, and he found no difficulty
in pretending a certain interest in the book-keeping, and an admiration
for the lines of figures all carefully formed, and the beautifully ruled
lines. Cissy adored him. He took her on his knee, and she leaned her
hollow cheek against his handsome face. She would have probably rushed
to death to serve him. His height, his brightness, his rings, his
spotted neckties--all seemed so perfect, so beautiful, to her; and when
he brought his fiddle she would sit and look at him, her little hands
clasped with an intensity of love that was strange and pitiful. Swaying
from side to side, he ran on from tune to tune--waltzes, reminiscences
from operas, fragments of overtures, delightful snatches from Schubert;
and when he introduced Willy to one tune--a tune in which all his
_might-have-been_ was bound--the dry man seemed to grow drier: perhaps
it brought a glow of pleasure to his heart: but be this as it may, he
only sat and puffed more emphatically at his pipe.



XI



For Frank this pleasant English village was now a happy _fete_ of summer
joys and occupations. Oh! the hill prospects and the shady gardens
around the coasts. And when he went inland he would return by choice
across the Downs, and in the patriarchal valleys where nothing is heard
but the bell-wether he would stand in the great, lonely darkness,
and see the lights of Brighton brighten the sky above the ridges, and
climbing up the ridges, he gazed on the vague sea, and the long string
of coast towns were like a golden necklace.

His days went like dreams. The morning hours--bachelor hours--were full
of intimacy and joy. The joy of waking alone with a strange and secret
self that, like a shy bird, is all the day chased out of sight and
hearing, but is with you when you awake in sweet health in the morning;
that of waking alone with the sunlight in the curtains, that of being
alone with your body as well as your mind, and no presence to jar the
communion. There is a dear privacy in morning hours of single life.

But although the desire to exchange these for the joys of wedlock was
germinating in Frank, although it was inherent in him to understand the
husband's happiness when he puts his arm round a dear wife's neck and
draws her to him with marital kisses and affectionate words, he was
certainly conscious that each hour seemed to bring its special pleasure.
His room was airy and pleasant, the window full of the colour of the
green and its aspects; the little water-course with its brick bridge,
the trees along the embankment, the rigging of the ships in the harbour,
the linen drying in the yard. Of these views Frank seemed never to grow
tired; he noted them as he brushed his brown curls over his forehead,
and when he sat at breakfast eating fresh eggs and marmalade. After
breakfast he lay on the sofa, and read society papers and smoked
cigarettes. He could not drag himself to the studio. "A man should live
at his studio, impossible to settle down to work, if he doesn't," he
thought, and he watched Mrs. Horlock coming up the green accompanied by
the chemist's wife and the pugs.

"Dear old lady, how nice she looks in her black dress and poke bonnet!
And there goes the General--he is giving all his coppers to the
children."

Frank took up a volume of Browning, turned over the leaves, and laid the
book down to watch a drove of horses that had suddenly been turned
out on the green to feed, and he laughed to see the children throwing
stones, making them gallop frantically. Very often the thunder of the
hoofs alarmed Triss, and he stood on his hind legs and barked. "What is
it, old dog? What is it? Like to have a go at the horses? Shall we go
out and play with the pugs?" At the mention of going out Triss cocked
his ears and barked. "I suppose I must make a move. I wonder what
the time is--half-past eleven. Good Heavens! The post will be here at
twelve. I had better wait for it." On waking his first thoughts were for
his letters, and almost before he had finished reading them he had begun
to think of what the mid-day delivery would bring him. To see the boy
pass and so have ocular proof that there was nothing for him seemed to
lighten his disappointment. He saw him waste his time with the doctor's
horse and then with the maid-servant, and if the old ladies were not
about he would stand talking many minutes with their servants. Then he
visited the short line of cottages, passed sometimes round the yard or
open space at the back of the wheelwright's, where the linen hung on
poles between the elms, and once Frank saw the provoking boy hide behind
the cricketers' tent and remain watching the match. For half an hour the
question--letters or no letters--hung in suspense, and when the loiterer
came, stopping every minute to see where the ball was hit to, the
joy, heightened by anticipation, was great in receiving a packet of
newspapers and various correspondence. Frank often went to meet him.
True, he might have nothing for him, he might be going to deliver at the
grocer's shop, or at the "Cricketer's Arms."

"Any letters for me, to-day?"

"Yes, sir, two postcards and a newspaper."

It was disappointing not to get a letter--postcards meant nothing.
He only exchanged a few words with Mrs. Horlock, and passed on to the
General, who, at the corner of the Southdown Road where the gossipers
met, was discussing a local candidature.

"So you are off to paint. You must come and see the model my wife has
done of a horse I once had. I mustn't say much about him, though--it is
a sore subject. After winning over a thousand with him I lost it all,
and five hundred with it. She never would paint his picture for me; but
yesterday was my birthday--I suppose she thought she would give me a
treat, she began to model him from memory--wonderful likeness--she knows
every bone and sinew in a horse--clever woman, never seen any one like
her. Come in to-night, dinner always at eight--old Indians. She'll show
it to you."

"Thanks, not to-night, General; to-morrow night, if you like."

"Very well, to-morrow night at eight. What a terrible dog that is of
yours! You need fear nobody while you have him with you. You must ask
my wife to paint him for you, but I forgot, I beg your pardon--you are a
painter; you should paint him yourself."

"I don't paint animals. I shall be very glad if Mrs. Horlock will paint
him; there is some beautiful drawing about him--those fore-legs."

Probably attracted by the dog, Mrs. Horlock came walking towards them.
Triss went sidling after Rose, and when Mrs. Horlock called him, he
growled.

"I beg of you, Mrs. Horlock, do not touch him; he isn't safe, I assure
you. He once bit a man's nose off who was trying to train him to do
something or other. I will not be answerable."

"All nonsense! No dog ever bit me, they know I love them. 'Come to me,
sir.' No dog ever bit me but once, and he was a poor mongrel that had
been hunted by a lot of horrid men. I was dressing to go to a ball at
the Government House, and I heard him under my bed. He had taken refuge
under my bed, poor thing. He was frightened to death; he couldn't see
me, and he bit me through the wrist. I went to the ball all the same.
A dog died of hydrophobia in my arms. He died like a child, licking my
hands and face. 'Come here, sir. Come to me.'"

"I wish you wouldn't do it, Mrs. Horlock. I am afraid to call him, for
fear he should think I intended to set him at you."

Triss showed a terrible set of teeth, and his nose seemed to curl back
almost into his eyes; but stooping down Mrs. Horlock extended her hands
to him. She looked so like herself in the poke bonnet and the black
dress, and the kind, intelligent eyes softened the dog's humour, and he
came to her.

"You see--what did I tell you? Dogs know so well those that love them.
No animal ever did bite me except that poor frightened creature, and
he didn't mean it. We kept him for ten years after that, and how he did
love me!"

"Wonderful woman, my wife; she can do what she likes with animals. I was
telling Mr. Escott that he must come in and see the model you are making
of Snap-dragon."

"Only an amateur, I never had a lesson in my life. Mr. Escott would
think nothing of it, I am sure. But I wish he'd come in and dine with
us."

"He promised to come to-morrow, Lucy; but stay, isn't that the day we
are going to have the Bath people in to dine?"

"Never mind--Mr. Escott won't mind, I'm sure. They are very nice, good
people, indeed. I'm sure you'll think so. They are all snobs about this
place. I never heard of such snobbery in my life. Mrs. So-and-so--over
there--once said to me, 'I believe you know all the people who live in
those little houses.' She said she wouldn't allow her children even to
walk across the green. Did you ever hear of such snobbery?"

"Well, Mrs. Horlock, as I have always said, your position is made;
you have your friends who will like you and value you just the same no
matter whom you may walk about the green with. Every Viceroy that ever
went to India called on you; your position is made."

"There are a lot of snobs about here; but I mustn't keep Angel waiting,
he is never well unless he gets a little exercise. We shall see you then
at eight."

"The cleverest woman I ever knew. I don't say the cleverest that you
ever knew. But we have got too many animals; I often wish I could get
rid of the brutes," and the General laughed as he stumped along. "Five
horses when two would be sufficient--five horses eating their heads
off; then the Circassian goats that the neighbours complain of, and the
parrots and the squirrels. There are a few too many, there's no doubt.
But once an animal comes into the place she will cherish it for ever. I
try to keep Prince out of the drawing-room as much as possible, she says
she can't smell him. If that little beast Angel would only die!"

"Why don't you poison him?"

"I would if I dared; but just think, if my wife heard of it she would go
out of her mind. I don't think she'd have me in the house." The General
laughed.

"We all have our troubles, General. Good-bye, I'm off to work."

"Lucky man to have something to do. If I had a little something--just a
little something to bring me out, I should be perfectly happy. Then at
eight. Good-bye."

"Half-past twelve! Half the day gone, I really must make an effort to
get to the studio earlier. It is, as I said, useless to hope to get
through work unless you wake up where your work is. A man doesn't get a
chance. I wonder if I could build a bedroom out at the back? I have let
Mount Rorke in for three hundred extra this year; he would turn rusty if
I spent any more. I must give him a rest; besides, I don't want to have
the workmen in again. I wish I could get ivy to grow over those walls,
they do look precious shabby."

He looked at the tall dilapidated walls showing above the dark green of
the elder bushes, and lingered, for it was a soft blue summer's day with
just a breeze stirring, and the corn waved yellow, and the dim expanses
of the Downs extended in faint lines and dim tints.

When he entered his studio his colour scheme pleased him, and looking
at the rafters he thought that the stained wood was handsome and
appropriate. The grey carpet was soft under foot, and the lustre and
form of a grand piano suggested Chopin and Schubert. His studio seemed
to him a symbol of his own refinement, and being moved, perhaps, by
the silence and the quiet of the north light, he took his violin, and
turning from time to time to look on himself on the glass or his picture
on the easel, he played Stradella's "Chanson d'Eglise."

Then seeing, or rather thinking he saw, how he could improve his
landscape, he took up his palette, and in a desultory and uncertain
fashion he painted till five o'clock. "It is no use," he thought, "I can
do nothing with it until I get a model, but the devil of it is, there
are no models in Brighton--at least, I don't know where to go and look
for one, and it is no use asking Sally or Maggie to sit. They'll sit for
five minutes, and then say they have some work to do at home, and must
be off. You must have a professional model, a girl you pay a shilling
an hour--I might sling the hammock from there to here--I wonder where I
could get a girl who would do. I can't have a girl off the street; she
must be more or less respectable--I wonder whom I can get. That girl in
the bar-room at the station would do." Putting his palette away with
a lazy gesture, he thought for a few minutes of Lizzie Baker. What had
become of her? And why had she disappeared?

It was nearly a year and a half ago now. What a jolly day up the river!
All the beauty of the flowing water, the crowning woods and whispering
rushes filled his mind, and yielding to the moment's emotion he took
some verses out of an escritoire and altered several lines. Another
abandoning the search for a suitable rhyme he turned to a portrait of
Maggie which he had begun a few days before. She stood in a pose that
was habitual to her--her hands linked behind her, the head leaned on one
side, the little black eyes--but not ugly eyes--fixed in a sweet subtle
and enquiring look. The thinness, and, indeed, the angularity of her
figure was almost powerfully indicated with broad lines of paint and
charcoal. It was Frank's most successful effort. He knew this, and he
said to himself, "Not half bad, very like her, quite the character; the
drawing is right, if I could only go on with it; if I could only model
the face. I see very well where I shall get into trouble--that shadow
about the neck, the jawbone, the cheekbone, and then all that rich
colour about the eyes." Then he thought he would walk over to the Manor
House, and he must hasten, for it was half-past five, and tea was always
ready in the verandah.

He stayed for dinner; he talked to Mr. Brookes about painters in the
billiard-room; he strayed through the shadows and the perfumes of leaves
and flowers through the gentle moonlight with his arms about the girls.
And as they walked it seemed to Frank that his life was so mingled with
theirs that he could not think of one sister apart from the other. The
dusk gathered; the sky became a decoration in blue and gold; the scent
of the sea came over the embankment, filling the garden. Day followed
day, without anything happening to stay or check the gentle tide of
their mutual affections; neither was jealous of her sister, for their
desires were set upon others. Frank was but an ideal, a repose, a pious
aspiration which joined their hands and hearts leaving them free of any
stress of passion, Maggie claiming him a little more than Sally, and
Sally yielding her claim to her without knowing that she was yielding
it.

It is only natures that are never gross--calm and tepid livers--that are
really incapable of ideality, of real and adequate aspiration; nature
works by flux and reflux; and if we waive the rough temper and the
coarse edge of passion due to youth, it will not be impossible to
conceive another picture of these girls. Sally, good-hearted and true,
full of sturdy, homely sense, willing to take care of a man's money, and
make him a straightforward wife; Maggie, gentle and sinuating--always
a little false, but always attractive, the enchantment of a man's home.
Frank, notwithstanding his genuine admiration of all that was young and
sweet and pure, was of poor and separating fibre, and it is clear that
it will take all the strength of society to support him and save him
from sinking of his own weight.

One day, as he was coming through the station from the post-office, he
met Maggie with a young man. He was introduced, and they returned to the
Manor House to play tennis. Instead of playing they talked, and the set
fell through, and after tea they disappeared, and Sally proposed not to
disturb them, for they had gone, she said, to sit in the shade at the
end of the garden. The marked mystery of the new flirtation piqued
Frank's curiosity, and, striving to veil his question, he asked Sally
who the young man was, and if her father knew he was coming to the Manor
House.

"He! Don't you know? That's the fellow we often speak of--the only
fellow Maggie ever really cared for. He has just come back from America.
He is going to begin business in London."

A sickening pain rose from his heart to his eyes, and he longed to place
his hand on his heart.

"So that is the man she is engaged to," he said, after a pause. "I
remember, now, you have spoken to me of him."

"She is not exactly engaged to him. Father would never hear of it; he
hasn't a cent, and I believe he lost the little he had in America--now
mind you must take care not to let out to father that he has been here;
there would be the deuce of a row, and I promised Maggie not to tell any
one; she has been nice to me lately, and I want to play fair with her if
she will play fair with me."

"Oh, I won't tell any one; I won't even let Maggie know that I know it
was he."

"It doesn't matter about Maggie, she will tell you herself, no doubt;
she doesn't mind your knowing. What do you think of him? Isn't he
nice-looking?"

"I confess I should never have thought of calling him handsome--would
you? And do you think he is quite a gentleman?"

"He seems to me to be all right."

"All right, yes, but isn't there a something? You can see he is in
trade--all the trading people look alike, at least so I think."

"But we are in trade, and I think he is quite as good as we are. But you
seem quite put out. Would you like to take his place? I didn't know you
were in love with Maggie."

"I don't know that I am in love with her. I like her very much; but,
love or no love, I don't think it is right for her to walk round the
garden alone with that fellow the whole afternoon. I don't think it is
very polite to me, and she knows her father does not like--"

"But you mustn't say anything to father; mind you have promised me."

"Oh, I shan't say anything about it."

Frank longed to get up from the tea-table and rush after Maggie. His
heart ached to see her. He trembled lest she loved the man she was
with, and rejoiced and took courage from the knowledge that she had not
formally pledged herself to him. Frank was the romantic husband, not
the lover; he found neither charm nor excitement in change; his heart
demanded one single, avowed, and binding faith. He could take a woman
who had sinned to his heart, and admit her to all his trust, for stolen
kisses and illicit love were unfelt and imperfectly understood by him,
and were considered as shadows and thin fancies, and not as facts full
of mental consequences. He answered Sally in monosyllables, and on
the first opportunity he pleaded letters to write, and withdrew. The
gladness he felt that Maggie was truly not engaged to this fellow
quickened and dominated his regret that the girls were inclined to
behave so indiscreetly. The moment Mr. Brookes turned his back it
began--that perpetual going and coming of men--it really wasn't right.
Sally was a coarser nature, but Maggie! He might speak to Mr. Brookes;
no, that wouldn't do. He might speak to Willy; but Willy didn't care--he
was absorbed in his wife and his speculations.

His little dinner at Mrs. Heald's passed in irritation and discomfort,
and after dinner he stood at the window, his brain full of Maggie--her
graces, her fascinating cunning, and all her picturesqueness. He knew
nothing yet of his passion, nor did he think he could not bear to lose
her until he went from the stuffy cottage towards his studio thinking
of his portrait of her. He wanted to muse on the little eyes as he had
rendered them. He saw the faults in the drawing hardly at all, and his
pain softened and almost ceased when he took up the violin, but when he
put it down the flow of subjective emotion ceased, and he stared on the
concrete and realistic image of his thought--Maggie passing through the
shade with the young stranger.

Who was he? By whose authority was he there? Was he one of those men
whose only pleasure is to tempt girls, to corrupt them? Had he thought
of this before his duty would have been to interpose; and he saw himself
striding down the garden and telling Maggie that he insisted on her
coming back to the verandah to her sister. It did not matter if he had
no right, he was prepared to answer for his conduct to her father and
brother. Did that man look like one of those men who are always sitting
with girls in far corners out of sight? Ah, if he were sure that he
was one of those dastardly ruffians he would seek him out, force him to
speak his intentions. If a girl's father and brother will not look after
her, a friend must say "I will." Yes, he would have to thrash him, kill
him, if it were necessary. She might hate him for it at first, but in
the end she would recognise him as her saviour.

It was too late now, the man was in Brighton. To-morrow? Elated with
what he deemed "duty," with what he deemed "for the sake of the girl,"
he strode about, thinking of "the ruffian"; no thought came to him of
how much of the sin, if sin there was, had originated in Maggie; he saw
her merely as a poor little thing, led like a lamb. Following the idea
of saving came the idea of possession. When she clung to the husband she
would tremble at the danger she had escaped. Their home, their
table, their fireside; protection from evil, now all wild winds
might rage--they would be safe. The vision was constitutional and
characteristic of his soul. He was out of thought of all but himself,
his dream evolved in pure idea, removed from and independent of all
limitations--out of concern of the world's favour--Mount Rorke, Mr.
Brookes, or even the girl's grace. As this temper passed, as reality
again interposed, and as he saw the garden with Maggie leaving him for
another, he viewed her conduct suddenly in relation to himself. What
did she mean by treating him so, and for whom? One day he would be Lord
Mount Rorke! The Brookes knew nobody. He had only met a lot of cads at
their house; they did not know any one but cads. The Brookes were cads!
The father was a vulgar old City man, who talked about money and bought
ridiculous pictures. The girls, too, were vulgar and coarse. God only
knew how many lovers they had not had. Willy was the best of the bunch,
but he was a fool. His miserliness and his vegetable shop--hateful! The
whole place was hateful; he wished he had never come there; since he had
been there he had never been treated even as a gentleman. The Brookes
had treated him shamefully.

The skeleton of Frank's soul is easy to trace in this mental crisis--his
quixotism, his wish to sally forth and save women, his yearning for
a pretty little wife, who would sit on his knee and kiss him, saying,
"Poor old boy, you are tired now;" therefore an emotional and distorted
apprehension of things, a tendency to think himself a wronged and
persecuted person, and under much bravado and swagger the cringe that is
so inveterate in the Celt.

Next morning he thought of her lightly, without bitterness and almost
without desire; but after breakfast his heart began to ache again. He
strove to read, he went to his studio, he went to Brighton; but he saw
Maggie in all things. She was with him--a sort of vague pain that kept
him strangely conscious of life.

Once convinced he was a lover he became the man with a mission; his
heart swelled with mysterious promptings, and felt the spur of duty. No
longer was delay admissible. A day, an hour might involve the loss
of all. Should he go round to the Manor House and tell Maggie of the
message he had received to love her and save her? She would now be
watering her flowers in the green-houses. But that other fellow might
be there--he had heard something about an appointment. No, he had better
write. If he wrote at once, absolutely at once, he would be in time for
the six o'clock delivery. Snatching a sheet of paper he wrote:--

"DEAREST MAGGIE,--I have loved you a long while, I remember many things
that make me think that I have always loved you; but to-day I have
learnt that you are the one great and absorbing influence--that without
you my life would be stupid and meaningless, whereas with you it shall
be a joy, an achievement.

"I have frittered away much time; my efforts in painting and poetry
have been lacking in strength and persistency. I have vacillated and
wandered, and I did not know why; but now I know why--because you were
not by me to encourage me, to help me by your presence and beauty. I
will not speak of the position I offer you--I know it is unworthy of
you. I would like to give you a throne; but, alas, I can but promise you
a coronet."

His hand stopped and he raised his eyes from the paper. He recollected
the day he saw her a child, the day they went blackberrying over the
hills. He saw her again, she was older and prettier, and she wore a
tailor-cut cloth dress. How pretty she looked that day, and also
when she wore that summer dress, those blue ribbons. All the colour,
innocence, and mirth of his childhood came upon him sweetly, like an
odour that passes and recalls. He sighed, and he murmured, "She is mine
by right, all this could not have been if she were not for me." Ah! how
he longed to sit with her, even at her feet, and tell her how his life
would be but worship of her. He regretted that he was not poor, for to
unite himself more closely to her he would have liked to win her clothes
and food by his labour; and hearing himself speaking of love and seeing
her as a maiden with the May time about her, his dreams drifted until
the ticking of the clock forced him to remember that he could tell her
nothing now of all his romance, so with pain and despair at heart he
wrote,

"Never before did I so ardently feel the necessity of seeing you, of
sharing my soul with you, and yet now is the moment when I say, I must
end. But let this end be the beginning of our life of love, devotion,
and trust. I will come to-night to see you; I will not go into the
billiard-room, but will walk straight to the drawing-room. Do be there.
Dearest Maggie, I am yours and yours only."

He seized his hat and rushed to the post. He was in time, and now
that the step had been taken, he walked back looking more than usually
handsome and tall, pleased to see the children run out of school and
roll on the grass, pleased to linger with the General.

"Where are you going, sir?" said the old man.

"I'm going to my studio to play the fiddle. Will you come? I'll give you
a glass of sherry, and--"

"Never touch anything, except at meals. I used to when I was as young as
you, but not now. But I will go and hear a little music."

Glad to have a companion, Frank took out the violin, and he played all
the melodies he knew; and his mind ran chiefly on Schubert and Gounod.
The "Soir," the "Printemps," and "La Chanson du Printemps" carried his
soul away, nor could he forbear to sing when he came to the phrase, "La
Neige des Pommiers." When musical emotion ran dry he tried painting, but
with poor result. During dinner he grew fevered and eager to see Maggie,
and mad to tell her that he loved her, and could love none but her. At
half-past eight the torture of suspense was more than he could endure,
and he decided that he would go to the Manor House. He passed round the
block of cottages, and got into the path that between the palings led
through the meadows. It was a soft summer evening--moonlight and sunset
played in gentle antagonism, and in a garden hat he saw Maggie coming
towards him. He noticed the pink shawl about her shoulders, and the
thought struck him, "had she come to ask him to elope." She stopped, and
she hesitated as if she were going to turn back again.

"Oh, I am so sorry," she said, speaking with difficulty, "but I wanted
you to get this before nine."

"Never mind, darling," he answered, smiling; "you can tell me all about
it--it will be sweeter to hear you talk. Which way shall we go?"

"I really don't think I can now; father doesn't know I am out. This
letter will--"

"No, no; I cannot bear to part with you. How pretty you look in that
hat! Come."

"No, Frank, I cannot now, and you had better leave me. I cannot walk
with you to-night. Read this letter."

"Then am I--is it really so?" said Frank, growing suddenly pale. "You
will not have me?"

"You must read this letter, it will tell you all. I am truly sorry, but
I did not know you cared for me--at least not like that. I don't think
I could, I really don't. But I don't know what I am saying. How
unfortunate it was meeting you. I but thought to run round and leave the
letter, it would have explained all better than I could. We have known
you so long. You will forgive me?"

She stood with the letter in her hand. He snatched it a little
theatrically and tore it open. She watched, striving to read the
effect of her words in his face. They dealt in regrets. There was
an exasperating allusion to engaged affections. There was a long and
neatly-worded conclusion suggesting friendship. She had taken a great
deal of trouble with the composition, and was very fearful as to the
result. She felt she could not marry him--at least, not just at present,
she didn't know why. Altogether Frank's proposal had puzzled and
distressed her. She felt she must see her flirtation out with Charlie,
but at the same time she did not want to utterly lose Frank, or worse
still, perhaps, to hand him over to Sally. She was determined that Sally
should not be Lady Mount Rorke, and she thrilled a little when she saw
he would not give her up easily, and her heart sank when she thought
of the difficulty of continuing her intrigue without prejudicing her
future. If Frank would only leave Southwick for a little while.

"Is this all? The meaning is clear enough; it means that you love the
man I saw yesterday at the Manor House. But he shall not have you; I
will save you from him. Listen to me--I swear he shall not have you;
I will strive to outwit him by every means in my power. If I don't get
you, none shall. I will shoot the man rather than he should get you."

"O Frank, you wouldn't commit murder!"

"I would, for you; but it will not be necessary. I can challenge him to
fight a duel, and if he is cowardly enough to refuse, I will horsewhip
him before your face, and I don't suppose you will marry him after
that."

Maggie struggled with feelings of laughter, fear, and delight; delight
overpowered laughter, for Frank was young and handsome, and full of what
he said. It was quite romantic to be talked to like that. She would like
to see the men threaten each other. But then--the scandal--father might
never get over it. And if he married again? Speaking slowly, and in an
undertone so as not to betray herself, she said: "O Frank, I'm sure you
would not do anything that would injure me."

"My darling, I love you better than the whole world. My whole life, if
you will, shall be spent in striving to make you happy."

"You are very good." She took his hand and squeezed it; he returned the
pressure with rapturous look and motion. She drew from him a little, for
there were some people coming towards them, and she said: "Take care."
When the fisher folk had passed, she looked at him stealthily. She had
always liked him in that necktie, and those cloth shoes were perfect.
Had she never known Charlie, or if she had not gone so far with
him!--There was something in Frank that was very nice--she could like
the two. What a pity the two were not one! "If he were always as nice
as he is now, and not lecture me!" Then she remembered she must return
home. "I must really go home; I can't go any farther--"

"No, no, I cannot leave you. I must see and hear you now. If you knew
what I have endured waiting for you, you would not be so cruel. Come and
let us sit on the beach."

"I couldn't. I must go back; father will miss me. Besides, what have
we to say? If I were only free and could tell you that I loved you, it
would be different."

"Free! then you regret; if a woman wills it she can always free
herself."

"No, it is harder than you think for a girl to get out of an engagement
she has entered into, even if no absolute promise has been given."

"What do you mean? If you have entered into no formal engagement you are
surely free."

"I don't know. Do you think so? I am afraid men think that a promise may
be broken after marriage as well as before."

"You are wrong. Women who are jealous, who are old, tell girls that men
are always unfaithful, but I'm sure that if I loved a girl I could never
think of another. Do you really think I could think of any girl but
you?"

"I don't know. I wonder if all you say is true."

"Do you think me different from other men?"

"Yes, but I cannot go on the beach; some other evening I will walk there
with you."

"No, now, now--I want to tell you how and when I began to love. Do you
remember when I used to spend part of my holidays at the Manor House
when I was only so high, and you were all in short frocks? Come, there
is much I want to say to you; I cannot part with you. Come, and let us
sit on the shingle. Oh, the beautiful evening!"

She could love him a little when she looked at him, but when he talked
she lost interest in him. She had allowed him to take her hand, he had
bent towards her, and she had let him kiss her; and then they talked of
love--she of its bitterness and disappointments; he of its aspirations,
and gradually their souls approached like shadows in the twilight,
paused for a few vague moments, seemed as if lost in dreams.

"I shall never forget this night! O my love, tell me one day you will be
mine!"

"I cannot promise, you must not ask me."

"We are meant for each other. It was not blind fate that cast us
together. Does no voice tell you this? I hear it in my heart."

The abandonment, the mystery of the gathering dusk, touched Maggie's
fancy. They were alone in the twilight, and it was full of the romance
of a rising tide.

"Never did I know such happiness; I am supremely happy, alone with you
beneath this sky, listening to the vague, wild voice of the sea. It
would be bitter sweet to die in such a triumphant hour. Supposing wewere
to lie here and allow the sea to take us away."

"No, I don't want to die. I want to live and enjoy my life."

The answer fell a little chillingly on Frank's rapture. Then after
a pause, Maggie said: "I think I have read of that somewhere--in
anovel--lovers caught by the tide."

"Yes, I daresay you have. I was thinking of two lovers who were so
overcome with happiness that they decided that they would not trust
themselves again to the waves and storms of life, but would let the
calm, slow tide of death take them away with all their happiness
unassoiled."

Maggie did not answer. The double fear had come upon her--first,
that the tide might rise higher than usual and cut off their retreat.
Secondly, that Frank--he was a poet--might insist on remaining there and
being drowned. Getting up, she said: "I do not know what father will say
when I get home, really it is quite dark. Come, Frank."

"Death is better than a life of abomination--loss of innocence, and of
delight in simple things. I ask you," he said, stopping her suddenly.

"Yes, no doubt it is so; but I want to get home. Do go on, Frank."

"I will save you from a life of abomination--in other words I will save
you from him; he shall not get you. I have sworn it; you did notknow
that when you were lying down on the beach--you had ceased speaking, and
in the silence my life seemed stirred to its very essence; and I knew
that I must struggle against him, and conquer. I want to know this:
Have you ever thought of what your life would be with him? Have you ever
thought what he is?"

"But you don't know him, Frank. You have never spoken to him. I am sure
you misjudge him."

"Do you think I cannot see what he is? He is one of those men whose one
ambition is to make themselves friendly in a house where there are women
to wheedle. If the wife is young he will strive to wheedle her,
and though he may not succeed he must degrade her. Or, if she have
daughters, he will never cease to appeal to, to work upon, to excite
latent feelings which, had it not been for him, would never have been
developed into base and abnormal desire. I know what the foul-minded
beast is. Such men as he ought to be killed; we don't want them in our
society. I want to save you, I want to give you a noble, a pure life,
full of the charms of a husband's influence, a home where there would be
love of natural things. You are capable of all this, Maggie, your nature
is a pure one, but your life is unwholesome and devoid of purity."

"Frank, how can you speak so? You have no right to say such things about
us. I am sure you have always been well treated--"

"You do not understand me, I will explain what I mean. Your life is rich
and luxurious, but you are not happy, no one is happy in idleness; above
all no woman is happy without love. A woman's mission in life is to
love, she must have her home, her husband, and her children. These are
the things that make a woman happy; and these are the things I want to
give you--that I will give you; for, listen to me, I swear you shall not
have that adventurer. He would degrade you with pleasure at first, and
afterwards with neglect. You are too good for this, Maggie--it must
not be, it shall not be. As I said before, death would be better." They
stood in front of the canal locks and Maggie looked with a beating heart
on the deep water that a ray from a crescent moon faintly indicated.
"A woman is helpless until she finds her lord, he who shall save, the
saviour who shall bring her home safe to the fold. He exists! and all
are in danger till they find him. Some miss him--they wander into misery
and ruin; those that find him are led to happiness and content. I
am yours. I would tell you how I became convinced that I am the one
appointed by God to lead you to Him."

"I thought you didn't believe in God."

"Not as we have been taught to understand Him but I believe in a
presiding power--call it luck, fate, or destiny that--that exists and
wills; that is to say, watches over--rules out that this man is for that
woman, and ordains that he shall protect her from danger, shall save her
from those that seek her destruction. Much has happened to prove that I
was intended for you. We have known each other since we were children.
Do you not remember when I kissed you in the verandah as I was going to
school? I was the first man who kissed you; you were the first woman who
kissed me--have you never felt that we were for each other? Nor can I
forget that when I thought we had drifted for ever apart, that I was
brought back. Do you think it was accident--blind chance? I don't. Now
I see this man striving to win you, and whether it be for your money,
whether it be for yourself, or for both, it is my duty to say: No, this
must not be."

"I think you are mistaken about Charlie. I admit that a man is often
a better judge than a girl; and as for you, Frank, I am sure I am very
fond of you. It is very good of you to take such interest in me--but we
must get home. I don't know what father will think."

"No, before you go a step further you must promise me not to see that
man again. I cannot tell you how, but I know no good can come of it. He
is one of those creatures who cannot love, and only care for women for
the excitement they afford. I know what sort of brute he is. It is more
depraving to walk alone with him, than to be the mistress of a man who
loved you."

"He is leaving Brighton in a few days."

"So much the better for all of us. But you must promise me. I would
sooner see you lying drowned in that lock than his wife."

Maggie trembled. It was ridiculous to think of such a thing. Surely he
did not mean to drown her if she refused to promise. Charlie was going
to London in a few days; he would be away for three or four months.
Heaven only knows what would happen in that time. She didn't see what
right Frank had to bully her--to extort promises from her by night on
the edge of a dangerous lock. But a promise wasn't much, and a promise
given in such circumstances was not a promise at all.

"If you are really in earnest--if you think it is for my good, I'll
promise you not to see him again."

"O Maggie, if you only knew what a load of trouble you have taken off
my mind! Thank you--give me your hand, and let me thank you. I know I am
right. And now, tell me, can you love me? Will you marry me?"

"I will promise nothing more to-night; we shall see how you behave
yourself," the girl replied winningly. "And now go on, sir, we have been
here quite long enough."

He crossed the gate mechanically, she followed eagerly, and when she
reached the other side her heart beat with pride at her pretty triumph.
Now I'll twit him, she thought, as they ascended the shore and entered
the town.

"I wonder why you think Charlie so wicked; I think if you knew him you
would change your opinion."

"I am very thankful indeed that I do not know him."

The conversation dropped, but a moment after he gave her the chance she
wanted.

"Mind you have promised me not to see him again. I trust you."

"But suppose he calls and if I should be in the drawing-room, I cannot
walk out of the room without speaking to him."

"I think you had better write and say you do not wish to see him."

"I couldn't do that; we have known him a long time, and father has
always said that we must be rude to no one. Besides, what reason could I
give?"

"You need not give a reason. But let that pass. I can't see why you
should meet; you can surely tell your servant to say 'Not at home,' when
he calls."

"I might be in the garden--Sally would not allow it. If John said 'Not
at home,' she would run down and let him in."

"I see you are raising difficulties--I see you do not intend to keep
your promise."

"You have been quite rude enough for one evening. You have kept me out
on the beach by force till nearly ten o'clock at night, and you said
that my life at the Manor House was not a pure one--I don't know what
you mean. No man ever spoke to me like that before."

"You misunderstood me. If you knew how I loved you, you would not twit
me with my own words. Heaven knows I would sooner go back and drown
myself in the lock than do anything or say anything that would offend
you. Remember also that I asked you to be my wife."

"You are not the first. I daresay it may appear strange to you, but
others have asked me the same question before."

"It does not seem strange to me, it only seems strange to me that every
one doesn't love you, but I daresay they do. O Maggie, remember that you
gave me hope, you said that you might--"

"Did I? Well, it's too late to talk any more. Goodnight. I suppose
you're not coming in?"

She left him in a cruel dispersal of hope. He avoided, and then he
tenderly solicited a regret that he had not thrown her into the lock. To
end on that hour by the sea would have been better than the trivial and
wretched conclusion of a broken promise, and everything, even murder,
were better than that a brute should have her woman's innocence to sully
and destroy. His love of the woman disappeared in his desire to save,
the idea which she represented at that moment; and lost in sentiment
he stood watching the white sickle of the moon over against the dim
village. The leaves of some pollarded willows whitened when the breeze
shot them up to the light, and a moment after became quite distinct in
the glare and the steam of an approaching engine. He might go and tell
Willy all about it; he would ask him to interfere-could he catch that
train? If he ran for it, yes. He ran full tilt across the green under
the archway up the high stone steps. He just did it.

It was the last train; he would sleep in Brighton. His plan, so far as
he had a definite plan, was to ask Willy to come with him and tell "that
brute" that his visits to the Manor House must end, and request him to
pay his sister no further attentions. His other plans were--Willy must
speak to Maggie and tell her all he knew of the man; Willy must speak to
his father; Mr. Brookes must not be kept in ignorance. But of course
the right thing to do would be for Willy and him to call at the brute's
hotel, tell him what they thought, and give him a licking. The train
jogged on, and Frank made plan after plan. It was now past eleven, and
he would not be at East Street before twelve o'clock. As he hurried
along the streets he doubted more than ever how Willy would receive him.
He might just as well have waited till morning. However, it was too late
now to think of going back, there was no train, and he rapped at first
timidly and then noisily at the shop door. He had to wait some time, and
then he heard a voice asking from the top windows who was there.

"'Tis I, Frank; awfully sorry, but must see you--particular business."

There was no answer; he heard the voice grumbling, and more than ever
doubtful of the cordiality of his reception, he listened. The door
opened.

"Who is it?" he said.

"'Tis I, Cissy; but I'm in my nightdress."

"I won't look at you, Cissy, if that's what you mean. But won't yougive
me a kiss?"

"Stoop down, then."

"I am sorry for waking you up, Cissy."

"Never mind, I'd get up at any hour to see you."

"There, run upstairs, and take care you don't catch cold, or I shall
never hear the end of it."

"Father is in bed with mother. He says you are to go up, for if he were
to get out of bed it might give him cold. You know his room?"

"Yes, here it is, now run along."

"Come in."

Frank was a little shocked, and he waited stupidly on the threshold. He
could see a fragment of Mrs. Brookes's profile, and beneath the clothes
the outline of Willy's bony body.

"Come in, come in," he said, "don't stand there filling the room with
cold air. Now, what is it? Why the deuce do you come here waking us up
at this ungodly hour? What has happened?"

"I have proposed to your sister Maggie."

"I am sure I am delighted to hear it, old chap; but I can't help
thinking that I could have congratulated you equally as well, if not
better, in the morning." Then, noticing the distressed look in Frank's
face, he said: "I hope she has not refused you."

"No; she asked me to wait, she said it would depend--"

"Then you may depend it is all right; now go away and let me go to
sleep, we'll talk about it in the morning. You can't get back to-night.
You are sleeping in Brighton, I suppose? You'll come and breakfast
here?"

"Yes, with pleasure, but it wasn't exactly to tell that I had proposed
to Maggie that I came here to-night; there is something more than that.
You know that fellow she calls Charlie? I don't know his other name."

"Stracey?"

"I dare say. I mean the man you said you hated more than any man alive;
I hate him, too."

"You don't mean to say she is still thinking of that fellow. Has he come
back?"

"He was at the Manor House all day yesterday."

"If she marries that fellow I'll never speak to her again, it will be
dead cuts."

"It is only natural that I should love Maggie. You remember the first
day I came down to the Manor House? How young I was then--how young we
all were; there are no days like the old days! There is a beautiful poem
by Wordsworth; I only remember one line now--

    "'When every day was long
       As twenty days are now'--

Do you remember the poem?" Willy did not answer, and noticing that his
eyes were blinking, Frank hastily returned to more recent events." I
wrote to her this afternoon telling her how much I loved her, and I said
that I would call about nine in the evening at the Manor House, and
that I hoped to find her in the drawing-room where we could talk without
being disturbed. However, I was too excited, and could not hold out till
nine; I thought I had better hear my fate at once, and as I was walking
across the field--you know, at the back of Mrs. Heald's--I met her half
way. She had a letter in her hand, which she said she was going to leave
at Mrs. Heald's for me--She admitted that the letter was in point of
fact a refusal, and when I questioned her she admitted that she was
obliged to refuse me because she had half promised Charlie. We went for
a walk on the beach; we sat on the beach and watched the sunset, and
I told her all. I spoke to her about the past, how we had grown up
together--how we had been, as it were, from the first fated for each
other; for you must admit, Willy, that it is very curious--I don't know
if you ever think of it, but I do--how we have met again even when the
chances of life seemed to have put us for ever apart. "Here a slight
sound warned Frank that the present moment was one as equally unfitted
for psychological analysis as for poetry, and he hurried to his story,
hoping that the incident of the lock would secure him attention. "Willy,
I think I convinced her that I liked her better than that other fellow.
We were standing by the lock--Willy, I really do think you might
listen."

"My dear fellow, I am listening. You were both looking at the sunset."

"It really is too bad. Of course, if you don't want to hear, and would
prefer to go to sleep, you have only to say so."

"My dear fellow, I assure you I wasn't asleep. I only closed my
eyes because I can't bear the glare of that candle. I know where you
were--you were looking at the sunset."

"No, we weren't."

"Weren't they, Jessie? Are you asleep?"

"No, I am not asleep. Do hold your tongue, Willy, I want to hear the
story. You were standing by the lock, Mr. Escott."

"Ah, yes, so they were."

"I felt it was my duty, so I told her that I felt it was my mission to
save--to save her from that man, and I made her promise me not to see
him again."

"Then it is all right. Nobody can be more glad than I am. I hate the
fellow."

"She will not keep her promise. Of course she may only have done it to
tease me; but as we were going home she said she could not walk out of
the room if she happened to be there when he called, nor could she leave
word with the servants to say that they were not at home. She made a lot
of excuses. What are you laughing at, Mrs. Brookes?"

"I am really very sorry, Mr. Escott, but I couldn't help wondering if
she would change her mind again if you were to go back to the lock."

Frank took up the candle and turned to go.

"Don't go," Willy murmured faintly.

"I am very sorry, Mr. Escott--if circumstances permitted, I would do all
I could to help you."

This was delicate ground, and Willy woke up.

"What do you want me to do? Have you anything to suggest?"

"Yes, it struck me that we might both go round to the fellow's
hotel--Stracey, you call him, I think--and you might tell him that his
visits must cease at the Manor House, and that he must not speak to your
sister if he should happen to meet her. That should bring the matter
to an end. He is in Brighton--he is staying at the 'Grand.' We might go
round there to-morrow morning."

"He might kick us out."

"I only hope he may try. I would give him such a hammering. But you need
not be afraid of that. It wouldn't do to have Maggie's name mentioned in
connection with a vulgar brawl--people are not too charitable. My idea
is that this business should be conducted in the quietest and most
gentlemanly manner possible."

"I think I had better speak to father first."

"No necessity; he will be only too glad to get rid of the penniless
brute. Don't you think so, Mrs. Brookes?"

"I do."

They then spoke of other things--of the shop, the profit they had
made on tomatoes, and the losses that had resulted from over-stocking
themselves with flour. At last a loud snore brought the conversation to
a full stop, and Frank hurriedly bade them good-night.

"Cissy will let you out," said Willy, with a sigh of relief.

The little girl had pulled on her stockings and tied a petticoat round
her waist. "So you are going to be married."

"O Cissy, you have been listening!"

"Is she very nice? She must be very nice for you to marry her. I should
like to marry you."

"Would you, Cissy, and why?"

"Oh, because you are so very handsome. But you will come and see us all
the same, and let me sit on your knee?"

"Of course I will, Cissy, and now good-night."

Next morning Willy declared himself ready to go and see Mr. Charles
Stracey, and to tell him that he was not to call any more at the Manor
House, or speak to Miss Brookes if he should happen to meet her. Frank
wondered if this decision was owing to Mrs. Brookes's influence.

"I slept last night at the 'Grand' It seemed odd sleeping in the same
house--perhaps within a few doors of him. If you only knew how I love
her, if I could only tell you, you would pity me. You ought to know what
I feel--the anxiety, the heart-ache. I know you have gone through it
all."

"Yes, I think I know what it is," Willy replied thoughtfully.

"Mr. Stracey is staying here?"

"Will you enquire at the office, sir?"

While the books were being searched the young men consulted together.
Frank said: "Send up your card, and say you will be glad to speak to
him on a matter of importance. Of course he will see you, but before you
speak about Maggie you must apologise for my presence; you must say that
I am a very particular friend, and that you thought it better that the
interview should take place in the presence of a witness."

"I wish it were all over. I wouldn't do what I am doing for any one
else, I can tell you, Frank."

"Mr. Stracey is in the hotel, sir."

"Will you give him my card, and say I should be glad to speak to him on
a matter of importance?"

"Very good, sir."

(In an undertone to Frank), "Was that right?"

"Quite right."

"Oh, one thing I had forgotten to ask you--am I to shake hands with
him?"

"You mean if he offers you his hand?"

"Yes."

"It is impossible to settle everything beforehand. One must act
according as the occasion requires."

"That's all very well for you, but I am a slow man, and am lost if I
don't arrange beforehand."

"Pretend not to see his hand, and apologise for my presence; he will
then see that we mean business."

"The waiting is the worst part."

"Will you walk this way, sir?" said the page boy. "Mr. Stracey is not
out of bed yet, but he said if you wouldn't mind, sir."

They shrank from their enterprise instinctively, but the door was thrown
open, and they saw a bath, and a sponge, and a towel, and Mr. Stracey
lying on his back reading _The Sporting Times_. He extended a long
brawny arm. The strength of the arm fixed itself on Willy's mind, and he
doubted if he had not better take the proffered hand.

"I brought my friend Mr. Escott with me, for I thought a witness--I
mean, that this interview should be conducted in the presence of a third
party."

At this speech Charlie opened his eyes and dropped his paper. Willy
leaned over the rail of the bed; Frank looked into the bath, but
remembering himself suddenly, he examined the chest of drawers.

"I have come to speak to you about my sister."

Charlie changed countenance, and both men noticed the change.

"I mean to say I have come to tell you that you must discontinue your
visits to the Manor House, and I must beg of you not to address my
sisters should you meet them."

"May I ask if you are your father's representative, if you speak with
his authority?"

"I do not. I--"

"Then I should like to know on what authority you forbid me a house that
doesn't belong to you, and I should like to know, if your father doesn't
disapprove of my knowing your sisters, why you should? I shall speak to
Miss Brookes as long as she cares to speak to me. The very idea of a man
like you coming here to bully me! You have got my answer."

"If, after this warning," said Frank, who, seeing that things were
going against them, thought he had better interfere, "you speak to Miss
Brookes, you will do so at your peril."

"Peril! What do you mean?"

"I mean that you must be prepared to take the consequences."

"Who are you? I should like to know what you have to do in this matter?"

"I speak as Miss Brookes's future husband."

"Future husband be damned! She'll never marry you," said Charlie,
springing out of bed.

Frank threw himself on his guard, and they would have struck each other
if Willy had not cried out: "Frank, remember you promised me there must
be no scandal."

"I had almost forgotten. For Miss Brookes's sake, I refrain. Do you
also, for her sake, cease to provoke me."

Charlie hesitated for a moment, then rushing to the door, he said: "I,
too, for Miss Brookes's sake, refrain, and I give you three seconds to
clear out."

In attempting to carry out the injunction Willy nearly fell in the bath.
Frank had to bite his lip to avoid a smile, and he stalked out of the
room assuming his most arrogant air.

"I think, on the whole, we got the best of it," he said as they went
down stairs.

"Do you? He turned us out of his room!"

"That's the worst of tackling a man in his own room--if he tells you to
go, and you don't go, he can ring for the servants."

"I was as nearly as possible going into the bath."

"Yes, a touch more and down you'd have gone." Frank laughed, and Willy
laughed, "and that fellow in his nightshirt fishing you out!"

"Oh, don't, don't--"

Frank asked Willy to lunch with him at Mutton's, and he ordered a bottle
of champagne in honour of the day.

"I say, just fancy pulling you out of the bath, and wiping you with a
towel. I can see you dripping!"

"Don't set me off again. Let me enjoy my cutlets."

"By Jove! there's something I hadn't thought of."

"What's that?"

"We must be off. We must tell Maggie what has happened before he has
time to communicate with her. What is the next train to Southwick?"

"There's one at half-past one."

"It was after twelve when we saw him, he won't have time to catch that.
We must be off. Waiter, the bill, and be quick. Look sharp, Willy,
finish the bottle, pity to waste it."

"What a nuisance women are, to be sure. Just as I was enjoying my
cutlet! I can't walk fast in this weather, I should make myself ill."

"We must take a cab."

"What a fellow you are, you never think of the expense. I don't know
where I should be if I were as reckless as you are."

"Supposing he were at the station. It would be rather a sell if we went
down by the same train! What should we do? He would surely never attempt
to force his way in!"

"I don't think he would attempt that. If he did, we should have to send
for the police."

The young men strove to decide how the news should be broken to Maggie.
But they had arranged nothing before they arrived at Southwick, and
Frank stopped Willy time after time by the footpath, until at last in
despair the latter said: "We must make haste; there's another train in
twenty minutes."

"By Jove! I had not thought of that; we must get on. Well, then, it is
all arranged. You must tell her that you thought it your duty. Put
it all down to duty, and it was your duty to do what you did--putting
entirely out of the question the service you did me."

"I can tell you what, Frank, I am very sorry I ever meddled in the
matter. Had I known the vexation and annoyance it would have caused--and
mark my words, and see if they don't come true, we are only commencing
the annoyances that the affair will cause us. Ah, had I only foreseen!
What a fool I was; I ought to have known better; I have had nothing but
bad luck all my life. It is perfectly wonderful the bad luck I have had;
no matter what I did, nothing seemed to go right. I dare say if you had
gone to see that fellow without me it would have turned out differently.
But I don't see how I am to tell my sister point blank that I have
forbidden him the house. What will she say? She may fly at me. Women
have queer tempers, particularly when you interfere with their young
men. My sisters have the very worst of tempers; you don't know them as I
do. Fortunately it is not Sally. I assure you I wouldn't face Sally with
such news for all the money you could give me."

"I am very sorry, old chap, but we must now go through it. You must
forbid her to communicate with him."

"She won't heed what I say. It will only excite her. She will fly at me,
and call me names, and burst into tears. I should not be surprised if
she went off her head--she has been very strange once before. I don't
mean to say she was ever wrong in her head, but she is a nervous,
excitable girl--most excitable; my sisters are the most excitable girls
I have ever known."

It was surprisingly soon over. Willy had not spoken a dozen words, when
he was interrupted.

"You mean to say you have been to call on him?"

"Yes; and we told him he was never to speak to you again."


Frank expected her eyes to flash fire, but he only noticed a slight
change in her face, a movement of the muscles of the lower jaw.

"Then I will speak to neither of you again!" and she walked out of the
room, and in dismay they listened to her going upstairs.

"She didn't fly at me," said Willy; and, looking a little terrified, he
stroked his moustache softly. "I told you she would give no heed to what
we said; nor do I see how we can prevent her seeing that fellow if she
chooses. He cannot come into the house, it is true, but she can go out
when she pleases."

"We must follow her."

Conscious of defeat, Willy desired compromise. He could not be
induced to take a share of watching and following which Frank declared
essential; and, dreading an encounter with Stracey, whose brawny arm it
was impossible to forget, he shut himself up in the shop, and devoted
himself to drawing up a most elaborate balance-sheet, showing how he
would stand if he were obliged to close the business to-morrow, whereas
Frank loitered about the roads, till Mrs. Horlock came along with her
dogs, and engaged him in conversation; and no matter at what corner he
stationed himself, he found he was not free from observation. A few days
after he could not bring himself to return to his post, and contented
himself with looking out of his window, and taking an occasional stroll
by the embankment, when he saw a train signalled.

A great weight seemed lifted from his shoulder the day he heard that
his rival's holiday had come to an end, and that he had been forced to
return to his counting-house in London. True it is that Mr. Brookes
had in a certain measure approved of Willy's action in forbidding young
Stracey the Manor House, and therefore of his, Frank Escott's, suit,
but neither of these gains compensated him for the crowning loss of not
being able to see his beloved, for although the Manor House was still
theoretically open to him, practically it was closed. The sisters,
although at variance on all subjects, had united in condemning him and
Willy, and during one dinner, the misery of which he declared he could
never forget, they had sat whispering together, refusing to address him
either by look or word. Willy took all this calmly. It is an ill wind
that blows no good, and the silence enabled him to thoroughly masticate
his food. Mr. Brookes wept a little and laughed a little, and reminded
them of the oblivion that awaited all their little quarrels.

All this, like much else in life, was ridiculous enough; but because
we are ridiculous, it does not follow that we do not suffer, and Frank
suffered. He was five-and-twenty, and light love had him fairly by the
throat; he winced, and he cried out, but very soon his dignity gave way,
and he craved forgiveness. But Maggie passed without heeding him. For
more than a week she resisted all his appeals, and it was not until she
saw that she was taking the neighbourhood into her confidence, and to
feel that if she did not relent a little he might leave Southwick, and
not return, she answered him with a monosyllable. With what bliss did he
hear that first "no," and how passionately he pleaded for a few words;
it did not seem to matter what they were, so long as he heard her speak
one whole sentence to him. Feeling her power, she was shy of yielding,
and with every concession she drew him further into the meshes of love.
He dined now nearly every day at the Manor House, and he spent an hour,
sometimes two, with her in the morning or afternoon; he followed her
from greenhouse to greenhouse, but all his efforts were in vain, and he
failed not only to obtain her promise to marry him, but even a renewal
of the feeble and partial hopes which she had given him that night on
the beach. He prayed, he wept, he implored pity, he openly spoke of
suicide, and he hinted at murder. But Maggie passed him, pushing him out
of the way with the watering-pot, threatening to water him too, until
one day he drew a revolver. She screamed, and the revolver was put away,
but on the next occasion a stiletto that he had brought from Italy was
produced, and with a great deal of earnestness life was declared to be
a miserable thing. It was absurd, no doubt, but at the same time it was
not a little pathetic; he was so good-looking, and so sincere. Maggie
put down the watering-pot, and she would probably have allowed him to
take her hand and kiss her, if he had not spoken roughly about Charlie,
and called her conduct into question. So she told him she would not
speak to him again, and she continued watering the flowers in silence.
Amid vague remembrances of murders she had read of, Frank's words and
behaviour remained present in her mind, and that evening when Willy, who
rarely took the trouble to speak, much less to advise his sisters, told
her that she might never get such a chance again, she said: "I am not
going to marry a madman to please your vanity."

"Marry a madman! What do you mean?"

"Well, I call a man that who comes regularly to see a girl with a
revolver in one pocket and a stiletto in the other, and threatens to
leave himself wallowing in a pool of blood at her feet--"

"You mean to say he does that? You are clearly determined to drive the
poor fellow out of his mind with your infernal coquetry. Well, women
are the most troublesome, and I believe in many cases, the wickedest
creatures on the face of God's earth."

"You shut up. Men who don't get on with women always abuse them; you are
soured since Miss ----, the actress, jilted you."

"If you ever dare mention that subject, I will never speak to you again.
You know I don't break my word."

"Why do you interfere in my affairs? You don't think of me when you go
down to browbeat Charlie Stracey; you don't think of what would have
been said of me had Frank hit him, and it had all come out in the
papers." Maggie said no more; she saw she had gone too far. Willy sat
puffing at his pipe; but when her father spoke of a certain investment
that had not turned out as well as he had anticipated, he joined in the
conversation, and she hoped her cruelty was forgotten.



XII



Frank uttered a cry of surprise when he opened the studio door to his
friend. It was his favourite complaint that Willy never came to see him.

"At last, at last! This is the second time you have been in the place
since it was finished, faithless friend!"

"My dear fellow, you know it is not my fault. I have been very busy
lately trying to get on with my accounts. There's not a room in the
Manor House where I can work in; my sisters' things are everywhere, and
they must not be interfered with--their ball-dresses, their birds, their
work. My sisters think of nothing but pleasure."

"Triss, go back, go to your chair, sir; I'll get the whip."

Showing his fangs, the bull-dog retired; then with a hideous growl
sprang upon his chair, and sat eyeing Willy's calves.

"I cannot think what pleasure it can give you to keep such a brute. Even
if I had my accounts finished, I don't think I should care to come here
much. It isn't safe."

"You are quite mistaken. There's not a better-tempered dog alive than
Triss; he wouldn't bite any one unless he attacked me. Give me a slap,
and you'll see--I won't let him come near you."

"Thank you, I'd rather not. But he sometimes growls even at you, and
shows his teeth, too."

"That's only a way of his, and when he does it I kick him. Come here,
Triss--come here, sir!" The dog approached slowly; he sat down and gave
his paw to his master, but he did not cease to growl. "There! We have
had enough of you, go back to your chair. What will you take--a glass of
Chartreuse--a cigarette?"

"Thanks, both if you will let me. I see you like pretty things," he
said, admiring the tall legs of the table--early English--and the quaint
glasses into which Frank poured the liqueur. "You've got the place to
look very nice."

"Very different from what is was when the smith and his boisterous brood
were here," and as if he intended an apt illustration of his words, he
stretched his leg out on the white fur rug and surveyed his calf and red
silk stocking. "Just look at that dog, isn't he a beauty? I always think
he looks well in that attitude, leaning his head over the rail. I began
a picture of him the other day in a pose somewhat like that. I'll show
it you." Frank propped his sketch against the leg of the sofa, and
returned to his place on the sofa. "What do you think of it? Your father
said it was very like."

"It is like him, but I can see no merit in it. I'm afraid of the brute.
I can't help hating him, for he always looks as if he were going for my
legs. What else have you been painting? Any pretty women about? I should
admire them more."

"I haven't been painting lately," he said, sighing a little
melodramatically, as was his wont, "I think I have been playing the
piano more than anything else. I have composed something too, I don't
think it bad, I'll play it to you: a dialogue between a gentleman and a
lady. He speaks first, then she answers, then I blend the two motives,
and that is what they both say."

Willy sat enwrapped in his own thoughts, not having heard a note. Though
he knew that Willy was incapable of judging of music, it disappointed
him that his dialogue had passed unperceived. Then smiling, he struck
a few notes, and Willy awoke. "You haven't been listening," he said,
reproachfully. "You don't care for any music, except that little tune."

"Yes, I do; I heard what you played, and I think it very pretty."

"Willy, I am the most miserable man in the world. Every hour, every
minute of my life is a pain to me. I never knew before what you must
have suffered, but I know now; it is a sickening feeling, it takes you
by the throat, it rises in the throat, and you are almost suffocated.
Last night I lay awake hour after hour thinking. I could see Maggie
as plainly as I can see you--she looked down upon me out of space with
strange, steadfast eyes, and my whole soul went out to her, and I cried
to her that I loved her beyond all things; and we seemed to be so near
each other; it seemed such an intimate and perfect communion of spirit
and sense that I seemed, as it were, lifted out of actual life; I seemed
to myself holier, purer, better than I had ever been before; I seemed to
loose all that is gross and material in me, and to gain in all that
is best and worthiest in man. Did you feel like that when you were in
love?"

"I don't know that I felt exactly like that. But never mind how I felt;
you are too fond of alluding to that subject, it is a very painful one
to me; you will make me regret that I ever told you anything about it."

"I am sorry I mentioned it. It is strange, but when one suffers one
likes to speak of and to compare with one's own the suffering that
another has endured. Your sister treats me most cruelly. She has
forgiven me that miserable business, but she refuses to hold out any
hope that she will ever be my wife. I don't understand--I am utterly at
sea. I don't believe for a moment that she cares for that horrid brute;
he is gone away. She tells me she never cared for him. If so, I should
like to learn your explanation of her conduct."

Willy stroked his moustache, apparently declining the responsibility of
apologist; but his manner showed he had something on his mind, and Frank
sought more eagerly than ever to enlist his sympathy and support.

"I have done everything I could to win her. I don't know why she should
be so difficult to please. I am not bad looking, I am at least as good
looking as that damned brute" (here he paused to glance at himself in
the glass and smooth the curls above his forehead). "I am certainly
quite as clever" (here he thought of his painting, and his eye sought
one of his pictures), "and my position--I will not speak of that, it
would be snobbish. Women have cared for me. I have told Maggie hundreds
of times that I never could care for any but her. Fate seems to have
specially marked us for each other. You must admit that there is
something very remarkable in the way we have been brought together over
and over again. I have told her that my life is worthless without her.
The day before yesterday, when I was speaking to her, I burst into
tears. That a man should cry, no doubt, seems to you very ridiculous but
if you knew how I suffer you would pity me. I often think I shall commit
suicide." Frank took the stiletto from his pocket. "I don't mind telling
you, when you knocked at the door I was lying on the sofa thinking it
over. One stab just here and I should be at peace for ever. I told her
so yesterday."

"I'm not fond of giving advice, as you know--I have quite enough to do
to think about my own affairs--but as you have often spoken to me on
this matter, and as you have asked me for my opinion and my help, I had
better tell you that I differ entirely from you concerning the wisdom of
the course you are pursuing."

"How's that?" said Frank, at first surprised and then delighted at
Willy's breaking from his reserve.

"What I mean is, that I think you would be more successful if you
would lay aside daggers and revolvers, and try to win her affection by
patience and gentleness. Maggie was talking to me about it no later than
last night, and I could see clearly that you frighten her with bluster.
I am sure there are times when she dreads you; it must be a positive
terror to her to sit with you alone--so it would be to any girl."

"What do you mean?"

"Maggie is a very delicate and nervous girl, and it wouldn't surprise
me if your threats to commit suicide seriously affected her health; you
come with a revolver and a stiletto, and you ask her to marry you, and
if she doesn't at once say yes, you abuse her, declaring all the time
that you'll stab yourself with the revolver and shoot yourself with the
stiletto--I beg your pardon, I mean--"

"Of course, if you've come here only to turn me into ridicule--"

"I assure you I didn't mean it--a slip of the tongue," and as their eyes
met at that moment, neither could refrain from laughter.

"Admit that there is something in what I say. If you will behave a
little more quietly--if you will talk to her nicely; leave off assuring
her of your love, she knows all that already; have some patience and
forbearance; you will see if before long she doesn't change towards
you."

His interest in the matter was a desire that his sister should not miss
this chance of marrying the future Lord Mount Rorke. But Maggie felt
too sure of Frank to resist the temptation to tantalise him; besides
her moods were naturally various, and the first relapse into her former
coldness was answered by a sudden reversion to threats of murder and
suicide, and one summer evening about six o'clock, when Mrs. Horlock
took her dogs out and stood at the corner waiting for Angel, a rumour
was abroad that Mr. Escott had stabbed himself to the heart, and had
fallen weltering in his blood at Miss Brookes's feet.

Dr Dickinson walked across the green, watched with palpitating anxiety
from the corner of the Southdown Road. The General spoke to the farmer,
and the farmer's pupil nudged the general dealer. Mrs. Horlock spoke to
the grocers, and the owners of the baths declared they had just heard
from their servant that the young man was not dead, but mortally
wounded.

There was, therefore, no doubt that Dr Dickinson was going to Mrs.
Heald's, and would not turn to the right and walk to the station for the
quarter-to-seven train; and expectation on this point ceasing, the
group expressed its sympathy for the young man. Poor young man--and
so good-looking too--what will she do if he should die?--and he
must die--there was no doubt of it. Maria had met Mary--that was the
housemaid at the Manor House--it was Mary who had mopped up the blood.
She said there was a great pool right in the middle of the new carpet
under the window--they were sitting there on the ottoman when he said
suddenly, "I have come to ask you to marry me; if you won't I must die."
Notwithstanding this she continued to play with him--the cruel little
minx! He could stand it no longer, and he pulled out a dagger he had
brought from the East, and stabbed himself twice close to the heart.
What will she do?--she is his murderer--to all intents and purposes she
is his murderer--she will have to go into a convent--she won't go into
a convent--she'll brazen it out. No one thinks much of those girls--the
way Sally carried on with young Meason--it was disgraceful--they say she
used to steal her father's money and give it to him--Dr Dickinson could
tell fine tales.

Then gossip ceased, and they were in doubt if they might intercept the
doctor and obtain news of his patient when he left Mrs. Heald's. Some
strolled about the green, pretending to be taking the air. Mrs. Horlock,
however, had no scruples, and picking up Angel and calling to Rose and
Flora, she walked straight to Mrs. Heald's, and was seen to go in. Some
five minutes after she came out with the doctor. Frank was not dead, nor
mortally wounded, nor even dangerously wounded, but he had had a very
narrow escape.

"I said to him, 'You have had a very narrow escape.' The fact is--(I, of
course, examined the weapon)--a small part of the point had been broken
away; it was this that saved him. The first blow scarcely pierced his
clothes; the second was more effective, it entered the flesh just above
the heart, and I have no doubt if the steel had penetrated a quarter of
an inch deeper that he would have killed himself. But so far as I can
see at present, he will get over it without much difficulty."

"When did it occur?"

"About an hour ago, at the Manor House. It appears that he has gone
there every day for the last three weeks to ask Miss Brookes to marry
him; she, however, would not give him any definite answer--"

"Horrid girl!"

"I never liked her; most deceitful; no doubt she flirted with him
outrageously."

"I can't say. I hear that he often threatened to kill himself, and
to-day, to conclude, he pulled out his stiletto."

"I thought it was a dagger he had brought from the East?"

"No, the weapon they showed me was an Italian stiletto."

The grocer's daughter shuddered, her mother murmured, "And for that
girl."

"We didn't know him. The Brookes never allow their friends to know any
one in Southwick, but I have heard that he is an exceedingly nice--"

"He will be Lord Mount Rorke, if his uncle doesn't marry again."

"He must have been desperately in love; no one ever heard of such a
thing before. It sounds like the Middle Ages--a stiletto!"

"But what could he see in her? That's what I can't make out; can you?"

"Ah! there I can't assist you. I hope to be able to cure him of the
stiletto wound, but Cupid's arrows are beyond me. They did not fly
so thickly or strike so hard in my time." And, laughing, the doctor
withdrew.

"I suppose that after this she will marry him; she never intended to
let him slip through her fingers. I can see her face when she heard that
another quarter of an inch and her chance of being Lady Mount Rorke was
gone for ever."

"I daresay he won't marry her now. It would serve her right. I should be
so glad."

And so pouring their gall out upon the unfortunate Maggie, the
tradespeople returned to their homes. The stiletto was so utterly
unprecedented, and so complete a reversal of all conception of
the chances of life at Southwick, that every one felt puzzled and
dissatisfied, even when gossip had brought to light every circumstantial
detail of the romantic story. Had the deed been done with a knife, with
anything but a stiletto; had he hanged himself, or cut his throat with
a razor, or shot himself with his revolver, the wonder of the
Southwickians would not have been so excited. But a stiletto! And for
a week an Italy of brigands and bravoes, and stealthy surprises haunted
shadows of picturesque archways, an Italy of chromo-lithographed skies
and draperies in the Southdown Road. Maggie was spoken of with alternate
fear and hate; her wickedness seemed more than natural, and had the
Southdown Road known anything of Italian opera, there is little doubt
that Miss Brookes would have been compared to Lucretia Borgia. The young
women looked out of their windows at night, and wondered how they'd feel
if a troubadour were suddenly to sing to them from behind the privet
hedges. The young men were even more impressed than their womenfolk;
they cursed their place of birth and habitation, knowing that it
incapacitated them from knowing her; they wasted their mothers' candles
sitting up till two in the morning writing odes to cruel women with
raven hair; and all gazed sadly on the old ship in the harbour, and the
Spanish main seemed nearer, and those gallant days more realisable than
they had ever been before.

The direct cause of this revival of romance lived, however, unconscious
of it. She was genuinely frightened. She said her prayers with great
fervour, begging God that He might save Frank, and that she might not
be a murderess. She made him soups, she sent him wine, she brought him
books, and she sat with him for hours. She thought he had never looked
so nice as now--so pale, so aristocratic, so elegantly weak, his head
laid upon a cushion, which she had brought him, and when he took her
hand and said, "Will you, darling?" and she murmured, "Yes," then it
seemed that the happiness of his life was upon his face.

Three days after Frank was sitting at his table writing to Mount Rorke,
and on the following Sunday he walked to the Manor House to tell Mr.
Brookes that he was engaged to his daughter, and to ask his consent. He
did not think of his folly, he was too happy; he seemed like one in a
quiet dulcet dream; he walked slowly, leaning from time to time against
the wooden paling, for he wished to prolong this meditative moment; he
saw everything vaguely, and loved all with a quiet fulness of heart;
he took in the sense of this village and its life as he had never done
before. He compared it with Ireland; Mount Rorke, with its towers, and
lakes, and woods arose, and he was grateful that Maggie was going there,
yet he was sure that he could not live without sometimes seeing this
village where he had found so much happiness.

His wound had sucked away his strength, the sunlight dazzled him, and
feeling a little overcome, and not equal, without pause, to the long
interview that awaited him, he stayed awhile in a shady laurel corner,
and leaning against a piece of iron railing, watched Mr. Brookes and
Mr. Berkins as they paced the tennis lawn to and fro. The old gentleman
frequently stopped in his walk to point at the glass houses.

"My dear Berkins, I wish you would try to get Willy some appointment;
he would, I am sure, take anything over two hundred and fifty a year. He
would do marvellously well in an office--he loves it. I assure you his
eyes twinkle when one speaks of how books are kept, or alludes in any
way to the routine of office work. You should see his accounts and his
letter books, they would make the best clerk you ever had feel ashamed
of himself; but left to himself I am afraid he will do no good; he has
all the method, but nothing else. He lost money in Bond Street; I am
afraid to tell you how much he dropped on the Stock Exchange, but that
was not entirely his fault--the firm went bankrupt; nobody could have
foreseen it, it was quite unheard of."

"I have always noticed that successful men do not buy partnerships in
firms that go bankrupt."

"Very true, Berkins; I wish I had asked your advice on the subject."

"I wish you had, Mr. Brookes. You are no doubt a very clever man, but on
one or two points you are liable to make mistakes; you are, if I may so
speak, a little weak. You should come and live with me for a few months,
I would put you right."

"This is really too much," thought Mr. Brookes; and had it not been for
the certain knowledge that Berkins had lately increased his income by
a couple of thousands a year, he would have answered him tartly enough;
but as this fact admitted of no doubt he bridled his anger and said: "If
you could put my boy right it would be more to the point. He has all
the method of the best clerk in London; he loves the work, he would do
honour to any office, but on his own hook I am afraid he will never do
anything but lose his money."

"Your money, you mean."

"Well, my money if you like. You are very provoking, Berkins. I don't
know if you do it with the express purpose of annoying me. I was saying,
when you interrupted me, that Nature had evidently intended my son for
a clerk rather than for a speculator. I fear he is doing very badly
with his shop in Brighton. The rents are very high in East Street, and I
don't think he sells anything. He takes enough away from here, though. I
don't remember if I ever told you that I was foolish enough to agree
to his taking away, buying from me at the market price he calls it, the
surplus produce of my garden and greenhouses. I dare say I shall get
the money one of these days, but at present I see no sign of it. He is
always making up the accounts, and, so far as we have gone, the result
of this arrangement is that, when I complain that there is neither fruit
nor vegetables on my table, I am told that everything went to Brighton.
I am forced, I assure you, to send my carriage and my horses, that I
paid two hundred guineas for, to fetch potatoes, and he, too, uses my
carriage to take his vegetables to the shop. He gets his sisters to
bring them when they go out driving, nor can I even buy my fruit and
vegetables off him at cost price; he says that would interfere with his
book-keeping, and so I am obliged to buy everything from Hutton, and you
know what his prices are. I assure you, it is most annoying."

"Mr. Brookes, your fortune will not bear this constant drain; you must
remember that we are living in very bad times--times that are not what
they were. I have heard that your distillery--"

"Yes, times are very bad. I have never known them worse, and no doubt
you find them so too. They ought to affect you even more than they do
me. My income is, as you know, all invested money, whereas yours is all
in your business."

"Of course, I am affected by the times; had they remained what they
were, even what they were towards the end of the seventies, I should be
making now something over ten thousand pounds a year. But, thank God! I
have not to complain. Next year I hope to invest another five thousand
pounds. The worst of it is, that there is no price for money in
legitimate securities."

"Everything is very bad; you never will invest your money as I did mine
ten years ago. My business is not, of course, what it used to be, but I
don't complain; if it weren't for troubles nearer home I should get on
very well."

"I hope that Sally has commenced no new flirtation in the Southdown
Road. I thought she had promised you--since she gave up Meason--that she
would for the future know no one that lived there."

"I was thinking for the moment of Willy, not of Sally; she has not been
so troublesome lately. But no sooner are we out of one trouble than we
are in another. It is, of course, very regrettable that young Escott
should have stabbed himself, and in my garden too. I, who hate scandals,
seem always plunged in one. I hear they are talking of it in the clubs
in Brighton. I hope Lord Mount Rorke will not hear of it; if he did, do
you think it would prejudice him against the match?"

"Then you're prepared to give your consent?"

"Why not? Surely! I really don't see--Lord Mount Rorke is a very rich
man."

"Possibly, but Irish peers are not always as rich as they would like us
to believe they are. The connection is, of course, desirable, but I hope
your anxiety to secure it will not lead you into making foolish, I will
say reprehensible, monetary concessions. What I mean is this. I am a
straightforward man, Mr. Brookes, brought up in a hard school, and I
always come straight to the point. You are a rich man, Mr. Brookes--you
have the reputation of being a richer man than you are--and it is
possible, I don't say it is probable, that Lord Mount Rorke will expect
you to make a large settlement. He will possibly--mind you, I do not say
probably--taking the coronet into consideration--those people think as
much of their titles as we do of our money--ask you to settle a thousand
a year, may be fifteen hundred a year, upon your daughter."

"Settle a thousand--maybe fifteen hundred--a year on my daughter!" cried
the horror-stricken Brookes.

"He may even ask for two thousand a year. Remember, you are a
distiller--he is a peer of the realm. And now I say," continued Berkins,
growing more emphatic as he reached the close of his declamation, "that
in my wife's interest I will oppose any and all attempts to purchase a
coronet for Maggie at her sister's expense."

Mr. Brookes stood for a moment stupefied--as if some great calamity
had befallen him. The housekeeping bills, the loss of his fruit and
vegetables, even the Southdown Road seemed as nothing in the face of
this new misfortune. Troublesome as his daughters were, he preferred
an occasional recrudescence of flirtation in his garden to settling the
money that he had made himself and letting them go; no pen can describe
the anguish that the surrendering of the ten thousand pounds which
he had settled on Grace had caused him; but to be told now that the
alliance with a lord which he so greedily coveted, and which had been so
agreeably tickling him for the last few days, would cost him perhaps two
thousand a year, was more than he could bear. He had avoided as much
as possible even thinking of the money question. One hundred--two
hundred--the shadow of three hundred had fallen for a moment on his
mind, but he had successfully chastened these unpleasantnesses by
thoughts of the liberality, the generosity of the aristocracy, and
he had encouraged a hope that Mount Rorke would let him off with a
statement of how much Maggie would have at his death. And now to hear
these terrible prognostications, and from his own son-in-law, too. It
was too bad--it was too cruel. "You don't know what you are talking
about, Berkins. If it were business I would listen to you, but really
when it comes to discussing the aristocracy it is more than I can stand.
What do you know about the aristocracy--not that," cried Mr. Brookes,
snapping his fingers. "You were brought up in an office--what should you
know? You were a clerk once at thirty shillings a week--what should
you know? Lord Mount Rorke would never think of making such ridiculous
proposals to me. You judge him by yourself, Berkins, that's it, that's
it! I dare say he has heard of me in the City--many of your great lords
do business in the City. I dare say he has heard of me, and if he has
he'll not try any nonsense with me. Twist him round my finger, twist him
round my finger."

Berkins liked a lord, but Berkins liked lords without thinking himself
one jot their inferior, and he was sure that his horse and his dog and
his house and everything belonging to him were better than theirs; and
secure in the fact that his grandfather had been a field officer, he did
not think it amiss to brag that he had begun life with thirty shillings
a week, so he only smiled at his father-in-law's wrath, feeling now
easy in his mind that Grace's future fortune would not be prejudiced for
Maggie's glorification.

The discussion had fallen, and Mr. Brookes went to meet the young man
whom he caught sight of coming across the sward.

"Most imprudent of you to come out to-day," he said, scanning the white
face.

"Oh, I am very well now, thanks. The sun is a little overpowering, that
is all. I want to speak to you, Mr. Brookes."

"Speak to me? Yes. Will you go into the billiard-room, my boy? I can see
the heat has upset you. Take my arm."

Frank took the offered arm. He was feeling very faint, but the cool and
dim colour of the billiard-room revived him, and when he had had some
claret and water, he said that he felt quite strong, and listened
patiently to Mr. Brookes.

"Well, I never! No, I never heard of such a thing. A stiletto, too. You
brought it from Italy? It makes me feel quite young again. Ah! 'tis hard
to say what we won't do for a girl when Miss Right comes along. I was
just the same--pretty keen on it, I can tell you, when I was your age;
and I don't know, even now,--but a man with grown-up daughters must be
careful. Still when I see a little waist, high heels, plump--you know,
that's the way I used to like them when I used to go to the oyster
shops; there was one at the top of the Haymarket. Ah! I was young then,
young as you are; I was keen on it--Aunt Mary will tell you that--there
was nothing I wouldn't do; I never went as far as stabbing--walking
about at night, tears, torments as much as you like, but I never went so
far as stabbing. Wonderful what love will make a man do! Supposing you
had killed yourself; in my garden, too--awful! What would people say? I
hear they are talking of it in the clubs--hope it won't go any further.
Should Mount Rorke hear of it! Eh? Might set him against us; might not
give his consent--eh? We should be up a tree, then."

"I don't think there is much danger of that. I came to-day, Mr. Brookes,
to ask for your consent; am I to understand that you give it?"

"Well, my dear Frank, I don't see why I should refuse it; I have known
you since you were quite a small boy. I don't want to flatter you. I
don't know that I care much about young men as a rule, but you, I
have always found you--well, just what you should be. Of course the
connection is very flattering. You will one day be Lord Mount Rorke, and
to see my darling Maggie sharing your honours will be--that is to say if
I live to see it--a great, a very gre--great hon--our."

Feeling much embarrassed Frank begged of him not to mention it. "I shall
be writing to-morrow or next day to my uncle; shall I say that you have
given your consent to my marriage with your daughter? I may say that I
have already written to him on the subject."

"By all means, my dear boy. I think I can say you have my consent--that
is to say, you have my consent if the money's all right. All is, of
course, subject to that. Now you are for love in a cottage, bread and
cheese romance; a man who will use a stiletto can't be expected to know
much about money, but I am a father, my stiletto days are over, and
I couldn't give my daughter without a settlement. You will, no doubt,
be--of course you will be--Lord Mount Rorke one of these days; but in
the meantime there must be a proper settlement. My daughter must be
properly provided for; it is my duty to look after her interests, so you
may as well tell your uncle that I shall be pleased to meet him and talk
the matter over with him. I will meet him in London, when it suits his
convenience; I need hardly say that if he should choose to come down
here that I shall be pleased to see him. And now tell me--of course
he will be prepared to act handsomely; I have no doubt he will, the
aristocracy always do act handsomely, no one is so liberal as your
aristocrat. I hope he will settle a good round sum on my daughter--money
invested in first-class securities, not what Berkins would call
first-class, but what I should call first-class securities; and should
your uncle prove the liberal man that I have no doubt he is, I don't say
that I won't behave handsomely. Of course you know that my dear children
will have all my money at my death. I shall never marry again, that is
a settled thing; but in the meantime I will do something. When Grace
was married I behaved very generously--too generously--a lot of
money--mustn't do it again, times are not what they were. But at my
death I shall make no difference, all three will share and share alike."

Frank hoped when Brookes and Mount Rorke met, that the former would
modify his demands, and what was still more important, his mode of
expressing them. But why should Mr. Brookes appear to him in such a
sudden glow of vulgarity? He had never thought of him as a refined and
cultivated gentleman, but was unprepared for this latest manifestation.

"Lord Mount Rorke allows me a certain annual income, he will no doubt
double this income upon my marriage; I daresay he would--since he has
recognised me as his heir--make this income legally mine by deed, I
could then settle a certain sum on Maggie, in case of my death; but then
further settlements would be required when I succeed to the title and
the property. I had thought--and indeed I think still--that if my uncle
makes me a sufficient allowance, that we might avoid touching on this
matter at all. Lord Mount Rorke is an irritable man, and I am sure that
if you were to speak to him as you--"

"Pooh! pooh! Nonsense! nonsense! You don't suppose I am going to give
my daughter to a man unless he can settle a sufficient sum of money upon
her? Berkins wouldn't hear of it. He was only telling me just now--"

"But I don't think you understand me, Mr. Brookes. I do not propose that
you should give me any money with your daughter. Let what you give her
be settled upon her, and let it be tied up as strictly as the law can
tie it."

"Pooh! pooh! the man that marries my daughter must settle a sum of money
at least equal to what I settle upon her; and it must be money invested
in first-class security, otherwise I couldn't think of giving her one
penny."

"I am sorry, Mr. Brookes, that you are so determined on this point.
These matters generally arrange themselves if people incline to meet
each other half way, and I am sure that my uncle will resent it if you
insist on pounds, shillings, and pence as you propose doing. He is not
accustomed to strict business--marriages in our family were never made
on such principles; my happiness is bound up in Maggie. I hope you will
consider what you are risking."

"I would do more for you than any one else, Frank, but business is
business, and the man who has my daughter must settle a sum of money
equivalent to what I settle."

"I am afraid I have talked too much, I am not very strong, yet with
your permission we will adjourn this discussion to another day--in the
meantime I will write to my uncle."

Mr. Brookes did not offer the assistance of his arm, and had he, Frank
would certainly not have accepted it. Holding the door, the old man
waited for his visitor to pass out. "Southdown Road or the heir to a
peerage: it is all the same, my money is what is wanted--the money I had
made myself," thought Mr. Brookes. "Dreadful old man, he would sell his
daughter for a settlement of a few hundred pounds a year. I never knew
he was so bad, my eyes are opened," thought Frank. Both were equally
angry, and without secrecy or subterfuge they sought consolation in
different parts of the garden. Mr. Brookes resumed his walk on the
tennis ground with Berkins, and stopping frequently to point to his
glass-houses, he described his misfortunes with profuse waves of his
stick. Frank had found Maggie, and they now walked together in the shade
and silence of the sycamores--he, vehement and despairing of the future;
she, subtle and strangely confident that things would happen as she
wished them.

Having once yielded and felt the pang of possession she was wholly his,
in all ramifications of spirit and flesh, both in her brain and blood,
and the utmost ends of her sense mingled with him. But to him, she was
the symbol of the desire of which he was enamoured, the desire which
held together his nature and gave it individuality--love of _the_ young
girl.

"Oh! my darling, if he should speak so to Mount Rorke, we should be
parted for ever--no, that could never be--nothing in heaven or earth
would induce me to give you up, be true to me and I will be true to you;
but our happiness--no, not our happiness, that is in ourselves--but all
our prospects in life will be wrecked if he will not give way. Should he
and Mount Rorke meet--"

"But they won't meet; have patience--I know how to manage father. He
doesn't like to part with his money, and I can understand it, he made it
all himself; but he will get used to the idea in time, leave him to me;
put your trust in me."

She extended her hand, he took it, pressed it to his lips; he took her
in his arms and kissed her, and the leaves of the sycamores were filled
with the sunset.

"DEAR SIR,--I received a letter this morning from my nephew, apprising
me of his engagement to your daughter. He has apparently obtained your
consent, and he asks for mine, and he also asks from me not only an
increase of income to meet the requirements of altered circumstances,
but he tells me that you will expect me to settle some seven, eight, or
ten thousand pounds upon your daughter.

"I do not propose to discuss the reasonableness of his or your demands,
but it seems that a statement of his prospects is owing to you.

"Having never married when I was a young man, many have assumed--I among
the number--that I never would marry; and I admit that I have allowed my
nephew to grow up in the belief that he is my heir and the successor to
the title of Mount Rorke; but beyond a general assumption existing in my
mind, his mind, and the minds of those who know us, there is no reason
to suppose that I shall not marry, or that I shall leave him a single
sixpence, and I willingly make use of this opportunity to say that I
have no faintest intention of entering intoany engagement either verbal
or written with him upon this matter.--Yours very truly, MOUNT RORKE."

"MY DEAR FRANK,--The enclosed is a copy of the letter which I send by
this post to Mr. Brookes. And I make no disguise of the fact that it
was written with the full intention of rendering your marriage an
impossibility. It will no doubt appear to you a harsh and cruel letter;
it will no doubt grieve you, madden you--in your rage you may call me
a brute. The epithet will be unjust; but knowing very well indeed what
love is at twenty-five, I will forgive it. And now to the point. I know
something about old Brookes, and I remember the lean boy you used
to bring here, and judging from some slight traces that Eton had not
succeeded in effacing, I think I can guess what the rest of the family
is like; indeed, the old gentleman's preposterous demand that I should
settle ten thousand pounds on his daughter throws a sufficient light on
his character, and in some measure reveals what sort of manner of man he
is. But let all this be waived. I admit that with some show of reason,
you may say it is unjust, nay more, it is ridiculous, to pronounce
judgment on people I have never seen, and it is cruelty worthy of a
Roman Emperor to wreck the lifelong happiness of two young people for
the sake of a prejudice that the trouble of a journey to Brighton will
most certainly extinguish. I will not irritate you by assuring you that
the world is full of desirable women-women that will appeal to you two
years hence precisely as Miss Brookes appeals to you now. Were I to
whisper that it is unwise to give up all women for one woman, you could
not fail, in your present mood, to see in my philosophy only the nasty
wisdom of a cynical old reprobate. Therefore I will not weary you with
advice--what I have said must be considered not as advice, but rather
as an expression of personal experience in the love passion, serving as
illustration of the attitude of my mind towards you. I will limit myself
to merely asking you--no, not to think again of Miss Brookes--that would
be impossible, but to leave Southwick for London or Paris, the latter
for preference. I will give you a letter of introduction to a charming
lady (ah! were I thirty years younger). Put yourself in her hands, and I
have no doubt in the world but that she will send you back cured in six
months, as my bank-book will abundantly prove.

"If you cannot do this--if so drastic a remedy should be too repugnant
to your present feelings, I would remember, were I in your place, that
my uncle had never refused me anything; that I could draw upon him for
what money I liked--that is to say, for all pleasures and satisfaction
save one. I would remember that at his death I was to inherit ten
thousand a year and a title; and I would weigh (first examining each
weight carefully, to see if it were true weight) all these present and
future advantages against the gratification of possessing a woman I
loved when I was twenty-five for a period of time extending perhaps
over half a century; I would think--at least I think and hope I should
hesitate--before I refused to obey one of whose affection I was sure,
and I feel certain it would go hard with me before I refused to gratify
the whim--call it a whim if you like--of one who had often given but
never asked before.

"Somehow I think you owe me this sacrifice; I have done much for you and
am prepared to do more, and to speak quite candidly, I want something in
return; I do not mean that I am desirous of striking a bargain with you,
but we all expect to receive--of course not directly, but in some remote
way--something for what we give, and I confess that I look forward to
your companionship to assist me through the last course of life. I do
not want you now--for the next few years I want you to see the world, to
educate yourself; I want you to improve your taste in art and letters,
and later on, if possible, to turn yourself to some public account.
Besides other work, I am now working at my memoirs; they are to be
published after my death, as I have arranged, under your supervision.
I regard these memoirs as being of the first importance, and it is
advisable that you should be in full possession of all my intentions
respecting them. Hitherto I have always looked after everything myself,
but the time will come when I shall not be able to do this, and shall
require you to relieve me of the burden of business. Then I wish you to
live here, so that you may learn to love Mount Rorke. I am very busy now
with improvements, and I would wish you to be with me so that you might
adequately enter into my views and ideas. To conclude, I do not marry
for your sake; do you not marry for mine, at least do not marry for
the present. I do not say that if I knew and liked the girl of your
choice--if she were in your own set--that I could not be won over, but
on the whole I would sooner you didn't marry. But I could not really
endure a lot of new acquaintances--people who had never dined in a
lord's house, and would all want to be asked--no, I could not endure it.
I am an old man, and now I want to enjoy myself in my own way, and my
desire is to get through the last years of my life with you.

"You can do what you please, ask here whomever you please, give me a
few hours of your time when I am particularly busy with my memoirs, and,
above all, let us be alone sometimes after dinner, so that we can turn
our chairs round to the fire and talk at our ease.--Your affectionate
uncle, MOUNT RORKE."

"So he won't pay for a secretary, and wants me to do the work; that's
about the meaning of that letter." Frank re-read the letter sentence for
sentence, and as he read new sneers and new expressions of scorn rose
in his brain in tremulous ebullition. There was scarcely a plan for
the chastisement of his uncle that he did not for some fleeting moment
entertain, and one most ironical letter he committed to paper; but
Maggie would not hear of its being sent, and he was surprised and glad
to see that she was not depressed and disheartened at the turn affairs
had taken.

"I can do what I like with father; Sally can't, but I can. You leave it
me."

"What's the good of that? You can't get round Mount Rorke."

"Never mind; we don't want to get married yet awhile. We'll be
engaged, it is nearly the same thing. We shall be able to go anywhere
together--up to town, if we only come back the same day. Write a nice
letter to your uncle, saying you'll do nothing without his consent; that
it is true your affections are very much engaged, but that your first
thought is of him--"

"Oh! but my darling, I want to make you mine."

"So you shall--we shall be engaged; father won't consent to our being
married, but he can't prevent us being engaged. You'll see, I'll get
round father sooner or later; he'll give in."

"But you won't get round Mount Rorke; if he would only come here and see
you."

"He won't do that; but one of these days he'll be in London. I suppose
he goes to the Park sometimes; we'll go too, you'll introduce me--a
little impromptu, and I'll see if I can't get him to like me."

"How clever you are!"

"I understand father."

Still it required all Maggie's adroitness to even partially reconcile
Mr. Brookes to Lord Mount Rorke's letter. She accepted without argument
that marriage in the present circumstances was out of the question. She
even went so far as to cordially assent that a man would be a fool to
give his daughter to a man who could not settle a substantial sum
of money upon her, and she only ventured to suggest that it would be
foolish not to give Lord Mount Rorke the opportunity of changing his
mind. She spoke of his immense fortune, and exaggerated it until she
made even Berkins seem a paltry creature in the old man's eyes.

Frank was anxious to propitiate Sally. He returned from London with
presents for her, and he always spoke to her, looking at her admiringly.

He showed much anxiety, and, fearing that she found it dull at his
studio, when the sisters came to tea he begged her to give him Meason's
address. Sally tossed her head; she had had enough of Meason, and her
manner left no doubt as to her sincerity. But happening to meet Meason
a few days after in the train, Frank slipped easily into asking him
to come and see him; and in the easy atmosphere of the studio the
acquaintanceship soon ripened into intimacy, and after a preliminary
ruffling of plumage, Sally restored her old sweetheart to all the rights
of wrong. Life went well amid incessant secrets, letter-writing, and tea
parties. Grace came to the studio to lunch sometimes, and she had been
betrayed into a promise not to say a word about Meason. It was never
ascertained whether, in the indiscretion of the marital night, she had
betrayed this trust, or whether some jealous enemy had spoken or written
to Mr. Brookes on the subject; but certain it is that one joyful day
when Meason, Sally, and Maggie were eating oysters, and Frank was
twisting the corkscrew into a bottle of Chablis, there came an ominous
ringing at the door.

"I wonder who that can be. Shut up, Triss."

"Perhaps it is father."

"He is in London."

"I'm not so sure about that."

"No matter--we don't want to see them."

"Rather not! They wouldn't have known we were here had it not been for
that dog."

"I must go and see who it is. Come here, sir; come here, you brute."

"Supposing it is father?"

"Get behind that piece of tapestry. I'll say that Meason and I were
having some oysters."

"Come here, sir. I'd better tie up that dog--I wonder who it is?"

"Open the door."

"Oh! Mr. Brookes, quite an unexpected pleasure."

"I have come, sir, for my daughters."

"Your daughters? Your daughters are not here. Mr. Brookes."

"I have reason to know they are here, and I will not leave without
them."

"You will do well to let us in, Mr. Escott; we are determined--"

"Who are you? What business is it of yours?"

"Should you refuse us admission we are resolved to wait here till
evening, till midnight if necessary!" exclaimed Berkins. "I say again
you will do well to admit us, and so avoid a scandal on the green."

"You can come in if you like."

"Will you kindly chain up that dog of yours?"

"Well, this is coming it too strong; this is a little too 'steep.' If
Mr. Brookes refuses to believe my word that his daughters are not here
he may come in and look for them, and to facilitate his search I will
tie up the dog--(the dog is tied up). But you, what brings you here?
What the devil, I should like to know, brings you here, poking your nose
into other people's business?"

"Mr. Brookes, will you answer him?"

"I must decline your offer to admit me unaccompanied by my son-in-law.
We shall not stay long."

"All this seems to me very extraordinary, but since you wish it, Mr.
Brookes, pray enter."

"Is that dog tied up quite securely?"

"Quite. I think you know Mr. Meason?"

"Mr. Meason knows very well that I do not wish to know him."

"If you only come here to insult my guest, the sooner you go out the
better. Had I known that you intended to behave in this fashion I should
have left you standing outside till morning. I'll not have--"

"Never mind, Escott; I'm off. Mr. Brookes and I are no longer on
speaking terms, that's all! I'll see you later on."

"Don't go, pray."

"I think I must."

"I am surprised, Frank," said Mr. Brookes, when Meason was gone, "that
you should seek your friends among the enemies of my family."

"We will not discuss that question now. I never heard of such
conduct--you force your way into my studio, and apparently for no
purpose but to insult my guest. You see your daughters are not here."

"I am by no means satisfied with that," said Berkins, opening a door. "I
must see behind that piece of tapestry."

"No, you shall not. I have had just about enough of this. How dare you?
God's truth--" and as Berkins seemed determined to continue his search,
Frank caught him by the collar.

But Berkins was tall and strong, and showed no intention of allowing
himself to be thrown out. His long legs were soon extended here and
there; his body was sometimes bent back by Frank's weight, once he had
succeeded in nearly throwing Frank over on the sofa. Mr. Brookes had
fled to the door, which, in his excitement, he failed to open, and
the struggle was continued until at last, maddened by a most tight and
tempting aspect of Berkin's thigh, Triss broke his collar, and in a
couple of bounds, reached and fixed his teeth deep in the flesh.

"Triss, you brute, leave go." But Triss clung to the long-desired thigh.
"I'll twist his tail, it will make him leave go."

With a savage yelp of pain the dog turned on his master and was hauled
instantly off Berkins's thigh.

"I need hardly say that so far as the dog is concerned, I regret, and I
am truly sorry for what has occurred."

"Sir, do you not see what a state I am in; do not stand there making
excuses, but lend me your handkerchief. I shall bleed to death if you
don't."

"Shall I tie it up for you?"

"If those girls there would only fetch a doctor."

Mr. Brookes could not refrain from foolish laughter, and in a moment of
wretched despair he declared that it would be all the same in a hundred
years time--a remark which would not have failed to irritate Berkins if
he had not fainted.



XIII



Next day Willy called at the studio, and Frank told him what had
occurred.

"But I don't see why you shouldn't come to the Manor House," said Willy.
"If you will only say something about the Measons, I think it can be
made all right."

"No, I'm not going to turn against Meason; I have always found him a
good fellow. I know nothing about his flirtation with Sally."

"No more do I; I think it has been exaggerated, but, as you know, I
never interfere. I wish you would come in to dinner one night."

"Supposing I were to meet Berkins?"

Willy stroked his moustache.

"No, it is quite impossible that I could return to the Manor House. Your
father behaved in a way--well, I will not say what I think of it."

"Berkins hasn't been to the City since. Grace was over here yesterday,
she says he limps about the garden. He'll never forgive you; he says
that you didn't call the dog off at once."

"That's a lie; and I said, 'So far as the incident with the dog is
concerned, I am very sorry.'"

"I think that made him more angry than anything else; he thought you
were laughing at him."

"I was not. It was most unfortunate. I shall not give Maggie up. I am
writing to-morrow or next day to Mount Rorke."

All were agreed that things must come right sooner or later. Maggie
fought for her lover, and emphatically asserted her engagement. She
yielded on one point only--not to visit the studio; but she maintained
her right in theory and in practice to go where she liked with him in
train or in cart, to walk with him on the cliff, to lunch with him
at Mutton's. They found pleasure in thus affirming their love, and
it pleased them to see they were observed, and to hear that they were
spoken about. Nevertheless the string that sung their happiness had
slipped a little, and the note was now not quite so clear or true. Frank
could not go to the Manor House; Maggie could not go to the studio.
Whether Mount Rorke would consent to their marriage perplexed them as it
had not done before.

The summer fades, the hills grow grey, and a salt wind blew up from
the sea, blackening the trees, and the beauty of autumn was done. Frank
thought of Ireland, and what personal intercession might achieve. She
begged of him to go, and he promised to write to her every day.

"Every day, darling, or I shall be miserable."

"Every day."

"Arrived safe after a very rough passage. Every one was ill, I most of
all."

She received a post-card:--"It was raining cats and dogs when I got out
of the train. Mount Rorke sent a car to meet me; the result is that I
am in bed with a bad cold. The house is full of company--people I have
known, or known of, since I was a boy; we shall begin pheasant-shooting
in a few days. When I am out of bed I shall write a long letter. Do you
write to me; I shall be awfully disappointed if I do not get a letter
to-morrow morning."

Extract from a letter:--

"Mount Rorke is considered to be a handsome place, but as I have known
it from childhood, as my earliest memories are of it, I cannot see it
with the eyes of a professed scenery hunter. I have loved it always, but
I do not think I ever loved it more than now, for now I think that one
day I shall give it to you. Should that day come--and it will come--what
happiness it will be to walk with you under the old trees, made lovelier
by your presence, to pass down the glades to the river, watching your
shadow on the grass and your image in the stream. We will roam together
through the old castle, and I will show you the little bed I used to
sleep in, the school-room where I learned my lessons. When I entered
the old room I saw in imagination--and oh, how clearly!--the face of
my governess; and how easily I see her in the corridor she used to walk
down to get to her room.

"Poor, dear, old thing, I wonder what has become of her!

"I saw again the pictures that stirred my childish fancy, and whose
meaning I once vainly strove to decipher.

"I came to live here when I was four, immediately after my father's
death. I can just remember coming here. I remember Mount Rorke taking
me up in his arms and kissing me. I will not say there is no place like
home--I do not believe that; but certainly no place seems so real. Every
spot of ground has its own particular recollections. Every bend of the
avenue evokes some incident of childish life (in Ireland we call any
road leading to a house an avenue, even if it is absolutely bare of
trees; we also speak of rooks as crows, and these two provincialisms
jarred on my ear after my long stay in Sussex). Mount Rorke is covered
with trees--great woods of beech and fir--and at the end of every vista
you see a piece of blue mountain. A river passes behind the castle,
winding through the park; there are bridges, and swans float about the
sedges, and there are deer in the glades. The garden,--I do not know if
you would like the garden; it is old-fashioned--full of old-fashioned
flowers--convolvuluses, Michaelmas daisies, marigolds; hedges clipped
into all sorts of strange and close shapes. There is a beautiful avenue
behind the garden (an avenue in the English sense of the word) where you
may pace to and fro and feel an exquisite sense of solitude; for when
the castle had passed out of the hands of Irish princes--that is to say,
brigands--it was turned into a monastery, and I often think, as I look
on the mossy trees--the progeny of those under whose leafage the monks
told their beads--that all happened that I might throw my arm about you
some beautiful day, and whisper, 'My wife, this is yours.'"

"How beautifully he writes," said Sally reflectively.

"You never had a lover who wrote to you like that. Do you remember how
Jimmy used to write?"

"I don't know how he wrote to you, but his letters to me, I will say
that, were quite as nice as anything Frank could write. You needn't toss
your head, you are not Lady Mount Rorke yet."

Sally refused to hear, but presently, seeing a cloud on her sister's
face, and thinking the letter contained some piece of unpleasantness,
she relented, and pressed her to continue.

"The house is full of people--people whom I have known all my life--and
they make a great deal of me. I have to tell them about Italy, and they
ask me absurd questions about Michael Angelo or Titian, Leonardo or
Watteau.... The house party is a large one, and we have people to dinner
every day; and in the evening the drawing-room, with its grim oak and
escutcheons and rich modern furniture, is a pretty sight indeed. There
is a lady here whom I knew in London, Lady Seveley; and I have had
suspicions that Mount Rorke would like me to marry her. But she has
the reputation of being rather fast, so perhaps the old gentleman is
allowing his thoughts to wander where they should not. I hope not for
his sake, for I hear she is devoted to a young Irishman, a Mr. Fletcher,
a journalist in London. I met them at Reading once in most suspicious
circumstances. He is the son of a large grazier, one of my uncle's
tenants, and she is, I suppose, so infatuated that she could not resist
the temptation of calling on his family. She was careful not to speak
of her intentions to anybody, but waited until she got a favourable
opportunity and slipped off to pay her visit. The Fletchers live about
half a mile from the castle. I was riding that way, and met her coming
out of their house. I got off my horse and walked back together. I hope
Mount Rorke will not hear of her ladyship's escapade; he would be very
angry, for the Fletchers are people who would be asked to have something
to eat in the housekeeper's room if they called at the Castle. In London
one knows everybody, but in the country we are more conservative."

 "I hope she won't cut you out," said Sally. "It would be a sell for
you if she did. Go on."

"No, I shan't, you are too insulting."

"Who began it? You told me that I didn't get such nice letters as you.
Pray go on."

"I do not know if you would think her handsome. I don't. She is,
however, an excellent musician; we play duets together every evening, to
Mount Rorke's intense delight. You know my dialogue between a lady and a
gentleman? She has written it down for me and corrected a few mistakes;
I think I shall publish it. Darling, I love you better than any one in
the world; you are all the world to me; try to love me a little--you
will never find any one to love you as I do."

"Well, you can't find anything peculiarly disagreeable to say about
that, I think."

Extract from another letter:--

"All the visitors have gone; Mount Rorke and I are quite alone. He is
kindness itself, and does not bother me about his memoirs; but from what
I hear that book will make one of the biggest sensations ever made in
the literary world. I want him to publish it now, but he only smiles and
shakes his head. He says: 'What is the use of setting the world talking
about you when you are alive; as long as I am alive I can see those
I want to see, and be with them far more personally than I could by
placing in their hands three volumes in 8vo; the 8vos are only useful
when you have passed into darkness, and are not yet reconciled to dying
quite out of the minds of men. I do not desire to be remembered by those
who will live three hundred years hence, but I confess that I should
like to modulate the pace of forgetfulness according to my fancy, and be
remembered, let us say, for the next sixty or seventy years. I find
no fault with death but its abruptness, and that I hope to be able to
correct. The vulgar and most usual plan is children, but children are no
anodyne to oblivion, whereas a good book in a certain measure is.'

"These are almost the words Mount Rorke used, and I quote them as
exactly as possible, so that you may see what kind of man he is. We
pulled our chairs round to the fire and had a real good talk. I know
no better company than Mount Rorke. He has seen everything, read
everything, and known everybody worth knowing; he is a mine of
information, and, what is far better, he is a complete man of the world;
and long contact with the world has left him a little cynical, otherwise
he is perfect. I told him the story about Berkins, and he laughed;
I never saw him laugh so before; and when I told him that I had told
Berkins, as he was tying up his leg, that so far as the incident with
the dog was concerned, I regretted deeply what had occurred, he could
not contain himself. He rang the bell, and we had old Triss up. He asked
a great deal about you; I leave you to imagine what I said. How did he
expect me to describe my darling? I told him of your subtle, fascinating
ways, of your picturesque attitudes, and your exquisite little black
eyes. 'I think I see her,' he said; 'little eyes that light up are
infinitely more interesting than those big, limpid, silly eyes that
everybody admires.' I am now doing a water-colour sketch from the
photograph--the one in which you stand with your hands behind your back
and your head on one side--for him. I am getting on with it pretty well.
Ah! if only I had you here for an hour (I should like to have you here
for ever, of course; but now I am speaking artistically, not humanly),
I think I could get it really like you; there are one or two things
that the photo does not give me. I shall send the sketch to Dublin to be
framed; it will be a nice present for Mount Rorke.

"My darling, you must not be anxious; all will come right in time--have
a little patience. He is already much more reconciled to the match than
he was when I arrived, and if your father will refrain from speaking too
much about that hateful question, I am sure that all difficulties can be
surmounted."

She wrote to him three or four times a week, and on beautiful hand-made
paper, delicately scented.

Extract from a letter:--

"We went up to town yesterday by the ten o'clock train West Brighton;
and so that we might have more money to spend, we went third class.
Father doesn't like us going third class, but I don't think it matters
if you get in with nice people. We were very jolly. The Shaws went with
us. They are very nice girls. They had to leave us at Victoria, and
I and my cousin, Agnes Keating, went shopping together. We met the
Harrisons at Russell & Allen's. We saw there some lovely dresses--I wish
you had been with us, for I have confidence in your taste, and when I
choose a thing myself I am never sure that I like it. The assistant was
so polite; she told me to ask for Miss ----; she said she would like
to fit me. Sally was coming up with us, but she changed her mind and
remained at home, I was very glad, for she is wretchedly cross, and
not looking at all well. You would not admire her in the least; she is
growing very yellow. But I don't mean to be ill-natured, so we'll let
Sally bide, as we say in Sussex. After Russell & Allen's we went to
Blanchard's, and had a nice lunch. Grace was in town; she chaperoned us,
and paid for everything; it was very kind of her. Then we went to the
theatre, and saw a play which we did not care about much. There was
a very stupid 'tart' in it. I do like 'gadding,' don't I? But, oh, my
darling Frank, gadding is not really gadding without you. How I miss
you, how we all miss you, but I especially. The Keatings came over
to tea to-day, and they asked about you. Blanche wants you to write
something in her album, and she admired immensely the drawing you gave
me. She is very artistic in her tastes; I think you would like her.

"But I have a bit of news that I think will amuse you. You remember Mrs.
Horlock's old dog--not the blind Angel; he's old too. But I mean
the real old dog,--the one twenty years old, that once belonged to a
butcher. He never smelt very sweet, as you know, but latterly he was
unbearable, and the General resolved on a silent and secret destruction.
He purchased in Brighton a bottle of chloroform. It was the dead of
the night and pitch dark. However, he reached the end of the passage
in safety; but suddenly he uttered a fearful shriek and dropped the
chloroform. He thought he had seen a ghost; but it was only Mrs.
Horlock, who was going her rounds, letting down the mouse-traps and
supplying the little creatures with food. The General blurted out
various excuses. He said that he had come to relieve the cock parrot's
tooth-ache--that he feared the Circassian goat was suffering from spinal
complaint and the squirrels from neuralgia. But his protestations proved
unavailing, and now he eats his meals in silence. And to make matters
worse, the old dog did die a few days after--the General says from old
age, but Mrs. Horlock avows that his death resulted from fright. 'He
was a sweet, cunning old thing, and no doubt knew all about that plan to
destroy him.' I think this would make an excellent subject for a comic
sketch; I wish you would do one--the General dropping the bottle; Mrs.
Horlock, surrounded by closed mouse-traps and crumbs, sternly upbraiding
him.

"I see lots of Emily Pierce. Every Sunday I have tea with her, and
sometimes lunch; but she doesn't come here. I am afraid I couldn't get
on at all without her; we do everything together, and we hit it off so
well.

"Sally has been staying in Kent. I do not know what's up, but she seems
to see everything _couleur de rose_; everything in Kent is better in
her estimation than anywhere else. The men dance so much better for one
thing. I am glad she is so happy, and I wish she would get married and
stay there. Father says he has a cough that tears him to pieces, but I
haven't heard it yet."

The elementary notion of a woman in love is to surround, to envelop the
man she loves, with her individuality, and to draw him from all
other influences. And the woman in love strives to accomplish this by
ceaseless reiteration of herself or himself seen through herself. So
Maggie with her nervous, highly-strung, febrile temperament could not
refrain from constantly striking the lyre of love. Her hands were for
ever on the chords. Letters and notes of all kinds; impetuous
messages asking him when he would return; letters apologising for her
selfishness--he had better remain with Mount Rorke until his consent
had been obtained; resolutions and irresolutions, ardours, lassitudes,
forgetfulness followed fast in strange and incomprehensible
contradiction. And Frank was asked daily to perform some small task.
There was always something; and Frank undertook all he was asked to do,
for he loved to be as much as possible in that circle of life in which
his sweetheart lived, and to feel her presence about him.

Extract from a letter:--

"Mount Rorke and I had a long and serious talk about you last night. He
is against the marriage, but then he is against marriage in general. He
said with his quiet, cynical laugh, 'I daresay she is a pretty girl--I
can read the truth through your romantic descriptions. I am convinced
that she is very charming. But are you quite sure that you will never
meet another equally charming girl? Remember the world is a very big
place, and the stock of women is large; are you sure that you will be
able to enjoy the charm which now rules and enchants you for thirty,
forty years without wearying of it? These are the questions you have to
consider, which marriage entails.' I need hardly tell you what answer I
made, and how I tried to convince him that your charms are those that
a man capable of appreciating them could not weary of. Indeed I think I
made him rather a neat answer--I said there are books in one volume,
in two volumes, in three volumes, and there are books that you can take
down and read at any time. He laughed; it rather tickled his fancy. And
he said, 'Quite true, there are some books and some women that one never
tires of--that is to say, that some people never tire of. I haven't been
so fortunate or unfortunate, but that by the way. I admit such cases may
occur. I will go further--I will admit that a man's life may be made
or marred by his taking to himself a wife; and if Miss Brookes were a
really nice girl--if she were the one girl in a million, and if I were
sure that your passion for each other has its root in deeper and
more lasting sympathies than those of the skin (these were his exact
words)--believe me, my dear Frank, I should not think of opposing
the marriage. I shall be in London during the season, and no doubt an
occasion will arise, of which I promise you to avail myself, of making
this model young lady's acquaintance. I will tell you what I think of
her; she won't deceive me, let her try how she will. There is only one
thing I bar--one thing must not be, one thing I will not tolerate--a bad
marriage.' I lost my temper for a moment, but Mount Rorke did not lose
his, and I soon came round. It is annoying to be spoken to in that way;
but I remembered that he had not seen you, and I consoled myself by
thinking of how great his conversion will be when he does. My only fear
is that he'll want to marry you himself. So, you see, my own darling, my
uncle is on the 'give,' and we shall win soon and easily. The only real
obstacle is your father's pig-headedness on all matters in which money
enters. I think with terror of his meeting with Mount Rorke. If he
speaks to Mount Rorke as he spoke to me, my uncle will take up his hat
and wish him good-morning. Do you exert all your influence. Do leave no
stone unturned. All depends upon you."

Extract from another letter:--

"I am weary of this place, and I long to see you. My longing is such
that I can resist it no longer. Besides, nothing would be gained by
remaining here. Mount Rorke will not say more than he has said. In a
few days--think of that--I shall be with you. With what eagerness I look
forward. How gladly I shall see the train leave the dreary bogs and the
blue mountains of the West and pass into the pasture lands of Meath; how
gladly I shall hail the brown, slobber-faced city of Dublin; with what
delight I shall step on board the packet--I shall not think of sea
sickness--and watch the line of the low coast disappear, then the
Welsh mountains and castles, looking so like an illustrated history of
England. I must spend two days in London, alas! I must order some
new clothes. Victoria Station, with all its doors and cab stands, and
book-stalls, the Sussex scenery, the woodlands, the Downs, the plunging
through tunnels, and then you. Darling, I cannot believe that such
happiness is in store for me."

All happened as he had anticipated. At Victoria the usual difficulties
had arisen about the dog. Triss was growling, the guard was cringing,
and, with reference to no stoppage before we come to Redhill, the
necessity of a muzzle was being argued.

"I am certain it is she," and he followed with his eyes the tall,
swinging figure in the black cloth dress. Then he saw the clear plump
profile, so white, of Lizzie Baker.

"Here, give me the chain, I'll tie the dog up."

"But the muzzle, sir."

A muzzle was procured, and Frank ran to the third class carriage where
he had seen Lizzie enter.

"Lizzie! Lizzie!"

"Oh, Mr. Escott, who would have thought of seeing you! It is such a
time--"

"Yes, isn't it; how long? But are you going to Brighton?"

"Yes."

"So am I; but--let me get you a first-class ticket. Guard, have I time
to change my ticket?"

"No, sir, the train is going to start; get in."

"Do you get out, Lizzie; I'll pay the difference at Brighton."

"No time for changing now, sir; are you getting into this carriage?"

He could not forego the pleasure of being with Lizzie. An old woman with
a provision basket on her lap drew her skirts aside and made way for
him; there were three dirtily dressed girls--probably shop girls; they
sat whispering together, a little troubled by the publicity; there were
two youths, shabbily dressed, their worn boots and trousers covered with
London mud. He was surprised, and he did not for a moment understand
or realise his company. Frank had never been in a third-class carriage
before.

"I'm afraid you won't be comfortable here."

"Oh, yes, I shall; I'd just as soon travel in one class as another--much
sooner when it means being with you."

"None of your nonsense; I see you haven't changed. Well, who'd have
thought it? Just fancy meeting you, and after all this time."

"How long is it? It must be nearly two years. I haven't seen you
sincethat day we went up the river."

"Yes, you have."

"No; where did I see you since?"

"At the bar; I didn't leave the 'Gaiety' for several days after."

"No more you did; I remember now. But why did you leave without letting
me know where you were going?"

"I didn't know I was leaving till the morning, and I left in the
afternoon. A lot of us were changed suddenly. The firm couldn't get
enough young ladies to do the work at the Exhibition."

"But you didn't leave an address."

"Yes, I did."

"No, you didn't; I asked the manager, and he told me you had left no
address. They didn't know where you had gone."

"Did he say so? You mean Mr. Fairlie, I suppose--now I come to think of
it, it is the rule of the firm not to give information about the young
ladies. I am sorry."

"Are you?"

"I am, really. We had a very pleasant day up the river--Reading; you
took me to Reading."

"Yes; but you would never come again."

"Wouldn't I? I suppose I couldn't find time--I did enjoy myself. What a
lovely day it was."

"Yes; and do you remember how like a beautiful smile the river lay? And
do you remember the bulrushes? I rowed you in among the rushes; you wet
the sleeve of your dress plunging your arm in. I remember it, that white
plump arm."

"Get along with you."

"I wanted to make a sketch of you leaning over the boatside with your
lapful of water-lilies; I wish I had."

"I wish you had, too; you wrote a little poem instead. It was very
pretty, but I should have liked the picture better. You gave me the poem
next day when you came in to lunch. You had lunch at the bar, and I was
so cross with you because you said I hadn't wiped the glass. It was all
done to annoy me because I had been talking to that tall, rather stout
young man, with the dark moustache, whom you were so jealous of. Don't
you remember?"

"Yes, I remember; and I believe it was that fellow who prevented you
from coming out with me again."

"No, it wasn't; but don't speak so loud, all these people are listening
to you."

Frank met the round stare of the girls; and, turning from the dormant
curiosity of the old woman, he said--

"Do you remember the locks, how frightened you were; you had never been
through a lock before; and the beautiful old red brick house showing
upon the lofty woods; and coming back in the calm of the evening,
passing the different boats, the one where the girls lay back in the
arms of the young men, the flapping sail, and the dreamy influences of
the woods where we climbed and looked into space over the railing?"

"At the green-table--don't you remember?"

"Yes, I remember every hour of that day; we had lunch at the 'Roebuck.'"

"You haven't spoken of the lady we saw there. Lady Something--I forget
what you said her name was; you said she had been making up to you."

"I dined with her one night, and we went to the theatre."

"You may do that without it being said that you are making up to a
gentleman."

"Of course; I should never think of saying you made up to me."

"I should hope not, indeed."

"I should never think of accusing you of having made up to me; you have
always treated me very badly."

Lizzie did not answer. He looked at her, puzzled and perplexed, and he
hoped that neither the girls nor the old lady had understood.

"I am sorry; I really didn't mean to offend you. All I meant to say
was that the lady we saw at the 'Roebuck' had been rather civil to me;
had--well I don't know how to put it--shown an inclination to flirt with
me--will that suit you?--and that I had not availed myself of my chances
because I was in love with you."

Encouraged by a sunny smile, Frank continued: "You wouldn't listen to
me; you were very cruel."

"I am sure I didn't mean to be cruel; I went out on the river with you,
and we had a very pleasant day. You didn't say then I was cruel."

"No, you were very nice that day; it was the happiest day of my life.
I was in love with you; I shall never care for any one as I cared for
you."

"I don't believe you."

"I swear it is true. When you left the 'Gaiety' I searched London for
you. If you had only cared for me we might have been very happy. As sure
as a fellow loves a woman, so sure is she to like some other chap. Tell
me, why did you go away and leave no address?"

"I did leave an address."

"Well, we won't discuss that. Why didn't you write to me? You knew my
address. It's no use saying you didn't."

"Well, I suppose I was in love with some one else."

"Were you? You always denied it. Ah! so you were in love with some one
else? I knew it--I knew it was that thick-set fellow with the black
moustache. I wonder how you could like him--the amount of whisky and
water he used to drink."

"Yes, usen't he? I have served him with as many as six whiskies in an
afternoon--Irish, he always drank Irish."

"How could you like a man who drank?"

"But it wasn't he--I assure you; I give you my word of honour. It really
wasn't. I'd tell you if it was."

"Well, who was it, then? It couldn't be the old man with the beard and
white teeth?"

"No."

"Was it that great tall fellow, clean shaven?"

"No, it wasn't; you'll never guess; There's no use trying. However, it
is all over now."

"Why? Did he treat you badly? Whose fault was it?"

"His. And the chances I threw away. He behaved like a beast. I had to
give up keeping company with him."

"Why?"

"Oh, I don't know. He changed very much towards me lately; he went
messing about after other girls, and we had words, and I left."

"You will make it up. Perhaps you are mistaken."

"Mistaken--no; I found their letters in his pocket."

"There are always rows between sweethearts; and then they kiss and make
it up, and love each other the more."

"No, I shall not see him again. We were going to be married; no, it is
all over. It was a little hard at first, but I am all right now."

"I am sorry. Do you think there is no chance of making it up?"

"I should have thought that you would be glad; men are so selfish they
never think of any one but themselves."

"How do you mean? Why should I be glad that your marriage was broken
off?"

"You said just now that you liked me very much, I thought--"

"So I do like you very much. Once I was in love with you--that day when
we walked up the steep woods together."

"And you don't care for me any longer?"

"I don't say that; but I am engaged to be married."

"Oh!"

"Had you not snubbed me so I might have been married to you."

"Who are you going to be married to--to the lady we saw that day?"

"Oh, no, not to her."

"I don't believe you. You mean to say you haven't been to see her
since."

"I assure you---"

"You mean to say you haven't seen her?"

"I don't say that. I've just come from Ireland. I've been staying with
my uncle. She spent a week with us; that's all I have seen of her. I am
going now to see the young lady whom I am engaged to."

"And when will you be married?"

"I don't know; there are a great many difficulties in the way. Perhaps I
shall never marry her."

"Nonsense. I know better. You think it will take me in. I'll never be
taken in again, not if I know it."

"I don't want to take you in."

"I don't know so much about that. Is she very pretty? I suppose you are
very much in love with her?"

"Yes, I love her very much. Dark, not like you a bit--just the
opposite."

"And you met her since you saw me?"

"No."

"Ah, I thought as much, and yet you told me the day we went up the river
together that you never had and couldn't care for any one elsebut me.
Men are all alike--they never tell the truth."

"Wait a minute; wait a minute. I knew her long before I knew you; I have
known her since I was a boy, but that doesn't mean that I have been in
love with her since I was a boy. I never thought of her until you threw
me over, until long after; it was last summer I fell in love with her."

Lizzie's eyes were full upon him, and it seemed to them that each could
see and taste the essence of the other's thought.

"What have you been doing ever since? You have told me nothing about
yourself."

"Well, after trying vainly to find you--having searched, as I thought,
all Speirs and Pond's establishments in London, I tried to resign myself
to my fate. I assure you, I was dreadfully cut up--could do nothing.
My life was a burden to me. You have been in love, and you know what an
ache it is; it used to catch me about the heart. There was no hope; you
were gone--gone as if the earth had swallowed you. I got sick of going
to the 'Gaiety' and asking those girls if they knew anything about you;
so to cure myself I went to France, and I worked hard at my painting. In
such circumstances there is only one thing--work."

"You are right."

"Yes; nothing does you any good but work. I worked in the
_atelier_--that's the French for studio--all the morning, and in the
afternoon I painted from the nude in a public studio. I had such a
nice studio--such a jolly little place. I was up every morning at
eight o'clock, my model arrived at nine, and I worked without stopping
(barring the ten or twelve minutes' rest at the end of every hour) till
twelve. Then I went to the cafe to have breakfast--how I used to enjoy
those breakfasts--fried eggs all swimming in butter, a cutlet, after,
nice bread and butter, then cock your legs up, drink your coffee, and
smoke your cigarette till one."

"Did you like the French cafe better than the 'Gaiety'?"

"It is impossible to compare them. I made a great deal of progress. I
began one picture of a woman in a hammock, a recollection of you.
You remember when we passed under those cedar branches, close to the
'Roebuck,' we saw a hammock hung by the water's edge, and I said I would
like to see you in it, and stand by and rock you. I had intended to send
it to the Academy, but I never could finish it, the French model was not
what I wanted--I wanted you; and I was obliged to leave France, and I
could get no one in Southwick. Once a fellow changes his model he is
done for; he never can find his idea again."

"Where's Southwick?"

"A village outside Brighton, three or four miles, not more. I have a
studio there; you must come and see it."

"You must paint me. But what would your lady love say if she found me in
your studio? She'd have me out of it pretty quick. Tell me about her; I
want to hear how you fell in love."

"It happened in the most curious, quite providential way. I have told
you that I knew them since I was a boy. Maggie has often sat on my
knee."

"Maggie is her name, then?"

"Yes, don't you like the name? I do. Her brother was a school-fellow of
mine. We were at Eton together, and one time when Mount Rorke was away
travelling they asked me to spend my holidays at Southwick. That's how I
got to know them. One day Maggie and Sally were at my studio; Sally has
a sweetheart--"

The sentence was cut short by a sudden roar. The train had entered a
tunnel, and the speakers made pause, seeing each other vaguely in the
dim light, and when they emerged into the cold April twilight Frank told
the story of Triss and Berkins, Mr. Brookes struggling with the door,
and the girls rushing screaming from their hiding-place; and Frank's
imitation of Berkin's pomposity amused Lizzie, and she laughed till she
cried. He continued till the joke was worn bare; then, fearing he had
been talking too much of himself, he said: "Now, I have been very candid
with you, tell me about yourself."

"There is nothing to tell; I think I have told you all." Then she
said, slipping, as she spoke, into minute confidences: "When I left the
'Gaiety' I went for a few days to the Exhibition, but _he_ wanted to
leave London, so I applied to the firm to remove me to Liverpool (not
Liverpool Street; the girl--I suppose it was Miss Clarke, for I wrote to
her--made a mistake, or you misunderstood her). We remained in Liverpool
a year, and then we came back to London, and I went to the 'Criterion,'
but I couldn't stop there long; he was so awfully jealous of me; he
used to catechise me every evening--who had I spoken to? How long I
had spoken to this man? Once I slapped a man's face in fun because he
squeezed my hand when I handed him the change across the counter. There
was such a row about it. I don't know how _he_ heard of it. I think he
must have got some one to watch me. I often suspected the porter--the
bigger one of the two; but you don't know the 'Criterion.' You used to
go to the 'Gaiety.'"

"Perhaps he saw you himself. I suppose he used to come to the bar?"

"No, not unless--no, not very often. He banged me about."

"Banged you about, the brute! Good heavens! How could you like a man
who would strike a woman? Who was he? Was he a gentleman--I mean, was he
supposed to be a gentleman? Of course he wasn't really a gentleman, or
he wouldn't have struck you."

"He was in a passion, he was very sorry for it afterwards. Then I left
the firm and went to live in lodgings; he allowed me so much a week."

"He was a man of some means?"

"No, but it didn't cost him much, he knew the people. We were going to
be married, but he got ill, and we thought we had better wait; and I
went to the 'Gaiety' again. I was a fool, of course, to think so much
about him, for I had plenty of chances. One man who used to lunch there
three times a week wanted me to marry him, and take me right away. I
think he was in the printing business--a man who was making good money;
but I could not give Harry up."

"Harry is his name, then?"

"Yes; but it all began over again. It was just the same at the 'Gaiety'
as it was at the 'Criterion.' He would never leave me alone, but kept
on accusing me of flirting with the gentlemen that came to the bar.
Now, you know as well as I do what the bar is. You must be polite to the
gentlemen you serve. There are certain gentlemen who always come to me,
and don't care to be served by any one else, and if I didn't speak to
them they wouldn't come to the bar. The manager is very sharp, and would
be sure to mention it."

"Whom do you mean? That fellow with the yellow moustache that walks
about with his frock-coat all open--a sort of apotheosis of sherry and
bitters?"

"That's what you called him once before. You see I remember. He is very
fond of sherry and bitters. But I was saying that Harry would keep on
interfering with me, pulling me over the coals. We had such dreadful
rows. He accused me of having gone with gentlemen to their rooms--a
thing I never did. I could stand it no longer, and we agreed to part."

"How long is that ago?"

"About three weeks. I could stand it no longer, I couldn't remain at the
'Gaiety,' so I resolved to leave."

"Why couldn't you remain at the 'Gaiety,' the manager didn't know
anything about it?"

"No, he knew nothing about it, it wouldn't have mattered if he had, but
after a break up like that you can't remain among people you know--you
want to get right away; there's nothing like a change. Besides I
mightn't get such a good chance again; I had the offer of a very good
place in Brighton, and I took it--a new restaurant, they open to-morrow.
I get thirty pounds a year and my food."

"And lodging?"

"No, they are very short of accommodation, and I have taken a room in
one of the streets close by--Preston Street. Do you know it?"

"Perfectly, off the Western Road."

"The lady who has the house knew my poor mother--a very nice woman--will
let me have a bedroom for five shillings a week, and I shall be allowed
to use her sitting-room when I want it, which, of course, won't be very
often, for I shall be at business all day."

The train rolled along the platform; Frank asked the porter when there
would be a train for Southwick, and was told he would have half an hour
to wait.

"I shall have time to drive you to Preston Street."

"Oh, no, please don't! She will be waiting for you--you will miss your
train."



XIV



About four in the afternoon he left off painting, and went to Brighton
for a couple of hours. The little journey broke up the day, he bought
the evening papers, and it was pleasant to glance from the news to those
who passed, and to look upon the sunny and hazy sea. He liked to go to
Mutton's, and regretted Lizzie was not there, instead of behind a
bar serving whisky and beer. But he went to the bar. It was a German
establishment, decorated with the mythological art of Munich, and
enlivened with a discordant band. The different rooms were fitted with
bars of various importance. Lizzie was engaged at the largest--that
nearest the entrance. At half-past five this bar was thronged with all
classes. Beer and whisky were drunk hurriedly, with a look of trains on
the face. The quietest time was from half-past three to half-past four,
during these hours the dining-room was alone in the presence of the
awful goddesses and a couple of drowsy waiters. Most of the girls were
out, some two or three read faded novels in the sloppy twilight; a group
of four or five men who had lingered from half-hour to half-hour turned
their backs, and talked among themselves; sometimes a couple would
condescendingly address Lizzie, and tease her with rude remarks; or else
Frank found her having a little private chat with an old gentleman, a
youth, or, may be, the waiter.

Lizzie had her bar manners and her town manners, and she slipped on the
former as she would an article of clothing when she lifted the slab and
passed behind. They consisted principally of cordial smiles, personal
observations, and a look of vacancy which she assumed when
the conversation became coarse. From behind the bar she spoke
authoritatively, she was secure, it was different--it was behind the
bar; and she spoke with a cheek and a raciness that at other times were
quite foreign to her. "I will not sleep with you to-night if you don't
behave yourself," so Frank once heard her answer a swaggering young man.
She spoke out loud, evidently regarding her words merely in the light
of gentle repartee. What she heard and said in the bar remained not
a moment on her mind, she appeared to accept it all as part of the
business of the place, and when Frank was annoyed she only laughed.

"Men will talk improper--what does it matter? One doesn't pay attention
to their nonsense, and it is only in the bar. Never mind all that, tell
me what you have been doing. You didn't come into Brighton yesterday, I
suppose?"

"No, I had to go to the Manor House."

"And how is she--the only one? Are you as much in love with her as
ever?"

"I suppose I am; I have begun a portrait of her."

"What, another! You never finish anything. I shan't have that when I
come and sit for you. I shall make you finish my portrait."

"Ah, yes; when you come and sit. But, joking apart, when will you come?
I should so like to show you my studio. It really looks very nice now.
When will you come?"

"I have no time."

"Why not come next Sunday; it is your Sunday off."

"What would Maggie say if she found me there? She'd have my eyes out."

"If she did find it out she'd know you came to sit; but as a matter
of fact she'd know nothing about it. You come and lunch with me about
twelve--they're all in church about that time."

"And you never go to church, you wicked boy. I don't know that I dare
trust myself with you."

A scruple jarred the even strain of his desire to paint Lizzie's
portrait, but his scruple vanished in one of her sweet sunny smiles, and
he gave her all information about the train she would have to take to
reach Southwick by twelve o'clock.

He ordered some delicacies in the way of potted meats, and there was a
bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice when she arrived.

"Do you keep your champagne in ice? We never do in the bar. When the
gentlemen want it they have a piece to put in their wine."

"I wish you'd try to forget your gentlemen when you come here."

Lizzie began to cry, and it was hard to console her; she said that Frank
had spoilt her lunch for her.

"It is because you are so much superior to the men I see you speaking
to. How can I help feeling annoyed that you should be serving drinks?"

"But I've got to get my living. You don't suppose I serve in a bar
because I like it?"

"No, of course not; but don't let us talk any more about it. You're
going to sit to me, and I want to do as pretty a portrait of you as I
can. All that beautiful brown hair, and that hat! Let me take it from
your head!" Frank had bought this hat for her and had handed it to her
over the counter, thereby bringing censure upon her from the manager.
"Let's forget what I said. The hat suits you. There, now against the
light, just a three-quarter face."

At the end of half an hour he said she was a very good sitter and this
pleased her, and she tried to keep the pose till the clock struck, but
at the end of fifty minutes she said: "I must get up," and she came
round to see what he was doing.

"Now you mustn't criticise it," he said. "It's only a beginning. You've
forgiven me my remarks about the bar?"

"Don't remind me of it again."

But he could not get it out of his head that he had annoyed her, and
was unable to apply himself to his painting; perhaps for this reason his
drawing went wrong, and his colour became muddy, and the thought struck
him that if Maggie were to find this portrait about the studio she would
certainly ask him whose portrait it was.

"I can't paint to-day," he said, getting up from his easel.

"And why can't you paint?" The question seemed to him at first a stupid
one, and then she showed a perception that surprised him. "Are you
afraid the young lady you're engaged to might come and catch me sitting
to you?"

The fear that this might happen had been floating in the back of his
mind for the last half hour; he had kept Lizzie too long in the studio,
and it was not improbable that the girls might knock at his door at any
moment, and if they did it would be impossible for him not to answer.
Triss would bark.

"Well," she said, "I won't keep you any longer."

"No, I assure you," he said aloud, and within himself, "I'd give a
sovereign if I could get her to the station without being seen."

And he thought he had done so as he returned half an hour afterwards
across the green. Maggie was waiting for him. "Come to ask me to dine at
the Manor House," he thought; but she told him that she knew all about
his visitor, and, despite all Frank's efforts to pacify her she grew
more violent, more excited until at last she told him she didn't want to
see him any more, that he was to go away, that she gave him his liberty.

"What an excitable girl she is! I'll go there this evening and try to
coax her out of her anger. I must try to explain to her that a painter
must have models. If we were married we shouldn't have more than a
thousand a year to live on at the outside--that is to say, if Mount
Rorke and Brookes come to terms, which is not very likely, they might
make up a thousand a year between them, that would not be enough for
two, and I should have to work; and I couldn't work without a model.
The thing is absurd! She'll have to learn that a model is absolutely
necessary; we were bound to have a row over that model question, so it
might as well come off now as later on, and we shall understand each
other better when this has blown over. There is nothing, and never has
been anything, between me and Lizzie--my conscience is clear on that
score. How pretty she looked to-day--that pale brown hair, so soft
and so full of colour. To-day was an unlucky day; I began by being
unfortunate with my painting; I never made a worse drawing in my life,
and the worst of it was that I did not see that my drawing was wrong
until I had begun to paint."

A remembrance of Maggie's gracefulness came dazzling and straining his
imagination, and in sharp revulsion of desire he assailed Lizzie with
angry and contemptuous memory. She was always in low company--was never
happy out of it; it was part of her. How this man liked six dashes of
bitters in his sherry, and the other would not drink whisky except in a
thin glass.

As he was leaving the studio he received a letter from Maggie, and
when he thought of the circumstances in which it was written, he grew
genuinely alarmed, for there was no forgetting the seriousness of the
letter, and she stated her reasons for the step she was taking without
undue emphasis. In its severity and quiet determination the letter did
not seem like her, and he suspected forgery, sisterly advice, paternal
influence--a family conspiracy. There was but one thing to do. He looked
through the various furniture for his hat; and with his head full of
citations from the lives of artists illustrative of their conduct, he
went to her. But Maggie would not see him.

"Miss Brookes," the servant said, "is in her room and cannot see you,
sir."

"She will never be mine, she will never be mine," he muttered as he
passed into the town. "But why do I think she'll never be mine?" And
looking at the grey sea with only a trace of the sunset left in the grey
sky he asked himself if the thought that had crossed his mind were a
conviction, a fore-telling or merely a passing fancy created by the
difficulty of the moment. He asked himself if he had heard himself
saying, "She'll never be mine" and mistaken his own voice for the voice
of Fate. Over the shingle bank the sea faded, a thin illusion, dim and
promiseful of peace, and as the darkness and the sea filled Frank's soul
he, the lightest and most life-loving of men, was filled for once with
a sense of failure of life, and as his sorrowing thoughts drifted on he
remembered that he had stood with her in hearing of the rising tide, and
all his pleading and passion came back to him.

"What are you doing here?"

It was Willy.

"I don't know. Maggie has broken off her engagement; she will never
speak to me again, she hopes we may never meet."

"I don't understand. When did she break off her engagement?"

Frank told his story, and they walked across the green towards the
studio.

"Oh, you don't care. I don't believe you are listening to me."

"I am listening. You never think any one understands what is said to
them if they do not instantly jump and call the stars to witness."

"I suppose I am like that--excitable--the difference between the Celt
and the Saxon; and yet I don't know, your sisters are quite as excitable
as I am."

"They take after their mother; I am more like my father."

"It wouldn't be a bad character for a play--a man who never would
believe what you said, unless you threw up your arms and called on the
stars."

"He can't be very bad if he can think about plays," thought Willy.

"Tell me, Willy, you won't offend me; tell me exactly what you think,
did I do anything wrong? I swear to you there is nothing between me and
Lizzie--I believe she is over head and ears in love with some fellow who
has treated her very badly. She never would tell me who he was. In fact,
she told me she had left London so that she might get over it. There
would be no use my humbugging you, and I swear there is not, and never
was, anything between me and Lizzie Baker. I never expected to see her
again. It is very strange how people meet. I have told you all about it.
When I go to Brighton I must go somewhere to get a drink, and I really
don't see there is any harm in going to the 'Tivoli'; it didn't occur
to me to think I should avoid the place merely because she was serving
there. I have often been there, I don't deny it. Do you see there is any
harm in my going there?"

"I don't like giving an opinion unless I am fully acquainted with the
facts; but it seems to me that you might have gone to the 'Tivoli' to
have a drink without asking her to your studio."

"Stay a bit, we'll speak of that presently. I am now telling you how
I see Lizzie when I go to Brighton. I often go to Brighton by the four
o'clock train, I often go to the 'Tivoli,' and when she is not talking
to some one else I talk to her about things in general; but I swear I
have never been out with her, that I never saw her except in the bar,
and yet Maggie accuses me of keeping a woman in Brighton, and won't hear
what I have to say in my defence. This is what she says: 'I have it on
unquestionable authority that you have been keeping this woman since you
returned from Ireland, perhaps before, and that you go in by the four
o'clock train almost daily to see her.' Now I ask you if it is fair to
make such accusations--such utterly false and baseless accusations--and
then to refuse to hear what a fellow has to say in his defence? By Jove!
if I caught the fellow who has been telling lies about me, I'd let him
have it. Some of those Southdown Road people have been writing to her,
that's about the long and short of it.

"As for having asked her to come to the studio, I assure you my
intentions were quite innocent. Perhaps you won't understand what
I mean; you don't care for painting, but very often an artist has a
longing to paint a certain face, and the desire completely masters him.
Well, I had a longing of this kind to paint Lizzie; hers is just the
kind of head that suits me--she offered to give me a sitting, Idid
not see much harm in accepting, and as I could not paint her in the
bar-room, I asked her to the studio. But as for making out there was
anything wrong--I assure you she is not that sort of girl. If we were
married (I mean Maggie and I) I would have to have models; we'll have to
come to an understanding on that point. Now what I want you to do is to
explain to Maggie that there is nothing wrong between me and Lizzie, you
can tell her there is nothing--I swear there is nothing; and then you
had better explain that an artist must have models to work from."

"Don't ask me. I wish you wouldn't ask me. I make a rule never to
interfere in my sisters' affairs. I did once, you remember, and I
thought I should never hear the end of it."

"I think you might do this for me."

"Don't ask me. I wish you wouldn't, my dear fellow. I am an exceedingly
nervous chap, and I have had nothing but bad luck all my life."

"You think of nothing but yourself. You certainly are the most selfish
fellow I ever met. You take no interest in any affairs but your own."

Willy made no answer. He sat stroking his moustache softly with slow
crumpled hand. After a long silence, he said: "Tell me, Frank, are you
really in love with my sister, or is it only imagination? I know people
often think they are in love when their fancy is only a little excited.
Very little will pass for being in love, but the real thing is very
different from such fancies."

"I assure you I never loved any one like Maggie. Yes, I am sure I love
her."

"You may be in love, I don't say you aren't; but I am sure there's
no more common mistake than to fancy one's self in love because one's
imagination is a bit excited. When you do fall in love, you find out
your mistake."

"You think no one was ever in love but yourself. Do you remember when
you took me to see her, when we heard her sing 'Love was false as he was
fair, and I loved him far too well'?"

Frank knew no more of the story than that: Willy had loved this actress
vainly. On occasions Willy had alluded to her, but he had never shown
signs of wishing to confide.

"Yes, I remember. How I loved that woman, and what a wreck it has made
of my life. I daresay you often think me dull; I can quite understand
your thinking me narrow-minded, selfish, and incapable of taking
interest in other people's affairs: losing her took the soul out of my
life. Now nothing really amuses me--now nothing really interests me. I
often think if I were to die, it would be a happy release."

"You never told me anything about it before; wouldn't she marry you?"

"I never knew her. I fell in love with her the first time I saw her,
and my love swallowed up everything else. Then I wasn't wrapped up in
account-books, although I was always a precise and methodical sort of
chap; I was young enough then, now I am an older man than my father.
Some fellows have all the luck; everything succeeds with them, every one
loves them, men and women, they get all they ask for and more, others
get nothing. No matter what I tried to do, something went wrong and
I was baulked. I set my heart on that girl, she was the one thing I
wanted. I saw her play the same piece fifty times. I knew my passion
was hopeless, but I couldn't resist it. Had I known her I might have won
her, but there were no means; I never saw her but once off the stage,
and that was but a moment. I often sent her presents, sometimes
jewellery, sometimes fans or flowers, anything and everything I thought
she would like. I sent her a beautiful locket; I paid fifty pounds for
it."

"Did she accept your presents?"

"I sent them anonymously."

"Why did you not try to make her acquaintance?"

"I knew nobody in the theatrical world. I was not good at making
acquaintances. You might have done it. I am a timid man."

"Did you make no attempt? You might have written."

"At last I did write."

"What did you write?"

"I tried to tell her the exact truth. I told her that I had refrained
from writing to her for three years. That I quite understood the folly
and the presumption of the effort; but I felt now, as drowning men that
clutch at straws, that I must make my condition known to her. I told
her I loved her truly and honourably, that my position and fortune would
have entitled me to aspire to her hand if fate had been kind enough to
allow me to know her. It was a very difficult letter to write, and
I just tried to make myself clear. I told her I knew no one in the
theatrical world, and that waiting and hoping for some chanceto bring
us together would only result in misery long drawn out; that I had some
faint hope that this letter might lead her to consider that there might
be an exception to the rule that a young lady should not stop to speak
to a young man she didn't know. I remember I said 'when men are in
deadly earnest, truth seems to shine between the lines they write. I
know I am in earnest, and may say that all I hold dear and precious in
life is set in the hope that this letter may not appear to you in the
light of one of those foolish and wicked letters which I believe men
often write to actresses, and of which I suppose you have been the
recipient.' Then I said that I would be at the stage door on the
following night, and that I hoped she would allow me to speak a few
words to her."

"And did she?"

"I could not speak to her; I lost all courage in that moment. She walked
close by me."

"You mean to say you did not speak to her after writing that letter?"

"Call me a fool, an idiot, what you will; I could not do it. I can
only compare my feeling to what Livingstone says he felt when he found
himself face to face with a lion. He stood staring in the lion's eyes,
unable to move."

"She must have thought your letter a practical joke. I wonder what she
did think."

"I wrote explaining the unfortunate circumstances as well as I could,
and telling her I would come the following night."

"Did you go?"

"Yes."

"Did you speak to her?"

"Yes."

"And she wouldn't speak?"

"She passed on with her maid, but I didn't lose hope until she married.
It was always a sort of sad pleasure to go to the theatre to see her.
I used to live at the Manor House for two or three months at a time,
saving up my money so as to be able to make her some nice present. I
wished her to remember me, although she would not speak to me. No one
came to the Manor House; there was nothing to do except to read the
paper and smoke my pipe. I was sick of my life, and I counted the days
that would have to pass till I saw her again--only thirty more days,
only nineteen days, only one more week--so I used to count, marking off
each day in an almanac, until one day I read the announcement of her
marriage; then I knew all hope was at an end. I went mad that night
and rushed out of the house, and I should have drowned myself had I not
fainted. When I came to, I was weak and delirious, and wandered along
the beach, not knowing where I was going. Some fishermen brought me
home. My sisters were at school at the time. I believe I was very near
dying. I fainted three times one afternoon. I used to lie on the sofa
and cry for hours. She married a stockbroker. I believe she didn't care
for him at all. Then she died. She was buried in Kensal Green. Whenever
I am in London I go and see her grave."

"This is awfully sad."

"Yes; it ruined my life. I never had any luck. Things always went wrong
with me."

"I should like to see those letters."

"I haven't got copies. I didn't keep a letter-book in those days. Let's
talk of something else. I have some news. I am going in for breeding
race-horses."

"What do you mean?"

"What I say. I have calculated it all out, and I find I shall make from
fifteen to twenty per cent, on my money."

"By breeding race-horses! And where are you going to breed them?"

"You know those stables on the Portslade Road where the veterinary
surgeon used to live? I am going to take that place. The rent is three
hundred pounds a year; there are fifty acres of pasture, and stabling
for thirty horses. The dwelling-house is not a very aristocratic-looking
place, but it will do for the present; when I begin to make money I
shall go in for alterations. You can't do everything at once."

"You do astonish me. And where are you going to get the money to do all
this? You will require at least twenty thousand pounds capital."

"More than that. You would not be able to work a place like that under
twenty-five thousand pounds," Willy replied sententiously. "I have got
about eight thousand left of my own, and I came in for a legacy of three
thousand at the beginning of this year--an aunt of mine left me the
money; and my father has agreed to let me have fourteen thousand on
condition of my abandoning all further claim upon him. The bulk of his
fortune will now be divided among my sisters. Berkins advised him to
accept my offer."

"I should think so indeed; your father is worth ten thousand a year."

"No, nothing like that. His business has been going down for years past.
Last year he lost heavily again; if it weren't for his investments he
wouldn't be able to go on with it. The business is done for; I knew
that long ago. My father and I could never agree about how the accounts
should be kept. That head clerk of his is an awful duffer."

"Yes, but what are you going to do with the shop?"

"The shop was the origin of it all. If it hadn't been for the shop I
dare say I never should have thought of the race-horses. My father and
I could never work together. I offered to buy his surplus fruit and
vegetables, and, without absolutely binding myself to deal with no
one else, I had assured him of my chief custom. Naturally I expected
something in return--I expected him to let me have peaches in April and
strawberries in March. You cannot do this without using a good deal of
heating power. I spoke to the gardener several times. Often when I went
into the houses I found the pipes nearly cold. I got tired of this, and
I paid a man out of my own pocket to keep the furnaces properly
stoked, and--would you believe it?--my father actually raised
objections--objected to my paying a man to look after his glass-houses
as they should be looked after. He said he would not order in any more
coke, that I'd have to get along with what there was in the garden; he
said he wished the shop at the devil. I saw it was hopeless. You cannot
help my father, and he won't help himself, so I threw the whole thing
up."

"And when are you going to start the new scheme?"

"Immediately. One of my reasons for accepting fourteen thousand pounds
down as a settlement in full was because I was beginning to fear that
he might get wind of my marriage. From one or two things I have heard
lately, I have reason to suspect that the secret is beginning to ooze
out, and I thought it might be as well to take time by the forelock."

"And you told him? What did he say?"

"What people usually say when they criticise other people's lives
without knowing anything of their temptations and sufferings. But I want
to tell you about my scheme. I have bought Blue Mantle, the winner of
the Czarewitch, and only beaten by a length for the Cambridgeshire, a
three-year-old, with eight stone on his back; a most unlucky horse--if
he had been in the Leger or Derby he would have won one or both. He
broke down when he was four years old. By King Tom out of Merry Agnes,
by Newminster out of Molly Bawn."

"I didn't know you knew so much about racing."

"I know more than you think. I don't let out all I know."

"And how much did you pay for Blue Mantle?"

"Dirt cheap. I can imagine myself two years hence, when my first batch
of yearlings is put up for sale--500, 650, 800, 1000, knocked down
for 1000 guineas, brown colt by Blue Mantle out of Wild Rose, bred by
William Brookes, Esq."

"I don't think money will come in quite so fast as that."

"Perhaps not; but can't you let a fellow enjoy himself? I never knew any
one like you for throwing cold water. I believe you are jealous."

"What nonsense!"

"Well, never mind. I shall be the deuce of a dog, see if I shan't. I
always like to kill two birds with one stone if I can, and my
business will bring me into connection with the very best in the land.
Unfortunately! my people don't care about getting on; now I do. I like
to know people who are better than myself--at all events, who are no
worse. I shouldn't be surprised if I were dining at Goodwood and Arundel
before long. When I go up to town I shall be calling on Lady This and
Lady That, and later on I might get in somewhere in the Conservative
interest."

"How long you may know a man, and then find you are mistaken in his
character," thought Frank. "So vanity is at the bottom of all these
efforts to make money."

"When are you coming to the Manor House?"

"Impossible. You know I can't go there so long as your father--"

"Come in one afternoon; he'll ask you to stay to dinner. He has
forgotten all about it."

"I cannot come to the Manor House until my engagement to your sister is
sanctioned by him."

"The way to get that is to come to the Manor House and talk him into
it. For my part, I think, even from his point of view, that it would
be better that he should recognise the engagement; nothing can be more
damaging than these clandestine meetings."

"What can I do? I will not give her up."

"I never interfere. I have quite enough worries of my own. I must be
getting home. It is very late. Good-bye."

The green was as bright as day in the moonlight and Frank watched Willy
walking, his shoulders thrown back. He sighed; an undefinable, but
haunting melancholy hung about Willy; he often impressed Frank as an old
book--a book whose text is trite--which no one will read, and which yet
continues to make its mute appeal; a something that has always missed
its way, that can hardly be said to be an adequate thing to offer for
any man's money, that will soon disappear somehow out of all sight and
reckoning.



XV



A few days after he got a letter from Lizzie, saying she was alone
and ill, and asking him to come and see her. He took the next train to
Brighton. The land-lady's daughter, a girl of about twelve, opened the
door to him.

"How is Miss Baker? Is she any better?"

"Please, sir, she is not at all well, she has cold shivers; and mother
went away yesterday."

"And who looks after Miss Baker?"

"Please, sir, I do."

"You do! Is there no one else in the house?"

"No, sir."

"Is Miss Baker in bed?"

"No, sir. She said she would get up a little while this afternoon,
'cause she said she thought you was coming."

"Go and tell her I am here."

"Please, sir, she said you was to go upstairs--the back room on the
second floor, please."

"Come in."

"I am so sorry you are ill, Lizzie. What is the matter?"

"I don't know; I think I caught a severe chill. I stayed out very late
on the beach."

"But why are you crying? Do tell me. Can I do anything?"

"No no. What does it matter whether I laugh or cry? Nothing matters now.
I don't care what becomes of me."

"A pretty girl like you; nonsense! Some one rich and grand will fall in
love with you, and give you everything you want."

"I don't want any one to fall in love with me; I am done for--don't care
what becomes of me."

"Do tell me about it. Have you heard anything further about him? Do tell
me; don't cry like that."

"No, no, leave me, leave me! I am so miserable. I don't know why I wrote
to you. I hope I shall die."

"It is very lucky you did write to me, for you are clearly very ill.
What is the matter?"

"I don't know; I can't get warm. This room is very cold--don't you think
so?"

"Cold? No."

"I feel cold; my throat is very bad--perhaps I shall be better in the
morning."

"You must see a doctor."

"Oh, no! I don't want to see a doctor."

"You must see a doctor."

"No, no, I beg of you. I only wrote to you because I was feeling so
miserable."

Lizzie stood between him and the door, imploring him not to fetch a
doctor, but to go away at once, and to tell no one she had written
to him, or that he had been to see her. "Nothing matters now--I am
ruined--I don't care what becomes of me." He marvelled; but soon all
considerations were swept away in anxiety for her bodily health; and
having extorted a promise from her that she would not leave the room
until he came back, he rushed to the nearest chemist and hence to the
doctor.

"I want you to come at once, if possible, and see a young lady who,
I fear, is dangerously ill. She has not been in Brighton long. She is
quite alone. She sent for me. I live at Southwick. I came out at once.
I have known her a long time. I may say she is a great friend of mine.
I found her very ill--I must say her condition seems to me alarming. I
should like her to see a doctor at once. Can you come at once?"

"I am just finishing dinner. I will come in about ten minutes' time.
What is the address?"

"20 Preston Street.--I hope he does not think there is anything wrong,"
thought Frank. "He look's as if he did," and with a view of removing
suspicion, he said: "She is a young lady whom I have known for some
years. We had lost sight of each other until we travelled down in the
train together. I say this because I do not wish you to think there is
anything wrong."

"My good sir, I should not allow myself to have any opinions on the
matter. I am summoned to attend a patient, and I give the best advice in
my power."

"Yes, but one can't help forming opinions--a beautiful young girl living
alone in lodgings, and having apparently for sole protector a young man,
are circumstances that might be easily misconstrued, and as I am engaged
to be married, I think it right to tell you exactly how I stand in
relation to this young woman."

The doctor bowed.

"Do you not think I did well in making this explanation?"

"It can do no harm; we medical men see so much that we take no notice
of anything but our patient. But tell me something of this young lady's
suffering. Can you describe the symptoms?"

"She has a racking headache--she is shivering all over--she sits by the
fire and cannot get warm. It looks to me as if it were fever."

"Does she complain of her throat?"

"Yes; she cannot swallow."

"Probably an attack of quinsy."

"Is that dangerous?"

"No; but it is infectious."

"I don't mind about that--she is alone. I will see her through it."

"I will go round to Preston Street immediately I have finished
dinner--in about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour."

When the doctor had seen Lizzie, he said to Frank, who accompanied him
downstairs: "Just as I expected--quinsy. She will take from eight to ten
days to get well. We have taken it in time, that's one good thing. The
throat is very bad. She must have a linseed poultice, and she must use
the gargle. Is there any one in the house who can attend to her?"

"I am afraid not; the landlady went away this morning, leaving no one in
the house but that child. She will, I hope, be home to-morrow."

"In that case you had better have a nurse in; I will give you the
address of one."

When Frank returned he found her lying on the bed weeping. As before,
she refused to tell him the cause of her grief. She would make no other
answer than that nothing mattered now, that she didn't care what became
of her; and when he spoke of going to fetch a nurse, she waved her hands
excitedly, declaring she would on no consideration stop in the house
with a woman she didn't know. And, hardly able to decide what course he
should take, he promised not to leave her; she clung about him, and he
was forced to send the child (whose name he now found to be Emma) to
the chemist for the linseed, and he wrote a note asking for explicit
directions how it should be used. Then he had to persuade Lizzie to go
to bed. She resisted him, and it was with great difficulty that he got
her boots and stockings off; then she collected her strength, unbuttoned
her dress, and took off her stays. Then she said: "Go out of the room
for a moment."

He found his way into the kitchen, and guessing that hot water would
be required, he lit a fire. But there was no muslin, and he had to send
Emma for some. Lizzie smiled faintly when they entered--Frank with a
basin, Emma with a kettle and a parcel of linen. Frank poured some rum
into a glass, and beat an egg up with it.

"What is that?" she asked; and her voice was so faint and hoarse that he
turned, quite startled.

"Something that will do your throat good and keep your strength up.
Possibly you will not be able to eat much to-morrow." He held the
tumbler to her lips, and at length succeeded in getting her to drink it.
"Emma, is the kettle boiling?"

"Yes, sir."

"You had better go downstairs and get some coals, and if you can't find
any nightlights you must go out and buy a box. Have you got any money
over?"

"Yes, sir, sixpence."

"Now, Lizzie, let me put this on your throat. Throw your head well back.
There, it isn't too hot?"

And all that night he sat by her bedside. Often she could not get her
breath, and he had to lift her and prop her up with pillows; and four
times he lit the candle, and, with tired eyes, mixed the meal and placed
it on her throat. The firelight played upon the ceiling, the kettle sang
softly, the sufferer moaned, the light brought the rumble of a cart,
and they awoke from shallow sleeps that blurred but did not extinguish
consciousness of the actual present. "You must not uncover yourself; you
will catch cold. Let me pin this shawl about you." About eight o'clock
Emma knocked at the door. Frank asked her to make him a cup of tea.
The morning dragged along amid many anxieties, for he could see she was
worse than she had been over night.

"The disease must take its course," said the doctor; "we shall be
fortunate if by poulticing we can stop it; if we can't, it will come to
a head in about eight or nine days' time, and then it will break. Did
you see the nurse last night? Couldn't she come?"

"She," said Frank, pointing to the sufferer, "wouldn't allow me to send
for her; she said she would not stay in the house with a strange woman.
She was very excited; I fancy she has had some great mental trouble--a
sweetheart, I suppose. I did not like to cross her. I thought I could
nurse her; I did my best. Was the poultice all right?"

"Quite right. But you will have to sit up with her to-night. You will be
very tired; you had better get in a nurse."

"I think I shall be able to manage. The landlady is expected home this
evening or to-morrow morning. What had she better have to eat?"

"She won't be able to eat anything for some days. Try to get her to take
an egg beat up in a wine-glass of rum."

Hourly she grew worse, and on the following day Frank stood by her bed
momentarily fearing that she would suffocate; once her face blackened
and he had to seize and lift her out of bed, and place her in a chair.
When she seemed a little easier he called Emma, and they made the bed
and cleaned up the room together. Then he ate a sausage and drank a
glass of beer that had been brought from the public-house.

The first night had seemed long and weary, but now the hours passed
quickly; he had forgotten all but the suffering woman, and in the
interest of inducing her to swallow some beef-tea, in the pride of such
successes another and then another day fled lightly. Nor did he feel
tired as he had done, and now a nap in an arm-chair seemed all that
he required. So the landlady came as an unwelcome interruption of an
absorbing occupation. Haggard and unshaven, he returned to Southwick,
where he found a note on his table from General Horlock, asking him to
dinner that evening.

"I know the meaning of this: Maggie will be there--a reconciliation! Can
I?" He turned his ear quickly from his conscience; he was frightened of
the voice that would tell him that Maggie was nothing to him, never had
been, never could be; that he had been born for Lizzie Baker, as the
soldier is for the sword or the bullet that kills him; others had passed
him, had been heard sharply, had gleamed dangerously in his eyes. They
were but signs and omens meant for others, not for him, and they had
passed. But this one had remained, though often lost, as that remains
which is to be, and she was now no less for him than before, though
now seemingly lost irrevocably to another; and in all the seeming of
irrevocable loss was drawing nearer--not with the victory and destiny of
old in her eyes, but with no less victory and destiny inherent in her.
Though far from him, she had been for long a disintegrated influence,
but what had been distant was now near, and all was yielding like a ship
in the attraction of the fabulous loadstone mountain. That room!--the
wash-hand-stand, the dirty panes of glass, the iron bed-there his fate
had been sealed. That body which he had lifted out of bed still lay
heavy in his arms. He still breathed the odour of the hair he had
gathered from the pillow and striven to pin up; those eyes of limpid
blue, pale as water where isles are sleeping, burned deep and livid in
his soul; the touch and sight of that flesh, the sound of that voice,
those tears, the solicitude and anxiety of those hours of night and day
conspired against him, and his life was big with incipient overthrow.

Lizzie was with him at all times. He saw her eyes, then her teeth, and
the perfume and touch of her hair was often about him; and yet he was
hardly conscious that a revolution of feeling was in progress within
him; and when the time came for him to go to Horlock's he went there
avoiding all thoughts of Maggie, although he knew he would be called
upon that night to take a decisive step. He saw little of her before
dinner, and during dinner the General's allusions to the quarrels of
lovers being the renewal of love vexed him, and he thought, "Confound
it! If I want to make it up I will; but I am not going to be bullied
into it." When the ladies left the room he found it difficult to pretend
to the kind-hearted old soldier that he did not believe that Maggie
would forgive him. "Forgive me for what? I have done nothing."

"To get on with women you must always admit you are in the wrong--ha,
ha, ha!" laughed the General; "now I have it from my wife--women know
everything--ha, ha, ha!" laughed the General. "Have another glass of
sherry?"

"No, thanks; couldn't take any more."

"I took I won't tell you how many glasses before I proposed to my wife,
and then I was afraid; enough to make me--a clever woman like Mrs.
Horlock, I believe you wouldn't find a woman in England like
Mrs. Horlock. Look round; all that's her work. Look at that white
Arab--exactly like him. I won five hundred pounds with that horse; but I
wouldn't be satisfied, and I ran him again the following day and lost
it all and five hundred more with it. I had another horse. My wife
is modelling him in wax; she will show it to you in the next room.
Marvellous woman!"

Passing Maggie by who was sitting in the window, Frank inveigled Mrs.
Horlock into an anatomical discussion. The General stretched out
his feet, put on his spectacles, and took up the _St James's_.
The conversation dropped, and, full of apprehension and expecting
reconciliation, Frank went to Maggie and talked to her of the tennis
parties he was going to, of the people he had seen--of indifferent
things. The time was tense with the fate of their lives. Once she turned
her head and sighed. Time slipped by, and still they talked of their
friends--of things they knew perfectly. Maggie said: "I hope you are not
angry; I hope we shall remain friends." Frank replied: "I hope so,"
and again the conversation paused. The General denounced Gladstone, and
praised his wife's sculpture. Ten o'clock! Angel was lifted out of his
basket. If Maggie had been Helen and Southwick Troy, he would not be
kept waiting; the dogs had to be taken out; Willy came to fetch Maggie;
hands were tendered, lips said good-bye, and, with a sense of parting,
they parted.

Feeling adrift and strangely alone, he walked to his lodging. His future
loomed up in his mind as vague and as illusive as the village that now
glared through the mist, white and phantasmal. He did not regret--we can
hardly regret the impossible. Then, falling back on a piece of prose,
he said: "Where was the good? Mount Rorke would never have given his
consent. Poor Lizzie; I hope she is better. I hope it has broken. She
won't get any relief until it does."

And next day, towards evening, he went to Brighton. He found her
shrinking over the fire, wrapped in a woollen shawl.

"How are you to-day? You look a little better. I did not expect to find
you out of bed."

"I am better, thank you; it broke yesterday, and I feel relieved. You
are very good. I think I should have died if it had not been for you.
Think of that landlady leaving me in the way she did."

"What was the reason? Why did she rush off in that way?"

"She went to town to see her sister, and she says she was taken ill. She
drinks."

"Does she? I hope she looked after you yesterday?"

"Oh, yes."

"As well as I did?"

"I don't know about that; you are a very good nurse. It was very good of
you; no one else would have done it."

"What, not even _he_?"

"You were with me for four days, and you never even went to bed--never
took your clothes off."

"Never even washed myself. By George! I was glad to get home and have a
good wash. I was a sorry-looking object--haggard and unshaven."

"Where did you say you had been to?"

"Nobody asked me."

"Not Maggie?"

"No; I didn't tell you our engagement is broken off."

"No; you didn't say nothing about it."

"On account of you. She discovered that you had been to my studio, and
she said I was keeping a woman in Brighton."

"Keeping a woman in Brighton--she thinks you are keeping me! I will
write to her and tell her that it is not true. What right has she to say
such things about me?"

"She doesn't say it about you. She says a woman."

"She means me."

"No, she doesn't; she doesn't know anything about you. Some one told her
I went into Brighton every day by the four o'clock train, and she put
two and two or rather two and three together, and said it was six."

"But I will write to her. I will not be the cause of any one's marriage
being broken off."

"You need not trouble. I saw her last night, and I could have made it
all right had I chosen--she was quite willing."

"You can't care for her!"

"I suppose not. I don't think I ever really loved her. I thought I did.
I was mistaken."

"You are very changeable."

"No, I don't think I am--at least not so far as you are concerned. I was
mistaken. I was in love with some one else--with you."

"With me?"

"Yes, with you. I was in love with you when we went to Reading, and
never got over it. I thought I had, but when love is real we never get
over it. I always loved you, and those four days I spent nursing you
have brought it all out. I shall never love any one else. I know you
don't care for me; you said once you couldn't care for me."

"I! I am too miserable to care for any one. I wish you had let me die;
but that is ungrateful. You must excuse me, I am so miserable. Why speak
of loving me? I can love no one. I don't care what becomes of me. I am
ruined; nothing matters now."

"I wish you would confide in me; you can trust me. Has he forsaken you?
Can you not make it up?"

"No, never now; I shall never see him again."

"Has anything happened lately, since you came to Brighton?"

Lizzie nodded.

"Don't cry like that; tell me about it."

"What's the use? Nothing matters now."

"Has he been here?"

Lizzie nodded, and Frank folded the shawl about her, and wiped her tears
away with his pocket handkerchief. "Since you were ill?"

"No, before I was ill; he was down here watching me. He found out I had
gone to your studio, and he said the most dreadful things--that he would
break your head, and that I had never been true to him, and that I was
not fit to be the wife of an honest man."

"But I will tell him that you came to my studio to sit for your
portrait."

"No, you mustn't write; it would only make matters worse. No use; he
says he will never see me again."

"Where can I see him? Has he gone back to London? I will follow him and
tell him he is mistaken."

"No, please don't, and please don't go to the 'Gaiety'; he is a violent-
tempered man; something dreadful might occur. Please, promise me."

"Not go to the 'Gaiety'? He doesn't know me."

"Yes, he does."

"Have I seen him? Do tell me; you know you can trust me. I am your
friend. Tell me--"

"You have seen him in the 'Gaiety,' in the grill-room--the waiter,
number two, the good-looking tall man."

"Oh!"

"He wasn't always a waiter; his people are very superior. He has been
unfortunate."

"And it was he you loved this long while?"

"I never cared for another man."

"I must write and tell him he is committing an act of injustice. I will
make this matter right for you, Lizzie."

"Do you think you can?"

"I am sure of it."

He rang for the landlady, and asked for writing materials. She
apologised for the penny bottle of ink, and spoke of getting a table
from the next room, but he said he could write very well on the
chimney-piece. "I suppose I had better begin, 'Sir'?"

"Don't people generally begin, 'Dear Sir'?"

"Not when they don't know the people they are writing to."

"But you do know him a little. He always said you were very haughty. You
used to sit at his table."

"I think I had better begin the letter with 'Sir.'"

"Very well. You know best. He was always very jealous."



XVI



"SIR,--I hear from Miss Baker that you were in Brighton last week, and,
drawing the inference from the fact that she came to my studio to sit
for her portrait, you accuse her of very grievous impropriety. I beg to
assure you that this is not so. At my urgent request, Miss Baker, whom
I had better say I have known for some years, consented to give me a
sitting. My intentions were purely artistic; hers were confined to a
wish to oblige an old friend, and I deeply regret that they should have
been misinterpreted, and I fear much unhappiness caused thereby."

"Do you think that will do?"

"Yes, it is a beautiful letter."

"Do you think so--do you really think so? Do you think I have said all?"

"You might say something--that I never even kissed you; and that you
respected me too much."

"I will if you like, but don't you think that is implied?"

"Perhaps so; but you see he does not read many books. He hasn't time
for much reading, and you put things in a difficult way. They sound
beautiful, but I--"

"Show me."

"Well, this 'grievous impropriety.' I know what you mean, but I couldn't
explain it."

"Shall I say 'serious impropriety'? but grievous is the right word. You
say a grievous sin for a mortal sin. If we had done any wrong it would
have been a grievous sin; but I'll change the word if you like."

"No, don't change it on my account; but I think he would understand an
easier word better."

"A 'heinous impropriety'? No, that won't do. A 'serious impropriety.'
That will do. Is there anything else you would like me to alter?"

"No, I don't think there is."

"You think this letter will convince him that there was nothing wrong?"

"I hope so; but he is a very suspicious man."

"I will post it when I go out." Then after a long silence: "Do you know
what time it is? It must be getting late."

"It must be getting on for nine."

"Then I must say good-bye; but I forgot, I want to ask you--you must be
hard up, and want some money--do you? If you do, I assure you I shall be
only too glad."

"Well, I am rather hard up, for you know that this illness has
prevented my doing anything; and I am afraid I have lost my place at the
'Tivoli.'"

"What do you intend to do?"

"I should like to go back to London. I shall see him there, and if the
letter makes it right we may be married. I will write to you."

"You will?--Do. Here is five pounds. I have no more about me, but if
anything should occur, you know where to write to."

"You are very good; I don't deserve it. I don't know why you take so
much trouble about me. If he doesn't marry me I'll try to get another
place; I shall go back to the firm."

"When do you intend to leave?"

"As soon as I am well enough, in a day or two; but you will not come
here again."


"I had thought that I might."

"I know; but if he were to hear that you had been here, it would be
worse than ever. You don't mind, do you? You aren't angry, are you?"

"No; good-bye, Lizzie. Write to me when you are married." Frank walked
into the street. There was neither rage nor will in him. He was a
sorrowing creature in a bitter world. The sea was cruelly blue in the
coming night; the sky was also blue, only deeper, a red streak like
a red bar of iron stretched across the embaying land, relieving into
picturesque detail the outlines of coast-towns and villages. His eyes
rested on and drew grief from this dim distance so illusive; and for
jarring contrast, the pier hung with gaudy and gross decoration in the
blue night, and a brass band replied to the waves.

Then the clouds lifted, and when he returned to Southwick the moon was
shining and some boys pursued the resounding ball through the shadows.
He undressed with an effort, and he lay down hoping never to rise again.
Next morning he went to his studio full of resolve. His picture must
be finished for one of the winter exhibitions. He did not take up his
palette, nor did he sit at his piano for more than a few minutes; and
when he met Willy he raged against Lizzie, jeered at her vulgarity,
heaped ridicule upon her lover, the waiter; he spoke of writing a novel
on the subject; he set out her character at length; and was alarmed when
told that Maggie was ill. He must win her. She must be his wife. So he
told Willy, so he assured himself that she would. He knew that Lizzie
was nothing to him. She had left Brighton, thank God! He went to sleep,
certain he had torn this page out of his life, and he awoke to find it
still there; and day after day he continued to brood upon, and still
unable to understand its meaning, he longed to turn it over and read,
for there were other pages; but they were sealed, and he might only read
this one page.

"I'm afraid that our old friend Brookes is having a hard time of it,"
said the General, taking the spectacles from his nose, and laying down
the _St James's_, "they are all at him tooth and nail," and the General
laughed gleefully. "You are the young man who has upset them. The young
lady won't dress herself."

"My dear Reggie, you shouldn't talk like that. I do hate to hear
scandal; you'll repent it," said Mrs. Horlock, and she adroitly smoothed
the wax on the horse's quarters.

"I assure you, Mrs. Horlock, I never repeat what I hear; the guiding
principle of my life is not to repeat conversations. Particularly in
a village like Southwick, it is most essential that none of us should
repeat conversations; I have always said that."

"Do tell me about Maggie; I hear she is very ill. What is the matter
with her? What did you say--the young lady won't dress herself?"

"My dear Reggie, I will not stay here and listen to scandal. Not a word
of it is true, Mr. Escott."

"What is not true, Mrs. Horlock?"

"What he told you about her walking about the house with her hair down."

"I don't think the General said anything about walking about the house
with her hair down; he said some one wouldn't dress herself. I suppose
he meant Maggie. I am sure I am sorry--I am most sorry--to hear she
is ill, but it is unjust to assume that I had anything to do with her
illness. We can speak freely among ourselves, you know. You know the
circumstances; no one is more capable of understanding the case than
you, for you are an artist. Maggie heard that I had had a model, that's
what it amounts to, and she broke off the engagement; nothing could be
more unjust, nothing could be more unwarranted."

"It could be brought on again, I know that," said Mrs. Horlock, and she
turned the shoulders of her horse to the light.

"We will not go into that question, Mrs. Horlock. I confine myself to
what has happened, and I say I was treated unjustly, most shamefully;
and when I have been cast aside like an old hat, I hear indirectly that
it can be made up again. I have borne quite enough, and will bear no
more. Old Brookes came down to my studio with that cad Berkins, and
forced his way in, and then forbade me the house because my dog bit
Berkins's thigh. I couldn't help it. What did he attack me for? He
didn't suppose a bull-dog would be still while his master was being
knocked on the head."

"What should a common City man know about dogs? He wouldn't sign
the petition when I asked him, to Sir Charles Warren, to cancel the
regulations about muzzling."

"And then they set a report going that I had set the dog on, and if I
hadn't set it on, that I hadn't called him off. As if I could! You know
what a bull-dog is, Mrs. Horlock? Is a highly-bred dog likely to let go
when he has fixed his teeth in the fleshy part of a thigh? The Brookes
are old friends of mine, and I wouldn't say a word against them for the
world; but of course it is as obvious to you as it is to me that
they are not quite the thing. I mean--you know--I would not think of
comparing them with the Southdown Road; but there is a little something.
City people are not the Peerage; there's no use saying they are. Mount
Rorke was upset; but I would not give in, and I think I should have won
his consent in the long run. After all I have borne for her sake I think
I might expect better treatment than to be thrown over, as I have said,
like an old hat; and I don't mind telling you that I do not intend to be
made a fool of in this matter; I shall turn a very deaf ear to stories
of a broken heart and failing health. I shall not cease to think of
Maggie. I loved her once very deeply, and I should have loved her always
if--But tell me, General. You know I will not repeat anything."

"I advise you to say no more, Reggie. I will not be mixed up in any
scandal. I shall leave the room. Sally is dining here to-night; she is
only too anxious to talk of her sister. If Mr. Escott will stay and take
pot-luck with us, he will no doubt hear everything there is to hear in
the course of the evening."

"What have we got for dinner, Ethel? I know we have got a leg of mutton,
and there is some curry."

"Your dinners are always excellent, Mrs. Horlock. I shall be delighted
to stay. Here is Sally. Oh, how do you do, Sally? We were talking of
you."

"I'm afraid every one is talking of me, now," she whispered, and the big
girl passed over to Mrs. Horlock and kissed her. "How is it that no one
has seen anything of you lately?" she said, taking the seat next him.
"What have you been doing?"

"Nothing in particular. But I want to ask you about Maggie. I hear she
is very ill."

Perceiving that his tone did not bespeak a loving mood, Sally's face
brightened, and she became at once voluble and confidential.

"Oh, we have been having no end of a time at home. Father has been
speaking of selling the place and leaving Southwick."

"Speaking of selling the place and leaving Southwick! And where does he
think of going to live, and what is the reason of this?"

"Oh, the reason! I suppose he would say I was the reason; and where heis
going to live, that is not settled yet--probably one of the big London
hotels. He says everybody is laughing at him, and that when he meets
the young men at the station he can see them laughing at him over their
newspapers, for, according to father, they have all flirted with us.
Maggie has been saying all kinds of things against me, and I am afraid
that the Southdown Road people have been writing him anonymous letters
again. Some one--I don't know who it is--I wish I did--has been telling
him the most shocking things about Jimmy Meason and me; things in which
I assure you there is not a word of truth. You know yourself that we
have hardly spoken for nearly two years; last year, it is true, we made
it up a bit in your studio, but it didn't last long. I don't think I saw
him twice afterwards, and never alone--and now to have everything that
happened two years ago raked up and thrown in my face! I don't say
I haven't--I don't know what you'd call it, I suppose you'd call it
spooning. I admit I infinitely preferred walking about the garden with
a young man to sitting in the drawing-room and doing woolwork. I was a
silly little fool then, but I do think it hard that all this should
be raked up now. I don't know what will happen. Maggie pretends to be
frightened at me; 'tis only her nonsense to set father against me. She
won't dress herself, and she walks about with her hair down her back,
wringing her hands."

"But what does she say? This is very bewildering. I don't understand--I
am quite lost."

"The fact is that Maggie doesn't know what she is saying, so I suppose I
oughtn't to blame her. She is a little off her head, that's the truth
of it; but you mustn't say I said so, it will get me into worse trouble
than I am already in. She was like that once before, and had to be put
in the charge of a lady who was in the habit of dealing with excitable
people. I don't mean lunatics, don't run away with that notion. I don't
know what would happen if it got about that I was putting that about.
Maggie is very excitable, and she has been exciting herself a great deal
lately--you were the principal cause. She did all she could to get you
to make it up when you met her here at dinner--the dinner was given
for that--but you said nothing about it, and she came home in an awful
state, accusing every one of combining to ruin her. She said I was
jealous of her, that I was wild with fear that she would one day be
Lady Mount Rorke. She said father had done everything to break off her
marriage, because he did not like parting with his money. She had set
her heart on being married, and it was a terrible disappointment. She
has been disappointed two or three times. Father doesn't know what to
do. Her thoughts seem to run on that one subject. She walks about the
garden saying the most extraordinary things."

"But tell me about the illness."

"I don't know if I ought to tell you."

"Oh, do!"

"I don't know how to say it. She used to say she longed to become a
mother."

"Longed to become a mother? Well, that is the last thing--"

"You know what I mean."

"But tell me about the illness."

"I should call it more than being a little excited, but of course she
isn't mad. She has, however, the most curious notions. She is always a
little too imaginative at the best of times; at least, I find her so,
but now her delusions are really too absurd, and, as I have said, the
worst of it is that her thoughts run on that one thing; it really is
most unfortunate. Poor father."

"But what are her delusions?"

"Well, I scarcely know how to tell you."

"Try; anything can be told. It depends how it is told."

"She thinks that the coachman has spread it all over Southwick--how
shall I say it? I don't know that I ought to tell you. Well, that
she has gone wrong with you and Berkins. I thought I should die of
laughing--the idea of Berkins was too funny for words."

"But your father doesn't believe it?"

"Of course not."

"He doesn't suspect me, I hope?"

"No; I am sure he doesn't. He knows Maggie doesn't know what she is
saying. But he was dreadfully put out about Berkins; he is frightened
out of his wits lest he should hear of it. But for goodness' sake don't
mention that I said anything to you about it; I am in trouble enough as
it is. Father says he can stand it no longer. I am very much afraid that
he will leave Southwick. It depends on what Aunt Mary says. He has sent
for her; she will be here to-morrow."

These family councils were held in the billiard-room, and when Aunt Mary
and Aunt Hester had had their tea they came along the passage, Aunt Mary
of course in front, Aunt Hester timid and freckled and with her usual
air of tracts. Uncle James stood with his back to the fire waiting
for them. Willy caught at his hair, but an expression of resignation
overspread his face, he packed his diary and accounts in brown paper and
lit a pipe.

"Now, James, let us hear about these new troubles. Something must be
done, that is clear."

"Yes, something must be done, Mary, and I can think of nothing for it
but to leave this place. It is no longer a place for me to live in. The
Southdown Road has proved too strong for me, it has conquered me."

"Don't speak like that, James. We must try to bear our burdens, if not
for our own sakes, for the sake of Him who died for us. He bore a very
heavy cross for us."

"There's no use in talking to me like that, Hester, you only provoke me.
You forget what a cross two daughters are, and the Southdown Road has
become intolerable. It is more than any man can bear; I will bear it no
longer. I have borne it long enough, and am determined to get rid of it.
I am afraid there's nothing for it but to sell the place and go and live
in London."

Aunt Hester cast her eyes into her satchel, afraid even to think that
her brother had intentionally misinterpreted her words; but Aunt Mary
laughed at the idea of the slonk-hill, as a latter-day Golgotha, with
poor Uncle James staggering beneath the weight of the Southdown Road,
young men and all, upon him. It was very irreverent. He burst into
tears, Hester moved to leave the room, but was restrained by her sister.

"My position is a most unfortunate one; since the death of poor Julia I
have had no one to turn to, there has been no restraining influence in
this house. Here am I working all day long in the City for those girls,
and when I come home in the evening I find my house full of people I
don't know. I assure you, Mary, I don't know any of the people who come
to my house. I am consulted in nothing. It is not fair--I say it is
not fair; and at my death those girls will have thirty thousand pounds
a-piece."

"I knew you had the money, James, I knew you had," exclaimed Aunt Mary,
and even Aunt Hester could not help casting a look of admiration on her
weeping brother.

"I say it is not fair; a man of my money should have a comfortable
home to return to. Even the Southdown Road people have that; but no
consideration is shown to me. My dinner is put back so that Sally may
continue her flirtation with Meason in the slonk. Did any one ever hear
of such a thing? A man's dinner put back so that--that--that--"

"Yes, we know all about the dinner being put back; that was three years
ago."

"Why," Mr. Brookes asked himself, "had he invited his sisters to his
help?" He was only adding bitterness to his bitter cup. "You have no
sympathy, Mary," he went on; "you cannot understand the difficulties
of my position--these two girls are for ever quarrelling and fighting;
sometimes they are not even on speaking terms, but I think I prefer
their sullen looks to their violence. Sally threatened to knock her
sister down if she interfered with her young men."

"What, again?"

"Oh, I don't know if she has threatened to beat her lately. I don't
remember when was the last time. Their various rows are all jumbled up
in my head. All I know is that Maggie says she cannot live in the house
with Sally. Maggie is very ill, she is in a very excited state, as she
was once before, when I would not consent to her marriage with--I have
forgotten his name, but it doesn't matter. Now she won't dress herself,
and she walks about the house with her hair hanging down. I know there
is nothing for it but to send her away under the charge of some lady who
has had experience in such matters. She can't remain here. She has the
strangest delusions. Among other things, she fancies the coachman has
spread it all over Southwick that she has gone wrong with Berkins
and that fellow Escott. Just fancy if Berkins--a ten thousand a year
man--should hear of it! I don't know what he would say. He would peg
into me; he is at times very hard indeed upon me. I don't say he is
not a first-rate man of business, I know he has made several excellent
investments; but for all that I do not and cannot think him competent
to advise me on all my affairs, and that's what he is always doing. He
talks of putting down that Southdown Road. I should like to see how he
would set about doing it."

"James, Maggie must go away; she is very highly organised, very
sensitive, and if she were to remain here, Sally might have a real
effect on her mind. It is clear the sisters don't get on together; have
you had medical advice? I told you before that you should have medical
advice about those girls; I told you to spare no expense, but to go to
a first-rate London physician and take his opinion. I said before, and I
say it again, that no girls in good health could carry on as dear Sally,
and I will include dear Maggie; for although she does not defy you to
the same extent, there is no doubt that she is too fast, too fond of
young men; her thoughts run too much in that way, and now she is ill, of
course she has delusions. You ought to have medical advice."

"Mary, dear, the body is not everything; to cure the flesh you must
first cure the soul. I believe our dear nieces rarely, if ever, attend
church, rarely, if ever, remember that this life is not eternal and that
there is a hereafter."

The conversation came to a pause. Presently Aunt Mary asked Willy, who
sat resigned to his fate, calm and solemn as a Buddha, his hands clasped
over his rotund stomach, if he thought that Maggie's state was one
to cause immediate anxiety, to which he replied: "My sisters think of
nothing but pleasure. The trouble girls are in a house is more than any
one would believe. Here I am, I can do nothing; every night it is
the same thing, over and over again." And the lean man lapsed into
contemplation.

"But to come to the point, James, I want to hear about Sally. You said
in your letter that a great deal had come to light, and that you now
find that her conduct has been worse than you had ever imagined it,
even in your moments of deepest dejection. Now, I want to hear about all
this. What has she done? Let's have it in plain English. What has she
done?"

"To put it plainly, Mary," said Mr. Brookes, wiping his tears away,
and turning his back upon his Goodall, "I don't know what she hasn't
done--everything. She is at the present moment the talk of Southwick.
The doctor here has seen her in the field at the back here with Meason
at nine o'clock at night."

"Why did you allow her to leave the house at that hour? No young girl--"

"She always takes her dogs out in the evening; I cannot prevent her
doing that. It appears, too, that she has had Meason up in her bedroom."

"O James, you do not mean to say that my dear niece had a man in her
bedroom!"

"Hester, dear, you have lived in a rectory and know nothing of the
world. She says it isn't a bedroom. She pushes the bed away in the
daytime, and covers it up to make it look like a couch. Besides, she
keeps birds in her room, and Flossy had her puppies there. I am not
excusing her conduct, pray do not think that, I am only telling you what
she says."

"This is very serious. Are you quite sure? Perhaps she only meant to
show the young man her birds or puppies. Her spirit must be broken, I
can clearly see that."

"I allow them, as you know, one hundred pounds a year apiece. Maggie
keeps none, but Sally always keeps accurate accounts of what she spends.
I asked to see those accounts, for I had heard she had been giving her
money to Meason, and she refused to let me see them. There is a sum of
twenty pounds for which she can give no explanation. Then it is well
known she gave a set of diamond studs to that fellow, and that he
pledged them for five pounds in Brighton. He boasted he had done so,
and said he intended to get plenty of money out of me before he had done
with me. After that I ask you, how can I live in this place? When I go
to the station in the morning I see these young fellows laughing at me
over the tops of their newspapers. When I come home of an evening after
a hard day's work, I find that my dinner--"

"Her spirit must be broken," said Aunt Mary, drawing her shawl about
her, and crossing her hands. "Her spirit must be broken; she cannot be
allowed to remain here to drive dear Maggie into a lunatic asylum. I am
with you in that, James, but I cannot think you did well to let Frank
Escott slip through your fingers. Had you not talked so much about money
your daughter might have been Lady Mount Rorke."

"Talked too much about my money? Who would talk about it, I should like
to know, if I didn't? I made it all myself. What do I care for that
lot--a stuck-up lot, pooh, pooh! twist them all round my finger. I am
not going to give my daughter to a man who cannot make a settlement upon
her."

Seeing he was not to be moved in anything that concerned his pocket,
Aunt Mary returned to the consideration of what was to be done with
Sally. "From what you tell me it is clear that Sally must not remain in
Southwick a day longer than can be helped. I will take her with me to
Woburn; and I think she had better go abroad as soon as we can hear
of some one in whose charge we can place her. But it must not be a sea
voyage--there is nothing more dangerous than to be on board a ship for
a young girl who is at all inclined to be fast. All are thrown so much
together. The cabins open out one into the other, and there is always
a looking for something--a handkerchief, a bunch of keys, a lot of
stooping and playing, twiddling of moustaches," said Aunt Mary, with a
peal of laughter.

"Mary, dear, we should not speak lightly of wickedness."

"It was so that all the mischief was done when Emily Evans was sent out
to the Cape--it was all done on board a ship. You remember the Evanses,
James?--you ought to, you used to flirt pretty desperately with Lucy,
the younger sister." And then Aunt Mary rattled off into interminable
tales concerning the attachment contracted on board a ship in
particular, its unfortunate consequences, how it brought about a divorce
later on by sowing the seeds of passion (Aunt Mary always pronounced
the word "passion" in her narratives with strong emphasis), in the young
girl's heart; and at various stages of her discourse she introduced
fragments of the family history of the Evanses; she followed the
wanderings of the different sisters from Homburg to Paris, from Paris
to Scotland, from Scotland to the Punjab, explaining their different
temperaments by heredity, which led her back into the obscure and
remote times of grandfathers and grandmothers, and, having finally lost
herself, she said: "What was I talking about? You have been listening to
me, James, what was I talking about?"

Till the end of a week the discussion was continued. Aunt Mary tried
hard to reconcile all parties to their different lots, and, as is usual
in such cases, without attaining any result. And yet Aunt Mary went with
her sister to see Frank in his studio. Willy accompanied them, and when
they left he complained bitterly of how his time was wasted. "Regularly
every evening, just as I am sitting down to work, I hear them coming
along the passage. First of all they go to get their grog--squeak,
squeak, pop. I know it all so well. Then they come in with their
tumblers, and they sit down on the sofa, and they begin.--I don't know
what is to be done with dear Sally, unless we can send her abroad in the
care of some relation. How is dear Maggie to-day? I hope I shall be able
to induce her to put on her frock to-morrow, and come for a drive with
me in the carriage. What a trouble young girls are in the house, to be
sure. Then father begins to groan, and pulls out his handkerchief; he
is quite alone, he has no one he can depend upon, then he laughs, 'Well,
well, I suppose it will be all the same a hundred years hence.' So it
goes on night after night. Here am I starting a big business, and I
haven't a room to work in. Just as I am adding up a long column of
figures, perhaps when I am within three of the top, Aunt Mary asks me
a question, and it has to be gone over again. It is most provoking,
there's no denying that it is most provoking." Frank agreed that nothing
could be more provoking than to be interrupted when you were within
three of the top of a long column of figures. On the following day he
heard that the aunts had left, taking Sally with them. They had promised
their brother to find a lady who would take dear Maggie under her
care--one who would soon wean her from dressing-gowns and delusions, and
restore her to staid remarks and stays; and hopes were entertained that
the Manor House would not have to be sold after all.

But many days had not sped when an event occurred that precipitated
the five acres into the jaws of the builders. Meason had sailed for
Melbourne, and his sister, thinking that some of Sally's letters might
be of use to Mr. Brookes, offered to surrender them upon the receipt
of a cheque for one hundred pounds--a very modest sum, she urged,
considering the character of the letters, most of which concerned
artfully laid plans to meet in the train going or coming from London.
Mr. Brookes called on the shade of dear Julia, but he was not a man to
be blackmailed--he had made all his money himself, and on that point
was immovable. He prepared to leave Southwick. He looked fondly on his
glass-houses, and despairingly on his Friths, Goodalls, and Bouguereaus,
and he wondered if they would look as well in the new rooms as in the
old, and what sum they would realise if he were to include them in the
auction; for an auction was necessary. Mr. Brookes did not thus decide
to abandon his acres without many a sob, nor is it certain that the
final step would have been taken if the gentle builder had not gilded
his insidious hand, and if certain rumours were not about that the
villas in the Southdown Road were not letting, and that Southwick would
never be anything but what it was, a dirty little village--half suburb,
half village.



XVII



Frank was grieved and troubled at the sad accounts that came to him of
Maggie's health; he was perplexed, too, for he knew himself to be the
cause, and he longed to relieve and to cure her. It seemed to him that
he would give his life to go to her, and comfort her with love, and yet
he was impotent to make the least effort to attain the end he desired.
He lay in the sad and cruel memory of Lizzie, his mind filled with
ignoble visions of her life with the waiter, or with delicate fancies
of her beauty amid the summer of the Thames. He mused on her gracious
figure and face, illuminated by reflections from the water, set off by
the bulrushes and floating blossoms which she so eagerly coveted, and
varied by the movements of the waist and shoulders, the round white arm,
the trailing scarf, and all the wistful charm of the slumbering evening.
He thought of the country light, the sound and smell of cows, of the
sparrows in the vine, the cottage looking so cosy amid the foliage, the
bit of garden full of old-fashioned flowers, tall lilies, convolvuluses,
and marigolds, and the sitting-room full of things belonging to her--her
flowers, her books, her music, and he thought of this until his life was
sick with desire, and there grew a burning pain about his heart.

A man's struggles in the web of a vile love are as pitiful as those of
a fly in the meshes of the spider; he crawls to the edge, but only to
ensnare himself more completely; he takes pleasure in ridiculing her,
but whether he praises or blames, she remains mistress of his life; all
threads are equally fatal, and each that should have served to bear him
out of the trap only goes to bind him faster. A man in love suggests the
spider's web, and when he is seeking to escape from a woman that will
degrade his life, the cruelty which is added completes and perfects the
comparison. A man's love for a common woman is as a fire in his vitals;
sometimes it seems quenched, sometimes it is torn out by angry hands,
but always some spark remains; it contrives to unite about its victim,
and in the end has its way. It is a cancerous disease, but it cannot be
cut out like a cancer. It is more deadly; it is inexplicable. All good
things, wealth and honour, are forfeited for it; long years of toil,
trouble, privation of all kinds, are willingly accepted; on one side all
the sweetness of the world, on the other nothing of worth, often vice,
meanness, ill-temper, all that go to make life a madness and a terror;
twenty, thirty, forty, perhaps fifty years lie a head of him and her,
but the years and their burdens are not for his eyes any more than the
flowers he elects to disdain. Love is blind, but sometimes there is no
love. How then shall we explain this inexplicable mystery; wonderful
riddle that none shall explain and that every generation propounds?

Frank lingered in Southwick, for he had promised Willy to stay with him
when he went to live at the stables on the Portslade Road. Summer was
nearly over, hunting would soon commence, and he could keep a couple
of hunters--Willy had calculated it out--for two and twenty shillings a
week. He had ceased to paint, and when he went to the studio it was
to play the piano or the violin. None knew of Lizzie, and all knew of
Maggie. It was thought a little strange that he would not forgive her,
but the obscurity of the story of this point and the delight felt in her
misfortune helped to intensify and idealise Frank in the popular mind,
and when he played Gounod in the still evenings the young ladies would
steal from the villas and wander sentimentally through the shadows about
the green. He got up late in the morning, he lingered over breakfast,
and until it was time to go to Brighton he lay on the sofa watching the
cricketers and the children playing, shaping resolutions, and striving
with himself and deceiving himself. A dozen times, a hundred times, he
had concluded he must see Maggie; he had decided he would write to
Lord Mount Rorke, that he would go to Mr. Brookes and settle the matter
off-hand. But, somehow, he did nothing. His mind was absorbed in a
novel, which he narrated when Willy came to see him. It concerned the
accident that led a man not to marry the woman he loved, and was in the
main an incoherent version of his own life at Southwick.

"I don't think I told you," said Willy, "that they are removing the
furniture to-day."

"You don't say so--to-day? And where is your father?"

"He is in London, at the 'Metropole.'"

The young men walked on slowly in silence, and when they came to the
lodge gate, standing wide open, and saw the curtainless windows and
the flowerless greenhouses, Willy said: "It is very sad to see all the
things you have known since you were a child sold by auction."

"Oh, yes, it is. Look at the swards. Do they not look sad already? Those
beautiful elms, under whose shade we have sat, will be cut down, and
stucco work and glass porticoes take their places. Oh, it is very sad."

"My father never had any feeling, he never cared for the place. Had I
been in his place I should have invested my money in land and gone in
for the county families."

"How old was I when I came down to see you for the first time--fourteen,
I think? How well I remember everything. It was there, look, through
that glade, that I saw your sisters coming to meet me, they were then
only ten or eleven years old. I can see them in my mind's eye, quite
distinctly, walking towards me, Grace leading the way, and now she is a
mother; and they were all so dark. I remember thinking I had never seen
girls so dark, they were like foreigners. And do you remember how your
father scolded Sally for carrying me round the garden on her back, and
she used to wake me up in the mornings by rolling croquet balls along
the floor into my room. Oh, what good, dear days those were, and to
think they are dead and gone, and that the house is going to be pulled
down; and the garden--oh! the moonlights in that garden, where I walked
with the girls, with scarves round their shoulders, through the dreamy
light and shade. We have sung songs, and talked of all manner of things.
You don't feel as I feel."

"Yes I do, my dear fellow, I think I feel a great deal more, only I
don't talk so much about it."

"I know it is infinitely sad. This dear old wall! There is Maggie's
window: how often have I looked up to that window for her winsome face,
and I shall never look again."

"You are as bad as my father. Cheer up; I suppose it will be all the
same a hundred years hence."

"No, no, it won't be the same. Why should all I feel and love be
forgotten. I suppose it will be all the same. There goes Berkins. I hate
that man."

"So do I."

"If time takes away pleasant things it takes unpleasant things too,
and those who live a hundred years hence will not be troubled with
that fool. True, there will be other Berkinses, and there will be other
gardens, and other girls, but that doesn't make it the least less sad to
see this garden pass into bricks and mortar."

Two footmen approached Mr. Berkins, and with all solemnity helped him to
take off his overcoat. He said a few words to Willy, and was soon loudly
ordering the workmen who were taking the Goodalls and the Friths from
the walls.

"Take care, there! Hi, you! get on the ladder and take hold of this end
of the picture. There, that's better! That's the way to do it!"

"That's what he said when he shot my bird," Willy whispered; and they
tried to laugh as they went upstairs. But their footsteps sounded
hollow, and the wardrobes, where they had so often put their clothes,
stood wide open, desolately empty. They looked out of the windows, and
heard the voices of the work-people.

"How very sad it is," said Frank; then, after a long silence: "How
beautiful a scene like this would be in a book--a young girl leaving
her home, straying through the different rooms musing on the different
pieces of furniture, all of which recall the past. I think I shall write
it. I wish you would tell me what you feel; I mean, I wish you would
tell me what impresses itself most on your mind, and, as it were,
epitomises the whole. You have known all this since you were a child.
You have played in these passages; some spot, some piece of furniture,
your toys--I suppose they are gone long ago; but something must stand
out and assert itself amid conflicting thoughts. Do tell me."

Willy stroked his moustache. "Of course it is very sad, but it is
difficult to put one's feelings into words. I should have to think about
it; I don't think I could say off-hand."

At that moment there came a great crash.

"What the devil is that?" cried Frank.

"I hope they haven't broken the statue of Flora," said Willy, and a look
of alarm overspread his face. Frank felt that if such were the case
he should feel no great sorrow. They ran down the echoing stairs. The
workmen had got drunk in the cellars and in removing the statue they
had let it fall, and it strewed the floor--an arm here, a fragment of
drapery there.

"I knew what would happen. I told Mr. Brookes so. All my statues are in
marble."

"Come away, I can't listen to that cad. I wouldn't have had Flora broken
for a hundred pounds. When I was a child I used to stand and look at
her. I never could make out how she was made, and I always wanted to
look inside. If you'd like to know what I feel most sorry for, it is
Flora. She has stood amid the flowers in the bow window as long as I can
remember."

They followed the high road by Windmill Inn, where they struck across
the Downs, and when they reached the first crest they could see the
paddocks and enclosures situated along the road in the valley, and
the private house so trim and middle-class. "Splendid paddocks and
first-rate stabling. The house is not much. When I am making fifteen per
cent. on my money I shall go in for a little architecture. If I had a
glass I could show you Blue Mantle's stable. Do you see two horses in
the paddock, right away on the left, in the far corner--Apple Blossom
and Astarte? Apple Blossom is by See-saw out of Melody, by Stockwell out
of Fairy Queen. Is that good enough for you? Astarte is by Blue Gown out
of Merry Maid, by Beadsman out of Aurora. What do you say to that?"

"I see you have been looking up the Stud Book."

"Business, sir, business. And if I were to go in for owning a racer or
two, just look and see what a magnificent training ground; miles upon
miles of downland. Did you ever see a handsomer view? You must paint me
some landscapes for my dining-room."



XVIII



"The pain is always here--just over the heart. You know what I mean?
Suddenly, when I am thinking of other things, the sound of her voice and
the sight of her face comes upon me, and then a dead, weary ache. I know
I cannot have her, perhaps if I did I shouldn't be wholly glad; but glad
or sorry, good fortune or ill, I cannot forget her. My life will not be
complete. You have felt all this."

"Never mind how I felt, you know I don't like talking about it. I am
sorry for you. We all have our troubles, I've had nothing else; I often
think that if I were to die to-morrow it would be a happy release."

"If I had never seen her, or if I had married Maggie; if your father had
not put obstacles in the way; if he had not raised the wretched
money question, which you know as well as I do was dragged in quite
unnecessarily, I should not be suffering now. For, once married, I
should think of no one but my wife. I am sure I should make a good
husband. I know I could make a woman happy; she'll never find a husband
better than she'd have found in me, I don't believe if they were to be
made that you could make a better husband than I should be--I feel it."

"I have always said that my father brings all his troubles on himself.
He never went in for the country people; he never would have people
at the Manor House. You can't shut up young girls as if they were in a
convent, and if they don't get the right people they'll have the
wrong people. My father thinks of nothing but his money, and he can't
understand that he might go for an equivalent. How could he have
expected it to have turned in your case but as it did? Lord Mount
Rorke was not going to come over to Southwick to haggle over pounds,
shillings, and pence with him--not likely. My sisters might have married
very well if he had gone the right way to work, and he would have been
saved a deal of worry and bother. I always say that my father brings all
his troubles on himself."

"So far as I was concerned he certainly acted very stupidly. Ah, if I
had married Maggie last summer, how different my life would be now."

"But you couldn't have really loved her; if you had you would never--"

"Yes, I did love her."

"I heard from my father to-day. Maggie is better. This is, of course, a
very delicate question, but we have been friends so long--would you like
me to see if--if this matter could be arranged? I don't like, as you
know, to meddle in other people's affairs, I have quite enough to do to
look after my own; but if you would like--You, of course, do not think
of marrying Lizzie Baker?"

"Of course not."

"Then you would like me to speak to my father? Are you willing? Would
you like to marry Maggie?"

"Yes, of course I should."

"I don't say so because she is my sister, but I think it is the best
thing you could do."

They had traversed the paddock, and were close to the stables. Picking
a few carrots out of a heap, they opened the door of Blue Mantle's box.
The horse came towards them, his large eyes glancing, his beautiful
crest arched. His coat shone like satin, his legs were as fine as steel,
and with exquisite relish he drew the carrots from their hands.

The perspective of the hills was prolonged upon fading tints, and in the
pale blueness the mares feeding in the paddocks grew strangely solitary
and distinct; the trees about the coast towns were blended in shadow,
and out of the first stars fell a quiet peace.

Their dinner awaited them--a little dinner, simple and humble. After
dinner, when the lamp was brought in, Willy nursed the missus with
affection and sincerity. Cissy sat on Frank's knee, and he told her
stories and stroked her hair. This household retired at eleven. At
ten every morning Willy was busy with his letters, his cheques, his
accounts, and in the afternoon the young men walked about the fields
talking of possible successes of the forthcoming breeding season, and so
the days went. But the secret forces were busy about Frank's life. There
were mines and counter-mines. Every fort of prejudice, every citadel of
reason rested now upon foundations that quaked, and would fall at the
first shock. Doom was about him. As the silence rustles in the deadly
hush of the storm that brings winter upon the forest, he waited
unconscious as a leaf in the imminence of the autumn moment; and in
such a stillness, awaiting a change of soul, he received a letter from
Lizzie. It dropped from his hand, and such desire to go as comes on
swallow and cuckoo came on him; he struggled for a moment, and was
sucked down in his passion.

The little village--a summary of English life and custom, a symbol of
the Saxon, the church steeple pointing through the elm trees, the villas
with their various embellishment in the line of glass porticos
and privet hedges, the General, Mrs. Horlick, Messrs Brookes and
Berkins--how complete it seemed, how individual and how synthetical--his
eyes filled with tears of unpremeditated grief. The leaves were falling,
the hills were shrouded in wreaths of floating mist. Some trees had been
cut down and scaffolding had been reared about the Manor House, some of
the walls had already fallen revealing the wall paper, the pattern of
which he could almost distinguish. He was going to the woman he loved,
but he was leaving his youth behind, and those whom he had known as
children, as girls, as women; he remembered all the gossip, all the
quarrels, all the to-do about nothing; and now, looking on the beautiful
garden where he had played and passioned in all varying moments of grief
and glee, he re-lived the past; and leaning out of the carriage window
he gazed fondly, and cried out: "Alas, those were Spring Days."

THE END





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