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Title: At His Gates, Vol. 1(of 3)
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret)
Language: English
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                            AT HIS GATES.

                              A Novel.

                          BY MRS OLIPHANT,

    AUTHOR OF 'CHRONICLES OF CARLINGFORD,' ETC., ETC.

    IN THREE VOLUMES.

    VOL. I.

    LONDON:
    TINSLEY BROTHERS, 18, CATHERINE ST., STRAND.
    1872.

    [_All rights reserved_]

    JOHN CHILDS AND SON, PRINTERS.



AT HIS GATES.



CHAPTER I.


Mr and Mrs Robert Drummond lived in a pretty house in the Kensington
district; a house, the very external aspect of which informed the
passer-by who they were, or at least what the husband was. The house was
embowered in its little garden; and in spring, with its lilacs and
laburnums, looked like a great bouquet of bloom--as such houses often
do. But built out from the house, and occupying a large slice of the
garden at the side, was a long room, lighted with sky windows, and not
by any means charming to look at outside, though the creepers, which had
not long been planted, were beginning to climb upon the walls. It was
connected with the house by a passage which acted as a conservatory,
and was full of flowers; and everything had been done that could be
done to render the new studio as beautiful in aspect as it was in
meaning. But it was new, and had scarcely yet begun, as its proprietor
said, to 'compose' with its surroundings. Robert Drummond, accordingly,
was a painter, a painter producing, in the mean time, pictures of the
class called _genre_; but intending to be historical, and to take to the
highest school of art as soon as life and fame would permit. He was a
very good painter; his subjects were truly 'felt' and exquisitely
manipulated; but there was no energy of emotion, no originality of
genius about them. A great many people admired them very much; other
painters lingered over them lovingly, with that true professional
admiration of 'good work' which counteracts the jealousy of trade in
every honest mind. They were very saleable articles, indeed, and had
procured a considerable amount of prosperity for the young painter. It
was almost certain that he would be made an Associate at the next
vacancy, and an Academician in time. But with all this, he was well
aware that he was no genius, and so was his wife.

The knowledge of this fact acted upon them in very different ways; but
that its effect may be fully understood, the difference in their
characters and training requires to be known. Robert Drummond had never
been anything but a painter; attempts had been made in his youth to fix
him to business, his father having been the senior clerk, much respected
and utterly respectable, of a great City house; and the attempt might
have been successful but that accident had thrown him among artists, a
kind of society very captivating to a young man, especially when he has
a certain command of a pencil. He threw himself into art, accordingly,
with all his soul. He was the sort of man who would have thrown himself
into anything with all his soul; not for success or reward, but out of
an infinite satisfaction in doing good work, and seeing beautiful things
grow under his hand. He was of a very sanguine mind, a mind which seldom
accepted defeat, but which, with instinctive unconscious wisdom,
hesitated to dare the highest flights, and to put itself in conflict
with those final powers which either vanquish a man or assure his
triumph. Perhaps it was because there was some hidden possibility of
wild despair and downfall in the man's mind, of which only himself was
aware, that he was thus cautious of putting his final fortune to the
touch. But the fact was that he painted his pictures contentedly,
conscientiously, doing everything well, and satisfied with the
perfection of his work as work, though he was not unaware of the absence
from it of any spark of divinity. He did not say it in so many words,
but the sentiment of his mind was this:--'It is good work, work no man
need be ashamed of. I am not a Raphael, alas! and I cannot help it. What
is the good of being unhappy about a thing I cannot mend? I am doing my
best; it is honest work, which I know I don't slight or do carelessly;
and I can give her everything she wants except that. I should be too
happy myself if she were but content.' But she was not content, and thus
his happiness was brought down to the moderate pitch allowed to mortal
bliss.

She was very different from her Robert. She had been a young lady of
very good connections when she first met the rising young artist. I do
not say that her connections were splendid, or that she made an absolute
_mésalliance_, for that would be untrue. Her people, however, had been
rich people for several generations. They had begun in merchandise, and
by merchandise they had kept themselves up; but to have been rich from
the time of your great-grandfather, with never any downfall or even
break in the wealth, has perhaps more effect on the mind than that
pride which springs from family. Well-descended people are aware that
every family now and then gets into trouble, and may even fall into
poverty without sacrificing any of its pretensions. But well-off people
have not that source of enlightenment. When they cease to be very well
off, they lose the great point of eminence on which they have taken
their stand; and, consequently, success is more absolutely necessary to
them than it is to any other class in the community. Helen Burton
besides was very proud, very ambitious, and possessed of that not
unusual form of _amour propre_ which claims distinction as a
right--though she had not anything particular in herself to justify her
claim. She had, or believed she had, an utter contempt for that money
which was the foundation of her family pride; and she was, at the same
time, too well endowed in mind, and too generous in temper, to be able
to give herself up sincerely to worship of that rank, which, as their
only perpetual superior, tantalizes the imagination of the plebeian
rich, and thrusts itself constantly before them. Helen could have
married the son of a poor lord, and become the Honourable Mrs Somebody,
with her mother's blessing, had she so willed. But as her will took a
totally different direction, she had defied and alienated her mother,
who was also a woman of high spirit, and only some seventeen years older
than her only child; the consequence was that when Mrs Burton found
herself abandoned and left alone in the world, she married too, as truly
out of pique as a girl sometimes does when deserted by her lover; and at
her death left everything she had to her husband and the two small
babies, one of them younger than Helen's little Norah, whom she left
behind. So that a little tragedy, of a kind not much noted by the world,
had woven itself around the beginning of her married life. The mother's
second marriage had not been a success, but was Helen to blame for that?
Nobody said she was, no one around her; but sometimes in the silence of
the night, when she alone was awake, and all her household slept so
peacefully--Robert, good Robert, was not a success either, not such a
man as she had hoped. She loved him sincerely, was grateful to him for
his love, and for his constant regard to her wishes. But yet, in the
depths of her heart,--no, not despised him, the expression is too
strong,--but felt a minute shade of indignation mingled in her
disappointment with him for not being a great genius. _Why_ was he not a
Raphael, a Titian? She had married him with the full understanding that
he was such, that he would bring her sweet fame and distinction. And why
had not he done it? Every time she looked at his pictures she found out
the want of inspiration in them. She did not say anything. She was very
kind, praising the pretty bits of detail, the wonderful perfection of
painting; but Robert felt that he would rather have the President and
all the Hanging Committee to pass judgment on his pictures than his
wife. Her sense that he had somehow defrauded her by not mounting at
once to the very height of his profession, seemed to endow her with a
power of judgment a hundred-fold more than was justified by her
knowledge of art. She saw the want of any soul in them at the first
glance, from under her half-closed eyelids--and it seemed to Robert that
in her heart she said: 'Another pretty piece of mediocrity, a thing to
sell, not to live--with no genius, no genius in it.' These were the
words Robert seemed to himself to hear, but they were not the real words
which, in her heart, Helen uttered. These were rather as follows:--'It
is just the same as the last. It is no better, no better. And now
everybody says he is at his best. Oh! when his worst begins to come,
what will become of us?' But she never said an uncivil word. She
praised what she could, and she went her way languidly into the
drawing-room. She had come down out of her sphere to give herself to
him, and he had not repaid her as she expected. He had given her
love--oh, yes; but not fame. She was Mrs Drummond only; she was not
pointed out where she went as the wife of the great painter. 'Her
husband is an artist' was all that anybody ever said.

The effect of this upon poor Robert, however, was much worse even than
it was upon his wife. Some time elapsed, it is true, before he
discovered it. It took him even years to make out what it was that
shadowed his little household over and diminished its brightness. But
gradually a sense of the absence of that sympathetic backing up which a
man expects in his own house, and without which both men and women who
have work to do are so apt to pine and faint, stole over him like a
chill. When anything was said against his pictures outside, a gloom in
his wife's face would show him that worse was thought within. He had no
domestic shield from adverse criticism. It was not kept in the outer
circle of his mind, but was allowed to penetrate down to his heart, and
envelop him in a heavy discouragement. Even applause did not exhilarate
him. '_She_ does not think I deserve it,' was what he would say to
himself; and the sense of this criticism which never uttered a word
weighed upon the poor fellow's soul. It made his hand unsteady many a
day when his work depended on a firm touch--and blurred the colours
before his eyes, and dulled his thoughts. Two or three times he made a
spasmodic effort to break through his mediocrity, and then the critics
(who were very well pleased on the whole with his mediocrity) shook
their heads, and warned him against the sensational. But Helen neither
approved nor condemned the change. To her it was all alike, always
second-rate. She did her very best to applaud, but she could not
brighten up into genuine admiration the blank composure in her eyes.
What could she do? There was something to be said for her, as well as
for him. She could not affect to admire what she felt to be commonplace.
Nature had given her a good eye, and intense feeling had strengthened
and corrected it. She saw all the weakness, the flatness, with fatal
certainty. What, then, could she say? But poor Robert, though he was not
a great artist, was the most tender-hearted, amiable, affectionate of
men; and this mode of criticism stole the very heart out of him. There
is no such want in the world as that want of backing up. It is the
secret of weakness and failure, just as strong moral support and
sympathy is the very secret of strength. He stood steady and robust to
the external eye, painting many pictures every year, getting very
tolerable prices, keeping his household very comfortable, a man still
under forty, healthy, cheerful, and vigorous; but all the time he was
sapped at the foundations. He had lost his confidence in himself, and it
was impossible to predict how he would have borne any sudden blow.

It was about this time that Mr Reginald Burton, a cousin of Helen's, who
had once, it was supposed, desired to be something nearer to her, found
out the house in Kensington, and began to pay them visits. The
circumstances of her marriage had separated her from her own people. The
elder among them had thought Helen unkind to her mother; the younger
ones had felt that nothing had come of it to justify so romantic a
story. So that when Reginald Burton met the pair in society it was the
reopening of an altogether closed chapter of her life. Mr Burton was a
man in the City in very extensive business. He was chairman of ever so
many boards, and his name, at the head of one company or another, was
never out of the newspapers. He had married since his cousin did, and
had a very fine place in the country, and was more well off still than
it was natural for the Burtons to be. Helen, who had never liked him
very much, and had not even been grateful to him for loving her,
received his visits now without enthusiasm; but Drummond, who was
open-hearted like his kind, and who had no sort of jealousy about
'Helen's friends,' received him with a cordiality which seemed to his
wife much too effusive. She would not accept the invitation which Mrs
Burton sent to pay a long visit to Dura, their country place; but she
could not be less than civil to her cousin when he insisted upon
calling, nor could she openly resist when he carried off her husband to
City dinners, or unfolded to him the benefits of this or that new
society. Drummond had done very well in his profession, notwithstanding
Helen's dissatisfaction with his work; and also notwithstanding her
dissatisfaction, she was a good housewife, doing her duty wisely. She
had a hundred a year of her own, which Drummond had taken care to have
settled upon herself; but since they had grown richer he had insisted
upon letting this accumulate as 'a portion for Norah,' and the two had
laid by something besides. For painter-folk it will be readily seen
they were at the very height of comfort--a pretty house, one pretty
child, a little reserve of money, slowly but pleasantly accumulating.
And money, though it is an ignoble thing, has so much to do with
happiness! Drummond, who had been quite content to think that there was
a portion saving up for Norah, and to whom it had not occurred that his
little capital could be made use of, and produce twenty and a
hundred-fold, gradually grew interested, without being aware of it, in
the proceedings of Mr Burton. He began to talk, half laughingly, half
with intention, of the wonderful difference between the slowly-earned
gains of labour and those dazzling results of speculation. 'These
fellows seem simply to coin money,' he said, 'half in jest and whole in
earnest;' 'everything they touch seems to become gold. It looks
incredible----' and he wound up with a nervous laugh, in which there was
some agitation. Helen had all a woman's conservatism on this point.

'It _is_ incredible, you may be sure,' she said. 'How can they invent
money? Some one will have to pay for it somewhere;' which was a sentence
of profound wisdom, much deeper than she thought.

'So one would say,' said Drummond, still laughing; 'but nobody seems to
suffer. By Jove! as much as--not to say I, who am one of the rank and
file--but as Welby or Hartwell Home get for one of their best pictures,
your cousin will clear in five minutes, without taking the slightest
trouble. When one sees it, one feels hugely tempted'--he added, looking
at her. He was one of those men who like to carry their people's
sympathy with them. He wanted not acquiescence simply, but approval; and
notwithstanding that he was very well used to the absence of it, sought
it still. She would not--could not, perhaps--enter warmly into the
subject of his pictures; but here was a new matter. He looked up at her
with a certain longing--ready, poor fellow, to plunge into anything if
she would but approve.

'I hope you won't let yourself be tempted to anything, Robert, that you
don't see the end of,' she said; but so gently that her husband's heart
rose.

'Trust me for that,' he said joyously, 'and you shall have the first
fruits, my darling. I have not as fine a house for you as your cousin
can give to his wife, but for all that----'

'For all that,' she said, laughing, 'I would not change with Mrs
Reginald Burton. I am not tempted by the fine house.'

'I have thought how we can make this one a great deal better,' he said,
as he stooped to kiss her before he went out. He looked back upon her
fondly as he left the room, and said to himself that if he wished for
gain it was for her sake--his beautiful Helen! He had painted her
furtively over and over again, though she never would sit to him. A
certain shadow of her was in all his pictures, showing with more or less
distinctness according as he loved or did not love his temporary
heroine: but he knew that when this was pointed out to her she did not
like it. She was anxious that everybody should know she did not sit to
him. She was very indignant at the idea that a painter's wife might
serve her husband as a model. 'Why should a painter's profession, which
ought to be one of the noblest in the world, be obtruded upon the outer
world at every step?' she said. But yet as he was a painter, every inch
of him, his eye caught the _pose_ of her head as she moved, and made a
mental note of it. And yet she was not, strictly speaking, a beautiful
woman. She was not the large Juno, who is our present type of beauty;
she was not blazing with colour--red, and white, and golden--like the
Rubens-heroines of the studio; nor was she of the low-browed,
sleepy-eyed, sensuous, classic type. She was rather colourless on the
contrary. Her hair was olive brown, which is so harmonious with a pale
complexion; her eyes hazel-grey; her colour evanescent, coming and
going, and rarely at any time more than a rose tint; her very lips,
though beautifully formed, were only rose--not scarlet--and her figure
was slight and deficient in 'grand curves.' Her great characteristic was
what the French call _distinction_; a quality to which in point of truth
she had no claim--for Helen, it must be remembered, was no
long-descended lady. She was the produce of three generations of money,
and a race which could be called nothing but Philistine; and from whence
came her highbred look, her fanciful pride, her unrealisable ambition,
it would be difficult to say.

She went over the house with a little sigh after Robert was gone,
professedly in the ordinary way of a housewife's duty, but really with
reference to his last words. Yes, the house might be made a great deal
better. The drawing-room was a very pretty one--quite enough for all
their wants--but the dining-room was occupied by Drummond as his studio,
according to an arrangement very common among painters. This, it will be
perceived, was before the day of the new studio. The dining-room was
thus occupied, and a smaller room, such as in most suburban houses is
appropriated generally to the often scanty books of the family, was the
eating-room of the Drummonds. It was one of those things which made
Helen's pride wince--a very petty subject for pride, you will say--but,
then, pride is not above petty things; and it wounded her to be obliged
to say apologetically to her cousin--'The real dining-room of the house
is Mr Drummond's studio. We content ourselves with this in the mean
time.' 'Oh, yes; I see; of course he must want space and light,'
Reginald Burton had replied with patronising complacency, and a
recollection of his own banqueting-hall at Dura. How Helen hated him at
that moment, and how much aggravated she felt with poor Robert smiling
opposite to her, and feeling quite comfortable on the subject! 'We
painters are troublesome things,' he even said, as if it was a thing to
smile at. Helen went and looked in at the studio on this particular
morning, and made a rapid calculation how it could be 'made better.' It
would have to be improved off the face of the earth, in the first place,
as a studio; and then carpeted, and tabled, and mirrored, and ornamented
to suit its new destination. It would take a good deal of money to do
it, but that was not the first consideration. The thing was, where was
Robert to go? She, for her part, would have been reconciled to it
easily, could he have made up his mind to have a studio apart from the
house, and come home when his work was done. That would be an advantage
in every way. It would secure that in the evening, at least, his
profession should be banished. He would have to spend the evening as
gentlemen usually do, yawning his head off if he pleased, but not
professional for ever. It would no longer be possible for him to put on
an old coat, and steal away into that atmosphere of paint, and moon over
his effects, as he loved to do now. He liked Helen to go with him, and
she did so often, and was tried almost beyond her strength by his
affectionate lingerings over the canvas, which, in her soul, she felt
would never be any better, and his appeals to her to suggest and to
approve. Nothing would teach him not to appeal to her. Though he divined
what she felt, though it had eaten into his very life, yet still he
would try again. Perhaps this time she might like it better--perhaps----

'If he would only have his studio out of doors,' Helen reflected. She
was too sure of him to be checked by the thought that his heart might
perhaps learn to live out of doors too as well as his pictures, did she
succeed in driving them out. No such doubt ever crossed her mind. He
loved her, and nobody else, she knew. His mind had never admitted
another idea but hers. She was a woman who would have scorned to be
jealous in any circumstances--but she had no temptation to be jealous.
He was only a moderate painter. He would never be as splendid as Titian,
with a prince to pick up his pencil--which is what Helen's
semi-Philistine pride would have prized. But he loved her so as no man
had ever surpassed. She knew that, and was vaguely pleased by it; yet
not as she might have been had there ever been any doubt about the
matter. She was utterly sure of him, and it did not excite her one way
or another. But his words had put a little gentle agitation in her mind.
She put down her calculation on paper when she went back to the
drawing-room after her morning occupations were over, and called Norah
to her music. Sideboard so much, old carved oak, to please him, though
for herself she thought it gloomy; curtains, for these luxuries he had
not admitted to spoil his light; a much larger carpet--she made her list
with some pleasure while Norah played her scales. And that was the day
on which the painter's commercial career began.



CHAPTER II.


Drummond's first speculations were very successful, as is so often the
case with the innocent and ignorant dabbler in commercial gambling. Mr
Burton instructed him what to do with his little capital, and he did it.
He knew nothing about business, and was docile to the point of servility
to his disinterested friend, who smiled at his two thousand pounds, and
regarded it with amused condescension. Two thousand pounds! It meant
comfort, ease of mind, moral strength, to Drummond. It made him feel
that in the contingency of a bad year, or a long illness, or any of the
perils to which men and artists are liable, he would still be safe, and
that his wife and child would not suffer; but to the rich City man it
was a bagatelle scarcely worth thinking of. When he really consented to
employ his mind about it, he made such use of it as astonished and
delighted the innocent painter. All that his simple imagination had ever
dreamed seemed likely to be carried out. This was indeed money-making he
felt--Trade spelt with a very big capital, and meaning something much
more splendid than anything he had hitherto dreamt of. But then he could
not have done it by himself or without instruction. Burton could not
have been more at a loss in Drummond's studio than he would have felt in
his friend's counting-house. Mr Burton was 'a merchant;' a vague term
which nevertheless satisfied the painter's mind. He was understood to be
one of the partners in Rivers's bank, but his own business was quite
independent of that. Money was the material he dealt in--his
stock-in-trade. He understood the Funds as a doctor understands a
patient whose pulse he feels every day. He could divine when they were
going to rise and when they were going to fall. And there were other
ways in which his knowledge told still more wonderfully. He knew when a
new invention, a new manufacture, was going to be popular, by some
extraordinary magic which Drummond could not understand. He would catch
a speculation of this sort at its tide, and take his profit from it, and
bound off again uninjured before the current began to fall. In all
these matters he was knowing beyond most men; and he lent to his
cousin's husband all the benefit of his experience. For several years
Drummond went on adding to his store in a manner so simple and
delightful, that his old way of making money, the mode by which months
of labour went to the acquisition of a few hundred pounds, looked almost
laughable to him. He continued it because he was fond of his art, and
loved her for herself alone; but he did it with a sort of banter,
smiling at the folly of it, as an enlightened old lady might look at her
spinning-wheel. The use of it? Well, as for that, the new ways of
spinning were better and cheaper; but still not for the use, but for the
pleasure of it!--So Drummond clung to his profession, and worked almost
as hard at it as ever. And in the additional ease of his circumstances,
not needing to hurry anything for an exhibition, or sacrifice any part
of his design for the fancy of a buyer, he certainly painted better than
usual, and was made an Associate, to the general satisfaction of his
brethren. These were the happy days in which the studio was built. It
was connected with the house, as I have said, by a conservatory, a warm,
glass-covered, fragrant, balmy place, bright with flowers. 'There must
always be violets, and there must always be colour!' he had said to the
nurseryman who supplied and kept his fairy palace in order, after the
fashion of London. And if ever there was a flowery way contrived into
the thorny haunts of art it was this. It would perhaps be rash to say
that this was the happy time of Drummond's married life, for they had
always been happy, with only that one drawback of Helen's
dissatisfaction with her husband's work. They had loved each other
always, and their union had been most true and full. But the effect of
wealth was mollifying, as it so often is. Prosperity has been railed at
much, as dangerous and deadening to the higher being; but prosperity
increases amiability and smooths down asperities as nothing else can. It
did not remove that one undisclosed and untellable grievance which
prevented Mrs Drummond's life from attaining perfection, but it took
away ever so many little points of irritation which aggravated that. She
got, for one thing, the dining-room she wanted--a prosaic matter, yet
one which Helen considered important--and she got, what she had not
bargained for, that pretty conservatory, and a bunch of violets every
day--a lover-like gift which pleased her. Things, in short, went very
well with them at this period of their existence. Her discontents were
more lulled to sleep than they had ever been before. She still saw the
absence of any divine meaning in her husband's pictures; but she saw it
with gentler eyes. The pictures did not seem so entirely his sole
standing-ground. If he could not grow absolutely illustrious by that or
any personal means of acquiring fame, he might still hold his own in the
world by other means. Helen sighed over her Titian-dream, but to a great
extent she gave it up. Greatness was not to be; but comfort and even
luxury were probable. Her old conditions of life seemed to be coming
back to her. It was not what she had dreamed of; but yet it was better
to have mediocrity with ease and modest riches, and pleasant
surroundings, than mediocrity without those alleviations. To do her
justice, had her husband been a great unsuccessful genius, in whom she
had thoroughly believed, she would have borne privation proudly and with
a certain triumph. But that not being so, she returned to her old
starting-ground with a sigh that was not altogether painful, saying to
herself that she must learn to be content with what she had, and not
long for what she could not have.

Thus they were happier, more hopeful, more at their ease. They went
more into society, and received more frequent visits from their friends.
The new studio made many social pleasures possible that had not been
possible. Of itself it implied a certain rise in the world. It gave
grace and completeness to their little house. Nobody could say any
longer that it was half a house and half a workshop, as Helen, under her
breath, in her impatience, had sometimes declared it to be. The workshop
phase was over, the era of self-denial gone--and yet Robert was not
driven from the art he loved, nor prevented from putting on his old coat
and stealing away in the evenings to visit the mistress who was dearer
to him than anything else except his wife.

This was the state of affairs when the painter one day entered Helen's
drawing-room in a state of considerable excitement. He was full of a new
scheme, greater than anything he had as yet been engaged in. Rivers's
bank, which was half as old as London, which held as high repute as the
Bank of England, which was the favourite depository of everybody's
money, from ministers of state down to dressmakers, was going to undergo
a revolution. The Riverses themselves had all died out, except, indeed,
the head of the house, who was now Lord Rivers, and had no more than a
nominal connection with the establishment which had been the means of
bringing him to his present high estate. The other partners had
gradually got immersed in other business. Mr Burton, for instance,
confessed frankly that he had not time to attend to the affairs of the
bank, and the others were in a similar condition:--they had come in as
secondaries, and they found themselves principals, and it was too much
for them. They had accordingly decided to make Rivers's a joint-stock
bank. This was the great news that Drummond brought home to his wife. 'I
will put everything we have into it,' he said in his enthusiasm, 'unless
you object, Helen. We can never have such another chance. Most
speculations have a doubtful element in them. But this is not at all
doubtful. There is an enormous business ready made to our hands, and all
the traditions of success and the best names in the City to head our
list--for of course the old partners hold shares, and will be made
directors of the new company----And--you will laugh, Helen, but for you
and the child I feel able to brave anything--I am to be a director too.'

'You!' cried Helen, with a surprise which had some mixture of dismay.
'But you don't know anything about business. You can't even----'

'Reckon up my own accounts,' said the painter placidly--'quite true; but
you see it is a great deal easier to calculate on a large scale than on
a small scale. I assure you I understand the banking system--at least, I
shall when I have given my mind to it. I shouldn't mind even,' he said
laughing, 'making an effort to learn the multiplication table. Norah
might teach me. Besides, to speak seriously, it doesn't matter in the
least: there are clerks and a manager to do all that, and other
directors that know all about it, and I shall learn in time.'

'But, then, why be a director at all?' said Helen. She said this more
from a woman's natural hesitation at the thought of change, than from
any dislike of the idea; for she belonged to the race from which
directors come by nature. Poor Drummond could not give any very good
reason why he desired this distinction; but he looked very wise, and set
before her with gravity all the privileges involved.

'It brings something in,' he said, 'either in the way of salary, or
special profits, or something. Ask your cousin. I don't pretend to know
very much about it. But I assure you he is very great upon the
advantages involved. He says it will be the making of me. It gives
position and influence and all that--'

'To a painter!' said Helen: and in her heart she groaned. Her dream came
back like a mist, and wove itself about her head. What distinction would
it have given to Raphael or to Titian, or even to Gainsborough or Sir
Joshua Reynolds, to be made directors of a bank? She groaned in her
heart, and then she came back to herself, and caught her husband's eyes
looking at her with that grieved and wondering look, half aware of the
disappointment he had caused her, humbled, sorry, suspicious, yet almost
indignant, the look with which he had sometimes regarded her from among
his pictures in the day when art reigned alone over his life. Helen came
abruptly to herself when she met that glance, and said hurriedly, 'It
cannot change your position much, Robert, in our world.'

'No,' he said, with a glance of sudden brightness in his eyes which she
did not understand; 'but, my darling, our world may expand. I should
like you to be something more than a poor painter's wife, Helen--you who
might be a princess! I should not have ventured to marry you if I had
not hoped to make you a kind of princess; but you don't believe I can;
do you?' Here he paused, and, she thought, regarded her with a wistful
look, asking her to contradict him. But how could she contradict him? It
was true. The wife of a pleasant mediocre painter, Associate, or in time
Academician--that was all. Not a thorough lady of art such as--such
as----Such as whom? Poor Andrea's Lucrezia, who ruined him? That was the
only painter's wife that occurred to Helen.

'Dear Robert,' she said earnestly, 'never mind me: so long as I have you
and Norah, I care very little about princesses. We are very well and
very happy as we are. I think you should be careful, and consider well
before you make any change.'

But by this time the brightness that had been hanging about him came
back again like a gleam of sunshine. He kissed her with a joyous laugh.
'You are only a woman,' he said, 'after all. You don't understand what
it is to be a British director. Fancy marching into the bank with a
lordly stride, and remembering the days when one was thankful to have a
balance of five pounds to one's credit! You don't see the fun of it,
Helen; and the best of the whole is that an R.A. on the board of
directors will be an advantage, Burton says. Why, heaven knows. I
suppose he thinks it will conciliate the profession. We painters, you
see, are known to have so much money floating about! But anyhow, he
thinks an R.A.----'

'But, Robert! you are not an R.A.'

'Not yet. I forgot to tell you,' he added, lowering his voice, and
putting on a sudden look of gravity, which was half real, half
innocently hypocritical. 'Old Welby died last night.'

Then there was a little pause. They were not glad that old Welby was
dead. A serious shade came over both their faces for the moment--the
homage, partly natural, partly conventional, that human nature pays to
death. And then they clasped each other's hands in mutual
congratulation. The vacant place would come to Drummond in the course of
nature. He was known to be the first on the list of Associates. Thus he
had obtained the highest honours of his profession, and it was this and
not the bank directorship which had filled him with triumph. His wife's
coldness, however, checked his delight. His profession and the public
adjudged the honour to him; but Helen had not adjudged it. If the prize
had been hers to bestow, she would not have given it to him. This made
his heart contract even in the moment of his triumph. But yet he was
triumphant. To him it was the highest honour in the world.

'Poor old Welby!' he said. 'He was a great painter; and now that he is
dead, he will be better understood. He was fifty before he entered the
Academy,' the painter continued, with half-conscious self-glorification.
'He was a long time making his way.'

'And you are more than ten years younger,' said Helen. Surely that might
have changed her opinion if anything could. 'Robert, are you to be put
upon this bank because you are an R.A.?'

'And for my business talents generally,' he said, with a laugh. His
spirits were too high to be subdued. He would not hear reason, nor,
indeed, anything except the confused delightful chatter about his new
elevation, in which the fumes of happiness get vent. He plunged into an
immediate revelation of what he would do in his new capacity. 'It will
be odd if one can't make the Hanging Committee a little more
reasonable,' he said. 'I shall set my face against that hideous habit of
filling up "the line" with dozens of bad pictures because the men have
R.A. at their names. Do you remember, Helen, that year when I was hung
up at the ceiling? It nearly broke my heart. It was the year before we
were married.'

'They were your enemies then,' said Helen, with some visionary remnant
of the old indignation which she had felt about that base outrage before
she was Robert Drummond's wife. She had not begun to criticise him
then--to weigh his pictures and find them wanting; and she could still
remember her disgust and hatred of the Hanging Committee of that year.
Now no Hanging Committee could do any harm. It had changed its opinion
and applauded the painter, but she--had changed her opinion too. Then
this artist-pair did as many such people do. By way of celebrating the
occasion they went away to the country, and spent the rest of the day
like a pair of lovers. Little Norah, who was too small to be carried off
on such short notice, was left at home with her governess, but the
father and mother went away to enjoy the bright summer day, and each
other, and the event which had crowned them with glory. Even Helen's
heart was moved with a certain thrill of satisfaction when it occurred
to her that some one was pointing her husband out as 'Drummond the
painter--the new R.A.' He had won his blue ribbon, and won it honestly,
and nobody in England, nobody in the world, was above him in his own
profession. He was as good as a Duke, or even superior, for a Duke (poor
wretch!) cannot help himself, whereas a painter achieves his own
distinction. Helen let this new softness steal into her soul. She even
felt that when she looked at the pictures next time they would have a
light in them which she had not yet been able to perceive. And the bank,
though it was so much more important, sank altogether into the
background, while the two rowed down the river in the summer evening,
with a golden cloud of pleasure and glory around them. They had gone to
Richmond, where so many happy people go to realise their gladness. And
were the pair of lovers new betrothed, who crossed their path now and
then without seeing them, more blessed than the elder pair? 'I wonder if
they will be as happy ten years hence?' Helen said, smiling at them with
that mingling of sweet regret and superiority with which we gaze at the
reflection of a happiness we have had in our day. 'Yes,' said the
painter, 'if she is as sweet to him as my wife has been to me.' What
more could a woman want to make her glad? If Helen had not been very
happy in his love, it would have made her heart sick to think of all her
failures towards him; but she was very happy; and happiness is indulgent
not only to its friends, but even to itself.



CHAPTER III.


Mr Burton, however, was soon restored to pre-eminence in the affairs of
the Drummonds. The very next day he dined with them, and entered on the
whole question. The glory which the painter had achieved was his own
affair, and consequently its interest was soon exhausted to his friend,
who, for his part, had a subject of his own, of which the interest was
inexhaustible. Mr Burton was very explanatory, in his genial, mercantile
way. He made it clear even to Helen, who was not above the level of
ordinary womankind in her understanding of business. He had no
difficulty in convincing her that Robert Drummond, R.A., would be an
addition to the list of directors; but it was harder to make the reasons
apparent why 'Rivers's' should change its character. If it was so firmly
established, so profitable, and so popular, why should the partners
desire to share their good fortune with others? Mrs Drummond asked. Her
husband laughed with the confidence of a man who knew all about it, at
the simplicity of such a question, but Mr Burton, on the contrary, took
the greatest pains to explain all. He pointed out to her all the
advantages of 'new blood.' The bank was doing well, and making enormous
profits; but still it might do better with more energetic management. Mr
Burton described and deplored pathetically his own over-burdened
condition. Sometimes he was detained in the City while the guests at a
state dinner-party awaited him at home. His carriage had waited for him
for two hours together at the railway, while he was busy in town,
toiling over the arrears of work at Rivers's. 'We have a jewel of a
manager,' he said, 'or we never could get on at all. You know Golden,
Drummond? There never was such a fellow for work--and a head as clear as
steel; never forgets anything; never lets an opportunity slip him. But
for him, we never could have got on so long in this way. But every man's
strength has its limits. And we must have "new blood."'

Thus Helen gradually came to an understanding of the whole, or at least
thought she did. At all events, she understood about the 'new blood.'
Her own Robert was new blood of the most valuable kind. His name would
be important, for the business of 'Rivers's' was to a considerable
extent a private business. And his good sense and industry would be
important too.

'Talk about business talent,' Mr Burton said; 'business talent means
good sense and prudence. It means the capacity to see what ought to be
done, and the spirit to do it; and if you add to this discretion enough
not to go too far, you have everything a man of business needs. Of
course, all technical knowledge has to be acquired, but that is easily
done.'

'But is Robert so accomplished as all this?' Helen said, opening her
eyes. She would not, for all England, have disclosed to her cousin that
Robert, in her eyes, was anything less than perfect. She would not, for
her life, have had him know that her husband was not the first of
painters and of men; but yet an exclamation of wonder burst from her.
She was not herself so sure of his clear-sightedness and discretion. And
when Robert laughed with a mixture of vanity and amusement at the high
character imagined for him, Helen flushed also with something between
anger and shame.

'Your own profession is a different thing,' she said hastily. 'You have
been trained for that. But to be an R.A. does not make you a man of
business--and painting is your profession, Robert. More will be expected
from you now, instead of less.'

'But we are not going to interfere with his time, my dear Helen,' said
her cousin cheerfully. 'A meeting of directors once a week or so--a
consultation when we meet--his advice, which we can always come to ask.
Bless my soul, we are not going to sweep up a great painter for our
small concern. No, no; you may make yourself quite easy. In the mean
time Drummond is not to give us much more than the benefit of his name.'

'And all his money,' Helen said to herself as she withdrew to the
drawing-room, where her little Norah awaited her. His money had
increased considerably since this new era in their lives began. It was
something worth having now--something that would make the little girl an
heiress in a humble way. And he was going to risk it all. She went into
the conservatory in the twilight and walked up and down and
pondered--wondering if it was wise to do it; wondering if some new
danger was about to swallow them up. Her reasonings, however, were
wholly founded upon matters quite distinct from the real question. She
discussed it with herself, just as her husband would discuss it with
himself, in a way common to women, and painters, and other
unbusiness-like persons, on every ground but the real one. First, he had
followed Reginald Burton's advice in all his speculations, and had
gained. Would it be honourable for him to give up following his advice
now, especially in a matter which he had so much at heart? Secondly, by
every means in his power, Reginald Burton took occasion to throw in
_her_ face (Helen's) the glories and splendour of his wife, and of the
home he had given her, and all her high estate. Helen herself was
conscious of having refused these glories and advantages. She had chosen
to be Robert Drummond's wife, and thrown aside the other; but still the
mention of Mrs Burton and her luxuries had a certain stinging and
stimulating effect upon her. She scorned, and yet would have been
pleased to emulate that splendour. The account of it put her out of
patience with her own humility, notwithstanding that she took pride in
that humility, and felt it more consistent with the real dignity of her
position than any splendour. And then, thirdly, the thought would come
in that even the magic title of R.A. had not thrown any celestial light
into Robert's pictures. That very morning she had stood for half an
hour, while he was out, in front of the last, which still stood on his
easel, and tried to reason herself into love of it. It was a picture
which ought to have been great. It was Francesca and Paolo, in the
story, reading together at the crisis of their fate. The glow and ardour
of suppressed passion had somehow toned down in Drummond's hands to a
gentle light. There was a sunset warmth of colour about the pair, which
stood in place of that fiercer illumination; and all the maze of love
and madness, all the passion and misery and delight, all the terror of
fate involved, and shadow of the dark, awful world beyond, had sunk into
a tender picture of a pair of lovers, innocent and sweet. Helen had
stood before it with a mixture of discouragement and longing impossible
to put into words. Oh, if she could but breathe upon it, and breathe in
the lacking soul! Oh, if she could but reflect into Drummond's eyes the
passion of humiliation and impatience and love which was in her own! But
she could not. As Helen paced up and down the pretty ornamented space,
all sweet with flowers, which her husband's love had made for her, this
picture rose before her like a ghost. He who painted it was an R.A. It
was exquisitely painted--a very miracle of colour and manipulation.
There was not a detail which could be improved, nor a line which was out
of drawing. He would never do anything better, never, never! Then why
should he go on trying, proving, over and over, how much he could, and
how much he could not do? Better, far better, to throw it aside for
ever, to grow rich, to make himself a name in another way.

Thus Helen reasoned in the vehemence of her thoughts. She was calm until
she came to this point. She thought she was very calm, reasonable to the
highest pitch, in everything; and yet the blood began to boil and course
through her veins as she pursued the subject. Sometimes she walked as
far as the door of the studio, and pausing to look in, saw that picture
glimmering on the easel, and all the unframed canvases about upon the
walls. Many of them were sketches of herself, made from memory, for she
never would sit--studies of her in her different dresses, in different
characters, according as her husband's fond fancy represented her to
himself. She could not see them for the darkness, but she saw them all
in her heart. Was that all he could do? Not glorify her by his
greatness, but render her the feeble homage of this perpetual,
ineffectual adoration. Why was not he like the other painters; like--Her
memory failed her for an example; of all the great painters she could
think of only Rubens' bacchanalian beauties and that Lucrezia would come
to her mind. It was about the time of Mr Browning's poem, that
revelation of Andrea del Sarto, which elucidates the man like a very ray
from heaven. She was not very fond of poetry, nor anything of a critic;
but the poem had seized upon her, partly because of her intense feeling
on the subject. Sometimes she felt as if she herself was Andrea--not
Robert, for Robert had none of that heart-rending sense of failure. Was
she Lucrezia rather, the wife that goaded him into misery? No, no! she
could not so condemn herself. When her thoughts reached this point she
forsook the studio and the conservatory, and rushed back to the
drawing-room, where little Norah, with her head pressed close against
the window to take advantage of the last glimmer of light, was reading a
book of fairy tales. Great painters had not wives. Those
others--Leonardo, and Angelo, and the young Urbinese--had none of them
wives. Was that the reason? But not to be as great as Michel Angelo, not
to win the highest honours of art, would Robert give up his wife and
his child. Therefore was it not best that he should give up being a
painter, and become a commercial man instead, and grow rich! Helen sat
down in the gathering darkness and looked at the three windows
glimmering with their mist of white curtains, and little Norah curled up
on the carpet, with her white face and her brown curls relieved against
the light. Some faint sounds came in soft as summer and evening made
them, through the long casement, which was open, and with it a scent of
mignonette, and of the fresh earth in the flower-beds, refreshed by
watering and dew. Sometimes the voices of her husband and cousin from
the adjoining room would reach her ear; but where she was all was
silent, nothing to disturb her thoughts. No, he would never do better.
He had won his crown. Helen was proud and glad that he had won it; but
in her heart did not consent. He had won and he had not won. His victory
was because he had caught the _banal_ fancy of the public, and
pleased his brethren by his beautiful work; but he had failed
because--because--Why had he failed? Because he was not Raphael or
Leonardo--nor even that poor Andrea--but only Robert Drummond, painting
his pictures not out of any inspiration within him, but for money and
fame. He had gained these as men who seek them frankly so often seem to
do. But it was better, far better, that he should make money now, by
legitimate means, without pursuing a profession in which he never could
be great.

These were not like a wife's reasonings; but they were Helen's, though
she was loyal to her husband as ever woman was. She would have liked so
much better to worship his works and himself, as most women do; and that
would have done him good more than anything else in earth or heaven. But
she could not. It was her hard fate that made her eye so keen and so
true. It felt like infidelity to him, to come to such a conclusion in
his own house, with his kind voice sounding in her ear. But so it was,
and she could not make it different, do what she would. He was so
pleased when he found she did not oppose his desires, so grateful to
her, so strongly convinced that she was yielding her own pleasure to
his, that his thanks were both lavish and tender. When their visitor had
left them, and they were alone, he poured out his gratitude like a
lover. 'I know you are giving in to me,' he said, 'my love, my
self-forgetting Helen! It is like you. You always have given up your
pleasure to mine. Am I a brute to accept it, and take my own way?'

'I am not making any sacrifice, Robert. Don't thank me, please. It is
because I think you have judged right, and this is best.'

'And you think I am so blind and stupid not to see why you say that,' he
said in his enthusiasm. 'Helen, I often wonder what providence was
thinking of to give you only such a poor fellow as I am. I wish I was
something better for your sake, something more like you; but I have not
a wish or a hope in the world, my darling, except for you. If I want to
be rich, Helen, it is only for you. You know that, at least.'

'And for Norah,' she said, smiling.

'For Norah, but most for Norah's mother, who trusted me when I was
nobody, and gave me herself when I had little chance of being either
rich or great,' said Drummond. He said it, poor fellow, with a swelling
of his heart. His new dignity had for the moment delivered him even from
the chill of his wife's unexpressed indifference to his work. With a
certain trustful simplicity, which it would have been impossible to call
vanity, he accepted the verdict of his profession--even though he had
doubts himself as to his own eminence, they must know. He had won the
greatness he wanted most, he had acquired a distinction which could not
but vanquish his own doubts and hers. And as he was now, he would not
change positions with any man in England. He was great, and please God,
for Helen's sake, he would be rich too. He put his arm round his wife
and drew her into the open conservatory. The moon was up, and shone down
upon them, lighting up with a wan and spiritual light the colourless
silent flowers. It was curious to see them, with all their leaves
silvered, and all their identity gone, yet pouring forth their sweet
scents silently, no one noting them. 'How sweet it is here,' said the
painter, drawing a long breath in his happiness. It was a moment that
lived in his mind, and remained with him, as moments do which are
specially happy, detaching themselves from the common tenor of life with
all the more distinctness that they are so few.

'Yes, it is the place I love best,' said Helen, whose heart was touched
too, 'because you made it for me, Robert. The rest is ordinary and
comfortable, but this is different. It is your sonnet to me, like that
we were reading of--like Raphael's sonnet and Dante's angel.' This she
said with a little soft enthusiasm, which perhaps went beyond the
magnitude of the fact. But then she was compunctious about her sins
towards him; and his fondness, and the moonlight, and the breath of the
flowers, moved her, and the celestial fumes of Mr Browning's book of
poetry had gone to Helen's head, as the other influences went to her
heart.

'My darling! it will be hard upon me if I don't give you better yet,' he
said. And then with a change in his voice--cheerful, yet slightly
deprecating, 'Come and have a look at "Francesca,"' he said.

It was taking an unfair advantage of her; but she could not refuse him
at such a moment. He went back to the drawing-room for the lamp, and
returned carrying it, drawing flecks of colour round him from all the
flowers as he passed flashing the light on them. Helen felt her own
portrait look at her reproachfully as she went in with reluctant steps
following him, wondering what she could say. It made her heart sick to
look at his pet picture, in its beauty and feebleness; but he approached
it lovingly, with a heart full of satisfaction and content. He held up
the lamp in his hand, though it was heavy, that the softened light might
fall just where it ought, and indicated to her the very spot where she
ought to stand to have the full advantage of all its beauties. 'I don't
think there is much to find fault with in the composition,' he said,
looking at it fondly. 'Give me your honest opinion, Helen. Do you think
it would be improved by a little heightening of those lights?'

Helen gazed at it with confused eyes and an aching heart. It was his
diploma picture, the one by which most probably he would be known best
to posterity, and she said to herself that he, a painter, ought to know
better than she did. But that reflection did not affect her feelings.
Her impulse was to snatch the lamp from his hand, and say, 'Dear Robert,
dearest husband, come and make money, come and be a banker, or sweep a
crossing, and let Francesca alone for ever!' But she could not say that.
What she did say faltering was--'You must know so much better than I do,
Robert; but I think the light is very sweet. It is best not to be too
bright.'

'Do you think so?' he said anxiously. 'I am not quite sure. I think it
would be more effective with a higher tone just here; and this line of
drapery is a little stiff--just a little stiff. Could you hold the lamp
for a moment, Helen? There! that is better. Now Paolo's foot is free,
and the attitude is more distinct. Follow the line of the chalk and tell
me what you think. That comes better now?'

'Yes, it is better,' said Helen; and then she paused and
summoned all her courage. 'Don't you think,' she faltered, 'that
Francesca--is--almost too innocent and sweet?'

'Too innocent!' said poor Robert, opening his honest eyes. 'But, dear,
you forget! She was innocent. Why, surely, you are not the one to go in
for anything sensational, Helen! This is not Francesca in the Inferno,
but Francesca in the garden, before any harm had come near her. I don't
like your impassioned women.' He had grown a little excited, feeling,
perhaps, more in the suggestion than its mere words; but now he came to
a stop, and his voice regained its easy tone. 'The whole thing wants a
great deal of working up,' he said; 'all this foreground is very
imperfect--it is too like an English garden. I acknowledge my weakness;
my ideal always smacks of home.'

Helen said no more. How could she. He was ready laughingly to allow that
England came gliding into his pencil and his thoughts when he meant to
paint Italy: a venial, kindly error. But candid and kind as he was, he
could not bear criticism on the more vital points. She held the lamp for
him patiently, though it strained her arm, and tried to make what small
suggestions she could about the foreground; and in her heart, as she
stood trembling with pain and excitement, would have liked to thrust the
flame through that canvas in very love for the painter. Perhaps some
painter's wife who reads this page, some author's wife, some woman
jealous and hungry for excellence in the productions of those she loves,
will understand better than I can describe it how Helen felt.

When he had finished those fond scratches of chalk upon the picture, and
had taken the lamp from her hand to relieve her, Drummond was shocked to
find his wife so tremulous and pale. He made her sit down in his great
chair, and called himself a brute for tiring her. 'Now let us have a
comfortable talk over the other matter,' he said. The lamp, which he had
placed on a table littered with portfolios and pigments, threw a dim
light through the large studio. There were two ghostly easels standing
up tall and dim in the background, and the lay figure ghostliest of all,
draped with a gleaming silvery stuff, pale green with lines of silver,
shone eerily in the distance. Drummond sat down by his wife, and took
her hand in his.

'You are quite chilly,' he said tenderly; 'are you ill, Helen? If it
worries you like this, a hundred directorships would not tempt me. Tell
me frankly, my darling--do you dislike it so much as this?'

'I don't dislike it at all,' she said eagerly. 'I am chilly because the
night is cold. Listen how the wind is rising! That sound always makes me
miserable. It is like a child crying or some one wailing out of doors.
It affects my nerves--I don't know why.'

'It is nothing but the sound of rain,' he said, 'silly little woman! I
wonder why it is that one likes a woman to be silly now and then? It
restores the balance between us, I suppose; for generally, alas! Helen,
you are wiser than I am, which is a dreadful confession for a man to
make.'

'No, no, it is not true,' she said with indescribable remorse. But he
only laughed and put his arm round her, seeing that she trembled still.

'It is quite true; but I like you to be silly now and then--like this.
It gives one a glimmer of superiority. There! lean upon me and feel
comfortable. You are only a woman after all. You want your husband's arm
to keep you safe.'

'What is that?' said Helen with a start. It was a simple sound enough;
one of the many unframed, unfinished drawings which covered the walls
had fallen down. Robert rose and picked it up, and brought it forward to
the light.

'It is nothing,' he said; and then with a laugh, looking at it, added,
'_Absit omen!_ It is my own portrait. And very lucky, too, that it was
nothing more important. It is not hurt. Let us talk about the bank.'

'Oh, Robert, your portrait!' she said with sudden unreasonable terror,
clutching at it, and gazing anxiously into the serene painted face.

'My portrait does not mind in the least,' he said, laughing; 'and it
might have been yours, Helen. I must have all those fastenings seen to
to-morrow. Now, let us talk about the bank.'

'Oh, Robert,' she said, 'let us have nothing to do with it. It _is_ an
omen, a warning. We are very well as we are. Give up all these business
things which you don't understand. How can you understand them? Give it
up, and let us be as we are.'

'Because a nail has come out of the wall?' he said. 'Do you suppose the
nail knew, Helen, or the bit of painted canvas? Nonsense, dear. I defy
all omens for my part.'

And just then the wind rose and gave a wailing cry, like a spirit in
pain. Helen burst into tears which she could not keep back. No; it was
quite true, the picture could not know, the wind could not know what was
to come. And yet----

Drummond had never seen his wife suffer from nerves or fancies, and it
half-amused, half-affected him, and went to his heart. He was even
pleased, the simple-minded soul, and flattered by the sense of
protection and strength which he felt in himself. He liked nothing
better than to caress and soothe her. He took her back to the
drawing-room and placed her on a sofa, and read the new book of poetry
to her which she had taken such a fancy to. Dear foolishness of
womankind! He liked to feel her thus dependent upon his succour and
sympathy; and smiled to think of any omen that could lie in the howling
of the wind, or the rising of a summer storm.



CHAPTER IV.


It is needless to say that Helen's superstition about the fall of the
picture and the sighing of the wind vanished with the night, and that in
the morning her nervousness was gone, and her mind had returned to its
previous train of thought. Her passing weakness, however, had left one
trace behind. While he was soothing her fanciful terrors, Robert had
said, in a burst of candour and magnanimity, 'I will tell you what I
will do, Helen. I will not act on my own judgment. I'll ask Haldane and
Maurice for their advice,' 'But I do not care for their advice,' she had
said, with a certain pathos. 'Yes, to be sure,' Robert had answered;
for, good as he was, he liked his own way, and sometimes was perverse.
'They are my oldest friends; they are the most sensible fellows I know.
I will tell them all the circumstances, and they will give me their
advice.'

This was a result which probably would have come whether Helen had been
nervous or not; for Haldane and Maurice were the two authorities whom
the painter held highest after his wife. But Helen had never been able
to receive them with her husband's faith, or to agree to them as sharers
of her influence over him. It said much for her that she had so
tolerated them and schooled herself in their presence that poor Drummond
had no idea of the rebellion which existed against them in her heart.
But both of them were instinctively aware of it, and felt that they were
not loved by their friend's wife. He made the same announcement to her
next morning with cheerful confidence, and a sense that he deserved
nothing but applause for his prudence. 'I am going to keep my promise,'
he said. 'You must not think I say anything to please you which I don't
mean to carry out. I am going to speak to Haldane and Maurice. Maurice
is very knowing about business, and as for Stephen, his father was in an
office all his life.'

'But, Robert, I don't want you to ask their advice. I have no faith in
them. I would rather a hundred times you judged for yourself.'

'Yes, my darling,' said Robert; 'they are the greatest helps to a man
in making such a decision. I know my own opinion, and I know yours; and
our two good friends, who have no bias, will put everything right.'

And he went out with his hat brushed and a new pair of gloves, cheerful
and respectable as if he were already a bank director, cleansed of the
velvet coats and brigand hats and all the weaknesses of his youth. And
his wife sat down with an impatient sigh to hear Norah play her scales,
which was not exhilarating, for Norah's notions of time and harmony were
as yet but weakly developed. While the child made direful havoc among
the black notes, Helen was sounding a great many notes quite as black in
her inmost mind. What could they know about it? What were they to him in
comparison with herself? Why should he so wear his heart upon his
sleeve? It raised a kind of silent exasperation within her, so good as
he was, so kind, and tender, and loving; and yet this was a matter in
which she had nothing to do but submit.

These two cherished friends of Robert's were not men after Helen's
heart. The first, Stephen Haldane, was a Dissenting minister, a member
of a class which all prejudices were in arms against. It was not that
she cared for his religious opinions or views, which differed from her
own. She was not theological nor ecclesiastical in her turn of mind,
and, to tell the truth, was not given to judging her acquaintances by an
intellectual standard, much less a doctrinal one. But she shrank from
his intimacy because he was a Dissenter--a man belonging to a class not
acknowledged in society, and of whom she understood vaguely that they
were very careless about their h's, and were not gentlemen. The fact
that Stephen Haldane was a gentleman as much as good manners, and good
looks, and a tolerable education could make him, did not change her
sentiments. She was too much of an idealist (without knowing it) to let
proof invalidate theory. Accordingly, she doubted his good manners,
mistrusted his opinions, and behaved towards him with studied civility,
and a protest, carefully veiled but never forgotten, against his
admission to her society. He had no right to be there; he was an
intruder, an inferior. Such was her conclusion in a social point of
view; and her husband's inclination to consult him on most important
matters in their history was very galling to her. The two had come to
know each other in their youth, when Haldane was going through the
curious incoherent education which often leads a young man temporarily
to the position of Dissenting minister. He had started in life as a
Bluecoat boy, and had shown what people call 'great talent,' but not in
the academical way. As a young man he had loved modern literature better
than ancient. Had he been born to an estate of ten thousand a year, or
had he been born in a rank which would have secured him diplomatic or
official work, he would have had a high character for accomplishments
and ability; but he was born only of a poor Dissenting family, without a
sixpence, and when his school career was over he did not know what to do
with himself. He took to writing, as such men do, by nature, and worked
his way into the newspapers. Thus he began to earn a little money, while
vaguely playing with a variety of careers. Once he thought he would be a
doctor, and it was while in attendance at an anatomical class that he
met Drummond. But Haldane was soon sick of doctoring. Then he became a
lecturer, getting engagements from mechanics' institutions and literary
societies, chiefly in the country. It was at one of these lectures that
he fell under the notice of a certain Mr Baldwin, a kind of lay bishop
in a great Dissenting community. Mr Baldwin was much 'struck' by the
young lecturer. He agreed with his views, and applauded his eloquence;
and when the lecture was over had himself introduced to the speaker.
This good man had a great many peculiarities, and was rich enough to be
permitted to indulge them. One of these peculiarities was an inclination
to find out and encourage 'rising talent.' And he told everybody he had
seldom been so much impressed as by the talents of this young man, who
was living (innocently) by his wits, and did not know what to do with
himself. It is not necessary to describe the steps by which young
Haldane ripened from a lecturer upon miscellaneous subjects, literary
and philosophical, into a most esteemed preacher. He pursued his studies
for a year or two at Mr Baldwin's cost, and at the end of that time was
promoted, not of course nominally, but very really, by Mr Baldwin's
influence, to the pulpit of the flourishing and wealthy congregation of
which that potentate was the head.

This was Stephen Haldane's history; but he was not the sort of man to be
produced naturally by such a training. He was full of natural
refinement, strangely blended with a contented adherence to all the
homely habits of his early life. He had not attempted, had not even
thought of, 'bettering' himself. He lived with his mother and sister,
two homely Dissenting women, narrow as the little house they lived in,
who kept him, his table, and surroundings, on exactly the same model as
his father's house had been kept. All the luxuries of the wealthy chapel
folks never tempted him to imitation. He did not even claim to himself
the luxury of a private study in which to write his sermons, but had his
writing-table in the common sitting-room, in order that his womankind
might preserve the cold fiction of a 'best room' in which to receive
visitors. To be sure, he might have been able to afford a larger house;
but then Mrs Haldane and Miss Jane would have been out of place in a
larger house. They lived in Victoria Villas, one of those smaller
streets which copy and vulgarize the better ones in all London suburbs.
It was close to St Mary's Road, in which Drummond's house was situated,
and the one set of houses was a copy of the other in little. The
arrangement of the rooms, the shape of the garden, the outside aspect
was the same, only so many degrees smaller. And this, it must be
allowed, was one of the reasons why the Haldanes were unpalatable
neighbours to Mrs Drummond; for, as a general rule, the people who lived
in St Mary's Road did not know the inferior persons who inhabited
Victoria Villas. The smaller copied the greater, and were despised by
them in consequence. It was 'a different class,' everybody said. And it
may be supposed that it was very hard upon poor Helen to have it known
that her husband's closest friend, the man whose opinion he asked about
most things, and whom he believed in entirely, was one who combined in
himself almost all the objectionable qualities possible. He was a
Dissenter--a Dissenting minister--sprung of a poor family, and adhering
to all their shabby habits--and lived in Victoria Villas. The very
address of itself was enough to condemn a man; no one who had any
respect for his friends would have retained it for an hour. Yet it was
this man whom Robert had gone to consult at the greatest crisis of his
life.

The other friend upon whom poor Drummond relied was less objectionable
in a social point of view. He was a physician, and not in very great
practice, being a crotchety man given to inventions and investigations,
but emphatically 'a gentleman' according to Helen's own sense of the
word. This was so far satisfactory; but if he was less objectionable, he
was also much less interesting than Stephen Haldane. He was a shy man,
knowing little about women and caring less. He lived all by himself in a
great house in one of the streets near Berkeley Square, a house twice
as big as the Drummonds', which he inhabited in solitary state, in what
seemed to Helen the coldest, dreariest loneliness. She was half sorry
for, half contemptuous of him in his big, solemn, doubly-respectable
hermitage. He was rich, and had nothing to do with his money. He had few
friends and no relations. He was as unlike the painter as could be
conceived; and yet in him too Robert believed. Their acquaintance dated
back to the same anatomical lectures which had brought Haldane and
Drummond together, but Dr Maurice was a lover of art, and had bought
Robert's first picture, and thus occupied a different ground with him.
Perhaps the irritating influence he had upon Helen was greater than that
exercised by Haldane, because it was an irritation produced by his
character, not by his circumstances. Haldane paid her a certain shy
homage, feeling her to be different from all the women who surrounded
himself; but Maurice treated her with formal civility and that kind of
conventional deference which old-fashioned people show to the wishes and
tastes of an inferior, that he may be set at his ease among them. There
were times when she all but hated the doctor, with his courtesy and his
silent air of criticism--but the minister she could not hate.

At the same time it must be allowed that to see her husband set out with
his new gloves to ask the opinion of these two men, after all the
profound thought she had herself given to the subject, and the
passionate feeling it had roused within her, was hard upon Helen. To
them it would be nothing more than a wise or unwise investment of money,
but to her it was a measure affecting life and honour. Perhaps she
exaggerated, she was willing to allow--but they would not fail to
underrate its importance; they could not--Heaven forbid they ever
should!--feel as she did, that Robert, though an R.A., had failed in his
profession. They would advise him to hold fast by that profession and
leave business alone, which was as much as condemning him to a constant
repetition of the despairs and discontents of the past; or they would
advise him to accept the new opening held out to him and sever himself
from art, which would be as good as a confession of failure. Thus it is
evident, whatever his friends might happen to advise, Helen was prepared
to resent.

At this moment Mrs Drummond's character was the strangest mixture of two
kinds of being. She was, though a mature woman, like a flower bursting
out of a rough husk. The old conventional nature, the habits and
prejudices of the rich _bourgeois_ existence to which she had been born,
had survived all that had as yet happened to her in life. The want of a
dining-room, which has been already noted, had been not a trivial
accident but a real humiliation to her. She sighed when she thought of
the great dinner-parties with mountains of silver on table and
sideboard, and many men in black or more gorgeous beings in livery to
wait, which she had been accustomed to in her youth; and when she was
obliged to furnish a supper for a group of painters who had been smoking
half the night in the studio, and who were not in evening dress, she
felt almost disgraced. Robert enjoyed that impromptu festivity more than
all the dinner-parties; but Helen felt that if any of her old friends or
even the higher class of her present acquaintances were to look in and
see her, seated at the head of the table, where half a dozen bearded men
in morning coats were devouring cold beef and salad, she must have sunk
through the floor in shame and dismay. Robert was strangely, sadly
without feeling in such matters. It never occurred to him that they
could be a criterion of what his wife called 'position;' and he would
only laugh in the most hearty way when Helen insisted upon the habits
proper to 'people of our class.' But her pride, such as it was, was
terribly wounded by all such irregular proceedings. The middle-class
custom of dining early and making a meal of 'tea,' a custom in full and
undisturbed operation round the corner in Victoria Villas, affected her
with a certain horror as if it had been a crime. Had she yielded to it
she would have felt that she had 'given in,' and voluntarily descended
in the social scale. 'Late dinners' were to her as a bulwark against
that social downfall which in her early married life had seemed always
imminent. This curious raising up of details into the place of
principles had given Helen many an unnecessary prick. It had made her
put up with much really inferior society in the shape of people of
gentility whose minds were all absorbed in the hard struggle to keep up
appearances, and live as people lived with ten times their income, while
it cut her off from a great many to whom appearances were less
important, and who lived as happened to be most convenient to them,
without asking at what hour dukes dined or millionnaires. The dukes
probably would have been as indifferent, but not the millionnaires, and
it was from the latter class that Helen came. But in the midst of all
these all-important details and the trouble they caused her, had risen
up, she knew not how, a passionate, obstinately ideal soul. Perhaps at
first her thirst for fame had been but another word for social
advancement and distinction in the world, but that feeling had changed
by means of the silent anguish which had crept on her as bit by bit she
understood her husband's real weakness. Love in her opened, it did not
blind, her eyes. Her heart cried out for excellence, for power, for
genius in the man she loved; and with this longing there came a hundred
subtle sentiments which she did not understand, and which worked and
fermented in her without any will of hers. Along with the sense that he
was no genius, there rose an unspeakable remorse and hatred of herself
who had found it out; and along with her discontent came a sense of her
own weakness--a growing humility which was a pain to her, and against
which her pride fought stoutly, keeping, up to this time, the upper
hand--and a regretful, self-reproachful, half-adoration of her husband
and his goodness, produced by the very consciousness that he was not so
strong nor so great as she had hoped. These mingled elements of the old
and the new in Helen's mind made it hard to understand her, hard to
realise and follow her motives; yet they explained the irritability
which possessed her, her impatience of any suggestion from outside,
along with her longing for something new, some change which might bring
a new tide into the life which had fallen into such dreary, stagnant,
unreal ways.

While she waited at home with all these thoughts whirling about her,
Robert went out cheerfully seeking advice. He did it in the spirit which
is habitual to men who consult their friends on any important matter. He
made up his mind first. As he turned lightly round the corner, swinging
his cane, instead of wondering what his friend would say to him, he was
making up his mind what he himself would do with all the unusual power
and wealth which would come to him through the bank. For instance, at
once, there was poor Chance, the sculptor, whose son he could find a
place for without more ado. Poor Chance had ten children, and was no
genius, but an honest, good fellow, who would have made quite a superior
stonemason had he understood his own gifts. Here was one immediate
advantage of that bank-directorship. He went in cheerful and confident
in this thought to the little house in Victoria Villas. Haldane had
been ill; he had spent the previous winter in Italy, and his friends had
been in some anxiety about his health; but he had improved again, and
Robert went in without any apprehensions into the sitting-room at the
back, which looked into the little garden. He had scarcely opened the
door before he saw that something had happened. The writing-table was
deserted, and a large sofa drawn near the window had become, it was easy
to perceive, the centre of the room and of all the interests of its
inhabitants. Mrs Haldane, a homely old woman in a black dress and a
widow's cap, rose hastily as he came in, with her hand extended, as if
to forbid his approach. She was very pale and tremulous; the arm which
she raised shook as she held it out, and fell down feebly by her side
when she saw who it was. 'Oh, come in, Mr Drummond, he will like to see
_you_,' she said in a whisper. Robert went forward with a pang of alarm.
His friend was lying on the sofa with his eyes closed, with an ashy
paleness on his face, and the features slightly, very slightly,
distorted. He was not moved by the sound of Robert's welcome nor by his
mother's movements. His eyes were closed, and yet he did not seem to be
asleep. His chest heaved regularly and faintly, or the terrified
bystander would have thought he was dead.

Robert clutched at the hand which the old lady stretched out to him
again. 'Has he fainted?' he cried in a whisper. 'Have you had the
doctor? Let me go for the doctor. Do you know what it is?'

Poor Mrs Haldane looked down silently and cried. Two tears fell out of
her old eyes as if they were full and had overflowed. 'I thought he
would notice you,' she said. 'He always was so fond of you. Oh, Mr
Drummond, my boy's had a stroke!'

'A stroke!' said Drummond under his breath. All his own visions flitted
out of his mind like a shadow. His friend lay before him like a fallen
tower, motionless, speechless. 'Good God!' he said, as men do unawares,
with involuntary appeal to Him who (surely) has to do with those wild
contradictions of nature. 'When did it happen? Who has seen him?' he
asked, growing almost as pale as was the sufferer, and feeling faint and
ill in the sense of his own powerlessness to help.

'It was last night, late,' said the mother. Oh, Mr Drummond, this has
been what was working on him. I knew it was never the lungs. Not one of
us, either his father's family or mine, was ever touched in the lungs.
Dr Mixwell saw him directly. He said not to disturb him, or I would have
had him in bed. I know he ought to be in bed.'

'I'll go and fetch Maurice,' cried Robert. 'I shall be back directly,'
and he rushed out of the room which he had entered so jauntily. As he
flew along the street, and jumped into the first cab he could find, the
bank and his directorship went as completely out of his mind as if they
had been a hundred years off. He dashed at the great solemn door of Dr
Maurice's house when he reached it and rushed in, upsetting the decorous
servant. He seized the doctor by the shoulder, who was seated calmly at
breakfast. 'Come along with me directly,' he said. 'I have a cab at the
door.'

'What is the matter?' said Dr Maurice. He had no idea of being disturbed
so unceremoniously. 'Is Mrs Drummond ill? Sit down and tell me what is
wrong.'

'I can't sit down. I want you to come with me. There is a cab at the
door,' said Robert panting. 'It is poor Haldane. He has had a fit--come
at once.'

'A fit! I knew that was what it was,' said Dr Maurice calmly. He waved
his hand to the importunate petitioner, and swallowed the rest of his
breakfast in great mouthfuls. 'I'm coming; hold your tongue, Drummond. I
knew the lungs was all nonsense--of course that is what it was.'

'Come then,' cried Robert. 'Good heavens, come! don't let him lie there
and die.'

'He will not die. More's the pity, poor fellow!' said the doctor. 'I
said so from the beginning. John, my hat. Lungs, nonsense! He was as
sound in the lungs as either you or I.'

'For God's sake, come then,' said the impatient painter, and he rushed
to the door and pushed the calm physician into his cab. He had come to
consult him about something? Yes, to be sure, about poor Haldane--not to
consult him--to carry him off, to compel, to drag that other back from
the verge of the grave. If there was anything more in his mind when he
started Drummond had clean forgotten it. He did not remember it again
till two hours later, when, having helped to carry poor Haldane
up-stairs, and rushed here and there for medicines and conveniences, he
at last went home, weary with excitement and sympathetic pain. 'I have
surely forgotten something,' he said, when he had given an account of
all his doings to his wife. 'Good heavens! I forgot altogether that I
went to ask somebody's advice.'



CHAPTER V.


Mr Burton called next morning to ascertain Drummond's decision, and
found that he had been sitting up half the night with Stephen Haldane,
and was wholly occupied by his friend's illness. The merchant suffered a
little vexation to be visible in his smooth and genial aspect. He was a
middle-aged man, with a bland aspect and full development, not fat but
ample. He wore his whiskers long, and had an air that was always jovial
and comfortable. The cleanness of the man was almost aggressive. He
impressed upon you the fact that he not only had his bath every morning,
but that his bath was constructed on the newest principles, with
water-pipes which wandered through all the house. He wore buff
waistcoats and light trousers, and the easiest of overcoats. His
watch-chain was worthy of him, and so were the heavy gold buttons at his
sleeves. He looked and moved and spoke like wealth, with a roll in his
voice, which is only attainable in business, and when business goes very
well with you. Consequently the shade of vexation which came over him
was very perceptible. He found the Drummonds only at breakfast, though
he had breakfasted two hours before, and this mingled in his seriousness
a certain tone of virtuous reproof.

'My dear fellow, I don't want to disturb you,' he said; 'but how you can
make this sort of thing pay I can't tell. _I_ breakfasted at eight; but
then, to be sure, I am only a City man, and can't expect my example to
be much thought of at the West-end.'

'Is this the West-end?' said Robert, laughing. 'But if you breakfasted
at eight, you must want something more by this time. Sit down and have
some coffee. We are late because we have been up half the night.' And he
told his new visitor the story of poor Stephen and his sudden illness.
Mr Burton was moderately concerned, for he had married Mr Baldwin's only
daughter, and was bound to take a certain interest in his
father-in-law's _protégé_. He heard the story to an end with admirable
patience, and shook his head, and said, 'Poor fellow! I am very sorry
for him,' with due gravity. But he was soon tired of Stephen's story. He
took out his watch, and consulted it seriously, muttering something
about his appointments.

'My dear good people,' he said, 'it may be all very well for you to
spend your time and your emotions on your friends, but a man of business
cannot so indulge himself. I thought I should have had a definite answer
from you, Drummond, yes or no.'

'Yes,' said Robert with professional calmness. 'I am very sorry. So I
intended myself; but this business about poor Haldane put everything
else out of my head.'

'Well,' said Mr Burton, rising and walking to the fireplace, according
to British habit, though there was no fire, 'you know best what you can
do. I, for my part, should not be able to neglect my business if my best
friend was on his death-bed. Of course you understand Rivers's is not
likely to go begging for partners. Such an offer is not made to every
one. I am certain that you should accept it for your own sake; but if
you do not think it of importance, there is not another word to say.'

'My dear fellow,' cried Robert, 'of course I think it of importance; and
I know I owe it to your consideration. Don't think me ungrateful,
pray.'

'As for gratitude, that is neither here nor there,' said the merchant;
'there is nothing to be grateful about. But we have a meeting to-day to
arrange the preliminaries, and probably everything will be settled then.
I should have liked to place your name at once on the list. To leave
such things over, unless you mean simply to abandon them, is a great
mistake.'

'I am sure I don't see any particular reason why we should leave it
over,' Robert said, faltering a little; and then he looked at his wife.
Helen's face was clouded and very pale. She was watching him with a
certain furtive eagerness, but she did not meet his eye. There was a
tremulous pause, which seemed like an hour to both of them, during the
passing of which the air seemed to rustle and beat about Helen's ears.
Her husband gazed at her, eagerly questioning her; but she could not
raise her eyes--something prevented her, she could not tell what; her
eyelids seemed heavy and weighed them down. It was not weakness or fear
or a desire to avoid the responsibility of immediate action, but
positive physical inability. He looked at her for, perhaps, a full
minute by the clock, and then he said slowly, 'I see no reason to
delay. I think Helen and I are agreed. This matter put the other out of
my head; but it is natural you should be impatient. I think I will
accept your kind offer, Burton, without any more delay.'

How easy it is to say such words! The moment they were spoken Robert
felt them so simple, so inevitable, and knew that all along he had meant
to say them. But still he was somewhat excited; a curious feeling came
into his mind, such as a king may feel when he has crossed his
neighbour's frontier with an invading army. Half-a-dozen steps were
enough to do it; but how to get back again? and what might pass before
the going back! The thought caught at his breath, and gave him a
tremendous thrill through all his frame.

'Very well,' said Burton, withdrawing his hands from under his
coat-tails, and drawing a slightly long breath, which the other in his
excitement did not observe. Mr Burton did not show any excitement,
except that long breath, which, after all, might have been accidental;
no sign or indication of feeling had been visible in him. It was a
great, a very great matter to the Drummonds; but it was a small matter
to one who had been for years a partner in Rivers's. 'Very well. I will
submit your name to the directors to-day. I don't think you need fear
that the result will be doubtful. And I am very glad you have come to
such a wise decision. Helen, when your husband is rich, as I trust he
soon will be, I hope you will fancy a little house at Dura, and be our
neighbour. It would be like old times. I should like it more than I can
say.'

'I never was fond of Dura,' said Helen, with some abruptness. This
reference to his greatness irritated her, as it always did; for whatever
new-comer might take a little house at Dura, he was the lord of the
place, supreme in the great house, and master of everything. Such an
allusion always stirred up what was worst in her, and gave to her
natural pride a certain tone of spitefulness and envy, which disgusted
and wounded herself. But it did not wound her cousin, it pleased him. He
laughed with a suppressed enjoyment and triumph.

'Well,' he said, 'Dura is my home, and a very happy one, therefore, of
course, I am fond of it. And it has a great many associations too, some
of them, perhaps, not so agreeable. But it is always pleasant to feel,
as I do, that everything that has happened to one has been for the
best.'

'The conversation has taken a highly edifying tone,' said Robert with
some surprise. He saw there was more meant than met the eye, but he did
not know what it was. 'We shall all be thanking Providence next, as
people do chiefly, I observe, in celebration of the sufferings of
others. Well, since you think I am on the fair way to be rich, perhaps I
had better thank Providence by anticipation. Must I go with you to-day?'

'Not to-day. You will have full intimation when your presence is wanted.
You forget--nothing is settled yet,' said Mr Burton; 'the whole
arrangement may come to nothing yet, for what I know. But I must be
going; remember me to poor Haldane when he is able to receive good
wishes. I hope he'll soon be better. Some of these days I'll call and
see him. Good morning, Helen. Good-bye, Drummond. I'm glad you've made
up your mind. My conviction is, it will turn out the best day's work you
ever did in your life.'

'Is he true, I wonder?' Helen said to herself as the two men left the
room, and stood talking in the hall. It was the first time the idea had
crossed her mind, and now it took its origin more from the malicious
shaft her cousin had shot at herself than from any indication of
double-dealing she had seen in him. It was against all the traditions of
the Burtons to imagine that he could be anything but true. They had been
business people as long as they had been anything, and commercial honour
had been their god. It went against her to imagine that 'a relation of
mine!' could be other than perfect in this particular; and she sighed,
and dismissed the idea from her mind, blaming herself, as she often did
now, for ill-temper and suspiciousness. 'It was mean to make that
allusion to the past, but it is meaner of me to doubt him on that
account,' she said to herself, with a painful sigh. It was so hard in
her to overcome nature, and subdue those rebellious feelings that rose
in her unawares. 'Why should I care?' she thought, 'it is my vanity. I
suppose if the man had never got over my rejection of him I should have
been pleased. I should have thought better of him! Such a man as that!
After all, we women must be fools indeed.' This was the edifying
sentiment in her mind when Robert came back.

'Well, Helen, the die is cast,' he said, half cheerfully, half sadly.
'However we come to shore, the ship has set out. If it were not for
poor Stephen I should make to-day a holiday and take you somewhere. This
day ought to be distinguished from the rest.'

'I hope he is true. I wonder if he is true?' Helen repeated to herself,
half unconsciously, beneath her breath.

'Whom? Your cousin!!' said Robert, with quite two notes of admiration in
his tone. 'Why, Helen, what a cynic you are growing. You will suspect me
next.'

'Am I a cynic?' she said, looking up at him with a sudden tear in her
eye. 'It is because I am beginning to be so wretchedly doubtful about
myself.'

This admission burst from her she could not tell how. She had no
intention of making it. And she was sorry the moment the words were
said. But as for Robert, he gazed at her first in consternation, then
laughed, then took her in his kind arms with those laughing accusations
of love which are more sweet than any eulogy. 'Yes,' he said, 'you are a
very suspicious character altogether, you know so much harm of yourself
that it is evident you must think badly of others. What a terrible
business for me to have such a wife!'

Thus ended the episode in their lives which was to colour them to their
very end, and decide everything else. They had been very solemn about it
at the beginning, and had made up their minds to proceed very warily,
and ask everybody's advice; but, as so often happens in human affairs,
the decision which was intended to be done so seriously had been
accomplished in a moment, without consideration, almost without thought.
And, being done, it was a weight off the minds of both. They had no
longer this disturbing matter between them to be discussed and thought
over. Robert dismissed it out of simple light-heartedness, and that
delightful economy of sensation which is fortunately so common among the
artist class: 'It is done, and all the thinking in the world will not
make any difference. Why should I bother myself about it?' If this
_insouciance_ sometimes does harm, heaven knows it does a great deal of
good sometimes, and gives the artist power to work where a man who felt
his anxieties more heavily would fail. Helen had not this happy temper;
but she was a woman, more occupied with personal feelings than with any
fact, however important. The fact was outside, and never, she thought,
could vanquish her--her enemies were within.

Time passed very quietly after this great decision. There was a lull,
during which Stephen Haldane grew better, and Mrs Drummond learned to
feel a certain friendliness and sympathy for the lonely mother and
sister, who were flattered by her inquiries after him. She came even to
understand her husband's jokes about Miss Jane, the grim and practical
person who ruled the little house in Victoria Villas--whom she sometimes
laughed at, but whom little Norah took a violent fancy for, which much
mollified her mother. And then, in the matter of Rivers's bank, there
began to rise a certain agreeable excitement and importance in their
life. 'Drummond among the list of bank directors! _Drummond!_ What does
it mean?' This question ran through all the studios, and came back in
amusing colours to the two who knew all about it. 'His wife belongs to
that sort of people, and has hosts of business connections,' said one.
'The fellow is rich,' said another: 'don't you know what a favourite he
is with all the dealers, and has been for ever so long?' 'His wife has
money,' was the judgment of a third; 'take my word for it, that is the
way to get on in this world. A rich wife keeps you going till you've
made a hit--if you are ever going to make a hit--and helps you on.' 'It
is all that cousin of hers,' another would say, 'that fellow Burton whom
one meets there. He bought my last picture, so I have reason to know,
and has a palace in the country, like the rest of those City fellows.'
'What luck some men have!' sighed the oldest of all. 'I am older than
Drummond, but none of these good things ever came my way.' And this man
was a better painter than Drummond, and knew it, but somehow had never
caught the tide. Drummond's importance rose with every new report. When
he secured that clerkship for Bob Chance, Chance the sculptor's son, he
made one family happy, and roused a certain excitement in many others;
for poor artists, like poor clergymen and other needy persons, insist
upon having large families. Two or three of the men who were Robert's
contemporaries, who had studied with him in the schools, or had guided
his early labours, went to see him--while others wrote--describing
promising boys who would soon be ready for business, and for whom they
would gladly secure something less precarious than the life of art.
These applications were from the second class of artists, the men who
are never very successful, yet who 'keep on,' as they themselves would
say, rambling from exhibition to exhibition, painting as well as a man
can be taught to paint who has no natural impulse, or turning out in
conscientious marble fair limbs of nymphs that ought, as the only reason
for their being, to have sprung ethereal from the stone. And these poor
painters and sculptors were often so good, so kindly, and unblamable as
men; fond of their families, ready to do anything to push on the sons
and daughters who showed 'talent,' or had any means offered of bettering
themselves. How gladly Robert would have given away a dozen clerkships!
how happy it would have made him to scatter upon them all some share of
his prosperity! but he could not do this, and it was the first
disagreeable accompaniment of his new position. He had other
applications, however, of a different kind. Those in the profession who
had some money to invest came and asked for his advice, feeling that
they could have confidence in him. 'Rivers's has a name like the Bank of
England,' they said; and he had the privilege of some preference shares
to allot to them. All this advanced him in his own opinion, in his
wife's, in that of all the world. He was no longer a man subject to
utter demolition at the hands of an ill-natured critic; but a man
endowed with large powers in addition to his genius, whom nobody could
demolish or even seriously harm.

Perhaps, however, the greatest height of Drummond's triumph was reached
when, the year having crept round from summer to autumn, his friend Dr
Maurice came to call one evening after a visit to Haldane. It was that
moment between the two lights which is dear to all busy people. The
first fire of the year was lit in Helen's drawing-room, which of itself
was a little family event. Robert had strayed in from the studio in his
painting coat, which he concealed by sitting in the shade by the side of
the chimney. The autumn evenings had been growing wistful and eerie for
some time back, the days shortening, yet the season still too mild for
fires--so that the warm interior, all lit by the kindly, fitful flame,
was a novelty and a pleasure. The central figure in the picture was
Norah, in a thick white piqué frock, with her brown hair falling on her
shoulders, reading by the firelight. The little white figure rose from
the warm carpet into the rosy firelight, herself less vividly tinted, a
curious little abstract thing, the centre of the life around her, yet
taking no note of it. She had shielded her cheek with one of her hands,
and was bending her brows over the open book, trying to shade the light
which flickered and danced, and made the words dance too before her. The
book was too big for her, filling her lap and one crimsoned arm which
held its least heavy side. The new-comer saw nothing but Norah against
the light as he came in. He stopped, in reality because he was fond of
Norah, with a disapproving word.

'At it again!' he said. 'That child will ruin her eyesight and her
complexion, and I don't know what besides.'

'Never fear,' said Drummond, with a laugh, out of the corner, revealing
himself, and Helen rose from the other side. She had been invisible too
in a shady corner. A certain curious sensation came over the man who was
older, richer, and felt himself wiser, than the painter. All this
Drummond had for his share, though he had not done much to deserve
it--whereas in the big library near Berkeley Square there was no fire,
no child pushing a round shoulder out of her frock, and roasting her
cheeks, no gracious woman rising softly out of the shadows. Of course,
Dr Maurice might have been married too, and had not chosen; but
nevertheless it was hard to keep from a momentary envy of the painter
who could come home to enjoy himself between the lights, and for whom
every night a new pose arranged itself of that child reading before the
fire. Dr Maurice was a determined old bachelor, and thought more of the
child than of the wife.

'Haldane is better to-day,' he said, seating himself behind Norah, who
looked up dreamily, with hungry eyes possessed by her tale, to greet
him, at her mother's bidding. 'Nearly as well as he will ever be. We
must amuse him with hopes of restoration, I suppose; but he will never
budge out of that house as long as he lives.'

'But he will live?' said Robert.

'Yes, if you can call it living. Fancy, Drummond! a man about your own
age, a year or two younger than I am--a man fond of wandering, fond of
movement; and yet shut up in that dreary prison--for life!'

A silence fell upon them all as he spoke. They were too much awed to
make any response, the solemnity being beyond words. Norah woke up at
the pause. Their voices did not disturb her; but the silence did.

'Who is to be in the dreary prison?' she said, looking round upon them
with her big brown wondering eyes.

'Hush! Poor Mr Haldane, dear,' said the mother, under her breath.

Then Norah burst into a great cry. 'Oh, who has done it--who has done
it? It is a shame--it is a sin! He is so good.'

'My child,' said the doctor, with something like a sob, 'it is God who
has done it. If it had been a man, we would have throttled him before he
touched poor Stephen. Now, heaven help us! what can we do? I suppose it
is God.'

'Maurice, don't speak so before the child,' said Robert from a corner.

'How can I help it?' he cried. 'If it was a man's doing, what could we
say bad enough? Norah, little one, you don't know what I mean. Go back
to your book.'

'Norah, go up-stairs and get dressed for dinner,' said Helen. 'But you
cannot, you must not be right, doctor. Oh, say you are sometimes
deceived. Things happen that you don't reckon on. It is not for his
life?'

Dr Maurice shook his head. He looked after Norah regretfully as she went
out of the room with the big book clasped in her arms.

'You might have let the child stay,' he said reproachfully. 'There was
nothing that could have disturbed _her_ in what I said.'

And then for a moment or two the sound of the fire flickering its light
about, making sudden leaps and sudden downfalls like a living thing,
was the only sound heard; and it was in this pensive silence, weighted
and subdued by the neighbourhood of suffering, that the visitor suddenly
introduced a subject so different. He said abruptly--

'I have to congratulate you on becoming a great man, Drummond. I don't
know how you have done it. But this bank, I suppose, will make your
fortune. I want to venture a little in it on my own account.'

'You, Maurice? My dear fellow!' said Robert, getting up with sudden
enthusiasm, and seizing his friend by both his hands, '_you_ going in
for Rivers's! I never was so glad in my life!'

'You need not be violent,' said the doctor. 'Have I said anything very
clever, Mrs Drummond? I am going in for Rivers's because it seems such a
capital investment. I can't expect, of course, to get put on the board
of directors, or to sit at the receipt of custom, like such a great man
as you are. Don't shake my hands off, my good fellow. What is there
wonderful in this?'

'Nothing wonderful,' said Robert; 'but the best joke I ever heard in my
life. Fancy, Helen, I was going to him humbly, hat in hand, to ask his
advice, thinking perhaps he would put his veto on it, and prevent me
from making my fortune. And now he is a shareholder like the rest. You
may not see it, but it is the best joke! You must stay to dinner, old
fellow, and we will talk business all the evening. Helen, we cannot let
him go to-night.'

And Helen smiled too as she repeated her husband's invitation. Robert
had been wiser than his friends, though he had asked nobody's advice but
hers. It was a salve to her often-wounded pride. The doctor did not like
it half so much. His friend had stolen a march upon him, reversed their
usual positions, gone first, and left the other to follow. He stayed to
dinner, however, all the same, and pared apples for Norah, and talked
over Rivers's afterwards over his wine. But when he left the door to go
home, he shrugged his shoulders with a half-satisfied prophecy. 'He will
never paint another good picture,' Maurice said, with a certain tone of
friendly vengeance. 'When wealth comes in good-bye to art.'



CHAPTER VI.


It was on an October day, mellow and bright, when Robert Drummond, with
a smile on his face, and a heavy heart in his breast, reached the house
in Victoria Villas, to superintend poor Stephen's return to the
sitting-room, as he had superintended his removal to his bed. The
sitting-room was larger, airier, and less isolated, than the mournful
chamber up-stairs, in which he had spent half the summer. It was a
heart-rending office, and yet it was one from which his friend could not
shrink. Before he went up-stairs the painter paused, and took hold of
Miss Jane's hand, and wept, as people say, 'like a child;' but a child's
hot thunder-shower of easily-dried tears are little like those few heavy
drops that come to the eyes of older people, concentrating in themselves
so much that words could not express. Miss Jane, for her part, did not
weep. Her gray countenance, which was grayer than ever, was for a moment
convulsed, and then she pushed her brother's friend away. 'Don't you see
I daren't cry?' she said, almost angrily, with one hard sob. Her brother
Stephen was the one object of her life. All the romance of which she was
capable, and a devotion deeper than that of twenty lovers, was in her
worship of him. And this was what it was coming to! She hurried into the
room which she had been preparing for him, which was henceforward to be
his dwelling day and night, and shut the door upon the too sympathetic
face. As for Robert, he went into his friend's little chamber with
cheery salutations: 'Well, old fellow, so you are coming back to the
world!' he said. Poor Haldane was seated in his dressing-gown in an
easy-chair. To look at him, no chance spectator would have known that he
was as incapable of moving out of it as if he had been bound with iron,
and everybody about him had been loud in their congratulations on the
progress he was making. They thought they deceived him, as people so
often think who flatter the incurable with hopes of recovery. He smiled
as Robert spoke, and shook his head.

'I am changing my prison,' he said; 'nothing more. I know that as well
as the wisest of you, Drummond. You kind, dear souls, do you think those
cheery looks you have made such work to keep up, deceive me?'

'What cheery looks? I am as sulky as a bear,' said Robert. 'And as for
your prison, Maurice doesn't think so. You heard what he said?'

'Maurice doesn't say so,' said poor Haldane. 'But never mind, it can't
last for ever; and we need not be doleful for that.'

The painter groaned within himself as they moved the helpless man
down-stairs. 'It will last for ever,' he thought. He was so full of life
and consolation himself that he could not realise the end which his
friend was thinking of--the 'for ever' which would release him and every
prisoner. When they carried the invalid into the room below he gave a
wistful look round him. For life--that was what he was thinking. He
looked at the poor walls and commonplace surroundings, and a sigh burst
from his lips. But he said immediately, to obliterate the impression of
the sigh, 'What a cheerful room it is, and the sun shining! I could not
have had a more hopeful day for my first coming down-stairs.'

And then they all looked at each other, heart-struck by what seemed to
them the success of their deception. Old Mrs Haldane fell into a sudden
outburst of weeping: 'Oh, my poor boy! my poor boy!' she said; and again
a quick convulsion passed over Miss Jane's face. Even Dr Maurice, the
arch-deceiver, felt his voice choked in his throat. They did not know
that their patient was smiling at them and their transparent devices, in
the sadness and patience of his heart. The room had been altered in many
particulars for his reception, and fitted with contrivances, every one
of which contradicted the promises of restoration which were held out to
him. He had known it was so, but yet the sight of all the provisions
made for his captivity gave him a new pang. He could have cried out,
too, to earth and heaven. But what would have been the good? At the end
all must submit.

'Now that you are comfortable, Stephen,' said his sister, with a harsh
rattle in her voice, which made her appear less amiable than ever, and
in reality came out of the deep anguish of her heart, 'there is some one
waiting to see you. The chapel people have been very kind. Besides the
deputation that came with the purse for you, there are always private
members asking how you are, and if they can see you, and how they miss
you--till you are able to go back.'

'That will be never, Jane.'

'How do you know? How can any one tell? It is impious to limit God's
mercies,' cried Miss Jane harshly; then, suddenly calming down, 'It is
Mr Baldwin's son-in-law who has called to-day. They are in the country,
and this Mr Burton has come to carry them news of you. May he come in?'

'That is your cousin--your director?' said the invalid with some
eagerness. 'I should like to see him. I want you to invest my money for
me, Drummond. There is not much; but you must have it, and make
something of it in your new bank.'

Mr Burton came in before Drummond could answer. He came in on tiptoe,
with an amount of caution which exasperated all the bystanders who loved
Stephen. He looked stronger, richer, more prosperous than ever as he sat
down, sympathetically, close to Stephen's chair. There he sat and
talked, as it were, smoothing the sick man down. 'We must have
patience;' he said soothingly. 'After such an illness it will take so
long to get up your strength. The sea-side would have been the best
thing, but, unfortunately, it is a little late. I am so glad to hear
your people are showing you how much they prize such a man as you among
them; and I hope, with one thing and another--the pension, and so
forth--you will be very comfortable? I would not venture to ask such a
question, if it were not for Mr Baldwin. He takes so much interest in
all your concerns.'

'I am very glad you have spoken of it,' said Haldane, 'for I want to
invest what little money I have in this bank I hear so much of--yours
and Drummond's. I feel so much like a dying man--'

'No, no,' said Mr Burton in a deprecating tone, 'nothing half so bad.
Providence, you may be sure, has something different in store for you.
We must not think of that.'

'At all events, I want to make the best of the money, for my mother and
sister,' said Stephen. And then he entered into business, telling them
what he had, and how it was invested. His mind had been very full of
this subject for some time past. The money was not much, but if he died,
it would be all his mother and sister would have to depend upon, and the
purse which his congregation had collected for him would increase his
little, very little capital. Dr Maurice had gone away, and the two
women, though they heard everything, were withdrawn together into a
corner. Mrs Haldane had attempted several times to interrupt the
conversation. 'What do we care for money!' she had said, with tears in
her eyes. 'Let him alone, mother, it will make him happier,' Miss Jane
had said in the voice that was so harsh with restrained emotion. And
Stephen, with his two visitors beside him, and a flush upon his wan
face, expounded all his affairs, and put his fortune into their hands.
'Between you, you will keep my poor little nest-egg warm,' he said,
smiling upon them. His illness had refined his face, and gave him a
certain pathetic dignity, and there was something that affected both in
this appeal.

'I will sit on it myself sooner than let it cool,' Drummond had said
with a laugh, yet with the tears in his eyes, with an attempt to lighten
the seriousness of the moment. 'Dear old fellow, don't be afraid. Your
sacred money will bring a blessing on the rest.'

'That is all very pretty and poetical,' said Mr Burton, with a curious
shade passing over his face; 'but if Haldane has the slightest doubt on
the subject, he should not make the venture. Of course, we are all
prepared in the way of business to win or to lose. If we lose, we must
bear it as well as we can. Of course, I think the investment as safe as
the Bank of England--but at the same time, Drummond, it would be a very
different thing to you or me from what it would be to him.'

'Very different,' said Drummond; but the mere suggestion of loss had
made him pale. 'These are uncomfortable words,' he went on with a
momentary laugh. 'For my part, I go in to win, without allowing the
possibility of loss. Loss! Why I have been doing a great deal in ways
less sure than Rivers's, and I have not lost a penny yet, thanks to
you.'

'I am not infallible,' said Burton. 'Of course, in everything there is a
risk. I cannot make myself responsible. If Haldane has the least doubt
or hesitation----'

'If I had, your caution would have reassured me,' said the invalid.
'People who feel their responsibility so much, don't throw away their
neighbour's money. It is all my mother has, and all I have. When you are
tempted to speculate, think what a helpless set of people are
involved--and no doubt there will be many more just as helpless. I think
perhaps it would exercise a good influence on mercantile men,' he added,
with perhaps a reminiscence of his profession, 'if they knew something
personally of the people whose lives are, so to speak, in their hands.'

'Haldane,' said Mr Burton hastily, 'I don't think we ought to take your
money. It is too great a risk. Trade has no heart and no bowels. We
can't work in this way, you know, it would paralyse any man. Money is
money, and has to be dealt with on business principles. God bless me! If
I were to reflect about the people whose lives, &c--I could never do
anything! We can't afford to take anything but the market into account.'

'I don't see that,' said the painter, who knew as much about business as
Mr Burton's umbrella. 'I agree with Haldane. We should be less ready to
gamble and run foolish risks, if we remembered always what trusts we
have in our hands,--the honour of honest men, and the happiness of
families.'

He was still a little pale, and spoke with a certain emotion, having
suddenly realised, with a mixture of nervous boldness and terror, the
other side of the question. Mr Burton turned away with a shrug of his
shoulders.

'It suits you two to talk sentiment instead of business,' he said, 'but
that is not in my line. So long as my own credit is concerned, I find
that a much greater stimulant than anybody else's. Self-interest is the
root of everything--in business; and if you succeed for yourself, which
of course is your first motive, you succeed for your neighbours as
well. I don't take credit for any fine sentiments. That is my commercial
creed. Number one includes all the other numbers, and the best a man can
do for his friends is to take care of himself.'

He got up with a slight show of impatience as he spoke. His face was
overcast, and he had the half-contemptuous air which a practical man
naturally assumes when he listens to anything high-flown. He, for his
part, professed to be nothing but a man of business, and had confidence
enough in his friends' knowledge of him to be able to express the most
truculent sentiments. So, at least, Haldane thought, who smiled at this
transparent cynicism. 'I suppose, then, we are justified in thinking
anything that is bad of you, and ought not to trust you with a penny?'
he said.

'If you trust anything to me personally, of course I shall take care of
it,' answered the merchant. 'But what we were talking of was
Rivers's--business, not personal friendship. And business cannot afford
such risks. You must examine into it, and judge of its claims for
yourself. Come, let us dismiss the subject. I will tell Mr Baldwin I
found you looking a great deal better than I hoped.'

'But I don't want to dismiss the subject,' said Haldane. 'I am
satisfied. I am anxious----'

'Think it over once more, at least,' said the other hastily; and he went
away with but scant leave-taking. Mrs Haldane, who was a wise woman,
and, without knowing it, a physiognomist, shook her head.

'That man means what he says,' she said with some emphasis. 'He is
telling you his real principles. If I were you, Stephen, I would take
him at his word.'

'My dear mother, he is one of the men who take pleasure in putting the
worst face on human nature, and attributing everything to selfish
motives,' said the sick man. 'I very seldom believe those who put such
sentiments so boldly forth.'

'But I do,' said his mother, shaking her head with that obstinate
conviction which takes up its position at once and defies all reason.
Her son made no answer. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
The momentary excitement was over, the friends were gone, and the new
and terrible Life settled down upon him. He did not say a word to
indicate what was passing through his mind, but he thought of the ship
which drifted between the sunset and the mariner, and the nightmare
Life-in-Death casting her dies with the less appalling skeleton. It was
she who had won.

In the mean time the two directors of Rivers's bank walked out together;
one of them recovering all his self-confidence the moment he left the
house, the other possessed by a certain tremulous excitement. The idea
of risk was new to the painter. He felt a certain half-delightful,
half-alarming agitation when he made his first ventures, but that had
soon yielded to his absolute confidence in the man who now, with his own
lips, had named the fatal word. Robert's imagination, the temperament of
the artist, which is so often fantastically moved by trifles, while
strong to resist the presence of fact and certainty, had sustained a
shock. He did not say anything while they walked up the road under the
faded autumnal leaves which kept dropping through the still air upon
their heads. In this interval he had gone over within himself all the
solid guarantees, all the prestige, all the infallibility (for had it
not attained that point?) of Rivers's. Sure as the Bank of England! Such
were the words that rose continually to everybody's lips on hearing of
it. Robert propped himself up as he went along with one support or
another, till he felt ashamed that he could be capable of entertaining
a shadow of doubt. But the impression made upon his nerves was not to be
overcome by simple self-argument. Time was wanted to calm it down. He
felt a certain thrill and jar communicated through all the lines of
life. The sensation ran to his very finger-points, and gave a sharp
electric shock about the roots of his hair. And it set his heart and his
pulse beating, more likely organs to be affected. Loss! That was to say,
Helen and the child deprived of the surroundings that made their life so
fair; driven back to the poor little lodgings, perhaps, in which his
career began, or to something poorer still. Perhaps to want, perhaps
to----'What a fool I am!' he said to himself.

'Do you really object to Haldane as one of our shareholders?' he said,
with a certain hesitation, at last.

'Object--the idiot!' said Mr Burton. 'I beg your pardon, Drummond, I
know he's a great friend of yours; but all that nonsense exasperates me.
Why, God bless me, his body is sick, but his mind is as clear as yours
or mine. Why can't he judge for himself? I am quite ready to give him,
or you, or any one that interests me, the benefit of my experience; but
to take you on my shoulders, Drummond, you know, would be simply
absurd. I can't foresee what may happen. I am ready to run the risk
myself. That's the best guarantee I can give, don't you think? but I
won't run any sentimental risks. You may, if you like; they are out of
my line.'

'I don't know what you mean by sentimental risks.'

'Oh, as for that, it is easy to explain. The man is very ill: he will
never be of any use in life again, and loss would be destruction to him.
Therefore I won't take the responsibility. Why, there may be a
revolution in England next year for anything I can tell. There may be an
invasion. Our funds may be down to zero, and our business paralysed. How
can I tell? All these things are within the bounds of possibility, and
if they happened, and we went to smash, as we should infallibly, what
would Haldane do?'

'If there is nothing to alarm us closer at hand than a revolution or an
invasion--' said Drummond with a smile.

'How can we tell? If I were asked to insure England, I should only do it
on a very heavy premium, I can tell you. And look here, Drummond, take
my advice, always let a man judge for himself, never take the
responsibility. If you do, you'll be sorry after. I never knew a good
man of business yet who went in, as I said, for sentimental risks.'

'I fear I shall never be a good man of business,' said the painter, with
a certain sickness at his heart. 'But tell me now, suppose you were
guardian to orphans, what should you do with their money? I suppose that
is what you would call a very sentimental risk.'

'Not so bad as Haldane,' said Burton. 'They would be young and able to
make their way if the worst came to the worst. If they were entirely in
my own hands I should invest the money as I thought best; but if there
were other guardians or relations to make a fuss, I should put it in the
Three per Cents.'

'I really--don't--quite see what--difference that would make--' Robert
commenced, but his companion stopped him almost roughly.

'The question won't bear discussing, Drummond. If I go in with you, will
your wife give me some lunch? I have lost my whole morning to please my
father-in-law. Don't you bother yourself about Haldane. He is a
clear-headed fellow, and perfectly able to judge for himself.'

Then no more was said. If a passing cloud had come over the rich man, it
fled at sight of the table spread for luncheon, and the sherry, upon
which poor Robert (knowing almost as little about that as he did about
business) prided himself vastly. Mr Burton applauded the sherry. He was
more conversational even than usual, and very anxious that Drummond
should look at a country-house in his neighbourhood. 'If you can't
afford it now you very soon will,' he said, and without referring to
Rivers's kept up such a continued strain of allusions to the good
fortune which was about to pour upon the house, that Robert's nerves
were comforted, he could scarcely have told how. But he went and worked
all the afternoon in the studio when the City man went off to his
business. He laboured hard at Francesca, fixing his whole mind upon her,
not even whistling in his profound preoccupation. He had been absent
from the studio for some time, and the _feel_ of the old beloved tools
was delightful to him. But when the early twilight came and interrupted
his work, he went out and took a long walk by himself, endeavouring to
shake off the tremor which still lingered about him. It was in his veins
and in his nerves, tingling all over him. He reasoned with himself,
shook himself up roughly, took himself to task, but yet did not get over
it. 'Bah! it is simple sensation!' he said at last, and with a violent
effort turned his thoughts in another direction. But the shock had left
a tremor about him which was not quite dissipated for days after; for a
man who is made of fanciful artist-stuff, is not like a business man
with nerves of steel.



CHAPTER VII.


Nothing happened, however, to justify Drummond's fears. The success of
Rivers's in its new form was as great and as steady to all appearance as
that of its ancient phase. People vied with each other in rushing into
it, in crowding its coffers and its share lists. Stephen Haldane, 'left
to himself,' according to Mr Burton's instructions, had long since
deposited all he had in its hands; and almost all of Robert's
professional friends who had any money to invest, invested it in the
bank which had an R.A. upon the roll of directors. People came to him to
ask his advice who in other times would have given him theirs freely,
with no such respect for his judgment. But though this was the case, and
though ignorant persons in society sometimes wondered how he could make
the two occupations compatible, and carry on business and art together,
yet the fact was that business and Robert had very little to do with
each other. He went to the meetings of the directors now and then. He
was blandly present sometimes at an auditing of accounts. He listened at
times to the explanations given by Mr Golden, the manager, and found
them everything that was reasonable and wise. But beyond that he cannot
be said to have taken much part in the management. For this mild part he
was abundantly rewarded--so abundantly that he sometimes felt half
ashamed, reflecting that the clerks in the offices actually contributed
more to the success of the place than he did, though they did not profit
half so much. He felt himself justified in taking a nice house in the
country, though not at Dura, at the end of the first season, and he gave
his wife a pretty little carriage with two ponies on her birthday, in
which she drove about with a pleasure perhaps more real than that which
any other circumstance of their prosperity gave her. They did not leave
their house in St Mary's Road, for it was dear to them in many ways, and
still satisfied all their wants; and Robert could not tolerate the idea
of another painter using the studio he had built, or another woman
enjoying the conservatory which had been made for Helen. 'However rich
we may grow--even if we should ever be able to afford that house in Park
Lane--we must keep this,' he said; 'no profane foot must come in, no
stranger intrude upon our household gods; and Norah must have it after
us, the house she was born in.' Thus they planned their gentle romance,
though they had been a dozen years married and more, and bought the
house they loved with their first disposable money. And Robert still
loved his work and kept to it, though he did not need now to trouble
about the exhibitions and push on his picture, working from the early
morning down to twilight to get it ready. He got a little lazy about
finished pictures, to tell the truth. Even Francesca, though he loved
her, had been put aside on the spare easel, and never completed. 'I will
get up early and set to work in earnest to-morrow,' he always said; but
to-morrow generally found him like the day before, making a study of
something--sketching in now one subject, now another--tormenting his
wife with questions as to which was best. She had a good deal to put up
with in this period; but she kept up under it and bore it all smilingly.
And Robert, like so many more, made his sketches much better than his
pictures, and put ideas upon his canvas which, if he could but have
carried them out, might have been great.

Thus two years passed over the pair; and there were times when Helen
thought, with a leap of her heart, that ease and leisure had done what
care and toil could not do--had roused a spark of divine genius in her
husband's breast. Now and then he drew something that went right to her
heart, and it was she who had always been his harshest critic. When she
said to him one day suddenly, without purpose or meaning, 'I like that,
Robert,' he turned round upon her all flushed and glowing, more radiant
than when he was made an R.A. It was not that he had supreme confidence
in her knowledge of art, but that her backing of him, the support which
he had longed for all these years, was more than the highest applause,
and invigorated his very soul. But he was so pleased to have pleased
her, that he set up his sketch upon a bigger canvas, and worked at it
and improved it till he had improved the soul out of it, and Helen
applauded no more. He was much mortified and disappointed at this
failure; but then in his humility he said to himself, 'What does it
matter now? I am an R.A., which is the best I could be in my profession,
so far as the world is concerned, and we have something else to stand
upon besides the pictures.' Thus he consoled himself, and so did she.

And, in the mean time, Norah kept growing, and became a more distinct
feature in the household. She was a feature more than an agent still;
though she was nearly twelve, not much was heard of her except the
scales, which she still rattled over dutifully every morning, and the
snatches of songs she would sing in the lightness of her heart as she
went or came. On most ordinary occasions she simply composed such a
foreground to the family picture as Maurice had seen that October night.
She sat on a stool or on the floor somewhere, with a book clasped in her
arms, reading; in summer she and her book together crouched themselves
against the window in the room, getting the last gleam of daylight, and
in winter she read by the firelight, which crimsoned her all over with a
ruddy glow, and scorched her cheeks. Perhaps it was because she was kept
conscientiously at work all day that Norah thus devoured all the books
she could lay hands on in the evenings. She sat in her corner and read,
and heard what was going on all the same, and took no notice. She read
everything, from Grimm's Tales and the Arabian Nights to Shakspere, and
from Shakspere to Tennyson, with an undiscriminating, all-devouring
appetite; and as she sat in a dream, lost in one volume after another,
the current of life flowed past, and she was aware of it, and heard a
hundred things she was unconscious of hearing, yet remembered years
after. She heard discussions between her father and mother which she was
supposed to pay no attention to. And she did not pay any attention to
them: but only innocently--an unconscious eavesdropper--heard
everything, and received it into her mind. This was the child's position
in the house; she was the centre of the picture--everything somehow bore
a reference to her; she alone was silent in the midst. The other
two--who loved her, talked of her, planned for her, contrived that
everything that was pretty and pleasant and sweet should surround her
waking and sleeping--had yet no immediate need of Norah. They were each
other's companions, and she was the third--the one left out. But she was
too young to feel any jealousy, or to struggle for a place between them.
She had her natural place, always in the foreground, a silent creature,
unconsciously observing, laying up provision for her life.

'Are you not afraid to talk of everything before your daughter?' Mr
Golden said one day when she had left the room. 'You know the old
proverb, "Little pitchers have long ears."'

'Afraid of--Norah?' said Robert. The idea was so extraordinary that he
laughed first, though the moment after he felt disposed to be angry. 'My
child understands what honour is, though she is so young,' he said with
paternal pride, and then laughed, and added, 'That is high-flown of
course, but you don't understand her, Golden; how should you? She is a
thousand times too deeply occupied to care for what we are saying.
Pardon me, but the suggestion, to one who knows her, is so very absurd.'

'Ah, you never know where simplicity ends and sense begins,' said the
bank manager. He had become a frequent guest at St Mary's Road. He was a
man of Mr Burton's type, but younger, slightly bald, perfectly brushed,
clean, and perfumed, and decorous. He was a little too heavy for the
_rôle_ of a young man in society: and yet he danced and flirted with the
best when an opportunity offered. He never spoke of the City when he
could help it: but he spoke a great deal about Lady So-and-so's party,
and the fine people he knew. It was difficult to make out how he knew
them; but yet he visited, or professed to visit, at a great many of what
are called 'good houses.' As manager of the bank he had every man's
good opinion--he was at once so enterprising and so prudent, with the
most wonderful head for business. There was no one like him for
interpreting the 'movements' on the Stock Exchange, or the fluctuations
of the Funds. He explained business matters so lucidly that even
Drummond understood them, or at least thought he did. But there were a
good many people who did not like Mr Golden. Helen for one had a natural
antipathy to the man. She allowed that she had no reason for it; that he
was very civil, sometimes amusing, and had never done anything she could
find fault with. But she disliked him all the same. Norah was more
decided in her sentiments, and had a clearer foundation for them. He had
insisted on disturbing her from her book one afternoon to shake hands
with her; on another he had offered to kiss her, as a child, and she
nearly twelve! 'But then you are so little of your age, Miss Norah. I
dare say the gentleman took you for nine,' said the maid--an explanation
which did not render Norah more favourably inclined towards the manager.
And now he was trying to libel her, to traduce her to her father! Even
Robert himself was moved by this enormity; it shook his opinion of his
counsellor. 'That is all he knows,' Drummond said to himself; and he
resumed his conversation more distinctly than ever when Norah came back.

In the mean time the Haldanes had thriven too, in their way. Stephen was
as helpless, as far from any hope of moving, as ever; but he was well
off, which alleviates much suffering. The walls of his room were hung
with Drummond's sketches, half a dozen of them, among which were two
pictures of Norah. He lived in an arm-chair elaborately fitted with
every possible contrivance, with a reading-desk attached to its arm, and
a table close by, which could be raised to any height: and his helpless
limbs were covered with a silken quilt of Mrs Haldane's own working.
There he passed the day and night without change: but thanks to Miss
Jane and her mother, no strange eye had looked upon the helpless man's
humiliation; they moved him from his chair to his bed, and did
everything for him. The bed was closed up by day, so that no stranger
might suspect its existence; and the room was kept airy and bright by
the same unwearied watchers. Here he lived, making no complaint.
Whatever his feelings might be, whatever the repinings in his mind, he
said nothing of them to mortal ear. A shade of weariness the more upon
his face, a deeper line than usual between his eyes, were the only
tokens that now and then the deep waters overflowed his soul. And as for
the mother and sister, who were his slaves and attendants, they had
forgotten that there was anything unusual in his condition--they had
become accustomed to it. It seemed to them in some sort the course of
nature. And God knows whether unconsciously a feeling that it was 'for
the best' might not sometimes steal into their minds. He was theirs for
ever; no one could step in between them, or draw his heart from their
love. Had it been suggested to Miss Jane that such a sentiment was
possible, she would have rejected it with horror; and yet in the depths
of her heart it was there, out of her own sight.

And he had an occupation in his seclusion which was a blessing to him.
He had become the editor of a little magazine, which belonged to his
'denomination,' before he fell ill, and he had been allowed to retain
the post. This was the refuge of his mind in his trouble. Poor Stephen,
he pleased himself with the idea of still influencing somebody, of
preserving his intercourse with the outer world. It had been a very
homely little publication when it came into his hands--a record of what
the 'denomination' was doing; the new chapels it was building; the
prayer-meetings gathered here and there, which might grow into
congregations; and the tea-parties, which furnished at once intellectual
and social enjoyment for the people. But Stephen had changed that; he
had put his mind into it, and worked it into a sort of literary organ.
There were reviews in it, and essays, and a great deal of discussion of
the questions of the day. These were approached from the standing-ground
of the denomination, it is true, but the discussions were often far from
being denominational. Up to this time, however, the community gave no
signs of disapproval. Mr Baldwin favoured the magazine, and the writer
of it was still popular, and not yet forgotten. They gave him some fifty
pounds a year for this hard though blessed work which kept his mind
alive; and his late congregation gave him fifty pounds; and the money in
Rivers's bank had last quarter paid ten per cent. of profit. He was well
off, he was indeed rich for his wants, though he was not rolling in
wealth like Drummond. Money makes no man happy, but how much good it
does! Nothing could make this poor man happy, rooted thus in his
immovable calm; but his ten per cent. kept him in comfort, it gave him
worship in the eyes of his people, who were not fond of poverty; it
procured to him his only consolation. He had no need to be indebted to
any one; he could even help the poor people of his former flock, and
feel himself independent. He could buy books, and give such quiet
comforts and pleasures as they could enjoy to the women who were so good
to him. All these were great alleviations of the sick man's lot. But for
Rivers's how different would his position have been! He would have been
subject to the constant inspection of deacons and brethren; he would
have been interfered with in respect to his magazine. All the comfort
and freedom which remained to him were the result of the little more
which made him independent and put him above criticism. What a poor
thing money is, which cannot buy either health or happiness! and yet
what a great thing! only the poor know how great.

This time of prosperity had lasted for two years, when Mr Burton
withdrew from the direction of the bank. He had enlarged his business
greatly in another way, and had no longer time to bestow upon this; and,
indeed, he had professed all along his desire to be free. This had been
the object of the old company in taking in 'new blood,' and now the new
company was able to proceed alone upon its triumphant way.

'It is your turn to get into harness, Drummond,' he said, with a glance
in which there was some contempt. Robert did not see the scorn, but he
laughed with perhaps a little gentle confidence in his own power to be
of use if he should choose to exert himself.

'I must put myself into training first,' he said.

'Golden will do that for you. Golden is the best coach for business I
have ever come across,' said Mr Burton. 'He will put you up to
everything, good and bad--the dodges as well as the legitimate line.
Golden is not a common man of business--he is a great artist in trade.'

There was a certain elation in his air and words. Was he glad to have
shaken off the bonds of Rivers's, though they were golden bonds? This
was the question which Helen asked herself with a little surprise. The
two men were dining at St Mary's Road on the night after Burton's
withdrawal, and she was still at table, though they had begun to talk of
business. As usual, she who took no part was the one most instructed by
the conversation. But she was bewildered, not instructed, by this. She
could not make out what it meant. She knew by the best of all proofs
that the bank was profitable and flourishing. Why, then, did her cousin
show such high spirits? What was his elation about? Long after, she
remembered that she had noted this, and then was able to divine the
mystery. But now it only surprised her vaguely, like a foreign phrase in
the midst of the language she knew.

'The dodges are amusing,' said Mr Golden. 'The legitimate drama is more
dignified and imposing, but I rather think there is more fun in the work
when you are living on the very edge of ruin. The hairbreadth escapes
one has--the sense that it is one's own cleverness that carries one
through--the delight of escaping from the destruction that seemed down
upon you! There is nothing like that,' he said with a laugh, 'in the
steady platitudes of ordinary trade.'

And Mr Burton laughed too, and a glance passed between them, such as
might have passed between two old soldiers who had gone many a campaign
together. There was a twinkle in their eyes, and the 'Do you remember?'
seemed to be on their very lips. But then they stopped short, and went
no further. Helen, still vaguely surprised, had to get up and go away
to the drawing-room; and what more experiences these two might exchange,
or whether her husband would be any the wiser for them, she was no
longer able to see. Norah waited her in the other room. She had just
come to the end of a book, and, putting it down with a sigh, came and
sat by her mother's side. They were alike in general features and
complexion, though not in the character of their faces. Norah's hair was
brighter, and her expression less stately and graceful than Helen's--she
had not so much _distinction_, but she had more life. Such a woman as
her mother she was never likely to be, but her attractions would be
great in her own way.

'How nice your velvet gown is, mamma!' said Norah, who was given to long
monologues when she spoke at all. 'I like to put my cheek upon it. When
I am grown up, I will always wear black velvet in winter, and white
muslin in summer. They are the nicest of all. I do not think that you
are too old for white. I like you in white, with red-ribbons. When I am
a little bigger I should like to dress the same as you, as if we were
two sisters. Mayn't we? Everybody says you look so young. But, mamma,
ain't you glad to get away from those men, and come in here to me?'

'You vain child!' said Helen. 'I can see you whenever I like, so it is
no novelty to me; while papa's friends--'

'Do you think they are papa's friends? I suppose there are no villains
now-a-days, like what there are in books?' said Norah. 'The world is
rather different from books somehow. There you can always see how
everything happens; and there is always somebody clever enough to find
out the villains. Villains themselves are not very clever, they always
let themselves be found out.'

'But, my dear, we are not talking of villains,' said Helen.

'No, mamma, only of that Mr Golden. I _hate_ him! If you and I were
awfully clever, and could see into him, what he means--'

'You silly little girl! You have read too many novels,' said Helen. 'In
the world people are often selfish, and think of their own advantage
first; but they don't try to ruin others out of pure malice, as they do
in stories. Even Norah Drummond sometimes thinks of herself first. I
don't know if she is aware of it, but still it happens; and though it is
not always a sin to do that, still it is the way that most sins come
about.'

This purely maternal and moral turn of the conversation did not amuse
Norah. She put her arm round her mother's waist, and laid her cheek
against the warm velvet of Helen's gown.

'Mamma, it is not fair to preach when no one is expecting it,' she said
in an injured tone; 'and just when I have you all to myself! I don't
often have you to myself. Papa thinks you belong to him most. Often and
often I want to come and talk, but papa is so greedy: you ought to think
you belong to me too.'

'But, my darling, you have always a book,' said Helen, not insensible to
the sweet flattery.

'When I can't have you, what else am I to do?' said crafty Norah; and
when the gentlemen came into the drawing-room, the two were still
sitting together, talking of a hundred things. Mr Golden came up, and
tried very hard to be admitted into the conversation, but Norah walked
away altogether, and went into her favourite corner, and Mrs Drummond
did not encourage his talk. She looked at him with a certain flutter of
excited curiosity, wondering if there was anything under that smooth
exterior which was dangerous and meant harm; and smiled at herself and
said, No, no; enemies and villains exist only in books. The worst of
this man would be that he would pursue his own ends, let them suffer who
might; and his own ends could not harm Drummond--or so at least Helen
thought.



CHAPTER VIII.


It was in the summer of the third year of his bank directorship that
Robert made his first personal entry into business. The occasion of it
was this. One of his early friends who had been at school with him, and
with whom he had kept up a precarious and often interrupted intercourse,
came to him one morning with an anxious face. He was in business
himself, with a little office in one of the dreary lanes in the City, a
single clerk, and very limited occupation. He had married young, and had
a large family; and Drummond was already aware that while the lines had
fallen to himself in pleasant places, poor Markham's lot had been hard
and full of thorns. He was now at the very crisis of his troubles. He
gave a glance round the painter's handsome studio when he entered, at
the pictures on the walls and the costly things about, and the air of
evident luxury that pervaded everything, and sighed. His own
surroundings were poor and scant enough. And yet he could and did
remember that Drummond had started in life a poorer man, with less
hopeful prospects than himself. Such a contrast is not lively or
inspiriting, and it requires a generous mind to take it kindly, and
refrain from a passing grudge at the old companion who has done so much
better for himself. Poor Markham had come with a petition, on which, he
said, all his future life depended. He had made a speculation which
would pay him largely could he only hold out for three months; but
without help from his friends this was impossible. It was a large sum
that he wanted--more than any private friend would be likely to give
him--something between two and three thousand pounds. The welfare of his
family, his very existence in a business point of view, and the hopes of
his children depended on his ability to tide those three months over.
For old friendship's sake, for all the associations of their youth,
would Drummond help him? Robert listened with his kindly heart full of
sympathy. Long before the story was done, he began to calculate what he
had at his disposal, how much he could give; but the sum startled him.
He could not produce at a moment's notice a sum of nearly three
thousand pounds. With a troubled heart he shook his head and said it was
impossible--he had not so much money at his disposal--he could not do
it. Then Markham eagerly explained. It was not from his friend's own
purse that he had hoped for it; but the bank! On Drummond's
introduction, the bank would do it. Rivers's could save him. No such
request had ever been made to Robert before. Very few of his friends
were business men. Their needs were private needs, and not the spasmodic
wants of trade. There were people who had borrowed from himself
personally, and some who had been helped by him in other ways; but this
was the first appeal made to his influence in the bank. He was startled
by it in his innocence of business habits. It seemed to him as if it was
like asking a private favour, turning over his own petitioner to a third
person. 'He is my friend, give him three thousand pounds.' It seemed to
him the strangest way of being serviceable to his neighbour. But poor
Markham had all the eloquence of a partially ruined man. He made it
clear to Robert, not only that such things were, but they happened
continually, and were in the most ordinary course of nature. The end
was that they went out together, and had an interview with Mr Golden at
the bank. And then Robert found that his acquaintance had not
exaggerated, that the matter was even easier than he had represented it,
and that there would not be the slightest difficulty in 'accommodating'
the man who was Mr Drummond's friend. Markham and he parted at the door
of the bank, the one with tears of gratitude in his eyes, blessing God
and Robert for saving him, and the other with a bewildered sense of
power which he had not realised. He had not known before how much he
could do, nor what privileges his directorship put in his hands, and he
was confused by the discovery. It bewildered him, as a man might be
bewildered to know that he could bestow fertility or barrenness on his
fields by a glance: how strange the power was, how sweet in this
instance, how--dangerous! Yes, that was the word. He felt afraid of
himself as he went home. If such plaints came to him often, it would be
so difficult to resist them; and then a kind of horrible dread came over
his mind. Would the money ever be paid back that he had got so easily?
The thought made his hand shake when he went back to the peaceable work
at which no such bewildering risks were run.

When the three months were over, Markham's money was not paid; on the
contrary he had fled to Australia, he and all his children, leaving
nothing but some wretched old furniture behind him. Poor Drummond was
nearly beside himself. He rushed to the bank when he heard the news, and
protested that the loss must be his. It was his fault, and of course he
must repay it. Mr Golden smiled at him with a genuine admiration of his
simplicity. He told him in a fatherly way of a speculation which had
been very successful, which had cleared nearly the same sum of money.
'Putting the one to the other, we are none the worse,' he said; 'every
commercial concern must make some bad debts.'

Drummond went away with more bewilderment still, with many new thoughts
buzzing in his head, thoughts which troubled the composure of his life.
He himself being but an artist, and not a merchant, was afraid of money.
He touched it warily, trafficked in it with a certain awe. He knew how
much labour it required to earn it, and how hard it was to be without
it. He could not understand the levity with which Burton and Golden
treated that potent thing. To them it was like common merchandise, sugar
or salt. A heap of it, as much as would make a poor man's fortune,
melted away in a moment, and the bland manager thought nothing of
it--it was a bad debt. All this was so strange to him, that he did not
know what to make of it. He himself was guilty, he felt, of having
thrown away so much which belonged to other people. And every other
director on the board had the same power which he had with a painful
pleasure discovered himself to have. And they knew better about it than
he did; and what check could there be upon them? If every other man
among them had been art and part in losing three thousand pounds, what
could Robert say? It would not be for him to throw the first stone. He
felt like Christian in the story, when, upon the calm hill-side, he
suddenly saw a door through which there appeared, open and visible, the
mouth of hell. It occurred to Robert to go down to the next meeting of
directors, to tell them his own story, and beg that the money lost
through his means should be subtracted from his private share of the
capital, and to beg all of them to do likewise. He quite made up his
mind to this in the first tumult of his thoughts. But before the time
for that meeting came, a sense of painful ridicule, that bugbear of the
Englishman, had daunted him. They would call him a fool, they would
think he was 'canting,' or taking an opportunity to display his own
disinterestedness. And accordingly he accepted the misfortune, and was
content to permit it to be called a bad debt. But the enlightenment
which it threw on the business altogether gave Robert a shock which he
did not easily recover. It seemed to show him a possible chasm opening
at his very feet, and not at his only, but at the feet of all the
ignorant simple people, the poor painters, the poor women, the sick men
like Haldane, who had placed their little seed-corn of money in Rivers's
bank.

These thoughts were hot in his heart at the time of this misadventure
with Markham; and then there came a lull, and he partially forgot them.
When no harm is visible, when the tranquil ordinary course of affairs
seems to close over a wrong or a blunder, it is so difficult to imagine
that everything will not go well. He said as little as possible to Helen
on the subject, and she did not take fright fortunately, having many
things to occupy her now-a-days. There was her own enlarged and fuller
household; the duties of society; her charities, for she was very good
to the poor people near Southlees, their house in the country, and kept
watch over them even from St Mary's Road. And she had now many friends
who came and occupied her time, and carried her off from her husband;
so that he had not that resource of talking about it which so often
lightens our anxiety, and so often deepens it. In this instance,
perhaps, it was as well that he could not awaken her fears to increase
and stimulate his own.

And thus everything fell into its usual quietness. Life was so pleasant
for them. They had so much real happiness to cushion the angles of the
world, and make them believe that all would always be well. Those who
have been experienced in pain are apt to tremble and doubt the
continuance of happiness when they attain it; but to those who have had
no real sorrows it seems eternal. Why should it ever come to an end?
This the Drummonds felt with an instinctive confidence. It was easier to
believe in any miracle of good than in the least prognostic of evil. The
sun was shining upon them; summer was sweet and winter pleasant. They
had love, they had ease, they had wealth, as much as they desired, and
they believed in it. The passing cloud rolled away from Robert's mind.
He reflected that if there was danger there, there was danger in
everything; every day, he said to himself, every man may be in some
deadly peril without knowing it. We pass beneath the arch that falls
next moment; we touch against some one's shoulder unaware, whose touch
of infection might be death; we walk over the mined earth, and breathe
air which might breed a pestilence, and yet nothing happens to us. Human
nature is against everything violent. Somehow she holds a balance, which
no one breaks down, though it is possible to be broken down at any
moment. The directors might ruin the bank in a week, but they would not,
any more than the elements, which are ever ready for mischief, would
clash together and produce an earthquake. Such things might be: but
never--or so seldom as to be next to never--are.

In the early autumn of that year, however, another shock came upon the
ignorant painter. His wife and Norah were at Southlees, where he himself
had been. Business had brought him up against his will, business of the
gentler kind, concerning art and the Academy, not the bank. He was alone
at St Mary's Road, chafing a little over his solitude, and longing for
home and the pleasant fields. London, the London he knew and cared for,
had gone out of town. August was blazing upon the parks and streets; the
grass was the colour of mud, and the trees like untanned leather. The
great people were all away in their great houses, and among his own
profession those who could afford it had started for Switzerland or some
other holiday region, and those who could not had gone for their annual
whiff of sea-air. Robert was seated by himself at breakfast, mournfully
considering how another day had to be got over, before he could go home,
when a hansom dashed up to the door, and Mr Golden, bland and clean as
ever, but yet with a certain agitation in his face, came in. He
explained eagerly that he had come to Drummond only because the other
directors were out of town. 'The fact is,' he said, 'I want you to come
with me, not to give you much trouble or detain you long, but to stand
by me, if you will, in a crisis. We have had some losses. Those people
in Calcutta who chose to stop payment, like fools, and the Sullivans'
house at Liverpool.--It is only temporary.--But the Bank of England has
made itself disagreeable about an advance, and I want you to come with
me and see the governor.'

'An advance! Is Rivers's in difficulties? is there anything wrong? You
take away my breath.'

'There is no occasion for taking away your breath,' said Mr Golden; 'it
is only for the moment. But it is an awkward time of the year, for
everybody is out of town. I should not have troubled you, knowing you
were not a business man, but of course the presence of a director gives
authority. Don't be alarmed, I beg. I will tell you all about it as we
drive along.'

But what Mr Golden told was very inarticulate to Robert, what with the
wild confusion produced in his own mind, and the noise and dust of the
sultry streets. It was the most temporary difficulty; it was not worth
speaking of; it was a simple misunderstanding on the part of the
authorities of the Bank of England. 'Why we are worth twenty times the
money, and everybody knows it,' said Mr Golden. His words, instead of
making Robert confident, made him sick. His sin in that matter of
Markham came darkly before him; and, worse even than that, the manager's
words recalled Markham's to him. In his case, too, it was to have been
merely a temporary difficulty. Drummond's imaginative mind rushed at
once to the final catastrophe. He saw ruin staring him in the face--and
not only him.

The interview with the authorities of the Bank of England did not make
things much clearer to the amateur. They talked of previous advances; of
their regret that the sacred name of 'Rivers's' should be falling into
mist and darkness; of their desire to have better securities, and a
guarantee which would be more satisfactory: to all of which Robert
listened with consternation in his soul. But at last the object was
attained. Mr Golden wiped the moisture from his forehead as they left
the place. 'That has been a tough battle,' he said, 'but thank Heaven!
it is done, and we are tided over. I knew they would not be such fools
as to refuse.'

'But, good God!' said Robert, 'what have you been doing? What is the
meaning of it? Why do you require to go hat in hand to any governor? Is
Rivers's losing its position? What has happened? Why don't you call the
shareholders together and tell them if anything is wrong?'

'My dear Mr Drummond!' said Mr Golden. He could scarcely do more than
smile and say the words.

'Don't smile at me,' said Drummond in the ardour of his heart. 'Do you
consider that you have the very lives of hundreds of people in your
hands? Call them together, and let them know what remains, for God's
sake! I will make good what was lost through me.'

'You are mad,' said Golden, when he saw that his gentle sneer had
failed; 'such a step would be ruin. Call together the shareholders! Why,
the shareholders--Mr Drummond, for heaven's sake, let people manage it
who know what they are about.'

'For heaven's sake! for hell's sake, you mean,' said Robert in his
despair. And the words reverberated in his ears, rang out of all the
echoes, sounded through the very streets, 'It would be ruin!' Ruin! that
was the word. It deafened him, muttering and ringing in his ears.

And yet even after this outburst he was calmed down. Mr Golden explained
it to him. It was business; it was the common course of affairs, and
only his own entire inexperience made it so terrible to him. To the
others it was not in the least terrible, and yet he had no right to
conclude that his colleagues were indifferent either to their own
danger, or to the danger of the shareholders of whom he thought so much.
'The shareholders of course know the risks of business as well as we
do,' Mr Golden said. 'We must act for the best, both for them and for
ourselves.' And the painter was silenced if not convinced. This was in
the autumn, and during the entire winter which followed the bank went on
like a ship in a troubled sea. After a while such a crisis as the one
which had so infinitely alarmed him became the commonest of incidents
even to Drummond. Now that his eyes had been once enlightened, it was
vain to attempt any further concealment. One desperate struggle he did
indeed make, when in the very midst of all this anxiety a larger
dividend than usual was declared. The innocent man fought wildly against
this practical lie, but his resistance was treated as utter folly by the
business board, who were, as they said, 'fighting the ship.' 'Do you
want to create a panic and a run upon us?' they asked him. He had to be
silent, overpowered by the judgment of men who knew better than himself.
And then something of the excitement involved in that process of
'fighting the ship' stole into his veins. Somehow by degrees, nobody had
been quite aware how, the old partners of Rivers's had gone out of the
concern. It was true there had been but three or four to start with; now
there was but one left--Lord Rivers, the head of the house, who never
took any share in the business, and was as ignorant as the smallest
shareholder. The new directors, the fighting directors, were men of a
very different class. As the winter went on the ship laboured more and
more. Sometimes it seemed to go down altogether, and then rose again
with a buoyancy which almost seemed to justify hope. '_Tout peut se
rétablir_,' they said to each other. 'After all we shall tide it over.'
And even Robert began to feel that thrill of delight and relief when a
danger was 'tided over,' that admiration, not of his own cleverness, but
of the cleverness of others, which Golden had once described. Golden
came out now in his true colours; his resources were infinite, his pluck
extraordinary. But he enjoyed the struggle in the midst of his
excitement and exertion, and Drummond did not enjoy it, which made an
immense difference between them.

Things became worse and worse as spring came on. By that time, so far as
Drummond was concerned, all hope was over. He felt himself sucked into
the terrible whirlpool whence nothing but destruction could come. With a
heart unmanned by anxiety, and a hand shaking with suppressed
excitement, how could he go into his peaceable studio and work at that
calmest work, of art? That phase of his existence seemed to have been
over for years. When he went into the room he loved it looked to him
like some place he had known in his youth--it was fifty years off or
more, though the colour was scarcely dry on the picture which stood idly
on the easel. When he was called to Academy meetings, to consultations
over an old master, or a new rule, a kind of dull amazement filled his
soul. Did people still care for such things--was it still possible that
beauty and pleasantness remained in life? There were people in these
days who felt even that the painter had fallen into bad ways. They saw
his eyes bloodshot and his hand trembling. He was never seen with his
wife now when she drove her ponies through the park--even in society
Helen went sometimes out alone. And they had been so united, so happy a
pair. 'Drummond will have nothing ready in April,' the painters
said to each other--'even his diploma picture has never been
finished--prosperity has not agreed with _him_.' When he was visible at
all, his vacant air, his tremulous look, the deep lines under his eyes,
frightened all his friends. Dr Maurice had spoken to him very seriously,
begging that he would be candid and tell his ailments. 'You cannot go on
like this,' he said. 'You are killing yourself, Drummond.' 'How much can
a man go through without being killed, I wonder?' poor Robert asked,
with an unsteady smile, and even his friend stopped short in dismay and
perplexity. Was it dissipation? Was it some concealed misery? Could his
wife have anything to do with it? These suggestions flitted vaguely
through the doctor's mind without bringing any certainty with them. Once
he seemed to be getting a clue to the mystery, when Robert rushed in
upon him one day, and with a show of levity suggested that Haldane's
money should be taken out of the bank. 'I know a better investment, and
he should have the very best that is going,' said Drummond. Dr Maurice
was somewhat startled, for he had money in Rivers's too.

'Where is there a better investment?' he asked.

'In the Three per Cents.,' said Robert, with a hoarse laugh.

Was he mad? Was he----drunk? The doctor took a day to consider it, to
think whether there could be anything in it. But he looked at the
dividend papers, showing that Rivers's that year had paid ten per cent.
And he called upon Dr Bradcliffe, and asked him to go with him
privately, _accidentally_, one of these days, to see a friend whose
brain was going, he feared. The two physicians shook their heads, and
said to each other mournfully how common that was becoming. But Fate
moved faster than Dr Maurice, and the accidental call was never made.



CHAPTER IX.


The life which Helen Drummond lived during this winter would be very
hard to describe. Something wrong had happened, she saw, on that rapid
visit to town which Robert had made on Academical business in October,
leaving her at Southlees. No anxiety about business matters connected
with the bank had ever been suggested to her mind. She had long ago
accepted, as a matter of course, the fact that wealth was to come from
that source, with an ease and regularity very different from the
toilsome and slow bread-winning which was done by means of art. She was
not surprised by it as Robert was; and enough of the _bourgeois_
breeding was left in her to make her pleased that her husband should see
the difference between the possibilities of his profession and of the
commerce which she had been wont to hear lauded in her youth. She was
almost proud that Trade had done so much for him. Trade came from her
side, it was she who had the hereditary connection with it; and the
innate idealism of her mind was able to cling to the old-fashioned
fanciful conception of beneficent commerce, such as we have all heard of
in our educational days. But her pride was not sensitive on this point.
What really touched her was the praise or the blame which fell upon him
as a painter, and the dread that instantly sprang into her mind was that
he had met with something painful to him in this respect--that his
opinion had not been received as of weight in the deliberations of the
Academy, or his works been spoken of with less respect than they ought
to have secured. This was the foolish fancy that took hold of her mind.
She questioned him about the Academy meeting till poor Robert--his
thoughts occupied about things so very different--grew sick of the
subject. Yet he was almost glad of some subject on which to vent a
little of his excitement. Yes, they were a set of old fogies, he said,
with audacious freedom. They pottered about things they did not
understand. They puzzled and hesitated over that Rembrandt, which any
one with half an eye could see had been worked at by some inferior
hand. They threw cold water upon that loveliest Francia which nobody
could see without recognising. They did what they ought not to do, and
neglected what was their duty. 'We all do that every day of our lives,'
said Helen; 'but what was there that specially vexed you, Robert?'
'Nothing,' he said, looking up at her with eyes full of astonishment;
but there was more than astonishment in them. There was pain, dread,
anxiety--a wistful, restless look of suffering. He will not tell me: he
will keep it to himself and suffer by himself, not to vex me, Helen said
in her own thoughts. And though the autumn was lovely, Robert could not
be happy at Southlees that year. He had been very happy the two previous
summers. The house was situated on the Thames beyond Teddington. It was
rustic and old, with various additions built to it; a red-brick house,
grown over with all manner of lichens, irregular in form and harmonious
with its position, a house which had grown--which had not been
artificially made. The family had lived on the lawn, or on the river, in
those halcyon days that were past. There was a fringe of trees at every
side except that, shutting in the painter's retirement; but on the river
side nothing but a few bright flower-beds, and the green velvet lawn,
sloping towards the softly flowing water. One long-leaved willow drooped
over the stone steps at which the boat was lying. It was a place where a
pair of lovers might have spent their honeymoon, or where the weary and
sick might have come to get healing. It was not out of character either
with the joy or the grief. Nature was so sweet, so silent, so meditative
and calm. The river ran softly, brooding over its own low liquid gurgle.
The stately swans sailed up and down. The little fishes darted about in
the clear water, and myriads of flying atoms, nameless insect
existences, fluttered above. Boating parties going down the stream would
pause, with a sigh of gentle envy, to look at the group upon the lawn;
the table with books and work on it, with sometimes a small easel beside
it or big drawing pad supported on a stand; a low chair with Helen's red
shawl thrown over it, and Norah, with her red ribbons, nestled on the
sunny turf. They sat there, and worked, and talked, or were silent, with
an expansion of their hearts towards everything that breathed and moved;
or they spent long days on the river, catching the morning lights upon
those nooks which are only known to dwellers on the stream; or pursuing
water-lilies through all the golden afternoon in the back-waters which
these retired flowers love. The river was their life, and carried them
along, day after day. Such a scene could not but be sweet to every lover
of nature; but it is doubly sweet when the dumb poetic imagination has
by its side that eye of art which sees everything. The painter is a
better companion even than the poet--just as seeing is better than
saying that you see. Robert was not a genius in art; but he had the
artist's animated, all-perceiving eye. Nothing escaped him--he saw a
hundred beautiful things which would have been imperceptible to ordinary
men--a dew-drop on a blade of grass at his feet charmed him as much as a
rainbow--his 'Look, Helen!' was more than volumes of descriptive poetry.
They were out and about at all times, 'watching the lights,' as he said
in his pleasant professional jargon: in the early mornings, when all was
silvery softness and clearness, and the birds were trying over their
choicest trills before men woke to hear; in the evening when twilight
came gently on, insinuating her filmy impenetrable veil between them and
the sunset; and even at full noon, when day is languid at the height of
perfection, knowing that perfectness is brother to decadence. The
painter and his wife lived in the middle of all these changes, and took
them in, every one, to the firmament in their hearts.

Why do we stop in this record of trouble to babble about sunset skies
and running waters? Is it not natural? The 'sound as of a hidden brook
in the leafy month of June' comes in, by right, among all weird,
mysterious harmonies of every tragical fate. 'The oaten pipe and
pastoral reed' have their share even in the hurly-burly of cities and
noisy discord of modern existence. Robert Drummond had his good things
as well as his evil things. For these two summers never man had been
more happy--and it is but few who can say so much. His wife was happy
with him, her old ghosts exorcised, and a new light suffusing her life.
It seemed a new life altogether, a life without discontents, full of
happiness, and tranquillity, and hope.

But this autumn Robert was not happy at Southlees. He could not stay
there peaceably as he had done before. He had to go to town 'on
business,' he said, sometimes twice a week. He took no pleasure in his
old delights. Though he could not help seeing still, his 'Look, Helen!'
was no longer said in a tone of enthusiasm; and when he had uttered the
familiar exclamation he would turn away and sigh. Sometimes she found
him with his face hidden in his hands, and pressed against the warm
greensward. It was as if he were knocking for admission at the gates of
the grave, Helen thought, in that fancifulness which comes of fear as
much as of hope. When she questioned him he would deny everything, and
work with pretended gaiety. Every time he went to town it seemed to her
that five years additional of line and cloud had been added to the lines
on his forehead. His hair began to get grey; perhaps that was no wonder,
for he was forty, a pilgrim already in the sober paths of middle age,
but Helen was nearly ten years younger, and this sign of advancing years
seemed unnatural to her. Besides, he was a young man in his heart, a man
who would be always young; yet he was growing old before his time. But
notwithstanding his want of enjoyment in it he was reluctant that his
wife should leave Southlees sooner than usual. He would go into town
himself, he declared. He would do well enough--what did it matter for a
few weeks? 'For the sake of business it is better that I should go--but
the winter is long enough if you come in the end of the month. No,
Helen, take the good of it as long as you can--this year.'

'What good shall I get of it alone, and how can I let you live for
weeks by yourself?' said Helen. 'You may think it is fine to be
independent; but you could not get on without Norah and me.'

'No,' he said, with a shudder. 'God knows life would be a poor thing
without Norah and you! but when it is a question of three weeks--I'll go
and see my friends; I'll live a jovial bachelor life----'

'Did you see the Haldanes,' she asked, 'when you were in town last?'

It was the most innocent, unmeaning question; but it made him grow pale
to the very lips. Did he tremble? Helen was so startled that she did not
even realise how it was he looked.

'How cold the wind blows,' he said, with a shiver. 'I must have caught
cold, I suppose, last night. The Haldanes? No; I had no time.'

'Robert, something worries you,' she said earnestly. 'Tell me what it
is. Whatever it is, it will not be so heavy when you have told me. You
have always said so--since ever we have been together.'

'And truly, my darling,' he said. He took her hand and held it tenderly,
but he did not look at her. 'I cannot tell you of worries that don't
exist, can I?' he added, with an exaggerated cheerfulness. 'I have to
pay a little attention to business now the other men are out of town.
And business bores me. I don't understand it. I am not clever at it. But
it is not worth while to call it a worry. By-and-by they will come back,
and I shall be free.'

When he said this he really believed it, not being then fully aware of
the tormenting power of the destruction which was about to overwhelm
him. He thought the other directors would come back from their holidays,
and that he himself would be able to plunge back into that abyss of
ignorance which was bliss. But Helen did not believe it: not from any
true perception of the state of affairs, but because she could not
believe it was business at all that troubled him. Was Robert the kind of
man to be disturbed about business? He who cared nothing for it but as a
means, who liked money's worth, not money, whose mind was diametrically
opposite to all the habits and traditions of trade? She would as soon
have believed that her cousin Reginald Burton would be disturbed by a
criticism or troubled to get a true balance of light and shade. No, it
was not that. It was some _real_ trouble which she did not know of,
something that struck deeper than business, and was more important than
anything that belonged to bank or market. Such were Helen's
thoughts,--they are the thoughts that come most natural to a
woman,--that he had been betrayed into some wrong-doing or inadvertent
vice--that he had been tempted, and somehow gone astray. This, because
it was so much more terrible than anything about business, was the
bugbear that haunted her. It was to save her pain, as he thought, that
poor Robert kept his secret from her. He did as so many men do, thinking
it kindness; and thus left her with a host of horrible surmises to fight
against, any one of which was (to her) harder than the truth. There is
no way in which men, in their ignorance, inflict more harm upon women
than this way. Helen watched in her fear and ignorance with a zealous
eagerness that never lost a word, and gave exaggerated importance to
many an idle incident. She was doubly roused by her fear of the
something coming, against which her defences would not stand, and by her
absolute uncertainty what this something was. The three weeks her
husband was in town by himself were like three years to her. Not that a
shade of jealousy or doubt of his love to herself ever crossed her mind.
She was too pure-minded, too proud, to be jealous. But something had
come on him, some old trouble out of the past--some sudden horrible
temptation; something, in short, which he feared to tell her. That money
could be the cause of it, never crossed her thoughts.

And when she went home, things were no better; the house looked bare to
her--she could not tell why. It was more than a month before she found
out that the Botticelli was gone, which was the light of her husband's
eyes; and that little Madonna of the Umbrian school, which he delighted
to think Raphael must have had some hand in, in his youth. This
discovery startled her much; but worse had come before she made sure of
that. The absence of the pictures was bewildering, but still more so was
the change in her husband's habits. He would get up early, breakfast
hurriedly before she had come down, and go out, leaving a message with
the servants. Sometimes he went without breakfast. He avoided her,
avoided the long evening talks they had loved, and even avoided her eye,
lest she should read more in his face than he meant her to see. All this
was terrible to Helen. The fears that overwhelmed her were ridiculous,
no doubt; but amid the darkness and tragic gloom which surrounded her,
what was she to think? Things she had read in books haunted her;
fictitious visions which at this touch of personal alarm began to look
real. She thought he might have to bribe some one who knew some early
secret in his life, or some secret that was not his--something that
belonged to his friends. Oh, if he would but tell her! She could bear
anything--she could forgive the past, whatever it might be. She had no
bitterness in her feelings towards her husband. She used to sit for
hours together in his deserted studio, imagining scenes in which she
found out, or he was driven to confide to her, this mystery; scenes of
anguish, yet consolation. The studio became her favourite haunt. Was it
possible that she had once entered it with languid interest, and been
sensible of nothing but disappointment when she saw him working with his
heart in his work? She would go all round it now, making her little
comment upon every picture. She would have given everything she had in
the world to see him back there, painting those pictures with which she
had been so dissatisfied--the Francesca, which still stood on its easel
unfinished; the sketches of herself which she had once been so impatient
of. The Francesca still stood there behind backs; but most of the others
had been cleared away, and stood in little stacks against the walls. The
place was so orderly that it went to her heart to see it; nothing had
been done, nothing disturbed, for weeks, perhaps months; the housemaid
was free to go and come as if it had been a common parlour. All this was
terribly sad to the painter's wife. The spring was coming on before she
found the two sketches which afterwards she held so dearly. They
bewildered her still more, and filled her with a thousand fears. One
represented a pilgrim on a hilly road, in the twilight of a spring
evening. Everything was soft in this picture, clear sky and twinkling
stars above; a quiet rural path over the grass; but just in front of the
pilgrim, and revealing his uplifted hands and horror-stricken
countenance, the opening of a glowing horrible cavern--the mouth of
Hell. The other was more mysterious still. It was a face full of anguish
and love, with two clasped hands, looking up from the depths of a cave
or well, to one blue spot of sky, one star that shone far above. Helen
did not know what these sketches meant; but they made her shiver with
wonder and apprehension. They were all that he had done this year.

And then something else, of a different kind, came in to bewilder her.
Robert, who avoided her, who of evenings no longer talked over his
affairs with her, and who probably had forgotten all her wants, let the
quarter-day pass without supplying her, as he was in the habit of doing.
So great a host of fears and doubts were between the two, that Helen did
not remind him of his negligence. It pained her, but in a degree so
different. What did that matter? But time went on, and it began to
matter. She took her own little dividends, and kept silence; making what
use of them she could to fill up the larger wants. She was as timid of
speaking to him on this subject as if she had been a young girl. He had
never obliged her to do so. She had been the general treasurer of the
household in the old days; and even in recent times, he, who was so
proud of his wife, had taken care to keep her always supplied with what
she wanted. She never had needed to go to him to ask money, and she did
not know how to begin. Thus they both went their different way;
suffering, perhaps, about equally. His time seemed to himself to be
spent in a feverish round of interviews with people who could supply
money, or wildly signing his name to papers which he scarcely
understood--to bills which he could never dream of paying; they would be
paid somehow when the time came, or they could be renewed, or something
would be done, he was told. He had carried everything he could make
money by away before this time; the title-deeds of his house, his
pictures, even, and--this was done with a very heavy heart--his policies
of life insurance. Everything was gone. Events went faster as the crisis
approached, and Drummond became conscious of little more than his wife's
pale face wondering at him, with questioning eyes more pathetic than
words, and Golden's face encouraging, or trying to encourage. Between
the two was a wild abyss of work, of despair, of tiding over. Every
escape more hairbreadth than the last! The wild whirl growing wilder!
the awful end, ruin and fell destruction, coming nearer and more near!

It happened at length that Helen one day, in desperation, broke the
silence. She came before him when he was on his way out, and asked him
to wait, in a hollow voice.

'I don't want to trouble you,' she said, 'since you will not trust me,
Robert. I have been trying not to harass you more; but--I have no money
left--I am getting into debt--the servants want their wages. Robert--I
thought you had forgotten--perhaps----'

He stood and looked at her for a moment, with his hat in his hand,
ready to go out. How pale he was! How the lines had contracted in his
face! He looked at her, trying to be calm. And then, as he stood,
suddenly burst, without warning, into momentary terrible tears, of a
passion she could not understand.

'Robert! oh, what is the matter?' she cried, throwing her arms round
him. He put his head down on her shoulder, and held her fast, and
regained control over himself, holding her to him as if she had been
something healing. In her great wonder and pity she raised his head with
her hands, and gazed wistfully into his face through her tears. 'Is it
money?' she cried, with a great load taken off her heart. 'Oh, Robert,
tell me! Is that all?'

'All!' he said: 'my God!' and then kissed her passionately, and put her
away from him. 'To-morrow,' he said hoarsely, 'perhaps--I hope--I will
tell you everything to-morrow.' He did not venture to look at her again.
He went out straight, without turning to the right or left. 'The end
must be near now,' he said to himself audibly, as he went out like a
blind man. To-morrow! Would to-morrow ever come? 'The end must be near
now.'

The end was nearer than he thought. When he reached the bank he found
everything in disorder. Mr Golden was not there, nor any one who could
give information to the panic-stricken inquirers who were pouring in. It
was said the manager had absconded. Rivers's was at an end. For the
first ten minutes after Drummond heard the news that awaited him, it was
almost a relief to know that the worst had come.



CHAPTER X.


It was a relief for ten minutes, as every catastrophe is; the terrible
suspense is cut short--the worst at least is known. But after those ten
minutes are over, when the reality suddenly seizes upon the
sufferer--when all the vague speechless terrors which he had pushed off
from him, with the hope that they might never come, arrive in a flood,
and place themselves in one frightful circle round him, like furies,
only not merciful enough to have a Medusa among them to freeze him into
stone; when every shadowy, gloomy prevision of evil which ever flashed
across his mind, to be put away with a shudder, returns with the right
of fact, to remain; when not only that thing has happened which has been
his dread by day and the horror of his dreams, but a host of other
things, circumstances which penetrate to every detail of his life, and
affect every creature and every thing he loves, have followed in its
train--when all this rushes upon a man after the first tranquillising
stupor of despair, who or what is there that can console him? Poor
Drummond was helpless in the midst of this great crash of ruin; he was
so helpless that the thunder-stricken shareholders and excited clerks
who had fallen upon him at first as the only authority to be found, let
him slip from among them, hopeless of any help from him. They had driven
him wild with questions and appeals--him, a poor fellow who could
explain nothing, who had never been of much use except to denude himself
of everything he possessed, and pledge his humble name, and be swept
into ruin; but they soon saw the uselessness of the appeal. As soon as
he could disengage himself he stole away, drawing his hat over his eyes,
feeling as if he were a criminal, with the sensation as of a hot fire
burning in his heart, and buzzing and crackling in his ears. Was he a
criminal? was it his doing? He was stunned by this terrible calamity;
and yet, now that it had come, he felt that he had known it was coming,
and everything about it, all his life. His whole existence had tended to
this point since he was a boy; he knew it, he felt it, he even seemed
to remember premonitions of it, which had come to him in his dreams
from his earliest days. He went out into the streets in that dumb
quiescent state which is so often the first consequence of a great
calamity. He offered no remonstrance against his fate. He did not even
say to himself that it was hard. He said nothing to himself, indeed,
except to croon over, like a chorus, one endless refrain, 'I knew this
was how it would be!'

He wandered along, not knowing where he went, till he came to the river,
and paused there, looking over the bridge. He did not even know what
made him pause, until all at once the fancy jumped into his brain that
it would be best to stop there, and cut in one moment the knotted,
tangled thread which it was certain no effort of his could ever unravel.
He stopped, and the suggestion flashed across him (whether out of his
own mind, whether thrown at him by some mocking demon, who could tell?),
and then shook his head sadly. No; it was broad day, and there would be
a commotion, and he would be rescued--or if not, he, at least his body,
would be rescued and carried to Helen, giving her a last association
with him which it was insupportable to think of. No, no, he said to
himself with a shudder, not now. Just then a hand was laid upon his
shoulder; he turned round with the start of a man who feels that
nothing is impossible, that everything that is terrible has become
likely. Had it been a policeman to arrest him for having murdered
somebody he would scarcely have been surprised. But it was not a
policeman: it was Mr Burton, fresh and clean and nicely dressed, newly
come up from the country, in his light summer clothes, the image of
prosperity, and comfort, and cleanliness, and self-satisfaction. A
certain golden atmosphere surrounded the man of wealth, like the
background on which early painters set a saint; but there was nothing
saintly about that apparition. Poor Drummond fell back more than he
would have done had it been an arrest for murder. He gave an involuntary
glance at himself, feeling in contrast with Mr Burton, as if he must
look to the external eye the beggar he was, as if he must be dirty,
tattered, miserable, with holes in his shoes and rags at his elbows.
Perhaps his woebegone, excited face startled the smooth Philistine at
his side as much as if those outward signs of wretchedness had been
there.

'Good God, what have you been doing with yourself?' he cried.

'Nothing,' said Drummond vaguely, and then by degrees his senses
returned to him. 'If you had been in town yesterday you might have
helped us; but it does not matter. Shenken in Liverpool stopped payment
yesterday,' he went on, repeating drearily the dreary legend which he
had heard at the bank. 'And Rivers's--has stopped payment too.'

'Good God!' said Mr Burton again. It was a shock to him, as every event
is when it comes. But he was not surprised. As for Robert, it did not
occur to him to consider whether the other was surprised or not, or to
be curious how it affected him. He turned his head away and looked at
the river again. What attraction there remained for him in this world
seemed to lie there.

'Drummond,' said the merchant, looking at him with a certain alarm, 'are
you sure you know what you are saying? My God! Rivers's stopped payment!
if you had said there had been an earthquake in London it would scarcely
be as bad as that.'

Robert did not make any reply. He nodded his head without looking round.
What interested him was something black which kept appearing and
disappearing in the middle of the turbid muddy stream. It was like a
man's head, he thought, and almost felt that he might have taken the
plunge without knowing it, and that it might be himself.

'I have felt this was coming,' said Burton. 'I warned Golden you were
going on in the wildest way. What could be expected when you fellows who
know nothing about money would interfere? Good heavens! to think what a
business that was; and all ruined in three years! Drummond! are you mad?
Can't you turn round and speak to me? I am one of the shareholders, and
I have a right to be answered how it was.'

'Shall you lose much?' said Drummond dreamily, and he turned round
without meaning anything and looked in his companion's face. His action
was simply fantastical, one of those motiveless movements which the sick
soul so often makes; but it was quite unexpected by the other, who fell
a step back, and grew red all over, and faltered in his reply.

'Much? I--I--don't know--what you call much. Good heavens, Drummond! are
you mad? have you been drinking? Where is Golden?--he at least must know
what he is about!'

'Yes,' said the painter fiercely, 'Golden knows what he is about--he has
gone off, out of reach of questions--and you--oh--hound!' He gave a
sudden cry and made a step forward. A sudden light seemed to burst upon
him. He gazed with his dilated bloodshot eyes at the flushed countenance
which could not face him. The attitude of the two men was such that the
bystanders took note of it; two or three lingered and looked round
holding themselves in readiness to interfere. The slight figure of the
painter, his ghastly pale face and trembling hand, made him no
antagonist for the burly well-to-do merchant; but English sentiment is
always on the side of the portly and respectable, and Mr Burton had an
unmistakable air of fright upon his face. 'Now, Drummond!--now,
Drummond!' he said, with a certain pleading tone. The painter stood
still, feeling as if a horrible illumination had suddenly flashed upon
the man before him, and the history of their intercourse. He did in that
moment of his despair what he could not have done with his ordinary
intelligence. He made a rapid summary of the whole and saw how it was.
Had he been happy, he would have been too friendly, too charitable, too
kind in his thoughts to have drawn such a conclusion. But at this moment
he had no time for anything but the terrible truth.

'I see it all,' he said. 'I see it all! It was ruined when you gave it
over to us. I see it in every line of your face. Oh, hound! hounds all
of you! skulking, dastardly demons, that kill a crowd of honest men to
save yourselves--your miserable selves. I see it all!'

'Drummond! I tell you you are mad!'

'Hound!' said Robert again between his clenched teeth. He stood looking
at him for a moment with his hands clenched too, and a sombre fire in
his eyes. Whether he might have been led into violence had he stood
there a moment longer it would be impossible to say. But all the habits
of his life were against it, and his very despair restrained him. When
he had stood there for a second, he turned round suddenly on his heel
without any warning, and almost knocking down a man who was keeping
warily behind him ready for any emergency, went away in the opposite
direction without saying a word. Burton stood still gazing after him
with a mixture of consternation and concern, and something very like
hatred. But his face changed when the spectators drew round him to
wonder and question. 'Something wrong with that poor gentleman, I fear,
sir,' said one. Mr Burton put on a look of regret, sighed deeply, put
his hand to his forehead, shook his head, murmured--'Poor fellow!'
and--walked away. What could he do? He was not his brother's keeper,
much less was he responsible for his cousin's husband--the paltry
painter-fellow she had preferred to _him_. What would Helen think of her
bargain now? Mad or drunk, it did not matter which--a pleasant companion
for a woman. He preferred to think of this for the moment, rather than
of the other question, which was in reality so much more important.
Rivers's! Thank heaven he was no money loser, no more than was
respectable. He had seen what was coming. Even to himself, this was all
that Mr Burton said. He hurried on, however, to learn what people were
saying of it, with more anxiety in his mind than seemed necessary. He
went to the bank itself with the air of a man going to a funeral. 'The
place I have known so long!' he said to another mournful victim who had
appeared on the field of the lost battle, but who was not mad like
Robert. 'And to think that Golden should have betrayed your confidence!
A man I have known since he was _that_ height--a man I could have
answered for with my life!'

Meanwhile Drummond strayed on he knew not where. He went back into the
City, into the depths of those lanes and narrow streets which he had
left so lately, losing himself in a bewildering maze of warehouse walls
and echoing traffic. Great waggons jammed him up against the side, loads
dangled over his head that would have crushed him in a moment, open
cellars yawned for his unsteady feet; but he walked as safe through all
those perils as if he had borne a charmed life, though he neither looked
nor cared where he was going. His meeting with Burton was forced out of
his mind in a few minutes as if it had not been. For the moment it had
startled him into mad excitement; but so strong was the stupor of his
despair, that in five minutes it was as if it had never been. For hours
he kept wandering round and round the scene of his ruin, coming and
going in a circle, as if his feet were fast and he could not escape. It
had been morning when he left his house. It was late afternoon when he
got back. Oh why was it summer and the days so long? if only that
scorching sun would have set and darkness fallen over the place. He
stole in under cover of the lilac trees, which had grown so big and
leafy, and managed to glide down the side-way to the garden and get to
the studio door, which he could open with his key. He had been doing
nothing but think--think--all the time; but 'now, at least, I shall
have time to think,' he said to himself, as he threw himself down on a
chair close to the door--the nearest seat--it no longer mattered where
he placed himself or how. He sat huddled up against the wall as
sometimes a poor model did, waiting wistfully to know if he was
wanted,--some poor wretch to whom a shilling was salvation. This fancy,
with a thousand others equally inappropriate, flashed across his mind as
he sat there, still with his hat pulled down on his brows in the sunny
luxurious warmth of the afternoon. The mere atmosphere, air, and sky,
and sunshine would have been paradise to the artist in the poorest time
he had ever known before, but they did not affect him now. He sat there
in his stupor for perhaps an hour, not even able to rouse himself so far
as to shut the door of communication into the conservatory, through
which he heard now and then the softened stir of the household. He might
have been restored to the sense of life and its necessities, might have
been brought back out of the delirium of his ruin at that moment, had
any one in the house known he was there. Helen was in the drawing-room,
separated from him only by that flowery passage which he had made for
her, to tempt her to visit him at his work. She was writing notes,
inviting some half-dozen people to dinner, as had been arranged between
them, but with a heavy and anxious heart, full of misgiving. She had
risen from her writing table three or four times to go to the window and
look out for her husband, wondering why he should be so long of
coming--while he sat so near her. Mrs Drummond's heart was very heavy.
She did not understand what he said to her in the morning--could not
imagine how it could be. It must be a temporary cloud, a failure of some
speculation, something unconnected with the ordinary course of life, she
said to herself. Money!--he was not a business man--it could not be
money. If it was only money, why that was nothing. Such was the course
of her thoughts. And she paused over her invitations, wondering was it
right to give them if Robert had been losing money. But they were old
friends whom she was inviting--only half a dozen people--and it was for
his birthday. She had just finished the last note, when Norah came
dancing into the room, claiming her mother's promise to go out with her;
and after another long gaze from her window, Helen made up her mind to
go. It was her voice speaking to the maid which roused Robert. 'If Mr
Drummond comes in before I return,' he heard her say, 'tell him I shall
not be long. I am going with Miss Norah to the gardens for an hour, and
then to ask for Mr Haldane; but I shall be back by half-past six.' He
heard the message--he for whom it was intended--and rose up softly and
went to his studio window, and peeped stealthily out to watch them as
they went away. Norah came first, with a skip and gambol, and then
Helen. His wife gave a wistful look back at the house as she opened the
little gate under the leafy dusty lilacs. Was it with some premonition
of what she should find when she came back? He hid himself so that he
could not be seen, and gazed at the two, feeling as if that moment was
all that life had yet to give him. It was his farewell look. His wife
and child disappeared, and he could hear their footsteps outside on the
pavement going farther and farther away on their harmless, unimportant
walk, while he----He woke up as if it had been out of sleep or out of a
trance. She would return by half-past six, and it was now approaching
five. For all he had to do there was so little, so very little time.

So he said to himself, and yet when he said it he had no clear idea what
he was going to do. He had not only to do it, whatever it was, but to
make up his mind, all in an hour and a half; and for the first five
minutes of that little interval he was like a man dreaming, stretching
out his hands to catch any straw, trying to believe he might yet be
saved. Could he leave them--those two who had just left the door--to
struggle through the rest of life by themselves? Helen was just over
thirty, and her daughter nearly twelve. It was a mature age for a woman;
but yet for a woman who has been protected and taken care of all her
life, how bitter a moment to be left alone!--the moment when life is at
its fullest, demands most, feels most warmly, and has as yet given up
nothing. Helen had had no training to teach her that happiness was not
her right. She had felt it to be her right, and her whole soul rose up
in rebellion against any infringement of that great necessity of being.
How was she to live when all was taken from her, even the support of her
husband's arm? Robert had never known so much of his wife's character
before, but in this awful moment it became clear to him as by an
inspiration. How was she to bear it? Credit, honour, money, living--and
her husband, too, who could still work for her, shield her. He went to
his easel and uncovered the half-finished picture on it, and gazed at it
with something that was in reality a dumb appeal to the dumb canvas to
help him. But it did not help him. On the contrary, it brought suddenly
up before him his work of the past, his imperfect successes, and Helen's
kind, veiled, hidden, but unconcealable dissatisfaction. The look of
suppressed pain in her face, the subdued tone, the soft languid praise
of some detail or accessory, the very look of her figure when she turned
away from it, came all before him. Her habit was, when she turned away,
to talk to him of other things. How clearly that oft-repeated scene came
before him in his despair! She was dutiful, giving him her attention
conscientiously as long as was needful; but when he fell back into the
fond babble of the maker, and tried to interest her in some bit of
drapery, or effect of light, or peculiarity of grouping, she would
listen to him sweetly, and--change the subject as soon as possible. It
all returned to him--he remembered even the trivial little words she had
spoken, the languid air of half fatigue which would come over her.
That--along with the meagrest poverty, the hardest homely struggles for
daily bread. Could she bear to go back to it? She would lose everything,
the house and all that was in it, everything that could be called hers
or supposed hers. The only thing that could not be taken from her would
be her £100 a year, her little fortune which was settled on her. 'They
could live on that,' poor Drummond went on in his dreary miserable
thoughts. 'They could exist, it is possible, better without me than with
me. Would they be happier to have me in prison, disgraced, and
dishonoured, a drag hanging about their neck--or to hear the worst at
once, to know that everything was over, that at least their pittance
would be theirs, and their peace respected? Everything would be over.
Nobody could have any pretext for annoying her about it. They would be
sorry for her--even they would be sorry for me. My policies would go to
make up something--to clear my name a little. And they would let her
alone. She could go to the country. She is so simple in her real tastes.
They could live on what she has, if they were only rid of me.' A sigh
that was almost a sob interrupted him in his musing. He was so worn out;
and was it the grave-chill that was invading him already and making him
shiver? He took the canvas on the easel and held it up to the light.
'The drawing is good enough,' he said to himself, 'it is not the
drawing. She always owns that. It is--something else. And how can I tell
after this that I could even draw? I could not now, if I were to try.
My hand shakes like an old man's. I might fall ill like poor Haldane!
Ah, my God!' The canvas fell out of his hands upon the floor--a sudden
spasm contracted his heart. Haldane! It was the first time that day that
he had thought of him. His ruin would be the ruin of his friend too--his
friend who was helpless, sick, and yet the support of others. 'Oh, my
God, my God!' he wailed with a cry of despair.

And there was no one near to hear him, no one to defend him from himself
and from the devil, to lay hands upon him, to bid him live and hope and
work, and help them to exist whom he had helped to ruin. He was left all
alone in that moment of his agony. God, to whom he had appealed, was
beyond the clouds, beyond that which is more unfathomable than any
cloud, the serene, immeasurable, impenetrable blue, and held out no
hand, sent no voice of comfort. The man fell down where his work had
fallen, prone upon the ground, realising in a moment all the misery of
the years that were to come. And it was his doing, his doing!--though
consciously he would have given himself to be cut to pieces, would have
toiled his life out, to make it up now to his friend,--how much more to
his wife! What passed in his mind in that awful interval is not to be
told. It was the supreme struggle between life and despair, and it was
despair that won. When he rose up his face was like the face of an old
man, haggard and furrowed with deep lines. He stood still for a moment,
looking round him vaguely, and then made a little pilgrimage round the
room, looking at everything, with a motive, without a motive, who can
tell? his whole faculties absorbed in the exaltation, and bewildering,
sombre excitement of such a crisis as can come but once to any man. Then
he sat down at his writing-table, and sought out some letter-paper
(there were so many scraps of drawing-paper that came first to hand),
and slowly wrote a few lines. He had to search for a long time before he
could find an envelope to enclose this, and his time was getting short.
At last he put it up, and, after another pause, stole through the
conservatory, walking stealthily like a thief, and placed the white
envelope on a little crimson table, where it shone conspicuous to
everybody who should enter. He did more than that; he went and bent over
the chair which Helen had pushed away when she rose from it--the chair
she always sat on--and kissed it. There was a little bright-coloured
handkerchief lying on the sofa, which was Norah's. He took that up and
kissed it too, and thrust it into his breast. Did he mean to carry it
with him into the dark and silent country where he was going? God knows
what was the thought in his mind. The pretty clock on the mantelpiece
softly chimed the quarter as he did this, and he started like a thief.
Then he took an old great-coat from the wall, an old travelling hat,
which hung beside it, and went back to the studio. There was no more
time for thought. He went out, leaving the door unlocked, brushing
stealthily through the lilacs. The broad daylight played all around him,
revealing him to every one, showing to the world how he stole away out
of his own house. He had put up the collar of his coat and drawn his hat
down over his brows to disguise himself in case he met any one he knew.
Any one he knew! It was in case he met his wife, to whom he had just
said farewell for ever, and his child, whose little kerchief he was
going to take with him into this dismal ruin, into the undiscovered
world.

All this might have been changed had he met them; and they were crossing
the next street coming home, Helen growing more and more anxious as they
approached the door. Had he been going out about some simple everyday
business, of course they would have met; but not now, when it might
have saved one life from destruction and another from despair. He had
watched for a moment to make sure they were not in sight before he went
out; and the servants had caught a glimpse of a man whom they did not
recognise hiding among the bushes, and were frightened; so, it turned
out afterwards, had various other passers-by. But Drummond saw no
one--no one. The multitudes in the noisier streets upon which he emerged
after a while, were nothing to him. They pushed against him, but he did
not see them; the only two figures he could have seen were henceforward
to be invisible to him for ever.

For ever! for ever! Was it for ever? Would this crime he was about to
commit, this last act of supreme rebellion against the will of that God
to whom he seemed to have appealed in vain, would it sever him from them
not only in this world, but in the world to come? Should he have to gaze
upward, like poor Dives, and see, in the far serene above him, these two
walking in glory and splendour, who were no longer his? perhaps
surrounded by angels, stately figures of the blessed, without a thought
to spare in the midst of that glory for the poor soul who perished for
love of them. Could that be true? Was it damnation as well as death he
was going to face? Was it farewell for ever, and ever, and ever?

So the awful strain ran on, buzzing in his ears, drowning for him the
voices of the crowd--for ever, for ever, for ever. Dives forlorn and far
away--and up, up high in the heavens, blazing above him, like a star--

Like that star in the soft sky of the evening which came out first and
shone down direct upon him in his wretchedness. How it shone! How she
shone!--was it she?--as it grew darker drawing a silver line for him
upon the face of the darkening water. Was that to be the spot? But it
took years to get dark that night. He lived and grew old while he was
waiting thus to die. At last there was gloom enough. He got a boat, and
rowed it out to that white glistening line, the line that looked like a
silver arrow, shining where the spot was--

The boat drifted ashore that night as the tide fell. In that last act,
at least, Nature helped him to be honest, poor soul!



CHAPTER XI.


'The studio door is open, mamma,' said little Norah dancing in before
her mother, through the lilac bushes. The words seemed to take a weight
off Helen's heart.

'Then papa must have come in,' she said, and ran up the steps to the
door, which was opened before she could knock by an anxious,
half-frightened maid. 'Mr Drummond has come in?' she said, in her
anxiety, hasting to pass Jane, who held fast by the door.

'No, ma'am, please, ma'am; but Rebecca and me see a man about not five
minutes ago, and I can't find master's topcoat as was a-hanging in the
hall--Rebecca says, ma'am, as she thought she see--'

'Papa has not been home after all,' Helen said to her little daughter;
'perhaps Mr Drummond wore his great-coat last night, Jane. Never mind
just now; he will tell us when he comes in.'

'But I see the man, and George was out, as he always is when he's
wanted. Me and Rebecca--' said Jane.

'Never mind just now,' said Helen languidly. She went into the
drawing-room with the load heavier than ever on her heart. What could
have kept him so long? What could be making him so miserable? Oh, how
cruel, cruel it was not to know! She sat down with a heart like lead on
that chair which poor Robert had kissed--not fifteen minutes since, and
he was scarcely out of reach now.

'Oh, mamma,' cried Norah, moving about with a child's curiosity; 'here
is a letter for you on the little red table. It is so funny, and
blurred, and uneven. I can write better than that--look! isn't it from
papa?'

Helen had not paid much attention to what the child said, but now she
started up and stretched out her hand. The name on the outside was
scarcely legible, it was blurred and uneven, as Norah said; and it was
very clear to see, could only be a message of woe. But her worst fears,
miserable as she felt, had not approached the very skirts of the misery
that now awaited her. She tore the envelope open, with her heart
beating loud in her ears, and her whole body tingling with agitation.
And this was what she read:--

    'MY HELEN, MY OWN HELEN,--I have nothing in the world to do now but
    to bid you good-bye. I have ruined you, and more than you. If I
    lived I should only be a disgrace and a burden, and your little
    money that you have will support you by yourself. Oh, my love, to
    think I should leave you like this! I who have loved you so. But I
    have never been good enough for you. When you are an angel in
    heaven, if you see me among the lost, oh, bestow a little pity upon
    me, my Helen! I shall never see you again, but as Dives saw Lazarus.
    Oh, my wife, my baby, my own, you will be mine no longer; but have a
    little pity upon me! Give me one look, Helen, out of heaven.

    'I am not mad, dear. I am doing it knowing it will be for the best.
    God forgive me if I take it upon me to know better than Him. It is
    not presumption, and perhaps He may know what I mean, though even
    you don't know. Oh my own, my darlings, my only ones--good-bye,
    good-bye!'

There was no name signed, no stops to make the sense plain. It was
written as wildly as it had been conceived; and Helen, in her terrible
excitement, did not make out at first what it could mean. What could it
mean? where was he going? The words about Dives and Lazarus threw no
light upon it at first. He had gone away. She gave a cry, and dropped
her hands upon her lap, with the letter in them, and looked round
her--looked at her child, to make sure to herself that she was not
dreaming. Gone away! But where, where, and why this parting? 'I don't
understand it--he has gone and left us,' she said feebly, when Norah, in
her curiosity, came rushing to her to know what it was. 'I don't know
what it means. O God, help us!' she said, with an outburst of miserable
tears. She was confused to the very centre of her being. Where had he
gone?'

'May I read it, mamma?' little Norah asked, with her arms round her
mother's neck.

But Helen had the feeling that it was not fit for the child. 'Run and
ask who brought it,' she said, glad to be alone; and then read over
again, with a mind slowly awakening to its reality, that outburst of
love and despair. The letter shook in her hands, salt tears fell upon it
as she read. 'If I lived:--_I am doing it, knowing._' God, God, what
was it he had gone to do? Just then she heard a noise in the studio, and
starting to her feet rushed to the conservatory door, crying, 'Robert!
Robert!' She was met by Jane and Norah, coming from it; the child was
carrying her father's hat in her arms, with a strange look of wonder and
dismay on her face.

'Mamma, no one brought the letter,' she said in a subdued, horror-struck
tone; 'and here is papa's hat--and the picture is lying dashed down on
the floor with its face against the carpet. It is all spoiled, mamma,'
sobbed little Norah--'papa's picture! and here is his hat. Oh, mamma,
mamma!'

Norah was frightened at her mother's face. She had grown ghastly pale.
'Get me a cab,' she said to the maid, whose curiosity was profoundly
excited. Then she sat down and took her child in her arms. 'Norah, my
darling,' she said, making a pause between every two words, 'something
dreadful has happened. I don't know what. I must go--and see. I must
go--and find him--O my God, where am I to go?'

'And me, too,' said the child, clinging to her fast; 'me, too--let us go
to the City, mamma!'

'Not you, Norah. It will soon be your bedtime. Oh, my pet, go and kneel
down and pray--pray for poor papa.'

'I can pray just as well in the cab,' said Norah; 'God hears all the
same. I am nearly twelve--I am almost grown up. You shall not, shall not
go without me. I will never move nor say a word. I will run up and get
your cloak and mine. We'll easily find him. He never would have the
heart to go far away from you and me.'

'He never would have the heart,' Helen murmured the words over after
her. Surely not. Surely, surely, he would not have the heart! His
resolution would fail. How could he go and leave the two whom he loved
best--the two whom alone he loved in this world. 'Run, then, dear, and
get your cloak,' she said faintly. The child seemed a kind of anchor to
her, holding her to something, to some grasp of solid earth. They drove
off in a few minutes, Norah holding fast her mother's hand. They
overtook, if they had but known it, and passed in the crowd, the
despairing man they sought; and he with his dim eyes saw the cab driving
past, and wondered even who was in it--some other sufferer, in the
madness of excitement or despair. How was he to know it was his wife and
child? They drove to the City, but found no one there. They went to his
club, to one friend's house after another, to the picture-dealers, to
the railway stations. There, two or three bystanders had seen such a
man, and he had gone to Brighton, to Scotland, to Paris, they said.
Coming home, they drove over the very bridge where he had been standing
waiting for the dark. It was dark by that time, and Helen's eye caught
the line of light on the water, with that intuitive wish so common to a
painter's wife, that Robert had seen it. Ah, good Lord! he had seen and
more than seen. The summer night was quite dark when they got home.
Those gleams of starlight were lost in clouds, and all was gloom about
the pretty house. Instead of the usual kindly gleam from the windows,
nothing was visible as they drew up to the door but the light of a
single candle which showed its solitary flame through the bare window of
the dining-room. No blind was drawn, or curtain closed, and like the
taper of a watcher shone this little miserable light. It chilled Helen
in her profound discouragement and fatigue, and yet it gave her a
forlorn hope that perhaps he had come. Norah had fallen fast asleep
leaning against her. It was all she could do to wake the child as they
approached the door; and Jane came out to open the gate with a scared
face. 'No, ma'am, master's never been back,' she answered to Helen's
eager question; but Dr Maurice, he's here.'

Mrs Drummond put Norah into the woman's arms, and rushed into the house.
Dr Maurice met her with a face almost as white as her own, and took her
hands compassionately. 'You have heard from him? What have you heard?
where is he?' said poor Helen.

'Hush, hush!' he said, 'perhaps it is not so bad as it appears. I don't
understand it. Rest a little, and I will show you what he has written to
me.'

'I cannot rest,' she said; 'how can I rest when Robert----Let me see it.
Let me see it. I am sure to understand what he means. He never had any
secrets before. Oh, show it me--show it me!--am not I his wife?'

'Poor wife, poor wife!' said the compassionate doctor, and then he put
her into an easy-chair and went and asked for some wine. 'I will show it
you only when you have drank this,' he said; 'only when you have heard
what I have to say. Drummond is very impulsive you know. He might not do
really as he said. A hundred things would come in to stop him when he
had time to think. His heart has been broken by this bank business; but
when he felt that it was understood he was not to blame----'

'Give me your letter,' she said, holding out her hand to him. She was
capable of no more.

'He would soon find that out,' said the doctor. 'Who could possibly
blame _him_? My dear Mrs Drummond, you must take this into account. You
must not give him up at once. I have set on foot all sorts of
inquiries----'

'The letter, the letter!' she said hoarsely, holding out her hand.

He was obliged to yield to her at last, but not without the
consciousness which comforted him that she had heard a great deal of
what he had to say. She had not listened voluntarily; but still she had
not been able to keep herself from hearing. This was not much comfort to
poor Helen, but it was to him. He had made her swallow the wine too; he
had done his best for her; and now he could but stand by mournfully
while she read her sentence, the words which might be death.

       *       *       *       *       *

'Maurice, I want you to go to my wife. Before you get this, or at least
before you have got to her, I shall be dead. It's a curious thing to
say, but it's true. There has been a great crash at the bank, and I am
ruined and all I care for. If I lived I could do no good, only harm;
but they will be sorry for her if I die. I have written to her, poor
darling, to tell her; but I want you to go and stand by her. She'll want
some one; and kiss the child for me. If they find me, bury me anywhere.
I hope they will never find me, though, for Helen's sake. And poor
Haldane. Tell him I knew nothing of it; nothing, nothing! I would have
died sooner than let them risk his money. God help us, and God forgive
me! Maurice, you are a good fellow; be kind to my poor wife.'

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a postscript which nobody read or paid any attention to: that
is to say, they read it and it died from their minds for the moment as
if it meant nothing. It was this, written obliquely like an
after-thought--

'_The bank was ruined from the first; there was never a chance for us. I
found this out only to-day. Burton and Golden have done it all._'

These were the words that Helen read, with Dr Maurice standing
mournfully behind watching her every movement. She kept staring at the
letter for a long time, and then fell back with a hysterical sob, but
without any relief of tears. Dr Maurice stood by her as his friend had
asked him. He soothed her, adding every possible reason he could think
of (none of which he himself believed in the smallest degree) to show
that 'poor Drummond' might change his mind. This was written in the
first impulse of despair, but when he came to think----Helen did not
listen; but she heard what Dr Maurice said vaguely, and she heard his
account of what he had done; he had given information at once to the
police; he had engaged people everywhere to search and watch. News would
be heard of him to-morrow certainly, if not to-night. Helen rose while
he was speaking. She collected herself and restrained herself, exerting
all the strength she possessed. 'Will you come with me?' she said.

'Where? where? Mrs Drummond, I entreat you to believe I have done
everything----'

'Oh, I am sure of it!' she said faintly; 'but I must go. I
cannot--cannot rest. I must go somewhere--anywhere--where he may have
gone----'

'But, Mrs Drummond----'

'You are going to say I have been everywhere. So we have, Norah and
I--she fell asleep at last, poor child--she does not need me--I must
go----'

'It is getting late,' he said; 'it is just ten; if news were to come you
would not like to be out of the way. Stay here and rest, and I will go
to-morrow; you will want all your strength.'

'I want it all now,' she said, with a strange smile. 'Who thinks of
to-morrow? it may never, never come. It may----You are very kind--but I
cannot rest.'

She was in the cab again before he could say another word. But
fortunately at that moment one of his messengers came in hot haste to
say that they thought they had found some trace of 'the gentleman.' He
had come off to bring the news, and probably by this time the others
were on their way bringing him home. This intelligence furnished Maurice
with a weapon against Helen. She allowed herself to be led into the
house again, not believing it, feeling in her heart that her husband
would never be brought back, yet unable to resist the reasonable
conclusion that she must stay to receive him. The short summer darkness
passed over her thus; the awful dawn came and looked her in the face.
One of the maids sat up, or rather dozed in her chair in the kitchen,
keeping a fire alight in case anything might be wanted. And Helen sat
and listened to every sound; sat at the window gazing out, hearing
carriage wheels and footsteps miles off, as it seemed to her, and now
and then almost deceived into hope by the sound of some one returning
from a dance or late party. How strange it seemed to her that life
should be going on in its ordinary routine, and people enjoying
themselves, while she sat thus frozen into desperation, listening for
him who would never come again! Her mind was wandering after him through
every kind of dreadful scene; and yet it was so difficult, so impossible
to associate him with anything terrible. He, always so reasonable, so
tender of others, so free from selfish folly. The waking of the new day
stole upon the watcher before she was aware; those sounds which are so
awful in their power, which show how long it is since last night, how
life has gone on, casting aside old burdens, taking on new ones. It was
just about ten o'clock, when the morning was at its busiest outside, and
Helen, refusing to acknowledge the needs of the new day, still sat at
the window watching, with eyes that were dry and hot and bloodshot, with
the room all in mournful disorder round her, when Dr Maurice's brougham
drew up to the door. He sprang out of it, carrying a coat on his arm; a
rough fellow in a blue Jersey and sailor's hat followed him. Maurice
came in with that look so different from the look of anxiety, that
fatal air, subdued and still and certain, which comes only from
knowledge. Whatever might have happened he was in doubt no more.

Helen's long vigil had worn her into that extremity of emotion which can
no longer avail itself of ordinary signs. She had not even risen to meet
the news. She held out her hand feebly, and gave him a piteous look of
inquiry, which her dry lips refused to sound. She looked as if it were
possible that she had grown into an idiot as she sat there. He came
forward to her, and took her hand in his.

'Dear Mrs Drummond,' he said, 'you will need all your courage; you must
not give way; you must think of your child.'

'I know,' she said; her hand dropped out of his as if by its mere
weight. She bowed her head as if to let this great salt bitter wave go
over her--bowed it down till it sank upon her lap hidden in her clasped
hands. There was nothing to be said further, not a word was necessary.
She knew.

And yet there was a story to tell. It was told to her very gently, and
she had to listen to it, with her face hidden in her hands. She
shuddered now and then as she listened. Sometimes a long convulsive sob
escaped her, and shook her whole frame; but she was far beyond the
ordinary relief of weeping. It was poor Robert's coat which Dr Maurice
had brought with him, making all further doubt impossible. The gentleman
had thrown it off when he took that boat at Chelsea. It was too warm, he
said; 'and sure enough it was mortal warm,' the man added who had come
to verify the mournful story. The gentleman had taken a skiff for a row.
It was a clear, beautiful night, and he had been warned to keep out of
the way of steamers and barges. If any harm came to him, the boatman
said, it was not for want of knowing how to manage a boat. The little
skiff had drifted in bottom up, and had been found that morning a mile
down stream. That was all. Jane, who was the housemaid, went away
crying, and drew down all the blinds except that of the room in which
her mistress was. 'Surely missis will have the thought to do that,' she
said. But poor Helen had not the thought.

And thus it all came to an end--their love, their prosperity, and that
mitigated human happiness which they had enjoyed together--happiness not
too perfect, and yet how sweet! Norah still slept through the bright
morning, neglected by her usual attendant, and tired out by her unusual
exertions on the previous night. 'She ought to know,' the maids said to
each other, with that eagerness to make evil tidings known which is so
strangely common; but the old nurse, who loved the child, would not have
her disturbed. It was only when Helen rejected all their entreaties to
lie down and rest that Martin consented to rouse the little girl. She
came down, with her bright hair all about her shoulders, wrapped in a
little white dressing-gown, flying with noiseless bare feet down the
staircase, and, without a word of warning, threw herself upon her
mother. It was not to console her mother, but to seek her own natural
refuge in this uncomprehended calamity. 'Oh, mamma!' said Norah; 'oh,
mamma, mamma!' She could find no other words of consolation. Torrents of
youthful tears gushed from the child's eyes. She wept for both, while
Helen sat tearless. And the blinds were not down nor the shutters closed
in that room, as the servants recollected with horror, and the great
golden light of morn shone in.

Thus they were left undisturbed in the full day, in the sweet sunshine;
scarcely knowing, in the first stupor of misery, how it was that
darkness had gathered in the midst of all their world of light.



CHAPTER XII.


Helen had not remarked that postscript to her husband's letter, but Dr
Maurice had done so, to whom it was addressed; and while she was hiding
her head and bearing the first agony of her grief without thought of
anything remaining that she might yet have to bear, many things had been
going on in the world outside of which Helen knew nothing. Dr Maurice
had been Robert's true friend; and after that mournful morning a day and
night had passed in which he did not know how to take comfort. He had no
way of expressing himself as women have. He could not weep; it even
seemed to him that to close out the cheerful light, as he was tempted to
do (for the sight of all that brightness made his heart sick), would
have been an ostentation of sorrow, a show of sentiment which he had no
right to indulge in. He could not weep, but there was something else he
could do; and that was to sift poor Robert's accusation, if there was
any truth in it; and, if there was, pursue--to he could not tell what
end--the murderers of his friend. It is the old savage way; and Dr
Maurice set his teeth, and found a certain relief in the thought. He lay
down on the sofa in his library, and ordered his servant to close his
doors to all the world, and tried to snatch a little sleep after the
watch of the previous night. But sleep would not come to him. The
library was a large, lofty room, well furnished, and full with books. It
was red curtained and carpeted, and the little bit of the wall which was
not covered with book-cases was red too, red which looked dark and heavy
in the May sunshine, but was very cozy in winter days. The one spot of
brightness in the room was a picture of poor Drummond's--a young
picture, one of those which he was painting while he courted Helen, the
work of youth and love, at a time when the talent in him was called
promise, and that which it promised was genius. This little picture
caught the doctor's eye as he lay on his sofa, resting the weary frame
which had known no rest all night. A tear came as he looked at it--a
tear which flowed back again to its fountain, not being permitted to
fall, but which did him good all the same. 'Poor fellow! he never did
better than that,' Dr Maurice said to himself with a sigh; and then he
closed up his eyes tight, and tried to go to sleep. Half an hour after,
when he opened them again, the picture was once more the first thing he
saw. 'Better!' he said, 'he never did so well. And killed by those
infernal curs!' The doctor took himself off his sofa after this failure.
It was of no use trying to sleep. He gathered his boots from the corner
into which he had hurled them, and drew them on again. He thought he
would go and have a walk. And then he remarked for the first time that
though he had taken his coat off, the rest of his dress was the same as
he had put on last night to go out to dinner. When he went to his room
to change this, the sight of himself in the glass was a wonder to him.
Was that red-eyed, dishevelled man, with glittering studs in his shirt,
and a head heavy with watching and grief--was that the trim and
irreproachable Dr Maurice? He gave a grin of horror and fierce mockery
at himself, and then sat down in his easy-chair, and hid his face in his
hands; and thus, all contorted and doubled up, went to sleep unawares.
He was good for nothing that day.

The next morning, before he could go out, Mr Burton called upon him. He
was the man whom Dr Maurice most wanted to see. Yet he felt himself jump
as he was announced, and knew that in spite of himself his countenance
had changed. Mr Burton came in undisturbed in manner or appearance, but
with a broad black hatband on his hat--a band which his hatter had
assured him was much broader than he had any occasion for--'deep enough
for a brother.' This gave him a certain air of solemnity, as it came in
in front of him. It was 'a mark of respect' which Dr Maurice had not
thought of showing; and Maurice, after poor Haldane, was, as it were,
Robert's next friend.

'I have come to speak to you about poor Drummond,' said Mr Burton,
taking a chair. 'What a terrible business this has been! I met with him
accidentally that morning--the very day it happened. I do not know when
I have had such a shock!'

'You met him on the day he took his life?'

'The day he--died, Dr Maurice. I am his relative, his wife's nearest
friend. Why should we speak so? Let us not be the people to judge him.
He died--God knows how. It is in God's hands.'

'God knows I don't judge him,' said Dr Maurice; and there was a pause.

'I cannot hear that any one saw him later,' said Mr Burton. 'I hear from
the servants at St Mary's Road that he was not there. He talked very
wildly, poor fellow. I almost thought--God forgive me!--that he had been
drinking. It must have been temporary insanity. It is a kind of
consolation to reflect upon that _now_.'

The doctor said nothing. He rustled his papers about, and played
impatiently with the pens and paper-cutter on his table. He bore it all
until his visitor heaved a demonstrative sigh. That he could not bear.

'If you thought he spoke wildly, you might have looked after him a
little,' he said. 'It was enough to make any man look wild; and you, who
knew so well all about it----'

'That is the very thing. I did not know about it. I had been out of
town, and had heard nothing. A concern I was so much interested in--by
which I am myself a loser----'

'Do you lose much?' said Dr Maurice, looking him in the face. It was the
same question poor Robert had asked, and it produced the same results.
An uneasy flush came on the rich man's countenance.

'We City men do not publish our losses,' he said. 'We prefer to keep the
amount of them, when we can, to ourselves. You were in yourself, I
believe? Ah! I warned poor Drummond! I told him he knew nothing of
business. He should have taken the advice of men who knew. How strange
that an ignorant, inexperienced man, quite unaware what he was doing,
should be able to ruin such a vast concern!'

'Ruin such a vast concern!' Dr Maurice repeated, stupefied.
'Who?--Drummond? This is a serious moment and a strangely-chosen subject
for a jest. I can't suppose that you take me for a fool----'

'We have all been fools, letting him play with edge tools,' said Mr
Burton, almost sharply. 'Golden tells me he would never take advice.
Golden says----'

'Golden! where is he?' cried Maurice. 'The fellow who absconded? By
Jove, tell me but where to lay my hands on him----'

'Softly,' said Mr Burton, putting his hand on Maurice's arm, with an air
of soothing him which made the doctor's blood boil. 'Softly, doctor. He
is to be found where he always was, at the office, making the best he
can of a terribly bad job, looking fifteen years older, poor fellow.
Where are you going? Let me have my ten minutes first!'

'I am going to get hold of him, the swindler!' cried Maurice, ringing
the bell furiously. 'John, let the brougham be brought round directly.
My God! if I was not the most moderate man in existence I should say
murderer too. Golden says, forsooth! We shall see what he will say
before a jury----'

'My dear Dr Maurice--listen a little--take care what you are doing.
Golden is as honourable a man as you or I----'

'Speak for yourself,' said the doctor roughly. 'He has absconded--that's
the word. It was in the papers yesterday morning; and it was the answer
I myself received at the office. Golden, indeed! If you're a friend of
Drummond's, you will come with me and give that fellow into custody.
This is no time for courtesy now.'

'How glad I am I came!' said Mr Burton. 'You have not seen, then, what
is in the papers to-day? Dr Maurice, you must listen to me; this is
simply madness. Golden, poor fellow, has been very nearly made the
victim of his own unsuspicious character. Don't be impatient, but
listen. When I tell you he was simply absent on Tuesday on his own
affairs--gone down to the country, as I might have been myself, if not,
alas! as I sometimes think, sent out of the way. The news of Shenken's
bankruptcy arrived that morning. Well, I don't mean to say Drummond
could have helped that; but he seized the opportunity. Heaven knows how
sorry I am to suggest such a thing; it has nearly broken Golden's heart.
But these are the facts; what can you make of them? Maurice, listen to
me. What did he go and do _that_ for? He was still a young man; he had
his profession. If he could have faced the world, why did he do _that_?'

Dr Maurice replied with an oath. I can make no excuse for him. He stood
on his own hearth, with his hand clenched, and blasphemed. There are
moments in which a man must either do that, or go down upon his knees
and appeal to God, who now-a-days sends no lightning from heaven to kill
the slayer of men's souls where he stands. The doctor saw it all as if
by a gleam of that same lightning which he invoked in vain. He saw the
spider's web they had woven, the way of escape for themselves which they
had built over the body of the man who was dead, and could not say a
word in reply. But his friend could not find a word to say. Scorn,
rage, stupefaction, came upon him. It was so false, so incredible in its
falsity. He could no more have defended Robert from such an accusation
than he would have defended himself from the charge of having murdered
him. But it would be believed: the world did not know any better. He
could not say another word--such a horror and disgust came over him,
such a sickening sense of the power of falsehood, the feebleness of
manifest, unprovable truth.

'This is not a becoming way in which to treat such a subject,' said Mr
Burton, rising too. 'No subject could be more painful to me. I feel
almost as if, indirectly, I myself was to blame. It was I who introduced
him into the concern. I am a busy man, and I have a great deal on my
hands, but could I have foreseen what was preparing for Rivers's, my own
interest should have gone to the wall. And that he should be my own
relation too--my cousin's husband! Ah, poor Helen, what a mistake she
made!'

'Have you nearly done, sir?' said the doctor fiercely.

'I shall have done at once, if what I say is received with incivility,'
said Mr Burton, with spirit. 'It was to prevent any extension of the
scandal that I came here.'

'There are some occasions upon which civility is impossible,' said
Maurice. 'I happen to know Robert Drummond; which I hope you don't, for
your own sake. And, remember, a great many people know him besides me. I
mean no incivility when I say that I don't believe one word of this, Mr
Burton; and that is all I have to say about it. Not one word----'

'You mean, I lie!'

'I mean nothing of the sort. I hope you are deceived. I mean that this
fellow Golden is an atrocious scoundrel, and _he_ lies, if you will. And
having said that, I have not another word to say.'

Then they both stopped short, looking at each other. A momentary doubt
was, perhaps, in Burton's mind what to say next--whether to pursue the
subject or to let it drop. But no doubt was in Maurice's. He stood
rigid, with his back to the vacant fireplace, retired within himself.
'It is very warm,' he said; 'not favourable weather for walking. Can I
set you down anywhere? I see my brougham has come round.'

'Thanks,' said the other shortly. And then he added, 'Dr Maurice, you
have taken things in a manner very different from what I expected. I
thought you would take an interest in saving our poor friend's memory as
far as we can--'

'I take no interest in it, sir, whatever.'

'And the feelings of his widow,' said Mr Burton. 'Well, well, very well.
Friendship is such a wide word--sometimes meaning so much, sometimes so
little. I suppose I must do the best I can for poor Helen by myself, and
in my own way.'

The obdurate doctor bowed. He held fast by his formula. He had not
another word to say.

'In that case I need not trouble you any longer,' said Mr Burton. But
when he was on his way to the door he paused and turned round. 'She is
not likely to be reading the papers just now,' he said, 'and I hope I
may depend on you not to let these unfortunate particulars, or anything
about it, come to the ears of Mrs Drummond. I should like her to be
saved that if possible. She will have enough to bear.'

'I shall not tell Mrs Drummond,' said the doctor. And then the door
opened and closed, and the visitor was gone.

The brougham stood before Dr Maurice's window for a long time that
morning. The old coachman grumbled, broiling on the box; the horses
grumbled, pawing with restless feet, and switching the flies off with
more and more impatient swingings of their tails. John grumbled indoors,
who could not 'set things straight' until his master was out of the way.
But the doctor neglected them all. Not one of all the four, horses or
men, would have changed places with him could they have seen him poring
over the newspaper, which he had not cared to look at that morning, with
the wrinkles drawn together on his forehead. There was fury in his soul,
that indignation beyond words, beyond self-command, with which a man
perceives the rise and growth of a wrong which is beyond his setting
right--a lie which he can only ineffectively contradict, struggle, or
rage against, but cannot drive out of the minds of men. They had it in
their own hands to say what they would. Dr Maurice knew that during all
the past winter his friend had been drawn into the work of the bank. He
had even cautioned Robert, though in ignorance of the extent of his
danger. He had said, 'Don't forget that you are unaccustomed to the
excitements of business. They will hurt you, though they don't touch the
others. It is not your trade.' These words came back to his mind with
the bitterest sense of that absence of foresight which is common to
man. 'If I had but known!' he said. And then he remembered, with a
bitter smile, his visit to Dr Bradcliffe, his request to him to see poor
Drummond 'accidentally,' his dread for his friend's brain. This it was
which had affected poor Robert, worse than disease, worse than madness;
for in madness or disease there would have been no human agency to
blame.

The papers, as Burton had said, were full of this exciting story.
Outside in the very streets there were great placards up with headings
in immense capitals, '_Great Bankruptcy in the City.--Suicide of a Bank
Director._' The absconding of the manager, which had been the news the
day before, was thrown into the background by this new fact, which was
so much more tragical and important. 'The latest information' was given
by some in a Second Edition, so widespread was the commotion produced by
the catastrophe; and even those of the public who did not care much for
Rivers's, cared for the exciting tale, or for the fate of the unhappy
professional man who had rashly involved himself in business, and ruined
not only himself, but so many more. The story was so dramatically
complete that public opinion decided upon it at once. It did not even
want the grieved, indignant letter which Mr Golden, injured man, wrote
to the _Times_, begging that the report against him should be
contradicted. This letter was printed in large type, and its tone was
admirable. 'I will not prejudge any man, more especially one whose
premature end has thrown a cloud of horror over the unfortunate business
transactions of the bank with which I have had the honour of being
connected for fifteen years,' Mr Golden wrote, 'but I cannot permit my
temporary, innocent, and much-regretted absence to be construed into an
evidence that I had deserted my post. With the help of Providence, I
will never desert it, so long as I can entertain the hope of saving from
the wreck a shilling of the shareholders' money.' It was a very good
letter, very creditable to Mr Golden; and everybody had read it, and
accepted it as gospel, before Dr Maurice got his hand upon it. In the
_Daily Semaphore_, which the doctor did not see, there was already an
article on the subject, very eloquent and slightly discursive, insisting
strongly upon the wickedness and folly of men who without capital, or
even knowledge of business, thus ventured to play with the very
existence of thousands of people. 'Could the unfortunate man who has
hidden his shame in a watery grave look up this morning from that turbid
bed and see the many homes which he has filled with desolation, who can
doubt that the worst and deepest hell fabled by the great Italian poet
would lose something of its intensity in comparison?--the ineffectual
fires would pale; a deeper and a more terrible doom would be that of
looking on at all the misery--all the ruined households and broken
hearts which cry out to-day over all England for justice on their
destroyer.' Fortunately Dr Maurice did not read this article; but he did
read the _Times_ and its editorial comments. 'There can be little
doubt,' that journal said, 'that the accidental absence of Mr Golden,
the manager, whose letter explaining all the circumstances will be found
in another column, determined Drummond to his final movement. It left
him time to secure the falsified books, and remove all evidence of his
guilt. It is not for us to explain by what caprice of despair, after
taking all this trouble, the unhappy man should have been driven to
self-destruction. The workings of a mind in such an unnatural condition
are too mysterious to be discussed here. Perhaps he felt that when all
was done, death was the only complete exemption from those penalties
which follow the evil-doer on this earth. We can only record the fact;
we cannot explain the cause. The manager and the remaining directors,
hastily summoned to meet the emergency, have been labouring ever since,
we understand, with the help of a well-known accountant, to make up the
accounts of the company, as well as that can be done in the absence of
the books which there is every reason to suppose were abstracted by
Drummond before he left the office. It has been suggested that the river
should be dragged for them as well as for the body of the unhappy man,
which up to this time has not been recovered. But we doubt much whether,
even should such a work be successful, the books would be legible after
an immersion even of two or three days. We believe that no one, even the
persons most concerned, are yet able to form an estimate of the number
of persons to whom this lamentable occurrence will be ruin.'

Dr Maurice put down the paper with a gleam in his face of that awful and
heart-rending rage which indignation is apt to rise into when it feels
itself most impotent. What could he do to stop such a slander? He could
contradict it; he could say, 'I know Robert Drummond; he was utterly
incapable of this baseness.' Alas! who was he that the world should take
his word for it? He might bring a counter-charge against Golden; he
might accuse him of abstracting the books, and being the author of all
the mischief; but what proof had he to substantiate his accusation? He
had no evidence--not a hair's-breadth. He could not prove, though he
believed, that this was all a scheme suggested to the plotters, if there
were more than one, or to Golden himself, if he were alone in his
villany, by the unlooked-for chance of Drummond's suicide. This was what
he believed. All the more for the horrible _vraisemblance_ of the story,
could he see the steps by which it had been put together. Golden had
absconded, taking with him everything that was damning in the way of
books. He had lain hidden somewhere near at hand waiting an opportunity
to get away. He had heard of poor Drummond's death, and an opportunity
of a different kind, a devilish yet brilliantly successful way of
escape, had suddenly appeared for him. All this burst upon Dr Maurice as
by a revelation while he sat with those papers before him gnawing his
nails and clutching the leading journal as if it had been Golden's
throat. He saw it all. It came out before him like a design in
phosphorus, twinkling and glowing through the darkness. He was sure of
it; but--what to do?

This man had a touch in him of the antique friendship--the bond for
which men have encountered all odds and dared death, and been happy in
their sacrifice. But even disinterestedness, even devotion, do not give
a man the mental power to meet such foes, or to frame a plan by which to
bring them to confusion. He grew himself confused with the thought. He
could not make out what to do first--how he should begin. He had
forgotten how the hours went--what time of the day it was--while he
pondered these subjects. The fire in his veins, instead of acting as a
simple stimulant, acted upon him like intoxication. His brain reeled
under the pressure. 'Will you have lunch, sir, before you go out?' said
John, with restrained wrath, but a pretence of stateliness. 'Lunch!--how
dare you come into my room, sir, before I ring!' cried his master,
waking up and looking at him with what seemed to John murderous eyes.
And then he sprang up, tore the papers into little pieces, crammed them
into the fireplace, and, seizing his hat, rushed out to the carriage.
The coachman was nodding softly on the box. The heat, and the stillness,
and the monotony had triumphed even over the propriety of a man who knew
all London, he was fond of saying, as well as he knew his own hands. The
coachman almost dropped from his box when Maurice, throwing the door of
the little carriage open, startled him suddenly from his slumber. The
horses, which were half asleep too, woke also with much jarring of
harness and prancing of hoof and head.

'To the _Times_ office,' was what the doctor said. He could not go and
clutch that villain by the throat, though that might be the best way. It
was another kind of lion which he was about to beard in his den.



CHAPTER XIII.


None of the persons chiefly concerned in this history, except himself,
knew as yet whether Reginald Burton was good or bad. But one thing is
certain, that there were good intentions in his mind when he startled Dr
Maurice with this extraordinary tale. He had a very busy morning,
driving from place to place in his hansom, giving up so many hours of
his day without much complaint. He had expected Maurice to know what the
papers would have told him, had he been less overwhelmed with the event
itself of which they gave so strange a version, and he had intended to
have a friendly consultation with him about Mrs Drummond's means of
living, and what was to be done for her. Something must be done for her,
there was no doubt about that. She could not be allowed to starve. She
was his own cousin, once Helen Burton; and, no doubt, by this time she
had found out her great mistake. It must not be supposed that this
thought brought with it any lingering fondness of recollection, any
touch of the old love with which he himself had once looked upon her. It
would have been highly improper had it done anything of the kind. He had
a Mrs Burton of his own, who of course possessed his entire affections,
and he was not a man to indulge in any illegitimate emotion. But still
he had been thinking much of Helen since this bewildering event
occurred. It was an event which had taken him quite by surprise. He did
not understand it. He felt that he himself could never be in such
despair, could never take 'a step so rash'--the only step a man could
take which left no room for repentance. It had been providential, no
doubt, for some things. But Helen had been in his mind since ever he had
time to think. There was a little glitter in his eye, a little
complacent curl about the corners of his mouth, as he thought of her,
and her destitute condition, and her helplessness. What a mistake she
had made! She had chosen a wretched painter, without a penny, instead of
himself. And this was what it had come to. Now at least she must have
found out what a fool she had been. But yet he intended to be good to
her in his way. He vowed to himself, with perhaps some secret
compunction in the depths of his heart, that if she would let him he
would be very good to her. Nor was Helen the only person to whom he
intended to be good. He went to the Haldanes as well, with kindest
sympathy and offers of help. 'Perhaps you may think I was to blame in
recommending such an investment of your money?' he said to Stephen, with
that blunt honesty which charms so many people. 'But my first thought
was of you when I heard of the crash. I wish I had bitten my tongue out
sooner than recommended it. The first people who came into my head were
my cousin Helen and you.'

Dismay and trouble were in the Haldanes' little house. They had not
recovered from the shock. They were like three ghosts--each endeavouring
to hide the blackness from each other which had fallen upon their
souls.--Miss Jane and her mother, however, had begun to get a little
relief in talking over the great misery which had fallen upon them. They
had filled the room with newspapers, in which they devoured every scrap
of news which bore on that one subject. They sat apart in a corner and
read them to each other, while Stephen closed his poor sad eyes and
withdrew into himself. It was the only retirement he had, his only way
of escape from the monotonous details of their family life, and the
constant presence of his nurses and attendants. This man had such
attendants--unwearying, uncomplaining, always ready whatever he wanted,
giving up their lives to his service--as few men have; and yet there
were moments when he would have given the world to be free of them,--now
and then, for half an hour, to be able to be alone. He had been sitting
thus in his oratory, his place of retirement having shut his doors, and
gone into his chamber by that single action of closing his eyes, when Mr
Burton came in. The women had been reading those papers to him till he
had called to them to stop. They had made his heart sore, as our hearts
are being made sore now by tales of wrong and misery which we cannot
help, cannot stop, can do nothing but weep for, or listen to with hearts
that burn and bleed. Stephen Haldane's heart was so--it was sore,
quivering with the stroke it had sustained, feeling as if it would burst
out of his breast. People say that much invoked and described organ is
good only for tough physical uses, and knows no sentiment; but surely
such people have never had _a sore heart_.

Poor Stephen's heart was sore: he could feel the great wound in it
through which the life-blood stole. Yesterday he had been stupefied.
To-day he had begun to wonder why, if a sacrifice was needed, it should
not have been him? He who was good for nothing, a burden on the earth;
and not Robert, the kindest, truest----God bless him! yes, God bless him
down yonder at the bottom of the river, down with Dives in a deeper
depth if that might be--anywhere, everywhere, even in hell or purgatory,
God bless him! this was what his friend said, not afraid. And the women
in the corner, in the mean while, read all the details, every one--about
the dragging of the river, about the missing books, about Mr Golden, who
had been so wronged. Mrs Haldane believed it every word, having a dread
of human nature and a great confidence in the newspapers; but Miss Jane
was tormented with an independent opinion, and hesitated and could not
believe. It had almost distracted their attention from the fact which
there could be no question about, which all knew for certain--their own
ruin. Rivers's had stopped payment, whoever was in fault, and everything
this family had--their capital, their income, everything was gone. It
had stunned them all the first day, but now they were beginning to call
together their forces and live again; and when Mr Burton made the
little sympathetic speech above recorded it went to their hearts.

'I am sure it is very kind, very kind of you to say so,' said Mrs
Haldane. 'We never thought of blaming--you.'

'I don't go so far as that,' said Miss Jane. 'I always speak my mind. I
blame everybody, mother; one for one thing, one for another. There is
nobody that has taken thought for Stephen, not one. Stephen ought to
have been considered, and that he was not able to move about and see to
things for himself like other men.'

'It is very true, it is very true!' said Mr Burton, sighing. He shook
his head, and he made a little movement of his hand, as if deprecating
blame. He held up his hat with the mourning band upon it, and looked as
if he might have wept. 'When you consider all that has happened,' he
said in a low tone of apology. 'Some who have been in fault have paid
for it dearly, at least----'

It was Stephen's voice which broke in upon this apology, in a tone as
different as could be imagined--high-pitched, almost harsh. When he was
the popular minister of Ormond Street Chapel it was one of the standing
remarks made by his people to strangers, 'Has not he a beautiful
voice?' But at this moment all the tunefulness and softness had gone out
of it. 'Mr Burton,' he said, 'what do you mean to do to vindicate
Drummond? It seems to me that _that_ comes first.'

'To vindicate Drummond!' Mr Burton looked up with a sudden start, and
then he added hurriedly, with an impetuosity which secured the two women
to his side, 'Haldane, you are too good for this world. Don't let us
speak of Drummond. I will forgive him--if I can.'

'How much have you to forgive him?' said the preacher. Once more, how
much? By this time Mr Burton felt that he had a right to be angry with
the question.

'How much?' he said; 'really I don't feel it necessary to go into my own
business affairs with everybody who has a curiosity to know. I am
willing to allow that my losses are as nothing to yours. Pray don't let
us go into this question, for I don't want to lose my temper. I came to
offer any assistance that was in my power--to you.'

'Oh, Mr Burton, Stephen is infatuated about that miserable man,' said
the mother; 'he cannot see harm in him; and even now, when he has taken
his own life and proved himself to be----'

'Stephen has a right to stand up for his friend,' said Miss Jane. 'If I
had time I would stand up for him too; but Stephen's comfort has to be
thought of first. Mr Burton, the best assistance you could give us would
be to get me something to do. I can't be a governess, and needlework
does not pay; neither does teaching, for that matter, even if I could do
it. I am a good housekeeper, though I say it. I can keep accounts with
anybody. I am not a bad cook even. And I'm past forty, and never was
pretty in my life, so that I don't see it matters whether I am a woman
or a man. I don't care what I do or where I go, so long as I can earn
some money. Can you help me to that? Don't groan, Stephen; do you think
I mind it? and don't you smile, Mr Burton. I am in earnest for my part.'

Stephen had groaned in his helplessness. Mr Burton smiled in his
superiority, in his amused politeness of contempt for the plain woman
past forty. 'We can't let you say that,' he answered jocosely, with a
look at her which reminded Miss Jane that she was a woman after all, and
filled her with suppressed fury. But what did such covert insult matter?
It did not harm her; and the man who sneered at her homeliness might
help her to work for her brother, which was the actual matter in hand.

'It is very difficult to know of such situations for ladies,' said Mr
Burton. 'If anything should turn up, of course--but I fear it would not
do to depend upon that.'

'Stephen has his pension from the chapel,' said Miss Jane. She was not
delicate about these items, but stated her case loudly and plainly,
without even considering what Stephen's feelings might be. 'It was to
last for five years, and nearly three of them are gone; and he has fifty
pounds a year for the Magazine--that is not much Mr Burton, for all the
trouble; they might increase that. And mother and I are trying to let
the house furnished, which would always be something. We could remove
into lodgings, and if nothing more is to be got, of course we must do
upon what we have.'

Here Mr Burton cast a look upon the invalid who was surrounded by so
many contrivances of comfort. It was a compassionate glance, but it
stung poor Stephen. 'Don't think of me,' he said hoarsely; 'my wants,
though I look such a burden upon everybody, are not many after all.
Don't think of me.'

'We could do with what we have,' Miss Jane went on--she was so
practical, she rode over her brother's susceptibilities and ignored
them, which perhaps was the best thing that could have been done--'if
you could help us with a tenant for our house, Mr Burton, or get the
Magazine committee to give him a little more than fifty pounds. The work
it is! what with writing--and I am sure he writes half of it
himself--and reading those odious manuscripts which ruin his eyes, and
correcting proofs, and all that. It is a shame that he has only fifty
pounds----'

'But he need not take so much trouble unless he likes, Jane,' said Mrs
Haldane, shaking her head. 'I liked it as it was.'

'Never mind, mother; Stephen knows best, and it is him that we have got
to consider. Now, Mr Burton, here is what you can do for us--I should
not have asked anything, but since you have offered, I suppose you mean
it--something for me to do, or some one to take the house, or a little
more money for the Magazine. Then we could do. I don't like anything
that is vague. I suppose you prefer that I should tell you plain?'

'To be sure,' said Mr Burton; and he smiled, looking at her with that
mixture of contemptuous amusement and dislike with which a plain
middle-aged woman so often inspires a vulgar-minded man. That the women
who want to work are always old hags, was one of the articles of his
creed; and here was an illustration. Miss Jane troubled herself very
little about his amusement or his contempt. She did not much believe in
his good-will. But if he did mean it, why, it was best to take advantage
of his offer. This was her practical view of the subject. Mr Burton
turned from her to Stephen, who had taken no part in the talk. Necessity
had taught to the sick man its stern philosophy. He had to listen to
such discussions twenty times in a day, and he had steeled his heart to
hear them, and make no sign.

'What would you say to life in the country?' he said. 'The little help I
came to offer in these sad circumstances is not in any of the ways Miss
Jane suggests. I don't know anybody that wants to take just this kind of
house:' and he glanced round at it with a smile. He to know a possible
tenant for such a nutshell! 'And I don't know any situation that would
suit your sister, though I am sure she would be invaluable. My
father-in-law is the man to speak about the Magazine business. Possibly
he could manage that. But what I would offer you if you like, would be a
lodging in the country. I have a house down at Dura, which is of no use
to me. There is good air and a garden, and all that. You are as welcome
as possible if you like to come.'

'A house in the country,' said Mrs Haldane. 'Oh, my boy! Oh, Mr Burton!
he might get well there.'

Poor soul! it was her delusion that Stephen was to get well. She took up
this new hope with eyes which, old as they were, flashed out with
brightness and consolation. 'What will all our losses matter if Stephen
gets well?' she went on, beginning to cry. And Miss Jane rose up hastily
and went away with a tremulous harshness, shutting her lips up tight, to
the other side of the room, to get her work, which she had been
neglecting. Miss Jane was like a man in this, that she could not bear
tears. She set her face against them, holding herself in, lest she too
might have been tempted to join. Of all the subjects of discussion in
this world, Stephen's recovery was the only one she could not bear; for
she loved her brother like a poet, like a starved and frozen woman who
has had but one love in her life.

The old mother was more manageable to Mr Burton's mind than Miss Jane.
Her tears and gratitude restored him to what he felt was his proper
place,--that of a benefactor and guardian angel. He sat for half an hour
longer, and told Mrs Haldane all about the favour he was willing to
confer. 'It is close to the gates of my own house, but you must not
think that will be an annoyance to us,' he said. 'On the contrary, I
don't mean to tell my father-in-law till he sees you there. It will be a
pleasant surprise for him. He has always taken so much interest in
Haldane. Don't say anything, I beg. I am very glad you should have it,
and I hope it will make you feel this dreadful calamity less. Ah yes; it
is wretched for us; but what must it be for my poor cousin? I am going
to see her now.'

'I don't know her,' said Mrs Haldane. 'She has called at the door to ask
for Stephen, very regular. That I suppose was because of the friendship
between----but I have only seen her once or twice on a formal call. If
all is true that I hear, she will take it hard, being a proud woman. Oh!
pride's sinful at the best of times; but in a time like this----'

'Mother!'

'Yes, Stephen, I know; and I am sure I would not for the world say a
word against friends of yours; but----'

'I must go now,' said Mr Burton, rising. 'Good-bye, Haldane. I will
write to you about the house, and when you can come in. On second
thoughts, I will not prevent you from mentioning it to Mr Baldwin, if
you please. He is sure to ask what you are going to do, and he will be
glad to know.'

He went out from Victoria Villas pleased with himself. He had been very
good to these people, who really were nothing to him. He was not even a
Dissenter, but a staunch Churchman, and had no sympathy for the sick
minister. What was his motive, then? But it was his wife who made it her
business to investigate his motives, and we may wait for the result of
her examination. All this was easy enough. The kindness he had offered
was one which would cost him little, and he had not suffered in this
interview as he had done in that which preceded it. But now he had
occasion for all his strength; now came the tug of war, the real strain.
He was going to see Helen. She had been but three days a widow, and no
doubt would be in the depth of that darkness which is the recognized
accompaniment of grief. Would she see him? Could she have seen the
papers, or heard any echo of their news? On this point he was nervous.
Before he went to St Mary's Road, though it was close at hand, he went
to the nearest hotel, and had a glass of wine and a biscuit. For such a
visit he required all his strength.

But these precautions were unnecessary. The shutters were all closed in
St Mary's Road. The lilacs were waving their plumy fragrant branches
over a door which no one entered. Mrs Drummond was at home, but saw no
one. Even when the maid carried his message to her, the answer was that
she could see no one, that she was quite well, and required nothing.
'Not even the clergyman, sir,' said the maid. 'He's been, but she would
not see him. She is as white as my apron, and her poor hands you could
see the light through 'em. We all think as she'll die too.'

'Does she read the papers?' said Mr Burton anxiously. He was relieved
when the woman said 'No.' He gave her half-a-crown, and bade her admit
none to the house till he came again. Rebecca promised and curtsied, and
went back to the kitchen to finish reading that article in the _Daily
Semaphore_. The fact that it was 'master' who was there called 'this
unfortunate man' and 'this unhappy wretch,' gave the strongest zest to
it. 'La! to think he could have had all that on his mind,' they said to
each other. George was the only one who considered it might be 'a
made-up story,' and he was believed to say so more from 'contrariness,'
and a desire to set up for superior wisdom, than because he had any real
doubt on the subject. 'A person may _say_ a thing, but I never heard of
one yet as would go for to put it in print, if it wasn't true,' was
Rebecca's comment. 'I'm sorry for poor master, all the same,' said Jane
the housemaid, who was tender-hearted, and who had put on an old black
gown of her own accord. The servants were not to get mourning, which was
something unheard of; and they had all received notice, and, as soon as
Mrs Drummond was able to move, were to go away.

For that matter, Helen was able to move then--able to go to the end of
the earth, as she felt with a certain horror of herself. It is so
natural to suppose that physical weakness should come in the train of
grief; but often it does not, and the elastic delicate strength of
Helen's frame resisted all the influences of her sorrow. She scarcely
ate at all; she slept little; the world had grown to her one great sea
of darkness and pain and desolation: and yet she could not lie down and
die as she had thought she would, but felt such a current of feverish
energy in all her veins as she had never felt before. She could have
done anything--laboured, travelled, worked with her hands, fought even,
not like a man, but like twenty men. She was conscious of this, and it
grieved and horrified her. She felt as a woman brought up in
conventional proprieties would naturally feel, that her health ought to
have been affected, that her strength should have failed her. But it had
not done so. Her grief inflamed her rather, and set her heart on fire.
Even now, in these early days, when custom decreed that she ought to be
incapable of exertion, 'keeping her bed,' she felt herself in possession
of a very flood of energy and excited strength. She was miserable, but
she was not weak. She shut herself up in the darkened house all day, but
half the night would walk about in her garden, in her despair, trying to
tame down the wild life which had come with calamity. Poor little Norah
crept about everywhere after her, and lay watching with great wide-open
eyes, through the silvery half-darkness of the summer night, till she
should come to bed. But Norah was not old enough to understand her
mother, and was herself half frightened by this extraordinary change in
her, which affected the child's imagination more than the simple
disappearance of her father did, though she wept and longed for him with
a dreary sense that unless he came back life never could be as of old,
and that he would never, never come back. But all the day long Mrs
Drummond sat in her darkened room, and 'was not able to see any one.'
She endured the vigil, and would have done so, if she had died of it.
That was what was called 'proper respect:' it was called the
conventional necessity of the moment. Mr Burton called again and again,
but it was more than a fortnight before he was admitted. And in the mean
time he too had certain preparations to go through.



CHAPTER XIV.


Mr Burton was a man who was accustomed in his own house to have, in a
great degree, his own way; but this was not because his wife was
disinclined to hold, or incapable of forming, an opinion of her own. On
the contrary, it was because he was rather afraid of her than otherwise,
and thought twice before he promulgated any sentiments or started any
plan which was likely to be in opposition to hers. But he had neither
consulted her, nor, indeed, thought much of what she would say, in the
sudden proposal he had made to the Haldanes. He was not a hasty man; but
Dr Maurice's indignation had made an impression upon him, and he had
felt all at once that in going to the Haldanes and to Helen, he must
not, if he would preserve his own character, go with merely empty
sympathy, but must show practically his pity for them. It was perhaps
the only time in his life that he had acted upon a hasty idea without
taking time to consider; and a chill doubt, as to what Clara would say,
was in his mind as he turned his face homewards. Dura was about twenty
miles from town, in the heart of one of the leafiest of English
counties; the station was a mile and a half from the great house, half
of which distance, however, was avenue; and Mr Burton's phaeton, with
the two greys--horses which matched to a hair, and were not equalled in
the stables of any potentate in the county--was waiting for him when the
train arrived. He liked to drive home in this glorious way, rousing the
village folks and acting as a timepiece for them, just as he liked the
great dinner-bell, which the old Harcourts sounded only on great
occasions, to be rung every day, letting the whole neighbourhood know
that their local lord, their superior, the master of the great house,
was going to dinner. He liked the thought that his return was an event
in the place almost justifying the erection of a standard, as it was
erected in a royal castle not very far off, when the sovereign went and
came. Our rich man had not gone so far as yet, but he would have liked
it, and felt it natural. The village of Dura was like a collection of
beads threaded on the long white thread of road which ran from the
station to the house--and occupied the greater part of the space, with
single houses straggling at either end, and a cluster in the middle. The
straggling houses at the end next the station were white villas, built
for people whose business was in town, and who came home to dinner by
the same train which brought Mr Burton, though their arrival was less
imposing; but where the clump of dwelling-places thickened, the houses
toned down into old-fashioned, deeply-lichened brick, with here and
there a thatched roof to deepen, or a white-washed gable to relieve, the
composition. At the end nearest the great house the village made a
respectful pause, and turned off along a slanting path, which showed the
tower of the church behind over the trees. The rectory, however, a
pretty house buried in shrubberies, fronted the high road with modest
confidence; and opposite it was another dwelling-place, in front of
which Mr Burton drew up his horses for a moment, inspecting it with a
careful and anxious eye. His heart beat a little quicker as he looked.
His own gate was in sight, and these were the very grounds of Dura
House, into which the large walled garden of this one intruded like a
square wedge. In front there were no shrubberies, no garden, nothing to
divide it from the road. A double row of pollard limes--one on the edge
of the foot-path, one close to the house--indicated and shaded, but did
not separate it from the common way. The second row of limes was level
with the fence of the Dura grounds, and one row of white flagstones lay
between them and the two white steps, the green door, and shining brass
knocker of the Gatehouse. It was a house which had been built in the
reign of the first George, of red brick, with a great many windows,
three-storied, and crowned by a pediment, with that curious mixture of
the useful and (supposed) ornamental, which by this time has come to
look almost picturesque by reason of age. It had been built for the
mother of one of the old Harcourts, a good woman who had been born the
Rector's daughter of the place, and loved it and its vicinity, and the
sight of its comings and goings. This was the origin of the Gatehouse;
but since the days of Mrs Dunstable Harcourt it had rarely been
inhabited by any of the family, and had been a trouble more than an
advantage to them. It was too near the hall to be inhabited by
strangers, and people do not always like to establish their own poor
relations and dependents at their very gates. As the Harcourts dwindled
and money became important to them, they let it at a small rate to a
maiden household, two or three old ladies of limited means, and blood as
blue as their own. And when Dura ceased, except on county maps, to be
Harcourt-Dura, and passed into the hands of the rich merchant, he, too,
found the Gatehouse a nuisance. There had been talk of pulling it down,
but that would have been waste; and there had been attempts made to let
it to 'a suitable tenant,' but no suitable tenant had been found.
Genteel old ladies of blue blood had not found the vicinity of the
Burtons a comfort to them as they did that of the Harcourts. And there
it stood empty, echoing, void, a place where the homeless might be
sheltered. Did Mr Burton's heart glow with benevolent warmth as he
paused, drawing up his greys, and looked at it, with all its windows
twinkling in the sun? To one of these windows a woman came forward at
the sound of his pause, and, putting her face close to the small pane,
looked out at him wondering. He gave her a nod, and sighed; and then
flourished his whip, and the greys flew on. In another moment they had
turned into the avenue and went dashing up the gentle ascent. It was a
pretty avenue, though the trees were not so old as most of the Dura
trees. The sunset gleamed through it, slanting down under the lowest
branches, scattering the brown mossy undergrowth with lumps of gold. A
little pleasant tricksy wind shook the branches and dashed little mimic
showers of rain in the master's face: for it had been raining in the
afternoon, and the air was fresh and full of a hundred nameless odours;
but Mr Burton gave forth another big sigh before he reached the house.
He was a little afraid of what his wife would say, and he was afraid of
what he had done.

He did not say anything about it, however, till dinner was over. The
most propitious moment seemed that gentle hour of dessert, when the
inner man is strengthened and comforted, and there is time to dally over
the poetic part of the meal--not that either of the Burtons were
poetical. They were alone, not even the children being with them, for
Mrs Burton disapproved of children coming to dessert; but all the same,
she was beautifully dressed; he liked it, and so did she. She made very
little difference in this particular between her most imposing dinner
parties and those evenings which she spent _tête-à-tête_ with her
husband. When her aunts, who had old-fashioned ideas about extravagance,
remonstrated with her, she defended herself, saying she could afford
it, and he liked to see her well dressed. Mr Burton hated to have any
scrap of capital unemployed; and the only interest you could get from
your jewels was the pleasure of wearing them, and seeing them worn, he
said. So Mrs Burton dined with her husband in a costume which a French
lady of fashion would have considered appropriate to a ball or royal
reception, with naked shoulders and arms, and lace and ornaments. Madame
la Duchesse might have thought it much too fine, but Mrs Burton did not.
She was a pale little woman, small and thin, but not without beauty. Her
hair was not very abundant, but it was exquisitely smooth and neat. Her
uncovered shoulders were white, and her arms round and well-formed; and
she had clear blue eyes, so much brighter than anybody expected, that
they took the world by surprise: they were cold in their expression, but
they were full of intelligence, and a hundred times more vivid and
striking than anything else about her, so that everybody observed and
admired Mrs Burton's eyes.

'What has been going on to-day? What have you been doing?' she asked,
when the servants went away. The question sounded affectionate, and
showed at least that there was confidence between the husband and wife.

'Very much as usual,' Mr Burton said, with colloquial ease; and then he
stopped and cleared his throat. 'But for my own part I have done
something rather foolish,' he said, with an almost imperceptible tremor
in his voice.

'Indeed?' She gave a quick glance up at him; but she was not excited,
and went on calmly eating her strawberries. He was not the kind of man
of whose foolish actions a wife is afraid.

'I have been to see the Haldanes to-day,' he said, once more clearing
his throat; 'and I have been to Helen Drummond's, but did not see her.
The one, of course, I did out of regard for your father; the other----I
was so distressed by the sight of that poor fellow in his helplessness,
that I acted on impulse, Clara. I know it's a foolish thing to do. I
said to myself, here are two families cast out of house and home, and
there is the Gatehouse----'

'The Gatehouse!'

'Yes, I was afraid you would be startled; but reflect a moment: it is of
no use to us. We have got nobody to occupy it. You know, indeed, how
alarmed you were when your aunt Louisa took a fancy to it; and I have
tried for a tenant in vain. Then, on the other hand, one cannot but be
sorry for these poor people. Helen is my cousin; she has no nearer
friend than I am. And your father is so much interested in the
Haldanes----'

'I don't quite understand,' said Mrs Burton, with undisturbed composure;
'my father's interest in the Haldanes has nothing to do with the
Gatehouse. Are they to live there?'

'That was what I thought,' said her husband, 'but not, of course, if you
have any serious dislike to it--not if you decidedly object----'

'Why should I decidedly object?' she said. 'I should if you were
bringing them to live with me; but otherwise----It is not at all
suitable--they will not be happy there. It will be a great nuisance to
us. As it is, strangers rather admire it--it looks old-fashioned and
pleasant; but if they made a squalid place of it, dirty windows, and
cooking all over the house----'

'So far as _my_ cousin is concerned, you could have nothing of that kind
to fear,' said Mr Burton, ceasing to be apologetic. He put a slight
emphasis on the word _my_; perhaps upon this point he would not have
been sorry to provoke his wife, but Clara Burton would not gratify her
husband by any show of jealousy. She was not jealous, she was thinking
solely of appearances, and of the possible decadence of the Gatehouse.

'Besides, Susan must stay,' he continued, after a pause; 'she must
remain in charge; the house must be kept as it ought to be. If that is
your only objection, Clara----'

'I have made no objection at all,' said Mrs Burton; and then she broke
into a dry little laugh. 'What a curious establishment it will be--an
old broken-down nurserymaid, a Dissenting minister, and your cousin! Mr
Burton, will she like it? I cannot say that I should feel proud if it
were offered to me.'

His face flushed a little. He was not anxious himself to spare Helen's
feelings. If he had found an opportunity, it would have been agreeable
to him to remind her that she had made a mistake; but she was his own
relation, and instinct prompted him to protect her from his wife.

'Helen is too poor to allow herself to think whether she likes it or
not,' he said.

His wife gave a sharp glance at him across the table. What did he mean?
Did he intend to be kind, or to insult the desolate woman? Clara asked
herself the question as a philosophical question, not because she cared.

'And is your cousin willing to accept it from you, after--that story?'
she said.

'What story? You mean about her husband. It is not my story. I have
nothing to do with it; and even if I had, surely it is the man who does
wrong, not the man who tells it, that should have the blame; besides,
she does not know.'

'Ah, that is the safest,' said Clara. 'I think it is a very strange
story, Mr Burton. It may be true, but it is not like the truth.'

'I have nothing to do with it,' he exclaimed. He spoke hotly, with a
swelling of the veins on his temples. 'There are points of view in which
his death was very providential,' he said.

And once more Clara gave him a sharp glance.

'It was the angel who watches over Mr Golden that provided the boat, no
doubt,' she answered, with a contraction of her lips; then fell back
into the former topic with perfect calm. 'I should insist upon the house
being kept clean and nice,' she said, as she rose to go away.

'Surely--surely; and you may tell your father when you write, that poor
Haldane is so far provided for.' He got up to open the door for her,
and, detaining her for a moment, stooped down and kissed her forehead.
'I am so much obliged to you, Clara, for consenting so kindly,' he said.

A faint little cold smile came upon her face. She had been his wife for
a dozen years; but in her heart she was contemptuous of the kiss which
he gave her, as if she had been a child, as a reward for her
acquiescence. It is to be supposed that she loved him after her fashion.
She had married him of her free will, and had never quarrelled with him
once in all their married life. But yet had he known how his kiss was
received, the sting would have penetrated even through the tough
covering which protected Reginald Burton's _amour propre_, if not his
heart. Mrs Burton went away into the great drawing-room, where her
children, dressed like little princes in a comedy, were waiting for her.
The Harcourts in the old days, had made a much smaller room their family
centre; but the Burtons always used the great drawing-room, and lived,
as it were, in state from one year's end to another. Here Clara Burton
dwelt--a little anonymous spirit, known to none even of her nearest
friends. They were all puzzled by her 'ways,' and by the blank
many-sided surface like a prism which she presented to them, refusing
to be influenced by any. She did not know any more about herself than
the others did. Outside she was all glitter and splendour; nobody
dressed so well, nobody had such jewels, or such carriages, or such
horses in all the county. She used every day, and in her homeliest
moments, things which even princes reserve for their best. Mrs Burton
made it a boast that she had no best things; she was the same always,
herself--and not her guests or anything apart from herself--being the
centre of life in her house and in all her arrangements. The dinner
which the husband and wife had just eaten had been as varied and as
dainty, as if twenty people had sat down to it. It was her principle
throughout her life. And yet within herself the woman cared for none of
these things. Another woman's dress or jewels was nothing to her. She
was totally indifferent to the external advantages which everybody else
believed her to be absorbed in. Clara was very worldly, her aunts said,
holding up their hands aghast at her extravagance and costly habits; but
the fact was, that Clara made all her splendours common, not out of love
for them, but contempt for them: a thing which nobody suspected. It is
only a cynical soul that could feel thus, and Mrs Burton's cynicism
went very deep. She thought meanly of human nature, and did not believe
much in goodness; but she seldom disapproved, and never condemned. She
would smile and cast about in her mind (unawares) for the motive of any
doubtful action, and generally ended by finding out that it was 'very
natural,' a sentence which procured her credit for large toleration and
a most amiable disposition, but which sprang really from the cynical
character of her mind. It did not seem to her worth while to censure or
to sermonize. She did not believe in reformation; and incredulity was in
her the twin-brother of despair; but not a tragical despair. She took it
all very calmly, not feeling that it was worth while to be disturbed by
it; and went on unconsciously tracking out the mean motives, the poor
pretensions, the veiled selfishness of all around her. And she was not
aware that she herself was any better, nor did she claim
superiority--nay, she would even track her own impulses back to their
root, and smile at them, though with a certain bitterness. But all this
was so properly cloaked over that nobody suspected it. People gave her
credit for wisdom because she generally believed the worst, and was so
very often right; and they thought her tolerant because she would take
pains to show how it was nature that was in fault, and not the culprit.
No one suspected the terrible little cynic, pitiless and hopeless that
she was in her heart.

And yet this woman was the mother of children, and had taught them their
prayers, and was capable at that or any other moment of giving herself
to be torn in pieces for them, as a matter of course, a thing which
would not admit a possibility of doubt. She had thought of that in her
many thinkings, had attempted to analyze her own love, and to fathom how
much it was capable of. 'As much as a tiger or a bear would do for her
cubs,' she had said to herself, with her usual smile. The strangest
woman to sit veiled by Reginald Burton's fireside, and take the head of
his table, and go to church with him in the richest, daintiest garments
which money and skill could get for her! She was herself to some degree
behind the scenes of her own nature; but even she could not always
discriminate, down among the foundations of her being, which was false
and which was true.

She went into the drawing-room, where her little Clara and Ned were
waiting. Ned was thirteen, a year older than Norah Drummond. Mr Burton
had determined that he would not be behind the cousin who refused him,
nor allow her to suppose that he was pining for her love, so that his
marriage had taken place earlier than Helen's. Ned was a big boy, very
active, and not given to book-learning; but Clara, who was a year
younger, was a meditative creature like her mother. The boy was standing
outside the open window, throwing stones at the birds in the distant
trees. Little Clara stood within watching him, and making her comments
on the sport.

'Suppose you were to kill a poor little bird. Suppose one of the young
ones--one of the baby ones--were to try and fly a little bit, and you
were to hit it. Suppose the poor papa when he comes home----'

'Oh, that's enough of your supposes,' said the big boy. 'Suppose I were
to eat _you_? But I don't want to. I don't think you would be nice.'

'Ned!' said a voice from behind Clara, which thrilled him through and
through, and made the stones fall from his hands as if they had been
suddenly paralyzed, and were unable to grasp anything. 'I know it is
natural to boys to be cruel, but I had rather not have it under my own
eyes.'

'Cruel!' cried Ned, with some discontent. 'A parcel of wretched sparrows
and things that can't sing a note. They have no business in our trees.
They ought to know what they would get.'

'Are boys always cruel, mamma?' said little Clara, laying hold upon her
mother's dress. She was like a little princess herself, all lace and
embroidery and blue ribbons and beautifulness. Mrs Burton made no
answer. She did not even wait to see that her boy took no more shots at
the birds. She drew a chair close to the window, and sat down; and as
she took her seat she gave vent to a little fretful sigh. She was
thinking of Helen, and was annoyed that she had actually no means of
judging what were the motives that would move her should she come to
Dura. It was difficult for her to understand simple ignorance and
unsuspiciousness, or to give them their proper place among the springs
of human action. Her worst fault philosophically was that of ignoring
these commonest influences of all.

'Mamma, you are thinking of something,' said little Clara. 'Why do you
sigh, and why do you shake your head?'

'I have been trying to put together a puzzle,' said her mother, 'as you
do sometimes; and I can't make it out.'

'Ah, a puzzle,' said Ned, coming in; 'they are not at all fun, mamma.
That beastly dissected map Aunt Louisa gave me--by Jove! I should like
to take the little pieces and shy them at the birds.'

'But, mamma,' said Clara, 'are you sure it is only that? I never saw you
playing with toys.'

'I wonder if I ever did?' said Mrs Burton, with a little gleam of
surprise. 'Do you remember going to London once, Clara, and seeing your
cousin, Norah Drummond? Should you like to have her here?'

'She was littler than me,' said Clara, promptly, 'though she was older.
Papa told me. They lived in a funny little poky house. They had no
carriages nor anything. She had never even tried to ride; fancy, mamma!
When I told her I had a pony all to myself, she only stared. How
different she would think it if she came here!'

Her mother looked at the child with a curious light in her cold blue
eyes. She gave a little harsh laugh.

'If it were not that it is natural, and you cannot help it,' she said,
'I should like to whip you, my dear!'



CHAPTER XV.


Next morning the family at Dura paid a visit to the Gatehouse, to see
all its capabilities, and arrange the changes which might be necessary.
It was a bright morning after the rain, and they walked together down
the dewy avenue, where the sunshine played through the network of
leaves, and the refreshed earth sent up sweet odours. All was pleasant
to sight and sound, and made a lightsome beginning to the working day.
Mr Burton was pleased with himself and everything surrounding him. His
children (he was very proud of his children) strolled along with their
father and mother, and there was in Ned a precocious imitation of his
own walk and way of holding himself which at once amused and flattered
the genial papa. He was pleased by his boy's appreciation of his own
charms of manner and appearance; and little Clara was like him,
outwardly, at least, being of a larger mould than her mother. His
influence was physically predominant in the family, and as for
profounder influences these were not much visible as yet. Mrs Burton had
a _toilette fraîche_ of the costliest simplicity. Two or three dogs
attended them on their walk--a handsome pointer and a wonderful hairy
Skye, and the tiniest of little Maltese terriers, with a blue ribbon
round its neck such as Clara had, of whose colours her dog was a
repetition. When she made a rush now and then along the road, herself
like a great white and blue butterfly, the dogs ran too, throwing up
their noses in the air, till Ned, marching along in his knickerbockers,
with his chest set out, and his head held up like his father's, whistled
the bigger ones to his masculine side. It was quite a pretty picture
this family procession; they were so well off, so perfectly supplied
with everything that was pleasant and suitable, so happily above the
world and its necessities. There was a look of wealth about them that
might almost have seemed insolent to a poor man. The spectator felt sure
that if fricasseed bank-notes had been good to eat, they must have had a
little dish of that for breakfast. And the crown of all was that they
were going to do a good action--to give shelter and help to the
homeless. Many simple persons would have wept over the spectacle, had
they known it, out of pure delight in so much goodness--if Mrs Burton,
looking on with those clear cold blue eyes of hers, had not thrown upon
the matter something of a clearer light.

The inspection was satisfactory enough, revealing space sufficient to
have accommodated twice as many people. And Mr Burton found it amusing
too; for Susan, who was in charge, was very suspicious of their motives,
and anxious to secure that she should not be put upon in any arrangement
that might be made. There was a large, quaint old drawing-room, with
five glimmering windows--three fronting to the road and two to the
garden--not French sashes, cut down to the ground, but old-fashioned
English windows with a sill to them, and a solid piece of wall
underneath. The chimney had a high wooden mantelpiece with a little
square of mirror let in, too high up for any purpose but that of giving
a glimmer of reflection. The carpet, which was very much worn, was
partially covered by a tightly strained white cloth, as if the room had
been prepared for dancing. The furniture was very thin in the legs and
angular in its proportions; some of the chairs were ebony, with bands of
faded gilding and covers of minute old embroidery, into which whole
lives had been worked. The curtains were of old-fashioned, big-patterned
chintz--like that we call Cretonne now-a-days--with brown linings.
Everything was very old and worn, but clean and carefully mended. The
looker-on felt it possible that the entrance of a stranger might so
break the spell that all might crumble into dust at a touch. But yet
there was a quaint, old-fashioned elegance--not old enough to be
antique, but yet getting venerable--about the silent old house. Mr
Burton was of opinion that it would be better with new red curtains and
some plain, solid mahogany; but, if the things would do, considered that
it was unnecessary to incur further expense. When all the necessary
arrangements had been settled upon, the family party went on to the
railway station. This was a very frequent custom with them. Mr Burton
liked to come home in state--to notify his arrival by means of the
high-stepping greys and the commotion they made, to his subjects; but he
was quite willing to leave in the morning with graceful humility and
that exhibition of family affection which brings even the highest
potentates to a level with common men. When he arrived with his wife and
his children and his dogs at the station, it was touching to see the
devotion with which the station-master and the porters and everybody
about received the great man. The train seemed to have been made on
purpose for him--to have come on purpose all the way out of the Midland
Counties; the railway people ran all along its length as soon as it
arrived to find a vacant carriage for their demigod. 'Here you are,
sir!' cried a smiling porter. 'Here you are, sir!' echoed the
station-master, rushing forward to open the door. The other porter, who
was compelled by duty to stand at the little gate of exit and take the
tickets, looked gloomily upon the active service of his brethren, but
identified himself with their devotion by words at least, since nothing
else was left him. 'What d'ye mean by being late?' he cried to the
guard. 'A train didn't ought to be late as takes gentlemen to town for
business. You're as slow, you are, as if you was the ladies' express.'

Mr Burton laughed as he passed, and gladness stole into the porter's
soul. Oh, magical power of wealth! when it laughs, the world grows glad.
To go into the grimy world of business, and be rubbed against in the
streets by men who did him no homage, must be hard upon such a man,
after the royal calm of the morning and all its pleasant circumstances.
It was after just such another morning that he went again to St Mary's
Road, and was admitted to see his cousin. She had shut herself up for a
fortnight obstinately. She would have done so for a year, in defiance of
herself and of nature, had it been possible, that all the world might
know that Robert had 'the respect' due to him. She would not have
deprived him of one day, one fold of crape, one imbecility of grief, of
her own will. She would have been ill, if she could, to do him honour.
All this was quite independent of that misery of which the world could
know nothing, which was deep as the sea in her own heart. That must last
let her do what she would. But she would fain have given to her husband
the outside too. The fortnight, however, was all that poor Helen could
give. Already stern need was coming in, and the creditors, to whom
everything she had belonged. When Mr Burton was admitted, the man had
begun to make an inventory of the furniture. The pretty drawing-room was
already dismantled, the plants all removed from the conservatory; the
canvases were stacked against the wall in poor Robert's studio, and a
picture-dealer was there valuing them. They were of considerable value
now--more than they would have been had it still been possible that they
should be finished. People who were making collections of modern
pictures would buy them readily as the only 'Drummond' now to be had. Mr
Burton went and looked at the pictures, and pointed out one that he
would like to buy. His feelings were not very delicate, but yet it
struck a certain chill upon him to go into that room. Poor Drummond
himself was lying at the bottom of the river--he could not reproach any
one, even allowing that it was not all his own fault. And yet--the
studio was unpleasant to Mr Burton. It affected his nerves; and in
anticipation of his interview with Helen he wanted all his strength.

But Helen received him very gently, more so than he could have hoped.
She had not seen the papers. The world and its interests had gone away
from her. She had read nothing but the good books which she felt it was
right to read during her seclusion. She was unaware of all that had
happened, unsuspicious, did not even care. It had never occurred to her
to think of dishonour as possible. All calamity was for her concentrated
in the one which had happened, which had left her nothing more to fear.
She was seated in a very small room opening on the garden, which had
once been appropriated to Norah and her playthings. She was very pale,
with the white rim of her cap close round her face, and her hair
concealed. Norah was there too, seated close to her mother, giving her
what support she could with instinctive faithfulness. Mr Burton was more
overcome by the sight of them than he could have thought it possible to
be. They were worse even than the studio. He faltered, he cleared his
throat, he took Helen's hand and held it--then let it drop in a confused
way. He was overcome, she thought, with natural emotion, with grief and
pity. And it made her heart soft even to a man she loved so little.
'Thanks,' she murmured, as she sank down upon her chair. That tremor in
his voice covered a multitude of sins.

'I have been here before,' he said.

'Yes, so I heard; it was very kind. Don't speak of _that_, please. I am
not able to bear it, though it is kind, very kind of you.'

'Everybody is sorry for you, Helen,' he said, 'but I don't want to
recall your grief to your mind----'

'Recall!' she said, with a kind of miserable smile. 'That was not what I
meant; but--Reginald--my heart is too sore to bear talking. I--cannot
speak, and--I would rather not cry--not just now.'

She had not called him Reginald before since they were boy and girl
together; and that, and the piteous look she gave him, and her tremulous
protest that she would rather not cry, gave the man such a twinge
through his very soul as he had never felt before. He would have changed
places at the moment with one of his own porters to get out of it--to
escape from a position which he alone was aware of. Norah was crying
without restraint. It was such a scene as a man in the very height of
prosperity and comfort would hesitate to plunge into, even if there had
not risen before him those ghosts in the newspapers which one day or
other, if not now, Helen must find out.

'What I wanted to speak of was your own plans,' he said hastily, 'what
you think of doing, and--if you will not think me impertinent--what you
have to depend upon? I am your nearest relation, Helen, and it is right
I should know.'

'If everything has to be given up, I suppose I shall have nothing,' she
said faintly. 'There was my hundred a year settled upon me. The papers
came the other day. Who must I give them to? I have nothing, I suppose.'

'If your hundred a year was settled on you, of course you have that,
heaven be praised,' said Mr Burton, 'nobody can touch that. And, Helen,
if you like to come back to the old neighbourhood, I have part of a
house I could offer you. It is of no use to me. I can't let it; so you
might be quite easy in your mind about that. And it is furnished after a
sort; and it would be rent free.'

The tears which she had been restraining rushed to her eyes. 'How kind
you are!' she said. 'Oh, I can't say anything, but you are very, very
kind.'

'Never mind about that. You used to speak as if you did not like the old
neighbourhood----'

'Ah!' she said, 'that was when I cared. All neighbourhoods are the same
to me now.'

'But you will get to care after a while,' he said. 'You will not always
be as you are now.'

She shook her head with that faint little gleam of the painfullest
smile. To such a suggestion she could make no answer. She did not
believe her grief would ever lighten. She did not wish to feel
differently. She had not even that terrible experience which teaches
some that the broken heart must heal one way or other--mend of its
wound, or at least have its wound skinned over; for she had never been
quite stricken down to the ground before.

'Anyhow, you will think of it,' Mr Burton said in a soothing tone.
'Norah, you would like to come and live in the country, where there was
a nice large garden and plenty of room to run about. You must persuade
your mother to come. I won't stay now to worry you, Helen, and besides,
my time is precious; but you will let me do this much for you, I hope.'

She stood up in her black gown, which was so dismal and heavy, without
any reflection of light in its dull blackness, and held out to him a
hand which was doubly white by the contrast, and thin with fasting and
watching. 'You are very kind,' she said again. 'If I ever was unjust to
you, forgive me. I must have a home--for Norah; and I have
nowhere--nowhere to go!'

'Then that is settled,' he said with eagerness. It was an infinite
relief to him. Never in his life had he been so anxious to serve
another. Was it because he had loved her once? because he was fond of
her still? because she was his relation? His wife at that very moment
was pondering on the matter, touching it as it were with a little sharp
spear, which was not celestial like Ithuriel's. Being his wife, it would
have been natural enough if some little impulse of jealousy had come
across her, and moved her towards the theory that her husband did this
out of love for his cousin. But Mrs Burton had not blood enough in her
veins, and she had too clear an intelligence in her head, to be
jealous. She came to such a very different conclusion, that I hesitate
to repeat it; and she, too, half scared by the long journey she had
taken, and her very imperfect knowledge of the way by which she had
travelled, did not venture to put it into words. But the whisper at the
bottom of her heart was, 'Remorse! Remorse!' Mrs Burton herself did not
know for what, nor how far her husband was guilty towards his cousin.

But it was a relief to all parties when this interview was over. Mr
Burton went away drawing a long breath. And Helen applied herself
courageously to the work which was before her. She did not make any
hardship to herself about those men who were taking the inventory. It
had to be, and what was that--what was the loss of everything in
comparison----The larger loss deadened her to the smaller ones, which is
not always the case. She had her own and Norah's clothes to pack, some
books, a few insignificant trifles which she was allowed to retain, and
the three unfinished pictures, which indeed, had they not been given to
her, she felt she could have stolen. The little blurred sketch from the
easel, a trifling subject, meaning little, but bearing in its smeared
colours the last handwriting of poor Robert's despair; and that wistful
face looking up from the depths, up to the bit of blue sky far above and
the one star. Was that the Dives he had thought of, the soul in pain so
wistful, so sad, yet scarcely able to despair? It was like his letter, a
sacred appeal to her not on this earth only, but beyond--an appeal which
would outlast death and the grave. 'The door into hell,' she did not
understand, but she knew it had something to do with her husband's last
agony. These mournful relics were all she had to take with her into the
changed world.

A woman cannot weep violently when she is at work. Tears may come into
her eyes, tears may drop among the garments in which her past is still
existing, but her movements to and fro, her occupations, stem the full
tide and arrest it. Helen was quite calm. While Norah brought the things
for her out of the drawers she talked to the child as ordinary people
talk whose hearts are not broken. She had fallen into a certain
stillness--a hush of feeling. It did her good to be astir. When the
boxes were full and fastened she turned to her pictures, enveloping them
carefully, protecting the edges with cushions of folded paper. Norah was
still very busy in finding the cord for her, and holding the canvases
in their place. The child had rummaged out a heap of old newspapers,
with which the packing was being done. Suddenly she began to cry as she
stood holding one in her hand.

'Oh, mamma!' she said, looking up with big eyes in Helen's face. Crying
was not so rare in the house as to surprise her mother. She said--

'Hush, my darling!' and went on. But when she felt the paper thrust into
her hand, Helen stopped short in her task and looked, not at it but at
Norah. The tears were hanging on the child's cheeks, but she had stopped
crying. She pointed to one column in the paper and watched her mother
with eyes like those of Dives in the picture. Helen gave a cry when she
looked at it, 'Ah!' as if some sharp blow had been given to her. It was
the name, nothing but her husband's name, that had pierced her like a
sudden dagger. But she read on, without doubting, without thinking. It
was the article written two days before on the history of the painter
Drummond, 'the wretched man,' who had furnished a text for a sermon to
the _Daily Semaphore_.

Norah had read only a sentence at the beginning which she but partially
understood. It was something unkind, something untrue about 'poor
papa.' But she read her mother now instead, comprehending it by her
looks. Helen went over the whole without drawing breath. It brought back
the blood to her pale cheeks; it ran like a wild new life into every
vein, into every nerve. She turned round in the twinkling of an eye,
without a pause for thought, and put on the black bonnet with its
overwhelming crape veil which had been brought to her that morning. She
had not wanted it before. It was the first time in her life that she had
required to look at the world through those folds of crape.

'May I come too, mamma?' said Norah softly. She did not know where they
were going; but henceforward where her mother was there was the place
for Norah, at home or abroad, sleeping or waking. The child clung to
Helen's hand as they opened the familiar door, and went out once
again--after a lifetime--into the once familiar, the changed and awful
world. A summer evening, early June, the bloom newly off the lilacs, the
first roses coming on the trees; the strange daylight dazzled them, the
sound of passing voices buzzed and echoed as if they had been the centre
of a crowd. Or rather, this was their effect upon Helen. Norah clinging
to her hand, pressed close to her side, watched her, and thought of
nothing more.

Dr Maurice was going to his solitary dinner. He had washed his hands and
made himself daintily nice and tidy, as he always was; but he had not
changed his morning coat. He was standing with his back against the
writing-table in his library, looking up dreamily at poor Drummond's
picture, and waiting for the sound of the bell which should summon him
into the next room to his meal. When the door bell sounded instead
impatience seized him.

'What fool can be coming now?' he said to himself, and turned round in
time to see John's scared face peeping into the room before he
introduced those two figures, those two with their dark black dresses,
the one treading in the very steps of the other, moving with her
movement. He gave a cry of surprise. He had not seen them since the day
after Drummond's death. He had gone to inquire, and had left anxious
kind messages, but he, too, had conventional ideas in his mind and had
thought the widow 'would not be able' to see any one. Yet now she had
come to him--

'Dr Maurice,' she said, with no other preliminary, coming forward to
the table with her newspaper, holding out no hand, giving him no
salutation, while Norah moved with her step for step, like a shadow. 'Dr
Maurice, what does this mean?'



CHAPTER XVI.


I would not like to say what despairing thought Dr Maurice might have
had about his dinner in the first moment when he turned round and saw
Helen Drummond's pale face under her crape veil, but there were many
thoughts on the subject in his household, and much searchings of heart.
John had been aghast at the arrival of visitors, and especially of such
visitors, at such a moment; but his feelings would not permit him to
carry up dinner immediately, or to sound the bell, the note of warning.

'I canna do it, I canna do it--don't ask me,' he said, for John was a
north-country-man, and when his heart was moved fell back upon his old
idiom.

'Maybe the lady would eat a bit herself, poor soul,' the cook said in
insinuating tones. 'I've known folks eat in a strange house, for the
strangeness of it like, when they couldn't swallow a morsel in their
own.'

'Don't ask me!' said John, and he seized a stray teapot and began to
polish it in the trouble of his heart. There was silence in the kitchen
for ten minutes at least, for the cook was a mild woman till driven to
extremities; but to see fish growing into wool and potatoes to lead was
more than any one could be expected to bear.

'Do you see that?' she said in despair, carrying the dish up to him, and
thrusting it under his eyes. John threw down his teapot and fled. He
went and sat on the stairs to be out of reach of her remonstrances. But
the spectre of that fish went with him, and would not leave his sight;
the half-hour chimed, the three-quarters--

'I canna stand this no longer!' John said in desperation, and rushing up
to the dining-room, sounded the dinner-bell.

Its clang disturbed the little party in the next room who were so
differently occupied. Helen was seated by the table with a pile of
papers before her; her hands trembled as she turned from one to another,
but her attention did not swerve. She was following through them every
scrap that bore upon that one subject. Dr Maurice had procured them all
for her. He had felt that one time or other she must know all, and that
then her information must be complete. He himself was walking about the
room with his hands in his pocket, now stopping to point out or explain
something, now taking up a book, unsettled and unhappy, as a man
generally looks when he has to wait, and has nothing to do. He had
sought out a book for Norah, to the attractions of which the poor child
had gradually yielded. At first she had stood close by her mother. But
the contents of those papers were not for Norah's eye, and Helen herself
had sent her away. She had put herself in the window, her natural place;
the ruddy evening light streamed in upon her, and found out between the
black of her dress and that of her hat, a gleam of brown hair, to which
it gave double brightness by the contrast; and gradually she fell into
her old attitude, her old absorption. Dr Maurice walked about the room,
and pondered a hundred things. He would have given half he possessed for
that fatherless child who sat reading in the light, and forgetting her
childish share of sorrow. The mother in her mature beauty was little to
him--but the child--a child like that! And she was not his. She was
Robert Drummond's, who lay drowned at the bottom of the river, and
whose very name was drowned too in those bitter waters of calumny and
shame. Strange Providence that metes so unequally to one and to another.
The man did not think that he too might have had a wife and children had
he so chosen; but his heart hankered for this that was his neighbour's,
and which no magic, not even any subtle spell of love or protecting
tenderness, could ever make his own.

And Helen, almost unconscious of the presence of either, read through
those papers which had been preserved for her. She read Golden's letter,
and the comment upon it. She read the letter which Dr Maurice had
written, contradicting those cruel assertions. She read the further
comments upon that. How natural it was; how praiseworthy was the
vehemence of friends in defence of the dead--and how entirely without
proof! The newspaper pointed out with a cold distinctness, which looked
like hatred to Helen, that the fact of the disappearance of the books
told fatally against 'the unhappy man.' Why did he destroy those
evidences which would no doubt have cleared him had he acted fairly and
honestly? Day by day she traced the course of this controversy which had
been going on while she had shut herself up in the darkness. It gleamed
across her as she turned from one to another that this was why her
energy had been preserved and her strength sustained. She had not broken
down like other women, for this cause. God had kept her up for this. The
discussion had gone on down to that very morning, when a little
editorial note, appended to a short letter--one of the many which had
come from all sorts of people in defence of the painter--had announced
that such a controversy could no longer be carried on 'in these pages.'
'No doubt the friends of Mr Drummond will take further steps to prove
the innocence of which they are so fully convinced,' it said, 'and it
must be evident to all parties that the columns of a newspaper is not
the place for a prolonged discussion on a personal subject.' Helen
scarcely spoke while she read all these. She did not hear the
dinner-bell. The noise of the door when Dr Maurice rushed to it with
threatening word and look, to John's confusion, scarcely moved her. 'Be
quiet, dear,' she said unconsciously, when the doctor's voice in the
hall, where he had fallen upon his servant, came faintly into her
abstraction. 'You rascal! how dare you take such a liberty when you knew
who was with me?' was what Dr Maurice was saying, with rage in his
voice. But to Helen it seemed as if little Norah, forgetting the cloud
of misery about her, had begun to talk more lightly than she ought. 'Oh,
my child, be quiet,' she repeated; 'be quiet!' all her soul was absorbed
in this. She had no room for any other thought.

Dr Maurice came back with a flush of anger on his face. 'These people
would think it necessary to consider their miserable dishes if the last
judgment were coming on,' he said. He was a kind man, and very sorry for
his friend's widow. He would have given up much to help her; but perhaps
he too was hungry, and the thought of the spoilt dishes increased his
vehemence. She looked at him, putting back her veil with a blank look of
absolute incomprehension. She had heard nothing, knew nothing. Comfort,
and dinners, and servants, and all the paraphernalia of ordinary life,
were a hundred miles away from her thoughts.

'I have read them all,' she said in a tone so low that he had to stoop
to hear her. 'Oh, that I should have lost so much time in selfish
grieving! I thought nothing more could happen after. Dr Maurice, do you
know what I ought to do?'

'You!' he said. There was something piteous in her look of appeal. The
pale face and the gleaming eyes, the helplessness and the energy, all
struck him at a glance--a combination which he did not understand.

'Yes--me! You will say what can I do? I cannot tell the world what he
was, as you have done. Thanks for that,' she said, holding out her hand
to him. 'The wife cannot speak for her husband, and I cannot write to
the papers. I am quite ignorant. Dr Maurice, tell me if you know. What
can I do?'

Her gleam of wild indignation was gone. It had sunk before the
controversy, the discussion which the newspapers would no longer
continue. If poor Robert had met with no defenders, she would have felt
herself inspired. But his friends had spoken, friends who could speak.
And deep depression fell over her. 'Oh!' she said, clasping her hands,
'must we bear it? Is there nothing--nothing I can do?'

Again and again had he asked himself the same question. 'Mrs Drummond,'
he said, 'you can do nothing; try and make up your mind to it. I hoped
you might never know. A lady can do nothing in a matter of business. You
feel yourself that you cannot write or speak. And what good would it do
even if you could? I say that a more honourable man never existed. You
could say, I know, a great deal more than that; but what does it matter
without proof? If we could find out about those books----'

'He did not know anything about books,' said Helen; 'he could not even
keep his own accounts--at least it was a trouble to him. Oh, you know
that; how often have we--laughed----Oh, my God, my God!'

Laughed! The words brought the tears even to Dr Maurice's eyes. He put
his hand on her arm and patted it softly, as if she had been a child.
'Poor soul! poor soul!' he said: the tears had got into his voice too,
and all his own thoughts went out of his mind in the warmth of his
sympathy. He was a cautious man, not disposed to commit himself; but the
touch of such emotion overpowered all his defences. 'Look here, Mrs
Drummond,' he said; 'I don't know what we may be able to do, but I
promise you something shall be done--I give you my word. The
shareholders are making a movement already, but so many of them are
ruined, so many hesitate, as people say, to throw good money after the
bad. I don't know why I should hesitate, I am sure. I have neither chick
nor child.' He glanced at Norah as he spoke--at Norah lost in her book,
with the light in her hair, and her outline clear against the window.
But Helen did not notice, did not think what he could mean, being
absorbed in her own thoughts. She watched him, notwithstanding, with
dilating eyes. She saw all that at that moment she was capable of seeing
in his face--the rising resolution that came with it, the flash of
purpose. 'It ought to be done,' he said, 'even for justice. I will do
it--for that--and for Robert's sake.'

She held out both her hands to him in the enthusiasm of her ignorance.
'Oh, God bless you! God reward you!' she said. It seemed to her as if
she had accomplished all she had come for, and had cleared her husband's
name. At least his friend had pledged himself to do it, and it seemed to
Helen so easy. He had only to refute the lies which had been told; to
prove how true, how honest, how tender, how good, incapable of hurting a
fly; even how simple and ignorant of business, more ignorant almost than
she was, he had been; a man who never had kept any books, not even his
own accounts; who had a profession of his own, quite different, at which
he worked; who had not been five times in the City in his life before he
came connected with the Rivers's. After she had bestowed that blessing,
it seemed to her almost as if she were making too much of it, as if she
had but to go herself and tell it all, and prove his whitest innocence.
To go herself--but she did not know where.

Dr Maurice came down with a little tremulousness of excitement about him
from the pinnacle of that resolution. He knew better what it was. Her
simple notion of 'going and telling' resolved itself, in his mind, to an
action before the law-courts, to briefs, and witnesses, and expenditure.
But he was a man without chick or child; he was not ruined by Rivers's.
The sum he had lost had been enough to give him an interest in the
question, not enough to injure his powers of operation. And it was a
question of justice, a matter which some man ought to take up.
Nevertheless it was a great resolution to take. It would revolutionize
his quiet life, and waste the substance which he applied, he knew, to
many good uses. He felt a little shaken when he came down. And then--his
dinner, the poor friendly unfortunate man!

'Let Norah come and eat something with me,' he said, 'the child must be
tired. Come too and you shall have a chair to rest in, and we will not
trouble you; and then I will see you home.'

'Ah!' Helen gave an unconscious cry at the word. But already, even in
this one hour, she had learned the first hard lesson of grief, which is
that it must not fatigue others with its eternal presence--that they who
suffer most must be content often to suffer silently, and put on such
smiles as are possible--the ghost must not appear at life's commonest
board any more than at the banquet. It seemed like a dream when five
minutes later she found herself seated in an easy-chair in Dr Maurice's
dining-room, painfully swallowing some wine, while Norah sat at the
table by him and shared his dinner. It was like a dream; twilight had
begun to fall by this time, and the lamp was lighted on the table--a
lamp which left whole acres of darkness all round in the long dim room.
Helen sat and looked at the bright table and Norah's face, which turning
to her companion began to grow bright too, unawares. A fortnight is a
long age of trouble to a child. Norah's tears were still ready to come,
but the bitterness was out of them. She was sad for sympathy now. And
this change, the gleam of light, the smile of her old friend--his fond,
half-mocking talk, felt like happiness come back. Her mother looked on
from the shady corner where she was sitting, and understood it all.
Robert's friend loved him; but was glad now to pass to other matters, to
common life. And Robert's child loved him; but she was a child, and she
was ready to reply to the first touch of that same dear life. Helen was
growing wiser in her trouble. A little while ago she would have
denounced this changeableness, and struggled against it. But now she
understood and accepted what was out of her power to change.

And then in the pauses of his talk with Norah, which was sweet to him,
Dr Maurice heard all their story--how the house was already in the
creditors' hands, how they had prepared all their scanty possessions to
go away, and how Mr Burton had been very kind. Helen had not associated
him in any way with the assault on her husband's memory. She spoke of
him with a half gratitude which filled the doctor with suppressed fury.
He had been very kind--he had offered her a house.

'I thought you disliked Dura,' he said with an impatience which he could
not restrain.

'And so I did,' she answered drearily, 'as long as I could. It does not
matter now.'

'Then you will still go?'

'Still? Oh, yes; where should we go else? The whole world is the same to
us now,' said Helen. 'And Norah will be happier in the country; it is
good air.'

'Good air!' said Dr Maurice. 'Good heavens, what can you be thinking of?
And the child will grow up without any one to teach her, without
a--friend. What is to be done for her education? What is to be done--Mrs
Drummond, I beg your pardon. I hope you will forgive me. I have got into
a way of interfering and making myself ridiculous, but I did not
mean----'

'Nay,' said Helen gently, half because she felt so weary, half because
there was a certain comfort in thinking that any one cared, 'I am not
angry. I knew you would think of what is best for Norah. But, Dr
Maurice, we shall be very poor.'

He did not make any reply; he was half ashamed of his vehemence, and yet
withal he was unhappy at this new change. Was it not enough that he had
lost Drummond, his oldest friend, but he must lose the child too, whom
he had watched ever since she was born? He cast a glance round upon the
great room, which might have held a dozen people, and in his mind
surveyed the echoing chambers above, of which but one was occupied. And
then he glanced at Norah's face, still bright, but slightly clouded
over, beside him, and thought of the pretty picture she had made in the
library seated against the window. Burton, who was their enemy, who had
been the chief agent in bringing them to poverty, could give them a home
to shelter their houseless heads. And why could not he, who had neither
chick nor child, who had a house so much too big for him, why could not
he take them in? Just to have the child in the house, to see her now and
then, to hear her voice on the stairs, or watch her running from room to
room, would be all he should want. They could live there and harm
nobody, and save their little pittance. This thought ran through his
mind, and then he stopped and confounded Burton. But Burton had nothing
to do with it. He had better have confounded the world, which would not
permit him to offer shelter to his friend's widow. He gave a furtive
glance at Helen in the shadow. He did not want Helen in his house. His
friend's wife had never attracted him; and though he would have been the
kindest of guardians to his friend's widow, still there was nothing in
her that touched his heart. But he could not open his doors to her and
say, 'Come.' He knew if he did so how the men would grin and the women
whisper; how impertinent prophecies would flit about, or slanders much
worse than impertinent. No, he could not do it; he could not have Norah
by, to help on her education, to have a hand in her training, to make
her a child of his own. He had no child. It was his lot to live alone
and have no soft hand ever in his. All this was very ridiculous, for,
as I have said before, Dr Maurice was very well off; he was not old nor
bad-looking, and he might have married like other men. But then he did
not want to marry. He wanted little Norah Drummond to be his child, and
he wanted nothing more.

Helen leaned back in her chair without any thought of what was passing
through his heart. That her child should have inspired a _grande
passion_ at twelve had never entered her mind, and she took his words in
their simplicity and pondered over them. 'I can teach her myself,' she
said with a tremor in her voice. This man was not her friend, she knew.
He had no partial good opinion of her, such as one likes one's friends
to have, but judged her on her merits, which few people are vain enough
to put much trust in; and she thought that very likely he would not
think her worthy of such a charge. 'I _have_ taught her most of what she
knows,' she added with a little more confidence. 'And then the great
thing is, we shall be very poor.'

'Forgive me!' he said; 'don't say any more. I was unpardonably
rash--impertinent--don't think of what I said.'

And then he ordered his carriage for them and sent them home. I do not
know whether perhaps it did not occur to Helen as she drove back
through the summer dusk to her dismantled house what a difference there
was between their destitution and poverty and all the warm glow of
comfort and ease which surrounded this lonely man. But there can be no
doubt that Norah thought of it, who had taken in everything with her
brown eyes, though she said little. While they were driving along in the
luxurious smoothly-rolling brougham, the child crept close to her
mother, clasping Helen's arm with both her hands. 'Oh, mamma,' she said,
'how strange it is that we should have lost everything and Dr Maurice
nothing, that he should have that great house and this nice carriage,
and us be driven away from St Mary's Road! What can God be thinking of,
mamma?'

'Oh, Norah, my dear child, we have each other, and he has nobody,' said
Helen; and in her heart there was a frenzy of triumph over this man who
was so much better off than she was. The poor so often have that
consolation; and sometimes it is not much of a consolation after all.
But Helen felt it to the bottom of her heart as she drew her child to
her, and felt the warm, soft clasp of hands, the round cheek against her
own. Two desolate, lonely creatures in their black dresses--but two,
and together; whereas Dr Maurice, in his wealth, in his strength, in
what the world would have called his happiness, was but one.



CHAPTER XVII.


The pretty house in St Mary's Road--what a change had come upon it!
There was a great painted board in front describing the desirable
residence, with studio attached, which was to be let. The carpets were
half taken up and laid in rolls along the floor, the chairs piled
together, the costly, pretty furniture, so carefully chosen, the things
which belonged to the painter's early life, and those which were the
product of poor Drummond's wealth, all removed and jumbled together, and
ticketed 'Lot 16,' 'Lot 20.' 'Lot 20' was the chair which had been
Helen's chair for years--the one poor Robert had kissed. If she had
known that, she would have spent her last shilling to buy it back out of
the rude hands that turned it over. But even Helen only knew half of the
tragedy which had suddenly enveloped her life. They threaded their way
up-stairs to their bed-room through all those ghosts. It was still
early; but what could they do down-stairs in the house which no longer
retained a single feature of home? Helen put her child to bed, and then
sat down by her, shading the poor little candle. It was scarcely quite
dark even now. It is never dark in June. Through the open window there
came the sound of voices, people walking about the streets after their
work was over. There are so many who have only the streets to walk in,
so many to whom St Mary's Road, with its lilacs and laburnums and pretty
houses, was pleasant and fresh as if it had been in the depths of the
country. Helen saw them from the window, coming and going, so often two,
arm in arm, two who loitered and looked up at the lighted house, and
spoke softly to each other, making their cheerful comments. The voices
sounded mellow, the distant rattle of carriages was softened by the
night, and a soft wind blew through the lilacs, and some stars looked
wistfully out of the pale sky. Why are they so sad in summer, those
lustrous stars? Helen looked out at them, and big tears fell softly out
of her eyes. Oh, face of Dives looking up! Oh, true and kind and just
and gentle soul! Must she not even think of him as in heaven, as hidden
in God with the dead who depart in faith and peace, but gone elsewhere,
banished for ever? The thought crossed her like an awful shadow, but did
not sting. There are some depths of misery to which healthy nature
refuses to descend, and this was one. Had she _felt_ as many good people
feel on this subject, and as she herself believed theoretically that she
felt, I know what Helen would have done. She would have gone down to
that river and joined him in his own way, wherever he was, choosing it
so. No doubt, she would have been wrong. But she did not descend into
that abyss. She kept by her faith in God instinctively, not by any
doctrine. Did not God _know_? But even the edge of it, the shadow of the
thought, was enough to chill her from head to foot. She stole in from
the window, and sat down at the foot of the bed where Norah lay, and
tried to think. She had thought there could be no future change, no
difference one way or other; but since this very morning what changes
there were!--her last confidence shattered, her last comfort thrust from
her. Robert's good name! She sat quite silent for hours thinking it over
while Norah slept. Sometimes for a moment it went nigh to make her mad.
Of all frantic things in the world, there is nothing like that sense of
impotence--to feel the wrong and to be unable to move against it. It
woke a feverish irritation in her, a _sourd_ resentment, a rage which
she could not overcome, nor satisfy by any exertion. What could she do,
a feeble woman, against the men who had cast this stigma on her husband?
She did not even know who they were, except Golden. It was he who was
the origin of it all, and whose profit it was to prove himself innocent
by the fable of Robert's guilt! It was the most horrible farce, a farce
which was a tragedy, which every one who knew him must laugh at wildly
among their tears. But then the world did not know him; and the world
likes to think the worst, to believe in guilt as the one thing always
possible. That there were people who knew better had been proved to
her--people who had ventured to call out indignantly, and say, 'This is
not true,' without waiting to be asked. Oh, God bless them! God bless
them! But they were not the world.

When the night was deeper, when the walkers outside had gone, when all
was quiet, except now and then the hurried step of a late passer-by,
Helen went to the window once more, and looked out upon that world. What
a little bit of a world it is that a woman can see from her window!--a
few silent roofs and closed windows, one or two figures going and
coming, not a soul whom she knew or could influence; but all those
unknown people, when they heard her husband's name, if it were years
and years hence, would remember the slander that had stained it, and
would never know his innocence, his incapacity even for such guilt. This
is what gives force to a lie, this is what gives bitterness, beyond
telling, to the hearts of those who are impotent, whose contradiction
counts for nothing, who have no proof, but only certainty. What a night
it was!--like Paradise even in London. The angels might have been
straying through those blue depths of air, through the celestial warmth
and coolness, without any derogation from their high estate. It was not
moonlight, nor starlight, nor dawn, but some heavenly combination of all
three which breathed over the blue arch above, so serene, so deep, so
unfathomable; and down below the peopled earth lay like a child,
defenceless and trustful in the arms of its Maker. 'Dear God, the very
city seems asleep!' But here was one pair of eyes that no sleep visited,
which dared not look up to heaven too closely lest her dead should not
be there; which dared not take any comfort in the pity of earth, knowing
that it condemned while it pitied. God help the solitary, the helpless,
the wronged, those who can see no compensation for their sufferings, no
possible alchemy that can bring good out of them! Helen crept to bed at
last, and slept. It was the only thing in which there remained any
consolation; to be unconscious, to shut out life and light and all that
accompanies them; to be for an hour, for a moment, as good as dead.
There are many people always, to whom this is the best blessing
remaining in the world.

The morning brought a letter from Mr Burton, announcing that the house
at Dura was ready to receive his cousin. Helen would have been thankful
to go but for the discovery she had made on the previous day. After that
it seemed to her that to be on the spot, to be where she could maintain
poor Robert's cause, or hear of others maintaining it, was all she
wanted now in the world. But this was a mere fancy, such as the poor
cannot indulge in. She arranged everything to go to her new home on the
next day. It was time at least that she should leave this place in which
her own room was with difficulty preserved to her for another night. All
the morning the mother and daughter shut themselves up there, hearing
the sounds of the commotion below--the furniture rolled about here and
there, the heavy feet moving about the uncarpeted stairs and rooms that
already sounded hollow and vacant. Bills of the sale were in all the
windows; the very studio, the place which now would have been sacred if
they had been rich enough to indulge in fancies. But why linger upon
such a scene? The homeliest imagination can form some idea of
circumstances which in themselves are common enough.

In the afternoon the two went out--to escape from the house more than
anything else. 'We will go and see the Haldanes,' Helen said to her
child; and Norah wondered, but acquiesced gladly. Mrs Drummond had never
taken kindly to the fact that her husband's chief friend lived in
Victoria Villas, and was a Dissenting minister with a mother and sister
who could not be called gentlewomen. But all that belonged to the day of
her prosperity, and now her heart yearned for some one who loved
Robert--some one who would believe in him--to whom no vindication, even
in thought, would be necessary. And the Haldanes had been ruined by
Rivers's. This was another bond of union. She had called but once upon
them before, and then under protest; but now she went nimbly, almost
eagerly, down the road, past the line of white houses with their
railings. There had been much thought and many discussions over Mr
Burton's proposal within those walls. They had heard of it nearly a
fortnight since, but they had not yet made any formal decision; that is
to say, Mrs Haldane was eager to go; Miss Jane had made a great many
calculations, and decided that the offer ought to be accepted as a
matter of duty; but Stephen's extreme reluctance still kept them from
settling. Something, however, had occurred that morning which had added
a sting to Stephen's discouragement, and taken away the little strength
with which he had faintly maintained his own way. In the warmth and
fervour of his heart, he had used his little magazine to vindicate his
friend. A number of it had been just going to the press when the papers
had published Drummond's condemnation, and Haldane, who knew him so
well--all his weakness and his strength--had dashed into the field and
proclaimed, in the only way that was possible to him, the innocence and
excellence of his friend. All his heart had been in it; he had made such
a sketch of the painter, of his genius (poor Stephen thought he had
genius), of his simplicity and goodness and unimpeachable honour, as
would have filled the whole denomination with delight, had the subject
of the sketch been one of its potentates or even a member of Mr
Haldane's chapel. But Robert was not even a Dissenter at all, he had
nothing to do with the denomination; and, to tell the truth, his _éloge_
was out of place. Perhaps Stephen himself felt it was so after he had
obeyed the first impulse which prompted it. But at least he was not left
long in doubt. A letter had reached him from the magazine committee
that morning. They had told him that they could not permit their organ
to be made the vehicle of private feeling; they had suggested an apology
in the next number; and they had threatened to take it altogether out of
his hands. Remonstrances had already reached them, they said, from every
quarter as to the too secular character of the contents; and they
ventured to remind Mr Haldane that this was not a mere literary journal,
but the organ of the body, and intended to promote its highest, its
spiritual interests. Poor Stephen! he was grieved, and he writhed under
the pinch of this interference. And then the magazine not only brought
him in the half of his income, but was the work of his life--he had
hoped to 'do some good' that way. He had aimed at improving it, cutting
short the gossip and scraps of local news, and putting in something of a
higher character. In this way he had been able to persuade himself,
through all his helplessness, that he still possessed some power of
influence over the world. He had been so completely subdued by the
attack, that he had given in about Mr Burton's house, and that very day
the proposal had been accepted; but he had not yet got the assault
itself out of his head. All the morning he had been sitting with the
manuscripts and proofs before him which were to make up his new number,
commenting upon them in the bitterness of his heart.

'I suppose I must put this in now, whether I like it or not,' he said.
'I never suspected before how many pangs ruin brings with it, mother;
not one, but a legion. They never dreamt of interfering with me before.
Now look at this rabid, wretched thing. I would put it in the fire if I
dared, and free the world of so much ill-tempered folly; but Bateman
wrote it, and I dare not. Fancy, I _dare_ not! If I had been
independent, I should have made a stand. And my magazine--all the little
comfort I had--'

'Oh, Stephen, my dear! but what does it matter what you put in if they
like it? You are always writing, writing, wearing yourself out. Why
shouldn't they have some of the trouble. You oughtn't to mind----'

'But I do mind,' he said, with a feeble smile. 'It is all I have to do,
mother. It is to me what I am to you; you would not like to see me
neglected, fed upon husks, like the prodigal.'

'Oh, Stephen dear, how can you talk so?--you neglected!' said his mother
with tears in her eyes.

'Well, that is what I feel, mother. I shall have to feed my child with
husks--tea-meetings and reports of this and that chapel, and how much
they give. They were afraid of me once; they dared not grumble when I
rejected and cut out; but--it is I who dare not now.'

Mrs Haldane wisely made no reply. In her heart she had liked the
magazine better when it was all about the tea-meetings and the progress
of the good cause. She liked the bits of sectarian gossip, and to know
how much the different chapels subscribed, which congregation had given
its minister a silver teapot, and which had given him his dismissal. All
this was more interesting to her than all Stephen's new-fangled
discussions of public matters, his eagerness about education and
thought, and a great many other things that did not concern his mother.
But she held this opinion within herself, and was as indignant with the
magazine committee as heart could desire. The two fell silent for some
time, he going on with his literature, and she with her sewing, till the
only servant they had left, a maiden, called _par excellence_ 'the
girl,' came in with a tray laden with knives and forks to lay the cloth
for dinner. The girl's eyes were red, and a dirty streak across one
cheek showed where her tears had been wiped away with her apron.

'What is the matter?' said Mrs Haldane.

'Oh, please, it's Miss Jane,' cried the handmaid. 'She didn't ought to
speak so; oh, she didn't ought to. My mother's a seat-holder in our
chapel, and I'm a member. I'm not a-going to bear it! We ain't folks to
be pushed about.'

'Lay the cloth, and do it quietly,' said the old lady. And with a silent
exasperation, such as only a woman can feel, she watched the unhandy
creature. 'Thank heaven, we shall want no girl in the country,' she said
to herself. But when her eye fell on Stephen, he was actually
smiling--smiling at the plea for exception, with that mingled sadness
and bitterness which it pained his mother to see. The girl went on
sniffing and sobbing all the same. She had already driven her other
mistress almost frantic in the kitchen. Miss Jane had left a little
stew, a savoury dish such as Stephen's fanciful appetite required to
tempt it, by the fire, slowly coming to perfection. 'The girl' had
removed it to the fender, where it was standing, growing cold, just at
the critical moment when all its juices should have been blending under
the gentle, genial influence of the fire. Common cooks cannot stew. They
can boil, or they can burn; but they never catch the delicious medium
between. Only such persons as cook for love, or such as possess genius,
can hit this more than golden mean. Miss Jane combined both characters.
She did it _con amore_ and _per amore_; and when she found her fragrant
dish set aside for the sake of 'the girl's' kettle, her feelings can be
but faintly imagined by the uninitiated. 'I wish I could beat you,' she
said, with natural exasperation. And this to 'a joined member,' a
seat-holder's daughter! Stephen laughed when the tale was repeated to
him, with a laugh which was full of bitterness. He tried to swallow his
portion of the stew, but it went against him. 'It is the same
everywhere,' he said; 'the same subjection of the wise to the foolish,
postponing of the best to the worst. Rubbish to please the joined
members--silence and uselessness to us.'

'Oh, Stephen!' said Mrs Haldane, 'you know I am not always of your way
of thinking. After all there is something in it; for when a girl is a
church member, she can't be quite without thought; and when she neglects
her work, it is possible, you know, that she might be occupied with
better things. I don't mean to say that it is an excuse.'

'I should think not, indeed,' said Miss Jane. 'I'd rather have some one
that knew her work, and did it, than a dozen church members. A heathen
to-day would have been as much use to me.'

'That may be very true,' said her mother; 'but I think, considering
Stephen's position, that such a thing should not be said by you or me.
In my days a person stood up for chapel, through thick and thin,
especially when he had a relation who was a minister. You think you are
wiser, you young ones, and want to set up for being liberal, and think
church as good as chapel, and the world, so far as I can make out, as
good as either. But that way of thinking would never answer me.'

'Well, thank heaven,' said Miss Jane in a tone of relief, 'in the
country we shall not want any "girl."'

'That is what I have been thinking,' said Mrs Haldane with alacrity; and
in the painful moment which intervened while the table was being cleared
and the room put in order, she painted to herself a fancy picture of
'the country.' She was a Londoner born, and had but an imperfect idea
what the word meant. It was to her a vague vision of greenness, parks
and trees and great banks of flowers. The village street was a thing she
had no conception of. A pleasant dream of some pleasant room opening on
a garden, and level with it, crossed her mind. It was a cottage of
romance, one of those cottages which make their appearance in the
stories which she half disapproved of, yet felt a guilty pleasure in
reading. There had been one, an innocent short one, with the gentlest
of good meanings, in the last number of Stephen's magazine, with just
such a cottage in it, where a sick heroine recovered. She thought she
could see the room, and the invalid chair outside the door, in which he
could be wheeled into the garden to the seat under the apple-tree. Her
heart overflowed with that pleasant thought. And Stephen might get well!
Such a joy was at the end of every vista to Mrs Haldane. She sat and
dreamed over this with a smile on her face while the room was being
cleared; and her vision was only stayed by the unusual sound of Helen's
knock at the door.

'It will be some one to see the house,' said Miss Jane, and she went
away hurriedly, with loud-whispered instructions to the girl, into 'the
front drawing-room,' to be ready to receive any applicant; so that Miss
Jane was not in the room when Helen with her heart beating, and Norah
clinging close to her as her shadow, was shown abruptly into the
invalid's room. 'The girl' thrust her in without a word of introduction
or explanation. Norah was familiar in the place, though her mother was a
stranger. Mrs Haldane rose hastily to meet them, and an agitated speech
was on Helen's lips that she had come to say good-bye, that she was
going away, that they might never meet again in this world,--when her
eye caught the helpless figure seated by the window, turning a
half-surprised, half-sympathetic look upon her. She had never seen poor
Stephen since his illness, and she was not prepared for this complete
and lamentable overthrow. It drove her own thoughts, even her own
sorrows, out of her mind for the moment. She gave a cry of mingled
wonder and horror. She had heard all about it, but seeing is so very
different from hearing.

'Oh, Mr Haldane!' she said, going up to him, forgetting herself--with
such pity in her voice as he had not heard for years. It drove out of
his mind, too, the more recent and still more awful occasion he had to
pity her. He looked at her with sudden gratitude in his eyes.

'Yes, it is a change, is it not?' he said with a faint smile. He had
been an Alp-climber, a mighty walker, when she saw him last.

Some moments passed before she recovered the shock. She sat down by him
trembling, and then she burst into sudden tears--not that she was a
woman who cried much in her sorrow, but that her nerves were affected
beyond her power of control.

'Mr Haldane, forgive me,' she faltered. 'I have never seen you
since--and so much has happened--oh, so much!'

'Ah, yes,' he said. 'I could cry too--not for myself, for that is an old
story. I would have gone to you, had I been able--you know that; and it
is very, very kind of you to come to me.'

'It is to say good-bye. We are going away to the country, Norah and I,'
said Helen; 'there is no longer any place for us here. But I wanted to
see you, to tell you--you seem--to belong--so much--to the old time.'

Ah, that old time! the time which softens all hearts. It had not been
perfect while it existed, but now how fair it was! Perhaps Stephen
Haldane remembered it better than she did; perhaps it might even cross
his mind that in that old time she had not cared much to see him, had
not welcomed him to her house with any pleasure. But he was too generous
to allow himself even to think such a thought, in her moment of
downfall. The depths were more bitter to her even than to him. He would
not let the least shadow even in his mind fret her in her great trouble.
He put out his hand, and grasped hers with a sympathy which was more
telling than words.

'And I hope your mother will forgive me too,' she said with some
timidity. 'I thought I had more command of myself. We could not go
without coming to say good-bye.'

'It is very kind--it is more than I had any right to expect,' said Mrs
Haldane. 'And we are going to the country too. We are going to Dura, to
a house Mr Burton has kindly offered to us. Oh, Mrs Drummond, now I
think of it, probably we owe it to you.'

'No,' said Helen, startled and mystified; and then she added slowly, 'I
am going to Dura too.'

'Oh, how very lucky that is! Oh, how glad I am!' said the old lady.
'Stephen, do you hear? Of course, Mr Burton is your cousin; it is
natural you should be near him. Stephen, this is good news for you. You
will have Miss Norah, whom you were always so fond of, to come about you
as she used to do--that is, if her mamma will allow her. Oh, my dear, I
am so glad! I must go and tell Jane. Jane, here is something that will
make you quite happy. Mrs Drummond is coming too.'

She went to the door to summon her daughter, and Helen was left alone
with the sick man. She had not loved him in the old time, but yet he
looked a part of Robert now, and her heart melted towards him. She was
glad to have him to herself, as glad as if he had been a brother. She
put her hand on the arm of his chair, laying a kind of doubtful claim to
him. 'You have seen what they say?' she asked, looking in his face.

'Yes, all; with fury,' he said, 'with indignation! Oh my God, that I
should be chained here, and good for nothing! They might as well have
said it of that child.'

'Oh, is it not cruel, cruel!' she said.

These half-dozen words were all that passed between them, and yet they
comforted her more than all Dr Maurice had said. He had been indignant
too, it is true; but not with this fiery, visionary wrath--the rage of
the helpless, who can do nothing.

When Miss Jane came in with her mother, they did the most of the
talking, and Helen shrunk into herself; but when she had risen to go
away, Stephen thrust a little packet into her hand. 'Read it when you go
home,' he said. It was his little dissenting magazine, the insignificant
brochure which she would have scorned so in the old days. With what
tears, with what swelling of her heart, with what an agony of pride and
love and sorrow she read it that night!

And so the old house was closed, and the old life ended. Henceforward,
everything that awaited her was cold and sad and new.


END OF VOL. I.


JOHN CHILDS AND SON, PRINTERS.





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