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Title: Isabel Clarendon, Vol. I (of II) - In Two Volumes
Author: Gissing, George
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Isabel Clarendon, Vol. I (of II) - In Two Volumes" ***

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By George Gissing

In Two Volumes.

Vol. I.

London: Chapman And Hall, Limited

Charles Dickens And Evans, Crystal Palace Press


“C’était plus qu’une vue, hélas! c’était un monde Qui s’était effacé!”

[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0007]



From Salcot East to Winstoke there are two roads, known respectively as
the old and the new. The latter was made about the middle of the present
century; the old road is immemorial. By the modern highway the distance
between the two parishes is rather less than five miles; pursue the
other, and you fetch a compass of well-nigh ten, taking into account all
the inexplicable windings and angularities between the “White Hart
Inn” at Salcot, where the roads disdainfully part company, to Winstoke
Rectory, where they unite and form the village street. It says much for
ancestral leisureliness in that north-west corner of ------shire, that
the old way ever established itself, or, being established, was used
to so recent a date; on the other hand, the construction of the new
thoroughfare looks remarkably like a practical joke, perpetrated at
their own expense by the good people of the country side, seeing that
this activity displayed itself just when it was least called for.
Formerly, there was a silk manufactory at Salcot East, and direct
communication with the neighbouring parish would have been a
convenience; only when the industry in question had fallen into complete
decay, and when it could not matter to any one whether it took one hour
or two to reach Win-stoke (where not even a market was held), did the
inhabitants tax themselves for the great undertaking.

As regards picturesqueness, needless to say that the old road has
enormously the advantage. A pedestrian with time on his hands and
walking for walking’s sake, could not hesitate between the hard white
turnpike, running on into level distance between dusty hedgerows, and
that charming glimpse of elm-shadowed lane, grass creeping from the
densely verdurous bank on either side to the deep moistened ruts, and,
twenty yards away, a sudden turn round a fantastic oak, all beyond a
delightful uncertainty. Such a pedestrian was Bernard Kingcote, a man
neither too old nor too busy to be rambling aimlessly on this Midsummer
Day; over his shoulders a small knapsack, with a waterproof strapped
upon it, in his hand a stick he had cut from an oak-tree. Since eleven
in the morning the sun had shone as in England it shines but rarely--a
steady force of fire which drew the perspiration from every pore of
one standing unshaded. Under these circumstances, Kingcote had loitered
about Salcot all the day, having reached the place after a four-mile
stroll from another little town where he had passed the preceding night.
There were leafy lurking-places here and there along the banks of the
stream called Sale, and the “White Hart” gave promise of a comfortable,
homely meal at mid-day. The time passed pleasantly enough till late
afternoon, for he had a couple of books in his knapsack, and made
purchase of another in a musty little shop full of miscellaneous
rubbish, into which he was tempted by the sight of a shelf of ragged
volumes; then came tea at the “White Hart” again, and he was ready,
after a survey of his Ordnance map, to use the cool of the evening for
a ramble on to Winstoke. But as he came forth from the inn, unexpected
entertainment presented itself. A dancing bear had just been led into
the town, and the greater part of the population had assembled in the
broad street to watch the poor dusty-coated beast. With a humorous
sadness on his countenance, Kingcote stood in the doorway, observant
of the artificial biped and the natural ones which surrounded it. As he
waited, a trifling incident occurred which afterwards came back to his
memory with more significance than he had attributed to it at the time;
somebody jolted against him from behind, and then a country fellow of
evil appearance staggered out of the inn and mixed with the crowd; he
was seemingly half-drunk, or but just awakened.

This gave the pedestrian the impulse needed to send him forth on his
way. He looked for a moment along the new road, then his eyes wandered
to the old, and he turned at once into the latter. There was a
sign-post at the parting; both its arms said, “To Winstoke,” but one was
crumbling, fungus-scored, its inscription barely legible; the other a
stout piece of timber, self-assertive, with rounded ends and freshly
painted in black and white. Kingcote passed with a mental comment.

The road was just what it promised, perfectly rural, sweet with all
summer growths, seldom without trees on both sides, ash predominating,
oak and holly frequent. It mounted little hills where the least turn
would have enabled it to keep level; oftener still made a curve or
a corner, to all appearances merely for the sake of constructing an
exquisite little picture of banks and boughs and luxuriant vegetation.

At times nothing was to be seen for the robust old hedges; then would
come a peep over open country, a stretch of yellow’ fields bounded far
away by the bare chalk-hills. No cottages, no trim borders of stately
parks, seldom a gate giving into a grass meadow. It seemed that no one
ever came this way; the new road had monopolised traffic of every kind.
The gnats began to swarm; here and there a spider, acting with the
assurance of long impunity, had carried his invisible silken thread
right across the road; the birds were softening their multitudinous
voices to sunset. Now and then was heard a sound of deep, steady
breathing from behind the hedge, and an odour of warm, sweet breath
filled the air; it was a cow that lay there chewing the cud. Or a horse,
turned out to grass, would put his head up and look over into the lane,
half-alarmed at the approach of a human being. The pedestrian had a
friendly word for him.

Kingcote’s way of walking was that of a man accustomed to his own
society; he advanced slowly, yet without pauses, and often became
forgetful of the things about him. His face was neither sad nor
cheerful, but the tendency of its free play of feature was clearly in
the direction rather of the former than of the latter expression. It was
plain that he enjoyed to the full the scenes through which he passed,
and enjoyed them as a man of poetic sensibilities, but there was no
exuberance of vitality in his delight. He looked like one who had been
walking all through the heat of the day, and was growing weary for his
night’s retreat. Evidently he had nothing of the naturalist’s instinct;
he never bent to examine a flower or leaf, and he could not indeed have
assigned its name to any but the commonest; the very trees whose beauty
dwelt longest in his eye did not suggest to him their own familiar
appellations. To judge from his countenance, the communing which he held
with himself was constant and lively; at times words even fell from his
lips. It was not the face of a man at ease with his own heart, or with
the circumstances amid which his life had fallen. A glance of pleasure
hither or thither was often succeeded by the shadow of brooding, and
this by a gleam of passion, brief but significant enough. This inward
energy was brought to view on features sufficiently remote from any
ordinary stamp to prove interesting in themselves; they were those of a
young man--Kingcote was not quite thirty.

When he had been walking for a couple of hours, his thoughts began to
turn to his plans for the following day; he took the map out again,
and examined it as he proceeded. He had been away from home--from
London--three days; to-morrow would be Friday, and on Saturday he
proposed to return. There came into his mind a question about money,
and he felt for his purse. For the first time he came to a standstill;
neither in the wonted pocket nor anywhere else was his purse to be
found. It had contained all his immediate resources, with the exception
of a few loose coppers. Then it was that the course of reflection
brought him back to that incident in the doorway of the “White Hart,”
 and he felt little doubt that the seemingly drunken boor who pushed
against him had in the same moment dexterously picked his pocket. The
purse had been safe when he paid his bill at the inn, and certainly he
had not left it behind him by accident. At all events, purse and money
were gone, and it was not our friend’s temper to fall into useless
lamentation over irremediable accidents. If, indeed, the case were one
of theft--and no other explanation seemed possible--he wished the rascal
luck of his three pounds or so, and, walking slowly on again, began to
ask himself what was to be done.

To stop at Winstoke, take up quarters there at an inn, and wait till
money could be sent to him from London, was the course which naturally
first suggested itself. Yet the reasons against it were not long in
being discovered.

What guarantee could he give to his landlord--short of remaining shut up
in the inn all day--of his honest intention to pay when money arrived?
His knapsack and three old books were not much of a pledge. Another
would perchance have never given this matter a thought, but a feature
of Kingcote’s character was concerned in it. He was too proud to subject
himself to possible suspicion, especially that of his social inferiors;
to explain his position to an innkeeper would have galled him
exceedingly, still more so to live for a day under the innkeeper’s eyes
without an explanation. Things which most men accept as the every-day
rubs of the world were to Kingcote among the worst evils of existence;
the most ordinary transaction with uneducated and (as he held)
presumably uncivilised persons at all times made him uncomfortable,
and a necessity such as the present assailed his fastidiousness with
no little severity. He reopened his map, and began to calculate the
possibility of walking straight on to London. There was no possibility
in the matter. He might sleep in the open air this midsummer night, and
it would be rather pleasant than otherwise, but the situation would only
be complicated by the pressing need of breakfast in the morning. Was
there nothing for it but to face the innkeeper?

He moved on, and a turn in the road exposed a scene which for the moment
made him lose sight of his annoyances. He had suddenly come in full view
of a cottage, and, it seemed to him, a cottage of ideal rusticity. It
was very old, built of brick which had become finely toned wherever
it was not hidden by ivy, and the tiles of the roof were patched with
richest hues of moss and lichen; its low upper storey had two dormer
windows. The dwelling lay a few yards back from the road, and in the
middle of the grass before the door stood the bowed trunk of an old, old
oak-tree, branchless, hollow, killed by the parasites which clung about
it in astonishing luxuriance. To the rear of the cottage, which seemed
to be uninhabited, grew a cluster of tall trees, with a quantity of
bushy undergrowth; the tree-tops were black with rooks’ nests, and the
birds themselves were loud in talk. This scene, with its background of
magnificent evening sky above remote hills of the intensest blue, might
well have brought the pedestrian to a pause; it was something else,
however, that checked him with a movement of surprise. He was no
longer alone with nature; facing the cottage sat a girl, busy over a
water-colour sketch; she was working with rapid eagerness, and, as she
sat with her back to him, she could not see, and had not heard, his
approach. Kingcote would have liked to stay here awhile, but the
stranger’s presence made it difficult. Taking a step or two onwards, he
speedily drew her attention; she suspended the work of her pencil
and looked quickly round. Kingcote experienced a sense of profound
disappointment; far from being in harmony with the scene, the face
presented to him was irregular in feature and harsh in expression; the
eyes seemed very large, and, having met his, did not at once remove
themselves, but continued to gaze with something like defiance, whilst
the lips worked in a curiously nervous way, not at all pleasant to
watch. She was perhaps nineteen; her dress very plain, but that of a
lady. With the observance of these details, Kingcote walked past her
at a sharp pace, and did not venture to stay his steps again till the
ever-winding road had taken him from the sketcher’s sight.

“I never saw so uninteresting a girl,” was his first thought, but it had
scarcely passed through his mind when he felt that its hastiness did
not in truth embody his impression. To say that he had never seen a less
pleasing girl would be more accurate. A merely uninteresting face would
not at once, and so forcibly, have printed itself upon his memory; he
already felt that the unpropitiating gaze of those large, cold eyes
would remain long with him. He wondered who she might be. Certainly no
conventional young lady who came out to sketch in a feeble way, in the
ordinary course of her mild domestic existence; more likely than that,
a professional artist, or one studying to become such. There had been no
opportunity for a glance at her work, but the earnestness with which she
gave herself up to it inspired a certain confidence as to the results.
Whence did she come, dressed as if for a brief walk, with her camp stool
and sketching apparatus?

One more, and this the last, turn of the old road showed that she need
not have come any very great distance. Kingcote found himself entering
Winstoke. On his left hand was the village church, a low edifice with
a solid, square tower, and, just beyond it, what was evidently the
rectory. These occupied the angle made by the two roads as they
reunited. Across the churchyard and the rectory garden was visible the
white dust of the turnpike, along which on the further side ran a high
brick wall capped with tiles, the enclosure of private grounds. The
rectory thus stood with its back to the church; its front windows looked
upon a large open space, grass-grown and shadowed with fine trees, the
whole surrounded with iron chains loosely swinging from post to post. On
the left proceeded the high wall just mentioned, leading to gates and
a lodge; the dense foliage of a well-wooded park rose behind it. To the
right stood a few picturesque houses, with little gardens before them.
Straight on lay the main street of the village, the yellow-washed fronts
vanishing at length amid yet more trees. Children were playing on the
enclosed grass, and with their voices mingled the notes of a piano from
an open window near at hand. It was all very beautiful in the light of
sunset. For a minute or two Kingcote stood with a face of contentment,
soothed and restful.

It was half-past eight; the chiming of the church clock proclaimed it.
If he intended to pass the night in Winstoke it was time to make up
his mind where he should seek quarters. He began to stray round the
enclosure towards the houses of the street, walking slowly and with
frequent stoppings, beginning at length to feel the full annoyance of
his position, and in his somewhat hasty way inwardly cursing the whole
social constitution which made such a disagreeable experience possible.
As he drew near the lodge gates in the high wall, he perceived a
handsome drinking fountain, built of marble and set in the wall itself.
He was thirsty, and went to take a draught of water. Above the basin was
an inscription, carved in old English letters, “The Knight’s Well,” and
a recent date beneath it. The name struck him pleasantly; no doubt there
was some legend attached to it, which he promised himself to seek out.
He drank with delight of the sweet, cold water, and was about to fill
the cup a second time, when a little boy, who had come up to his side
unobserved, a youngster of six or seven, addressed him with curious

“That water is enchanted,” said the child. “I wouldn’t drink more than
one if I was you.”

Kingcote laughed with pleasure.

“Enchanted?” he exclaimed. “I feared there was none such left in the
world. How do you know it is?”

The child was neatly dressed in light summer clothing, in
knickerbockers, and round his waist was a green sash which held a toy
bugle. He looked up with bright, intelligent eyes, not quite certain how
to take the stranger’s laughter.

“I know,” he replied, “because my father has told me. One cup does you
good, but after the first----”

He paused and shook his head. Possibly the evils which would result from
a second draught were but darkly vague in his imagination.

“Who is your father?” Kingcote inquired after a moment’s reflection.

“My father is the rector,” was the little fellow’s reply, not without
dignity. Even as he spoke he caught sight of a lady and a gentleman
walking towards them, the attire of the latter proclaiming the rector
himself. The child at once drew out his bugle and blew a joyous blast of

“This is my father coming,” he then explained to Kingcote. “Ask him
about the Knight’s Well, and he’ll tell you, I’ve no doubt.”

And he ran off to meet the pair. Already Kingcote had perceived that the
lady was she whom he had passed in the lane. The reverend gentleman had
relieved her of the camp-stool, and was talking in the manner of one who
enjoys the exercise of his own voice, with something, too, of the tone
and aspect observable in men who believe themselves not on the whole
disagreeable to ladies. He seemed to be just on the hither side of
middle age, had a very fresh complexion, and kept drawing himself up to
the limit of his five feet six, like one who wishes to correct a habit
of stooping. As he talked, he held his glasses in one hand, and with
them tapped the other; the camp-stool was pressed under his left arm.

Kingcote drew aside, as if he would walk over to the enclosure. At the
lodge gates the two paused; the clergyman was politely insisting on
carrying the camp-stool up to the house, the young lady refusing with
rather a hard smile. Kingcote saw now that she was tall, and held
herself with the grace of strong and shapely limbs. When she had
persuaded the rector to take his leave, and was on the point of entering
the gates, she turned half round, and Kingcote once more found the large
eyes fixed full upon him. She cast the glance without any embarrassment,
and, having satisfied her curiosity, walked on and disappeared.

The rector and his little boy, to whom the young lady had paid no
attention, came away and walked towards the rectory. Kingcote could
see that the child was speaking of him. On the spur of a sudden
determination, he followed, coming up to the two just as they reached
the house. With a courteous raising of his hat, he begged the favour of
a few words with the clergyman.

“By all means, sir,” was the genial response. “Be off to bed, Percy;
you’ve no business to be up at this hour, you rascal.”

The boy blew a farewell blast and ran round to a garden entrance at the
side of the house.

“Let us enter,” said the clergyman--Mr. Vissian was his name--when he
had taken another look at the stranger.

This was better than discussing awkward matters in the open street.
Kingcote found himself with satisfaction in a cosy study, the windows
of which looked upon a trim garden with a view of the church beyond.
Requested to seat himself, he told, as well as he could, the story of
his lost purse, dwelling on the humorous features of his situation, and
frankly avowing the reasons which led him to apply to the rector of
the parish rather than establish himself at an inn and wait for a
remittance. Would Mr. Vissian lend him a sum of money sufficient for the
night’s expenses and for return to London on the morrow?

“With pleasure I will do so,” responded the clergyman at once,
plunging both hands into his trouser pockets. Then his face darkened.
“I--really----” he began with hesitation, “that is if I --------. Pray
have the goodness to excuse me for a moment,” he added with a jerk, and,
his face reddening a little, he hurried out of the room.

Kingcote wondered what this might mean. Was it prudence coming rather
late, or unanticipated poverty? He rose and looked at the volumes on the
shelves behind him. They were not the kind of books one ordinarily finds
in a country rector’s library; instead of commentators and sermons there
were rows of old English play-books beautifully bound--the collection of
an enthusiast in such matters. The binding of a complete set of Dodsley
was engaging his admiration when Mr. Vissian returned.

“Do you think a pound would suffice to your needs?” the clergyman asked,
still rather disturbed in countenance.

“Amply,” Kingcote hastened to reply; hesitation being impossible under
the circumstances.

“You--you are quite sure?”

“Quite. I am greatly indebted to your kindness.”

Mr. Vissian held out a sovereign with a smile of embarrassment; the
other took it, and, to get past the delicate point, remarked with a
glance at the book-shelves:

“You are interested in dramatic literature, I see. Pray let me show you
something I picked up in a shop at Salcot this morning.”

He quickly unstrapped his knapsack, and extracted from it a thin,
backless book, the outside leaves crumpled and dirty, and held it out
to the rector. Mr. Vissian had put on his glasses, and took the offered
object with an expression of dubious curiosity. Could any good thing
come out of Salcot East? But at the first sight of the title-page he
positively flushed with excitement. It was the first edition of Otway’s
“Venice Preserved.”

“You found this in Salcot?” he exclaimed. “My good sir, what did you
give for it?”

“The sum of one penny,” replied Kingcote, with a smile. “It was stuffed
among a lot of trash; but for want of something to do I should never
have looked through the heap.”

“By the Turk!” Mr. Vissian ejaculated. “‘As it is acted at the Duke’s
Theatre... Printed for Jos. Hindmarsh at the sign of the “Black Bull,”
 over against the Royal Exchange in Cornhill. 1682.’ Upon my word!”

He chuckled with gleeful appreciation; something of envy too was in the
side glance he threw upon the happy possessor. Forthwith he became as
friendly and unconstrained as if he had known Kingcote for years. Taking
from his pocket a bunch of delicate little keys, he stepped up to a
book-case with a glass front, opened it with care, and began to draw
forth the treasures. He was boy-like in the exuberance of his zeal,
rubbed his hands, uttered crows and chirpings, and grew the more
delighted the more he became aware of his guest’s congenial tastes.
Kingcote was nothing of a genuine book-hunter; his years and temperament
preserved him from that delightful pedantry; but he knew and enjoyed the
literature in question. More than an hour passed in talk; it grew all
but dark.

“We must have a light,” cried Mr. Vissian.

“Is it not time that I saw after my room at the inn?” Kingcote asked,
looking at his watch.

“Inn? ‘Ah! to be sure. But--if I might offer--really I wish you’d let us
give you a bed here for the night. It would save trouble.”

“On the contrary, I fear it would give trouble somewhat needlessly.”

But Mr. Vissian insisted.

“I will give directions at once. It must be supper time too. Mrs.
Vissian has thought me busy, I fear, and has let the usual hour go by.
Pray come into the sitting-room. It’s a year since I had any one to chat
with over these things. It does me good; it does me good.”

In the sitting-room supper was already spread--plain bread and cheese
and draught ale. In an arm-chair, busy with sewing, sat the rector’s
wife. She looked very youthful, and was indeed only five-and-twenty,
having been married at seventeen. She was delicate, pretty, and a trifle
troubled in face.

“A friend of mine, dear,” said the rector, with an affectionate courtesy
which pleased Kingcote, “who will remain with us for the night.”

Mrs. Vissian looked just a little startled, but speedily put on pleasant
smiles, and went away to make her necessary preparations. On her return
the talk turned to the son of the house, Master Percy.

“What did he mean,” Kingcote asked, “by telling me that the water of the
Knight’s Well was enchanted, and that you must not drink more than one

Father and mother broke into laughter.

“You thought it an interesting local legend, no doubt,” said Mr.
Vissian. “I am sorry to disabuse you. That enchantment is merely a
sanitary precaution of my own. It’s not good for the child to drink much
of the water this hot weather, so I hit on a device which has proved
more efficacious than anything more literal would have done.”

“But is there no legend connected with the well?” Kingcote asked.

“Oh yes. The spring has doubtless been used for centuries. I will show
you the story, after supper, in the county history. The marble basin was
built five years ago by Mrs. Clarendon, the lady who lives at the house
over there, which is itself called Knightswell.”

“The lady,” Kingcote asked quickly, “whom I saw entering the gates?”

“No, no,” corrected Mr. Vissian, with a smile, “Mrs. Clarendon is in
London. That was Miss Warren, a--a distant relation.”

“A very different person from Mrs. Clarendon,” put in Mrs. Vissian, in a
low voice. The rector murmured assent.

“It was Miss Warren, then,” Kingcote pursued, “whom I saw sketching a
charming cottage in the lane not far away. What an exquisite spot that

“Wood End--yes. The trees there are all that remains of a forest.”

“The cottage is vacant, isn’t it?”

“Yes, has been for a year. A labourer and his family left and went to
Canada; Mrs. Clarendon gave the poor people the means to emigrate, and
we hear they are already doing well.”

“No one whom Mrs. Clarendon helps fails to do so,” remarked the rector’s

“What maybe the rent of such a cottage?” Kingcote inquired carelessly,
leaning back in his chair.

“Half-a-crown a week is what Yardley wants for that, I think,” replied
the rector.

The guest sat upright.

“Half-a-crown? A delightful little place like that! Six pounds ten a

“I believe so.”

They were rising from the table. King-cote stood in his place,
meditating. Mrs. Vissian again left the room.

“Suppose,” began Kingcote at length, “one took a fancy to live in that
cottage, would it be possible to find a labourer’s wife--or some person
of that kind--to come and give one say an hour’s service daily?”

“Very possible, I should say,” returned the rector, with some surprise.
“Do you contemplate such a step?”

“One might do worse, I fancy,” was King-cote’s only reply.

Mrs. Vissian returned, bringing with her a large volume, the county
history of which her husband had spoken.

“Always thoughtful, and always helpful,” said the rector, with a smile
which made his face look wonderfully good. “Thank you, Lucy. Now you
shall read us the story yourself, if you will give us that pleasure.”

Mrs. Vissian consented with a pretty blush. The story told how, in
the troublous times of King Stephen, there stood in this place the
stronghold of a great baron, who, shortly after he had wedded a noble
and beautiful lady, fell in combat with another lord, the origin of
their quarrel being obscure, and, indeed, nothing to the point. The
lady, thus widowed, shut herself up in her castle and refused to yield
to the victor, who had been one of many rejected suitors for her hand
in former days, and now saw his opportunity of forcing her to become his
wife. The stronghold being closely beleaguered for many days, and
the garrison, too weak to make an effective sortie, already nigh to
starvation, by the interposition of Providence there appeared upon the
scene a certain knight, who also had been one of the lady’s wooers, and
who, in despair at her refusal of him, had betaken himself to fight in
the Holy Land. Thence he was even now returned with a good band of tried
followers. Learning how matters stood, he forthwith gave battle to the
besiegers, hoping to rescue the lady he still loved, or, if that might
not be, willing and glad to yield his life in her service. As indeed he
did, for though victorious in the conflict, he was at the last moment
mortally pierced by an arrow. In the ardour of pursuing the foe, his
men lost sight of their leader; the wounded knight dragged himself to
a spring hard by, and whilst endeavouring to slake his thirst, bled
to faintness and so died. There his body was found by the lady of the
castle when she came forth to give due thanks to her deliverer. In
memory of his devotion, she built a basin of fair stone to gather
the waters of the spring, and from that day forth it was known as the
_Knight’s Well_.

“We always call Mrs. Clarendon ‘the lady of Knightswell,’” said Mrs.
Vissian, when she had ceased to read.

“The name is a beautiful one,” said Kingcote.

“It suggests a fair and gracious and noble woman.”

“Exactly what it should suggest,” returned the lady, with a pleased

“And who is the lord of Knightswell?” asked the guest.

“There is none,” the rector made answer. “Mrs. Clarendon has been a
widow for a long time. But what say you to a pipe before bedtime, and
a look at one or two old books? My dear Lucy,” he exclaimed, turning to
his wife, “our friend has just captured a first edition of the ‘Venice
Preserved.’ And _where_, think you? In a miserable shop in Salcot
East!--And _what for_, think you? One penny, by the Turk! One penny!”

Mrs. Vissian smiled, but at the same time shook her head; and Kingcote
wondered why.

An hour later he was alone in a little bedchamber which looked out from
the front of the house. The sun had been so strong upon the roof all day
that this upper room was overheated; he extinguished the light as soon
as possible, and sat down to get a breath of fresh air at the open
window. His eyes turned in the direction of Knightswell. The east lay
over there, and already it seemed as though a new day were beginning to
touch the heavens; there was a broad region of delicate dusky pink above
the dark tops of trees, and outlined against it was visible the roof of
Mrs. Clarendon’s house. There was no shining of the moon, and but few
stars anywhere in the sky; the night throbbed with a passion of silence.
Just as Kingcote’s eyes perceived the gables of Knightswell, somewhere
in the park broke forth the song of a nightingale. For many minutes an
unbroken stream of melody flooded the darkness; he all but sobbed in
listening. Pain of the past and anguish of longing to the years which
waited with unknown gifts of fate made his heart tumultuous. The
kindness he had met with touched him; he had tender thoughts of the
good rector and his sweet-faced, girlish wife. He loved this place;
Knightswell was musical in his ears; he longed to see that gentle lady
whose title has such a pleasant and stately sound of romance, and of
whom such good things were spoken. As the nightingale sang he kept
repeating to himself her name, “the Lady of Knightswell.” She had been
a widow for a long time, said the rector; yet they had not spoken of her
as of one who was old. He pictured to himself the fair, sweet, queenly
woman whom that name would become.

The bird ceased. Over the country passed a leafy murmur, a hushed
whisper of the tall dark trees, growing to a sigh, almost to a low wail,
dying over Knightswell. Then an owl hooted thrice. The night had turned


When Isabel Maddison married Mr. Clarendon she was generally esteemed,
among such as had any interest in the matter, a highly fortunate young
woman. Handsome, penniless, but nineteen years old, at a step she had
achieved social apotheosis. Six months prior to the event Isabel had
been on the point of accepting an engagement as a governess at a salary
of twenty-six pounds a year. By agreeing to the alternative proposal she
became wife of a county member, mistress of a mansion in Mayfair and of
a delightful estate in ------shire, presumptive possessor, before many
years should have passed, of a fortune solidly correspondent with such
show of dignity. Whatever might be the drawbacks, there was much to be
said for the bargain.

The event was not as entirely romantic as it might have been; she was
not positively discovered with ink-stained fingers among schoolgirls’
copy-books, and carried off by a masterful passion to grace a London
season. The kindly interposition of a certain Lady Kent, an old friend
of her mother’s, bridged the gulf between social impossibility and that
respectable limbo where every aspiration is sanctioned and a dutiful
waiting upon Providence is taught to ally itself with the graces of
self-assertion. Isabel was the daughter of a country solicitor, who,
dying before middle age, left a widow and two children, a freehold worth
about thirty-five pounds a year, and a policy of life insurance for two
thousand pounds. Mrs. Maddison thus found herself not particularly well
provided for, and, but for the assistance of a brother who farmed some
three hundred acres in the same county, would have been at a loss how to
educate her boy of ten and bring up (we do not speak of education in the
case of girls) her little Bella of seven. With all the aid that others
were able or disposed to render, the first years of widowhood saw a good
deal of pinching and struggling in the home, which had to be kept on a
footing of gentility with firm resistance of that terrible temptation,
encroachment upon capital. The boy Richard eventually went to learn
farming with his uncle, and, at the latter’s death, being then nearly
twenty, made use of a legacy of a hundred pounds to transport himself to
Australia, where he flourished among sheep. Isabel was then seventeen.
Her mother also received a small legacy at the uncle’s decease, and it
was decided to use this in “finishing off” Isabel, that is to say, in
giving her a year or so of that kind of training which would enable her
to earn her living as a governess.

Already there was an alternative. The gentleman who had succeeded to Mr.
Maddison’s practice, or rather, who had managed to establish one where
only a shadow had existed, had kept an eye on Isabel through these
past ten years, and, now that the girl was to be sent away from home,
astonished both her and her mother by a proposal of marriage. He was a
young Irishman, blessed with much self-confidence, and holding it for a
certainty that he was destined to become Attorney-General. When Isabel
reported the proposal to her mother she could scarcely speak for
laughter. Mrs. Maddison was grave, and wanted time to think. But Isabel
looked in the mirror over the mantelpiece, laughed yet more, and there
was an end of the matter.

She went away to school, and remained there for a year and a half. Then
it was that Lady Kent, now for two years a widow, her husband having
died after a weary invalid vegetation at German baths, came to pay
visits in her native county, and renewed a long-interrupted friendship
with Mrs. Maddison. The two had been neighbours as children, had married
about the same time--the one her luckless solicitor, the other a baronet
who promised to live a year and lingered nearly twenty--and now, in
spite of social differences, found that they still had a kindness
for each other. Isabel was at home, advertising and answering
advertisements. The first glance at this young lady satisfied Lady Kent
that the projects in hand were not promising.

“I doubt whether any one will have her,” she said to Mrs. Maddison. “I’m
sure I wouldn’t.”

The poor lady looked up in astonishment at so unkind a speech.

“My dear,” explained the woman of the world, “she is far too
good-looking, has too much blood, doesn’t at all belong to the governess
breed. I would say, don’t let her be thrown away, if I were not sure
better things were in store for her.”

What these better things might be it was not difficult to imagine; but
the chance of their attainment seemed so remote that Mrs. Maddison was
half disposed to resent such remarks as gratuitous cruelty. Lady Kent
went away and reflected. She paid another visit in a day or two, and
brought forth a startling proposal.

“I have no children of my own,” she said, “and I shan’t marry again--had
enough of it. Let me take Bella to London and give her a season.”

“But how will that----”

“Never mind; let us trust in Providence. She’ll be none the worse, in
any case. Depend upon it, she won’t be a governess; and for looking
about one London is the only place.”

Mrs. Maddison shook her head. Her troubles were increased by the arrival
just then of that offer of a place at six-and-twenty pounds. Isabel knew
nothing of Lady Kent’s proposal, and was willing to go away; but the
mother’s heart had been set in commotion by her friend’s talk. There
were days of miserable uncertainty, and ultimately Isabel herself was
taken into consultation. Lady Kent, who was greatly struck with the
girl, and foresaw congenial excitement in a plan which her native
kindness made agreeable, repeated her proposal in serious form. Isabel
(so she spoke in private to Mrs. Maddison) was made to shine in society.
She had just been “finished off” with the ordinary accomplishments, and
if she now “came out” there was much probability of her attracting a
suitable husband. She should not incur the least danger, that Lady Kent
would guarantee. What was the use of beauty to a poor girl if not to get
her an establishment in life? There was no disgrace in standing up and
proclaiming oneself to be disposed of; the folly and the danger would
lie in trying to keep out of sight. Whether was it better, to be pursued
by rascals as a beautiful governess, or to meet face to face with honest
men who would be likely to fall in love with beauty for its own sake, or
at all events be willing to purchase it respectably? In this way was
the mother talked into compliance. Isabel herself had only to subdue her
exultation. With the beginning of the season she and Lady Kent opened
the campaign together.

The details are not of importance. The seat of war is a familiar region
to my readers, and the engagements reported year after year so closely
resemble each other that they have become by this time rather tedious in
the chronicling. Lady Kent’s prophecy was fulfilled. Isabel had at least
three possible offers, and she selected that of Mr. Eustace Clarendon.
For this gentleman’s qualifications see above.

For the girl was charming; not beautiful as yet, that was to come later;
but so blest with sweetness of virginal feature, so radiant with the joy
of maiden health, so abundant in graceful and dainty instincts, with so
rapturous a smile, with a laugh which came so direct from the source
of nature’s music, that her presence smote upon the heart like very
sunshine. It mattered not where or when she was discovered, her grace
was perfect. In a week she had all the pretty artificialities of the
town in complete possession; one would have thought she had been born
and bred in the atmosphere of refined insincerity. When she appeared
on the Row, who would have thought that she had learned her riding on
a saddleless colt at her uncle’s farm? When she laughingly consented to
play to a few friends, it certainly did not suggest itself that she had
toiled at the instrument in order to teach children for six-and-twenty
pounds a year. She was, as Lady Kent had seen, born for society; it was
her element; it brought out all that was best and loveliest in her; it
made her a complete being. Society could not give her more than it was
in her to produce; but on the other hand, it planted not one seed of
alien evil. Pure-minded she left her home, and, without a shadow on the
purity of her thought, she entered the home of the man who had won
so priceless a treasure. Throughout her life it was to be the same.
Suffering what was in her to suffer, growing in self-knowledge, growing
in tenderness of soul and in outward perfection, always a queen of
society, always making her food of the best that mere society had to
offer, Isabel Clarendon was but Isabel Maddison ripened and subdued in
maturity of charm. Not the greatest and highest among women; falling
short of much that marks the noblest woman-soul; failing in force,
failing in courage, with eyes too level on the surface of this world,
but woman womanly in every fraction of her being, and, as such, infinite
in suggestiveness, infinite in lovableness.

Of the two offers which Isabel declined, only one concerns us. One
evening early in the season she was taken down to dinner by a gentleman
named Asquith. They were introduced to each other just as the movement
from the drawing-room began, and the mention of their respective names
brought a look of surprise to either face.

“Have I not,” asked Mr. Asquith, “the honour and pleasure of being
related to you? Are we not cousins in some degree or other?”

“I really believe we are,” Isabel replied, with her irresistible smile.
“At least, I suppose you belong to the family of which I have heard.”

“And assuredly I hope that you belong to the family of which __I have
heard,” said the young man, whose arm trembled sensibly as she put her
hand upon it.

Question and answer brought about a satisfactory establishment of
identity, and the pleasure which Isabel experienced, without attempt
at concealment, in having found a kinsman who belonged of right to the
fashionable world, was anything but disagreeable to the kinsman himself.
The Asquiths were connections of Mr. Maddison, but the family had been
in Canada for many years, and since their return of late to England, had
not come in contact with the widow and her children. Robert Asquith
was three-and-twenty, without any definite occupation, save that he
was nominally reading for the Bar, and possessed of an income of
five hundred a year, which was not likely to grow to anything more
respectable until he should perchance inherit from his father--a hale
man with a number of daughters to look after. Very likely Isabel was
just a little to blame for what ensued. Glad of having found a relation,
she perhaps laid upon the frail tie of consanguinity rather more stress
than it could be reasonably expected to bear, allowed, perhaps, rather
too much of cousinly intimacy to forthwith establish itself, and, in
pure innocence, gave Robert Asquith too much reason to believe that his
society was agreeable to her for its own sake. She was never a coquette;
but a man had to be as free-thoughted and sunny-tempered as herself
to endure the halcyon weather of her intimate friendliness and not be
tempted to change a smile for a sigh. Robert was specially exposed to
such temptation, for he had rather more than average self-esteem, knew
himself to be goodlooking, and, despite his tatterdemalion five hundred
a year, for the most part bore the attitude of a man who is looking
deliberately about him to throw his handkerchief to the fairest and
best, sure of its being eagerly stooped for. Of course he was conscious
of an understanding that the fairest and best would, in the nature of
things, have a gold pedestal for her loveliness, and, of all young men,
he seemed the last to forget this essential element of womanly charm.
There was a breezy coolness about him, a leisureliness of temperament
manifesting itself for instance in perfection of toilette, a touch of
ironical humour in his mode of speech, which from the first gave to
Isabel a sense of safety in accepting his attentions. Lady Kent, of
course, discovered at once the details of Mr. Asquith’s position, and,
in her lightly suggestive way, imparted the information to Isabel. But
the latter smiled at the thought of Robert’s seeking such a wife; she
felt she understood him better than that. As it happened, she did not.
Possibly she failed by miscalculation of her own witchery. However it
came about, there, at length, was Robert Asquith at her feet, offering
her, with a modesty she had not given him credit for, the devotion of
his life. With a surprised shake of the head she reminded him that she
had not a farthing. The usual tone of their conversation warranted a
little levity on her part at this juncture. Behold! he knew it, and
cared not. If his own income seemed paltry (alas! it was), would she
not wait and let him seek a position? In brief, could she not love him a
little, and try to love him more? for indeed his love for her was----

Foolish Robert Asquith! Love cometh not by endeavour; and, as for
Isabel, how could she wait? Had it so pleased the Fates that she _could_
have loved him, had there but fallen upon these maiden years a spark of
that heaven’s fire, so that calculation of income and other degradations
might all at once have become as naught, to what heights of glorified
womanhood might not this soul have risen, and what blessedness like unto
his who should have held her in his sovereign hands?

Robert saw her no more. He was in London still at the date of
her marriage, but shortly after that he had obtained a Government
appointment in Turkey, and the ship bore him to Eastern lands. He was
then three-and-twenty. Five years later news of her widowhood reached
him in Constantinople, and he exchanged with her one or two cousinly
letters. There was an interval, and correspondence renewed itself, this
time begun by Isabel. But Robert began to travel; he wrote from India,
Japan, California; then he was back in Constantinople. His father died,
and Robert was wealthy; he came to England for a month, spent an
hour with his cousin, returned to Turkey, still holding a Government
appointment. Now at length he had returned to England for good, and was
looking about for a settlement. He was forty.

So Isabel married Mr. Eustace Clarendon, M.P. At nine-and-forty he was
held to be a handsome man, though in all probability he had been an ugly
one twenty years before. His good looks consisted, if in anything, in a
clean precision of nose and jaw, allying itself with the gray clearness
of a cold eye and the display of a very satisfactory set of teeth. His
hair was very scant, but he just escaped the charge of baldness; he had
thin whiskers, high up on each cheek. His manners were a trifle frigid,
and his eyes wandered absently as he talked with you, but it was said
that he could make himself excessively agreeable when he pleased.
Probably he did so to Isabel. He was much addicted to politics, and had
all his life nourished political ambition; his failure to reach anything
was perhaps responsible for a certain sourness of visage, a certain
cynicism of tone, at times. Still, he impressed the ordinary observer
as a man of parts; he had a way of uttering sententious truisms which
imposed upon the average listener, and drew fine distinctions between
Liberalism (which he represented) and Radicalism (which he shuddered
at), calculated to make one reflect--on politics. He lived much at
clubs, and, though he had purchased the fine estate of Knightswell,
cared nothing for country pursuits.

They were married, and lived together for five years. Outwardly there
was nothing whatever to suggest that they were not as happy as married
people ordinarily are. They had no children, and Mr. Clarendon was
said to be vexed at this, but such little vexations a wise man
philosophically endures. And Mr. Clarendon laid claim to a certain kind
of philosophy. In these latter years of his life his cynicisms of speech
became rather more pronounced, but they were of a kind which with most
people earned him credit for superiority. One favourite phrase he had
which came to his lips whenever he happened to be talking of his worldly
affairs; it was: “_Après moi le déluge_.” He seemed to mean something
special by this.

Isabel grew to hate the sound of those words, as if they had been a
formula of diabolical incantation.

At first she had life all her own way. They went on to the Continent,
where her young mind grew, then came back to spend the winter at
Knightswell. The house was kept incessantly  full of guests, and Isabel
shone. Mr. Clarendon never rode to hounds, but for his wife’s sake
hunters were bought, and Isabel proved herself the most splendid
horsewoman in the field; that bareback riding at her uncle’s farm had
been of service to her. She entered into the joy of hunting with almost
reckless abandonment; she risked leaps which made men stare, and was in
at the death with a face and figure which took away one’s breath. Mr.
Clarendon stayed at home these days, and was in the doorway to receive
her when she returned. They were not seen to greet each other.

Then Mr. Clarendon fell ill of the disease which was to kill him. It was
horribly painful, necessitating hideous operations, renewed again and
again; an illness lasting for three years. He went to London, and Isabel
began her work of tending him. To move about his bedroom, with that
clear, cold, gray eye of his following her wherever she went, was a
ghastly trial, but she bore it. Society was renounced; only occasionally
she went to see intimate friends. One day her maid, a woman who loved
her, begged leave to tell her something--something of which she was not
sure that she ought to speak.

“Whenever you leave the house, ma’am,” she said, “a man follows
you--follows you everywhere, and back home again.”

“Why, what man?”

“A man, ma’am, who--who has been to see master several times,” said the
servant, with apprehension.

“You mean--a paid man? A man employed for this?”

It was enough. Isabel went out no more. A friend or two came to see her,
but at length she was deserted. Her mother died, and she could not even
attend the funeral. Then Mr. Clarendon was removed to Knightswell, where
she tended him for yet another year. At length he died after an agony of
twelve hours. His last words were: “_Après moi le déluge_.”

It was said that he had left an extraordinary will; those who cared to
do so discovered the details, and talked them over with much enjoyment
of the sensation. Outwardly, Isabel’s life soon returned to its former
joyousness. In the season in London (though not in the former house;
she took rooms each year for three months), the rest of the year at
Knightswell, she pursued her social triumphs; people held that she
was more charming than ever. One curious change there was in her
circumstances. Immediately after her husband’s death she took to live
with her a little girl of seven, a very plain and unattractive child,
whose name was Ada Warren. She seemed to have made of her an adoptive
daughter. Those who knew Mr. Clarendon’s will understood the child’s
presence in the house. Mrs. Clarendon never directly spoke of her.

And so twelve years of widowhood went by, and time brought the Midsummer
Day which found Bernard Kingcote rambling between Salcot East and
Winstoke. Mrs. Clarendon’s age was now thirty-six.


One morning in August Mrs. Clarendon was sitting in the garden at
Knightswell, with Ada Warren and a young lady named Rhoda Meres, a guest
at the house. They had chosen a spot which was often resorted to for tea
on hot afternoons, a little piece of lawn closely shut in with leafage,
whence an overbowered pathway led out to the front garden. The lady of
Knightswell sat reposefully in a round-backed rustic chair. She wore a
pretty garden costume, a dainty web of shawl just covering her head, her
crossed feet just showing below the folds of her dress. An open sunshade
lay tumbled on the grass beside her, and on her lap was an illustrated
paper, of which she turned the leaves with idle interest. Miss Warren
sat a couple of yards away, reading a review. Her dress was plain, and
of dark material, and she wore a brown broad-brimmed straw hat. The
other young lady made no pretence of being occupied. With knit brows and
bent head she walked backwards and forwards on the grass, biting a long
leaf which she had pulled from a bough in passing. She was a pretty
girl, fair-cheeked and graceful of form. She carried her hat by its
ribbon, and let the stray sunlight make gleamings upon her golden hair.
Her age was not quite nineteen, and the beautiful lines of her maiden
figure lost nothing by her way of holding herself, whether she moved or

After several side glances at her silent companions, she presently came
to a pause before Mrs. Clarendon’s chair, and, still holding the leaf
between her lips, asked, rather plaintively:

“Why shouldn’t I, Mrs. Clarendon?”

Isabel looked up with suave smiling features, and met the girl’s eyes in
silence for a moment.

“My dear Rhoda,” she said then, “why should you?”

“No,” urged the girl, “I think all the reasons are needed on the other
side. I must do something, and this is what I think I’m suited for. Why
shouldn’t I?”

“For one thing, because you are a lady, and ladies don’t do such

“There you have Mrs. Clarendon’s last word,” remarked Ada Warren,
without looking up. Her voice contrasted strangely with those which had
been just heard; it was hard in tone, giving clear utterance to each
syllable, as if to accentuate the irony in her observation.

“Certainly,” said Isabel, with good humour; “if Rhoda is content to let
it be.”

Still biting her leaf, Miss Meres held her head a little on one side,
and, after glancing at Ada, turned her eyes again upon Mrs. Clarendon.

“But are you quite sure it is so, Mrs. Clarendon?” she urged. “I mean
that ladies don’t go on to the stage? It used to be so, no doubt, but
things have been changing. I’m sure I’ve heard that both ladies and
gentlemen are beginning to take to acting nowadays. And I can’t see why
they shouldn’t. It seems to be better than----”

She stopped, and looked a little embarrassed.

“Better than doing nothing at all, you were going to say,” Isabel
supplied; “like myself, for instance? Perhaps it is. But I fancy that
the ladies who go on to the stage are generally those who, for some
reason or other, have lost their places in society.”

“With a large S,” put in Ada, still without looking up.

“Yes, a very large one,” assented Isabel, smiling.

“And suppose,” exclaimed Rhoda, suddenly bold, “I don’t care anything
about the society which spells itself with a large S.”

Mrs. Clarendon shook her head indulgently.

“My child, you can’t help caring about it.”

“Not if I find something I like better outside it?”

Mrs. Clarendon crossed her hands upon the paper, and sighed a little
before speaking.

“You think it would be nice to become a Bohemian, and live in contempt
of us poor subjects of Mrs. Grundy. Rhoda, those Bohemians struggle for
nothing so hard as to get into society. If they are successful, the
best fruit of their success is an invitation to a lady’s ‘at home,’
the unsuccessful ones would give their ears to be received in the most
commonplace little drawing-room. Now you have already what they strive
for so desperately. You’ll see all this plainly enough when you know a
little more of the world.”

Rhoda turned away, and recommenced her pacing.

“What does your father say to it?” Mrs. Clarendon asked, after a short

“Father? Oh! he shrugs his shoulders and looks puzzled. Poor father
always does that, whatever the difficulty. If I ask him whether the
butcher hasn’t charged us too much a pound for veal, he shrugs and
looks puzzled. I believe he’d do just the same if I asked him whether
to-morrow wasn’t going to be the Day of Judgment.”

Isabel raised her forefinger with a warning smile. Ada Warren laughed.

After another turn on the grass, the girl again paused before Mrs.

“Mr. Lacour told me the other day that he thought of going on to the
stage himself. He didn’t see any harm in it.”

As she spoke, Rhoda examined the border of her hat.

“Mr. Lacour!” exclaimed Isabel. “Oh, Mr. Lacour says wonderful things,
and has wonderful plans. So you confided your project to Mr. Lacour, did

Isabel threw a rapid glance at Ada whilst speaking; the latter appeared
busy with her book.

“No, no,” disclaimed Rhoda rapidly, “I didn’t say a word to him of my
own idea. It only came out in conversation.”

Mrs. Clarendon gave a little “h’m,” and stroked the back of one hand
with the fingers of the other.

“It’s a mistake, my dear Rhoda,” she said. “Like it or not, we have to
consider our neighbour’s opinion, and that doesn’t yet regard the stage
as a career open to gentlemen’s daughters.”

“There’s no knowing what we _may_ come to,” remarked Ada absently.

“Then what _am_ I to do, Mrs. Clarendon?” cried the other girl almost

“A great many things. To begin with, you have to help me to make my
garden party on Monday a success. Then again----oh, you have to become
acquainted with my cousin, Mr. Asquith. Here he is!”

From the covered pathway issued a tall gentleman of middle age, dressed
in a cool summer suit, holding his hat in his hands. His appearance was
what is called prepossessing; by his own complete ease and air of
genial well-being he helped to put others in the same happy state, his
self-satisfaction not being of the kind which irritates by excess.
His head was covered with a fine growth of black hair, which continued
itself in the form of full whiskers, and with these blended the silken
grace of a moustache long enough to completely conceal the lips. His
features were slightly browned by Eastern suns. His eyes, as he viewed
in turn each of the three ladies, had a calm, restful gaze which could
have embarrassed no one, hinting only the friendliest of inward comment.

Isabel rose and stepped forward to meet him. In the act of greeting she
was, perhaps, seen to greatest advantage. The upright grace of her
still perfect figure, the poise of her head, the face looking straight
forward, the smile of exquisite frankness, the warmth of welcome and
the natural dignity combined in her attitude as she stood with extended
hand, made a picture of fair womanhood which the eye did not readily
quit. It was symbolical of her inner self, of the large affections
which made the air about her warm, and of the sweet receptiveness of
disposition which allowed so many and so different men to see in her
their ideal of a woman.

“You found the trap at the station?” she asked, and, satisfied on this
point, presented him to her companions. Though Asquith had just reached
England in time to see his cousin once or twice before she left London,
he had still to become acquainted with Ada Warren, who did not go to
town with Mrs. Clarendon, but preferred to make her visits at other
times, staying with Mr. Meres and his daughters. Ada was silent during
the ceremony of introduction, and did not give her hand; Rhoda showed
her more expansive nature and smiled prettily in Robert’s face.

“I thought you would find it pleasant to come and sit here a little
before lunch,” said Isabel, by way of leading to conversation.

But Asquith merely bent his head; he seemed all at once to have become a
trifle absent, and, after letting his gaze rest on Miss Warren for a
few moments, had turned his look groundwards. But the interval was very

“That groom of yours who drove me over,” he began, in a leisurely tone
and with an appreciative smile, “is a wonderful man.”

“That’s interesting,” said Isabel. “I fear I haven’t discovered his
exceptional qualities.”

“They are remarkable. His powers of observation. I make a point of
conversing whenever opportunity offers. The suggestive incident was a
pig crossing the road; I remarked that it was a fine pig. By a singular
accident I must have hit upon the man’s specialty; he looked at me with
gratitude, and forthwith gave me--you can’t imagine--the most wonderful
disquisition on pigs. He spoke as if he loved them. ‘Now, a pig’s heye,
sir! Did you ever happen to notice a pig’s heye, sir?’ I was afraid
to say that I had. ‘There’s more in a pig’s heye, sir, than you’d find
creditable,’--meaning credible, of course. ‘There’s that knowingness
in a pigs heye, sir, it can’t be described in words. _When_ it isn’t
fierce,--and if it is, the fierceness of it there’s no imagining!’”

This narration, given with much quiet humour, made Mrs. Clarendon and
Rhoda laugh. Ada Warren had resumed her review, or at all events had it
lying open on her lap, and showed no smile. Robert watched her with
his quiet eyes. In Miss Meres he seemed to have little interest, and he
looked far more frequently at Ada than at Mrs. Clarendon.

“By-the-bye, some one we passed on the road,” he said presently. He had
a curious habit of mentioning in this disjointed way the subject of the
remark he was about to make, and, so reposeful was his habit of speech,
it often seemed as if the comment would never follow. “A young man,
rather good-looking, or perhaps, rather noticeable. My friend the groom
told me he was a settler in these parts; a gentleman who has taken
a labourer’s cottage, and lives in a more or less eccentric way. It
sounded interesting. Do you know anything of him?”

“Oh yes,” said Isabel, “our rector, Mr. Vissian, knows him, and speaks
of him in superlatives. His name is Kingcote.”

“But what is he doing here?--reading, rusticating? I suppose he’s taken
the cottage just for the summer months?”

“Mr. Vissian says he has settled here for good--a philosopher, who is
tired of town life. He comes from London. I haven’t been favoured with
a glimpse of him yet, but several people have spoken of him. I think I
must ask Mr. Vissian to bring him here.”

“A month or so of summer would be pleasant, spent in that way,” observed
Mr. Asquith; “but to settle finally! Something morbid about him, I
suppose; he looks, in fact, rather bloodless, like a man with a fixed
idea. Ten to one, he’s on precisely the wrong tack; instead of wanting
more of his own society, he ought to have less of it. I suppose he lives


“The worst thing for any man. I shouldn’t dare to converse with myself
exclusively for two consecutive days. The great, preservative of sanity
is free intercourse with one’s fellow men--to see the world from all
points, and to refrain from final conclusions.”

Chat of this kind went on for a few minutes, all taking part in it
except Ada.

“You are fond of the country, Miss Warren,” Asquith said at length,
addressing the latter directly.

“Yes, I’m fond of the country,” was the reply, given in a mechanical
way, and with a cold, steady look, whilst she ruffled the edges of her
review. Asquith had found it at first difficult to determine whether the
peculiarity of the girl’s behaviour were due to excessive shyness or to
some more specific cause; but shyness it certainly was not, her manner
of speaking and of regarding him put that out of the question. Did she,
then, behave in this way to every stranger, or was he for some reason
personally distasteful to her; or, again, had something just happened to
disturb her temper?

“Your liking for it, though, would scarcely go to the extent of leading
you to take up a solitary abode in a labourers cottage?”

“I can’t say,” Ada replied slowly. “One is often ready to do anything
for the sake of being left alone.”

“Ada would stipulate, however, to be supplied with the _Fortnightly_ or
the _Nineteenth Century_,” put in Mrs. Clarendon laughingly.

“If anything could drive me into the desert,” was Robert’s remark, “it
would be the hope of never again being called upon to look at them.
I shouldn’t wonder if Mr.--Mr. Kingcote, isn’t it?--has fled from
civilisation for the very same reason. Probably he has cast away books,
and aims at returning to the natural state of man.”

“By no means,” said Isabel. “He has brought down quite a library.”

“Alas!” exclaimed Robert, with a humorous shaking of the head, “then
he is, I fear, engaged in adding to the burden which oppresses us. No
wonder he hides his head; he is writing a book.”

“Perhaps he is a poet, Mrs. Clarendon,” puts in Rhoda.

“Perhaps so, Rhoda; and some day we may have pilgrims from all corners
of the earth visiting the cottage he has glorified.”

“With special omnibuses from Winstoke station,” added Robert, “and a
colony of licensed victuallers thriving about the sacred spot.”

“Let us be thankful,” exclaimed Isabel, “that a poet’s fame is usually
deferred for a generation or two. Ha, there’s the first luncheon bell!
It brings a smile to your face, Robert.”

“Did I betray myself? I confess I breakfasted early.”

The two girls walked towards the house together, their elders following
more slowly.

“Isn’t Rhoda Meres a nice girl?” said Isabel, when the object of her
remark was out of hearing.

“Very,” her cousin assented, though without enthusiasm. He seemed to be
thinking of something else.

“The poor child has got a foolish idea into her head; she wants to go on
to the stage.”

“Does she--ha? Most young people have that idea at one time or another,
I believe. In default of a special audience of one, you see----”

“And she _is_ such a good, dear girl!” pursued Isabel, when Asquith
showed no sign of continuing. “Her father is a literary man, the editor
of a magazine called _Ropers Miscellany_--do you know it? He and I
are the best of old friends. Its only with the thought of helping her
father, I’m sure, that Rhoda has taken up this fancy; we must drive it
out of her head somehow.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” remarked Robert, more absently than before.

Isabel glanced at him, and kept silence till they reached the house.

There was nothing remarkable about the structure itself of Knightswell;
the front was long and low, built of brick faced with stone, and the
level entrance was anything but imposing. The main portion of the
building was early eighteenth century, but in the rear there still
existed a remnant of the sixteenth century manor-house which had once
stood here; the ancient hall now served as kitchen, its fine stone
fireplace being filled up with an incongruous modern range. The present
hall was surrounded with oak panelling, which Mr. Clarendon had obtained
at the dismantling of an old house in the neighbourhood; all else of the
interior had become, by successive changes, completely modernised, with
the exception of an elaborate chimney-piece in the drawingroom--massive
marble-work resting on caryatides--always said, though without
corroborative evidence, to be a production of Grinling Gibbons. The
faces of the two supporters were curiously unlike each other: on the
one side it was that of a youthful maiden, who smiled, and seemed to be
upraising her arms in sport; the other was an aged but not unbeautiful
face, wearing an expression of long-suffering sadness, worn under the
burden which the striving arms sustained. In the dining-room were a few
good pictures, taken with the house from the preceding occupants. For
Knightswell was not the ancestral abode of Mr. Clarendon’s family; it
had passed, by frequent changes, from tenant to tenant, all inglorious.
Notwithstanding his historic name, Mr. Clarendon was a _novus homo_;
his father had begun life as an obscure stockbroker, had made a great
fortune, and ended his life in a comfortable dwelling in Bayswater; his
daughters, there were two, married reputably, and were no more heard of.

During luncheon Asquith was still much occupied in observing Ada Warren
whenever he could unobtrusively do so. The young ladies were rather
silent, and even Isabel showed now and then a trace of effort in the
bright flow of talk which she kept up. Between herself and her cousin,
however, there was no lack of ease; a graceful intimacy had established
itself on the basis of their kinship, though not exactly that kind of
intimacy which bespeaks life-long association. Their talk was of the
present, or of the immediate past; neither spoke of things or people
whose mention would have revived the memory of years ago.

“And what are you doing with yourself?” Mrs. Clarendon inquired, when
Robert had abandoned another futile attempt to draw Ada Warren into

“Upon my word,” was his reply, “I hardly know. The town; I see a good
deal of it, indoors and out; it still has the charm of novelty. I can’t
say that time has begun to hang heavy on my hands; in truth, it seldom

“Fortunate being!”

“Yes, I suppose so. I find that people have a singular capacity for
being bored; I notice it more than I used to. For my own part, I
generally find a good deal of enjoyment to be got out of the present
moment; the enjoyment of sound health, at lowest. You know how pleasant
it is to look back on past days, even though at the time they may have
seemed anything but delightful. I account for that by believing that the
past always had a preponderant element of pleasure, though disturbing
circumstances wouldn’t allow us to perceive it. It’s always a joy to
be alive, and we recognise this in looking back, when accidents arrange
themselves in their true proportion.”

He glanced at Ada; the girl was smiling scornfully, her face averted to
the window.

“The present being so delightful,” said Mrs. Clarendon, “what joyous
pleasures have you for the immediate future?”

“Grouse on Wednesday next,” Robert replied, after helping himself to
salt in a manner which suggested that he was observant of the number of
grains he took. “An acquaintance who has a moor, or a portion of one,
in Yorkshire, has given me an invitation. As I have never shot grouse, I
shall avail myself of the opportunity to extend my experience.”

“Promise me the pick of your first bag.” There was a project for a long
drive in the afternoon; the weather was bright but sufficiently cool,
and Robert professed himself delighted. He had a few minutes by himself
in the drawing-room when the ladies went up to make their preparations.
He gave a careful scrutiny to the caryatides, smiling, as was generally
the case when he regarded anything, then glanced about at the pictures
and the chance volumes lying here and there; the latter were novels and
light literature from Mudie’s. Then he took up a number of the _Queen_,
and began to peruse it, sitting in the window-seat.

“What a singular choice of literature!” exclaimed Isabel, as she came in
drawing on her gloves.

“The _Queen?_ It interests me. There’s something so very concrete about
such writing. I like the concrete.”

“The first time I ever heard so learned a term applied to so frivolous
a publication. After all, Rhoda, there may be more in us poor creatures
than we gave ourselves credit for.”

“Do tell me,” said Robert, as he laid down the paper, “what is a--I hope
I may ask--what is a ‘graduated plastron’?”

“Oh, this is dreadful!” laughed Isabel. “Come along, the carriage is
waiting; we’ll discuss graduated plastrons on our way.”

“Are we not to have the pleasure of Miss Warren’s company?” Robert
asked, as they entered the phaeton.

“Ada never goes out with us,” was Mrs. Clarendon’s answer as she took
the reins and prepared to drive.

There was no additional guest at dinner; the evening was helped along
by Rhoda’s playing and singing. Her voice was good, and she had enjoyed
good teaching; this at Mrs. Clarendon’s expense. It was one of many
instances in which Isabel had helped her friends the Meres, her aid
being given in a manner of which she alone had the secret--irresistible,
warm-hearted, delicate beyond risk of offence. Ada sat in the room, but,
as usual, had a book in her hands.

“You read much,” said Robert, seating himself beside her and perforce
obtaining her attention.

“It is a way of getting through life,” the girl replied, rather less
abruptly than she had hitherto spoken.

“That means that life is not quite so attractive to you as it might be?”
 he returned, under the cover of the music which had just begun.

“I doubt whether life is attractive to any one--who thinks about it.”

She had folded her hands on the pages and was leaning back in her chair.
Robert examined her and came to the conclusion that she was not quite so
disagreeable in countenance as the irregularity of her features at
first led one to think. She had large eyes, and, to meet them, was to
be strangely impressed, almost as with the attraction of beauty. Her
evening dress was of black satin, a richer and more tasteful garment
than he had expected she would wear, judging from her appearance earlier
in the day. Her hair, too, was very carefully arranged. The foot, which
just showed itself, was not small, but beautifully shaped. Ornaments she
had none.

“That is censure clearly directed against myself,” Robert said, with
good humour. “And yet I fancy I have thought a good deal of life.” Ada
did not seem disposed to pursue the argument.

“What are you reading?” Asquith inquired. It was a volume of Comte. She
showed the title without speaking.

“You are a Positivist?”

“No; merely an atheist.”

The confession was uttered in such a matter-of-fact tone that Robert was
disposed to think she used the word just for the pleasure of startling
him. There was, in fact, a barely perceptible glimmer in her eyes as she
sat looking straight before her.

“That’s rather dogmatic, isn’t it?” he remarked, smiling. “The word
Agnostic is better, I fancy.”

“I believe it comes to very much the same thing,” said Ada. “The new
word has been coined principally to save respectability.”

“A motive with which you have small sympathy?”

“None whatever.”

There was a silence between them.

“You play?” Robert asked, Rhoda Meres having risen from the piano.

“Only for my own amusement.”

“Then certainly you play things which I should like to hear. Will you
play me something that has a tune in it? I don’t mean to reflect upon
Miss Meres’ playing; but my ear is in a rudimentary state. I should be
very grateful if you would play something.”

Ada seemed to harden her face against an intruding smile. She rose,
however, and walked over to the piano. Mrs. Clarendon and Rhoda looked
at her with undisguised surprise. Asquith noticed that her walk might
have been graceful, had she not affected a sort of indifference in gait.

She seated herself at the instrument and played an operatic air;
it lasted about three minutes, then she ceased. Robert looked in
expectation of her resuming her former seat, but she walked straight to
the door and disappeared.

Mrs. Clarendon and Rhoda Meres exchanged glances, and for an instant
there was a rather awkward silence. Isabel found a subject, and talked
with her wonted vivacity.

Ada did not return. About half-past ten Rhoda began to make preparations
for departure; she went to one of the windows, and held the blind aside
a little to look out at the night.

“Oh! what a moon!” she exclaimed. “Mrs. Clarendon, do let us just go out
for a minute on to the lawn; the country is so wonderful at night.”

Wrappers were at hand for the ladies, and the three went out together.
The whole scope of visible heavens was pale with light; the blacker
rose the circle of trees about Knights-well. The leaves made their weird
whispering, each kind with its separate voice; no other sounds came from
the sleeping earth.

“We often hear the nightingale,” Isabel said, lowering her voice.
“Perhaps it’s too early yet.”

Then she added:

“This is the hour of our poet’s inspiration.”

“What poet?” asked Robert.

“Our poet in the cottage; don’t you remember?”

“Ah, the morbid young man. Poor fellow!”

Isabel suppressed a low laugh.

“Come, Rhoda dear, it’s cold,” she said to the girl, who had drawn a
little apart.

Rhoda followed in silence, her head bent. In the hall she took her
candle, and bade the two a hasty good-night.

“Why is she crying?” asked Robert, under his voice, as he entered the
drawing-room again with Isabel.

The latter shook her head, but did not speak. She moved about the room
for a moment; the shawl had half slipped from her shoulders, and made a
graceful draping. Asquith stood watching her.

She approached him.

“I half hinted,” she began, “that I had a selfish object in asking you
to come here. We are good friends, are we not?--old and good friends?”

There was a beautiful appeal upon her face, anxiety blending with a
slight embarrassment. She had put aside the mask of light-heartedness,
and that which it had all day been in her countenance to utter freely
exposed itself. It was not so much as distress; rather, impatience of
some besieging annoyance. She was more beautiful now than when Robert
had read her face seventeen years ago. Still, he regarded her with his
wonted smile. There was much kindness in his look; nothing more than

“The best of friends, Isabel, I hope,” he replied to her.

“I am going to ask you to do something for me,” she continued. “Will you
sit down and listen to me? I am not sure that I do right in asking this
favour of you, but you are the only one of my relatives whom I feel able
to talk freely with, and I think I had rather you than any one else
did this thing that I am going to ask. Perhaps you will find it too
disagreeable; if so, tell me--you will promise to speak freely?”

“Certainly, I promise.”

They had taken their seats. Asquith rested one of his arms on a small
table, and waited, the smile lingering. Isabel gathered the shawl about
her, as if she felt cold. She was a trifle pale.

“You understand perfectly,” she resumed, with a certain abruptness,
which came of the effort it cost her to broach the subject, “the meaning
of Ada Warren’s presence in this house?”

“Perfectly, I think,” her cousin replied, with a slight motion of his

“That is to say,” pursued Isabel, looking at the fringe of her shawl,
“you know the details of Mr. Clarendon’s will?”

He paused an instant before replying.

“Precisely,” was his word, as he tapped the table.

Isabel smiled, a smile different from that with which she was wont to
charm. It was one almost of self-contempt, and full of bitter memories.

“I had never heard of her,” she continued, “until I was called upon to
take her as my own child. Then she was sent to me from people who had
had the care of her since she was three years old.”

Asquith slowly nodded, wrinkling his forehead.

“Well, we will speak no more of that. What I wish to ask you to do for
me is this:--Oh, I am ashamed to speak of it! It is something that I
ought to have done myself already. But I am a coward; I have always been
a coward. I can’t face the consequences of my own--my own baseness; that
is the true word. Will you tell Ada Warren what her real position is,
and what mine?”

Asquith raised his head in astonishment.

“She is still ignorant?”

“I have every reason to believe so. I don’t think any one will have told

Robert bit his upper lip.

“Has she never asked questions about her origin?”

“Yes, but only once. I told her that her parents were friends of Mr.
Clarendon, and that she was an orphan, therefore I had taken her. That
was several years ago.”

Again there was a pause in the dialogue. Isabel had difficulty in
keeping her face raised; her cheeks had lost their pallor, the blood
every now and then made them warm.

“She seems a strange being,” Asquith remarked. “I am not as a rule
tempted to puzzle about people’s characteristics, but hers provoke one’s

“I cannot aid you,” Isabel said, speaking quickly. “I know her as little
as on the day when I first saw her. I have tried to be kind; I have
tried to----”

She broke off. Her voice had begun to express emotion, and the sound
seemed to recall her to self-command. She looked up, smiling more
naturally, though still with a touch of shame.

“Will you help me, cousin?” she asked.

“Certainly I will do what you wish. Do you desire me to explain
everything in detail----”

“The will, the will,” she interposed, with a motion of her hand. “Yes,
the full details of the will.”

“And if she asks me----?”

“You know nothing--that is best. You cannot speak to her on such a
subject. Will you wait for me a moment?”

She rose hastily and left the room. Asquith remained standing till her
return. She was only a few moments absent, and came back with a folded
paper in her hand.

“This,” she said, “is a full copy of the will. It might be best to read
it to her, or even to let her have it to read herself. She may keep it
if she wishes to.”

Asquith took the paper and stood in thought.

“You have well considered this?” he asked.

“Oh, for long enough. I thank you for your great kindness.”

“When shall I see her? To-morrow is Sunday. Does she go to church?”


“Then I will take the opportunity, whilst you and Miss Meres are away.”

Isabel gave him her hand, and they exchanged good-nights.


Robert Asquith was in the garden before breakfast next morning, with
untroubled countenance, scrutinising objects in detail, now and then
suppressing a tendency to give forth a note or two of song. He walked
with his hands in his pockets, not removing them when he stooped to
examine the gardener’s inscription stuck by the root of a flower or
shrub. He had no special interest in these matters, but the bent of
his mind was to observation; he avoided as much as possible mere
ruminativeness. The course of his wandering brought him round to the
stables; the sight of their admirable order and of the beasts in the
stalls--the carriage-horse, the two beautiful ponies that Mrs. Clarendon
drove, and the five-year-old chestnut which at present she rode--gave
him an Englishman’s satisfaction. Isabel was as active and practical in
the superintendence of her stables as in every other pursuit which she
regarded as duty or pleasure; the most exacting squire could not have
had things in better condition. Here Robert came in contact with his
acquaintance, the groom, and received from him much information
about the animals, also concerning their predecessors in the stables.
Strolling back to the front lawn, accompanied by the house-dog, he met
Ada Warren. She wore her ordinary brown straw hat, and seemed to be
coming from the park. The dog began to leap about her, barking joyously.

She spoke a quiet good-morning, but did not offer to shake hands. Robert
talked a little about the fine weather and the pleasure of breathing
morning air; he elicited in reply a series of assents. Ada had taken
one of the dog’s silky ears in her hand, and the animal suffered himself
very patiently to be led thus.

“Do you remain at home this morning, Miss Warren?” Robert inquired, as
they approached the house.


“In that case, may I ask if you will favour me with half-an-hour’s
conversation some time after breakfast?”

She looked round with frank surprise, only turning away her gaze when
she had assured herself of his seriousness.

“I shall be in the library till one o’clock,” she said.

“Thank you; I will come there.”

Watching her at breakfast, Robert thought he perceived some traces of
curiosity and anticipation in the girl’s face; once, too, he caught her
eyes straying in his direction. “Come,” he said to himself, “there is
something human in her after all. We shall see if we can’t make the
exhibition yet more pronounced.”

As soon as Mrs. Clarendon and Rhoda Meres were gone to church, Asquith
made his way to the library, carrying the document which Isabel had
entrusted to him the night before. The room remained very much as it had
been in Mr. Clarendon’s days. When gentlemen were at Knightswell, it was
used as a retreat for smoking; Isabel herself scarcely ever entered, but
Ada Warren used it regularly. There were on the shelves not more than
four hundred volumes, and half of these were calf-bound legal literature
and blue-books, representing periods of Mr. Clarendon’s career. On the
table lay volumes of a different kind, many of them showing Mudie’s
tickets; they were works of human interest of the day, food--or at least
refreshment--for an active and independent mind; French and German books
were here too. Asquith glanced at the names on one or two of the yellow
backs in passing, and suppressed a smile. But he thought all the better
of the girl for her intellectual enterprise.

Ada sat with her back to the window, reading; at his entrance she closed
her book, but did not move. He placed a chair at a little distance from
her, and leaned forward, as if about to talk in a familiar manner.

“I surprised you by my request?” he began, with a smile. “It was rather
formal, and necessarily so, for it is strictly a matter of business that
I wish to speak of.”

Ada’s position had not allowed him to get a clear view of her face at
first. Raising his eyes after this introduction, he was startled by what
he saw. The girl was the hue of death; all the natural tint had left her
cheeks, and her lips were unnaturally pale. She was pressing one hand
against her left side, and her eyes showed that she was suffering from
scarcely controllable agitation. He was in doubt whether to take notice
of it or not, when she suddenly rose from the chair.

“You are unwell, Miss Warren----?”

She turned sharply away, and walked the length of the room.

“Shall I postpone--this business?” said Robert, remarkably interested in
observing her.

“Thank you, no,” was her reply, as she seated herself further from him
than before. “I shall be obliged to you if you will speak plainly
and directly, whatever the business is. I have a headache; a long
conversation will be disagreeable to me.”

“I will speak as directly as possible. At Mrs. Clarendon’s request I
have undertaken to make known to you certain facts regarding your--your
future, of which, I understand, it has not been deemed necessary to
speak hitherto. I have, in short, to tell you what were the provisions
of the late Mr. Clarendon’s will; they concern you nearly.”

Ada’s aspect was calm, but he saw that her bosom rose and fell in a way
which showed an inward struggle. She gave no sign of a wish to speak.

“I have here a copy of the will,” he continued, unrolling the paper. “It
is long, and of course full of technicalities. Perhaps I shall do
best to put the gist of it into a few plain words. To begin then, Mr.
Clarendon made you heiress of all but the whole of his real and personal
estate, with possession upon your attainment of your majority, or,
should you marry before that age, then at your marriage. Under the will
two trustees are appointed, gentlemen who were Mr. Clarendon’s friends--
I need not mention their names. Until either of the events which should
give you possession, Mrs. Clarendon had the use of Knightswell, with
all it contained, and an income from the estate of two thousand pounds a
year; this, however, only on condition that she took you into her house
and brought you up in every way as her own child, with care for your
education such as the trustees should approve. If Mrs. Clarendon
declined to accept this condition, or if she married again prior to
your entering into possession, her benefit by the will was limited to an
annuity of three hundred pounds.”

Robert paused. His tone was as matter-of-fact as if he were
demonstrating a proposition of Euclid, but a smile had at length risen
to his face. It came of his observation of the listener. Ada had closed
her eyes; her hands were nervously clasped upon her lap.

“You follow this, Miss Warren?”

She raised her lids and regarded him. Her bosom had ceased to heave; she
seemed to have regained her ordinary state of mind.

“I follow it,” she said.

“Should you die, unmarried, before the end of your twenty-first year,”
 Asquith pursued, “the whole of the estate goes to certain very remote
connections of Mr. Clarendon.--No other contingency is provided for.”

“No other contingency is provided for,” repeated the girl mechanically.
“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean----”

Robert interrupted himself, and resumed in an off-hand way:

“Oh, other possible cases which will occur to one thinking the matter

Ada appeared to reflect. Her face was turned slightly upwards, and a
restful expression had come upon it.

“Is it,” she asked at length, “within your province to tell me any more
than this?”

“I think,” Robert replied, “that I have nothing more to tell. If you
wish it, I will leave this copy with you; I understood Mrs. Clarendon to
say that you might keep it.”

“Thank you, I will do so.”

She rose and took it from his hand.

“There is one thing,” she said, “that I should like to ask you; I dare
say you will have no objection to answer. Are the provisions of this
will generally known--to Mrs. Clarendon’s friends, I would say?”

“In all probability they are,” was his reply. “Thank you.”

Clearly there was nothing more to be said on either side. Any comment
from Asquith was of course out of the question, and Ada, at all times
so chary of her conversation, was not likely to give utterance to her
feelings under the present circumstances. She moved away, slightly
returned the other’s bow, and went from the room.

At luncheon Ada did not appear. It was not an uncommon thing for her
to take meals by herself; but Mrs. Clarendon and Robert felt that her
absence to-day had a significance. She was at dinner, however, and
behaved as usual. Nothing in her betrayed a change in her state of mind.

Whilst Rhoda was reading in the garden in the afternoon, Mrs. Clarendon
strayed apart with her cousin.

“You have told her?” she said, meeting Robert’s look.

“Yes, and left the copy of the will with her. It seems to have made her
oblivious of lunch.”

“Poor girl!”

The exclamation was a sincere one. Robert looked surprised.

“Did she ask you many questions?” Isabel continued.

“Two: whether I had anything more to tell her; and whether I thought
that the will was generally known? To the former I said ‘No;’ to the
latter ‘Yes.’”

“Whether it was generally known,” repeated Isabel, with a low laugh of a
not very mirthful kind. Then, after a pause, “What do people say of
me? What is the common talk about me? What do the men say? and--oh! the

“My dear cousin, you know perfectly well what they say; what they have
been saying since they first began to talk about you--that you are a
charming woman, and so good-hearted that no one can for shame breathe a
word against you.”

Isabel sighed.

“Rather, so shameless that gossip has not yet found the proper term to
characterise me. Well, never mind myself; happily I shall soon cease to
be an object of any general interest. But did she not ask any question
about the value of the property?”

“No word of it. She kept me strictly at arm’s length.”

“And she displayed no--no emotion?”

“At first, yes; she was extremely agitated. But she held it down. I
imagine she is what is called a woman of character. I had rather not be
her husband.”

Isabel made no reply, but walked on with her head bent.

“Will you let me ask you,” Robert began, “had you any particular reason
for wishing to inform her of these matters just now?”

“Yes, I had. There is no reason why I shouldn’t tell you. There is a
certain Mr. Lacour--you’ll meet him here to-morrow afternoon--a young
man whom I have known for some time as a friend of the Bruce Pages;
their place is at Hanford, five miles off. He’s a brother of Sir Miles
Lacour. Well, Mr. Vincent Lacour has called on me often in town, and a
week ago he lunched with us here; he’s staying at the Bruce Pages’
again. I rather like him, and I believe there’s not a bit of harm in him
really; but he seems to have been terribly wild, and he’s quarrelled
with his brother, the baronet. I don’t suppose he’s anything left to
live on, and Sir Miles refuses to help him any more. We learn all this
from young Lacour himself; he’s remarkably frank, embarrassingly so at
times. Now I half fancy he’s made an impression on Ada; certainly I
never knew her talk so freely with any one, or show such healthy signs
of interest. It wouldn’t be surprising; he’s a charming young fellow,
decidedly handsome, and the strangest talker. I fancied Ada looked
pleased when I mentioned that he was coming to the garden party
tomorrow. I don’t know whether he ought to be put in the girl’s way, but
I had to ask the Bruce Pages, and I couldn’t leave him out very well.
Now you see my reason. I have never before been obliged to think of such
a thing. It would be unjust to Ada to leave her in the dark as to her
true position.”

“This Mr. Lacour is doubtless aware of the circumstances?”

“Without a doubt.”

“And you think he might----”

“It is not impossible. He must be in desperate straits.”

“How old is the individual?”

“About three-and-twenty, I think. He had ten thousand pounds of his own
when he came of age.”

“Wherewith he has purchased experience. He must be rich in that

“I’m afraid he is; but I confess I like him. I don’t think he would be a
bad husband. I believe his oats are sown.”

“I can, of course, have no opinion; but the situation is an interesting

They turned about, and walked a stretch of the lawn in silence.

“I wish it were over,” Isabel said with a sigh. “I wish the poor girl
had a good husband and all were well settled. I am tired of playing the

“You look forward with--with equanimity?” Robert said hesitatingly, with
a glance at her face.

“More, with eagerness. I want to throw off a weight. I shall be the
happiest woman in England.”

“On three hundred a year, cousin Isabel?” ventured Asquith.

“On three hundred a year, cousin Robert. I wish I had never had more.
Come, we must go back to Rhoda. Isn’t Rhoda a dear?”


On specified occasions of assembly at Knightswell, Ada did not
ordinarily present herself. Mrs. Clarendon made excuses for her on
the plea of indifferent health; habitual visitors understood that
Miss Warren suffered much from headaches, and that she could not with
impunity expose herself to unusual excitement. The headaches were a
fact, but it was probably not on their account that Ada preferred as a
rule her own company. Her frequent caustic utterances on the subject of
the persons whom society considers, and the things with which society
occupies itself, were a sufficient index of her views; the views
themselves being a natural outcome of her temperament and the
circumstances of her life.

But on the present Monday she appeared. To the last moments Mrs.
Clarendon had been in uncertainty as to the likelihood of her doing
so, though she had laughingly prophesied the event to Rhoda Meres, and
persisted in spite of the latter’s incredulity. Ada had made no great
preparations, but was well and suitably dressed. Robert Asquith, to whom
all the girl’s movements were of extreme interest, promised himself the
pleasure of closely observing her throughout the afternoon.

“Tell me something of the people who are coming, will you?” he asked, as
he met her in the hall. “The interesting people, I mean, of course.”

“That limitation will make the task an easy one,” Ada replied as she
buttoned a glove. Her colour was rather higher than usual, and her tone
was less dry; she looked almost cheerful.

“Then of the less uninteresting; that will leave a margin for
conversation, surely?”

“It all depends, of course, on one’s point of view. I believe you have
considerable powers of being interested, have you not?”

“Yes; I fear I boast of them. You see I find the gift valuable. In my
sane moods I had rather have the dullest conversation than none at all.”

“Therefore you come to me, waiting for others to arrive.”

“Spare me, Miss Warren. You wouldn’t believe what toil it costs me to
frame and polish a compliment. I am sure you are naturally humane.”

“You are sure of that? To dumb animals, I hope.”

“Alas! it brings us back to the animals who are gifted with speech.
Shall we have any one who talks well, independently of the matter of
discourse? Remember, I am new to English society. I enjoy the gossip of
idle people, provided it be good of its kind.”

“I am no judge,” said Ada; “but I should think Mrs. Bruce Page will
satisfy you. Her tongue is so trained in current forms of speech that it
has come at last to save her all trouble of superintendence. As far
as my experience goes, she is nearly all that the most exacting could

“I must study that lady. And what of Miss Saltash, of whom I have

“Oh, _she_ is interesting!” Ada exclaimed. “I have seen her grow red in
the face in support of faith in eternal damnation. If that goes, she has
nothing to live for.”

Robert was obliged to confess to himself that Miss Warren was yet
a trifle crude; she amused him, but he took an early opportunity of
refreshing his palate from a less acid source. His thoughts continued,
however, to busy themselves with her; he awaited impatiently the arrival
of the young man who was supposed to have tenderly impressed this
singular heiress.

But the Bruce Pages were late. Before them came Mrs. Saltash of Dunsey
Priors, accompanied by her daughter Irene, whom Ada had characterised,
and Lady Florence Cootes. The latter was a daughter of the Earl of
Winterset; she was a constant guest at Dunsey Priors, being united in
bonds of the closest friendship with Irene Saltash. It was a union very
greatly indebted to ecclesiastical cement, the young ladies both holding
the most pronounced views on the constitution of the world to come,
and seemingly desiring to compensate themselves for a gloomy future by
enjoyment of a present fruitful in consolations. They seldom quitted
each other, and their chatter was lively in the extreme. Other maidens
there were, who, in company with two or three young men of unimpeachable
dress and converse, speedily betook themselves to lawn-tennis. Mr. and
Mrs. Vissian were shortly to be seen among the guests, the lady looking
very young and very pretty; she and Rhoda Meres seemed to have a good
deal to say to each other. Then, as Asquith walked about with his hands
behind him, the wonted smile on his lips, he heard the bustle of a new
arrival, and, turning, was aware of Mrs. Bruce Page. He felt sure of her
identity before he had heard her name pronounced. She seemed about
the same age as Mrs. Clarendon, and in some eyes probably excelled the
latter in attractiveness. With rather too high a colour, she was still
decidedly good-looking; not handsome, nor beautiful, but beyond dispute
goodlooking. Her bodily activity was surprising; she walked with the
grace and liveliness of a young girl, and, as she shortly showed at
tennis, could even run without making herself in the least ridiculous.
Her voice, though a note or two higher than it should have been, had yet
musical quality. And the use she made of it! Her greeting of the hostess
was one unbroken articulate trill, lasting two minutes and a half; it
embodied inquiries, responses, information, comments, forecasts, and
ejaculation. All who stood around came in one by one for a share of her
exhaustless utterances. She was never at a loss for an instant. Robert
was presented to her, and she at once talked to him as if they had been
on a footing of intimacy for years. When she interrupted her speech,
it was to laugh, and this laugh was perhaps a yet more wonderful
phenomenon, so clear and fresh and buoyant was it, and yet so obviously
a mere outcome of the automatic contrivance which performed this lady’s
social vivacities. She laughed because it helped her to show her teeth,
and in general became her features.

“How is it she doesn’t lose breath?” Robert whispered presently to Mrs.
Clarendon, his face expressive of amazement.

“Hush, that is a secret!” was the reply.

Yet Mrs. Bruce Page was not (I use the conventional standard) vulgar;
she never said (as far as one could follow her) a malicious thing, was
guilty of no bad taste in choice of expressions, seemed to overflow with
the milk of human kindness. A silly woman, but scarcely an offensive
one; probably in intimacy capable of making herself delightful and
something more. Society was to be credited with this public manner of
hers, and society on the whole admired the fruit of its systems.

Behind her came a young lady of seventeen, her daughter, and two young
gentlemen, one her brother, the other Mr. Vincent Lacour. The girl was
extremely shy, and had not a word to say for herself; having secured
Mrs. Clarendon’s hand, she continued to hold it, shrinking, as it were,
into the shadow of the dear lady whom all who needed a protector loved.
The brother, Mr. Selwyn Parkes, was a pleasant-looking young fellow,
of eight-and-twenty. It was in the quality of Mr. Parkes’s friend that
Vincent Lacour resided at present with the Bruce Pages. Mr. Lacour
himself was the last to shake Isabels hand; her greeting was that one
gives to a favourite, of whom one yet entertains a certain amount of
moral disapproval. That Vincent should be a favourite where ladies were
concerned was natural enough. His personal advantages were striking.
Tall, slim, with a handsome head poised on a delicate neck, he exhibited
much of female grace and delicacy, without the possibility of being
regarded as effeminate. Of a man’s health and muscle he had all that
even women demand in their ideal. Black hair and a well-educated black
moustache, fine, irresponsible eyes; these also were properties not to
be resisted. If anything, he looked a trifle too intellectual, but
this would be pardoned by those to whom it was merely suggestive of the
mysterious. Of course Mr. Lacour was conscious enough of the attention
he drew, and, to judge from his smile, not at all disposed to shrink
from it. He might be a trifle fatuous, but he was very far from being
a fool; his forehead suggested capacity for better things than those he
was at present put to.

One of the first things he did was to draw Mrs. Clarendon a little
aside, and speak to her in a hasty whisper.

“I beg of you to keep Mrs. Bruce Page occupied somehow or other. She’ll
never let me go, and I’m bored unspeakably. Help me, and I am your slave
for ever!”

Isabel subdued a smile, and made no direct answer. Just as Vincent made
off into a cluster of people, the lady in question hastened to Isabel’s

“What has that boy been whispering to you?” she asked. “He’s in the most
execrable temper; it was all we could do to persuade him to come.
He vows that his liver is out of order, and that he is possessed by
diabolical promptings. Pity me for what I suffer in discharging a
mother’s duties to him. And, oh, Mrs. Clarendon! let him talk to your
cousin--that really charming man! He’s got the Civil Service into his
head, now, and I’m sure Mr. Asquith can give him useful advice--about
offices, and that kind of thing, you know. What _is_ to become of the
poor boy, I _cant_ imagine! I’ve been at Sir Miles, in letters, for the
last ten days, till at length he’s as good as told me to mind my own
business. Surely, never were brothers so unlike! One satisfaction is
that Sir Miles can’t possibly live long--if it isn’t wicked to say such
a thing, and I suppose it must be. He has heart disease, my dear, and
in an aggravated form; so Doctor Norman Rayner tells me. I fear I have
increased it by my correspondence. Where is the boy gone to? I must take
him to Mr. Asquith.”

“The boy” had found a pleasant seat by the side of Miss Rhoda Meres.

“You’re not going to play?” he asked, seeing a racket in her hand.

“I’m in the next set,” Rhoda answered. She had flushed a little as he
took his place by her, and there was a sparkle in her eyes as she looked
up at him.

“Can’t you throw it over? Do get Sophy Page to take your place.”

“Why shouldn’t I play?” she asked, examining the handle of the racket.

“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Vincent languidly, leaning back and
half-closing his eyes. “Do if you like, of course.”

“Have you a headache, Mr. Lacour?” Rhoda asked. “Don’t you feel well?”

“The fact is I don’t. I feel seedy and bored.”

“Pray don’t let me bore you----”

She half rose.

“You know very well you don’t bore me,” he said, looking directly
at her. Then he added, “I-----I half supposed you would have left

She had a quick reply on her lips, but checked it, and merely said:

“I have not.”

“When do you go back to London?” he inquired, throwing one leg over the
other and clasping his hands behind his head.

“On Wednesday.”

“I suppose I shall be back there before very long,” said Vincent,
looking meditatively at the sky. “Probably I shall get a clerkship at
five-and-twenty shillings a week.”

“I’m afraid you don’t show much energy,” said Rhoda, in a voice which
lacked something of the indifference she meant to put into it.

“I’ve told you often enough I have none, Miss Meres. I’m like a piece of
sea-weed; my condition is dependent on the weather.”

“It’s fine enough now, at all events,” she said, with an attempt at a

“Oh, yes; but there’s the very deuce brewing,” returned Vincent, with
characteristic freedom of expression. “I wish,” he added slowly, “I’d
somebody to help me--somebody who has energy.”

“Doesn’t Mr. Parkes----”


There was silence. Cries came from the tennis players, who were just out
of sight, and a hum of conversation from nearer groups.

“What are you going to do when you get back to town, Miss Meres?”
 Vincent asked, regarding her again.

“I don’t know, I’m sure,” she answered vaguely. “Live as usual, I
suppose; unless I take some decided step.”

“Decided step? By Jove, how it refreshes me to hear you speak like that!
What decided step?”

“I don’t know. I’m very much in your own position, you know; I shall
have to earn a living somehow.”

She said it very simply, looking down, and making marks on the grass
with the handle of the racket.

“A living? Women don’t make a living; that’s all done for them.”

“Is it?” said Rhoda, and, as soon as the words were spoken, she rose,
averting her face.

“There’s our set called!” she exclaimed; “I must go.”

He made a slight gesture as if about to exert himself to detain her; but
she was gone. His eyes followed her dreamily.

“Oh, here you are, Vincent!” cried Mrs. Bruce Page, close at hand. “Have
you _really_ a headache, now? Poor boy! you don’t look well. Come along
with me, I want you to talk with Mr. Asquith, Mrs. Clarendon’s cousin,
you know. He knows all about the Civil Service.”

Robert received the young man with a look critical indeed, but
good-humouredly so. He did not seem to be able to take Mr. Lacour quite
seriously, yet could not refuse a certain admiration.

“You are thinking of the Civil Service examinations?” he began.

“Well, I can’t say I’ve thought much about them,” Vincent replied, in
his manner suggestive of easy achievement. “I suppose they’re very much
a matter of form--the elements--and--and so on?”

“Not quite that. And competition, you remember.”

“Yes. The truth is, I haven’t looked into the thing. What do they expect
you to know?”

Asquith gave an outline of the attainments looked for in a candidate for
the higher clerkships.

“By Jove, that’s pretty strong!” was Vincent’s comment.

“The competition,” remarked Asquith, “makes it about the severest
examination you can undergo.”

“Then _that’s_ all up!” exclaimed the young “What would the screw be?”

“You would begin with a hundred a year, and by slow degrees rise to
four,” said Robert, curling his moustache.

“The deuce you would! Then I may with honour withdraw from so ignoble
a competition. You can’t suggest any way of making the four hundred at
start? I dare say Mrs. Clarendon’s told you all about me. I don’t mind
who knows. There’s a great deal of false shame in the world, it seems
to me; don’t you think so? But I really think it’s time I turned to
something, and what’s the good of one’s friends if they can’t suggest
a plan? Of course the social structure is radically wrong. A man like
myself--I have brains, I beg you to believe--oughtn’t to find himself
thrown out of it in this way. I shall be infinitely obliged to any one
who suggests something.”

It seemed to Robert, as he listened, that this young man had a turn for
affecting an imbecility which was not in truth part of his character;
in the matter and manner of his talk, Lacour appeared rather to yield to
physical inertness than to disclose natural vacuity. It might be that he
was, as he professed, suffering in body; it seemed more probable that he
found a luxury in abandoning his mind to sluggish promptings, even as he
showed a pronounced disinclination for activity in the disposal of his
limbs. His disastrous circumstances displayed their influence in the
whole man. The rate at which he had lived for the past two years was
no doubt telling upon him, and nothing tended to counteract, everything
rather to foster, the languor which possessed him. His vanity,
doubtless, was extreme; the temptation to indulge it no less so. Mrs.
Bruce Page, with her semi-sentimental coddling, her pseudo-maternal
familiarity, was alone enough to relax the springs of a stronger
individuality than Vincent’s. Reflecting thus, Asquith maintained
silence; when he raised his eyes again he saw that Ada Warren had drawn

Lacour gave the girl his hand, and, in a tone of almost ludicrous
dolorousness, asked her how she was.

“I think I should rather ask you that,” she said, with a laugh; “you
have a woful countenance.”

“You, at all events, are in excellent spirits,” he returned.

It was true, comparatively speaking. A sudden access of self-confidence
had come to her, and her manner was at moments almost joyous.

“Have you observed Ada?” Isabel took an opportunity of saying to her
cousin apart.

“I see now how wrong and selfish I have been.”

And to Ada herself she spoke, finding the girl standing aside whilst
general attention was being given to tea and ices.

“You feel well to-day?” she said, with her kindest smile.

Ada murmured something unintelligible and turned away. Mrs. Clarendon
reddened slightly and, passing on, met with Vincent Lacour, who was
pacing with his hands behind his back.

“Won’t you have an ice?” she asked.

“Ice? Great heavens! I should die of dyspepsia. But, Mrs. Clarendon,
what is it? Why do you speak and look at me in such an unfriendly way?”

“I am not conscious of doing so. Sit down, and tell me what you
have been talking about with Mr. Asquith. Has he given you useful

“Decidedly useful; he’s effectually knocked all those plans on the

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. What is the difficulty?”

“There are just seventeen, one for every minute of our conversation. But
very seriously, I want your advice. You know, Mrs. Clarendon, I think a
good deal more of your advice than of any one else’s; pray don’t begin
to be rusty just when I’ve most need of you.”

“Go on; I promise not to be rusty,” said Isabel, laughing.

“But you are a little rusty, for all that. You’re not so free and easy
with me as you used to be. I suppose you’ve heard something new. I can’t
get on with people--especially women--who won’t take me just as I am.
You’re beginning to disapprove of me, I can see that.”

“My dear Mr. Lacour, I have always disapproved of you--in a measure.”

“Of course; but the measure is extending. There’s something in your tone
I don’t like. I always say yours is the one woman’s voice I would walk a
mile to hear, and to-day it has lost something of its quality for me.”

“I grieve exceedingly--except that henceforth you will be saved from the
terrible temptation to over-exert yourself. But hadn’t we better talk
seriously? What can I advise upon?”

“Well, it has come to this. Either I go on to the stage, or I go to
Texas. Which do you recommend?”

“Of the two, Texas.”

“That is not complimentary, you know.”

“I only mean it to be sincere. And I think it not unlikely that you
would do well in Texas. You need that kind of shaking up.”

“On the other hand, my advantages are thrown away,” remarked Vincent,
stroking his chin. He spoke with the completest frankness; it was
scarcely possible to call the speech conceited.

“I doubt whether you have any advantages for the stage,” said Isabel

“But, my dear Mrs. Clarendon--------”

The talk was interrupted. Lady Florence Cootes came running up.

“Oh, Mrs. Clarendon, I had all but forgotten! I am charged with a
message for you from my father. He bids me tell you that he has won his
bet, and that it _was_ Charibert won the Two Thousand the year before
last. It seems you had an argument about it. Do tell me what you’ve

“I can’t, because I don’t know,” replied Isabel merrily.

“You don’t know? Have you forgotten what the bet was?”

“The stakes were kept secret. If I won I was to ask for anything I
chose; if Lord Winterset won he was to do the same.”

“If Lord Winterset originated that,” observed Vincent, “he’s an
uncommonly shrewd man. I shall introduce the idea forthwith to all my
female acquaintances.”

Lady Florence turned away, with the face of an English virgin.

“Not with mention of the source, Mr. Lacour,” said Isabel, in a manner
which he could not misunderstand.

And she moved away to mingle with other ladies, a slight shade of
vexation on her countenance.

Lacour rose with rather a sour face, and strolled across the lawn,
looking about him as if in search of some one. Apparently his search was
unsuccessful. The sun was still warm, and he sought for a shady spot,
eventually getting to the east side of the house, the opposite to that
where the tennis-court lay. A yew-tree hedge divided this part of the
garden from the front lawn, and it was free of people. Vincent found
himself by the library window, which was low, not more than three feet
from the ground. The window standing wide open, he glanced in, and
no sooner had done so than he laid his hands upon the sill and neatly
vaulted into the room.

Ada Warren was sitting alone. She looked, and was, in fact, a little
tired, and had come there for the sake of quietness.

“I have been looking for you, Miss Warren,” was Vincent’s excuse for the
intrusion. “You’ll let me sit here, won’t you?”

“I shall not be so rude as to tell you to go away,” she answered in a
rather undecided tone.

“That’s good of you. Do you know I find it restful to talk to you? I
do believe you’re the only person I ever spoke to quite seriously.--You
don’t answer?”

“I was wondering how far that might be a compliment.”

“To the very tail of the last word.”

“And that was--_ly_, if you remember,” said Ada drily, giving the letter
_y_ its broader value. She looked confused as soon as she had spoken,
feeling that the remark ought to have been made in a lighter tone to be
quite within the limits of becoming repartee.

Vincent looked at first surprised, then leaned back and laughed.

“I’d no idea you were so witty.”

“Nor, perhaps, so ill-mannered?”

It was a little piece of reparation, and probably carried her further
than she intended. Vincent leaned forward on a chair which stood between

“You study here, don’t you?” he asked, with a glance at the books on the

“I read here sometimes.”

“I suppose you’re very clever and very learned, Miss Warren?”

She moved her head slightly, and seemed unable to find a ready answer.

“Your contempt for me,” he pursued, “must be unbounded.”

“I don’t allow myself to despise people with whom I am very slightly
acquainted,” said Ada; again rather more positively than she had
meant. She found such a difficulty in striking with her voice the note
corresponding to that which she had in her mind--a difficulty common in
people who talk little and think rapidly.

“Well, yes, I suppose there is only a slight acquaintance between
us,” admitted Vincent. “Not so much, for instance, as would warrant my
jumping in by the window just now. I do things on impulse a good deal.”

“So do I,” said Ada.

“You do? Why, then, there’s a point of contact--of sympathy--it would
be better to say, I suppose. There are very few people whom I find
sympathetic. Do you fare better?”

“I can’t say that I do.”

Lacour allowed a moment or two to this assertion before he continued:

“I’ve been trying to get Mrs. Clarendon’s help in my difficulties,” he
said. “She’s generally pretty sympathetic, but I believe she’s giving me
up. Have you heard her say anything rather savage about me of late?”

“It would be unusual energy in Mrs. Clarendon,” was the girl’s reply.

“Energy? Well, I don’t know; I always thought she had plenty of that.
But I understand you. You mean that that kind of society life doesn’t
conduce to activity of mind--to sincerity, shall we say?”

Ada had meant this, but it did not exactly please her to hear it from
Lacour’s lips.

“I don’t think I ever heard Mrs. Clarendon speak evil of any one,” she
said, with seemingly needless emphasis, measuring her words as if in
scrupulous justice.

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” he observed; “and it’s just what I
should have thought. I like Mrs. Clarendon very much, but--well, I can’t
say that I find in her the moral support I am seeking.”

“You are seeking moral support?” Ada asked, looking at him in her direct
way, with no irony in her expression.

“Well, that’s rather a grand way of putting it, after all, for one who
isn’t accustomed to pose and use long words. I want help, there’s no
doubt of that, at all events.”

“Help of what kind?”

“Moral help--it’s the only word, after all. Material help wouldn’t be
out of place, but one doesn’t go round with one’s hat exactly--till,
that is, one’s driven to it by what Homer calls a shameless stomach.
Don’t think I know Homer, Miss Warren; it’s only a phrase out of a crib,
which somehow has stuck in my mind.”

Ada laughed.

“Now, if you hadn’t told me that,” she said, “I might have been greatly

“Pay tribute to my honesty then.”

He rose from his leaning attitude and walked a few paces.

“You’ve no idea,” he resumed, facing her, “how much better I feel
since I’ve been talking to you; upon my word I do. As I said, there’s
something so restful in your society. You give me ideas, too. I don’t
feel sluggish as I do at other times.”

He paused again, and again resumed. This time with a rather pathetic
resignation in his voice.

“I suppose Mrs. Clarendon’s advice is the best.”

“What was that?” Ada inquired, her tone colder.

“She said I’d better give up hope in England, and go to some other
country. Texas was proposed.”

The girl kept silence. If Lacour gauged her rightly she was reflecting
upon this advice as coming from Mrs. Clarendon. Her brows drew together,
and there was the phantom of a bitter smile at her lips.

“Mrs. Clarendon thinks you would be better off in Texas?” she asked,
with indifference not so skilfully assumed but that this shrewd young
man could see through it.

“Yes; she seems to think I should be better off anywhere than in
England. I dare say she’s right, you know. My friends are about getting
tired of me; it’s time I made myself scarce.”

“And what would you do in Texas?”

“Oh, pretty much anything. The kind of work you see farm labourers doing
here--rail-splitting, sheep-washing and driving, and so on.”

“You feel a call to such occupations?”

“Well, I have Mrs. Clarendon’s advice.”

“Mrs. Clarendon’s advice!” she repeated. “Is Mrs. Clarendon’s advice
decisive with you?”

“I believe she has a friendly interest in me, and I shouldn’t wonder if
she’s right. Other people have advised the same thing. They’ve given me
up, you see, one and all.”

His voice was more pathetic still. He had reseated himself, and leaned
back with his eyes closed. Mr. Lacour did this not unfrequently when
speaking with persons whom he desired to interest.

She did not speak, and he rose, as if with an effort.

“Well, I’ll be off; I bore you. Will you permit me to make use of the
window for exit?”

“Why not?” she replied mechanically.

He turned and faced her again.

“Of course fellows sometimes make a fortune out there. I might do that,
you know, if only--well, if I only had something to work for.”

“A fortune,” Ada suggested.

“No, I don’t mean that,” he replied, with fine sadness. “That doesn’t
appeal to me. If you can only believe it, I have other needs, other
aspirations. The fortune would be all very well, but only as an adjunct.
A man doesn’t live by bread alone.”

She smiled.

“Of course it’s absurd,” he resumed, making an impatient motion with his
hand; “but if only I had a little more impudence I should like to tell
you that--well, that it was never so hard for me to bring a talk to an
end as this of ours, Miss Warren. You’ve given me what no one else ever
did, but you’ve--you’ve taken something in exchange. I dare say I shan’t
see you again; will you shake hands with me before I go?”

She stood looking straight into his face, her eyes larger than ever in
their desperate effort to read him. Vincent approached to take her hand.

“Ah, there you are!” cried a voice from outside the window. “Vincent,
I’ve been looking for you everywhere; you’re keeping us waiting. Miss
Warren, I beg your pardon a thousand times; I was so taken up with the
thought of that boy that I only saw him at first. I know I shall
have your gratitude, however; poor Mr. Lacour is decidedly _ennuyeux_

His face seemed to indicate a rather more positive state, but it was
only for an instant. Then he shook hands hastily, without speaking, and
vaulted out into the garden.

“Well!” exclaimed Mrs. Bruce Page, “that’s a nice way of leaving a
lady’s presence. But I suppose he’s practising Texan habits. Good-bye,
Miss Warren. Do so wish you’d come over and see us. May I shake hands
with you through the window? Indeed, we are bound to be off this
instant. Good-bye!”

Rhoda Meres was standing by Mrs. Clarendon in front of the house when
Mrs. Bruce Page came round with her captive.

“You’d never believe where I found him!” cried the voluble lady. “Having
exhausted the patience of every one else, he’d positively tracked poor
Miss Warren--who I’m sure isn’t looking very well--to the library, and
was boring her shockingly.”

Lacour did his bowing and hand-shaking with the minimum of speech. When
he touched Rhoda’s hand there was something so curious in its effect
upon his sense of touch that he involuntarily looked at her face. She
was very pale.


On the following morning Robert Asquith returned to London, to make
ready for his grouse-shooting expedition on Wednesday. Rhoda Meres
remained at Knightswell one more day. On Tuesday she was not at all
well. Between Ada and her very fair relations existed; the girls
were not intimate, but they generally discovered a common ground for
companionship, which was more than could be said of Ada’s attitude
towards any other female acquaintance. When Rhoda kept her room in the
morning it was natural that Ada should go to her, and seek to be of
comfort. She could be of none, it proved; after a few efforts, Rhoda
plainly begged to be left alone with her headache.

At midday Mrs. Clarendon herself entered the room, bringing in her
hand a little tray. Rhoda was by this time sitting in a deep chair, and
professed herself better. She had not slept during the night, she said,
and was feeling the effects; doubtless the unwonted excitement of the
party had been too much for her. Isabel talked to her quietly, and saw
that she ate something, then sat by her, holding the girl’s hands.

“I have a letter from your father this morning,” she said. “He seems to
miss you sadly. But for that, I should keep you longer.”

“I’m afraid he must get used to it,” was Rhoda’s reply, cheerlessly

“Why, dear?”

“I shall not stay at home.”

“What shall you do?” Isabel asked quietly.

“Go somewhere--go anywhere--go and find work and earn a living!”

“But I think you have work enough at home.”

“I am not indispensable.”

“I believe you are. I don’t think your father can do without you.”

“Why can’t he? Hilda is at home quite enough to look after the servant.
What else does he want with me?”

“Much else, dear Rhoda. Your sympathy, your aid in his work, your
child’s love. Remember that your father’s life is not a very happy one.
You are old enough to understand that. You know, I think, that it never
has been very happy. Can’t you find work enough in cheering him?”

For reply the girl burst into tears.

“Cheer him!” she sobbed. “How can I cheer any one? How can I give
comfort to others when my own life is bare of it? It’s easy for you to
show me my duty, Mrs. Clarendon. Tell me _how_ I am to do it!”

Isabel put her arm about the shaken form, and there was soothing in the
warm current of her blood.

“I cannot tell you how to do it, Rhoda,” she said, when the sobs had
half stilled themselves. “My own is too much for me. But I can--with
such force of love as is in me--implore you to guard against mistakes,
beseech you not to heap up trouble for yourself through want of
experience, want of knowledge of the world, through refusal to let older
ones see and judge for you. My own life has been full of lessons, though
I dare say I have not suffered as much as others would have done in my
place, for I have a temperament which easily--only too easily--throws
aside care. If only I could live it over again with all my experience to
guide me!”

“You don’t understand me,” said the girl, with a fretfulness she tried
to subdue. “You don’t know what my trials are. No amount of experience
could help me.”

“Not against suffering; no. I won’t talk nonsense, however well it may
sound. But you speak of taking active steps, Rhoda. There experience can
give very real aid.”

“Mrs. Clarendon,” said Rhoda, after a short silence, “I’m afraid I
haven’t a very good disposition. I don’t feel to my father as I ought;
I don’t care as much for anybody as I ought--for any of my relations, my
friends. I’m not happy, and that seems to absorb me.”

“You don’t care for me, Rhoda?--not for me, a little bit of sincere

The voice melted the girl’s heart, so wonderful was the power it had.

“I love you with all my heart!” she cried, throwing her arms about
Isabel. “You make me feel it!”

“Dear, and that is what I cannot live without,” said Isabel. “I must
have friends who love me--simple, pure, unselfish love. I have spent
my life in trying to make such friends. I haven’t always succeeded, you
know, just because I have my faults--oh, heaps of them! and often I’m
as selfish as any one could be. But a good many do love me, I think and
trust. Love has a different meaning for you, hasn’t it, Rhoda? I don’t
think I have ever known that other kind, and now I certainly never
shall. It asks too much, I think; mine is not a passionate nature. But
if you could know how happy I have often been in the simple affection of
young girls who come and tell me their troubles. If I had had children,
I should have spoilt them dreadfully.”

Her eyes wandered, the speech died for a moment on her lips.

“Rhoda,” she continued, taking both the girl’s hands, “some day, and
before long, I shall want your love and that of all my dear friends more
than ever. Something--never mind, I shall want it, and I have tried
so hard to earn it, because I looked forward and knew. All selfish
calculation, you see,” she added, with a nervous laugh, “but then
it’s only kindness I ask for. You won’t take yours away? You won’t do
anything that will put a distance between us? Nothing foolish? Nothing
ill-considered? You see, I’ll put it all on my own account. I can’t
spare you, I can’t spare one who loves me!”

Mrs. Clarendon accompanied Rhoda next day to Winstoke station. On her
way back she drove to several cottages where it was her custom to call,
and where the dwellers had good cause to welcome her. Of sundry things
which occurred to her in the course of these visits, she desired to
speak with Mr. Vissian, and accordingly stopped at the rectory before
driving through her own gates. The front door stood open, and with the
freedom of intimacy, she walked straight in and tapped at the parlour
door, which was ajar. That room proving empty, she passed to the next,
which was the rectors study, and here too tapped. A voice bade her
enter--to her surprise an unfamiliar voice. She turned the handle,
however, and looked in.

A young man was sitting in the rector’s easy-chair, a book in his hand.
He rose on seeing an unknown lady. They looked at each other for a
moment, with a little natural embarrassment on both sides. Each rapidly
arrived at a conclusion as to the other’s identity, and the smile in
both cases expressed a certain interest.

“Pardon me,” Mrs. Clarendon said; “I am seeking the rector, or Mrs.
Vissian; Can you tell me if either is at home?”

“The rector, I believe, is still away,” was the reply, “but Mrs. Vissian
is in the garden. I will tell her.”

But in the same moment Mrs. Vissian appeared, carrying a basket of
fruit. She had garden gloves on her hands. Behind her came Master Percy.
There was exchange of greetings; then, in response to a look from Mrs.
Clarendon, the youthful matron went through a ceremony of introduction.
Mrs. Clarendon and Mr. Kingcote were requested henceforth to know each
other, society sanctioning the acquaintance.

“Your name is already familiar to me,” said Isabel; “I have been looking
forward to the pleasure of meeting you some day. It was in fear and
trembling that I knocked at the sanctuary; Mr. Vissian will congratulate
himself on having left a guardian. Those precious volumes; who knows, if
there had been no one here----?”

“And how are you, Percy?” she asked, turning to the child, who had come
into the library, and holding to him her hand. Percy, instead of merely
giving his own, solemnly knelt upon one knee, and raised the gloved
fingers to his lips. His mother broke into a merry laugh; Mrs. Clarendon
smiled, glanced at Kingcote, and looked back at the boy with surprise.

“That is most chivalrous behaviour, Percy,” she said.

Mrs. Vissian still laughed. Percy, who had gone red, eyed her

“You know I am a page to-day, mother,” he said, “that’s how a page ought
to behave. Isn’t it, Mr. Kingcote?”

Isabel drew him to her and kissed him; a glow of pleasure showed through
her smiling.

“Percy is a great many different people in a week,” explained Mrs.
Vissian. “To-morrow he’ll be a pirate, and then I’m afraid he wouldn’t
show such politeness.”

“That shows you don’t understand, mother,” remarked the boy. “Pirates
are always polite to beautiful ladies.”

There was more laughter at this. Kingcote stood leaning against the
mantelpiece, smiling gravely. Percy caught his eye, and, still confused
and rather indignant, went to his side.

“Percy still has ideals,” Kingcote observed, laying his hand on the
child’s head.

“Ah, they’re so hard to preserve!” sighed Isabel. Then, turning to Mrs.
Vissian, “I want a word or two with you about things that are painfully
real. Shall we go into the sitting-room?”

She bowed and said a word of adieu to Kingcote, who stood looking at the
doorway through which she had disappeared.

Two days later fresh guests arrived at Knightswell, and for a week there
was much riding and driving, lawn-tennis, and straying about the garden
and park by moonlight. Then the house of a sudden emptied itself of all
its occupants save Ada Warren. Mrs. Clarendon herself went to stay at
two country places in succession. She was back again about the middle of
September. Ada and she found themselves once more alone together.

Early on the day after her arrival Isabel took a turn of several miles
on horseback. She had risen in the morning with somewhat less than her
customary flow of spirits, and the exercise would no doubt help her to
become herself again. It was a very soft and balmy autumn day; the sky
was cloudy, but not with presage of immediate rain, and the distance was
wonderfully clear, the rolling downs pencilled on sky of bluish gray.
Sounds seemed unnaturally’ audible; she often stayed her horse to
listen, finding something very consonant with her mood in the voices of
the resting year. When she trotted on again, the sound of the hoofs on
the moist road affected her with its melancholy monotony.

“Am I growing old?” she said to herself.

“It is a bad sign when riding fails to put me into good spirits. Perhaps
I shall not care to hunt; a good thing, if it prove so. I lose less.”

She was returning to Winstoke by the old road from Salcot East, and
presently rode past the cottage at Wood End. A window on the ground
floor was open, and, as she went by, Kingcote himself came to it, having
no doubt heard the approaching horse. Isabel bowed.

“Why didn’t I stop and speak?” she questioned herself. “It would have
been kind. Indeed, I meant to, but my hands somehow wouldn’t obey me at
the moment.”

A hundred yards farther she met a village lad, carrying a very unusual
burden, nothing less than a book, an octavo volume. Isabel drew rein.

“What have you got there, Johnny Nancarrow?” she asked.

The youngster turned the book over, regarding it much as if it were a
live thing.

“Fayther picked un oop corner o’ Short’s Aacre,” he replied. “He says it
b’longs to the stranger at Wood End, and I’ve got to taake it there.”

“Let me look.”

It was a volume of the works of Sir Thomas Browne. Turning to the
fly-leaf, Isabel saw the name, “Bernard Kingcote,” written there.

“How did it come at the corner of Short’s Acre, I wonder?”

“Fayther says the stranger ligs aboot, spellin’ over his books, and
he’ll have left this behind un by hap.”

She turned over the leaves, absently; then her face brightened.

“Don’t trouble to go any farther, Johnny,” she said. “I’ll take the
book to its owner myself; I know him. And here’s something for your good

She turned her horse. The boy stood watching her, a gape of pleasure on
his face, and still gazed, cap in hand, till a turn of the road hid her;
then he jogged back home, whistling. The sixpence had something to
do with it, no doubt; yet more, perhaps, the smile from the Lady of

Isabel rode at a very gentle pace; once she seemed on the point of
checking her horse. But she was already within sight of the cottage, and
she went at walking pace up to the door. The window still stood open,
and she could see into the room, but it was empty. Its appearance
surprised her. The flagged floor had no kind of covering; in the middle
stood a plain deal table, with a writing desk and books upon it,
and against the opposite wall was a bookcase full of volumes. A less
luxurious abode it would not have been easy to construct. The sides of
the room had no papering, only whitewash; one did not look for pictures
or ornaments, and there were none. A scent of tobacco, however, came
from within.

“One comfort, at all events, poor fellow,” passed through her mind. “He
must have been smoking there a minute or two ago. Where is he now?”

She knocked at the door with the handle of her whip. At once she heard a
step approaching, and the door was opened. Kingcote stood gazing at her
in surprise; he did not smile, and did not speak. He had the face of one
who has been in reverie, and is with difficulty collecting himself.

“How do you do, Mr. Kingcote?” began Isabel. “I am come to restore to
you a book which has been found somewhere in the fields. I fear it has
suffered a little, though not so much as it might have done.”

He took the volume, and reflected for an instant before replying.

“I thank you very much, Mrs. Clarendon. Yes; I had quite forgotten that
I left it behind me. It was yesterday. I should have been sorry to have
lost him.”

“The book is evidently a favourite; you handle it with affection.”

“Yes, I value Sir Thomas. You know him?”

“I grieve to say that I hear his name for the first time.”

“Oh, you would like him; at least, I think you would. He is one of the
masters of prose. I wish I could read you one or two things.”

“I’m sure I should be very glad. Will you come and lunch with us to-day,
and bring the book with you?”

Kingcote had his eyes fixed upon her; a smile gathered in them.

“I’m afraid----” he began; then, raising his eyebrows with a humorous
expression, “I am in no way prepared for the ceremony of visiting, Mrs.

“Oh, but it will be in no way a ceremony!” Isabel exclaimed. “You will
do me a great pleasure if you come wholly at your ease, just as you
would visit Mr. Vissian. Why not?” she added quickly. “I am alone,
except for the presence of Miss Warren, who always lives with me.”

“Thank you,” said Kingcote, “with pleasure I will come.”

“We lunch at half-past one. And you will bring Sir Thomas? And let me
keep him a little, to remove the reproach of my ignorance?”

Kingcote smiled, but made no other reply. She leaned down from her horse
and gave him her hand; he touched it very gently, feeling that little
Percy Vissian’s fashion of courtesy would have been far more becoming
than the mere grasp one gives to equals. Then she rode away. Isabel
was, as we know, a perfect horsewoman, and her figure showed well in the
habit. Kingcote fell back into his reverie.

He had but one change of garments at all better than those he wore;
not having donned them for more than two months, he found himself very
presentable, by comparison, when he had completed his toilet before the
square foot of looking-glass which hung against the wall in his bedroom.
His hair had grown a trifle long, it is true, but that rather became
him, and happily he had not finally abandoned the razor. His boots
were indifferently blacked by the woman who came each day to straighten
things, so he took a turn with the brushes himself.

“After all,” he reflected, “it is a ceremony. I lack the courage of the
natural man. But I would not have her accuse me of boorishness.”

And again: “So this is the Lady of Knightswell? The water of the well is
enchanted, Percy told me. Have I already drunk the one cup which is

He reached the house-door just before the hour appointed for luncheon.
With heartbeats sensibly quickened he followed the servant who led him
to the drawing-room. Mrs. Clarendon and Ada were sitting here together.
Isabel presented him to Miss Warren, then took the volume from his hands
and looked into it.

“You know Sir Thomas Browne, no doubt, Ada,” she said.

“I know the ‘Urn-burial,’” Ada replied, calmly examining the visitor.

“Ah me, you put me to shame! There’s the kind of thing that I read,”
 she continued, pointing to a “Society” journal which lay on the table.
“By-the-bye, what was it that Mr. Asquith said in defence of such
literature? I really mustn’t forget that word. Oh, yes, he said it
was concrete, that it dealt with the concrete. Mr. Kingcote looks

“On the whole I think it’s rather more entertaining than Sir Thomas
Browne,” remarked Ada. “At all events, it’s modern.”

“Another argument!” exclaimed Isabel. “You an ally, Ada! But don’t
defend me at the expense of Mr. Kingcote’s respect.”

“Mr. Kingcote would probably respect me just as much, or as little, for
the one taste as for the other.”

“Miss Warren would imply,” said Kingcote in a rather measured way,
due to his habits of solitude, “that after all sincerity is the chief

“And a genuine delight in the Newgate Calendar,” added the girl, “vastly
preferable to an affected reverence for Shakespeare.”

Kingcote looked at her sharply. One had clearly to take this young lady
into account.

“You sketch from nature, I believe, Miss Warren?” he asked, to get the
relief of a new subject.

“To please myself, yes.”

“And to please a good many other people as well,” said Mrs. Clarendon.
“Ada’s drawings are remarkably good.”

“I should so much like to see your drawing of the cottage at Wood End,”
 said Kingcote.

“When was that made?” Isabel inquired, with a look of surprise.

Luncheon was announced. As they went to the dining-room, Kingcote
explained that he had passed Miss Warren when she was engaged on the
sketch, before ever he had thought of living in the cottage.

“Was it that which gave you the idea?” Isabel asked.

“Perhaps it kept the spot in my mind. I was on a walking tour at the

“Not thinking of such a step?”

“No; the idea came subsequently.”

During the meal, conversation occupied itself with subjects such as the
picturesque spots to be found about Winstoke, the interesting houses in
that part of the county, Mr. Vissian and his bibliomania, the precocity
of Percy Vissian. Ada contented herself with a two-edged utterance now
and then, not given however in a disagreeable way; on the whole she
seemed to like their guest’s talk. Kingcote several times found her
open gaze turned upon himself, and was reminded of the evening when she
parted from Mr. Vissian at the gates of Knightswell.

The drawing-room had French windows, opening upon the lawn. When they
had repaired thither after lunch, Ada, after sitting in silence for
a few moments, rose and went out into the open air. Mrs. Clarendon
followed her with her eyes, and seemed about to speak, but in the end
let her pass unaddressed.

Kingcote was examining the caryatides on either side of the fireplace.
He turned, saw that his hostess was alone, and came to a seat near her.

“Are you not very lonely in your cottage?” Isabel asked.

“Sometimes, yes. But then I went there for the sake of loneliness.”

“It isn’t rude to ask you? You are doing literary work, no doubt?”

“No; I am doing no work at all.”

“But however do you spend your time in that dreadful place?”

“Dreadful? Does it show to you in that light?”

“Picturesque, I admit; but----”

She paused, with her head just on one side. “I can well understand
the horror with which you regard such a mode of life,” said Kingcote,
laughing. “But I have never had the habit of luxury, and, so long as I
am free, nothing else matters much.”

“Free from what?”

“From sights and sounds which disgust me, from the contiguity of mean
and hateful people, from suggestions which make life hideous; free to
live with my fancies, and in the thoughts of men I love.”

Isabel regarded him with a half-puzzled smile, and reflected before she
spoke again.

“What and where are all these things which revolt you?” she asked.

“Wherever men are gathered together; wherever there is what is called
Society, and, along with it, what is called a social question.”

“But you are not a misanthropist?” Kingcote was half amused to perceive
the difficulty she had in understanding him. Suggestions of this kind
were evidently quite new to her; probably she did not even know what he
meant by the phrase “social question.”

“I am not, I believe, a misanthropist, as you understand the word. But I
had rather live alone than mix with men in general.”

“To me it would be dreadful,” said Isabel, after a moment’s thought. “I
cannot bear solitude.”

“The society of refined and cultured people is the habit of your life.”

“Refined--in a sense. Cultured?--I am not so sure of that. You would not
call them cultured, the people I live amongst. I am not a clever woman,
Mr. Kingcote. My set is not literary nor artistic, nor anything of that
kind. I am disposed to think we should come into the category of ‘mean
and hateful people’--though of course you wouldn’t like to tell me so.”

“I was thinking of quite other phases of life. My own experience has not
been, on the whole, among people who belong to what is called society.
I have lived--in a haphazard way--with the classes that have no social
standing, so, you see, I have no right to comment upon your circles.”

Isabel glanced at him, and turned her eyes away. A fan was lying on the
table close by her; she reached it, and played with the folds.

“But at all events,” she resumed, as if to slightly change the tone,
“you have had the Vissians. Don’t you find them delightful? I do so
like Mr. Vissian, with his queer bookhunting, and Mrs. Vissian is charm
itself. These are congenial associates, no doubt?”

“Very; I like them extremely. Has Mr. Vissian told you how my
acquaintance with him began?”

“Nothing, except that you met somehow in connection with the cottage.”

“The good rector is wonderfully discreet,” said Kingcote, with a smile.
And he related the story of the Midsummer Day on which he walked from
Salcot to Winstoke.

“It really was an act of unexampled generosity on Mr. Vissians part,
to trust a stranger, with so dubious a story. But the first edition of
‘Venice Preserved’ no doubt seemed to him a guarantee of respectability.
I had the book bound during the few days that I spent in London, and
made him a present of it when I returned.”

“You have friends in London?” Isabel asked. “Relations?”

“A sister--married. My parents are not living.”

“But of friends, companions?”

“One, an artist. Did you visit the Academy this year? There was a
picture of his--his name is Gabriel--a London street scene; perhaps
you didn’t notice it. You would scarcely have liked it. The hanging
committee must have accepted it in a moment of strangely lucid
liberality. By which, Mrs. Clarendon, I don’t mean to reflect upon
your taste. I don’t like the picture myself, but it has great technical

“Is he young, like yourself?”

“Like myself?” Kingcote repeated, as if struck by the expression.

“Certainly. Are you not young?”

“I suppose so,” said the other, smiling rather grimly. “At all events, I
am not thirty in years. But it sounded curious to hear the word applied
to myself.”

Isabel laughed, opening and closing the fan. “But Gabriel is a fine
fellow,” Kingcote exclaimed. “I wish I possessed a tenth part of his
energy. There he works, day after day and week after week, no break,
no failing of force or purpose, no holiday even--says he hasn’t time
to take one. He will make his way, of course; such a man is bound to.
Resolutely he has put away from himself every temptation to idleness.
He sees no friends, he cares for no amusement. His power of working is

“He is not, of course, married?”

Kingcote shook his head.

“That singleness of purpose--how splendid it is! He and I are opposite
poles. I do not know what it is to have the same mind for two days
together. My enthusiasm of to-day will be my disgust of to-morrow. I
am always seeking, and never finding; I haven’t the force to pursue a
search to the end. My moods are tyrannous; my moods make my whole life.
Others have intellect; I have only temperament.”

There was no excitement in his way of uttering these confessions, but he
began reflectively and ended in a grave bitterness.

“I think I know something of that,” Isabel said in return. “I, too, am
much subject to moods.”

“But they do not affect the even tenor of your life,” said Kingcote.
“They do not drive you to take one day an irrevocable step which you
will repent the next. They have not made your life a failure.”

“Have they done so in your case?” Isabel asked, with a look of serious
sympathy. “Pray remember your admission that you have not yet thirty

“The tale of my years is of small account. I shall not change. I know
myself, and I know my future.”

“That you cannot. And, from what you have told me, I think your present
mode of life most unfortunate, most ill-chosen.”

There was a shadow at the window, and Ada re-entered the room.

“Won’t you let us see the sketch that was spoken of?” asked Mrs.
Clarendon, turning to her.

“I don’t know where to find it at present,” Ada replied, moving to a
seat in a remote part of the room.

“Do you think of living in that cottage through the winter?” Isabel
asked of Kingcote, when there had been silence for a moment.

“Probably through many winters.”

“You remember that there is a considerable difference between our
climate at present and what it will be in a couple of months or less.”

“I shall lay in a stock of fuel. And it will interest me. I have never
spent a winter in the country; I want to study the effects.”

“The effects, I fear,” said Isabel, smiling, “are more likely to be of
interest to our good friend Doctor Grayling.”

“Or even to the respectable undertaker, whose shop is in the High
Street?” added Kingcote, with a laugh. “It doesn’t greatly matter.”

He rose and walked to the window.

“Do you remain here through the winter?” he asked.

“I believe so; though I cannot say with certainty. I like to be here for
the meets.”

“The meets?”

“The hunting, you know.”

“Ah, you hunt?”

“Mr. Kingcote is shocked, Ada. He thinks that at my age I should have
abandoned all such vanities.”

“Or perhaps wonders more,” remarked the girl, “that you ever indulged in

Kingcote looked from one to the other, but kept silence.

“Oh, but we have altogether forgotten Sir Thomas!” Isabel exclaimed.
“Where is he? Do read us something, Mr. Kingcote.”

Kingcote hesitated.

“There are many passages marked in the book,” he said. “Will you let me
leave it with you, that you may glance through it? Perhaps it is better
suited for reading to oneself.”

“Very well; but I will do more than glance. I _once_ knew what it was
even to study, Mr. Kingcote, though you will have a difficulty in
believing it.”

“The idea is not so incongruous,” he said, half seriously.

“Though passably so. You are not going?”

“I will, if you please.”

A heaviness seemed to have fallen upon him during the last few minutes;
a smile was summoned only with difficulty, and his eyes had a weary

“But now that we know each other by more than hearsay,” said Isabel,
“you will come and see us again?”

“Yourself and Miss Warren, gladly; but if I am remiss in visiting you
will not misunderstand the reason that keeps me away?”

“It shall be as you wish. Ada and I will let you know when we are

Kingcote made his way back to Wood End.


Since the disclosure made by Asquith to Ada Warren, the latter and Mrs.
Clarendon had continued to live on precisely the same terms as before;
no reference, however little explicit, had been made on either side to
the subject which naturally occupied the thoughts of both. Ada was not
in herself the same as before she understood her position; many
little indications which had been wrought in her showed themselves
involuntarily. But not in her behaviour to Mrs. Clarendon; that, as
hitherto, was cold and reserved, at most the familiarity which comes of
companionship in the external things of life.

It had always been so; there was a barrier between the two which only
united effort could remove, and, though there had been impulses on both
sides, a common emotion had never arisen to overthrow the obstacle. They
did not understand each other, and, after so many years, there was small
chance that they ever would.

Very clear in the memory of both was that day when Ada was first seen at
Knightswell. Mr. Clarendon died at the end of January; a fortnight later
the child was brought over from London by a member of the deceased man’s
firm of solicitors. She was poorly dressed, and her teeth chattered
after the cold journey. She was handed over to a servant to be attended
to, whilst Mrs. Clarendon held a conversation with the lawyer in the
library. When the legal gentleman had lunched, and was on his way back
to town, Ada was sent for to the boudoir.

An overgrown girl of seven years, with a bad figure, even for a child
of that age when grace is not a common attribute, with arms which seemed
too long, and certainly were so in relation to the sleeves which cased
them, with a thin neck, and a positively ugly face--that was what Isabel
saw when she raised her eyes in anticipation at the opening of the
door. A face decidedly ugly, and, for Isabel, with something in it
more repellent than mere ugliness, something for which she had at once
looked, and which she found only too unmistakably. The face regarded her
half in fear, half in defiance; there seemed no touch of shyness in the
gaze, and Isabel was not in a mood for perceiving that it was really
excess of shyness which formed the expression. The child had been washed
and warmed, but had not eaten yet; she had refused to eat. She and
Isabel looked at each other for a little space; then the latter summoned
the attendant maid by a gesture to her side.

“Have her properly clothed,” she said in a low voice, “and do what you
can to make her at home in the room upstairs. Her own maid will be here

“Yes, ma’am,” said the servant; adding, with a nervous cough, “must it
be mourning, ma’am?”

Mrs. Clarendon uttered a very clear “No,” and gave a few other

“Let her be put to bed at seven o’clock, and tell me to-morrow morning
how she has passed the night.”

All that was as living to-day in Ada’s memory as if but a week had
intervened. She saw the beautiful black-clad lady sitting by the fire,
holding a fan to guard her face against excessive heat, and she heard
several of the orders given. That night she had gone to bed hating the
beautiful lady with a precocious hatred.

Three days went by before the two met again. Ada was now neatly attired,
and her long hair, previously unkempt, had been done up and made
presentable. It only made her neck look the longer and thinner, and put
into relief the hard lines of her thin face. The probability was she
had hitherto been half-starved. She was brought to the boudoir, and Mrs.
Clarendon bade the servant go.

“Will you come and sit here by the fire?” Isabel said, speaking as
softly as she could.

A low seat had been put by the hearth-rug in readiness. The child
approached, swinging her long arms awkwardly, and seated herself on the
edge of it.

“Your name is Ada, isn’t it?”


“You haven’t a father or mother, have you, Ada?”


“That is why you are come to live with me. I haven’t a little girl of my
own, so I’m going to take care of you, and treat you like my own child.
Do you think you can be happy with me?”

“I don’t know.”

The child spoke with a detestable London working-class accent, which
made her voice grate on Isabel’s ears even more than it otherwise would
have done.

“I shall do my very best to be kind to you,” Isabel continued, after a
struggle with her feelings. “Have you been happy till now--I mean with
the other people in London?”

“No,” was the decided answer.

“Weren’t they kind to you?”

“I don’t know.”

Isabel rose and walked about the room. The little creature was loathsome
to her.

“Do you like the toys I’ve got for you?” was her next question from a

“I don’t care for toys.”

There was another silence.

“Would you rather sit here with me, or be up in your own room?”

“Rather be upstairs.”

“Then I’ll take you. Will you go hand-inhand with me?”

She led the child back to the room which had been made into a nursery,
and where there were dolls, and bricks, and other things of the kind
supposed to be delightful to children.

“Wouldn’t you like to dress this nice doll?” Isabel asked, taking up one
of the unclad abortions.


“Have you been to school yet, Ada?”


“And can you read?”


Isabel tested her, and found that the reply had been accurate; but for
the ear-jarring pronunciation, the reading was remarkable for a child of

A person answering to the description of nursery-governess had been
found for the child, and to her care Ada was for a long time almost
exclusively left. Isabel went into the nursery daily and spoke a few
words. More than this she could not do, her soul was in revolt.

She did not quit Knightswell throughout the summer, but in September she
went with friends to the south coast. On her return she paid an early
visit to the nursery. It was afternoon, and darkness was gathering. Ada
was lying on the floor asleep, a book which she had been reading lying
beside her. Isabel knelt down and looked at the child, whose face was
still almost haggard, and had an expression of suffering beyond her

“You poor, poor thing!” she said to herself, pitying at last, though she
could not do more. “I will try hard to do my duty by you. You will never
love me, and will think meanly enough of me some day.”

As Ada grew older, the extreme sullenness, which seemed to be her
disposition, wore off a little. She was outwardly civilised, she learned
to speak the English of refinement, she made for herself all manner
of interests, none of them very childlike; and to Mrs. Clarendon she
assumed the demeanour which was to persist, with very slight alteration,
from that time onwards. When she was ten years old Isabel engaged a
better governess for her. It became evident that the girl had brains.
She showed, too, a pronounced faculty for drawing; a teacher accordingly
came over once a week from the nearest town. At the age of fourteen she
for the first time accompanied Mrs. Clarendon to London, and stayed with
her there for the couple of months which were all that Isabel permitted
herself that year. Ada had her own rooms, and only saw Isabel’s most
intimate acquaintances; her time was chiefly devoted to lessons of
various kinds.

Isabel took this step in consequence of troublous symptoms in the girl’s
life. Ada had always been a perfectly tractable child and had given as
little trouble as a child could. She never cried; her way of expressing
indignation or misery was to hide herself in the remotest corner she
could find, and there remain till she was discovered, when she suffered
herself to be led away in silence. Only once had Isabel, softly
approaching the half-open door of Ada’s bedroom at night, believed that
she heard a sob. She entered and spoke; Ada was awake, but indignantly
protested that she had not been crying. Isabel felt that there was not
a little obscure suffering in the child’s existence, and once or twice,
overcome by her compassionate instincts, tried to speak warmly, if
perchance she might find a means of winning the confidence which she had
not felt able to seek; but the result was not encouraging. At length
it seemed that the hidden misery was taking a form which could not be
disregarded, which demanded sympathy and motherly tenderness. Hitherto
Ada had shown no objection to meet and speak with the visitors or
guests at Knightswell; all at once she refused to see any stranger, and
resolutely kept her own rooms whenever Mrs. Clarendon had company.
She would give no explanation; her eyes flashed passionately, as if in
irrepressible irritation, when she was appealed to. And, for the first
time in her life, she suffered from ill-health; severe headache racked
her for days in succession.

The attempt which Isabel made to draw near to her in this crisis was the
occasion of a scene entirely new in their relations, and not thereafter
to be repeated. There were guests at Knightswell, and Ada did not
appear. Isabel went to the girl’s room, and obtained admission.

“Have you a headache, Ada?” she asked.

The reply was a short negative.

“Then, why don’t you come down? I very much wish you would. Will you
come down to please me?”

The girl was sitting at a table, seemingly engaged with her books. In
reality she had been motionless and unemployed for a couple of hours.
She was pale and her eyes bloodshot.

“No, Mrs. Clarendon,” she exclaimed; “I cannot come down to please you!
Why should I torture myself to give you pleasure?”

She had risen, and stood with a face of passionate anguish.

“Torture yourself?” Isabel repeated, almost in fear.

“Yes; it is torture, and you might know it. You ask me to meet your
friends because you think it, I suppose, a duty to do so; in truth,
you are ashamed of me, you had far rather not see me downstairs. I know
myself well enough, and I have glasses in my room. I know what these
people say and think of me. I can bear it no longer; I want to leave
you! I cannot live with you!”

Isabel could not find words to reply. There was a horrible element of
truth in the girls suspicions, though Ada did not and could not know its
meaning. It was, indeed, out of mere consideration for her feelings that
Isabel was pressing her to show herself.

“You can’t live with me, Ada?” she said at length, in despair that she
could not speak with the utterance of true feeling. “Am I unkind to

“You are nothing to me!” was the passionate reply. “Neither kind nor
unkind--you are nothing to me, and I am nothing to you! Why did you take
me into your house? What interest had you in me? Who am I?”

“Ada, you are the child of a friend of Mr. Clarendon’s. Mr. Clarendon
desired that I should take you and bring you up, as you had lost your
own parents. That is all I know of you--all.”

“Then you have done your best, and now let me go. We shall never like
each other. You took me from a poor home, and I suppose my parents were
poor people. It is not in my blood to like you, or to live your life.
When I was a child it didn’t matter; but, now I see and understand, I
know the difference between us. I will _never_ meet people who look on
me with contempt! Let me go. I will be a servant; it is what I am suited
for. You can’t keep me against my will, and I wish to leave you!”

For more than an hour Isabel strove against this resolve. Her task was
a hard one. By mere cold reasoning she had to face the outburst of a
nature which was all at once proving itself so deep and vehement. Could
she but have called emotion to her aid! Her own impassiveness was her
despair. That Ada should leave her was out of the question, yet by what
means could she restrain the girl if the latter proved persistent? She
could not tell her the truth; that was something she had put off to an
indefinite future, it was beyond her strength to face it as a present
necessity. The only appeal she could make was one which it cost her
unspeakable self-contempt to utter. To tell Ada that it would be gross
ingratitude to make this return to her mother by adoption. Well, what
else could be said? The misery of degradation brought the first tears to
her eyes.

“You don’t care whether I am grateful or not,” Ada replied, calmer at
length, because weak from nervous overstrain. “You care for me less than
for your servants. No soul cares for me.”

It was this feeling of desolation which had suddenly taken hold of the
developed girl. A heart craving for warmth had come to life within her;
her senses had awakened to desperate hunger. The pathos in her last
utterance was infinite; it touched Isabel to the core.

“It shall not be so, Ada,” was her answer to the cry. “We will be more
to each other; you shall not suffer from loneliness, poor child! I will
never ask you to see people you do not wish to, and I will give you all
I can of my own life. Be kind and childlike with me. My heart is not
hard, dear.”

Not hard, the heart of Isabel Clarendon, but very human, very womanly.
It could not throw’ open its gates unreservedly to this child who had
been forced upon her. The tears she shed at Ada’s side were bitter and
choking; they brought no solace of moved tenderness.

It was the first and the last of such scenes. A couple of years later
Ada looked back upon her part in it with that brain-scorching shame
to which an intense nature is so subject in recalling immature
impulsiveness. For a week or two at most it made anything of sensible
difference in her own or Mrs. Clarendon’s behaviour, then the
unconquerable coldness returned, with an appearance of finality. Their
conversation limited itself to superficial matters, and even here
occasions of difference not seldom offered, exacting self-control
on both sides. Lacking conscious spiritual life, and all but void of
intellectual interests, Isabel Clarendon could hardly be credited with
principles, but for that reason her prejudices were the stronger. As
Ada grew in mental stature, she found it difficult at all times to avoid
involuntary collision with these prejudices, or even to refrain from
impatient comment of a kind very irritating to Isabel. Small points of
social observance first began to excite the girl’s indignant or
ironical remark, then graver matters of tradition arose between
them--stumbling-blocks for the one, to the other accepted sign-posts.
Ada read much, and procured books from very various sources; even had
Isabel been sufficiently familiar with the characteristics of authors
to judge from their outsides the books she saw lying about, she did
not feel strong enough to attempt to impose restrictions on her ward’s
reading; such a step would assuredly have led to conflicts, and from
this Isabel shrank. Ada’s tastes seemed to her deplorably masculine; it
was very likely, she said to herself, that no positive harm would
result to such a nature from literature poisonous to ordinary girls.
Fortunately Mrs. Clarendon’s conception of responsibility was not
that ever-besieging consciousness which leaves some women no rest in a
position of superintendence. The instinct of procrastination was strong
in her; a thought which troubled her she could, without much difficulty,
set aside for entertainment on the morrow. Promising herself that some
day she would have a long and very serious talk with Ada on the grave
matters which she ordinarily shunned, for the present she allowed the
girl to take her course, and the opportunity to which she often mentally
referred never seemed to present itself.

Had Mrs. Clarendon understood the progress of Ada’s development
she would have been greatly struck with the girl’s moderation and
self-restraint, instead of being, to her own distress, repelled and
hardened by each new manifestation of independence. Regarding Ada’s
expressions of revolt as mere disconnected phenomena, she was puzzled to
account for such evil features in a girl who had been well taught,
held apart from the contamination of low associates, and trained in the
habits of a refined and wealthy home. One explanation alone occurred to
her--the base blood in the child’s veins manifested itself in spite of
education to a different social sphere. Such a thought was natural and
characteristic. Isabel called herself a Conservative in politics; in
social matters she reconciled maxims of intolerance with practical
virtues such as we are apt to call divine, because we find them so
seldom in humanity. What is called the spirit of the times had access
to her only in frivolous babble or inimical caricature. Living on the
surface, she had never been instructed to think for herself in any
matter of grave concern; the criminality of doubt and the obligation
of social conformity were formulae which served her sufficiently for
guidance whenever she might feel herself in danger of going astray. With
pretty extensive knowledge of the world, her acquaintance with human
nature was elementary; to be forced upon the study of a typical case
of divergence from the broad characteristics of respectable upper-class
mankind was to have demanded of her an exercise of intellectual charity
of which she was incapable.

From one friend alone did she derive assistance in the practical details
of her task. This friend was Mr. Thomas Meres, of whom we have already
heard as Rhoda’s father. His acquaintance she had made in the earliest
days of her married life; he acted as secretary to Mr. Clarendon. Thomas
Meres was then a man of thirty; he had attempted literature, and failed
to get a living by it, and had gladly accepted a position which for a
time brought means of support for himself and others dependent upon
him. These others--Isabel only discovered it after Mr. Clarendon’s
death--were a wife and two children. One day, when Isabel had been six
months a widow, she received from the late secretary a letter of appeal
for aid in desperate circumstances; a letter which she answered by at
once summoning to Knightswell the writer and his two children, girls
of four and six respectively. She had always regarded Mr. Meres with
favour; without information as to his private life, she felt that some
hidden misery weighed upon him, and that he was a man of much capability
and goodness sadly at odds with fortune. At Knightswell she won his
confidence, and heard from him a dismal tale of domestic wretchedness.
Happily, the main cause of his sufferings had at length abandoned the
home she had made no home, and the only present difficulty was to find
a means of livelihood. The man himself was starving; the children were
sad-looking little creatures, victims of cruelty and a hard lot. The
three remained at Knightswell for several weeks, being of course on the
footing of visitors, and receiving kindness which put poor Tom Meres
into spiritual bondage for life, bondage he would not have cast off for
any luxurious freedom the world could offer him. Eventually a position
was found for him, and he returned with his children to London.

Having made Ada’s acquaintance in those early days of her rescue from
savagery, Meres continued to regard her with living interest, often
prophesying to her guardian that she would grow into a remarkable woman.
At least once a year he was at Knightswell, and he followed the course
of the child’s education with attentive scrutiny. Ada came to like him;
she displayed no childlike fondness for him, any more than for any one
else, but she listened with pleasure to his talk, and in turn spoke to
him of things of which to all others she kept silence. If Tom did not
positively encourage her critical propensities, he was at all events at
no pains to check them, and it was from his library that she received
books which set her on the track of modern literature, which otherwise
she would have discovered much later. Isabel, when her troubles of
conscience began, taxed her friend with this.

“It is true,” Tom admitted, “I have advised her to read books which I
shouldn’t give to ordinary girls. Ada is not an ordinary girl. Do not
distress yourself, dear lady; no ill will come of it. It is only making
smooth for her a path which would otherwise be intolerably rough.”

“But isn’t it leading her where she wouldn’t otherwise be tempted to
go?” asked Isabel.

“I can assure you, no. Rough or smooth, she will take this direction.
But would you rather I did no more? Your wish is supreme.”

“You are a vastly better judge in these matters than I am,” said Isabel
modestly (meaning what she said, though not perhaps quite feeling it),
“and I know you will be careful. I myself am helpless with Ada; my
guardianship is nominal, I am sorry to say.”

To this friend it was that Ada had now of late been in the habit of
going when she wished to have the change of London life, and now
that she no longer accompanied Mrs. Clarendon during the season. The
arrangement was a good one. Isabel had in the first place protested,
trying to point out to the girl the advantage of making acquaintances in
London other than those which Mr. Meres could offer her. Ada smiled in
her least pleasant way, and Isabel surrendered the point, not in her
heart sorry to be free when she took her own recreation.

“What do you think of Mr. Kingcote?” Isabel asked Ada, as they drank tea
together after the visitor had left.

“I can’t judge him on so slight an acquaintance,” the girl answered. “I
like his voice.”

“Strange that I was going to say the same thing. You shouldn’t have gone
out whilst we were talking. He, at all events, will not drive you away
with--what do you call it?--imbecile chatter.”

“He seems to be a man of some culture. I don’t know that he will find us
very attractive.”

“My poor self, certainly not. But it would be pleasant if he and you
found some interest in common, wouldn’t it? We must have him with the
Vissians to dine.”

“Your social instincts are really remarkable.” It was a noteworthy point
that Ada had never learnt to address Mrs. Clarendon by any name save the
formal one. “Do you think Mr. Kingcote is prepared for formal dining?”

“By-the-bye, most likely not,” said Isabel, laughing. “But it will be a
charity to persuade him to come here sometimes. However, I don’t think
he’ll live there through the winter.”

“Doesn’t it occur to you that he may have gone there because he finds a
difficulty in living in ordinary ways?”

“Yes, very likely.”

She reflected, adding presently:

“He has a nice voice.”


Ada was outwardly more restless than usual. A taste for rambling
possessed her; she disappeared for long afternoons, and did not take
her sketching implements, though the country was in its finest autumn
colouring. Probably she was weary, for the time, alike of books and
drawing. In all her interests she had periods of enthusiasm and of
disgust; days when she worked incessantly from dawn till midnight,
grudging scanty intervals for meals, and others when nothing could
relieve her _ennui_. She did not ride, in spite of her opportunities;
walking was the only out-of-door recreation possible to her.

One evening, a week after Mr. Kingcote’s visit, she returned only just
in time for dinner at seven o’clock, and, after sitting in silence
through the meal--she was alone with Mrs. Clarendon, who was likewise
indisposed for talking, and had a look of trouble seldom seen on her
face--went to the library to read or otherwise occupy herself. A servant
brought a lighted reading-lamp, lowered the blinds, and drew the heavy
red curtains across the window recesses.

Left alone, Ada consulted her watch, and, stepping to the window which
looked from the end of the house on to a shrubbery, put aside one of
the curtains. She had scarcely done so when she heard a light tap on the
outside of the pane. The sound made her start and draw a little away;
she looked nervously to the door, then ran across the room and, with
precaution, turned the key in the lock. Her face was slightly flushed
and her manner nervous. After the lapse of a minute there came a
repetition of the tapping from without. She quickly raised the blind
and lifted the lower sash of the window, then again drew back. A man
forthwith vaulted into the room. He looked about him, closed the window,
drew down the blind, and, turning once more, presented the familiar
figure of Mr. Vincent Lacour.

“This is really awfully kind of you, Miss Warren,” were his words, as
he came forward to shake hands. He spoke with subdued voice, and his
demeanour was not quite as self-possessed as usual. “I was beset with
doubts--whether you had my note safely, whether you could manage to
be here alone, whether you would admit me at all. I know it is an
unwarrantable step on my part, but I was bound to see you once more, and
see you alone. I’m leaving England in a few days, so I’m not likely to
annoy you after this.”

He had expressive eyes, and put much into them, as he gazed at the girl
after speaking thus. Ada’s hands hung before her, nervously clasped,
with the backs together.

“I of course ought not to consent to an interview of this kind,” she
said coldly. “Mrs. Clarendon would be much displeased--would altogether
misunderstand it. I hope you will say what you wish to very quickly.”

“Are we safe from disturbance?” he asked. “Do people come in?”

“No one will come in.”

He uttered a sound of satisfaction.

“I discovered,” he said, “that you and Mrs. Clarendon were alone, or of
course I couldn’t have ventured. If you knew what I’ve gone through in
the last month, since I was talking with you in this room! And not an
hour but your voice has been present with me. Do you know that your
voice is unique? I have heard voices more musical--don’t think I’m
talking mere nonsensical flattery--but never one that dwelt with me
for long after, as yours does. I suppose it is half your manner of
expressing yourself--your frank directness.”

Whether he was sincere or not, it was impossible at least to gather
evidence of insincerity from his words and the way in which they were
uttered. There was no touch of a wheedling note, not an accent which
jarred on the sufficiently discriminating ear of the listener. He seemed
more than half regardless of the effect his speech might produce; the
last sentence came forth in a rather absent way, whilst his eyes were
apparently occupying themselves with a picture hanging near him.

“What was it you wished to say to me, Mr. Lacour?” Ada asked, when she
had let a moment of silence pass. She still stood in the same attitude,
but was now looking at him, her hard features studiously impassive.

“To say good-bye to you, and--and to thank you.”

It was uttered with an effort, as if the tone of mere frankness had been
rather hard to hit, and might easily have slid to one of softer meaning.

“To thank me for what, pray?”

She was smiling slightly, perhaps to ease her features.

“For having shown me my ideal woman, the woman in whose existence I
believed, though I never hoped to see her. I was tired of the women who
cared for and studied nothing but the art of fooling men; I wanted a
new type, the woman of sincerity. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed
it--I’m something of an artist in my way. I can’t paint, and I can’t
write, but I believe I have the artist’s way of looking at things. I
live on refinements of sensation--you know what I mean? There’s nothing
good or valuable in me; I’ve no moral force; I’m just as selfish as I
can be; but I have a sort of delicacy of perception, I discriminate in
my likings. Now you’ve heard all sorts of ill of me, of course; you’ve
been told I pitched away ten thousand pounds in less than a couple of
years; that I’ve------ Well, never mind. But, Miss Warren, I haven’t
lived a life of vulgar dissipation; I have not debased myself. My senses
are finer-edged than they were, instead of being dulled and coarsened.
I’ve led the life a man ought to lead who is going to be a great
poet--though, as far as I know, I haven’t it in me to be that. But
at least I understand the poetical temperament. I couldn’t help my
extravagance. I was purchasing experience; the kind of experience my
nature needed. Others feed their senses grossly; that would have cost
less money, but my tendencies are not to grossness. I had certain
capacities to develop, and I obeyed the need without looking very far
ahead. Capacities of enjoyment, I admit; entirely egoistic. An egoist;
I pretend to be nothing better. But believe me when I tell you that
the admiration of a frank egoist is worth more than that of people who
pretend to all the virtues. It is of necessity sincere.”

Ada had seated herself whilst these remarkable utterances were falling
upon her ear. Lacour knelt upon a chair near her, leaning over the back.

“You are leaving England?” she said, quietly reminding him of the
professed object of his visit.

“A place has been offered me in a house of business in Calcutta; I have
no choice but to take it. Or, rather, there is an alternative; one I
can’t accept.”

“Will you tell me what that is?”

She looked up, and he smiled sadly at her. His face just then had all
that a man’s face can possess of melancholy beauty. The fineness of its
lineaments contrasted remarkably with Ada’s over-prominence of feature.
Hers was the individual countenance, his the vague alluring type.

“My brother,” he replied, “had been persuaded to offer me an allowance
of two hundred a year, on condition that I do what I originally
intended, read for the Bar.”

“And that you can’t accept? Why not?”

“For the simple reason that I _should_ not read. I should take the
money, get into debt, do nothing. I am past the possibility of voluntary
work. In a house of business I suppose I shall be made to work, and
perhaps it may lead to a competence sooner or later. But for reading
here at home I have no motive. I lack an impulse. Life would be

Ada did not raise her eyes. He was still leaning forward on the back of
the chair, but now at length held himself upright, passed his fingers
through his hair, and uttered an exclamation of weariness.

“So I go to India!” he said. “The climate is of course impossible for
me; I suffer enough here. Well, it can’t be helped.”

He sat down opposite the girl, bent forward, and let his face fall upon
his hands.

“Other men of my age,” he murmured, “are beginning the work of their
life. My life is as good as over. I have capabilities; I might do
something if I had an impulse.”

He looked at her. Her face was as impassible as stone, her eyes closed.
Lacour reached forward and touched her hand, making her start into

“Will you lend me your hand one moment?” he asked in an irresistible
voice, a low, tired breathing.

Ada did not resist. She had to bend forward a little; he put her palm
against his forehead. The man was not merely acting; not purely and
simply inventing poses; if so, how came his brow so terribly hot? Yet
at this moment the question uppermost in his brain was--whether Ada knew
the contents of Mr. Clarendon’s will. He had no means of ascertaining
whether or not she had been enlightened. He could scarcely ask her

The girl drew her hand away, and rose from her chair. She breathed with

“How cool that was!” he said. Perhaps he had not noticed that her palm
was like fire. “That is again something I never yet felt.” Then, with
sudden energy: “Miss Warren, what on earth do you think of me? Do you
think I am unconscious of the supremely bad taste I show in coming
here and talking to you in this way? I have kept away as long as ever
I could--a whole month. I was absurd that last time I talked to you.
I don’t charge myself with iniquities; in fact, I don’t know that I
recognise any sin except sins against good taste. This present behaviour
of mine is in the very worst. You understand me as well as if I had
spoken out the whole monstrous truth; you judge me. Well, you shall do
it in my absence. Good-bye.”

She let him take her hand again. He looked at the palm, appeared to be
following the lines.

“That is the line of the heart; that of the head. Both strong and fine.
If I were a man of means, or even a man with a future, I would ask you
to let this hand lie a little longer in mine, now and afterwards----”

He looked once more into her face; she saw that his eyes were moist.

“Mr. Lacour, please to leave me!” Ada suddenly exclaimed, rousing
herself from a kind of heaviness which had held her inactive and
irresponsive. Then she added: “I cannot aid you. We all have our lives
to live; yours is no harder than mine. Try your best to be happy; I know
nothing else to live for.”

“Will--you--help me?” he asked, plainly enough at last. “It has come,
you see, in spite of everything. Will you help me?”

“I cannot. You mean, of course, will I promise to be your wife. I shall
make that promise to no one till I am one-and-twenty.”

It was a flash of illumination for Lacour. “Not even,” he inquired, with
a smile of quiet humour, “when Mrs. Clarendon marries?”

“When Mrs. Clarendon marries?” Ada repeated, not exactly with surprise,
but questioningly.

“You know that she is going to marry Lord Winterset, and very soon? Why,
there is another terrible mistake; I ought not to have mentioned it if
you do not know it. I thought it was understood.”

“Perhaps it is,” returned Ada, a curious expression in her eyes. “It
does not matter; it does not affect me. I beg you not to stay longer.
Indeed, we have no more to say to each other.”

“May I write to you from India?”

“If you still have the slightest interest in me; I shall be glad to hear
you have got there safely. I must leave you now.”

He had retained her hand for the last few moments, and now she felt
herself being softly drawn towards him.

“My hand!” she exclaimed almost hysterically. “Release it! I order you
to leave me!”

She tore it away and fell back several paces; then, as he still remained
motionless, she went to the door and opened it. Lacour turned away;
it was to hide the smile which rose when he heard the lock. In another
moment he was once more in the garden.

There was moonlight by this time; the lawn was unshadowed, and he had
to pass before the house in order to get into the park, and thence by a
track he had in mind which would bring him into the high road. Close at
hand, however, was the impenetrable gloom of the shrubbery, and, just as
he was moving away from the end of the house to make a bold start across
the open, there issued from the trees the form of a lady, who stepped
quickly up to him.

“Mr. Lacour,” she said, recognising him without difficulty, “will you
have the goodness to explain this to me?”

He had never yet heard Mrs. Clarendon’s voice speaking thus; it
impressed him.

“What is the meaning of your presence in my house, and your very unusual
way of leaving it?”

Vincent owed it to himself to make the most of this present experience.
He was not likely again to see such an embodiment of splendid
indignation, nor hear a voice so self-governed in rich anger. It was a
pity that he had for the moment lost his calmer faculties; it cost him
no little effort to speak the first few words of reply.

“I can only ask you to forgive me, Mrs. Clarendon----”

He was interrupted.

“Kindly follow me,” Isabel said. She led the way along the edge of the
bushes and out of sight of the house. Then she again faced him.

“It is all grievously irregular,” Lacour pleaded, or rather explained,
for the brief walk had helped him to self-command. “I need not say that
I was alone in devising the plan. I wanted to speak with Miss Warren,
and I knew her habit of sitting alone in the library. The window stood
open; I entered.”

“May I ask for what purpose you wished to speak with Miss Warren?”

“I fear, Mrs. Clarendon, I am not at liberty to answer that question.”

“Your behaviour is most extraordinary.”

“I know it; it is wholly irregular. I owe you an apology for so entering
your house.”

“An apology, it seems to me, is rather trivial under the circumstances.
I don’t know that I need pick and choose my words with you, Mr. Lacour.
Doesn’t it occur to you that, all things considered, you have been
behaving in a thoroughly dishonourable way--doing what no gentleman
could think of? If I am not mistaken, you were lately in the habit of
professing a desire for my good opinion; how do you reconcile that with
this utter disregard of my claims to respect?”

“Mrs. Clarendon, it is dreadful to hear you speaking to me in this way.
You have every right to be angry with me; I reproach myself more than
you reproach me. I did not think of you in connection with Miss Warren.
I could not distress or injure you wittingly.”

“I don’t know that you have it in your power to injure me,” was the cold
reply. “I am distressed on your own account, for I fully believed you
incapable of dishonour.”

“Good God! Do you wish me to throw myself at your feet and pray you to
spare me? I cannot bear those words from you; they flay me. Think what
you like of me, but don’t say it! You cannot amend me, but you can gash
me to the quick, if it delights you to do that. I won’t ask you to
pardon me; I am lower than you can stoop. The opinion of other people is
nothing to me; I didn’t know till this moment that any one could lash me
as you have done.”

Isabel was frightened at the violence of his words; they must have
calmed a harsher nature than hers. His earnestness was all the more
terrible from its contrast with his ordinary habit of speech, and his
professed modes of thinking. His voice choked. Perhaps for the first
time in her life Isabel recognised the fulness of her power over men.

“Mr. Lacour,” she said with grave gentleness, “is this the first of your
visits to Miss Warren?”

“It is the first.”

“Will you promise me that it shall be the last--I mean of secret

“I will never see her again.”

“I exact no such promise as that; it is beyond my right. What I do
regard as my right is the assurance that my ward has fair play. Her
position is difficult beyond that of most girls. I have confidence
in Ada Warren; I believe she respects me--perhaps I should say she
recognises my claims as her guardian. My house is open to you when you
come on the same footing as other gentlemen.”

“I cannot face you again.”

“Where do you intend to pass the night?” Isabel inquired, letting a
brief silence reply to his last words.

“I have got a room at the inn in Winstoke.”

“And to-morrow morning you return to London?”


“Mrs. Bruce Page tells me your brother is making you an allowance. I am
glad to hear that, and I hope you will heartily accept his conditions.”

“I shall try to read, but there’s small chance of it ever coming to
anything. I’m one of those men who inevitably go to the dogs. A longer
or shorter time, but the dogs eventually.”

“That is in your own hands. Shall I tell you what I think? Just one
piece of my mind which perhaps you will rate cheaply enough. I think
that a man who respects himself will make his own standing in life, and
won’t be willing to be lifted on to smooth ground by any one, least of
all by a woman’s weak hands. And now, good night to you.”

She left him and entered the house by the front door.

After breakfast next morning, Ada was in the library, walking from
window to window, watching the course of clouds which threatened rain,
at a loss, it seemed, how to employ herself. She was surprised by Mrs.
Clarendon’s entrance.

“You haven’t settled to work yet?” Isabel said, looking at her rather

Ada merely shook her head and came towards the table. Mrs. Clarendon
took up a book and glanced at it.

“What are you busy with now?” she asked lightly.

“Nothing in particular. I’ve just finished a novel that interests me.”

“A novel? Frivolous young woman! Oh, I know that book. It’s very nice,
all but the ending, and that I don’t believe in. That extravagant
self-sacrifice is unnatural; no man ever yet made such a sacrifice.”

“It doesn’t seem to me impossible,” said Ada. “No? It will some day.”

Isabel’s way of speaking was not altogether like herself; it was rather
too direct and abrupt.

“Of a man, you think?”

Isabel laughed.

“Oh, of a woman much more! We are not so self-sacrificing as they make
us out, Ada.” She took a seat on a chair which stood edgewise to the
table, and rested her head against her hand.

“Will you sit down?” she asked invitingly, when the girl still kept her
position at a distance.

“You wish to speak to me?”

Ada became seated where she was.

“You wish the distance to represent that which is always between us?”
 Isabel remarked, half sadly, half jestingly.

Ada seemed about to rise, but turned it off in an arrangement of her

“When Mr. Asquith told you something from me a month ago,” Isabel
continued, “did it occur to you that I had any motive in--in choosing
just that time, in letting you know those things just when I did?”

Ada had fixed a keen and curious look on the speaker, a look which was
troublesome in its intensity.

“I supposed,” was her measured reply, “that you thought I had come to
the age when I ought to know something of the future that was before

“Yes, that is true. You will credit me, will you not, with a desire to
save you from being at a disadvantage?”


The word was rather ironically spoken.

“You perhaps think I ought to have told you sooner?”

“I have had that thought.”

“On the other hand, you do not forget that nothing obliged me to tell
you for another year and a half.”

“Nothing obliged you.”

Isabel suffered from the keen annoyance which this dry manner of the
girl’s always occasioned her. She did not speak again till she felt able
to do so with a voice as quiet as before.

“When I spoke of your being at a disadvantage, I meant, of course, that
it was hardly right for others to be aware of facts about you which you
yourself did not know.”

“I gathered that from your words.”

“Ada, I wish I had more of your confidence. I am not very good at this
stagey sort of talk; it is not natural to me; it brings me into a
tone which is the very last I wish to use to you. I asked my cousin to
relieve me of the duty of telling you about the will because I did not
feel quite able to do it myself; I was rather afraid of myself--of being
led to say things I should be sorry for. As you know very well, I’m
quick-tempered, and not quite as wise a woman as I might be. I feared,
too, lest you might say things I couldn’t bear to hear. Well, what I
want to ask you is this: Do you understand how difficult my position is
with regard to you? Do you see how we differ from ordinary guardian and
ward, and how all but impossible it is for me to give you those
pieces of advice, those warnings which, as an older woman, I should be
justified in offering?”

“Advice, warning?” repeated Ada, without much curiosity.

“Both. You have had very slight opportunities of getting to know the
world. You prefer your books to society, and perhaps rightly; but that
must not bring you to forget that you are heiress to a large fortune,
and--and that other people--our friends--are well aware of it.”

Ada laughed silently.

“You wish, Mrs. Clarendon, to put me on my guard?”

“I do.”

The silent laugh had covered a distortion of features, as if by bodily
pain. The girl’s eyes began to take on that wide, dangerous look which
Isabel knew well and feared; there was a motion of her shoulders also,
like a result of physical uneasiness.

“Wishing me,” Ada pursued, in a higher note, “at the same time to
understand that no one is at all likely to seek me out for my own sake.”

“Ada, I did not say that, and I did not mean it; you might at least
spare to charge me with malice which is not in my nature. Let us speak
freely to each other now that we have begun.” Isabel’s colour had
heightened, and her words lost their deliberateness. “I know too well
what your opinion of me is. You think me a vain, superficial, worldly
woman, ready to make any sacrifice of my pride--the poor pride that
every creature has--just for the sake of keeping my place and the means
to support it, and overflowing with bitterness against the one who will
some day take everything from me. It is natural; you have never exerted
yourself to know me better. It is natural, too, because I _have_, in
fact, made an extraordinary sacrifice of my pride, have eaten my own
shame with every mouthful under this roof since my widowhood--oh, since
my marriage! For all that, I am not evil-natured; it is not in my heart
to cherish malice. I do not feel hardly to you. Put it down to my poor
spirit if you like, but the resentment I once had I have quite got over,
and I wish you nothing but good. Why do I say all this? Only because I
want to convince you that, if you ever take me into your confidence, I
shall not advise you with selfish motives. And there was no selfishness
in what I said to you just now. It was my duty to say it, misunderstand
my words how you may.”

The silence which followed seemed a long one. Isabel had hidden her
face. Ada was making marks on the table with a pencil.

“I don’t think,” replied the latter at length, “that I have ever charged
you in my mind with this kind of selfishness; you are quite mistaken in
what you say of my opinion of you. Please to remember, Mrs. Clarendon,
that I too have my difficulties. I have not reached this age without
questioning myself about many things. I have long ceased to be a child;
the world is not so simple to me as it was then. Many things require
explanation which as a child I scarcely troubled about or explained as a
child does.”

Isabel uncovered her face and regarded the girl gravely. Ada returned
the look.

“I once asked you,” the latter continued, in a lower voice, and with
hurried utterance, “to tell me something about myself--how I came to
be living with you. You only tell me that I was an orphan. Am I ever to
know more?”

“I cannot tell you more than was told to me,” Isabel replied coldly.
“When I myself sought an explanation of Mr. Clarendon’s will, Mr.
Ledbury, one of the trustees, for answer put into my hands two papers.
One was a formal letter addressed to Mr. Clarendon, and signed ‘Marian
Warren,’ in which the writer said that she consented to her child Ada
being given into Mr. Clarendon’s care, and renounced all authority over
the child henceforth. The other was a certificate of the same child’s
birth; the parents’ names, Henry and Marian Warren. That, as you know,
is how you are described in the will. My solicitor made inquiries for
me. Your mother was found to be a widow; her husband had been dead not
quite a year.”

She paused, then added in the same distant way, but with a softer voice:

“I know nothing more, Ada.”

“Not whether my mother still lives or not?”

“No. If you wish to seek further, it is to Mr. Ledbury, I suppose, that
you must apply. I am not in personal communication with him, but I can
give you his address.”

“Will you kindly do so now, then we shall not need to speak of this

Ada wrote it as it was spoken. Then they both sat in silence, Ada
playing with her pencil. When Mrs. Clarendon rose the girl did not at
once seem to notice it; but Isabel remained standing before her, and
Ada, rising at length, stood with averted face. Isabel spoke:

“Only one word more, Ada. We will not speak again of my duties, but I
think you will admit that I have certain rights. Will you promise me
that I shall not be left in ignorance of any--any step of importance
that you may take--anything you may do that--selfishly speaking--could
affect my own position?”

“That is clearly your right,” was the answer. “There is no need to ask
me for such a promise.”

Isabel bowed her head and passed from the room, Ada standing with her
face still averted, a nervous tension in her whole frame. They were no
nearer to each other for this scene, ending in humiliation which was
mutual though differently felt.


Here are portions of two letters written by-Bernard Kingcote to
correspondents in London. The first is to his friend Gabriel, the

“.... There is no doubt about its being a mistake, but what step that
I have hitherto taken in my life of nine-and-twenty years has been
anything else? Whether I act on impulse or after grave deliberation, is
all one. You prophesied that I should be miserable in three months;
it was a generous limit. I have been here three months, and have
been miserable already for two. The idea of this kind of life for
a permanency was as absurd as most other ideas which I embrace in
splenetic moods. The serious thing is that circumstances seem conspiring
to keep me here; I am considerably poorer than when I came, and the
possibility of returning to live in London grows dubious. And why should
I return? I have as little business there as here.

“I believe I had a thought in coming to this cottage, something more
definite than the mere revolt of weariness with old conditions. It ran
in my head something like this: If I was such a superlatively bilious
and contumacious being, if life refused to present to me any feature by
which I might clutch it, if eating my heart out appeared to be the sole
occupation which I pursued unremittingly, surely there must be some
discoverable reason of all this, must be some explanation of myself to
be got at by diligent search. It struck me that in absolute solitude, in
the remoteness of a corner of the world such as this, I might perchance
have it out with myself, grip myself by the throat as it were, and force
a confession of my own secret. There in London I was too closely guarded
by habits, occupations, prejudices, conventional modes of thought; the
truth would not be uncovered. Perhaps an utter change of conditions
would make me clearer-brained, more capable of discerning the powers at
work in me, of discovering whether there was not some compromise with
life still possible. This was not unreasonable, it seems to me, and
indeed I persuade myself that one or two points have come out where
before was nothing but darkness. Unfortunately, to formulate my needs is
not the same thing as to satisfy them, and satisfaction being as remote
as ever, I fear I am not much advanced.

“I pass my days in a dream, which too often becomes a nightmare. It is
very likely you are right, and that with every day thus spent I
only grow more incapable of activity, instead of making advance by a
perception of what I could and ought to do. I find myself regarding with
a sort of dull amazement every species of active and creative work. A
childish wonder at the commonest things besets me. For example, I fall
a-thinking on this cottage in which I live, speculating as to who may
have originally built it; and then it strikes me as curious that I dwell
beneath its roof, waking and sleeping, with such complete confidence,
taking for granted that the workmanship was good, the material sound,
no flaw here or there which will some day bring the timbers down upon
my head. It leads me on to architecture in general; I ponder on huge
edifices, and stand aghast before the skill and energy embodied in them.
In them, and in all the results of the world’s work. The sum of human
endeavour weighs upon me, something monstrous, inexplicable. I try to
realise the motive force which can have brought about such results, and
come only to the despairing conclusion that I am not as other men,
that I lack the primal energies of human life. You and your ceaseless
striving come before me: I marvel. What is it that drives you on? What
oestrus possesses you? What keeps your brain resolute and your hand

“I buy a newspaper now and then. You cannot imagine how strangely those
world-echoes impress me. The sage gravity of leading articles, the
momentousness of this or that piece of news, the precision of reports,
the advertisements,--is it I who am moonstruck, or the living puppets
that play in this astonishing comedy? Once or twice I have been so
overcome with a perception of ludicrousness as to fall back in my chair
and make the roof ring with laughter.... A favourite walk is up to the
old entrenchments on the Downs, six or seven miles away. They are of
præ-Saxon times, I am told, points of desperate resistance by the
aboriginal people against vaguely-named invaders, scenes of battle
whereof no spear-clang echoes in the pages of history. I like to lie on
the ground and dream myself into realisation of those old struggles, to
make the fight a present fact, and hear the cries of victory and death.
_They_ were in earnest! If one could have lived in such times, when the
conditions of life were frankly bestial, and every man’s work was clear
before him, not a doubt to begin with, so no regret in the end! One
would have been dead so long since, resting so long.

“.... I delight in the conditions of rustic life as it exists here about
me. At times I talk with a farm-labourer, for my solace; to do so I have
to divest myself of the last rag of civilisation, to strip my mind to
its very kernel. Were oxen suddenly endowed with speech they would utter
themselves even as these peasants do, so and no otherwise. The absence
of any hint of townish Radicalism is a joy to me; I had not expected
to find the old order so undisturbed. Squire and parson are still the
objects of unshaken reverence. It is not beautiful, but how wholesome!
If only the schoolmaster could be kept away; if only progress would
work its evil will on the children of the slums, and leave these worthy
clodhoppers in their ancient peace! They are happy; they look neither
before nor after, for them the world has no history, the morrow no
futile aspirations; their county is the cosmos, and around it still flow
the streams of ocean. Local charity abounds; in the cottages there is
no hunger, no lack of clothing. Oh, leave them alone, leave them
alone! Would I had been born one of these, and had never learned the
halfknowledge which turns life sour!

“But I have news for you. I have lunched at Knightswell, and in a
manner have made acquaintance with Mrs. Clarendon. She astonished me by
presenting herself at my cottage door, holding in her hand a book which
I had left by chance out in a field, and which had been shown her by the
finder. Here was condescension! However, she spoke to me with extreme
friendliness, seemed anxious to know more of me, asked me at once to
lunch. I went, and was alone for a couple of hours with her and Miss
Warren. The latter is as cold and hard as I expected to find her;
intellectual, I should fancy, but in the way one does not desire in
a woman. She says disagreeably sharp things in precisely the most
disagreeable manner. It puzzles me to imagine the kind of life those two
lead together, or what may be the explanation of their living together
at all. I fancy the Vissians know all about it, but their loyalty to
the Lady of Knightswell is magnificent. I am sure they would not feel
justified in uttering a word about her private concerns, in however
harmless a fashion.

“Mrs. Clarendon is to me a new type of woman--new, that is, in actual

“She is a woman of the world; perhaps even a worldly woman. I was never
before on terms of friendly intercourse with her like, and she interests
me extremely. She is beautiful, and has every external grace, I should
think, wherewith woman can be endowed; but I am disposed to think her
cold. I mean she does not seem to me capable of passion; probably she
never loved any one. About her husband--dead for twelve years--I can
learn nothing; her marriage with him was most likely one of convenience.
At all events she lives in joyous widowhood; enough to show--all things
considered--that her nature is very placid. The kind of woman, no doubt,
who appreciates this freedom and realises no disadvantages attendant
upon it. Another conclusion I have arrived at is, that her charm has
gained in the course of years; she is more delightful now than she
was in her girlhood, it may be, even more beautiful. This is mere
assumption, of course; but warrantable, I think, It may come of my
distaste for young girls. I never met one who did not seem to me
artificial, shallow, illiberal, frivolous, radically selfish. A
girl’s ignorance of the world is portentous, the natural result of her
education; and it is only with knowledge of the world that sweetness and
charity and steadfastness develop. Heaven preserve me from falling in
love with a young girl who still has her first man’s heart to break!

“Her charm is, I think, largely unconscious. I mean, though she must
know that she is charming--how many must have told her so!--she does not
appear to use the quality as another would. What strikes one from the
first is her frankness, her exquisite openness. She seems to speak to
you from her heart, to conceal nothing. Of course it may very well be
that there is nothing to conceal, that her life is on the surface,
that she displays at once the whole of a being which has no complexity.
Still, I do not rate her so poorly. Though she is anything but
intellectual, her mind has delicacy and activity; her judgments of
people are probably not wide of the mark. Then her tenderness, she shows
it in every glance; and her bright, free gladness. A woman to the
tips of her fingers, a womanly woman--everything that Miss Warren, for
instance, is not. In fact, the latter’s presence throws Mrs. Clarendon’s
womanliness into relief. Mrs. Clarendon will henceforth be to me the
type of perfectly sweet womanhood.

“Of course, her interest in me is a mere freak. She is at a loss for
entertainment now and then at Knightswell--for, alas! she does not
read--and the discovery of a curious creature like myself is a source of
amusement. I do not flatter myself that anything like friendship between
us is possible; social distance would hinder that, if nothing else. She
was kind in her manner, kinder than I can at all convey to you, and,
I am sure, with complete sincerity; it is her nature to let her light
shine on all, to be sweet and gracious to every one with whom she comes
in contact. If, indeed, I thought friendship were attainable, I would
pursue it as the main end of my existence. Her presence refreshes me,
her talk is like the ripple of cool waters, her smile makes its healing
way to all the hidden wounds of my wretched being. But I dare not hope
for more than she gives to hundreds of others, calling them friends. She
will exhaust my novelty, she will find my talk wearisome--great heavens!
is it worse than that she listens to in her drawing-room in London?--she
will pass on her way and leave me with a memory as of a cool, delicious
summer day.

“Why should she enjoy life as she does? Why is there given to her this
calm, this happy grace, the freedom from apprehension, regret, desire? I
have written thus praisingly of her, and yet I could unpack my heart of
a whole burden of fierce, and injurious, and reproachful words when I
compare her existence with mine. Could not I, too, be gently gracious to
all and sundry if I had wherewith to keep my soul from the bitterness
of hunger? How easy to cultivate a charm of manner when every need is so
waited upon with fruition! How easy to be sweetly placid when nature has
spared you the abiding of a furious passion in your heart of hearts! I
shall see as little of her as may be. She breaks my sleepy habit, and
reminds me of things I want to forget.

“.... Oh! I am weary of this solitude, this daily sameness of empty
life. My books are no comfort; I can no longer interest myself in what
is really so precious to me; the chiming of sweet words is a burden to
my ear. I have no will; mere whims make a plaything of me. When I
have dragged my chain to the limit of the day, I lie down in miserable
anticipation of what waits me on the morrow, whether I shall rise to an
hour or two of resigned quiet, or in dull wretchedness, which makes me
curse the return of the sun; the fate which tortures me will choose. If
I had but something to distract my thoughts! What I would give for the
feeblest novel in red or blue back which lies to-day on the library
counter, smelling sweet from the press. Anything, so that it were new,
so that it spoke to me of men and women who are at this moment looking
into the eyes of destiny, even as I am. Those old writers, who have so
long ago solved the problem and gone to their rest, burden me with their
unconscious gravity; their time-tested wisdom goads me to peevishness.
What to them the present anguish which makes my life a disease? Nay,
what to any one, what to you, long-enduring friend, who go your way to
join hands with the immortals?”

The other letter, written on the same day, is to his sister, Mrs.

“I suffer in your distress, dear Mary, and would that I could do more
to help you. We have drifted so far from each other that it is difficult
for me to try to comfort you with words; to my own ear they sound
inefficient, and to you they would come much like mockery. In truth, no
one of us poor mortals has it in his power to heal another’s wounds; in
our suffering we can only look forward to the end of all things.

“I cannot grieve with you at your husband’s ill-health, that you know;
but neither shall I speak words of him that would pain you. I hold no
man responsible for his deeds in this world; we all act and refrain from
acting as fate will have it, and to rail against fate will not, I fear,
avail us much. It’s good, however, that the children are well and happy;
they, I doubt not, are often a solace to you. I suppose they are much
grown and changed since I saw them. Do not grieve, dear sister, that you
are unable to give them the kind of education you would desire. Of no
greater unkindness can parents be guilty than to train as if for a life
of leisure children whose lot will inevitably be to earn a livelihood
by day-long toil. It is to sow in them the seeds of despair. Do not heed
the folly of those who say that culture is always a blessing; the
truth is that, save under circumstances favourable to its enjoyment and
extension, it is an unmitigated curse. Had I children, I would have them
taught just enough to aid them in such craft or trade as a man without
means could put them to. It is no reason for lament that you have not
books to put into their hands, rather be glad that they are thus saved
from drinking of a well which for them would be poisoned. I give you
this counsel in saddest sincerity. What seems to you now cruelty, will
hereafter prove to have been the best.

“And now for the only way in which I can aid you. I have written to
R--------, asking him to sell for me, as soon as possible, a certain
number of my shares, and this money I will gladly send you as soon as it
is in my hands. I suppose it is necessary to speak of the matter to your
husband, though I wish that could be avoided. It will help you out of
immediate embarrassments, and leave you at peace for a little while.
But---- well, why should I hesitate to tell you frankly, Mary? I shall
henceforth have an income of something less than sixty pounds a year.
I do not mean that this involves hardship; for me, nothing of the kind.
But I do not well see how I can draw further upon the principal and
still be able to live. It is less probable than ever that I shall find
a way of earning my own living, unless I bring myself to the point of
abandoning civilisation, and going to work with my hands in some other
part of the world. I have no doubt that would be the very best thing
for me, the gulf once crossed. Yet it would be a hard thing to leave you
alone, struggling in that inferno; in truth, I could not bring myself to
do that. Imagine you left with your children, and not a friend to turn
to! Poor girl! that would be more than I could bear to think of.

“I write to the address you have given me. Do you fear to receive my
letters at home?”


The rectory was at all times open to Kingcote. Mr. Vissian welcomed him
as the only man within reach who could talk on congenial topics; Mrs.
Vissian liked him personally, and for the sake of the romantic stories
which she wove about him in her imagination. To Percy Vissian he had
become an object of a child’s affectionate regard, as well as of the
reverence which attaches to men of mystery. Percy not infrequently made
his way to the cottage, but never outlived that fairy-tale sensation
with which he had first crossed its threshold. That Kingcote lived here
absolutely alone, that he passed nights in the dread solitude of this
ivy-wrapped cell, that he had nothing to do but to read the books which
contained such deep and wondrous things, invested him in the child’s
eyes with something of the unearthliness of a wizard. Anything but a
youngster of boisterous instincts, Percy moved about in the cottage with
the gravest gait; as he never went up the dim, narrow staircase, there
still remained a portion of the abode of which his fancy was free to
make what it would, and it often seemed to him that a strange light
footfall came to his ears from the floor above. He would not have
ventured to ask about this, which in truth was only the product of his
excited imagination. When he had tea with his friend everything tasted
to him quite differently from the flavours of home; the mere bread
became cake--he munched dry pieces with a strange relish, and the milk
did not come from ordinary cows. But his great delight was when, after
such a meal, he settled himself on his uncomfortable chair and saw
Kingcote preparing to read to him. Often the reading was of English
poetry, and that was enjoyable; but better still was when the wizard
took down one of those books of which the mere character suggested magic
lore--a German book, and, turning it into free English, read a tale of
Tieck, or Musàus, or Grimm, or Bechstein, or Hauff. Then did the child’s
face glow with attention, his features become elf-like with the stirring
of phantasy; and, when Kingcote ceased, he would move with a deep sigh
and peer curiously about the room. He would beg to be allowed to look
at these volumes for himself, touching the pages with delicate finger,
spelling here and there a word and asking its meaning. There was a book
of German ballads, plentifully illustrated, and over these pictures the
boy was never tired of musing. Percy Vissian owed not a little to his
friend for these afternoons at Wood End.

With the elder people Kingcote’s intimacy was not one of unrestrained
confidence, though it only fell short of it by that degree which marks
the superficiality of most friendships. For instance, he never felt
tempted to speak to Mrs. Vissian, even after months of familiar
intercourse, as he had spoken to Isabel Clarendon in their first
conversation. The bright little woman did not exercise a compelling
power upon his inner self, as Isabel had already done. There was much
mutual kindness between them, and, it might be, as nearly a genuine
friendship as is possible between man and woman; for such association
gains in completeness only at the loss of the characteristics which
justify it for friendship’s name. Mrs. Vissian showed this supreme
wisdom, of never offering sympathy. It was by no means always with a
conventionally smooth face that Kingcote came into her presence; at
times he sat in her parlour, a picture of wretchedness, and scarcely
answered when she spoke to him. For to Kingcote there came more of
misery than of consolation from the aspect of this gentle peaceful home;
often enough he was stirred to bitterness by the sight of this perfect
content, this ideal domesticity, this sweet assuagement of the evils of
life; the contrast with his own position was not fruitful of soothing.
When he sat with her in that state of mind Mrs. Vissian seemed not
to perceive it, or at most uttered a light word about low spirits.
Of course she thought a good deal about it, but the blessed wisdom
of content was strong in her, and not even by a look did she display
special interest.

Mr. Vissian himself was amusing. His bibliomania and kindred interests
never for an instant lost their hold upon him. When Kingcote once asked
whether he did not at times weary of such things, the rector stared in
amazement. The study was not the only room in which precious books were
stored; upstairs was a chamber packed almost solidly with volumes, old
and new. Mr. Vissian boasted that he knew every book in the mass, and
could at any time make his way to any he desired to consult; it was only
a matter of excavation. One slight anxiety his collection cost him; the
upper walls of the house had begun to show rather large cracks, and it
was possible that eventually the burden of literature would bring the
roof down. But that was a risk which must take its place in the ordinary
count of human contingencies. The rector subscribed to a considerable
number of literary societies: the “Shakspere,” the “Chaucer,” the “Early
English Text,” and others of the kind, receiving their publications
and having them duly bound for a place on shelves in some commodious
dwelling of the future. In the course of talk over such things, Kingcote
was by chance enlightened as to the meaning of that little incident
which had struck him in his very first interview with Mr. Vissian--the
latter’s momentary doubt, or seeming doubt, whether he could produce the
money which was requested. Kingcote discovered that his friend lived in
perpetual pecuniary embarrassment. Mrs. Vissian exercised control over
her husband’s expenditure to the point of preventing its exceeding their
income, but that was all. The quarterly cheque was invariably demanded
by outstanding liabilities as soon as it arrived, and unfortunately
the cheque was not a very large one. It often happened that neither the
rector nor his wife had half a sovereign in the world, a singular state
of things in so otherwise orderly a household. In lending Kingcote
that sovereign they had just then left themselves literally penniless.
Fortunately the cheque was due. Mrs. Vissian dreaded the arrival of
a booksellers second-hand catalogue; whenever it was possible, she
intercepted all such, and mercilessly committed them to the flames.
Yet the subject never occasioned a moment’s trouble between husband and
wife; Mr. Vissian pursued his course in calmness. He was working (as a
volunteer, of course) for a great English dictionary, which a certain
society had it in view to produce. Also, he had taken up the new ideas
of textual criticism in Elizabethan literature, and spent hours in
counting the syllables in each line of a scene of this or the other
dramatist. Though such a placid little man, he revelled in literary
horrors. It delighted him to read aloud ghastly scenes from Webster,
dwelling with gusto on the forceful utterances. Withal his orthodoxy
was unimpeachable, it never occurred to him to carry his criticism into
Biblical spheres. To please him, Kingcote now and then attended his
services; naturally there was no further discussion on religious topics
between the two.

As October drew on, and evenings began to be dark and cold, the comfort
of Mr. Vissian’s study and of his wife’s sitting-room assuredly lost
nothing in the eyes of the hermit of Wood End, yet his visits became
less frequent. He presented himself, however, about nine o’clock one
night, and was received by Mrs. Vissian with the usual friendliness. The
rector was expected home every moment.

It had been raining all day, and the temperature justified the first
fire, which crackled merrily and made the bright little room look
cheerier than ever. The table was laid for supper (the Vissians dined at
one o’clock) and a pleasant odour as of toasted cheese took advantage
of the door being ajar to creep insidiously about the room. Mrs. Vissian
sat with her feet on a stool, mending a pair of Percy’s stockings.

“You look tired,” she said, as Kingcote sat in silence and watched her
out of half-closed eyes.

“I am, a little. I have been walking.”

“But in this dreadful rain?”

“Has it rained? I don’t think I noticed it.”

Mrs. Vissian regarded him for an instant with surprise, then laughed a
little, and bent over her work. Her left hand and arm were thrust into
the stocking, and she held her head sideways, observing the growth of
her darning with a kind of artistic earnestness and pleasure. A small
black cat, which had just come in licking its mouth, put its fore
feet on to the stool and looked up into its mistress’s face. The fire
crackled, and a sound of clattered plates came from the kitchen. Then
was heard another sound, that of the rector’s latch-key at the front
door. Mrs. Vissian quickly put down her work, and, with a bright look,
went from the room.

Kingcote gripped the arm of his chair and uttered a low moan.

“Ha, well met!” exclaimed the rector, as, after divesting himself of
a wet overcoat, he entered, flicking his black trousers with his
handkerchief and dubiously regarding his boots. His cheeks, as always,
were aglow with health and spirits; on his whiskers gleamed drops of
rain. He stood with his back to the fire, and passed his finger round
between collar and neck, a habit of his which always seemed to give him
ease. “I have a message for you----”

The servant entered with a tray of savoury viands. The rector broke off
in his speech to regard the goods which the gods were providing; he did
so with a critical, yet a satisfied, eye.

“A message for _me?_” Kingcote asked indifferently.

“Ha, yes!” Mr. Vissian had been led off into a different train of
thought, it seemed.

“Mrs. Clarendon wants you to go to see her.”


“Where did you meet her, dear?” Mrs. Vissian inquired, as she bundled
away her work in preparation for the meal.

“She’s going to sit through the night with Mrs. Stigard. I shall be
surprised if the poor old woman lives till morning; ten to one I
shall be sent for. Lucy,” he added, as if a semi-conscious process of
reflection had just come to clear issue in his mind, “that parcel
for the binder is still lying upstairs. I saw it this morning with
amazement; thought it had gone a week ago.”

“I’ll see to it, dear,” replied his wife, without looking up from the
bread she was cutting. “Pity it has been forgotten.”

“Forgotten! And you, who never forget anything!”

Then, turning to Kingcote, he declaimed, with humorous gesture and

               “Brother Cosroe, I find myself aggrieved,

               Yet insufficient to express the same,

               For it requires a great and thundering speech!”

“By-the-bye,” he continued, as he poured out a glass of ale from the
foam-capped jug, “it’s beyond all doubt that Grubb is wrong in his
calculation. He says, you remember, that the proportion of unstopt
lines in the ‘Two Gentlemen’ is one in eleven. Now I make it one in nine
decimal fifteen, and I’ve been over it twice with the utmost care. This
is a point of considerable importance. Take that chair, Kingcote.”

“Thank you,” Kingcote said, “I shall not eat.”

“Why not? There’s pippins and cheese to come. Then, at least, as
Claudius said to the chickens, drink.”

Kingcote declined, in spite of much hospitable pressure, and kept
his arm-chair. Mr. Vissian applying himself to his supper, talked in
intervals of mastication.

“Mrs. Clarendon wishes you to call tomorrow or next day; pray do so. I
can’t quite make out that mistake of Grubb’s; he must have calculated
from an edition in which the lines are differently arranged. I shall
communicate with him. Lucy, my love, I beg of you to see that those
books are dispatched the first thing to-morrow; the dilatory scoundrel
always keeps me waiting, and there’s a ‘Cursor Mundi’ I want to work

Kingcote suddenly rose and stepped to Mrs. Vissian to bid her good

“Going, what?” exclaimed the rector, turning round, with an end of his
napkin in each hand. “But I wanted to ask your opinion about---- You
don’t look well, my dear fellow; what is it?”

“Nothing, nothing. I’ve tired myself with walking. I’ll get home.”

“You have an umbrella? Then you must take one of mine. But, I tell you,
you must; it’s raining like a waterspout. Shall I walk with you?”

Kingcote had gone off into the darkness with inaudible replies.

“What is the matter with him?” asked the rector, standing in surprise.
“Is he going to be ill? An awkward look-out in that cottage, with not a
soul near.”

“He was very strange when he came,” Mrs. Vissian remarked. “He said he’d
been walking, and yet wasn’t aware that it had rained.”

“Wasn’t aware? Curious fellow, Kingcote.”

“Don’t you think, Walter, there’s something about him we don’t
understand--something in the circumstances of his life, I mean?”

“A good deal. But he’s a thoroughly good fellow; I must look in at Wood
End the first thing in the morning.”

They resumed their seats.

“Lucy,” observed the rector, “you are blooming to-night! Upon my word,
every year makes you younger and more beautiful.”

“What makes you think of such a thing just now?” asked the other,
laughing as she shook her head.

“I don’t know. I suppose half the joy of happiness comes of contrast
with others’ less fortunate lot.”

“Oh, I don’t like to think that, Walter,” protested the wife rather

“Many things are true, my dear, which we don’t like to think.”

Lucy moved to reach something, and took the occasion to kiss her
husband’s forehead.

And Kingcote, plodding through the lane’s mud, reached his door. The
old oak-stump in front of the cottage stood like a night-fear; the copse
behind, all but stripped of leaves, gave forth dismal whisperings; rain
beat hard upon the roof-thatch. The tenant took the key from his pocket
and entered the cold room; he could not see his hands. Without seeking
any light he felt his way up the crazy stairs, and lay down to such rest
as he might find.

It rained till noon of the following day, then began to clear. When a
couple of hours of pale sunshine had half dried the hedges, Kingcote set
forth to walk to Knightswell. Mr. Vissian had been as good as his word
in calling.

“Oh, nothing; a headache,” was the answer he received to his anxious
inquiries. “I hope I wasn’t more than usually ill-mannered; pray ask
Mrs. Vissian to try and tolerate me.”

“You’re getting a little low, it strikes me; too much solitude.
By-the-bye, you’ll look in at Knightswell this afternoon?”

“I suppose Mrs. Clarendon feels obliged to ask me; I dare say she’d
rather I kept away.”

“My dear sir, these are outcomes of the black humour; you are not
yourself. Mrs. Clarendon will be very glad indeed to see you; so she
assured me. I pray you, fight against this tendency to melancholia.”

It was difficult to reach the gates without having previously
collected considerably more mud than one cares to convey into a lady’s
drawing-room. Kingcote endeavoured to remove some of this superfluous
earth as he walked up the drive by rubbing his boots in the wet grass;
the result was not inspiriting.

“Pooh!” he exclaimed impatiently. “If she really cares to see me, she
won’t regard the state of my boots; any one who accepts such as I am,
must take mud and all.”

The thought appeared to amuse him, he walked on with a laugh.

As he entered the garden, he met the trap just driving away from the
house. A gentleman was seated in it. He had rather the look of a man of
business, and was reading a letter. He scanned Kingcote, then resumed
his reading.

Disturbed with the thought that there might be other visitors in the
house, Kingcote hesitated, doubted whether to go on. He made up his mind
to do so, however, not without sundry fresh communings with himself of
a bitter kind. On inquiry he found that Mrs. Clarendon was at home,
and, after a moment in the hall, he was led to the dining-room. Mrs.
Clarendon was writing letters at a table by the window; as she rose, he
thought he detected annoyance on her face.

“I fear I disturb you,” he said coldly.

“You don’t at all; or rather, you will not, if you’ll let me treat you
as a friend. I have just one letter I am obliged to write; I asked
the servant to bring you here, thinking you might like to look at the
pictures till I have done. One or two are thought good, I believe--that
Veronese, and that Ruysdael, and the Greuze yonder. May I?”

It was hard not to smile in reply to her voice and look as she spoke the
last two little words, the more so that it was clear she had something
just now to trouble her quite other than the inopportune arrival of a
visitor. Kingcote walked to the picture she had indicated as a Veronese,
and, affecting to view it, let his eyes wander to Isabel at the
writing-table. She was thinking, previous to commencing her letter. Her
left arm rested on the desk, and the thumb and middle finger of the hand
pressed her forehead; with the end of the penholder she tapped her chin.
He noticed how beautiful was the outline of her head, relieved against
the bright window; noticed, too, the grace of her neck when she bent
forward to write. The scratching of her pen--she wrote very rapidly--was
the only sound in the room.

Kingcote went from picture to picture, his mind not quite tuned to judge
and enjoy their merits. One, however, held him. When lunching here, he
had sat with his back to the wall of which this canvas was the central
ornament, so had not observed it. It was a portrait of Mrs. Clarendon,
painted probably at the time of her marriage, an excellent picture. As
he gazed at it, Isabel came forward.

“Do you recognise it?” she asked, tapping on one hand with the letter
she held in the other.

“Without doubt.”

“And moralise? But,” she added quickly, “I want you to look at this
child’s head. Isn’t it exquisitely sweet?”

His eyes wandered back to the portrait, and, on their way to the door,
he again paused before it.

“Did I show you my ferns the last time you were here?” Isabel asked.
“Will you walk so far?”

She led to the rear of the hall, thence, by a glass door, into a short
glass-roofed passage, the door at the end of which opened into the
conservatory. The first section was a small rotunda, twenty feet in
diameter and twelve feet high. The floor was of unglazed tiles, the
ceiling of ornamental stucco; round the wall was a broad cushioned seat,
above which, commencing at a height of some four feet from the ground,
were windows of richly coloured glass, pictured with leaves and flowers
and fruit. A stand for plants occupied the centre, but at present the
shelves were almost bare.

Mrs. Clarendon threw back one of the windows.

“There is a good view from here,” she said. “A tree used to intercept
it, but we had it cut down in the spring to clear a piece of ground for

From the hill, on which the house was built, a broad stretch of green
park led the eye to a considerable distance in the direction of Salcot.
The roof of the cottage at Wood End was just visible. Kingcote drew
attention to it.

“I don’t see any smoke from the chimney,” Mrs. Clarendon remarked, with
a pleasant glance. “It is to be hoped you keep good fires this damp
weather. Is the place rainproof? These last two days will have tested

“It seems to be sound.”

“And you still find it your ideal?”

“The cottage? I did not choose it as an ideal abode.”

“But the quietness, the retirement, I mean. In that, at all events, you
have not been disappointed.”

“Certainly not.”

Isabel shuddered.

“How you live there I can’t understand. But I suppose you find it best
for your studies.”

“I don’t study,” returned Kingcote, rather vacantly, looking at the
pictured glass of the window.

Isabel closed the window and passed to the next door.

“I am so sorry Miss Warren is not at home,” she said. “I quite thought
she would be, but at the last moment she decided to go to London to see
something in the South Kensington Museum--oh, Schliemann’s discoveries!”

“Does Miss Warren read Greek and Latin?”

“Latin she does, and is just beginning Greek. She’s a wonderfully clever
girl, but it’s difficult to get her to talk. I am sure you will find her
interesting when you have had opportunities of talking with her.”

They were now in an ordinary hot-house. Isabel pointed out the plants
which interested her.

“I have just had a visit from my lawyer,” she said, as she plucked away
some dead leaves. “What tedious people lawyers are, and so dreadfully

“I suppose I passed him on the drive.”

“No doubt. But I mustn’t speak ill of the good man; he came all the way
from London to save me a journey.”

They moved about for a few moments in silence.

“There’s nothing here to look at, really,” Mrs. Clarendon said. “If
I could afford it I should have the place kept in good order; but I

She did not appear to notice the look of surprise which Kingcote was for
a moment unable to suppress. Leading the way back to the rotunda,
she placed a loose cushion and seated herself. The warmth here was
temperate, not more than the season required for comfort.

“So you don’t study?” she began, with friendly abruptness, when she had
pointed to a place for her companion. “What, then, do you do? I am rude,
you see, but--I wish to know.”

“I wish I could satisfactorily account for my days. I read a little,
walk a good deal, see the Vissians now and then----”

“And cultivate _ennui_---isn’t it so? A most unprofitable kind of
gardening. I believe you are thoroughly miserable; in fact, you are not
at much pains to hide it.”

“Scarcely as much as courtesy requires, you would say. I wish I could be
more amusing, Mrs. Clarendon.”

“I don’t ask you to be amusing--only to show yourself a little amused at
my impertinent curiosity. Why should you have so forgotten the habit of

“The habit?”

“Certainly. Is it not a habit, as long as we are in health?”

“In people happily endowed, I suppose. Temperament and circumstances may
enable one to keep a bright view of life.”

“Rather, a reasonable effort of the will, I should say. I am often
tempted to be dreary, but I refuse to give way.”

Kingcote smiled, almost laughed.

“You think I have nothing to be dreary about?” she asked, gazing at him
as if trying to read his thoughts. “That is a mistake; I don’t speak
idly. It would be excusable enough if I lost my cheerfulness. But with
me it _is_ a habit. Under any circumstances there’s a great deal of
entertainment to be got out of life. Of course, if one puts oneself
under the most unfavourable conditions--goes to live in a remote
hermitage, shuts oneself from social comforts, reads doleful books about
funeral urns----”

She caught his eye, and broke off with bright laughter.

“You don’t care for Sir Thomas Browne?” he asked.

“I shouldn’t be honest if I said I did. I am afraid that kind of reading
is beyond me. Ada--Miss Warren--enjoys it; but she is intellectual, and
I cannot pretend to be.”

“What do you read, Mrs. Clarendon?”

“The newspapers, and now and then a novel--_voilà tout!_”

“There are better things than books,” observed Kingcote.

A footstep was heard in the inner house.

“Is that you, Reuben?” the lady called, causing the gardener to put his
head through the door with the admission, “It be me, ma’am.”

She exchanged words with him, then proposed to Kingcote that they should
go to the drawing-room for tea. On their way she paused in the hall,
with talk about the panelling. Pointing to a fox’s head:

“A trophy of last season. We killed, that day, a couple of fields behind
Wood End.”

Tea appeared in a few minutes. As Isabel poured out two cups, her guest
made a feint of closely examining a framed photograph of Knightswell,
which stood on the table. He was less at his ease than on the tiled
floor of the conservatory; the dried mud upon his boots showed brutally
against the dark carpet, disposing him to savage humorousness. He became
aware that the beverage was silently held out to him. Her own cup in
hand, Mrs. Clarendon reclined in her chair, and gradually her eyes fixed
themselves upon him. He was conscious of the look before he returned
it, and, speaking at length, did so as if in reply to a question, though
himself interrogative.

“Did you ever visit a London hospital?” Isabel manifested no surprise;
her face had even a quiet smile of satisfaction.

“Yes,” she answered. “I once went to see a servant in St. Thomas’s.”

“Ah, I was studying there--let me see, six years ago. My father was a
medical man, and determined that I should be the same. At his death I
gave it up; I hadn’t finished my course.”

“It was not to your taste?”

“I loathed it. My bad dreams are still of hospital wards and
dissecting-rooms. I cannot bear to see the word ‘hospital’ in print. The
experience of those years has poisoned my life, as thoroughly as a slip
of the lancet would have poisoned my blood.”

“Had you that dislike from the commencement?” Isabel asked, after
putting down her empty cup, and crossing her hands on her lap with an
air of attention.

“No, not in the same degree. I thought this profession would do as well
as another. I believe I even had philanthropic glows now and then, and
perhaps even a period of scientific interest. The latter did not survive
the steps from theory to practice; the former----”

He made a motion with his hand, and smiled.

“The very last thing I should ever have associated with you,” remarked
Isabel, with puzzled thoughtfulness.

“A philanthropic zeal?”

“I didn’t mean that, but I am not sure that I mayn’t include it. Please
go on.”

Kingcote was resting his forehead on his palm; he resumed without
raising his eyes.

“My father practised at Norwich--by-the-bye, our friend, Sir Thomas
Browne’s city. When he died, I went to live with my mother for a while;
my sister had just married and gone to London, and a sister of my
fathers shared our house. I thought of all sorts of things--law,
literature (of course), even commerce. For I had a small capital--some
shares in a joint-stock bank; they gave me a sufficient income, and I
could realise when I needed. For a year I made plans; then of a sudden I
found myself in Paris. You know the Continent?”

“I was in the Riviera for a month, some years ago,” Isabel answered,
without interest. “I can’t afford to go abroad now.”

It was the second time she had used this phrase. Kingcote watched her

“What took you to Paris?” she inquired, ignoring the diversion.

“Nothing. I was turning over an old Bradshaw, and details of the journey
caught my eye. Next morning I left Norwich. I was abroad two years.”

“In France all the time?”

“No. France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy. Perhaps I saw the countries
all the better for the necessity I was under of travelling very
cheaply--so cheaply, indeed, I wonder how I did it. I walked oftener
than rode, and dispensed with hotel dinners whenever possible. I have a
diary of the two years’ travel.”

“You will let me read that?” Isabel asked quietly.

He hesitated; his eyes fixed absently on the windows.

“Yes, I will let you read it. It is foolish, boyish; I dare not read it

“For what reason?”

“Because there is nothing I hold more in horror than the ghost of my
former self. I deny identity,” he added with sudden bitterness. “How can
one be held responsible for the thoughts and acts of the being who bore
his name years ago? The past is no part of our existing self; we are
free of it, it is buried. That release is the pay Time owes us for doing
his work.”

Isabel regarded him earnestly; her cheek gathered a warmer hue for a

“You may read it if you care to,” he resumed, falling back to calmness.
“There is no one else to whom I would show it.”

Isabel waited for him to continue. He sat, bent forward, his hands about
one knee.

“And you returned to England with plans?” she asked at length, finding
him persevere in silence.

“No, only with experience. I came back because I had news of my mothers
illness. She was dead and buried before I got home.”

“It strikes me as curious,” he resumed rapidly, “that my childhood,
boyhood in fact, has utterly gone from my memory. I suppose that is
why I have such slight sympathy with children. I have often tried
desperately to recover the consciousness of my young days: it has gone.
My father, my mother, I cannot, recall their relations to me, nor mine
to them. Nay, facts even have left my memory. I know scarcely anything
before the beginning of my student years, and even those are vanishing,
I find. I live only in the present.”

“But the future?”

“No, from looking forward I shrink as much as from looking back.”

There was another silence.

“But since you returned to England?” Isabel inquired, “have you never
thought of another profession?”

Kingcote laughed.

“I had crazy projects for studying art. Gabriel put that into my
head. But my zeal did not last. It is the same in everything; I lack

“And you have----”

“Done nothing, you would say,” Kingcote supplied in the pause she made.
“Literally nothing; wasted my time, lost my best years. The necessary
consequence of being made up of _wants_, without the powers which could
satisfy them. At present I am engaged in the first work I have done for

“At last, then!” Isabel exclaimed.

“Yes, the work of resigning myself to being nothing, of casting off
the last foolish flattery of self-conceit, of resolutely bidding myself
understand that fate will bear any amount of idle fuming and remain
unchanged. It is a task which has its difficulties; rather harder, on
the whole, than the realisation of death. Did you ever force yourself to
realise death, not to admit it in idle words, but to----”

Isabel motioned him to silence; her face was darkened with a look of
pain, of fear.

“Forgive me,” he said in a lower voice; “to me it is such a familiar
thought. I talk so seldom that I forget the difference between
reflection and conversation.”

She spent a moment in clearing her mind of the disturbing thought--it
seemed strangely disturbing, and at length banished it with the laugh
occasioned by a new idea.

“I wonder,” she said, changing her attitude, “what you----”

“You were going to say----?”

“You spoke of having thought of commerce. Suppose you had become a man
of business, and had made your fortune, what would your views of life

“Who can say? To begin with, I should only have ruined myself; no
fortune would ever have come in that way. Conceiving that it had, why
I should not be the same person that I am. Circumstances are the mould
which give shape to such metal as we happen to be made of. The metal is
the same always, but it may be cast for mean or for noble uses.”

“I do not think,” Isabel said with gentle reassurance, “that Fate uses
the nobler metals, for mean service; it has abundance of the poorer
stuff at hand.”

“That is very well said; if I dared apply it to myself I might yet live
awhile in the old fools paradise. But there is one gain which saves my
past years from utter vanity--I have learnt to know myself.”

“Have you?”

Kingcote smiled.

“You say that sadly. Yes, you are quite right. Self-knowledge, in my
case, is equivalent to disillusion, loss of hope.”

“I meant nothing of the kind,” she rejoined, after reflecting a moment
on the intention of his words, which she had not at first quite caught.
“I doubt whether you do know yourself. If you did, you would have more

“That is the kindness natural to you. But,” he added, softening the
words by his tone, “you do not know me.”

“No--not yet. It is not easy to know you. I cannot judge you by other
people.” Kingcote rose and walked to the fireplace; Mrs. Clarendon
watched him, but kept her seat.

“You know many people,” he said, speaking with his peculiar abruptness,
which was quite different from the tone of mere familiarity, seemed
indeed rather to accentuate the distance between them.

“Many,” Isabel returned, “in a way.”

“It must be strange to have so many acquaintances. It gives you the
sense of belonging to the world; you do not stand on the outside and
look on.”

“In a theatre--watching from an uncomfortable back seat? The stage is
open to you.”

“And the parts? Even if I were cast, think of my poor memory. The words
are so hard, so artificial. At most I could play the walking gentleman,
and in truth I have no mind for that.”

Isabel smiled, as if involuntarily, and, after glancing round the room,
quitted her seat.

“A friend is coming in a day or two to stay with me,” she said; “not a
mere acquaintance, but really a friend. I should like you to meet her:
you won’t refuse?”

He looked at her and hesitated.

“You can’t help liking Mrs. Stratton. She has been my nearest friend for

“I may be gone,” Kingcote said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Gone? But you have no intention of leaving?”

“Yes, a half-intention.”

“To return to London?”

“I suppose so.”

She kept silence, and he added:

“My sister’s husband is ill. Circumstances might compel me to return.”

“But you are not summoned? You won’t leave your cottage unless there is
a necessity?”

“Perhaps not; yet I can’t be sure. I act very much on impulse.”

“That phrase reminds me of some one--a very foolish young man, whom you
don’t at all resemble.”

“Some one you know?”

“One of the many; never mind him. But you will not be gone before next
Wednesday; that we may take for granted; unless, of course, you have bad
news. You will come and lunch with us on Wednesday?”

“With yourself and Mrs. Stratton?”

“And Miss Warren. I want you to know her better.”

“Yes, I will come, if I am still at Wood End.”

He held his hand to take leave. Isabel retained it as she spoke.

“In any case you will not go without coming to say good-bye?”

“I could not easily do that, Mrs. Clarendon.” She went with him into the
hall, and, when he had left the house, watched him from the drawing-room
windows till the trees intervened.


To Mr. Vincent Lacour, issuing from the precincts of the South
Kensington Museum, and about to walk towards the railway station, came
the vision of a face that he knew, borne past him in a hansom cab, which
in a moment stopped. It was raining slightly. Lacour used his umbrella
for self-concealment, and, at the same time, contrived to watch his
acquaintance descending from the vehicle. She (it was a lady) handed up
her fare and passed into the Museum.

The young man invoked aloud the divinity of Jingo.

“A minute later,” he continued to himself, “and we should have come face
to face with her. A chance meeting, of course; why shouldn’t people have
met by chance? But I’m glad she didn’t see us together.”

A miserable, drizzly day; the sky and earth a uniform mud colour. Lacour
watched his boots degenerating. He consulted his watch; it was half an
hour past noon. An engagement to lunch with a friend at one stood before
him; he disregarded it, and went in pursuit of the lady.

“Come to see Hecuba’s kitchen-pots, no doubt,” he mused. “Yes, there
she is! She has a good figure, seen from behind, and she always
dresses well. I wonder what countenance she will show me; there’s no

Ada Warren happened to raise her eyes, and beheld Lacour approaching,
a smile of frank surprise on his handsome face. She was startled, and
could not help showing it. Lacour, on the other hand, was very much at
his ease, talked in a lightly facetious way of the antiquities in the
case before them, now and then putting in a personal question.

“You are in town?” he asked by parenthesis.

“I am, for one day.”

“I hope Mrs. Clarendon is well? Turning her thoughts, no doubt, to
fox-hunting. You don’t hunt, I believe? No more do I. Fortunate I
haven’t the taste, isn’t it?”

Ada made no reply, continuing her inspection of the contents of the
case, or appearing to do so. He moved a little away, as if to examine
other cases, but was presently at her side again. Her curiosity seemed
to be satisfied, and she let her eyes wander rather vaguely.

“Do you often come here?” she asked, as they passed from a little group
of people to an uninvaded spot a few yards away. She spoke as though
against her will, merely to escape from embarrassment.

“No, indeed; I am here by the merest chance, but a most happy one. I
haven’t much time as a rule. The weather drove me out to-day. Are you
sensitive to the weather? A sky like this weighs upon me; I haven’t a
thought; I can’t follow an argument through three successive lines. You
know I’m reading law?”

“I rather thought you had left England.” He looked at her, raised his
eyebrows slightly, and shook his head.

“You don’t mean that you wish I had?”

“Why should I wish it?”

“I am used to that feeling in my acquaintances; they exhaust their
powers of indirect emphasis in conveying to me the fact that I am _de
trop_. It is refreshing to find one exception, and the one I should have

Whilst speaking he took out a pocket-book, which contained loose papers;
one of these he removed; but only to return it to his pocket together
with the book.

“Do I bore you?” he asked, bending his head down to her with graceful
expectation of her reply; “or will you let me walk on with you?”

“Is there anything you wish particularly to see?” Ada returned, still in
the same mechanical way.

“Yes; I should like you to come upstairs to the pictures. You really
understand art; you can help me to appreciate the right things.”

She walked on without hesitation, and they spent nearly an hour in the
galleries. It was as though, in consenting to accompany him, Ada had
overcome an inward restraint, and was now expanding in a sense of
freedom. Her face cleared, her eyes grew bright, her tongue was
loosened; she talked of the pictures in a natural, easy, and sensible
way, quite without self-consciousness. Lacour was, as always, frankly
egoistic; everything became to him a text for effusive utterance on
his subjective experiences. As on a previous occasion, he spoke of the
artistic instincts which made the basis of his nature, and went on to
sketch a plan of aesthetic education, such as he hoped some day to carry
into effect. The unction of his self-flattery was irresistible; to
listen was to become insensibly as interested in him as he was in
himself. The mere quality of his voice was insinuating, seductive and
delicately sensual, and the necessity of speaking low when strangers
were at hand gave him the advantage of intimate notes and cadences. His
faculty for making himself and his circumstances a source of pathetic
suggestion did in fact almost amount to artistic genius; there was at
times a fall in his voice which caressed the ear like certain happiest
phrases in sad simple music, and his eyes would fix themselves on
a beautiful picture with an apprehension of melancholy so remote, so
subtle, that to perceive its reflection was to feel a thrill on the
finest chords of sympathy. Then a lighter mood would succeed, comment
would take a humorous turn, not without hints of interpretation
generally reserved for masculine colloquy, ambiguities which might or
might not be intentional, a glancing in directions whence it is usual
to avert the mental eye. At the end of the hour Ada was laughing and
talking in a way quite new to her, doing her best to say clever things
which yet had no point of sarcasm, even speaking a little of herself,
though this was a subject upon which Lacour could not get her to dwell.

“It’s a quarter to two,” he exclaimed at length. “Are you not hungry?”

“I meant to lunch here; perhaps it is time.”

“In that case we’ll lunch together--if you permit it?”

They did so in complete good-fellowship, the only difficulty arising
when Lacour desired to pay for both. Ada opposed this, and in a manner
which proved her in earnest.

“You return to-night?” he asked, leaning towards her on the table when
the waiter’s demands had been severally met.

“To-morrow morning. I stay with friends.”

“At the Meres’?” he asked quickly.


He fingered a bottle in the cruet-stand, his lips slightly drawn

“You do not know them intimately?” Ada asked, observing him.

He shook his head.

“No; they would not be interested in hearing that it was I who spoilt
your purposes of study.”

Ada did not reply to this, save by a slight change of countenance.
Before he spoke again she saw him take an envelope from the inner pocket
of his coat.

“I have something here which belongs to you,” he said, “though it is
not addressed. It was written a week ago, but for one or two reasons I
delayed putting it in the post. Will you let me be my own postman?”

Ada had just drawn on her second glove, and was preparing to rise. She
set her face in hard outlines and remained motionless, her hands on her

“Won’t you save me a penny?” Lacour pleaded with gravity. “Economy is
essential with me; I have not concealed the fact.”

Ada’s lips quivered to a smile; she took the letter from where it lay
on the table, and moved away without facing him. There was colour on her

“Are you going straight to your friends?” Lacour inquired, with some
difficulty coming up to her side.

“No; I have some purchases to make. I shall take a cab.”

“I will get you one.”

With every politeness of manner he led her from the door to the vehicle,
saw her comfortably seated, gave the driver his orders, and took a
silent leave. The envelope was crushed in her hand as she drove away.

Not many days later Mrs. Stratton arrived at Knights well, bringing her
youngest boy, a ten-year-old, whose absence from school was explained by
recent measles. This lady was the wife of an officer at present with
his regiment in Africa; her regret at the colonel’s remoteness, and her
anxiety on his behalf in a time of savage warfare, were tempered by that
spirit of pride in things military which so strongly infuses a certain
type of the British matron, destined to bring forth barbarians and
heroes. At the age of forty Mrs. Stratton had four children, all boys;
the two eldest were already at Woolwich and Sandhurst respectively, the
third at Harrow, extracting such strategic science as Thucydides could
supply, boastful of a name traceable in army lists three generations
back. These four lads were offspring whereof no British matron could
feel ashamed: perfect in physical development, striking straight
from the shoulder, with skulls to resist a tomahawk, red-cheeked and
hammer-fisted. In the nursery they had fought each other to the tapping
of noses; at school they fought all and sundry up through every grade
of pugilistic championship. From infancy they handled the fowling-piece,
and killed with the coolness of hereditary talent. Side by side they
walked in quick step, as to the beating of a drum; eyes direct, as
looking along a barrel; ears pricked for the millionth echo of an
offensive remark.

At cricket they drove cannon-balls; milder games were the target of
their scorn. Admirable British youths!

“How _can_ they make such a milk-sop of that child!” Mrs. Stratton
exclaimed when she had renewed her acquaintance with Percy Vissian,
summoned to “play with” Master Edgar Strangeways Stratton, and showing
no great appreciation of the privilege.

“Percy’s tastes are very quiet,” Mrs. Clarendon explained. “He likes
reading more than anything else.”

“What does he read? I’ll examine him. Come here, Percy?” she called; the
two ladies were on the lawn, and the boys at a little distance.

Percy looked round and prepared to walk towards Mrs. Stratton, but the
other boy suddenly caught his two arms, pinned them behind his back, and
ran him violently over the grass.

“Gently, Edgar, gently,” said his mother, smiling reproof. Little Percy
stood red and flustered, ashamed at a personal indignity, as children
with brains are wont to be.

“Percy,” interrogated Mrs. Stratton, “when was the battle of Inkerman

The lad shook his head, regarding Mrs. Clarendon appealingly.

“Don’t be ashamed, Percy,” said the latter, holding to him her hand.
“I’m sure _I_ couldn’t say.”

“You couldn’t? Ah-yah!” shrieked Edgar Stratton, flinging up his cap and
leaping to catch it. He was a fat, bullet-headed boy, generally red as a
boiled lobster, supple as an eel.

“Well, you tell us,” ventured Percy, emboldened by the grasp of Isabel’s

“Think I can’t, you silly?--Fifth of November, 1854; began at seven
o’clock in the morning. For three hours eight thousand British infantry
supported the attack of forty thousand muffs of Russians. Wish I’d
been there, don’t I just! Four English generals were killed and four

“He knows all the battles like that,” remarked his mother with pride.

She was a short, dark woman, growing rather stout, and with no very
graceful walk; her face was attractive, and constantly wore a smile; she
dressed with extreme elegance. In converse she displayed a heartiness
and independence which were a little too masculine; her hand-clasp was
a direct invitation to free companionship, and her manner suggested
a rejection of soft treatment on the score of her sex. The military
gentlemen with whom she associated spoke of her “pluck”; she was
capable, they said, of leading a charge of cavalry; and indeed to see
her in the hunting-field was to realise in a measure the possibility.
Fearlessness is generally equivalent to lack of imagination, and in Mrs.
Stratton’s case the connection was clearly established, but on this very
account she was admirable in the discharge of many distinctly feminine
duties. In an accident, a sudden calamity, her steadiness of nerve was
only matched by the gentleness and efficiency of her ministering zeal.
In her nature the maternal element was all-absorbing; to produce and
rear fine animals of her species, to defend them if need be with the
courage of a tigress, to extend her motherly protection and pride to
those she deemed worthy, these were her offices. No man approached her
with thoughts of gallantry for all her comeliness, and certainly she
thought of no man more warmly than as a jolly good fellow and a boon
companion, her husband being at the head of such. The latter’s absence
was no harder to bear than that of any valued friend; had she not
her boys? These youngsters she would treat with the demonstrative
affectionateness which is a proof of incapacity for deeper emotions.
She was all instinct, and as intolerant of alien forms of thought and
feeling as even an Englishwoman can attain to be. Fortunately the
sphere of her indifference was immense; with wider knowledge her lack
of charity would have been far more unpleasantly obvious. As it was,
she never made a statement which fell short of finality; argued with,
pressed to reconsider, she would put the matter aside with a smile and
pass on to a new subject--the maternal does not reason.

Between her and Isabel undoubtedly existed a strong mutual attachment.
Whereon this was based could not at first sight be determined; the two
appeared different in most things. Possibly it was one of those
cases which occur, of attraction to and by qualities, which, owing
to circumstances, remain potential. Had Isabel’s marriage resulted in
offspring, she might have developed maternal passion in no less a degree
than her friend; the sweet and lovable nature, which now exercised such
a universal charm in virtue of its wide activity, might very well have
concentrated itself on those few objects, with an intensity detrimental
to the broader influences of her womanhood. The story of her relations
with Ada Warren, viewed aright, perhaps tells in favour of this idea.
She could not herself have explained to you her affection for Mrs.
Stratton, and he who is giving these chapters of her history may
not pretend to do much more than exhibit facts and draw at times a
justifiable inference. He is not a creator of human beings, with eyes
to behold the very heart of the machine he has himself pieced together;
merely one who takes trouble to trace certain lines of human experience,
and, working here on grounds of knowledge, there by aid of analogy, here
again in the way of bolder speculation, spins his tale with what skill
he may till the threads are used up.

Ada, as one would have anticipated, thoroughly disliked Mrs. Stratton,
and avoided intercourse with her as much as possible. When the lady was
at Knightswell, Ada would frequently keep apart for a whole day; even in
the visitor’s presence she could not feign friendliness. Mrs. Stratton’s
manner to her was one of genial indifference, with no suggestion that
she felt herself slighted.

“I see no change,” said Isabel’s friend, the day after her arrival,
knowing, of course, of the enlightenment which had come to the girl.
“She seems to me exactly the same.”

“She is not,” returned Isabel. “Her life is twice as intense and varied.
She is happy, or nearly so, and conceals it to spare me.”

“H’m; you think her capable of that?”


“By-the-bye, does she correspond with young Lacour, do you think?”

“I fancy not. I believe she would tell me.”

“You have astonishing faith in her uprightness.”

“She is a strange girl, but she is honourable,” affirmed Mrs. Clarendon.

Isabel was not wrong as to the change in Ada. Outwardly there was not
much evidence of the processes at work in the hidden places of her
being, yet sufficient to prove to just observation whither they tended.
Formerly Ada had kept to herself to hide her misery, had striven in
solitude with passions which left their mark upon her face when she
reappeared, had been worn with listnessness, when not overtaxing her
strength to escape the torments which assailed her leisure. Now, she was
seldom actively employed, yet solitude was precious to her; Isabel
saw her pacing up and down the garden paths, no longer with dark and
troubled face, but with the light of earnest preoccupation in her eyes,
and a clear brow, which was often raised as if at the impulse of intense
feeling. There was more of healthful girlishness in her motions, her
smile; she would spring and catch a bough swaying above her, would run
a space with the big house-dog bounding beside her. Once she came in at
the front door with her breath gone, her cheeks in high colour, her hat
in her hand; Isabel met her in the hall, and in surprise asked her what
was the matter.

“A race with the rain!” Ada panted, sinking on a chair. “I could see it
coming, nearer every second; I got in as the first drop fell!”

She showed a childish delight in her achievement; perhaps she enjoyed
the sense of her health and strength, scarcely ever tried in active
exercise. After this, running with the big dog became a daily pastime.
Young Stratton caught a glimpse of her at it in the park one day, and
rushed to join the sport.

“After a rabbit, eh?” he shouted, coming up with them.

Ada at once dropped to a walk, and spoke to the dog, instead of
answering the boy’s question.

“I say, you look here!” Edgar suddenly exclaimed in a whisper.

She turned, and saw him aiming with a catapult at a bird perched on a
bush hard by. Before the aim was perfect, Ada had snatched the tool from
his hands.

“Well, I call that!” cried the youngster, at a loss for words. “What do
you want to spoil my shot for?”

“Can’t you amuse yourself without murdering!” returned the girl, hot in
anger. “Shoot at that tree-trunk if you must shoot.”

“Murdering!” echoed the youth, in blank astonishment. “Come now, Miss
Warren! Murdering a bird--I call that good!”

“What else is it? What right have you to rob the bird of its life? What
is it that drives you to kill every creature that you safely may?”

“It’s fair sport!” urged the young Briton, in amaze at this outlandish
mode of regarding things.


She stood regarding him, the catapult still in her hand.

“What are you going to be when you grow up?”

“What am I going to be? A soldier, of course.”

“I thought so; then you can murder on a large scale.”

“You call killing the enemy in battle, murder?”

“What do you call it? Fair sport?”

“I say, Miss Warren, you’re a rum’un, you are!” observed Edgar, shaking
his round head in wonder. “Are you joking?--though you don’t look like

Ada held the catapult out to him.

“Here, take it and run off,” she said, shortly.

He obeyed, and brought down a blackbird not fifty yards away, then ran
to Mrs. Clarendon and his mother, who laughed at the story. The ladies’
ideas of sport did not greatly differ; were not the fowls of the air,
the fishes of the deep and the foxes of the field created for the
British sportsman? Surely no piece of teleology was clearer.

Ada had no one whom she could take into her confidence, no soul to
which she could speak out the sincerity of her own. With Rhoda Meres she
exchanged letters at long intervals, but the thoughts they expressed
to each other were only from the surface of their lives; the girls were
friends only in the slightest sense of the word. It was true that she
had in her possession just now a letter from another correspondent,
awaiting an answer; that reply she could not bring herself to write;
and, when she did so, the words would not be those it was in her to say.
Her isolation was absolute. Whatsoever force of waters beat against the
flood-gates of her heart, she could not give them free passage.

She was driven to commune with herself in set speech; by degrees, to
take her pen and write the words she would have uttered had any ear
been bent to her. She resumed her habit of spending the mornings in the
library, but no longer with books; either she sat in reverie, or, at
her desk, filled sheet after sheet with small, nervous handwriting, her
features fixed in eager interest, her whole body knit as if in exertion,
in sympathy with the effort of her mind. When she came forth to meet
the other inmates of the house, she did not speak, but looked quietly

She had been thus occupied through the morning of the day on which
Kingcote was expected to appear at luncheon. Entering the drawing-room
shortly after the first bell rang, she found no one there; a moment
later a servant opened the door and announced the visitor.

As they exchanged such phrases as the situation gave rise to, Kingcote
found himself reflecting on the familiar fact that our first impression
of a face is greatly modified by acquaintance. The girl’s features no
longer appeared to him irredeemably plain, though their variance from
types of smooth comeliness was obvious enough. In profile it was a very
harsh visage, the nose irregular, the chin too prominent, the cheek-bone
high, the ear seemingly too far back on the head; viewed in full,
details were lost in the general expression of force and passionate
life. The jaw was heavy, the lips large, yet these not illshaped, the
contrary rather; but all the upper part bore the stamp of character and
intelligence. The deep eyes had no unkindly light, and readily answered
to a humorous suggestion. Perhaps it was the hint of hard endurance
which struck an observer first of all, and left him with the idea of a
sullen, resentful face; for her brows had a way of nervously wrinkling
up between the eyes, and her lips of making themselves yet fuller by
compression at the corners. Her gaze was not one of open friendliness,
but Kingcote was beginning to discover something in its reserve quite
different from mere irresponsive egoism. Her forehead, taken apart with
its weight of dark hair, might have been modelled for Pallas.

But whilst justice was thus being done, Mrs. Clarendon entered, sweet,
smiling, irresistible from the first glance, and was followed by Mrs.
Stratton. When all proceeded to the dining-room, Master Edgar was found
already in possession, seated at table, waiting with impatience. Meals
were with him a matter of supreme importance; he ate his way stolidly
and steadily through all courses, scorning the idleness of conversation.

There was much talk between the two elder ladies of a meet on the
following day; both proposed joining the field, Mrs. Stratton having
brought horses of her own with that view. Edgar had his pony, and would
follow the hunt in his own fashion.

“Where is the meet?” Kingcote inquired.

“At Salcot,” replied Isabel. “Do let us drive you over. Don’t look so
scornful, Ada; I’m sure Mr. Kingcote would enjoy it.”

“I think it very likely,” the girl remarked quietly.

“Your judgment on us, one and all,” laughed Mrs. Stratton.

“Miss Warren calls it murder,” cried Edgar derisively, with his mouth

Kingcote gave his assent to the proposal that he should drive with
the ladies and witness the meet. They promised to take him up at the
junction of the old and the new roads.

He talked with Mrs. Stratton in the drawingroom after luncheon. Edgar
came and reclined on the carpet, resting his head against his mother.

“Get up, sir!” Mrs. Stratton addressed him. “I won’t have this laziness
after meals. Look at him, Mr. Kingcote; don’t you think it high time he
was packed off to school again?”

“Well, I shan’t be sorry,” observed the youth, reluctantly rising to his

“I suppose you are eager to get back to cricket?” said Kingcote.

“Cricket! Why, you don’t play cricket this time of year!” cried Edgar,
with scornful laughter.

“Indeed? What is the game, then? Football?”

“I should think so.”

“You must mend your manners, Edgar,” observed his mother. “Now run out
into the garden, and don’t trouble us. His body is getting rather too
much for him,” she continued playfully to Kingcote. “He must get back
to his fagging. I wouldn’t for the world send a boy of mine to a school
where there was no fagging.”

“Capital thing, no doubt,” said Kingcote. “He’s a fine boy.”

“A little too noisy just at present.”

“Oh, it’s a sign of his perfect health. Surely you wouldn’t see him
mooning about, or shutting himself up with books?”

“Like that poor little fellow of the rector’s,” said Mrs. Stratton.
“That child ought to be sent off to school.”

“Certainly. They’d soon knock him into shape, take the dreaminess out of
him. Robust health before everything. Are your other boys as hearty as
this one?”

“Oh, every bit! My eldest lad has broken almost every bone in his body,
and seems all the better for it.”

“Why, that’s magnificent! Their lives will be a joy to them.
Constitution, of course, is much; but I’m sure they have to thank you
for an admirable bringing-up.”

Ada, who sat close by, was regarding Kingcote curiously, just
suppressing a smile as she caught a glimpse of Mrs. Stratton’s gratified

“This is your ideal of education?” she put in gravely.

“Assuredly it is,” was Kingcote’s answer. “Surely that education is best
which leads to happiness. That boy will never be afflicted with nervous
disorders; he will never be melancholy, hypochondriacal, despairing; he
will never see the world in any but the rosiest light, never be troubled
by abstract speculation, never doubt for a moment about his place and
his work. The plan of education which has such a result as that is
beneficence itself. Don’t you think so, Miss Warren?”

“To be sure I wouldn’t have the minds altogether neglected,” said Mrs.
Stratton. “Come and listen, Isabel; Mr. Kingcote is saying the most
interesting things.”

“Let the mind take care of itself,” continued Kingcote, smiling slightly
as he looked at Mrs. Clarendon. “If a boy has a bent for acquiring
knowledge, he will manage that later. I wouldn’t encourage it. Make
him a sound creature, that’s the first thing. Occupy him with vigorous
bodily pursuits; keep his mind from turning inwards; save him from
reflection. If every boy in England could be so brought up, they would
be a blissful generation.”

“How about the girls?” questioned Isabel. “Would you educate them in the
same way?”

“Precisely, with yet more wholesome effect. Nay, I would go further;
they should never open a book till they were one-and-twenty, and their
previous training should be that of Amazons.”

“That is a merciful provision,” said Ada, meaning possibly more than her
hearers understood.

When Kingcote took his leave the ladies separated. Mrs. Clarendon had
before her a dinner party at Dunsey Priors, and it was necessary to
give certain orders. Mrs. Stratton took up _The Times_ till tea should

Ada, after pacing about the library for a quarter of an hour, took her
hat and went into the open air. Her mind was disturbed in some way; the
darkness of trouble was back again in her eyes. She walked among the
evergreens of the shrubbery, then strayed to a seat which stood against
the wall of the circular portion of the conservatory. The landscape
before her was wild with the hues of a sky in which the declining sun
fought against flying strips of ragged cloud. The wind was kept off from
this part of the lawn, but in the distance it made a moaning over the
fields. She watched a cohort of dead leaves sweeping in great curves
along the side of the house.

A voice spoke very near to her. It came from within the rotunda; the
stained-glass window just above her head was partly open.

“It would be infinitely better,” Mrs. Clarendon was saying, “than that a
man like Vincent Lacour should make a prize of her.”

“But she cannot be so infatuated,” returned Mrs. Stratton. “She has
sense enough to understand her own position and to take care of herself.
My idea is that she won’t marry for some time, perhaps not at all.”

There was silence, then the last speaker resumed.

“She certainly has no interest in Mr. Kingcote.”

“You can’t judge so speedily. I don’t say that I desire it,” Isabel
added with an uncertain voice. “But I am sure it would be a happy

“Then why not desire it?”

“I don’t know, I can’t quite explain. And I half think she __has an
interest in him; but then--poor Ada!”

“She isn’t so ugly as she was,” remarked Mrs. Stratton’s matter-of-fact
voice. “I notice that distinctly.”

Ada rose and walked away with quick steps. At the corner of the house,
as she passed it to reach the front door, a great gust of wind met her,
and a troop of dry crackling leaves swarmed about her feet and dress;
she bent her head and hastened on, not staying till she had reached
her bedroom. There she stood, just within the door, motionless and
purposeless. Her face was pale, her lips set at their hardest and
cruelest. When at length she stirred, it was to go to the glass and view
herself. She turned away with a laugh, no pleasant one....

As Isabel came downstairs a few minutes before the time for which the
carriage had been ordered, she saw Ada standing in the doorway of the

“Don’t, of course, sit up for me, Ada,” she said.

“I will not. But I should be glad to speak to you now, if you could
spare me a moment.”

Isabel gazed, surprised at her tone.

“Certainly,” she acceded, and passed into the library. Ada closed the
door behind her. Isabel was resplendent in her evening costume; her
pure, shapely neck and shoulders gleamed above the dark richness of
her robe, the gold and jewels made worthy adornment of her beauty. Her
colour a trifle heightened, her eyes lustrous with foresight of
homage, her white, womanly brows crowned with the natural tiara of her
hair--fine and rich still as in her girlhood--the proud poise of her
small and perfect head, these things were lovelier to-night than on the
day when her picture had been painted as a young bride. Maturity had
rewarded her with its dower, which so few dare count upon. To-night she
was a woman whom men of ripe experience, men of the world, would take
for herself, asking no wealth but that of her matchless charm, a woman
for whom younger and more passionate hearts would break with longing.

“What is it, Ada?” she asked in a voice of concern.

“This, Mrs. Clarendon. You rightly required of me that I should keep
secret no step that affected us both. I wish to tell you that I have
accepted an offer from Mr. Lacour--that I am going to be married to

She spoke neither hurriedly nor vehemently. The only measure of her
feeling was in the words she used, the plainest and directest which came
into her mind.

Isabel regarded her steadily for a moment. The look was grave, not
hostile. Her eyes were dulled a little, her cheeks less warm, the jewels
on her breast rose and fell; but she mastered the emotions which such
an announcement could not but cause, forced back that cold, heavy flood
which just touched her heart, held her own against the onset of fears.

“You have well considered this, Ada?”

Her hand sought the nearest chair, but she resisted the need of seating
herself, merely rested her gloved fingers on the back.

“Yes, I have given it all the consideration that is necessary,” was
Ada’s reply, less self-controlled than her last speech.

“But why do you tell me in this way?” Isabel inquired, when she had
again regarded the girl’s pale anguish. “What has happened? What has
offended you?”

“I have said all that I wished to say, Mrs. Clarendon,” continued the
other, regardless, seeming not to hear what was asked of her. “Please
to tell me whether I am free to act, whether, as I am still under your
authority, you will use it or not to oppose my marriage?”

“I cannot understand you, Ada. Why do you speak to me so harshly? What
unkindness have I been guilty of, and so recently?” She stopped, her
eyes fell, a thought seemed to strike her.

“Have I _said_ anything to hurt you?”

Ada made a nervous movement, then spoke more calmly.

“I should not allow anything you say to influence my actions. Will you
please tell me what I wish to know?”

“I shall offer no opposition of that kind,” Isabel said. “You are old
enough to think and act for yourself. If you had come and told me of
this in a friendly way I should no doubt have used the privilege of my
age and experience----”

“To tell me what you have already on several occasions said indirectly,”
 broke in the girl, again passionate. “Thank you; I can make all such
reflections for myself.”

“I think you are unjust to me, Ada,” said Mrs. Clarendon, in a lowered
voice. Her fingers were now grasping the chair, instead of resting upon
it. “When you have had time to reflect I am sure you will speak to me

Ada stood silent.

“You propose to be married shortly?” Isabel asked, joining her hands
together before her.

“As soon as will suit your convenience, Mrs. Clarendon.”

“Pray do not consult that.”

She could not hold back this little note of resentment, and, having
uttered it, she turned and left the room. As she drew the door to, a
servant approached to say that the carriage waited.

“I shall not want it,” Isabel replied shortly; “let it go back.”

She moved to the foot of the stairs, and in doing so, had to pass the
drawing-room door, which stood open. Mrs. Stratton was within. Hearing
the rustle of Isabel’s dress she came forward.

“Ready?” she said; and added with a smile, “pray remember me to Lord
Winterset; he is sure to be there.”

Isabel was pale now. She stood with one foot on the stairs and a hand
pressed against her side. For a moment she looked strangely into her
friends face, then turned and called to the footman, who was in the
doorway of the house.

“Ward, stop the carriage!”

“Whats this?” inquired Mrs. Stratton, looking puzzled. Only an extreme
occasion would have called alarm to that heroic lady’s face.

“I sent the carriage away,” Isabel explained. “I had a
faintness--thought I wouldn’t go. It has gone! I shall be late.”

“You certainly don’t look very well. A glass of sherry, dear----?”

“No, no; it has gone. Don’t sit up for me, Rose. Good-bye, dear.”

They kissed each other, and Mrs. Clarendon rustled to her carriage.


Mr. Saltash of Dunsey Priors was, by profession, a master of
fox-hounds; in his leisure, Member of Parliament. He had won the county,
in the Conservative interest, on the death of Mr. Clarendon, and proved
an extremely useful man. His specialty consisted in “pairing” with
Members of the opposite party. In his graver pursuit he held a high
place, his knowledge and zeal being brought into brilliant evidence by
the wealth which enabled him to entertain sumptuously those leaders of
society whose appreciation grows keen on a satisfied palate. Essentially
a country gentleman, he lived almost entirely at the Priors, a fine
old dwelling of considerable archæological interest; known, among other
things, for its piece of Roman pavement, discovered by Mr. Saltash
himself, in the building of new stables. During the hunting season, he
gathered at his table a succession of English and foreign notabilities.
Half the Cabinet had been known to meet in festivity at Dunsey Priors,
and men from other lands, desirous of studying British social life, were
directed thither as to one of the most fruitful fields of observation.
The misfortune of the house was, that it contained no son and heir; Miss
Irene Saltash was her parent’s only child, and she, as we have seen, had
degenerated from the type whereby her father desired to be represented.
She did not even hunt, and was given over to ecclesiastical interests,
which Mr. Saltash, utterly at a loss to account for, qualified with no
reticence as condemned tomfoolery. Whether it was she who had infected
Lady Florence Cootes with this singular frenzy, or who was the sufferer
by contagion from Lord Winterset’s daughter, could not clearly be
determined. At all events, she had it not from her mother. Mrs. Saltash
possessed that solidity of physique and sterling commonplaceness of
character which are, perhaps, the best qualifications of a country
hostess. With every endowment of an admirable cook and housekeeper,
the addition of aristocratic descent made her dulness respectable. She
exacted nothing from her guests but the enjoyment of the fare she had
provided; satisfied repose was the note of her conversation.

It was rather a large party to-night at the Priors; Mrs. Clarendon,
arriving a few minutes after the dinner-hour, entered a great room
murmurous with conversation, and striking in effects of costume; the men
were in pink. The announcement of her name turned all faces to the door;
male eyes glimmered with passive and polite satisfaction, those of the
opposite sex wandered a little about the company. There were very
few present who had not the pleasure of acquaintance with the Lady of
Knightswell; greetings were abundant and cordial. It was a singular
thing that the looks of most, after observing her, were bent, as if
involuntarily, on a tall, baldish, handsome gentleman, who stood in
conversation with Miss Saltash, stooping a little from his inconvenient
height, and swinging an eyeglass round and round his fore-finger. This
gentleman had precedence in rank, and very possibly in intellect, of all
the assembled guests; the Earl of Winterset needed no introduction to
any one familiar with the photograph-shops and illustrated papers of the
day. Strong in politics and social enterprise, he was no less prominent
on the turf and in the hunting field; the public had it on his own
assertion that a good speech and a good horse were the prime joys of his
life. Consequently he was popular. Had he said a good book and a good
horse--but he was too wise for that, though the measure of truth in the
phrase would have been larger. He was, in fact, a singular combination
of a critical intellect with a conservative temperament. He knew
himself, could joke on the vulgarity of his ruling instincts, could
despise those who, resembling him fundamentally, lacked the refinement
of his superstructure.

Whilst conversing affably with Irene Saltash on the subject of a recent
Ritualist trial, Lord Winterset’s eyes strayed to the group amid which
stood Mrs. Clarendon. He pursed his lips, held his head on one side, in
seeming reflection upon an argument Miss Saltash had just advanced, then
nodded gravely three times. But Irene had to ask twice for an answer
to a question she was putting. Before she received it, dinner was

The happy man to whose lot it fell to conduct Isabel was a certain Mr.
Ladbroke Ruff, foxy from the summit of his cranium to the sole of his
feet; there were titled dames present, otherwise Mr. Ruff would scarcely
have been so honoured. The musicians’ gallery in the old feasting hall
was occupied by a band which discoursed old English strains; Mr. Ruff
discoursed foxes. His “place” was in Leicestershire; a week’s visit
to his old friend Saltash was detaining him in this less interesting
county. His talk was of “oxers,” of “bullfinches,” and of “raspers”; he
overflowed with genial reminiscences of the Quorn, the Pytchley, and
the Cottesmore. A certain “hog-maned chestnut” of his came in for a vast
amount of praise.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, “one of _the_ very finest things in the way of a
run that I remember! Forty-eight minutes, Mrs. Clarendon--on my word
of honour, forty-eight minutes without a check, and a kill in the open.
That was the day when poor Lewin Copstake broke both his legs. Ah! you
know Copstake? Delighted, delighted! A mare he would ride--not up to the
country; kneed the rails just in front of me, and came down a cracker.”

Mrs. Clarendon related a similar incident from her own experience,
giving Mr. Ruff an opportunity to get through an _entrée_.

“You don’t say so, you don’t say so! Extraordinary recklessness!
By-the-bye, you know Mrs. Scarlett Slapton? Know _of_ her, to be sure.
Who doesn’t?--ha, ha! Which season was it? Oh, she had a clever flyer--
Meg Merrilies, bought from Lord Wakefield, I believe. I shall never
forget one day in December, ’72--yes, ’72--with the Quorn.”

Then followed excited particulars. “The fox broke for------,” “a burning
scent,” “never dwelt between---- and --------,” “had our work cut out to
live the pace,”--and so on.

Isabel talked eagerly; the flush had come back to her cheeks, her gaiety
was inexhaustible. She ate little, however, and only touched with her
lips a glass of champagne. Her answers now and then were a trifle wide
of the mark, but she never failed in outward attentiveness. Mr. Ruff
probably did not catch the sigh of relief with which she at length
obeyed the signal to rise.

Mrs. Bruce Page got to her side in the drawing-room, and chattered with
accustomed energy. Isabel encouraged her, heedless of subjects; the
advantage was that a word or two put in edgewise every few minutes
sufficed to this lady’s colloquial demands, and at present Isabel did
not feel capable of taking a more active part in conversation.

“You know,” said the gossiper, after exhausting all other topics, “that
the boy Vincent has settled down at length in the most orderly way.”

“Mr. Lacour?” Isabel asked, watching the speaker’s face.

“Yes. He is becoming exemplary; reads law all day, like the good boy he
ought to be. I’m so glad, for--to tell you the truth----”

She stopped in hesitation, a most unusual thing. Isabel looked
inquiringly, but with preoccupied countenance.

“To tell you the truth,” Mrs. Bruce Page resumed, ruffling her fan, “I
have been a little anxious about my eldest girl. I dare say you have
noticed my eagerness to get Vincent settled in some way? There is no
reason in the world why it shouldn’t come to something, _some_ day, you
know; but for the _present_----”

“Does it amount to an engagement?” Isabel asked, rather bluntly, but
still without much show of interest.

“Oh, my dear, nothing so premature as that. In fact, I ought not to have
breathed a syllable, but to _you!_”

Mrs. Bruce Page put her head on one side, and looked fascinatingly.
Isabel reflected, seemed about to put another question, altered her mind
and said to herself:

“Now what is the woman’s precise object in telling me that--that fib?”

They gossiped a little on sundry other topics, then, another lady coming
up, Isabel withdrew to a more retired part of the room. The windows were
deep recesses, comfortably cushioned, with a heavy, shadowing curtain
on each side; in one of these retreats she established herself, watching
those who moved about before her. Soon she ceased consciously to watch,
her gaze grew fixed, her features made of themselves a mask woefully
unlike Isabel Clarendon.

“You are not looking yourself to-night, dear Mrs. Clarendon,” said
the voice of Lady Florence Cootes, as that playful young religionist
crouched on a stool by Isabel’s side. “Have you a headache?”

“Yes, a little. No matter, I shall hunt tomorrow, Flo, and that always
sets me up.”

“Oh, I’m sure I hope so. Have you seen father yet?”

“Seen him, but not spoken,” Isabel returned, seeming to regard a lady
who stood near. “I rather thought this troublesome news from Egypt would
have taken him up to town.”

“Oh, he’s like you, he won’t miss his hunting to-morrow!”

The gentlemen entered the room, and Lady Florence went off to the warmer
regions. In her recess Isabel was conscious of some one moving gradually
towards her, stopping here and there to exchange a few words, often
glancing about him, slowly but surely moving her way. A dreadful
nervousness took hold of her; she wished to quit her place, to stir, to
breathe freely away from the shadowing curtain, but she could not rise.
She was in terror lest some flagrant weakness should entirely overcome
her, an hysterical burst of tears, or a fit of faintness. Indeed,
the latter seemed imminent; she could not fan herself. Just then Lord
Winterset perceived her, and at his recognising smile her agitation
suddenly calmed.

“Well, my fair enemy!” he exclaimed, sinking on the cushion by her side.
“How long it seems since we had an opportunity of quarrelling! You have
been at Knightswell through the autumn, I understand.”

“With the exception of a week or two. You have been travelling.”

“Nothing to speak of; Spain, and a peep at Algiers.”

Isabel put some questions which led to talk of the countries he had
visited. He talked well, with a pleasantly graphic manner, and in a tone
of good-humoured criticism, the tone of a man who had no illusions, and
who made every allowance for the defective construction of the world.
Dropping gradually upon one elbow, that nearest to his companion, he
played with the seals on his watch-guard, and let the current of his
descriptive eloquence glide into any pleasant channel which offered
itself. One or two stories of adventures he had met with were recounted
very gracefully--one, at least, was just saved by its manner from being
the kind of thing better suited to the club than the drawing-room.
Isabel laughed freely.

“How is it,” he asked pleasantly, “that no one I know has your secret
of laughter? You laugh with such complete naturalness and enjoyment,
and yet it is only a delightful smile accompanied by music. I should
not like to say that any lady’s laughter is unmusical, but the smile is
shockingly spoilt. Poor Flo, for instance, laughs most deplorably. Many
ladies know the difficulty, and never venture on a laugh at all; alas,
they grin!”

Isabel laughed again, though not quite as before.

“What have you to report of the Spanish ladies?” she asked.

“Beautiful; some I saw beautiful exceedingly; but their complexion too
hot. I seemed to feel the need of fresh air. The northern type is my
ideal; faces which remain through a lifetime fresh as a flower, which
exhale the coolness of an early summer morning. They are graceful, but
I often thought of a certain English lady, who has more natural grace of
bearing than any one of them.”

He has fixed his look upon her; Isabel tried to make some light
response, but her voice failed.

“By-the-bye,” he asked, “Flo gave you that message of mine--a message I
sent from Seville?”

“About the winner of the Two Thousand? Oh yes; I was duly humiliated.
How _could_ I have erred in a matter of such moment?”

“You remember--there was a wager.”

“Was there?”

“Certainly. You have not forgotten the terms?”

Isabel held her fan by its two ends, and, as if to recollect, pressed
it across her forehead. There was a terrible throbbing there; the cool
ivory was very pleasant.

“I must claim payment,” Lord Winterset pursued playfully, whilst he
glanced about him to see that neighbours were minding their business.
“You remember it was to be anything I chose to ask for.”

“Lord Winterset! How foolish! There was really no wager at all; that was
a mere joke, a piece of nonsense.”

“Indeed, I did not regard it as anything of the kind,” he continued
imperturbably, still fingering his seals. “I knew perfectly well that I
should win, and I knew just as well what payment I should beg for.”

Her beautifully gloved hand rested on its open palm by her side; there
was pressure on it, the nerves were strung. She gazed straight before
her and saw nothing.

Lord Winterset looked at the hand, and touched it with two fingers.

“That is what I ask,” he said, just audibly.

Isabel drew the hand back to her lap, then faced him, with a great
effort of self-control.

“I cannot answer you at once, Lord Winterset,” she said, almost calmly,
though in very truth the words were a mere buzzing in her own ears. “Not
to-night. Grant me a day or two.”

“Is that necessary?”

“It is--indeed it is! I can say nothing whatever to-night. You must not
interpret my behaviour at all.”

“We hunt together to-morrow. May I see you in the evening?”

“Yes, after the hunt. I will answer you then. May I, please, be left to
myself now?”

“Till to-morrow evening.”

Lord Winterset smiled, bowed to her with informal grace, and passed to
the nearest group.

In a few moments, Isabel too moved away. She had but to appear in the
centre of the room to attract half-a-dozen loiterers. Never had her
social instincts triumphed as they did now; never had she governed
herself with such perfection of skill. For five minutes she was an
enchantress. Then she drew aside, and presently had disappeared.

At the appointed time and place, Kingcote saw the carriage pulling up
for him, Edgar Stratton having ridden his pony on before. It was a dull
morning, but perfect for hunting purposes, as Mr. Vissian declared when
Kingcote chatted with him for a moment in front of the rectory. The two
ladies seemed in excellent spirits; they wore their habits, ready to
mount the horses which would have reached Salcot before them. Mrs.
Clarendon pressed Kingcote’s hand warmly when he had taken his seat
opposite her, held it a moment longer than was necessary, indeed, and
looked with earnestness into his face. The night had been sleepless for
her, but whatever traces her watching might have left had at once been
carried away by the air which breathed past the light-speeding vehicle.
She talked and laughed without ceasing; the prospect of a delightful day
appeared entirely to occupy her.

On Mrs. Stratton’s making some reference to an engagement for the
morrow, “Oh, I can’t look so far forward!” Isabel exclaimed. “To-day is
only beginning; what is the good of remembering that it will ever come
to an end?”

“That reminds me,” said Kingcote, “of those stories of impious huntsmen,
who wished to ride on for ever, and had the wish terribly granted.”

“I am not sure that I shouldn’t follow their example, whoever offered
me the choice,” Isabel said. “Ah, it is good to get rid of the world! To
forget everything but the delight of your headlong speed!”

“At all events,” said Kingcote, “it is a form of dissipation which
brings no headache on the morrow.”

“Now, you too talk of the morrow! Perish the word! I live in to-day. Who
knows what may happen before nightfall? I may be killed.”

Kingcote’s ear was struck with something singular in the note of these
last words. When he looked at Isabel she did not avert her eyes, but
smiled with a touching familiarity.

“Have you news from London?” she asked of him unexpectedly.

“Yes; things are still bad.”

“I am very sorry.”

He had never heard conventional politeness so sweetly expressed; there
was a real sorrow in her voice.

Arrived at the scene of the meet, at the end of the main street
of Salcot, the ladies at once mounted their hunters and mixed with
pink-coated men, who were present in considerable numbers. Kingcote drew
to a little distance from the crowd of villagers, and, when a move was
made to covert, he just kept the motley troup in sight. The ladies from
Knightswell were the only representatives of their sex. When at length
there was a find, and strange utterances of man and beast proclaimed the
start, he saw Isabel turn round in her saddle, and, to the last moment,
wave her hand to him. Then he went back to find the carriage.

A heaviness weighed upon him during the drive home, and for some hours
afterwards. It was not the ordinary depression which he had to struggle
with day after day, but a feeling which would not yield itself to
analysis, which vanished when he questioned himself, yet was back again
as soon as he relapsed into vague musing. The white face and waved hand
of Isabel Clarendon, that last glimpse he had had of her, would not
go from before his mind’s eye; her speech and her manner assailed
his memory with indefinable suggestions. It was as if he had lacked
discernment at the time, as if he ought to have gathered something which
escaped him. He was impatient for another opportunity of observing her,
and when would that come? For the first time he felt that it would be
impossible to let day after day go by without approaching her. Why had
he not used more liberally her invitation to give her his confidence? He
had been too reticent, had failed to say a hundred things which now rang
in his head. He could not put off the irrational fear that there might
be no other chance of speaking freely with her, that something would
interpose between her and himself, the something which already cast this
shadow upon his imagination.

It was nonsense! Had she not waved her hand to him as she could only do
to a friend whom she regarded very kindly? Was it not an assurance of
meeting again, and with strengthened friendship? Yet it haunted him with

About four o’clock he could bear his solitude no longer, and set out to
walk towards the rectory. He was near the door, when he saw the figure
of Mr. Vissian running towards him from the village street. His surprise
at the sight increased when the rector drew near enough to show a face
stricken with alarm.

“Have you heard anything, Kingcote?” the clergyman gasped forth. “Are
you coming to tell me something?”

“No; what should I tell you? What is the matter?”

“Great God! They say in the village that Mrs. Clarendon has been brought
home, dead--killed in a fall!”

They stared at each other.

“I daren’t go in and tell my wife,” went on Mr. Vissian, in a hoarse
whisper. “I must go up to the house at once.”

“I must come with you.”

“Do, that’s a good fellow. Let me--let me lean on your arm. Pooh! I must
have more self-control than this. It came like a stunning blow on the
head; I all--all but dropped!”

Tears were streaming down his cheeks his voice choked. Kingcote felt his
arm quiver.

“I can’t believe it! I _wont_ believe it!” the rector pursued, crying
like a child at last. “An accident, but not killed--great Heaven, no!
I never had such a ghastly shock in my life. One moment, Kingcote; I
am ashamed to pass the lodge like this. I never thought I should be so
weak. But if it were my own wife I scarcely could feel it more. I pray
to Almighty God that it may be a mistake!”

The lodge was vacant.

“They’re up at the house,” said Mr.. Vissian, under his breath. “Oh,
that looks bad! That dear, dear lady--it cannot be, Kingcote!”

Kingcote walked on in perfect silence, his looks on the ground, no
muscle of his face moving. He did not seem to hear his companion’s talk.
It was just beginning to rain; drops pattered on the dead leaves which
lay about the grass. Kingcote heard the sound; he could never afterwards
hear it without the return of this hour in terrible vividness. The air
seemed stifling; perspiration came out on him as he walked. At length
the rector had ceased to speak. The drive grew moist, and rain splashed
upon it; on the dead leaves the rain still pattered.

As they were entering the garden they met the porter on his way back to
the lodge.

“What has happened?” Mr. Vissian asked, catching his arm and waiting
with dread for an answer. “An accident; a bad accident?”

“Yes, sir; a bad fall,” the man replied.

“She is alive?”

“Thank God, sir, it’s not so bad as that.”

He went on to explain that the horse had breasted a fence and rolled
over, inflicting grave injuries upon its rider. The accident had
occurred not three miles away. Mrs. Clarendon had first been removed
to a cottage, then brought home by carriage as soon as she recovered
consciousness. Mrs. Stratton was with her. The doctor had just arrived,
and another from London had been telegraphed for.

“I think I’ll go in and hear the doctor’s report,” Mr. Vissian said.

“May I wait for you at the rectory?” asked Kingcote.

“Yes; but I beg of you, not a word to my wife; unless, of course, some
one has spread the news; not a word else, Kingcote. You don’t know the
effect it will have upon her. I beg you to be cautious.”

Kingcote retraced his steps through the rain. Overtaking the porter, he
got such further details as the man could furnish. Then he went on to
the rectory. Mrs. Vissian had heard nothing. He entered the study and
awaited the rector’s arrival.

The three sat together through the evening. Even in its modified form,
the news was bad enough. Mr. Vissian softened it a little in telling his
wife. She, good-hearted creature, shed many tears. Percy, when he heard
what had happened, said nothing; but his imagination evidently became
very busy; he sat on the hearth-rug before the fire, till at length a
question shaped itself.

“Has Mrs. Clarendon hurt her face?” he asked.

“I think not,” replied his father.

“It won’t be altered? It’ll be the same as it was before?”

“I hope so, my boy.”

Percy sighed, and returned quietly: “I’m glad of that.”

At ten o’clock Mr. Vissian walked over to the lodge to make inquiries.
The doctor, he heard, had just gone away, but would return during the
night. Mrs. Clarendon lay unconscious.

Shortly after hearing this, Kingcote took leave of his friends. He found
it raining hard, not a glimpse of light in heaven. Instead of turning
homewards, he went across to the gates of Knightswell. Just as he
reached them they were being thrown open, and he heard the sound of a
vehicle coming down the drive. It was a trap, with two men; they drove
away in the direction of Salcot.

“Who was that?” Kingcote asked of the porter, as the gates closed again.

“Lord Winterset, sir,” was the reply.


The spreading of the news in private channels and by newspaper
paragraphs brought numbers of people on missions of inquiry to
Knightswell. For several days the life of little Winstoke had its
central point of interest at the lodge, where the humbler of Mrs.
Clarendons friends, the village people and the peasantry, who knew so
much of her kindness, incessantly sought information as to her progress.
For nearly a week it was all evil rumour, the sufferer could only be
reported “Very much the same.” During that week Lord Winterset thrice
made the journey from London to see Mrs. Stratton, and receive the
fullest details. The people from Dunsey Priors, the Bruce Pages, and a
procession of county families were, in one way or another, represented
daily. Not least anxious of those who presented themselves was Robert
Asquith, who came post haste from Paris, where he was spending a few
weeks in fault of anything better to do. After remaining for a day
at Knightswell, he presented himself at Winstoke Rectory, and got Mr.
Vissian to promise him a daily bulletin.

But the point of danger was passed, and Isabel’s natural strength helped
her through the suffering which preceded convalescence. The special
prayer which Mr. Vissian had read forth on two Sundays, was, on the
third, commenced with a phrase of thanksgiving. Robert Asquith, opening
his Winstoke letter every morning with fingers which trembled in spite
of all his efforts, smiled with satisfaction at length, and, though he
disliked travelling, set off to make another call at Knightswell. Mrs.
Stratton assured him that all was well, that Isabel had begun to sleep
soundly through the night without artificial aids, and that she was
capable of attending, for short periods, whilst Miss Warren read to her.
At the mention of Ada’s name, Robert turned a sharp look on the lady.

“Ah, Miss Warren reads to her, does she?”

“Yes. She has been admirable all the time.”

These two had made acquaintance for the first time on the occasion
of Asquith’s former visit, but already they met with an air of mutual

“I suppose you have heard my name from Mrs. Clarendon?” Robert had asked
in the course of their first conversation; and the lady had given an
affirmative, with a smile which might or might not have meaning.

“If Miss Warren has been admirable,” Robert remarked, “you, Mrs.
Stratton, have been indispensable. What on earth should we have done
without you?”

“Oh, I have done nothing, except keep guard. But I shall carry her off
as soon as I can.”


“First of all to my own home. I live at present at Chislehurst, and
have a house much too big for me. Colonel Stratton will probably be home
before Christmas, and we shall make a party. I wish you could make it
convenient to join us for a few days.”

“It’s very good of you,” Robert replied with deliberate gratitude. “If
all goes according to your expectation, I will come with pleasure.”

They parted the best of friends, looking mutual compliments.

“Now, why couldn’t Isabel be open with me?” mused Mrs. Stratton, after
he had gone. “Several things begin to be a little clearer, I fancy.”

“A capital little woman,” meditated Robert, on his way to the station.
“I shouldn’t wonder if her friendship prove valuable.”

And all three weeks it rained, rained with scarcely a day’s
intermission. If the new road to Salcot was a mere mud-track, the
state of the old road can be conjectured; its deep ruts had become
watercourses, its erewhile grassy prominences were mere alluvial wastes.
The piece of sward before the cottage gradually turned to swamp; the oak
torso stood black with drenching moisture, its clinging parasite stems
hung limp, every one of its million bark grainings was a channel for
rain-drops. Behind, the copse was represented by the shivering nakedness
of lithe twigs, set in a dark, oozy bed of decaying leaves and moss and
fungi. Sometimes the rain fell straight from a gray sky without a rack
feature from end to end, till all Nature seemed to grow of one colour,
and the space between morning and evening was but a wan twilight of
indistinguishable hours. Sometimes there glimmered at midday a faint
yellowness, a glimpse of free heaven athwart thinning vapour, a smile
too pale to hold forth promise. Sometimes there came towards nightfall
a calling from the south-west, the sky thickened with rolling battalions
overflashed at instants with an angry gleam, and blasts of fury drove
the rain level with the reeking earth. Then there would be battle till
dawn, followed, alas! by no glorious victory of the sun-god, but with
more weeping of the heavens and sighing of the worn-out winds.

In spite of the fearful weather, Kingcote walked incessantly. The
solitude of his cottage was hideous. Every little familiar sound--the
rattling of a window or a door, the endless drip of rain, the wind
moaning in the chimney--became to him the voice of a tormenting demon.
He loathed the sight of every object around him; the damp odour which
hung about the place and greeted him whenever he entered from the open
air brought a feeling of sickness; he dreaded the hour of going upstairs
to the bare bed-chamber, where the cold seized him as in a grip, and the
darkness about his candle was full of floating ghosts. The sound of the
rain, as he lay longing for the sleep that would not come, weighed upon
his spirit to the point of tears; he wept in his gulf of wretchedness.
He could not read; the hours of the day would have been interminable but
for the regular walk, which killed a portion of time. And occasionally
he could spend an evening at the rectory.

Only a man capable of settling at Wood End as Kingcote had done would
have been capable of living thus through these late weeks of the year.
It needed a peculiar nature to go through with such self-torment--a
nature strangely devoid of energy, and morbidly contemplative. He would
not admit to the Vissians that he suffered in any way; he even visited
them less often than he otherwise would have done, that he might not
appear to seek refuge in their house. Bodily ill-health had much to do
with his singular state--ill-health induced by long mental suffering and
the unwholesome conditions of his life; it aggravated his moral disorder
and made him physically incapable of the step he would otherwise have
been driven to. To quit the cottage and return, if only for a time, to
London, he had persuaded himself was impossible; whilst Isabel Clarendon
lay on her sick-bed he could not go away. During the first two weeks,
he himself had fallen little short of grave illness; his nights were
feverish: once he found himself standing at the gates of Knightswell,
without being able to summon consciousness of his walk from home, the
hour being just before dawn. Upon this had followed lassitude; he heard
almost with indifference of Isabel’s improved condition, and for a
few days did not care to move from his fireside. The fever left him,
however, and mental disquietude took its place. A source of misery
and exasperation was the number of people he knew to be calling at
Knightswell; the multitude of her friends excited his jealousy; he
himself was of no account among them, the very least of these people,
who made their conventional visits and left their respectable cards, was
more to her than he. Even if a voice assured him that it was not so,
he refused to listen; the fascination of self-torture will not brook a
moment’s consoling. He called twice, at long intervals, partly because
it was not decent to neglect the duty, partly because a longing to draw
near to her anguished him; but each time he came away maddened with
jealous suspicions. The servant had stood across the door, as if to bar
his possible entrance, and had replied to his question with supercilious
negligence; the very windows of the house had looked upon him with the
contemptuousness of a vacant stare. Of such nothings it was his fate
to make hours of suffering. The most absurd thoughts possessed him. She
would return to the world a changed woman; even if she cared ever to
receive him again, it would be with the cold politeness of a slight
acquaintance. She would associate him always with that day’s meet, and
the thought of him would be always something to dismiss from her mind as
painful. A thousand such fantastic webs did he spin in his brain,
each an hour’s distress. Yet nothing could have taken him from the
neighbourhood. To go now would be to have seen her for the last time,
to make her henceforth only a name in his memory, and he felt that death
would be preferable to that.

Time lost its reality. Sunday he knew, because of the church bells; of
other days he kept no count, one was even as another. But it befel at
length that the rain ceased, and the first sunlight which awoke him at
his bedroom windows was like the touch of a soft, kind hand. It brought
to his mind all pleasant and beautiful things: the sound of her voice,
the clear vision of her countenance, the white waving of her’ hand
as she rode away, the promise that was in one and all of these. Upon
sunlight followed frost; at night-time a dark blue heaven with burnished
stars, and the gleaming rime of early hours. The spirit of the healthful
air breathed upon him, and gave his blood fresh impulse. He heard that
she had left her bed, was all but able to sit up through the day. Might
he not before long hope to see her?

One Sunday morning as he sat at breakfast--it was a strange-looking
meal, laid out upon a bare deal table, much the kind of breakfast that
the labouring men in other cottages sat down to--a shadow passed before
the window, and there followed two sharp blows with a stick at his door.
It was the postman’s knock; Kingcote started up eagerly to answer. There
were only two probable correspondents, his sister and Gabriel, and it
was some time since he had heard from either. But the letter which the
man put into his hand had travelled a shorter distance; it bore only the
Winstoke mark. The handwriting he did not know, but it was a woman’s,
and, it seemed to him, written under some infirmity. In his agitation,
he made scant reply to the postman’s remark about the weather; yet he
noticed that it had just begun to snow, and that the light flakes were
silver in sunlight. It was not a letter--a mere note of one side, but it
ended with the name of Isabel Clarendon.

“Dear Mr. Kingcote,

“Why have you not been to see me? Several people who brought me nothing
but their dulness have found their way here the last few days. Will
you come to-morrow at eleven--if you can miss Mr. Vissian’s sermon for

The snow fell, but from a rift of glory up above streamed one broad
beam, which made the earth shimmer. Presently began the Winstoke bells;
their music was carried off to the south by a shrewd wind, whose task it
was to bake the ground that the snow might lie. Wind and snow had their
way; the sun drew back and veiled itself; the white downfall thickened,
chased and whirled into frenzy by the shrilling north. The turmoil made
Kingcote laugh with pleasure. When he quitted the cottage, he had to
leap over a high ridge of driven snow. The oak-stump had a white
cloak on its back; the road was a smooth white surface, not a little
treacherous whilst still unhardened. But there was life in the keen air,
and the delight of change in the new face of each familiar thing.

It cost some stamping of the feet and shaking of upper garments before
he could pass from the threshold of Knightswell into the hall. The
footman seemed prepared for his arrival, and bade him follow him up
the stairs. The chief rooms of the house were all on the ground floor;
Kingcote had never yet ascended. The room into which he was ushered was
Isabel’s boudoir, small, with only one window, daintily furnished. It
caught his senses with a faint pervading perfume, a soft harmony of
clear colours, a witchery of light broken by curtains and tinged with
hues from gleaming surfaces; his foot was flattered by the yielding
carpet. He did not at first see where she sat, for her chair was in a
dim corner; besides, the fireplace intervened with its great blaze.

“I never thought you would face this terrible weather!”

“The weather? What of that? Was I not to see you at eleven?”

She might not stand yet, but both her hands were held out to him. There
was a low chair not far from her; he drew it nearer and sat looking into
her face. It was of an exquisite pallor, just touched on either cheek
with present emotion; thinner, but only--at all events to his
eyes--the more beautiful. There was an indescribable freshness in her
appearance--her white neck caressed by soft lace, the lines which her
hair made on the purity of her brow, her bright, just-moistened eye, the
graceful repose of her still feeble frame.

“You find me changed?” she asked, in a voice which trembled in trying to
be merely mirthful.

“I see no change. You are pale, but your face is what it always was.”

“You are growing stronger?” he asked, when she kept silence. “Danger is

“Oh, long past!”

He hesitated for the next words.

“Wasn’t it strange?” Isabel went on, regarding him with wide-eyed
intimacy, which thrilled his nerves. “You remember the things I said
that morning? What did you think when you heard of the accident?”

“They told me you were dead--that was the first news.”

Her eyes fell before his steady look.

“I half wished it,” she said. “In the moment when I knew what was
coming, I had a strange hope that my words might have brought it in
reality; I closed my eyes, and tried to think it would be like sleep.”

“Why should _you_ have such thoughts? What has life ever brought you but

“A few things not quite joyful, and which most women would find rather
hard to bear. You know nothing of my story? No? Not by chance in talking
about me of late? I suppose there has been much talk about me?”

“Will you not tell me what it is you speak of? Remember that I talk to
no one.”

“To be sure. You are so unlike all other men. You are apart in my
thoughts--you seem to be in a wholly different world from that I know.
Your judgment of me will be sterner than that of mere men of the world,
who take self-seeking and dishonour for granted. Yes, it will, it will!”

Her breath was caught, and nervous agitation so gained upon her weakness
as almost to make her hysterical. Kingcote bent forward and imprisoned
one of her hands.

“Speak calmly,” he urged, in a voice just above a whisper. “Why do you
agitate yourself so? Why should you tell me anything that it is painful
to speak of?”

His own emotion all but overcame his power of utterance. She did not
try to draw away her hand; holding it in one of his, with the other he
caressed it soothingly. Isabel smiled at him.

“You are deceived in me,” she pursued, becoming quieter by
self-yielding. “You see only appearances. This house and all it
represents is not mine; I am only allowed to use it and to make a show
till the owner claims it: everything belongs to Miss Warren.”

A minor emotion like surprise could not affect Kingcote in his present

“And I am to judge you sternly for not having told me that?” he asked,
his veins on fire from the touch of the hand he held.

“Listen to me. When she marries I lose everything, all but an annuity of
three hundred pounds. And that will be in a few weeks, as soon as I am
strong enough to go in search of a new home.”

“Yes? Does _that_ call for my judgment?”

She trembled.

“I want to show you something, but I cannot rise to get it. Will you go
for me? You see the small writing-desk on the further table?”

Kingcote rose, but with her hand still in his. He could not release
it. She, with eyes turned upwards to regard him, her face flushed, her
throat quivering, was as loth to be severed from his grasp. Instead of
moving away, he bent and put his lips to her forehead. Then the rose-hue
clothed her with maidenhood, her head fell, and he felt the pulse at her
wrist leap like flame.

“Will you fetch me the desk?” she asked, without meeting his look.

He fetched it, and with a key from her pocket Isabel opened it. Below
other papers she found an envelope, and from this took a photograph.

“Will you look at that?” she said, holding it to him.

Kingcote’s face expressed recognition.

“This,” he said, “is, I suppose, Miss Warren’s father? The resemblance
is very strong.”

“It is a portrait of Mr. Clarendon,” was her answer, given in a tone
of such cold self-command that Kingcote turned to look at her with a
movement of surprise.

“Mr. Clarendon?”

“I will put it away again, if you please.”

He let her do so, and removed the case. When he drew near her, Isabel
regarded him with a passionless face, and pointed to the chair he had
risen from.

“He knew me well,” she said, with a bitterness which made all her
words clear-cut and her voice unshaken. “He calculated my weakness, and
devised my punishment skilfully. That I should take the child and rear
it to inherit his property, or else lose everything at once. With a
woman of self-respect, such a scheme would have been empty; she would
have turned away in scorn. But he knew me well; he knew I had not the
courage to go back to poverty; that I would rather suffer through
years, be the talk and pity and contempt of every one, face at last the
confession to her,--all that rather than be poor again!”

Kingcote once more held her hand, and, when she paused, he kissed it

“You were poor once?” he asked gently, tenderly.

“That is my only excuse. We were wretchedly poor, my mother, my brother,
and myself. I have been hungry often and often. We had to keep up a
respectable appearance; we starved ourselves to buy clothing and to
avoid being indebted to people. I have often gone to bed--when I was a
strong, growing girl--and cried because I was so hungry; though I had
just before been pretending I could eat no more, as we all of us did,
poor mother as well. I was to be a governess; but then a lady took me
to London, was wonderfully kind to me, treated me as her daughter. She
said”--Isabel half laughed, half cried--“she said I was too good-looking
to be a governess.”

“Wasn’t it true? Are you not now so beautiful that my heart faints when
I look at you?”

“If I were not so contemptible--if I deserved any recompense for what I
have suffered--it would be a priceless one to hear you say so.”

“Tell me more.”

“I married at the end of my first season; made what was called a
wonderful marriage. I hadn’t a farthing, and became all at once wealthy.
I caught at the best that offered; the best in the world’s sense. I
was old enough; I understood what I was doing. No one was to blame but
myself. You saw that hard, strong, coarse face? He often looked at me as
if he were coldly calculating the risks of murder; but as he got to know
me better, he found better punishments. I did not disobey him. I never
gave him cause for anger by word or deed; could I help it that I--that I
hated him?”

The excitement was again overpowering her strength. She sobbed

“You shall speak no more of that,” King-cote said; “leave it all in the
past; forget it, dearest.”

“Am I dearest to you?” she asked, looking into his eyes with yearning
tenderness. “Oh, I have never felt till now what it would be to lose
wealth and the power of bestowing it!

“May I tell you, only to justify myself--to make myself better in your
sight? I might so often have married, and freed myself, men to whom
wealth was nothing, who would have taken me for myself: but I could not,
not even to gain an honourable position. I had always the hope that I
might know what love meant. I have gone through the world and enjoyed
it. I have had, I suppose, something of what is called success; it
left me cold. Only when you came into my life then it began to be all
different. I felt that you were come to save me; you were so unlike
others, you interested and attracted me as no one else ever did. You
remember our first meeting in Mr. Vissian’s study? I went away and
could think of nothing but you; wondered what your story was, tried to
understand what it was in you that affected me so strangely.”

“My sovereign lady!”

“If you knew the foolish tricks I played myself! I would not face the
truth; I invented all sorts of explanations and excuses when I longed to
see you. It occurred to me that you might perhaps come to care for Ada.
I persuaded myself that it would make me happy if you married her and
became rich. And I can give you nothing!”

“You give me nothing, Isabel? Yesterday I was the poorest creature in
this world, without strength, without hope, sunk in misery; now every
pulse of my heart is happiness.” She sighed with pleasure.

“Turn your face to me, Isabel; let me try to read it there, to believe
it, to make it part of my life. Let me hear you say those three words--I
do not know their sound--those three words I hunger for!”

“Three? Have I not said them? Was it only in my thought? I love you,

“Four! And from _your_ lips, whose music came to me from another sphere,
so far you seemed! You, the throned lady, the queen with the crown of
loveliness; so gracious, so good, so noble----”

“Hush! you may not praise me. Dear, you know those words do not describe
me, you know how unworthy I am.”

“I will praise you whilst I have breath for speech! What are our paltry
conventional judgments? In that I love you, you are to me a peerless
woman. Have you not stooped to me from the circle of your glory? Are you
not to me embodied goodness, purity, truth? What am I that you should
love me, my soul’s worship? Yet your eyes say it, your smile says it,
your lips make golden music of the words.”

She sighed again, drinking in his rapturous adoration with closed eyes.

“And you?” she asked. “When did you first love me? Did I not seem to you
a very silly, empty, frivolous woman?”

“I loved your name long before I saw you. They talked to me at the
rectory, and called you the Lady of Knightswell. I pictured you,
and indeed not far unlike yourself; just so gracious, so bright, so
gloriously a woman. I looked over to Knightswell from my window, and
wondered if ever we should meet. What kindness of fate that brought me
that day past the cottage!”

She was still musing over the growth of this flower in her heart.

“I knew it when the pain was over, and I could lie and think. It was
all so clear to me then. I had escaped a terrible danger; but for the
fall”--her voice sank--“I might never have known this happiness. I was
in ceaseless fear lest you should have gone. I asked often if you had
called; if you had known how I longed for your name among those who
called! There was no need of occupation for me. It was quite enough to
lie and think of our talks together, to call back your voice and your
look. Oh, I _longed_ to send a word to you; you were so lonely,
so unhappy. All that is over now, dearest? You will never again be

“Dare I think that, Isabel?”

“When I love you?”

“That again!” He covered his face with his hands. “Once more!”

“With my soul I love you!”

“If I could but hear that for ever! Shall I hear it when this hour has
become part of our memory, in days after this? Dare I think of it as
music that I may hear at will?”

“It shall never fail you, if your ear does not weary.”

“If my eyes weary of the light of heaven?”

There was silence before Isabel spoke.

“Ada’s marriage has been postponed on account of my illness; it would
have taken place before this. When it is over, and I have discharged my
duty to the end, then----”

She paused, not avoiding his gaze, but meeting it with simplest truth,
her lips trembling a little.

“I shall have my three hundred a year,” she added, almost pleadingly.
“Can we not make it enough? Do you know that the Vissians live on less
than that?”

Kingcote dropped his eyes, and spoke with embarrassment.

“To me it is wealth. For you, even alone, it would be miserable poverty.
How can I accept such a sacrifice?”

“A sacrifice? Is that your measure of my love?”

He kissed her hand, then asked laughingly: “What do you think my own
income is? You dare not guess. I am richer than Goldsmith’s country
parson; I have full sixty pounds.”

“Why, then, are we not wealthy? That is the rent of a delightful house,
somewhere far away. Might we not go abroad? Would you,” she added
anxiously, “go abroad with me?”

“Dear, can you so change your life?”

“It is changed. There is no effort asked of me. I live only for you.”

“Your friends?”

“My friends? One, two, three at most; those I need not lose. My
acquaintances, three hundred at least; ah! let them go! It shall be a
new world. What need have I of friends? _You_ are my friend, my one,
sole friend! I will have no other. Oh, you will not weary of me? I bring
you so little--my ignorance, my foolish habits of thought. You will be
patient with me, and help me to become more the kind of woman suitable
for--for your wife?”

The flush in her cheeks had become steadfast; her eyes gleamed
unnaturally. Each word she spoke heightened the fever which was gaining
upon her. He noticed this.

“I have been wrong to let you talk so much,” he said gravely. “You are
tired; you will suffer.”

“No, I shall sleep, and with such peace in my heart as I have never

She closed her eyes for a moment, and murmured words that he did not

“Is Mrs. Stratton still with you?” he asked.

“At church; it must be nearly time for her to return.”

“And Miss Warren?”

“She is reading, I suppose; she always prefers to be alone.”

“Dear, you are suffering.”

“No, indeed no. Is my face worn? Do I look--old?”

“What was that word? You are as beautiful as day.”

“You will come very soon again? I will write and tell you when.”

“I dare not let you speak more.”

“I am still weak,” she said with a smile. Her voice was failing.

He knelt by her side, and she, bending forward with modest grace, gave
him the sweetness of her lips.


The storm still raged; nothing was to be seen beyond a few yards through
the white whirl. As Kingcote struggled against it with bent head, a
carriage passed him, moving, silently over the snow; it was bringing
Mrs.. Stratton from church. This made him fear lest he should meet the
Vissians near the rectory; he could speak with no one now; there was
a voice in his ears which for his life he would not have silenced. He
turned off into the trackless park, and walked in a direction which
would bring him out at a lonely part of the new road. With a boy’s
delight he leapt through the deep snow, and fought his way against the
whirlwind. He lost his bearing; the white outlines of the country were
irrecognisable; there was nothing for it but to push on, and come out
where, he might. It was two hours at least before he at length got
into a track that he knew, and which led him homewards. He reached the
cottage in complete exhaustion, chilled, feeble with hunger. Unable even
to cast off his wet clothing before he had rested, he threw himself into
a chair. He laughed; it would be something to tell her when they met


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