Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Lucian the dreamer
Author: Fletcher, J. S. (Joseph Smith)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Lucian the dreamer" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                          LUCIAN THE DREAMER

                          _This is the Story_


This is the study of an artistic temperament in a generation not so far
removed from our own as the hurried events of the last two decades would
make it appear--the generation which fought in the Boer War. Mr.
Fletcher has told us the life story of a boy, a “thinker” rather than a
“doer”--Lucian the Dreamer. We follow with great interest his many love
affairs while under the care of his uncle and aunt in the country. We
enjoy with him the simple rustic beauties of Wellsby, and from the
moment he arrives at the little village station until that final tragic
scene in the dry-bed of a South African river we are held as in a vice.


/*
                       _Also by J. S. Fletcher_

                   THE DIAMONDS    THE KANG-HE VASE

               THE TIME-WORN TOWN    THE GOLDEN VENTURE

                       THE MILL OF MANY WINDOWS

                     THE CARTWRIGHT GARDENS MURDER

               THE RAVENS WOOD MYSTERY AND OTHER STORIES
*/



/*
                                LUCIAN

                              THE DREAMER

                                 _by_

                            J. S. FLETCHER

              Author of “The Cartwright Gardens Murder,”
                       “The Kang-He Vase,” etc.

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                          LONDON 48 PALL MALL
                       W. COLLINS SONS & CO LTD
                        GLASGOW SYDNEY AUCKLAND

                               Copyright

                      _Printed in Great Britain._
*/



/*
                                  TO

                        SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

                      IN SOME SLIGHT RECOGNITION
                          OF A KINDLY SERVICE
                            KINDLY RENDERED
*/



CHAPTER I


The railway station stood in the midst of an apparent solitude, and from
its one long platform there was no sign of any human habitation. A
stranger, looking around him in passing that way, might well have
wondered why a station should be found there at all; nevertheless, the
board which figured prominently above the white palings suggested the
near presence of three places--Wellsby, Meadhope, and Simonstower--and a
glance at a map of the county would have sufficed to show him that three
villages of the names there indicated lay hidden amongst the surrounding
woods, one to the east and two to the west of the railway. The line was
a single one, served by a train which made three out-and-home journeys a
day between the market-town of Oakborough and the village of Normanford,
stopping on its way at seven intermediate stations, of which Wellsby was
the penultimate one. These wayside stations sometimes witnessed arrivals
and departures, but there were many occasions on which the train neither
took up passengers nor set them down--it was only a considerable traffic
in agricultural produce, the extra business of the weekly market-day,
and its connection with the main line, that enabled the directors to
keep the Oakborough and Normanford Branch open. At each small station
they maintained a staff consisting of a collector or station-master, a
booking-clerk, and a porter, but the duties of these officials were
light, and a good deal of spare time lay at their disposal, and was
chiefly used in cultivating patches of garden along the side of the
line, or in discussing the news of the neighbourhood.

On a fine April evening of the early eighties the staff of this
particular station assembled on the platform at half-past six o’clock in
readiness to receive the train (which, save on market-days, was
composed of an engine, two carriages, and the guard’s van), as it made
its last down journey. There were no passengers to go forward towards
Normanford, and the porter, according to custom, went out to the end of
the platform as the train came into view, and held up his arms as a
signal to the driver that he need not stop unless he had reasons of his
own for doing so. To this signal the driver responded with two sharp
shrieks of his whistle, on hearing which the porter turned away, put his
hands in his pockets, and slouched back along the platform.

‘Somebody to set down, anyway, Mr. Simmons,’ said the booking-clerk with
a look at the station-master. ‘I wonder who it is--I’ve only booked one
up ticket to-day; James White it was, and he came back by the 2.30, so
it isn’t him.’

The station-master made no reply, feeling that another moment would
answer the question definitely. He walked forward as the train drew up,
and amidst the harsh grinding of its wheels threw a greeting to the
engine-driver, which he had already given four times that day and would
give again as the train went back two hours later. His eyes, straying
along the train, caught sight of a hand fumbling at the handle of a
third-class compartment, and he hastened to open the door.

‘It’s you, is it, Mr. Pepperdine?’ he said. ‘I wondered who was getting
out--it’s not often that this train brings us a passenger.’

‘Two of us this time,’ answered the man thus addressed as he quickly
descended, nodding and smiling at the station-master and the
booking-clerk; ‘two of us this time, Mr. Simmons. Ah!’ He drew a long
breath of air as if the scent of the woods and fields did him good, and
then turned to the open door of the carriage, within which stood a boy
leisurely attiring himself in an overcoat. ‘Come, my lad,’ he said
good-humouredly, ‘the train’ll be going on--let’s see now, Mr. Simmons,
there’s a portmanteau, a trunk, and a box in the van--perhaps Jim
there’ll see they’re got out.’

The porter hurried off to the van; as he turned away the boy descended
from the train, put his gloved hands in the pockets of his overcoat, and
stared about him with a deliberate and critical expression. His glance
ran over the station, the creeping plants on the station-master’s house,
the station-master, and the booking-clerk; his companion, meanwhile, was
staring hard at a patch of bright green beyond the fence and smiling
with evident enjoyment.

‘I’ll see that the things are all right,’ said the boy suddenly, and
strode off to the van. The porter had already brought out a portmanteau
and a trunk; he and the guard were now struggling with a larger obstacle
in the shape of a packing-case which taxed all their energies.

‘It’s a heavy ’un, this is!’ panted the guard. ‘You might be carrying
all the treasure of the Bank of England in here, young master.’

‘Books,’ said the boy laconically. ‘They are heavy. Be careful,
please--don’t let the box drop.’

There was a note in his voice which the men were quick to recognise--the
note of command and of full expectancy that his word would rank as law.
He stood by, anxious of eye and keenly observant, while the men lowered
the packing-case to the platform; behind him stood Mr. Pepperdine, the
station-master, and the booking-clerk, mildly interested.

‘There!’ said the guard. ‘We ha’n’t given her a single bump. Might ha’
been the delicatest chiny, the way we handled it.’

He wiped his brow with a triumphant wave of the hand. The boy, still
regarding the case with grave, speculative eyes, put his hand in his
pocket, drew forth a shilling, and with a barely perceptible glance at
the guard, dropped it in his hand. The man stared, smiled, pocketed the
gift, and touched his cap. He waved his green flag vigorously; in
another moment the train was rattling away into the shadow of the woods.

Mr. Pepperdine stepped up to the boy’s side and gazed at the
packing-case.

‘It’ll never go in my trap, lad,’ he said, scratching his chin. ‘It’s
too big and too heavy. We must send a horse and cart for it in the
morning.’

‘But where shall we leave it?’ asked the boy, with evident anxiety.

‘We’ll put it in the warehouse, young master,’ said the porter. ‘It’ll
be all right there. I’ll see that no harm comes to it.’

The boy, however, demanded to see the warehouse, and assured himself
that it was water-tight and would be locked up. He issued strict
mandates to the porter as to his safe-keeping of the packing-case,
presented him also with a shilling, and turned away unconcernedly, as if
the matter were now settled. Mr. Pepperdine took the porter in hand.

‘Jim,’ he said, ‘my trap’s at the Grange; maybe you could put that trunk
and portmanteau on a barrow and bring them down in a while? No need to
hurry--I shall have a pipe with Mr. Trippett before going on.’

‘All right, sir,’ answered the porter. ‘I’ll bring ’em both down in an
hour or so.’

‘Come on, then, lad,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, nodding good-night to the
station-master, and leading the way to the gate. ‘Eh, but it’s good to
be back where there’s some fresh air! Can you smell it, boy?’

The boy threw up his face, and sniffed the fragrance of the woods. There
had been April showers during the afternoon, and the air was sweet and
cool: he drew it in with a relish that gratified the countryman at his
side.

‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘I smell it--it’s beautiful.’

‘Ah, so it is!’ said Mr. Pepperdine; ‘as beautiful as--as--well, as
anything. Yes, it is so, my lad.’

The boy looked up and laughed, and Mr. Pepperdine laughed too. He had
no idea why he laughed, but it pleased him to do so; it pleased him,
too, to hear the boy laugh. But when the boy’s face grew grave again Mr.
Pepperdine’s countenance composed itself and became equally grave and
somewhat solicitous. He looked out of his eye-corners at the slim figure
walking at his side, and wondered what other folk would think of his
companion. ‘A nice, smart-looking boy,’ said Mr. Pepperdine to himself
for the hundredth time; ‘nice, gentlemanlike boy, and a credit to
anybody.’ Mr. Pepperdine felt proud to have such a boy in his company,
and prouder still to know that the boy was his nephew and ward.

The boy thus speculated upon was a lad of twelve, somewhat tall for his
age, of a slim, well-knit figure, a handsome face, and a confidence of
manner and bearing that seemed disproportionate to his years. He walked
with easy, natural grace; his movements were lithe and sinuous; the turn
of his head, as he looked up at Mr. Pepperdine, or glanced at the
overhanging trees in the lane, was smart and alert; it was easy to see
that he was naturally quick in action and in perception. His face, which
Mr. Pepperdine had studied a good deal during the past week, was of a
type which is more often met with in Italy than in England. The forehead
was broad and high, and crowned by a mass of thick, blue-black hair that
clustered and waved all over the head, and curled into rings at the
temples; the brows were straight, dark, and full; the nose and mouth
delicately but strongly carved; the chin square and firm; obstinacy,
pride, determination, were all there, and already stiffening into
permanence. But in this face, so Italian, so full of the promise of
passion, there were eyes of an essentially English type, almost violet
in colour, gentle, soft, dreamy, shaded by long black lashes, and it was
in them that Mr. Pepperdine found the thing he sought for when he looked
long and wistfully at his dead sister’s son.

Mr. Pepperdine’s present scrutiny passed from the boy’s face to the
boy’s clothes. It was not often, he said to himself, that such a
well-dressed youngster was seen in those parts. His nephew was clothed
in black from head to foot; his hat was surrounded by a mourning-band; a
black tie, fashioned into a smart knot, and secured by an antique
cameo-pin, encircled his spotless man’s collar: every garment was shaped
as if its wearer had been the most punctilious man about town; his neat
boots shone like mirrors. The boy was a dandy in miniature, and it
filled Mr. Pepperdine with a vast amusement to find him so. He chuckled
inwardly, and was secretly proud of a youngster who, as he had recently
discovered, could walk into a fashionable tailor’s and order exactly
what he wanted with an evident determination to get it. But Mr.
Pepperdine himself was a rustic dandy. Because of the necessities of a
recent occasion he was at that moment clad in sober black--his
Sunday-and-State-Occasion’s suit--but at home he possessed many
wonderful things in the way of riding-breeches, greatcoats ornamented
with pearl buttons as big as saucers, and sprigged waistcoats which were
the despair of the young country bucks, who were forced to admit that
Simpson Pepperdine knew a thing or two about the fashion and was a man
of style. It was natural, then, Mr. Pepperdine should be pleased to find
his nephew a _petit-maître_--it gratified an eye which was never at any
time indisposed to regard the vanities of this world with complaisance.

Mr. Pepperdine, striding along at the boy’s side, presented the cheerful
aspect of a healthy countryman. He was a tall, well-built man, rosy of
face, bright of eye, a little on the wrong side of forty, and rather
predisposed to stoutness of figure, but firm and solid in his tread, and
as yet destitute of a grey hair. In his sable garments and his high
hat--bought a week before in London itself, and of the latest
fashionable shape--he looked very distinguished, and no one could have
taken him for less than a churchwarden and a large ratepayer. His air of
distinction was further improved by the fact that he was in uncommonly
good spirits--he had spent a week in London on business of a sorrowful
nature, and he was glad to be home again amongst his native woods and
fields. He sniffed the air as he walked, and set his feet down as if the
soil belonged to him, and his eyes danced with satisfaction.

The boy suddenly uttered a cry of delight, and stopped, pointing down a
long vista of the woods. Mr. Pepperdine turned in the direction
indicated, and beheld a golden patch of daffodils.

‘Daffy-down-dillies,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘And very pretty too. But
just you wait till you see the woods about Simonstower. I always did say
that Wellsby woods were nought to our woods--ah, you should see the
bluebells! And as for primroses--well, they could stock all Covent
Garden market in London town with ’em, and have enough for next day into
the bargain, so they could. Very pretty is them daffies, very pretty,
but I reckon there’s something a deal prettier to be seen in a minute or
two, for here’s the Grange, and Mrs. Trippett has an uncommon nice way
of setting out a tea-table.’

The boy turned from the glowing patch of colour to look at another
attractive picture. They had rounded the edge of the wood on their right
hand, and now stood gazing at a peculiarly English scene--a green
paddock, fenced from the road by neat railings, painted white, at the
further end of which, shaded by a belt of tall elms, stood a many-gabled
farmhouse, with a flower-garden before its front door and an orchard at
its side. The farm-buildings rose a little distance in rear of the
house; beyond them was the stackyard, still crowded with wheat and
barley stacks; high over everything rose a pigeon-cote, about the
weather-vane of which flew countless pigeons. In the paddock were ewes
and lambs; cattle and horses looked over the wall of the fold; the soft
light of the April evening lay on everything like a benediction.

‘Wellsby Grange,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, pushing open a wicket-gate in
the white fence and motioning the boy to enter. ‘The abode of Mr. and
Mrs. Trippett, very particular friends of mine. I always leave my trap
here when I have occasion to go by train--it would be sent over this
morning, and we shall find it all ready for us presently.’

The boy followed his uncle up the path to the side-door of the
farmhouse, his eyes taking in every detail of the scene. He was staring
about him when the door opened, and revealed a jolly-faced, red-cheeked
man with sandy whiskers and very blue eyes, who grinned delightedly at
sight of Mr. Pepperdine, and held out a hand of considerable
proportions.

‘We were just looking out for you,’ said he. ‘We heard the whistle, and
the missis put the kettle on to boil up that minute. Come in,
Simpson--come in, my lad--you’re heartily welcome. Now then,
missis--they’re here.’

A stout, motherly-looking woman, with cherry-coloured ribbons in a
nodding cap that crowned a head of glossy dark hair, came bustling to
the door.

‘Come in, come in, Mr. Pepperdine--glad to see you safe back,’ said she.
‘And this’ll be your little nevvy. Come in, love, come in--you must be
tired wi’ travelling all that way.’

The boy took off his hat with a courtly gesture, and stepped into the
big, old-fashioned kitchen. He looked frankly at the farmer and his
wife, and the woman, noting his beauty with quick feminine perception,
put her arm round his neck and drew him to her.

‘Eh, but you’re a handsome lad!’ she said. ‘Come straight into the
parlour and sit you down--the tea’ll be ready in a minute. What’s your
name, my dear?’

The boy looked up at her--Mrs. Trippett’s memory, at the sight of his
eyes, went back to the days of her girlhood.

‘My name is Lucian,’ he answered.

Mrs. Trippett looked at him again as if she had scarcely heard him reply
to her question. She sighed, and with a sudden impetuous tenderness
bent down and kissed him warmly on the cheek.

‘Off with your coat, my dear,’ she said cheerily. ‘And if you’re cold,
sit down by the fire--if it is spring, it’s cold enough for fires at
night. Now I’ll be back in a minute, and your uncle and the master’ll be
coming--I lay they’ve gone to look at a poorly horse that we’ve got just
now--and then we’ll have tea.’

She bustled from the room, the cherry-coloured ribbons streaming behind
her. The boy, left alone, took off his overcoat and gloves, and laid
them aside with his hat; then he put his hands in the pockets of his
trousers, and examined his new surroundings.



CHAPTER II


Never before had Lucian seen the parlour of an English farmhouse, nor
such a feast as that spread out on the square dinner-table. The parlour
was long and wide and low-roofed, and the ceiling was spanned by beams
of polished oak; a bright fire crackled in the old-fashioned grate, and
a lamp burned on the table; but there were no blinds or curtains drawn
over the latticed windows which overlooked the garden. Lucian’s
observant eyes roved about the room, noting the quaint old pictures on
the walls; the oil paintings of Mr. Trippett’s father and mother; the
framed samplers and the fox’s brush; the silver cups on the sideboard,
and the ancient blunderbuss which hung on the centre beam. It seemed to
him that the parlour was delightfully quaint and picturesque; it smelled
of dried roses and lavender and sweetbriar; there was an old sheep-dog
on the hearth who pushed his muzzle into the boy’s hand, and a
grandfather’s clock in one corner that ticked a solemn welcome to him.
He had never seen such an interior before, and it appealed to his sense
of the artistic.

Lucian’s eyes wandered at last to the table, spread for high tea. That
was as new to him as the old pictures and samplers. A cold ham of
generous proportions figured at one side of the table; a round of cold
roast-beef at the other; the tea-tray filled up one end; opposite it
space was left for something that was yet to come. This something
presently appeared in the shape of a couple of roast fowls and a stand
of boiled eggs, borne in by a strapping maid whose face shone like the
setting sun, and who was sharply marshalled by Mrs. Trippett, carrying a
silver teapot and a dish of hot muffins.

‘Now then, my dear,’ she said, giving a final glance over the table, ‘we
can begin as soon as the gentlemen come, and I lay they won’t be long,
for Mr. Pepperdine’ll be hungry after his journey, and so I’m sure are
you. Come and sit down here and help yourself to an egg--they’re as
fresh as morning dew--every one’s been laid this very day.’

The boy sat down and marvelled at the bountiful provision of Mrs.
Trippett’s tea-table; it seemed to him that there was enough there to
feed a regiment. But when Mr. Trippett and Mr. Pepperdine entered and
fell to, he no longer wondered, for the one had been out in the fields
all day, and the other had been engaged in the unusual task of
travelling, and they were both exceptional trenchermen at any time. Mr.
Trippett joked with the boy as they ate, and made sundry references to
Yorkshire pudding and roast-beef which seemed to afford himself great
satisfaction, and he heaped up his youthful visitor’s plate so
generously that Lucian grew afraid.

‘Cut and come again,’ said Mr. Trippett, with his mouth full and his
jaws working vigorously. ‘Nothing like a good appetite for growing
lads--ah, I was always hungry when I was a boy. Never came amiss to me,
didn’t food, never.’

‘But I’ve never eaten so much before,’ said Lucian, refusing his host’s
pressing entreaty to have another slice off the breast, or a bit of cold
ham. ‘I was hungry, too, or I couldn’t have eaten so much now.’

‘He’ll soon get up an appetite at Simonstower,’ said Mrs. Trippett.
‘You’re higher up than we are, Mr. Pepperdine, and the air’s keener with
you. To be sure, our children have good enough appetites here--you
should see them at meal times!--I’m sure I oft wonder wherever they put
it all.’

‘It’s a provision of nature, ma’am,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘There’s some
wonderful things in Nature.’

‘They’re wanting to see you, my dear,’ said Mrs. Trippett, ignoring her
elder guest’s profound remark and looking at her younger one. ‘I told
them Mr. Pepperdine was going to bring a young gentleman with him. You
shall see them after tea--they’re out in the orchard now--they had their
teas an hour ago, and they’ve gone out to play. There’s two of
them--John and Mary. John’s about your own age, and Mary’s a year
younger.’

‘Can’t I go out to them?’ said Lucian. ‘I will, if you will please to
excuse me.’

‘With pleasure, my dear,’ said Mrs. Trippett. ‘Go by all means, if you’d
like to. Go through the window there--you’ll hear them somewhere about,
and they’ll show you their rabbits and things.’

The boy picked up his hat and went out. Mrs. Trippett followed him with
meditative eyes.

‘He’s not shy, seemingly,’ she said, looking at Mr. Pepperdine.

‘Not he, ma’am. He’s an old-fashioned one, is the lad,’ answered
Lucian’s uncle. ‘He’s the manners of a man in some things. I reckon, you
see, that it’s because he’s never had other children to play with.’

‘He’s a handsome boy,’ sighed the hostess. ‘Like his father as I
remember him. He was a fine-looking man, in a foreign way. But he’s his
mother’s eyes--poor Lucy!’

‘Yes,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘He’s Lucy’s eyes, but all the rest of him’s
like his father.’

‘Were you in time to see his father before he died?’ asked Mr. Trippett,
who was now attacking the cold beef, after having demolished the greater
part of a fowl. ‘You didn’t think you would be when you went off that
morning.’

‘Just in time, just in time,’ answered Mr. Pepperdine. ‘Ay, just in
time. He went very sudden and very peaceful. The boy was very brave and
very old-fashioned about it--he never says anything now, and I don’t
mention it.’

‘It’s best not,’ said Mrs. Trippett. ‘Poor little fellow!--of course,
he’ll not remember his mother at all?’

‘No,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, shaking his head. ‘No, he was only two years
old when his mother died.’

Mr. Trippett changed the subject, and began to talk of London and what
Mr. Pepperdine had seen there. But when the tea-table had been cleared,
and Mrs. Trippett had departed to the kitchen regions to bustle amongst
her maids, and the two farmers were left in the parlour with the spirit
decanters on the table, their tumblers at their elbows and their pipes
in their mouths, the host referred to Mr. Pepperdine’s recent mission
with some curiosity.

‘I never rightly heard the story of this nephew of yours,’ he said. ‘You
see, I hadn’t come to these parts when your sister was married. The
missis says she remembers her, ’cause she used to visit hereabouts in
days past. It were a bit of a romance like, eh?’

Mr. Pepperdine took a pull at his glass and shook his head.

‘Ah!’ said he oracularly. ‘It was. A romance like those you read of in
the story-books. I remember the beginning of it all as well as if it
were yesterday. Lucy--that was the lad’s mother, my youngest sister, you
know, Trippett--was a girl then, and the prettiest in all these parts:
there’s nobody’ll deny that.’

‘I always understood that she was a beauty,’ said Mr. Trippett.

‘And you understood rightly. There wasn’t Lucy’s equal for beauty in all
the county,’ affirmed Mr. Pepperdine. ‘The lad has her eyes--eh, dear,
I’ve heard high and low talk of her eyes. But he’s naught else of
hers--all the rest his father’s--Lucy was fair.’

He paused to apply a glowing coal to the tobacco in his long pipe, and
he puffed out several thick clouds of smoke before he resumed his story.

‘Well, Lucy was nineteen when this Mr. Cyprian Damerel came along. You
can ask your missis what like he was--women are better hands at
describing a man’s looks than a man is. He were a handsome young man,
but foreign in appearance, though you wouldn’t ha’ told it from his
tongue. The boy’ll be like him some day. He came walking through
Simonstower on his way from Scarhaven, and naught would content him but
that he must set up his easel and make a picture of the village. He
found lodgings at old Mother Grant’s, and settled down, and he was one
of that sort that makes themselves at home with everybody in five
minutes. He’d an open face and an open hand; he’d talk to high and low
in just the same way; and he’d a smile for everybody.’

‘And naturally all the lasses fell in love with him,’ suggested Mr.
Trippett, with a hearty laugh. ‘I’ve heard my missis say he’d a way with
him that was taking with the wenches--specially them as were inclined
that way, like.’

‘Undoubtedly he had,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘Undoubtedly he had. But
after he’d seen her, he’d no eyes for any lass but our Lucy. He fell in
love with her and she with him as naturally as a duckling takes to
water. Ah! I don’t think I ever did see two young people quite so badly
smitten as they were. It became evident to everybody in the place. But
he acted like a man all through--oh yes! My mother was alive then, you
know, Trippett,’ Mr. Pepperdine continued, with a sigh. ‘She was a
straight-laced ’un, was my mother, and had no liking for foreigners, and
Damerel had a livelyish time with her when he came to th’ house and
asked her, bold as brass, if he might marry her daughter.’

‘I’ll lay he wo’d; I’ll lay he wo’d,’ chuckled Mr. Trippett.

‘Ay, and so he had,’ continued Mr. Pepperdine. ‘She was very stiff and
stand-off, was our old lady, and she treated him to some remarks about
foreigners and papists, and what not, and gave him to understand that
she’d as soon seen her daughter marry a gipsy as a strolling artist,
’cause you see, being old-fashioned, she’d no idea of what an artist, if
he’s up to his trade, can make. But he was one too many for her, was
Damerel. He listened to all she had to say, and then he offered to give
her references about himself, and he told her who he was, the son of an
Italian gentleman that had come to live in England ’cause of political
reasons, and what he earned, and he made it clear enough that Lucy
wouldn’t want for bread and butter, nor a silk gown neither.’

‘Good reasoning,’ commented Mr. Trippett. ‘Very good reasoning.
Love-making’s all very well, but it’s nowt wi’out a bit o’ money at th’
back on’t.’

‘Well, there were no doubt about Damerel’s making money,’ said Mr.
Pepperdine, ‘and we’d soon good proof o’ that; for as soon as he’d
finished his picture of the village he sold it to th’ Earl for five
hundred pound, and it hangs i’ the dining-room at th’ castle to this
day. I saw it the last time I paid my rent there. Mistress Jones, th’
housekeeper, let me have a look at it. And of course, seeing that the
young man was able to support a wife, th’ old lady had to give way, and
they were married. Fifteen year ago that is,’ concluded Mr. Pepperdine
with a shake of the head. ‘Dear-a-me! it seems only like yesterday since
that day--they made the handsomest bride and bridegroom I ever saw.’

‘She died soon, didn’t she?’ inquired Mr. Trippett.

‘Lived a matter of four years after the marriage,’ answered Mr.
Pepperdine. ‘She wasn’t a strong woman, wasn’t poor Lucy--there was
something wrong with her lungs, and after the boy came she seemed to
wear away. He did all that a man could, did her husband--took her off to
the south of Europe. Eh, dear, the letters that Keziah and Judith used
to have from her, describing the places she saw--they read fair
beautiful! But it were no good--she died at Rome, poor lass, when the
boy was two years old.’

‘Poor thing!’ said Mr. Trippett. ‘And had all that she wanted,
seemingly.’

‘Everything,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘Her life was short but sweet, as you
may say.’

‘And now he’s gone an’ all,’ said Mr. Trippett.

Mr. Pepperdine nodded.

‘Ay,’ he said, ‘he’s gone an’ all. I don’t think he ever rightly got
over his wife’s death--anyway, he led a very restless life ever after,
first one place and then another, never settling anywhere. Sometimes it
was Italy, sometimes Paris, sometimes London--he’s seen something, has
that boy. Ay, he’s dead, is poor Damerel.’

‘Leave owt behind him like?’ asked Mr. Trippett sententiously.

Mr. Pepperdine polished the end of his nose.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘there’ll be a nice little nest-egg for the boy when
all’s settled up, I dare say. He wasn’t a saving sort of man, I should
think, but dear-a-me, he must ha’ made a lot of money in his time--and
spent it, too.’

‘Easy come and easy go,’ said Mr. Trippett. ‘I’ve heard that’s the way
with that sort. Will this lad take after his father, then?’

‘Nay,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, ‘I don’t think he will. He can’t draw a
line--doesn’t seem to have it in him. Curious thing that, but it is so.
No--he’s all for reading. I never saw such a lad for books. He’s got a
great chest full o’ books at the station yonder--wouldn’t leave London
without them.’

‘Happen turn out a parson or a lawyer,’ suggested Mr. Trippett.

‘Nay,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘It’s my impression he’ll turn out a poet,
or something o’ that sort. They tell me there’s a good living to be made
out o’ that nowadays.’

Mr. Trippett lifted the kettle on to the brightest part of the fire,
mixed himself another glass of grog, and pushed the decanter towards his
friend.

‘There were only a poorish market at Oakbro’ t’other day,’ he said.
‘Very low prices, and none so much stuff there, nayther.’

Mr. Pepperdine followed his host’s example with respect to the grog,
and meditated upon the market news. They plunged into a discussion upon
prices. Mrs. Trippett entered the room, took up a basket of stockings,
planted herself in her easy-chair, and began to look for holes in toes
and heels. The two farmers talked; the grandfather’s clock ticked; the
fire crackled; the whole atmosphere was peaceful and homelike. At last
the talk of prices and produce was interrupted by the entrance of the
stout serving-maid.

‘If you please’m, there’s Jim Wood from the station with two trunks for
Mr. Pepperdine, and he says is he to put ’em in Mr. Pepperdine’s trap?’
she said, gazing at her mistress.

‘Tell him to put them in the shed,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘I’ll put ’em
in the trap myself. And here, my lass, give him this for his trouble,’
he added, diving into his pocket and producing a shilling.

‘And give him a pint o’ beer and something to eat,’ said Mr. Trippett.

‘Give him some cold beef and pickles, Mary,’ said Mrs. Trippett.

Mary responded ‘Yes, sir--Yes’m,’ and closed the door. Mr. Pepperdine,
gazing at the clock with an air of surprise, remarked that he had no
idea it was so late, and he must be departing.

‘Nowt o’ th’ sort!’ said Mr. Trippett. ‘You’re all right for another
hour--help yourself, my lad.’

‘The little boy’s all right,’ said Mrs. Trippett softly. ‘He’s soon made
friends with John and Mary--they were as thick as thieves when I left
them just now.’

‘Then let’s be comfortable,’ said the host. ‘Dang my buttons, there’s
nowt like comfort by your own fireside. And how were London town
looking, then, Mr. Pepperdine?--mucky as ever, I expect.’

Mr. Pepperdine, with a replenished glass and a newly charged pipe,
plunged into a description of what he had seen in London. The time
slipped away--the old clock struck nine at last, and suddenly reminded
him that he had six miles to drive and that his sisters would be
expecting his arrival with the boy.

‘Time flies fast in good company,’ he remarked as he rose with evident
reluctance. ‘I always enjoy an evening by your hospitable fireside, Mrs.
Trippett, ma’am.’

‘You’re in a great hurry to leave it, anyhow,’ said Mr. Trippett, with a
broad grin. ‘Sit ye down again, man--you’ll be home in half an hour with
that mare o’ yours, and it’s only nine o’clock, and ten to one th’ owd
clock’s wrong.’

‘Ay, but my watch isn’t,’ answered Mr. Pepperdine. ‘Nay, we must
go--Keziah and Judith’ll be on the look-out for us, and they’ll want to
see the boy.’

‘Ay, I expect they will,’ said Mr. Trippett. ‘Well, if you must you
must--take another glass and light a cigar.’

Mr. Pepperdine refused neither of these aids to comfort, and lingered a
few minutes longer. But at last they all went out into the great
kitchen, Mrs. Trippett leading the way with words of regret at her
guest’s departure. She paused upon the threshold and turned to the two
men with a gesture which commanded silence.

The farmhouse kitchen, quaint and picturesque with its old oak
furniture, its flitches of bacon and great hams hanging from the
ceiling, its bunches of dried herbs and strings of onions depending from
hooks in the corners, its wide fireplace and general warmth and
cheeriness, formed the background of a group which roused some sense of
the artistic in Mrs. Trippett’s usually matter-of-fact intellect. On the
long settle which stretched on one side of the hearth sat four
shock-headed ploughboys, leaning shoulder to shoulder; in an easy-chair
opposite sat the red-cheeked maid-servant; close to her, on a low stool,
sat a little girl with Mrs. Trippett’s features and eyes, whose sunny
hair fell in wavy masses over her shoulders; behind her, hands in
pockets, sturdy and strong, stood a miniature edition of Mr. Trippett,
even to the sandy hair, the breeches, and the gaiters; in the centre of
the floor, at a round table on which stood a great oil lamp, sat the
porter, busy with a round of beef, a foaming tankard of ale, and a
crusty loaf. Of these eight human beings a similar peculiarity was
evident. Each one sat with mouth more or less open--the ploughboys’
mouths in particular had revolved themselves into round O’s, while the
porter, struck as it were in the very act of forking a large lump of
beef into a cavernous mouth, looked like a man who has suddenly become
paralysed and cannot move. The maid-servant’s eyes were wider than her
mouth; the little girl shrank against the maid’s apron as if afraid--it
was only the sturdy boy in the rear who showed some symptoms of a faint
smile. And the object upon which all eyes were fixed was Lucian, who
stood on the hearth, his back to the fire, his face glowing in the
lamplight, winding up in a low and thrilling voice the last passages of
what appeared to be a particularly blood-curdling narrative.

Mr. Trippett poked Mr. Pepperdine in the ribs.

‘Seems to ha’ fixed ’em,’ he whispered. ‘Gow--the lad’s gotten the gift
o’ the gab!--he talks like a book.’

‘H’sh,’ commanded Mrs. Trippett.

‘And so the body hung on the gibbet,’ Lucian was saying, ‘through all
that winter, and the rain, and the hail, and the snow fell upon it, and
when the spring came again there remained nothing but the bones of the
brigand, and they were bleached as white as the eternal snows; and
Giacomo came and took them down and buried them in the little cemetery
under the cypress-trees; but the chain still dangles from the gibbet,
and you may hear it rattle as you pass that way as it used to rattle
when Luigi’s bones hung swaying in the wind.’

The spell was broken; the porter sighed deeply, and conveyed the
interrupted forkful to his mouth; the ploughboys drew deep breaths, and
looked as if they had arisen from a deep sleep; the little girl,
catching sight of her mother, ran to her with a cry of ‘Is it true? Is
it true?’ and Mr. Trippett brought everybody back to real life by loud
calls for Mr. Pepperdine’s horse and trap. Then followed the putting on
of overcoats and wraps, and the bestowal of a glass of ginger-wine upon
Lucian by Mr. Trippett, in order that the cold might be kept out, and
then good-nights and Godspeeds, and he was in the dogcart at Mr.
Pepperdine’s side, and the mare, very fresh, was speeding over the six
miles of highway which separated Mr. Trippett’s stable from her own.



CHAPTER III


While Mr. Pepperdine refreshed himself at his friend’s house, his
sisters awaited the coming of himself and his charge with as much
patience as they could summon to their aid. Each knew that patience was
not only necessary, but inevitable. It would have been the easiest thing
in the world for Mr. Pepperdine to have driven straight home from the
station and supped in his own parlour, and that, under the
circumstances, would have seemed the most reasonable thing to do. But
Mr. Pepperdine made a rule of never passing the gates of the Grange
Farm, and his sisters knew that he would tarry there on his homeward
journey, accept Mrs. Trippett’s invitation to tea, and spend an hour or
two afterwards in convivial intercourse with Mr. Trippett. That took
place every market-day and every time Mr. Pepperdine had occasion to
travel by train; and the Misses Pepperdine knew that it would go on
taking place as long as their brother Simpson and his friends at the
Grange Farm continued to exist.

At nine o’clock Miss Pepperdine, who had been knitting by the parlour
fire since seven, grew somewhat impatient.

‘I think Simpson might have come home straight from the station,’ she
said in sharp, decided tones. ‘The child is sure to be tired.’

Miss Judith Pepperdine, engaged on fancy needlework on the opposite side
of the hearth, shook her head.

‘Simpson never passes the Grange,’ she said. ‘That night I came with him
from Oakborough last winter, I couldn’t get him to come home. He coaxed
me to go in for just ten minutes, and we had to stop four hours.’

Miss Pepperdine sniffed. Her needles clicked vigorously for a few
minutes longer; she laid them down at a quarter past nine, went across
the parlour to a cupboard, unlocked it, produced a spirit-case and three
glasses, and set them on the table in the middle of the room. At the
same moment a tap sounded on the door, and a maid entered bearing a jug
of hot water, a dish of lemons, and a bowl of sugar. She was about to
leave the room after setting her tray down when Miss Pepperdine stopped
her.

‘I wonder what the boy had better have, Judith?’ she said, looking at
her sister. ‘He’s sure to have had a good tea at the Grange--Sarah
Trippett would see to that--but he’ll be cold. Some hot milk, I should
think. Bring some new milk in the brass pan, Anne, and another
glass--I’ll heat it myself over this fire.’

Then, without waiting to hear whether Miss Judith approved the notion of
hot milk or not, she sat down to her knitting again, and when the maid
had brought the brass pan and the glass and withdrawn, the parlour
became hushed and silent. It was an old-world room--there was not an
article of furniture in it that was less than a hundred years old, and
the old silver and old china arranged in the cabinets and on the
side-tables were as antiquated as the chairs, the old bureau, and the
pictures. Everything was old, good, and substantial; everything smelled
of a bygone age and of dried rose-leaves.

The two sisters, facing each other across the hearth, were in thorough
keeping with the old-world atmosphere of their parlour. Miss Keziah
Pepperdine, senior member of the family, and by no means afraid of
admitting that she had attained her fiftieth year, was tall and
well-built; a fine figure of a woman, with a handsome face, jet-black
hair, and eyes of a decided keenness. There was character and decision
in her every movement; in her sharp, incisive speech; in her quick
glance; and in the nervous, resolute click of her knitting needles. As
she knitted, she kept her lips pursed tightly together and her eyes
fixed upon her work: it needed little observation to make sure that
whatever Miss Pepperdine did would be done with resolution and
thoroughness. She was a woman to be respected rather than loved; feared
more than honoured; and there was a flash in her hawk’s eyes, and a
grimness about her mouth, which indicated a temper that could strike
with force and purpose. Further indications of her character were seen
in her attire, which was severely simple--a gown of black, unrelieved by
any speck of white, hanging in prim, straight folds, and utterly
unadorned, but, to a knowing eye, fashioned of most excellent and costly
material.

Judith Pepperdine, many years younger than her sister, was dressed in
black too, but the sombreness of her attire was relieved by white cuffs
and collar, and by a very long thin gold chain, which was festooned
twice round her neck ere it sought refuge in the watch-pocket at her
waist. She had a slender figure of great elegance, and was proud of it,
just as she was proud of the fact that at forty years of age she was
still a pretty woman. There was something of the girl still left in her:
some dreaminess of eye, a suspicion of coquetry, an innate desire to
please the other sex and to be admired by men. Her cheek was still
smooth and peach-like; her eyes still bright, and her brown hair glossy;
old maid that she undoubtedly was, there were many good-looking girls in
the district who had not half her attractions. To her natural good looks
Judith Pepperdine added a native refinement and elegance; she knew how
to move about a room and walk the village street. Her smile was
famous--old Dr. Stubbins, of Normanfold, an authority in such matters,
said that for sweetness and charm he would back Judith Pepperdine’s
smile against the world.

There were many people who wondered why the handsome Miss Pepperdine had
never married, but there was scarcely one who knew why she had remained
and meant to remain single. Soon after the marriage of her sister Lucy
to Cyprian Damerel, Judith developed a love-affair of her own with a
dashing cavalry man, a sergeant of the 13th Hussars, then quartered at
Oakborough. He was a handsome young man, the son of a local farmer, and
his ambition had been for soldiering from boyhood. Coming into the
neighbourhood in all his glory, and often meeting Judith at the houses
of mutual friends, he had soon laid siege to her and captured her
susceptible heart. Their engagement was kept secret, for old Mrs.
Pepperdine had almost as great an objection to soldiers as to
foreigners, and would have considered a non-commissioned officer beneath
her daughter’s notice. The sergeant, however, had aspirations--it was
his hope to secure a commission in an infantry regiment, and his
ambition in this direction seemed likely to be furthered when his
regiment was ordered out to India and presently engaged in a frontier
campaign. But there his good luck came to an untimely end--he performed
a brave action which won him the Victoria Cross, but he was so severely
wounded in doing it that he died soon afterwards, and Judith’s romance
came to a bitter end. She had had many offers of marriage since, and had
refused them all--the memory of the handsome Hussar still lived in her
sentimental heart, and her most cherished possession was the cross which
he had won and had not lived to receive. Time had healed the wound: she
no longer experienced the pangs and sorrows of her first grief.
Everything had been mellowed down into a soft regret, and the still
living affection for the memory of a dead man kept her heart young.

That night Judith for once in a while had no thought of her dead
lover--she was thinking of the boy whom Simpson was bringing to them.
She remembered Lucy with wondering thoughts, trying to recall her as she
was when Cyprian Damerel took her away to London and a new life. None of
her own people had ever seen Lucy again--they were stay-at-home folk,
and the artist and his wife had spent most of their short married life
on the Continent. Now Damerel, too, was dead, and the boy was coming
back to his mother’s people, and Judith, who was given to dreaming,
speculated much concerning him.

‘I wonder,’ she said, scarcely knowing that she spoke, ‘I wonder what
Lucian will be like.’

‘And I wonder,’ said Miss Pepperdine, ‘if Damerel has left any money for
him.’

‘Surely!’ exclaimed Judith. ‘He earned such large sums by his
paintings.’

Miss Pepperdine’s needles clicked more sharply than ever.

‘He spent large sums too,’ she said. ‘I’ve heard of the way in which he
lived. He was an extravagant man, like most of his sort. That sort of
money is earned easily and spent easily. With his ideas and his tastes,
he ought to have been a duke. I hope he has provided for the boy--times
are not as good as they might be.’

‘You would never begrudge anything to Lucy’s child, sister?’ said Judith
timidly, and with a wistful glance at Miss Pepperdine’s stern
countenance. ‘I’m sure I shouldn’t--he is welcome to all I have.’

‘Umph!’ replied Miss Pepperdine. ‘Who talked of begrudging anything to
the child? All I say is, I hope his father has provided for him.’

Judith made no answer to this remark, and the silence which followed was
suddenly broken by the sound of wheels on the drive outside the house.
Both sisters rose to their feet; each showed traces of some emotion.
Without a word they passed out of the room into the hall. The
maid-servant had already opened the door, and in the light of the
hanging lamp they saw their brother helping Lucian out of the dogcart.
The sisters moved forward.

‘Now, then, here we are!’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘Home again, safe and
sound, and no breakages. Lucian, my boy, here’s your aunts Keziah and
Judith. Take him in, lassies, and warm him--it’s a keenish night.’

The boy stepped into the hall, and lifted his hat as he looked up at the
two women.

‘How do you do?’ he said politely.

Miss Pepperdine drew a quick breath. She took the outstretched hand and
bent down and kissed the boy’s cheek; in the lamplight she had seen her
dead sister’s eyes look out of the young face, and for the moment she
could not trust herself to speak. Judith trembled all over; as the boy
turned to her she put both arms round him and drew him into the parlour,
and there embraced him warmly. He looked at her somewhat wonderingly and
critically, and then responded to her embrace.

‘You are my Aunt Judith,’ he said. ‘Uncle Pepperdine told me about you.
You are the handsome one.’

Judith kissed him again. She had fallen in love with him on the spot.

‘Yes, I am your Aunt Judith, my dear,’ she said. ‘And I am very, very
glad to see you--we are all glad.’

She still held him in her arms, looking at him long and hungrily. Miss
Pepperdine came in, businesslike and bustling; she had lingered in the
hall, ostensibly to give an order to the servant, but in reality to get
rid of a tear or two.

‘Now, then, let me have a look at him,’ she said, and drew the boy out
of Judith’s hands and turned him to the light. ‘Your Aunt Judith,’ she
continued as she scanned him critically, ‘is the handsome one, as I
heard you say just now--I’m the ugly one. Do you think you’ll like me?’

Lucian stared back at her with a glance as keen and searching as her
own. He looked her through and through.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I like you. I think----’ He paused and smiled a
little.

‘You think--what?’

‘I think you might be cross sometimes, but you’re good,’ he said, still
staring at her.

Miss Pepperdine laughed. Judith knew that she was conquered.

‘Well, you’ll find out,’ said Miss Pepperdine. ‘Now, then, off with your
coat--are you hungry?’

‘No,’ answered Lucian. ‘I ate too much at Mrs. Trippett’s--English
people have such big meals, I think.’

‘Give him a drop of something warm,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, entering with
much rubbing of hands and stamping of feet. ‘’Tis cold as Christmas,
driving through them woods ’twixt here and Wellsby.’

Miss Pepperdine set the brass pan on the fire, and presently handed
Lucian a glass of hot milk, and produced an old-fashioned biscuit-box
from the cupboard. The boy sat down near Judith, ate and drank, and
looked about him, all unconscious that the two women and the man were
watching him with all their eyes.

‘I like this room better than Mrs. Trippett’s,’ he said suddenly. ‘Hers
is a pretty room, but this shows more taste. And all the furniture is
Chippendale!’

‘Bless his heart!’ said Miss Pepperdine, ‘so it is. How did you know
that, my dear?’

Lucian stared at her.

‘I know a lot about old furniture,’ he said; ‘my father taught me.’ He
yawned and looked apologetic. ‘I think I should like to go to bed,’ he
added, glancing at Miss Pepperdine. ‘I am sleepy--we have been
travelling all day.’

Judith rose from her chair with alacrity. She was pining to get the boy
all to herself.

‘I’ll take him to his room,’ she said. ‘Come along, dear, your room is
all ready for you.’

The boy shook hands with Aunt Keziah. She kissed him again and patted
his head. He crossed over to Mr. Pepperdine, who was pulling off his
boots.

‘I’ll go riding with you in the morning,’ he said. ‘After breakfast, I
suppose, eh?’

‘Ay, after breakfast,’ answered Mr. Pepperdine. ‘I’ll tell John to have
the pony ready. Good-night, my lad; your Aunt Judith’ll see you’re all
comfortable.’

Lucian shook hands with his uncle, and went cheerfully away with Judith.
Miss Pepperdine sighed as the door closed upon them.

‘He’s the very image of Cyprian Damerel,’ she said; ‘but he has Lucy’s
eyes.’

‘He’s a fine little lad,’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘An uncommon fine little
lad, and quite the gentleman. I’m proud of him.’

He had got into his slippers by this time, and he cast a longing eye at
the spirit-case on the table. Miss Pepperdine rose, produced an
old-fashioned pewter thimble, measured whisky into it, poured it into a
tumbler, added lemon, sugar, and hot water, and handed it to her
brother, who received it with an expression of gratitude, and sipped it
critically. She measured a less quantity into two other glasses and
mixed each with similar ingredients.

‘Judith won’t be coming down again,’ she said. ‘I’ll take her tumbler up
to her room; and I’m going to bed myself--we’ve had a long day with
churning. You’ll not want any news to-night, Simpson; it’ll keep till
to-morrow, and there’s little to tell--all’s gone on right.’

‘That’s a blessing,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, stretching his legs.

Miss Pepperdine put away her knitting, removed the spirit-case into the
cupboard, locked the door and put the key in her pocket, and took up the
little tray on which she had placed the tumblers intended for herself
and her sister. But on the verge of leaving the room she paused and
looked at her brother.

‘We were glad you got there in time, Simpson,’ she said. ‘And you did
right to bring the child home--it was the right thing to do. I hope
Damerel has made provision for him?’

Mr. Pepperdine was seized with a mighty yawning.

‘Oh ay!’ he said as soon as he could speak. ‘The lad’s all right,
Keziah--all right. Everything’s in my hands--yes, it’s all right.’

‘You must tell me about it afterwards,’ said Miss Pepperdine. ‘I’ll go
now--I just want to see that the boy has all he wants. Good-night,
Simpson.’

‘Good-night, my lass, good-night,’ said the farmer. ‘I’ll just look
round and be off to bed myself.’

Miss Pepperdine left the room and closed the door; her brother heard the
ancient staircase creak as she climbed to the sleeping-chambers. He
waited a few minutes, and then, rising from his chair, he produced a key
from his pocket, walked over to the old bureau, unlocked a small
cupboard, and brought forth a bottle of whisky. He drew the cork with a
meditative air and added a liberal dose of spirit to that handed to him
by his sister. He replaced the bottle and locked up the cupboard, poured
a little more hot water into his glass, and sipped the strengthened
mixture with approbation. Then he winked solemnly at his reflection in
the old mirror above the chimney-piece, and sat down before the fire to
enjoy his nightcap in privacy and comfort.



CHAPTER IV


Lucian went to sleep in a chamber smelling of lavender. He was very
tired, and passed into a land of gentle dreams as soon as his head
touched the pillow. Almost before he realised that he was falling asleep
he was wide awake again and it was morning. Broad rays of sunlight
flooded the room; he heard the notes of many birds singing outside the
window; it was plain that another day was already hastening to noon. He
glanced at his watch: it was eight o’clock. Lucian left his bed, drew up
the blind, and looked out of the window.

He had seen nothing of Simonstower on the previous evening: it had
seemed to him that after leaving Mr. Trippett’s farmstead he and Mr.
Pepperdine had been swallowed up in deep woods. He had remarked during
the course of the journey that the woods smelled like the pine forests
of Ravenna, and Mr. Pepperdine had answered that there was a deal of
pine thereabouts and likewise fir. Out of the woods they had not emerged
until they drove into the lights of a village, clattered across a bridge
which spanned a brawling stream, and climbed a winding road that led
them into more woods. Then had come the open door, and the new faces,
and bed, and now Lucian had his first opportunity of looking about him.

The house stood halfway up a hillside. He saw, on leaning out of the
window, that it was stoutly fashioned of great blocks of grey stone and
that some of the upper portions were timbered with mighty oak beams.
Over the main doorway, a little to the right of his window, a slab of
weather-worn stone exhibited a coat of arms, an almost illegible motto
or legend, of which he could only make out a few letters, and the
initials ‘S. P.’ over the date 1594. The house, then, was of a
respectable antiquity, and he was pleased because of it. He was
pleased, too, to find the greater part of its exterior half obscured by
ivy, jessamine, climbing rose-trees, honeysuckle, and wistaria, and that
the garden which stretched before it was green and shady and
old-fashioned. He recognised some features of it--the old, moss-grown
sun-dial; the arbour beneath the copper-beech; the rustic bench beneath
the lilac-tree--he had seen one or other of these things in his father’s
pictures, and now knew what memories had placed them there.

Looking further afield Lucian now saw the village through which they had
driven in the darkness. It lay in the valley, half a mile beneath him, a
quaint, picturesque place of one long straggling street, in which at
that moment he saw many children running about. The houses and cottages
were all of grey stone; some were thatched, some roofed with red tiles;
each stood amidst gardens and orchards. He now saw the bridge over which
Mr. Pepperdine’s mare had clattered the night before--a high, single
arch spanning a winding river thickly fenced in from the meadows by
alder and willow. Near it on rising ground stood the church,
square-towered, high of roof and gable, in the midst of a green
churchyard which in one corner contained the fallen masonry of some old
abbey or priory. On the opposite side of the river, in a small square
which seemed to indicate the forum of the village, stood the inn, easily
recognisable even at that distance by the pole which stood outside it,
bearing aloft a swinging sign, and by the size of the stables
surrounding it. This picture, too, was familiar to the boy’s eyes--he
had seen it in pictures a thousand times.

Over the village, frowning upon it as a lion frowns upon the victim at
its feet, hung the grim, gaunt castle which, after all, was the
principal feature of the landscape on which Lucian gazed. It stood on a
spur of rocky ground which jutted like a promontory from the hills
behind it--on three sides at least its situation was impregnable. From
Lucian’s point of vantage it still wore the aspect of strength and
power; the rustic walls were undamaged; the smaller towers and turrets
showed little sign of decay; and the great Norman keep rose like a
menace in stone above the skyline of the hills. All over the giant mass
of the old stronghold hung a drifting cloud of blue smoke, which
gradually mingled with the spirals rising from the village chimneys and
with the shadowy mists that curled about the pine-clad uplands. And over
everything--village, church, river, castle, meadow, and hill, man and
beast--shone the spring sun, life-giving and generous. Lucian looked and
saw and understood, and made haste to dress in order that he might go
out and possess all these things. He had a quick eye for beauty and an
unerring taste, and he recognised that in this village of the grey North
there was a charm and a romance which nothing could exhaust. His father
had recognised its beauty before him and had immortalised it on canvas;
Lucian, lacking the power to make a picture of it, had yet a keener
æsthetic sense of its appeal and its influence. It was already calling
to him with a thousand voices--he was so impatient to revel in it that
he grudged the time given to his breakfast. Miss Pepperdine expressed
some fears as to the poorness of his appetite; Miss Judith,
understanding the boy’s eagerness somewhat better, crammed a thick slice
of cake into his pocket as he set out. He was in such haste that he had
only time to tell Mr. Pepperdine that he would not ride the pony that
morning--he was going to explore the village, and the pony might wait.
Then he ran off, eager, excited.

He came back at noon, hungry as a ploughman, delighted with his
morning’s adventures. He had been all over the village, in the church
tower, inside the inn, where he had chatted with the landlord and the
landlady, he had looked inside the infants’ school and praised the red
cloaks worn by the girls to an evidently surprised schoolmistress, and
he had formed an acquaintance with the blacksmith and the carpenter.

‘And I went up to the castle, too,’ he said in conclusion, ‘and saw the
earl, and he showed me the picture which my father painted--it is
hanging in the great hall.’ Lucian’s relatives betrayed various
emotions. Mr. Pepperdine’s mouth slowly opened until it became
cavernous; Miss Pepperdine paused in the act of lifting a potato to her
mouth; Miss Judith clapped her hands.

‘You went to the castle and saw the earl?’ said Miss Pepperdine.

‘Yes,’ answered Lucian, unaware of the sensation he was causing. ‘I saw
him and the picture, and other things too. He was very kind--he made his
footman give me a glass of wine, but it was home-made and much too
sweet.’

Mr. Pepperdine winked at his sisters and cut Lucian another slice of
roast-beef.

‘And how might you have come to be so hand-in-glove with his lordship,
the mighty Earl of Simonstower?’ he inquired. ‘He’s a very nice, affable
old gentleman, isn’t he, Keziah? Ah--very--specially when he’s got the
gout.’

‘Oh, I went to the castle and rang the bell, and asked if the Earl of
Simonstower was at home,’ Lucian replied. ‘And I told the footman my
name, and he went away, and then came back and told me to follow him,
and he took me into a big study where there was an old, very
cross-looking old gentleman in an old-fashioned coat writing letters. He
had very keen eyes....’

‘Ah, indeed!’ interrupted Mr. Pepperdine. ‘Like a hawk’s!’

’...and he stared at me,’ continued Lucian, ‘and I stared at him. And
then he said, “Well, my boy, what do you want?” and I said, “Please, if
you are the Earl of Simonstower, I want to see the picture you bought
from my father some years ago.” Then he stared harder than ever, and he
said, “Are you Cyprian Damerel’s son?” and I said “Yes.” He pointed to
a chair and told me to sit down, and he talked about my father and his
work, and then he took me out to look at the pictures. He wanted to know
if I, too, was going to paint, and I had to tell him that I couldn’t
draw at all, and that I meant to be a poet. Then he showed me his
library, or a part of it--I stopped with him a long time, and he shook
hands with me when I left, and said I might go again whenever I wished
to.’

‘Hear, hear!’ said Mr. Pepperdine. ‘It’s very evident there’s a soft
spot somewhere in the old gentleman’s heart.’

‘And what did his lordship talk to you about?’ asked Miss Pepperdine,
who had sufficiently recovered from her surprise to resume her dinner.
‘I hope you said “my lord” and “your lordship” when you spoke to him?’

‘No, I didn’t, because I didn’t know,’ said Lucian. ‘I said “sir,”
because he was an old man. Oh, we talked about Italy--fancy, he hasn’t
been in Italy for twenty years!--and he asked me a lot of questions
about several things, and he got me to translate a letter for him which
he had just received from a professor at Florence--his own Italian, he
said, is getting rusty.’

‘And could you do it?’ asked Miss Pepperdine.

Lucian stared at her with wide-open eyes.

‘Why, yes,’ he answered. ‘It is my native tongue. I know much, much more
Italian than English. Sometimes I cannot find the right word in
English--it is a difficult language to learn.’

Lucian’s adventures of his first morning pleased Mr. Pepperdine greatly.
He chuckled to himself as he smoked his after-dinner pipe--the notion of
his nephew bearding the grim old earl in his tumble-down castle was
vastly gratifying and amusing: it was also pleasing to find Lucian
treated with such politeness. As the Earl of Simonstower’s tenant Mr.
Pepperdine had much respect but little affection for his titled
neighbour: the old gentleman was arbitrary and autocratic and totally
deaf to whatever might be said to him about bad times. Mr. Pepperdine
was glad to get some small change out of the earl through his nephew.

‘Did his lordship mention me or your aunties at all?’ he said, puffing
at his pipe as they all sat round the parlour fire.

‘Yes,’ answered Lucian, ‘he spoke of you.’

‘And what did he say like? Something sweet, no doubt,’ said Mr.
Pepperdine.

Lucian looked at Miss Judith and made no answer.

‘Out with it, lad!’ said Mr. Pepperdine.

‘It was only about Aunt Judith,’ answered Lucian. ‘He said she was a
very pretty woman.’

Mr. Pepperdine exploded in bursts of hearty laughter; Miss Judith
blushed like any girl; Miss Pepperdine snorted with indignation. She was
about to make some remark on the old nobleman’s taste when a diversion
was caused by the announcement that Lucian’s beloved chest of books had
arrived from Wellsby station. Nothing would satisfy the boy but that he
must unpack them there and then; he seized Miss Judith by the hand and
dragged her away to help him. For the rest of the afternoon the two were
arranging the books in an old bookcase which they unearthed from a
lumber-room and set up in Lucian’s sleeping chamber. Mr. Pepperdine,
looking in upon them once or twice and noting their fervour, retired to
the parlour or the kitchen with a remark to his elder sister that they
were as throng as Throp’s wife. Judith, indeed, had some taste in the
way of literature--in her own room she treasured a collection of volumes
which she had read over and over again. Her taste was chiefly for Lord
Byron, Moore, Mrs. Hemans, Miss Landon, and the sentimentalists; she
treasured a steel-plate engraving of Byron as if it had been a sacred
picture, and gazed with awe upon her nephew when he told her that he had
seen the palazzo in which Byron lived during his residence in Pisa, and
the house which he had occupied in Venice. Her own romance had given
Judith a love of poetry: she told Lucian as she helped him to unpack his
books and arrange them that she should expect him to read to her. Modern
literature was an unexplored field in her case; her knowledge of letters
was essentially early Victorian, and her ideas those of the age in which
a poet was most popular when most miserable, and young ladies wore white
stockings and low shoes with ankle-straps. She associated fiction with
high waists, and essays with full-bottomed wigs, and it seemed the most
natural thing to her to shed the tear of sympathy over the Corsair and
to sigh with pity for Childe Harold.



CHAPTER V


Lucian settled down in his new surroundings with a readiness and
docility that surprised his relatives. He rarely made any allusion to
the loss of his father--he appeared to possess a philosophic spirit that
enabled him, even at so early an age, to accept the facts of life as
they are. He was never backward, however, in talking of the past. He had
been his father’s constant companion for six years, and had travelled
with him wherever he went, especially in Italy, and he brought out of
his memory stores of reminiscences with which to interest and amuse his
newly found relatives. He would talk to Mr. Pepperdine of Italian
agriculture; to Keziah of Italian domestic life; to Judith of the
treasures of Rome and Naples, Pisa and Florence, of the blue skies and
sun-kissed groves of his native land. He always insisted on his
nationality--the accident of his connection with England on the maternal
side seemed to have no meaning for him.

‘I am Italian,’ he would say when Mr. Pepperdine slyly teased him. ‘It
does not matter that I was born in England. My real name is Luciano
Damerelli, and my father’s, if he had used it, was Cypriano.’

Little by little they began to find out the boy’s qualities and
characteristics. He was strangely old-fashioned, precocious, and
unnaturally grave, and cared little for the society of other children,
at whom he had a trick of staring as if they had been insects impaled
beneath a microscope and he a scientist examining them. He appeared to
have two great passions--one for out-door life and nature; the other for
reading. He would sit for hours on the bridge watching the river run by,
or lie on his back on the lawn in front of the house staring at the
drifting clouds. He knew every nook of the ruinous part of the castle
and every corner of the old church before he had been at Simonstower
many weeks. He made friends with everybody in the village, and if he
found out that an old man had some strange legend to tell, he pestered
the life out of him until it was told. And every day he did so much
reading, always with the stern concentration of the student who means to
possess a full mind.

When Lucian had been nearly two months at the farm it was borne in upon
Miss Pepperdine’s mind that he ought to be sent to school. She was by no
means anxious to get rid of him--on the contrary she was glad to have
him in the house: she loved to hear him talk, to see him going about,
and to watch his various proceedings. But Keziah Pepperdine had been
endowed at birth with the desire to manage--she was one of those people
who are never happy unless they are controlling, devising, or
superintending. Moreover, she possessed a very strict sense of
justice--she believed in doing one’s duty, especially to those people to
whom duty was owing, and who could not extract it for themselves. It
seemed to her that it was the plain duty of Lucian’s relatives to send
Lucian to school. She was full of anxieties for his future. Every
attempt which she had made to get her brother to tell her anything about
the boy’s affairs had resulted in sheer failure--Simpson Pepperdine,
celebrated from the North Sea to the Westmoreland border as the
easiest-going and best-natured man that ever lived, was a past master in
the art of evading direct questions. Keziah could get no information
from him, and she was anxious for Lucian’s sake. The boy, she said,
ought to be fitted out for some walk in life.

She took the vicar into her confidence, seizing the opportunity when he
called one day and found no one but herself at home.

‘Of course,’ she said, ‘the boy is a great book-worm. Reading is all
that he seems to care about. He brought a quantity of books with him--he
has bought others since. He reads in an old-fashioned sort of way--not
as you would think a child would. I offered him a child’s book one
night--it was one that a little boy who once stayed here had left in the
house. He took it politely enough, and pretended to look at it, but it
was plain to see that he was amused. He is a precocious child, Mr.
Chilverstone.’

The vicar agreed. He suggested that he might be better able to judge the
situation, and to advise Miss Pepperdine thereon, if he were allowed to
inspect Lucian’s library, and Keziah accordingly escorted him to the
boy’s room. Mr. Chilverstone was somewhat taken aback on being
confronted by an assemblage of some three or four hundred volumes,
arranged with great precision and bearing evidences of constant use. He
remarked that the sight was most interesting, and proceeded to make a
general inspection. A rapid survey of Lucian’s books showed him that the
boy had three favourite subjects--history, mediæval romance, and poetry.
There were histories of almost every country in Europe, and at least
three of the United States of America; there were editions of the
ancient chronicles; the great Italian poets were all there in the
original; the English poets, ancient and modern, were there too, in
editions that bespoke the care of a book-lover. There was nothing of a
juvenile, or even a frivolous nature from the top of the old bookcase to
the bottom--the nearest approach to anything in the shape of light
literature was found in the presence of certain famous historical
romances of undoubted verisimilitude, and in much-thumbed copies of
_Robinson Crusoe_ and _The Pilgrim’s Progress_.

Mr. Chilverstone was puzzled. As at least one-half of the books before
him were in Italian, he concluded that Lucian was as well acquainted
with that language as with English, and said so. Miss Pepperdine
enlightened him on the point, and gave him a rapid sketch of Lucian’s
history.

‘Just so, just so,’ said he. ‘No doubt the boy’s father formed his
taste. It is really most interesting. It is very evident that the child
has an uncommon mind--you say that he reads with great attention and
concentration?’

‘You might let off a cannon at his elbow and he wouldn’t take any
notice,’ said Miss Pepperdine.

‘It is evident that he is a born student. This is a capital collection
of modern histories,’ said Mr. Chilverstone. ‘If your nephew has read
and digested them all he must be well informed as to the rise and
progress of nations. I should like, I think, to have an opportunity of
conversing with him.’

Although he did not say so to Miss Pepperdine, the vicar was secretly
anxious to find out what had diverted the boy’s attention from the usual
pursuits of childhood into these paths. He contrived to waylay Lucian
and to draw him into conversation, and being a man of some talent and of
considerable sympathy, he soon knew all that the boy had to tell. He
found that Lucian had never received any education of the ordinary type;
had never been to school or known tutor or governess. He could not
remember who taught him to read, but cherished a notion that reading and
writing had come to him with his speech. As to his choice of books, that
had largely had its initiative in his father’s recommendation; but there
had been a further incentive in the fact that the boy had travelled a
great deal, was familiar with many historic scenes and places, and had a
natural desire to re-create the past in his own imagination. For six
years, in short, he had been receiving an education such as few children
are privileged to acquire. He talked of mediæval Italy as if he had
lived in its sunny-tinted hours, and of modern Rome as though it lay in
the next parish. But Mr. Chilverstone saw that the boy was in no danger
of becoming either prig or pedant, and that his mind was as normal as
his body was healthy. He was the mere outcome of an exceptional
environment. He had lived amongst men who talked and worked and thought
but with one object--Art--and their enthusiasm had filled him too. ‘I
am to be a poet--a great poet,’ he said, with serious face and a
straight stare from the violet eyes whose beauty brought everybody
captive to his feet. ‘It is my destiny.’

Mr. Chilverstone had a sheaf of yellow papers locked away in a secret
drawer which he had never exhibited to living man or woman--verses
written in long dead college days. He was sentimental about them still,
and the sentiment inclined him to tenderness with youthful genius. He
assured Lucian that he sincerely trusted that he might achieve his
heart’s desire, and added a word of good advice as to the inadvisability
of writing too soon. But he discovered that some one had been beforehand
with the boy on that point--the future poet, with a touch of worldly
wisdom which sounded as odd as it was quaint, assured the parson that he
had a horror of immaturity and had been commanded by his father never to
print anything until it had stood the test of cool-headed reflection and
twelve months’ keeping.

The vicar recognised that here was material which required careful
nursing and watchful attention. He soon found that Lucian knew nothing
of mathematics, and that his only desire in the way of Greek and Latin
was that he might be able to read the poets of those languages in the
originals. Of the grammar of the English language he knew absolutely
nothing, but as he spoke with an almost too extreme correctness, and in
a voice of great refinement, Mr. Chilverstone gave it as his opinion
that there was no necessity to trouble him with its complexities. But in
presenting his report to Miss Pepperdine the vicar said that it would do
the boy good to go to school. He would mix with other boys--he was
healthy and normal enough, to be sure, and full of boyish fun in his
way, but the society of lads of his own age would be good for him. He
recommended Miss Pepperdine to send him to the grammar-school at
Saxonstowe, the headmaster of which was a friend of his and would gladly
give special attention to any boy whom he recommended. He volunteered,
carrying his kindness further, to go over to Saxonstowe and talk to Dr.
Babbacombe; for Lucian, he remarked, was no ordinary boy, and needed
special attention.

Miss Pepperdine, like most generals who conceive their plans of campaign
in secret, found that her troubles commenced as soon as she began to
expose her scheme to criticism. Mr. Pepperdine, as a lifelong exponent
of the art of letting things alone, wanted to know what she meant by
disturbing everything when all was going on as comfortably as it could
be. He was sure the boy had as much book-learning as the archbishop
himself--besides, if he was sent away to school, he, Simpson Pepperdine,
would have nobody to talk to about how they farmed in foreign countries.
Judith, half recognising the force of her sister’s arguments, was still
angry with Keziah for allowing them to occur to her--she knew that the
boy had crept so closely into her heart and had so warmed it with new
fire that she hated the thought of his leaving her, even though
Saxonstowe was only thirty miles away. Consequently Miss Pepperdine
fought many pitched battles with her brother and sister, and Simpson and
Judith, who knew that she had more brains in her little finger than they
possessed in their two heads, took to holding conferences in secret in
the vain hope of circumventing her designs.

It came as a vast surprise to these two conspirators that Lucian
himself, on whose behalf they basely professed to be fighting, deserted
to, or rather openly joined, the enemy as soon as the active campaign
began. Miss Pepperdine, like the astute woman she was, gained the boy’s
ear and had talked him over before either Simpson or Judith could
pervert his mind. He listened to all she had to say, showed that he was
impressed, and straightway repaired to the vicarage to seek Mr.
Chilverstone’s advice. That evening, in the course of a family council,
shared in by Mr. Pepperdine with a gloomy face and feelings of silent
resentment against Keziah, and by Judith with something of the emotion
displayed by a hen who is about to be robbed of her one chicken, Lucian
announced that he would go to school, adding, however, that if he found
there was nothing to be learnt there he would return to his uncle’s
roof. Mr. Pepperdine plucked up amazingly after this announcement, for
he cherished a secret conviction that his nephew already knew more than
any schoolmaster could teach him; but Judith shed tears when she went to
bed, and felt ill-disposed towards Keziah for the rest of the week.

Lucian went to Saxonstowe presently with cheerfulness and a businesslike
air, and the three middle-aged Pepperdines were miserable. Mr.
Pepperdine took to going over to the Grange at Wellsby nearly every
night, and Judith was openly rebellious. Miss Pepperdine herself felt
that the house was all the duller for the boy’s absence, and wondered
how they had endured its dumb monotony before he came. There was much of
the Spartan in her, however, and she bore up without sign; but the
experience taught her that Duty, when actually done, is not so pleasing
to the human feelings as it seems to be when viewed from a distance.

No word came from Lucian for two weeks after his departure; then the
postman brought a letter addressed to Mr. Pepperdine, which was opened
amidst great excitement at the breakfast table. Mr. Pepperdine, however,
read it in silence.

/#
     ‘My dear Uncle Simpson Pepperdine,’ wrote Lucian, ‘I did not wish
     to write to you until I had been at school quite two weeks, so that
     I could tell you what I thought of it, and whether it would suit
     me. It is a very nice school, and all the boys are very nice too,
     and I like Dr. Babbacombe, and his wife, and the masters. We have
     very good meals, and I should be quite content in that respect if
     one could sometimes have a cup of decent coffee, but I believe that
     is impossible in England. They have a pudding here, sometimes,
     which the boys call Spotted Dog--it is very satisfying and I do not
     remember hearing of it before--it has what English people call
     plums in it, but they are in reality small dried raisins.

     ‘I am perfectly content with my surroundings and my new friends,
     but I greatly fear that this system of education will not suit me.
     In some subjects, such as history and general knowledge, I find
     that I already know much more than Dr. Babbacombe usually teaches
     to boys. As regards other subjects I find that it is not _en règle_
     to permit discussion or argument between master and pupil. I can
     quite see the reasonableness of that, but it is the only way in
     which I have ever learnt everything. I am not quick at learning
     anything--I have to read a thing over and over again before I
     arrive at the true significance. It may be that I would spend a
     whole day in accounting to myself why a certain cause produces a
     certain effect--the system of education in use here, however,
     requires one to learn many things in quite a short time. It reminds
     me of the man who taught twelve parrots all at once. In more ways
     than one it reminds me of this, because I feel that many boys here
     learn the sound of a word and yet do not know what the word means.
     That is what I have been counselled to avoid.

     ‘I am anxious to be amenable to your wishes, but I think I shall
     waste time here. If I could have my own way I should like to have
     Mr. Chilverstone for a tutor, because he is a man of understanding
     and patience, and would fully explain everything to me. I am not
     easy in my mind here, though quite so in my body. Everybody is very
     kind and the life is comfortable, but I do not think Dr. Babbacombe
     or his masters are great _savants_, though they are gracious and
     estimable gentlemen.

     ‘I send my love to you and my aunts, and to Mr. Chilverstone and
     Mr. and Mrs. Trippett. I have bought a cricket-bat for John
     Trippett and a doll for Mary, which I shall send in a box very
     soon.--And I am your affectionate kinsman,

/*
                                            ‘LUCIAN DAMEREL.
*/


#/

As the greater part of this remarkable epistle was pure Greek to Mr.
Pepperdine, he repaired to the vicarage with it and laid it before Mr.
Chilverstone, who, having duly considered it, returned with Lucian’s
kinsman to the farm and there entered into solemn conclave with him and
his sisters. The result of their deliberations was that the boy was soon
afterwards taken from the care of the gracious and estimable gentlemen
who were not _savants_, and placed, so far as his education was
concerned, under the sole charge of the vicar.



CHAPTER VI


Mr. Chilverstone was one of those men upon whom many sorrows and
disappointments are laid. He had set out in life with a choice selection
of great ambitions, and at forty-five not one of them had fructified.
Ill-health had always weighed him down in one direction; ill-luck in
another; the only piece of good fortune which had ever come to him came
when the Earl of Simonstower, who had heard of him as an inoffensive man
content to serve a parish without going to extremes in either of the
objectionable directions, presented him to a living which even in bad
times was worth five hundred pounds a year. But just before this
preferment came in his way Mr. Chilverstone had the misfortune to lose
his wife, and the enjoyment of the fit things of a country living was
necessarily limited to him for some time. He was not greatly taxed by
his pastoral duties, for his flock, from the earl downwards, loved that
type of parson who knows how to keep his place, and only insists on his
professional prestige on Sundays and the appointed days, and he had no
great inclination to occupy himself in other directions. As the
bitterness of his great sorrow slipped away from him he found his life
resolving itself into a level--his time was passed in reading, in
pottering about his garden, and, as she grew up, in educating his only
child, a girl who at the time of her mother’s death was little more than
an infant. At the time of Lucian’s arrival in the village Mr.
Chilverstone’s daughter was at school in Belgium--the boy’s first visits
to the vicarage were therefore made to a silent and lonely house, and
they proved very welcome to its master.

Lucian’s experience at the grammar-school was never repeated under the
new _régime_. The vicar had been somewhat starved in the matter of
conversation for more years than he cared to remember, and it was a
Godsend to him to have a keen and inquiring mind opposed to his own. His
pupil’s education began and was continued in an unorthodox fashion;
there was no system and very little order in it, but it was good for man
and boy. They began to spend much time together, in the field as much as
in the study. Mr. Chilverstone, encouraged thereto by Lucian, revived an
ancient taste for archæology, and the two made long excursions to the
ruined abbeys, priories, castles, and hermitages in their neighbourhood.
Miss Pepperdine, to whom Lucian invariably applied for large supplies of
sandwiches on these occasions, had an uncomfortable suspicion that the
boy would have been better employed with a copy-book or a slate, but she
had great faith in the vicar, and acknowledged that her nephew never got
into mischief, though he had certainly set his room on fire one night by
a bad habit of reading in bed. She had become convinced that Lucian was
an odd chicken, who had got into the brood by some freak of fortune, and
she fell into the prevalent fashion of the family in regarding him as
something uncommon that was not to be judged by ordinary rules of life
or interfered with. To Mr. Pepperdine and to Judith he remained a
constant source of wonder, interest, and amusement, for his tongue never
ceased to wag, and he communicated to them everything that he saw,
heard, and thought, with a freedom and generosity that kept them in a
perpetual state of mental activity.

Towards the end of June, when Lucian had been three months at
Simonstower, he walked into the vicar’s study one morning to find him in
a state of mild excitement. Mr. Chilverstone nodded his head at a letter
which lay open on his desk.

‘The day after to-morrow,’ he said, ‘you will see my daughter. She is
coming home from school.’

Lucian made no answer. It seemed to him that this bare announcement
wrought some subtle change. He knew nothing whatever of girls--they had
never come into his life, and he was doubtful about them. He stared
hard at the vicar.

‘Will you be glad to see her?’ he asked.

‘Why, surely!’ exclaimed Mr. Chilverstone. ‘Yes--I have not seen her for
nearly a year, and it is two years since she left home. Yes--Millie is
all I have.’

Lucian felt a pang of jealousy. It was part of his nature to fall in
love with every new friend he made; in return, he expected each new
friend to devote himself to him. He had become very fond of the vicar;
they got on together excellently; it was not pleasant to think that a
girl was coming between them. Besides, what Mr. Chilverstone said was
not true. This Millie was not all he had--he had some of him, Lucian.

‘You will like my little girl,’ the vicar went on, utterly oblivious of
the fact that he was making the boy furiously jealous. ‘She is full of
life and fun--a real ray of sunshine in a house.’ He sighed heavily and
looked at a portrait of his wife. ‘Yes,’ he continued, ‘she is quite a
lively girl, my little Millie. A sort of tomboy, you know. I call her
Sprats; it seems to fit her, somehow.’

Lucian almost choked with rage and grief. All the old, pleasant
companionship; all the long talks and walks; all the disputations and
scholarly wrangles were to be at an end, and all because of a girl whose
father called her Sprats! It was unbelievable. He gazed at the
unobservant clergyman with eyes of wonder; he had come to have a great
respect for him as a scholar, and could not understand how a man who
could make the Greek grammar so interesting could feel any interest in a
girl, even though that girl happened to be his own daughter. For women
like his aunts, and Mrs. Trippett, and the housekeeper at the castle,
Lucian had a great liking; they were all useful in one way or another,
either to get good things to eat out of, or to talk to when one wanted
to talk; but girls--whatever place had they in the economy of nature! He
had never spoken to a girl in his life, except to little Mary Trippett,
who was nine, and to whom he sometimes gave sweets and dolls. Would he
be expected to talk to this girl whose father called her Sprats? He
turned hot and cold at the thought.

His visit to the vicarage that morning was a dead failure. Mr.
Chilverstone’s behaviour was foolish and ridiculous: he would talk of
Sprats. He even went as far as to tell Lucian of some of Sprats’s
escapades. They were mostly of the practical-joke order, and seemed to
afford Mr. Chilverstone huge amusement--Lucian wondered how he could be
so silly. He endeavoured to be as polite as possible, but he declined an
invitation to stay to lunch. He would cheerfully listen to Mr.
Chilverstone on the very dryest points of an irregular verb, but Mr.
Chilverstone on Sprats was annoying--he almost descended to futility.

Lucian refused two invitations that afternoon. Mr. Pepperdine offered to
take him with him to York, whither he was proceeding on business; Miss
Judith asked him if he would like to go with her to the house of a
friend in whose grounds was a haunted hermitage. He declined both
invitations with great politeness and went out in solitude. Part of the
afternoon he spent with an old man who mended the roads. The old man was
stone-deaf and needed no conversational effort on the part of a friend,
and when he spoke himself he talked of intelligent subjects, such as
rheumatism, backache, and the best cure for stone in the bladder. Lucian
thought him a highly intelligent man, and presented him with a screw of
tobacco purchased at the village shop--it was a tacit thankoffering to
the gods that the old man had avoided the subject of girls. His spirits
improved after a visit to the shoemaker, who told him a brand-new ghost
story for the truth of which he vouched with many solemn asseverations,
and he was chatty with his Aunt Keziah when they took tea together. But
that night he did not talk so much as usual, and he went to bed early
and made no attempt to coax Miss Pepperdine into letting him have the
extra light which she had confiscated after he had set his bed on fire.

Next day Lucian hoped to find the vicar in a saner frame of mind, but to
his astonishment and disgust Mr. Chilverstone immediately began to talk
of Sprats again, and continued to do so until he became unbearable.
Lucian was obliged to listen to stories which to him seemed inept,
fatuous, and even imbecile. He was told of Sprats’s first distinct
words; of her first tooth; of her first attempts to walk; of the
memorable occasion upon which she placed her pet kitten on the fire in
order to warm it. The infatuated father, who had not had an opportunity
of retailing these stories for some time, and who believed that he was
interesting his listener, continued to pour forth story after story,
each more feeble and ridiculous than the last, until Lucian could have
shrieked with the agony which was tearing his soul to pieces. He pleaded
a bad headache at last and tried to slip away--Mr. Chilverstone detained
him in order to give him an anti-headache powder, and accompanied his
researches into the medicine cupboard with a highly graphic description
of a stomach-ache which Sprats had once contracted from too lavish
indulgence in unripe apples, and was cured by himself with some simple
drug. The vicar, in short, being a disingenuous and a simple-minded man,
had got Sprats on the brain, and he imagined that every word he said was
meeting with a responsive thrill in the boy’s heart.

Lucian escaped the fatuous father at last. He rushed out into the
sunlight, almost choking with rage, grief, and disappointment. He flung
the powder into the hedge-bottom, sat down on a stone-heap at the side
of the road, and began to swear in Italian. He swore freely and fluently
until he had exhausted that eloquent vocabulary which one may pick up in
Naples and Venice and in the purlieus of Hatton Garden, and when he had
finished he began it all over again and repeated it with as much fervour
as one should display, if one is honest, in reciting the Rosary. This
saved him from apoplexy, but the blood grew black within him and his
soul was scratched. It had been no part of Lucian’s plans for the future
that Sprats should come between him and his friend.

He slept badly that night, and while he lay awake he said to himself
that it was all over. It was a mere repetition of history--a woman
always came between men. He had read a hundred instances--this was one
more. Of course, the Sprats creature would oust him from his
place--nothing would ever be as it had been. All was desolate, and he
was alone. He read several pages of the fourth canto of _Childe Harold_
as soon as it was light, and dropped asleep with the firm conviction
that life is a grey thing.

All that day and the next Lucian kept away from the vicarage. The
domestic deities wondered why he did not go as usual; he invented
plausible excuses with facile ingenuity. He neglected his books and
betrayed a suspicious interest in Mr. Pepperdine’s recent purchases of
cattle; he was restless and at times excited, and Miss Keziah looked at
his tongue and felt his forehead and made him swallow a dose of a
certain home-made medicine by which she set great store. On the third
day the suppressed excitement within him reached boiling-point. He went
out into the fields mad to work it off, and by good or ill luck lighted
upon an honest rustic who was hoeing turnips under a blazing midsummer
sun. Lucian looked at the rustic with the eye of a mocking and
mischievous devil.

‘Boggles,’ he said, with a Mephistophelian coaxing, ‘would you like to
hear some Italian?’ Boggles ruminated.

‘Why, Master Lucian,’ he said, ‘I don’t know as I ever did hear that
language--can’t say as I ever did, anyhow.’

‘Listen, then,’ said Lucian. He treated Boggles to a string of
expletives, delivered with native force and energy, making use of his
eyes and teeth until the man began to feel frightened.

‘Lord sakes, Master Lucian!’ he said, ‘one ’ud think you was going to
murder somebody--you look that fierce. It’s a queer sort o’ language
that, sir--I never heard nowt like it. It flays a body.’

‘It is the most delightful language in the world when you want to
swear,’ said Lucian. ‘It....’

‘Nonsense! It isn’t a patch on German. You wait till I get over the
hedge and I’ll show you,’ cried a ringing and very authoritative voice.
‘I can reel off twice as much as that.’

Lucian turned round with an instinctive feeling that a critical moment
was at hand. He caught sight of something feminine behind the hedgerow;
the next instant a remarkably nimble girl came over a half-made gap. The
turnip-hoeing man uttered an exclamation which had much joy in it.

‘Lord sakes if it isn’t Miss Millie!’ he said, touching his cap. ‘Glad
to see ’ee once again, missie. They did tell me you was coming from them
furrineerin’ countries, and there you be, growed quite up, as one might
say.’

‘Not quite, but nearly, Boggles,’ answered Miss Chilverstone. ‘How’s
your rheumatics, as one might call ’em? They were pretty bad when I went
away, I remember.’

‘They’re always bad i’ th’ winter, miss,’ said Boggles, leaning on his
hoe and evincing a decided desire to talk, ‘and a deal better in summer,
allus providing the Lord don’t send no rain. Fine, dry weather, miss, is
what I want--the rain ain’t no good to me.’

‘A little drop wouldn’t hurt the turnips, anyway,’ said Miss
Chilverstone, looking about her with a knowing air. ‘Seem pretty well
dried up, don’t they?’ She looked at Lucian. Their eyes met: the boy
stared and blushed; the girl stared and laughed.

‘Did it lose its tongue, then?’ she said teasingly. ‘It seemed to have a
very long and very ready one when it was swearing at poor old Boggles.
What made him use such bad language to you, Boggles?’

‘Lord bless ’ee, missie,’ said Boggles hurriedly, ‘he didn’t mean no
harm, didn’t Master Lucian--he was telling me how they swear in
Eye-talian. Not but what it didn’t sound very terrible--but he wouldn’t
hurt a fly, wouldn’t Master Lucian, miss, he wouldn’t indeed.’

‘Dear little lamb!’ she said mockingly, ‘I shouldn’t think he would.’
She turned on the boy with a sudden twist of her shoulders. ‘So you are
Lucian, are you?’ she asked.

‘I am Lucian, yes,’ he answered.

‘Do you know who I am?’ she asked, with a flashing look.

Lucian stared back at her, and the shadow of a smile stole into his
face.

‘I think,’ he said musingly, ‘I think you must be Sprats.’

Then the two faced each other and stared as only stranger children can
stare.

Mr. Boggles, his watery old eyes keenly observant, leaned his chin upon
his hoe and stared also, chuckling to himself. Neither saw him; their
eyes were all for each other. The girl, without acknowledging it,
perhaps without knowing it, recognised the boy’s beauty and hated him
for it in a healthy fashion. He was too much of a picture; his clothes
were too neat; his collar too clean; his hands too white; he was
altogether too much of a fine and finicking little gentleman; he ought,
she said to herself, to be stuck in a velvet suit, and a point-lace
collar, and labelled. The spirit of mischief entered into her at the
sight of him.

Lucian examined this strange creature with care. He was relieved to find
that she was by no means beautiful. He saw a strong-limbed,
active-looking young damsel, rather older and rather taller than
himself, whose face was odd, rather than pretty, and chiefly remarkable
for a prodigality of freckles and a healthy tan. Her nose was pugnacious
and inclined to be of the snub order; her hair sandy and anything but
tidy; there was nothing beautiful in her face but a pair of brown eyes
of a singularly clear and honest sort. As for her attire, it was not in
that order which an exacting governess might have required: she wore a
blue serge frock in which she had evidently been climbing trees or
scrambling through hedgerows, a battered straw hat wherein she or
somebody had stuck the long feathers from a cock’s tail; there was a
rent in one of her stockings, and her stout shoes looked as if she had
tramped through several ploughed fields in them. All over and round her
glowed a sort of aureole of rude and vigorous health, of animal spirits,
and of a love of mischief--the youthful philosopher confronting her
recognised a new influence and a new nature.

‘Yes,’ she said demurely, ‘I’m Sprats, and you’ve a cheek to call me
so--who gave you leave, I’d like to know? What would you think if I told
you that you’d look nice if you had a barrel-organ and a monkey on it?
Ha! ha! had him there, hadn’t I, Boggles? Well, do you know where I am
going, monkey-boy?’

Lucian sighed resignedly.

‘No,’ he answered.

‘Going to fetch you,’ she said. ‘You haven’t been to your lessons for
two days, and you’re to go this instant minute.’

‘I don’t think I want any lessons to-day,’ replied Lucian.

‘Hear him!’ she said, making a grimace. ‘What do they do with little
boys who won’t go to school, Boggles--eh?’

If Lucian had known more of a world with which he had never, poor child,
had much opportunity of making acquaintance, he would have seen that
Sprats was meditating mischief. Her eyes began to glitter: she smiled
demurely.

‘Are you coming peaceably?’ she asked.

‘But I’m not coming at all,’ replied Lucian.

‘Aren’t you, though? We’ll soon settle that, won’t we, Boggles?’ she
exclaimed. ‘Now then, monkey--off you go!’

She was on him with a rush before he knew what was about to happen, and
had lifted him off his feet and swung him on to her shoulder ere he
could escape her. Lucian expostulated and beseeched; Sprats, shouting
and laughing, made for a gap in the hedgerow; Boggles, hugely delighted,
following in the wake. At the gap a battle royal ensued--Lucian fighting
to free himself, the girl clinging on to him with all the strength of
her vigorous young arms.

‘Let me go, I say!’ cried Lucian. ‘Let me down!’

‘You’d best to go quiet and peaceable, Master Lucian,’ counselled
Boggles. ‘Miss Millie ain’t one to be denied of anything.’

‘But I won’t be carried!’ shouted Lucian, half mad with rage. ‘I
won’t....’

He got no further. Sprats, holding on tight to her captive, caught her
foot in a branch as she struggled over the gap, and pitched headlong
through. There was a steep bank at the other side with a wide ditch of
water at its foot: Boggles, staring over the hedge with all his eyes,
beheld captor and captive, an inextricable mass of legs and arms, turn a
series of hurried somersaults and collapse into the duck-weed and
water-lilies with a splash that drowned their mutual screams of rage,
indignation, and delight.



CHAPTER VII


It followed as a matter of inevitable consequence that Lucian and Sprats
when they emerged from the waters of the wayside ditch had become fast
friends for life; from that time forward they were as David and
Jonathan, loving much, and having full confidence in each other. They
became inseparable, and their lives were spent together from an early
hour of the morning until the necessary bedtime. The vicar was to a
certain degree shelved: his daughter possessed the charm of youth and
high spirits which was wanting in him. He became a species of elder
brother, who was useful in teaching one things and good company on
occasions. He, like the philosopher which life had made him, accepted
the situation. He saw that the devotion which Lucian had been about to
pour out at his own feet had by a sudden whim of fate been diverted to
his daughter, and he smiled. He took from these two children all that
they gave him, and was sometimes gorged to satiety and sometimes kept on
short commons, according to their vagaries and moods. Like all young and
healthy things, they believed that the world had been made for their own
particular benefit, and they absorbed it. Perhaps there had never been
such a close companionship as that which sprang up between these two.
The trifling fact that one was a boy and the other a girl never seemed
to strike them: they were sexless and savage in their freedom. Under
Sprats’s fostering care Lucian developed a new side of his character:
she taught him to play cricket and football, to climb trees and
precipices, to fish and to ride, and to be an out-of-door boy in every
way. He, on his part, repaid her by filling her mind with much of his
own learning: she became as familiar with the scenes of his childhood as
if she had lived in them herself.

For three years the vicar, Sprats, and Lucian lived in a world of their
own, with the Pepperdines as a closely fitting environment. Miss
Pepperdine was accustomed to remark that she did not know whether Lucian
really lived at the farm or at the vicarage, but as the vicar often made
a similar observation with respect to his daughter, things appeared to
be equalised. It was true that the two children treated the houses with
equal freedom. If they happened to be at the farm about dinner-time they
dined there, but the vicarage would have served them equally well if it
had harboured them when the luncheon-bell rang. Mr. Pepperdine was
greatly delighted when he found them filling a side of his board: their
remarks on things in general, their debates, disputes, and more than
all, their quarrels, afforded him much amusement. They were not so well
understood by Miss Pepperdine, who considered the young lady from the
vicarage to be something of a hoyden, and thought it the vicar’s duty to
marry again and provide his offspring with a mother.

‘And a pretty time she’d have!’ remarked Mr. Pepperdine, to whom this
sage reflection was offered. ‘A nice handful for anybody, is that young
Sprats--as full of mischief as an egg is full of meat. But a good ge’l,
a good ge’l, Keziah, and with a warm heart, you make no mistake.’

Sprats’s kindness of heart, indeed, was famous throughout the village.
She was her father’s almoner, and tempered charity with discrimination
in a way that would have done credit to a professional philanthropist.
She made periodical visits through the village, followed by Lucian, who
meekly carried a large basket containing toothsome and seasonable doles,
which were handed out to this or that old woman in accordance with
Sprats’s instructions. The instinct of mothering something was strong
within her. From the moment of her return from school she had taken her
father in hand and had shaken him up and pulled him together. He had
contracted bad habits as regards food and was becoming dyspeptic; he
was careless about his personal comfort and neglectful of his
health--Sprats dragooned him into the paths of rectitude. But she
extended her mothering instincts to Lucian even more than to her father.
She treated him at times as if he were a child with whom it was
unnecessary to reason; there was always an affectionate solicitude in
her attitude towards him which was, perhaps, most marked when she
bullied him into subjection. Once when he was ill and confined to his
room for a week or two she took up her quarters at the farm, summarily
dismissed Keziah and Judith from attendance on the invalid, and nursed
him back to convalescence. It was useless to argue with her on these
occasions. Sprats, as Boggles had truly said, was not one to be denied
of anything, and every year made it more manifest that when she had
picked Lucian up in the turnip-field and had fallen headlong into the
ditch with him, it had been a figure of her future interest in his
welfare.

It was in the fourth summer of Lucian’s residence at Simonstower, and he
was fifteen and Sprats nearly two years older, when the serpent stole
into their Paradise. Until the serpent came all had gone well with them.
Sprats was growing a fine girl; she was more rudely healthy than ever,
and just as sunburned; her freckles had increased rather than decreased;
her hair, which was growing deeper in colour, was a perpetual nuisance
to her. She had grown a little quieter in manner, but would break out at
times; the mere fact that she wore longer skirts did not prevent her
from climbing trees or playing cricket. And she and Lucian were still
hand-in-glove, still David and Jonathan; she had no friends of her own
sex, and he none of his; each was in a happy state of perfect content.
But the stage of absolute perfection is by no means assured even in the
Arcadia of childhood--it may endure for a time, but sooner or later it
must be broken in upon, and not seldom in a rudely sudden way.

The breaking up of the old things began one Sunday morning in summer,
in the cool shade of the ancient church. Nothing heralded the momentous
event; everything was as placid as it always was. Lucian, sitting in the
pew sacred to the family of Pepperdine, looked about him and saw just
what he saw every Sunday. Mr. Pepperdine was at the end of the pew in
his best clothes; Miss Pepperdine was gorgeous in black silk and bugles;
Miss Judith looked very handsome in her pearl-grey. In the vicarage pew,
all alone, sat Sprats in solemn state. Her freckled face shone with much
polishing; her sailor hat was quite straight; as for the rest of her,
she was clothed in a simple blouse and a plain skirt, and there were no
tears in either. All the rest was as usual. The vicar’s surplice had
been newly washed, and Sprats had mended a bit of his hood, which had
become frayed by hanging on a nail in the vestry, but otherwise he
presented no different appearance to that which always characterised
him. There were the same faces, and the same expressions upon them, in
every pew, and that surely was the same bee that always buzzed while
they waited for the service to begin, and the three bells in the tower
droned out. ‘_Come_ to church--_come_ to church--_come_ to church!’

It was at this very moment that the serpent stole into Paradise. The
vicar had broken the silence with ‘When the wicked man turneth away from
his wickedness,’ and everybody had begun to rustle the leaves of their
prayer-books, when the side-door of the chancel opened and the Earl of
Simonstower, very tall, and very gaunt, and very irascible in
appearance, entered in advance of two ladies, whom he marshalled to the
castle pew with as much grace and dignity as his gout would allow.
Lucian and Sprats, with a wink to each other which no one else
perceived, examined the earl’s companions during the recitation of the
General Confession, looking through the slits of their hypocritical
fingers. The elder lady appeared to be a woman of fashion: she was
dressed in a style not often seen at Simonstower, and her attire, her
lorgnette, her vinaigrette, her fan, and her airs and graces formed a
delightful contrast to the demeanour of the old earl, who was famous for
the rustiness of his garments, and stuck like a leech to the fashion of
the ‘forties.’

But it was neither earl nor simpering madam at which Lucian gazed at
surreptitious moments during the rest of the service. The second of the
ladies to enter into the pew of the great house was a girl of sixteen,
ravishingly pretty, and gay as a peacock in female flaunts and fineries
which dazzled Lucian’s eyes. She was dark, and her eyes were shaded by
exceptionally long lashes which swept a creamy cheek whereon there
appeared the bloom of the peach, fresh, original, bewitching; her hair,
curling over her shoulders from beneath a white sun-bonnet, artfully
designed to communicate an air of innocence to its wearer, was of the
same blue-black hue that distinguished Lucian’s own curls. It chanced
that the boy had just read some extracts from _Don Juan_: it seemed to
him that here was Haidee in the very flesh. A remarkably strange
sensation suddenly developed in the near region of his heart--Lucian for
the first time in his life had fallen in love. He felt sick and queer
and almost stifled; Miss Pepperdine noticed a drawn expression on his
face, and passed him a mint lozenge. He put it in his mouth--something
nearly choked him, but he had a vague suspicion that the lozenge had
nothing to do with it.

Mr. Chilverstone had a trick of being long-winded if he found a text
that appealed to him, and when Lucian heard the subject of that
morning’s discourse he feared that the congregation was in for a sermon
of at least half an hour’s duration. The presence of the Earl of
Simonstower, however, kept the vicar within reasonable bounds, and
Lucian was devoutly thankful. He had never wished for anything so much
in all his life as he then wished to be out of church and safely hidden
in the vicarage, where he always lunched on Sunday, or in some corner of
the woods. For the girl in the earl’s pew was discomposing, not merely
because of her prettiness but because she would stare at him, Lucian.
He, temperamentally shy where women were concerned, had only dared to
look at her now and then; she, on the contrary, having once seen him
looked at nothing else. He knew that she was staring at him all through
the sermon. He grew hot and uncomfortable and wriggled, and Miss Judith
increased his confusion by asking him if he were not quite well. It was
with a great sense of relief that he heard Mr. Chilverstone wind up his
sermon and begin the Ascription--he felt that he could not stand the
fire of the girl’s eyes any longer.

He joined Sprats in the porch and seemed in a great hurry to retreat
upon the vicarage. Sprats, however, had other views--she wanted to speak
to various old women and to Miss Pepperdine, and Lucian had to remain
with her. Fate was cruel--the earl, for some mad reason or other,
brought his visitors down the church instead of taking them out by the
chancel door; consequently Haidee passed close by Lucian. He looked at
her; she raised demure eyelids and looked at him. The soul within him
became as water--he was lost. He seemed to float into space; his head
burned, his heart turned icy-cold, and he shut his eyes, or thought he
did. When he opened them again the girl, a dainty dream of white, was
vanishing, and Sprats and Miss Judith were asking him if he didn’t feel
well. New-born love fostered dissimulation: he complained of a sick
headache. The maternal instinct was immediately aroused in Sprats: she
conducted him homewards, stretched him on a comfortable sofa in a
darkened room, and bathed his forehead with eau-de-cologne. Her care and
attention were pleasant, but Lucian’s thoughts were of the girl whose
eyes had smitten him to the heart.

The sick headache formed an excellent cloak for the shortcomings of the
afternoon and evening. He recovered sufficiently to eat some lunch, and
he afterwards lay on a rug in the garden and was tended by the faithful
Sprats with a fan and more eau-de-cologne. He kept his eyes shut most of
the time, and thought of Haidee. Her name, he said to himself, must be
Haidee--no other name would fit her eyes, her hair, and her red lips. He
trembled when he thought of her lips; Sprats noticed it, and wondered if
he was going to have rheumatic fever or ague. She fetched a clinical
thermometer out of the house and took his temperature. It was quite
normal, and she was reassured, but still a little puzzled. When tea-time
came she brought his tea and her own out into the garden--she observed
that he ate languidly, and only asked twice for strawberries. She
refused to allow him to go to church in the evening, and conducted him
to the farm herself. On the way, talking of the events of the day, she
asked him if he had noticed the stuck-up doll in the earl’s pew. Lucian
dissembled, and replied in an indifferent tone--it appeared from his
reply that he had chiefly observed the elder lady, and had wondered who
she was. Sprats was able to inform him upon this point--she was a Mrs.
Brinklow, a connection, cousin, half-cousin, or something, of Lord
Simonstower’s, and the girl was her daughter, and her name was Haidee.

Lucian knew it--it was Fate, it was Destiny. He had had dreams that some
such mate as this was reserved for him in the Pandora’s box which was
now being opened to him. Haidee! He nearly choked with emotion, and
Sprats became certain that he was suffering from indigestion. She had
private conversation with Miss Pepperdine at the farm on the subject of
Lucian’s indisposition, with the result that a cooling draught was
administered to him and immediate bed insisted upon. He retired with
meek resignation; as a matter of fact solitude was attractive--he wanted
to think of Haidee.

In the silent watches of the night--disturbed but twice, once by Miss
Pepperdine with more medicine, and once by Miss Judith with nothing but
solicitude--he realised the entire situation. Haidee had dawned upon
him, and the Thing was begun which made all poets mighty. He would be
miserable, but he would be great. She was a high-born maiden, who sat in
the pews of earls, and he was--he was not exactly sure what he was. She
would doubtless look upon him with scorn: well, he would make the world
ring with his name and fame; he would die in a cloud of glory, fighting
for some oppressed nation, as Byron did, and then she would be sorry,
and possibly weep for him. By eleven o’clock he felt as if he had been
in love all his life; by midnight he was asleep and dreaming that Haidee
was locked up in a castle on the Rhine, and that he had sworn to release
her and carry her away to liberty and love. He woke early next morning,
and wrote some verses in the metre and style of my Lord Byron’s famous
address to a maiden of Athens; by breakfast-time he knew them by heart.

It was all in accordance with the decrees of Fate that Lucian and Haidee
were quickly brought into each other’s company. Two days after the
interchange of glances in the church porch the boy rushed into the
dining-room at the vicarage one afternoon, and found himself confronted
by a group of persons, of whom he for the first bewildering moment
recognised but one. When he realised that the earth was not going to
open and swallow him, and that he could not escape without shame, he saw
that the Earl of Simonstower, Mrs. Brinklow, Mr. Chilverstone, and
Sprats were in the room as well as Haidee. It was fortunate that Mrs.
Brinklow, who had an eye for masculine beauty and admired pretty boys,
took a great fancy to him, and immediately began to pet him in a manner
which he bitterly resented. That cooled him, and gave him
self-possession. He contrived to extricate himself from her caresses
with dignity, and replied to the questions which the earl put to him
about his studies with modesty and courage. Sprats conducted Haidee to
the garden to inspect her collection of animals; Lucian went with them,
and became painfully aware that for every glance which he and Haidee
bestowed on rabbits, white mice, piebald rats, and guinea-pigs, they
gave two to each other. Each glance acted like an electric thrill--it
seemed to Lucian that she was the very spirit of love, made flesh for
him to worship. Sprats, however, had an opinion of Miss Brinklow which
was diametrically opposed to his own, and she expressed it with great
freedom. On any other occasion he would have quarrelled with her: the
shame and modesty of love kept him silent; he dared not defend his lady
against one of her own sex.

It was in the economy of Lucian’s dream that he and Haidee were to be
separated by cruel and inexorable Fate: Haidee, however, had no
intention of permitting Fate or anything else to rob her of her just
dues. On the afternoon of the very next day Lord Simonstower sent for
Lucian to read an Italian magazine to him; Haidee, whose mother loved
long siestas on summer days, and was naturally inclined to let her
daughter manage her own affairs, contrived to waylay the boy with the
beautiful eyes as he left the Castle, and as pretty a piece of comedy
ensued as one could wish to see. They met again, and then they met in
secret, and Lucian became bold and Haidee alluring, and the woods by the
river, and the ruins in the Castle, might have whispered of romantic
scenes. And at last Lucian could keep his secret no longer, and there
came a day when he poured into Sprats’s surprised and sisterly ear the
momentous tidings that he and Haidee had plighted their troth for ever
and a day, and loved more madly and despairingly than lovers ever had
loved since Leander swam to Hero across the Hellespont.



CHAPTER VIII


Sprats was of an eminently practical turn of mind. She wanted to know
what was to come of all this. To her astonishment she discovered that
Lucian was already full of plans for assuring bread and butter and many
other things for himself and his bride, and had arranged their future on
a cut-and-dried scheme. He was going to devote himself to his studies
more zealously than ever, and to practise himself in the divine art
which was his gift. At twenty he would publish his first volume of
poems, in English and in Italian; at the same time he would produce a
great blank verse tragedy at Milan and in London, and his name would be
extolled throughout Europe, and he himself probably crowned with laurel
at Rome, or Florence, or somewhere. He would be famous, and also rich,
and he would then claim the hand of Haidee, who in the meantime would
have waited for him with the fidelity of a Penelope. After that, of
course, there would follow eternal bliss--it was not necessary to look
further ahead. But he added, with lordly condescension, that he and
Haidee would always love Sprats, and she, if she liked, might live with
them.

‘Did Haidee tell you to tell me so?’ asked Sprats, ‘because the prospect
is not exactly alluring. No, thank you, my dear--I’m not so fond of
Haidee as all that. But I will teach her to mend your clothes and darn
your socks, if you like--it will be a useful accomplishment.’

Lucian made no reply to this generous offer. He knew that there was no
love lost between the two girls, and could not quite understand why, any
more than he could realise that they were sisters under their skins. He
understood the Sprats of the sisterly, maternal, good-chum side; but
Haidee was an ethereal being though possessed of a sound appetite. He
wished that Sprats were more sympathetic about his lady-love; she was
sympathetic enough about himself, and she listened to his rhapsodies
with a certain amount of curiosity which was gratifying to his pride.
But when he remarked that she too would have a lover some day, Sprats’s
rebellious nature rose up and kicked vigorously.

‘Thank you!’ she said, ‘but I don’t happen to want anything of that
sort. If you could only see what an absolute fool you look when you are
anywhere within half a mile of Haidee, you’d soon arrive at the
conclusion that spooniness doesn’t improve a fellow! I suppose it’s all
natural, but I never expected it of you, you know, Lucian. I’m sure I’ve
acted like a real pal to you--just look what a stuck-up little monkey
you were when I took you in hand!--you couldn’t play cricket nor climb a
tree, and you used to tog up every day as if you were going to an old
maid’s muffin-worry. I did get you out of all those bad ways--until the
Dolly came along (she _is_ a Dolly, and I don’t care!). You didn’t mind
going about with a hole or two in your trousers and an old straw hat and
dirty hands, and since then you’ve worn your best clothes every day, and
greased your hair, and yesterday you’d been putting scent on your
handkerchief! Bah!--if lovers are like that, I don’t want one--I could
get something better out of the nearest lunatic asylum. And I don’t
think much of men anyhow--they’re all more or less babies. You’re a
baby, and so is his Vicarness’ (this was Sprats’s original mode of
referring to her father), ‘and so is your uncle Pepperdine--all babies,
hopelessly feeble, and unable to do anything for yourselves. What would
any of you do without a woman? No, thank you, I’m not keen about
men--they worry one too much. And as for love--well, if it makes you go
off your food, and keeps you awake at night, and turns you into a
jackass, I don’t want any of it--it’s too rotten altogether.’

‘You don’t understand,’ said Lucian pityingly, and with a deep sigh.

‘Don’t want to,’ retorted Sprats. ‘Oh, my--fancy spending your time in
spooning when you might be playing cricket! You have degenerated,
Lucian, though I expect you can’t help it--it’s inevitable, like measles
and whooping-cough. I wonder how long you will feel bad?’

Lucian waxed wroth. He and Haidee had sworn eternal love and
faithfulness--they had broken a coin in two, and she had promised to
wear her half round her neck, and next to the spot where she believed
her heart to be, for ever; moreover, she had given him a lock of her
hair, and he carried it about, wrapped in tissue paper, and he had
promised to buy her a ring with real diamonds in it. Also, Haidee
already possessed fifteen sonnets in which her beauty, her soul, and a
great many other things pertaining to her were praised, after love’s
extravagant fashion--it was unreasonable of Sprats to talk as if this
were an evanescent fancy that must needs pass. He let her see that he
thought so.

‘All right, old chap!’ said Sprats. ‘It’s for life, then. Very well;
there is, of course, only one thing to be done. You must act on the
square, you know--they always do in these cases. If it’s such a serious
affair, you must play the part of a man of honour, and ask the
permission of the young lady’s mamma, and of her distinguished relative
the Earl of Simonstower--mouldy old ass!--to pay your court to her.’

Lucian seemed disturbed and uneasy.

‘Yes--yes--I know!’ he answered hurriedly. ‘I know that’s the right
thing to do, but you see, Sprats, Haidee doesn’t wish it, at present at
any rate. She--she’s a great heiress, or something, and she says it
wouldn’t do. She wishes it to be kept secret until I’m twenty.
Everything will be all right then, of course. And it’s awfully easy to
arrange stolen meetings at present; there are lots of places about the
Castle and in the woods where you can hide.’

‘Like a housemaid and an under-footman,’ remarked Sprats. ’Um--well, I
suppose that’s inevitable, too. Of course the earl would never look at
you, and it’s very evident that Mrs. Brinklow would be horrified--she
wants the Dolly kid to marry into the peerage, and you’re a nobody.’

‘I’m not a nobody!’ said Lucian, waxing furious. ‘I am a gentleman--an
Italian gentleman. I am the earl’s equal--I have the blood of the
Orsini, the Odescalchi, and the Aldobrandini in my veins! The
earl?--why, your English noblemen are made out of tradesfolk--pah! It is
but yesterday that they gave a baronetcy to a man who cures bacon, and a
peerage to a fellow who brews beer. In Italy we should spit upon your
English peers--they have no blood. I have the blood of the Cæsars in
me!’

‘Your mother was the daughter of an English farmer, and your father was
a macaroni-eating Italian who painted pictures,’ said Sprats, with
imperturbable equanimity. ‘You yourself ought to go about with a
turquoise cap on your pretty curls, and a hurdy-gurdy with a monkey on
the top. _Tant pis_ for your rotten old Italy!--anybody can buy a
dukedom there for a handful of centesimi!’

Then they fought, and Lucian was worsted, as usual, and came to his
senses, and for the rest of the day Sprats was decent to him and even
sympathetic. She was always intrusted with his confidence, however much
they differed, and during the rest of the time which Haidee spent at the
Castle she had to listen to many ravings, and more than once to endure
the reading of a sonnet or a canzonet with which Lucian intended to
propitiate the dark-eyed nymph whose image was continually before him.
Sprats, too, had to console him on those days whereon no sight of Miss
Brinklow was vouchsafed. It was no easy task: Lucian, during these
enforced abstinences from love’s delights and pleasures, was
preoccupied, taciturn, and sometimes almost sulky.

‘You’re like a bear with a sore head,’ said Sprats, using a homely
simile much in favour with the old women of the village. ‘I don’t
suppose the Dolly kid is nursing her sorrows like that. I saw Dicky
Feversham riding up to the Castle on his pony as I came in from taking
old Mother Hobbs’s rice-pudding.’

Lucian clenched his fists. The demon of jealousy was aroused within him
for the first time.

‘What do you mean?’ he cried.

‘Don’t mean anything but what I said,’ replied Sprats. ‘I should think
Dickie has gone to spend the afternoon there. He’s a nice-looking boy,
and as his uncle is a peer of the rel-lum, Mrs. Brinklow doubtless loves
him.’

Lucian fell into a fever of rage, despair, and love. To think that
Another should have the right of approaching His Very Own!--it was
maddening; it made him sick. He hated the unsuspecting Richard
Feversham, who in reality was a very inoffensive, fun-loving,
up-to-lots-of-larks sort of schoolboy, with a deadly hatred. The thought
of his addressing the Object was awful; that he should enjoy her society
was unbearable. He might perhaps be alone with her--might sit with her
amongst the ruined halls of the Castle, or wander with her through the
woods of Simonstower. But Lucian was sure of her--had she not sworn by
every deity in the lover’s mythology that her heart was his alone, and
that no other man should ever have even a cellar-dwelling in it? He
became almost lachrymose at the mere thought that Haidee’s lofty and
pure soul could ever think of another, and before he retired to his
sleepless bed he composed a sonnet which began--

/p
    ‘Thy dove-like soul is prisoned in my heart
     With gold and silver chains that may not break,’
p/

and concluded--

/p
    ‘While e’er the world remaineth, thou shalt be
     Queen of my heart as I am king of thine.’
p/

He had an assignation with Haidee for the following afternoon, and was
looking forward to it with great eagerness, more especially because he
possessed a new suit of grey flannel, a new straw hat, and new brown
boots, and he had discovered from experience that the young lady loved
her peacock to spread his tail. But, as ill-luck would have it, the
earl, with the best intention in the world, spoiled the whole thing.
About noon Lucian and Sprats, having gone through several pages of
Virgil with the vicar, were sitting on the gate of the vicarage garden,
recreating after a fashion peculiar to themselves, when the earl and
Haidee, both mounted, came round the corner and drew rein. The earl
talked to them for a few minutes, and then asked them up to the Castle
that afternoon. He would have the tennis-lawn made ready for them, he
said, and they could eat as many strawberries as they pleased, and have
tea in the garden. Haidee, from behind the noble relative, made a _moue_
at this; Lucian was obliged to keep a straight face, and thank the earl
for his confounded graciousness. Sprats saw that something was wrong.

‘What’s up?’ she inquired, climbing up the gate again when the earl had
gone by. ‘You look jolly blue.’

Lucian explained the situation. Sprats snorted.

‘Well, of all the hardships!’ she said. ‘Thank the Lord, I’d rather play
tennis and eat strawberries and have tea--especially the Castle
tea--than go mooning about in the woods! However, I suppose I must
contrive something for you, or you’ll groan and grumble all the way
home. You and the Doll must lose yourselves in the gardens when we go
for strawberries. I suppose ten minutes’ slobbering over each other
behind a hedge or in a corner will put you on, won’t it?’

Lucian was overwhelmed at her kindness. He offered to give her a
brotherly hug, whereupon she smacked his face, rolled him into the dust
in the middle of the road, and retreated into the garden, bidding him
turn up with a clean face at half-past two. When that hour arrived she
found him awaiting her in the porch; one glance at him showed that he
had donned the new suit, the new hat, and the new boots. Sprats shrieked
with derision.

‘Lord have mercy upon us!’ she cried. ‘It might be a Bank Holiday! Do
you think I am going to walk through the village with a thing like that?
Stick a cabbage in your coat--it’ll give a finishing touch to your
appearance. Oh, you miserable monkey-boy!--wouldn’t I like to stick you
in the kitchen chimney and shove you up and down in the soot for five
minutes!’

Lucian received this badinage in good part--it was merely Sprats’s way
of showing her contempt for finicking habit. He followed her from the
vicarage to the Castle--she walking with her nose in the air, and from
time to time commiserating him because of the newness of his boots; he
secretly anxious to bask in the sunlight of Haidee’s smiles. And at last
they arrived, and there, sprawling on the lawn near the basket-chair in
which Haidee’s lissome figure reposed, was the young gentleman who
rejoiced in the name of Richard Feversham. He appeared to be very much
at home with his young hostess; the sound of their mingled laughter fell
on the ears of the newcomers as they approached. Lucian heard it, and
shivered with a curious, undefinable sense of evil; Sprats heard it too,
and knew that a moral thunderstorm was brewing.

The afternoon was by no means a success, even in its earlier stages.
Mrs. Brinklow had departed to a friend’s house some miles away; the earl
might be asleep or dead for all that was seen of him. Sprats and Haidee
cherished a secret dislike of each other; Lucian was proud, gloomy, and
taciturn; only the Feversham boy appeared to have much zest of life left
in him. He was a somewhat thick-headed youngster, full of good nature
and high spirits; he evidently did not care a straw for public or
private opinion, and he made boyish love to Haidee with all the
shamelessness of depraved youth. Haidee saw that Lucian was jealous, and
encouraged Dickie’s attentions--long before tea was brought out to them
the materials for a vast explosion were ready and waiting. After
tea--and many plates of strawberries and cream--had been consumed, the
thick-headed youth became childishly gay. The tea seemed to have mounted
to his head--he effervesced. He had much steam to let off: he suggested
that they should follow the example of the villagers at the
bun-struggles and play kiss-in-the-ring, and he chased Haidee all round
the lawn and over the flower-beds in order to illustrate the way of the
rustic man with the rustic maid. The chase terminated behind a hedge of
laurel, from whence presently proceeded much giggling, screaming, and
confused laughter. The festive youngster emerged panting and triumphant;
his rather homely face wore a broad grin. Haidee followed with highly
becoming blushes, settling her tumbled hair and crushed hat. She
remarked with a pout that Dickie was a rough boy; Dickie replied that
you don’t play country games as if you were made of egg-shell china.

The catastrophe approached consummation with the inevitableness of a
Greek tragedy. Lucian waxed gloomier and gloomier; Sprats endeavoured,
agonisingly, to put things on a better footing; Haidee, now thoroughly
enjoying herself, tried hard to make the other boy also jealous. But the
other boy was too full of the joy of life to be jealous of anything; he
gambolled about like a young elephant, and nearly as gracefully; it was
quite evident that he loved horseplay and believed that girls were as
much inclined to it as boys. At any other time Sprats would have fallen
in with his mood and frolicked with him to his heart’s content; on this
occasion she was afraid of Lucian, who now looked more like a young
Greek god than ever. The lightning was already playing about his eyes;
thunder sat on his brows.

At last the storm burst. Haidee wanted to shoot with bow and arrow at a
target; she despatched the two youngsters into the great hall of the
Castle to fetch the materials for archery. Dickie went off capering and
whistling; Lucian followed in sombre silence. And inside the vaulted
hall, mystic with the gloom of the past, and romantic with suits of
armour, tattered banners, guns, pikes, bows, and the rest of it, the
smouldering fires of Lucian’s wrath burst out. Master Richard Feversham
found himself confronted by a figure which typified Wrath, and
Indignation, and Retribution.

‘You are a cad!’ said Lucian.

‘Cad yourself!’ retorted Dickie. ‘Who are _you_ talking to?’

‘I am talking to you,’ answered Lucian, stern and cold as a stone figure
of Justice. ‘I say you are a cad--a cad! You have grossly insulted a
young lady, and I will punish you.’

Dickie’s eyes grew round--he wondered if the other fellow had suddenly
gone off his head, and if he’d better call for help and a strait
waistcoat.

‘Grossly insulted--a young lady!’ he said, puckering up his face with
honest amazement. ‘What the dickens do you mean? You must be jolly well
dotty!’

‘You have insulted Miss Brinklow,’ said Lucian. ‘You forced your
unwelcome attentions upon her all the afternoon, though she showed you
plainly that they were distasteful to her, and you were finally rude and
brutal to her--beast!’

‘Good Lord!’ exclaimed Dickie, now thoroughly amazed, ‘I never forced
any attention on her--we were only larking. Rude? Brutal? Good
heavens!--I only kissed her behind the hedge, and I’ve kissed her many a
time before!’

Lucian became insane with wrath.

‘Liar!’ he hissed. ‘Liar!’

Master Richard Feversham straightened himself, mentally as well as
physically. He bunched up his fists and advanced upon Lucian with an
air that was thoroughly British.

‘Look here,’ he said, ‘I don’t know who the devil you are, you
outrageous ass, but if you call me a liar again, I’ll hit you!’

‘Liar!’ said Lucian, ‘Liar!’

Dickie’s left fist, clenched very artistically, shot out like a small
battering-ram, and landed with a beautiful _plunk_ on Lucian’s cheek,
between the jaw and the bone. He staggered back.

‘I kept off your nose on purpose,’ said Dickie, ‘but, by the Lord, I’ll
land you one there and spoil your pretty eyes for you if you don’t beg
my pardon.’

‘Pardon!’ Lucian’s voice sounded hollow and strange. ‘Pardon!’ He swore
a strange Italian oath that made Dickie creep. ‘Pardon!--of you? I will
kill you--beast and liar!’

He sprang to the wall as he spoke, tore down a couple of light rapiers
which hung there, and threw one at his enemy’s feet.

‘Defend yourself!’ he said. ‘I shall kill you.’

Dickie recoiled. He would have faced anybody twice his size with fists
as weapons, or advanced on a battery with a smiling face, but he had no
taste for encountering an apparent lunatic armed with a weapon of which
he himself did not know the use. Besides, there was murder in Lucian’s
eye--he seemed to mean business.

‘Look here, I say, you chap!’ exclaimed Dickie, ‘put that thing down.
One of us’ll be getting stuck, you know, if you go dancing about with it
like that. I’ll fight you as long as you like if you’ll put up your
fists, but I’m not a fool. Put it down, I say.’

‘Coward!’ said Lucian. ‘Defend yourself!’

He made at Dickie with fierce intent, and the latter was obliged to pick
up the other rapier and fall into some sort of a defensive position.

‘Of all the silly games,’ he said, ‘this is----’

But Lucian was already attacking him with set teeth, glaring eyes, and
a resolute demeanour. There was a rapid clashing of blades; then Dickie
drew in his breath sharply, and his weapon dropped to the ground. He
looked at a wound in the back of his hand from which the blood was
flowing rather freely.

‘I knew you’d go and do it with your silliness!’ he said. ‘Now there’ll
be a mess on the carpet and we shall be found out. Here--wipe up that
blood with your handkerchief while I tie mine round my hand. We....
Hello, here they all are, of course! Now there _will_ be a row! I say,
you chap, swear it was all a lark--do you hear?’

Lucian heard but gave no sign. He still gripped his rapier and stared
fixedly at Haidee and Sprats, who had run to the hall on hearing the
clash of steel and now stood gazing at the scene with dilated eyes.
Behind them, gaunt, grey, and somewhat amused and cynical, stood the
earl. He looked from one lad to the other and came forward.

‘I heard warlike sounds,’ he said, peering at the combatants through
glasses balanced on the bridge of the famous Simonstower nose, ‘and now
I see warlike sights. Blood, eh? And what may this mean?’

‘It’s all nothing, sir,’ said Dickie in suspicious haste, ‘absolutely
nothing. We were larking about with these two old swords, and the other
chap’s point scratched my hand, that’s all, sir--’pon my word.’

‘Does the other chap’s version correspond?’ inquired the earl, looking
keenly at Lucian’s flushed face. ‘Eh, other chap?’

Lucian faced him boldly.

‘No, sir,’ he answered; ‘what he says is not true, though he means
honourably. I meant to punish him--to kill him.’

‘A candid admission,’ said the earl, toying with his glasses. ‘You
appear to have effected some part of your purpose. And his offence?’

‘He----’ Lucian paused. The two girls, fascinated at the sight of the
rapiers, the combatants, and the blood, had drawn near and were staring
from one boy’s face to the other’s; Lucian hesitated at sight of them.

‘Come!’ said the earl sharply. ‘His offence?’

‘He insulted Miss Brinklow,’ said Lucian gravely. ‘I told him I should
punish him. Then he told lies--about her. I said I would kill him. A man
who lies about a woman merits death.’

‘A very excellent apothegm,’ said the earl. ‘Sprats, my dear, draw that
chair for me--thank you. Now,’ he continued, taking a seat and sticking
out his gouty leg, ‘let me have a clear notion of this delicate
question. Feversham, your version, if you please.’

‘I--I--you see, it’s all one awfully rotten misunderstanding, sir,’ said
Dickie, very ill at ease. ‘I--I--don’t like saying things about anybody,
but I think Damerel’s got sunstroke or something--he’s jolly dotty, or
carries on as if he were. You see, he called me a cad, and said I was
rude and brutal to Haidee, just because I--well, because I kissed her
behind the laurel hedge when we were larking in the garden, and I said
it was nothing and I’d kissed her many a time before, and he said I was
a liar, and then--well, then I hit him.’

‘I see,’ said the earl, ‘and of course there was then much stainless
honour to be satisfied. And how was it that gentlemen of such advanced
age resorted to steel instead of fists?’

The boys made no reply: Lucian still stared at the earl; Dickie
professed to be busy with his impromptu bandage. Sprats went round to
him and tied the knot.

‘I think I understand,’ said the earl. ‘Well, I suppose honour is
satisfied?’

He looked quizzingly at Lucian. Lucian returned the gaze with another,
dark, sombre, and determined.

‘He is still a liar!’ he said.

‘I’m _not_ a liar!’ exclaimed Dickie, ‘and as sure as eggs are eggs I’ll
hit you again, and on the nose this time, if you say I am,’ and he
squared up to his foe utterly regardless of the earl’s presence. The
earl smiled.

‘Why is he a liar?’ he asked, looking at Lucian.

‘He lies when he says that--that----’ Lucian choked and looked, almost
entreatingly, at Haidee. She had stolen up to the earl’s chair and
leaned against its high back, taking in every detail of the scene with
eager glances. As Lucian’s eyes met hers, she smiled; a dimple showed in
the corner of her mouth.

‘I understand,’ said the earl. He twisted himself round and looked at
Haidee. ‘I think,’ he said, ‘this is one of those cases in which one may
be excused if one appeals to the lady. It would seem, young lady, that
Mr. Feversham, while abstaining, like a gentleman, from boasting of
it----’

‘Oh, I say, sir!’ burst out Dickie; ‘I--didn’t mean to, you know.’

‘I say that Mr. Feversham, like a gentleman, does not boast of it, but
pleads that you have indulged him with the privileges of a lover. His
word has been questioned--his honour is at stake. Have you so indulged
it, may one ask?’

Haidee assumed the airs of the coquette who must fain make admissions.

‘I--suppose so,’ she breathed, with a smile which included everybody.

‘Very good,’ said the earl. ‘It may be that Mr. Damerel has had reason
to believe that he alone was entitled to those privileges. Eh?’

‘Boys are so silly!’ said Haidee. ‘And Lucian is so serious and
old-fashioned. And all boys like to kiss me. What a fuss to make about
nothing!’

‘I quite understand your position and your meaning, my dear,’ said the
earl. ‘I have heard similar sentiments from other ladies.’ He turned to
Lucian. ‘Well?’ he said, with a sharp, humorous glance.

Lucian had turned very pale, but a dark flush still clouded his
forehead. He put aside his rapier, which until then he had held tightly,
and he turned to Dickie.

‘I beg your pardon,’ he said; ‘I was wrong--quite wrong. I offer you my
sincere apologies. I have behaved ill--I am sorry.’

Dickie looked uncomfortable and shuffled about.

‘Oh, rot!’ he said, holding out his bandaged hand. ‘It’s all right, old
chap. I don’t mind at all now that you know I’m not a liar. I--I’m
awfully sorry, too. I didn’t know you were spoons on Haidee, you
know--I’m a bit dense about things. Never mind, I shan’t think any more
of it, and besides, girls aren’t worth--at least, I mean--oh, hang it,
don’t let’s say any more about the beastly affair!’

Lucian pressed his hand. He turned, looked at the earl, and made him a
low and ceremonious bow. Lord Simonstower rose from his seat and
returned it with equal ceremony. Without a glance in Haidee’s direction
Lucian strode from the hall--he had forgotten Sprats. He had, indeed,
forgotten everything--the world had fallen in pieces.

An hour later Sprats, tracking him down with the unerring sagacity of
her sex, found him in a haunt sacred to themselves, stretched full
length on the grass, with his face buried in his arms. She sat down
beside him and put her arm round his neck and drew him to her. He burst
into dry, bitter sobs.

‘Oh, Sprats!’ he said. ‘It’s all over--all over. I believed in her ...
and now I shall never believe in anybody again!’



CHAPTER IX


That night, when the last echoes of the village street had died away,
and the purple and grey of the summer twilight was dissolving into the
deep blue and gold of night, Sprats knelt at the open window of her
bedroom, staring out upon the valley with eyes that saw nothing. She was
thinking and wondering, and for the first time in her life she wished
that a mother’s heart and a mother’s arms were at hand--she wanted to
hear the beating love of the one and feel the protecting strength of the
other.

Something had come to her that afternoon as she strove to comfort
Lucian. The episode of the duel; Lucian’s white face and burning eyes as
he bowed to the cynical, polite old nobleman and strode out of the hall
with the dignity and grace of a great prince; the agony which had
exhausted itself in her own arms; the resolution with which he had at
last choked everything down, and had risen up and shaken himself as if
he were a dog that throws off the last drop of water;--all these things
had opened the door into a new world for the girl who had seen them. She
had been Lucian’s other self; his constant companion, his faithful
mentor, for three years; it was not until now that she began to realise
him. She saw now that he was no ordinary human being, and that as long
as he lived he would never be amenable to ordinary rules. He was now a
child in years, and he had the heart of a man; soon he would be a man,
and he would still be a child. He would be a child all his
life--self-willed, obstinate, proud, generous, wayward; he would sin as
a child sins, and suffer as a child suffers; and there would always be
something of wonder in him that either sin or suffering should come to
him. When she felt his head within her protecting and consoling arm,
Sprats recognised the weakness and helplessness which lay in Lucian’s
soul--he was the child that has fallen and runs to its mother for
consolation. She recognised, too, that hers was the stronger nature, the
more robust character, and that the strange, mysterious Something that
ordains all things, had brought her life and Lucian’s together so that
she might give help where help was needed. All their lives--all through
the strange mystic To Come into which her eyes were trying to look as
she stared out into the splendour of the summer night--she and Lucian
were to be as they had been that evening; her breast the harbour of his
soul. He might drift away; he might suffer shipwreck; but he must come
home at last, and whether he came early or late his place must be ready
for him.

This was knowledge--this was calm certainty: it changed the child into
the woman. She knelt down at the window to say her prayers, still
staring out into the night, and now she saw the stars and the deep blue
of the sky, and she heard the murmur of the river in the valley. Her
prayers took no form of words, and were all the deeper for it;
underneath their wordless aspiration ran the solemn undercurrent of the
new-born knowledge that she loved Lucian with a love that would last
till death.



CHAPTER X


Within twelve months Lucian’s recollections of the perfidious Haidee
were nebulous and indistinct. He had taken the muse for mistress and
wooed her with such constant persistency that he had no time to think of
anything else. He used up much manuscript paper and made large demands
upon Sprats and his Aunt Judith, the only persons to whom he
condescended to show his productions, and he was alike miserable and
happy. Whenever he wrote a new poem he was filled with elation, and for
at least twenty-four hours glowed with admiration of his own powers;
then set in a period of uncertainty, followed by one of doubt and
another of gloom--the lines which had sounded so fine that they almost
brought tears to his eyes seemed banal and weak, and were not
infrequently cast into the fire, where his once-cherished copies of the
Haidee sonnets had long since preceded them. Miss Judith nearly shed
tears when these sacrifices were made, and more than once implored him
tenderly to spare his offspring, but with no result, for no human
monster is so savage as the poet who turns against his own fancies. It
was due to her, however, that one of Lucian’s earliest efforts was
spared. Knowing his propensity for tearing and rending his children, she
surreptitiously obtained his manuscript upon one occasion and made a
fair copy of a sentimental story written in imitation of _Lara_, which
had greatly moved her, and it was not until many years afterwards that
Lucian was confronted and put to shame by the sight of it.

At the age of eighteen Lucian celebrated his birthday by burning every
manuscript he had, and announcing that he would write no more verses
until he was at least twenty-one. But chancing to hear a pathetic story
of rural life which appealed powerfully to his imagination, he began to
write again; and after a time, during which he was unusually morose and
abstracted, he presented himself to Sprats with a bundle of manuscript.
He handed it over to her with something of shyness.

‘I want you to read it--carefully,’ he said.

‘Of course,’ she answered. ‘But is it to share the fate of all the rest,
Lucian? You made a clean sweep of everything, didn’t you?’

‘That stuff!’ he said, with fine contempt. ‘I should think so! But
this----’ he paused, plunged his hands into his pockets, and strode up
and down the room--‘this is--well, it’s different. Sprats!--I believe
it’s good.’

‘I wish you’d let my father read it,’ she said. ‘Do, Lucian.’

‘Perhaps,’ he answered. ‘But you first--I want to know what you think. I
can trust you.’

Sprats read the poem that evening, and as she read she marvelled. Lucian
had done himself justice at last. The poem was full of the true country
life; there was no false ring in it; he had realised the pathos of the
story he had to tell; it was a moving performance, full of the spirit of
poetry from the first line to the last. She was proud, glad, full of
satisfaction. Without waiting to ask Lucian’s permission, she placed the
manuscript in the vicar’s hands and begged him to read it. He carried it
away to his study; Sprats sat up later than usual to hear his verdict.
She occupied herself with no work, but with thoughts that had a little
of the day-dream glamour in them. She was trying to map out Lucian’s
future for him. He ought to be protected and shielded from the world,
wrapped in an environment that would help him to produce the best that
was in him; the ordinary cares of life ought never to come near him. He
had a gift, and the world would be the richer if the gift were poured
out lavishly to his fellow-creatures; but he must be treated tenderly
and skilfully if the gift was to be poured out at all. Sprats, country
girl though she was, knew something of the harshnesses of life; she
knew, too, that Lucian’s nature was the sort that would rebel at a
crumpled rose-leaf. He was still, and always would be, a child that
feels rather than understands.

The vicar came back to her with the manuscript--it was then nearly
midnight, but he was too much excited to wonder that Sprats should still
be downstairs. He came tapping the manuscript with his fingers--his face
wore a delighted and highly important expression.

‘My dear,’ he said, ‘this is a considerable performance. I am amazed,
pleased, gratified, proud. The boy is a genius--he will make a great
name for himself. Yes--it is good. It is sound work. It is so charmingly
free from mere rhetoric--there is a restraint, a chasteness which one
does not often find in the work of a young writer. And it is classical
in form and style. I am proud of Lucian. You see now the result of only
reading and studying the best masters. He is perhaps a little
imitative--that is natural; it will wear away. Did you not notice a
touch of Wordsworth, eh!--I was reminded of _Michael_. He will be a new
Wordsworth--a Wordsworth with more passion and richer imagery. He has
the true eye for nature--I do not know when I have been so pleased as
with the bits of colour that I find here. Oh, it is certainly a
remarkable performance.’

‘Father,’ said Sprats, ‘don’t you think it might be published?’

Mr. Chilverstone considered the proposition gravely.

‘I feel sure it would meet with great approbation if it were,’ he said.
‘I have no doubt whatever that the best critics would recognise its
merit and its undoubted promise. I wonder if Lucian would allow the earl
to read it?--his lordship is a fine judge of classic poetry, and though
I believe he cherishes a contempt for modern verse, he cannot fail to be
struck by this poem--the truth of its setting must appeal to him.’

‘I will speak to Lucian,’ said Sprats.

She persuaded Lucian to submit his work to Lord Simonstower next
day;--the old nobleman read, re-read, and was secretly struck by the
beauty and strength of the boy’s performance. He sent for Lucian and
congratulated him warmly. Later on in the day he walked into the vicar’s
study.

‘Chilverstone,’ he said, ‘what is to be done with that boy Damerel? He
will make a great name if due care is taken of him at the critical
moment. How old is he now--nearly nineteen? I think he should go to
Oxford.’

‘That,’ said the vicar, ‘is precisely my own opinion.’

‘It would do him all the good in the world,’ continued the earl. ‘It is
a thing that should be pushed through. I think I have heard that the boy
has some money? I knew his father, Cyprian Damerel. He was a man who
earned a good deal, but I should say he spent it. Still, I have always
understood that he left money in Simpson Pepperdine’s hands for the
boy.’

Mr. Chilverstone observed that he had always been so informed, though he
did not know by whom.

‘Simpson Pepperdine should be approached,’ said Lord Simonstower. ‘I
have a good mind to talk to him myself.’

‘If your lordship would have the kindness to do so,’ said the vicar, ‘it
would be a most excellent thing. Pepperdine is an estimable man, and
very proud indeed of Lucian--I am sure he would be induced to give his
consent.’

‘I will see him to-morrow,’ said the earl.

But before the morrow dawned an event had taken place in the history of
the Pepperdine family which involved far-reaching consequences. While
the earl and the vicar were in consultation over their friendly plans
for Lucian’s benefit, Mr. Pepperdine was travelling homewards from
Oakborough, whither he had proceeded in the morning in reference to a
letter which caused him no little anxiety and perturbation. It was
fortunate that he had a compartment all to himself in the train, for he
groaned and sighed at frequent intervals, and manifested many signs of
great mental distress. When he left Wellsby station he walked with slow
and heavy steps along the road to Mr. Trippett’s farm, where, as usual,
he had left his horse and trap. Mrs. Trippett, chancing to look out of
the parlour window, saw him approaching the house and noticed the drag
in his step. He walked, she said, discussing the matter later on with
her husband, as if he had suddenly become an old man. She hastened to
the door to admit him; Mr. Pepperdine gazed at her with a lack-lustre
eye.

‘Mercy upon us, Mr. Pepperdine!’ exclaimed Mrs. Trippett, ‘you do look
badly. Aren’t you feeling well?’

Mr. Pepperdine made an effort to pull himself together. He walked in,
sat down in the parlour, and breathed heavily.

‘It’s a very hot day, ma’am,’ he said. ‘I’m a bit overdone.’

‘You must have a drop of brandy and water,’ said Mrs. Trippett, and
bustled into the kitchen for water and to the sideboard for brandy.
‘Take a taste while it’s fresh,’ she said, handing him a liberal
mixture. ‘It’ll revive you.’

Mr. Pepperdine sipped at his glass and nodded his head in acknowledgment
of her thoughtfulness.

‘Thank you kindly,’ said he. ‘I were feeling a bit badly like. Is the
master anywhere about? I would like to see him.’

Mrs. Trippett replied that the master was in the fold, and she would let
him know that Mr. Pepperdine was there. She went herself to fetch her
husband, and hinted to him that his old friend did not seem at all
well--she was sure there was something wrong with him. Mr. Trippett
hastened into the house and found Mr. Pepperdine pacing the room and
sighing dismally.

‘Now then!’ said Mr. Trippett, whose face was always cheery even in
times of trouble, ‘th’ owd woman says you don’t seem so chirpy like. Is
it th’ sun, or what?--get another taste o’ brandy down your throttle,
lad.’

Mr. Pepperdine sat down again and shook his head.

‘John,’ he said, gazing earnestly at his friend. ‘I’m in sore
trouble--real bad trouble. I doubt I’m a ruined man.’

‘Nay, for sure!’ exclaimed Mr. Trippett. ‘What’s it all about, like?’

‘It’s all on account of a damned rascal!’ answered Mr. Pepperdine, with
a burst of indignation. ‘Ah!--there’s a pretty to-do in Oakborough this
day, John. You haven’t heard nothing about Bransby?’

‘What, the lawyer?’

‘Ah, lawyer and rogue and the Lord knows what!’ replied Mr. Pepperdine,
groaning with wrath and misery. ‘He’s gone and cleared himself off, and
he’s naught but a swindler. They do say there that it’s a hundred
thousand pound job.’

Mr. Trippett whistled.

‘I allus understood ’at he were such a well-to-do, upright sort o’ man,’
he said. ‘He’d a gre’t reppytation, any road.’

‘Ay, and seems to have traded on it!’ said Mr. Pepperdine bitterly.
‘He’s been a smooth-tongued ’un, he has. He’s done me, he has so--dang
me if I ever trust the likes of him again!’

Then he told his story. The absconded Mr. Bransby, an astute gentleman
who had established a reputation for probity by scrupulous observance of
the conventionalities dear to the society of a market town and had never
missed attendance at his parish church, had suddenly vanished into the
_Ewigkeit_, leaving a few widows and orphans, several tradespeople, and
a large number of unsuspecting and confiding clients, to mourn, not his
loss, but his knavery. Simpson Pepperdine had been an easy victim. Some
years previously he had consented to act as trustee for a neighbour’s
family--Mr. Bransby was his co-trustee. Simpson had left everything in
Mr. Bransby’s hands--it now turned out that Mr. Bransby had converted
everything to his own uses, leaving his careless coadjutor responsible.
But this was not all. Simpson, who had made money by breeding
shorthorns, had from time to time placed considerable sums in the
lawyer’s hands for investment, and had trusted him entirely as to their
nature. He had received good interest, and had never troubled either to
ask for or inspect the securities. It had now been revealed to him that
there had never been any securities--his money had gone into Mr.
Bransby’s own coffers. Simpson Pepperdine, in short, was a ruined man.

Mr. Trippett was genuinely disturbed by this news. He felt that his
good-natured and easy-going friend had been to blame in respect to his
laxity and carelessness. But he himself had had some slight dealings
with Mr. Bransby, and he knew the plausibility and suaveness of that
gentleman’s manner.

‘It’s a fair cropper!’ he exclaimed. ‘I could ha’ trusted that Bransby
like the Bank of England. I allus understood he were doing uncommon
well.’

‘So he were,’ answered Mr. Pepperdine, ‘uncommon well--out of fools like
me.’

‘I hope,’ said Mr. Trippett, mentioning the subject with some shyness,
‘I hope the gals’ money isn’t lost, an’ all?’

‘What, Keziah and Judith? Nay, nay,’ replied Mr. Pepperdine. ‘It isn’t.
What bit they have--matter of five hundred pound each, may be--is safe
enough.’

‘Nor the lad’s, either,’ said Mr. Trippett.

‘The lad’s?’ said Mr. Pepperdine questioningly. ‘Oh, Lucian? Oh--ay--of
course, he’s all right.’

Mr. Trippett went over to the sideboard, produced the whisky decanter,
mixed himself a glass, lighted his pipe, and proceeded to think hard.

‘Well,’ he said, after some time, ‘I know what I should do if I were i’
your case, Simpson. I should go to his lordship and tell him all about
it.’

Mr. Pepperdine started and looked surprised.

‘I’ve never asked a favour of him yet,’ he said. ‘I don’t know----’

‘I didn’t say aught about asking any favour,’ said Mr. Trippett. ‘I
said--go and tell his lordship all about it. He’s the reppytation of
being a long-headed ’un, has Lord Simonstower--he’ll happen suggest
summut.’

Mr. Pepperdine rubbed his chin meditatively.

‘He’s a sharp-tongued old gentleman,’ he said; ‘I’ve always fought a bit
shy of him. Him an’ me had a bit of a difference twenty years since.’

‘Let bygones be bygones,’ counselled Mr. Trippett. ‘You and your fathers
afore you have been on his land and his father’s land a bonny stretch o’
time.’

‘Three hundred and seventy-five year come next spring,’ said Mr.
Pepperdine.

‘And he’ll not see you turned off wi’out knowing why,’ said Mr. Trippett
with conviction. ‘Any road, it’ll do no harm to tell him how you stand.
He’d have to hear on’t sooner or later, and he’d best hear it from
yourself.’

Turning this sage counsel over in his mind, Mr. Pepperdine journeyed
homewards, and as luck would have it he met the earl near the gates of
the Castle. Lord Simonstower had just left the vicarage, and Mr.
Pepperdine was in his mind. He put up his hand in answer to the farmer’s
salutation. Mr. Pepperdine drew rein.

‘Oh, Pepperdine,’ said the earl, ‘I want to have some conversation with
you about your nephew. I have just been talking with the vicar about
him. When can you come up to the Castle?’

‘Any time that pleases your lordship,’ answered Mr. Pepperdine. ‘It so
happens that I was going to ask the favour of an interview with your
lordship on my own account.’

‘Then you had better drive up now and leave your horse and trap in the
stables,’ said the earl. ‘Tell them to take you to the library--I’ll
join you there presently.’

Closeted with his tenant, Lord Simonstower plunged into his own business
first--it was his way, when he took anything in hand, to go through with
it with as little delay as possible. He came to the point at once by
telling Mr. Pepperdine that his nephew was a gifted youth who would
almost certainly make a great name in the world of letters, and that it
would be a most excellent thing to send him to Oxford. He pointed out
the great advantages which would accrue to Lucian if this course were
adopted, spoke of his own interest in the boy, and promised to help him
in every way he could. Mr. Pepperdine listened with respectful and
polite attention.

‘My lord,’ he said, when the earl had explained his views for Lucian,
‘I’m greatly obliged to your lordship for your kindness to the lad and
your interest in him. I agree with every word your lordship says. I’ve
always known there was something out of the common about Lucian, and
I’ve wanted him to get on in his own way. I never had no doubt about his
making a great name for himself--I could see that in him when he were a
little lad. Now about this going to Oxford--it would cost a good deal of
money, wouldn’t it, my lord?’

‘It would certainly cost money,’ replied the earl. ‘But I would put it
to you in this way--or, rather, this is the way in which it should be
put to the boy himself. I understand he has some money; well, he can
make no better investment of a portion of it than by spending it on his
education. Two or three years at Oxford will fit him for the life of a
man of letters as nothing else would. He need not be extravagant--two
hundred pounds a year should suffice him.’

Mr. Pepperdine listened to this with obvious perplexity and unrest. He
hesitated a little before making any reply. At last he looked at the
earl with the expression of a man who is going to confess something.

‘My lord,’ he said, ‘I’ll tell your lordship what nobody else knows--not
even my sisters. I’m sure your lordship’ll say naught to nobody about
it. My lord, the lad hasn’t a penny. He never had. Your lordship knows
that his father sent for me when he was dying in London--he’d just come
back, with the boy, from Italy--and he put Lucian in my care. He’d made
a will and I was trustee and executor. He thought that there was
sufficient provision made for the boy, but he hadn’t been well
advised--he’d put all his eggs in one basket--the money was all invested
in a building society in Rome, and every penny of it was lost. I did
hear,’ affirmed Mr. Pepperdine solemnly, ‘that the Pope of Rome himself
lost a deal of money at the same time and in the same society.’

‘That’s quite true,’ said the earl. ‘I remember it very well.

‘Well, there it was,’ continued Mr. Pepperdine. ‘It was gone for
ever--there wasn’t a penny saved. I never said naught to my sisters, you
know, my lord, because I didn’t want ’em to know. I never said nothing
to the boy, either--and he’s the sort of lad that would never ask. He’s
a bit of a child in money matters--his father (but your lordship’ll
remember him as well as I do) had always let him have all he wanted,
and----’

‘And his uncle has followed in his father’s lines, eh?’ said the earl,
with a smile that was neither cynical nor unfriendly. ‘Well, then,
Pepperdine, I understand that the lad has been at your charges all this
time as regards everything--I suppose you’ve paid Mr. Chilverstone,
too?’

Mr. Pepperdine waved his hands.

‘There’s naught to talk of, my lord,’ he said. ‘I’ve no children, and
never shall have. I never were a marrying sort, and the lad’s been
welcome. And if it had been in my power he should have gone to Oxford;
but, my lord, there’s been that happened within this last day or so
that’s brought me nigh to ruin. It was that that I wanted to see your
lordship about--it’s a poor sort of tale for anybody’s ears, but your
lordship would have to hear it some time or other. You see, my
lord’--and Mr. Pepperdine, with praiseworthy directness and simplicity,
set forth the story of his woes.

The Earl of Simonstower listened with earnest attention until his tenant
had spread out all his ruined hopes at his feet. His face expressed
nothing until the regrettable catalogue of foolishness and wrongs came
to an end. Then he laughed, rather bitterly.

‘Well, Pepperdine,’ he said, ‘you’ve been wronged, but you’ve been a
fool into the bargain. And I can’t blame you, for, in a smaller way--a
matter of a thousand pounds or so--this man Bransby has victimised me.
Well, now, what’s to be done? There’s one thing certain--I don’t intend
to lose you as a tenant. If nothing else can be done, my solicitors must
settle everything for you, and you must pay me back as you can. I
understand you’ve been doing well with your shorthorns, haven’t you?’

Mr. Pepperdine could hardly believe his ears. He had always regarded his
landlord as a somewhat cold and cynical man, and no thought of such
generous help as that indicated by the earl’s last words had come into
his mind in telling the story of his difficulties. He was a soft-hearted
man, and the tears sprang into his eyes and his voice trembled as he
tried to frame suitable words.

‘My lord!’ he said brokenly, ‘I--I don’t know what to say----’

‘Then say nothing, Pepperdine,’ said the earl. ‘I understand what you
would say. It’s all right, my friend--we appear to be fellow-passengers
in Mr. Bransby’s boat, and if I help you it’s because I’m not quite as
much damaged as you are. And eventually there will be no help about
it--you’ll have helped yourself. However, we’ll discuss that later on;
at present I want to talk about your nephew. Pepperdine, I don’t want to
give up my pet scheme of sending that boy to Oxford. It is the thing
that should be done; I think it must be done, and that I must be allowed
to do it. With your consent, Pepperdine, I will charge myself with your
nephew’s expenses for three years from the time he goes up; by the end
of the three years he will be in a position to look after himself. Don’t
try to give me any thanks. I have something of a selfish motive in all
this. But now, listen: I do not wish the boy to know that he is owing
this to anybody, and least of all to me. We must invent something in the
nature of a conspiracy. There must be no one but you, the vicar, and
myself in the secret--no one, Pepperdine, and last of all any womankind,
so your mouth must be closed as regards your sisters. I will get Mr.
Chilverstone to talk to the boy, who will understand that the money is
in your hands and that he must look to you. I want you to preach economy
to him--economy, mind you, not meanness. I will talk to him in the same
way myself, because if he is anything like his father he will develop an
open-handedness which will be anything but good for him. Remember that
you are the nominal holder of the purse-strings--everything will pass
through you. I think that’s all I wanted to say, Pepperdine,’ concluded
the earl. ‘You’ll remember your part?’

‘I shall indeed, my lord,’ said Mr. Pepperdine, as he shook the hand
which the earl extended; ‘and I shall remember a deal more, too, to my
dying day. I can’t rightly thank your lordship at this moment.’

‘No need, Pepperdine, no need!’ said Lord Simonstower hastily. ‘You’d do
the same for me, I’m sure. Good-day to you, good-day; and don’t forget
the conspiracy--no talking to the women, you know.’

Mr. Pepperdine drove homewards with what country folk call a
heart-and-a-half. He was unusually lightsome in mood and garrulous in
conversation that evening, but he would only discourse on one topic--the
virtues of the British aristocracy. He named no names and condescended
to no particulars--the British aristocracy in general served him for the
text of a long sermon which amused Miss Judith and Lucian to a high
degree, and made Miss Pepperdine wonder how many glasses of whisky
Simpson had consumed at the ‘White Lion’ in Oakborough. It so happened
that the good man had been so full of trouble that he had forgotten to
take even one--his loquacity that evening was simply due to the fact
that while he was preparing to wail _De Profundis_ he had been commanded
to sing _Te De Laudamus_, and his glorification of lords was his version
of that pæan of joyfulness.



CHAPTER XI


Lucian received the news which Mr. Chilverstone communicated to him in
skilful and diplomatic fashion with an equanimity which seemed natural
to him when hearing of anything that appeared to be his just due. He had
so far had everything that he desired--always excepting the fidelity of
Haidee, which now seemed a matter of no moment and was no longer a sore
point--and he took it as a natural consequence of his own existence that
he should go to Oxford, the fame of which ancient seat of learning had
been familiar to him from boyhood. He made no inquiries as to the cost
of this step--anything relating to money had no interest for him, save
as regards laying it out on the things he desired. He had been
accustomed as a child to see his father receive considerable sums and
spend them with royal lavishness, and as he had never known what it was
to have to earn money before it could be enjoyed, he troubled himself in
nowise as to the source of the supplies which were to keep him at Oxford
for three years. He listened attentively to Mr. Pepperdine’s solemn
admonitions on the subjects of economy and extravagance, and replied at
the end thereof that he would always let his uncle have a few days’
notice when he wanted a cheque--a remark which made Lord Simonstower’s
fellow-conspirator think a good deal.

It was impossible at this stage to do anything or say anything to shake
Lucian’s confidence in his destiny. He meant to work hard and to do
great things, and without being conceited he was sure of success--it
seemed to him to be his rightful due. Thanks to the influence of his
father in childhood and to that of Mr. Chilverstone at a later stage, he
had formed a fine taste and was already an accomplished scholar. He had
never read any trash in his life, and it was now extremely unlikely
that he ever would, for he had developed an almost womanish dislike of
the unlovely, the mean, and the sordid, and a delicate contempt for
anything in literature that was not based on good models. Mr.
Chilverstone had every confidence in him, and every hope of his future;
it filled him with pride to know that he was sending so promising a man
to his own university; but he was cast down when he found that Lord
Simonstower insisted on Lucian’s entrance at St. Benedict’s, instead of
at St. Perpetua’s, his own old college.

The only person who was full of fears was Sprats. She had been Lucian’s
other self for six years, and she, more than any one else, knew his need
of constant help and friendship. He was full of simplicity; he credited
everybody with the possession of qualities and sympathies which few
people possess; he lived in a world of dreams rather than of stern
facts. He was obstinate, wayward, impulsive; much too affectionate, and
much too lovable; he lived for the moment, and only regarded the future
as one continual procession of rosy hours. Sprats, with feminine
intuition, feared the moment when he would come into collision with
stern experience of the world and the worldly--she longed to be with him
when that moment came, as she had been with him when the frailty and
coquetry of the Dolly kid nearly broke his child’s heart. And so during
the last few days of his stay at Simonstower she hovered about him as a
faithful mother does about a sailor son, and she gave him much excellent
advice and many counsels of perfection.

‘You know you are a baby,’ she said, when Lucian laughed at her. ‘You
have been so coddled all your life that you will cry if a pin pricks
you. And there will be no Sprats to tie a rag round the wound.’

‘It would certainly be better if Sprats were going too,’ he said
thoughtfully, and his face clouded. ‘But then,’ he continued, flashing
into a smile, ‘after all, Oxford is only two hundred miles from
Simonstower, and there are trains which carry one over two hundred miles
in a very short time. If I should chance to fall and bump my nose I
shall take a ticket by the next train and come to Sprats to be patched
up.’

‘I shall keep a stock of ointments and lotions and bandages in perpetual
readiness,’ she said. ‘But it must be distinctly understood, Lucian,
that I have the monopoly of curing you--I have a sort of notion, you
know, that it is my chief mission in life to be your nurse.’

‘The concession is yours,’ he answered, with mock gravity.

It was with this understanding that they parted. There came a day when
all the good-byes had been said, the blessings and admonitions received,
and Lucian departed from the village with a pocket full of money
(largely placed there through the foolish feminine indulgence of Miss
Pepperdine and Miss Judith, who had womanly fears as to the horrible
situations in which he might be placed if he were bereft of ready cash)
and a light and a sanguine heart. Mr. Chilverstone went with him to
Oxford to see his _protégé_ settled and have a brief holiday of his own;
on their departure Sprats drove them to the station at Wellsby. She
waved her handkerchief until the train had disappeared; she was
conscious when she turned away that her heart had gone with Lucian.



CHAPTER XII


About the middle of a May afternoon, seven years later, a young man
turned out of the Strand into a quiet street in the neighbourhood of
Covent Garden and began looking about him as if endeavouring to locate
the whereabouts of some particular place. Catching sight of the name
_William Robertson_ on a neighbouring window, with the word _Publisher_
underneath it, he turned into the door of the establishment thus
designated, and encountering an office-boy who was busily engaged in
reading a comic journal inside a small pen labelled ‘Inquiries,’ he
asked with great politeness if Mr. Robertson was at that moment
disengaged. The office-boy in his own good time condescended to examine
the personal appearance of the inquirer, and having assured himself that
the gentleman was worthy his attention he asked in sharp tones if he had
an appointment with Mr. Robertson. To this the stranger replied that he
believed he was expected by Mr. Robertson during the afternoon, but not
at any particular hour, and produced a card from which the office-boy
learned that he was confronting the Viscount Saxonstowe. He forthwith
disappeared into some inner region and came back a moment later with a
young gentleman who cultivated long hair and an æsthetic style of
necktie, and bowed Lord Saxonstowe through various doors into a pleasant
ante-room, where he accommodated his lordship with a chair and the
_Times_, and informed him that Mr. Robertson would be at liberty in a
few moments. Lord Saxonstowe remarked that he was in no hurry at all,
and would wait Mr. Robertson’s convenience. The young gentleman with the
luxuriant locks replied politely that he was quite sure Mr. Robertson
would not keep his lordship waiting long, and added that they were
experiencing quite summer-like weather. Lord Saxonstowe agreed to this
proposition, and opened the _Times_. His host or keeper for the time
being seated himself at a desk, one half of which was shared by a lady
typist who had affected great interest in her work since Lord
Saxonstowe’s entrance, and who now stole surreptitious glances at him as
he scanned the newspaper. The clerk scribbled a line or two on a scrap
of paper and passed it across to her. She untwisted it and read: ‘_This
is the chap that did that tremendous exploration in the North of Asia: a
real live lord, you know._’ She scribbled an answering line: ‘_Of course
I know--do you think I didn’t recognise the name?_’ and passed it over
with a show of indignation. The clerk indited another epistle: ‘_Don’t
look as if he’d seen much of anything, does he?_’ The girl perused this,
scribbled back: ‘_His eyes and moustache are real jam!_’ and fell to
work at her machine again. The clerk sighed, caressed a few sprouts on
his top-lip, and remarking to his own soul that these toffs always catch
the girls’ eyes, fell to doing nothing in a practised way.

Viscount Saxonstowe, quite unconscious of the interest he was exciting,
stared about him after a time and began to wonder if the two young
people at the desk usually worked with closed windows. The atmosphere
was heavy, and there was a concentrated smell of paper, and ink, and
paste. He thought of the wind-swept plains and steppes on which he had
spent long months--he had gone through some stiff experiences there, but
he confessed to himself that he would prefer a bitter cold night in
winter in similar solitudes to a summer’s day in that ante-room. His own
healthy tan and the clearness of his eyes, his alert look and the easy
swing with which he walked, would never have been developed amidst such
surroundings, and the consciousness of his own rude health made him feel
sorry for the two white slaves before him. He felt that if he could have
his own way he would cut the young gentleman’s hair, put him into a
flannel shirt and trot him round; as for the young lady, he would
certainly send her into the country for a holiday. And while he thus
indulged his fancies a door opened and he heard voices, and two men
stepped into the ante-room.

He instinctively recognised one as the publisher whom he had come to
see; at the other, a much younger man, he found himself staring with
some sense of recognition which was as yet vague and unformed. He felt
sure that he had met him before, and under some unusual circumstances,
but he could not remember the occasion, nor assure his mind that the
face on which he looked was really familiar--it was more suggestive of
something that had been familiar than familiar in itself. He concluded
that he must have seen a photograph of it in some illustrated paper; the
man was in all likelihood a popular author. Saxonstowe carefully looked
him over as he stood exchanging a last word with the publisher on the
threshold of the latter’s room. He noted the gracefulness of the slim
figure in the perfectly fashioned clothes, and again he became conscious
that his memory was being stirred. The man under observation was
swinging a light walking-cane as he chatted; he made a sudden movement
with it to emphasise a point, and Saxonstowe’s memory cleared itself.
His thoughts flew back ten years: he saw two boys, one the very image of
incarnate Wrath, the other an equally faithful impersonation of
Amazement, facing each other in an antique hall, with rapiers in hand
and a sense of battle writ large upon their faces and figures.

‘And I can’t remember the chap’s name!’ he thought. ‘But this is he.’

He looked at his old antagonist more closely, and with a keener
interest. Lucian was now twenty-five; he had developed into a tall,
well-knit man of graceful and sinuous figure; he was dressed with great
care and with strict attention to the height of the prevalent fashion,
but with a close study of his own particular requirements; his
appearance was distinguished and notable, and Saxonstowe, little given
to sentiment as regards manly beauty, confessed to himself that the face
on which he looked might have been moulded by Nature from a canvas or
marble of the Renaissance. It was a face for which some women would
forget everything,--Saxonstowe, with this thought half-formed in his
mind, caught sight of the anæemic typist, who, oblivious of anything
else in the room, had fixed all her attention on Lucian. Her hands
rested, motionless, on the keys of the machine before her; her head was
slightly tilted back, her eyes shone, her lips were slightly parted; a
faint flush of colour had stolen into her cheeks, and for the moment she
was a pretty girl. Saxonstowe smiled--it seemed to him that he had been
privileged to peep into the secret chamber of a girlish soul. ‘She would
give something to kiss his hand,’ he thought.

Lucian turned away from the publisher with a nod; his eye caught
Saxonstowe’s and held it. A puzzled look came into his face; he paused
and involuntarily stretched out his hand, staring at Saxonstowe
searchingly. Saxonstowe smiled and gave his hand in return.

‘We have met somewhere,’ said Lucian wonderingly, ‘I cannot think
where.’

‘Nor can I remember your name,’ answered Saxonstowe. ‘But--we met in the
Stone Hall at Simonstower.’

Lucian’s face lighted with the smile which had become famous for its
sweetness.

‘And with rapiers!’ he exclaimed. ‘I remember--I remember! You are
Dickie--Dickie Feversham.’ He began to laugh. ‘How quaint that scene
was!’ he said. ‘I have often thought that it had the very essence of the
dramatic in it. Let me see--what did we fight about? Was it Haidee? How
amusing--because Haidee and I are married.’

‘That,’ said Saxonstowe, ‘seems a happy ending to the affair. But I
think it ended happily at the time. And even yet I cannot remember your
name.’

Mr. Robertson stepped forward before Lucian could reply. He introduced
the young men to each other in due form. Then Saxonstowe knew that his
old enemy was one of the great literary lions of the day; and Lucian
recognised Saxonstowe as the mighty traveller of whose deeds most people
were talking. They looked at each other with interest, and Mr. Robertson
felt a glow of pride when he remembered that his was the only imprint
which had ever appeared on a title-page of Lucian Damerel’s, and that he
was shortly to publish the two massive volumes in which Viscount
Saxonstowe had given to the world an account of his wondrous wanderings.
He rubbed his hands as he regarded these two splendid young men; it did
him good to be near them.

Lucian was worshipping Saxonstowe with the guileless adoration of a
child that looks on a man who has seen great things and done great
things. It was a trick of his: he had once been known to stand
motionless for an hour, gazing in silence at a man who had performed a
deed of desperate valour, had suffered the loss of his legs in doing it,
and had been obliged to exhibit himself with a placard round his neck in
order to scrape a living together. Lucian was now conjuring up a vision
of the steppes and plains over which Saxonstowe had travelled with his
life in his hands.

‘When will you dine with us?’ he said, suddenly bursting into speech.
‘To-night--to-morrow?--the day after--when? Come before everybody snaps
you up--you will have no peace for your soul or rest for your body after
your book is out.’

‘Then I shall run away to certain regions where one can easily find
both,’ answered Saxonstowe laughingly. ‘I assure you I have no intention
of wasting either body or soul in London.’

Then they arranged that the new lion was to dine with Mr. and Mrs.
Lucian Damerel on the following day, and Lucian departed, while
Saxonstowe followed Mr. Robertson into his private room.

‘Your lordship has met Mr. Damerel before?’ said the publisher, who had
something of a liking for gossip about his pet authors.

‘Once,’ answered Saxonstowe. ‘We were boys at the time. I had no idea
that he was the poet of whose work I have heard so much since coming
home.’

‘He has had an extraordinarily successful career,’ said Mr. Robertson,
glancing complacently at a little row of thin volumes bound in dark
green cloth which figured in a miniature book-case above his desk. ‘I
have published all his work--he leaped into fame with his first book,
which I produced when he was at Oxford, and since then he has held a
recognised place. Yes, one may say that Damerel is one of fortune’s
spoiled darlings--everything that he has done has turned out a great
success. He has the grand manner in poetry. I don’t know whether your
lordship has read his great tragedy, _Domitia_, which was staged so
magnificently at the Athenæum, and proved the sensation of the year?’

‘I am afraid,’ replied Saxonstowe, ‘that I have had few opportunities of
reading anything at all for the past five years. I think Mr. Damerel’s
first volume had just appeared when I left England, and books, you know,
are not easily obtainable in the wilds of Central Asia. Now that I have
better chances, I must not neglect them.’

‘You have a great treat in store, my lord,’ said the publisher. He
nodded his head several times, as if to emphasise the remark. ‘Yes,’ he
continued, ‘Damerel has certainly been favoured by fortune. Everything
has conspired to increase the sum of his fame. His romantic marriage, of
course, was a great advertisement.’

‘An advertisement!’

‘I mean, of course, from my standpoint,’ said Mr. Robertson hastily. ‘He
ran away with a very beautiful girl who was on the very eve of
contracting a most advantageous marriage from a worldly point of view,
and the affair was much talked about. There was a great rush on
Damerel’s books during the next few weeks--it is wonderful how a little
sensation like that helps the sale of a book. I remember that Lord
Pintleford published a novel with me some years ago which we could not
sell at all. He shot his coachman in a fit of anger--that sold the book
like hot cakes.’

‘I trust the unfortunate coachman was not seriously injured,’ said
Saxonstowe, who was much amused by these revelations. ‘It is, I confess,
an unusual method of advertising a book, and one which I should not care
to adopt.’

‘Oh, we can spare your lordship the trouble!’ said Mr. Robertson.
‘There’ll be no need to employ any unusual methods in making your
lordship’s book known. I have already subscribed two large editions of
it.’

With this gratifying announcement Mr. Robertson plunged into the
business which had brought Lord Saxonstowe to his office, and for that
time no more was said of Lucian Damerel and his great fame. But that
night Saxonstowe dined with his aunt, Lady Firmanence, a childless widow
who lived on past scandals and present gossip, and chancing to remark
that he had encountered Lucian and renewed a very small acquaintance
with him, was greeted with a sniff which plainly indicated that Lady
Firmanence had something to say.

‘And where, pray, did you meet Lucian Damerel at any time?’ she
inquired. ‘He was unknown, or just beginning to be known, when you left
England.’

‘It is ten years since I met him,’ answered Saxonstowe. ‘It was when I
was staying at Saxonstowe with my uncle. I met Damerel at Simonstower,
and the circumstances were rather amusing.’

He gave an account of the duel, which afforded Lady Firmanence much
amusement, and he showed her the scar on his hand, and laughed as he
related the story of Lucian’s terrible earnestness.

‘But I have never forgotten,’ he concluded, ‘how readily and sincerely
he asked my forgiveness when he found that he had been in the wrong--it
rather knocked me over, you know, because I didn’t quite understand that
he really felt the thing--we were both such boys, and the girl was a
child.’

‘Oh, Lucian Damerel has good feeling,’ said Lady Firmanence. ‘You
wouldn’t understand the Italian strain in him. But it is amusing that
you should have fought over Haidee Brinklow, who is now Mrs. Lucian. I’m
glad he married her, and that you didn’t.’

‘Considering that I am to dine with Mr. and Mrs. Lucian Damerel
to-morrow,’ said Saxonstowe, ‘it is a bit odd that I don’t know any more
of them than this. She, I remember, was some connection of Lord
Simonstower’s; but who is he?’

‘Lucian Damerel? Oh, he was the son of Cyprian Damerel, an Italian
artist who married the daughter of one of Simonstower’s tenants.
Simonstower was at all times greatly interested in him, and it has
always been my firm impression that it was he who sent the boy to
Oxford. At any rate, when he died, which was just before Lucian Damerel
came of age, Simonstower left him ten thousand pounds.’

‘That was good,’ said Saxonstowe.

‘I don’t know,’ said Lady Firmanence. ‘It has always seemed to me from
what I have seen of him--and I keep my eyes open on most things--that it
would have been far better for that young man if fortune had dealt him a
few sound kicks instead of so many halfpence. Depend upon it,
Saxonstowe, it’s a bad thing for a man, and especially for a man of that
temperament, to be pampered too much. Now, Lucian Damerel has been
pampered all his life--I know a good deal about him, because I was
constantly down at Saxonstowe during the last two or three years of your
uncle’s life, and Saxonstowe, as you may remember, is close to
Simonstower. I know how Lucian was petted and pampered by his own
people, and by the parson and his daughter, and by the old lord. His way
has always been made smooth for him--it would have done him good to find
a few rough places here and there. He had far too much flattery poured
upon him when his success came, and he has got used to expecting it,
though indeed,’ concluded the old lady, laughing, ‘Heaven knows I’m
wrong in saying “got used,” for Damerel’s one of the sort who take all
the riches and luxuries of the world as their just due.’

‘He seemed to me to be very simple and unaffected,’ said Saxonstowe.

Lady Firmanence nodded the ribbons of her cap.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘he’s sadly too simple, and I wish--for I can’t help
liking him--that he was as affected as some of those young upstarts who
cultivate long hair and velvet coats on the strength of a slim volume
printed on one side of the paper only. No--Lucian Damerel hasn’t a scrap
of affectation about him, and he isn’t a _poseur_. I wish he were
affected and that he would pose--I do indeed, for his own sake.’

Saxonstowe knew that his aunt was a clever woman. He held his tongue,
asking her by his eyes to explain this desire of hers, which seemed so
much at variance with her well-known love of humbug and cant.

‘Oh, of course I know you’re wondering at that!’ she said. ‘Well, the
explanation is simple enough. I wish Lucian Damerel were a _poseur_, I
wish he were affected, even to the insufferable stage, for the simple
reason that if he were these things it would show that he was alive to
the practical and business side of the matter. What is he? A writer.
He’ll have to live by writing--at the rate he and Haidee live they’ll
soon exhaust their resources--and he ought to be alive to the £ s. d. of
his trade, for it is a trade. As things are, he isn’t alive. The
difference between Lucian Damerel and some other men of equal eminence
in his own craft is just this: they are for ever in an attitude, crying
out, “Look at me--is it not wonderful that I am so clever?” Lucian, on
the other hand, seems to suggest an attitude and air of “Wouldn’t it be
curious if I weren’t?”’

‘I think,’ said Saxonstowe, ‘that there may be some affectation in
that.’

‘Affectation,’ said Lady Firmanence, ‘depends upon two things if it is
to be successful: the power to deceive cleverly, and the ability to
deceive for ever. Lucian Damerel couldn’t deceive anybody--he’s a child,
the child who believes the world to be an illimitable nursery crammed
with inexhaustible toys.’

‘You mean that he plays at life?’

‘I mean that he plays _in_ life,’ said Lady Firmanence. ‘He’s still
sporting on his mother’s breast, and he’ll go on sporting until somebody
picks him up, smacks him soundly, and throws him into a corner. Then, of
course, he will be vastly surprised to find that such treatment _could_
be meted out to him.’

‘Then let us hope that he will be able to live in his world of dreams
for ever,’ said Saxonstowe.

‘So he might, if the State were to establish an asylum for folk of his
sort,’ said Lady Firmanence. ‘But he happens to be married, and married
to Haidee Brinklow.’

‘My publisher,’ remarked Saxonstowe, ‘gloated over the romantic
circumstances of the marriage, and appeared to think that that sort of
thing was good for trade--made books sell, you know.’

‘I have no doubt that Damerel’s marriage made his books sell, and kept
_Domitia_ running at the Athenæum for at least three months longer,’
replied Lady Firmanence.

‘Were the circumstances, then, so very romantic?’

‘I dare say they appealed to the sensations, emotions, feelings, and
notions of the British public,’ said the old lady. ‘Haidee Brinklow,
after a campaign of two seasons, was about to marry a middle-aged person
who had made much money in something or other, and was prepared to
execute handsome settlements. It was all arranged when Lucian burst upon
the scene, blazing with triumph, youth, and good looks. He was the comet
of that season, and Haidee was attracted by the glitter of his tail. I
suppose he and she were madly in love with each other for quite a
month--unfortunately, during that month they committed the indiscretion
of marriage.’

‘A runaway marriage, was it not?’

‘Under the very noses of the mamma and the bridegroom-elect. There was
one happy result of the affair,’ said Lady Firmanence musingly; ‘it
drove Mrs. Brinklow off to somewhere or other on the Continent, and
there she has since remained--she took her defeat badly. Now the jilted
gentleman took it in good part--it is said that he is quite a sort of
grandpapa in the establishment, and has realised that there are
compensations even in being jilted.’

Saxonstowe meditated upon these things in silence.

‘Mrs. Damerel was a pretty girl,’ he said, after a time.

‘Mrs. Damerel is a nice little doll,’ said Lady Firmanence, ‘a very
pretty toy indeed. Give her plenty of pretty things to wear and sweets
to eat, and all the honey of life to sip at, and she’ll do well and go
far; but don’t ask her to draw cheques against a mental balance which
she never had, or you’ll get them back--dishonoured.’

‘Are there any children?’ Saxonstowe asked.

‘Only themselves,’ replied his aunt, ‘and quite plenty too, in one
house. If it were not for Millie Chilverstone, I don’t know what they
would do--she descends upon them now and then, straightens them up as
far as she can, and sets the wheels working once more. She is good to
them.’

‘And who is she? I have some sort of recollection of her name,’ said
Saxonstowe.

‘She is the daughter of the parson at Simonstower--the man who tutored
Lucian Damerel.’

‘Ah, I remember--she was the girl who came with him to the Castle that
day, and he called her Sprats. A lively, good-humoured girl, with a heap
of freckles in a very bright face,’ said Saxonstowe.

‘She is little altered,’ remarked Lady Firmanence. ‘Now, that was the
girl for Lucian Damerel! She would have taken care of his money, darned
his socks, given him plain dinners, seen that the rent was paid, and
made a man of him.’

‘Admirable qualifications,’ laughed Saxonstowe. ‘But one might
reasonably suppose that a poet of Damerel’s quality needs others--some
intellectual gifts, for example, in his helpmeet.’

‘Stuff and nonsense!’ retorted Lady Firmanence. ‘He wants a good
managing housekeeper with a keen eye for the butcher’s bill and a genius
for economy. As for intellect--pray, Saxonstowe, don’t foster the
foolish notion that poets are intellectual. Don’t you know that all
genius is lopsided? Your poet has all his brain-power in one little
cell--there may be a gold-mine there, but the rest of him is usually
weak even to childishness. And the great need of the weak man is the
strong woman.’

Saxonstowe’s silence was a delicate and flattering compliment to Lady
Firmanence’s perspicacity.



CHAPTER XIII


Lady Firmanence’s observations upon the family history of Mr. and Mrs.
Lucian Damerel sent Lord Saxonstowe to their house at seven o’clock the
following evening with feelings of pleasant curiosity. He had been out
of the world--as that phrase is known by people whose chief idea of life
is to live in social ant-heaps--long enough to enjoy a renewed
acquaintance with it, and since his return to England had found a
hitherto untasted pleasure in studying the manners and customs of his
fellow-subjects. He remembered little about them as they had presented
themselves to him before his departure for the East, for he was then
young and unlicked: the five years of comparative solitude which he had
spent in the deserts and waste places of the earth, only enlivened by
the doubtful company of Kirghese, Tartars, and children of nature, had
lifted him upon an eminence from whence he might view civilised humanity
with a critical eye. So far everything had amused him--it seemed to him
that never had life seemed so small and ignoble, so mean and trifling,
as here where the men and women were as puppets pulled by strings which
fate had attached to most capricious fingers. Like all the men who come
back from the deserts and the mountains, he gazed on the whirling life
around him with a feeling that was half pity, half contempt. The antics
of the puppets made him wonder, and in the wonder he found amusement.

Mr. and Mrs. Lucian Damerel, as befitted young people untroubled by
considerations of economy, resided in one of those smaller streets in
Mayfair wherein one may find a house large enough to turn round in
without more than an occasional collision with the walls. Such a house
is not so comfortable as a suburban residence at one-tenth the rent, but
it has the advantage of being in the middle of the known world, and if
its frontage to the street is only one of six yards, its exterior may be
made pretty and even taking by a judicious use of flowering plants,
bright paint, and a quaint knocker. The interior is usually suggestive
of playing at doll’s house; but the absence of even one baby makes a
great difference, and in Lucian’s establishment there were no children.
Small as it was, the house was a veritable nest of comfort--Lucian and
Haidee had the instinct of settling themselves amongst soft things, and
surrounding their souls with an atmosphere of æsthetic delight, and one
of them at least had the artist’s eye for colour, and the true
collector’s contempt for the cheap and obvious. There was scarcely a
chair or table in the rooms sacred to the householders and their friends
which had not a history and a distinction: every picture was an
education in art; the books were masterpieces of the binder’s craft; the
old china and old things generally were the despair of many people who
could have afforded to buy a warehouse full of the like had they only
known where to find it. Lucian knew, and when he came into possession of
Lord Simonstower’s legacy he began to surround himself with the fruits
of money and knowledge, and as riches came rolling in from royalties, he
went on indulging his tastes until the house was full, and would hold no
more examples of anything. But by that time it was a nest of luxury
wherein even the light, real and artificial, was graduated to a fine
shade, where nothing crude in shape or colour interfered with the
delicate susceptibilities of a poetic temperament.

When Lord Saxonstowe was shown into the small drawing-room of this small
house he marvelled at the cleverness and delicacy of the taste which
could make so much use of limited dimensions. It was the daintiest and
prettiest room he had ever seen, and though he himself had small
inclinations to ease and luxury of any sort, he drank in the
pleasantness of his surroundings with a distinct sense of personal
gratification. The room was empty of human life when he entered it, but
the marks of a personality were all over it, and the personality was
neither masculine nor feminine--it was the personality of a neuter
thing, and Saxonstowe dimly recognised that it meant Art. He began to
understand something of Lucian as he looked about him, and to conceive
him as a mind which dominated its enveloping body to a love of beauty
that might easily degenerate into a slavedom to luxury. He began to
wonder if Lucian’s study or library, or wherever he worked, were
similarly devoted to the worship of form and colour.

He was turning over the leaves of an Italian work, a book sumptuous in
form and wonderful in its vellum binding and gold scroll-work, when a
rustle of skirts aroused him from the first stages of a reverie. He
turned, expecting to see his hostess--instead he saw a young lady whom
he instinctively recognised as Miss Chilverstone, the girl of the merry
eyes and the innumerable freckles of ten years earlier. He looked at her
closely as she approached him, and he saw that the merry eyes had lost
some of their roguery, but were still frank, clear, and kindly; some of
the freckles had gone, but a good many were still there, adding piquancy
to a face that had no pretensions to beauty, but many to the charms
which spring from the possession of a kindly heart and a purposeful
temperament. Good temper and good health appeared to radiate from Miss
Chilverstone; the active girl of sixteen had developed into a splendid
woman, and Lord Saxonstowe, as she moved towards him, admired her with a
sudden recognition of her feminine strength--she was just the woman, he
said to himself, who ought to be the mate of a strong man, a man of
action and purpose and determination.

She held out her hand to him with a frank smile.

‘Do you remember me?’ she said. ‘It is quite ten years since that
fateful afternoon at Simonstower.’

‘Was it fateful?’ he answered. ‘Yes, I remember quite well. In those
days you were called Sprats.’

‘I am still Sprats,’ she answered, with a laugh. ‘I shall always be
Sprats. I am Sprats to Lucian and Haidee, and even to my children.’

‘To your children?’ he said wonderingly.

‘I have twenty-five,’ she replied, smiling at his questioning look. ‘But
of course you do not know. I have a private orphanage, all of my own, in
Bayswater--it is my hobby. If you are interested in babies and children,
do come to see me there, and I will introduce you to all my charges.’

‘I will certainly do that,’ he said. ‘Isn’t it hard work?’

‘Isn’t everything hard work that is worth doing?’ she answered. ‘Yes, I
suppose it is hard work, but I like it. I have a natural genius for
mothering helpless things--that is why I occasionally condescend to put
on fine clothes and dine with children like Lucian and Haidee when they
entertain great travellers who are also peers of the realm.’

‘Do they require mothering?’ he asked.

‘Very much so sometimes--they are very particular babies. I come to them
every now and then to scold them, smack them, straighten them up, and
see that they are in no danger of falling into the fire or upsetting
anything. Afterwards I dine with them in order to cheer them up after
the rough time they have had.’

Saxonstowe smiled. He had been watching her closely all the time.

‘I see,’ he said, ‘that you are still Sprats. Has the time been very
rough to-day?’

‘Somewhat rough on poor Haidee, perhaps,’ answered Sprats. ‘Lucian has
wisely kept out of the way until he can find safety in numbers. But
please sit down and tell me about your travels until our hostess
appears--it seems quite funny to see you all in one piece after such
adventures. Didn’t they torture you in some Thibetan town?’ she
inquired, with a sudden change from gaiety to womanly concern.

‘They certainly were rather inhospitable,’ he answered. ‘I shouldn’t
call it torture, I think--it was merely a sort of gentle hint as to
what they would do if I intruded upon them again.’

‘But I want to know what they did,’ she insisted. ‘You look so nice and
comfortable sitting there, with no other sign of discomfort about you
than the usual I-want-my-dinner look, that one would never dream you had
gone through hardships.’

Saxonstowe was not much given to conversation--his nomadic life had
communicated the gift of silence to him, but he recognised the
sympathetic note in Miss Chilverstone’s voice, and he began to tell her
about his travels in a somewhat boyish fashion that amused her. As he
talked she examined him closely and decided that he was almost as young
as on the afternoon when he occasioned such mad jealousy in Lucian’s
breast. His method of expressing himself was simple and direct and
schoolboyish in language, but the exuberance of spirits which she
remembered had disappeared and given place to a staid, old-fashioned
manner.

‘I wonder what did it?’ she said, unconsciously uttering her thought.

‘Did what?’ he asked.

‘I was thinking aloud,’ she answered. ‘I wondered what had made you so
very staid in a curiously young way--you were a rough-and-tumble sort of
boy that afternoon at Simonstower.’

Saxonstowe blushed. He had recollections of his youthfulness.

‘I believe I was an irrepressible sort of youngster,’ he said. ‘I think
that gets knocked out of you though, when you spend a lot of time
alone--you get no end of time for thinking, you know, out in the
deserts.’

‘I should think so,’ she said. ‘And I suppose that even this solitude
becomes companionable in a way that only those who have experienced it
can understand?’

He looked at her with some surprise and with a new interest and strange
sense of kinship.

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘That’s it--that is it exactly. How did you know?’

‘It isn’t necessary to go into the deserts and steppes to feel a bit
lonely now and then, is it?’ she said, with a laugh. ‘I suppose most of
us get some sort of notion of solitude at some time or other.’

At that juncture Haidee entered, and Saxonstowe turned to her with a
good deal of curiosity. He was somewhat surprised to find that ten years
of added age had made little difference in her. She was now a woman, it
was true, and her girlish prettiness had changed into a somewhat
luxurious style of beauty--there was no denying the loveliness of face
and figure, of charm and colour, he said to himself, but he was quick to
observe that Haidee’s beauty depended entirely upon surface qualities.
She fell, without effort or consciousness, into poses which other women
vainly tried to emulate; it was impossible to her to walk across a room,
sit upon an unaccommodating chair, or loll upon a much becushioned sofa
in anything but a graceful way; it was equally impossible, so long as
nothing occurred to ruffle her, to keep from her lips a perpetual smile,
or inviting glances from her dark eyes. She reminded Saxonstowe of a
fluffy, silky-coated kitten which he had seen playing on Lady
Firmanence’s hearthrug, and he was not surprised to find, when she began
to talk to him, that her voice had something of the feline purr in it.
Within five minutes of her entrance he had determined that Mrs. Damerel
was a pretty doll. She showed to the greatest advantage amidst the
luxury of her surroundings, but her mouth dropped no pearls, and her
pretty face showed no sign of intellect, or of wit, or of any strong
mental quality. It was evident that conversation was not Mrs. Damerel’s
strong point--she indicated in an instinctive fashion that men were
expected to amuse and admire her without drawing upon her intellectual
resources, and Saxonstowe soon formed the opinion that a judicious use
of monosyllables would carry her a long way in uncongenial company. Her
beauty had something of sleepiness about it--there was neither vivacity
nor animation in her manner, but she was beautifully gowned and
daintily perfect, and as a picture deserved worship and recognition.

Saxonstowe was presently presented to another guest, Mrs. Berenson, a
lady who had achieved great distinction on the stage, and who claimed a
part proprietorship in Lucian Damerel because she had created the part
of the heroine in his tragedy, and almost worn herself to skin and bone
in playing it in strenuous fashion for nearly three hundred nights. She
was now resting from these labours, and employing her leisure in an
attempt to induce Lucian to write a play around herself, and the project
was so much in her mind that she began to talk volubly of it as soon as
she entered his wife’s drawing-room. Saxonstowe inspected her with
curiosity and amusement. He had seen her described as an embodiment of
sinuous grace; she seemed to him an angular, scraggy woman, whose joints
were too much in evidence, and who would have been the better for some
addition to her adipose tissue. From behind the footlights Mrs. Berenson
displayed many charms and qualities of beauty--Saxonstowe soon came to
the conclusion that they must be largely due to artificial aids and the
power of histrionic art, for she presented none of them on the dull
stage of private life. Her hair, arranged on the principle of artful
carelessness, was of a washed-out colour; her complexion was mottled and
her skin rough; she had an unfortunately prominent nose which evinced a
decided partiality to be bulbous, and her mouth, framed in harsh lines
and drooping wrinkles, was so large that it seemed to stretch from one
corner of an elongated jaw to the other. She was noticeable, but not
pleasant to look upon, and in spite of a natural indifference to such
things, Saxonstowe wished that her attire had been either less eccentric
or better suited to her. Mrs. Berenson, being very tall and very thin,
wore a gown of the eighteenth-century-rustic-maiden style, made very
high at the waist, low at the neck, and short in the sleeves--she thus
looked like a lamp-post, or a bean-stalk, topped with a mask and a
flaxen wig. She was one of those women who wear innumerable chains, and
at least half-a-dozen rings on each hand, and she had an annoying trick
of clasping her hands in front of her and twisting the chains round her
fingers, which were very long and very white, and apt to get on other
people’s nerves. It was also to be observed that she never ceased
talking, and that her one subject of conversation was herself.

As Saxonstowe was beginning to wish that his host would appear, Mr.
Eustace Darlington was announced, and he found himself diverted from
Mrs. Berenson by a new object of interest, in the shape of the man whom
Mrs. Damerel had jilted in order to run away with Lucian. Mr. Darlington
was a man of apparently forty years of age; a clean-shaven, keen-eyed
individual, who communicated an immediate impression of shrewd
hard-headedness. He was very quiet and very self-possessed in manner,
and it required little knowledge of human nature to predict of him that
he would never do anything in a hurry or in a perfunctory manner--a
single glance of his eye at the clock as eight struck served to indicate
at least one principal trait of his character.

‘It is utterly useless to look at the clock,’ said Haidee, catching Mr.
Darlington’s glance. ‘That won’t bring Lucian any sooner--he has
probably quite forgotten that he has guests, and gone off to dine at his
club or something of that sort. He gets more erratic every day. I wish
you’d talk seriously to him, Sprats. He never pays the least attention
to me. Last week he asked two men to dine--utter strangers to me--and at
eight o’clock came a wire from Oxford saying he had gone down there to
see a friend and was staying the night.’

‘I think that must be delightful in the man to whom you are married,’
said Mrs. Berenson. ‘I should hate to live with a man who always did the
right thing at the right moment--so dull, you know.’

‘There is much to be said on both sides,’ said Darlington dryly. ‘In
husbands, as in theology, a happy medium would appear to be found in the
_via media_. I presume, Mrs. Berenson, that you would like your husband
to wear his waistcoat outside his coat and dine at five o’clock in the
morning?’

‘I would prefer even that to a husband who lived on clock-work
principles,’ Mrs. Berenson replied. ‘Eccentricity is the surest proof of
strong character.’

‘I should imagine,’ said Sprats, with a glance at Saxonstowe which
seemed to convey to him that the actress was amusing. ‘I should imagine
that Lord Saxonstowe and Mr. Darlington are men of clock-work
principles.’

Mrs. Berenson put up her pince-nez and favoured the two men with a long,
steady stare. She dropped the pince-nez with a deep sigh.

‘They do look like it, don’t they?’ she said despairingly. ‘There’s
something in the way they wear their clothes and hold their hands that
suggests it. Do you always rise at a certain hour?’ she went on, turning
to Saxonstowe. ‘My husband had a habit of getting up at six in summer
and seven in winter--it brought on an extraordinary form of nervous
disease in me, and the doctors warned him that they would not be
responsible for my life if he persisted. I believe he tried to break the
habit off, poor fellow, but he died, and so of course there was an end
of it.’

Ere Saxonstowe could decide whether he was expected to reply to the
lady’s question as to his own habits, the sound of a rapidly driven and
sharply pulled-up cab was heard outside, followed by loudly delivered
instructions in Lucian’s voice. A minute later he rushed into the
drawing-room. He had evidently come straight out of the cab, for he wore
his hat and forgot to take it off--excitement and concern were written
in large letters all over him. He began to gesticulate, addressing
everybody, and talking very quickly and almost breathlessly. He was
awfully sorry to have kept them waiting, and even now he must hurry away
again immediately. He had heard late that afternoon of an old college
friend who had fallen on evil days after an heroic endeavour to make a
fortune out of literature, and had gone to him to find that the poor
fellow, his wife, and two young children were all in the last stages of
poverty, and confronting a cold and careless world from the insecure
bastion of a cheap lodging in an unknown quarter of the town named
Ball’s Pond. He described their plight and surroundings in a few graphic
sentences, looking from one to the other with quick eager glances, as if
appealing to them for comprehension, or sympathy, or assent.

‘And of course I must see to the poor chap and his family,’ he said.
‘They want food, and money, and lots of things. And the two
children--Sprats, _you_ must come back with me just now. I am keeping
the cab--you must come and take those children away to your hospital.
And where is Hoskins? I want food and wine for them; he must put it on
top of the hansom.’

‘Are we all to go without dinner?’ asked Mrs. Damerel.

‘By no means, by no means!’ said Lucian. ‘Pray do not wait
longer--indeed I don’t know when I shall return, there will be lots to
do, and----’

‘But Sprats, if she goes with you, will go hungry,’ Mrs. Damerel urged.

Lucian stared at Sprats, and frowned, as if some deep mental problem had
presented itself to him.

‘You can’t be very hungry, Sprats, you know,’ he said, with visible
impatience. ‘You must have had tea during the afternoon--can’t you wait
an hour or two and we’ll get something later on? Those two children must
be brought away--my God! you should see the place--you must come, of
course.’

‘Oh, I’m going with you!’ answered Sprats. ‘Don’t bother about us, you
other people--angels of mercy are not very pleasant things at the moment
you’re starving for dinner--go and dine and leave Lucian to me; I’ll put
a cloak or something over my one swell gown and go with him. Now,
Lucian, quick with your commissariat arrangements.’

‘Yes, yes, I’ll be quick,’ answered Lucian. ‘You see,’ he continued,
turning to Saxonstowe with the air of a child who has asked another
child to play with it, and at the last moment prefers an alternative
amusement; ‘it’s an awful pity, isn’t it, but you do quite understand?
The poor chap’s starving and friendless, you know, and I don’t know when
I shall get back, but----’

‘Please don’t bother about me,’ said Saxonstowe; ‘I quite understand.’

Lucian sighed--a sigh of relief. He looked round; Sprats had
disappeared, but Hoskins, a staid and solemn butler, lingered at the
door. Lucian appealed to him with the pathetic insistence of the man who
wants very much to do something, and is not quite sure how to do it.

‘Oh, I say, Hoskins, I want--some food, you know, and wine, and----’

‘Yes, sir,’ said Hoskins. ‘Miss Chilverstone has just given me
instructions, sir.’

‘Oh, then we can go!’ exclaimed Lucian. ‘I say, you really mustn’t
mind--oh! I am forgetting that I must take some money,’ he said, and
hurriedly left the room. His wife sighed and looked at Darlington.

‘I suppose we may now go to dinner,’ she said. ‘Lucian will sup on a
sandwich somewhere about midnight.’

In the hall they found Sprats enveloped in an ulster which completely
covered her dinner-gown; Lucian was cramming a handful of money,
obviously taken at random from a receptacle where paper-currency and
gold and silver coins were all mingled together, into a pocket; a
footman was carrying a case of food and wine out to the cab. Mrs.
Berenson insisted on seeing the two apostles of charity depart--the
entire episode had put her into a good temper, and she enlivened the
next hour with artless descriptions of her various states of feeling.
Her chatter amused Saxonstowe; Darlington and Mrs. Damerel appeared to
have heard much of it on previous occasions, and received it with
equanimity. As soon as dinner was over she announced that if Lucian had
been at home she had meant to spend the rest of the evening in
expounding her ideas on the subject of the wished-for drama to him, but
as things were she would go round to the Empire for an hour--she would
just be in time, she said, to see a turn in which the performer, a
contortionist, could tie himself into a complicated knot, dislocate
every joint in his body, and assume the most grotesque positions, all
without breaking himself in pieces.

‘It is the grimmest performance,’ she said to Saxonstowe; ‘it makes me
dream, and I wake screaming; and the sensation of finding that the dream
is a dream, and not a reality, is so exquisite that I treat myself to it
at least once a week. I think that all great artists should cultivate
sensations--don’t you?’

Upon this point Saxonstowe was unable to give a satisfactory answer, but
he replied very politely that he trusted Mrs. Berenson would enjoy her
treat. Soon after her departure he made his own adieu, leaving Mrs.
Damerel to entertain Darlington and two or three other men who had
dropped in after dinner, and who seemed in nowise surprised to find
Lucian not at home.



CHAPTER XIV


Lucian swooped down upon the humble dwelling in which his less fortunate
fellow resided, like an angel who came to destroy rather than to save.
He took everything into his own hands, as soon as the field of
operations lay open to him, and it was quite ten minutes before Sprats,
by delicate finesse, managed to shut him up in one room with the
invalid, while she and the wife talked practical matters in another. At
the end of an hour she got him safely away from the house. He was in a
pleasurable state of mind; the situation had been full of charm to him,
and he walked out into the street gloating over the fact that the sick
man and his wife and children were now fed and warmed and made generally
comfortable, and had money in the purse wherewith to keep the wolf from
the door for many days. His imagination had seized upon the misery which
the unlucky couple must have endured before help came in their way: he
conjured up the empty pocket, the empty cupboard, the blank despair that
comes from lack of help and sympathy, the heart sickness which springs
from the powerlessness to hope any longer. He had read of these things
but had never seen them: he only realised what they meant when he looked
at the faces of the sick man and his wife as he and Sprats left them.
Striding away at Sprats’s side, his head drooping towards his chest and
his hands plunged in his pockets, Lucian ruminated upon these things and
became so keenly impressed by them that he suddenly paused and uttered a
sharp exclamation.

‘By George, Sprats!’ he said, standing still and staring at her as if he
had never seen her before, ‘what an awful thing poverty must be! Did
that ever strike you?’

‘Often,’ answered Sprats, with laconic alacrity, ‘as it might have
struck you, too, if you’d kept your eyes open.’

‘I am supposed to have excellent powers of observation,’ he said
musingly, ‘but somehow I don’t think I ever quite realised what poverty
meant until to-night. I wonder what it would be like to try it for a
while--to go without money and food and have no hope?--but, of course,
one couldn’t do it--one would always know that one could go back to
one’s usual habits, and so on. It would only be playing at being poor. I
wonder, now, where the exact line would be drawn between the end of hope
and the beginning of despair?--that’s an awfully interesting subject,
and one that I should like to follow up. Don’t you think----’

‘Lucian,’ said Sprats, interrupting him without ceremony, ‘are we going
to stand here at the street corner all night while you moon about
abstract questions? Because if you are, I’m not.’

Lucian came out of his reverie and examined his surroundings. He had
come to a halt at a point where the Essex Road is transected by the New
North Road, and he gazed about him with the expression of a traveller
who has wandered into strange regions.

‘This is a quarter of the town which I do not know,’ he said. ‘Not very
attractive, is it? Let us walk on to those lights--I suppose we can find
a hansom there, and then we can get back to civilisation.’

They walked forward in the direction of Islington High Street: round
about the Angel there was life and animation and a plenitude of bright
light; Lucian grew interested, and finally asked a policeman what part
of the town he found himself in. On hearing that that was Islington he
was immediately reminded of the ‘Bailiff’s Daughter’ and began to recall
lines of it. But Islington and old ballads were suddenly driven quite
out of his thoughts by an object which had no apparent connection with
poetry.

Sprats, keeping her eyes open for a hansom, suddenly missed Lucian from
her side, and turned to find him gazing at the windows of a little
café-restaurant with an Italian name over its door and a suspicion of
Continental cookery about it. She turned back to him: he looked at her
as a boy might look whose elder sister catches him gazing into the
pastry-cook’s window.

‘I say, Sprats,’ he said coaxingly, ‘let’s go in there and have supper.
It’s clean, and I’ve suddenly turned faint--I’ve had nothing since
lunch. Dinner will be all over now at home, and besides, we’re miles
away. I’ve been in these places before--they’re all right, really,
something like the _ristoranti_ in Italy, you know.’

Sprats was hungry too. She glanced at the little café--it appeared to be
clean enough to warrant one in eating, at any rate, a chop in it.

‘I think I should like some food,’ she said.

‘Come on, then,’ said Lucian gaily. ‘Let’s see what sort of place it
is.’

He pushed open the swinging doors and entered. It was a small place,
newly established, and the proprietor and his wife, two Italians, and
their Swiss waiter were glad to see customers who looked as if they
would need something more than a cup of coffee and a roll and butter.
The proprietor bowed himself double and ushered them to the most
comfortable corner in his establishment: he produced a lengthy _menu_
and handed it to Lucian with great _empressement_; the waiter stood
near, deeply interested; the proprietor’s wife, gracious of figure and
round of face, leaned over the counter thinking of the coins which she
would eventually deposit in her cash drawer. Lucian addressed the
proprietor in Italian and discussed the _menu_ with him; while they
talked, Sprats looked about her, wondering at the red plush seats, the
great mirrors in their gilded frames, and the jars of various fruits and
conserves arranged on the counter. Every table was adorned with a
flowering plant fashioned out of crinkled paper; the ceiling was picked
out in white and gold; the Swiss waiter’s apron and napkin were very
stiffly starched; the proprietor wore a frock coat, which fitted very
tightly at the waist, and his wife’s gown was of a great smartness.
Sprats decided that they were early customers in the history of the
establishment--besides themselves there were only three people in the
place: an old gentleman with a napkin tucked into his neckband, who was
eating his dinner and reading a newspaper propped up against a bottle,
and a pair of obvious lovers who were drinking _café-au-lait_ in a quiet
corner to the accompaniment of their own murmurs.

‘I had no idea that I was so hungry,’ said Lucian when he and the
proprietor had finally settled upon what was best to eat and drink. ‘I
am glad I saw this place: it reminds me in some ways of Italy. I say, I
don’t believe those poor people had had much to eat to-day, Sprats--it
is a most fortunate thing that I happened to hear of them. My God! I
wouldn’t like to get down to that stage--it must be dreadful, especially
when there are children.’

Sprats leaned her elbows on the little table, propped her chin in her
hands, and looked at him with a curious expression which he did not
understand. A half-dreamy, half-speculative look came into her eyes.

‘I wonder what you would do if you _did_ get down to that stage?’ she
said, with a rather quizzical smile.

Lucian stared at her.

‘I? Why, what do you mean?’ he said. ‘I suppose I should do as other men
do.’

‘It would be for the first time in your life, then,’ she answered. ‘I
fancy seeing you do as other men do in any circumstances.’

‘But I don’t think I could conceive myself at such a low ebb as that,’
he said.

Sprats still stared at him with a speculative expression.

‘Lucian,’ she said suddenly, ‘do you ever think about the future?
Everything has been made easy for you so far; does it ever strike you
that fortune is in very truth a fickle jade, and that she might desert
you?’

He looked at her as a child looks who is requested to face an unpleasant
contingency.

‘I don’t think of unpleasant things,’ he answered. ‘What’s the good? And
why imagine possibilities which aren’t probabilities? There is no
indication that fortune is going to desert me.’

‘No,’ said Sprats, ‘but she might, and very suddenly too. Look here,
Lucian; I’ve the right to play grandmother always, haven’t I, and
there’s something I want to put before you plainly. Don’t you think you
are living rather carelessly and extravagantly?’

Lucian knitted his brows and stared at her.

‘Explain,’ he said.

‘Well,’ she continued, ‘I don’t think it wants much explanation. You
don’t bother much about money matters, do you?’

He looked at her somewhat pityingly.

‘How can I do that and attend to my work?’ he asked. ‘I could not
possibly be pestered with things of that sort.’

‘Very well,’ said Sprats, ‘and Haidee doesn’t bother about them either.
Therefore, no one bothers. I know your plan, Lucian--it’s charmingly
simple. When Lord Simonstower left you that ten thousand pounds you paid
it into a bank, didn’t you, and to it you afterwards added Haidee’s two
thousand when you were married. Twice a year Mr. Robertson pays your
royalties into your account, and the royalties from your tragedy go to
swell it as well. That’s one side of the ledger. On the other side you
and Haidee each have a cheque-book, and you draw cheques as you please
and for what you please. That’s all so, isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ answered Lucian, regarding her with amazement, ‘of course it is;
but just think what a very simple arrangement it is.’

‘Admirably simple,’ Sprats replied, laughing, ‘so long as there is an
inexhaustible fund to draw upon. But seriously, Lucian, haven’t you been
drawing on your capital? Do you know, at this moment, what you are
worth?--do you know how you stand?’

‘I don’t suppose that I do,’ he answered. ‘But why all this questioning?
I know that Robertson pays a good deal into my account twice a year, and
the royalties from the tragedy were big, you know.’

‘But still, Lucian, you’ve drawn off your capital,’ she urged. ‘You have
spent just what you pleased ever since you left Oxford, and Haidee
spends what she pleases. You must have spent a lot on your Italian tour
last year, and you are continually running over to Paris. You keep up an
expensive establishment; you indulge expensive tastes; you were born, my
dear Lucian, with the instincts of an epicure in everything.’

‘And yet I am enjoying a supper in an obscure little café!’ he exclaimed
laughingly. ‘There’s not much extravagance here.’

‘You may gratify epicurean tastes by a sudden whim to be Spartan-like,’
answered Sprats. ‘I say that you have the instincts of an epicure, and
you have so far gratified them. You’ve never known what it was, Lucian,
to be refused anything, have you? No: well, that naturally inclines you
to the opinion that everything will always be made easy for you. Now
supposing you lost your vogue as a poet--oh, there’s nothing impossible
about it, my dear boy!--the public are as fickle as fortune herself--and
supposing your next tragedy does not catch the popular taste--ah, and
that’s not impossible either--what are you going to do? Because, Lucian,
you must have dipped pretty heavily into your capital, and if you want
some plain truths from your faithful Sprats, you spend a great deal more
than you earn. Now give me another potato, and tell me plainly if you
know how much your royalties amounted to last year and how much you and
Haidee spent.’

‘I don’t know,’ answered Lucian. ‘I could tell by asking my bankers. Of
course I have spent a good deal of money in travel, and in books, and in
pictures, and in furnishing a house--could I have laid out Lord
Simonstower’s legacy in better fashion? And I do earn large sums--I had
a small fortune out of _Domitia_, you know.’

‘There is no doubt,’ she replied, ‘that you have had enough money to
last you for all the rest of your life if it had been wisely invested.’

‘Do you mean to say that I have no investments?’ he said, half angrily.
‘Why, I have thousands of pounds invested in pictures, books, furniture,
and china--my china alone is worth two thousand.’

‘Dear boy, I don’t doubt it,’ she answered soothingly, ‘but you know it
doesn’t produce any interest. I like you to have pretty things about
you, but you have precious little modesty in your mighty brain, and you
sometimes indulge tastes which only a millionaire ought to possess.’

‘Well,’ he said, sighing, ‘I suppose there’s a moral at the end of the
sermon. What is it, Sprats? You are a brick, of course--in your way
there’s nobody like you, but when you are like this you make me think of
mustard-plaisters.’

‘The moral is this,’ she answered: ‘come down from the clouds and
cultivate a commercial mind for ten minutes. Find out exactly what you
have in the way of income, and keep within it. Tell Haidee exactly how
much she has to spend.’

‘You forget,’ he said, ‘that Haidee has two thousand pounds of her own.
It’s a very small fortune, but it’s hers.’

‘Had, you mean, not has,’ replied Sprats. ‘Haidee must have spent her
small fortune twice over, if not thrice over.’

‘It would be an unkind thing to be mean with her,’ said Lucian, with an
air of wise reflection. ‘If Haidee had married Darlington she would have
had unlimited wealth at her disposal; as she preferred to throw it all
aside and marry me, I can’t find it in me to deny her anything. No,
Sprats--poor little Haidee must have her simple pleasures even if I
have to deny myself of my own.’

‘Oh, did you ever hear such utter rot!’ Sprats exclaimed. ‘Catch you
denying yourself of anything! Dear boy, don’t be an ass--it’s bad form.
And Haidee’s pleasures are not simple.’

‘They are simple in comparison with what they might have been if she had
married Darlington,’ he said.

‘Then why didn’t she marry Darlington?’ inquired Sprats.

‘Because she married me,’ answered Lucian. ‘She gave up the millionaire
for the struggling poet, as you might put it if you were writing a
penny-dreadful. No; seriously, Sprats, I think there’s a good deal due
to Haidee in that respect. I think she is really easily contented. When
you come to think of it, we are not extravagant--we like pretty things
and comfortable surroundings, but when you think of what some people
do----’

‘Oh, you’re hopeless, Lucian!’ she said. ‘I wish you’d been sent out to
earn your living at fifteen. Honour bright--you’re living in a world of
dreams, and you’ll have a nasty awakening some day.’

‘I have given the outer world something of value from my world of
dreams,’ he said, smiling at her.

‘You have written some very beautiful poetry, and you are a marvellously
gifted man who ought to feel the responsibility of your gifts,’ she said
gravely. ‘And all I want is to keep you, if I can, from the rocks on
which you might come to grief. I’m sure that if you took my advice about
business matters you would avoid trouble in the future. You’re too
cock-sure, too easy-going, too thoughtless, Lucian, and this is a hard
and a cruel world.’

‘It’s been a very pleasant world to me so far,’ he said. ‘I’ve never had
a care or a trouble; I’ve heaps of friends, and I’ve always got
everything that I wanted. Why, it’s a very pleasant world! You, Sprats,
have found it so, too.’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I have found it pleasant, but it is hard and cruel
nevertheless, and one realises it sometimes when one least expects to.
One may wake out of a dream to a very cruel reality.’

‘You speak as of a personal experience,’ he said smiling. ‘And yet I
swear you never had one.’

‘I don’t want you to have one,’ she answered.

‘Is sermonising a cruel reality?’ he asked with a mock grimace.

‘No, it’s a necessary thing; and that reminds me that I have not quite
finished mine. Look here, Lucian, here’s a straight question to you. Do
you think it a good thing to be so very friendly with Mr. Darlington?’

Lucian dropped his knife and fork and stared at her in amazement.

‘Why on earth not?’ he said. ‘Darlington is an awfully good fellow. Of
course, I know that he must have felt it when Haidee ran away with me,
but he has been most kind to both of us--we have had jolly times on his
yacht and at his Scotch place; and you know, Sprats, when you can’t
afford things yourself it’s rather nice to have friends who can give
them to you.’

‘Lucian, that’s a piece of worldliness that’s unworthy of you,’ she
said. ‘Well, I can’t say anything against Mr. Darlington. He seems kind,
and he is certainly generous and hospitable, but it is well known that
he was very, very much in love with Haidee, and that he felt her loss a
good deal.’

‘Yes, it was awfully hard on him,’ said Lucian, stroking his chin with a
thoughtful air; ‘and of course that’s just why one feels that one ought
to be nice to him. He and Haidee are great friends, and that’s far
better than that he should cherish any bitter feelings against her
because she preferred me to him.’

Sprats looked at him with the half-curious, half-speculative expression
which had filled her eyes in the earlier stages of their conversation.
They had now finished their repast, and she drew on her gloves.

‘I want to go home to my children,’ she said. ‘One of the babies has
croup, and it was rather bad when I left. Pay the bill, Lucian, and get
them to call a hansom.’

Lucian put his hands in his pockets, and uttered a sudden exclamation of
dismay.

‘I haven’t any money,’ he said. ‘I left it all with poor Watson. Have
you any?’

‘No,’ she answered, ‘of course I haven’t. You dragged me away in my
dinner-dress, and it hasn’t even a pocket in it. What are you going to
do?’

‘What an awkward predicament!’ said Lucian, searching every pocket. ‘I
don’t know what to do--I haven’t a penny.’

‘Well, you must walk back to Mr. Watson’s and get some money there,’
said Sprats. ‘You will be back in ten minutes.’

‘What! borrow money from a man to whom I have just given it?’ he cried.
‘Oh, I couldn’t do that!’

Sprats uttered an impatient exclamation.

‘Well, do something!’ she said. ‘We can’t sit here all night.’

Lucian summoned the proprietor and explained the predicament. The
situation ended in a procession of two hansom cabs, in one of which rode
Sprats and Lucian, in the other the Swiss waiter, who enjoyed a long
drive westward and finally returned to the heights of Islington with the
amount of the bill and a substantial gratuity in his pocket. As Sprats
pointed out with force and unction, Lucian’s foolish pride in not
returning to the Watsons and borrowing half a sovereign had increased
the cost of their supper fourfold. But Lucian only laughed, and Sprats
knew that the shillings thrown away were to him as things of no
importance.



CHAPTER XV


There had been a moment in Sprats’s life when she had faced things--it
was when she heard that Lucian and Haidee had made a runaway marriage.
This escapade had been effected very suddenly; no one had known that
these two young people were contemplating so remarkable a step. It was
supposed that Miss Brinklow was fully alive to the blessings and
advantages attendant upon a marriage with Mr. Eustace Darlington, who,
as head of a private banking firm which carried out financial operations
of vast magnitude, was a prize of much consequence in the matrimonial
market: no one ever imagined that she would throw away such a chance for
mere sentiment. But Haidee, shallow as she was, had a certain vein of
romance in her composition; and when Lucian, in all the first flush of
manhood and the joyous confidence of youth, burst upon her, she fell in
love with him in a fashion calculated to last for at least a fortnight.
He, too, fell madly in love with the girl’s physical charms: as to her
mental qualities, he never gave them a thought. She was Aphrodite, warm,
rosy-tinted, and enticing; he neither ate, slept, nor drank until she
was in his arms. He was a masterful lover; his passion swept Haidee out
of herself, and before either knew what was really happening, they were
married. They lived on each other’s hearts for at least a week, but
their appetites were normal again within the month, and there being no
lack of money and each having a keen perception of the _joie de vivre_,
they settled down very comfortably.

Sprats had never heard of Haidee from the time of the latter’s visit to
Simonstower until she received the news of her marriage to Lucian. The
tidings came to her with a curious heaviness. She had never disguised
from herself the fact that she herself loved Lucian: now that she knew
he was married to another woman she set herself the task of
distinguishing between the love that she might have given him and the
love which she could give him. Upon one thing she decided at once: since
Lucian had elected Haidee as his life’s partner, Haidee must be Sprats’s
friend too, even if the friendship were all on one side. She would love
Haidee--for Lucian’s sake, primarily: for her own if possible. But when
events brought the three together in London, Sprats was somewhat
puzzled. Lucian as a husband was the must curious and whimsical of men.
He appeared to be absolutely incapable of jealousy, and would watch his
wife flirting under his eyes with appreciative amusement. He himself
made love to every girl who aroused any interest or curiosity in him--to
women who bored him he was cold as ice, and indifferent to the verge of
rudeness. He let Haidee do exactly as she pleased; with his own liberty
in anything, and under any circumstances, he never permitted
interference. Sprats was never able to decide upon his precise feelings
for his wife or his attitude towards her--they got on very smoothly, but
each went his or her own way. And after a time Haidee’s way appeared to
run in parallel lines with the way of her jilted lover, Eustace
Darlington.

Mr. Darlington had taken his pill with equanimity, and had not even made
a wry face over it. He had gone so far as to send the bride a wedding
present, and had let people see that he was kindly disposed to her. When
the runaways came back to town and Lucian began the meteor-like career
which brought his name so prominently before the world, Darlington saw
no reason why he should keep aloof. He soon made Lucian’s acquaintance,
became his friend, and visited the house at regular intervals. Some
people, who knew the financier rather well, marvelled at the kindness
which he showed to these young people--he entertained them on his yacht
and at his place in Scotland, and Mrs. Damerel was seen constantly,
sometimes attended by Lucian and sometimes not, in his box at the
opera. At the end of two years Darlington was regarded as Haidee’s
particular cavalier, and one half their world said unkind things which,
naturally, never reached Lucian’s ears. He was too fond of smoothness in
life to say No to anything, and so long as he himself could tread the
primrose path unchecked and untroubled, he did not care to interfere in
anybody’s arrangements--not even in Haidee’s. It seemed to him quite an
ordinary thing, an everyday occurrence, that he and she and Darlington
should be close friends, and he went in and out of Darlington’s house
just as Darlington went in and out of his.

Lucian, all unconsciously, had developed into an egoist. He watched
himself playing his part in life with as much interest as the lover of
dramatic art will show in studying the performance of a great actor. He
seemed to his own thinking a bright and sunny figure, and he arranged
everything on his own stage so that it formed a background against which
that figure moved or stood with striking force. He was young; he was a
success; people loved to have him in their houses; his photograph sold
by the thousands in the shop windows; a stroll along Bond Street or
Piccadilly was in the nature of a triumphal procession; hostesses almost
went down on their knees to get him to their various functions; he might
have dined out every night, if he had liked. He very often did
like--popularity and admiration and flattery and homage were as incense
to his nostrils, and he accepted every gift poured at his shrine as if
nothing could be too good for him. And yet no one could call him
conceited, or vain, or unduly exalted: he was transparently simple,
ingenuous, and childlike; he took everything as a handsome child takes
the gifts showered upon him by admiring seniors. He had a rare gift of
making himself attractive to everybody--he would be frivolous and gay
with the young, old-fashioned and grave with the elderly. He was a
butterfly and a man of fashion; there was no better dressed man in
town, nor a handsomer; but he was also a scholar and a student, and in
whatever idle fashion he spent most of his time, there were so many
hours in each day which he devoted to hard, systematic reading and to
his own work. It was the only matter in which he was practical; in all
other moods he was a gaily painted, light-winged thing that danced and
fluttered in the sunbeams. He was careless, thoughtless, light-hearted,
sanguine, and he never stopped to think of consequences or results. But
through everything that critical part of him kept an interested and
often amused eye on the other parts.

Sprats at this stage watched him carefully. She had soon discovered that
he and Haidee were mere children in many things, and wholly incapable of
management or forethought. It had been their ill-fortune to have all
they wanted all their lives, and they lived as if heaven had made a
contract with them to furnish their table with manna and their wardrobes
with fine linen, and keep no account of the supply. She was of a
practical mind, and had old-fashioned country notions about saving up in
view of contingencies, and she expounded them at certain seasons with
force and vigour to both Lucian and Haidee. But as Lucian cherished an
ineradicable belief in his own star, and had never been obliged to earn
his dinner before he could eat it, there was no impression to be made
upon him; and Haidee, having always lived in the softest corner of
luxury’s lap, could conceive of no other state of being, and was
mercifully spared the power of imagining one.



CHAPTER XVI


In spite of Sprats’s sermon in the little café-restaurant, Lucian made
no effort to follow her advice. He was at work on a new tragedy which
was to be produced at the Athenæum in the following autumn, and had
therefore no time to give to considerations of economy, and when he was
not at work he was at play, and play with Lucian was a matter of as much
importance, so far as strenuous devotion to it was concerned, as work
was. But there came a morning and an occurrence which for an hour at
least made him recall Sprats’s counsel and ponder rather deeply on
certain things which he had never pondered before.

It was ten o’clock, and Lucian and Haidee were breakfasting. They
invariably spent a good hour over this meal, for both were possessed of
hearty appetites, and Lucian always read his letters and his newspapers
while he ate and drank. He was alternately devoting himself to his plate
and to a leading article in the _Times_, when the footman entered and
announced that Mr. Pepperdine wished to see him. Lucian choked down a
mouthful, uttered a joyous exclamation, and rushed into the hall. Mr.
Pepperdine, in all the glories of a particularly horsy suit of clothes,
was gazing about him as if he had got into a museum. He had visited
Lucian’s house before, and always went about in it with his mouth wide
open and an air of expectancy--there was usually something fresh to see,
and he never quite knew where he might come across it.

‘My dear uncle!’ cried Lucian, seizing him in his arms and dragging him
into the dining-room, ‘why didn’t you let me know you were coming? Have
you breakfasted? Have some more, any way--get into that chair.’

Mr. Pepperdine solemnly shook hands with Haidee, who liked him because
he betrayed such ardent and whole-souled admiration of her and had once
bought her a pair of wonderful ponies, assured himself by a careful
inspection that she was as pretty as ever, and took a chair, but not at
the table. He had breakfasted, he said, at his hotel, two hours earlier.

‘Then have a drink,’ said Lucian, and rang the bell for whisky and soda.
‘How is everybody at Simonstower?’

‘All well,’ answered Mr. Pepperdine, ‘very well indeed, except that
Keziah has begun to suffer a good deal from rheumatism. It’s a family
complaint. I’m glad to see you both well and hearty--you keep the roses
in your cheeks, ma’am, and the light in your eyes, something wonderful,
considering that you are a townbird, as one may say. There are country
maidens with less colour and brightness, so there are!’

‘You said that so prettily that I shall allow you to smoke a cigar, if
you like,’ said Haidee. ‘Lucian, your case.’

Mr. Pepperdine shook his head knowingly as he lighted a cigar and sipped
his whisky and soda. He knew a pretty woman when he saw her, he said to
himself, and it was his opinion that Mrs. Lucian Damerel was uncommonly
pretty. Whenever he came to see her he could never look at her enough,
and Haidee, who accepted admiration on principle, used to smile at him
and air her best behaviour. She was sufficiently woman of the world to
overlook the fact that Mr. Pepperdine was a tenant-farmer and used the
language of the people--he was a handsome man and a dandy in his way,
and he was by no means backward, in spite of his confirmed bachelorhood,
of letting a pretty woman see that he had an eye for beauty. So she made
herself very agreeable to Mr. Pepperdine and told him stories of the
ponies, and Lucian chatted of various things, and Mr. Pepperdine, taking
in the general air of comfort and luxury which surrounded these young
people, felt that his nephew had begun life in fine style and was
uncommonly clever.

They went into Lucian’s study when breakfast was over, and Lucian
lighted a pipe and began to chat carelessly of Simonstower and old times
there. Mr. Pepperdine, however, changed the subject somewhat abruptly.

‘Lucian, my boy,’ he said, ‘I’ll tell you what’s brought me here: I want
you to lend me a thousand pounds for a twelvemonth. Will you do that?’

‘Why, of course!’ exclaimed Lucian. ‘I shall be only too pleased--for as
long as ever you like.’

‘A year will do for me,’ answered Mr. Pepperdine. ‘I’ll explain
matters,’ and he went on to tell Lucian the story of the Bransby
defalcations, and his own loss, and of the late Lord Simonstower’s
generosity. ‘He was very good about it, was the old lord,’ he said: ‘it
made things easy for me while he lived, but now he’s dead, and I can’t
expect the new lord to be as considerate. I’ve had a tightish time
lately, Lucian, my boy, and money’s been scarce; but you can have your
thousand pounds back at the twelvemonth end--I’m a man of my word in all
matters.’

‘My dear uncle!’ exclaimed Lucian, ‘there must be no talk of that sort
between us. Of course you shall have the money at once--that is as soon
as we can get to the bank. Or will a cheque do?’

‘Aught that’s of the value of a thousand pounds’ll do for me,’ replied
Mr. Pepperdine. ‘I want to complete a certain transaction with the money
this afternoon, and if you give me a cheque I can call in at your bank.’

Lucian produced his cheque-book and wrote out a cheque for the amount
which his uncle wished to borrow. Mr. Pepperdine insisted upon drawing
up a formal memorandum of its receipt, and admonished his nephew to put
it carefully away with his other business papers. But Lucian never kept
any business papers--his usual practice was to tear everything up that
looked like a business document and throw the fragments into the
waste-paper basket. He would treasure the most obscure second-hand
bookseller’s catalogue as if it had been a gilt-edged security, but
bills and receipts and business letters annoyed him, and Mr.
Pepperdine’s carefully scrawled sheet of notepaper went into the usual
receptacle as soon as its writer had left the room. And as he crumpled
it up and threw it into the basket, laughing at the old-fashioned habits
of his uncle, Lucian also threw off all recollection of the incident and
became absorbed in his new tragedy.

Coming in from the theatre that night he found a little pile of letters
waiting for him on the hall table, and he took them into his study and
opened them carelessly. There was a long epistle from Mrs. Berenson--he
read half of it and threw that and the remaining sheets away with an
exclamation of impatience. There was a note from the great actor-manager
who was going to produce the new tragedy--he laid that open on his desk
and put a paper-weight upon it. The rest of his letters were
invitations, requests for autographs, gushing epistles from admiring
readers, and so on--he soon bundled them all together and laid them
aside. But there was one which he had kept to the last--a formal-looking
affair with the name of his bank engraved on the flap of the envelope,
and he opened it with some curiosity. The letter which it enclosed was
short and formal, but when Lucian had read it he recognised in some
vague and not very definite fashion that it constituted an epoch. He
read it again and yet again, with knitted brows and puzzled eyes, and
then he put it on his desk and sat staring at it as if he did not
understand the news which it was meant to convey to him.

It was a very commonplace communication this, but Lucian had never seen
anything of its sort before. It was just a brief, politely worded note
from his bankers, informing him that they had that day paid a cheque for
one thousand pounds, drawn by him in favour of Simpson Pepperdine,
Esquire, and that his account was now overdrawn by the sum of £187, 10s.
0d. That was all--there was not even a delicately expressed request to
him to put the account in credit.

Lucian could not quite realise what this letter meant; he said nothing
to Haidee of it, but after breakfast next morning he drove to the bank
and asked to see the manager. Once closeted with that gentleman in his
private room he drew out the letter and laid it on the desk at which the
manager sat.

‘I don’t quite understand this letter,’ he said. ‘Would you mind
explaining it to me?’

The manager smiled.

‘It seems quite plain, I think,’ he said pleasantly. ‘It means that your
account is overdrawn to the amount of £187, 10s. 0d.’

Lucian sat down and stared at him.

‘Does that mean that I have exhausted all the money I placed in your
hands, and have drawn on you for £187, 10s. 0d. in addition?’ he asked.

‘Precisely, Mr. Damerel,’ answered the manager. ‘Your balance yesterday
morning was about £820, and you drew a cheque in favour of Mr.
Pepperdine for £1000. That, of course, puts you in our debt.’

Lucian stared harder than ever.

‘You’re quite sure there is no mistake?’ he said.

The manager smiled.

‘Quite sure!’ he replied. ‘But surely you have had your pass-book?’

Lucian had dim notions that a small book bound in parchment had upon
occasions been handed to him over the counter of the bank, and on others
had been posted by him to the bank at some clerk’s request; he also
remembered that he had once opened it and found it full of figures, at
the sight of which he had hastily closed it again.

‘I suppose I have,’ he answered.

‘I believe it is in our possession just now,’ said the manager. ‘If you
will excuse me one moment I will fetch it.’

He came back with the pass-book in his hand and offered it to Lucian.

‘It is posted up to date,’ he said.

Lucian took the book and turned its pages over.

‘Yes, but--’ he said. ‘I--do I understand that all the money that has
been paid in to my account here is now spent? You have received
royalties on my behalf from Mr. Robertson and from Mr. Harcourt of the
Athenæum?’

‘You will find them all specified in the pass-book, Mr. Damerel,’ said
the manager. ‘There will, I presume, be further payments to come from
the same sources?’

‘Of course there will be the royalties from Mr. Robertson every
half-year,’ answered Lucian, turning the pages of his pass-book. ‘And
Mr. Harcourt produces my new tragedy at the Athenæum in December.’

‘That,’ said the manager, with a polite bow, ‘is sure to be successful.’

‘But,’ said Lucian, with a childlike candour, ‘what am I to do if you
have no money of mine left? I can’t go on without money.’

The manager laughed.

‘We shall be pleased to allow you an overdraft,’ he said. ‘Give us some
security, or get a friend of stability to act as guarantor for
you--that’s all that’s necessary. I suppose the new tragedy will bring
you a small fortune? You did very well out of your first play, if I
remember rightly.’

‘I can easily procure a guarantor,’ answered Lucian. His thoughts had
immediately flown to Darlington. ‘Yes,’ he continued, ‘I think we shall
have a long run--longer, perhaps, than before.’

Then he went away, announcing that he would make the necessary
arrangements. When he had gone, the manager, to satisfy a momentary
curiosity of his own, made a brief inspection of Lucian’s account. He
smiled a little as he totalled it up. Mr. and Mrs. Lucian Damerel had
gone through seventeen thousand pounds in four years, and of that amount
twelve thousand represented capital.

Lucian carried the mystifying pass-book to his club and began to study
the rows of figures. They made his head ache and his eyes burn, and the
only conclusion he came to was that a few thousands of pounds are soon
spent, and that Haidee of late had been pretty prodigal with her
cheques. One fact was absolutely certain: his ten thousand, and her two
thousand, and the five thousand which he had earned, were all gone,
never to return. He felt somewhat depressed at this thought, but
recovered his spirits when he remembered the value of his pictures, his
books, and his other possessions, and the prospects of increased
royalties in the golden days to be. He went off to seek out Darlington
in the city as joyously as if he had been embarking on a voyage to the
Hesperides.

Darlington was somewhat surprised to see Lucian in Lombard Street. He
knew all the details of Lucian’s business within ten minutes, and had
made up his mind within two more.

‘Of course, I’ll do it with pleasure, old chap,’ he said, with great
heartiness. ‘But I think I can suggest something far preferable. These
people don’t seem to have given you any particular advantages, and there
was no need for them to bother you with a letter reminding you that you
owed them a miserable couple of hundred. Look here: you had better open
two accounts with us; one for yourself and one for Mrs. Damerel, and
keep them distinct--after all, you know, women rather mix things up.
Give Robertson and Harcourt instructions to pay your royalties into your
own account here, and pay your household expenses and bills out of it.
Mrs. Damerel’s account won’t be a serious matter--mere pinmoney, you
know--and we can balance it out of yours at periodic intervals. That’s a
much more convenient and far simpler thing than giving the other people
a guarantee for an overdraft.’

‘It seems to be so, certainly,’ said Lucian. ‘Thanks, very many. And
what am I to do in arranging this?’

‘At present,’ answered Darlington, ‘you are to run away as quickly as
possible, for I’m over the ears in work. Come in this afternoon at
three o’clock, and we will settle the whole thing.’

Lucian went out into the crowded streets, light-hearted and joyous as
ever. The slight depression of the morning had worn off; all the world
was gold again. A whim seized him: he would spend the three hours
between twelve and three in wandering about the city--it was an almost
unknown region to him. He had read much of it, but rarely seen it, and
the prospect of an acquaintance with it was alluring. So he wandered
hither and thither, his taste for the antique leading him into many a
quaint old court and quiet alley, and he was fortunate enough to find an
old-fashioned tavern and an old-world waiter, and there he lunched and
enjoyed himself and went back to Darlington’s office in excellent
spirits and ready to do anything.

There was little to do. Lucian left the private banking establishment of
Darlington and Darlington a few minutes after he had entered it, and he
then carried with him two cheque-books, one for himself and one for
Haidee, and a request that Mrs. Damerel should call at the office and
append her signature to the book wherein the autographs of customers
were preserved. He went home and found Haidee just returned from
lunching with Lady Firmanence: Lucian conducted her into his study with
some importance.

‘Look here, Haidee,’ he said, ‘I’ve been making some new business
arrangements. We’re going to bank at Darlington’s in future--it’s much
the wiser plan; and you are to have a separate account. That’s your
cheque-book. I say--we’ve rather gone it lately, you know. Don’t you
think we might economise a little?’

Haidee stared, grew perplexed, and frowned.

‘I think I’m awfully careful,’ she said. ‘If you think----’

Lucian saw signs of trouble and hastened to dispel them.

‘Yes, yes,’ he said hurriedly, ‘I know, of course, that you are. We’ve
had such a lot of absolutely necessary expense, haven’t we? Well,
there’s your cheque-book, and the account is your own, you know.’

Haidee asked no questions, and carried the cheque-book away. When she
had gone, Lucian wrote out a cheque for £187, 10s. and forwarded it to
his former bankers, with a covering letter in which he explained that it
was intended to balance his account and that he wished to close the
latter. That done, he put all thoughts of money out of his mind with a
mighty sigh of relief. In his own opinion he had accomplished a hard
day’s work and acquitted himself with great credit. Everything, he
thought, had been quite simple, quite easy. And in thinking so he was
right--nothing simpler, nothing easier, could be imagined than the
operation which had put Lucian and Haidee in funds once more. It had
simply consisted of a brief order, given by Eustace Darlington to his
manager, to the effect that all cheques bearing the signatures of Mr.
and Mrs. Damerel were to be honoured on presentation, and that there was
to be no limit to their credit.



CHAPTER XVII


In spite of the amusing defection of his host, Saxonstowe had fully
enjoyed the short time he had spent under the Damerels’ roof. Mrs.
Berenson had amused him almost as much as if she had been a professional
comedian brought there to divert the company; Darlington had interested
him as a specimen of the rather reserved, purposeful sort of man who
might possibly do things; and Haidee had made him wonder how it is that
some women possess great beauty and very little mind. But the
recollection which remained most firmly fixed in him was of Sprats, and
on the first afternoon he had at liberty he set out to find the
Children’s Hospital which she had invited him to visit.

He found the hospital with ease--an ordinary house in Bayswater Square,
with nothing to distinguish it from its neighbours but a large brass
plate on the door, which announced that it was a Private Nursing Home
for Children. A trim maid-servant, who stared at him with reverent awe
after she had glanced at his card, showed him into a small waiting-room
adorned with steel engravings of Biblical subjects, and there Sprats
shortly discovered him inspecting a representation of the animals
leaving the ark. It struck him as he shook hands with her that she
looked better in her nurse’s uniform than in the dinner-gown which she
had worn a few nights earlier--there was something businesslike and
strong about her in her cap and cuffs and apron and streamers: it was
like seeing a soldier in fighting trim.

‘I am glad that you have come just now,’ she said. ‘I have a whole hour
to spare, and I can show you all over the place. But first come into my
parlour and have some tea.’

She led him into another room, where Biblical prints were not in
evidence--if they had ever decorated the walls they were now replaced by
Sprats’s own possessions. He recognised several water-colour drawings of
Simonstower, and one of his own house and park at Saxonstowe.

‘These are the work of Cyprian Damerel--Lucian’s father, you know,’ said
Sprats, as he uttered an exclamation of pleasure at the sight of
familiar things. ‘Lucian gave them to me. I like that one of Saxonstowe
Park--I have so often seen that curious atmospheric effect amongst the
trees in early autumn. I am very fond of my pictures and my household
gods--they bring Simonstower closer to me.’

‘But why, if you are so fond of it, did you leave it?’ he asked, as he
took the chair which she pointed out to him.

‘Oh, because I wanted to work very hard!’ she said, busying herself with
the tea-cups. ‘You see, my father married Lucian Damerel’s aunt--a very
dear, nice, pretty woman--and I knew she would take such great care of
him that I could be spared. So I went in for nursing, having a natural
bent that way, and after three or four years of it I came here; and here
I am, absolute she-dragon of the establishment.’

‘Is it very hard work?’ he asked, as he took a cup of tea from her
hands.

‘Well, it doesn’t seem to affect me very much, does it?’ she answered.
‘Oh yes, sometimes it is, but that’s good for one. You must have worked
hard yourself, Lord Saxonstowe.’

Saxonstowe blushed under his tan.

‘I look all right too, don’t I?’ he said, laughing. ‘I agree with you
that it’s good for one, though. I’ve thought since I came back that----
’ He paused and did not finish the sentence.

‘That it would do a lot of people whom you’ve met a lot of good if they
had a little hardship and privation to go through,’ she said, finishing
it for him. ‘That’s it, isn’t it?’

‘I wouldn’t let them off with a little,’ he said. ‘I’d give them--some
of them, at any rate--a good deal. Perhaps I’m not quite used to it, but
I can’t stand this sort of life--I should go all soft and queer under
it.’

‘Well, you’re not obliged to endure it at all,’ said Sprats. ‘You can
clear out of town whenever you please and go to Saxonstowe--it is lovely
in summer.’

‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘I’m going there soon. I--I don’t think town life
quite appeals to me.’

‘I suppose that you will go off to some waste place of the earth again,
sooner or later, won’t you?’ she said. ‘I should think that if one once
tastes that sort of thing one can’t very well resist the temptation.
What made you wish to explore?’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he answered. ‘I always wanted to travel when I was a
boy, but I never got any chance. Then the title came to me rather
unexpectedly, you know, and when I found that I could indulge my
tastes--well, I indulged them.’

‘And you prefer the desert to the drawing-room?’ she said, watching him.

‘Lots!’ he said fervently. ‘Lots!’

Sprats smiled.

‘I should advise you,’ she said, ‘to cut London the day your book
appears. You’ll be a lion, you know.’

‘Oh, but!’ he exclaimed, ‘you don’t quite recognise what sort of book it
is. It’s not an exciting narrative--no bears, or Indians, or scalpings,
you know. It’s--well, it’s a bit dry--scientific stuff, and so on.’

Sprats smiled the smile of the wise woman and shook her head.

‘It doesn’t matter what it is--dry or delicious, dull or enlivening,’
she remarked sagely, ‘the people who’ll lionise you won’t read it,
though they’ll swear to your face that they sat up all night with it.
You’ll see it lying about, with the pages all cut and a book-marker
sticking out, but most of the people who’ll rave to your face about it
wouldn’t be able to answer any question that you asked them concerning
it. Lionising is an amusing feature of social life in England--if you
don’t like the prospect of it, run away.’

‘I shall certainly run,’ he answered. ‘I will go soon. I think, perhaps,
that you exaggerate my importance, but I don’t want to incur any
risk--it isn’t pleasant to be stared at, and pointed out, and all that
sort of--of----’

‘Of rot!’ she said. ‘No--it isn’t, to some people. To other people it
seems quite a natural thing. It never seemed to bother Lucian Damerel,
for example. You cannot realise the adulation which was showered upon
him when he first flashed into the literary heavens. All the women were
in love with him; all the girls love-sick because of his dark face and
wondrous hair; he was stared at wherever he went; and he might have
breakfasted, lunched, and dined at somebody else’s expense every day.’

‘And he liked--that?’ asked Saxonstowe.

‘It’s a bit difficult,’ answered Sprats, ‘to know what Lucian does like.
He plays lion to perfection. Have you ever been to the Zoo and seen a
real first-class, A1 diamond-of-the-first-water sort of lion in his
cage?--especially when he is filled with meat? Well, you’ll have noticed
that he gazes with solemn eyes above your head--he never sees you at
all--you aren’t worth it. If he should happen to look at you, he just
wonders why the devil you stand there staring at him, and his eyes show
a sort of cynical, idle contempt, and become solemn and ever-so-far-away
again. Lucian plays lion in that way beautifully. He looks out of his
cage with eyes that scorn the miserable wondering things gathered
open-mouthed before him.’

‘Does he live in a cage?’ asked Saxonstowe.

‘We all live in cages,’ answered Sprats. ‘You had better hang up a
curtain in front of yours if you don’t wish the crowd to stare at you.
And now come--I will show you my children.’

Saxonstowe followed her all over the house with exemplary obedience,
secretly admiring her mastery of detail, her quickness of perception,
and the motherly fashion in which she treated her charges. He had never
been in a children’s hospital before, and he saw some sights that sent
him back to Sprats’s parlour a somewhat sad man.

‘I dare say you get used to it,’ he said, ‘but the sight of all that
pain must be depressing. And the poor little mites seem to bear it
well--bravely, at any rate.’

Sprats looked at him with the speculative expression which always came
into her face when she was endeavouring to get at some other person’s
real self.

‘So you, too, are fond of children?’ she said, and responded cordially
to his suggestion that he might perhaps be permitted to come again. He
went away with a cheering consciousness that he had had a glimpse into a
little world wherein good work was being done--it had seemed a far
preferable world to that other world of fashion and small things which
seethed all around it.

On the following day Saxonstowe spent the better part of the morning in
a toy-shop. He proved a good customer, but a most particular one. He had
counted heads at the children’s hospital: there were twenty-seven in
all, and he wanted twenty-seven toys for them. He insisted on a minute
inspection of every one, even to the details of the dolls’ clothing and
the attainments of the mechanical frogs, and the young lady who attended
upon him decided that he was a nice gentleman and free-handed, but
terribly exacting. His bill, however, yielded her a handsome commission,
and when he gave her the address of the hospital she felt sure that she
had spent two hours in conversation--on the merits of toys--with a young
duke, and for the rest of the day she entertained her shopmates with
reminiscences of the supposed ducal remarks, none of which, according to
her, had been of a very profound nature.

Saxonstowe wondered how soon he might call at the hospital again--at the
end of a week he found himself kicking his heels once more in the room
wherein Noah, his family, and his animals trooped gaily down the slopes
of Mount Ararat. When Sprats came in she greeted him with an abrupt
question.

‘Was it you who sent a small cart-load of toys here last week?’ she
asked.

‘I certainly did send some toys for the children,’ he answered.

‘I thought it must be your handiwork,’ she said. ‘Thank you. You will
now receive a beautifully written, politely worded letter of thanks,
inscribed on thick, glossy paper by the secretary--do you mind?’

‘Yes, I do mind!’ he exclaimed. ‘Please don’t tell the secretary--what
has he or she to do with it?’

‘Very well, I won’t,’ she said. ‘But I will give you a practical tip:
when you feel impelled to buy toys for children in hospital, buy
something breakable and cheap--it pleases the child just as much as an
expensive plaything. There was one toy too many,’ she continued,
laughing, ‘so I annexed that for myself--a mechanical spider. I play
with it in my room sometimes. I am not above being amused by small
things.’

After this Saxonstowe became a regular visitor--he was accepted by some
of the patients as a friend and admitted to their confidences. They knew
him as ‘the Lord,’ and announced that ‘the Lord’ had said this, or done
that, in a fashion which made other visitors, not in the secret, wonder
if the children were delirious and had dreams of divine communications.
He sent these new friends books, and fruit, and flowers, and the house
was gayer and brighter that summer than it had ever been since the brass
plate was placed on its door.

One afternoon Saxonstowe arrived with a weighty-looking parcel under his
arm. Once within Sprats’s parlour he laid it down on the table and began
to untie the string. She shook her head.

‘You have been spending money on one or other of my children again,’ she
said. ‘I shall have to stop it.’

‘No,’ he said, with a very shy smile. ‘This--is--for you.’

‘For me?’ Her eyes opened with something like incredulous wonder. ‘What
an event!’ she said; ‘I so seldom have anything given to me. What is
it?--quick, let me see--it looks like an enormous box of chocolate.’

‘It’s--it’s the book,’ he answered, shamefaced as a schoolboy producing
his first verses. ‘There! that’s it,’ and he placed two
formidable-looking volumes, very new and very redolent of the
bookbinder’s establishment, in her hands. ‘That’s the very first copy,’
he added. ‘I wanted you to have it.’

Sprats sat down and turned the books over. He had written her name on
the fly-leaf of the first volume, and his own underneath it. She glanced
at the maps, the engravings, the diagrams, the scientific tables, and a
sudden flush came across her face. She looked up at him.

‘I should be proud if I had written a book like this!’ she said. ‘It
means--such a lot of--well, of _manliness_, somehow. Thank you. And it
is really published at last?’

‘It is not supposed to be published until next Monday,’ he answered.
‘The reviewers’ copies have gone out to-day, but I insisted on having a
copy supplied to me before any one handled another--I wanted you to have
the very first.’

‘Why?’ she asked.

‘Because I think you’ll understand it,’ he said; ‘and you’ll read it.’

‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘I shall read it, and I think I shall understand.
And now all the lionising will begin.’

Saxonstowe shrugged his shoulders.

‘If the people who really know about these things think I have done
well, I shall be satisfied,’ he said. ‘I don’t care a scrap about the
reviews in the popular papers--I am looking forward with great anxiety
to the criticisms of two or three scientific periodicals.’

‘You were going to run away from the lionising business,’ she said.
‘When are you going?--there is nothing to keep you, now that the book is
out.’

Saxonstowe looked at her. He was standing at the edge of the table on
which she had placed the two volumes of his book; she was sitting in a
low chair at its side. She looked up at him; she saw his face grow very
grave.

‘I didn’t think anything would keep me,’ he said, ‘but I find that
something is keeping me. It is you. Do you know that I love you?’

The colour rose in her cheeks, and her eyes left his for an instant;
then she faced him.

‘I did not know it until just now,’ she answered, laying her hand on one
of the volumes at her side. ‘I knew it then, because you wished me to
have the first-fruits of your labour. I was wondering about it--as we
talked.’

‘Well?’ he said.

‘Will you let me be perfectly frank with you?’ she said. ‘Are you sure
about yourself in this?’

‘I am sure,’ he answered. ‘I love you, and I shall never love any other
woman. Don’t think that I say that in the way in which I dare say it’s
been said a million times--I mean it.’

‘Yes,’ she said; ‘I understand. You wouldn’t say anything that you
didn’t mean. And I am going to be equally truthful with you. I don’t
think it’s wrong of me to tell you that I have a feeling for you which I
have not, and never had, for any other man that I have known. I could
depend on you--I could go to you for help and advice, and I should rely
on your strength. I have felt that since we met, as man and woman, a few
weeks ago.’

‘Then----’ he began.

‘Stop a bit,’ she said, ‘let me finish. I want to be brutally
plain-spoken--it’s really best to be so. I want you to know me as I am.
I have loved Lucian Damerel ever since he and I were boy and girl. It
is, perhaps, a curious love--you might say that there is very much more
of a mother’s, or a sister’s, love in it than a wife’s. Well, I don’t
know. I do know that it nearly broke my heart when I heard of his
marriage to Haidee. I cannot tell--I have never been able to tell--in
what exact way it was that I wanted him, but I did not want her to have
him. Perhaps all that, or most of that, feeling has gone. I have tried
hard, by working for others, to put all thought of another woman’s
husband out of my mind. But the thought of Lucian is still there--it
may, perhaps, always be there. While it is--even in the least, the very
least degree--you understand, do you not?’ she said, with a sudden note
of eager appeal breaking into her voice.

‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘I understand.’

She rose to her feet and held out her hand to him.

‘Then don’t let us try to put into words what we can feel much better,’
she said, smiling. ‘We are friends--always. And you are going away.’

The children found out that for some time at any rate there would be no
more visits from the Lord. But the toys and the books, the fruit and
flowers, came as regularly as ever, and the Lord was not forgotten.



CHAPTER XVIII


During the greater part of that summer Lucian had been working steadily
on two things: the tragedy which Mr. Harcourt was to produce at the
Athenæum in December, and a new poem which Mr. Robertson intended to
publish about the middle of the autumn season. Lucian was flying at high
game in respect of both. The tragedy was intended to introduce something
of the spirit and dignity of Greek art to the nineteenth-century
stage--there was to be nothing common or mean in connection with its
production; it was to be a gorgeous spectacle, but one of high
distinction, and Lucian’s direct intention in writing it was to set
English dramatic art on an elevation to which it had never yet been
lifted. The poem was an equally ambitious attempt to revive the epic;
its subject, the Norman Conquest, had filled Lucian’s mind since
boyhood, and from his tenth year onwards he had read every book and
document procurable which treated of that fascinating period. He had
begun the work during his Oxford days; the greater part of it was now in
type, and Mr. Robertson was incurring vast expense in the shape of
author’s corrections. Lucian polished and rewrote in a fashion that was
exasperating; his publisher, never suspecting that so many alterations
would be made, had said nothing about them in drawing up a formal
agreement, and he was daily obliged to witness a disappearance of
profits.

‘What a pity that you did not make all your alterations and corrections
before sending the manuscript to press!’ he exclaimed one day, when
Lucian called with a bundle of proofs which had been hacked about in
such a fashion as to need complete resetting. ‘It would have saved a
lot of trouble--and expense.’

Lucian stared at him with the eyes of a young owl, round and wondering.

‘How on earth can you see what a thing looks like until it’s in print?’
he said irritably. ‘What are printers for?’

‘Just so--just so!’ responded the publisher. ‘But really, you know, this
book is being twice set--every sheet has had to be pulled to pieces, and
it adds to the expense.’

Lucian’s eyes grew rounder than ever.

‘I don’t know anything about that,’ he answered. ‘That is your
province--don’t bother me about it.’

Robertson laughed. He was beginning to find out, after some experience,
that Lucian was imperturbable on certain points.

‘Very well,’ he said. ‘By the bye, how much more copy is there--or if
copy is too vulgar a word for your mightiness, how many more lines or
verses?’

‘About four hundred and fifty lines,’ answered Lucian.

‘Say another twenty-four pages,’ said Robertson. ‘Well, it runs now to
three hundred and fifty--that means that it’s going to be a book of
close upon four hundred pages.’

‘Well?’ questioned Lucian.

‘I was merely thinking that it is a long time since the public was asked
to buy a volume containing four hundred pages of blank verse,’ remarked
the publisher. ‘I hope this won’t frighten anybody.’

‘You make some very extraordinary remarks,’ said Lucian, with
unmistakable signs of annoyance. ‘What _do_ you mean?’

‘Oh, nothing, nothing!’ answered Robertson, who was on sufficient terms
of intimacy with Lucian to be able to chaff him a little. ‘I was merely
thinking of trade considerations.’

‘You appear to be always “merely thinking” of something extraordinary,’
said Lucian. ‘What can trade considerations have to do with the length
of my poem?’

‘What indeed?’ said the publisher, and began to talk of something else.
But when Lucian had gone he looked rather doubtfully at the pile of
interlineated proof, and glanced from it to the thin octavo with which
the new poet had won all hearts nearly five years before. ‘I wish it had
been just a handful of gold like that!’ he said to himself. ‘Four
hundred pages of blank verse all at one go!--it’s asking a good deal,
unless it catches on with the old maids and the dowagers, like the
_Course of Time_ and the _Epic of Hades_. Well, we shall see; but I’d
rather have some of your earlier lyrics than this weighty performance,
Lucian, my boy--I would indeed!’

Lucian finished his epic before the middle of July, and fell to work on
the final stages of his tragedy. He had promised to read it to the
Athenæum company on the first day of the coming October, and there was
still much to do in shaping and revising it. He began to feel impatient
and irritable; the sight of his desk annoyed him, and he took to running
out of town into the country whenever the wish for the shade of woods
and the peacefulness of the lanes came upon him. Before the end of the
month he felt unable to work, and he repaired to Sprats for counsel and
comfort.

‘I don’t know how or why it is,’ he said, telling her his troubles, ‘but
I don’t feel as if I had a bit of work left in me. I haven’t any power
of concentration left--I’m always wanting to be doing something else.
And yet I haven’t worked very hard this year, and we have been away a
great deal. It’s nearly time for going away again, too--I believe Haidee
has already made some arrangement.’

‘Lucian,’ said Sprats, ‘why don’t you go down to Simonstower? They would
be so glad to have you at the vicarage--there’s heaps of room. And just
think how jolly it is there in August and September--I wish I could
go!’

Lucian’s face lighted up--some memory of the old days had suddenly fired
his soul. He saw the familiar scenes once more under the golden
sunlight--the grey castle and its Norman keep, the winding river, the
shelving woods, and, framing all, the gold and purple of the moorlands.

‘Simonstower!’ he exclaimed. ‘Yes, of course--it’s Simonstower that I
want. We’ll go at once. Sprats, why can’t you come too?’

Sprats shook her head.

‘I can’t,’ she answered. ‘I shall have a holiday in September, but I
can’t take a single day before. I’m sure it will do you good if you go
to Simonstower, Lucian--the north-country air will brighten you up. You
haven’t been there for four years, and the sight of the old faces and
places will act like a tonic.’

‘I’ll arrange it at once,’ said Lucian, delighted at the idea, and he
went off to announce his projects to Haidee. Haidee looked at him
incredulously.

‘Whatever are you thinking of, Lucian?’ she said. ‘Don’t you remember
that we’re cramful of engagements from the beginning of August to the
end of September?’ She recited a list of arrangements already entered
into, which included a three-weeks’ sojourn on Eustace Darlington’s
steam-yacht, and a fortnight’s stay at his shooting-box in the
Highlands. ‘Had you forgotten?’ she asked.

‘I believe I had!’ he replied; ‘we seem to have so many engagements.
Look here: do you know, I think I’ll back out. I must have this tragedy
finished for Harcourt and his people by October, and I can’t do it if I
go rushing about from one place to another. I think I shall go down to
Simonstower and have a quiet time and finish my work there--I’ll explain
it all to Darlington.’

‘As you please,’ she answered. ‘Of course, I shall keep my
engagements.’

‘Oh, of course,’ he said. ‘You won’t miss me, you know. I suppose there
are lots of other people going?’

‘I suppose so,’ she replied carelessly, and there was an end of the
conversation. Lucian explained to Darlington that night that he would
not be able to keep his engagement, and set forth the reasons with a
fine air of devotion to business. Darlington sympathised, and applauded
Lucian’s determination--he knew, he said, what a lot depended upon the
success of the new play, and he’d no doubt Lucian wouldn’t feel quite
easy until it was all in order. After that he must have a long rest--it
would be rather good fun to winter in Egypt. Lucian agreed, and next day
made his preparations for a descent upon Simonstower. At heart he was
rather more than glad to escape the yacht, the Highland shooting-box,
and the people whom he would have met. He cared little for the sea, and
hated any form of sport which involved the slaying of animals or birds;
the thought of Simonstower in the last weeks of summer was grateful to
him, and all that he now wanted was to find himself in a Great Northern
express gliding out of King’s Cross, bound for the moorlands.

He went round to the hospital on the morning of his departure, and told
Sprats with the glee of a schoolboy who is going home for the holidays,
that he was off that very afternoon. He was rattling on as to his joy
when Sprats stopped him.

‘And Haidee?’ she asked. ‘Does she like it?’

‘Haidee?’ he said. ‘But Haidee is not going. She’s joining a party on
Darlington’s yacht, and they’re going round the coast to his place in
the Highlands. I was to have gone, you know, but really I couldn’t have
worked, and I must work--it’s absolutely necessary that the play should
be finished by the end of September.’

Sprats looked anxious and troubled.

‘Look here, Lucian,’ she said, ‘do you think it’s quite right to leave
Haidee like that?--isn’t it rather neglecting your duties?’

‘But why?’ he asked, with such sincerity that it became plain to Sprats
that the question had never even entered his mind. ‘Haidee’s all right.
It would be beastly selfish on my part if I dragged her down to
Simonstower for nearly two months--you know, she doesn’t care a bit for
the country, and there would be no society for her. She needs sea air,
and three weeks on Darlington’s yacht will do her a lot of good.’

‘Who are the other people?’ asked Sprats.

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Lucian replied. ‘The usual Darlington lot, I
suppose. Between you and me, Sprats, I’m glad I’m not going. I get
rather sick of that sort of thing--it’s too much of a hot-house
existence. And I don’t care about the people one meets, either.’

‘And yet you let Haidee meet them!’ Sprats exclaimed. ‘Really, Lucian,
you grow more and more paradoxical.’

‘But Haidee likes them,’ he insisted. ‘That’s just the sort of thing she
does like. And if she likes it, why shouldn’t she have it?’

‘You are a curious couple,’ said Sprats.

‘I think we are to be praised for our common-sense view of things,’ he
said. ‘I am often told that I am a dreamer--you’ve said so yourself, you
know--but in real, sober truth, I’m an awfully matter-of-fact sort of
person. I don’t live on illusions and ideals and things--I worship the
God of the Things that Are!’

Sprats gazed at him as a mother might gaze at a child who boasts of
having performed an impossible task.

‘Oh, you absolute baby!’ she said. ‘Is your pretty head stuffed with
wool or with feathers? Paragon of Common-Sense! Compendium of all the
Practical Qualities! I wonder I don’t shrivel in your presence like a
bit of bacon before an Afric sun. Do you think you’ll catch your train?’

‘Not if I stay here listening to abuse. Seriously, Sprats, it’s all
right--about Haidee, I mean,’ he said appealingly.

‘If you were glissading down a precipice at a hundred miles a minute,
Lucian, everything would be all right with you until your head broke off
or you snapped in two,’ she answered. ‘You’re the Man who Never Stops to
Think. Go away and be quiet at Simonstower--you’re mad to get there, and
you’ll probably leave it within a week.’

In making this calculation, however, Sprats was wrong. Lucian went down
to Simonstower and stayed there three weeks. He divided his time between
the vicarage and the farm; he renewed his acquaintance with the
villagers, and had forgotten nothing of anything relating to them; he
spent the greater part of the day in the open air, lived plainly and
slept soundly, and during the second week of his stay he finished his
tragedy. Mr. Chilverstone read it and the revised proofs of the epic; as
he had a great liking for blank verse, rounded periods, and the grand
manner, he prophesied success for both. Lucian drank in his applause
with eagerness--he had a great belief in his old tutor’s critical
powers, and felt that whatever he stamped with the seal of his
admiration must be good. He had left London in somewhat depressed and
irritable spirits because of his inability to work; now that the work
was completed and praised by a critic in whom he had good reason to
repose the fullest confidence, his spirits became as light and joyous as
ever.

Lucian would probably have remained longer at Simonstower but for a
chance meeting with Lord Saxonstowe, who had got a little weary of the
ancestral hall and had conceived a notion of going across to Norway and
taking a long walking tour in a district well out of the tourist track.
He mentioned this to Lucian, and--why, he could scarcely explain to
himself at the moment--asked him to go with him. Lucian’s imagination
was fired at the mere notion of exploring a country which he had never
seen before, and he accepted the invitation with fervour. A week later
they sailed from Newcastle, and for a whole month they spent nights and
days side by side amidst comparative solitudes. Each began to
understand the other, and when, just before the end of September, they
returned to England, they had become firm friends, and were gainers by
their pilgrimage in more ways than one.



CHAPTER XIX


When Lucian went back to town Haidee was winding up a short round of
visits in the North; she rejoined him a week later in high spirits and
excellent health. Everything had been delightful; everybody had been
nice to her; no end of people had talked about Lucian and his new
play--she was dreaming already of the glories of the first night and of
the radiance which would centre about herself as the wife of the
brilliant young author. Lucian had returned from Norway in equally good
health and spirits; he was confident about the tragedy and the epic: he
and his wife therefore settled down to confront an immediate prospect of
success and pleasure. Haidee resumed her usual round of social gaieties;
Lucian was much busied with rehearsals at the theatre and long
discussions with Harcourt; neither had a care nor an anxiety, and the
wheels of their little world moved smoothly.

Saxonstowe, who had come back to town for a few weeks before going
abroad again, took to calling a good deal at the little house in
Mayfair. He had come to understand and to like Lucian, and though they
were as dissimilar in character as men of different temperament can
possibly be, a curious bond of friendship, expressed in tacit
acquiescence rather than in open avowal, sprang up between them. Each
had a respect for the other’s world--a respect which was amusing to
Sprats, who, watching them closely, knew that each admired the other in
a somewhat sheepish, schoolboy fashion. Lucian, being the less reserved
of the two, made no secret of his admiration of the man who had done
things the doing of which necessitated bravery, endurance, and
self-denial. He was a fervent worshipper--almost to a pathetic
extreme--of men of action: the sight of soldiers marching made his toes
tingle and his eyes fill with the moisture of enthusiasm; he had been so
fascinated by the mere sight of a great Arctic explorer that he had
followed him from one town to another during a lecturing tour, simply to
stare at him and conjure up for himself the scenes and adventures
through which the man had passed. He delighted in hearing Saxonstowe
talk about his life in the deserts, and enjoyed it all the more because
Saxonstowe had small gift of language and told his tale with the blushes
of a schoolboy who hates making a fuss about anything that he has done.
Saxonstowe, on his part, had a sneaking liking, amounting almost to
worship, for men who live in a world of dreams--he had no desire to live
in such a world himself, but he cherished an immense respect for men
who, like Lucian, could create. Sometimes he would read a page of the
new epic and wonder how on earth it all came into Lucian’s head; Lucian
at the same moment was probably turning over the leaves of Saxonstowe’s
book and wondering how a man could go through all that that laconic
young gentleman had gone through and yet come back with a stiff upper
lip and a smile.

‘You and Lucian Damerel appear to have become something of friends,’
Lady Firmanence remarked to her nephew when he called upon her one day.
‘I don’t know that there’s much in common between you.’

‘Perhaps that is why we are friends,’ said Saxonstowe. ‘You generally do
get on with people who are a bit different to yourself, don’t you?’

Lady Firmanence made no direct answer to this question.

‘I’ve no doubt Lucian is easy enough to get on with,’ she said dryly.
‘The mischief in him, Saxonstowe, is that he’s too easy-going about
everything. I suppose you know, as you’re a sort of friend of the
family, that a good deal is being said about Mrs. Damerel and Eustace
Darlington?’

‘No,’ said Saxonstowe; ‘I’m not in the way to hear that sort of thing.’

‘I don’t know that you’re any the better for being out of the way. I am
in the way. There’s a good deal being said,’ Lady Firmanence retorted
with some asperity. ‘I believe some of you young men think it a positive
crime to listen to the smallest scrap of gossip--it’s nothing of the
sort. If you live in the world you must learn all you can about the
people who make up the world.’

Saxonstowe nodded. His eyes fixed themselves on a toy dog which snored
and snuffled at Lady Firmanence’s feet.

‘And in this particular case?’ he said.

‘Why was Lucian Damerel so foolish as to go off in one direction while
his wife went in another with the man she originally meant to marry?’
inquired Lady Firmanence. ‘Come now, Saxonstowe, would you have done
that?’

‘No,’ he said hesitatingly, ‘I don’t think I should; but then, you see,
Damerel looks at things differently. I don’t think he would ever give
the foolishness of it a thought, and he would certainly think no
evil--he’s as guileless as a child.’

‘Well,’ remarked Lady Firmanence, ‘I don’t admire him any the more for
that. I’m a bit out of love with grown-up children. If Lucian Damerel
marries a wife he should take care of her. Why, she was three weeks on
Darlington’s yacht, and three weeks at his place in Scotland (of course
there were lots of other people there too, but even then it was
foolish), and he was with her at two or three country houses in
Northumberland later on--I met them at one myself.’

‘Lucian and his wife,’ said Saxonstowe, ‘are very fond of having their
own way.’

Lady Firmanence looked at her nephew out of her eye-corners.

‘Oh!’ she said, with a caustic irony, ‘you think so, do you? Well, you
know, young people who like to have their own way generally come to
grief. To my mind, your new friends seem to be qualifying for trouble.’

Saxonstowe studied the pattern of the carpet and traced bits of it out
with his stick.

‘Do you think men like Damerel have the power of reckoning things up?’
he said, suddenly looking at his aunt with a quick, appealing glance. ‘I
don’t quite understand these things, but he always seems to me to be a
bit impatient of anything that has to do with everyday life, and yet
he’s keen enough about it in one way. He’s a real good chap, you
know--kindly natured and open-hearted and all that. You soon find that
in him. And I don’t believe he ever had a wrong thought of anybody--he’s
a sort of confiding trust in other people that’s a bit amusing, even to
me, and I haven’t seen such an awful lot of the world. But----’ He came
to a sudden pause and shook his head. Lady Firmanence laughed.

‘Yes, but,’ she repeated. ‘That “but” makes all the difference. But this
is Lucian Damerel--he is a child who sits in a gaily caparisoned,
comfortably appointed boat which has been launched on a wide river that
runs through a mighty valley. He has neither sail nor rudder, and he is
so intent on the beauty of the scenery through which he is swept that he
does not recognise their necessity. His eyes are fixed on the
rose-flushed peak of a far-off mountain, the glitter of the sunshine on
a dancing wave, or on the basket of provisions which thoughtful hands
have put in the boat. It may be that the boat will glide to its
destination in safety, and land him on the edge of a field of velvety
grass wherein he can lie down in peace to dream as long as he pleases.
But it also may be that it will run on a rock in mid-stream and knock
his fool’s paradise into a cocked hat--and what’s going to happen then?’
asked Lady Firmanence.

‘Lots of things might happen,’ said Saxonstowe, smiling triumphantly at
the thought of beating his clever relative at her own game. ‘He might be
able to swim, for example. He might right the boat, get into it again,
and learn by experience that one shouldn’t go fooling about without a
rudder. Some other chap might come along and give him a hand. Or the
river might be so shallow that he could walk ashore with no more
discomfort than he would get from wet feet.’

Lady Firmanence pursed her lips and regarded her nephew with a fixed
stare which lasted until the smile died out of his face.

‘Or there might be a crocodile, or an alligator, at hand, which he could
saddle and bridle, and convert into a park hack,’ she said. ‘There are
indeed many things which might happen; what I’m chiefly concerned about
is, what would happen if Lucian’s little boat did upset? I confess that
I should know Lucian Damerel much more thoroughly, and have a more
accurate conception of him, if I knew exactly what he would say and do
when the upsetting happened. There is no moment in life, Saxonstowe,
wherein a man’s real self, real character, real quality, is so severely
tested and laid bare as that unexpected one in which Fortune seizes him
by the scruff of his neck and bundles him into the horsepond of
adversity--it’s what he says and does when he comes up spluttering that
stamps him as a man or a mouse.’

Saxonstowe felt tolerably certain of what any man would say under the
circumstances alluded to by Lady Firmanence, but as she seemed highly
delighted with her similes and her epigrams, he said nothing of his
convictions, and soon afterwards took his departure.



CHAPTER XX


On a certain Monday morning in the following November, Lucian’s great
epic was published to the trade and the world, and the leading
newspapers devoted a good deal of their space to remarking upon its
merits, its demerits, and its exact relation to literature. Lucian found
a pile of the London morning dailies of the superior sort awaiting his
attention when he descended to his breakfast-room, and he went through
them systematically. When he had made an end of them he looked across
the table at Haidee, and he smiled in what she thought a rather queer
way.

‘I say, Haidee!’ he exclaimed, ‘these reviews are--well, they’re not
very flattering. There are six mighty voices of the press
here,--_Times_, _Telegraph_, _Post_, _News_, _Chronicle_, and
_Standard_--and there appears to be a strange unanimity of opinion in
their pronunciations. The epic poem seems to be at something of a
discount.’

The reviews, in fact, were not couched in an enthusiastic vein--taking
them as a whole they were cold. There was a ring of disappointment in
them. One reviewer, daring to be bold, plain, and somewhat brutal, said
there was more genuine poetry in any one page of any of Mr. Damerel’s
previous volumes than in the whole four hundred of his new one. Another
openly declared his belief that the poem was the result of long years of
careful, scholarly labour, of constant polishing, resetting, and
rewriting; it smelled strongly of the lamp, but the smell of the lamp
was not in evidence in the fresh, free, passionate work which they had
previously had from the same pen. Mr. Damerel’s history, said a third,
was as accurate as his lines were polished; one learned almost as much
of the Norman Conquest from his poem as from the pages of Freeman, but
the spontaneity of his earliest work appeared to be wanting in his
latest. Each of the six reviewers seemed to be indulging a sentimental
sorrow for the Mr. Damerel of the earlier days; their criticisms had an
undercurrent of regret that Lucian had chosen to explore another path
than that which he had hitherto trodden in triumph. The consensus of
opinion, as represented by the critics of the six morning newspapers
lying on Lucian’s breakfast-table, amounted to this: that Mr. Damerel’s
new work, unmistakably the production of a true poet though it was, did
not possess the qualities of power and charm which had distinguished his
previous volumes. And to show his exact meaning and make out a good case
for himself, each critic hit upon the exasperating trick of reprinting
those of Lucian’s earlier lines which made perpetual music in their own
particular souls, pointing to them with a proud finger as something
great and glorious, and hinting that they were samples of goods which
they would have wished Mr. Damerel to supply for ever.

Lucian was disappointed and gratified; amused and annoyed. It was
disappointing to find that the incense to which he had become accustomed
was not offered up to him in the usual lavish fashion; but it was
pleasing to hear the nice things said of what he had done and of what
the critics believed him capable of doing. He was amused at the
disappointment of the gentlemen who preferred Lucian the earlier to
Lucian the later--and, after all, it was annoying to find one’s great
effort somewhat looked askance at.

‘I’ve given them too much,’ he said, turning to considerations of
breakfast with a certain amount of pity for himself. ‘I ought to have
remembered that the stomach of this generation is a weak one--Tennyson
was wise in giving his public the _Idylls of the King_ in fragments--if
he’d given his most fervent admirers the whole lot all at once they’d
have had a surfeit. I should have followed his example, but I wanted to
present the thing as a whole. And it _is_ good, however they may damn it
with faint praise.’

‘Does this mean that the book won’t sell?’ asked Haidee, who had
gathered up the papers, and was glancing through the columns at the head
of which Lucian’s name stood out in bold letters.

‘Sell? Why, I don’t think reviews make much difference to the sales of a
book,’ answered Lucian. ‘I really don’t know--I suppose the people who
bought all my other volumes will buy this.’

But as he ate his chop and drank his coffee he began to wonder what
would happen if the new volume did not sell. He knew exactly how many
copies of his other volumes had been sold up to the end of the previous
half-year: it was no business instinct that made him carry the figures
in his mind, but rather the instinct of the general who counts his
prisoners, his captured eagles, and his dead enemies after a victory,
and of the sportsman who knows that the magnitude of the winnings of a
great racehorse is a tribute to the quality of its blood and bone and
muscle. He recalled the figures of the last statement of account
rendered to him by his publisher, and their comfortable rotundity
cheered him. Whatever the critics might say, he had a public, and a
public of considerable size. And after all, this was the first time the
critics had not burned incense at his shrine--he forgave them with
generous readiness, and ere he rose from the breakfast table was as full
as ever of confident optimism. He felt as regards those particular
reviewers as a man might feel who bids all and sundry to a great feast,
and finds that the first-comers are taken aback by the grand proportions
of the banquet--he pitied them for their lack of appetite, but he had no
doubt of the verdict of the vast majority of later comers.

But if Lucian had heard some of the things that were said of him and his
beloved epic in those holes and corners of literary life wherein one may
hear much trenchant criticism plainly voiced, he would have felt less
cock-sure about it and himself. It was the general opinion amongst a
certain class of critics, who exercised a certain influence upon public
thought, that there was too much of the workshop in his _magnum opus_.
It was a magnificent block of marble that he had handled, but he had
handled it too much, and the result would have been greater if he had
not perpetually hovered about it with a hungry chisel and an itching
mallet. It was perfect in form and language and proportion, but it
wanted life and fire and rude strength.

‘It reminds me,’ said one man, discussing it in a club corner where
coffee cups, liqueur glasses, and cigarettes were greatly in evidence,
‘of the statue of Galatea, flawless, immaculate, but neuter,--yes,
neuter--as it appeared at the very moment ere Pygmalion’s love breathed
into it the very flush, the palpitating, forceful tremor of life.’

This man was young and newly come to town--the others looked at him with
shy eyes and tender sympathy, for they knew what it was that he meant to
say, and they also knew, being older, how difficult it is to express
oneself in words.

‘How very differently one sees things!’ sighed one of them. ‘Damerel’s
new poem, now, reminds me of a copy of the _Pink ’Un_, carefully edited
by a committee of old maids for the use of mixed classes in infant
schools.’

The young man who used mellifluous words manifested signs of
astonishment. He looked at the last speaker with inquiring eyes.

‘You mean----’ he began.

‘Ssh!’ whispered a voice at his elbow, ‘don’t ask _him_ what he means at
any time. He means that the thing’s lacking in virility.’

It may have been the man who likened Lucian’s epic to an emasculated and
expurgated _Pink ’Un_ to whom was due a subsequent article in the
_Porthole_, wherein, under the heading _Lucian the Ladylike_, much
sympathy was expressed with William the Conqueror at his sad fate in
being sung by a nineteenth-century bard. There was much good-humoured
satire in that article, but a good many of its points were sharply
barbed, and Lucian winced under them. He was beginning to find by that
time that his epic was not being greeted with the enthusiasm which he
had anticipated for it; the great literary papers, the influential
journals of the provinces, and the critics who wrote of it in two or
three of the monthly reviews, all concurred that it was very fine as a
literary exercise, but each deplored the absence of a certain something
which had been very conspicuous indeed in his earlier volumes.

Lucian began to think things over. He remembered how his earlier work
had been written--he recalled the free, joyous flush of thought, the
impulse to write, the fertility and fecundity which had been his in
those days, and he contrasted it all with the infinite pains which he
had taken in polishing and revising the epic. It must have been the
process of revision, he thought, which had sifted the fire and life out
of the poem. He read and re-read passages of it--in spite of all that
the critics said, they pleased him. He remembered the labour he had gone
through, and valued the results by it. And finally, he put the whole
affair away from him, feeling that he and his world were not in accord,
and that he had better wrap himself in his cloak for a while. He spoke
of the epic no more. But unfortunately for Lucian, there were monetary
considerations at the back of the new volume, and when he discovered at
the end of a month that the sales were small and already at a
standstill, he felt a sudden, strange sinking at the heart. He looked at
Mr. Robertson, who communicated this news to him, in a fashion which
showed the publisher that he did not quite understand this apparently
capricious neglect on the part of the public. Mr. Robertson endeavoured
to explain matters to him.

‘After all,’ he said, ‘there is such a thing as a vogue, and the best
man may lose it. I don’t say that you have lost yours, but here’s the
fact that the book is at a standstill. The faithful bought as a
religious duty as soon as we published; those of the outer courts won’t
buy. For one thing, your poem is not quite in the fashion--what people
are buying just now in poetry is patriotism up-to-date, with extension
of the Empire, and Maxim-guns, and deification of the soldier and
sailor, and so on.’

‘You talk as if there were fashions in poetry as there are in clothes,’
said Lucian, with some show of scornful indignation.

‘So there are, my dear sir!’ replied the publisher. ‘If you lived less
in the clouds and more in the world of plain fact you would know it.
You, for instance, would think it strange, if you had ever read it, to
find Pollok’s poem, _The Course of Time_, selling to the extent of
thousands and tens of thousands, or of Tupper’s _Proverbial Philosophy_
making almost as prominent a figure in the middle-class household as the
Bible itself. Of course there’s a fashion in poetry, as there is in
everything else. Byron was once the fashion; Mrs. Hemans was once the
fashion; even Robert Montgomery was once fashionable. You yourself were
very fashionable for three years--you see, if you’ll pardon me for
speaking plainly, you were an interesting young man. You had a beautiful
face; you were what the women call “interesting”; you aroused all the
town by your romantic marriage--you became a personality. I think you’ve
had a big run of it,’ concluded Mr. Robertson. ‘Why, lots of men come up
and go down within two years--you’ve had four already.’

Lucian regarded him with grave eyes.

‘Do you think of me as of a rocket or a comet?’ he said. ‘If things are
what you say they are, I wish I had never published anything. But I
think you are wrong,’ and he went away to consider all that had been
said to him. He decided, after some thought and reflection, that his
publisher was not arguing on sound lines, and he assured himself for the
hundredth time that the production of the tragedy would put everything
right.

It was now very near to the day on which the tragedy was to be produced
at the Athenæum, and both Lucian and Mr. Harcourt had been worried to
the point of death by pressmen who wanted to know all about it. Chiefly
owing to their persistency the public were now in possession of a
considerable amount of information as to what it might expect to hear
and see. It was to witness--that portion of it, at any rate, which was
lucky enough to secure seats for the first night--an attempt to revive
tragedy on the lines of pure Greek art. As this attempt was being made
at the close of the nineteenth century, it was quite in accordance with
everything that vast sums of money should be laid out on costumes,
scenery, and accessories, and it was well known to the readers of the
halfpenny newspapers that the production involved the employment of so
many hundreds of supernumeraries, that so many thousands of pounds had
been spent on the scenery, that certain realistic effects had been
worked up at enormous cost, and that the whole affair, to put it in
plain language, was a gigantic business speculation--nothing more nor
less, indeed, than the provision of a gorgeous spectacular drama, full
of life and colour and modern stage effects, which should be enthralling
and commanding enough to attract the public until a handsome profit had
been made on the outlay. But the words ‘an attempt to revive Tragedy on
the lines of pure Greek Art’ looked well in print, and had a highly
respectable sound, and the production of Lucian’s second tribute to the
tragic muse was looked forward to with much interest by many people who
ignored the fact that many thousands of pounds were being expended in
placing it upon the stage.



CHAPTER XXI


At twelve o’clock on the night that witnessed the production of the
tragedy, Lucian found himself one of a group of six men which had
gathered together in Harcourt’s dressing-room. There was a blue haze of
cigarette smoke all over the room; a decanter of whisky with syphons and
glasses stood on a table in the centre; most of the men had already
helped themselves to a drink. Lucian found a glass in his own hand, and
sipped the mixture in it he recognised the taste of soda, and remembered
in a vague fashion that he much preferred Apollinaris, but he said to
himself, or something said to him, that it didn’t matter. His brain was
whirling with the events of the night; he still saw, as in a dream, the
misty auditorium as he had seen it from a box; the stage as he had seen
it during a momentary excursion to the back of the dress-circle; the
busy world behind the scenes where stage-carpenters sweated and swore,
and the dust made one’s throat tickle. He recalled particular faces and
heard particular voices; all the world and his wife had been there, and
all the first-nighters, and all his friends, and he had spoken to a
great many people. They all seemed to swim before him as in a dream, and
the sound of their voices came, as it were, from the cylinder of a
phonograph. He remembered seeing Mr. Chilverstone and his wife in the
stalls--their faces were rapt and eloquent; in the stalls, too, he had
seen Sprats and Lord Saxonstowe and Mrs. Berenson; he himself had spent
some of the time with Haidee and Darlington and other people of their
set in a box, but he had also wandered in and out of Harcourt’s
dressing-room a good deal, and had sometimes spoken to Harcourt, and
sometimes to his business manager. He had a vague recollection that he
had faced the house himself at the end of everything, and had bowed
several times in response to cheering which was still buzzing in his
ears. The night was over.

He took another drink from the glass in his hand and looked about him;
there was a curious feeling in his brain that he himself was not there,
that he had gone away, or been left behind somewhere in the world’s mad
rush, and that he was something else, watching a semblance of himself
and the semblance’s surroundings. The scene interested and amused
whatever it was that was looking on from his brain. Harcourt, free of
his Greek draperies, now appeared in a shirt and trousers; he stood
before the mirror on his dressing-table, brushing his hair--Lucian
wondered where he bought his braces, which, looked at closely, revealed
a peculiarly dainty pattern worked by hand. All the time that he was
manipulating the brushes he was talking in disconnected sentences.
Lucian caught some of them: ‘Little cutting here and there--that bit
dragged--I’m told that _was_ a fine effect--very favourable indeed--we
shall see, we shall see!’--and he wondered what Harcourt was talking
about. Near the actor-manager, in an easy-chair, sat an old gentleman of
benevolent aspect, white-bearded, white-moustached, who wore a fur-lined
cloak over his evening-dress. He was sucking at a cigar, and his hand,
very fat and very white, held a glass at which he kept looking from time
to time as if he were not quite certain what to do with it. He was
reported to be at the back of Harcourt in financial matters, and he
blinked and nodded at every sentence rapidly spoken by the
actor-manager, but said nothing. Near him stood two men in cloaks and
opera-hats, also holding glasses in their hands and smoking
cigarettes--one of them Lucian recognised as a great critic, the other
as a famous actor. At his own side, talking very rapidly, was the sixth
man, Harcourt’s business-manager. Lucian suddenly realised that he was
nodding his head at this man as if in intelligent comprehension of what
he was saying, whereas he had not understood one word. He shook himself
together as a man does who throws drowsiness aside.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I--I don’t think I was paying attention. I don’t
know why, but I feel half-asleep.’

‘It’s the reaction,’ said Harcourt, hastily getting into his waistcoat
and coat. ‘I feel tired out--if I had my way there should be no such
thing as a first night--it’s a most wearing occasion.’

The famous critic turned with a smile.

‘Think of being able to lie in bed to-morrow with a sheaf of newspapers
on your counterpane!’ he said pleasantly.

Then somehow, chatting disjointedly, they got out of the theatre.
Harcourt and Lucian drove off in a hansom together--they were near
neighbours.

‘What do you think?’ asked Lucian, as they drove away.

‘Oh, I think it went all right, as far as one could judge. There was
plenty of applause--we shall see what is said to-morrow morning,’
answered Harcourt, with a mighty yawn. ‘They can’t say that it wasn’t
magnificently staged,’ he added, with complacency. ‘And everything went
like clockwork. I’ll tell you what--I wish I could go to sleep for the
next six months!’

‘I believe I feel like that,’ responded Lucian. ‘Well, it is launched,
at any rate.’

The old gentleman of the white beard and fur-lined cloak drove off in a
private brougham, still nodding and blinking; the actor and the critic,
lighting cigars, walked away together, and for some time kept silence.

‘What do you really think?’ said the actor at last. ‘You’re in rather a
lucky position, you know, in respect of the fact that the _Forum_ is a
weekly and not a daily journal--it gives you more time to make up your
mind. But you already have some notion of what your verdict will be?’

‘Yes,’ answered the critic. He puffed thoughtfully at his cigar. ‘Well,’
he said, ‘I think we have heard some beautiful poetry, beautifully
recited. But I confess to feeling a certain sense of incongruity in the
attempt to mingle Greek art with modern stage accessories. I think
Damerel’s tragedy will read delightfully--in the study. But I counted
several speeches to-night which would run to two and three pages of
print, and I saw many people yawn. I fear that others will yawn.’

‘What would you give it?’ said the actor. ‘The other ran for twelve
months.’

‘This,’ said the critic, ‘may run for one. But I think Harcourt will
have to withdraw it within three weeks. I am bearing the yawns in
mind.’



CHAPTER XXII


Lucian’s tragedy ran for precisely seventeen nights. The ‘attempt to
revive Tragedy on the lines of pure Greek Art’ was a failure. Everybody
thought the poetry very beautiful, but there were too many long speeches
and too few opportunities for action and movement to satisfy a modern
audience, and Harcourt quickly discovered that not even magnificent
scenery and crowds of supernumeraries arrayed in garments of white and
gold and purple and green will carry a play through. He was in despair
from the second night onwards, for it became evident that a great deal
of cutting was necessary, and on that point he had much trouble with
Lucian, who, having revised his work to the final degree, was not
disposed to dock it in order to please the gods in the gallery. The
three weeks during which the tragedy ran were indeed weeks of storm and
stress. The critics praised the poetry of the play, the staging, the
scenery, the beauty and charm of everything connected with it, but the
public yawned. In Lucian’s previous play there had been a warm, somewhat
primitive human interest--it took those who saw it into the market-place
of life, and appealed to everyday passions; in the new tragedy people
were requested to spend some considerable time with the gods in Olympus
amidst non-human characteristics and qualities. No one, save a few
armchair critics like Mr. Chilverstone, wished to breathe this diviner
air; the earlier audiences left the theatre cold and untouched. ‘It
makes you feel,’ said somebody, ‘as if you had been sitting amongst a
lot of marble statues all night and could do with something warming to
the blood.’ In this way the inevitable end came. All the people who
really wanted to see the tragedy had seen it within a fortnight; during
the next few nights the audiences thinned and the advance bookings
represented small future business, and before the end of the third week
Harcourt had withdrawn the attempt to revive tragedy on the lines of
pure Greek Art, and announced a revival of an adaptation from a famous
French novel which had more than once proved its money-earning powers.

Lucian said little of this reverse of fortune--he was to all appearance
unmoved by it; but Sprats, who could read his face as easily as she
could read an open book, saw new lines write themselves there which told
of surprise, disappointment, and anxiety, and she knew from his subdued
manner and the unwonted reticence which he observed at this stage that
he was thinking deeply of more things than one. In this she was right.
Lucian by sheer force of circumstances had been dragged to a certain
point of vantage whereat he was compelled to stand and look closely at
the prospect which confronted him. When it became evident that the
tragedy was a failure as a money-making concern, he remembered, with a
sudden shock that subdued his temperamental buoyancy in an unpleasant
fashion, that he had not foreseen such a contingency, and that he had
confidently expected a success as great as the failure was complete. He
sat down in his study and put the whole matter to himself in commendably
brief fashion: for several months he and Haidee had been living and
spending money on anticipation; it was now clear that the anticipation
was not to be realised. The new volume was selling very slowly; the
tragedy was a financial failure; very little in the way of solid cash
would go from either to the right side of Lucian’s account at
Darlington’s. And on the wrong side there must be an array of figures
which he felt afraid to think of. He hurriedly cast up in his mind a
vague account of those figures which memory presented to him; when he
added the total to an equally vague guess of what Haidee might have
spent, he recognised that he must be in debt to the bank to a
considerable amount. He had never had the least doubt that the tragedy
would prove a gold-mine--everybody had predicted it. Darlington had
predicted it a hundred times, and Darlington was a keen, hard-headed
business man. Well, the tragedy was a failure--to use the expressive
term of the man in the street, ‘there was no money in it.’ It was to
have replenished Lucian’s coffers--it left them yawning.

Easy-going and thoughtless though he was, Lucian had a constitutional
dislike of owing money to any one, and the thought that he was now in
debt to his bankers irritated and annoyed him. Analysed to a fine
degree, it was not that he was annoyed because he owed money, but
because he was not in a position to cancel the debt with a few scratches
of his pen, and so relieve himself of the disagreeable necessity of
recognising his indebtedness to any one. He had a temperamental dislike
of unpleasant things, and especially of things which did not interest
him--his inherited view of life had caused him to regard it as a walk
through a beautiful garden under perpetual sunshine, with full liberty
to pluck whatever flower appealed to his eye, eat whatever fruit tempted
his palate, and turn into whatever side-walk took his fancy. Now that he
was beginning to realise that it is possible to wander out of such a
garden into a brake full of thorns and tangles, and to find some
difficulty in escaping therefrom, his dislike of the unpleasant was
accentuated and his irritation increased. But there was a certain vein
of method and of order in him, and when he really recognised that he had
got somewhere where he never expected to be, he developed a sincere
desire to find out at once just where he was. The present situation had
some intellectual charm for him: he had never in all his life known what
it was to want money; it had always come to his hand as manna came to
the Israelites in the desert--he wondered, as these unwonted
considerations for the present and the future filled him, what would
develop from it.

‘It will be best to know just where one really is,’ he thought, and he
went off to find his wife and consult with her. It was seldom that he
ever conversed with her on any matter of a practical nature; he had long
since discovered that Haidee was bored by any topic that did not
interest her, or that she did not understand. She scarcely grasped the
meaning of the words which Lucian now addressed to her, simple though
they were, and she stared at him with puzzled eyes.

‘You see,’ he said, feeling that his explanation was inept and crude,
‘I’d fully expected to have an awful lot of money out of the book and
the play, and now, it seems, there won’t be so much as I had
anticipated. Of course there will be Robertson’s royalties, and so on,
but I don’t think they will amount to very much for the half-year,
and----’

Haidee interrupted him.

‘Does it mean that you have spent all the money?’ she asked. ‘There was
such a lot, yours and mine, together.’

Lucian felt powerless in the face of this apparently childish remark.

‘Not such a lot,’ he said. ‘And you know we had heavy expenses at
first--we had to spend a lot on the house, hadn’t we?’

‘But will there be no more to spend?’ she asked. ‘I mean, has it all
been spent? Because I want a lot of things, if we are to winter in Egypt
as you proposed.’

Lucian laughed.

‘I’m afraid we shall not go to Egypt this winter,’ he said. ‘But don’t
be alarmed; I think there will be money for new gowns and so on. No;
what I just wished to know was--have you any idea of what you have spent
since I transferred our accounts to Darlington’s bank?’

Haidee shrugged her shoulders. As a matter of fact she had used her
cheque-book as she pleased, and had no idea of anything relating to her
account except that she had drawn on it whenever she wished to do so.

‘I haven’t,’ she answered. ‘You told me I was to have a separate
account, and, of course, I took you at your word.’

‘Well, it will be all right,’ said Lucian soothingly. ‘I’ll see about
everything.’

He was going away, desirous of closing any discussion of the subject,
but Haidee stopped him.

‘Of course it makes a big difference if your books don’t sell and people
won’t go to your plays,’ she said. ‘That doesn’t bring money, does it?’

‘My dear child!’ exclaimed Lucian, ‘how terribly perturbed you look! One
must expect an occasional dose of bad luck. The next book will probably
sell by the tens of thousands, and the next play run for a hundred
years!’

‘They were saying at Lady Firmanence’s the other afternoon that you had
had your day,’ she said, looking inquiringly at him. ‘Do you think you
have?’

‘I hope I have quite a big day to come yet,’ he answered quietly. ‘You
shouldn’t listen to that sort of thing--about me.’

Then he left her and went back to his study and thought matters over
once more. ‘I’ll find out exactly where I am,’ he thought at last, and
he went out and got into a hansom and was driven to Lombard Street--he
meant to ascertain his exact position at the bank. When he entered, with
a request for an interview with Mr. Eustace Darlington, he found that
the latter was out of town, and for a moment he thought of postponing
his inquiries. Then he reflected that others could probably give him the
information he sought, and he asked to see the manager. Five minutes
after entering the manager’s private room he knew exactly how he stood
with Messrs. Darlington and Darlington. He owed them close upon nine
thousand pounds.

Lucian, bending over the slip of paper upon which the manager had jotted
down a memorandum of the figures, trusted that the surprise which he
felt was not being displayed in his features. He folded the paper,
placed it in his pocket, thanked the manager for his courtesy, and left
the bank. Once outside he looked at the paper again: the manager had
made a distinction between Mr. Damerel’s account and his wife’s. Mr.
Damerel’s was about eighteen hundred pounds in debt; Mrs. Damerel’s
separate account had been drawn against to the extent of nearly seven
thousand pounds. Lucian knew what had become of the money which he had
spent, but he was puzzled beyond measure to account for the sums which
Haidee had gone through within a few months.

Whenever he was in any doubt or perplexity as to practical matters
Lucian invariably turned to Sprats, and he now called a hansom and bade
the man drive to Bayswater. He knew, from long experience of her, that
he could tell Sprats anything and everything, and that she would never
once say ‘I told you so!’ or ‘I knew how it would turn out!’ or ‘Didn’t
I warn you?’ She might scold him; she would almost certainly tell him
that he was a fool; but she wouldn’t pose as a superior person, or howl
over the milk which he had spilled--instead, she would tell him quietly
what was the best thing to do.

He found her alone, and he approached her with the old boyish formula
which she had heard a hundred times since he had discovered that she
knew a great deal more about many things than he knew himself.

‘I say, Sprats, I’m in a bit of a hole!’ he began.

‘And, of course, you want me to pull you out. Well, what is it?’ she
asked, gazing steadily at him and making a shrewd guess at the sort of
hole into which he had fallen. ‘Do the usual, Lucian, tell everything.’

When he liked to be so, Lucian was the most candid of men. He laid bare
his soul to Sprats on occasions like these in a fashion which would
greatly have edified a confessor. He kept nothing back; he made no
excuses; he added no coat of paint or touch of white-wash. He set forth
a plain, unvarnished statement, without comment or explanation; it was a
brutally clear and lucid account of facts which would have honoured an
Old Bailey lawyer. It was one of his gifts, and Sprats never had an
instance of it presented to her notice without wondering how it was that
a man who could marshal facts so well and put them before others in
such a crisp and concise fashion should be so unpractical in the stern
business of life.

‘And that’s just how things are,’ concluded Lucian, ‘What do you advise
me to do?’

‘There is one thing to be done at once,’ she answered, without
hesitation. ‘You must get out of debt to Darlington; you must pay him
every penny that you owe him as quickly as possible. You say you owe him
nearly nine thousand pounds: very good. How much have you got towards
paying that off?’

Lucian sighed deeply.

‘That’s just it!’ he exclaimed. ‘I don’t exactly know. Let me see, now;
well, look here, Sprats--you won’t tell, of course--Mr. Pepperdine owes
me a thousand--at least I mean to say I lent him a thousand, but then,
don’t you know, he has always been so good to me, that----’

‘I think you had better chuck sentiment,’ she said. ‘Mr. Pepperdine has
a thousand of yours. Very well--go on.’

‘I’ve been thinking,’ he continued, ‘that I might now ask him for the
money which my father left me. He has had full charge of that, you know.
I’ve never known what it was. I dare say it was rather heavily dipped
into during the time I was at Oxford, but there may be something left.’

‘Has he never told you anything about it?’ asked Sprats.

‘Very little. Indeed, I have never asked him anything--I could trust him
with everything. It’s quite possible there may not be a penny; he may
have spent it all on me before I came of age,’ said Lucian. ‘Still, if
there is anything, it would go towards making up the nine thousand,
wouldn’t it?’

‘Well, leave it out of the question at present,’ she answered. ‘What
else have you coming in soon?’

‘Harcourt has two hundred of mine, and Robertson about three hundred.’

‘That’s another five hundred. Well, and the rest?’

‘I think that’s the lot,’ he said.

‘There are people who owe you money,’ she said. ‘Come, now, Lucian, you
know there are.’

Lucian began to wriggle and to study the pattern of the hearthrug.

‘Oh! ah! well!’ he said, ‘I--I dare say I have lent other men a little
now and then.’

‘Better say given,’ she interrupted. ‘I was only wondering if there was
any considerable sum that you could get in.’

‘No, really,’ he answered.

‘Very well; then you’ve got fifteen hundred towards your nine thousand.
That’s all, eh?’ she asked.

‘All that I know of,’ he said.

‘Well, there are other things,’ she remarked, with some emphasis. ‘There
are your copyrights and your furniture, pictures, books, and
curiosities.’

Lucian’s mouth opened and he uttered a sort of groan.

‘You don’t mean that I should--_sell_ any of these?’ he said, looking at
her entreatingly.

‘I’d sell the very clothes off my back before I’d owe a penny to
Darlington!’ she replied. ‘Don’t be a sentimental ass, Lucian; books in
vellum bindings, and pictures by old masters, and unique pots and pans
and platters, don’t make life! Sell every blessed thing you’ve got
rather than owe Darlington money. Pay him off, get out of that house,
live in simpler fashion, and you’ll be a happier man.’

Lucian sat for some moments in silence, staring at the hearthrug. At
last he looked up. Sprats saw something new in his face--or was it
something old? something that she had not seen there for years? He
looked at her for an instant, and then he looked away.

‘I should be very glad to live a simpler life,’ he said. ‘I dare say it
seems rather sentimental and all that, you know, but of late I’ve had an
awfully strong desire--sort of home-sickness, you know--for Simonstower.
I’ve caught myself thinking of the old days, and--’ he paused, laughed
in rather a forced way, and sitting straight up in the easy-chair in
which he had been lounging, began to drum on its arms with his fingers.
‘What you say,’ he continued presently, ‘is quite right. I must not be
in debt to Darlington--it has been a most kind and generous thing on his
part to act as one’s banker in this fashion, but one mustn’t trespass on
a friend’s kindness.’

Sprats flashed a swift, half-puzzled look upon him--he was looking
another way, and did not see her.

‘Yes,’ he went on meditatively, ‘I’m sure you are right, Sprats, quite
right. I’ll act on your advice. I’ll go down to Simonstower to-morrow
and see if Uncle Pepperdine can let me have that thousand, and if there
is any money of my own, and when I come back I’ll see if Robertson will
buy my copyrights--I may be able to clear the debt off with all that. If
not, I shall sell the furniture, books, pictures, everything, and Haidee
and I will go to Italy, to Florence, and live cheaply. Ah! I know the
loveliest palazzo on the Lung’ Arno--I wish we were there already. I’m
sick of England.’

‘It will make a difference to Haidee, Lucian,’ said Sprats. ‘She likes
England--and English society.’

‘Yes,’ he answered thoughtfully, ‘it will make a great difference. But
she gave up a great deal for me when we married, and she’ll give up a
great deal now. A woman will do anything for the man she loves,’ he
added, with the air of a wiseacre. ‘It’s a sort of fixed law.’

Then he went away, and Sprats, after spending five minutes in deep
thought, remembered her other children and hastened to them, wondering
whether the most juvenile of the whole brood were quite so childish as
Lucian. ‘It will go hard with him if his disillusion comes suddenly,’
she thought, and for the rest of the day she felt inclined to sadness.

Lucian went home in a good humour and a brighter flow of spirits. He was
always thus when a new course of action suggested itself to him, and on
this occasion he felt impelled to cheerfulness because he was
meditating a virtuous deed. He wrote some letters, and then went to his
club, and knowing that his wife had an engagement of her own that night,
he dined with an old college friend whom he happened to meet in the
smoking-room, and to whom before and after dinner he talked in lively
fashion. It was late when he reached home, and he was then more cheerful
than ever; the picture of the old palazzo on the Lung’ Arno had fastened
itself upon the wall of his consciousness and compelled him to look at
it. Haidee had just come in; he persuaded her to go with him into his
study while he smoked a final cigarette, and there, full of his new
projects, he told her what he intended to do. Haidee listened without
saying a word in reply. Lucian took no notice of her silence: he was one
of those people who imagine that they are addressing other people when
they are in reality talking to themselves and require neither Yea nor
Nay; he went on expatiating upon his scheme, and the final cigarette was
succeeded by others, and Haidee still listened in silence.

‘You mean to do all that?’ she said at last. ‘To sell everything and go
to Florence? And to live there?’

‘Certainly,’ he replied tranquilly; ‘it will be so cheap.’

‘Cheap?’ she exclaimed. ‘Yes--and dull! Besides, why this sudden fuss
about owing Darlington money? It’s been owing for months, and you didn’t
say anything.’

‘I expected to be able to put the account straight out of the money
coming from the book and the play,’ he replied. ‘As they are not exactly
gold-mines, I must do what I can. I can’t remain in Darlington’s debt in
that way--it wouldn’t be fair to him.’

‘I don’t see that you need upset everything just for that,’ she said.
‘He has not asked you to put the account straight, has he?’

‘Of course not!’ exclaimed Lucian. ‘He never would; he’s much too good a
fellow to do that sort of thing. But that’s just why I must get out of
his debt--it’s taking a mean advantage of his kindness. I’m quite
certain nobody else would have been so very generous.’

Haidee glanced at her husband out of the corners of her eyes: the glance
was something like that with which Sprats had regarded him in the
afternoon. He had not caught Sprats’s glance, and he did not catch his
wife’s.

‘By the bye, Haidee,’ he said, after a short silence, ‘I called at
Darlington’s to-day to find out just how we stand there, and the manager
gave me the exact figures. You’ve rather gone it, you know, during the
past half-year. You’ve gone through seven thousand pounds.’

Haidee looked at him wonderingly.

‘But I paid for the diamonds out of that, you know,’ she said. ‘They
cost over six thousand.’

‘Good heavens!--did they?’ said Lucian. ‘I thought it was an affair of
fifty pounds or so.’

‘How ridiculous!’ she exclaimed. ‘Diamonds--like these--for fifty
pounds! You are the simplest child I ever knew.’

Lucian was endeavouring to recall the episode of the buying of the
diamonds. He remembered at last that Haidee had told him that she had
the opportunity of buying some diamonds for a much less sum than they
were worth. He had thought it some small transaction, and had bidden her
to consult somebody who knew something about that sort of thing.

‘I remember now,’ he said. ‘I told you to ask advice of some one who
knew something about diamonds.’

‘And so I did,’ she answered. ‘I asked Darlington’s advice--he’s an
authority--and he said I should be foolish to miss the chance. And then
I said I didn’t know whether I dare draw a cheque for such an amount,
and he laughed and said of course I might, and that he would arrange it
with you.’

‘There you are!’ said Lucian triumphantly; ‘that’s just another proof of
what I’ve been saying all along. Darlington’s such a kind-hearted sort
of chap that he never said anything about it to me. Well, there’s no
harm done there, any way, Haidee; in fact, it’s rather a relief to know
that you’ve locked up six thousand in that way, because you can sell the
diamonds and the money will go towards putting the account straight.’

Haidee looked at him narrowly: Lucian’s eyes were fixed on the curling
smoke of his cigarette.

‘Sell my diamonds?’ she said in a low voice.

‘Yes, of course,’ said Lucian; ‘it’ll be rather jolly if there’s a
profit on them. Oh yes, we must sell them. I can’t afford to lock up six
thousand in precious stones, you know, and of course we can’t let
Darlington pay for them. I wonder what they really are worth? What a
lark if we got, say, ten thousand for them!’

Then he wandered into an account of how a friend of his had once picked
up a ring at one of the stalls on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, and had
subsequently sold it for just ten times as much as he had given for it.
He laughed very much in telling his wife this story, for it had certain
amusing points in it, and Haidee laughed too, but if Lucian had been
endowed with a better understanding of women he would have known that
she was neither amused nor edified.



CHAPTER XXIII


Lucian came down to breakfast next morning equipped for his journey to
Simonstower. He was in good spirits: the day was bright and frosty, and
he was already dreaming of the village and the snow-capped hills beyond
it. In dressing he had thought over his plans, and had decided that he
was now quite reconciled to the drastic measures which Sprats had
proposed. He would clear off all his indebtedness to Darlington, pay
whatever bills might be owing, and make a fresh start, this time on the
lines of strict economy, forethought, and prudence. He had very little
conception of the real meaning of these important qualities, but he had
always admired them in the abstract, and he now intended to form an
intimate acquaintance with them.

‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said, as he faced Haidee at the breakfast-table
and spread out the _Morning Post_, ‘that when I have readjusted
everything we shall be much better off than I thought. Those diamonds
make a big difference, Haidee. In fact we shall have, or we ought to
have, quite a decent little capital, and we’ll invest it in something
absolutely safe and sound. I’ll ask Darlington’s advice about that, and
we’ll never touch it. The interest and the royalties will yield an
income which will be quite sufficient for our needs--you can live very
cheaply in Italy.’

‘Then you are still bent on going to Italy--to Florence?’ she asked
calmly.

‘Certainly,’ he replied. ‘It’s the best thing we can do. I’m looking
forward to it. After all, why should we be encumbered as we are at
present with an expensive house, a troop of servants, and all the rest
of it? We don’t really want them. Has it never occurred to you that all
these things are something like the shell which the snail has to carry
on his back and can’t get away from? Why should a man carry a big shell
on his back? It’s all very well talking about the advantages and
comforts of having a house of one’s own, but it’s neither an advantage
nor a comfort to be tied to a house nor to anything that clogs one’s
action.’

Haidee made no reply to those philosophic observations.

‘How long do you propose to stay in Italy?’ she asked. ‘Simply for the
winter? I suppose we should return here for the season next year?’

‘I don’t think so,’ answered Lucian. ‘We might go into Switzerland
during the very hot months--we couldn’t stand Florence in July and
August. But I don’t intend returning to London for some time. I don’t
think I shall ever settle here again. After all, I am Italian.’

Then, finding that it was time he set out for King’s Cross, he kissed
his wife’s cheek, bade her amuse and take care of herself during his
absence, and went away, still in good spirits. For some time after he
had gone Haidee remained where he had left her. She ate and drank
mechanically, and she looked straight before her in the blank,
purposeless fashion which often denotes intense concentration of
thought. When she rose from the table she walked about the room with
aimless, uncertain movements, touching this and that object without any
reason for doing so. She picked up the _Morning Post_, glanced at it,
and saw nothing; she fingered two or three letters which Lucian had left
lying about on the breakfast-table, and laid them down again. They
reminded her, quite suddenly, of a letter from Eustace Darlington which
she had in her pocket, a trivial note, newly arrived, which informed her
that he had made some purchase or other for her in Paris, whither he had
gone for a week on business, and that she would shortly receive a parcel
containing it. There was nothing of special interest or moment in the
letter; she referred to it merely to ascertain Darlington’s address.

After a time Haidee went into the study and sought out a railway guide.
She had already made up her mind to join Eustace Darlington, and she now
decided to travel by a train which would enable her to reach Paris at
nine o’clock that evening. She began to make her preparations at once,
and instructed her maid to pack two large portmanteaus. Her jewels she
packed herself, taking them out of a safe in which they were usually
deposited, and after she had bestowed them in a small handbag she kept
the latter within sight until her departure. Everything was carried out
with coolness and thoughtfulness. The maid was told that her mistress
was going to Paris for a few days and that she was to accompany her; the
butler received his orders as to what was to be done until Mrs.
Damerel’s return the next day or the day following. There was nothing to
surprise the servants, and nothing to make them talk, in Haidee’s
proceedings. She lunched at an earlier hour than usual, drove to the
station with her maid, dropped a letter, addressed to Lucian at
Simonstower vicarage, into the pillar-box on the platform, and departed
for Paris with an admirable unconcern. There was a choppy sea in the
Channel, and the maid was ill, but Haidee acquired a hearty appetite,
and satisfied it in the dining-car of the French train. She was one of
those happily constituted people who can eat at the greatest moments of
life.

She drove from the Gare du Nord to the Hôtel Bristol, and engaged rooms
immediately on her arrival. A little later she inquired for Darlington,
and then discovered that he had that day journeyed to Dijon, and was not
expected to return until two days later. Haidee, in nowise disconcerted
by this news, settled down to await his reappearance.



CHAPTER XXIV


Lucian arrived at the old vicarage towards the close of the afternoon.
He had driven over from Oakborough through a wintry land, and every
minute spent in the keen air had added to the buoyancy of his spirits.
Never, he thought as he was driven along the valley, did Simonstower
look so well as under its first coating of snow, and on the rising
ground above the village he made his driver stop so that he might drink
in the charm of the winter sunset. At the western extremity of the
valley a shelving hill closed the view; on its highest point a long row
of gaunt fir-trees showed black and spectral against the molten red of
the setting sun and the purpled sky into which it was sinking; nearer,
the blue smoke of the village chimneys curled into the clear, frosty
air--it seemed to Lucian that he could almost smell the fires of
fragrant wood which burned on the hearths. He caught a faint murmur of
voices from the village street: it was four o’clock, and the children
were being released from school. Somewhere along the moorland side a dog
was barking; in the windows of his uncle’s farmhouse, high above the
river and the village, lights were already gleaming; a spark of bright
light amongst the pine and fir trees near the church told him that Mr.
Chilverstone had already lit his study-lamp. Every sound, every sight
was familiar--they brought the old days back to him. And there, keeping
stern watch over the village at its foot, stood the old Norman castle,
its square keep towering to the sky, as massive and formidable as when
Lucian had first looked upon it from his chamber window the morning
after Simpson Pepperdine had brought him to Simonstower.

He bade the man drive on to the vicarage. He had sent no word of his
coming; he had more than once descended upon his friends at Simonstower
without warning, and had always found a welcome. The vicar came bustling
into the hall to him, with no sign of surprise.

‘I did not know they had wired to you, my boy,’ he said, greeting him in
the old affectionate way, ‘but it was good of you to come so quickly.’

Lucian recognised that something had happened.

‘I don’t understand you,’ he said. ‘No one wired to me; I came down on
my own initiative--I wanted to see my uncle on business.’

‘Ah!’ said the vicar, shaking his head. ‘Then you do not know?--your
uncle is ill. He had a stroke--a fit--you know what I mean--this very
morning. Your Aunt Judith is across at the farm now. But come in, my
dear boy--how cold you must be.’

Lucian went out to the conveyance which had brought him over, paid the
driver, and bade him refresh himself at the inn, and then joined the
vicar in his study. There again were the familiar objects which spelled
Home. It suddenly occurred to him that he was much more at home here or
in the farmhouse parlour along the roadside than in his own house in
London, and he wondered in vague, indirect fashion why that should be
so.

‘Is my uncle dangerously ill, then?’ he asked, looking at the vicar, who
was fidgeting about with the fire-irons and repeating his belief that
Lucian must be very cold.

‘I fear so, I fear so,’ answered Mr. Chilverstone. ‘It is, I think, an
apoplectic seizure--he was rather inclined to that, if you come to think
of it. Your aunt has just gone across there. It was early this morning
that it happened, and she has been over to the farm several times during
the day, but this time I think she will find a specialist there--Dr.
Matthews wished for advice and wired to Smokeford for some great man who
was to arrive an hour ago. I am glad you have come, Lucian. Did you see
Sprats before leaving?’

Lucian replied that he had seen Sprats on the previous day. He sat down,
answering the vicar’s questions respecting his daughter in mechanical
fashion--he was thinking of the various events of the past twenty-four
hours, and wondering if Mr. Pepperdine’s illness was likely to result in
death. Mr. Chilverstone turned from Sprats to the somewhat sore question
of the tragedy. It was to him a sad sign of the times that the public
had neglected such truly good work, and he went on to express his own
opinion of the taste of the age. Lucian listened absent-mindedly until
Mrs. Chilverstone returned with news of the sick man. She was much
troubled; the specialist gave little hope of Simpson’s recovery. He
might linger for some days, but it was almost certain that a week would
see the end of him. But in spite of her trouble Aunt Judith was
practical. Keziah, she said, must not be left alone that night, and she
herself was going back to the farm as soon as she had seen that the
vicar was properly provided for in respect of his sustenance and
comfort. Ever since her marriage Mrs. Chilverstone had felt that her
main object in life was the pleasing of her lord; she had put away all
thought of the dead hussar, and her romantic disposition had bridled
itself with the reins of chastened affection. Thus the vicar, who under
Sprats’s _régime_ had neither been pampered nor coddled, found himself
indulged in many modes hitherto unknown to him, and he accepted all that
was showered upon him with modest thankfulness. He thought his wife a
kindly and considerate soul, and did not realise, being a truly simple
man, that Judith was pouring out upon him the resources of a treasury
which she had been stocking all her life. He was the first thing she had
the chance of loving in a practical fashion; hence he began to live
among rose-leaves. He protested now that Lucian and himself wanted for
nothing. Mrs. Chilverstone, however, took the reins in hand, saw that
the traveller was properly attended to and provided for, and did not
leave the vicarage until the two men were comfortably seated at the
dinner-table, the maids admonished as to lighting a fire in Mr.
Damerel’s room, and the vicar warned of the necessity of turning out
the lamps and locking the doors. Then she returned to her brother’s
house, and for an hour or two Lucian and his old tutor talked of things
nearest to their hearts, and the feelings of home came upon the younger
man more strongly than ever. He began to wonder how it was that he had
settled down in London when he might have lived in the country; the
atmosphere of this quiet, book-lined room in a village parsonage was, he
thought just then, much more to his true taste than that in which he had
spent the last few years of his life. At Oxford Lucian had lived the
life of a book-worm and a dreamer: he was not a success in examinations,
and he brought no great honour upon his tutor. In most respects he had
lived apart from other men, and it was not until the publication of his
first volume had drawn the eyes of the world upon him that he had been
swept out of the peaceful backwater of a student’s existence into the
swirling tides of the full river of life. Then had followed Lord
Simonstower’s legacy, and then the runaway marriage with Haidee, and
then four years of butterfly existence. He began to wonder, as he ate
the vicar’s well-kept mutton, fed on the moorlands close by, and sipped
the vicar’s old claret, laid down many a year before, whether his recent
life had not been a feverish dream. Looked at from this peaceful
retreat, its constant excitement and perpetual rush and movement seemed
to have lost whatever charm they once had for him. Unconsciously Lucian
was suffering from reaction: his moral as well as his physical nature
was crying for rest, and the first oasis in the desert assumed the
delightful colours and soft air of Paradise.

Later in the evening he walked over to the farmhouse, through softly
falling snow, to inquire after his uncle’s condition. Mrs. Chilverstone
was in the sick man’s room and did not come downstairs; Miss Pepperdine
received him in the parlour. In spite of the trouble that had fallen
upon the house and of the busy day which she had spent, Keziah was robed
in state for the evening, and she sat bolt upright in her chair plying
her knitting-needles as vigorously as in the old days which Lucian
remembered so well. He sat down and glanced at Simpson Pepperdine’s
chair, and wished the familiar figure were occupying it, and he talked
to his aunt of her brother’s illness, and the cloud which hung over the
house weighed heavily upon both.

‘I am glad you came down, Lucian,’ said Miss Pepperdine, after a time.
‘I have been wanting to talk to you.’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘What about?’

Keziah’s needles clicked with unusual vigour for a moment or two.

‘Simpson,’ she said at last, ‘was always a soft-hearted man. If he had
been harder of heart, he would have been better off.’

Lucian, puzzled by this ambiguous remark, stared at Miss Pepperdine in a
fashion indicative of his amazement.

‘I think,’ continued Miss Pepperdine, with pointed emphasis, ‘I think it
is time you knew more than you know at present, Lucian. When all is said
and done, you are the nearest of kin in the male line, and after hearing
the doctors to-night I’m prepared for Simpson’s death at any moment.
It’s a very bad attack of apoplexy--if he lived he’d be a poor invalid
all his life. Better that he should be taken while in the full
possession of his faculties.’

Lucian gazed at the upright figure before him with mingled feelings.
Miss Pepperdine used to sit like that, and knit like that, and talk like
that, in the old days--especially when she felt it to be her duty to
reprimand him for some offence. So far as he could tell, she was wearing
the same stiff and crackly silk gown, she held her elbows close to her
side and in just the same fashion, she spoke with the same precision as
in the time of Lucian’s youth. The sight of her prim figure, the sound
of her precise voice, blotted out half a score of years: Lucian felt
very young again.

‘It may not be so bad as you think,’ he said. ‘Even the best doctors may
err.’

Miss Pepperdine shook her head.

‘No,’ she said, ‘it’s all over with Simpson. And I think you ought to
know, Lucian, how things are with him. Simpson has been a close man, he
has kept things to himself all his life; and of late he has been obliged
to confide in me, and I know a great deal that I did not know.’

‘Yes?’ said Lucian.

‘Simpson,’ she continued, ‘has not done well in business for some time.
He had a heavy loss some years ago through a rascally lawyer whom he
trusted--he always was one of those easy-going men that will trust
anybody--and although the old Lord Simonstower helped him out of the
difficulty, it ultimately fell on his own shoulders, and of late he has
had hard work to keep things going. Simpson will die a poor man. Not
that that matters--Judith and myself are provided for. I shall leave
here, afterwards. Judith, of course, is married. But as regards you,
Lucian, you lent Simpson some money a few months ago, didn’t you?’

‘My dear aunt!’ exclaimed Lucian, ‘I----’

‘I know all about it,’ she said, ‘though it’s only recently that I have
known. Well, you mustn’t be surprised if you have to lose it, Lucian.
When all is settled up, I don’t think there will be much, if anything,
over; and of course everybody must be paid before a member of the
family. The Pepperdines have always had their pride, and as your mother
was a Pepperdine, Lucian, you must have a share of it in you.’

‘I have my father’s pride as well,’ answered Lucian. ‘Of course I shall
not expect the money. I was glad to be able to lend it.’

‘Well,’ said Miss Pepperdine, with the air of one who deals out justice
impartially, ‘in one way you were only paying Simpson back for what he
had laid out on you. He spent a good deal of money on you, Lucian, when
you were a boy.’

Lucian heard this news with astonished feelings.

‘I did not know that,’ he said. ‘Perhaps I am careless about these
things, but I have always thought that my father left money for me.’

‘I thought so too, until recently,’ replied Miss Pepperdine. ‘Your
father thought that he did, too, and he made Simpson executor and
trustee. But the money was badly invested. It was in a building society
in Rome, and it was all lost. There was never a penny piece from it,
from the time of your father’s death to this.’

Lucian listened in silence.

‘Then,’ he said, after a time, ‘my uncle was responsible for everything
for me? I suppose he paid Mr. Chilverstone, and bought my clothes, and
gave me pocket-money, and so on?’

‘Every penny,’ replied his aunt. ‘Simpson was always a generous man.’

‘And my three years at Oxford?’ he said inquiringly.

‘Ah!’ replied Miss Pepperdine, ‘that’s another matter. Well--I don’t
suppose it matters now that you should know, though Simpson wouldn’t
have told you, but I think you ought to know. That was Lord
Simonstower--the old lord. He paid every penny.’

Lucian uttered a sharp exclamation. He rose from his chair and took a
step or two about the room. Miss Pepperdine continued to knit with
undiminished vigour.

‘So it would seem,’ he said presently, ‘that I lived and was educated on
charity?’

‘That is how most people would put it,’ she answered, ‘though, to do
them justice, I don’t think either Lord Simonstower or Simpson
Pepperdine would have called it that. They thought you a promising youth
and they put money into you. That’s why I want you to feel that Simpson
was only getting back a little of his own in the money that you lent
him, though I know he would have paid it back to the day, according to
his promise, if he’d been able. But I’m afraid that he would not have
been able, and I think his money affairs have worked upon him.’

‘I wish I had known,’ said Lucian. ‘He should have had no anxiety on my
account.’

He continued to pace the floor; Miss Pepperdine’s needles clicked an
accompaniment to his advancing and retreating steps.

‘I thought it best,’ she observed presently, ‘that you should know all
these things--they will explain a good deal.’

‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘it is best. I should know. But I wish I had known
long ago. After all, a man should not be placed in a false position even
by his dearest friends. I ought to have been told the truth.’

Miss Pepperdine’s needles clicked viciously.

‘So I always felt--after I knew, and that is but recently,’ she
answered. ‘But, as I have said to you before, Simpson Pepperdine is a
soft-hearted man.’

‘He has been a kind-hearted man,’ said Lucian. He was thinking, as he
walked about the room, glancing at the well-remembered objects, that the
money which he had wasted in luxuries that he could well have done
without would have relieved Mr. Pepperdine of anxiety and trouble. And
yet he had never known, never guessed, that the kindly-hearted farmer
had anything to distress him.

‘I think we all seem to walk in darkness,’ he said, thinking aloud. ‘I
never had the least notion of this. Had I known anything of it, Uncle
Simpson should have had all that I could give him.’

Miss Pepperdine melted. She had formed rather hard thoughts of Lucian
since his marriage. The side-winds which blew upon her ears from time to
time represented him as living in a style which her old-fashioned mind
did not approve: she had come to consider him as extravagant, frivolous,
and unbalanced. But she was a woman of sound common sense and great
shrewdness, and she recognised the genuine ring in Lucian’s voice and
the sincerity of his regret that he had not been able to save Simpson
Pepperdine some anxiety.

‘I’m sure you would, my boy,’ she said kindly. ‘However, Simpson has
done with everything now. I didn’t tell Judith, because she frets so,
but the doctors don’t think he’ll ever regain consciousness--it will
only be a matter of a few days, Lucian.’

‘And that only makes one wish that one had known of his anxieties
sooner,’ he said. ‘Five years ago I could have helped him
substantially.’

He was thinking of the ten thousand pounds which had already
disappeared. Miss Pepperdine did not follow his line of thought.

‘Yes, I’ve heard that you’ve made a lot of money,’ she said. ‘You’ve
been one of the lucky ones, Lucian, for I always understood that poets
generally lived in garrets and were half-starved most of their time. I’m
sure one used to read all that sort of thing in books; but perhaps times
have changed, and so much the better. Simpson always read your books as
soon as you sent them. Upon my word, I’m sure he never understood what
it was all about, except perhaps some of the songs and ballads, but he
liked the long words, and he was very proud of these little green
books--they’re all in his bureau there, along with his account-books.
Well, as I was saying, I understand you’ve made money, Lucian. Take care
of it, my boy, for you never know when you may want it, and want it
badly, in this world. There’s one thing I want you to promise me. I
don’t yet know how things will be when Simpson’s gone, but if he is a
bit on the wrong side of the ledger, it must be made up by the family,
and you must do your share. It mustn’t be said that a Pepperdine died
owing money that he couldn’t pay. I’ve already talked it over with
Judith, and if there is money to be found, she and I and you must find
it between us. If need be, all mine can go,’ she added sharply. ‘I can
get a place as a housekeeper even at my age.’

Lucian gave her his promise readily enough, and immediately began to
wonder what it might imply. But he agreed with her reasoning, and
assured himself that, if necessary, he would live on a crust in order to
carry out her wishes. And soon afterwards he set out for the vicarage,
promising to return for news of Mr. Pepperdine’s condition at an early
hour in the morning.

As he walked back over the snow Lucian was full of thought. The
conversation with Miss Pepperdine had opened a new world to him. He had
always believed himself independent: it now turned out that for years
and years he had lived at other men’s charges. He owed his very food to
the charity of a relative; another man, upon whom he had no claim, had
lavished generosity upon him in no unstinted fashion. He was full of
honest gratitude to these men, but he wished at the same time that he
had known of their liberality sooner. He felt that he had been placed in
a false position, and the feeling lowered him in his own estimation. He
thought of his father, who earned money easily and spent it freely, and
realised that he had inherited his happy-go-lucky temperament. Yet he
had never doubted that his father had made provision for him, for he
remembered hearing him tell some artist friends one afternoon in
Florence that he had laid money aside for Lucian’s benefit, and Cyprian
Damerel had been a man of common sense, fond of pleasure and good living
and generous though he was. But Lucian well understood the story of the
Roman building society--greater folk than he, from the Holy Father
downwards, had lost money out of that feverish desire to build which has
characterised the Romans of all ages. No doubt his father had been
carried away by some wave of enthusiasm, and had put all his eggs into
one basket, and they had all been broken together. Still, Lucian wished
that Mr. Pepperdine had told him all this on his reaching an age of
understanding--it would have made a difference in many ways. ‘I seem,’
he thought, as he plodded on through the snow, ‘I seem to have lived in
an unreal world, and to have supposed things which were not!’ And he
began to recall the days of sure and confident youth, when his name was
being extolled as that of a newly risen star in the literary firmament,
and his own heart was singing with the joy of pride and strength and
full assurance. He had never felt one doubt of the splendour of his
career, never accepted it as anything but his just due. His very
certainty on these matters had, all unknown to himself, induced in him
an unassuming modesty, at which many people who witnessed his triumphs
and saw him lionised had wondered. Now, however, he had tasted the
bitterness of reverse; he had found that Fortune can frown as easily as
she can smile, and that it is hard to know upon what principle her
smiles and frowns are portioned out. To a certain point, life for Lucian
had been a perpetual dancing along the primrose way--it was now
developing into a tangle wherein were thorns and briars.

He was too full of these thoughts to care for conversation, even with
his old tutor, and he pleaded fatigue and went to bed. He lay awake for
the greater part of the night, thinking over his talk with Miss
Pepperdine, and endeavouring to arrange his affairs so that he might
make good his promise to her, and when he slept, his sleep was troubled
by uneasy dreams. He woke rather late in the morning with a feeling of
impending calamity hanging heavily upon him. As he dressed, Mr.
Chilverstone came tapping at his door--something in the sound warned
Lucian of bad news. He was not surprised when the vicar told him that
Simpson Pepperdine had died during the night.

He walked over to the farm as soon as he had breakfasted, and remained
there until noon. Coming back, he overtook the village postman, who
informed him that the letters were three hours late that morning in
consequence of the heavy fall of snow, which had choked up the roads
between Simonstower and Oakborough.

‘It’ll be late afternoon afore I’ve finished my rounds,’ he added, with
a strong note of self-pity. ‘If you’re going up to the vicarage, sir, it
’ud save me a step if you took the vicar’s letters--and there’s one, I
believe, for yourself.’

Lucian took the bundle of letters which the man held out to him, and
turned it over until he found his own. He wondered why Haidee had
written to him--she had no great liking for correspondence, and he had
not expected to hear from her during his absence. He opened the letter
in the vicar’s study, without the least expectation of finding any
particular news in it.

It was a very short letter, and, considering the character of the
intimation it was intended to make, the phrasing was commendably plain
and outspoken. Lucian’s wife merely announced that his plans for the
future were not agreeable to her, and that she was leaving home with the
intention of joining Eustace Darlington in Paris. She further added that
it was useless to keep up pretences any longer; she had already been
unfaithful, and she would be glad if Lucian would arrange to divorce her
as quickly as possible, so that she and Darlington might marry. Either
as an afterthought, or out of sheer good will, she concluded with a
lightly worded expression of friendship and of hope that Lucian might
have better luck next time.

It is more than probable that Haidee was never quite so much her true
self in her relation to Lucian as when writing this letter. It is
permitted to every woman, whatever her mental and moral quality, to have
her ten minutes of unreasoning romance at some period of her life, and
Haidee had hers when she and Lucian fell in love with each other’s
beauty and ran away to hide themselves from the world while they played
out their little comedy. It was natural that they should tire of each
other within the usual time; but the man’s sense of duty was developed
in Lucian in a somewhat exceptional way, and he was inclined to settle
down to a Darby and Joan life. Haidee had little of that particular
instinct. She was all for pleasure and the glory of this world, and
there is small wonder that the prospect of exile in a land for which she
had no great liking should have driven her to the salvation of her
diamonds and herself by recourse to the man whom she ought to have
married instead of Lucian. There was already a guilty bond between them;
it seemed natural to Haidee to look to it as a means of drawing her away
from the dangers which threatened her worldly comfort. It was equally
natural to her to announce all these things to Lucian in pretty much the
same terms that she would have employed had she been declining an
invitation to some social engagement.

Lucian read the letter three times. He gave no sign of whatever emotion
it called up. All that he did was to announce in quiet, matter-of-fact
tones that he must return to London that afternoon, and to beg the loan
of the vicar’s horse and trap as far as Wellsby station. After that he
lunched with Mr. and Mrs. Chilverstone, and if they thought him
unusually quiet, there was good reason for that in the fact that Simpson
Pepperdine was lying dead in the old farmhouse behind the pine groves.



CHAPTER XXV


Haidee, waiting for Darlington in Paris, spent the time in a state of
perfect peace, amused herself easily and successfully, and at the same
time kept clear of such of her acquaintance as she knew to be in the
French capital at that moment. On the morrow Darlington would return,
and after that everything would be simple. She had arranged it all in
her own mind as she travelled from London, and she believed--having a
confident and sanguine disposition--that the way in which the affair
presented itself to her was the only way in which it could possibly
present itself to any one. It had been a mistake to marry Lucian. Well,
it wasn’t too late to rectify the mistake, and one was wise, of course,
in rectifying it. If you find out that you are on the wrong road--why,
what more politic and advisable than to take the shortest cut to the
right one? She was sorry for Lucian, but the path which he was following
just then was by no means to her own taste, and she must leave him to
tread it alone. She was indeed sorry for him. He had been an ardent and
a delightful lover--for a while--and it was a pity he was not a rich
man. Perhaps they might be friends yet. She, at any rate, would bear no
malice--why should she? She was fond enough of Lucian in one way, but
she had no fondness for a quiet life in Florence or Pisa or anywhere
else, and she had been brought up to believe that a woman must be good
to the man who can best afford to be good to her, and she felt as near
an approach to thankfulness as she had ever felt in her life when she
remembered that Eustace Darlington still cherished a benevolent
disposition towards her.

Darlington did not return to Paris until nearly noon of the following
day. When he reached his hotel he was informed by his valet, whom he had
left behind, that Mrs. Damerel had arrived, and had asked for him.
Darlington felt no surprise on hearing this news; nothing more serious
than a shopping expedition occurred to him. He sent his man to Haidee’s
rooms with a message, and after changing his clothes went to call upon
her himself. His manner showed her that he neither suspected nor
anticipated anything out of the common, but his first question paved the
way for her explanation. It was a question that might have been put had
they met in New York or Calcutta or anywhere, a question that needed no
definite answer.

‘What brings you here? Frills, or frocks, or something equally feminine,
I suppose?’ he said carelessly, as he shook hands with her. ‘Staying
long?’

The indifference of his tone sounded somewhat harshly in Haidee’s
hearing. It was evident that he suspected nothing and had no idea of the
real reason of her presence. She suddenly became aware that there might
be difficulties in the path that had seemed so easy.

‘Lucian here?’ asked Darlington, with equal carelessness.

‘No,’ she said. Then, in a lower tone, she added, ‘I have left Lucian.’

Darlington turned quickly from the window, whither he had strolled after
their greeting. He uttered a sharp, half-suppressed exclamation.

‘Left him?’ he said. ‘You don’t mean----’

His interrogative glance completed the sentence. There was something in
his eyes, something stern and businesslike, that made Haidee afraid. Her
own eyes turned elsewhere.

‘Yes,’ she said.

Darlington put his hands in his pockets and came and stood in front of
her. He looked down at her as if she had been a child out of whom he
wished to extract some information.

‘Quarrelling, eh?’ he said.

‘No, not quarrelling at all,’ she answered.

‘Then--what?’

‘He has spent all the money,’ she said, ‘and lots beside, and he is
going to sell everything in the house in order to pay you, and then he
wanted me to go and live cheaply--_cheaply_, you understand?--in Italy;
and--and he said I must sell my diamonds.’

‘Did he?’ said Darlington. ‘And he is going to sell everything in order
to pay me, is he? Well, that’s honest; I didn’t think he’d the pluck.
He’s evidently not quite such an utter fool as I’ve always thought him.
Well?’

‘And, of course, I left him.’

‘That “of course” is good. Of course, being you, you did, “of course.”
Yes, I understand that part, Haidee. But’--he looked around him with an
expressive glance at her surroundings, ‘why--here?’ he inquired sharply.

‘I came to you,’ she said in a low and not too confident voice.

Darlington laughed--a low, satirical, cynical laughter that frightened
her. She glanced at him timidly; she had never known him like that
before.

‘I see!’ he said. ‘You thought that I should prove a refuge for the
fugitive wife? But I’m afraid that I am not disposed to welcome refugees
of any description--it isn’t my _métier_, you know.’

Haidee looked at him in astonishment. Her eyes caught and held his: he
saw the growing terror in her face.

‘But----’ she said, and came to a stop. Then she repeated the word,
still staring at him with questioning eyes. Darlington tore himself away
with a snarl.

‘Look here!’ he said, ‘I’m not a sentimental man. If I ever had a scrap
of sentiment, _you_ knocked it out of me four years ago. I was fond of
you then. I’d have made you a kind husband, my girl, and you’d have got
on, fool as you are by nature. But you threw me over for that half-mad
boy, and it killed all the soft things I had inside me. I knew I should
have my revenge on both of you, and I’ve had it. He’s ruined; he hasn’t
a penny piece that isn’t due to me; and as for you--listen, my girl,
and I’ll tell you some plain truths. You’re a pretty animal, nice to
play with for half an hour now and then, but you’re no man’s mate for
life, unless the man’s morally blind. I once heard a scientific chap say
that the soul’s got to grow in human beings. Well, yours hasn’t sprouted
yet, Haidee. You’re a fool, though you are a very lovely woman. I
suppose--’--he came closer to her, and looking down at her astonished
face smiled more cynically than ever--‘I suppose you thought that I
would run away with you and eventually marry you?’

‘I--yes--of course!’ she whispered.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘if I, too, had been a fool, I might have done that.
But I am not a fool, my dear Haidee. Perhaps I’m hard, brutal,
cynical--the world and its precious denizens have made me so. I’m not
going to run away with the woman who ran away with another man on the
very eve of her marriage to me; and as to marrying you, well--I’m plain
spoken enough to tell you that I made up my mind years ago that whatever
other silliness I might commit, I would never commit the crowning folly
of marrying a woman who had been my mistress.’

Haidee caught her breath with a sharp exclamation. If she had possessed
any spirit she would have risen to her feet, said things, done things:
having none, like most of her sort, she suddenly buried her face in her
hands and sobbed.

‘I dare say it doesn’t sound nice,’ said Darlington, ‘but Lord knows
it’s best to be plain spoken. Now, my girl, listen to me. Go home and
make the best of your bargain. I’ll let Lucian Damerel off easily,
though to tell you the truth I’ve always had cheerful notions of ruining
him hopelessly. If he wants to live cheaply in Italy, go with him--you
married him. You have your maid here?--tell her to pack up and be ready
to leave by the night train. I dare say Damerel thinks you have only run
over here to buy a new gown; he never need know anything to the
contrary.’

‘B-b-b-but I have t-t-_told_ him!’ she sobbed. ‘He _knows_!’

‘Damn you for a fool!’ said Darlington, between his teeth. He put his
hands in his pockets again and began rattling the loose money there. For
a moment he stood staring at Haidee, his face puckered into frowning
lines. He came up to her. ‘How did you tell him?’ he said. ‘You
didn’t--write it?’

‘Yes,’ she answered. ‘I did--I wrote him a letter.’

Darlington sighed.

‘Oh, well!’ he said, ‘it doesn’t matter, only he’ll be able to get heavy
damages, and I wanted to clear him out. It’s the fortune of war. Well,
I’m going. Good-day.’

He had walked across to the door and laid his hand upon the latch ere
Haidee comprehended the meaning of his words. Then she sprang up with a
scream.

‘And what of me?’ she cried. ‘Am I to be left here?’

‘You brought yourself here,’ he retorted, eyeing her evilly. ‘I did not
ask you to come.’

She stared at him open-mouthed as if he were some strange thing that had
come into her line of vision for the first time. Her breath began to
come and go in gasps. She was an elementary woman, but at this treatment
from the man she had known as her lover a natural indignation sprang up
in her and she began to find words.

‘But this!’ she said, with a nearer approach to honesty than she had
ever known, ‘this is--desertion!’

‘I am under no vow to you,’ he said.

‘You have implied it. I trusted you.’

‘As Lucian trusted you,’ he sneered.

She became speechless again. Something in her looks brought Darlington
back from the door to her side.

‘Look here, Haidee,’ he said, not unkindly, ‘don’t be a little fool. Go
home quickly and settle things with your husband. Tell him you wrote
that letter in a fit of temper; tell him--oh, tell him any of the lies
that women invent so easily on these occasions! It’s absolutely
hopeless to look to me for protection, absolutely impossible for me to
give it----’

He stopped. She was staring at him in a strange way--the way in which a
dumb animal might stare if the butcher who was about to kill it
condescended to try to explain to it why it was necessary that he should
presently cut its throat. Darlington hummed and ha’d when he caught that
look. He cast a furtive glance at the door and half turned away from
Haidee.

‘Yes, quite impossible,’ he repeated. ‘The fact is--well, you may as
well knew it now as hear it later on--I am going to be married.’

She nodded her head as if she quite understood his meaning, and he,
looking full at her again, noticed that she was trying to moisten her
lips with the tip of her tongue, and that her eyes were dilated to an
unusual degree.

‘You can’t say that I’ve treated you badly,’ he said. ‘After all, you
had the first chance, and it wasn’t my fault if you threw it away.
There, now, be sensible and go back to London and make it up with
Damerel. You can easily get round him--he’ll believe anything you tell
him. Say you were upset at the thought of going to Italy with him, and
lost your head. Things will come all right if you only manage your cards
properly. Well, I’m going--good-day.’

He turned slowly from her as if he were somewhat ashamed of his
desertion. They had been standing by the side of a table, littered about
on which were several odds and ends picked up by Haidee on the previous
day. Amongst them was an antique stiletto, sharp as a needle, which had
taken her fancy at a shop in the Palais Royal. She had thought of using
it as a hat-pin, and was charmed when the dealer suggested that it had
probably tasted the heart’s-blood of more than one victim. Its glitter
caught her eye now, and she picked it up and struck furiously at
Darlington’s back.

At that moment Lucian was being conducted to his wife’s room by a
courteous manager. At the threshold they paused, brought to a
simultaneous standstill by a wild scream. When they entered the room,
Darlington lay crumpled up and dead in the centre of the floor, and
Haidee, gazing spellbound at him from the furthest corner, was
laughing--a long, low ripple of laughter that seemed as if it would
never cease. The stiletto, thrown at her feet, flashed back a ray of
sunlight from the window.



CHAPTER XXVI


That afternoon Saxonstowe arrived in town from Yorkshire with a grim
determination in his heart to have it out once and for all with Sprats.
He had tried to do his duty as a country squire and to interest himself
in country life and matters: he had hunted the fox and shot pheasants,
sat on the bench at petty and at quarter sessions, condoled with farmers
on poor prices and with old women on bad legs, and he was still
unsatisfied and restless and conscious of wanting something. The folk
round about him came to the conclusion that he was not as other young
men of his rank and wealth--he seemed inclined to bookishness, he was a
bit shy and a little bit stand-offish in manner, and he did not appear
to have much inclination for the society of neighbours in his own
station of life. Before he succeeded to the title Saxonstowe had not
been much known in the neighbourhood. He had sometimes visited his
predecessor as a schoolboy, but the probability of his becoming the next
Lord Saxonstowe was at that time small, and no one had taken much notice
of Master Richard Feversham. When he came back to the place as lord and
master, what reputation he had was of a sort that scarcely appealed to
the country people. He had travelled in some fearsome countries where no
other man had ever set foot, and he had written a great book about his
adventures, and must therefore be a clever young man. But he was not a
soldier, nor a sailor, and he did not particularly care for hunting or
shooting, and was therefore somewhat of a hard nut to crack. The honest
gentlemen who found fox-hunting the one thing worth living for could
scarcely realise that even its undeniable excitements were somewhat tame
to a man who had more than once taken part in a hunt in which he was the
quarry, and they were disposed to regard the new Viscount Saxonstowe as
a bit of a prig, being unconscious that he was in reality a very
simple-minded, unaffected young man who was a little bit embarrassed by
his title and his wealth. As for their ladies, it was their decided
opinion that a young peer of such ancient lineage and such great
responsibilities should marry as soon as possible, and each believed
that it was Lord Saxonstowe’s bounden duty to choose a wife from one of
the old north-country families. In this Saxonstowe agreed with them. He
desired a wife, and a wife from the north country, and he knew where to
find her, and wanted her so much that it had long been evident to his
sober judgment that, failing her, no other woman would ever call him
husband. The more he was left alone, the more deeply he sank in the sea
of love. And at last he felt that life was too short to be trifled with,
and he went back to Sprats and asked her firmly and insistently to marry
him.

Sprats was neither hurt nor displeased nor surprised. She listened
silently to all he had to say, and she looked at him with her usual
frankness when he had finished.

‘I thought we were not to talk of these matters?’ she said. ‘We were to
be friends--was there not some sort of compact?’

‘If so, I have broken it,’ he answered--‘not the friendship--that,
never!--but the compact. Besides, I don’t remember anything about that.
As to talking of this, well, I intend to go on asking you to marry me
until you do.’

‘You have not forgotten what I told you?’ she said, eyeing him with some
curiosity.

‘Not at all. I have thought a lot about it,’ he answered. ‘I have not
only thought, but I have come to a conclusion.’

‘Yes?’ she said, still curious. ‘What conclusion?’

‘That you are deceiving yourself,’ he answered. ‘You think you love
Lucian Damerel. I do not doubt that you do, in a certain way, but not in
the way in which I would wish you, for instance, to love me, and in
which I believe you could and would love me--if you would let yourself.’

Sprats stared at him with growing curiosity and surprise. There was
something masterful and lordly about his tone and speech that filled her
heart with a great sense of contentment--it was the voice of the
superior animal calling to the inferior, of the stronger to the weaker.
And she was so strong that she had a great longing to be weak--always
providing that something stronger than herself were shielding her
weakness.

‘Well?’ was all she could say.

‘You have always felt a sense of protection for him,’ continued
Saxonstowe. ‘It was in you from the first--you wanted something to take
care of. But isn’t there sometimes a feeling within you that you’d like
to be taken care of yourself?’

‘Who taught you all this?’ she asked, with puzzled brows. ‘You seem to
have acquired some strange knowledge of late.’

‘I expect it’s instinct, or nature, or something,’ he said. ‘Anyhow,
have I spoken the truth?’

‘You don’t expect me to confess the truth to you, do you?’ she answered.
‘You have not yet learned everything, I see.’ She paused and regarded
him for some time in silence. ‘I don’t know why,’ she said at last, ‘but
this seems as if it were the prelude to a fight. I feel as I used to
feel when I fought with Lucian--there was always a lot of talk before
the tearing and rending began. I feel talky now, and I also feel that I
must fight you. To begin with, just remember that I am a woman and
you’re a man. I don’t know anything about men--they’re incomprehensible
to me. To begin with, why do you wish to marry me?--you’re the first man
who ever did. I want to know why--why--why?’

‘Because you’re the woman for me and I’m the man for you,’ he replied
masterfully. ‘You are my mate.’

‘How do you know?’

‘I feel it.’

‘Then why don’t I feel it?’ she asked quickly.

‘Are you dead certain you don’t?’ he said, smiling at her. ‘I think,
perhaps, that if you could just get deep down into yourself, you do.’

‘But that doesn’t explain why you want to marry me,’ she said
inconsequently. ‘You tell me that what I have always felt for Lucian is
not what I ought to feel for the man I love. Well, if I analyse what I
feel for Lucian, perhaps it is what you say it is--a sense of
protection, of wanting to help, and to shield; but then, you say that
that is the sort of love you have for me.’

‘Did I?’ he said, laughing quietly. ‘You forget that I have not yet told
you what sort of love I have for you--we have not reached the
love-making stage yet.’

Sprats felt femininity assert itself. She knew that she blushed, and she
felt very hot and very uncomfortable, and she wished Saxonstowe would
not smile. She was as much a girl and just as shy of a possible lover as
in her tom-boy days, and there was something in Saxonstowe’s presence
which aroused new tides of feeling in her. He had become bold and
masterful; it was as if she were being forced out of herself. And then
he suddenly did a thing which sent all the blood to her heart with a
wild rush before it leapt back pulsing and throbbing through her body.
Saxonstowe spoke her name.

‘Millicent!’ he said, and laid his hand very gently on hers.
‘Millicent!’

She drew away from him quickly, but her eyes met his with courage.

‘My name!’ she said. ‘No one ever called me by my name before. I had
half forgotten it.’

‘Listen,’ he said. ‘I want you to think all this over, like the woman
you are. Don’t waste your life on a dream or a delusion. Come to me and
be my wife and friend so long as God lets us live. You are a true
woman--a woman in a thousand. I would not ask you else. I will be a true
man to you. And you and I together can do great things, for others.
Think, and tell me your thoughts--afterwards.’

‘Yes, afterwards,’ she said. She wanted him to go, and he saw it and
went, and Sprats sat down to think. But for the first time in her life
she found it impossible to think clearly. She tried to marshal facts and
to place them before her in due sequence and proper order, but she
discovered that she was pretty much like all other women at these
junctures and that a strange confusion had taken possession of her. For
the moment there was too much of Saxonstowe in her mental atmosphere to
enable her to think, and after some time she uttered an impatient
exclamation and went off to attend to her duties. For the remainder of
the afternoon she bustled about the house, and the nursing-staff
wondered what it was that had given their Head such a fit of vigorous
research into unexplored corners. It was not until evening that she
allowed herself to be alone again, and by that time she was prepared to
sit down and face the situation. She went to her own room with a
resolute determination to think of everything calmly and coolly, and
there she found evening newspapers lying on the table, and she picked
one up mechanically and opened it without the intention of reading it,
and ere she knew what was happening she had read of the tragedy in
Paris. The news stamped itself upon her at first without causing her
smart or pain, even as a clean shot passes through the flesh with little
tearing of the fibres. She sat down and read all that the telegrams had
to tell, and searched each of the newspapers until she was in possession
of the latest news.

She had gone into her room with the influence of Saxonstowe’s
love-making still heavy upon her womanhood; she left it an unsexed thing
of action and forceful determination. In a few moments she had seen her
senior nurse and had given her certain orders; in a few more she was in
her outdoor cloak and bonnet and at the door, and a maid was whistling
for a hansom for her. But just as she was running down the steps to
enter it, another came hurriedly into the square, and Saxonstowe waved
his hand to her. She paused and went back to the open door; he jumped
from his cab and joined her, and they went into the house together, and
into the room which she had just left.

‘I was going to you’ she said, ‘and yet I might have known that you
would come to me.’

‘I came as soon as I knew,’ he answered.

She looked at him narrowly: he was watching her with inquiring eyes.

‘We must go there at once,’ she said. ‘There is time to catch the night
train?’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘plenty of time. I have already made some
arrangements--I thought you would wish it.’

She nodded in answer to this, and began to take some things out of a
desk. Saxonstowe noticed that her hand was perfectly steady, though her
face was very pale. She turned presently from packing a small handbag
and came up to him.

‘Listen,’ she said; ‘it is you and I who are going--you understand?’

He looked at her for a moment in silence, and then bowed his head. He
had not understood, but he felt that she had come to some determination,
and that that was no time to question her. In a few moments more they
had left the house and set out on their journey to Paris.



CHAPTER XXVII


Our neighbours on the other side of the Channel are blessed with many
qualities which were not given to us who reside in these islands, and
amongst them is one which most Englishmen would not pay a penny for if
it were on sale in market overt. This is the quality of sentiment--a
thing which we others strive to choke at its birth, and to which at any
time we give but an outside corner of the hearth of life. It is a
quality of which one may have too much, but in its place it is an
excellent and a desirable quality, for it tends to the establishment of
a fitting sense of proportion, and makes people polite and considerate
at the right moment. Had the tragedy of Haidee and Darlington occurred
in England, there would have been much vulgar curiosity manifested, for
amongst us we often fail to gauge the niceties of a situation. In Paris,
sentiment fixed the _affaire Damerel_ at its right value in a few hours.
It was a veritable tragedy--one to be spoken of with bated breath--one
of those terrible dramas of real life which far transcend anything that
can be placed upon the stage. The situations were pathetic, the figures
of the chief actors of a veritable notability. The young husband, great
as a poet and handsome as a Greek god; the young wife, beautiful and
charming; the plutocrat lover, of whom death forbade to speak--they were
all of a type to attract. Then the intense tragedy of the final
situation! Who could tell what had occurred between the lover and the
wife in that last supreme scene, since he was dead and she bereft of
reason? It had all the elements of greatness, and greatness demands
respect. Therefore, instead of being vulgarised, as it would have been
in unsentimental England, the _affaire Damerel_ was spoken of with a
tender respect and with few words. It was an event too deplorable to
merit common discussion.

Lucian had swept through London to Paris intent on killing Darlington
with his own hands. His mental balance had been destroyed, and he
himself rendered incapable of hearing or seeing reason long before he
reached the French capital. The courteous manager who replied to
Lucian’s calm inquiries for Mrs. Damerel did not realise that the
composure of the distinguished-looking young gentleman was that of the
cunning madman. Inside Lucian’s breast nestled a revolver--his fingers
were itching to get at it as he followed his guide up the stairs, for he
had made up his mind to shoot his faithless wife and his treacherous
enemy on sight.

The sight of Haidee, mopping and mowing in her corner, the sound of her
awful laughter, brought Lucian back to sanity. Living and moving as if
he were in some fearful dream, he gave orders and issued directions. The
people of the hotel, half paralysed by the strangeness of the tragedy,
wondered at his calmness; the police were astonished by the lucidity of
the statement which he gave to them. His one great desire was to shield
his wife’s name. The fierce resentment which he had felt during his
pursuit of her had completely disappeared in presence of the tragedy.
Before the end of the afternoon some curious mental process in him had
completely rehabilitated Haidee in his estimation: he believed her to
have been deeply wronged, and declared with emphasis that she must have
killed Darlington in a fit of desperation following upon some wickedness
of his own. Her incriminating letter he swept aside contemptuously--it
was a sure proof, he said, that the poor child’s mind was already
unhinged when it was written. He turned a blind eye to undoubted facts.
Out of a prodigal imagination and an exuberant fancy he quickly built up
a theory which presently assumed for him the colours of absolute truth.
Haidee had been tempted in secret by this devil who had posed as friend;
he had used his insidious arts to corrupt her, and the temptation had
fallen upon her at the very moment when he, Lucian, was worrying her
with his projects of retrenchment. She had taken flight, the poor Haidee
who had lived in rose-leaf luxury all her days, and had fled from her
exaggerated fears to the man she believed her friend and Lucian’s. Then,
when she had found out his true character, she--in a moment of awful
fear or fright, most probably--had killed him. That was the real story,
the poor, helpless truth. He put it before Sprats and Saxonstowe with a
childlike belief in its plausibility and veracity that made at least one
of them like to weep--he had shown them the letter which Haidee had
written to Lucian before leaving town, and they knew the real truth of
the whole sorry business. It seemed best, after all, thought Sprats, and
said so to Saxonstowe when she got the chance, that Lucian should
cherish a fiction rather than believe the real truth. And that he did
believe his fiction was soon made evident.

‘It is all my fault--all!’ he said to Sprats, with bitter self-reproach.
‘I never took care of her as I should have done, as I had vowed to do.
You were right, Sprats, in everything that you said to me. I wonder what
it is that makes me so blind to things that other people see so clearly?
I ought not to have let the poor child be exposed to the temptations of
that arch-devil; but I trusted him implicitly. He always made the most
sincere professions of his friendship for both of us. Then again, how is
it, why is it, that people so constantly deceive me? I believe every man
as I expect every man to believe me. Do you think I ever dreamt of all
this, ever dreamt of what was in that scoundrel’s mind? Yet I ought to
have foreseen--I ought to have been guided by you. It is all my fault,
all my fault!’

It was useless to argue with him or to condole with him. He had
persuaded himself without an effort that such and such things were, and
the only thing to be done with him was to acquiesce in his conclusions
and help him as judiciously as possible. The two faithful friends who
had hurried to his side remained with him until the troubled waters grew
calm again. That was now an affair of time. Haidee was certainly
insane, and the physicians held out little hope of her recovery. By
their advice she was removed to a private institution within easy
distance of Paris, and Lucian announced his intention of settling down
in the gay city in order to be near her. He talked of her now as if she
had been a girl-bride, snatched away from him by ruthless fate, and it
was plain to see that he had obliterated the angry thoughts that had
filled him during his frenzy of resentment, and now cherished nothing
but feelings of chastened and tender regret. For Haidee, indeed,
frailest of frail mortals, became apotheosised into something very
different. Lucian, who never did anything by halves and could not avoid
extremes, exalted her into a sort of much-wronged saint; she became his
dream, and nobody had the heart to wake him.

Sprats and Saxonstowe worked hard for him at this time, one relieving
him of much trouble in making the necessary arrangements for Haidee, the
other of a large part of the business affairs brought into active
operation by the recent tragedy. Saxonstowe, working untiringly on his
behalf, was soon able to place Lucian’s affairs in order. Lucian gave
him full power to act, and ere long had the satisfaction of knowing that
the liability to Darlington and Darlington had been discharged, that
Miss Pepperdine’s mind had been set at rest as to the preservation of
the family honour, and that he owed money to no one. He would be able to
surround the stricken Haidee with every comfort and luxury that one in
her condition could enjoy, and he himself need never feel a moment’s
anxiety. For the _affaire Damerel_ had had its uses. Lucian came again
in the market. Mr. Robertson began to sell the thin green-clad volumes
more rapidly than ever before; even the portly epic moved, and finally
began racing its sister competitors for the favour of the fickle public.
Mr. Harcourt, with a rare sense of fitness, revived Lucian’s first play
to crowded houses; an enterprising Frenchman went over to London and
witnessed a performance, and within a few weeks presented a version of
it at one of the Parisian theatres. French translations of Lucian’s
works followed, and sold like hot cakes; the Italian translations
received a fillip, and people in the United States became interested.
Nothing, said Mr. Robertson, could have been better, from a trade point
of view.

Lucian accepted all this with indifference and equanimity. All his
thoughts were centred on the quiet house in the little village outside
Paris, where Haidee laughed at her own fingers or played with dolls.
Every afternoon he left his _appartement_ and travelled into the country
to inquire after his wife’s health. He always carried some little gift
with him--flowers, fruit, a child’s picture-book, a child’s toy, and the
nurse to whom these things were given used to weep over them, being
young and sentimental, and very much in love with Lucian’s face and
hair, which was now turning a pretty and becoming grey at the temples.
Sometimes he saw the doctor, who was sympathetic, and guarded in his
answers, and sometimes he walked in the garden with an old abbé who used
to visit the place, and exchanged pious sentiments with him. But he
never saw Haidee, for the doctors feared it, and thus his conception of
her was not of the madwoman, but of the young beauty with whom he had
made an impetuous runaway marriage. He used to walk about Paris in those
days with eyes that wore a far-away expression, and the women would
speak of his beauty with tears in their eyes and shake their heads over
the sadness of his story, which was well known to everybody, and in
pecuniary value was worth a gold-mine.



CHAPTER XXVIII


When they had done everything that could be done for him at that time,
Sprats and Saxonstowe left Lucian in Paris and returned together to
London. He appeared to have no particular desire that they should remain
with him, nor any dread of being alone. Sprats had seen to the
furnishing of his rooms and to the transportation of his most cherished
books and pictures; he was left surrounded with comfort and luxury, and
he assured his friends that he wanted for nothing. He intended to devote
himself to intense study, and if he wanted a little society, well, he
already had a considerable acquaintance amongst authors and artists in
Paris, and could make use of it if need were. But he spoke of himself as
of an anchorite; it was plain to see that he believed that the _joie de
vivre_ existed for him no longer. It was also plain that something in
him wished to be clear of the old life and the old associations. He took
an affectionate farewell of Sprats and of Saxonstowe at the Gare du
Nord, whither he accompanied them on their departure, but Sprats was
keenly aware of the fact that there was that in him which was longing to
see the last of them. They were links of a chain that bound him to a
life with which he wished to have no further connection. When they said
good-bye, Sprats knew that she was turning down a page that closed a
long chapter of her own life.

She faced the problem bravely and with clear-headedness. She saw now
that much of what she had taken to be real fact had been but a dream.
Lucian had awakened the mother-instinct in her by his very helplessness,
but nothing in him had ever roused the new feeling which had grown in
her every day since Saxonstowe had told her of his love. She had made
the mistake of taking interest and affection for love, and now that she
had found it out she was contented and uneasy, happy and miserable,
pleased and furious, all at once. She wanted to run away from Saxonstowe
to the very ends of the earth, but she also cherished a secret desire to
sit at his feet and be his slave, and would rather have torn her tongue
out than tell him of it.

While they were father-and-mother-ing Lucian in Paris, Saxonstowe had
remained solid and grim as one of the Old Guard, doing nothing but his
duty. Sprats had watched him with keen observation, and had admired his
stern determination and the earnest way in which he did everything. He
had taken hold of Lucian as a big brother might take a little one, and
had been gentle and firm, kindly and tactful, all at once. She had often
longed to throw her arms round him and kiss him for his good-boy
qualities, but he had sunk the lover in the friend with unmistakable
purpose, and she was afraid of him. She began to catch herself looking
at him out of her eye-corners when he was not looking at her, and she
hated herself. Once when he came suddenly into a room, she blushed so
furiously that she could have cried with vexation, and it was all the
more aggravating, she said, because she had just happened to be thinking
of him. Travelling back together, she was very subdued and essentially
feminine. Her manner invited confidence, but Saxonstowe was stiff as a
ramrod and cold as an icicle. He put her into a hansom at Charing Cross,
and bade her good-bye as if she had been a mere acquaintance.

But he came to her the next afternoon, and she knew from his face that
he was in an urgent and a masterful mood. She recognised that she would
have to capitulate, and had a happy moment in assuring herself that she
would make her own terms. Saxonstowe wasted no time. He might have been
a smart young man calling to collect the water-rate.

‘The night that we went to Paris together,’ he said, ‘you made an
observation which you thought I understood. I didn’t understand it, and
now I want to know what you meant.’

‘What I said. That we were going--you and I--together,’ she answered.

‘But what _did_ that mean?’

‘Together,’ she said, ‘together means--well, of course, it
means--together.’

Saxonstowe put his hands on her shoulders; she immediately began to
study the pattern of the hearthrug at their feet.

‘Will you marry me, Millicent?’ he said.

She nodded her head, but her eyes still remained fixed on his toes.

‘Answer me,’ he commanded.

‘Yes,’ she said, and lifted her eyes to his.

A moment later she disengaged herself from his arms and began to laugh.

‘I was going to extract such a lot of conditions,’ she said. ‘Somehow I
don’t care about them now. But will you tell me just what is going to
happen?’

‘You knew, I suppose, that I should have already mapped everything out.
Well, so I have. We shall be married at once, in the quietest possible
fashion, and then we are going round the world in our own way. It is to
be your holiday after all these years of work.’

She nodded, with perfect acquiescence in his plans.

‘At once?’ she said questioningly.

‘A week from to-day,’ he said.

The notion of such precipitancy brought the blood into her face.

‘I suppose I ought to say that I can’t possibly be ready in a week,’ she
said, ‘but it so happens that I can. A week to-day, then.’

Mr. Chilverstone came up from Simonstower to marry them. It was a very
quiet wedding in a quiet church. Lady Firmanence, however, was there,
and before the bride and bridegroom left to catch a transatlantic liner
for New York she expressed a decided opinion that the fourth Viscount
Saxonstowe had inherited more than his share of the good sense and wise
perception for which their family had always been justly famous.



CHAPTER XXIX


Lucian settled down into a groove-like existence. He read when he liked
and worked when he felt any particular inclination to do so; he amused
himself at times with the life which a man of his temperament may live
in Paris, but always with the air of one who looks on. He made a few new
friends and sometimes visited old ones. Now and then he entertained in a
quiet, old-fashioned way. He was very indulgent and caressing to a
certain coterie of young people who believed in him as a great master
and elevated his poetry to the dignity of a cult. He was always a
distinguished figure when he showed himself at the opera or the theatre,
and people still pointed him out on the boulevards and shook their heads
and said what a pity it was that one so young and handsome and talented
should carry so heavy a burden. In this way he may be said to have
become quite an institution of Paris, and Americans stipulated with
their guides that he should be pointed out to them at the first
opportunity.

Whatever else engaged Lucian’s attention or his time, he never forgot
his daily visit to the quiet house in the suburbs where Haidee still
played with dolls or laughed gleefully at her attendants. He permitted
nothing to interfere with this duty, which he regarded as a penance for
his sins of omission to Haidee in days gone by. Others might forsake
Paris for the sea or the mountains; Lucian remained there all the year
round for two years, making his daily pilgrimage. He saw the same faces
every day, and heard the same report, but he never saw his wife. Life
became curiously even and regular, but it never oppressed him. He had
informed himself at the very beginning of this period that this was a
thing to be endured, and he endured it as pleasantly and bravely as
possible. During those two years he published two new volumes, of a
somewhat new note, which sold better in a French translation than in the
English original, and at Mr. Harcourt’s urgent request he wrote a
romantic drama. It filled the Athenæum during the whole of a London
season, and the financial results were gratifying in a high degree, for
the glamour and mystery of the _affaire Damerel_ were still powerful,
and Lucian had become a personality and a force by reason of his
troubles.

At the end of two years, the doctor to whose care Haidee had been
entrusted called Lucian into his private room one day and told him that
he had grave news to communicate. His patient, he said, was
dying--slowly, but very surely. But there was more than that: before her
death she would recover her reason. She would probably recall everything
that had taken place; it was more than possible that she would have
painfully clear recollections of the scene, whatever it might be, that
had immediately preceded her sudden loss of sanity. It was but right,
said the doctor, that Mr. Damerel should know of this, but did Mr.
Damerel wish to be with his wife when this development occurred? It
might be a painful experience, and death must soon follow it. It was for
Mr. Damerel to decide. Lucian decided on the instant. He had carried an
image of Haidee in his mind for two years, and it had become fixed on
his mental vision with such firmness that he could not think of her as
anything but what he imagined her to be. He told the doctor that he
would wish to know as soon as his wife regained her reason--it was his
duty, he said, to be with her. After that, every visit to the private
asylum was made with anxious wonder if the tortured brain had cleared.

It was not until the following spring--two and a half years after the
tragedy of the Bristol--that Lucian saw Haidee. He scarcely knew the
woman to whom they took him. They had deluged him with warnings as to
the change in her, but he had not expected to find her a grey-haired,
time-worn woman, and he had difficulty in preserving his composure when
he saw her. He did not know it, but her reason had returned some time
before, and she had become fully cognisant of her surroundings and of
what was going to happen. More than that, she had asked for a priest and
had enjoyed ghostly consolation. She gazed at Lucian with a curious
wistfulness, and yet there was something strangely sullen in her manner.

‘I wanted to see you,’ she said, after a time. ‘I know I’m going to die
very soon, and there are things I want to say. I remember all that
happened, you know. Oh yes, it’s quite clear to me now, but somehow it
doesn’t trouble me--I was mad enough when I did it.’

‘Don’t speak of that,’ he said. ‘Forget it all.’

She shook her head.

‘Never mind,’ she went on. ‘What I wanted to say was, that I’m sorry
that--well, you know.’

Lucian gazed at her with a sickening fear creeping closely round his
heart. He had forced the truth away from him: he was to hear it at last
from the lips of a dying woman.

‘You were to blame, though,’ she said presently. ‘You ought not to have
let me go alone on his yacht or to the Highlands. It was so easy to go
wrong there.’

Lucian could not control a sharp cry.

‘Don’t!’ he said, ‘don’t! You don’t know what you’re saying. It can’t be
that--that you wrote the truth in that letter? It was--hallucination.’

She looked at him out of dull eyes.

‘I want you to say you forgive me,’ she said. ‘The priest--he said I
ought to ask your forgiveness.’

Lucian bowed his head.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I forgive all you wish. Try not to think of it any
more.’

He was saying over and over to himself that she was still disordered of
mind, that the sin she was confessing was imaginary; but deeper than his
insistence on this lay a dull consciousness that he was hearing the
truth. He stood watching her curiously. She suddenly looked up at him,
and he saw a strange gleam in her eyes.

‘After all,’ she said, half spitefully, ‘you came between him and me at
the beginning.’

Lucian never saw his wife again. A month later she was dead. All the
time of the burial service he was thinking that it would have been far
better if she had never recovered her reason. For two years he had
cherished a dream of her that had assumed tender and pathetic tones. It
had become a part of him; the ugly reality of the last grim moments of
her life stood out in violent contrast to its gentleness and softness.
When the earth was thrown upon the coffin, he was wondering at the wide
difference which exists between the real and the unreal, and whether the
man is most truly blessed who walks amongst stern verities or dreams
amidst the poppy-beds of illusion. One thing was certain: the face of
truth was not always beautiful, nor her voice always soothing to the
ear.



CHAPTER XXX


After Haidee’s death Lucian left Paris, and during the rest of the
spring and summer of that year went wandering hither and thither about
Europe. His mind was at this time in a state of quiescence; he lounged
from one place to another, faintly interested and lazily amused. He was
beginning to be a little bored by life, and a little tempted to drift
with its stream. It was in this frame of mind that he returned to London
in the following autumn. There, soon after his return, he sprang into
unwonted activity.

It was on the very eve of the outbreak of the war in South Africa. Men
were wondering what was going to happen. Some, clearer of vision than
their fellows, saw that nothing but war would solve the problem which
had assumed vast proportions and strange intricacies because of the
vacillating policy of a weak Government of twenty years before; the
Empire was going to pay now, with millions of its treasure and thousands
of its men, for the fatal error which had brought the name of England
into contempt in the Transvaal and given the Boers a false notion of
English strength and character. Others were all for a policy of
smoothing things over, for spreading green boughs over pitfalls--not
that any one should fall into them, but in order to make believe that
the pitfalls were not there. Others again, of a breed that has but
lately sprung into existence in these islands, advocated, not without
success, a policy of surrender to everybody and everything. There was
much talking at street corners and in the market-place; much angry
debate and acrimonious discussion. Men began to be labelled by new
names, and few took the trouble to understand each other. In the
meantime, events developed as inevitable consequence always develops
them in such situations. Amidst the chattering of tiny voices the
thunders of war burst loud and clear.

Lucian was furious with indignation. Fond as he was of insisting on his
Italian nationality, he was passionately devoted to England and the
English, and had a great admiration for the history and traditions of
the country of his adoption. There had once been a question in his mind
as to whether he should write in English or in Italian--he had elected
to serve England for many reasons, but chiefly because he recognised her
greatness and believed in her destiny. Like all Italians, he loved her
for what she had done for Greece and for Italy. England and Liberty were
synonymous names; of all nations in the world, none had made for freedom
as England had. His blood had leapt in his veins many a time at the
thought of the thousand and one great things she had done, the mighty
battles she had fought for truth and liberty; he had drunk in the notion
from boyhood that England stood in the very vanguard of the army of
deliverance. And now she was sending out her armies, marshalling her
forces, pouring out her money like water, to crush a tiny folk, a nation
of farmers, a sturdy, simple-minded race, one of the least amongst the
peoples of the earth! He shook his head as if he had been asleep, and
asked himself if the nation had suddenly gone mad with lust of blood. It
was inconceivable that the England of his dreams could do this thing. He
looked for her, and found her nowhere. The streets were hot all day with
the tramping of armed men. The first tidings of reverse filled the land
with the old savage determination to fight things out to the end, even
though all the world should range itself on the other side.

Lucian flung all his feelings of rage, indignation, sorrow, and infinite
amazement into a passionate sonnet which appeared next morning in large
type, well leaded and spaced, in the columns of a London daily newspaper
that favoured the views of the peace-at-any-price party. He followed it
up with others. At first there was more sorrow and surprise than
anything else in these admonitions; but as the days went on their tone
altered. He had endeavoured to bring the giant to his senses by an
appeal to certain feelings which the giant was too much engaged to feel
at that moment; eliciting no response, he became troublesome, and strove
to attract the giant’s attention by pricking him with pins. The giant
paid small attention to this; he looked down, saw a small thing hanging
about his feet with apparently mischievous intentions, and calmly pushed
it away. Then Lucian began the assault in dead earnest. He could dip his
pen in vitriol with the best of them, and when he realised that the
giant was drunk with the lust of blood he fell upon him with fury. The
vials of poetic wrath had never been emptied of such a flood of
righteous anger since the days wherein Milton called for vengeance upon
the murderers of the Piedmontese.

It is an ill thing to fight against the prevalent temper of a nation.
Lucian soon discovered that you may kick and prick John Bull for a long
time with safety to yourself, because of his good nature, his dislike of
bothering about trifles, and his natural sluggishness, but that he
always draws a line somewhere, and brings down a heavy fist upon the man
who crosses it. He began to find people fighting shy of his company;
invitations became less in number; men nodded who used to shake hands;
strong things were said in newspapers; and he was warned by friends that
he was carrying things too far.

‘Endeavour,’ said one man, an acquaintance of some years’ standing, for
whose character and abilities he had a great regard, ‘endeavour to get
some accurate sense of the position. You are blackguarding us every day
with your sonorous sonnets as if we were cut-throats and thieves going
out on a murdering and marauding expedition. We are nothing of the sort.
We are a great nation, with a very painful sense of responsibility,
engaged in a very difficult task. The war is bringing us together like
brothers--out of its blood and ashes there will spring an Empire such as
the world has never seen. You are belittling everything to the level of
Hooliganism.’

‘What is it but Hooliganism?’ retorted Lucian. ‘The most powerful
nation in the world seizing one of the weakest by the throat!’

‘It is nothing of the sort,’ said the other. ‘You know it is your great
curse, my dear Lucian, that you never get a clear notion of the truth.
You have a trick of seeing things as you think they ought to be; you
will not see them as they are. Just because the Boers happen to be
numerically small, to lead a pastoral life, and to have gone into the
desert like the Israelites of old, you have brought that far too
powerful imagination of yours to bear upon them, and have elevated them
into a class with the Swiss and the Italians, who fought for their
country.’

‘What are the Boers fighting for?’ asked Lucian.

‘At present to grab somebody else’s property,’ returned the other.
‘Don’t get sentimental about them. After all, much as you love us,
you’re only half an Englishman, and you don’t understand the English
feeling. Are the English folk not suffering, and is a Boer widow or a
Boer orphan more worthy of pity than a Yorkshire lass whose lad is lying
dead out there, or a Scottish child whose father will never come back
again?’

Lucian swept these small and insignificant details aside with some
impatience.

‘You are the mightiest nation the world has ever seen,’ he said. ‘You
have a past--such a past as no other people can boast. You have a
responsibility because of that past, and at present you have thrown all
sense of it away, and are behaving like the drunken brute who rises
gorged with flesh and wine, and yells for blood. This is an England with
vine-leaves in her hair--it is not the England of Cromwell.’

‘I thank God it is not!’ said the other man with heartfelt reverence.
‘We wish for no dictatorship here. Come, leave off slanging us in this
bloodthirsty fashion, and try to arrive at a sensible view of things.
Turn your energies to a practical direction--write a new romantic play
for Harcourt, something that will cheer us in these dark days, and give
the money for bandages and warm socks and tobacco for poor Tommy out at
the front. He isn’t as picturesque--so it’s said--as Brother Boer, but
he’s a man after all, and has a stomach.’

But Lucian would neither be cajoled nor chaffed out of his _rôle_ of
prophet. He became that most objectionable of all things--the man who
believes he has a message, and must deliver it. He continued to hurl his
philippics at the British public through the ever-ready columns of the
peace-at-any-price paper, and the man in the street, who is not given to
the drawing of fine distinctions, called him a pro-Boer. Lucian, in
strict reality, was not a pro-Boer--he merely saw the artistry of the
pro-Boer position. He remembered Byron’s attitude with respect to
Greece, and a too generous instinct had led him to compare Mr. Kruger to
Cincinnatus. The man in the street knew nothing of these things, and
cared less. It seemed to him that Lucian, who was, after all, nothing
but an ink-slinger, a blooming poet, was slanging the quarter of a
million men who were hurrying to Table Bay as rapidly as the War Office
could get them there. To this sort of thing the man in the street
objected. He did not care if Lucian’s instincts were all on the side of
the weaker party, nor was it an excuse that Lucian himself, in the
matter of strict nationality, was an Italian. He had chosen to write his
poems in England, said the man in the street, and also in the English
language, and he had made a good thing out of it too, and no error, and
the best thing he could do now was to keep a civil tongue in his head,
or, rather, pen in his hand. This was no time for the cuckoo to foul the
nest wherein he had had free quarters for so long.

The opinion of the man in the street is the crystallised common-sense of
England, voiced in elementary language. Lucian, unfortunately, did not
know this, and he kept on firing sonnets at the heads of people who,
without bluster or complaint, were already tearing up their shirts for
bandages. The man in the street read them, and ground his teeth, and
waited for an opportunity. That came when Lucian was ill-advised enough
to allow his name to be printed in large letters upon the placard of a
great meeting whereat various well-intentioned but somewhat thoughtless
persons proposed to protest against a war which had been forced upon the
nation, and from which it was then impossible to draw back with either
safety or honour. Lucian was still in the clouds; still thinking of
Byron at Missolonghi; still harping upon the undoubted but scarcely
pertinent facts that England had freed slaves, slain giants, and waved
her flag protectingly over all who ran to her for help. The foolishness
of assisting at a public meeting whereat the nation was to be admonished
of its wickedness in daring to assert itself never occurred to him. He
was still the man with the message.

He formed one of a platform party of whom it might safely have been said
that every man was a crank, and every woman a faddist. He was somewhat
astonished and a little perplexed when he looked around him, and
realised that his fellow-protestants were not of the sort wherewith he
usually foregathered; but he speedily became interested in the audience.
It had been intended to restrict admission to those well-intentioned
folk who desired peace at any price, but the man in the street had
placed a veto upon that, and had come in large numbers, and with a
definite resolve to take part in the proceedings. The meeting began in a
cheerful and vivacious fashion, and ended in one dear to the English
heart. The chairman was listened to with some forbearance and patience;
a lady was allowed to have her say because she was a woman. It was a sad
inspiration that led the chairman to put Lucian up next; a still sadder
one to refer to his poetical exhortations to the people. The sight of
Lucian, the fashionably attired, dilettante, dreamy-eyed poet, who had
lashed and pricked the nation whose blood was being poured out like
water, and whose coffers were being depleted at a rapid rate, was too
much for the folk he essayed to address. They knew him and his recent
record. At the first word they rose as one man, and made for the
platform. Lucian and the seekers after peace were obliged to run, as
rabbits run to their warrens, and the enemy occupied the position.
Somebody unfurled a large flag, and the entire assemblage joined in
singing Mr. Kipling’s invitation to contribute to the tambourine fund.

In the school of life the teacher may write many lessons with the
whitest chalk upon the blackest blackboard, and there will always be a
child in the corner who will swear that he cannot see the writing.
Lucian could not see the lesson of the stormed platform, and he
continued his rhyming crusade and made enemies by the million. He walked
with closed eyes along a road literally bristling with bayonets: it was
nothing but the good-natured English tolerance of a poet as being more
or less of a lunatic that kept the small boys of the Strand from going
for him. Men at street corners made remarks upon him which were
delightful to overhear: it was never Lucian’s good fortune to overhear
them. His nose was in the air.

He heard the truth at last from that always truthful person, the man in
liquor. In the smoking-room of his club he was encountered one night by
a gentleman who had dined in too generous fashion, and whose natural
patriotism glowed and scintillated around him with equal generosity. He
met Lucian face to face, and he stopped and looked him up and down with
a fine and eminently natural scorn.

‘Mr. Lucian Damerel,’ he said, with an only slightly interrupted
articulation; ‘Mr. Lucian Damerel--the gentleman who spills ink while
better men spend blood.’ Then he spat on the ground at Lucian’s feet,
and moved away with a sneer and a laugh.

The room was full of men. They all saw, and they all heard. No one
spoke, but every one looked at Lucian. He knew that the drunken man had
voiced the prevalent sentiment. He looked round him, without reproach,
without defiance, and walked quietly from the room and the house. He
had suddenly realised the true complexion of things.

Next morning, as he sat over a late breakfast in his rooms, he was
informed that a young gentleman who would give no name desired earnestly
to see him. He was feeling somewhat bored that morning, and he bade his
man show the unknown one in. He looked up from his coffee to behold a
very young gentleman upon whom the word subaltern was written in very
large letters, whose youthful face was very grim and earnest, and who
was obviously a young man with a mission. He pulled himself up in stiff
fashion as the door closed upon him, and Lucian observed that one hand
evidently grasped something which was concealed behind his back.

‘Mr. Lucian Damerel?’ the young gentleman said, with polite
interrogation.

Lucian bowed and looked equally interrogative. His visitor glowered upon
him.

‘I have come to tell you that you are a damned scoundrel, Mr. Lucian
Damerel,’ he said, ‘and to thrash you within an inch of your beastly
life!’

Lucian stared, smiled, and rose lazily from his seat.

The visitor displayed a cutting-whip, brandished it, and advanced as
seriously as if he were on parade. Lucian met him, seized the
cutting-whip in one hand and his assailant’s collar in the other,
disarmed him, shook him, and threw him lightly into an easy-chair, where
he lay gasping and surprised. Lucian hung the cutting-whip on the wall.
He looked at his visitor with a speculative gaze.

‘What shall I do with you, young sir?’ he said. ‘Throw you out of the
window, or grill you on the fire, or merely kick you downstairs? I
suppose you thought that because I happen to be what your lot call “a
writin’ feller,” there wouldn’t be any spunk in me, eh?’

The visitor was placed in a strange predicament. He had expected the
sweet savour of groans and tears from a muscleless, flabby
ink-and-parchment thing: this man had hands which could grip like steel
and iron. Moreover, he was cool--he actually sat down again and
continued his breakfast.

‘I hope I didn’t squeeze your throat too much,’ said Lucian politely. ‘I
have a nasty trick of forgetting that my hands are abnormally developed.
If you feel shaken, help yourself to a brandy and soda, and then tell me
what’s the matter.’

The youth shook his head hopelessly.

‘Y--you have insulted the Army!’ he stammered at last.

‘Of which, I take it, you are the self-appointed champion. Well, I’m
afraid I don’t plead guilty, because, you see, I know myself rather
better than you know me. But you came to punish me? Well, again, you see
you can’t do that. Shall I give you satisfaction of some sort? There are
pistols in that cabinet--shall we shoot at each other across the table?
There are rapiers in the cupboard--shall we try to prick each other?’

The young gentleman in the easy-chair grew more and more uncomfortable.
He was being made ridiculous, and the man was laughing at him.

‘I have heard of the tricks of foreign duellists,’ he said rudely.

Lucian’s face flushed.

‘That was a silly thing to say, my boy,’ he said, not unkindly. ‘Most
men would throw you out of the window for it. As it is, I’ll let you off
easy. You’ll find some gloves in that cupboard--get them out and take
your coat off. I’m not an _Englishman_, as you just now reminded me in
very pointed fashion, but I can use my fists.’

Then he took off his dressing-gown and rolled up his sleeves, and the
youngster, who had spent many unholy hours in practising the noble art,
looked at the poet’s muscles with a knowing eye and realised that he was
in for a very pretty scrap. He was a little vain of his own prowess,
and fought for all he was worth, but at the end of five minutes he was a
well-licked man, and at the expiration of ten was glad to be allowed to
put on his coat and go.

Lucian flung his gloves into the corner of the room with a hearty curse.
He stroked the satiny skin under which his muscle rippled smoothly. He
had the arm of a blacksmith, and had always been proud of it. The remark
of the drunken man came back to him. That was what they thought of him,
was it?--that he was a mere slinger of ink, afraid of spilling his blood
or suffering discomfort for the courage of his convictions? Well, they
should see. England had gone mad with the lust of blood and domination,
and after all he was not her son. He had discharged whatever debt he
owed her. To the real England, the true England that had fallen on
sleep, he would explain everything, when the awakening came. It would be
no crime to shoulder a rifle and strap a bandolier around one’s
shoulders in order to help the weak against the strong. He had fought
with his pen, taking what he believed to be the right and honest course,
in the endeavour to convert people who would not be converted, and who
regarded his efforts as evidences of enmity. Very well: there seemed now
to be but one straight path, and he would take it.

It was remembered afterwards as a great thing in Lucian’s favour that he
made no fuss about his next step. He left London very quietly, and no
one knew that he was setting out to join the men whom he honestly
believed to be fighting for the best principles of liberty and freedom.



CHAPTER XXXI


When the war broke out, Saxonstowe and his wife, after nearly three
years of globe-trotting, were in Natal, where they had been studying the
conditions of native labour. Saxonstowe, who had made himself well
acquainted with the state of affairs in South Africa, knew that the
coming struggle would be long and bitter. He and his wife entered into a
discussion as to which they were to do: stay there, or return to
England. Sprats knew quite well what was in Saxonstowe’s mind, and she
unhesitatingly declared for South Africa. Then Saxonstowe, who had a new
book on hand, put his work aside, and set the wires going, and within a
few hours had been appointed special correspondent of one of the London
newspapers, with the prospect of hard work and exciting times before
him.

‘And what am I to do?’ inquired Lady Saxonstowe, and answered her own
question before he could reply. ‘There will be sick and wounded--in
plenty,’ she said. ‘I shall organise a field-hospital,’ and she went to
work with great vigour and spent her husband’s money with inward
thankfulness that he was a rich man.

Before they knew where they were, Lord and Lady Saxonstowe were shut up
in Ladysmith, and for one of them at least there was not so much to do
as he had anticipated, for there became little to record but the story
of hope deferred, of gradual starvation, and of death and disease. But
Sprats worked double tides, unflinchingly and untiringly, and almost
forgot that she had a husband who chafed because he could not get more
than an occasional word over the wires to England. At the end of the
siege she was as gaunt as a far-travelled gypsy, and as brown, but her
courage was as great as ever and her resolution just as strong. One day
she received an ovation from a mighty concourse that sent her,
frightened and trembling, to shelter; when she emerged into the light of
day again it was only to begin reorganising her work in preparation for
still more arduous duties. The tide of war rolled on northwards, and
Sprats followed, picking up the bruised and shattered jetsam which it
flung to her. She had never indulged in questionings or speculations as
to the rights or wrongs of the war. Her first sight of a wounded man had
aroused all the old mothering instinct in her, and because she had no
baby of her own she took every wounded man, Boer or Briton, into her
arms and mothered him.



CHAPTER XXXII


A huddled mass of fugitives--men, women, children, horses,
cattle--crowded together in the dry bed of a river, seeking shelter
amongst rocks and boulders and under shelving banks, subjected
continually to a hurricane of shot and shell, choked by the fumes of the
exploding Lyddite, poisoned by the stench of blood, saturated all
through with the indescribable odour of death. Somewhere in its midst,
caged like a rat, but still sulkily defiant, the peasant general
fingered his switch as he looked this way and that and saw no further
chance of escape. In the distance, calmly waiting the inevitable end,
the little man with the weather-beaten face and the grey moustaches
listened to the never-ceasing roar of his cannon demanding insistently
the word of surrender that must needs come.

Saxonstowe, lying on a waterproof sheet on the floor of his tent, was
writing on a board propped up in front of him. All that he wrote was by
way of expressing his wonder, over and over again, that Cronje should
hold out so long against the hell of fire which was playing in and
around his last refuge. He was trying to realise what must be going on
in the river bed, and the thought made him sick. Near him, writing on an
upturned box, was another special correspondent who shared the tent with
him; outside, polishing tin pannikins because he had nothing else to do,
was a Cockney lad whom these two had picked up in Ladysmith and had
attached as body-servant. He was always willing and always cheerful, and
had a trick of singing snatches of popular songs in a desultory and
disconnected way. His raucous voice came to them under the booming of
the guns.

/p
    ‘Ow, ’ee’s little but ’ee’s wise,
     ’Ee’s a terror for ’is size,
     An’ ’ee does not hadvertise:
        Do yer, Bobs?’
p/

‘What a voice that chap has!’ said Saxonstowe’s companion. ‘It’s like a
wheel that hasn’t been oiled for months!’

/p
    ‘Will yer kindly put a penny in my little tambourine,
     For a gentleman in khaki ordered sou-outh?’
p/

chanted the polisher of tin pans.

‘They have a saying in Yorkshire,’ remarked Saxonstowe, ‘to the effect
that it’s a poor heart that never rejoices.’

‘This chap must have a good ’un, then,’ said the other. Give us a
pipeful of tobacco, will you, Saxonstowe? Lord! will those guns never
stop?’

/p
    ‘For the colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady,
     Are sisters hunder their skins,’
p/

sang the henchman.

‘Will our vocalist never stop?’ said Saxonstowe, handing over his pouch.
‘He seems as unconcerned as if he were on a Bank Holiday.’

/p
    ‘We wos as ’appy as could be, that dye,
     Dahn at the Welsh ’Arp, which is ’Endon--’
p/

The raucous voice broke off suddenly; the close-cropped Cockney head
showed at the open flap of the tent.

‘Beg pardon, sir,’ said the Cockney voice, ‘but I fink there’s somethin’
’appened, sir--guns is dyin’ orf, sir.’

Saxonstowe and his fellow scribe sprang to their feet. The roar of the
cannon was dying gradually away, and it suddenly gave place to a strange
and an awful silence.

Saxonstowe walked hither and thither about the bed of the river, turning
his head jerkily to right and left.

‘It’s a shambles!--a shambles!--a shambles!’ he kept repeating. He shook
his head and then his body as if he wanted to shake off the impression
that was fast stamping itself ineffaceably upon him. ‘A shambles!’ he
said again.

He pulled himself together and looked around him. It seemed to him that
earth and sky were blotted out in blood and fire, and that the smell of
death had wrapped him so closely that he would never breathe freely
again. Dead and dying men were everywhere. Near him rose a pile of what
appeared to be freshly slaughtered meat--it was merely the result of the
bursting of a Lyddite shell amongst a span of oxen. Near him, too, stood
a girl, young, not uncomely, with a bullet-wound showing in her white
bosom from which she had just torn the bodice away; at his feet, amongst
the boulders, were twisted, strange, grotesque shapes that had once been
human bodies.

‘There’s a chap here that looks like an Englishman,’ said a voice behind
him.

Saxonstowe turned, and found the man who shared his tent standing at his
elbow, and pointed to a body stretched out a yard or two away--the body
of a well-formed man who had fallen on his side, shot through the heart.
He lay as if asleep, his face half hidden in his arm-pit; near him,
within reach of the nerveless fingers that had torn out a divot of turf
in his last moment’s spasmodic feeling for something to clutch at, lay
his rifle: round his rough serge jacket was clasped a bandolier well
stored with cartridges. His broad-brimmed hat had fallen off, and half
his face, very white and statuesque in death, caught the sunlight that
straggled fitfully through the smoke-clouds which still curled over the
bed of the river.

‘Looks like an Englishman,’ repeated the special correspondent. ‘Look at
his hands, too--he hasn’t handled a rifle very long, I’m thinking.’

Saxonstowe glanced at the body with perfunctory interest--there were so
many dead men lying all about him. Something in the dead man’s face woke
a chord in his memory: he went nearer and bent over him. His brain was
sick and dizzy with the horrors of the blood and the stink of the
slaughter. He stood up again, and winked his eyes rapidly.

‘No, no!’ he heard himself saying. ‘No! It can’t be--of course it can’t
be. What should Lucian be doing here? Of course it’s not he--it’s mere
imagination--mere im-ag-in-a-tion!’

‘Here, hold up, old chap!’ said his companion, pulling out a flask.
‘Take a nip of that. Better? Hallo--what’s going on there?’

He stepped on a boulder and gazed in the direction of a wagon round
which some commotion was evident. Saxonstowe, without another glance at
the dead man, stepped up beside him.

He saw a roughly built, rugged-faced man, wrapped in a much-worn
overcoat that had grown green with age, stepping out across the plain,
swishing at the herbage with a switch which jerked nervously in his
hand. At his side strode a muscular-looking woman, hard of feature,
brown of skin--a peasant wife in a faded skirt and a crumpled
sun-bonnet. Near them marched a tall British officer in khaki; other
Boers and British, a group of curious contrasts, hedged them round.

‘That’s Cronje,’ said the special correspondent, as he stepped down from
the boulder. ‘Well, it’s over, thank God!’

The conquered was on his way to the conqueror.


            LONDON AND GLASGOW: COLLINS’ CLEAR-TYPE PRESS.

                   *       *       *       *       *

                        COLLINS’ POPULAR NOVELS

                    BY FOREMOST WRITERS OF THE DAY

                    FULL CLOTH 3/6 LIBRARY BINDING

                       _Complete List of Titles_


/*
    4. These Charming People.....MICHAEL ARLEN
    5. Piracy.....MICHAEL ARLEN
    6. The Romantic Lady.....MICHAEL ARLEN
   30. The Green Hat.....MICHAEL ARLEN
   70. May Fair.....MICHAEL ARLEN
  139. Claire and Circumstances.....E. MARIA ALBANESI
  176. The Moon Thro’ Glass.....E. MARIA ALBANESI
   85. The Splendour of Asia.....L. ADAMS BECK
   27. The Treasure of Ho.....L. ADAMS BECK
   37. The Way of Stars.....L. ADAMS BECK
  117. The Decoy.....J. D. BERESFORD
   86. The Tapestry.....J. D. BERESFORD
   87. Unity.....J. D. BERESFORD
   88. Love’s Pilgrim.....J. D. BERESFORD
   24. The Monkey Puzzle.....J. D. BERESFORD
   39. That Kind of Man.....J. D. BERESFORD
  138. All or Nothing.....J. D. BERESFORD
  118. Wild Grapes.....PHYLLIS BOTTOME
   89. The Belated Reckoning.....PHYLLIS BOTTOME
   36. Old Wine.....PHYLLIS BOTTOME
   69. The Kingfisher.....PHYLLIS BOTTOME
  150. Strange Fruit.....PHYLLIS BOTTOME
   64. Experience.....CATHERINE COTTON
   96. A Gay Lover.....RUTHERFORD CROCKETT
   97. Safety Last.....RUTHERFORD CROCKETT
    1. The Return.....WALTER DE LA MARE
    3. Memoirs of a Midget.....WALTER DE LA MARE
  135. Brighton Beach.....MRS. HENRY DUDENEY
  162. Fair Lady.....MAY EDGINTON
  167. Life Isn’t so Bad.....MAY EDGINTON
   14. The Foolish Lovers.....ST. JOHN ERVINE
  129. The Wayward Man.....ST. JOHN ERVINE
  166. Martin Pippin.....ELEANOR FARJEON
  170. Kaleidoscope.....ELEANOR FARJEON
*/

                   *       *       *       *       *

                        COLLINS’ POPULAR NOVELS

               _Complete List of 3/6 Titles--continued_

/*
  120. Deep Currents.....A. FIELDING
  173. Lucian the Dreamer.....J. S. FLETCHER
   33. The Crater.....ROBERT GORE-BROWNE
  172. An Imperfect Lover.....ROBERT GORE-BROWNE
   67. My Lady of the Chimney Corner.....DR. ALEXANDER IRVINE
   68. The Souls of Poor Folk.....DR. ALEXANDER IRVINE
   98. Told by an Idiot.....ROSE MACAULAY
   99. Mystery at Geneva.....ROSE MACAULAY
  100. Potterism.....ROSE MACAULAY
    8. Dangerous Ages.....ROSE MACAULAY
    7. Orphan Island.....ROSE MACAULAY
   52. Crewe Train.....ROSE MACAULAY
  149. Keeping Up Appearances.....ROSE MACAULAY
  134. Patrol.....PHILIP MACDONALD
  121. Soldier Born.....CONAL O’RIORDAN
   11. Adam of Dublin.....CONAL O’RIORDAN
   12. Adam and Caroline.....CONAL O’RIORDAN
   35. In London.....CONAL O’RIORDAN
   43. Married Life.....CONAL O’RIORDAN
  153. Soldier of Waterloo.....CONAL O’RIORDAN
    9. Sayonara.....JOHN PARIS
   10. Kimono.....JOHN PARIS
   33. Banzai.....JOHN PARIS
  163. A Man Beguiled.....RALPH RODD
  122. The Bride’s Prelude.....MRS. ALFRED SIDGWICK
  103. London Mixture.....MRS. ALFRED SIDGWICK
  104. Humming Bird.....MRS. ALFRED SIDGWICK
   53. Sack and Sugar.....MRS. ALFRED SIDGWICK
   63. None-Go-By.....MRS. ALFRED SIDGWICK
  161. Come-by-Chance.....MRS. ALFRED SIDGWICK
   95. Haroun of London.....KATHARINE TYNAN
  145. The Respectable.....Lady KATHARINE TYNAN
  171. Lover of Women.....KATHARINE TYNAN
  119. Greenlow.....ROMER WILSON
   42. The Death of Society.....ROMER WILSON
  130. Irene in the Centre.....HANNAH YATES
  158. Dim Star.....HANNAH YATES
*/

                   *       *       *       *       *

                        COLLINS’ POPULAR NOVELS

                    BY FOREMOST WRITERS OF THE DAY

                    FULL CLOTH 3/6 LIBRARY BINDING

                          _Detective Novels_


/*
  155. The Instrument of Destiny.....J. D. BERESFORD
  147. The Silk Stocking Murders.....A. BERKELEY
  143. The Slip Carriage Mystery.....LYNN BROCK
  108. The Big Four.....AGATHA CHRISTIE
   40. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.....AGATHA CHRISTIE
  137. The Mystery of the Blue Train.....AGATHA CHRISTIE
  148. The Man from the River.....G. D. H. AND M. COLE
  174. Superintendent Wilson’s Holiday.....G. D. H. AND M. COLE
  105. Inspector French and the Starvel Tragedy.....FREEMAN WILLS CROFTS
   44. Inspector French and the Cheyne Mystery.....FREEMAN WILLS CROFTS
   51. The Groote Park Murder.....FREEMAN WILLS CROFTS
  133. The Dalehouse Murder.....FRANCIS EVERTON
  142. The Net Around Joan Ingilby.....A. FIELDING
   19. The Diamonds.....J. S. FLETCHER
  144. The Golden Venture.....J. S. FLETCHER
  141. The Time-Worn Town.....A. FIELDING
  152. The Ravenswood Mystery.....J. S. FLETCHER
  132. Queen of Clubs.....HULBERT FOOTNER
  127. The Murder of an M.P......ROBERT GORE-BROWNE
  156. The Murder of Mrs. Davenport.....ANTHONY GILBERT
  128. The Tragedy at Freyne.....ANTHONY GILBERT
  164. The White Crow.....PHILIP MACDONALD
  177. The Rasp.....PHILIP MACDONALD
  168. Without Judge or Jury.....RALPH RODD
*/

                   *       *       *       *       *

                        COLLINS’ POPULAR NOVELS

                    BY FOREMOST WRITERS OF THE DAY

                    FULL CLOTH 3/6 LIBRARY BINDING

                          _Wild West Novels_


/*
  123. The Desert Girl.....ROBERT AMES BENNET
  124. The Two-Gun Girl.....ROBERT AMES BENNET
  136. The Cow Country Killers.....ROBERT AMES BENNET
  151. Ken of the Cow Country.....ROBERT AMES BENNET
  165. Deep Canyon.....ROBERT AMES BENNET
  178. The Mystery of the Four Abreast.....COURTNEY RYLEY COOPER
  154. Bird of Freedom.....HUGH PENDEXTER
  140. The Boss of the Double E.....FRANK C. ROBERTSON
  157. The Boss of the Ten Mile Basin.....FRANK C. ROBERTSON
  146. The Boss of the Flying M.....FRANK C. ROBERTSON
  175. The Hidden Cabin.....FRANK C. ROBERTSON
  179. The Far Horizon.....FRANK C. ROBERTSON
  131. The Corral Riders.....CHARLES WESLEY SANDERS
  169. The Crimson Trail.....CHARLES WESLEY SANDERS
  126. Hashknife of the Canyon Trail.....W. C. TUTTLE
  111. Hashknife of the Double Bar 8.....W. C. TUTTLE
  112. Hashknife Lends a Hand.....W. C. TUTTLE
   82. Sun-Dog Loot.....W. C. TUTTLE
   83. Rustlers’ Roost.....W. C. TUTTLE
   84. The Dead-Line.....W. C. TUTTLE
*/

                   *       *       *       *       *

                        COLLINS’ POPULAR NOVELS

                    BY FOREMOST WRITERS OF THE DAY

                                  2/6

                       _Complete List of Titles_


/*
  129. Ghost Stones.....MICHAEL ARLEN
  133. The White in the Black.....E. MARIA ALBANESI
   61. Roseanne.....E. MARIA ALBANESI
  116. Sally in Her Alley.....E. MARIA ALBANESI
  160. Seed Pods.....MRS. HENRY DUDENEY
  131. Quince Alley.....MRS. HENRY DUDENEY
  132. Beanstalk.....MRS. HENRY DUDENEY
  103. The Finger Post.....MRS. HENRY DUDENEY
  169. Trilby.....GEORGE DU MAURIER
  134. The Allbright Family.....ARCHIBALD MARSHALL
   56. Big Peter.....ARCHIBALD MARSHALL
   74. Pippin.....ARCHIBALD MARSHALL
   99. The Graftons.....ARCHIBALD MARSHALL
  110. Anthony Dare.....ARCHIBALD MARSHALL
  127. The Education of Anthony Dare.....ARCHIBALD MARSHALL
  159. That Island.....ARCHIBALD MARSHALL
  163. Woman’s Way.....RALPH RODD
  166. The Whipping Girl.....RALPH RODD
  137. Treasure Island.....ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
  138. The Black Arrow.....ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
  139. Catriona.....ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
  140. Kidnapped.....ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
  141. The Master of Ballantrae.....ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
  142. The Dynamiter.....ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
  157. Prince Otto.....ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
  165. New Arabian Nights.....ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
  168. Island Nights’ Entertainments.....ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
  135. Men Like Gods.....H. G. WELLS
*/

                   *       *       *       *       *

                        COLLINS’ POPULAR NOVELS

                    BY FOREMOST WRITERS OF THE DAY

                                  2/6

                 _Complete List of Titles--continued_

/*
  136. God, the Invisible King.....H. G. WELLS
   16. The Passionate Friends.....H. G. WELLS
   18. Tales of the Unexpected.....H. G. WELLS
   21. The Research Magnificent.....H. G. WELLS
   27. The First Men in the Moon.....H. G. WELLS
   33. Tales of Life and Adventure.....H. G. WELLS
   38. Marriage.....H. G. WELLS
   43. In the Days of the Comet.....H. G. WELLS
   51. Tales of Wonder.....H. G. WELLS
   59. The Food of the Gods.....H. G. WELLS
   68. Tono-Bungay.....H. G. WELLS
   72. The History of Mr. Polly.....H. G. WELLS
   75. Kipps.....H. G. WELLS
   79. Love and Mr. Lewisham.....H. G. WELLS
   89. The War in the Air.....H. G. WELLS
   92. The World Set Free.....H. G. WELLS
  106. A Modern Utopia.....H. G. WELLS
  109. The Sleeper Awakes.....H. G. WELLS
  111. The Invisible Man.....H. G. WELLS
  118. The New Machiavelli.....H. G. WELLS
  122. The Secret Places of the Heart.....H. G. WELLS
  153. Mr Britling.....H. G. WELLS
  156. The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman.....H. G. WELLS
  154. More Salty.....CHARLES WESTRON
  112. Cold Harbour.....FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG
  130. The Black Diamond.....FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG
   25. The Young Physician.....FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG
   81. Pilgrim’s Rest.....FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG
   91. Woodsmoke.....FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG
  123. The Dark Tower.....FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG
  105. The Crescent Moor.....FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG
*/





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Lucian the dreamer" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home