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An Unsocial Socialist
by George Bernard Shaw
In the dusk of an October evening, a sensible looking woman of
forty came out through an oaken door to a broad landing on the
first floor of an old English country-house. A braid of her hair
had fallen forward as if she had been stooping over book or pen;
and she stood for a moment to smooth it, and to gaze
contemplatively--not in the least sentimentally--through the
narrow window. The sun was setting, but its glories were at the
other side of the house; for this window looked eastward, where
the landscape of sheepwalks and pasture land was sobering at the
approach of darkness.
The lady, like one to whom silence and quiet were luxuries,
lingered on the landing for some time. Then she turned towards
another door, on which was inscribed, in white letters, Class
Room No. 6. Arrested by a whispering above, she paused in the
doorway, and looked up the stairs along a broad smooth handrail
that swept round in an unbroken curve at each landing, forming an
inclined plane from the top to the bottom of the house.
A young voice, apparently mimicking someone, now came from above,
"We will take the Etudes de la Velocite next, if you please,
Immediately a girl in a holland dress shot down through space;
whirled round the curve with a fearless centrifugal toss of her
ankle; and vanished into the darkness beneath. She was followed
by a stately girl in green, intently holding her breath as she
flew; and also by a large young woman in black, with her lower
lip grasped between her teeth, and her fine brown eyes protruding
with excitement. Her passage created a miniature tempest which
disarranged anew the hair of the lady on the landing, who waited
in breathless alarm until two light shocks and a thump announced
that the aerial voyagers had landed safely in the hall.
"Oh law!" exclaimed the voice that had spoken before. "Here's
"It's a mercy your neck ain't broken," replied some palpitating
female. "I'll tell of you this time, Miss Wylie; indeed I will.
And you, too, Miss Carpenter: I wonder at you not to have more
sense at your age and with your size! Miss Wilson can't help
hearing when you come down with a thump like that. You shake the
Oh bother!" said Miss Wylie. "The Lady Abbess takes good care to
shut out all the noise we make. Let us--"
"Girls," said the lady above, calling down quietly, but with
Silence and utter confusion ensued. Then came a reply, in a tone
of honeyed sweetness, from Miss Wylie:
"Did you call us, DEAR Miss Wilson?"
"Yes. Come up here, if you please, all three."
There was some hesitation among them, each offering the other
precedence. At last they went up slowly, in the order, though not
at all in the manner, of their flying descent; followed Miss
Wilson into the class-room; and stood in a row before her,
illumined through three western windows with a glow of ruddy
orange light. Miss Carpenter, the largest of the three, was red
and confused. Her arms hung by her sides, her fingers twisting
the folds of her dress. Miss Gertrude Lindsay, in pale sea-green,
had a small head, delicate complexion, and pearly teeth. She
stood erect, with an expression of cold distaste for reproof of
any sort. The holland dress of the third offender had changed
from yellow to white as she passed from the gray eastern twilight
on the staircase into the warm western glow in the room. Her face
had a bright olive tone, and seemed to have a golden mica in its
composition. Her eyes and hair were hazel-nut color; and her
teeth, the upper row of which she displayed freely, were like
fine Portland stone, and sloped outward enough to have spoilt her
mouth, had they not been supported by a rich under lip, and a
finely curved, impudent chin. Her half cajoling, half mocking
air, and her ready smile, were difficult to confront with
severity; and Miss Wilson knew it; for she would not look at her
even when attracted by a convulsive start and an angry side
glance from Miss Lindsay, who had just been indented between the
ribs by a finger tip.
"You are aware that you have broken the rules," said Miss Wilson
"We didn't intend to. We really did not," said the girl in
"Pray what was your intention then, Miss Wylie?"
Miss Wylie unexpectedly treated this as a smart repartee instead
of a rebuke. She sent up a strange little scream, which exploded
in a cascade of laughter.
"Pray be silent, Agatha," said Miss Wilson severely. Agatha
looked contrite. Miss Wilson turned hastily to the eldest of the
three, and continued:
"I am especially surprised at you, Miss Carpenter. Since you have
no desire to keep faith with me by upholding the rules, of which
you are quite old enough to understand the necessity, I shall not
trouble you with reproaches, or appeals to which I am now
convinced that you would not respond," (here Miss Carpenter, with
an inarticulate protest, burst into tears); "but you should at
least think of the danger into which your juniors are led by your
childishness. How should you feel if Agatha had broken her neck?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Agatha, putting her hand quickly to her neck.
"I didn't think there was any danger," said Miss Carpenter,
struggling with her tears. " Agatha has done it so oft--oh dear!
you have torn me." Miss Wylie had pulled at her schoolfellow's
skirt, and pulled too hard.
"Miss Wylie," said Miss Wilson, flushing slightly, "I must ask
you to leave the room."
"Oh, no," exclaimed Agatha, clasping her hands in distress.
"Please don't, dear Miss Wilson. I am so sorry. I beg your
"Since you will not do what I ask, I must go myself," said Miss
Wilson sternly. "Come with me to my study," she added to the two
other girls. "If you attempt to follow, Miss Wylie, I shall
regard it as an intrusion."
"But I will go away if you wish it. I didn't mean to diso--"
"I shall not trouble you now. Come, girls."
The three went out; and Miss Wylie, left behind in disgrace, made
a surpassing grimace at Miss Lindsay, who glanced back at her.
When she was alone, her vivacity subsided. She went slowly to the
window, and gazed disparagingly at the landscape. Once, when a
sound of voices above reached her, her eyes brightened, and her
ready lip moved; but the next silent moment she relapsed into
moody indifference, which was not relieved until her two
companions, looking very serious, re-entered.
"Well," she said gaily, "has moral force been applied? Are you
going to the Recording Angel?"
"Hush, Agatha," said Miss Carpenter. "You ought to be ashamed of
"No, but you ought, you goose. A nice row you have got me into!"
"It was your own fault. You tore my dress."
"Yes, when you were blurting out that I sometimes slide down the
"Oh!" said Miss Carpenter slowly, as if this reason had not
occurred to her before. "Was that why you pulled me?"
"Dear me! It has actually dawned upon you. You are a most awfully
silly girl, Jane. What did the Lady Abbess say?"
Miss Carpenter again gave her tears way, and could not reply.
"She is disgusted with us, and no wonder," said Miss Lindsay.
"She said it was all your fault," sobbed Miss Carpenter.
"Well, never mind, dear," said Agatha soothingly. "Put it in the
"I won't write a word in the Recording Angel unless you do so
first," said Miss Lindsay angrily. "You are more in fault than we
"Certainly, my dear," replied Agatha. "A whole page, if you
"I b-believe you LIKE writing in the Recording Angel," said Miss
"Yes, Jane. It is the best fun the place affords."
"It may be fun to you," said Miss Lindsay sharply; "but it is not
very creditable to me, as Miss Wilson said just now, to take a
prize in moral science and then have to write down that I don't
know how to behave myself. Besides, I do not like to be told that
I am ill-bred!"
Agatha laughed. "What a deep old thing she is! She knows all our
weaknesses, and stabs at us through them. Catch her telling me,
or Jane there, that we are ill-bred!"
"I don't understand you," said Miss Lindsay, haughtily.
"Of course not. That's because you don't know as much moral
science as I, though I never took a prize in it."
"You never took a prize in anything," said Miss Carpenter.
"And I hope I never shall," said Agatha. "I would as soon
scramble for hot pennies in the snow, like the street boys, as
scramble to see who can answer most questions. Dr. Watts is
enough moral science for me. Now for the Recording Angel."
She went to a shelf and took down a heavy quarto, bound in black
leather, and inscribed, in red letters, MY FAULTS. This she threw
irreverently on a desk, and tossed its pages over until she came
to one only partly covered with manuscript confessions.
"For a wonder," she said, "here are two entries that are not
mine. Sarah Gerram! What has she been confessing?"
"Don't read it," said Miss Lindsay quickly. "You know that it is
the most dishonorable thing any of us can do."
"Poch! Our little sins are not worth making such a fuss about. I
always like to have my entries read: it makes me feel like an
author; and so in Christian duty I always read other people's.
Listen to poor Sarah's tale of guilt. '1st October. I am very
sorry that I slapped Miss Chambers in the lavatory this morning,
and knocked out one of her teeth. This was very wicked; but it
was coming out by itself; and she has forgiven me because a new
one will come in its place; and she was only pretending when she
said she swallowed it. Sarah Gerram."'
"Little fool!" said Miss Lindsay. "The idea of our having to
record in the same book with brats like that!"
"Here is a touching revelation. '4th October. Helen Plantagenet
is deeply grieved to have to confess that I took the first place
in algebra yesterday unfairly. Miss Lindsay prompted me;' and--"
"Oh!" exclaimed Miss Lindsay, reddening. "That is how she thanks
me for prompting her, is it? How dare she confess my faults in
the Recording Angel?"
"Serves you right for prompting her," said Miss Carpenter. "She
was always a double-faced cat; and you ought to have known
"Oh, I assure you it was not for her sake that I did it," replied
Miss Lindsay. "It was to prevent that Jackson girl from getting
first place. I don't like Helen Plantagenet; but at least she is
"Stuff, Gertrude," said Agatha, with a touch of earnestness. "One
would think, to hear you talk, that your grandmother was a cook.
Don't be such a snob."
"Miss Wylie," said Gertrude, becoming scarlet: "you are very--oh!
oh! Stop Ag--oh! I will tell Miss--oh!" Agatha had inserted a
steely finger between her ribs, and was tickling her unendurably.
"Sh-sh-sh," whispered Miss Carpenter anxiously. "The door is
"Am I Miss Wylie?" demanded Agatha, relentlessly continuing the
torture. "Am I very--whatever you were going to say? Am I? am I?
"No, no," gasped Gertrude, shrinking into a chair, almost in
hysterics. "You are very unkind, Agatha. You have hurt me."
"You deserve it. If you ever get sulky with me again, or call me
Miss Wylie, I will kill you. I will tickle the soles of your feet
with a feather," (Miss Lindsay shuddered, and hid her feet
beneath the chair) "until your hair turns white. And now, if you
are truly repentant, come and record."
"You must record first. It was all your fault."
"But I am the youngest," said Agatha.
"Well, then," said Gertrude, afraid to press the point, but
determined not to record first, "let Jane Carpenter begin. She is
"Oh, of course," said Jane, with whimpering irony. "Let Jane do
all the nasty things first. I think it's very hard. You fancy
that Jane is a fool; but she isn't."
"You are certainly not such a fool as you look, Jane," said
Agatha gravely. "But I will record first, if you like."
"No, you shan't," cried Jane, snatching the pen from her. "I arm
the eldest; and I won't be put out of my place."
She dipped the pen in the ink resolutely, and prepared to write.
Then she paused; considered; looked bewildered; and at last
appealed piteously to Agatha.
"What shall I write?" she said. "You know how to write things
down; and I don't."
"First put the date," said Agatha.
"To be sure," said Jane, writing it quickly. "I forgot that.
"Now write, 'I am very sorry that Miss Wilson saw me when I slid
down the banisters this evening. Jane Carpenter.'"
"Is that all?"
"That's all: unless you wish to add something of your own
"I hope it's all right," said Jane, looking suspiciously at
Agatha. "However, there can't be any harm in it; for it's the
simple truth. Anyhow, if you are playing one of your jokes on me,
you are a nasty mean thing, and I don't care. Now, Gertrude, it's
your turn. Please look at mine, and see whether the spelling is
"It is not my business to teach you to spell," said Gertrude,
taking the pen. And, while Jane was murmuring at her
churlishness, she wrote in a bold hand:
"I have broken the rules by sliding down the banisters to-day
with Miss Carpenter and Miss Wylie. Miss Wylie went first."
"You wretch!" exclaimed Agatha, reading over her shoulder. "And
your father is an admiral!"
"I think it is only fair," said Miss Lindsay, quailing, but
assuming the tone of a moralist. "It is perfectly true."
"All my money was made in trade," said Agatha; "but I should be
ashamed to save myself by shifting blame to your aristocratic
shoulders. You pitiful thing! Here: give me the pen."
"I will strike it out if you wish; but I think "
"No: it shall stay there to witness against you. How see how I
confess my faults." And she wrote, in a fine, rapid hand:
"This evening Gertrude Lindsay and Jane Carpenter met me at the
top of the stairs, and said they wanted to slide down the
banisters and would do it if I went first. I told them that it
was against the rules, but they said that did not matter; and as
they are older than I am, I allowed myself to be persuaded, and
"What do you think of that?" said Agatha, displaying the page.
They read it, and protested clamorously.
"It is perfectly true," said Agatha, solemnly.
"It's beastly mean," said Jane energetically. "The idea of your
finding fault with Gertrude, and then going and being twice as
bad yourself! I never heard of such a thing in my life."
"'Thus bad begins; but worse remains behind,' as the Standard
Elocutionist says," said Agatha, adding another sentence to her
"But it was all my fault. Also I was rude to Miss Wilson, and
refused to leave the room when she bade me. I was not wilfully
wrong except in sliding down the banisters. I am so fond of a
slide that I could not resist the temptation."
"Be warned by me, Agatha," said Jane impressively. "If you write
cheeky things in that book, you will be expelled."
"Indeed!" replied Agatha significantly. "Wait until Miss Wilson
sees what you have written."
"Gertrude," cried Jane, with sudden misgiving, "has she made me
write anything improper? Agatha, do tell me if--"
Here a gong sounded; and the three girls simultaneously exclaimed
"Grub!" and rushed from the room.
One sunny afternoon, a hansom drove at great speed along Belsize
Avenue, St. John's Wood, and stopped before a large mansion. A
young lady sprang out; ran up the steps, and rang the bell
impatiently. She was of the olive complexion, with a sharp
profile: dark eyes with long lashes; narrow mouth with delicately
sensuous lips; small head, feet, and hands, with long taper
fingers; lithe and very slender figure moving with serpent-like
grace. Oriental taste was displayed in the colors of her costume,
which consisted of a white dress, close-fitting, and printed with
an elaborate china blue pattern; a yellow straw hat covered with
artificial hawthorn and scarlet berries; and tan-colored gloves
reaching beyond the elbow, and decorated with a profusion of gold
The door not being opened immediately, she rang again, violently,
and w as presently admitted by a maid, who seemed surprised to
see her. Without making any inquiry, she darted upstairs into a
drawing-room, where a matron of good presence, with features of
the finest Jewish type, sat reading. With her was a handsome boy
in black velvet, who said:
"Mamma, here's Henrietta!"
"Arthur," said the young lady excitedly, "leave the room this
instant; and don't dare to come back until you get leave."
The boy's countenance fell, and he sulkily went out without a
"Is anything wrong?" said the matron, putting away her book with
the unconcerned resignation of an experienced person who foresees
a storm in a teacup. "Where is Sidney?"
"Gone! Gone! Deserted me! I--" The young lady's utterance failed,
and she threw herself upon an ottoman, sobbing with passionate
"Nonsense! I thought Sidney had more sense. There, Henrietta,
don't be silly. I suppose you have quarrelled."
"No! No!! No!!!" cried Henrietta, stamping on the carpet. "We had
not a word. I have not lost my temper since we were married,
mamma; I solemnly swear I have not. I will kill myself; there is
no other way. There's a curse on me. I am marked out to be
"Tut, tut! What has happened, Henrietta? As you have been married
now nearly six weeks, you can hardly be surprised at a little
tiff arising. You are so excitable! You cannot expect the sky to
be always cloudless. Most likely you are to blame; for Sidney is
far more reasonable than you. Stop crying, and behave like a
woman of sense, and I will go to Sidney and make everything
"But he's gone, and I can't find out where. Oh, what shall I do?"
"What has happened?"
Henrietta writhed with impatience. Then, forcing herself to tell
her story, she answered:
"We arranged on Monday that I should spend two days with Aunt
Judith instead of going with him to Birmingham to that horrid
Trade Congress. We parted on the best of terms. He couldn't have
been more affectionate. I will kill myself; I don't care about
anything or anybody. And when I came back on Wednesday he was
gone, and there was this letter." She produced a letter, and wept
more bitterly than before.
"Let me see it."
Henrietta hesitated, but her mother took the letter from her, sat
down near the window, and composed herself to read without the
least regard to her daughter's vehement distress. The letter ran
"My Dearest: I am off--surfeited with endearment--to live my own
life and do my own work. I could only have prepared you for this
by coldness or neglect, which are wholly impossible to me when
the spell of your presence is upon me. I find that I must fly if
I am to save myself.
"I am afraid that I cannot give you satisfactory and intelligible
reasons for this step. You are a beautiful and luxurious
creature: life is to you full and complete only when it is a
carnival of love. My case is just the reverse. Before three soft
speeches have escaped me I rebuke myself for folly and
insincerity. Before a caress has had time to cool, a strenuous
revulsion seizes me: I long to return to my old lonely ascetic
hermit life; to my dry books; my Socialist propagandism; my
voyage of discovery through the wilderness of thought. I married
in an insane fit of belief that I had a share of the natural
affection which carries other men through lifetimes of matrimony.
Already I am undeceived. You are to me the loveliest woman in the
world. Well, for five weeks I have walked and tallied and dallied
with the loveliest woman in the world, and the upshot is that I
am flying from her, and am for a hermit's cave until I die. Love
cannot keep possession of me: all my strongest powers rise up
against it and will not endure it. Forgive me for writing
nonsense that you won't understand, and do not think too hardly
of me. I have been as good to you as my selfish nature allowed.
Do not seek to disturb me in the obscurity which I desire and
deserve. My solicitor will call on your father to arrange
business matters, and you shall be as happy as wealth and liberty
can make you. We shall meet again--some day.
"Adieu, my last love,
"Well?" cried Mrs. Trefusis, observing through her tears that her
mother had read the letter and was contemplating it in a daze.
"Well, certainly!" said Mrs. Jansenius, with emphasis. "Do you
think he is quite sane, Henrietta? Or have you been plaguing him
for too much attention? Men are not willing to give up their
whole existence to their wives, even during the honeymoon."
"He pretended that he was never happy out of my presence," sobbed
Henrietta. "There never was anything so cruel. I often wanted to
be by myself for a change, but I was afraid to hurt his feelings
by saying so. And now he has no feelings. But he must come back
to me. Mustn't he, mamma?"
"He ought to. I suppose he has not gone away with anyone?"
Henrietta sprang up, her cheeks vivid scarlet. "If I thought that
I would pursue him to the end of the earth, and murder her. But
no; he is not like anybody else. He hates me! Everybody hates me!
You don't care whether I am deserted or not, nor papa, nor anyone
in this house."
Mrs. Jansenius, still indifferent to her daughter's agitation,
considered a moment, and then said placidly:
"You can do nothing until we hear from the solicitor. In the
meantime you may stay with us, if you wish. I did not expect a
visit from you so soon; but your room has not been used since you
Mrs. Trefusis ceased crying, chilled by this first intimation
that her father's house was no longer her home. A more real sense
of desolation came upon her. Under its cold influence she began
to collect herself, and to feel her pride rising like a barrier
between her and her mother.
"I won't stay long," she said. "If his solicitor will not tell me
where he is, I will hunt through England for him. I am sorry to
"Oh, you will be no greater trouble than you have always been,"
said Mrs. Jansenius calmly, not displeased to see that her
daughter had taken the hint. "You had better go and wash your
face. People may call, and I presume you don't wish to receive
them in that plight. If you meet Arthur on the stairs, please
tell him he may come in."
Henrietta screwed her lips into a curious pout and withdrew.
Arthur then came in and stood at the window in sullen silence,
brooding over his recent expulsion. Suddenly he exclaimed:
"Here's papa, and it's not five o'clock yet!" whereupon his
mother sent him away again.
Mr. Jansenius was a man of imposing presence, not yet in his
fiftieth year, but not far from it. He moved with dignity,
bearing himself as if the contents of his massive brow were
precious. His handsome aquiline nose and keen dark eyes
proclaimed his Jewish origin, of which he was ashamed. Those who
did not know this naturally believed that he was proud of it, and
were at a loss to account for his permitting his children to be
educated as Christians. Well instructed in business, and subject
to no emotion outside the love of family, respectability,
comfort, and money, he had maintained the capital inherited from
his father, and made it breed new capital in the usual way. He
was a banker, and his object as such was to intercept and
appropriate the immense saving which the banking system effects,
and so, as far as possible, to leave the rest of the world
working just as hard as before banking was introduced. But as the
world would not on these terms have banked at all, he had to give
them some of the saving as an inducement. So they profited by the
saving as well as he, and he had the satisfaction of being at
once a wealthy citizen and a public benefactor, rich in comforts
and easy in conscience.
He entered the room quickly, and his wife saw that something had
"Do you know what has happened, Ruth?" he said.
"Yes. She is upstairs."
Mr. Jansenius stared. "Do you mean to say that she has left
already?" he said. "What business has she to come here?"
"It is natural enough. Where else should she have gone?"
Mr. Jansenius, who mistrusted his own judgment when it differed
from that of his wife, replied slowly, "Why did she not go to her
Mrs. Jansenius, puzzled in her turn, looked at him with cool
wonder, and remarked, "I am her mother, am I not?"
"I was not aware of it. I am surprised to hear it, Ruth. Have you
had a letter too" I have seen the letter. But what do you mean by
telling me that you do not know I am Henrietta's mother? Are you
trying to be funny?"
"Henrietta! Is she here? Is this some fresh trouble?"
"I don't know. What are you talking about?"
"I am talking about Agatha Wylie."
"Oh! I was talking about Henrietta."
"Well, what about Henrietta?"
"What about Agatha Wylie?"
At this Mr. Jansenius became exasperated, and he deemed it best
to relate what Henrietta had told her. When she gave him
Trefusis's letter, he said, more calmly: "Misfortunes never come
singly. Read that," and handed her another letter, so that they
both began reading at the same time.
Mrs. Jansenius read as follows:
"Alton College, Lyvern.
"To Mrs. Wylie, Acacia Lodge, Chiswick.
"Dear Madam: I write with great regret to request that you will
at once withdraw Miss Wylie from Alton College. In an
establishment like this, where restraint upon the liberty of the
students is reduced to a minimum, it is necessary that the small
degree of subordination which is absolutely indispensable be
acquiesced in by all without complaint or delay. Miss Wylie has
failed to comply with this condition. She has declared her wish
to leave, and has assumed an attitude towards myself and my
colleagues which we cannot, consistently with our duty to
ourselves and her fellow students, pass over. If Miss Wylie has
any cause to complain of her treatment here, or of the step which
she has compelled us to take, she will doubtless make it known to
"Perhaps you will be so good as to communicate with Miss Wylie's
guardian, Mr. Jansenius, with whom I shall be happy to make an
equitable arrangement respecting the fees which have been paid in
advance for the current term.
"I am, dear madam,
"A nice young lady, that!" said Mrs. Jansenius.
"I do not understand this," said Mr. Jansenius, reddening as he
took in the purport of his son-in-law's letter. "I will not
submit to it. What does it mean, Ruth ?"
"I don't know. Sidney is mad, I think; and his honeymoon has
brought his madness out. But you must not let him throw Henrietta
on my hands again."
"Mad! Does he think he can shirk his responsibility to his wife
because she is my daughter? Does he think, because his mother's
father was a baronet, that he can put Henrietta aside the moment
her society palls on him?"
"Oh, it's nothing of that sort. He never thought of us. But I
will make him think of us," said Mr. Jansenius, raising his voice
in great agitation. "He shall answer for it."
Just then Henrietta returned, and saw her father moving excitedly
to and fro, repeating, "He shall answer to me for this. He shall
answer for it."
Mrs. Jansenius frowned at her daughter to remain silent, and said
soothingly, "Don't lose your temper, John."
"But I will lose my temper. Insolent hound! Damned scoundrel!"
"He is not," whimpered Henrietta, sitting down and taking out her
"Oh, come, come!" said Mrs. Jansenius peremptorily, "we have had
enough crying. Let us have no more of it."
Henrietta sprang up in a passion. "I will say and do as I
please," she exclaimed. "I am a married woman, and I will receive
no orders. And I will have my husband back again, no matter what
he does to hide himself. Papa, won't you make him come back to
me? I am dying. Promise that you will make him come back."
And, throwing herself upon her father's bosom, she postponed
further discussion by going into hysterics, and startling the
household by her screams.
One of the professors at Alton College was a Mrs. Miller, an
old-fashioned schoolmistress who did not believe in Miss Wilson's
system of government by moral force, and carried it out under
protest. Though not ill-natured, she was narrow-minded enough to
be in some degree contemptible, and was consequently prone to
suspect others of despising her. She suspected Agatha in
particular, and treated her with disdainful curtness in such
intercourse as they had--it was fortunately little. Agatha was
not hurt by this, for Mrs. Miller was an unsympathetic woman, who
made no friends among the girls, and satisfied her affectionate
impulses by petting a large cat named Gracchus, but generally
called Bacchus by an endearing modification of the harsh initial
One evening Mrs. Miller, seated with Miss Wilson in the study,
correcting examination papers, heard in the distance a cry like
that of a cat in distress. She ran to the door and listened.
Presently there arose a prolonged wail, slurring up through two
octaves, and subsiding again. It was a true feline screech,
impossible to localize; but it was interrupted by a sob, a snarl,
a fierce spitting, and a scuffling, coming unmistakably from a
room on the floor beneath, in which, at that hour, the older
girls assembled for study.
"My poor Gracchy!" exclaimed Mrs. Miller, running downstairs as
fast as she could. She found the room unusually quiet. Every girl
was deep in study except Miss Carpenter, who, pretending to pick
up a fallen book, was purple with suppressed laughter and the
congestion caused by stooping.
"Where is Miss Ward?" demanded Mrs. Miller.
"Miss Ward has gone for some astronomical diagrams in which we
are interested," said Agatha, looking up gravely. Just then Miss
Ward, diagrams in hand, entered.
"Has that cat been in here?" she said, not seeing Mrs. Miller,
and speaking in a tone expressive of antipathy to Gracchus.
Agatha started and drew up her ankles, as if fearful of having
them bitten. Then, looking apprehensively under the desk, she
replied, "There is no cat here, Miss Ward."
"There is one somewhere; I heard it," said Miss Ward carelessly,
unrolling her diagrams, which she began to explain without
further parley. Mrs. Miller, anxious for her pet, hastened to
seek it elsewhere. In the hall she met one of the housemaids.
"Susan," she said, "have you seen Gracchus?"
"He's asleep on the hearthrug in your room, ma'am. But I heard
him crying down here a moment ago. I feel sure that another cat
has got in, and that they are fighting."
Susan smiled compassionately. "Lor' bless you, ma'am," she said,
"that was Miss Wylie. It's a sort of play-acting that she goes
through. There is the bee on the window-pane, and the soldier up
the chimley, and the cat under the dresser. She does them all
"The soldier in the chimney!" repeated Mrs. Miller, shocked.
"Yes, ma'am. Like as it were a follower that had hid there when
he heard the mistress coming."
Mrs. Miller's face set determinedly. She returned to the study
and related what had just occurred, adding some sarcastic
comments on the efficacy of moral force in maintaining collegiate
discipline. Miss Wilson looked grave; considered for some time;
and at last said: "I must think over this. Would you mind leaving
it in my hands for the present?"
Mrs. Miller said that she did not care in whose hands it remained
provided her own were washed of it, and resumed her work at the
papers. Miss Wilson then, wishing to be alone, went into the
empty classroom at the other side of the landing. She took the
Fault Book from its shelf and sat down before it. Its record
closed with the announcement, in Agatha's handwriting:
"Miss Wilson has called me impertinent, and has written to my
uncle that I have refused to obey the rules. I was not
impertinent; and I never refused to obey the rules. So much for
Miss Wilson rose vigorously, exclaiming: "I will soon let her
know whether--" She checked herself, and looked round hastily,
superstitiously fancying that Agatha might have stolen into the
room unobserved. Reassured that she was alone, she examined her
conscience as to whether she had done wrong in calling Agatha
impertinent, justifying herself by the reflection that Agatha
had, in fact, been impertinent. Yet she recollected that she had
refused to admit this plea on a recent occasion when Jane
Carpenter had advanced it in extenuation of having called a
fellow-student a liar. Had she then been unjust to Jane, or
inconsiderate to Agatha?
Her casuistry was interrupted by some one softly whistling a
theme from the overture to Masaniello, popular at the college in
the form of an arrangement for six pianofortes and twelve hands.
There was only one student unladylike and musical enough to
whistle; and Miss Wilson was ashamed to find herself growing
nervous at the prospect of an encounter with Agatha, who entered
whistling sweetly, but with a lugubrious countenance. When she
saw in whose presence she stood, she begged pardon politely, and
was about to withdraw, when Miss Wilson, summoning all her
Judgment and tact, and hoping that they would--contrary to their
custom in emergencies--respond to the summons, said:
"Agatha, come here. I want to speak to you."
Agatha closed her lips, drew in a long breath through her
nostrils, and marched to within a few feet of Miss Wilson, where
she halted with her hands clasped before her.
Agatha sat down with a single movement, like a doll.
"I don't understand that, Agatha," said Miss Wilson, pointing to
the entry in the Recording Angel. "What does it mean?"
"I am unfairly treated," said Agatha, with signs of agitation.
"In what way?"
"In every way. I am expected to be something more than mortal.
Everyone else is encouraged to complain, and to be weak and
silly. But I must have no feeling. I must be always in the right.
Everyone else may be home-sick, or huffed, or in low spirits. I
must have no nerves, and must keep others laughing all day long.
Everyone else may sulk when a word of reproach is addressed to
them, and may make the professors afraid to find fault with them.
I have to bear with the insults of teachers who have less
self-control than I, a girl of seventeen! and must coax them out
of the difficulties they make for themselves by their own ill
"Oh, I know I am talking nonsense, Miss Wilson; but can you
expect me to be always sensible--to be infallible?"
"Yes, Agatha; I do not think it is too much to expect you to be
always sensible; and--"
"Then you have neither sense nor sympathy yourself," said Agatha.
There was an awful pause. Neither could have told how long it
lasted. Then Agatha, feeling that she must do or say something
desperate, or else fly, made a distracted gesture and ran out of
She rejoined her companions in the great hall of the mansion,
where they were assembled after study for "recreation," a noisy
process which always set in spontaneously when the professors
withdrew. She usually sat with her two favorite associates on a
high window seat near the hearth. That place was now occupied by
a little girl with flaxen hair, whom Agatha, regardless of moral
force, lifted by the shoulders and deposited on the floor. Then
she sat down and said:
"Oh, such a piece of news!"
Miss Carpenter opened her eyes eagerly. Gertrude Lindsay affected
"Someone is going to be expelled," said Agatha.
"You will know soon enough, Jane," replied Agatha, suddenly
grave. "It is someone who made an impudent entry in the Recording
Fear stole upon Jane, and she became very red. "Agatha," she
said, "it was you who told me what to write. You know you did,
and you can't deny it."
"I can't deny it, can't I? I am ready to swear that I never
dictated a word to you in my life."
"Gertrude knows you did," exclaimed Jane, appalled, and almost in
"There," said Agatha, petting her as if she were a vast baby. "It
shall not be expelled, so it shan't. Have you seen the Recording
Angel lately, either of you?"
"Not since our last entry," said Gertrude.
"Chips," said Agatha, calling to the flaxen-haired child, "go
upstairs to No. 6, and, if Miss Wilson isn't there, fetch me the
The little girl grumbled inarticulately and did not stir.
"Chips," resumed Agatha, "did you ever wish that you had never
"Why don't you go yourself?" said the child pettishly, but
"Because," continued Agatha, ignoring the question, "you shall
wish yourself dead and buried under the blackest flag in the coal
cellar if you don't bring me the book before I count sixteen.
"Go at once and do as you are told, you disagreeable little
thing," said Gertrude sharply. "How dare you be so disobliging?"
"--nine--ten--eleven--" pursued Agatha.
The child quailed, went out, and presently returned, hugging the
Recording Angel in her arms.
"You are a good little darling--when your better qualities are
brought out by a judicious application of moral force," said
Agatha, good-humoredly. "Remind me to save the raisins out of my
pudding for you to-morrow. Now, Jane, you shall see the entry for
which the best-hearted girl in the college is to be expelled.
The two girls read and were awestruck; Jane opening her mouth and
gasping, Gertrude closing hers and looking very serious.
"Do you mean to say that you had the dreadful cheek to let the
Lady Abbess see that?" said Jane.
"Pooh! she would have forgiven that. You should have heard what I
said to her! She fainted three times."
"That's a story," said Gertrude gravely.
"I beg your pardon," said Agatha, swiftly grasping Gertrude's
"Nothing," cried Gertrude, flinching hysterically. "Don't,
"How many times did Miss Wilson faint?"
"Three times. I will scream, Agatha; I will indeed."
"Three times, as you say. And I wonder that a girl brought up as
you have been, by moral force, should be capable of repeating
such a falsehood. But we had an awful row, really and truly. She
lost her temper. Fortunately, I never lose mine."
"Well, I'm browed!" exclaimed Jane incredulously. "I like that."
"For a girl of county family, you are inexcusably vulgar, Jane. I
don't know what I said; but she will never forgive me for
profaning her pet book. I shall be expelled as certainly as I am
"And do you mean to say that you are going away?" said Jane,
faltering as she began to realize the consequences.
"I do. And what is to become of you when I am not here to get you
out of your scrapes, or of Gertrude without me to check her
inveterate snobbishness, is more than I can foresee."
"I am not snobbish," said Gertrude, " although I do not choose to
make friends with everyone. But I never objected to you, Agatha."
"No; I should like to catch you at it. Hallo, Jane!" (who had
suddenly burst into tears): "what's the matter? I trust you are
not permitting yourself to take the liberty of crying for me."
"Indeed," sobbed Jane indignantly, "I know that I am a f--fool
for my pains. You have no heart."
"You certainly are a f--fool, as you aptly express it," said
Agatha, passing her arm round Jane, and disregarding an angry
attempt to shake it off; "but if I had any heart it would be
touched by this proof of your attachment."
"I never said you had no heart," protested Jane; "but I hate when
you speak like a book."
"You hate when I speak like a book, do you? My dear, silly old
Jane! I shall miss you greatly."
"Yes, I dare say," said Jane, with tearful sarcasm. "At least my
snoring will never keep you awake again."
"You don't snore, Jane. We have been in a conspiracy to make you
believe that you do, that's all. Isn't it good of me to tell
Jane was overcome by this revelation. After a long pause, she
said with deep conviction, "I always knew that I didn't. Oh, the
way you kept it up! I solemnly declare that from this time forth
I will believe nobody."
"Well, and what do you think of it all?" said Agatha,
transferring her attention to Gertrude, who was very grave.
"I think--I am now speaking seriously, Agatha--I think you are in
"Why do you think that, pray?" demanded Agatha, a little roused.
"You must be, or Miss Wilson would not be angry with you. Of
course, according to your own account, you are always in the
right, and everyone else is always wrong; but you shouldn't have
written that in the book. You know I speak as your friend."
"And pray what does your wretched little soul know of my motives
"It is easy enough to understand you," retorted Gertrude,
nettled. "Self-conceit is not so uncommon that one need be at a
loss to recognize it. And mind, Agatha Wylie," she continued, as
if goaded by some unbearable reminiscence, "if you are really
going, I don't care whether we part friends or not. I have not
forgotten the day when you called me a spiteful cat."
"I have repented," said Agatha, unmoved. "One day I sat down and
watched Bacchus seated on the hearthrug, with his moony eyes
looking into space so thoughtfully and patiently that I
apologized for comparing you to him. If I were to call him a
spiteful cat he would only not believe me."
"Because he is a cat," said Jane, with the giggle which was
seldom far behind her tears.
"No; but because he is not spiteful. Gertrude keeps a recording
angel inside her little head, and it is so full of other people's
faults, written in large hand and read through a magnifying
glass, that there is no room to enter her own."
"You are very poetic," said Gertrude; "but I understand what you
mean, and shall not forget it."
"You ungrateful wretch," exclaimed Agatha, turning upon her so
suddenly and imperiously that she involuntarily shrank aside:
"how often, when you have tried to be insolent and false with me,
have I not driven away your bad angel--by tickling you? Had you a
friend in the college, except half-a-dozen toadies, until I came?
And now, because I have sometimes, for your own good, shown you
your faults, you bear malice against me, and say that you don't
care whether we part friends or not!"
"I didn't say so."
"Oh, Gertrude, you know you did," said Jane.
"You seem to think that I have no conscience," said Gertrude
"I wish you hadn't," said Agatha. "Look at me! I have no
conscience, and see how much pleasanter I am!"
"You care for no one but yourself," said Gertrude. "You never
think that other people have feelings too. No one ever considers
"Oh, I like to hear you talk," cried Jane ironically. "You are
considered a great deal more than is good for you; and the more
you are considered the more you want to be considered."
"As if," declaimed Agatha theatrically, "increase of appetite did
grow by what it fed on. Shakespeare!"
"Bother Shakespeare," said Jane, impetuously, "--old fool that
expects credit for saying things that everybody knows! But if you
complain of not being considered, Gertrude, how would you like to
be me, whom everybody sets down as a fool? But I am not such a
"As you look," interposed Agatha. "I have told you so scores of
times, Jane; and I am glad that you have adopted my opinion at
last. Which would you rather be, a greater fool than y--"
"Oh, shut up," said Jane, impatiently; "you have asked me that
twice this week already."
The three were silent for some seconds after this: Agatha
meditating, Gertrude moody, Jane vacant and restless. At last
"And are you two also smarting under a sense of the
inconsiderateness and selfishness of the rest of the world--both
misunderstood--everything expected from you, and no allowances
made for you?"
"I don't know what you mean by both of us," said Gertrude coldly.
"Neither do I," said Jane angrily. "That is just the way people
treat me. You may laugh, Agatha; and she may turn up her nose as
much as she likes; you know it's true. But the idea of Gertrude
wanting to make out that she isn't considered is nothing but
sentimentality, and vanity, and nonsense."
"You are exceedingly rude, Miss Carpenter," said Gertrude.
"My manners are as good as yours, and perhaps better," retorted
Jane. "My family is as good, anyhow."
"Children, children," said Agatha, admonitorily, "do not forget
that you are sworn friends."
"We didn't swear," said Jane. "We were to have been three sworn
friends, and Gertrude and I were willing, but you wouldn't swear,
and so the bargain was cried off."
"Just so," said Agatha; "and the result is that I spend all my
time in keeping peace between you. And now, to go back to our
subject, may I ask whether it has ever occurred to you that no
one ever considers me?"
"I suppose you think that very funny. You take good care to make
yourself considered," sneered Jane.
"You cannot say that I do not consider you," said Gertrude
"Not when I tickle you, dear."
"I consider you, and I am not ticklesome," said Jane tenderly.
"Indeed! Let me try," said Agatha, slipping her arm about Jane's
ample waist, and eliciting a piercing combination of laugh and
scream from her.
"Sh--sh," whispered Gertrude quickly. "Don't you see the Lady
Miss Wilson had just entered the room. Agatha, without appearing
to be aware of her presence, stealthily withdrew her arm, and
"How can you make such a noise, Jane? You will disturb the whole
Jane reddened with indignation, but had to remain silent, for the
eyes of the principal were upon her. Miss Wilson had her bonnet
on. She announced that she was going to walk to Lyvern, the
nearest village. Did any of the sixth form young ladies wish to
Agatha jumped from her seat at once, and Jane smothered a laugh.
"Miss Wilson said the sixth form, Miss Wylie," said Miss Ward,
who had entered also. "You are not in the sixth form."
"No," said Agatha sweetly, "but I want to go, if I may."
Miss Wilson looked round. The sixth form consisted of four
studious young ladies, whose goal in life for the present was an
examination by one of the Universities, or, as the college phrase
was, "the Cambridge Local." None of them responded.
"Fifth form, then," said Miss Wilson.
Jane, Gertrude, and four others rose and stood with Agatha.
"Very well," said Miss Wilson. "Do not be long dressing."
They left the room quietly, and dashed at the staircase the
moment they were out of sight. Agatha, though void of emulation
for the Cambridge Local, always competed with ardor for the honor
of being first up or down stairs.
They soon returned, clad for walking, and left the college in
procession, two by two, Jane and Agatha leading, Gertrude and
Miss Wilson coming last. The road to Lyvern lay through acres of
pasture land, formerly arable, now abandoned to cattle, which
made more money for the landlord than the men whom they had
displaced. Miss Wilson's young ladies, being instructed in
economics, knew that this proved that the land was being used to
produce what was most wanted from it; and if all the advantage
went to the landlord, that was but natural, as he was the chief
gentleman in the neighborhood. Still the arrangement had its
disagreeable side; for it involved a great many cows, which made
them afraid to cross the fields; a great many tramps, who made
them afraid to walk the roads; and a scarcity of gentlemen
subjects for the maiden art of fascination.
The sky was cloudy. Agatha, reckless of dusty stockings, waded
through the heaps of fallen leaves with the delight of a child
paddling in the sea; Gertrude picked her steps carefully, and the
rest tramped along, chatting subduedly, occasionally making some
scientific or philosophical remark in a louder tone, in order
that Miss Wilson might overhear and give them due credit. Save a
herdsman, who seemed to have caught something of the nature and
expression of the beasts he tended, they met no one until they
approached the village, where, on the brow of an acclivity,
masculine humanity appeared in the shape of two curates: one
tall, thin, close-shaven, with a book under his arm, and his neck
craned forward; the other middle-sized, robust, upright, and
aggressive, with short black whiskers, and an air of protest
against such notions as that a clergyman may not marry, hunt,
play cricket, or share the sports of honest laymen. The shaven
one was Mr. Josephs, his companion Mr. Fairholme. Obvious
scriptural perversions of this brace of names had been introduced
"Here come Pharaoh and Joseph," she said to Jane. "Joseph will
blush when you look at him. Pharaoh won't blush until he passes
Gertrude, so we shall lose that."
"Josephs, indeed!" said Jane scornfully.
"He loves you, Jane. Thin persons like a fine armful of a woman.
Pharaoh, who is a cad, likes blue blood on the same principle of
the attraction of opposites. That is why he is captivated by
Gertrude's aristocratic air."
"If he only knew how she despises him!"
"He is too vain to suspect it. Besides, Gertrude despises
everyone, even us. Or, rather, she doesn't despise anyone in
particular, but is contemptuous by nature, just as you are
"Me! I had rather be stout than stuck-up. Ought we to bow?"
"I will, certainly. I want to make Pharoah blush, if I can."
The two parsons had been simulating an interest in the cloudy
firmament as an excuse for not looking at the girls until close
at hand. Jane sent an eyeflash at Josephs with a skill which
proved her favorite assertion that she was not so stupid as
people thought. He blushed and took off his soft, low-crowned
felt hat. Fairholme saluted very solemnly, for Agatha bowed to
him with marked seriousness. But when his gravity and his stiff
silk hat were at their highest point she darted a mocking smile
at him, and he too blushed, all the deeper because he was enraged
with himself for doing so.
"Did you ever see such a pair of fools?" whispered Jane,
"They cannot help their sex. They say women are fools, and so
they are; but thank Heaven they are not quite so bad as men! I
should like to look back and see Pharaoh passing Gertrude; but if
he saw me he would think I was admiring him; and he is conceited
enough already without that."
The two curates became redder and redder as they passed the
column of young ladies. Miss Lindsay would not look to their side
of the road, and Miss Wilson's nod and smile were not quite
sincere. She never spoke to curates, and kept up no more
intercourse with the vicar than she could not avoid. He suspected
her of being an infidel, though neither he nor any other mortal
in Lyvern had ever heard a word from her on the subject of her
religious opinions. But he knew that "moral science" was taught
secularly at the college; and he felt that where morals were made
a department of science the demand for religion must fall off
"What a life to lead and what a place to live in!" exclaimed
Agatha. "We meet two creatures, more like suits of black than
men; and that is an incident --a startling incident--in our
"I think they're awful fun," said Jane, "except that Josephs has
such large ears."
The girls now came to a place where the road dipped through a
plantation of sombre sycamore and horsechestnut trees. As they
passed down into it, a little wind sprang up, the fallen leaves
stirred, and the branches heaved a long, rustling sigh.
"I hate this bit of road," said Jane, hurrying on. "It's just the
sort of place that people get robbed and murdered in."
"It is not such a bad place to shelter in if we get caught in the
rain, as I expect we shall before we get back," said Agatha,
feeling the fitful breeze strike ominously on her cheek. "A nice
pickle I shall be in with these light shoes on! I wish I had put
on my strong boots. If it rains much I will go into the old
"Miss Wilson won't let you. It's trespassing."
"What matter! Nobody lives in it, and the gate is off its hinges.
I only want to stand under the veranda--not to break into the
wretched place. Besides, the landlord knows Miss Wilson; he won't
mind. There's a drop."
Miss Carpenter looked up, and immediately received a heavy
raindrop in her eye.
"Oh!" she cried. "It's pouring. We shall be drenched."
Agatha stopped, and the column broke into a group about her.
"Miss Wilson," she said, "it is going to rain in torrents, and
Jane and I have only our shoes on."
Miss Wilson paused to consider the situation. Someone suggested
that if they hurried on they might reach Lyvern before the rain
"More than a mile," said Agatha scornfully, "and the rain coming
Someone else suggested returning to the college.
"More than two miles," said Agatha. "We should be drowned."
"There is nothing for it but to wait here under the trees," said
"The branches are very bare," said Gertrude anxiously. "If it
should come down heavily they will drip worse than the rain
"Much worse," said Agatha. "I think we had better get under the
veranda of the old chalet. It is not half a minute's walk from
"But we have no right--" Here the sky darkened threateningly.
Miss Wilson checked herself and said, "I suppose it is still
"Of course," replied Agatha, impatient to be moving. "It is
almost a ruin."
"Then let us go there, by all means," said Miss Wilson, not
disposed to stand on trifles at the risk of a bad cold.
They hurried on, and came presently to a green hill by the
wayside. On the slope was a dilapidated Swiss cottage, surrounded
by a veranda on slender wooden pillars, about which clung a few
tendrils of withered creeper, their stray ends still swinging
from the recent wind, now momentarily hushed as if listening for
the coming of the rain. Access from the roadway was by a rough
wooden gate in the hedge. To the surprise of Agatha, who had last
seen this gate off its hinges and only attached to the post by a
rusty chain and padlock, it was now rehung and fastened by a new
hasp. The weather admitting of no delay to consider these
repairs, she opened the gate and hastened up the slope, followed
by the troop of girls. Their ascent ended with a rush, for the
rain suddenly came down in torrents.
When they were safe under the veranda, panting, laughing,
grumbling, or congratulating themselves on having been so close
to a place of shelter, Miss Wilson observed, with some
uneasiness, a spade--new, like the hasp of the gate--sticking
upright in a patch of ground that someone had evidently been
digging lately. She was about to comment on this sign of
habitation, when the door of the chalet was flung open, and Jane
screamed as a man darted out to the spade, which he was about to
carry in out of the wet, when he perceived the company under the
veranda, and stood still in amazement. He was a young laborer
with a reddish-brown beard of a week's growth. He wore corduroy
trousers and a linen-sleeved corduroy vest; both, like the hasp
and spade, new. A coarse blue shirt, with a vulgar red-and-orange
neckerchief, also new, completed his dress; and, to shield
himself from the rain, he held up a silk umbrella with a
silver-mounted ebony handle, which he seemed unlikely to have
come by honestly. Miss Wilson felt like a boy caught robbing an
orchard, but she put a bold face on the matter and said:
"Will you allow us to take shelter here until the rain is over?"
"For certain, your ladyship," he replied, respectfully applying
the spade handle to his hair, which was combed down to his
eyebrows. "Your ladyship does me proud to take refuge from the
onclemency of the yallovrments beneath my 'umble rooftree." His
accent was barbarous; and he, like a low comedian, seemed to
relish its vulgarity. As he spoke he came in among them for
shelter, and propped his spade against the wall of the chalet,
kicking the soil from his hobnailed blucher boots, which were
"I came out, honored lady," he resumed, much at his ease, "to
house my spade, whereby I earn my living. What the pen is to the
poet, such is the spade to the working man." He took the kerchief
from his neck, wiped his temples as if the sweat of honest toil
were there, and calmly tied it on again.
"If you'll 'scuse a remark from a common man," he observed, "your
ladyship has a fine family of daughters."
"They are not my daughters," said Miss Wilson, rather shortly.
"I thought they mout be, acause I have a sister myself. Not that
I would make bold for to dror comparisons, even in my own mind,
for she's only a common woman--as common a one as ever you see.
But few women rise above the common. Last Sunday, in yon village
church, I heard the minister read out that one man in a thousand
had he found, 'but one woman in all these,' he says, 'have I not
found,' and I thinks to myself, 'Right you are!' But I warrant he
never met your ladyship."
A laugh, thinly disguised as a cough, escaped from Miss
"Young lady a-ketchin' cold, I'm afeerd," he said, with
"Do you think the rain will last long?" said Agatha politely.
The man examined the sky with a weather-wise air for some
moments. Then he turned to Agatha, and replied humbly: "The Lord
only knows, Miss. It is not for a common man like me to say."
Silence ensued, during which Agatha, furtively scrutinizing the
tenant of the chalet, noticed that his face and neck were cleaner
and less sunburnt than those of the ordinary toilers of Lyvern.
His hands were hidden by large gardening gloves stained with coal
dust. Lyvern laborers, as a rule, had little objection to soil
their hands; they never wore gloves. Still, she thought, there
was no reason why an eccentric workman, insufferably talkative,
and capable of an allusion to the pen of the poet, should not
indulge himself with cheap gloves. But then the silk,
"The young lady's hi," he said suddenly, holding out the
umbrella, "is fixed on this here. I am well aware that it is not
for the lowest of the low to carry a gentleman's brolly, and I
ask your ladyship's pardon for the liberty. I come by it
accidental-like, and should be glad of a reasonable offer from
any gentleman in want of a honest article."
As he spoke two gentlemen, much in want of the article, as their
clinging wet coats showed, ran through the gateway and made for
the chalet. Fairholme arrived first, exclaiming: "Fearful
shower!" and briskly turned his back to the ladies in order to
stand at the edge of the veranda and shake the water out of his
hat. Josephs came next, shrinking from the damp contact of his
own garments. He cringed to Miss Wilson, and hoped that she had
escaped a wetting.
"So far I have," she replied. "The question is, how are we to get
"Oh, it's only a shower," said Josephs, looking up cheerfully at
the unbroken curtain of cloud. "It will clear up presently."
"It ain't for a common man to set up his opinion again' a
gentleman wot have profesh'nal knowledge of the heavens, as one
may say," said the man, "but I would 'umbly offer to bet my
umbrellar to his wideawake that it don't cease raining this side
of seven o'clock."
"That man lives here," whispered Miss Wilson, "and I suppose he
wants to get rid of us."
"H'm!" said Fairholme. Then, turning to the strange laborer with
the air of a person not to be trifled with, he raised his voice,
and said: "You live here, do you, my man?"
"I do, sir, by your good leave, if I may make so bold."
"What's your name?"
"Jeff Smilash, sir, at your service."
"Where do you come from?"
"Brixtonbury! Where's that?"
"Well, sir, I don't rightly know. If a gentleman like you,
knowing jography and such, can't tell, how can I?"
"You ought to know where you were born, man. Haven't you got
"Where could such a one as me get common sense, sir? Besides, I
was only a foundling. Mebbe I warn's born at all."
"Did I see you at church last Sunday?"
"No, sir. I only come o' Wensday."
"Well, let me see you there next Sunday," said Fairholme shortly,
turning away from him.
Miss Wilson looked at the weather, at Josephs, who was conversing
with Jane, and finally at Smilash, who knuckled his forehead
without waiting to be addressed.
"Have you a boy whom you can send to Lyvern to get us a
conveyance--a carriage? I will give him a shilling for his
"A shilling!" said Smilash joyfully. "Your ladyship is a noble
lady. Two four-wheeled cabs. There's eight on you."
"There is only one cab in Lyvern," said Miss Wilson. "Take this
card to Mr. Marsh, the jotmaster, and tell him the predicament we
are in. He will send vehicles."
Smilash took the card and read it at a glance. He then went into
the chalet. Reappearing presently in a sou'wester and oilskins,
he ran off through the rain and vaulted over the gate with
ridiculous elegance. No sooner had he vanished than, as often
happens to remarkable men, he became the subject of conversation.
"A decent workman," said Josephs. "A well-mannered man,
considering his class."
"A born fool, though," said Fairholme.
"Or a rogue," said Agatha, emphasizing the suggestion by a
glitter of her eyes and teeth, whilst her schoolfellows, rather
disapproving of her freedom, stood stiffly dumb. "He told Miss
Wilson that he had a sister, and that he had been to church last
Sunday, and he has just told you that he is a foundling, and that
he only came last Wednesday. His accent is put on, and he can
read, and I don't believe he is a workman at all. Perhaps he is a
burglar, come down to steal the college plate."
"Agatha," said Miss Wilson gravely, "you must be very careful how
you say things of that kind."
"But it is so obvious. His explanation about the umbrella was
made up to disarm suspicion. He handled it and leaned on it in a
way that showed how much more familiar it was to him than that
new spade he was so anxious about. And all his clothes are new."
"True," said Fairholme, "but there is not much in all that.
Workmen nowadays ape gentlemen in everything. However, I will
keep an eye on him."
"Oh, thank you so much," said Agatha. Fairholme, suspecting
mockery, frowned, and Miss Wilson looked severely at the mocker.
Little more was said, except as to the chances--manifestly
small--of the rain ceasing, until the tops of a cab, a decayed
mourning coach, and three dripping hats were seen over the hedge.
Smilash sat on the box of the coach, beside the driver. When it
stopped, he alighted, re-entered the chalet without speaking,
came out with the umbrella, spread it above Miss Wilson's head,
"Now, if your ladyship will come with me, I will see you dry into
the stray, and then I'll bring your honored nieces one by one."
"I shall come last," said Miss Wilson, irritated by his
assumption that the party was a family one. "Gertrude, you had
better go first."
"Allow me," said Fairholme, stepping forward, and attempting to
take the umbrella.
"Thank you, I shall not trouble you," she said frostily, and
tripped away over the oozing field with Smilash, who held the
umbrella over her with ostentatious solicitude. In the same
manner he led the rest to the vehicles, in which they packed
themselves with some difficulty. Agatha, who came last but one,
gave him threepence.
"You have a noble 'art and an expressive hi, Miss," he said,
apparently much moved. "Blessings on both! Blessings on both!"
He went back for Jane, who slipped on the wet grass and fell. He
had to put forth his strength as he helped her to rise. "Hope you
ain't sopped up much of the rainfall, Miss," he said. "You are a
fine young lady for your age. Nigh on twelve stone, I should
She reddened and hurried to the cab, where Agatha was. But it was
full; and Jane, much against her will, had to get into the coach,
considerably diminishing the space left for Miss Wilson, to whom
Smilash had returned.
"Now, dear lady," he said, "take care you don't slip. Come
Miss Wilson, ignoring the invitation, took a shilling from her
"No, lady," said Smilash with a virtuous air. "I am an honest man
and have never seen the inside of a jail except four times, and
only twice for stealing. Your youngest daughter--her with the
expressive hi--have paid me far beyond what is proper."
"I have told you that these young ladies are not my daughters,"
said Miss Wilson sharply. "Why do you not listen to what is said
"Don't be too hard on a common man, lady," said Smilash
submissively. "The young lady have just given me three
"Three half-crowns!" exclaimed Miss Wilson, angered at such
"Bless her innocence, she don't know what is proper to give to a
low sort like me! But I will not rob the young lady. 'Arf-a-crown
is no more nor is fair for the job, and arf-a-crown will I keep,
if agreeable to your noble ladyship. But I give you back the five
bob in trust for her. Have you ever noticed her expressive hi?"
"Nonsense, sir. You had better keep the money now that you have
"Wot! Sell for five bob the high opinion your ladyship has of me!
No, dear lady; not likely. My father's very last words to me
"You said just now that you were a foundling," said Fairholme.
"What are we to believe? Eh?"
"So I were, sir; but by mother's side alone. Her ladyship will
please to take back the money, for keep it I will not. I am of
the lower orders, and therefore not a man of my word; but when I
do stick to it, I stick like wax."
"Take it," said Fairholme to Miss Wilson. "Take it, of course.
Seven and sixpence is a ridiculous sum to give him for what he
has done. It would only set him drinking."
"His reverence says true, lady. The one 'arfcrown will keep me
comfortably tight until Sunday morning; and more I do not
"Just a little less of your tongue, my man," said Fairholme,
taking the two coins from him and handing them to Miss Wilson,
who bade the clergymen good afternoon, and went to the coach
under the umbrella.
"If your ladyship should want a handy man to do an odd job up at
the college I hope you will remember me," Smilash said as they
went down the slope.
"Oh, you know who I am, do you?" said Miss Wilson drily.
"All the country knows you, Miss, and worships you. I have few
equals as a coiner, and if you should require a medal struck to
give away for good behavior or the like, I think I could strike
one to your satisfaction. And if your ladyship should want a
trifle of smuggled lace--"
"You had better be careful or you will get into trouble, I
think," said Miss Wilson sternly. "Tell him to drive on."
The vehicles started, and Smilash took the liberty of waving his
hat after them. Then he returned to the chalet, left the umbrella
within, came out again, locked the door, put the key in his
pocket, and walked off through the rain across the hill without
taking the least notice of the astonished parsons.
In the meantime Miss Wilson, unable to contain her annoyance at
Agatha's extravagance, spoke of it to the girls who shared the
coach with her. But Jane declared that Agatha only possessed
threepence in the world, and therefore could not possibly have
given the man thirty times that sum. When they reached the
college, Agatha, confronted with Miss Wilson, opened her eyes in
wonder, and exclaimed, laughing: "I only gave him threepence. He
has sent me a present of four and ninepence!"
Saturday at Alton College, nominally a half holiday, was really a
whole one. Classes in gymnastics, dancing, elocution, and drawing
were held in the morning. The afternoon was spent at lawn tennis,
to which lady guests resident in the neighborhood were allowed to
bring their husbands, brothers, and fathers--Miss Wilson being
anxious to send her pupils forth into the world free from the
uncouth stiffness of schoolgirls unaccustomed to society.
Late in October came a Saturday which proved anything but a
holiday for Miss Wilson. At half-past one, luncheon being over,
she went out of doors to a lawn that lay between the southern
side of the college and a shrubbery. Here she found a group of
girls watching Agatha and Jane, who were dragging a roller over
the grass. One of them, tossing a ball about with her racket,
happened to drive it into the shrubbery, whence, to the surprise
of the company, Smilash presently emerged, carrying the ball,
blinking, and proclaiming that, though a common man, he had his
feelings like another, and that his eye was neither a stick nor a
stone. He was dressed as before, but his garments, soiled with
clay and lime, no longer looked new.
"What brings you here, pray?" demanded Miss Wilson.
"I was led into the belief that you sent for me, lady," he
replied. "The baker's lad told me so as he passed my 'umble cot
this morning. I thought he were incapable of deceit."
"That is quite right; I did send for you. But why did you not go
round to the servants' hall?"
"I am at present in search of it, lady. I were looking for it
when this ball cotch me here " (touching his eye). "A cruel blow
on the hi' nat'rally spires its vision and expression and makes a
honest man look like a thief."
"Agatha," said Miss Wilson, "come here."
"My dooty to you, Miss," said Smilash, pulling his forelock.
"This is the man from whom I had the five shillings, which he
said you had just given him. Did you do so ?"
"Certainly not. I only gave him threepence."
"But I showed the money to your ladyship," said Smilash, twisting
his hat agitatedly. "I gev it you. Where would the like of me get
five shillings except by the bounty of the rich and noble? If the
young lady thinks I hadn't ort to have kep' the tother 'arfcrown,
I would not object to its bein' stopped from my wages if I were
given a job of work here. But--"
"But it's nonsense," said Agatha. "I never gave you three
"Perhaps you mout 'a' made a mistake. Pence is summat similar to
'arf-crowns, and the day were very dark."
"I couldn't have," said Agatha. "Jane had my purse all the
earlier part of the week, Miss Wilson, and she can tell you that
there was only threepence in it. You know that I get my money on
the first of every month. It never lasts longer than a week. The
idea of my having seven and sixpence on the sixteenth is
"But I put it to you, Miss, ain't it twice as ridiculous for me,
a poor laborer, to give up money wot I never got?"
Vague alarm crept upon Agatha as the testimony of her senses was
contradicted. "All I know is," she protested, "that I did not
give it to you; so my pennies must have turned into half-crowns
in your pocket."
"Mebbe so," said Smilash gravely. "I've heard, and I know it for
a fact, that money grows in the pockets of the rich. Why not in
the pockets of the poor as well? Why should you be su'prised at
wot 'appens every day?"
"Had you any money of your own about you at the time?"
"Where could the like of me get money?--asking pardon for making
so bold as to catechise your ladyship."
"I don't know where you could get it," said Miss Wilson testily;
"I ask you, had you any?"
"Well, lady, I disremember. I will not impose upon you. I
"Then you've made a mistake," said Miss Wilson, handing him back
his money. "Here. If it is not yours, it is not ours; so you had
better keep it."
"Keep it! Oh, lady, but this is the heighth of nobility! And what
shall I do to earn your bounty, lady?"
"It is not my bounty: I give it to you because it does not belong
to me, and, I suppose, must belong to you. You seem to be a very
"I thank your ladyship; I hope I am. Respecting the day's work,
now, lady; was you thinking of employing a poor man at all?"
"No, thank you; I have no occasion for your services. I have also
to give you the shilling I promised you for getting the cabs.
Here it is."
"Another shillin'!" cried Smilash, stupefied.
"Yes," said Miss Wilson, beginning to feel very angry. "Let me
hear no more about it, please. Don't you understand that you have
"I am a common man, and understand next to nothing," he replied
reverently. "But if your ladyship would give me a day's work to
keep me goin', I could put up all this money in a little wooden
savings bank I have at home, and keep it to spend when sickness
or odd age shall, in a manner of speaking, lay their 'ends upon
me. I could smooth that grass beautiful; them young ladies 'll
strain themselves with that heavy roller. If tennis is the word,
I can put up nets fit to catch birds of paradise in. If the
courts is to be chalked out in white, I can draw a line so
straight that you could hardly keep yourself from erecting an
equilateral triangle on it. I am honest when well watched, and I
can wait at table equal to the Lord Mayor o' London's butler."
"I cannot employ you without a character," said Miss Wilson,
amused by his scrap of Euclid, and wondering where he had picked
"I bear the best of characters, lady. The reverend rector has
known me from a boy."
"I was speaking to him about you yesterday," said Miss Wilson,
looking hard at him, "and he says you are a perfect stranger to
"Gentlemen is so forgetful," said Smilash sadly. "But I alluded
to my native rector--meaning the rector of my native village,
Auburn. 'Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,' as the
gentleman called it."
"That was not the name you mentioned to Mr. Fairholme. I do not
recollect what name you gave, but it was not Auburn, nor have I
ever heard of any such place."
"Never read of sweet Auburn!"
"Not in any geography or gazetteer. Do you recollect telling me
that you have been in prison?"
"Only six times," pleaded Smilash, his features working
convulsively. "Don't bear too hard on a common man. Only six
times, and all through drink. But I have took the pledge, and
kep' it faithful for eighteen months past."
Miss Wilson now set down the man as one of those keen,
half-witted country fellows, contemptuously styled originals, who
unintentionally make themselves popular by flattering the sense
of sanity in those whose faculties are better adapted to
"You have a bad memory, Mr. Smilash," she said good-humoredly.
"You never give the same account of yourself twice."
"I am well aware that I do not express myself with exactability.
Ladies and gentlemen have that power over words that they can
always say what they mean, but a common man like me can't. Words
don't come natural to him. He has more thoughts than words, and
what words he has don't fit his thoughts. Might I take a turn
with the roller, and make myself useful about the place until
nightfall, for ninepence?"
Miss Wilson, who was expecting more than her usual Saturday
visitors, considered the proposition and assented. "And
remember," she said, "that as you are a stranger here, your
character in Lyvern depends upon the use you make of this
"I am grateful to your noble ladyship. May your ladyship's
goodness sew up the hole which is in the pocket where I carry my
character, and which has caused me to lose it so frequent. It's a
bad place for men to keep their characters in; but such is the
fashion. And so hurray for the glorious nineteenth century!"
He took off his coat, seized the roller, and began to pull it
with an energy foreign to the measured millhorse manner of the
accustomed laborer. Miss Wilson looked doubtfully at him, but,
being in haste, went indoors without further comment. The girls
mistrusting his eccentricity, kept aloof. Agatha determined to
have another and better look at him. Racket in hand, she walked
slowly across the grass and came close to him just as he, unaware
of her approach, uttered a groan of exhaustion and sat down to
"Tired already, Mr. Smilash?" she said mockingly.
He looked up deliberately, took off one of his washleather
gloves, fanned himself with it, displaying a white and fine hand,
and at last replied, in the tone and with the accent of a
Agatha recoiled. He fanned himself without the least concern.
"You--you are not a laborer," she said at last.
"I thought not."
"Suppose I tell on you," she said, growing bolder as she
recollected that she was not alone with him.
"If you do I shall get out of it just as I got out of the
half-crowns, and Miss Wilson will begin to think that you are
"Then I really did not give you the seven and sixpence," she
"What is your own opinion?" he answered, taking three pennies
from his pocket, jingling them in his palm. "What is your name?"
"I shall not tell you," said Agatha with dignity.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps you are right," he said. "I
would not tell you mine if you asked me."
"I have not the slightest intention of asking you."
"No? Then Smilash shall do for you, and Agatha will do for me."
"You had better take care."
"Of what you say, and--are you not afraid of being found out?"
"I am found out already--by you, and I am none the worse."
"Suppose the police find you out!"
"Not they. Besides, I am not hiding from the police. I have a
right to wear corduroy if I prefer it to broadcloth. Consider the
advantages of it! It has procured me admission to Alton College,
and the pleasure of your acquaintance. Will you excuse me if I go
on with my rolling, just to keep up appearances? I can talk as I
"You may, if you are fond of soliloquizing," she said, turning
away as he rose.
"Seriously, Agatha, you must not tell the others about me."
"Do not call me Agatha," she said impetuously. "What shall I call
"You need not address me at all."
"I need, and will. Don't be ill-natured."
"But I don't know you. I wonder at your--" she hesitated at the
word which occurred to her, but, being unable to think of a
better one, used it--" at your cheek."
He laughed, and she watched him take a couple of turns with the
roller. Presently, refreshing himself by a look at her, he caught
her looking at him, and smiled. His smile was commonplace in
comparison with the one she gave him in return, in which her
eyes, her teeth, and the golden grain in her complexion seemed to
flash simultaneously. He stopped rolling immediately, and rested
his chin on the handle of the roller.
"If you neglect your work," said she maliciously, you won't have
the grass ready when the people come."
"What people?" he said, taken aback.
"Oh, lots of people. Most likely some who know you. There are
visitors coming from London: my guardian, my guardianess, their
daughter, my mother, and about a hundred more."
"Four in all. What are they coming for? To see you?"
"To take me away," she replied, watching for signs of
disappointment on his part.
They were at once forthcoming. "What the deuce are they going to
take you away for?" he said. "Is your education finished ?"
"No. I have behaved badly, and I am going to be expelled."
He laughed again. "Come!" he said, "you are beginning to invent
in the Smilash manner. What have you done?"
"I don't see why I should tell you. What have you done?"
"I! Oh, I have done nothing. I am only an unromantic gentleman,
hiding from a romantic lady who is in love with me."
"Poor thing," said Agatha sarcastically. "Of course, she has
proposed to you, and you have refused."
"On the contrary, I proposed, and she accepted. That is why I
have to hide."
"You tell stories charmingly," said Agatha. "Good-bye. Here is
Miss Carpenter coming to hear what we are taking about."
"Good-bye. That story of your being expelled beats--Might a
common man make so bold as to inquire where the whitening machine
This was addressed to Jane, who had come up with some of the
others. Agatha expected to see Smilash presently discovered, for
his disguise now seemed transparent; she wondered how the rest
could be imposed on by it. Two o'clock, striking just then,
reminded her of the impending interview with her guardian. A
tremor shook her, and she felt a craving for some solitary
hiding-place in which to await the summons. But it was a point of
honor with her to appear perfectly indifferent to her trouble, so
she stayed with the girls, laughing and chatting as they watched
Smilash intently marking out the courts and setting up the nets.
She made the others laugh too, for her hidden excitement,
sharpened by irrepressible shootings of dread, stimulated her,