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An Unsocial Socialist by George Bernard Shaw

Part 4 out of 6

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she frequently blundered upon a sound conclusion whilst he was
reasoning his way to a hollow one with his utmost subtlety and
seriousness. On such occasions his disgust did not trouble her in
the least; she triumphed in it. She had concluded that marriage
was a greater folly, and men greater fools, than she had
supposed; but such beliefs rather lightened her sense of
responsibility than disappointed her, and, as she had plenty of
money, plenty of servants, plenty of visitors, and plenty of
exercise on horseback, of which she was immoderately fond, her
time passed pleasantly enough. Comfort seemed to her the natural
order of life; trouble always surprised her. Her husband's
friends, who mistrusted every future hour, and found matter for
bitter reflection in many past ones, were to her only examples of
the power of sedentary habits and excessive reading to make men
tripped and dull.

One fine May morning, as she cantered along the avenue at Brandon
Beeches on a powerful bay horse, the gates at the end opened and
a young man sped through them on a bicycle. He was of slight
frame, with fine dark eyes and delicate nostrils. When he
recognized Lady Brandon he waved his cap, and when they met he
sprang from his inanimate steed, at which the bay horse shied.

"Don't, you silly beast!" she cried, whacking the animal with the
butt of her whip. "Though it's natural enough, goodness knows!
How d'ye do? The idea of anyone rich enough to afford a horse
riding on a wheel like that!"

"But I am not rich enough to afford a horse," he said,
approaching her to pat the bay, having placed the bicycle against
a tree. "Besides, I am afraid of horses, not being accustomed to
them; and I know nothing about feeding them. My steed needs no
food. He doesn't bite nor kick. He never goes lame, nor sickens,
nor dies, nor needs a groom, nor--"

"That's all bosh," said Lady Brandon impetuously. "It stumbles,
and gives you the most awful tosses, and it goes lame by its
treadles and thingamejigs coming off, and it wears out, and is
twice as much trouble to keep clean and scrape the mud off as a
horse, and all sorts of things. I think the most ridiculous sight
in the world is a man on a bicycle, working away with his feet as
hard as he possibly can, and believing that his horse is carrying
him instead of, as anyone can see, he carrying the horse. You
needn't tell me that it isn't easier to walk in the ordinary way
than to drag a great dead iron thing along with you. It's not
good sense."

"Nevertheless I can carry it a hundred miles further in a day
than I can carry myself alone. Such are the marvels of machinery.
But I know that we cut a very poor figure beside you and that
magnificent creature not that anyone will look at me whilst you
are by to occupy their attention so much more worthily."

She darted a glance at him which clouded his vision and made his
heart beat more strongly. This was an old habit of hers. She kept
it up from love of fun, having no idea of the effect it produced
on more ardent temperaments than her own. He continued hastily:

"Is Sir Charles within doors?"

"Oh, it's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of in my life,"
she exclaimed. "A man that lives by himself in a place down by
the Riverside Road like a toy savings bank--don't you know the
things I mean?--called Sallust's House, says there is a right of
way through our new pleasure ground. As if anyone could have any
right there after all the money we have spent fencing it on three
sides, and building up the wall by the road, and levelling, and
planting, and draining, and goodness knows what else! And now the
man says that all the common people and tramps in the
neighborhood have a right to walk across it because they are too
lazy to go round by the road. Sir Charles has gone to see the man
about it. Of course he wouldn't do as I wanted him."

"What was that?"

"Write to tell the man to mind his own business, and to say that
the first person we found attempting to trespass on our property
should be given to the police."

"Then I shall find no one at home. I beg your pardon for calling
it so, but it is the only place like home to me."

"Yes; it is so comfortable since we built the billiard room and
took away those nasty hangings in the hall. I was ever so long
trying to per--"

She was interrupted by an old laborer, who hobbled up as fast as
his rheumatism would allow him, and began to speak without
further ceremony than snatching off his cap.

"Th'ave coom to the noo groups, my lady, crowds of 'em. An' a
parson with 'em, an' a flag! Sur Chorles he don't know what to
say; an' sooch doin's never was."

Lady Brandon turned pale and pulled at her horse as if to back
him out of some danger. Her visitor, puzzled, asked the old man
what he meant.

"There's goin' to be a proceyshon through the noo groups," he
replied, "an' the master can't stop 'em. Th'ave throon down the
wall; three yards of it is lyin' on Riverside Road. An' there's a
parson with 'em, and a flag. An' him that lives in Sallust's
hoos, he's there, hoddin''em on."

"Thrown down the wall!" exclaimed Lady Brandon, scarlet with
indignation and pale with apprehension by turns. "What a
disgraceful thing! Where are the police? Chester, will you come
with me and see what they are doing? Sir Charles is no use. Do
you think there is any danger?"

"There's two police," said the old man, "an' him that lives at
Sallust's dar'd them stop him. They're lookin' on. An' there's a
parson among 'em. I see him pullin' away at the wall with his own
han's."

"I will go and see the fun," said Chester.

Lady Brandon hesitated. But her anger and curiosity vanquished
her fears. She overtook the bicycle, and they went together
through the gates and by the highroad to the scene the old man
had described. A heap of bricks and mortar lay in the roadway on
each side of a breach in the newly built wall, over which Lady
Brandon, from her eminence on horseback, could see, coming
towards her across the pleasure ground, a column of about thirty
persons. They marched three abreast in good order and in silence;
the expression of all except a few mirthful faces being that of
devotees fulfilling a rite. The gravity of the procession was
deepened by the appearance of a clergyman in its ranks, which
were composed of men of the middle class, and a few workmen
carrying a banner inscribed THE SOIL or ENGLAND THE BIRTHRIGHT OF
ALL HER PEOPLE. There were also four women, upon whom Lady
Brandon looked with intense indignation and contempt. None of the
men of the neighborhood had dared to join; they stood in the road
whispering, and occasionally venturing to laugh at the jests of a
couple of tramps who had stopped to see the fun, and who cared
nothing for Sir Charles.

He, standing a little way within the field, was remonstrating
angrily with a man of his own class, who stood with his back to
the breach and his hands in the pockets of his snuff-colored
clothes, contemplating the procession with elate satisfaction.
Lady Brandon, at once suspecting that this was the man from
Sallust's House, and encouraged by the loyalty of the crowd, most
of whom made way for her and touched their hats, hit the bay
horse smartly with her whip and rode him, with a clatter of hoofs
and scattering of clods, right at the snuff-colored enemy, who
had to spring hastily aside to avoid her. There was a roar of
laughter from the roadway, and the man turned sharply on her. But
he suddenly smiled affably, replaced his hands in his pockets
after raising his hat, and said:

"How do you do, Miss Carpenter? I thought you were a charge of
cavalry."

"I am not Miss Carpenter, I am Lady Brandon; and you ought to be
ashamed of yourself, Mr. Smilash, if it is you that have brought
these disgraceful people here."

His eyes as he replied were eloquent with reproach to her for
being no longer Miss Carpenter. "I am not Smilash," he said; "I
am Sidney Trefusis. I have just had the pleasure of meeting Sir
Charles for the first time, and we shall be the best friends
possible when I have convinced him that it is hardly fair to
seize on a path belonging to the people and compel them to walk a
mile and a half round his estate instead of four hundred yards
between two portions of it."

"I have already told you, sir," said Sir Charles, "that I intend
to open a still shorter path, and to allow all the well-conducted
work-people to pass through twice a day. This will enable them to
go to their work and return from it; and I will be at the cost of
keeping the path in repair."

"Thank you," said Trefusis drily; "but why should we trouble you
when we have a path of our own to use fifty times a day if we
choose, without any man barring our way until our conduct happens
to please him? Besides, your next heir would probably shut the
path up the moment he came into possession."

"Offering them a path is just what makes them impudent," said
Lady Brandon to her husband. "Why did you promise them anything?
They would not think it a hardship to walk a mile and a half, or
twenty miles, to a public-house, but when they go to their work
they think it dreadful to have to walk a yard. Perhaps they would
like us to lend them the wagonette to drive in?"

"I have no doubt they would," said Trefusis, beaming at her.

"Pray leave me to manage here, Jane; this is no place for you.
Bring Erskine to the house. He must be--"

"Why don't the police make them go away?" said Lady Brandon, too
excited to listen to her husband.

"Hush, Jane, pray. What can three men do against thirty or
forty?"

"They ought to take up somebody as an example to the rest."

"They have offered, in the handsomest manner, to arrest me if Sir
Charles will give me in charge," said Trefusis.

"There!" said Lady Jane, turning to her husband. "Why don't you
give him--or someone--in charge?"

"You know nothing about it," said Sir Charles, vexed by a sense
that she was publicly making him ridiculous.

"If you don't, I will," she persisted. "The idea of having our
ground broken into and our new wall knocked down! A nice state of
things it would be if people were allowed to do as they liked
with other peoples' property. I will give every one of them in
charge."

"Would you consign me to a dungeon?" said Trefusis, in melancholy
tones.

"I don't mean you exactly," she said, relenting. "But I will give
that clergyman into charge, because he ought to know better. He
is the ringleader of the whole thing."

"He will be delighted, Lady Brandon; he pines for martyrdom. But
will you really give him into custody?"

"I will," she said vehemently, emphasizing the assurance by a
plunge in the saddle that made the bay stagger.

"On what charge?" he said, patting the horse and looking up at
her.

"I don't care what charge," she replied, conscious that she was
being admired, and not displeased. "Let them take him up, that's
all."

Human beings on horseback are so far centaurs that liberties
taken with their horses are almost as personal as liberties taken
with themselves. When Sir Charles saw Trefusis patting the bay he
felt as much outraged as if Lady Brandon herself were being
patted, and he felt bitterly towards her for permitting the
familiarity. He uas relieved by the arrival of the procession. It
halted as the 1eadere came up to Trefusis, who said gravely:

"Gentlemen, I congratulate you on the firmness with which you
have this day asserted the rights of the people of this place to
the use of one of the few scraps of mother earth of which they
have not been despoiled."

"Gentlemen," shouted an excited member of the procession, "three
cheers for the resumption of the land of England by the people of
England! Hip, hip, hurrah!"

The cheers were given with much spirit, Sir Charles's cheeks
becoming redder at each repetition. He looked angrily at the
clergyman, now distracted by the charms of Lady Brandon, whose
scorn, as she surveyed the crowd, expressed itself by a pout
which became her pretty lips extremely.

Then a middle-aged laborer stepped from the road into the field,
hat in hand, ducked respectfully, and said: "Look 'e here, Sir
Charles. Don't 'e mind them fellers. There ain't a man belonging
to this neighborhood among 'em; not one in your employ or on your
land. Our dooty to you and your ladyship, and we will trust to
you to do what is fair by us. We want no interlopers from Lunnon
to get us into trouble with your honor, and--"

"You unmitigated cur," exclaimed Trefusis fiercely, "what right
have you to give away to his unborn children the liberty of your
own?"

"They're not unborn," said Lady Brandon indignantly. "That just
shows how little you know about it."

"No, nor mine either," said the man, emboldened by her ladyship's
support. "And who are you that call me a cur?"

"Who am I! I am a rich man--one of your masters, and privileged
to call you what I please. You are a grovelling famine-broken
slave. Now go and seek redress against me from the law. I can buy
law enough to ruin you for less money than it would cost me to
shoot deer in Scotland or vermin here. How do you like that state
of things? Eh?"

The man was taken aback. "Sir Charles will stand by me," he said,
after a pause, with assumed confidence, but with an anxious
glance at the baronet.

"If he does, after witnessing the return you have made me for
standing by you, he is a greater fool than I take him to be."

"Gently, gently," said the clergyman. "There is much excuse to be
made for the poor fellow."

"As gently as you please with any man that is a free man at
heart," said Trefusis; "but slaves must be driven, and this
fellow is a slave to the marrow."

"Still, we must be patient. He does not know--"

"He knows a great deal better than you do," said Lady Brandon,
interrupting. "And the more shame for you, because you ought to
know best. I suppose you were educated somewhere. You will not be
satisfied with yourself when your bishop hears of this. Yes," she
added, turning to Trefusis with an infantile air of wanting to
cry and being forced to laugh against her will, "you may laugh as
much as you please--don't trouble to pretend it's only
coughing--but we will write to his bishop, as he shall find to
his cost."

"Hold your tongue, Jane, for God's sake," said Sir Charles,
taking her horse by the bridle and backing him from Trefusis.

"I will not. If you choose to stand here and allow them to walk
away with the walls in their pockets, I don't, and won't. Why
cannot you make the police do something?"

"They can do nothing," said Sir Charles, almost beside himself
with humiliation. "I cannot do anything until I see my solicitor.
How can you bear to stay here wrangling with these fellows? It is
SO undignified!"

"It's all very well to talk of dignity, but I don't see the
dignity of letting people trample on our grounds without leave.
Mr. Smilash, will you make them all go away, and tell them that
they shall all be prosecuted and put in prison?"

"They are going to the crossroads, to hold a public meeting
and--of course--make speeches. I am desired to say that they
deeply regret that their demonstration should have disturbed you
personally, Lady Brandon."

"So they ought," she replied. "They don't look very sorry. They
are getting frightened at what they have done, and they would be
glad to escape the consequences by apologizing, most likely. But
they shan't. I am not such a fool as they think."

"They don't think so. You have proved the contrary."

"Jane," said Sir Charles pettishly, "do you know this gentleman?"

"I should think I do," said Lady Brandon emphatically.

Trefusis bowed as if he had just been formally introduced to the
baronet, who, against his will, returned the salutation stiffly,
unable to ignore an older, firmer, and quicker man under the
circumstances.

"This seems an unneighborly business, Sir Charles," said
Trefusis, quite at his ease; " but as it is a public question, it
need not prejudice our private relations. At least I hope not."

Sir Charles bowed again, more stiffly than before.

"I am, like you, a capitalist and landlord."

"Which it seems to me you have no right to be, if you are in
earnest," struck in Chester, who had been watching the scene in
silence by Sir Charles's side.

"Which, as you say, I have undoubtedly no right to be," said
Trefusis, surveying him with interest; " but which I nevertheless
cannot help being. Have I the pleasure of speaking to Mr.
Chichester Erskine, author of a tragedy entitled 'The Patriot
Martyrs,' dedicated with enthusiastic devotion to the Spirit of
Liberty and half a dozen famous upholders of that principle, and
denouncing in forcible language the tyranny of the late Tsar of
Russia, Bomba of Naples, and Napoleon the Third?"

"Yes, sir," said Erskine, reddening; for he felt that this
description might make his drama seem ridiculous to those present
who had not read it.

"Then," said Trefusis, extending his hand--Erskine at first
thought for a hearty shake--"give me half-a-crown towards the
cost of our expedition here to-day to assert the right of the
people to tread the soil we are standing upon."

"You shall do nothing of the sort, Chester," cried Lady Brandon.
"I never heard of such a thing in my life! Do you pay us for the
wall and fence your people have broken, Mr. Smilash; that would
be more to the purpose."

"If I could find a thousand men as practical as you, Lady
Brandon, I might accomplish the next great revolution before the
end of this season." He looked at her for a moment curiously, as
if trying to remember; and then added inconsequently: "How are
your friends? There was a Miss--Miss--I am afraid I have
forgotten all the names except your own."

"Gertrude Lindsay is staying with us. Do you remember her?"

"I think--no, I am afraid I do not. Let me see. Was she a haughty
young lady?"

"Yes," said Lady Brandon eagerly, forgetting the wall and fence.
"But who do you think is coming next Thursday? I met her
accidentally the last time I was in town. She's not a bit
changed. You can't forget her, so don't pretend to be puzzled."

"You have not told me who she is yet. And I shall probably not
remember her. You must not expect me to recognize everyone
instantaneously, as I recognized you."

"What stuff! You will know Agatha fast enough."

"Agatha Wylie!" he said, with sudden gravity.

"Yes. She is coming on Thursday. Are you glad?"

"I fear I shall have no opportunity of seeing her."

"Oh, of course you must see her. It will be so jolly for us all
to meet again just as we used. Why can't you come to luncheon on
Thursday?"

"I shall be delighted, if you will really allow me to come after
my conduct here."

"The lawyers will settle that. Now that you have found out who we
are you will stop pulling down our walls, of course."

"Of course," said Trefusis, smiling, as he took out a pocket
diary and entered the engagement. "I must hurry away to the
crossroads. They have probably voted me into the chair by this
time, and are waiting for me to open their meeting. Good-bye. You
have made this place, which I was growing tired of, unexpectedly
interesting to me."

They exchanged glances of the old college pattern. Then he nodded
to Sir Charles, waved his hand familiarly to Erskine, and
followed the procession, which was by this time out of sight.

Sir Charles, who, waiting to speak, had been repeatedly baffled
by the hasty speeches of his wife and the unhesitating replies of
Trefusis, now turned angrily upon her, saying:

"What do you mean by inviting that fellow to my house ?"

"Your house, indeed! I will invite whom I please. You are getting
into one of your tempers."

Sir Charles looked about him. Erskine had discreetly slipped
away, and was in the road, tightening a screw in his bicycle. The
few persons who remained were out of earshot.

"Who and what the devil is he, and how do you come to know him?"
he demanded. He never swore in the presence of any lady except
his wife, and then only when they were alone.

"He is a gentleman, which is more than you are," she retorted,
and, with a cut of her whip that narrowly missed her husband's
shoulder, sent the bay plunging through the gap.

"Come along," she said to Erskine. "We shall be late for
luncheon."

"Had we not better wait for Sir Charles?" he asked injudiciously.

"Never mind Sir Charles, he is in the sulks," she said, without
abating her voice. "Come along." And she went off at a canter,
Erskine following her with a misgiving that his visit was
unfortunately timed. unworthy of yourself, and that a net is
closing round you?"

"No. Nothing of the sort!"

"Then why are you so anxious to get away?"

"I don't know," said Agatha, affecting to laugh as he looked
sceptically at her from beneath his lowered eyelids. "Perhaps I
do feel a little like that; but not so much as you say."

"I will explain the emotion to you," he said, with a subdued
ardor that affected Agatha strangely. "But first tell me whether
it is new to you or not."

"It is not an emotion at all. I did not say that it was."

"Do not be afraid of it. It is only being alone with a man whom
you have bewitched. You would be mistress of the situation if you
only knew how to manage a lover. It is far easier than managing a
horse, or skating, or playing the piano, or half a dozen other
feats of which you think nothing."

Agatha colored and raised her head.

"Forgive me," he said, interrupting the action. "I am trying to
offend you in order to save myself from falling in love with you,
and I have not the heart to let myself succeed. On your life, do
not listen to me or believe me. I have no right to say these
things to you. Some fiend enters into me when I am at your side.
You should wear a veil, Agatha."

She blushed, and stood burning and tingling, her presence of mind
gone, and her chief sensation one of relief to hear--for she did
not dare to see--that he was departing. Her consciousness was in
a delicious confusion, with the one definite thought in it that
she had won her lover at last. The tone of Trefusis's voice, rich
with truth and earnestness, his quick insight, and his passionate
warning to her not to heed him, convinced her that she had
entered into a relation destined to influence her whole life.

"And yet," she said remorsefully, "I cannot love him as he loves
me. I am selfish, cold, calculating, worldly, and have doubted
until now whether such a thing as love really existed. If I could
only love him recklessly and wholly, as he loves me!"

Smilash was also soliloquizing as he went on his way.

"Now I have made the poor child--who was so anxious that I should
not mistake her for a supernaturally gifted and lovely woman--as
happy as an angel; and so is that fine girl whom they call Jane
Carpenter. I hope they won't exchange confidences on the
subject."

CHAPTER XII

On the following Thursday Gertrude, Agatha, and Jane met for the
first time since they had parted at Alton College. Agatha was the
shyest of the three, and externally the least changed. She
fancied herself very different from the Agatha of Alton; but it
was her opinion of herself that had altered, not her person.
Expecting to find a corresponding alteration in her friends, she
had looked forward to the meeting with much doubt and little hope
of its proving pleasant.

She was more anxious about Gertrude than about Jane, concerning
whom, at a brief interview in London, she had already discovered
that Lady Brandon's manner, mind, and speech were just what Miss
Carpenter's had been. But, even from Agatha, Jane commanded more
respect than before, having changed from an overgrown girl into a
fine woman, and made a brilliant match in her first season,
whilst many of her pretty, proud, and clever contemporaries, whom
she had envied at school, were still unmarried, and were having
their homes made uncomfortable by parents anxious to get rid of
the burthen of supporting them, and to profit in purse or
position by their marriages.

This was Gertrude's case. Like Agatha, she had thrown away her
matrimonial opportunities. Proud of her rank and exclusiveness,
she had resolved to have as little as possible to do with persons
who did not share both with her. She began by repulsing the
proffered acquaintance of many families of great wealth and
fashion, who either did not know their grandparents or were
ashamed of them. Having shut herself out of their circle, she was
presented at court, and thenceforth accepted the invitations of
those only who had, in her opinion, a right to the same honor.
And she was far stricter on that point than the Lord Chamberlain,
who had, she held, betrayed his trust by practically turning
Leveller. She was well educated, refined in her manners and
habits, skilled in etiquette to an extent irritating to the
ignorant, and gifted with a delicate complexion, pearly teeth,
and a face that would have been Grecian but for a slight upward
tilt of the nose and traces of a square, heavy type in the jaw.
Her father was a retired admiral, with sufficient influence to
have had a sinecure made by a Conservative government expressly
for the maintenance of his son pending alliance with some
heiress. Yet Gertrude remained single, and the admiral, who had
formerly spent more money than he could comfortably afford on her
education, and was still doing so upon her state and personal
adornment, was complaining so unpleasantly of her failure to get
taken off his hands, that she could hardly bear to live at home,
and was ready to marry any thoroughbred gentleman, however
unsuitable his age or character, who would relieve her from her
humiliating dependence. She was prepared to sacrifice her natural
desire for youth, beauty, and virtue in a husband if she could
escape from her parents on no easier terms, but she was resolved
to die an old maid sooner than marry an upstart.

The difficulty in her way was pecuniary. The admiral was poor. He
had not quite six thousand a year, and though he practiced the
utmost economy in order to keep up the most expensive habits, he
could not afford to give his daughter a dowry. Now the well born
bachelors of her set, having more blue bood, but much less
wealth, than they needed, admired her, paid her compliments,
danced with her, but could not afford to marry her. Some of them
even told her so, married rich daughters of tea merchants, iron
founders, or successful stocktrokers, and then tried to make
matches between her and their lowly born brothers-in-law.

So, when Gertrude met Lady Brandon, her lot was secretly
wretched, and she was glad to accept an invitation to Brandon
Beeches in order to escape for a while from the admiral's daily
sarcasms on the marriage list in the "Times." The invitation was
the more acceptable because Sir Charles was no mushroom noble,
and, in the schooldays which Gertrude now remembered as the
happiest of her life, she had acknowledged that Jane's family and
connections were more aristocratic than those of any other
student then at Alton, herself excepted. To Agatha, whose
grandfather had amassed wealth as a proprietor of gasworks
(novelties in his time), she had never offered her intimacy.
Agatha had taken it by force, partly moral, partly physical. But
the gasworks were never forgotten, and when Lady Brandon
mentioned, as a piece of delightful news, that she had found out
their old school companion, and had asked her to join them,
Gertrude was not quite pleased. Yet, when they met, her eyes were
the only wet ones there, for she was the least happy of the
three, and, though she did not know it, her spirit was somewhat
broken. Agatha, she thought, had lost the bloom of girlhood, but
was bolder, stronger, and cleverer than before. Agatha had, in
fact, summoned all her self-possession to hide her shyness. She
detected the emotion of Gertrude, who at the last moment did not
try to conceal it. It would have been poured out freely in words,
had Gertrude's social training taught her to express her feelings
as well as it had accustomed her to dissemble them.

"Do you remember Miss Wilson?" said Jane, as the three drove from
the railway station to Brandon Beeches. "Do you remember Mrs.
Miller and her cat? Do you remember the Recording Angel? Do you
remember how I fell into the canal?"

These reminiscences lasted until they reached the house and went
together to Agatha's room. Here Jane, having some orders to give
in the household, had to leave them--reluctantly; for she was
jealous lest Gertrude should get the start of her in the renewal
of Agatha's affection. She even tried to take her rival away with
her; but in vain. Gertrude would not budge.

"What a beautiful house and splendid place!" said Agatha when
Jane was gone. "And what a nice fellow Sir Charles is! We used to
laugh at Jane, but she can afford to laugh at the luckiest of us
now. I always said she would blunder into the best of everything.
Is it true that she married in her first season?"

"Yes. And Sir Charles is a man of great culture. I cannot
understand it. Her size is really beyond everything, and her
manners are bad."

"Hm!" said Agatha with a wise air. "There was always something
about Jane that attracted men. And she is more knave than fool.
But she is certainly a great ass."

Gertrude looked serious, to imply that she had grown out of the
habit of using or listening to such language. Agatha, stimulated
by this, continued:

"Here are you and I, who consider ourselves twice as presentable
and conversable as she, two old maids." Gertrude winced, and
Agatha hastened to add: "Why, as for you, you are perfectly
lovely! And she has asked us down expressly to marry us."

"She would not presume--"

"Nonsense, my dear Gertrude. She thinks that we are a couple of
fools who have mismanaged our own business, and that she, having
managed so well for herself, can settle us in a jiffy. Come, did
she not say to you, before I came, that it was time for me to be
getting married?"

"Well, she did. But--"

"She said exactly the same thing to me about yon when she invited
me."

"I would leave her house this moment," said Gertrude, "if I
thought she dared meddle in my affairs. What is it to her whether
I am married or not?"

"Where have you been living all these years, if you do not know
that the very first thing a woman wants to do when she has made a
good match is to make ones for all her spinster friends. Jane
does not mean any harm. She does it out of pure benevolence."

"I do not need Jane's benevolence."

"Neither do I; but it doesn't do any harm, and she is welcome to
amuse herself by trotting out her male acquaintances for my
approval. Hush! Here she comes."

Gertrude subsided. She could not quarrel with Lady Brandon
without leaving the house, and she could not leave the house
without returning to her home. But she privately resolved to
discourage the attentions of Erskine, suspecting that instead of
being in love with her as he pretended, he had merely been
recommended by Jane to marry her.

Chichester Erskine had made sketches in Palestine with Sir
Charles, and had tramped with him through many European picture
galleries. He was a young man of gentle birth, and had inherited
fifteen hundred a year from his mother, the bulk of the family
property being his elder brother's. Having no profession, and
being fond of books and pictures, he had devoted himself to fine
art, a pursuit which offered him on the cheapest terms a high
opinion of the beauty and capacity of his own nature. He had
published a tragedy entitled, "The Patriot Martyrs," with an
etched frontispiece by Sir Charles, and an edition of it had been
speedily disposed of in presentations to the friends of the
artist and poet, and to the reviews and newspapers. Sir Charles
had asked an eminent tragedian of his acquaintance to place the
work on the stage and to enact one of the patriot martyrs. But
the tragedian had objected that the other patriot martyrs had
parts of equal importance to that proposed for him. Erskine had
indignantly refused to cut these parts down or out, and so the
project had fallen through.

Since then Erskine had been bent on writing another drama,
without regard to the exigencies of the stage, but he had not yet
begun it, in consequence of his inspiration coming upon him at
inconvenient hours, chiefly late at night, when he had been
drinking, and had leisure for sonnets only. The morning air and
bicycle riding were fatal to the vein in which poetry struck him
as being worth writing. In spite of the bicycle, however, the
drama, which was to be entitled "Hypatia," was now in a fair way
to be written, for the poet had met and fallen in love with
Gertrude Lindsay, whose almost Grecian features, and some
knowledge of the different calculua which she had acquired at
Alton, helped him to believe that she was a fit model for his
heroine.

When the ladies came downstairs they found their host and Erskine
in the picture gallery, famous in the neighborhood for the sum it
had cost Sir Charles. There was a new etching to be admired, and
they were called on to observe what the baronet called its tones,
and what Agatha would have called its degrees of smudginess. Sir
Charles's attention often wandered from this work of art. He
looked at his watch twice, and said to his wife:

"I have ordered them to be punctual with the luncheon."

"Oh, yes; it's all right," said Lady Brandon, who had given
orders that luncheon was not to be served until the arrival of
another gentleman. "Show Agatha the picture of the man in the--"

"Mr. Trefusis," said a servant.

Mr. Trefusis, still in snuff color, entered; coat unbuttoned and
attention unconstrained; exasperatingly unconscious of any
occasion for ceremony.

"Here you are at last," said Lady Brandon. "You know everybody,
don't you?"

"How do you do?" said Sir Charles, offering his hand as a severe
expression of his duty to his wife's guest, who took it
cordially, nodded to Erskine, looked without recognition at
Gertrude, whose frosty stillness repudiated Lady Brandon's
implication that the stranger was acquainted with her, and turned
to Agatha, to whom he bowed. She made no sign; she was paralyzed.
Lady Brandon reddened with anger. Sir Charles noted his guest's
reception with secret satisfaction, but shared the embarrassment
which oppressed all present except Trefusis, who seemed quite
indifferent and assured, and unconsciously produced an impression
that the others had not been equal to the occasion, as indeed
they had not.

"We were looking at some etchings when you came in," said Sir
Charles, hastening to break the silence. "Do you care for such
things?" And he handed him a proof.

Trefusis looked at it as if he had never seen such a thing before
and did not quite know what to make of it. "All these scratches
seem to me to have no meaning," he said dubiously.

Sir Charles stole a contemptuous smile and significant glance at
Erskine. He, seized already with an instinctive antipathy to
Trefusis, said emphatically:

"There is not one of those scratches that has not a meaning."

"That one, for instance, like the limb of a daddy-long-legs. What
does that mean?"

Erskine hesitated a moment; recovered himself; and said:
"Obviously enough--to me at least--it indicates the marking of
the roadway."

"Not a bit of it," said Trefusis. "There never was such a mark as
that on a road. It may be a very bad attempt at a briar, but
briars don't straggle into the middle of roads frequented as that
one seems to be--judging by those overdone ruts." He put the
etching away, showing no disposition to look further into the
portfolio, and remarked, "The only art that interests me is
photography."

Erskine and Sir Charles again exchanged glances, and the former
said:

"Photography is not an art in the sense in which I understand the
term. It is a process."

"And a much less troublesome and more perfect process than that,"
said Trefusis, pointing to the etching. "The artists are sticking
to the old barbarous, difficult, and imperfect processes of
etching and portrait painting merely to keep up the value of
their monopoly of the required skill. They have left the new,
more complexly organized, and more perfect, yet simple and
beautiful method of photography in the hands of tradesmen,
sneering at it publicly and resorting to its aid surreptitiously.
The result is that the tradesmen are becoming better artists than
they, and naturally so; for where, as in photography, the drawing
counts for nothing, the thought and judgment count for
everything; whereas in the etching and daubing processes, where
great manual skill is needed to produce anything that the eye can
endure, the execution counts for more than the thought, and if a
fellow only fit to carry bricks up a ladder or the like has
ambition and perseverance enough to train his hand and push into
the van, you cannot afford to put him back into his proper place,
because thoroughly trained hands are so scarce. Consider the
proof of this that you have in literature. Our books are manually
the work of printers and papermakers; you may cut an author's
hand off and he is as good an author as before. What is the
result? There is more imagination in any number of a penny
journal than in half-a-dozen of the Royal Academy rooms in the
season. No author can live by his work and be as empty-headed as
an average successful painter. Again, consider our implements of
music--our pianofortes, for example. Nobody but an acrobat will
voluntarily spend years at such a difficult mechanical puzzle as
the keyboard, and so we have to take our impressions of
Beethoven's sonatas from acrobats who vie with each other in the
rapidity of their prestos, or the staying power of their left
wrists. Thoughtful men will not spend their lives acquiring
sleight-of-hand. Invent a piano which will respond as delicately
to the turning of a handle as our present ones do to the pressure
of the fingers, and the acrobats will be driven back to their
carpets and trapezes, because the sole faculty necessary to the
executant musician will be the musical faculty, and no other will
enable him to obtain a hearing."

The company were somewhat overcome by this unexpected lecture.
Sir Charles, feeling that such views bore adversely on him, and
were somehow iconoclastic and low-lived, was about to make a
peevish retort, when Erskine forestalled him by asking Trefusis
what idea he had formed of the future of the arts. He replied
promptly. "Photography perfected in its recently discovered power
of reproducing color as well as form! Historical pictures
replaced by photographs of tableaux vivants formed and arranged
by trained actors and artists, and used chiefly for the
instruction of children. Nine-tenths of painting as we understand
it at present extinguished by the competition of these
photographs, and the remaining tenth only holding its own against
them by dint of extraordinary excellence! Our mistuned and
unplayable organs and pianofortes replaced by harmonious
instruments, as manageable as barrel organs! Works of fiction
superseded by interesting company and conversation, and made
obsolete by the human mind outgrowing the childishness that
delights in the tales told by grownup children such as novelists
and their like! An end to the silly confusion, under the one name
of Art, of the tomfoolery and make-believe of our play-hours with
the higher methods of teaching men to know themselves! Every
artist an amateur, and a consequent return to the healthy old
disposition to look on every man who makes art a means of
money-getting as a vagabond not to be entertained as an equal by
honest men!"

"In which case artists will starve, and there will be no more
art."

"Sir," said Trefusis, excited by the word, "I, as a Socialist,
can tell you that starvation is now impossible, except where, as
in England, masterless men are forcibly prevented from producing
the food they need. And you, as an artist, can tell me that at
present great artists invariably do starve, except when they are
kept alive by charity, private fortune, or some drudgery which
hinders them in the pursuit of their vocation."

"Oh!" said Erskine. "Then Socialists have some little sympathy
with artists after all."

"I fear," said Trefusis, repressing himself and speaking quietly
again, "that when a Socialist hears of a hundred pounds paid for
a drawing which Andrea del Sarto was glad to sell for tenpence,
his heart is not wrung with pity for the artist's imaginary loss
as that of a modern capitalist is. Yet that is the only way
nowadays of enlisting sympathy for the old masters. Frightful
disability, to be out of the reach of the dearest market when you
want to sell your drawings! But," he added, giving himself a
shake, and turning round gaily, "I did not come here to talk
shop. So--pending the deluge--let us enjoy ourselves after our
manner."

"No," said Jane. "Please go on about Art. It's such a relief to
hear anyone talking sensibly about it. I hate etching. It makes
your eyes sore--at least the acid gets into Sir Charles's, and
the difference between the first and second states is nothing but
imagination, except that the last state is worse than the--here's
luncheon!"

They went downstairs then. Trefusis sat between Agatha and Lady
Brandon, to whom he addressed all his conversation. They chatted
without much interruption from the business of the table; for
Jane, despite her amplitude, had a small appetite, and was
fearful of growing fat; whilst Trefusis was systematically
abstemious. Sir Charles was unusually silent. He was afraid to
talk about art, lest he should be contradicted by Trefusis, who,
he already felt, cared less and perhaps knew more about it than
he. Having previously commented to Agatha on the beauty of the
ripening spring, and inquired whether her journey had fatigued
her, he had said as much as he could think of at a first meeting.
For her part, she was intent on Trefusis, who, though he must
know, she thought, that they were all hostile to him except Jane,
seemed as confident now as when he had befooled her long ago.
That thought set her teeth on edge. She did not doubt the
sincerity of her antipathy to him even when she detected herself
in the act of protesting inwardly that she was not glad to meet
him again, and that she would not speak to him. Gertrude,
meanwhile, was giving short answers to Erskine and listening to
Trefusis. She had gathered from the domestic squabbles of the
last few days that Lady Brandon, against her husband's will, had
invited a notorious demagogue, the rich son of a successful
cotton-spinner, to visit the Beeches. She had made up her mind to
snub any such man. But on recognizing the long-forgotten Smilash,
she had been astonished, and had not known what to do. So, to
avoid doing anything improper, she had stood stilly silent and
done nothing, as the custom of English ladies in such cases is.
Subsequently, his unconscious self-assertion had wrought with her
as with the others, and her intention of snubbing him had faded
into the limbo of projects abandoned without trial. Erskine alone
was free from the influence of the intruder. He wished himself
elsewhere; but beside Gertrude the presence or absence of any
other person troubled him very little.

"How are the Janseniuses?" said Trefusis, suddenly turning to
Agatha.

"They are quite well, thank you," she said in measured tones.

"I met John Jansenius in the city lately. You know Jansenius?" he
added parenthetically to Sir Charles. "Cotman's bank--the last
Cotman died out of the firm before we were born. The Chairman of
the Transcanadian Railway Company."

"I know the name. I am seldom in the city."

"Naturally," assented Trefusis; "for who would sadden himself by
pushing his way through a crowd of such slaves, if he could help
it? I mean slaves of Mammon, of course. To run the gauntlet of
their faces in Cornhill is enough to discourage a thoughtful man
for hours. Well, Jansenius, being high in the court of Mammon, is
looking out for a good post in the household for his son.
Jansenius, by-the-bye is Miss Wylie's guardian and the father of
my late wife."

Agatha felt inclined to deny this; but, as it was true, she had
to forbear. Resolved to show that the relations between her
family and Trefusis were not cordial ones, she asked
deliberately, "Did Mr. Jansenius speak to you?"

Gertrude looked up, as if she thought this scarcely ladylike.

"Yes," said Trefusis. "We are the best friends in the world--as
good as possible, at any rate. He wanted me to subscribe to a
fund for relieving the poor at the east end of London by
assisting them to emigrate."

"I presume you subscribed liberally," said Erskine. "It was an
opportunity of doing some practical good."

"I did not," said Trefusis, grinning at the sarcasm. "This
Transcanadian Railway Company, having got a great deal of spare
land from the Canadian government for nothing, thought it would
be a good idea to settle British workmen on it and screw rent out
of them. Plenty of British workmen, supplanted in their
employment by machinery, or cheap foreign labor, or one thing or
another, were quite willing to go; but as they couldn't afford to
pay their passages to Canada, the Company appealed to the
benevolent to pay for them by subscription, as the change would
improve their miserable condition. I did not see why I should pay
to provide a rich company with tenant farmers, and I told
Jansenius so. He remarked that when money and not talk was
required, the workmen of England soon found out who were their
real friends."

"I know nothing about these questions," said Sir Charles, with an
air of conclusiveness; "but I see no objection to emigration" The
fact is," said Trefusis, "the idea of emigration is a dangerous
one for us. Familiarize the workman with it, and some day he may
come to see what a capital thing it would be to pack off me, and
you, with the peerage, and the whole tribe of unprofitable
proprietors such as we are, to St. Helena; making us a handsome
present of the island by way of indemnity! We are such a
restless, unhappy lot, that I doubt whether it would not prove a
good thing for us too. The workmen would lose nothing but the
contemplation of our elegant persons, exquisite manners, and
refined tastes. They might provide against that loss by picking
out a few of us to keep for ornament's sake. No nation with a
sense of beauty would banish Lady Brandon, or Miss Lindsay, or
Miss Wylie."

"Such nonsense!" said Jane.

"You would hardly believe how much I have spent in sending
workmen out of the country against my own view of the country's
interest," continued Trefusis, addressing Erskine. "When I make a
convert among the working classes, the first thing he does is to
make a speech somewhere declaring his new convictions. His
employer immediately discharges him--'gives him the sack' is the
technical phrase. The sack is the sword of the capitalist, and
hunger keeps it sharp for him. His shield is the law, made for
the purpose by his own class. Thus equipped, he gives the worst
of it to my poor convert, who comes ruined to me for assistance.
As I cannot afford to pension him for life, I get rid of him by
assisting him to emigrate. Sometimes he prospers and repays me;
sometimes I hear no more of him; sometimes he comes back with his
habits unsettled. One man whom I sent to America made his
fortune, but he was not a social democrat; he was a clerk who had
embezzled, and who applied to me for assistance under the
impression that I considered it rather meritorious to rob the
till of a capitalist."

"He was a practical Socialist, in fact," said Erskine.

"On the contrary, he was a somewhat too grasping Individualist.
Howbeit, I enabled him to make good his defalcation--in the city
they consider a defalcation made good when the money is
replaced--and to go to New York. I recommended him not to go
there; but he knew better than I, for he made a fortune by
speculating with money that existed only in the imagination of
those with whom he dealt. He never repaid me; he is probably far
too good a man of business to pay money that cannot be extracted
from him by an appeal to the law or to his commercial credit. Mr.
Erskine," added Trefusis, lowering his voice, and turning to the
poet, "you are wrong to take part with hucksters and
money-hunters against your own nature, even though the attack
upon them is led by a man who prefers photography to etching."

"But I assure you--You quite mistake me," said Erskine, taken
aback. "I--"

He stopped,looked to Sir Charles for support, and then said
airily: "I don't doubt that you are quite right. I hate business
and men of business; and as to social questions, I have only one
article of belief, which is, that the sole refiner of human
nature is fine art."

"Whereas I believe that the sole refiner of art is human nature.
Art rises when men rise, and grovels when men grovel. What is
your opinion?"

"I agree with you in many ways," replied Sir Charles nervously;
for a lack of interest in his fellow-creatures, and an excess of
interest in himself, had prevented him from obtaining that power
of dealing with social questions which, he felt, a baronet ought
to possess, and he was consequently afraid to differ from anyone
who alluded to them with confidence. "If you take an interest in
art, I believe I can show you a few things worth seeing."

"Thank you. In return I will some day show you a remarkable
collection of photographs I possess; many of them taken by me. I
venture to think they will teach you something."

"No doubt," said Sir Charles. "Shall we return to the gallery? I
have a few treasures there that photography is not likely to
surpass for some time yet."

"Let's go through the conservatory," said Jane. "Don't you like
flowers, Mr. Smi--I never can remember your proper name."

"Extremely," said Trefusis.

They rose and went out into a long hothouse. Here Lady Brandon,
finding Erskine at her side, and Sir Charles before her with
Gertrude, looked round for Trefusis, with whom she intended to
enjoy a trifling flirtation under cover of showing him the
flowers. He was out of sight; but she heard his footsteps in the
passage on the opposite side of the greenhouse. Agatha was also
invisible. Jane, not daring to rearrange their procession lest
her design should become obvious, had to walk on with Erskine.

Agatha had turned unintentionally into the opposite alley to that
which the others had chosen. When she saw what she had done, and
found herself virtually alone with Trefusis, who had followed
her, she blamed him for it, and was about to retrace her steps
when he said coolly:

"Were you shocked when you heard of Henrietta's sudden death?"

Agatha struggled with herself for a moment, and then said in a
suppressed voice: "How dare you speak to me?"

"Why not?" said he, astonished.

"I am not going to enter into a discussion with you. You know
what I mean very well."

"You mean that you are offended with me; that is plain enough.
But when I part with a young lady on good terms, and after a
lapse of years, during which we neither meet nor correspond, she
asks me how I dare speak to her, I am naturally startled."

"We did not part on good terms."

Trefusis stretched his eyebrows, as if to stretch his memory. "If
not," he said, "I have forgotten it, on my honor. When did we
part, and what happened? It cannot have been anything very
serious, or I should remember it."

His forgetfulness wounded Agatha. "No doubt you are well
accustomed to--" She checked herself, and made a successful
snatch at her normal manner with gentlemen. "I scarcely remember
what it was, now that I begin to think. Some trifle, I suppose.
Do you like orchids?"

"They have nothing to do with our affairs at present. You are not
in earnest about the orchids, and you are trying to run away from
a mistake instead of clearing it up. That is a short-sighted
policy, always."

Agatha grew alarmed, for she felt his old influence over her
returning. "I do not wish to speak of it," she said firmly.

Her firmness was lost on him. "I do not even know what it means
yet," he said, "and I want to know, for I believe there is some
misunderstanding between us, and it is the trick of your sex to
perpetuate misunderstandings by forbidding all allusions to them.
Perhaps, leaving Lyvern so hastily, I forgot to fulfil some
promise, or to say farewell, or something of that sort. But do
you know how suddenly I was called away? I got a telegram to say
that Henrietta was dying, and I had only time to change my
clothes--you remember my disguise--and catch the express. And,
after all, she was dead when I arrived."

"I know that," said Agatha uneasily. "Please say no more about
it."

"Not if it distresses you. Just let me hope that you did not
suppose I blamed you for your share in the matter or that I told
the Janseniuses of it. I did not. Yes, I like orchids. A plant
that can subsist on a scrap of board is an instance of natural
econ--"

"YOU blame ME!" cried Agatha. "_I_ never told the Janseniuses.
What would they have thought of you if I had?"

"Far worse of you than of me, however unjustly. You were the
immediate cause of the tragedy; I only the remote one. Jansenius
is not far-seeing when his feelings are touched. Few men are."

"I don't understand you in the least. What tragedy do you mean?"

"Henrietta's death. I call it a tragedy conventionally.
Seriously, of course, it was commonplace enough."

Agatha stopped and faced him. "What do you mean by what you said
just now? You said that I was the immediate cause of the tragedy,
and you say that you were talking of Henrietta's--of Henrietta. I
had nothing to do with her illness."

Trefusis looked at her as if considering whether he would go any
further. Then, watching her with the curiosity of a vivisector,
he said: "Strange to say, Agatha," (she shrank proudly at the
word), "Henrietta might have been alive now but for you. I am
very glad she is not; so you need not reproach yourself on my
account. She died of a journey she made to Lyvern in great
excitement and distress, and in intensely cold weather. You
caused her to make that journey by writing her a letter which
made her jealous."

"Do you mean to accuse me--"

"No; stop!" he said hastily, the vivisecting spirit in him
exorcised by her shaking voice; "I accuse you of nothing. Why do
you not speak honestly to me when you are at your ease? If you
confess your real thoughts only under torture, who can resist the
temptation to torture you? One must charge you with homicide to
make you speak of anything but orchids."

But Agatha had drawn the new inference from the old facts, and
would not be talked out of repudiating it. "It was not my fault,"
she said. "It was yours--altogether yours."

"Altogether," he assented, relieved to find her indignant instead
of remorseful.

She was not to be soothed by a verbal acquiescence. "Your
behavior was most unmanly, and I told you so, and you could not
deny it. You pretended that you--You pretended to have
feelings--You tried to make me believe that Oh, I am a fool to
talk to you; you know perfectly well what I mean."

"Perfectly. I tried to make you believe that I was in love with
you. How do you know I was not?"

She disdained to answer; but as he waited calmly she said, "You
had no right to be."

"That does not prove that I was not. Come, Agatha, you pretended
to like me when you did not care two straws about me. You
confessed as much in that fatal letter, which I have somewhere at
home. It has a great rent right across it, and the mark of her
heel; she must have stamped on it in her rage, poor girl! So that
I can show your own hand for the very deception you accused
me--without proof--of having practiced on you."

"You are clever, and can twist things. What pleasure does it give
you to make me miserable?"

"Ha!" he exclaimed, in an abrupt, sardonic laugh. "I don't know;
you bewitch me, I think."

Agatha made no reply, but walked on quickly to the end of the
conservatory, where the others were waiting for them.

"Where have you been, and what have you been doing all this
time?" said Jane, as Trefusis came up, hurrying after Agatha. "I
don't know what you call it, but I call it perfectly
disgraceful!"

Sir Charles reddened at his wife's bad taste, and Trefusis
replied gravely: "We have been admiring the orchids, and talking
about them. Miss Wylie takes an interest in them."

CHAPTER XIII

One morning Gertrude got a letter from her father:

"My Dear Gerty: I have just received a bill for L110 from Madame
Smith for your dresses. May I ask you how long this sort of thing
is to go on? I need not tell you that I have not the means to
support you in such extravagance. I am, as you know, always
anxious that you should go about in a style worthy of your
position, but unless you can manage without calling on me to pay
away hundreds of pounds every season to Madame Smith, you had
better give up society and stay at home. I positively cannot
afford it. As far as I can see, going into society has not done
you much good. I had to raise L500 last month on Franklands; and
it is too bad if I must raise more to pay your dressmaker. You
might at least employ some civil person, or one whose charges are
moderate. Madame Smith tells me that she will not wait any
longer, and charges L50 for a single dress. I hope you fully
understand that there must be an end to this.

"I hear from your mother that young Erskine is with you at
Brandon's. I do not think much of him. He is not well off, nor
likely to get on, as he has taken to poetry and so forth. I am
told also that a man named Trefusis visits at the Beeches a good
deal now. He must be a fool, for he contested the last Birmingham
election, and came out at the foot of the poll with thirty-two
votes through calling himself a Social Democrat or some such
foreign rubbish, instead of saying out like a man that he was a
Radical. I suppose the name stuck in his throat, for his mother
was one of the Howards of Breconcastle; so he has good blood in
him, though his father was nobody. I wish he had your bills to
pay; he could buy and sell me ten times over, after all my
twenty-five years' service.

"As I am thinking of getting something done to the house, I had
rather you did not come back this month, if you can possibly hold
on at Brandon's. Remember me to him, and give our kind regards to
his wife. I should be obliged if you would gather some hemlock
leaves and send them to me. I want them for my ointment; the
stuff the chemists sell is no good. Your mother's eyes are bad
again; and your brother Berkeley has been gambling, and seems to
think I ought to pay his debts for him. I am greatly worried over
it all, and I hope that, until you have settled yourself, you
will be more reasonable, and not run these everlasting bills upon
me. You are enjoying yourself out of reach of all the
unpleasantness; but it bears hardly upon

"Your affectionate father, "C.B. LINDSAY."

A faint sketch of the lines Time intended to engrave on
Gertrude's brow appeared there as she read the letter; but she
hastened to give the admiral's kind regards to her host and
hostess, and discussed her mother's health feelingly with them.
After breakfast she went to the library, and wrote her reply:

"BRANDON BEECHES, "Tuesday.

"Dear Papa: Considering that it is more than three years since
you paid Madame Smith last, and that then her bill, which
included my court dress, was only L150, I cannot see how I could
possibly have been more economical, unless you expect me to go in
rags. I am sorry that Madame Smith has asked for the money at
such an inconvenient time, but when I begged you to pay her
something in March last year you told me to keep her quiet by
giving her a good order. I am not surprised at her not being very
civil, as she has plenty of tradesmen's daughters among her
customers who pay her more than L300 a year for their dresses. I
am wearing a skirt at present which I got two years ago.

"Sir Charles is going to town on Thursday; he will bring you the
hemlock. Tell mamma that there is an old woman here who knows
some wonderful cure for sore eyes. She will not tell what the
ingredients are, but it cures everyone, and there is no use in
giving an oculist two guineas for telling us that reading in bed
is bad for the eyes, when we know perfectly well that mamma will
not give up doing it. If you pay Berkeley's debts, do not forget
that he owes me L3.

"Another schoolfellow of mine is staying here now, and I think
that Mr. Trefusis will have the pleasure of paying her bills some
day. He is a great pet of Lady Brandon's. Sir Charles was angry
at first because she invited him here, and we were al1 surprised
at it. The man has a bad reputation, and headed a mob that threw
down the walls of the park; and we hardly thought he would be
cool enough to come after that. But he does not seem to care
whether we want him or not; and he comes when he likes. As he
talks cleverly, we find him a godsend in this dull place. It is
really not such a paradise as you seem to think, but you need not
be afraid of my returning any sooner than I can help.

"Your affectionate daughter, "Gertrude Lindsay.

When Gertrude had closed this letter, and torn up her father's,
she thought little more about either. They might have made her
unhappy had they found her happy, but as hopeless discontent was
her normal state, and enjoyment but a rare accident,
recriminatory passages with her father only put her into a bad
humor, and did not in the least disappoint or humiliate her.

For the sake of exercise, she resolved to carry her letter to the
village post office and return along the Riverside Road, whereby
she had seen hemlock growing. She took care to go out unobserved,
lest Agatha should volunteer to walk with her, or Jane declare
her intention of driving to the post office in the afternoon, and
sulk for the rest of the day unless the trip to the village were
postponed until then. She took with her, as a protection against
tramps, a big St. Bernard dog named Max. This animal, which was
young and enthusiastic, had taken a strong fancy to her, and had
expressed it frankly and boisterously; and she, whose affections
had been starved in her home and in society, had encouraged him
with more kindness than she had ever shown to any human being.

In the village, having posted her letter, she turned towards a
lane that led to the Riverside Road. Max, unaware of her reason
for choosing the longest way home, remonstrated by halting in the
middle of the lane, wagging his tail rapidly, and uttering gruff
barks.

"Don't be stupid, sir," said Gertrude impatiently. "I am going
this way."

Max, apparently understanding, rushed after her, passed her, and
disappeared in a cloud of dust raised by his effort to check
himself when he had left her far enough behind. When he came back
she kissed his nose, and ran a race with him until she too was
panting, and had to stand still to recover her breath, whilst he
bounded about, barking ferociously. She had not for many years
enjoyed such a frolic, and the thought of this presently brought
tears to her eyes. Rather peevishly she bade Max be quiet, walked
slowly to cool herself, and put up her sunshade to avert
freckles.

The sun was now at the meridian. On a slope to Gertrude's right
hand, Sallust's House, with its cinnamon-colored walls and yellow
frieze, gave a foreign air to the otherwise very English
landscape. She passed by without remembering who lived there.
Further down, on some waste land separated from the road by a dry
ditch and a low mud wall, a cluster of hemlocks, nearly six feet
high, poisoned the air with their odor. She crossed the ditch,
took a pair of gardening gloves from her plaited straw
hand-basket, and busied herself with the hemlock leaves, pulling
the tender ones, separating them from the stalk, and filling the
basket with the web. She forgot Max until an impression of dead
silence, as if the earth had stopped, caused her to look round in
vague dread. Trefusis, with his hand abandoned to the dog, who
was trying how much of it he could cram into his mouth, was
standing within a few yards of her, watching her intently.
Gertrude turned pale, and came out hastily from among the bushes.
Then she had a strange sensation as if something had happened
high above her head. There was a threatening growl, a commanding
exclamation, and an unaccountable pause, at the expiration of
which she found herself supine on the sward, with her parasol
between her eyes and the sun. A sudden scoop of Max's wet warm
tongue in her right ear startled her into activity. She sat up,
and saw Trefusis on his knees at her side holding the parasol
with an unconcerned expression, whilst Max was snuffing at her in
restless anxiety opposite.

"I must go home," she said. "I must go home instantly."

"Not at all," said Trefusis, soothingly. "They have just sent
word to say that everything is settled satisfactorily and that
you need not come."

"Have they?" she said faintly. Then she lay down again, and it
seemed to her that a very long time elapsed. Suddenly
recollecting that Trefusis had supported her gently with his hand
to prevent her falling back too rudely, she rose again, and this
time got upon her feet with his help.

"I must go home," she said again. "It is a matter of life or
death."

"No, no," he said softly. "It is all right. You may depend on
me."

She looked at him earnestly. He had taken her hand to steady her,
for she was swaying a little. "Are you sure," she said, grasping
his arm. "Are you quite sure?"

"Absolutely certain. You know I am always right, do you not?"

"Yes, oh, yes; you have always been true to me. You--" Here her
senses came back with a rush. Dropping his hand as if it had
become red hot, she said sharply, "What are you talking about?"

"I don't know," he said, resuming his indifferent manner with a
laugh. "Are you better? Let me drive you to the Beeches. My
stable is within a stone's throw; I can get a trap out in ten
minutes."

"No, thank you," said Gertrude haughtily. "I do not wish to
drive." She paused, and added in some bewilderment, "What has
happened?"

"You fainted, and--"

"I did not faint," said Gertrude indignantly. "I never fainted in
my life."

"Yes, you did."

"Pardon me, Mr. Trefusis. I did not."

"You shall judge for yourself. I was coming through this field
when I saw you gathering hemlock. Hemlock is interesting on
account of Socrates, and you were interesting as a young lady
gathering poison. So I stopped to look on. Presently you came out
from among the bushes as if you had seen a snake there. Then you
fell into my arms--which led me to suppose that you had
fainted--and Max, concluding that it was all my fault, nearly
sprang at my throat. You were overpowered by the scent of the
water-hemlock, which you must have been inhaling for ten minutes
or more."

"I did not know that there was any danger," said Gertrude,
crestfallen. "I felt very tired when I came to. That was why I
lay so long the second time. I really could not help it."

"You did not lie very long."

"Not when I first fell; that was only a few seconds, I know. But
I must have lain there nearly ten minutes after I recovered."

"You were nearly a minute insensible when you first fell, and
when you recovered you only rested for about one second. After
that you raved, and I invented suitable answers until you
suddenly asked me what I was talking about."

Gertrude reddened a little as the possibility of her having raved
indiscreetly occurred to her. "It was very silly of me to faint,"
she said.

"You could not help it; you are only human. I shall walk with you
to the Beeches."

"Thank you; I will not trouble you," she said quickly.

He shook his head. "I do not know how long the effect of that
abominable water-weed may last," he said, "and I dare not leave
you to walk alone. If you prefer it I can send you in a trap with
my gardener, but I had rather accompany you myself."

"You are giving yourself a great deal of unnecessary trouble. I
will walk. I am quite well again and need no assistance."

They started without another word. Gertrude had to concentrate
all her energy to conceal from him that she was giddy. Numbness
and lassitude crept upon her, and she was beginning to hope that
she was only dreaming it all when he roused her by saying,

"Take my arm."

"No, thank you."

"Do not be so senselessly obstinate. You will have to lean on the
hedge for support if you refuse my help. I am sorry I did not
insist on getting the trap."

Gertrude had not been spoken to in this tone since her childhood.
"I am perfectly well," she said sharply. "You are really very
officious."

"You are not perfectly well, and you know it. However, if you
make a brave struggle, you will probably be able to walk home
without my assistance, and the effort may do you good."

"You are very rude," she said peremptorily.

"I know it," he replied calmly. "You will find three classes of
men polite to you--slaves, men who think much of their manners
and nothing of you, and your lovers. I am none of these, and
therefore give you back your ill manners with interest. Why do
you resist your good angel by suppressing those natural and
sincere impulses which come to you often enough, and sometimes
bring a look into your face that might tame a bear--a look which
you hasten to extinguish as a thief darkens his lantern at the
sound of a footstep."

"Mr. Trefusis, I am not accustomed to be lectured."

"That is why I lecture you. I felt curious to see how your good
breeding, by which I think you set some store, would serve you in
entirely novel circumstances--those of a man speaking his mind to
you, for instance. What is the result of my experiment? Instead
of rebuking me with the sweetness and dignity which I could not,
in spite of my past observation, help expecting from you, you
churlishly repel my offer of the assistance you need, tell me
that I am very rude, very officious, and, in short, do what you
can to make my position disagreeable and humiliating."

She looked at him haughtily, but his expression was void of
offence or fear, and he continued, unanswered.

"I would bear all this from a working woman without remonstrance,
for she would owe me no graces of manner or morals. But you are a
lady. That means that many have starved and drudged in uncleanly
discomfort in order that you may have white and unbroken hands,
fine garments, and exquisite manners--that you may be a living
fountain of those influences that soften our natures and lives.
When such a costly thing as a lady breaks down at the first touch
of a firm hand, I feel justified in complaining."

Gertrude walked on quickly, and said between her teeth, "I don't
want to hear any of your absurd views, Mr. Trefusis."

He laughed. "My unfortunate views!" he said. "Whenever I make an
inconvenient remark it is always set aside as an expression of
certain dangerous crazes with which I am supposed to be
afflicted. When I point out to Sir Charles that one of his
favorite artists has not accurately observed something before
attempting to draw it, he replies, 'You know our views differ on
these things, Trefusis.' When I told Miss Wylie's guardian that
his emigration scheme was little better than a fraud, he said,
'You must excuse me, but I cannot enter into your peculiar
views.' One of my views at present is that Miss Lindsay is more
amiable under the influence of hemlock than under that of the
social system which has made her so unhappy."

"Well!" exclaimed Gertrude, outraged. Then, after a pause, "I was
under the impression that I had accepted the escort of a
gentleman." Then, after another pause, Trefusis being quite
undisturbed, "How do you know that I am unhappy?"

"By a certain defect in your countenance, which lacks the
crowning beauty of happiness; and a certain defect in your voice
which will never disappear until you learn to love or pity those
to whom you speak."

"You are wrong," said Gertrude, with calm disdain. "You do not
understand me in the least. I am particularly attached to my
friends."

"Then I have never seen you in their company."

"You are still wrong."

"Then how can you speak as you do, look as you do, act as you
do?"

"What do you mean? HOW do I look and act?"

"Like one of the railings of Belgrave Square, cursed with
consciousness of itself, fears of the judgment of the other
railings, and doubts of their fitness to stand in the same row
with it. You are cold, mistrustful, cruel to nervous or clumsy
people, and more afraid of the criticisms of those with whom you
dance and dine than of your conscience. All of which prevents you
from looking like an angel."

"Thank you. Do you consider paying compliments the perfection of
gentlemanly behavior?"

"Have I been paying you many? That last remark of mine was not
meant as one. On my honor, the angels will not disappoint me if
they are no lovelier than you should be if you had that look in
your face and that tone in your voice I spoke of just now. It can
hardly displease you to hear that. If I were particularly
handsome myself, I should like to be told so."

"I am sorry I cannot tell you so."

"Oh! Ha! ha! What a retort, Miss Lindsay! You are not sorry
either; you are rather glad."

Gertrude knew it, and was angry with herself, not because her
retort was false, but because she thought it unladylike. "You
have no right to annoy me," she exclaimed, in spite of herself.

"None whatever," he said, humbly. " If I have done so, forgive me
before we part. I will go no further with you; Max will give the
alarm if you faint in the avenue, which I don't think you are
likely to do, as you have forgotten all about the hemlock."

"Oh, how maddening!" she cried. "I have left my basket behind."

"Never mind; I will find it and have it filled and sent to you."

"Thank you. I am sorry to trouble you."

"Not at all. I hope you do not want the hemlock to help you to
get rid of the burden of life."

"Nonsense. I want it for my father, who uses it for medicine."

"I will bring it myself to-morrow. Is that soon enough?"

"Quite. I am in no hurry. Thank you, Mr. Trefusis. Good-bye."

She gave him her hand, and even smiled a little, and then hurried
away. He stood watching her as she passed along the avenue under
the beeches. Once, when she came into a band of sunlight at a gap
in the trees, she made so pretty a figure in her spring dress of
violet and white that his eyes kindled as he gazed. He took out
his note-book, and entered her name and the date, with a brief
memorandum.

"I have thawed her," he said to himself as he put up his book.
"She shall learn a lesson or two to hand on to her children
before I have done with her. A trifle underbred, too, or she
would not insist so much on her breeding. Henrietta used to wear
a dress like that. I am glad to see that there is no danger of
her taking to me personally."

He turned away, and saw a crone passing, bending beneath a bundle
of sticks. He eyed it curiously; and she scowled at him and
hurried on.

"Hallo," he said.

She continued for a few steps, but her courage failed her and she
stopped.

"You are Mrs. Hickling, I think?"

"Yes, please your worship."

"You are the woman who carried away an old wooden gate that lay
on Sir Charles Brandon's land last winter and used it for
firewood. You were imprisoned for seven days for it."

"You may send me there again if you like," she retorted, in a
cracked voice, as she turned at bay. "But the Lord will make me
even with you some day. Cursed be them that oppress the poor and
needy; it is one of the seven deadly sins."

"Those green laths on your back are the remainder of my garden
gate," he said. "You took the first half last Saturday. Next time
you want fuel come to the house and ask for coals, and let my
gates alone. I suppose you can enjoy a fire without stealing the
combustibles. Stow

256 pay me for my gate by telling me something I want to know."

"And a kind gentleman too, sir; blessings."

"What is the hemlock good for?"

"The hemlock, kind gentleman? For the evil, sir, to be sure."

"Scrofulous ulcers!" he exclaimed, recoiling. "The father of that
beautiful girl!" He turned homeward, and trudged along with his
head bent, muttering, "All rotten to the bone. Oh, civilization!
civilization! civilization!"

CHAPTER XIV

"What has come over Gertrude?" said Agatha one day to Lady
Brandon.

"Why? Is anything the matter with her?"

"I don't know; she has not been the same since she poisoned
herself. And why did she not tell about it? But for Trefusis we
should never have known."

"Gertrude always made secrets of things."

"She was in a vile temper for two days after; and now she is
quite changed. She falls into long reveries, and does not hear a
word of what is going on around. Then she starts into life again,
and begs your pardon with the greatest sweetness for not catching
what you have said."

"I hate her when she is polite; it is not natural to her. As to
her going to sleep, that is the effect of the hemlock. We know a
man who took a spoonful of strychnine in a bath, and he never was
the same afterwards."

"I think she is making up her mind to encourage Erskine," said
Agatha. "When I came here he hardly dared speak to her--at least,
she always snubbed him. Now she lets him talk as much as he
likes, and actually sends him on messages and allows him to carry
things for her."

"Yes. I never saw anybody like Gertrude in my life. In London, if
men were attentive to her, she sat on them for being officious;
and if they let her alone she was angry at being neglected.
Erskine is quite good enough for her, I think."

Here Erskine appeared at the door and looked round the room.

"She's not here," said Jane.

"I am seeking Sir Charles," he said, withdrawing somewhat
stiffly.

"What a lie!" said Jane, discomfited by his reception of her
jest. "He was talking to Sir Charles ten minutes ago in the
billiard room. Men are such conceited fools!"

Agatha had strolled to the window, and was looking discontentedly
at the prospect, as she had often done at school when alone, and
sometimes did now in society. The door opened again, and Sir
Charles appeared. He, too, looked round, but when his roving
glance reached Agatha, it cast anchor; and he came in.

"Are you busy just now, Miss Wylie?" he asked.

"Yes," said Jane hastily. "She is going to write a letter for
me."

"Really, Jane," he said, "I think you are old enough to write
your letters without troubling Miss Wylie."

"When I do write my own letters you always find fault with them,"
she retorted.

"I thought perhaps you might have leisure to try over a duet with
me," he said, turning to Agatha.

"Certainly," she replied, hoping to smooth matters by humoring
him. "The letter will do any time before post hour."

Jane reddened, and said shortly, "I will write it myself, if you
will not."

Sir Charles quite lost his temper. "How can you be so damnably
rude?" he said, turning upon his wife. "What objection have you
to my singing duets with Miss Wylie?"

"Nice language that!" said Jane. "I never said I objected; and
you have no right to drag her away to the piano just when she is
going to write a letter for me."

"I do not wish Miss Wylie to do anything except what pleases her
best. It seems to me that writing letters to your tradespeople
cannot be a very pleasant occupation."

"Pray don't mind me," said Agatha. "It is not the least trouble
to me. I used to write all Jane's letters for her at school.
Suppose I write the letter first, and then we can have the duet.
You will not mind waiting five minutes?"

"I can wait as long as you please, of course. But it seems such
an absurd abuse of your good nature that I cannot help protest!"

"Oh, let it wait!" exclaimed Jane. "Such a ridiculous fuss to
make about asking Agatha to write a letter, just because you
happen to want her to play you your duets! I am certain she is
heartily sick and tired of them."

Agatha, to escape the altercation, went to the library and wrote
the letter. When she returned to the drawing-room, she found no
one there; but Sir Charles came in presently.

"I am so sorry, Miss Wylie," he said, as he opened the piano for
her, "that you should be incommoded because my wife is silly
enough to be jealous."

"Jealous!"

"Of course. Idiocy!"

"Oh, you are mistaken," said Agatha, incredulously. "How could
she possibly be jealous of me?"

"She is jealous of everybody and everything," he replied
bitterly, "and she cares for nobody and for nothing. You do not
know what I have to endure sometimes from her."

Agatha thought her most discreet course was to sit down
immediately and begin "I would that my love." Whilst she played
and sang, she thought over what Sir Charles had just let slip.
She had found him a pleasant companion, light-hearted, fond of
music and fun, polite and considerate, appreciative of her
talents, quick-witted without being oppressively clever, and, as
a married man, disinterested in his attentions. But it now
occurred to her that perhaps they had been a good deal together
of late.

Sir Charles had by this time wandered from his part into hers;
and he now recalled her to the music by stopping to ask whether
he was right. Knowing by experience what his difficulty was
likely to be, she gave him his note and went on. They had not
been singing long when Jane came back and sat down, expressing a
hope that her presence would not disturb them. It did disturb
them. Agatha suspected that she had come there to watch them, and
Sir Charles knew it. Besides, Lady Brandon, even when her mind
was tranquil, was habitually restless. She could not speak
because of the music, and, though she held an open book in her
hand, she could not read and watch simultaneously. She gaped, and
leaned to one end of the sofa until, on the point of
overbalancing' she recovered herself with a prodigious bounce.
The floor vibrated at her every movement. At last she could keep
silence no longer.

"Oh, dear!" she said, yawning audibly. "It must be five o'clock
at the very earliest."

Agatha turned round upon the piano-stool, feeling that music and
Lady Brandon were incompatible. Sir Charles, for his guest's
sake, tried hard to restrain his exasperation.

"Probably your watch will tell you," he said.

"Thank you for nothing," said Jane. "Agatha, where is Gertrude?"

"How can Miss Wylie possibly tell you where she is, Jane? I think
you have gone mad to-day."

"She is most likely playing billiards with Mr. Erskine," said
Agatha, interposing quickly to forestall a retort from Jane, with
its usual sequel of a domestic squabble.

"I think it is very strange of Gertrude to pass the whole day
with Chester in the billiard room," said Jane discontentedly.

"There is not the slightest impropriety in her doing so," said
Sir Charles. "If our hospitality does not place Miss Lindsay
above suspicion, the more shame for us. How would you feel if
anyone else made such a remark ?"

"Oh, stuff!" said Jane peevishly. "You are always preaching long
rigmaroles about nothing at all. I did not say there was any
impropriety about Gertrude. She is too proper to be pleasant, in
my opinion."

Sir Charles, unable to trust himself further, frowned and left
the room, Jane speeding him with a contemptuous laugh.

"Don't ever be such a fool as to get married," she said, when he
was gone. She looked up as she spoke, and was alarmed to see
Agatha seated on the pianoforte, with her ankles swinging in the
old school fashion.

"Jane," she said, surveying her hostess coolly, "do you know what
I would do if I were Sir Charles?"

Jane did not know.

"I would get a big stick, beat you black and blue, and then lock
you up on bread and water for a week."

Jane half rose, red and angry. "Wh--why?" she said, relapsing
upon the sofa.

"If I were a man, I would not, for mere chivalry's sake, let a
woman treat me like a troublesome dog. You want a sound
thrashing."

"I'd like to see anybody thrash me," said Jane, rising again and
displaying her formidable person erect. Then she burst into
tears, and said, "I won't have such things said to me in my own
house. How dare you?"

"You deserve it for being jealous of me," said Agatha.

Jane's eyes dilated angrily. "I!--I!--jealous of you!" She looked
round, as if for a missile. Not finding one, she sat down again,
and said in a voice stifled with tears, "J--Jealous of YOU,
indeed!"

"You have good reason to be, for he is fonder of me than of you."

Jane opened her mouth and eyes convulsively, but only uttered a
gasp, and Agatha proceeded calmly, "I am polite to him, which you
never are. When he speaks to me I allow him to finish his
sentence without expressing, as you do, a foregone conclusion
that it is not worth attending to. I do not yawn and talk whilst
he is singing. When he converses with me on art or literature,
about which he knows twice as much as I do, and at least ten
times as much as you" (Jane gasped again) "I do not make a silly
answer and turn to my neighbor at the other side with a remark
about the tables or the weather. When he is willing to be
pleased, as he always is, I am willing to be pleasant. And that
is why he likes me."

"He does NOT like you. He is the same to everyone."

"Except his wife. He likes me so much that you, like a great
goose as you are, came up here to watch us at our duets, and made
yourself as disagreeable as you possibly could whilst I was
making myself charming. The poor man was ashamed of you."

"He wasn't," said Jane, sobbing. "I didn't do anything. I didn't
say anything. I won't bear it. I will get a divorce. I will--"

"You will mend your ways if you have any sense left," said Agatha
remorselessly. "Do not make such a noise, or someone will come to
see what is the matter, and I shall have to get down from the
piano, where I am very comfortable."

"It is you who are jealous."

"Oh, is it, Jane? I have not allowed Sir Charles to fall in love
with me yet, but I can do so very easily. What will you wager
that he will not kiss me before to-morrow evening?"

"It will be very mean and nasty of you if he does. You seem to
think that I can be treated like a child."

"So you are a child," said Agatha, descending from her perch and
preparing to go. "An occasional slapping does you good."

"It is nothing to you whether I agree with my husband or not,"
said Jane with sudden fierceness.

"Not if you quarrel with him in private, as wellbred couples do.
But when it occurs in my presence it makes me uncomfortable, and
I object to being made uncomfortable."

"You would not be here at all if I had not asked you."

"Just think how dull the house would be without me, Jane!"

"Indeed! It was not dull before you came. Gertrude always behaved
like a lady, at least."

"I am sorry that her example was so utterly lost on you."

"I won't bear it," said Jane with a sob and a plunge upon the
sofa that made the lustres of the chandeliers rattle. "I wouldn't
have asked you if I had thought you could be so hateful. I will
never ask you again."

"I will make Sir Charles divorce you for incompatibility of
temper and marry me. Then I shall have the place to myself."

"He can't divorce me for that, thank goodness. You don't know
what you're talking about."

Agatha laughed. "Come," she said good-humoredly, "don't be an old
ass, Jane. Wash your face before anyone sees it, and remember
what I have told you about Sir Charles."

"It is very hard to be called an ass in one's own house."

"It is harder to be treated as one, like your husband. I am going
to look for him in the billiard room."

Jane ran after her, and caught her by the sleeve.

"Agatha," she pleaded, "promise me that you won't be mean. Say
that you won't make love to him."

"I will consider about it," replied Agatha gravely.

Jane uttered a groan and sank into a chair, which creaked at the
shock. Agatha turned on the threshold, and seeing her shaking her
head, pressing her eyes, and tapping with her heel in a
restrained frenzy, said quickly,

"Here are the Waltons, and the Fitzgeorges, and Mr. Trefusis
coming upstairs. How do you do, Mrs. Walton? Lady Brandon will be
SO glad to see you. Good-evening, Mr. Fitzgeorge."

Jane sprang up, wiped her eyes, and, with her hands on her hair,
smoothing it, rushed to a mirror. No visitors appearing, she
perceived that she was, for perhaps the hundredth time in her
life, the victim of an imposture devised by Agatha. She,
gratified by the success of her attempt to regain her old
ascendancy over Jane--she had made it with misgiving,
notwithstanding her apparent confidence--went downstairs to the
library, where she found Sir Charles gloomily trying to drown his
domestic troubles in art criticism.

"I thought you were in the billiard room," said Agatha.

"I only peeped in," he replied; "but as I saw something
particular going on, I thought it best to slip away, and I have
been alone ever since."

The something particular which Sir Charles had not wished to
interrupt was only a game of billiards.

It was the first opportunity Erskine had ever enjoyed of speaking
to Gertrude at leisure and alone. Yet their conversation had
never been so commonplace. She, liking the game, played very well
and chatted indifferently; he played badly, and broached trivial
topics in spite of himself. After an hour-and-a-half's play,
Gertrude had announced that this game must be their last. He
thought desperately that if he were to miss many more strokes the
game must presently end, and an opportunity which might never
recur pass beyond recall. He determined to tell her without
preface that he adored her, but when he opened his lips a
question came forth of its own accord relating to the Persian way
of playing billiards. Gertrude had never been in Persia, but had
seen some Eastern billiard cues in the India museum. Were not the
Hindoos wonderful people for filigree work, and carpets, and such
things? Did he not think thc crookedness of their carpet patterns
a blemish? Some people pretended to admire them, but was not that
all nonsense? Was not the modern polished floor, with a rug in
the middle, much superior to the old carpet fitted into the
corners of the room? Yes. Enormously superior. Immensely--

"Why, what are you thinking of to-day, Mr. Erskine? You have
played with my ball."

"I am thinking of you."

"What did you say?" said Gertrude, not catching the serious turn

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