Part 5 out of 10
Constance. Christianity was one of the forms in which the universal
religious sentiment had found expression for a period among a large
portion of the human race. They were not agnostics, so they both
declared, and yet were contented to be called so by others, not yet
having invented a word better than this one of the materialistic
Professor Huxley to describe themselves by. They had moved onwards and
had left the creed of the Christian behind them, yet were confident that
the vast unbounded prospect before them would not always rest obscured
with clouds. But what the new thing was to be they knew not. Time would
reveal it. They were not left without something to cheer them--gleams of
a spiritual light which, although dim and transient, yet foretold the
perfect day. Like so many others among the choice spirits of the earth,
they turned their eyes this way and that, considering now the hard and
pitiless facts of biology and physics, now the new systems of philosophy,
that come like shadows and so depart, and now the vague thoughts, or
thoughts vaguely expressed, of those the careless world calls mystics and
wild-minded visionaries; and after it all they were fain to confess that
the waters have not yet abated; and that although for them there could be
no return to the ark, they were still without any rest for the soles of
If, instead of that young ignorant girl, their listener had been a grey-
haired disillusioned man, he would have shaken his head, and perhaps
remarked that they were a couple of foolish dreamers, that the light
which inspired such splendid hopes was a light from the past--a dying
twilight left in their souls by that sun of faith which for them had set.
But there was nothing to disturb their pleasing self-complacency--no
mocking skeleton to spoil their rare intellectual feast.
Merton was not yet satisfied, he wished to go more fully into these great
subjects, and pressed her with more and more searching questions.
Constance, on her side, grew more reticent, and seemed troubled in her
mind, glancing occasionally into his face; and at length, dropping her
hand on Fan's, who still listened but without understanding, she said
that for reasons which could not be stated, which he would be able to
guess, further discussion had better be deferred.
He assented with a smile, and returning her look with quick intelligence.
The talk drifted into other channels, and at length they all rose to
their feet, but he did not go at once. He began to ask Fan about her
botanical studies, one of the subjects which Constance had taught her. He
had, he said, studied botany at school and was very fond of it. Presently
he became much interested in a plant, a creeper, hanging from a low shrub
about twenty-five or thirty yards from where they were standing, and Fan
at once started off to get a spray for him to see.
"I am very glad, Miss Churton, that our discussion is only to be
_deferred,"_ he said. "It has interested me more deeply than you can
imagine, and for various reasons I should be glad to go further with it."
She did not reply, although looking pleased at his words, and then he
"I cannot bear to think of leaving this place without seeing you again. I
wished for one thing--please don't think me very egotistical for saying
it--to tell you about some little papers I am writing, and one or two of
which have been printed in a periodical. I think the subject would
interest you. Will you think me very bold, Miss Churton, if I ask you to
let me call on you at your home?"
His request troubled her, and after a little hesitation she answered:
"I shall be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Chance, and perhaps if I tell
you why I can scarcely do what you ask you will not think hardly of me. I
cannot open my lips at home on the subject we have been discussing, and I
am looked on coldly here, in my own village, on account of my heterodox
opinions. My mother would receive you well, but she would think it wrong
in me to invite a sympathiser to the house."
"Then, Miss Churton, how lonely your life must be!"
"You must not think more about me, Mr. Chance."
"You are asking too much," he answered smiling, and the words brought a
blush to her cheek. "But I cannot bear to go away from Eyethorne without
seeing you once more. May I hope to meet you tomorrow in this place?"
"I cannot promise that. But if--no, I cannot say more now."
Fan was back with a spray of the plant, but he had somehow lost all
interest in it. That about his botany had all been pure fiction; but it
had served its purpose, and now, he regretfully remarked, his plant-lore,
he found, had completely faded from his mind. And after a little further
conversation he shook hands and left them.
On their way home the conversation of the girls turned chiefly on their
encounter with Mr. Chance. Constance displayed an unusual amount of
feminine curiosity, and asked a great many questions about him. Fan had
nothing to tell, for she dared not tell what she knew. It was a
peculiarity of her character, that if she knew anything to a person's
disadvantage she was anxious to conceal it, as if it had been something
reflecting on herself; apart from this, she felt that Miss Starbrow's
description of Mr. Chance would not be what Miss Churton wished to hear.
For it was plain that Constance had been favourably impressed, and had
taken Merton at his own valuation, which was a high one. While she kept
silence it troubled her to think that one who had been despised and
ridiculed by Mary should be highly esteemed by Constance, since she now
loved (or worshipped) them both in an equal degree.
At the gate it all at once occurred to her to ask whether she should tell
Mrs. Churton about meeting Mr. Chance in the wood or not.
"You may tell her if you like," said the other after a little hesitation.
"He is a friend of Miss Starbrow's; it was only natural that we should
talk with him." Then she added, "I shall say nothing about it, simply
because mother and I never talk about anything. You needn't mention it
unless you care to, Fan. I really don't believe that mother would feel
any interest in the subject."
She reddened a little after speaking, knowing that she had been slightly
disingenuous. Fan understood from her face more than from her words what
she really wished.
"Then I shall not say anything, unless Mrs. Churton asks me about our
walk, and if we met anyone," she returned.
But nothing was asked and nothing told.
At dinner next day Constance heard that Fan was going out with Mrs.
Churton to visit a neighbour. A bright look came into her expressive
face, followed by a swift blush, but she said nothing, and after dinner
went back to her room. As soon as the others had left the house she began
to dress for a walk, paying a great deal more attention to herself at the
glass than she was accustomed to do. Her luxuriant brown hair was brushed
out and rearranged, her artful fingers allowing three or four small locks
to escape and lie unconfined on her forehead and temples. She studied her
face very closely, thinking a great deal about that peculiar shade of
colour which she saw there. But her own face was so familiar to her, how
could she tell what another would think of it, and whether to city eyes
that brown tint would not make it look less like the face of a Rosalind
than of an Audrey? With her dress she was altogether dissatisfied, and
there was nothing to give a touch of beauty to it but a poor flower--a
half-open rose--which she pinned on her bosom. Then she envied Fan her
beautiful watch and chain, the half-score of rings, bangles, and brooches
which Miss Starbrow had given her; and this reminded her of an ornament
she possessed, an old-fashioned gold brooch with an amethyst in it, and
which in the pride of philosophy she had looked on with a good deal of
contempt. Now the rose was flung away, and the despised jewel put in its
place. Taking her book and sunshade she finally left the house, and
turned her steps towards the wood. Scarcely had she left the gate behind
before a tumult of doubts and fears began to assail her. She was hurrying
away alone to the wood, glad to be alone, solely to meet Mr. Chance.
Would he not at once divine the reason of her strange readiness to obey
his wishes? Could she in her present agitated state, with her cheek full
of hot blushes, and her heart throbbing so that it almost choked her,
hide her secret from him? This thought frightened her and she slackened
her pace, and argued that it would be better not to go to the wood, not
to run the risk of such a self-betrayal and humiliation. But perhaps he
would not come after all to meet her, for no appointment had been made,
and no promise of any kind given--why should she be so anxious in her
mind about it? It gave her a pang to think that the meeting and
conversation which had been so important an event in her life were
perhaps very little to him, that they were perhaps fading out of his mind
already, and would soon be, like his botanical knowledge, altogether
forgotten. Perhaps he was even now on the road speeding away far from
Eyethorne on his bicycle. Then the fear that she might betray her secret
was overmastered by this new fear that she would never see him again,
that he had gone out of her life for ever; and she quickened her slow
steps once more, and at last gaining the wood, and coming to the spot
where she had parted from him, and not finding him there, her excitement
left her, and she sat down with a pang of bitter disappointment in her
But before many minutes had gone by she heard approaching footsteps, and
looking up saw him coming towards her. The tell-tale blood rushed again
to her cheeks and her heart throbbed wildly, but she bent her eyes
resolutely on her book and pretended not to see his approach. Poor girl,
so innocent of wiles! she did not know, she could not guess, that he had
been for upwards of an hour on the spot waiting for her, his heart also
agitated with hopes and fears. He had watched her coming with glad
triumphant feelings, and then, prudent and artful even in his moment of
triumph, had concealed himself from her to come on to the scene after
allowing her a little time to taste her disappointment.
He was already standing before her and speaking, and then in a moment the
outward calm which she had been vainly striving to observe came
unexpectedly to her aid. She shook hands with him and explained why she
was alone, and then, surprised at her own new courage, she added:
"I am glad that we have met again, Mr. Chance; I came here hoping to meet
you; our conversation yesterday gave me so much pleasure, and I wished so
much to hear about your literary work. After to-day I do not suppose that
we shall ever meet again."
"I sincerely hope we shall!" he returned, sitting down near her. "It is
really painful to think that you should be immured in this uncongenial
place with your tastes and--advantages."
"Please do not pity my condition, Mr. Chance. I can endure it very well
for a time, I hope; it is not my intention to stay here always, nor very
much longer, and just now I am not altogether alone, as I have Fan to
teach and for a companion."
"She is a very charming girl," he returned; "and I must tell you that she
has improved marvellously since I last saw her. Miss Starbrow has, I
think, been singularly fortunate in having put her into your hands."
"Thank you," said Constance, with a quick glance at his face. Then she
added, "I suppose you know Miss Starbrow very well?"
"Yes," he returned with a slight smile, and she was curious to know why
he smiled in that meaning way, but feared to ask. "But she is your
friend, I suppose, and you know her as well as I do," he added after a
"Oh no, she is a perfect stranger to me. We only saw her once for a few
minutes when she brought Fan down to us last May."
"How strange! But I should have thought that Miss Affleck would have told
you everything about her before now."
"No; I never question Fan about her London life, and when left to herself
she is a very reticent girl."
"Really!" said he, not ill-pleased at this information. "But, Miss
Churton, how very natural that you should wish to know something about
She smiled without replying, but no reply was needed. He had been
studying her face, and knew that she was curious to hear what he had to
say, and this interest in Miss Starbrow, he thought, was a very new
feeling, and rose entirely out of her interest in himself.
He told her a great deal about the lady, without altogether omitting her
little eccentricities, as he leniently called them, and her little faults
of temper; he paid a tribute to her generous, hospitable character, only
she was, he thought, just a little too hospitable, judging from the
curious specimens one met at her Wednesday evening gatherings. But he was
very good-natured, and touched lightly on the disagreeable features in
the picture, or else kindly toned them down with a few skilful touches,
producing the impression on his listener that he did not dislike Miss
Starbrow, but regarded her with a kind of amused curiosity. And that, in
fact, was precisely the impression he had wished to make, and he was well
pleased with himself when he saw how well he had succeeded.
Afterwards they spoke of other things, and soon came to those literary
topics in which Miss Churton took so keen an interest. They talked long
and earnestly, and Merton Chance neglected no opportunity of saying
pretty things with a subtle flattery in them at which the other was far
from being displeased.
"You draw your mental nutriment from a distance," he said. "Being without
sympathy from those around you, you are like a person in a diving-bell,
shut in on all sides by a medium through which a current of life-
preserving oxygen comes, but dark and cold and infinitely repelling to
It was true, and very pleasant to meet with appreciation. And finally,
before he left her, he had promised to send, and she had promised to
accept gratefully, some magazines containing contributions from his pen,
also some books which he wished her to read. But he did not say anything
about writing, he did not wish to show himself too eager to continue the
acquaintance which chance had brought about: in his own mind, however, it
was already settled that there was to be a correspondence.
After Merton's departure from Eyethorne things drifted back to their old
state at Wood End House, the slight change in Constance becoming less and
less perceptible, until the time came when Fan began to think, with a
secret feeling of relief, that the visitor had after all made only a
passing impression, which was already fading out of her teacher's mind.
But by-and-by there came from London a letter and a packet of books and
periodicals for Constance, and Fan remarked the glad excitement in her
friend's face when she carried her treasures away to her room, and her
subsequent silence on the subject. And after that Constance was again
much occupied with her own thoughts, which, to judge from her
countenance, were happy ones; and Fan quickly came to the conclusion that
the books and letter were from Merton. Mrs. Churton, who knew nothing
about this new acquaintance, imagined only that her daughter had sucked
out all the impiety contained in the books she already possessed, and had
sent for a fresh supply. For, she argued, if there had been nothing wrong
in the books Constance would have allowed her to read or see them. She
made herself very unhappy over it, and was more incensed than ever
against her sinful daughter, but she said nothing, and only showed her
dissatisfaction in her cold, distrustful manner.
Another bitterness in her cup at this period was her inability to revive
Fan's interest in sacred things, for she had begun to notice an
increasing indifference in the girl. All the religious teaching, over
which she had spent so much time and labour, seemed to have failed of its
effect. She had planted, apparently in the most promising soil, and the
vicar and the vicar's wife had watered, and God had not given the
increase. This was a new mystery which she could not understand, in spite
of much pondering over it, much praying for light, and many conversations
on the subject with her religious friends. So sweet and good and pure-
hearted and pliant a girl; but alas! alas! it was only that ephemeral
fictitious kind of goodness which springs from temper or disposition,
which has no value in the eyes of Heaven, cannot stand the shocks of time
and circumstance. It was not through any remissness of her own; she had
never ceased her efforts, yet now after many months she was fain to
confess that this young girl, who had promised such great things, seemed
further than at the beginning from that holiness which is not of the
earth, and which delights only in the contemplation of heavenly things.
She could see it now with what painful clearness! for her eyes in such
matters were preternaturally sharp, like those of a sailor who has
followed the sea all his life with regard to atmospheric changes; no
sooner would the lesson begin than all brightness would fade from that
too expressive countenance, and the girl would listen with manifest
effort, striving to keep her attention from wandering, striving to
understand and to respond; but there was no response from the heart, and
in spite of striving her thoughts, her soul, were elsewhere, and her eyes
wore a distant wistful look. And Mrs. Churton was hot-tempered; in all
the years of her self-discipline she had never been able to wring from
her heart that one drop of black blood; and sometimes when she talked to
Fan, and read and prayed with her, and noticed that impassive look coming
over her face to quench its brightness like a cloud, her old enemy would
get the best of her, and she would start up and hurriedly leave the room
without a word, lest it should betray her into passionate expression.
"Yes, I have also noticed this in Miss Affleck," the vicar said to her
one day when she had been speaking to him on the subject. "She seemed at
one time so docile, so teachable, so easy to be won, and now it is
impossible not to see that there is something at work neutralising all
our efforts and making her impervious to instruction. But, my dear Mrs.
Churton, we _know_ the reason of this; Miss Affleck is too young,
too ignorant and impressible not to fall completely under the influence
of your daughter."
"But my daughter has promised me and has given me her word of honour that
nothing has been said or will be said or done to alienate her pupil's
mind from religious subjects. And we know, Mr. Long, that even those who
are without God may still be trusted to speak the truth--that they have
that natural morality written on their hearts of which St. Paul speaks."
"Yes, that's all very well, and I don't say for a moment that your
daughter has deliberately set herself to undo your work and win her pupil
to her own pernicious views. But is it possible for her, even if she
wished it, to conceal them altogether from one who is not only her pupil
but her intimate friend and constant companion? Her whole life--thoughts,
acts, words, and even looks--must be leavened with the evil leaven; how
can Miss Affleck live with her in that intimate way without catching some
of that spirit from her? You know that so long as they were not thus
intimate this girl was everything that could be desired, that from the
time they became close friends she began to change, and that religion is
now becoming as distasteful to her as it is to her teacher."
Poor woman! she had gone for comfort and counsel to her pastor, and this
was all she got. He was a good hater, and regarded Miss Churton with a
feeling that to his way of thinking was a holy one. "Do not I hate them,
O Lord, that hate Thee? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them
mine enemies." As for separating two inseparable things, the sinner and
the sin (matter and an affection of matter), and loving one and hating
the other, that was an intellectual feat altogether beyond his limited
powers, although he considered it one which Mr. Northcott might be able
to accomplish. He had made it impossible for his enemy to do any injury
in the parish; she had been dropped by Eyethorne "society," and she did
not go among the poor; but this was not enough to satisfy him, and the
sermon he had preached against her, which drove her from the church, had
been deliberately prepared with the object of driving her from the
parish. He had failed in his object, and now he was angry because he
could not separate Fan from her, and, unjust and even cruel in his anger,
he turned on the unhappy mother.
To his words Mrs. Churton could only reply, "What can I do--what can I
do?" And as he refused to answer her, having said his last word, she rose
and went home more unhappy than ever, more angry with Fan, and embittered
against her daughter; for that the vicar had truly shown her the reason
of her failure she could not doubt.
They were both entirely wrong, although the mistake was a very natural
one, and, in the circumstances, almost unavoidable. Constance had
scrupulously observed the compact. Nothing could be further from her mind
than any desire to win others to her way of thinking. The religious
instinct was strong in her, and could flourish without the support of
creed or doctrine; at the same time she recognised the fact that in
others--in a very large majority of persons, perhaps--it is a frail
creeping plant that trails along the ground to perish trodden in the dust
without extraneous support.
Fan, on her side, had drifted into her present way of thinking, or not
thinking, independently of her teacher, and entirely uninfluenced by her.
At the beginning she responded readily to Mrs. Churton's motherly
teaching; but only because the teaching was motherly, and intimately
associated with those purely human feelings which were everything to her.
Afterwards when others, who were strangers and not dear to her, began to
take part in her instruction, then gradually these two things--human and
divine--separated themselves in her mind, and she clung to the one and
lost her interest in the other. It was pleasant to go to church, to take
part in singing and praying with the others, and to sit with half-closed
eyes among well-dressed people during sermon-time, and think of other
things, chiefly of Mary and Constance. But when religion came to be more
than that, it began to oppress her like a vain show, and it was a relief
to escape from all thoughts on the subject. So low and so earthly, in one
sense, was Fan's mind. While she was in this frame that visit to the
carpenter's cottage occurred, and the carpenter's words had taken a
strong hold on her and could not be forgotten; for they fitted her case
so exactly, and seemed so clearly to express all that she had had in her
mind, and all that it was necessary for her to have, that it had the
effect of making her spirit deaf to all other and higher teachings. If
she could have explained it all to Mrs. Churton it would have been
better, at all events for Constance, but she was incapable of such a
thing, even if she had possessed the courage, and so she kept silence,
although she could see that her want of interest was distressing to her
Another great bitterness in Mrs. Churton's cup resulted from the conduct
of her irreclaimable husband. Even Fan, who had never regarded any living
soul with contempt, had soon enough learned to experience such a feeling
towards this man. But it was a kindly contempt, for after repulsing him
two or three times when he had attempted to conduct himself in too
fatherly a manner, he had ceased to trouble her in any way. He was very
unobtrusive in the house, except at intervals, when he would rebel
against his wife and say shocking things and screech at her. But when
cold weather came, then poor Mr. Churton took an extra amount of alcohol
for warmth, and the spirit and cold combined brought on a variety of
ailments which sometimes confined him for days to his bedroom. At such
times he would be deeply penitent, and beg his wife to sit with him and
read the Bible, which she was always ready to do. Never again would he
seek oblivion from pain in the cup that cheers, and, alas, inebriates, or
do anything to make his beloved wife grieve; thus would he protest,
kissing her hand and shedding weak tears. But as soon as she had nursed
him back into better health he would seize the first opportunity when she
was out of the way to slip off "for a constitutional," which would
invariably end at the inn in the High Street; and in the evening he would
return quarrelsome and abusive, or else groaning and ready to take to bed
Mr. Northcott, who might have melted into thin air for all we have seen
or heard of him lately, was also unhappy in his mind at this period. He
loved, and yet when it had almost seemed to him that he had not loved in
vain, partly from prudential motives and partly because his religion
stood in the way of his desire, he had refrained from speaking. Now it
seemed to him that he had let his chance go by, and that Miss Churton,
although still as friendly as any person not actually enamoured of her
could have wished, was not so sympathetic, not so near to him, as
formerly. Nevertheless, he still sought her out at every opportunity, and
engaged her in long conversations which led to nothing; for they barely
touched on the borders of those subjects which both felt most deeply
about, and that other subject which he alone felt they never approached.
His resolution had in some measure recovered its "native hue," but too
late, alas! and at length one day his vicar took him to task about this
"Mr. Northcott," he said very unexpectedly at the end of a conversation
they had been having, "may I ask you whether you still hope to be able to
win back Miss Churton to a more desirable frame of mind?"
The curate flushed a little, and glancing up encountered the suspicious
eyes of his superior fixed on him.
"I regret that I am compelled to answer with a negative," he returned.
"Then," said the other, "you will not take it amiss if I warn you that
your partiality for Miss Churton's society has been made the subject of
remark among the ladies in the neighbourhood. That your motives are of
the highest I do not question; at the same time, if they are
misunderstood and if your efforts are futile, it would be prudent, I
fancy, not to let it appear that you prefer this lady's company to that
This about motives did not sound quite sincere; but the vicar was suave
in manner, stroking his curate very kindly with soft velvet hand, only
waiting for some slight movement before unsheathing the sharp hidden
claws. One word of protest and of indignant remonstrance would have been
enough; the reply was on his tongue, "Then, Mr. Northcott, I regret that
we must part company."
But he made no movement such as the other had expected, perhaps even
desired, for we are all cruel, even the best of us--so Bain says, and
therefore it must be true. On the contrary, he took it with strange
meekness--for which he did not fail afterwards to despise himself with
his whole heart--regretting that anything had been said, and thanking the
vicar for telling him. Nevertheless he was very indignant at this gossip
of "a set of malignant old scandal-mongers," as he called the Eyethorne
ladies in his wrath, and bitterly resented the interference of the vicar
in his affairs. Only the hopeless passion that preyed on him, which made
the prospect of a total separation from Miss Churton seem intolerable,
kept him from severing his connection with Eyethorne. But after that
warning he was more circumspect, and gave the ladies, old and young, less
reason for ill-natured remarks.
All these troubles and griefs, real and imaginary, of which they were
indirectly the cause, affected the two young friends not at all. They did
not see these things, or saw them only dimly at a distance: they were
perfectly happy in each other, and almost invariably together both in and
out of doors. The Eyethorne woods still attracted them almost daily; for
although the trees were barren of leaves and desolate, the robin still
made blithe music there, and the wren and thrush were sometimes heard,
and even the mournful cawing of the rooks, and the weird melodies of the
wind in the naked trees inspired their hearts with a mysterious gladness.
And on days when the sun shone--the February days when winter "wears on
its face a dream of spring"--they never tired of talking about how they
were going to spend their time out of doors during the coming vernal and
summer months. For that Fan would remain another year at Eyethorne was
now looked upon as practically settled, since three-quarters of the first
year had gone by and Miss Starbrow had said no word in her letters about
taking her away. They were going to watch every opening leaf and every
tender plant as it sprouted from the soil, and Fan was to learn the
names, vulgar and scientific, and the special beauty and fragrance, and
all the secrets of "every herb that sips the dew." And the birds were
also to be watched and listened to, and the peculiar melody of each kind
noted on its arrival from beyond the sea.
One circumstance only interfered with Fan's happiness during the winter
months. The letters she received from Mary, which came to her from
various continental addresses, were few and short, growing fewer and
shorter as time went on, and contained no allusion to many things in the
long fortnightly epistles which, the girl imagined, required an answer.
But one day, about the middle of March, when there had been no word for
about six weeks, and Fan had begun to feel a vague anxiety, a letter came
for her. It came while she was with Constance during study hours, and
taking it she ran up to her own room to enjoy it in solitude.
Constance had also received a letter from London by the same post, and
was well pleased to be left to read it by herself; and after reading and
re-reading it, she continued sitting before the fire, the letter still in
her hand and occupied with very pleasant thoughts. At length, glancing at
the clock, she was surprised to find that half an hour had gone by since
Fan left the room, and wondering at her delay, she went to look for her.
Fan was sitting beside her bed, her cheek, wet with recent tears, resting
on her arms on the coverlid; but she did not move when the other entered
"Fan, dearest Fan, what have you heard?" exclaimed Constance in alarm.
For only reply the girl put a letter she was holding in her hand towards
the other, and Constance, taking it, read as follows:
Since I wrote last I have had several letters from you, one or two since
I returned to England, but there was nothing in them calling for an
I do not wish you to answer this, or to write to me again at any time.
After so much travelling about I feel disinclined to settle down in
London, or even in England at present, and have made up my mind to re-let
the house in Dawson Place--that is, if the present tenants should have
any wish to give it up.
My brother and I separated some time ago, and he has gone, or is going,
to India, and will be away two or three years, as, I believe, he also
intends visiting Australia, China, and America. I am therefore quite
alone now, and shall probably go over to France for a few months, perhaps
to remain permanently abroad.
But so far as you are concerned, it does not matter in the least whether
I go or stay, since I cannot take you back to live with me, or have
anything more to do with you.
The clothes you have will, I dare say, last you some time longer, and I
have instructed my agent in London to send you a small sum of money (L25)
to start you with. You must in future take care of yourself, and I
suppose that with all the knowledge you have acquired from Miss Churton,
you will be able to get a situation of some kind.
You have until the middle of next May--I forget the exact date--to
prepare for your new life; and you can mention to Mrs. Churton that my
agent will send her the money for the last quarter before your time at
I suppose you do not require to be told the reason of the determination I
have come to. You cannot have forgotten the fair warning I gave you when
we parted, and you must know, Fan, if you know me at all, that when I say
a thing I distinctly mean it.
You must take this as my very last word to you.
"Oh, what a cruel thing to do! What a heartless letter! What a barbarous
woman!" cried Constance, tears of keenest distress starting to her eyes,
as she hastened to Fan's side, holding out her hands.
But Fan would not be caressed; she started as if stung to her feet, her
kindling eyes and flushed cheeks showing that her grief and despondence
had all at once been swallowed up in some other feeling.
"Give me the letter back," she demanded, holding out her hand for it, and
then, when the other hesitated, astonished at her changed manner,
snatched it from her hand, and began carefully smoothing and refolding
it, for Constance had crumpled it up in her indignation.
"Fan, what has come over you? Are you going to quarrel with me because
that unfeeling, purse-proud, half-mad woman has treated you so badly? Ah,
poor Fan, to have been at the mercy of such a creature! I would tear her
bank-notes into shreds and send them back to her agent--"
"Leave me!" screamed Fan at her, stamping on the floor in her rage.
Constance stood staring at her, mute and motionless with astonishment, so
utterly unexpected was this tempest of anger, and so strange in one who
had seemed incapable of any such violent feeling.
"Very well, Fan, I shall leave you if you wish it," she said at length
with some dignity, but in a pained voice. "I did not understand this
outburst at first. I had almost lost sight of the fact that I am in a
sense to blame for your misfortune. I regret it very bitterly, but that
is no comfort to you, and it is only natural that you should begin to
hate me now."
"I do not hate you, Constance," said Fan, recovering her usual tone, but
still speaking with a tremor in her voice. "Why do you say that?--it is a
cruel thing to say. Do you not know that it is false? I shall never blame
you for what has happened. You are not to blame. I have lost Mary, but
she is not what you say. You do not know her--what right have you to call
her bad names? I would go away this moment and never see you again rather
than hear you talk in that way of her, much as I love you."
This speech explained the mystery, but it astonished her as much as the
previous passionate outbreak. That the girl could be so just to her, so
free from the least trace of bitterness against her for having indirectly
caused that great unhappiness, and at the same time so keenly resent her
sympathy, which she could not easily express without speaking indignantly
of Miss Starbrow--this seemed so strange, so almost incongruous and
contradictory, that if the case had not been so sad she would have burst
into a laugh. As it was she only burst into tears, and threw her arms
round the girl's neck.
"Darling Fan," she said, "I understand you now--at last; and shall say
nothing to wound your feelings again. But I hope--with all my heart I
hope that I shall one day meet this--meet Miss Starbrow, to have the
satisfaction of telling her--"
"Telling her what?" exclaimed Fan, the bright resentful red returning to
her pale cheeks.
"Of telling her what she has lost. That she never really knew you, and
what an affection you had for her."
There was no comfort in this to Fan. Her loss--the thought that she would
never see Mary again--surged back to her heart, and turning away, she
went back to her seat and covered her face again from the other's sight.
After making her peace with Fan, there remained for Constance the heavy
task of informing her mother. She found her engaged with her needle in
"Mother," she began, "I have got something very unpleasant to tell you.
Miss Starbrow has written to Fan, casting her off. She tells her to
remain here until her year is up, and then to take care of herself, as
she, Miss Starbrow, will have nothing more to do with her. It is a cold,
heartless letter; and what poor Fan is to do I don't know."
Mrs. Churton made no reply for some time, but the news disturbed her
greatly. Much as she felt for Fan, she could not help thinking also of
her own sad case; for after the last quarter had come, with no word from
Miss Starbrow, she had taken it for granted that Fan was to stay another
year with her. And the money had been a great boon, enabling her to order
her house better, and even to pay off a few old accounts, and interest on
the mortgage which weighed so heavily on her little property.
Constance, guessing what was passing in her mind, pitied her, but waited
without saying more for her to speak; and at length when she did speak it
was to put the question which Constance had been expecting with some
"What is Miss Starbrow's reason for casting Fan off?" she said.
The other still considered a little before replying.
"Mother," she spoke at length, "will you read Miss Starbrow's letter for
yourself? It is not very easy to see from it what she has to quarrel with
Fan about. Her reason is perhaps only an excuse, it seems so fantastical.
You must judge for yourself."
"I suppose you can tell me whether her quarrel with Fan--you say that
there is a quarrel--is because the girl has been taught things she
"No, nothing of the kind. She writes briefly, and, as I said,
heartlessly. Not one word of affection for Fan or of regret at parting
with her, and no allusion to the subject of her studies with you or me.
Not a word of thinks to us--"
"That I never expected," said Mrs. Churton. "I could not look for such a
thing from a person of Miss Starbrow's description. A kind word or
message from her would have surprised me very much."
While she was speaking Fan had entered the room unnoticed. She was pale
and looked sad, but calmer now, and the traces of tears had been washed
away. Her face flushed when she heard Mrs. Churton's words, and she
advanced and stood so that they could not help seeing her.
"Fan, I am deeply grieved to hear this," said Mrs. Churton. "I cannot
tell you, my poor child, how much I feel this trouble that has come on
you so early in life. But before I can speak fully about it I must know
something more. I am in the dark yet--Constance has not told me why Miss
Starbrow has seen fit to act in such a way. Will you let me see her
letter?" and with trembling fingers she began to wipe her glasses, which
had grown dim.
"I am very sorry, Mrs. Churton, but I cannot show you the letter."
They both looked at her, Constance becoming more and more convinced that
there was a strength in Fan's character which she had never suspected;
while in Mrs. Churton anxiety and sorrow for a moment gave place to a
"You surprise me very much, Fan," she returned. "I understand that you
have already shown the letter to Constance."
"Yes, but I am sorry now. I did it without thinking, and I cannot show it
"Fan, what is the meaning of this? It is only right and natural that you
should confide in me about such a serious matter; and I cannot understand
your motives in refusing to let me see a letter the contents of which are
known to my daughter."
"Mother," said Constance, "I think I can guess her motives, which make it
painful for her to show the letter, and will explain what I think they
are. Fan, dear, will you leave us for a while, and let me tell mother why
Miss Starbrow will not take you back?"
"You can say what you like, Constance, because I can't prevent you," said
Fan, still speaking with that decision in her tone which seemed so
strange in her. "But I said I was sorry that I let you read Mary's
letter, and if you say anything about it, it will be against my wish."
These words, although spoken in rebuke, were a relief to Constance, for
however "fantastical" she might consider Miss Starbrow's motives to be,
she very much doubted that her mother would take the same view; and she
knew that her mother, though entitled to know the whole matter, would
never ask her to reveal a secret of Fan's.
But Mrs. Churton had not finished yet. "Fan, dear, come to me," she said,
and putting her arm about the girl's waist, drew her to her side. "I
think I have cause to be offended with your treatment of me, but I shall
not be offended, because you are probably only doing what you think is
right. But, dear child, you must allow me to judge for you in some
things, and I am convinced that you are making a great mistake. I have
been a great deal to you during all these months that you have been with
us, and since you received this letter I have become more to you. You
must not imagine that in a little time, in another two months, we must
separate; you are too young, too weak yet to go out into the world, to
face its temptations and struggle for your own livelihood. I have been a
mother to you; look on me as a mother still, a natural protector, whose
home is your home also. It might very well be that Miss Starbrow's
motives for casting you off would be of no assistance to me in the
future--I can hardly think that they could be; for I do not believe that
she has any valid reason for treating you as she has done. Nor is it from
mere curiosity that I ask you to show me her letter; but it is best that
you should do so for various reasons, and chiefly because it will prove
that you love me, and trust me, and are willing to be guided by me."
The tears rose to Fan's eyes, her strange self-collected mood seemed to
be gone. "Dear Mrs. Churton," she said, with trembling voice, "please--
please don't think me ungrateful! ... You have made me so happy ... oh,
what can I do to show how much I love you ... that I do trust you?"
The girl was conquered, so they thought, mother and daughter; and
Constance, with a little internal sigh and a twinge of shame at her
cowardice, waited to see the letter read and to save Fan the pain of
answering the searching questions which her mother would be sure to ask.
"Dear Fan, let me see the letter," said Mrs. Churton.
"Oh, dear Mrs. Churton, anything but that! I can't let you see it--I am
so sorry! When Constance read it and began to speak angrily of Mary, I
said to myself that no one should ever see it again."
"Have you then destroyed it?"
"Oh, no," she replied, involuntarily touching her bosom with her hand,
"but I cannot show it."
"Very well, Fan, let us say no more about it," returned the other coldly,
and withdrawing her arm from the girl's waist. And after a few moments of
painful silence she rose and left the room.
Fan looking up met her friend's eyes fixed on her face. "Do you think
Mrs. Churton is very angry with me, Constance?" she asked sadly.
"I think that she is offended. And surprised too, I believe." Then she
came nearer and took the girl's hand. "You have surprised me a great
deal, I know. I am not yet quite sure that I understand your motives for
refusing to show the letter. Perhaps your only reason was that you would
not allow Miss Starbrow to be blamed at all--I am not questioning you. In
any case you make me feel ashamed of myself. You have made me feel such a
coward, and--it was a poor spiteful thing to say that I would tear up the
notes and send them back to the giver."
Fan made no reply, but stood with eyes cast down as if thinking of
something else; and before long she made some excuse to go to her room,
where she spent the rest of the day shut up by herself.
From that day a cloud rested on the ladies of Wood End House. Just when
Nature called them to rejoice, when the sun laughed at the storm, and the
blackbird fluted so loud in the orchard, and earth knew once more the
glory of flowers, this great trouble had come on Fan, dimming the sweet
visible world with a mist of tears. The poverty and toil which she must
now face meant so much to her; day and night, at all times, the thought
of it forced itself on her--the perpetual toiling for a bare subsistence,
for bread to satisfy the cravings of hunger; the mean narrow, sordid,
weary life, day after day, with no hope, no dream of joy to come; and
worse than all, the evil things which she had seen and heard and were
associated in her mind with the thought of poverty, all the things which
made her old life seem like a hideous nightmare to her! The sunshine and
flowers and the fluting of the blackbird, that would soon flute no more
for her, could not drive this care from her heart; she was preoccupied,
and silent, and sad, and Constance was sad from pure sympathy. Mrs.
Churton, although still kind and even motherly in her manner, could not
help showing that Fan's offence had not been forgotten; yet she loved the
girl so well that she could not but feel the deepest pity for her and
anxiety about her future. And she even still hoped to win her confidence.
"Fan," she said one evening, when bidding her good-night, "you must not
think that what passed the other day between us makes any difference with
regard to my plans about your future. What I said to you then still holds
good, and my home while I have one is your home."
Fan knew very well that she might not accept this offer; she knew that
the Churtons were poor and burdened with debt; and that even if it had
not been so, after taking up an independent position in opposition to
Mrs. Churton, she had no right to remain a day beyond the time for which
payment had been made. All this in a faltering way she tried to explain
to her kind friend, and Mrs. Churton confessed to herself that the girl
took the right view. She made no further attempt to win her confidence or
to make her change her mind; towards both Fan and her daughter she
thereafter observed a somewhat cold and distant manner, grieving in her
own heart, yearning over them in secret, but striving to hide it all from
A fortnight after the receipt of Miss Starbrow's letter, one afternoon
the girls came in from their walk, and Constance, seeing her mother at
work in the dining-room, remained standing at the door until Fan went
upstairs. Then she went inside and sat down near her mother. Mrs. Churton
glanced at her with a swift startled glance, then bent her eyes on her
work again. But her heart fluttered in her breast, for she knew that she
was about to hear some new and perhaps painful thing.
"Mother," Constance began presently, "Fan has made up her mind to go back
to London when her time is up with us. She is going to look for a
"A situation--what do you mean, Constance?"
"Her own idea is that she would like best to be a shop-girl in some large
"Then all I can say is that it is very shocking. Does the poor child know
what it means to be a shop-girl in a great city, where she has no home or
friends, where she will associate with ignorant and vulgar people, and
worse perhaps, and be exposed to the most terrible temptations? But what
can I say, Constance, that will have the slightest weight with either Fan
"I should like it very much better if Fan could do something different--
if she could find some more ladylike occupation. But nothing will move
her. If she cannot get into a shop, she says that she must be a servant,
because she must earn her own living, and she will not believe herself
capable of anything higher. To be a shop-girl, or a nursery-governess, or
failing that a nursemaid, is as high as her ambition goes; and though I
am sorry that it must be so, I can't help admiring her independence and
"I am glad that there is anything in it all to be admired; it only makes
me sad, and just now I can say no more about it. I only hope that before
the time comes she will think better of it."
"I have something else to say to you, mother," said Constance, after a
rather long interval of silence. "I have made up my mind to accompany Fan
"What do you mean, Constance?" the other asked, with a tremor in her
"To live in London, I mean. It has long been my wish, and I am surely as
well able to earn my living now as I ever shall be. When Fan goes I shall
not be needed at home any longer. And we are not happy together, mother."
"I know that, Constance; but you must put this idea of going to London
out of your head. I cannot consent to it--I shall never consent to it."
"Why not, mother?"
"Do not ask me. I cannot say--I scarcely know myself. I dare not think of
such a thing; it is too dreadful. You must not, you cannot go. Do not
speak of it again."
The other's task was all the harder because she knew the reason of her
mother's reluctance, and understood her feeling so well--the terrible
grief which only a mother can feel at the thought of an eternal
separation from her child. She rose to her feet, but instead of going
from the room remained standing, hesitating, twisting and untwisting her
fingers together, and at length she moved to a chair close to her mother
and sat down again.
"I must tell you something else, mother," she said. "I do not quite
belong to myself now, but to another; and if the man I have promised to
marry were to come for me to-morrow, or to send for me to go to him, I
could no longer remain with you. As it happens, we are not going to be
married soon--not for a year at least, perhaps not for two. Before that
time comes I wish to know what it is to live by my own work.... He is a
worker, working with his mind in London: I think it would be a good
preparation for my future, that it would make me a better companion for
him, if I were also to work now and be independent.... If you can only
give me a little money--enough to pay my expenses for a short time--a few
weeks in London, until I begin to make enough to keep myself!"
"And who is this person you speak of, Constance, of whose existence I now
hear for the first time?"
"I have been for some months in correspondence with him, but our
engagement is only recent, and that is why you have not heard of it
before. He is a clerk in the Foreign Office, and from that you will know
that he is a gentleman. He also employs his leisure time in literary
work. I can show you his photograph if you would like to see it, mother."
"And have you, Constance, engaged yourself to a person you have not even
"No, mother, I have of course seen him."
"Here, in Eyethorne. Last August, when I was walking in the woods with
Fan, we met him, and he recognised Fan, whom he had met in London at Miss
Starbrow's house, and spoke to her. We had a long conversation on that
day, and I met him again and talked with him the next day, and after that
we kept up the acquaintance by letter."
"And you and Fan together met this man and never mentioned it to me! Let
me ask you one question more, Constance. Is this person you are engaged
to a Christian or an infidel?"
"Mother, it is not fair to put the question in that way. You call me an
infidel, but I am not an infidel--I do not call myself one."
"Do not let us go into hair-splitting distinctions, Constance. I ask you
again this simple question--Is he a Christian?"
"Not in the way that you understand it. He is not a Christian."
The other turned her face away, a little involuntary moan of pain
escaping her lips; and for the space of two or three minutes there was
silence between them, the daughter repenting that she had vainly given
her confidence, and the mother revolving all she had heard in her mind,
her grief changing gradually into the old wrath and bitterness. And at
length she spoke.
"I don't know why you have condescended to tell me of this engagement.
Was it only to show me how utterly you put aside and despise a mother's
authority--a mother's right to be consulted before taking so important a
step? But that is the principle you have acted on all along--to ignore
and treat with silent contempt your mother's words and wishes. And you
have succeeded in making Fan as bad as yourself. I can see it all better
now. Your example, your teaching, has drawn her away from me, and I am as
little to her now as to you. She would never have entered into these
secret doings and plottings if you had not corrupted her. You have made
her what she is; take her and go where you like together, and ruin
yourself in any way that pleases you best, for I have no longer any
influence over either of you. Only do not ask me to sanction what you do,
or to give you any assistance."
Constance rose and moved away, but before reaching the door she turned
and spoke. "Mother, I cannot pay any attention to such wild, unfounded
accusations. If I must leave home without a shilling in my purse after
teaching Fan for a year, I can only say that you are treating me with the
greatest injustice, and that a stranger would have treated me better."
Then she left the room, and for several days after no word passed between
mother and daughter.
Nevertheless Mrs. Churton was keenly alive and deeply interested in all
that was passing around her. She noted that the hours of study were very
much shortened now, and that the girls were continually together in the
house, and from their bedroom sweepings and stray threads clinging to
their dresses, and the snipping sound of scissors, she judged that they
were busy with their preparations. Fan had gone back to her ancient but
happily not lost art of dressmaking, and was making Constance a dress
from a piece of stuff which the latter had kept by her for some time.
Mrs. Churton had continued hoping against hope, but the discovery that
this garment was being made convinced her at last that her daughter's
resolution was not to be shaken, and that the dreaded separation was very
At length one morning, just after receiving a letter from London, and
when only one week of Fan's time at Wood End House remained, she spoke to
her daughter, calling her into her own room.
"Constance," she said, speaking in a constrained tone and with studied
words, "I fully deserved your reproach the other day. I should not have
let you go from home without a shilling in your purse. I spoke hastily,
in anger, that day, and I hope you will forgive me. Miss Starbrow's agent
has just sent the eighteen pounds for the last quarter; I cannot do less
than hand it over to you, and only wish that I had it in my power to give
"Thank you, mother; but I would much rather that you kept part of it. I
do not require as much as that."
"You will find it little enough--in London among strangers. We need not
speak any more about it, and you owe me no thanks. It is only right that
you should have one quarter's money of the four I have received." After
an interval of silence, and when her daughter was about to leave the
room, she continued, "Before you go, Constance, let me ask a favour of
you. If you are going away soon this will be our last conversation."
"Our last! What favour, mother?"
"When you go, do so without coming to say goodbye to me. I do not feel
very strong, and--would prefer it if you went away quietly without any
"If that is your wish, mother," she returned, and then remained standing,
her face full of distress. Then she moved a little nearer and said,
"Mother, if there is to be no good-bye, will you let me kiss you?"
Mrs. Churton's lips moved but made no sound. Constance after a moment's
hesitation came nearer still, and bending forward kissed her cheek, not
in a perfunctory way, but with a lingering, loving kiss; and after the
kiss she still lingered close, so that the breath from her lips came warm
and fragrant on the other's cold pale cheek. But her mother spoke no
word, and remained cold and motionless as a statue, until with a slight
sigh and lingering step the other left the room. Scarcely had she gone
before the unhappy mother dropped on to a chair, and covering her face
with her hands began to shed tears. Why, why, she asked herself again and
again, had she not returned that loving kiss, and clasped her lost
daughter once more to her heart? Too late! too late! She had restrained
her heart and made herself cold as stone, and now that last caress, that
sweet consolation was lost for ever! Ah, if her cold cheek might keep for
all the remaining days of her life the sensation of those warm caressing
lips, of that warm sweet breath! But her bitter tears of regret were in
vain; that dread eternal parting was now practically over, and out of the
infinite depths of her love no last tender word had risen to her lips!
In London once more! It was Fan's birth-place, the home she had known
continuously up till one short year ago; yet now on her return how
strange, how foreign to her soul, how even repelling it seemed! The
change had come so unexpectedly and in such unhappy circumstances, and
the contrast was so great to that peaceful country life and all its
surroundings, which had corresponded so perfectly with her nature. To
Constance, who knew little of London except from reading, the contrast
seemed equally great, but it affected her in a different and much
pleasanter way. To Fan town and town-life could be repelling because,
owing to her past experiences, and to something in her mental character,
she was able vividly to realise her present position. Even when the
brilliant May sun shone on her, and the streets and parks were thronged
with fashionable pleasure-seekers, and London looked not unbeautiful, she
realised it. For all that made town-life pleasant and desirable was now
beyond her reach. It was sweet when Mary loved her and gave her a home;
but in all this vast world of London there was no second Mary who would
find her and take her to her heart. Now she might sink into a state of
utter destitution, and she would be powerless to win help or sympathy, or
even a hearing, from any one of the countless thousands of fellow-
creatures that would pass her in the streets, all engrossed with their
own affairs, so accustomed to the sight of want and suffering that it
affected them not at all. To find some work which she might be able to
do, and for which the payment would be sufficient to provide her with
food, clothing, and shelter, was the most she could hope. She could dream
of no wonderful second deliverance in the long years of humble patient
drudgery that awaited her--no impossible good fortune passing over the
heads of thousands as deserving as herself to light on hers and give a
new joy and glory to her life.
To Constance, with her more vigorous intellect and ardent imagination, no
such dreary prospect could present itself. The thunderous noise and
shifting panorama of the streets, the interminable desert of brick
houses, and even the smoke-laden atmosphere only served to exhilarate her
mind. These things continually reminded her that she was now where she
had long wished to be, in the great intellectual laboratory, where
thousands of men and women once as unknown and poor as herself had made a
reputation. Not without great labour and pains certainly; but what others
had done she could do; and with health and energy, and a bundle of
carefully-prepared manuscripts in her box to begin with, she could feel
no serious anxiety about the future.
During their second day in town they managed after much searching to find
cheap furnished apartments--a bed and small sitting-room--on the second
floor of a house in a monotonous street of yellow brick houses in the
monotonous yellow brick wilderness of West Kensington. Their search for
rooms would not have occupied them very long if Constance had been as
easily satisfied as her companion; but although in most of the places
they visited she found the bedrooms "good enough," wretched as they were
compared with her own fragrant and spotless bower at Wood End House, she
was not so readily pleased with the sitting-room. That, at all events,
must not wear so mean and dingy a look as one usually has to put up with
when the rent is only ten shillings a week; and beyond that sum they were
determined not to go. The reason of this fastidiousness about a sitting-
room presently appeared. Fan was told the secret of the engagement with
Merton Chance; also that Merton was now for the first time about to be
informed of the step Constance had taken without first consulting him,
and asked to visit her at her lodgings. Constance felt just a little hurt
at the way her news was received, for Fan said little and seemed
unsympathetic, almost as if her friend's happiness had been a matter of
indifference to her.
Next day, after moving into their new quarters, Constance wrote her
letter, addressing it to the Foreign Office, posting it herself in the
nearest pillar-box, and then settled herself down to wait the result. It
was weary waiting, she found, when the next morning's post brought her no
answer, and when the whole day passed and no Merton came, and no message.
She was restless and anxious, and in a feverish state of anxiety, fearing
she knew not what; but outwardly she bore herself calmly; and remembering
with some resentment still how little her engagement had seemed to
rejoice her friend, she proudly held her peace. But she would not leave
the house, for the lover might come at any moment, and it would not do to
be out of the way when he arrived. She remained indoors, pretending to be
much occupied with her writing, while Fan went out for long walks alone.
The next day passed in like manner, the two friends less in harmony and
less together than ever; and when still another morning came and brought
no letter, Fan began to feel extremely unhappy in her mind, for now the
long-continued strain was beginning to tell on her friend, robbing her
cheeks of their rich colour, and filling her hazel eyes with a great
unexpressed trouble. But on that day about three o'clock, while Constance
sat at her window, which commanded a view of the street, she saw a
hansom-cab arrive at the door, and the welcome form of her lover spring
rapidly out and run up the steps. He had come to her at last! But why had
he left her so long to suffer? She heard his steps bounding up the
stairs, and stood trembling with excitement, her hand pressed to her
wildly-beating heart. One glance at his face was enough to show her that
her fears had been idle, that her lover's heart had not changed towards
her; the next moment she was in his arms, feeling for the first time his
kisses on her lips. After the excitement of meeting was over,
explanations followed, and Merton informed her that he had only just
received her letter, and greatly blamed himself for not having sent her
his new address immediately after having left the Foreign Office.
"Left the Foreign Office! Do you mean for good?" asked Constance in a
kind of dismay.
"I hope for good," he replied, smiling at her serious face. "The
uncongenial work I had to do there has chafed me for a long time. It
interfered with the real and serious business of my life, and I threw it
up with a light heart. I must be absolutely free and master of my own
time before I can do, and do well, the work for which I am fitted."
"But, dear Merton, you told me that your work was so light there, and
that the salary you had relieved you from all anxiety, and left you free
to follow the bent of your own mind in literary work."
"Did I? That was one of my foolish speeches then. However light any work
may be, if it occupies you during the best hours of the day, it must to
some extent take the freshness out of you. And to look at the matter in a
practical way, I consider that I am a great gainer, since by resigning a
salary of L250 a year I put myself in a position to make five hundred. I
hope before very long to make a thousand."
His news had given a considerable shock to Constance, but he seemed so
confident of success, laughing gaily at her doubts, that in a little
while he succeeded in raising her spirits, and she began to believe that
this exceedingly clever young man had really done a wise thing in
throwing up an appointment which would have secured him against actual
want for the whole term of his life.
After a while she ventured to speak of her own plans and hopes. He
listened with a slight smile.
"I have not the slightest doubt that you could make your living in that
way," he said; "for how many do it who are not nearly so gifted as you
are! But, Connie, if I understand you rightly, you wish to begin making
money at once, and that is scarcely possible, as you have not been
doggedly working away for years to make yourself known and useful to
editors and publishers."
He then went very fully into this question, and concluded with a comical
description of the magazine editor as a very unhappy spider, against
whose huge geometric web there beats a continuous rain of dipterous
insects of every known variety, besides innumerable nondescripts. The
poor spider, unable to eat and digest more than about half a dozen to a
dozen flies every month, was forced to spend his whole time cutting and
dropping his useless captures from the web. As a rule Merton did not talk
in this strain: the editors had cut away too many of his own nondescript
dipterous contributions to their webs for him to love them; but for some
mysterious reason it suited him just now to take the side of the enemy in
the old quarrel of author _versus_ editor.
"Do you think then that I have made a mistake in coming to London?" she
He smiled and drew her closer to him. "Connie, dear, I am exceedingly
glad you did come, for there is no going back, you say; and now that you
are here there is only one thing to do to smooth the path for us, and
that is--to consent to marry me at once."
This did not accord with her wishes at all. To consent would be to
confess herself beaten, and that dream of coming to London and keeping
herself, for a time at all events, by means of her own work, had been so
long and so fondly cherished, and she wished so much to be allowed to
make the trial. But he pleaded so eloquently that in the end he overcame
"I will promise to do what you wish," she said, "if after you have
thought it over for a few days you should still continue in the same
mind. But, Merton, I hope you will not think me too careful and anxious
if I ask you whether it does not seem imprudent, when you have just given
up your salary and are only beginning to work at something different, to
marry a penniless girl? You have told me that you have no money, and that
you cannot look to your relations for any assistance."
"By no money I simply meant no fortune. Of course we could not get
married without funds, and just now I have a couple of hundreds standing
to my credit in the bank. If we are careful, and content to begin married
life in apartments, we need not spend any more than I am spending now by
He omitted to say that this money was all that was left of a legacy of
L500 which had come to him from an aunt, and that he had been spending it
pretty freely. His words only gave the impression that he knew the value
of money, and was not one to act without careful consideration.
They were still discussing this point when Fan came in, and after shaking
hands with their visitor sat down in her hat and jacket. Merton, after
expressing his regret that she had lost her protectress, proceeded to
make some remarks about Miss Starbrow's eccentric temper. Nothing which
that lady did, he said, surprised him in the least. Fan sat with eyes
cast down; she looked pale and fatigued, and her face clouded at his
words; then murmuring some excuse, she rose and went to her bedroom.
"I must warn you, Merton," said Constance, "that Fan can't endure to hear
anything said in dispraise of Miss Starbrow. I have discovered that it is
the one subject about which she is capable of losing her temper and
quarrelling with her best friend."
"Is that so?" he returned, laughingly. "Then she must be as eccentric as
Miss Starbrow herself. But what does the poor girl intend doing--she must
do something to live, I suppose?"
Constance told him all about Fan's projects. "Why do you smile?" she
said. "You do not approve, I suppose?"
"You are mistaken, Connie. I neither approve nor disapprove. She does not
ask us to shape her future life for her, and we owe her thanks for that."
"Yes, but still you are a little shocked that she has not set her mind on
something a little higher."
"Not at all. On the contrary. It is really disgusting to find how many
there are who take 'Excelsior' for their motto. In a vast majority of
cases they get killed by falling over a precipice, or smothered in the
snow, or crawl back to the lower levels to go through life as frost-
bitten, crippled, pitiful objects. You can see scores of these would-be
climbers any day in the streets of London, and know them by their faces.
If you are not a real Whymper it is better not to be in the crowd of
foolish beings who imagine themselves Whympers, but to rest content, like
Fan, in the valley below. I am very glad not to be asked for advice, but
if you ask my opinion I can say, judging from what I have seen of Fan,
that I believe she has made a wise choice. Her capabilities and
appearance would make her a very nice shop-girl."
"Oh, you have too poor an opinion of her!" exclaimed Constance.
Nevertheless she could not help thinking that he was perhaps right. It
was very pleasant to listen to him, this eloquent lover of hers, to see
With a Reaumur's skill his curious mind
Classed the insect tribes of human kind.
It was impossible to doubt that _he_, at any rate, would know very
well where to set his foot on those perilous heights to which he aspired.
Later in the evening the lovers went out for a walk, from which Constance
came home looking very bright and happy. The girls slept together, and
after going to bed that night there was a curious little scene between
them, in which Fan's part was a very passive one. "Darling, we have
talked so little since we have been here," said Constance, putting her
arm round her friend, "and now I have got so many things to say to you."
And as Fan seemed anxious to hear her story, she began to talk first
about Merton's wish for an early marriage, but before long she discovered
that her companion had fallen asleep. Then she withdrew her arm and
turned away disgusted, all the story of her happiness untold. "I verily
believe," she said to herself, "that I have credited Fan with a great
deal more sensibility than she possesses. To drop asleep like a plough-
boy the moment I begin to talk to her--how little she cares about my
affairs! I think Merton must be right in what he said about her. She is
very keen and wideawake about her shop, and seems to think and care for
nothing else." Much more she thought in her vexation, and then glanced
back at the face at her side, so white and pure and still, framed in its
unbound golden hair, so peaceful and yet with a shade of sadness mingling
with its peacefulness; and having looked, she could not withdraw her
eyes. "How beautiful she looks," said Constance, relenting a little. And
then, "Poor child, she must have overtired herself to-day.... And perhaps
it is not strange that she has shown herself so cold about my engagement.
She thinks that Merton is taking me away from her. She is grieving
secretly at the thought of losing me, as she lost her bitter, cruel-
hearted Mary. Oh, dearest, I am not so fantastical as that woman, and you
shall never lose me. Married or single, rich or poor, and wherever you
may be, in or out of a shop, my soul shall cleave to you as it did at
Eyethorne, and I shall love you as I love no other woman--always,
always." And bending she lightly kissed the still white face; but Fan
slept soundly and the light kiss disturbed her not.
The next few days were devoted to sightseeing under Merton's guidance,
and a better-informed cicerone they could not well have had. The little
cloud between the girls had quite passed away; and Fan, who was not
always abnormally drowsy after dark, listened to her friend's story and
entered into all her plans. Then a visit to the National Gallery was
arranged for a day when Merton would only have a few hours of the
afternoon to spare: he was now devoting his energies to the business of
climbing. At three o'clock they were to meet at Piccadilly Circus, but
the girls were early on the scene, as they wished to have an hour first
in Regent Street. To unaccustomed country eyes the art treasures
displayed in the shop-windows there are as much to be admired as the
canvases in Trafalgar Square. They passed a large drapery establishment
with swinging doors standing open, and the sight of the rich interior
seemed to have a fascinating effect on Fan. She lingered behind her
companion, gazing wistfully in--a poor, empty-handed peri at the gates of
Paradise. Long room succeeded long room, until they appeared to melt away
in the dim distance; the floors were covered with a soft carpet of a dull
green tint, and here and there were polished red counters, and on every
side were displayed dresses and mantles artistically arranged, and
textures of all kinds and in all soft beautiful colours. Within a few
ladies were visible, moving about, or seated; but it was the hour of
luncheon, when little shopping was done, and the young ladies of the
establishment, the assistants, seemed to have little to occupy them. They
were very fine-looking girls, all dressed alike in black, but their
dresses were better in cut and material than shop-girls usually wear,
even in the most fashionable establishments. At length Fan withdrew her
longing eyes, and turned away, remarking with a sigh, "Oh, how I should
like to be in such a place!"
"Should you?" said Constance. "Well, let's go in and ask if there is a
vacancy. You must make a beginning, you know."
"But, Constance, we can't do that! I don't know how to begin, but I'm
sure you can't get a place by going into a grand shop and asking in that
"Possibly not; but there's no harm in asking. Come, and I'll be
spokesman, and take all the dreadful consequences on my own head. Come,
And in she walked, boldly enough, and after a moment's hesitation the
other followed. When they had proceeded a dozen or twenty steps a young
man, a shop-walker, came treading softly to them, and with profoundest
respect in his manner, and in a voice trained to speak so low that at a
distance of about twenty-five inches it would have been inaudible, begged
to know to which department he could have the pleasure of directing them.
He was a very good-looking, or perhaps it would be more correct to say a
very _beautiful_ young man, with raven-black hair, glossy and
curled, and parted down the middle of his shapely head, and a beautiful
small moustache to match. His eyes were also dark and fine, and all his
features regular. His figure was as perfect as his face; many a wealthy
man, made ugly by that mocker Nature, would have gladly given half his
inheritance in exchange for such a physique; and his coat of finest cloth
fitted him to perfection, and had evidently been built by some tailor as
celebrated for his coats as Morris for his wall-papers, and Leighton for
his pictures of ethereal women.
Constance, a little surprised at being obsequiously addressed by so
exquisite a person, stated the object of their visit. He looked
surprised, and, losing his obsequiousness, replied that he was not aware
that an assistant had been advertised for. She explained that they had
seen no advertisement, but had merely come in to inquire, as her friend
wished to get a situation in a shop. He smiled at her innocence--he even
smiled superciliously--and, with no deference left in his manner, told
them shortly that they had made a great mistake, and was about to show
them out, when, wonderful to relate, all at once a great change came over
his beautiful countenance, and he stood rooted to the spot, cringing,
confused, crimson to the roots of his raven ringlets. His sudden collapse
had been caused by the sight of a pair of cold, keen grey eyes, with an
expression almost ferocious in them, fixed on his face. They belonged to
an elderly man with a short grizzly beard and podgy nose; a short,
square, ugly man, who had drawn near unperceived with cat-like steps, and
was attentively listening to the shop-walker's words, and marking his
manner. He was the manager.
"I am sorry I made a mistake," said Constance a little stiffly, and
turned to go.
The young man made no reply. The manager, still keeping his basilisk eyes
on him, nodded sharply, as if to say, "Go and have your head taken off."
Then he turned to the girls.
"One moment, young ladies," he said. "Kindly step this way, and let me
know just what you want."
They followed him into a small private office, where he placed chairs for
them, and then allowed Constance to repeat what he had already heard, and
to add a few particulars about Fan's history. He appeared to be paying
but little attention to what she said; while she spoke he was keenly
studying their faces--first hers, then Fan's.
"There is no vacancy at present," he replied at length. "Besides, when
there is one, which is not often, we usually have the names of several
applicants who are only waiting to be engaged by us. We have always
plenty to choose from, and of course select the one that offers the
greatest advantages--experience, for instance; and you say that your
friend has no experience. The fact is," he continued, expanding still
more, "our house is so well known that scores of young ladies would be
glad at any moment to throw up the places they have in other
establishments to be taken on here."
Constance rose from her seat.
"It was hardly necessary," she said, with some dignity, "to bring us
into your private office to tell us all this, since we already knew that
we had made a mistake in coming."
"Wait a minute," he returned, with a grim smile. "Please sit down again.
I understand that it is for your friend and not for yourself. Well, I
find it hard to say--" and here with keenly critical eyes he looked first
at her, then at Fan, making little nods and motions with his head, and
moving his lips as if very earnestly talking to himself. "All I can say
is this," he continued, "if this young lady is willing to come for a
month without pay to learn the business, and afterwards, should she suit
us, to remain at a salary of eighteen shillings a week and her board for
the first six months, why, then I might be willing to engage her. You can
give a reference, I suppose?"
Both girls were fairly astonished at the sudden turn the affair had
taken, and could scarcely credit their own senses, so illogically did
this keen grim man seem to act. They did not know his motive.
Not to make a secret of a very simple matter, he thought a great deal
more than most men in his way of life about personal appearance. He made
it an object to have only assistants with fine figures and pretty faces,
with the added advantage of a pleasing manner. When he discovered that
these two young ladies with graceful figures and refined, beautiful
faces had not come into the shop to purchase anything, but in quest of an
engagement for one of them, he instantly resolved not to let slip so good
an opportunity of adding to his collection of fair women. It was not that
he had any soft spot in his heart with regard to pretty women: so long as
his assistants did their duty, he treated them all with the strictest
impartiality, blonde or brunette, grave or gay, and was somewhat stern in
his manner towards them, and had an eagle's eye to detect their faults,
which were never allowed to go unpunished. He worshipped nothing but his
shop, and he had pretty girls in it for the same reason that he had
Adonises for shop-walkers, artistically-dressed windows, and an
aristocratic-looking old commissionaire at the door--namely, to make it
It is true that some great dames, with thin lips, oblique noses, green
complexions, and clay-coloured eyes, hate to be served by a damsel
wearing that effulgent unbought crown of beauty which makes all other
crowns seem such pitiful tinsel gewgaws to the sick soul. That was one
disadvantage, but it was greatly overweighed by a general preference for
beauty over ugliness. The flower-girl with beautiful eyes stands a better
chance than her squinting sister of selling a penny bunch of violets to
the next passer-by. If a girl ceased to look ornamental, however
intelligent or trustworthy she might be, he got rid of her at once
without scruple. His seeming hesitation when he spoke to the girls before
making his offer was due simply to the fact that he was mentally occupied
in comparing them together. Both so perfect in figure, face, manner
--which would he have taken if he had had the choice given him?
For some moments he half regretted that it was not the more developed,
richer-coloured girl with the bronzed tresses who had aspired to join his
staff. Then he shook his head: that exquisite brown tint would not last
for ever in the shade, and the bearing was also just a shade too proud.
He considered the other, with the slimmer figure, the far more delicate
skin, the more eloquent eyes, and he concluded that he had got the best
of the pair.
"I should so like to come," said Fan, for they were both waiting for her
to speak, "but am afraid that I can give no reference."
"Oh, Fan, surely you can!" said the other.
"I have no friend but you, Constance; I could not write to Mary now."
The other considered a little.
"Oh, yes; there is Mr. Northcott," she said, then turning to the manager
asked, "Will the name of a clergyman in the country place where Miss
Affleck has spent the last year be sufficient?"
"Yes, that will do very well," he said, giving her pencil and paper to
write the name and address. Then he asked a few questions about Fan's
attainments, and seemed pleased to hear that she had learnt dressmaking
and embroidery. "So much the better," he said. "You can come to-morrow to
receive instructions about your dress, and to hear when your attendance
will begin. The hours are from half-past eight to half-past six.
Saturdays we close at two. You have breakfast when you come in, dinner at
twelve or one, tea at four. You must find your own lodgings, and it will
be better not to get them too far away."
"May I ask you not to write about Miss Affleck until to-morrow?"
Constance said. "I must write to-day first to Mr. Northcott to inform
him. He will be a little surprised, I suppose, that Miss Affleck is going
into a shop, but he will tell you all about her disposition, and"--with a
pause and a hot blush--"her respectability."
He smiled again grimly.
"I have no doubt that Miss Affleck is a lady by birth," he said. "But do
not run away with the idea that she is doing anything peculiar. There are
several daughters of gentlemen in our house, as she will probably
discover when she comes to associate with them."
"I am glad," said Constance, rising to go.
He was turning the paper with the address on in his hand. "You need not
trouble to write to this gentleman," he said. "I shall not write to him.
If you are fairly intelligent, Miss Affleck, and anxious to do your best,
you will do very well, I dare say. References are of little use to me; I
prefer to use my own judgment. But you must understand clearly that for
every dereliction there is a fine, which is deducted from the salary. A
printed copy of the rules will be given you. And you may be discharged at
a moment's notice at any time."
"Only for some grave fault, I suppose?" said Constance.
"Not necessarily," he returned.
"That seems hard."
"I do not trouble myself about that. The business is of more consequence
than any individual in it," he replied; and then walked to the door with
them and bowed them out with some ceremony.
For the rest of the day Fan was in a state of bewilderment at her own
great good fortune; for this engagement meant so much to her. That
horrible phantom, the fear of abject poverty, would follow her no more.
With L20 in hand and all Mary's presents, and eighteen shillings a week
in prospect, she considered herself rich; and with her evenings, her
Sundays and holidays to spend how she liked, and Constance always near,
how happy she would be! But why, when crowds of experienced girls were
waiting and anxiously wishing to get into this establishment, had she,
utterly ignorant of business, been taken in this sudden off-hand way? It
was a mystery to her, and a mystery also to the clever Constance, and to
the still more clever Merton when he was told about it. Unknowingly she
had submitted herself to a competitive examination in which useless
knowledge was not considered, and in which those who possessed pretty
faces and fine figures scored the most marks. After this she was scarcely
in the right frame to appreciate the works of art they went on to see.
That long interior in Regent Street, with its costly goods and pretty
elegantly-dressed girls, and perfumed glossy shop-walker, and ugly
bristling fierce-eyed manager, continually floated before her mental
vision, even when she looked on the most celebrated canvases--even on
those painted by Turner.
These same celebrated pieces startled Constance somewhat, although she
had come prepared by a childlike faith in Ruskin's infallibility to
worship them. She was, however, too frank to attempt to conceal her real
impressions, and then Merton consolingly informed her that no person
could appreciate a Turner before seeing it many times. One's first
impression is, that over this canvas the artist has dashed a bucket of
soap-suds, and over that a pot of red and yellow ochre. Well, after all,
what was a snowstorm but a bucket of soap-suds on a big scale! Call it
suds, a mad smudge, anything you like, but it was a miracle of art all
the same if it produced the effect aimed at, and gave one some idea of
that darkness and whiteness, and rush and mad mingling of elements, and
sublime confusion of nature.
"But my trouble is," objected Constance, "that, the effect does
_not_ seem right--that it is not really like nature."
"No, certainly not. Nature is nature, and you cannot create another
nature in imitation of it, any more than you can comprehend infinity.
This is only art, the highest thing, in this particular direction, which
the poor little creature man has been able to attain. You have doubtless
heard the story of the old lady who said to the painter of these scenes,
'Oh, Mr. Turner, I never saw such lights and colours in nature as you
paint!' 'No, don't you wish you could?' replied the artist. Now the old
lady was perfectly right. You cannot put white quivering tropical heat on
a canvas, but Turner dashes unnatural vermilion over his scene and the
picture is not ridiculous; the effect of noonday heat is somehow
produced. Look at those sunsets! In one sense they are failures, every
one of them; but what a splendid audacity the man had, and what a genius,
to attempt to portray nature in those special moments when it shines with
a glory that seems unearthly, and not to have failed more signally!
Failures they are, but nobler works than other men's successes. You are
perfectly right, Connie, but when you look at a great picture do not
forget to remember that art is long and life short. That is what the old
lady didn't know, and what Turner should have told her instead of making
that contemptuous speech."
Constance was comforted, and continued to listen delightedly as he led
them from room to room, pointing out the most famous pictures and
expatiating on their beauties.
From the Gallery they went to Marshall's in the Strand and drank tea;
then Merton put them in an Underground train at Charing Cross and said
goodbye, being prevented by an engagement from seeing them home. He had
put them into a compartment of a first-class carriage which was empty,
but after the train had started the door was opened, and in jumped two
young gentlemen, almost tumbling against the girls in their hurry.
"Just saved it!" exclaimed one, throwing himself with a laugh into the
"It was a close shave," said the other. "Did you see that young fellow
standing near the edge of the platform? I caught him on the side and sent
him spinning like a top."
"Why, that was Chance--didn't you know him? I was in too much of a hurry
even to give the poor devil a nod."
"Good gracious, was that Chance--that madman that threw up his clerkship
at the F.O.!"
"No, he didn't," his friend replied. "That's what _he_ says, but the
truth is he got mixed up in a disreputable affair and had to resign. No
doubt he has been going to the 'demnition bow-bows,' as Mr. Mantalini
says, but he wasn't so mad as to throw away his bread just to have the
pleasure of starving. He hasn't a ha'penny."
"Well, _I_ don't care," said the other with a laugh, and then went
on to talk of other things.
During this colloquy Fan had glanced frequently at her companion, but
Constance, who had grown deathly pale, kept her face averted and her eyes
fixed on the window, as if some wide prospect, and not the rayless
darkness of the tunnel, had been before them. From their station they
walked rapidly and in silence home, and when inside, Constance spoke for
the first time, and in a tone of studied indifference.
"So much going about has given me a headache, Fan," she said. "I shall
lie down in my room and have a little sleep, and don't call me, please,
when you have supper. I am sorry to leave you alone all the evening, but
you will have something pleasant to think about as you have been so
She was about to move away, when Fan came to her side and caught her
"Don't go just yet, dear Constance," she said. "Why do you try to--shut
me out of your heart? Oh, if you knew how much--how very much I feel for
"What about?" said the other a little sharply, and drawing herself back.
"What about! We are both thinking of the same thing."
"Yes, very likely, but what of that? Is it such a great thing that you
need to distress yourself so much about it?"
"How can I help being distressed at such a thing; it has changed
everything, and will make you so unhappy. You know that you can't marry
Mr. Chance now after he has deceived you in that way."
"Can't marry Mr. Chance!" exclaimed Constance, putting her friend from
her. "Do you imagine that the wretched malicious gossip of those two men
in the train will have the slightest effect on me! What a mistake you are
"But you know it is true," returned Fan with strange simplicity; and this
imprudent speech quickly brought on her a tempest of anger. When the
heart is burdened with a great anguish which cannot be expressed there is
nothing like a burst of passion to relieve it. Tear-shedding is a weak
ineffectual remedy compared with this burning counter-irritant of the
"I do not know that it is true!" she exclaimed. "What right have you to
say such a thing, as if you knew Merton so well, and had weighed him in
an infallible balance and found him wanting! I have heard nothing but
malicious tittle-tattle, a falsehood beneath contempt, set afloat by some
enemy of Merton's. If I could have thought it true for one moment I
should never cease to despise myself. Have you forgotten how you blazed
out against me for speaking my mind about Miss Starbrow when she cast you
off? Yet you did not know her as I know Merton, and how paltry a thing is
the feeling you have for her compared with that which I have for my
future husband! What does it matter to me what they said?--I know him
better. But you have been prejudiced against him from the beginning, for
no other reason but because I loved him. Nothing but selfishness was at
the bottom of that feeling. You imagined that marriage would put an end
to our friendship, and thought nothing about my happiness, but only of
"Do you believe that of me, Constance?" said Fan, greatly distressed.
"Ah, I remember when we had that trouble about Mary's letter at
Eyethorne, you said that you had not known me until that day. You do not
know me now if you think that your happiness is nothing to me--if you
think that it is less to me than my own."
Her words, her look, the tone of her voice touched Constance to the
"Oh, Fan, why then do you provoke me to say harsh things?" and then,
turning aside, burst into a passion of weeping and sobs which shook her
whole frame. But when the sobs were exhausted she recovered her serenity:
those violent remedies--anger and tears--had not failed of their
beneficent effect on her mind.
On the following day she seemed even cheerful, as if the whole painful
matter had been forgotten. Merton, at all events, seemed to detect no
change in her when he came to take her to the park in the afternoon. Only
to Fan there appeared a shadow in the clear hazel eyes, and a note of
trouble in the voice which had not been there before.
In a short time after this incident Fan was taken into the great Regent
Street establishment, and had her mind very fully occupied with her new
duties. One afternoon at the end of her first week the manager came up
and spoke to her.
"Are you living with friends?" he said.
"I am living with Miss Churton--the lady who came here with me," she
replied. "But she is going to be married soon, and I must find another
place nearer Regent Street."
"Ah, this then will perhaps be a help to you," and he handed her a card.
"That is the address of a woman who keeps a very quiet respectable
lodging-house. We have known her for years, and if she has a vacancy you
could not do better than go to her."
She thanked him, and took the card gladly. That little act of
thoughtfulness made her feel very happy, and believe that he had a kind
heart in spite of his stern despotic manner. To continue in that belief,
however, required faith on her part, which is the evidence of things not
seen, for he did not go out of his way again to show her any kindness.
Next day being Sunday, the girls were able to go together to see the
lodging-house, which was in Charlotte Street in Marylebone, and found the
landlady, Mrs. Grierson, a very fat and good-tempered woman. She took
them to the top floor to show the only vacant room she had; it was fairly
large for a top room, and plainly and decently furnished, and the rent
asked was six-and-sixpence a week. But the good woman was so favourably
impressed with Fan's appearance, and so touched at the flattering
recommendation given by the manager, that at once, and before they had
said a word, she reduced the price to five shillings, and then said that
she would be glad to let it to the young lady for four-and-sixpence a
week. The room was taken there and then, and a few days later the friends
separated, one to settle down in her lonely lodging, the other to be
quietly married at a registry office, without relation or friend to
witness the ceremony; after which the newly-married couple went away to
spend their honeymoon at a distance from London.
For several months after that hasty and somewhat inauspicious marriage--
"unsanctified," Mrs. Churton would have said--it seemed as if the course
of events had effectually parted the two girls, and that their close
friendship was destined to be less a reality than a memory, so seldom
were they able to meet. From their honeymoon the Chances came back to
London only to settle down at Putney for the remainder of the warm
season; and this was far from Marylebone, and Fan was only able to go
there occasionally on a Sunday. But in September they moved to Chelsea,
and for a few weeks the friends met more often, and Constance frequently
called at the Regent Street shop to see and speak with Fan for two or
three minutes. This, however, did not last. Suddenly the Chances moved
again, this time to a country town over fifty miles from London. Merton
had made the discovery that journalism and not literature was his proper
vocation, and had been taken on the staff of a country weekly newspaper,
of which he hoped one day to be editor. The girls were now further apart
than ever, and for months there was no meeting. But during all this time
they corresponded, scarcely a week passing without an exchange of
letters, and this correspondence was at this period the greatest pleasure
in Fan's life. For Constance, next to Mary, who was lost to her, was the
being she loved most on earth; nor did she feel love only. She was filled
with gratitude because her friend, although married to such a soul-
filling person as Merton Chance, was not forgetful of her humble
existence, but constantly thought of her and sent her long delightful
letters, and was always wishing and hoping to be near her again. And yet,
strange contradiction! in her heart of hearts she greatly pitied her
friend. Sometimes Constance would write glowing accounts of her husband's
triumphs--an article accepted perhaps, a flattering letter from a
magazine editor, a favourable notice in a newspaper, or some new scheme
which would bring them fame and fortune. But if she had written to say
that Merton actually had become famous, that all England was ringing with
his praise, that publishers and editors were running after him with blank
cheques in their hands, imploring him to give them a book, an article,
she would still have pitied her friend. For that was Fan's nature. When a
thing once entered into her mind there was no getting it out again. Mary
to others might be a fantastical woman, heartless, a fiend incarnate if
they liked, but the simple faith in her goodness, the old idolatrous
affection still ruled in her heart. The thoughts and feelings which had
swayed her in childhood swayed her still; and the gospel of the carpenter
Cawood was the only gospel she knew. And as to Merton, the contemptuous
judgment Mary had passed on him had become her judgment; the words she
had heard of him in the train were absolutely true; he had deceived his
wife with lies; he was weak and vain and fickle, one it was a disaster to
love and lean upon. Love, gratitude, and pity stirred her heart when she
thought of Constance, and while the pity was kept secret the love was
freely and frequently expressed, and from week to week she told the story
of her life to her sympathetic friend--all its little incidents, trials,
There was little to break the monotony of her life out of business hours
at this period; and it was perhaps fortunate for her that she usually
came home tired in the evening, wishing for rest rather than for
distraction. There was nothing in that part of London to make walking
attractive. The Regent's Park was close by, it is true, and thither she
was accustomed to go for a walk on Sundays, except when one or other of
her new acquaintances in the shop, living with her own people, invited
her to dinner or tea. But on weekdays, especially in winter, when the
streets were sloppy, and the atmosphere grey and damp, there was no
inducement to take her out. In such conditions Marylebone is as
depressing a district as any in London. The streets have a dull
monotonous appearance, and the ancient unvenerable houses are grimy to
blackness with the accumulation of soot on them. The inhabitants,
especially in that portion of Marylebone where Fan lived, form a strange
mixture. Artists, men of letters, sober tradesmen, artisans, day
labourers, students, shop-assistants, and foreigners--dynamiters,
adventurers, and waiters waiting for places--may all be found living in
one short street. Bohemianism, vice, respectability, wealth and poverty,
are jumbled together as in no other district in London. The modest wife,
coming out of her door at ten in the morning to do her marketing, meets,
face to face, her next neighbour standing at _her_ door, a jug in
her hand, waiting for some late milkman to pass--a slovenly dame in a
dressing-gown with half the buttons off, primrose-coloured hair loose on
her back, and a porcelain complexion hastily dabbed on a yellow
dissipated face. The Maryleboners (or -bonites) being a Happy Family, in
the menagerie sense, do not vex their souls about this condition of
things; the well-fed and the hungry, the pure and the impure, are near
together, but in soul they are just as far apart as elsewhere.
Nevertheless, to a young girl like Fan, living alone, and beautiful to
the eye, the large amount of immorality around her was a serious trouble,
and she never ventured out in the evening, even to go a short distance,
without trepidation and a fast-beating heart, so strong was that old
loathing and horror the leering looks and insolent advances of dissolute
men inspired in her. And in no part of London are such men more numerous.
When the shadows of evening fall their thoughts "lightly turn" to the
tired shop-girl, just released from her long hours of standing and
serving, and the surveillance perhaps of a tyrannical shop-walker who
makes her life a burden. Her cheap black dress, pale face, and wistful
eyes betray her. She is so tired, so hungry for a little recreation,
something to give a little brightness and colour to her grey life, so
unprotected and weak to resist--how easy to compass her destruction! The
long evenings were lonely in her room, but it was safe there, and sitting
before her fire writing to Constance, or thinking of her, and reading
again one of the small collection of books she had brought from
Eyethorne, the hours would pass not too slowly.
At length when the long cold season was drawing to an end, when the mud
in the streets dried into fine dust for the mad March winds to whirl
about, and violets and daffodils were cheap enough for Fan to buy, and
she looked eagerly forward to walks in the grassy park at the end of each
day, during those long summer evenings when the sun hangs low and does
not set, the glad tidings reached her that the Chances were coming back
to London. Journalism, in a country town at all events, had proved a
failure, and Merton, with some new scheme in his brain, was once more
about to return to the great intellectual centre, which, he now said, he
ought never to have left.
"Most men when they want something done," he remarked, "have a vile way
of getting the wrong person to do it. Here have I been wasting my flowers
on this bovine public--whole clusters every week to those who have no
sense of smell and no eye for form and colour. What they want is
ensilage--a coarse fare suited to ruminants."
A few days afterwards Constance wrote from Norland Square in Notting Hill
asking Fan to visit her as soon as convenient. Fan got the letter on a
Saturday morning, and when the shop closed at two she hastened home to
change her dress, and then started for Norland Square, where she arrived
about half-past three o'clock.
There is no greater happiness on earth, and we can imagine no greater in
heaven, than that which is experienced by two loving friends on meeting
again after a long separation; that is, when the reunion has not been too
long delayed. If new interests and feelings have not obscured the old, if
Time has written no "strange defeatures" on the soul, and the image
treasured by memory corresponds with the reality, then the communion of
heart with heart seems sweeter than it ever seemed before its
interruption. And this happiness, this rapture of the soul which makes
life seem angelic for a season, the two friends now experienced in full
measure. For an hour they sat together, holding each other's hands,
feeling a strange inexpressible pleasure in merely listening to the sound
of each other's voices, noting the familiar tones, the old expressions,
the rippling laughter so long unheard, and in gazing into each other's
eyes, bright with the lustre of joy, and tender with love almost to
"Fan," said her friend, holding her a little away in order to see her
better, "I have been distressing myself about you in vain. I could not
help thinking that there would be one change after all this time, that
your skin would lose that delicacy which makes you look so unfitted for
work of any kind. There would be, I thought, a little of that unwholesome
pallor and the tired look one so often sees in girls who are confined in
shops and have to stand all day on their feet. But you have the same
fresh look and pure delicate skin; nothing alters you. I do believe that
you will never change at all, however long you may live, and never grow
"Or clever and wise like you," laughed the other.
The result of Fan's inspection of her friend's face was not equally
satisfactory; for although Constance had not lost her rich colour nor
grown thin, there was a look of trouble in the clear hazel eyes--the
shadow which had first come there when the girls had overheard a
conversation about Merton in the train, only the shadow was more
"I expect Merton home at five," she said, "and then we'll have tea." Fan
noticed that when she spoke of her husband that shadow of trouble did not
grow less. And by-and-by, putting her arm round the other's neck, she
"Dearest Constance, shall I tell you one change I see in you? You are
unhappy about something. Why will you not let me share your trouble? We
were such dear friends always, ever since that day in the woods when you
asked me why I disliked you. Must it be different now because you are
"It must be a little different in some things," she replied gravely, and
averting her eyes. "I love you as much as I ever did, and shall never
have another friend like you in the world. But, Fan, a husband must have
the first place in a wife's heart, and no friend, however dear, can be
fully taken into their confidence. We are none of us quite happy, or have
everything we desire in our lives; and the only difference now is that I
can't tell you quite all my little secret troubles, as I hope you will
always tell me yours until you marry. Do you not see that it must be so?"
"If it must be, Constance. But it seems hard, and--I am not sure that you
"I have, like everyone else, only my own feelings of what is right to
guide me. And now let us talk of something else--of dear old Eyethorne
It was curious to note the change that had come over her mind with regard
to Eyethorne; and how persistently she returned to the subject of her
life there, appearing to find a melancholy pleasure in dwelling on it.
How she had despised its narrowness then--its stolid ignorances and
prejudices, the dull, mean virtues on which it prided itself, the
malicious gossip in which it took delight--and had chafed at the thought
of her wasted years! Now all those things that had vexed her seemed
trivial and even unreal. She thought less of men and women and more of
nature, the wide earth, so tender and variable in its tints, yet so
stable, the far-off dim horizon and infinite heaven, the procession of
the seasons, the everlasting freshness and glory. It was all so sweet and
peaceful, and the years had not been wasted which had been spent in
dreaming. What beautiful dreams had kept her company there--dreams of the
future, of all she would accomplish in life, of all life's possibilities!
Oh no, not possibilities; for there was nothing in actual life to
correspond with those imaginings. Not more unlike were those Turner
canvases, daubed over with dull earthy paint, to the mysterious shadowy
depths, the crystal purity, the evanescent splendours of nature at morn
and noon and eventide, than was this married London life to the life she
had figured in her dreams. That was the reality, the true life, and this
that was called reality only a crude and base imitation. They were still
talking of Eyethorne when Merton returned; but not alone, for he brought
a friend with him, a young gentleman whom he introduced as Arthur Eden.
He had not expected to find Fan with his wife, and a shade of annoyance
passed over his face when he saw her. But in a moment it was gone, and
seizing her hand he greeted her with exaggerated cordiality.
Constance welcomed her unexpected guest pleasantly, yet his coming
disturbed her a good deal; for they were poor, living in a poor way,
their only sitting-room where they took their meals being small and musty
and mean-looking, with its rickety chairs and sofa covered with cheap
washed-out cretonne, its faded carpet and vulgar little gimcrack
ornaments on the mantelpiece. And this friend gave one the idea that her
husband had fallen from a somewhat better position in life than he was
now in. There was an intangible something about him which showed him to
be one of those favoured children of destiny who are placed above the
need of a "career," who dress well and live delicately, and have nothing
to do in life but to extract all the sweetness there is in it. Very good-
looking was this Mr. Eden, with an almost feminine beauty. Crisp brown
hair, with a touch of chestnut in it, worn short and parted in the
middle; low forehead, straight, rather thin nose, refined mouth and fine
grey eyes. The face did not lack intelligence, but the predominant
expression was indolent good-nature; it was colourless, and looked jaded
and _blase_ for one so young, his age being about twenty-four. The
most agreeable thing in him was his voice, which, although subdued, had
that quality of tenderness and resonance more common in Italy than in our
moist, thick-throated island; and it was pleasant to hear his light ready
laugh, musical as a woman's. In his voice and easy quiet manner he
certainly contrasted very favourably with his friend. Merton was loud and
incessant in his talk, and walked about and gesticulated, and spoke with
an unnecessary emphasis, a sham earnestness, which more than once called
an anxious look to his wife's expressive face.
"What do you think, Connie!" he cried. "In Piccadilly I ran against old
Eden after not having seen him for over five years! I was never so
overjoyed at meeting anyone in my life! We were at school together at
Winchester, you know, and then he went to Cambridge--lucky dog! And I
--but what does it matter where I went?--to some wretched crammer, I
suppose. Since I lost sight of him he has been all over the world--India,
Japan, America--no end of places, enjoying life and enlarging his mind,
while I was wasting the best years of my life at that confounded Foreign
"I shouldn't mind wasting the rest of _my_ life in it," said his
friend with a slight laugh.
"Now just listen to me," said Merton, squaring himself before the other,
and prepared to launch out concerning the futility of life in the Foreign
Office; but Constance at that moment interposed to say that tea was
waiting. She had herself taken the tea-things from the general servant,
who had brought them to the door, and was a slatternly girl, not
"I must tell you, Connie," began Merton, as soon as they were seated, for
he had forgotten all about the other subject by this time, "that when I
met Eden this afternoon he at once agreed to accompany me home to make
your acquaintance, and take pot-luck with us. Of course I have told him
all about our present circumstances, that we are not settled yet, and
living in a kind of Bohemian fashion."