Part 9 out of 10
"You knew very well," she said, "that I wanted you to go with me to the
seaside, or somewhere; and now that Mrs. Chance is going home you might
have given a little of your time to me. But of course I was foolish to
imagine that you would leave your friend for my society."
"I can't very well leave her now, Mary--I scarcely think it would be
"Of course it wouldn't, since you prefer to be with her," interrupted the
other. "I am never afraid to say that I do a thing because it pleases me,
but you must call it duty, or by some other fine name."
She got up and moved indignantly about the room, pushing a chair out of
"I'm sorry you take it in that way," said Fan. "I was going to ask you to
do something to please me, but after what you said have--"
"Oh, that needn't deter you," said Mary, tossing her head, but evidently
interested. "If it would be pleasing to you I would of course do it. I
mean if it would be pleasing to _me_ as well. I am not quite so
crazy as to do things for which I have no inclination solely to please
some other person."
"Not even to please me--when we are such dear friends?"
"Certainly not, since our friendship is to be such a one-sided affair. If
I had any reason to suppose that you really cared as much for me as you
say, then everything that pleased you would please me, and I should not
mind putting myself out in any way to serve you. Before I promise
anything I must know what you want."
"Before I tell you, Mary, let me explain why I wish to go to Eyethorne.
You know how Constance has been left, and that she is my guest. Well, I
had meant to take her with me to the seaside for a few weeks when she
said this about going home. It is the best thing she could do, but you
know from what I have told you before that she cannot count on much
sympathy from her parents, that she will perhaps be worse off under their
roof than if she were to go among strangers. If all she has gone through
since her marriage should have no effect in softening Mrs. Churton
towards her, then her home will be a very sad place, and it is for this
reason I wish to accompany her, for it may be that she will want a friend
to help her. Don't you think I am right, Mary?"
"You must not ask me," said the other. "I shall not interfere with
anything that concerns Mrs. Chance. She is your friend and not mine, and
I would prefer not to hear anything about her. And now you can go on to
the other matter."
"I can't very well do that, since it concerns Constance, and you forbid
me to speak of her."
"Oh, it concerns Constance!" exclaimed Mary, and half averting her face
to conceal the disappointment she felt. "Then I'm pretty sure that I
shall not be able to please you, Fan. But you may say what you like."
Fan moved near to her--near enough to put her hand on the other's arm.
"Mary, it seems very strange and unnatural that you two--you and
Constance--should be dear to me, and that you should not also know and
love each other."
"You are wasting your words, Fan. I shall never know her, and we should
not love each other. I have seen her once, and have no wish to see her
again. Oil and vinegar will not mix."
"It is not a question of oil and vinegar, Mary, but of two women--"
"So much the worse--I hate women."
"Two women, both beautiful, both clever, and yet so different! Which do
you think sweetest and most beautiful--rose or stephanotis?"
"Don't be a silly flatterer, Fan. _She_ is beautiful, I know,
because I saw her; and I was not mistaken when I knew that her beauty
would enslave you."
"She _was_ beautiful, Mary, and I hope that she will be so again.
Now she is only a wreck of the Constance you saw at Eyethorne. But more
beautiful than you she never was, Mary."
"Flattery, flattery, flattery!"
"Which of those two flowers are you like, and which is she like? Let me
tell you what _I_ think. You are most like the rose, Mary--that is
to me the sweetest and most beautiful of all flowers."
Mary turned away, shaking the caressing hand off with a gesture of scorn.
"And I, Mary, between two such flowers, what am I?" continued Fan.
"Someone once called me a flower, but he must have been thinking of some
poor scentless thing--a daisy, perhaps."
"Say a heart's-ease, Fan," said Mary, turning round again to her friend
with a little laugh.
"But I haven't finished yet. Both so proud and high-spirited, and yet
with such loving, tender hearts."
"That is the most arrant nonsense, Fan. You must be a goose, or what is
almost as bad, a hypocrite, to say that I have any love or tenderness in
me. I confess that I did once have a little affection for you, but that
is pretty well over now."
Fan laughed incredulously, and put her arms round her friend's neck.
"No," said the other resolutely, "you are not going to wheedle me in that
way. I hate all women, I think, but especially those that have any
resemblance to me in character."
"She is your exact opposite in everything," said Fan boldly. "Darling
Mary, say that you will see her just to please me. And if you can't like
her then, you needn't see her a second time."
Mary wavered, and at length said:
"You can call with her, if you like, Fan."
"No, Mary, I couldn't do that. You are both proud, but you are rich and
she is poor--too poor to dress well, but too proud to take a dress as a
present from me."
"Then, Fan, I shall make no promise at all. I am not going out of my way
to cultivate the acquaintance of a person I care nothing about and do not
wish to know merely to afford you a passing pleasure." After a while she
added, "At the same time it is just possible that some day, if the fancy
takes me, I may call at your rooms. If I happen to be in that
neighbourhood, I mean. If I should not find you in so much the better,
but you will not be able to say that I refused to do what you asked. And
now let's talk of something else."
The words had not sounded very gracious, but Fan was well satisfied, and
looked on her object as already gained. The discovery which she made,
that she had a great deal of power over Mary, had moreover given her a
strange happiness, exhilarating her like wine.
For the next two days Fan was continually on the tiptoe of expectation,
shortening her walks for fear of missing Mary, and not going to Dawson
Place, and still her friend came not. On the third day she came about
three o'clock in the afternoon, when Fan by chance happened to be out.
Miss Starbrow, on hearing at the door that Miss Eden was not at home,
considered for a few moments, and then sent up her card to Constance, who
was greatly surprised to see it, for Fan had said nothing to make her
expect such a visit. She concluded that it was for Fan, and that Miss
Starbrow wished to wait or leave some message for her. In the sitting-
room they met, Constance slightly nervous and looking pale in her
mourning, and regarded each other with no little curiosity.
"I am sorry Fan is out," said Constance, "but if you do not mind waiting
for her she will perhaps come in soon."
"I shall be glad to see her--she has forsaken me for the last few days.
But I called to-day to see you, Mrs. Chance."
Constance looked surprised. "Thank you, Miss Starbrow, it is very kind of
you," she answered quietly.
There was a slight shadow on the other's face; she had come only to
please Fan, and was not at ease with this woman, who was a stranger to
her, and perhaps resented her visit. Then she remembered that Constance
had become acquainted with Merton Chance only through Fan's having seen
him once at her house, reflecting with a feeling of mingled wonder and
compassion that through so trivial a circumstance this poor girl's life
had been so darkly clouded. They had sat for some moments in silence when
Miss Starbrow, with a softened look in her eyes and in a gentler tone,
"We have met only once before," she said, "and that is a long time ago,
but I have heard so much of you from Fan that I cannot think of you as a
stranger, and the change I see in you reminds me strongly of all you have
"Yes, I suppose I must seem greatly changed," returned the other, not
speaking so coldly as at first. Then, with a searching glance at her
visitor's face, she added, "You knew my husband before I did, Miss
Ever since her marriage she had been haunted with the thought that there
had been something more than a mere acquaintance between Merton and this
lady. Her husband himself had given her that suspicion by the disparaging
way he had invariably spoken of her, and his desire to know everything
that Fan had said about her. That Fan had never told her anything was no
proof that there was nothing to tell, since the girl was strangely close
about some things.
"Yes," returned Miss Starbrow, noting and perhaps rightly interpreting
the other's look. "He used occasionally to come to my house on Wednesday
evenings. I never saw him except at these little gatherings, but I liked
him very much and admired his talents. I was deeply shocked to hear of
Constance dropped her eyes, which had grown slightly dim. "Your words
sound sincere," she returned.
"That is a strange thing to say, I think," returned Miss Starbrow
quickly. "It is not my custom to be insincere." And then her sincerity
almost compelled her to add, "But about your late husband I have said too
much." For that was what she felt, and it vexed her soul to have to utter
"I fear I did not express myself well," apologised Constance. "But I have
grown a little morbid, perhaps, through knowing that the few friends I
have, who knew my husband, had formed a somewhat disparaging and greatly
mistaken opinion of him. I am sorry they knew him so little; but it is
perhaps natural for us to think little of any man until he succeeds. What
I meant to say was that your words did not sound as if they came only
from your lips."
"Perhaps you are a little morbid, Mrs. Chance--forgive me for saying it.
For after all what does it matter what people say or think about any of
us? I dare say that if your husband had by chance invented a new button-
hook or something, and had been paid fifty thousand pounds for the
patent, or if someone had died and left him a fortune, people would have
seen all the good that was in him and more."
"Yes, I suppose so. And yet it seems a cynical view to take. I should
like to believe that it is not necessary to be wealthy, or famous, or
distinguished in any way above my fellows, in order to win hearts--to
make others know me as I know myself."
"Perhaps the view I took was cynical, Mrs. Chance. At all events, without
being either wealthy or famous, you have won at least one friend who
seems to know you well, and loves you with her whole heart."
Again Constance looked searchingly at her, remembering that old jealousy
of her visitor, and not quite sure that the words had not been spoken
merely to draw her out. And Mary guessed her thought and frowned again.
"Yes," quickly returned Constance, casting her suspicion away, "I have in
Fan a friend indeed. A sweeter, more candid and loving spirit it would be
impossible to find on earth. Not only does she greatly love, but there is
also in her a rare faculty of inspiring love in those she encounters."
"Yes, I know that," said Mary, thinking how much better she knew it than
the other, and of the two distinct kinds of love it had been Fan's
fortune to inspire.
"I blame myself greatly for having kept away from her for so long,"
continued Constance. "But she is very tenacious. It has sometimes seemed
strange to me that one so impressionable and clinging as she is should be
so unchangeable in her affections."
"Yes, I think she is that."
"You have reason to think it, Miss Starbrow. You have, and always have
had, the first place in her heart, and her feelings towards you have
never changed in the least from the first."
"You wish to remind me that _my_ feelings have changed, and that
more than once," returned the other, with some slight asperity.
"No, please do not imagine that, Miss Starbrow. But it is well that you
should know from me, since Fan will probably never tell it, that when
that letter from you came to her at Eyethorne, the only anger she
displayed was at hearing unkind words spoken of you."
"But who spoke unkind words of me?"
"You are certainly frank, Mrs. Chance."
"Am I too frank? I could not help telling you this; now that we have met
again my conscience would not let me keep silence. I spoke then hastily,
angrily, and, I am glad now to be able to confess, unjustly."
"That I cannot say, but I like you all the better for your frankness, and
I hope that you will let me be your friend."
Constance turned her face, smiling and flushed with pleasure at the
words; their eyes met, then their hands.
When Fan returned shortly afterwards she found them sitting side by side
on the sofa, conversing like old and intimate friends, and it was a happy
moment to her, as her heart had been long set on bringing them together.
But she had little time to taste this new happiness; hardly had she
kissed Mary and expressed her pleasure at seeing her, when the servant
came up with a visitor's card, and the visitor himself quickly followed,
and almost before Fan had read the name, Captain Horton was in the room.
Constance, as it happened, knew nothing about him except that he was a
friend of Fan's, whom he had met formerly at Miss Starbrow's house, but
his sudden unexpected entrance had an almost paralysing effect on the
other two. Fan advanced to meet him, but pale and agitated, and then Mary
also rose from her seat, her face becoming livid, and seizing Fan by the
arm drew her back; while the visitor, the smile with which he had entered
gone from his face, stood still in the middle of the room, his eyes fixed
on the white angry countenance before him.
For days past, ever since Fan's return to London after Merton's funeral,
Mary had been impatiently waiting to hear this man's name spoken again--
to hear Fan say favourable things of him, and plead for pardon; and
because the wished words had not been spoken, she had felt secretly
unhappy, and even vexed, with the girl for her silence. Again and again
it had been on her lips to ask, "How are you getting on with that
charming new friend of yours?" but for very shame she had held her peace.
And now that the thing she had wished had come to her--that the man she
had secretly pined to see was in her presence--all that softness she had
lamented, or had pretended to herself to lament, was gone in one moment.
For her first thought was that his coming at that moment had been
prearranged, that Fan had planned to bring about the reconciliation in
her own way; and that was more than she could stand. In time the
reconciliation would have come, but as she would have it, slowly, little
by little, and her forgiveness would be given reluctantly, not forced
from her as it were by violence. Now she could only remember the
treatment she had received at his hands--the insult, the outrage, and his
audacity in thus coming on her by surprise stung and roused all the
virago in her.
"Fan, I see it all now," she exclaimed, her voice ringing clear and
incisive. "I see through the hypocritical reason you had for asking me to
come here. But you will gain nothing by this mean trick to bring me and
that man together. It was a plot between you two, and the result will be
a breach between us, and nothing more."
Constance had also risen now, and was regarding them with undisguised
"A plot, Mary! Oh, what a mistake you are making! I have not seen Captain
Horton for weeks, and had no idea that he meant to call on me here. Your
visit was also unexpected, Mary, and it surprised me when I came in and
found you here a few minutes ago."
"Then I have made a mistake--I have done you an injustice and must ask
your forgiveness. But you know, Fan, what I feel about Captain Horton,
and that it is impossible for me to remain for a moment under the same
roof with him, and you and Mrs. Chance must not think it strange if I
leave you now."
"No, Miss Starbrow, you shall not cut your visit short on my account,"
said the Captain, speaking for the first time and very quietly. "I did
not expect you here, and if my presence in the room for a few moments
would be so obnoxious to you I shall of course go away."
"I am so sorry it has happened," said Fan.
But Miss Starbrow was not willing to let him depart before giving him
another taste of her resentment. "Did you imagine, sir, that your
presence could be anything but obnoxious to me?" she retorted. "Did you
think I had forgotten?"
"No, not that," he replied.
"What then?" came the quick answer, the sharp tone cutting the senses
like a lash.
He hesitated, glancing at her with troubled eyes, and then replied--"I
thought, Miss Starbrow, that when you heard that I was trying to live
down the past--trying very hard and not unsuccessfully as I imagined--it
would have made some difference in your feelings towards me. To win your
forgiveness for the wrong I did you has been the one motive I have had
for all my strivings since I last saw you. That has been the goal I have
had before me--that only. Latterly I have hoped that Miss Eden, who had
as much reason to regard me with enmity as yourself, would be my
intercessor with you. By a most unhappy chance we have met too soon, and
I regret it, I cannot say how much; for you make the task I have set
myself seem so much harder than before that I almost despair."
She made no reply, but after one keen glance at his face turned aside,
and stood waiting impatiently, it seemed, for him to go.
He then expressed his regrets to Fan for having come without first
writing to ask her permission, and after shaking hands with her and
bowing to Constance, turned away. As he moved across the floor Fan kept
her eye fixed on Mary's face, and seemed at last about to make an appeal
to her, when Constance, standing by her side, and also observing Mary,
touched her hand to restrain her.
"Captain Horton," spoke Mary, and he at once turned back from the door
and faced her. "You have come here to see Miss Eden, and I do not wish to
drive you away before you have spoken to her. I suppose we can sit in the
same room for a few minutes longer."
"Thank you," he replied, and coming back took a seat at Fan's side.
Mary on her part returned to the sofa and attempted to renew her
interrupted conversation with Constance. It was, however, a most
uncomfortable quartette, for Captain Horton gave only half his attention
to Fan, and seemed anxious not to lose any of Mary's low-spoken words;
while Mary on her side listened as much or more to the other two as to
Constance. In a few minutes the visitor rose to go, and after shaking
hands a second time with Fan, turned towards the other ladies and
included them both in a bow, when Constance stood up and held out her
hand to him. As he advanced to her Mary also rose to her feet, as if
anxious to keep the hem of her dress out of his way, and stood with
averted face. From Constance, after he had shaken hands with her, he
glanced at the other's face, still averted, which had grown so strangely
white and still, and for a moment longer hesitated. Then the face turned
to him, and their eyes met, each trying as it were to fathom the other's
thought, and Mary's lips quivered, and putting out her hand she spoke
with trembling voice--"Captain Horton--Jack--for Fan's sake--I forgive
"God bless you for that, Mary," he said in a low voice, taking her hand
and bending lower and lower until his lips touched her fingers. Next
moment he was gone from the room.
Mary dropped back on to the sofa, and covered her eyes with her hand:
then Constance, seeing Fan approaching her, left the room.
"Dear Mary, I am so glad," said the girl, putting her hand on the other's
But Mary started as if stung, and shook the hand off. "I don't want your
caresses," she said, after hastily glancing round the room to make sure
that Constance was not in it. "I am not glad, I can assure you. I was
wrong to say that you had plotted to get me to meet him; it was not the
literal truth, but I had good grounds to think it. All that has happened
has been through your machinations. I should have gone on hating him
always if you had not worked on my feelings in that way. _You_ have
made me forgive that man, and I almost hate you for it. If the result
should be something you little expect--if it brings an end to our
friendship--you will only have yourself to thank for it."
Fan looked hurt at the words, but made no reply. Mary sat for some time
in sullen silence, and then rose to go.
"I can't stay any longer," she said. "I feel too much disgusted with
myself for having been such a fool to remain any longer with you." Then,
in a burst of passion, she added, "And that girl--Mrs. Chance--unless she
is as pitifully meek and lamb-like as yourself, what a contemptible
creature she must think me! Of course you have told her the whole
delightful story. And she probably thinks that I am still--fond of him!
It is horrible to think of it. For _your_ sake I forgave him, but I
wish I had died first."
Fan caught her by the hand. "Mary, are you mad?" she exclaimed. "Oh, what
a poor opinion you must have of me if you imagine that I have ever
whispered a word to Constance about that affair."
"Oh, you haven't!" said Mary beginning to smooth her ruffled plumes.
"Well, I'm sorry I said it; but what explanations are you going to give
of this scene? It must have surprised her very much."
"I shall simply tell her that you were deeply offended at something you
had heard about Captain Horton, and had resolved never to see him again--
never to forgive him."
"That's all very well about me; but he said in her hearing some rubbish
about you being his intercessor, and that he had been as much your enemy
as mine. What will you say about that?"
"Nothing. I'm not a child, Mary, to be made to tell things I don't wish
to speak about. But you don't know Constance, or you would not think her
capable of questioning me."
"Then, dear Fan, I must ask you again to forgive me. I ought to have
known you better than to fear such a thing for a moment. But, Fan, you
must make some allowance; it was so horrible trying to meet him in that
way, and--my anger got the better of me, and one is always unjust at such
times. They say," she added with a little laugh, "that an angry woman's
instinct is always to turn and rend somebody, and after he had gone I had
nobody but you to rend."
Her temper had suddenly changed; she was smiling and gracious and bright-
eyed, and full of rich colour again.
"Then, Mary, you will stay a little longer and take tea with us?" said
Fan quietly, but about forgiveness she said nothing.
Just then Constance came back to the room.
"Oh, Mrs. Chance," said Mary, "I have been waiting to say good-bye to
you, and--to apologise to you for having made such a scene the first time
we have been together. I am really ashamed of myself, but Fan will tell
you"--glancing at the girl--"that I had only too good reason to be deeply
offended with that--with Captain Horton. Fan wants me to stay to tea, but
I will do so only on the condition that you both take tea with me at
Dawson Place to-morrow afternoon."
Constance agreed gladly; Fan less gladly, which caused Mary to look
searchingly at her. During tea she continued in the same agreeable
temper, evidently anxious only to do away with the unpleasant impression
she had made on Mrs. Chance by her disordered manner and language, which
had contrasted badly with the Captain's quiet dignity.
Finally, when she took her departure, Fan, still strangely quiet and
grave-eyed, accompanied her to the door. "Thank you so much for coming,
Mary," she said, a little coldly. They were standing in the hall, and the
other attentively studied her face for some moments.
"Are you still so deeply offended with me?" she said. "Can you not
forgive me, Fan?"
"Not now, Mary," the other returned, casting down her eyes. "I can't
forgive you just yet for treating me in that way--for saying such things
to me. I shall try to forget it before to-morrow."
Mary made no reply, nor did she move; and Fan, after waiting some time,
looked at her, not as she had expected, to find her friend's eyes fixed
on her own, but to see them cast down and full of tears.
"I am sorry you are crying, dear Mary," she said, with a slight tremor in
her voice. "But--it can make no difference--I mean just now. I feel that
I cannot forgive you now."
"How unfeeling you are, Fan! Do you remember what you said the other
night, that if I shut my door against you you would come and sit on the
"Yes, I remember very well."
"And it makes no difference?"
"No, not now."
"And I have so often treated you badly--so badly, and you have always
been ready to forgive me. Shall I tell you all the wicked things I have
done for which you have forgiven me?"
"No, you need not tell me. When you have treated me unkindly I have
always felt that there was something to be said for you--that it was a
mistake, and that I was partly to blame. But this is different. You said
a little while ago that you turned on me, when you were angry with
someone else, simply because I happened to be there for you to rend. That
is what I thought too."
"If I were to go down on my knees to you, would you forgive me?" said
Mary, with a slight smile, but still speaking with that unaccustomed
"No, I should turn round and leave you. I do not wish to be mocked at."
Mary looked at her wonderingly. "Dear child, I am not mocking, heaven
knows. Will you not kiss me good-bye?"
Fan kissed her readily, but with no warmth, and murmured, "Good-bye,
And even after that the other still lingered a few moments in the hall,
and then, glancing again at Fan's face and seeing no change, she opened
the door and passed out.
Returned from her visit, Miss Starbrow appeared for a time to have
recovered her serenity, and proceeded to change her dress for dinner,
softly humming an air to herself as she moved about the room. "Poor Fan,"
she said, "how barbarous of me to treat her in that way--to say that I
almost hated her! No wonder she refused to forgive me; but her resentment
will not last long. And she does not know--she does not know." And then
suddenly, all the colour fading from her cheeks again, she burst into a
passion of weeping, violent as a tropical storm when the air has been
overcharged with electricity. It was quickly over, and she dressed
herself, and went down to her solitary dinner. After sitting for a few
minutes at the table, playing with her spoon, she rose and ordered the
servant to take the dinner away--she had no appetite. The lamps were
lighted in the drawing-room, and for some time she moved about the floor,
pausing at times to take up a novel she had been reading from the table,
only to throw it down again. Then she would go to the piano, and without
sitting down, touch the keys lightly. She was and she was not in a mood
to play. She was not in voice, and could not sing. And at last she went
away to a corner of the room which was most in shadow, and sat down on a
couch, and covered her eyes with her hand to shut out the lamplight. "If
he knew how it is with me to-night he would certainly be here," she said.
"And then it would all be over soon. But he does not know--thank God!...
Oh, what a fool I was to call him 'Jack'! That was the greatest mistake I
made. But there is no help for it now--he knows what I feel, and nothing,
nothing can save me. Nothing, if he were to come now. I wish he would
come. If he knows that I am at his mercy why does he not come? No, he
will not come. He is satisfied; he has got so much to-day--so much more
than he had looked to get for a long time to come. He will wait quietly
now for fear of overdoing it. Until Christmas probably, and then he will
send a little gift, perhaps write me a letter. And that is so far off--
three months and a half--time enough to breathe and think."
Just then a visitor's knock sounded loud at the door, and she started to
her feet, white and trembling with agitation. "Oh, my God! he has come--
he has guessed!" she exclaimed, pressing her hand on her throbbing
But it was a false alarm. The visitor proved to be a young gentleman
named Theed, aged about twenty-one, who was devoted to music and
sometimes sang duets with her. She would have none of his duets to-night.
She scarcely smiled when receiving him, and would scarcely condescend to
talk to him. She was in no mood for talking with this immature young man
--this boy, who came with his prattle when she wished to be alone. It was
very uncomfortable for him.
"I hope you are not feeling unwell, Miss Starbrow," he ventured to
"Feeling sick, the Americans say," she corrected scornfully. "Do I look
"You look rather pale, I think," he returned, a little frightened.
"Do I?" glancing at the mirror. "Ah, yes, that is because I am out of
rouge. I only use one kind; it is sent to me from Paris, and I let it get
too low before ordering a fresh supply."
He laughed incredulously.
Miss Starbrow looked offended. "Are you so shortsighted and so innocent
as to imagine that the colour you generally see on my face is natural,
Mr. Theed? What a vulgar blowzy person you must have thought me! If I had
such a colour naturally, I should of course use _blanc de perle_ or
something to hide it. There is a considerable difference--even a very
young man might see it, I should think--between rouge and the crude
blazing red that nature daubs on a milkmaid's cheeks."
He did not quite know how to take it, and changed the conversation, only
to get snubbed and mystified in the same way about other things, until he
was made thoroughly miserable; and in watching his misery she experienced
a secret savage kind of pleasure.
No sooner had he gone than she sat down to the piano, and began
singing, song after song, as she had never sung before--English,
German, French, Italian--songs of passion and of pain--Beethoven's
_Kennst du das Land_, and Spohr's _Rose softly blooming_, and
Blumenthal's _Old, Old Story_, and then _Il Segreto_ and _O mio
Fernando_ and _Stride la vampa_, and rising to heights she seldom
attempted, _Modi ab modi_ and _Ab fors' e lui che l'anima_;
pouring forth without restraint all the long-pent yearing of her heart,
all the madness and misery of a desire which might be expressed in no
other way; until outside in the street the passers-by slackened their
steps and lingered before the windows, wondering at that strange storm of
melody. And at last, as an appropriate ending to such a storm, Domencio
Thorner's _Se solitaria preghi la sera_--that perfect echo of the
heart's most importunate feeling, and its fluctuatons, when plangent
passion sinks its voice like the sea, rocking itself to rest, and nearly
finds forgetful calm; until suddenly the old pain revives--the pain that
cannot keep silence, the hunger of the heart, the everlasting sorrow--and
swells again in great and greater waves of melody.
There could be no other song after that. She shut the piano with a bang,
which caused the servants standing close to the door outside to jump and
steal hurriedly away on tiptoe to the kitchen.
Only ten o'clock! How was she to get through this longest evening of her
life? So early, but too late now to expect anyone; and as it grew later
that faintness of her heart, that trembling of her knees, which had made
her hold on to a chair for support--that shadow which his expected coming
had cast on her heart--passed off, and she was so strong and so full of
energy that it was a torture to her.
Alone there, shut up in her drawing-room, what could she do with her
overflowing strength? She could have scaled the highest mountain in the
world, and carried Mr. Whymper up in her arms; and there was nothing to
do but to read a novel, and then go to bed. She rose and angrily pushed a
chair or two out of the way to make a clear space, and then paced the
floor up and down, up and down, like some stately caged animal of the
feline kind, her lustrous eyes and dry pale lips showing the dull rage in
her heart. When eleven struck she rang the bell violently for the
servants to turn off the gas, and went to her room, slamming the doors
after her. After partly undressing she sat pondering for some time, and
then rose suddenly with a little laugh, and got her writing-case and took
paper and pen, and sat herself down to compose a letter. "Your time has
passed, Jack," she said. "I shall never make that mistake again. No, I
shall not bide your time. I shall use the opportunity you have given me--
poor fool!--and save myself. I shall write to Tom and confess my weakness
to him, and then all danger will be over. Poor old Tom, I deserved all he
said and more, and can easily forgive him to-night. And then, Captain
Jack, you can 'God-bless-you-for-that-Mary' me as much as you like, and
shed virtuous tears, and toil on in the straight and narrow path until
your red moustache turns white; and all the angels in heaven may rejoice
over your repentance if they like. _I_ shall not rejoice or have
anything more to do with you." But though the pen was dashed spitefully
into the ink many times, the ink dried from it again, and the letter was
not written; and at last she flung the pen down and went to bed.
There was no rest to be got there; she tossed and turned from side to
side, and flung her arms about this way and that, and finding the
bedclothes too oppressive kicked them off. At length the bedroom clock
told the hour of twelve in its slow soft musical language. And still she
tossed and turned until it struck one. She rose and drew aside the
window-curtains to let the pale starlight shine into the room, and then
going back to bed sat propped up with the pillows. "Must I really wait
all that time," she said, "sitting still, eating my own heart--wait
through half of September, October, November, December--only to put my
neck under the yoke at last? Only to give myself meekly to one I shall
never look upon, even if I look on him every hour of every day to the end
of my days, without remembering the past? without remembering to what a
depth I have fallen--despising myself without recalling all the hatred
and the loathing I have felt for my lord and master! Oh, what a poor
weak, vile thing I am! No wonder I hate and despise women generally,
knowing what I am myself--a woman! Yes, a very woman--the plaything, the
creature, the slave of a man! Let him only be a man and show his manhood
somehow, by virtue or by vice, by god-like deeds or by crimes, be they
black as night, and she _must_ be his slave. Yes, I know, 'Hell has
no fury like a woman scorned'; but did _he_ know, Congreve, or
whoever it was, what a poor contemptible thing that fury is? A little
outburst of insanity, such as scores of miserable wretches experience any
day at Hanwell, and are strapped down, or thrust into a padded room, have
cold water dashed over them, until the fit is passed. No doubt she will
do any mad thing while it lasts, things that no man would do, but it is
quickly over, this contemptible short-lived fury; and then she is a woman
again, ready to drag herself through the mire for her tyrant, ready to
kiss the brutal hand that has smitten her--to watch and wait and pine and
pray for a smile from the lying bestial lips, as the humble Christian
prays for heaven! A woman--oh, what a poor thing it is!"
The clock struck two. The sound started her, and changed the current of
her thoughts. "Even now it is not too late to write," she said. "The
pillar-boxes are cleared at three o'clock, the letter would be re-posted
to him to-morrow, and if he is in America he would get it in eight or
nine days." She got out of bed, lit a candle, and sat down again to her
letter, and this time she succeeded in writing it, but it was not the
letter she had meant to write.
MY DEAR TOM [the letter ran],--If you are willing to let bygones
be bygones I shall be very glad. I told you when we parted that I
would never speak to you again, but I of course meant not until you
made some advance and expressed sorrow for what you said to me; but I
have altered my mind now, as I have a perfect right to do. At the
same time I wish you to understand that I do not acknowledge having
been in the wrong. On the contrary, I still hold, and always shall,
that no one has any right to assume airs or authority over me, and
dictate to me as you did. I should not suffer it from a husband, if I
ever do such a foolish thing as to marry, certainly not from a
brother. The others always went on the idea that they could dictate
to me with impunity, but I suppose they see their mistake now, when I
will not have anything to do with them, and ignore them altogether.
You were always different and took my part, I must say, and I have
never forgotten it, and it was therefore very strange to have you
assuming that lofty tone, and interfering in my private affairs. For
that is what it comes to, Tom, however you may try to disguise it and
make out that it was a different matter. I do not wish to be
unfriendly with you, as if you were no better than the other
Starbrows; and I should be so glad if it could be the same as it was
before this unhappy quarrel. For though I will never be dictated to
by anyone about _anything_, it is a very good and pleasant thing
to have someone in the world who is not actuated by mercenary motives
to love and trust and confide in.
If you have recovered from the unbrotherly temper you were in by
this time, and have made the discovery that you were entirely to
blame in that affair, and as unreasonable as even the best of men
can't help being sometimes, I shall be very glad to see you on your
return to England.
I hope you are enjoying your travels, and that you find the
_Murracan_ language easier to understand, if not to speak, than
the French or German; also I sincerely hope that one effect of your
trip will be to make you detest the Yankees as heartily as I do.
Your loving Sister,
P.S.--Do not delay to come to me when you arrive, as I am most
anxious to consult you about something, and shall also have some news
which you will perhaps be pleased to hear. You will probably find me
at home in London.
She had written the letter rapidly, and then, as if afraid of again
changing her mind about it, thrust it unread into the envelope, and
directed it to her brother's London agent, to be forwarded immediately.
Then she went to the window and raised the sash to look out and listen.
There was no sound at that hour except the occasional faintly-heard
distant rattling of a cab. Only half-past two! What should she do to pass
the time before three o'clock? Smiling to herself she went back to the
table, and still pausing at intervals to listen, wrote a note to Fan.
Darling Fan,--I am so sorry--so very sorry that I grieved you to-day--I
mean yesterday--with my unkind words, and again ask your forgiveness. I
know that you will forgive me, dearest, and perhaps you forgave me before
closing your eyes in sleep, for you must be sleeping now. But when I
meet you to-morrow--I mean to-day--and see forgiveness in your sweet
eyes, I shall be as glad as if I had hoped for no such sweet thing.
Since I parted from you I have felt very unhappy about different
things--too unhappy to sleep. It is now forty minutes past two, and
if this letter is posted by three you will get it in the morning. I
have my bedroom window open so as to hear if a policeman passes; but
if one should not pass I will just slip an ulster over my nightdress
and run to the pillar-box myself Good-night, darling--I mean good-
P.S.--It has been raining, I fancy, as the pavement looks wet, and
it seems cold too; but as a little penance for my unkindness to you,
I shall run to the post with bare feet. But be not alarmed, child; if
inflammation of the lungs carries me off in three weeks' time I shall
not be vexed with you, but shall look down smilingly from the sky,
and select one of the prettiest stars there to drop it down on your
That little penance was not required; before many minutes had elapsed the
slow, measured, elephantine tread of the perambulating night-policeman
woke the sullen echoes of Dawson Place, and if there were any evil-doers
lurking thereabouts, caused them to melt away into the dim shadows.
Taking her letters, a candle, and a shilling which she had in readiness,
Miss Starbrow ran down to the door, opened it softly and called the man
to her, and gave him the letters to post and the shilling for himself.
And then, feeling greatly relieved and very sleepy, she went back to bed,
and tossed no more.
The unbroken greyness out of doors, and the gusty wind sending the dead
curled-up leaves whirling through the chilly air, or racing over the
pavement of Dawson Place, made Miss Starbrow's dining-room look very warm
and pleasant one morning early in the month of October. The fire burning
brightly in the grate, and the great white and yellow chrysanthemums in
the blue pot on the breakfast-table, spoke of autumn and coming cold; and
the fire and the misty flowers in their colours looked in harmony with
the lady's warm terra-cotta red dressing-gown, trimmed with slaty-grey
velvet; in harmony also with her face, so richly tinted and so soft in
its expression, as she sat there leisurely sipping her coffee and reading
a very long letter which the morning post had brought her. The letter was
DEAR MARY,--We have now been here a whole week, and I have more to
tell you than I ever put in one letter before. Why do we always say that
time flies quickly when we are happy? I am happiest in the country, and
yet the days here seem so much longer than in town; and I seem to have
lived a whole month in one week, and yet it has been such an exceedingly
happy one. How fresh and peaceful and _homelike_ it all seemed to me
when we arrived! It was like coming back to my birthplace once more, and
having all the sensations of a happy childhood returning to me. My _happy_
childhood began so late!
But I must begin at the beginning and tell you everything. At first it
was a little distressing. In the house, I mean, for out of doors there
could be no change. You can't imagine how beautiful the woods look in
their brown and yellow foliage. And the poor people I used to visit all
seemed so glad to see me again, and all called me "Miss Affleck," which
made it like old times. But Mrs. Churton received us almost as if we were
strangers, and I could see that she had not got over the unhappiness both
Constance and I had caused her. She was not unkind or cold, but she was
not _motherly_; and while she studied to make us comfortable, she
spoke little, and did not seem to take any interest in our affairs, and
left us very much to ourselves. It seemed so unnatural. And one morning,
when we had been three days in the house, she was not well enough to go
out after breakfast, and Constance offered to go and do something for her
in the village. She consented a little stiffly, and when we were left
alone together I felt very uncomfortable, and at last sat down by her and
took her hand in mine. She looked surprised but said nothing, which made
it harder for me; but after a moment I got courage to say that it grieved
me to see her looking so sad and ill, and that during all the time since
I left Eyethorne I had never ceased to think of her and to remember that
she had made me look on her as a mother. Then she began to cry; and
afterwards we sat talking together for a long time--quite an hour, I
think--and I told her all about our hard life in town, and she was
astonished and deeply pained to hear what Constance had gone through. For
she knew nothing about it; she only knew that her daughter had married
Merton and was a widow and poor. I am so glad I told her, though it made
her unhappy at first, because it has made such a difference. When
Constance at last came in and found us still sitting there together, Mrs.
Churton got up and put her arms round her and kissed her, but was unable
to speak for crying. Since then she has been so different to both of us;
and when she questioned me about spiritual things she seemed quite
surprised and pleased to find that I was not an infidel, and no worse
than when I was with her. I think that in her own heart she sets it down
to Constance not having exerted herself to convert me, thinking, I
suppose, that it would have been very easy to have done so. There is no
harm in her thinking that, only it is not true. Now she even speaks to
Constance on such subjects, and tries to win her back to her old beliefs;
and although Constance does not say much, for she knows how useless it
would be, she listens very quietly to everything, and without any sign of
With so much to make me happy, will you think me very greedy and
discontented if I say that I should like to be still happier? I confess
that there are several little, or big, things I still wish and hope for
every day, and without them I cannot feel altogether contented. I must
name two or three of them to you, but I am afraid to begin with the most
important. I must slowly work up to that at the end. Arthur has not yet
returned to England, and I am so anxious to see him again; but he says
nothing definite in his letters about returning. I have just had a letter
from him, which I shall show you when I see you, for he speaks of you in
it. After all I have told him about you he must feel that he knows you
Another thing. Since we have been here Constance has read me the first
chapters of the book she is writing. It is a very beautiful story, I
think; but it will be her first book, and as her name is unknown, she is
afraid that the publishers will not have it. That is one thing that
troubles me, for she says she must make her living by writing, and I am
almost as anxious as she is herself about it.
Another thing is about you, Mary. Why, when we love each other so much--
for you can't deny that you love me as much as I do you, and I know how
much that is--why must we keep apart just now, when you can so easily get
into a train and come to me? To _us_ I should say, for I know how
glad Constance would be to have you here. Dear Mary, will you come, if
only for a fortnight--if only for a week? You remember that you wanted to
go to the seaside or somewhere with me. Well, if you will come and join
us here we might afterwards all go to Sidmouth for a short (or long)
stay; for you and I together would be able to persuade Constance to go
with us. My wish is so strong that it has made me believe you will come,
and I have even spoken to Constance and Mrs. Churton about it, and they
would give you a nice room; and you would be my guest, Mary; and if you
should object to that, then you could pay Mrs. Churton for yourself. I
have a great many other things to say to you, but shall not write them,
in the hope that you will come to hear them from my lips. Only one thing
I must mention, because it might vex you, and had therefore best be
written. You must not think because I go back to the subject that I have
any doubt about Tom being in the wrong in that quarrel you told me about;
but I must say again, Mary, that if he was in the wrong, it is for you
rather than for him to make the first advance. I would rather people
offended me sometimes than not to have the pleasure of forgiving. Forgive
me, dearest Mary, for saying this; but I can say it better than another,
since no one in the world knows so well as I do how good you are.
And now, dearest Mary, good-bye, and come--come to your loving
She had read this letter once, and now while sipping her second cup of
coffee was reading it again, when the door opened and Tom Starbrow walked
into the room.
"Good-morning, Mary," he said, coming forward and coolly sitting down at
some distance from her.
She had not heard him knock, and his sudden appearance made her start and
the colour forsake her cheeks; but in a moment she recovered her
composure, and returned, "Good-morning, Tom, will you have some
"No, thanks. I breakfasted quite early at Euston. I came up by a night
train, and might have been here an hour or two ago, but preferred to wait
until your usual getting-up hour."
"I suppose you got my letter in America?"
"Yes, I am here in answer to your letter."
"It was very good of you to come so soon, especially as it was entirely
about my private affairs."
"I could not know that, Mary. That high and mighty letter of yours told
me nothing except what I knew already--that I have a sister. In the
postscript you said you wished to consult me about something, and had
things to tell me. Your letter reached me in Canada. I was just getting
ready to return to New York, and had made up my mind to go to California;
then down the Pacific coast to Chili, and from there over the Andes, and
across country to Buenos Ayres on the Atlantic side, and then by water to
Brazil, and afterwards home. After getting your letter I came straight to
"I should think that after coming all that distance you might at least
have shaken hands with your sister."
"No, Mary, the time to shake hands has not yet come; that you must know
very well. You did not say in your letter what you had to tell me, but
only that you had _something_ to tell me; remembering what we parted
in anger about, and knowing that you know how deeply I feel on that
subject, I naturally concluded that you wished to see me about it. I do
not wish to be trifled with."
"I am not accustomed to trifle with you or with anyone," retorted his
sister with temper. "If your imagination is too lively, I am not to blame
for it. I asked you to come and see me on your return to England, not to
rush back in hot haste from America as if on a matter of life and death.
It is quite a new thing for you to be so impetuous."
"Is that all you have to say to me then--have you brought me here only to
talk to me in the old strain?"
"I have--I _had_ a great many things to say to you, but was in no
hurry to say them; and since you have come in this very uncomfortable
frame of mind I think it best to hold my peace. My principal object in
writing was to show you that I did not wish to be unfriendly."
He got up from his chair, looking deeply disappointed, even angry, and
moved restlessly about for a minute or two. Near the door he paused as if
in doubt whether to go away at once without more words or not. Finally he
returned and sat down again. "Mary," he said, "you have not treated me
well; but I am now here in answer to your letter. Perhaps I was mistaken
in its meaning, but I have no wish to make our quarrel worse than it is.
Let me hear what you have to say to me; and if you require my advice or
assistance, you shall certainly have it. If I cannot feel towards you as
I did in the good old times, I shall, at any rate, not forget that you
are my sister."
"That's a good old sensible boy," she returned, smiling. "But, Tom,
before we begin talking I should like you to read this letter, which I
was reading when you came in so suddenly. Probably you noticed that I
took what you said just now very meekly; well, that was the effect of
reading this letter, it is written in such a gentle soothing spirit. If
you will read it it might have the same quieting effect on your nerves as
it did on mine."
He took the letter without a smile, glanced at a sentence here and there,
and looked at the name at the end. "Pooh!" he exclaimed, "do you really
wish me to wade through eight closely-written pages of this sort of stuff
--the outpourings of a sentimental young lady? I see nothing in it except
the very eccentric handwriting, and the fact that this Frances Eden--girl
or woman--doesn't put the gist of the matter into a postscript."
"You needn't sneer. And you won't read it? Frances Eden is Fan."
"Fan--your Fan! Fan Affleck! Is she married then?"
"No, only changed her name to Eden--it was her father's name. Give me the
"Not till I have read it," he calmly returned. "Mary," he said at last,
looking up, "this letter more than justifies what I have said to you
dozens of times. No sweeter spirit ever existed."
"All that about the outpourings of a sentimental girl or woman?"
"I could never have said that if I had read the letter."
"And the eccentric writing--you admire that now, I suppose?"
"I do. I never saw more beautiful writing in my life."
"You needn't laugh," he said. "If I were you I should feel more inclined
to cry. Tell me honestly now, from your heart, do you feel no remorse
when you remember how you treated that girl--the girl who wrote you this
letter; that I first saw in this room, standing there in a green dress
with a great bunch of daffodils in her hand, and looking shyly at me from
under those dark eyelashes? I thought then that I had never seen such
tender, beautiful eyes in my life. Come, Mary, don't be too proud to
acknowledge that you acted very harshly--very unjustly."
"No, Tom, I acted justly; she brought it on herself. But I did not act
mercifully, and I will tell you why. When I threatened to cast her off I
spoke in anger--I had good reasons to be angry with her--but I should not
have done it; I should only have taken her away from those Churton
people, and kept her in London, or sent her elsewhere. But my words
brought that storm from you on my head, and that settled it; after that I
could not do less than what I had threatened to do."
"If that is really so I am very sorry," he said. "But all's well that
ends well; only I must say, Mary, that it was unkind of you to receive me
as you did and tease me so before telling me that you were in
correspondence with the girl once more."
"You are making a great mistake, I only tease those I like; but as for
you, you have not even apologised to me yet, and I should not think of
being so friendly with you as to tease you."
He laughed, and going to her side caught her in his strong arms and
kissed her in spite of her resistance.
The resistance had not been great, but presently she wiped the cheek he
had kissed, and said with a look of returning indignation, "I should not
have allowed you to kiss me if I had remembered that you have never
apologised for the insulting language you used to me at Ravenna, when you
called me a demon."
"Did I call you a demon at Ravenna?"
"Yes, you did."
"Then, Mary, I am heartily ashamed of myself and beg your pardon now.
There can be no justification, but at the same time--"
"You wish to justify yourself."
"No, no, certainly not; but I was scarcely myself at that moment, and you
certainly did your best to vex me about Fan and other matters."
"What do you mean by other matters?"
"You know that I am alluding to Mr. Yewdell, and the way you treated him.
I could not have believed it of you. I began to think that I had the
most--well, capricious woman in all Europe for a sister."
"No, it is not poor man in this case, but poor woman. For you
contemptuously flung away the best chance of happiness that ever came to
you. I dare say that you have had offers in plenty--you have some money,
and therefore of course you would get offers--but not from Yewdells. That
could not happen to you more than once in your life. A better-hearted
fellow, a truer man--"
"Call him a Nature's nobleman at once and have done with it."
"Yes, a Nature's nobleman; you couldn't have described him better. A man
I should have been proud to call a brother, and who loved you not for
your miserable pelf, for that was nothing to him, but for yourself, and
with a good honest love. And he would have made you happy, Mary, not by
giving way to you as you might imagine from his unfailing good temper and
gentleness, but by being your master. For that is what you want, Mary--a
man that will rule you. And Yewdell was that sort of man, gentle but
"Oh, do be original, Tom, and say something pretty about a steel hand
under a silk glove."
"Ah, well, you may scoff if you like, but perhaps you regret now that you
went so far with him. A mercenary man, or even a mean-spirited man, would
have put up with it perhaps, and followed you still. He respected himself
too much to do that. He paid you the greatest compliment a man has it in
his power to pay a woman, and you did not know how to appreciate it. You
scorned him, and he turned away from you for ever. If you were to go to
him now, though you cast yourself on your knees before him, to ask him to
renew that offer, he would look at you with stony eyes and pass on--"
"Stony fiddlesticks! That just shows, Tom, how well you know your own
sex. Why, Mr. Yewdell and I are the best friends in the world, and he
writes to me almost every week, and very nice letters, only too long, I
Her brother stared at her and almost gasped with astonishment.
"Well, I am surprised and glad," he said, recovering his speech at last.
"It was worth crossing the Atlantic only to hear this."
"Don't make any mistake, Tom. I am no more in love with him now than when
we were in Italy together."
"All right, Mary. In future I shall do nothing but abuse him, and then
perhaps it will all come right in the end. And now about this letter from
Fan. Will you go down to that place where she is staying?"
"I don't know, I should like to go. I have not yet made up my mind."
"Do go, Mary; and then I might run down and put up for a day or two at
the 'Cow and Harrow,' or whatever the local inn calls itself, to have a
stroll with you among those brown and yellow woods she writes about."
She did not answer his words. He was standing on the hearthrug watching
her face, and noticed the change, the hesitancy and softness which had
come over it.
"You are fonder now than ever of this girl," he said. "She draws you to
her. Confess, Mary, that she has great influence over you, and that she
is doing you good."
Her lips quivered a little, and she half averted her face.
"Yes, she draws me to her, and I cannot resist her. But I don't know
about her doing me good, unless it be a good of which evil may come."
"What do you mean, Mary? There is something on your mind. Don't be afraid
to confide in me."
She got up and came to his side; she could not speak sitting there with
his eyes on her.
"Do you remember the confession I made to you when we were at Naples?
When you spoke to me about Yewdell, and I said that I never wished to
marry? I confessed that I had allowed myself to love a man, knowing him
to be no good man. But in spite of reason I loved him, and did not
believe him altogether bad--not too bad to be my husband. Then something
happened--I found out something about him which killed my love, or
changed it to hatred rather. I despised myself for having given him my
heart, and was free again as if I had never seen him. I even thought that
I might some day love someone else, only that the time had not yet come.
But what will you think of the sequel? I did not tell you when I
discovered his true character that Fan was living with me, and knew the
whole affair--knew all that I knew--and that--she was very deeply
affected by it. Now, since Fan and I have been thrown together once more,
she has accidentally met this man again, and has persuaded herself that
he has repented of his evil courses, and she has forgiven him, and become
friendly with him, and, what is worse, has set her heart on making me
"It is heavenly to forgive, Mary."
"Yes, very likely; in _her_ case it might be right enough; she is
only acting according to her--"
"Fanlights," interrupted her brother. "But to what does all this tend? If
you feel inclined to forgive this man his past sins you can do so, I
suppose, without throwing yourself into his arms."
"The trouble is, Tom, that I can't separate the two things. No sooner did
Fan begin to speak to me again of him, telling me about his new changed
life, and insinuating that it would be a gracious and noble thing in me
to forgive him, than all the old feeling came back to me. I have fought
against it with my whole strength, but what is reason against a feeling
like that! And then most unhappily I met him by chance, and--and I gave
him my hand and forgave him, and even called him by his Christian name as
I had been accustomed to do. And now I feel that--I cannot resist him."
"Good heavens, Mary, are you such a slave to a feeling as that! Who is
this man--what is he like, and how does he live?"
"He is a gentleman, and was in the army, but is now on the Stock
Exchange, and winning his way, I hear, in the world. He is about thirty-
five, tall, very good-looking--_I_ think; and he is also a
cultivated man, and has a very fine voice. Even before I had that feeling
for him I liked him more than any man I ever knew. Perhaps," she added
with a little anxious laugh, "the reason I loved him was because I knew
that--if I ever married him--he--would rule me."
Her brother considered for some time. "I remember what you told me, Mary.
You said that this man had proved himself a scoundrel, but you sometimes
use extravagant language. Now there are a great many bad things a man may
do, and yet not be hopelessly bad. Passion gets the mastery, the moral
feelings may for a time appear obliterated; but in time they revive--like
that feeling of yours; and one who has seemed a bad man may settle down
at last into a rather good fellow. Confide in me, Mary--I will not judge
harshly. Let me hear the very worst you know of him."
She shook her head, smiling a little.
"You will not? Then how am I to help you, and why have you told me so
"My trouble is that you can't help me, Tom. My belief is that no man who
is worth anything ever changes. His circumstances change and he adapts
himself to them, but that is all on the surface. Can you imagine your Mr.
Yewdell something vile, degenerate, weak--a gambler, a noisy fool, a
braggart, a tippler--"
"Good heavens, no!"
She laughed. "Nor can I imagine the man we are talking of a good man; nor
can I believe that there is any change in him. If I had thought that--if
I had taken Fan's views, I should not have forgiven him. Then I should
not have been in danger. As it is--" She did not finish the sentence.
"As it is you are in danger, and deliberately refuse to let me help you."
Then in a kind of despair, he added, "I know how headstrong you are, and
that the slightest show of opposition only makes matters worse--what
_can_ I do?"
"Nothing," she answered in a very low voice. "But, Tom, you must know
that it was hard for me to write you that letter, and that it has been
harder still to make this confession. Can't you see what I mean? Well, I
mean that I find it very refreshing to have a good talk with you. I hope
you are not going to disappear into space again as soon as our
conversation is over."
"No," he returned with a slight laugh, and a glance at her downcast eyes,
"I am an idle man just now, and intend making a long stay in London."
On the beach at Sidmouth, about noon one day in the last week of
November, a day of almost brilliant sunshine despite the season, with a
light dry west wind crinkling the surface of the sea, Mary and Constance,
with Fan between them, were seated on a heap of shingle sheltered from
the wind by a sloping bank. Constance, with hands folded over the closed
book on her lap, sat idly gazing on the blue expanse of water, watching
the white little wave-crests that formed only to vanish so quickly. The
quiet restful life she had experienced since Merton's death had had its
effect; her form had partially recovered its roundness, her face
something of that rich brown tint that had given a peculiar character to
her beauty; the melancholy in her tender eyes was no longer "o'erlaid
with black," but was more like the clear dark of early morning that tells
of the passing of night and of the long day that is to be. She was like
the Constance of the old days at Eyethorne, and yet unlike; something had
been lost, something gained; for Nature, archaeologist and artist, is
wiser than man in her restorations, restoring never on the old vanished
lines. She was changed, but unhappy experience had left no permanent
bitterness in her heart, nor made her world-weary, nor cynical, nor
discontented; life's unutterable sadness had only served to deepen her
love and widen her sympathies. And this was pure gain, compensation for
the loss of that which had vanished and would not return--the virgin
freshness when the tender early light is in the eye, and the lips are
dewy, and no flower has yet perished in the heart.
To Fan at her side, interested in her novel, yet glancing up from time to
time to see what her friends were doing, and perhaps make a random guess
at their thoughts, these weeks of country and seaside life with those she
loved had added a new brightness to her refined and delicate face. The
autumn sunshine had not embrowned the transparent skin, but the red of
the lips seemed deeper, and the ethereal almond-blossom tint on the
cheeks less uncertain.
Mary was not reading, nor thinking apparently, but sat idly humming a
tune and picking up pebbles only to throw them from her. She appeared to
have no care at her heart, to be satisfied with the mere fact of
existence while the sun shone as it did to-day, and wind and waters made
music. That beautiful red colour that seldom failed her looked richer
than ever on her cheeks; her abundant black hair hung loose on her back
to dry in the wind. For she was a great sea-bather, and while the wintry
cold of the water repelled her companions, she enjoyed her daily swim,
sometimes creating alarm by her boldness in going far out to battle with
the rough waves.
First there had been a pleasant fortnight at Eyethorne; and during those
days of close intimacy in the Churtons' small house and out of doors, the
kindly feelings Mary and Constance had begun to experience towards each
other in London had ripened to a friendship so close that Fan might very
well have been made a little jealous at it if she had been that way
predisposed. She only felt that the highest object of her ambitions had
been gained, that her happiness was complete. There was nothing more to
be desired. The present was enough for her; if she thought of the future
at all it was only in a vague way, as she might think of the French coast
opposite, too far off to be visible, but where she would perhaps set her
foot in other years.
At Eyethorne many letters had come to them all. Letters from Arthur Eden,
who spoke of returning soon from Continental wanderings, and of coming
down to see his sister in the country. And from Captain Horton, also to
Fan, with one at last to Mary, begging them to allow him to come down
from London to spend a few days with them. And from Mr. Northcott to
Constance--letters full of friendliest feeling, no longer resented, and
of some speculative matter; for these two had discovered an infinite
number of deep questions that called for discussion. To those questions
that concerned the spirit and were of first importance, the first place
was given; but there were also worldly affairs to correspond about, for
Constance had sent her manuscript to the curate for his opinion, and he
had kept it some time to get another (more impartial) opinion, and now
wished to submit it to a publisher. He had also expressed the intention
of visiting Eyethorne shortly.
Eventually he came; he even preached once more in the old familiar pulpit
at the invitation of the vicar, who had not treated him too well. On the
Saturday evening before preaching, he said to Constance:
"Once I was eager to persuade you to come to church to hear me; will you
think it strange if I ask you _not_ to come on this occasion?"
"Why?" she returned, looking anxiously at him. "Do you mean that you are
going to make some allusion to--"
"No, Constance. But my discourse will be about my life at the East End of
London, and what I have seen there. I shall talk not of ancient things
but of the present--that sad present we both know. You can realise it all
so vividly--it will be painful to you."
"I had made up my mind to go. Thank you for warning me, but I shall go
all the same."
"I am glad."
"You must not jump to any conclusions, Harold," she said, glancing at
"No," he replied, and went away with a shadow on his face that was
scarcely a shadow.
After all, she was able to listen to his sermon with outward calm. But it
was a happiness to Mrs. Churton when Wood End House sent so large a
contingent of worshippers to the village church, where the pew in which
she had sat alone on so many Sundays--poor Mr. Churton's increasing
ailments having prevented him from accompanying her--was so well filled.
Glancing about her, as was her custom, to note which of her poor were
present and which absent, she was surprised to see the carpenter Cawood,
with his wife and little ones, his eyes resting on the young girl at her
side, and it made her glad to think that she had not perhaps angled in
vain for this catcher of silly fish.
The curate had not been long in the village before Tom Starbrow appeared
and established himself at the "Eyethorne Inn"; but most of his time was
spent at Wood End House, and in long drives and rambles with his sister
and Fan. Then had come the migration to Sidmouth, Tom and the curate
accompanying the ladies. Shortly afterwards Fan heard from her brother;
he was back in London, and proposed running down to pay her a visit. It
was a pleasant letter he wrote, and she had no fear of meeting him now;
he had recovered from his madness, or, to put it another way, from a
feeling that was not convenient.
"Have you answered your brother yet?" said Mary, the morning after
Arthur's letter had been received. "I am awfully anxious to see him."
"No, not yet; I wish to ask you something first. Arthur says he will come
down as soon as he gets my reply. And--I should like Captain Horton to
come with him."
"They are strangers to each other, I believe," said Mary coldly.
"Yes, I know, but my idea was to send a note to Captain Horton at the
same time, asking him to call on Arthur at his rooms, and arrange to come
down with him. But I must ask your consent first."
"Why my consent? Your brother is coming at your invitation, and I suppose
you have the same right you exercise in his case to ask anyone you like
without my permission. You may if you think proper invite all the people
you have ever met in London, and tell them to bring their relations and
friends with them. I am not the proprietor of Sidmouth."
"But, Mary, the cases are so different. You know Captain Horton, and
though he is my friend, and I consider myself greatly in his debt--" The
other laughed scornfully.
"Still, I should not think of asking him to come unless you were willing
to meet him."
"My knowing him makes no difference. I happen to be perfectly
indifferent, and care as little whether he comes or not as if he were an
absolute stranger. Less, in fact, for your brother is a stranger to me,
and I am anxious to meet him."
Fan reflected a little, then, with a smiling look and pleading tone, she
"If you are really quite indifferent about it, Mary, you will not refuse
to let me couple your name with mine when I ask him to come down. That
would be nothing more than common politeness, I think."
"Use my name? I shall consent to nothing of the sort!" But as she turned
to leave the room Fan caught her hand and pulled her back.
"Don't go yet, Mary dear," she said; "we have not yet quite settled what
The other looked at her, a little frown on her forehead, a half-smile on
"Very well, Fan, hear my last word, then take your own course. I quite
understand your wheedling ways, and I have so often given way that you
have come to think you can do just what you like with me. You have yet to
learn that when my mind is once made up about anything you might just as
well attempt to move the Monument as to move me. You shall not couple my
name with yours; and if you are going to ask Captain Horton down here, I
advise you, to prevent mistakes, to inform him that I distinctly refuse
to join you in the invitation."
Fan, without replying, sat down before her writing-case. The other paused
at the door, and after hesitating a few moments came back and put her
hands on the girl's shoulder.
"I know exactly what you are going to do, Fan," she spoke, "for you are
perfectly transparent, and I can read you like a book. You are going to
write one of your very simple candid letters to tell him what I have
said, and then finish by asking him to come down with Mr. Eden."
"Yes, that is what I am going to do."
"Then, my dear girl, I should like to ask you a simple straightforward
question: What is your _motive_ in acting in this way?"
"My motive, Mary! Just now you said you could read me like a book; must I
begin to think that you boast a little too much--or are you only
pretending to be ignorant?"
"You grow impertinent, Miss Eden," said the other with a laugh. "But if
your motive is what I imagine, then, thank goodness, your efforts are
wasted. Listen to this. If, instead of being a young innocent girl, you
were an ancient, shrivelled-up, worldly-minded woman, with a dried-up
puff-ball full of blue dust for a heart, and a scheming brain
manufactured by Maskelyne and Cook; and if you had Captain Horton for a
son, and had singled me out for his victim, you could not have done more
to put me in his power."
Fan glanced into her face, then dropped her eyes and turned crimson.
"Have I frightened the shy little innocent? Doesn't she like to have her
wicked little plans exposed?" said the other mockingly.
"Can you not read me better, Mary?" said Fan; but her face was still bent
over her writing-case, nor would she say more, although the other stood
Nor would Mary question her any further. She had said too much already,
and shame made her silent.
When Captain Horton read her letter one thing only surprised him--the
reality and completeness of the forgiveness he had won from the girl, her
faith in his better nature, the single-hearted friendship she freely gave
him. He could never cease to be surprised at it. Mary's attitude, so
faithfully reported, did not surprise or discourage him; hers was a more
complex nature: she had given him her hand, and he believed that in spite
of everything something of the old wayward passion still existed in her
heart. The opportunity of meeting her again, where he might be with her a
great deal, was not to be neglected, and he did not greatly fear the
Two or three days later he arrived with Arthur Eden at Sidmouth, so that
the party now numbered seven. It was a pleasant gathering, for Mary did
not quarrel with Fan for what she had done; nor was Tom Starbrow
unfriendly towards his sister's lover; and as to Eden, he had grafted a
new and better stock on that wild olive that had flourished so
vigorously; and it thus came to pass that they spent an unclouded
fortnight together. But that is perhaps saying a little too much. Four
men and three women, so that when they broke up there was one dame always
attended by two cavaliers: strange to say, Fan was always the favoured
one. For some occult reason no one contested the curate's right to have
Constance all to himself on such occasions; for what right had he, a
religious man, to monopolise this pretty infidel? Then, too, she was a
widow, entitled by prescription to the largest share of attention;
nevertheless, the curate was allowed to have her all to himself whenever
the party broke up into couples and one inconvenient triplet.
Arthur Eden was most inconsiderate. There were whispers and signs for
those who had ears to hear and eyes to see, but he chose not to see and
hear. On all occasions when he found an opportunity or could make one, he
took possession of Miss Starbrow; while she, on her part, appeared
willing enough to be taken possession of by him. Their sudden liking to
each other seemed strange, considering the great difference in their
dispositions; but about the fact there was no mistake, they were
constantly absent together on long drives and walks, exploring the
adjacent country, lunching at distant rural villages, and coming home to
dinner glowing with health and happy as young lovers.
And while these two were thus taken up with each other, and the curate
and widow soberly paced the cliffs or sat on the beach discoursing
together of lofty matters--of the mysteries of our being and the hunger
of the spirit, and argued of fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,
wandering through eternity without lighting on any fresh discovery of
importance in that extensive field--Fan not infrequently found herself
taking part in a somewhat monotonous trio, with the Captain, baritone, or
basso rather, for he was rather depressed in mind, and Tom, tenor, an
artist who sang with feeling, but with insufficient control over his
And one day this gentle maiden, having got her brother all to herself,
began "at him":
"I am very glad, Arthur, that you and Mary are such good friends."
"I'm so glad that you are glad that I'm glad," he returned airily,
"At the same time--"
"Oh, yes, now you are going to say something to spoil it all, I suppose,"
"I can't help thinking that it is not quite fair to the others to carry
her off day after day--especially after she has not been with her brother
for so long a time."
"Ah, yes, her brother! Poor girl, I'm afraid you've been sadly bored. We
must somehow manage to reshuffle the cards. Starbrow might have a turn at
Constance, while you could try Northcott. Would that be better?"
"No," she replied gravely, colouring a little, and with a troubled glance
at his face. "I am thinking principally of Mary and Captain Horton. I
know that he would like to see a little more of her, and--I don't quite
see the justice of your monopolising her."
"And why should I give way to Captain Horton, or to any man? That's not
the way to win a lady's favour. I understand that you look on Miss
Starbrow as a species of goddess; don't you think it would be a grand
thing to be sister-in-law to one of the immortals?"
"She could not be more to me than she is; but that you have any feeling
of _that_ kind for Mary, I don't believe, Arthur."
"You are right," he replied, with a laugh. "I am not sure that wooing
Mary would be an altogether pleasant process; but as a friend she is a
treasure--the chummiest woman I ever came across."
He did not tell her that the strongest bond between them was their
feeling for Fan herself. He, on his part, felt that he could never be
sufficiently grateful to the woman who had rescued his half-sister from
such a depth of destitution and misery, and had protected and loved her;
she, on hers, could not sufficiently admire him for the way in which he
had acted, in spite of social prejudices as strong almost as instincts,
when he had once discovered a sister in the poor shop-girl. At different
periods and in different ways they had both treated her badly; but the
something of remorse they could not help feeling on that account only
served to increase their present love and care for her.
At length, one day during one of their expeditions, Arthur spoke to Mary
on a subject about which he had kept silence all along. Replying to a
remark she had made about his resemblance to the girl, he said,
"Everything I resemble her in is inherited from my grandmother on my
father's side." Then he began to laugh.
"I don't quite see where the laugh comes in," said Mary, who had pricked
up her ears at the mention of his grandmother, for she had been waiting
to hear him say something about his relations.
"No, but you would see it if you knew my aunt--my father's sister--and
had heard what passed between us about Fan. She is a widow, and lives in
Kensington with her two daughters--both pretty, clever girls, I think,
though they are my cousins. Let me tell you about her. She is a dear good
creature, and I am awfully fond of her; very religious too, but what the
world thinks and says, and what it will say, is as much to her as what
her Bible says, although it would shock her very much to hear me say so.
When I made the discovery that Fan was my half-sister, I told aunt all
about it. She was greatly troubled in her mind, and I suppose that her
mental picture of the girl must have been rather a disagreeable one; but
she asked no questions on the point, and I gave her no information. She
said that it was right to provide for her, and so on, but that it would
be a great mistake to make her take the family name, or to bring her
forward in any way. After a few days she wrote to me asking what I had
done or was going to do about it. I replied that Fan was my father's
daughter, and as much to me as if we had been born of one mother as well,
and that I had nothing more to say. Then I got letter after letter,
reasoning with me about my quixotic ideas, and trying to convince me that
my action would only result in spoiling the girl, and in creating a
coldness between myself and relations. It was rather hard, because I am
really fond of my aunt and my cousins. My only answer to all her letters
was to give her an account of that dream or fancy of my father's; her
reply was that that made no difference, that I would do the girl no good
by dragging her among people she was not fitted to associate with.
"So the matter rested until my return to England, when I called to see
her. She was still anxious, and at once asked me if I had come round to
her view. I said no. At last, finding that I was not to be moved, she
asked me to let her see the girl--she did not wish her daughters to see
her. I declined, and that brought us to a deadlock. She informed me that
there was nothing more to be said, but she couldn't help saying more, and
asked me what I intended doing about it. Nothing, I answered; since she
refused to countenance Fan, there was nothing I could do. Not quite
satisfied, she asked whether this disagreement between us would make any
difference. I said that it would make all the difference in the world.
She was angry at that, but got over it by the time my visit came to an
end, and she asked me very sweetly when I was going to see her again. I
laughed, and said that after she had turned me, quixotic ideas and all,
out of her house, I could not very well return. It distressed her very
much; for she knows that I am not all softness, that I can sometimes
stick to a resolution. Then at last came the question that should have
come first: What was this poor girl of the lower orders about whom I had
lost my reason like?
"Before finishing I must tell you something about that grandmother I have
mentioned. She was a gentle, lovely woman, just such a one as Fan in
character, and her memory is almost worshipped by my aunt. And Fan is
exactly like what she was when a girl. I knew that my aunt possessed an
exquisite miniature portrait of her taken before her marriage, which I
had not seen for a long time. I asked her to let me look at it, and one
of the girls went and fetched it. 'This,' I said, 'allowing for the
different arrangement of the hair, might be a portrait of Fan; and in
character, the resemblance is as great as in face. I believe that my
grandmother's soul has come back to earth.'
"'Arthur, I can't believe you!' she exclaimed. 'It is wicked of you to
compare this poor girl, the child of a person of the lower classes, to my
mother--a most heavenly-minded woman!' I only laughed, and then they
begged me to show them a photograph of Fan. I hadn't one to show, but I
got back that picture you have heard about, and forwarded it to
Kensington. Now my aunt and cousins are most anxious to see the girl, and
are rather vexed with me because I am taking my time about it. Now you
know, Mary, why I laughed."
"My dear boy," she said, putting her hand in his, "I thought well of you
before, but better now; you have acted nobly."
"Oh please don't say that. Besides--I think I am too old to be called a
boy--especially by a girl."
Mary laughed. "And you can tell me all this and keep it from Fan, when it
would make her so unutterably happy!"
"She will know it all in good time. It will be a pleasant little surprise
when she is back in London. I have sent my aunt to confer with Mr.
Travers, and his account of Fan has quite excited her."
From all this it will be seen, that if Captain Horton feared Eden's
rivalry, he imagined a vain thing. But it was natural that he should be
disquieted. His only season of pleasure was at the end of the day, when a
reunion took place; for then Mary would lay aside her coldness, and sing
duets with him and talk in the old familiar way. But his opportunity came
Arthur took Fan to Exeter one morning to show her the cathedral, and at
the same time to pay a visit to an old school-fellow who had a curacy
there. Tom Starbrow went with them, and they were absent all day.
Constance occupied herself with her writing, and Mary would not leave the
house alone, but towards evening they went out for a walk on the cliff
together, and there they were unexpectedly joined by Captain Horton and
Mr. Northcott, who had apparently been consoling each other. The curate
and Constance had some literary matters to discuss, and presently drifted
away from the others. Then Mary's face lost its gaiety; even the rich
colour faded from her cheeks; she was silent and distressed, then finally
grew cold and hard.
"Shall we sit here and rest for a few minutes?" he said at length, as
they came to an old bench on the cliff overlooking the sea.
"I am not tired, thank you."
"But I am, Mary. Or at all events I have an uncomfortable sensation just
now, and should like to sit down if you don't mind."
She sat down without reply, and began gazing seawards, still with that
cloud on her face.
"May I speak to you now, Mary?"
"You may speak, but I warn you not to."
"And if I speak of other things?"
"Then I shouldn't mind."
"When you said you forgave me, did you in very truth forgive?"
"And if I say no more now, will it be better for me afterwards?"
"No, I cannot say that."
But she remained silent, still gazing seawards.
"Will you not say?"
"I warned you not to speak."
"But it is horrible--this silence and suspense."
"We all have to bear horrible things--worse things than this."
"I understand you. I believed you when you told me what you did just now
--of the past."
"What then?" she questioned, turning her eyes full on him for the first
time. For a moment their eyes met; then his dropped and hers were again
turned towards the sea.
"Is it possible, Mary, for us to be together, for our eyes to meet, our
hands to touch, without a return of that feeling you once had for me--
that was strong in you before some devil out of hell caused me to offend
"Quite possible--that is a short answer to a long speech. It does not
seem quite fair to try and shuffle the responsibility of your actions on
to some poor imaginary devil."
"It was a mere figure of speech. Why should you allude to things that are
"You alluded to them yourself. You know that they cannot be forgotten.
What do you expect? Let me also talk to you in figurative language. It
happens sometimes that a tree is struck by lightning and killed in an
instant--leaf, branch, and root--killed and turned to dust and ashes."
"And still there may be a living rootlet left in the soil, which will
sprout and renew the dead tree in time."
She glanced at him again and was silent. She had spoken falsely; the
words which she had spoken to herself on a former occasion, when
struggling against the revival of the old feeling, he had now used
"Will you tell me, Mary, that there is not one living rootlet left?"
She was silent for some moments; then, feeling the blood forsake her
cheeks, replied deliberately, "Not one. Can I speak plainer?"
He, too, grew white as she spoke, and was silent for a while, then said,
"Mary, has some new growth taken the place of the old roots, which you
say were killed and turned to ashes? There would be a hollow place where
they existed--an emptiness which is hateful to Nature."
"Still pounding away at the same metaphor!" she returned, trying with
poor success to speak in a mocking tone, and laughing in a strange,
almost hysterical way.
"Yes, still at the same metaphor," he returned, with a keen glance at her
face. Her tone, her strained laughter, something in her expression, told
him that she had spoken falsely--that he might still hope. "You have not
answered my question, Mary."
"You have no right to expect an answer," she returned, angry at her own
weakness and his keenness in detecting it. "But I don't mind telling you
that no other growth has occupied that hollow empty place you described."
Her voice had recovered its steadiness, and growing bolder she added, "I
don't believe that Nature really hates hollow empty places, as you say--
the world itself is hollow. Anyhow, it doesn't matter to me in the least
what she hates or likes: Nature is Nature, and I am I."
"But answer me this: If you can suffer me, are not my chances equally
good with those of any other man?"
"Jack, I am getting heartily tired of this. Why do you keep on harking
back to the subject when I have spoken so plainly? Whether I shall ever
feel towards any other man as I did towards you, to my sorrow, I cannot
say; but this I can say, even if that dead feeling I once had for you
should come to life again, it would avail you nothing. I shall say no
more--except one thing, which you had better know. I shall always be
friendly, and shall never think about the past unless you yourself remind
me of it, as you did just now. This much you owe to Fan."
He took the proffered hand in his, and bending, touched his lips to it.
Then they rose and walked on in silence--she grave, yet with a feeling of
triumph in her heart, for the feared moment had come, and she had not
been weak, and the cup of shame had passed for ever from her lips; he
profoundly sad, for it had been revealed to him that the old feeling, in
spite of her denial, was not wholly dead, and yet he knew that he had
Meanwhile that important literary matter was being discussed on another
portion of the cliff by the curate and Constance. It referred to the tale
she had written, which he had submitted to a publisher, who had offered a
small sum for the copyright. The book, the publisher had said, was
moderately good, but it formed only one volume; readers preferred their
novels in three volumes, even if they had to put up with inferior
quality. Besides, there was always a considerable risk in bringing out a
book by an unknown hand, with more in the same strain of explanation of
the smallness of the sum offered for the manuscript. The price being so
small, Constance was not strongly tempted to accept it. Then she wanted
to get the manuscript back. The thought of appearing as a competitor for
public favour in the novel-writing line began to produce a nervousness in
her similar to the stage-fright of young actors on their first
appearance. She had not taken pains enough, and could improve the work by
introducing new and better scenes; she had imprudently said things she
ought not to have said, and could imagine the reviewers (orthodox to a
man) tearing her book to pieces in a fine rage, and scattering its leaves
to the four winds of heaven.
Mr. Northcott smiled at her fears. He maintained that the one fault of
the book was that the style was too good--for a novel. It was not well,
he said, to write too well. On the contrary, a certain roughness and
carelessness had their advantage, especially with critical readers, and
served to show the hand of the professed novelist who, sick or well, in
the spirit or not, fills his twenty-four or thirty-six quarto pages per
diem. A polished style, on the other hand, exhibited care and looked
amateurish. He had no very great opinion of this kind of writing, and
advised her to get rid of the delusion that when she wrote a novel she
made literature. To clinch the argument, he proceeded to put a series of
uncomfortable questions to her. Did she expect to live by novel-writing?
How long would it take her to write three volumes? How long could she
maintain existence on the market price of a three-volume novel? It was
clear that, unless she was prepared to live on bread-and-cheese, she
could not afford to re-write anything. As for the reviewers, if they
found her book tiresome, they would dismiss it in a couple of colourless
or perhaps contemptuous paragraphs; if they found it interesting, they
would recommend it; but about her religious opinions expressed in it they
would not think it necessary to say anything.
When this matter had been settled, and she had agreed, albeit with some
misgivings, to accept the publisher's offer and let the book take its
chance, they passed to other subjects.
"I shall feel it most," said Constance, referring to his intended
departure on the morrow.
"These words," he returned, "will be a comfort to me when I am back in
London, after the peaceful days we have spent together."
"You needed this holiday more than any of us, Harold. I am glad it has
given you fresh strength for your sad toiling life in town."
"Not sad, Constance, so long as I have your sympathy."
"You know that you always have that. It is little to give when I think of
all you were to me--to us, at that dark period of our life." She turned
her face from him.
"Do you call it little, Constance?" He spoke with an intensity of feeling
that made his voice tremble. "It is inexpressibly dear to me; it sweetens
existence; without it I know that my life would be dark indeed."
"Dark, Harold! For me, and all who think with me, there is nothing to
guide but the light of nature that cannot satisfy you--that you regard as
a pale false light; it is not strange, therefore, that we make so much of
human sympathy and affection--that it sustains us. But if there is any
reality in that divine grace supposed to be given to those who are able
to believe in certain things, in spite of reason, then you are surely
wrong in speaking as you do."
Her earnestness, a something of bitterness imparted into her words,
seemed strange, considering that as a rule she avoided discussions of
this kind. Now she appeared eager for the fray; but it was a fictitious
eagerness, a great fear had come into her heart, and she was anxious to
turn the current of his thoughts from personal and therefore dangerous
"I do not know--I cannot say," he returned, evading the point. "I only
know that we are no longer like soldiers in opposing camps. Perhaps I
have had some influence on you--everything we do and say must in some
degree affect those around us. I know that you have greatly changed me.
Your words, and more than your words, the lesson of your life, has sunk
into my heart, and I cannot rebuke you. For though you have not Christ's
Name on your lips, the spirit which gives to the Christian religion its
deathless vitality is in your soul, and shines in your whole life."
They walked on in silence, he overcome with deep feeling, she unable to
reply, still apprehending danger. Then sinking his voice, he said:
"Your heart does not blame, do not let your reason blame me for thinking
so much of your sympathy." After a while he went on, his voice still
lower and faltering, as if hope faltered--"Constance, you have done so
much for me.... You have made my life so much more to me than it was....
Will you do more still? ... Will you let me think that the sympathy, the
affection you have so long felt for me, may in time ripen to another
feeling which will make us even more to each other than we are now?"
His voice had grown husky and had fallen almost to a whisper at the end.
They were standing now, she pale and trembling, tears gathering in her
eyes, her fingers clasped together before her.
"Oh, I am to blame for this," she spoke at last with passion. "But your
kindness was more to me than wine to the faint, and I believed--I
flattered myself that it was nothing more than Christian kindness, that
it never would, never could be more. I might have known--I might have
known! Harold, if you knew the pain I suffer, you would try for my sake
as well as your own to put this thought from you. The power to feel as
you would wish has gone from me--it is dead and can never live again. Ah,
why has this trouble come to divide us when our friendship was so sweet--
so much to me!"
Every word she had spoken had pierced him; but at the end his spirit
suddenly shook off despondency, and he returned eagerly, "Constance, do
not say that it will divide us. Nothing can ever change the feelings of
deep esteem and affection I have had for you since I first knew you at
Eyethorne; nothing can make your sympathy less to me than it has been in
the past. Can you not forgive me for the pain I have caused you, and
promise that you will not be less my friend than you have been up till
Strangely enough, the very declaration that her power to feel as he
wished was dead, and could not live again, which might well have made his
case seem hopeless, had served to inspire him with fresh hope; and while
begging for a continuance of her friendship he had said to himself, "Once
I shilly-shallied, and was too late; now I have spoken too soon; but my
time will come, for so long as the heart beats its power to love cannot
She could not read his thoughts; his words relieved and made her glad,
and she freely gave him her hand in token of continued friendship and
intimacy, just about the time when Captain Horton, with no secret hope in
his heart, was touching his red moustache to Mary's wash-leather glove.
"A Pebble for your thoughts, Constance," said Mary, tossing one to her
feet. "But I can guess them--for so many sisters is there not one
"Are you so sorry that they have all left us?" returned the other,
smiling and coming back from the realms of fancy.
"I'm sure _I_ am," said Fan, looking up from her book. "It was so
delightful to have them with us at this distance from London."
"But why at this distance from London?" objected Mary. "According to
that, our pleasure would have been greater if we had met them at the
Canary Islands, and greater still at Honolulu or some spot in Tasmania.
Imagine what it would be to meet them in one of the planets; but if the
meeting were to take place in the furthest fixed star the delight would
be almost too much for us. At that distance, Sidmouth would seem little
further from London than Richmond or Croydon."
Fan bent her eyes resolutely on her book.
"You have not yet answered my question, Mary," said Constance.
"Nor you mine, which has the right of priority. But I am not a stickler
for my rights. Listen, both of you, to a confession. I don't feel sorry
at being left alone with you two, much as I have been amused, especially
by Arthur, who has a merrier soul than his demure little sister."
"Why will you call me _little_, Mary? I am five feet six inches and
a half, and Arthur says that's as tall as a woman ought to be."
"A sneer at me because I am two inches taller! What other disparaging
things did he say, I wonder?"
"You don't say that seriously, Mary--you are so seldom serious about
anything! You know, I dare say, that he is always praising you."
"That's pleasant to hear. But what did he say--can't you remember
"Well, for one thing, he said you had a sense of humour--and that covers
a multitude of sins."
The others laughed. "_A propos_ of what did he pay me that pretty
compliment?" asked Mary.
Fan, reddening a little at being laughed at, returned somewhat defiantly,
"He was comparing you to me--to your advantage, of course--and said that
I had no sense of humour. I answered that you were always mocking at
something, and if that was what he meant by a sense of humour, I was very
pleased to be without it."
"Oh, traitress! it was you then who abused me behind my back."
"And what about me?" asked Constance. "Did he say that I had any sense of
"I asked him that," said Fan, not joining in the laugh. "He said that
women have a sense of humour of their own, quite different from man's;
that it shows in their conversation, but can't be written. What they put
in their books is a kind of imitation of man's humour, and very bad. He
said that George Eliot was a very mannish woman, but that even _her_
humour made him melancholy."
"Oh, then I shall be in very good company if I am so fortunate as to make
this clever young gentleman melancholy."
"I quite agree with him," said Mary, wishing to tease Constance. "As a
rule, there is something very depressing about a woman's writing when she
wishes to be amusing."
But the other would not be teased. "Do you know, Mary," she said,
returning to the first subject, "I was in hopes that you were going to
make a much more important confession. I'm sure we both expected it."
"You must speak for yourself about a confession," said Fan. "But I did
feel sorry to see how cast down poor Captain Horton looked before going
"The more I see of him," continued Constance, heedless of Mary's
darkening brow, "the better I like him. He is the very type of what a man
should be--strong and independent, yet gentle, so patient when his