SIR ANTHONY HOPE HAWKINS
(ANTHONY HOPE, PSEUD.)
II. WHY MEN DON'T MARRY
III. A CHANGE OF HEART
IV. A REPENTANT SINNER
V. 'TWIXT WILL AND WILL NOT
VI. WHICH SHALL IT BE?
VII. MARRIAGE BY COMPULSION
VIII. ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
Cupid, I met thee yesterday
With an empty quiver,
Coming from Clarinda's house
By the reedy river.
And I saw Clarinda stand
Near the pansies, weeping,
With her hands upon her breast
All thine arrows keeping.
Neither life nor the lawn-tennis club was so full at Natterley
that the news of Harry Sterling's return had not some importance.
He came back, moreover, to assume a position very different from
his old one. He had left Harrow now, departing in the sweet
aroma of a long score against Eton at Lord's, and was to go up to
Oxford in October. Now between a schoolboy and a University man
there is a gulf, indicated unmistakably by the cigarette which
adorned Harry's mouth as he walked down the street with a
newly acquiescent father, and thoroughly realized by his old
playmates. The young men greeted him as an equal, the boys
grudgingly accepted his superiority, and the girls received him
much as though they had never met him before in their lives and
were pressingly in need of an introduction. These features of
his reappearance amused Mrs. Mortimer; she recollected him as an
untidy, shy, pretty boy; but mind, working on matter, had so
transformed him that she was doubtful enough about him to ask her
husband if that were really Harry Sterling.
Mr. Mortimer, mopping his bald head after one of his energetic
failures at lawn tennis, grunted assent, and remarked that a few
years more would see a like development in their elder son, a
remark which bordered on absurdity; for Johnny was but eight, and
ten years are not a few years to a lady of twenty-eight, whatever
they may seem to a man of forty-four.
Presently Harry, shaking himself free from an entangling group of
the Vicarage girls, joined his father, and the two came across to
She was a favorite of old Sterling's, and he was proud to present
his handsome son to her. She listened graciously to his
jocosities, stealing a glance at Harry when his father called him
"a good boy." Harry blushed and assumed an air of indifference,
tossing his hair back from his smooth forehead, and swinging his
racket carelessly in his hand. The lady addressed some words of
patronizing kindness to him, seeking to put him at his ease. She
seemed to succeed to some extent, for he let his father and her
husband go off together, and sat down by her on the bench,
regardless of the fact that the Vicarage girls were waiting for
him to make a fourth.
He said nothing, and Mrs. Mortimer looked at him from under her
long lashes; in so doing she discovered that he was looking at
"Aren't you going to play any more, Mr. Sterling?" she asked.
"Why aren't you playing?" he rejoined.
"My husband says I play too badly."
"Oh, play with me! We shall make a good pair."
"Then you must be very good."
"Well, no one can play a hang here, you know. Besides I'm sure
you're all right, really."
"You forget my weight of years."
He opened his blue eyes a little, and laughed. He was, in fact,
astonished to find that she was quite a young woman. Remembering
old Mortimer and the babies, he had thought of her as full
middle-aged. But she was not; nor had she that likeness to a
suet pudding, which his newborn critical faculty cruelly detected
in his old friends, the Vicarage girls.
There was one of them--Maudie--with whom he had flirted in his
holidays; he wondered at that, especially when a relentless
memory told him that Mrs. Mortimer must have been at the
parties where the thing went on. He felt very much older, so
much older that Mrs. Mortimer became at once a contemporary.
Why, then, should she begin, as she now did, to talk to him, in
quasi maternal fashion, about his prospects? Men don't have
prospects, or, anyhow, are spared questionings thereon.
Either from impatience of this topic, or because, after all,
tennis was not to be neglected, he left her, and she sat alone
for a little while, watching him play. She was glad that she had
not played; she could not have rivaled the activity of the
Vicarage girls. She got up and joined Mrs. Sterling, who was
presiding over the club teapot. The good lady expected
compliments on her son, but for some reason Mrs. Mortimer gave
her none. Very soon, indeed, she took Johnnie away with her,
leaving her husband to follow at his leisure.
In comparing Maudie Sinclair to a suet pudding, Harry had looked
at the dark side of the matter.
The suggestion, though indisputable, was only occasionally
obtrusive, and as a rule hushed almost to silence by the pleasant
good nature which redeemed shapeless features. Mrs. Mortimer had
always liked Maudie, who ran in and out of her house continually,
and had made of herself a vice-mother to the little children.
The very next day she came, and, in the intervals of playing
cricket with Johnnie, took occasion to inform Mrs. Mortimer that
in her opinion Harry Sterling was by no means improved by his new
status and dignity. She went so far as to use the term "stuck-
up." "He didn't use to be like that," she said, shaking her
head; "he used to be very jolly." Mrs. Mortimer was relieved to
note an entire absence of romance either in the regretted past or
the condemned present. Maudie mourned a friend spoiled, not an
admirer lost; the tone of her criticisms left no doubt of it, and
Mrs. Mortimer, with a laugh, announced her intention of asking
the Sterlings to dinner and having Maudie to meet them. "You
will be able to make it up then," said she.
"Why, I see him every day at the tennis club," cried Maudie in
The faintest of blushes tinged Mrs. Mortimer's cheek as she chid
herself for forgetting this obvious fact.
The situation now developed rapidly. The absurd thing happened:
Harry Sterling began to take a serious view of his attachment to
Mrs. Mortimer. The one thing more absurd, that she should take a
serious view of it, had not happened yet, and, indeed, would
never happen; so she told herself with a nervous little laugh.
Harry gave her no opportunity of saying so to him, for you cannot
reprove glances or discourage pressings of your hand in fashion
And he was very discreet: he never made her look foolish. In
public he treated her with just the degree of attention that
gained his mother's fond eulogium, and his father's approving
smile; while Mr. Mortimer, who went to London at nine o'clock
every morning and did not return till seven, was very seldom
bothered by finding the young fellow hanging about the house.
Certainly he came pretty frequently between the hours named, but
it was, as the children could have witnessed, to play with them.
And, through his comings and goings, Mrs. Mortimer moved with
pleasure, vexation, self-contempt, and eagerness.
One night she and her husband went to dine with the Sterlings.
After dinner Mr. Mortimer accepted his host's invitation to stay
for a smoke. He saw no difficulty in his wife walking home
alone; it was but half a mile, and the night was fine and
moonlit. Mrs. Mortimer made no difficulty either, but Mrs.
Sterling was sure that Harry would be delighted to see Mrs.
Mortimer to her house.
She liked the boy to learn habits of politeness, she said, and
his father eagerly proffered his escort, waving aside Mrs.
Mortimer's protest that she would not think of troubling Mr.
Harry; throughout which conversation Harry said nothing at
all, but stood smiling, with his hat in his hand, the picture of
an obedient, well-mannered youth. There are generally two ways
anywhere, and there were two from the Sterlings' to the
Mortimers': the short one through the village, and the long one
round by the lane and across the Church meadow. The path
diverging to the latter route comes very soon after you leave the
Sterlings', and not a word had passed when Mrs. Mortimer and
Harry reached it. Still without a word, Harry turned off to
follow the path. Mrs. Mortimer glanced at him; Harry smiled.
"It's much longer," she said.
"There's lots of time," rejoined Harry, "and it's such a jolly
night." The better to enjoy the night's beauty, he slackened his
pace to a very crawl.
"It's rather dark; won't you take my arm?" he said.
"What nonsense! Why, I could see to read!"
"But I'm sure you're tired."
"How absurd you are! Was it a great bore?"
"No," said Harry.
In such affairs monosyllables are danger signals. A long
protestation might have meant nothing: in this short, sufficient
negative Mrs. Mortimer recognized the boy's sincerity. A little
thrill of pride and shame, and perhaps something else, ran
through her. The night was hot and she unfastened the clasp of
her cloak, breathing a trifle quickly. To relieve the silence,
she said, with a laugh:
"You see we poor married women have to depend on charity. Our
husbands don't care to walk home with us. Your father was bent
on your coming."
Harry laughed a short laugh; the utter darkness of Mr. Sterling's
condition struck through his agitation down to his sense of
humor. Mrs. Mortimer smiled at him; she could not help it: the
secret between them was so pleasant to her, even while she
hated herself for its existence.
They had reached the meadow now, halfway through their journey.
A little gate led into it and Harry stopped, leaning his arm on
the top rail.
"Oh, no! we must go on," she murmured.
"They won't move for an hour yet," he answered, and then he
suddenly broke out:
"How--how funny it is! I hardly remembered you, you know."
"Oh, but I remembered you, a pretty little boy;" and she looked
up at his face, half a foot above her. Mere stature has much
effect and the little boy stage seemed very far away. And he
knew that it did, for he put out his hand to take hers. She drew
"No," she said.
Harry blushed. She took hold of the gate and he, yielding his
place, let her pass through. For a minute or two they walked on
"Oh, how silly you are!" she cried then, beginning with a laugh
and ending with a strange catch in her throat. "Why, you're
only just out of knickerbockers!"
"I don't care, I don't care, Hilda----"
"Hush, hush! Oh, indeed, you must be quiet! See, we are nearly
He seized her hand, not to be quelled this time, and, bending low
over it, kissed it. She did not draw it away, but watched him
with a curious, pained smile. He looked up in her face, his own
glowing with excitement. He righted himself to his full stature
and, from that stooping, kissed her on the lips.
"Oh, you silly boy!" she moaned, and found herself alone in the
meadow. He had gone swiftly back by the way they had come, and
she went on to her home.
"Well, the boy saw you home?" asked Mr. Mortimer when he arrived
half an hour later.
"Yes," she said, raising her head from the cushions of the sofa
on which he found her lying.
"I supposed so, but he didn't come into the smoking-room when he
got back. Went straight to bed, I expect. He's a nice-mannered
young fellow, isn't he?"
"Oh, very!" said Mrs. Mortimer.
Mr. Mortimer had never been so looked after, cosseted, and
comforted for his early start as the next morning, nor the
children found their mother so patient and affectionate. She was
in an abasement of shame and disgust at herself, and quite unable
to treat her transgression lightly. That he was a boy and she--
not a girl--seemed to charge her with his as well as her own
sins, and, besides this moral aggravation, entailed a lower
anxiety as to his discretion and secrecy that drove her half mad
with worry. Suppose he should boast of it! Or, if he were not
bad enough for that, only suppose he should be carried away into
carelessness about it! He had nothing to fear worse than
what he would call "a wigging" and perhaps summary dismissal to a
tutor's: she had more at risk than she could bear to think of.
Probably, by now, he recognized his foolishness, and laughed at
himself and her. This thought made her no happier, for men may
do all that--and yet, very often, they do not stop.
She had to go to a party at the Vicarage in the afternoon. Harry
would be sure to be there, and, with a conflict of feeling
finding expression in her acts, she protected herself by taking
all the children, while she inconsistently dressed herself in her
most youthful and coquettish costume. She found herself almost
grudging Johnnie his rapidly increasing inches, even while she
relied on him for an assertion of her position as a matron. For
the folly of last night was to be over and done with, and her
acquaintance with Harry Sterling to return to its only possible
sane basis; that she was resolved on, but she wanted Harry
honestly--even keenly--to regret her determination.
He was talking to Maudie Sinclair when she arrived; he took off
his hat, but did not allow his eyes to meet hers. She gathered
her children round her, and sat down among the chaperons. Mrs.
Sterling came and talked to her; divining a sympathy, the good
mother had much to say of her son, of her hopes and her fears for
him; so many dangers beset young men, especially if they were
attractive, like Harry; there were debts, idleness, fast men,
and--worst of all--there were designing women, ready to impose on
and ruin the innocence of youth.
"He's been such a good boy till now," said Mrs. Sterling, "but,
of course, his father and I feel anxious. If we could only keep
him here, out of harm's way, under our own eyes!"
Mrs. Mortimer murmured consolation.
"How kind of you! And your influence is so good for him. He
thinks such a lot of you, Hilda."
Mrs. Mortimer, tried too hard, rose and strolled away. Harry's
set seemed to end almost directly, and a moment later he was
shaking hands with her, still keeping his eyes away from hers.
She made her grasp cold and inanimate, and he divined the
displeasure she meant to indicate.
"You must go and play again," she said, "or talk to the girls.
You mustn't come and talk to me."
"Why not! How can I help it--now?"
The laughing at her and himself had evidently not come, but, bad
as that would have been to bear, his tone threatened something
"Don't," she answered sharply. "I'm very angry. You were very
unkind and--and ungentlemanly last night."
He flushed crimson.
"Didn't you like it?" he asked, with the terrible simplicity of
For all her trouble, she had to bite her lip to hide a smile.
What a question to ask--just in so many words!
"It was very, very wicked, and, of course, I didn't like it,"
she answered. "Oh, Harry! don't you know how wicked it was?"
"Oh, yes! I know that, of course," said he, picking at the straw
of his hat, which he was carrying in his hand.
"Well, then!" she said.
"I couldn't help it."
"You must help it. Oh, don't you know--oh, it's absurd! I'm
years older than you."
"You looked so--so awfully pretty."
"I can't stand talking to you. They'll all see."
"Oh, it's all right. You're a friend of mother's, you know. I
say, when shall I be able to see you again--alone, you know?"
Mrs. Mortimer was within an ace of a burst of tears. He seemed
not to know that he made her faint with shame, and mad with
exultation, and bewildered with terror all in a moment. His new
manhood took no heed, save of itself. Was this being out of
harm's way, under the eyes of those poor blind parents?
"If--if you care the least for me--for what I wish, go away,
Harry," she whispered.
He looked at her in wonder, but, with a frown on his face, did as
he was told. Five minutes later he was playing again; she heard
him shout "Thirty--love," as he served, a note of triumphant
battle in his voice. She believed that she was altogether out of
Her husband was to dine in town that night, and, for sheer
protection, she made Maudie Sinclair come and share her evening
meal. The children were put to bed, and they sat down alone
together, talking over the party. Maudie was pleased to relax a
little of her severity toward Harry Sterling; she admitted that
he had been very useful in arranging the sets, and very pleasant
"Of course, he's conceited," she said, "but all boys are. He'll
get over it."
"You talk as if you were a hundred, Maudie," laughed Mrs.
Mortimer. "He's older than you are."
"Oh, but boys are much younger than girls, Mrs. Mortimer. Harry
Sterling's quite a boy still."
A knock sounded at the door. A minute later the boy walked in.
The sight of Maudie Sinclair produced a momentary start, but he
recovered himself and delivered a note from his mother, the
excuse for his visit. It was an invitation for a few days ahead;
there could certainly have been no hurry for it to arrive that
night. While Mrs. Mortimer read it, Harry sat down and looked at
her. She was obliged to treat his arrival as unimportant, and
invited him to have a glass of wine.
"Why are you in evening dress?" asked Maudie wonderingly.
"For dinner," answered Harry.
"Do you dress when you're alone at home?"
"Generally. Most men do."
Maudie allowed herself to laugh. Mrs. Mortimer saw the joke,
too, but its amusement was bitter to her.
"I like it," she said gently. "Most of the men I know do it."
"Your husband doesn't," observed Miss Sinclair.
"Poor George gets down from town so tired."
She gave Harry the reply she had written (it was a refusal--she
could not have told why), but he seemed not to understand that he
was to go. Before he apprehended, she had to give him a
significant glance; she gave it in dread of Maudie's eyes. She
knew how sharp schoolgirls' eyes are in such things. Whether
Maudie saw it or not, Harry did; he sprang to his feet and said
Maudie was not long after him. The conversation languished, and
there was nothing to keep her. With an honest yawn she took her
leave. Mrs. Mortimer accompanied her down the garden to the
gate. As she went, she became to her startled horror aware of a
third person in the garden. She got rid of Maudie as soon as she
could, and turned back to the house. Harry, emerging from
behind a tree, stood before her.
"I know what you're going to say," he said doggedly, "but I
couldn't help it. I was dying to see you again." She spread out
her hands as though to push him away. She was like a frightened
"Oh, you're mad!" she whispered. "You must go. Suppose anyone
should come. Suppose my husband----"
"I can't help it. I won't stay long."
"Harry, Harry, don't be cruel! You'll ruin me, Harry. If you
love me, go--if you love me."
Even now he hardly fathomed her distress, but she had made him
understand that this spot and this time were too dangerous.
"Tell me where I can see you safely," he asked, almost demanded.
"You can see me safely--nowhere."
"Nowhere? You mean that you won't----"
"Harry, come here a minute--there--no closer. I just want to be
able to touch your hair. Go away, dear--yes, I said `dear.'
Do please go away. You--you won't be any happier afterward for
having--if--if you don't go away."
He stood irresolutely still. Her fingers lightly touched his
hair, and then her arm dropped at her side. He saw a tear run
down her cheek. Suddenly his own face turned crimson.
"I'm--I'm very sorry," he muttered. "I didn't mean----"
"Good-night. I'm going in."
She held out her hand. Again he bent and kissed it, and, as he
did so, he felt the light touch of her lips among his hair.
"I'm such a foolish, foolish woman," she whispered, "but you're a
gentleman, Harry," and she drew her hand away and left him.
Two days later she took her children off to the seaside. And the
Mortimers never came back to Natterley. She wrote and told Mrs.
Sterling that George wanted to be nearer his work in town, and
that they had gone to live at Wimbledon.
"How we shall miss her!" exclaimed good Mrs. Sterling. "Poor
Harry! what'll he say?"
One day, at Brighton, some six years later, a lady in widow's
weeds, accompanied by a long, loose-limbed boy of fourteen, was
taking the air by the sea. The place was full of people, and the
Mrs. Mortimer sat down on a seat and Johnnie stood idly by her.
Presently a young man and a girl came along. While they were
still a long way off, Mrs. Mortimer, who was looking in that
direction, suddenly leaned forward, started a little, and looked
hard at them. Johnnie, noticing nothing, whistled unconcernedly.
The couple drew near. Mrs. Mortimer sat with a faint smile on
her face. The girl was chatting merrily to the young man, and he
listened to her and laughed every now and then, but his
bright eyes were not fixed on her, but were here, there, and
everywhere, where metal attractive to such eyes might be found.
The discursive mood of the eyes somehow pleased Mrs. Mortimer.
Just as the young man came opposite her, he glanced in her
Mrs. Mortimer wore the curious, half-indifferent, half-expectant
air of one ready for recognition, but not claiming it as a right.
At the first glance, a puzzled look came into the young man's
eyes. He looked again: then there was a blank in his eyes. Mrs.
Mortimer made no sign, but sat still, half-expectant. He was
past her now, but he flung a last glance over his shoulder. He
was evidently very doubtful whether the lady on the seat, in the
heavy mourning robes, were someone he knew or not. First he
thought she was, and then he thought she wasn't. The face
certainly reminded him of--now who the deuce was it? Harry knit
his brows and exclaimed:
"I half believe that's somebody I know!"
And he puzzled over it, for nearly five minutes, all in vain.
Meanwhile Mrs. Mortimer looked at the sea, till Johnnie told her
that it was dinner-time.
WHY MEN DON'T MARRY.
We were sitting around the fire at Colonel Holborow's. Dinner
was over--had, in fact, been over for some time--the hour of
smoke, whisky, and confidence had arrived, and we had been
telling one another the various reasons which accounted for our
being unmarried, for we were all bachelors except the colonel,
and he had, as a variety, told the reasons why he wished he was
unmarried (his wife was away). Jack Dexter, however, had not
spoken, and it was only in response to a direct appeal that he
related the following story. The story may be true or untrue,
but I must remark that Jack always had rather a weakness for
representing himself on terms of condescending intimacy with
the nobility and even greater folk.
Jack sighed deeply. There was a sympathetic silence. Then he
"For some reason best known to herself," said Jack, with a
patient shrug of his shoulders, "the Duchess of Medmenham (I
don't know whether any of you fellows know her) chose to object
to me as a suitor for the hand of her daughter, Mary Fitzmoine.
The woman was so ignorant that she may really have thought that
my birth was not equal to her daughter's; but all the world knows
that the Munns were yeomen two hundred years ago, and that her
Grace's family hails from a stucco villa in the neighborhood of
Cardiff. However, the duchess did object; and when the season
(in the course of which I had met Lady Mary many times) ended,
instead of allowing her daughter to pay a series of visits at
houses where I had arranged to be, she sent her off to
Switzerland, under the care of a dragon whom she had engaged to
keep me and other dangerous fellows at a proper distance. On
hearing of what had happened from George Fitzmoine (an intimate
friend of mine), I at once threw up my visits and started in
pursuit. I felt confident that Lady Mary was favorably inclined
(in fact, I had certain proofs which--but no matter), and that if
I won her heart I could break down the old lady's opposition. I
should certainly have succeeded in my enterprise, and been at
this moment the husband of one of the most beautiful girls in
England, but for a very curious and unfortunate circumstance,
which placed me in an unfavorable light in Mary's eyes. I was
not to blame; it was just a bit of bad luck.
"I ranged over most of Switzerland in search of Lady Mary.
Wherever I went I asked about her, and at last I got upon the
track. At Interlaken I found her name in the visitors' book,
together with that of a Miss Dibbs, whom I took to be the dragon.
I questioned the porter and found that the two ladies had, the
afternoon before, hired a carriage and driven to a quiet
little village some fifteen miles off, where there was a small
but good inn. Here they evidently meant to stay, for letters
were to be sent after them there for the next week. The place
was described to me as pretty and retired; it seemed, therefore,
an ideal spot for my purpose. I made up my mind at once. I
started the next day after luncheon, took the journey easily, and
came in sight of the little inn about seven o'clock in the
evening. All went well. The only question was as to the
disposition of Miss Dibbs toward me. I prayed that she might
turn out to be a romantic dragon; but, in case she should prove
obstinate, I made my approaches with all possible caution. When
my carriage stopped at the door I jumped out. The head waiter, a
big fellow in a white waistcoat, was on the steps. I drew him
aside, and took a ten-franc piece from my pocket.
"`Is there a young lady staying here?' I asked. `Tall, fair,
handsome?' and I slid the piece of gold into his palm.
"`Well, yes, sir,' he said, `there is a young lady, and she is
all that you say, sir. Pardon me, Monsieur is English?'
"`Yes,' said I.
"`Ah,' said he, smiling mysteriously. `And it is Wednesday.'
"`It is certainly Wednesday,' I admitted, though I did not see
that the day of the week mattered much.
"He came close to me and whispered:
"`The lady thought you might come, sir. I think she expects you,
sir. Oh, you can rely on my discretion, sir.'
"I was rather surprised, but not very much, for I had hinted to
George Fitzmoine that I meant to try my luck, and I supposed that
he had passed my hint on to his sister. My predominant feeling
was one of gratification. Mary loved me! Mary expected me!
There was complete mental sympathy between Mary and myself!
"I went up to my room in a state of great contentment. I had
been there about half an hour when my friend the waiter came
in. Advancing toward me with a mysterious air, he took a blank
envelope out of his pocket and held it up before me with a
"`Monsieur will know the handwriting inside,' he said cunningly.
"Now I had never corresponded with Lady Mary, and of course did
not know her handwriting, but I saw no use in telling the waiter
that. In truth, I thought the fellow quite familiar enough. So
I said shortly and with some hauteur:
"`Give me the note;' and I took another piece of gold out of my
pocket. We exchanged our possessions, the waiter withdrew with a
wink, and I tore open the precious note.
"`Whatever you do,' it ran, `don't recognize me. I am WATCHED.
As soon as I can I will tell you where to meet me. I knew you
"`The darling!' I exclaimed. `She's a girl of spirit. I'll take
good care not to betray her. Oh, we'll circumvent old Dibbs
"At eight o'clock I went down to the salle a manger. It was
quite empty. Mary and Miss Dibbs no doubt dined in their own
sitting room, and there appeared to be no one else in the hotel.
However, when I was halfway through my meal, a stylishly dressed
young woman came in and sat down at a table at the end of the
room farthest from where I was. I should have noticed her more,
but I was in a reverie about Mary's admirable charms, and I only
just looked at her; she was frowning and drumming angrily with
her fingers on the table. The head waiter hurried up to her; his
face was covered with smiles, and he gave me a confidential nod
en passant. Nothing else occurred except that a villainous
looking fellow--something, to judge by his appearance, between a
valet and a secretary--thrust his ugly head through the door
three or four times. Whenever he did so the waiter smiled
blandly at him. He did it the last time just as the lady was
walking down the room. Seeing her coming he drew back and held
the door open for her with a clumsy, apologetic bow. She smiled
scornfully and passed through. The waiter stood grinning in the
middle of the room, and when I, in my turn, rose, he whispered to
me, `It's all right, sir.' I went to bed and dreamed of Mary.
"On entering the room next morning the first person I saw was
Mary. She was looking adorably fresh and pretty. She sat
opposite a stout, severe-looking dame in black. Directly my eyes
alighted on her I schooled them into a studiously vacant
expression. She, poor girl, was no diplomatist. She started;
she glanced anxiously at Miss Dibbs; I saw her lips move; she
blushed; she seemed almost to smile. Of course this behavior (I
loved Mary the more that she could not conceal her delightful
embarrassment!) excited the dragon's curiosity; she turned round
and favored me with a searching gaze. I was equal to the
occasion. I comprehended them both in a long, cool,
deliberate, empty stare. The strain on my self-control was
immense, but I supported it. Mary blushed crimson, and her eyes
sank to her plate. Poor girl! She had sadly overrated her
powers of deception. I was not surprised that Miss Dibbs frowned
severely and sniffed audibly.
"At that moment the other girl came in. She walked up, took the
table next to mine, and, to my confusion, bestowed upon me a look
of evident interest, though of the utmost shortness--one of those
looks, you know, that seem to be repented of in an instant, and
are generally the most deliberate. I took no notice at all,
assuming an air of entire unconsciousness. A few minutes later
Mary got up and made for the door, with Miss Dibbs in close
attendance. The imprudent child could not forbear to glance at
me; but I, seeing the dragon's watchful eye upon me, remained
absolutely irresponsive. Nay, to throw Miss Dibbs off the scent,
I fixed my eyes on my neighbor with assumed preoccupation.
Flushing painfully, Mary hurried out, and I heard Miss Dibbs
sniff again. I chuckled over her obvious disapproval of my
neighbor and myself. The excellent woman evidently thought us no
better than we ought to be! But I felt that I should go mad if I
could not speak to Mary soon.
"I went out and sat down in the veranda. It was then about half-
past ten. The ugly fellow whom I had noticed the evening before
was hanging about, but presently a waiter came and spoke to him,
and he got up with a grumble and went into the house. Ten
minutes afterward my neighbor of the salle a manger came
out. She looked very discontented. She rang a handbell that
stood on the table, and a waiter ran up.
"`Where's the head waiter?' she asked sharply.
"`Pardon, ma'mselle, but he is waiting on some ladies
"`What a nuisance!' said she. `But you'll do. I want to give
him an order. Stay; come indoors and I'll write it down.'
"She disappeared, and I sat on, wondering how I was to get a
sight of Mary. At last, in weariness, I went indoors to the
smoking room. It looked out to the back and was a dreary little
room; but I lit my cigar and began on a three days' old copy of
the Times. Thus I spent a tedious hour. Then my friend the
head waiter appeared, looking more roguish than ever. I dived
into my pocket, he produced a note, I seized it.
"`Why have you been so long?' (Charmingly unreasonable! what
could I have done?) `Directly you get this, come to the wood
behind the hotel. Take the path to the right and go straight
till you find me. I have thrown the SPY [poor old Dibbs!] off
"I caught up my hat and rushed into the hall. I cannoned into a
young man who had just got out of a carriage and was standing in
the veranda. With a hasty apology I dashed on. Beyond doubt
she loved me! And she was honest enough not to conceal it. I
hate mock modesty. I longed to show her how truly I returned her
love, and I rejoiced that there need be no tedious preliminaries.
Mary and I understood one another. A kiss would be the seal of
our love--and the most suitable beginning of our conversation.
"In five minutes I was in the wood. Just before I disappeared
among its trees I heard someone calling `Monsieur, monsieur!'
It sounded like the voice of the head waiter, but I wouldn't have
stopped for fifty head waiters. I took the path Mary had
indicated and ran along it at the top of my speed. Suddenly, to
my joy, I caught sight of the figure of a girl; she was seated on
a mound of grass, and, though her face was from me, I made no
doubt it was Mary. She wore the most charming blue cloak (it was
a chilly morning) which completely enveloped her. I determined
not to shilly-shally. She loved me--I loved her. I ran forward,
plumped down on my knees behind her, took her head between my
hands dodged round, and kissed her cheek.
"`At last, my darling!' I cried in passionate tones.
"By Jupiter, it was the other girl, though!
"I sprang back in horror. The girl looked at me for a moment.
Then she blushed; then she frowned; then--why, then she began to
laugh consumedly. I was amazed.
"`"At last," you call it,' she gasped. `I call it "at first"';
and she laughed merrily and melodiously. She certainly had a
nice laugh, that girl.
"Now, concerning what follows, I have, since then, entertained
some doubts whether I behaved in all respects discreetly. You
will allow that the position was a difficult one, but it is, I
admit, very possible that my wisest course would have been to
make an apology and turn tail as quickly as I could. Well, I
didn't. I thought that I owed the lady a full explanation.
Besides, I wanted a full explanation myself. Finally (oh,
yes, I see you fellows grinning and winking), Mary was not there,
and this young lady rather interested me. I decided that I would
have five minutes' talk with her; then I would run back and find
"`I must beg a thousand pardons,' I began, `but I took you for
"`Oh, of course,' said she, with a shrug, `it's always that.'
"`You appear incredulous,' said I, rather offended.
"`Well, and if I am?' said she.
"My feelings were hurt. I produced Mary's second note.
"`If I can trust to your discretion, I'll prove what I say,' I
remarked in a nettled tone.
"`I shall be very curious to hear the proof, sir, and I will be
most discreet,' she said. She was pouting, but her eyes danced.
Really, she looked very pretty--although, of course, I would not
for a moment compare her with Lady Mary.
"`A lady,' said I, `was so kind as to tell me to seek her
here this morning.'
"`Oh, as if I believed that!'
"I was piqued.
"`There's the proof,' I cried, flinging the note into her lap.
"She took it up, glanced at it, and gave a little shriek.
"`Where did you get this?'
"`Why, from the head waiter.'
"`Oh, the fool!' she cried. `It's mine.'
"`Yours? nonsense! He gave me that and another last night.'
"`Oh, the stupidity! They were for--they were not for you. They
were for--someone who is to arrive.'
"I pointed at the signature and gasped, `M.! Do you sign M.?'
"`Yes; my name's--my name begins with M. Oh, if I'd only seen
that waiter this morning! Oh, the idiot!'
"Then I believe I swore.
"`Madame,' said I, `I'm ruined! No harm is done to you--I'm a
man of honor--but I'm ruined. On the strength of your wretched
notes, madame, I've cut the girl I love best in the world--
cut her dead--dead--dead!'
"`What? That young lady in the---- Oh, you thought they were
from her? Oh, I see? How--how--oh, how very amusing!' And the
heartless little wretch went off into another peal of laughter.
"`You pretended not to know her! Oh, dear! oh, dear!' and her
laughter echoed among the trees again. `I saw her looking at
you, and you ate on like a pig! Oh, dear! oh, dear!'
"`Stop laughing!' said I savagely.
"`Oh, I'm very sorry, but I can't. What a scrape you've go into!
Oh, me!' And she wiped her eyes (they were as blue as her cloak)
with a delicate bit of a handkerchief.
"`You shan't laugh,' said I. `Who were your notes for?'
"`Somebody I expected. He hasn't come. The waiter took you for
him, I suppose. I never thought of his being so stupid. Oh,
what a brute she must have thought you!' And she began to laugh
"I had had enough of it. I hate being laughed at.
"`If you go on laughing,' said I, `I'll kiss you again.'
"The threat was a failure; she did not appear at all alarmed.
"`Not you!' she said, laughing worse than ever.
"I should like you fellows to understand that my heart never
wavered in its allegiance to Lady Mary--my conscience is quite
clear as to that--but I had pledged my word. I caught that
tiresome girl round the waist and I kissed her once--I'm sure of
once, anyhow. She gasped and struggled, laughing still. Then,
with a sudden change of voice, she cried, `Stop', stop!'
"I let her go. I looked round. We had a gallery of spectators.
On one side stood the ugly-headed valet; on the other, in
attitudes of horror, Mary and Miss Dibbs!
"`You've ruined us both now,' said the girl in blue.
"I rose to my feet and was about to explain, when the ugly
fellow rushed at me, brandishing a cane. I had quite enough to
arrange without being bothered by him. I caught the cane in my
left hand, and with my right I knocked him down.
"Then I walked up to Lady Mary. I took no heed of Miss Dibbs'
presence; it was too critical a moment to think of trifles.
"`Lady Mary,' said I, `appearances are so much against me that
you cannot possibly attach the slightest weight to them.'
"`Sir,' said she, `I have no longer the honor of your
acquaintance. I have only to thank you for having had the
consideration not to recognize me when we met so unexpectedly in
the dining room. Pray continue to show me the same favor.'
"With which pleasant little speech she turned on her heel. It
was clear that she suspected me most unjustly. I turned to the
girl in blue, but she was beforehand with me.
"`Ah, I wish I'd never see you,' she cried, `you great,
stupid creature! He [she pointed to the prostrate figure of the
ugly servant] will tell Frederic everything.'
"`Come,' said I, `_I_ was only an accident; it would have been
just as bad if----'
"As I spoke I heard a step behind me. Turning round, I found
myself face to face with the young man with whom I had come in
collision as I rushed through the hall. He gazed at the
servant--at me--at the girl in blue.
"`Margaret!' he exclaimed, `what is the----'
"`Hush, hush!' she whispered, pointing again to the servant.
"I stepped up to him, lifting my hat:
"`Sir,' said I, "kindly inform me if you are the gentleman who
was to come from England.'
"`Certainly I come from England,' he said.
"`And you ought to have arrived on Wednesday?'
"`Yes," he answered.
"`Then,' said I, `all I have to say to you, sir, is--that I wish
to the devil you'd keep your appointments.' And I left them.
"That's why I'm not married, boys. Where's my glass?"
"It is a very curious story," observed the colonel. "And who
were they all--the girl in blue--and the young man--and the ugly
"Colonel," said Jack, with an air of deepest mystery, "you would
be astounded to hear."
We all pricked up our ears.
"But," he continued, "I am not at liberty to say."
We sank back in our chairs.
"Do you know?" asked the colonel, and Jack nodded solemnly.
"Out with it!" we cried.
"Impossible!" said Jack. "But I may tell you that the matter
engaged the attention of more than one of the Foreign Offices of
"Good Heavens!" cried we in chorus, and Jack drank off his
whisky and water, rose to his feet, and put on his hat.
"Poor dear Mary!" said he, as he opened the door. "She never got
The colonel shouted after him:
"Then what did she marry Jenkyns of the Blues for?"
"Pique!" said Jack, and he shut the door.
A CHANGE OF HEART.
It was common knowledge that Smugg was engaged to be married.
Familiarity had robbed the fact of some of its surprisingness,
but there remained a substratum of wonder, not removed even by
the sight of his betrothed's photograph and the information that
she was a distant relative who had been brought up with him from
infancy. The features and the explanation between them rescued
Smugg from the incongruity of a romance, but we united in the
opinion that the lady was ill-advised in preferring Smugg to
solitude. Still, for all that he was a ridiculous creature, she
did, and hence it happened that Smugg, desiring to form a
furnishing fund, organized a reading party, which Gayford,
Tritton, Bird, and I at once joined.
Every morning at nine Smugg, his breakfast finished, cleared his
corner of the table, opened his books, and assumed an expectant
air; so Mary the maid told us; we were never there ourselves; we
breakfasted at 9.30 or 10 o'clock, and only about 11 did we clear
our corners, light our pipes, open our books, and discuss the
prospects of the day.
As we discussed them, Smugg construed in a gentle bleat; what he
construed or why he construed it (seeing that nobody heeded him)
was a mystery; the whole performance was simply a tribute to
Smugg's conscience, and, as such, was received with good-natured,
Suddenly a change came.
One morning there was no Smugg! Yet he had breakfasted--Mary and
an eggshell testified to that effect. He reappeared at 11.30,
confused and very warm (he had exceptional powers in the way
of being warm). We said nothing, and he began to bleat Horace.
In a minute of silence I happened to hear what it was: it
referred to a lady of the name of Pyrrha; the learned may
identify the passage for themselves. The next day the same thing
happened except that it was close on twelve before Smugg
appeared. Gayford and Tritton took no notice of the aberration;
Bird congratulated Smugg on the increased docility of his
conscience. I watched him closely as he wiped his brow--he was
very warm, indeed. A third time the scene was enacted; my
curiosity was aroused; I made Mary call me very early, and from
the window I espied Smugg leaving the house at 9.15, and going
with rapid, furtive steps along the little path that led to old
Dill's tiny farm. I slipped downstairs, bolted a cup of tea,
seized a piece of toast, and followed Smugg. He was out of
sight, but presently I met Joe Shanks, the butcher's son, who
brought us our chops. Joe was a stout young man, about
twenty-one, red-faced, burly, and greasy. We used to have many
jokes with Joe; even Smugg had before now broken a mild shaft of
classical wit on him; in fact, we made a butt of Joe, and his
good-humored, muttony smile told us that he thought it a
"Seen Mr. Smugg as you came along, Joe?" I asked.
"Yes, sir. Gone toward Dill's farm, sir."
"Ah, Dill's farm!"
The chop-laden Joe passed on. I mended my pace, and soon found
myself on the outskirts of Dill's premises. I had been there
before; we had all been there before. Dill had a daughter. I
saw her now in a sunbonnet and laced boots. I may say at once
that Betsy Dill was very pretty, in a fine, robust style, and all
four of us were decidedly enamored of her charms. Usually we
courted her in a body, and scrupulous fairness was observed in
the matter of seeking private interviews.
Smugg had never spoken to her--so we should all have sworn. But
now my wondering eyes saw, opposite Pyrrha (we began from this
day to call her Pyrrha) the figure of Smugg. Pyrrha was leaning
against a barn, one foot crossed over the other, her arms akimbo,
a string of her bonnet in her mouth, and her blue eyes laughing
from under long lashes. Smugg stood limply opposite her, his
trousers bagging over his half-bent knees, his hat in one hand,
and in the other a handkerchief, with which, from time to time,
he mopped his forehead. I could not hear (of course I did not
wish to) what they were saying; indeed, I have my doubts if they
said anything; but presently Smugg moved a hesitating step
nearer, when Pyrrha, with a merry laugh, darted by him and ran
away, turning a mocking face over her shoulder. Smugg stood
still for a minute, then put on his hat, looked at his watch, and
walked slowly away.
I did not keep Smugg's secret; I felt under no obligation to keep
it. He deserved no mercy, and I exposed him at breakfast
that very morning. But I could not help being a little sorry for
him when he came in. He bent his head under the shower of
reproach, chaff, and gibing; he did not try to excuse himself; he
simply opened his book at the old place, and we all shouted the
old ode, substituting "Betsa" for "Pyrrha" wherever we could.
Still, in spite of our jocularity, we all felt an under-current
of real anger.
We considered that Smugg was treating Pyrrha very badly--Smugg,
an engaged man, aged thirty, presumably past the heat and
carelessness of youth. We glowed with a sense of her wrongs, and
that afternoon we each went for a solitary walk--at least, we
started for a solitary walk--but half an hour later we all met at
the gate leading to Dill's meadows, and, in an explosion of
laughter, acknowledged our secret design of meeting Pyrrha, and
opening her eyes to Smugg's iniquity.
The great surprise was still to come. At eleven the next
morning, when we had just sat down to work, and Smugg had slid
into the room with the stealthy, ashamed air he wore after his
morning excursions, Mary appeared, and told us that Joe Shanks,
the butcher's son, had come with the chops, and wanted to speak
to us. We hailed the diversion, and had Joe shown in. Gayford
pushed the beer jug and a glass toward him, saying:
"Help yourself, Joe."
Joe drank a draught, wiped his mouth on his blue sleeve, and
"No offense, gentlemen."
"None," said Gayford, who seemed to have assumed the chairmanship
of the meeting.
Joe, seeming slightly embarrassed, cleared his throat, and looked
"No offense, gentlemen," he repeated; "but she's bin walking with
me two years come Michaelmas."
A pause followed. Then the chairman expressed the views of the
"The deuce she has!" said he.
"Off AND on," added Joe candidly.
I looked at Smugg. He had shrunk down low in his seat, and
rested his head on his hand. His face was half hidden; but he
was very warm, and the drops trickled from his forehead down his
"It seems to be a good deal off," said the chairman judicially.
"No offense," said Joe; "but I don't take it kind of you,
gentlemen. I've served you faithful."
"The chops are excellent," conceded the chairman.
"And I don't take it kind."
"Develop your complaint," said the chairman. "I mean, what's the
"Since you gentlemen came she's been saucy," said Joe.
"I do not see," observed the chairman, "that anything can be
done. If Pyrrha prefers us, Joe [he treated the case
collectively, which was certainly wise], what then?"
"Beg pardon, sir?"
"Oh, I mean if the lady prefers us, Joe?"
Joe brought his fat fist down on the table with a thump.
"It aint as if you meant it," said he doggedly; "you just
unsettles of 'er. I s'pose I can't help ye talking, and
laughing, and walking along of 'er, but you aint no call to kiss
Another pause ensued. The chairman held a consultation with
Tritton, who sat on his right hand.
"The meeting," said Gayford, "will proceed to declare, one by
one, whether it has ever--and if so, how often--kissed the lady.
I will begin. Never! Mr. Tritton?"
"Never!" said Tritton.
"Never!" said Bird.
"Never!" said I.
"I seed 'im this very morning!" cried Joe, like an accusing
Smugg took his hand away from his face, after giving his wet brow
one last dab. He looked at Gayford and at Joe, but said nothing.
"Mr. Smugg?" repeated the chairman.
"Mr. Smugg," interposed Tritton suavely, "probably feels himself
in a difficulty. The secret is not, perhaps, entirely his own."
We all nodded.
"We enter a plea of not guilty for Mr. Smugg," observed the
"I seed 'im do it," said Joe.
No one spoke. Joe finished his beer, pulled his forelock, and
turned on his heel. Suddenly Smugg burst into speech. He could
hardly form his words, and they jostled one another in the
breathless confusion of his utterance.
"I--I--you've no right. I say nothing. If I choose, I shall--no
one has a right to stop me. If I love her--if she doesn't mind--
I say nothing--nothing at all. I won't hear a word. I shall do
as I like."
Joe had paused to hear him, and now stood looking at him in
wonder. Then he stepped quickly up to the table, and, leaning
across, asked in a harsh voice:
"You mean honest, do you, by her? You'd make her your wife,
Smugg, looking straight in front of him, answered:
Joe drew back, touched his forelock again, and said:
"Then it's fair fighting, sir, begging your pardon; and no
offense. But the girl was mine first, sir."
Then Gayford interposed.
"Mr. Smugg," said he, "you tell Joe, here, that you'd marry this
lady. May I ask how you can--when----"
But for once Smugg was able to silence one of his pupils. He
arose from his seat, and brought his hand heavily down on
"Hold your tongue!" he cried. "I must answer to God, but I
needn't answer to you."
Joe looked at him with round eyes, and, with a last salute,
slowly went out. None of us spoke, and presently Smugg opened
For my part, I took very considerable interest in Pyrrha's side
of the question. I amused myself by constructing a fancy-born
love of Pyrrha's for her social superior, and if he had been one
of ourselves, I should have seen no absurdity. But Smugg refused
altogether to fit into my frame. There was no glamour about
Smugg; and, to tell the truth, I should have thought that any
girl, be her station what it might, faced with the alternative of
Smugg and Joe, would have chosen Joe. In my opinion, Pyrrha was
merely amusing herself with Smugg, and I was rather comforted by
this reversal of the ordinary roles. Still, I could not
rest in conjecture, and my curiosity led me up to Dill's little
farm on the afternoon of the day of Joe's sudden appearance. The
others let me go alone. Directly after dinner Smugg went to his
bedroom, and the other three had gone off to play lawn tennis
at the vicar's. I lit my pipe, and strolled along till I
reached the gate that led to Dill's meadow. Here I waited till
Pyrrha should appear.
As I sat and smoked, a voice struck suddenly on my ear--the voice
of Mrs. Dill, raised to shrillness by anger.
"Be off with you," she said, "and mind your ways, or worse 'll
happen to you. 'Ere's your switch."
After a moment Pyrrha turned the corner, and came toward me. She
was wiping her eyes with the corner of her apron, and carried in
her hand a light hazel switch, which she used to guide errant
cows. She was almost at the gate before she saw me. She
started, and blushed very red.
"Lor! is it you, Mr. Robertson?" she said.
I nodded, but did not move.
"Let me pass, sir, please. I've no time to stop."
"What, not to talk to me, Pyrrha--Betsy, I mean?"
"Mother don't like me talking to gentlemen."
"You've been crying," said I.
"No, I haven't," said Pyrrha, quite violently.
"Mother been scolding you?"
"I wish you'd let me by, sir."
"It's all your fault," burst out Pyrrha. "I didn't want you; no,
nor him, either. What do you come and get me into trouble for?"
"I haven't done anything, Betsy. Come now!"
"You aint as bad as some," she conceded, a dim smile breaking
through the clouds.
"You mean Smugg," I observed.
"Who told you?" she cried.
"Joe," said I.
"Seems he's got a lot to say to everybody," she commented
"Ah! he told your mother, did he? Well, you know you shouldn't,
"I won't never speak to him again--I meant I won't ever [the
grammarian is abroad], Mr. Robertson."
"What! Not to Joe?"
"Joe! No; that Smugg."
"But Joe told of you."
"Well, and it was his right."
If she thought so, I had no more to say. Notions differ among
different sets. But I pressed the point a little.
"Joe got you your scolding."
Now, I can't say whether I did or did not emphasize the last word
unduly, but Pyrrha blushed again, and remarked:
"You want to know too much, sir, by a deal."
So I left that aspect to the subject, and continued:
"I suppose it was for letting Mr. Smugg kiss you?"
"I couldn't help it."
I had great doubts of that--she could have tackled Smugg with one
hand; but I said pleasantly:
"No more could he, I'm sure."
Pyrrha cast an alarmed glance at the house.
"Oh, I'll be careful," I laughed. "Yes, and I'll let you go.
But just tell me, Betsy, what do you think of Mr. Smugg?"
"I don't think that of him!" said she, snapping her pretty red
fingers. "Joe 'ud make ten of him. I wish Joe'd talk to him a
The end came soon after this, and, in spite of our attitude (I
speak of us four, not of Smugg) of whole-heartedness, I think it
was rather a shock to us all, when Joe announced one morning, on
his arrival with the chops, that he was to be made a happy man at
the church next day. Smugg was not in the room, and the rest of
us congratulated Joe, and made up a purse for him to give Pyrrha,
with our best respects, and he bowed himself out, mightily
pleased, and asseverating that we were real gentlemen. Then we
sat and looked at the table.
"It robs us of a resource," pronounced Gayford, once again making
himself the mouthpiece of the party. We all nodded, and filled
Presently Smugg sidled in. We had seen little of him the last
week; save when he was construing he had taken refuge in his own
room. When he came in now, Gayford wagged his head
significantly at me; apparently, it was my task to bell the cat.
I rose, and went to the mantelpiece. Smugg had sat down at the
table, and my back was to him. I took a match from the box,
struck it, and applied it to my pipe, and, punctuating my words
with interspersed puffings, I said carelessly:
"By the way, Smugg, Pyrrha's going to be married to Joe Shanks
I don't know how he looked. I kept my face from him, but, after
a long minute's pause, he answered:
"Thank you, Robertson. It's Aeschylus this morning, isn't it?"
We had a noisy evening that night. I suppose we felt below par,
and wanted cheering up. Anyhow, we made an expedition to the
grocer's, and amazed him with a demand for his best champagne and
his choicest sherry. We carried the goods home in a bag, and sat
down to a revel. Smugg had some bread and cheese in his own
room; he said that he had letters to write. We dined
largely, and drank still more largely; then we sang, and at
last--it was near on twelve, a terrible hour for that
neighborhood--we made our way, amid much boisterousness and
horseplay, to bed; where I, at least, was asleep in five minutes.
As the church clock struck two, I awoke. I heard a sound of
movement in Smugg's room next door. I lay and listened.
Presently his door opened, and he creaked gently downstairs. I
sprang out of bed and looked out of the window. Smugg, fully
dressed, was gliding along the path toward Dill's farm. Some
impulse--curiosity only, very likely--made me jump into my
trousers, seize a flannel jacket, draw on a pair of boots, and
hastily follow him. When I got outside he was visible in the
moonlight, mounting the path ahead of me. He held on his way
toward the farm, I following. When he reached the yard he
stopped for a moment, and seemed to peer up at the windows, which
were all dark and unresponsive. I stood as quiet as I could,
twenty yards from him, and moved cautiously on again when he
turned to the right and passed through the gate into the meadows.
I saw no signs of Pyrrha. Smugg held on his way across the
meadows, down toward the stream; and suddenly the thought leaped
to my brain that the poor fool meant to drown himself. But I
could hardly believe it. Surely he must merely be taking a
desperate lover's ramble, a last sad visit to the scenes of his
silly, irrational infatuation. If I went up to him, I should
look a fool, too; so I hung behind, ready to turn upon him if
He walked down to the very edge of the stream; it ran deep and
fast just here, under a high bank and a row of old willows.
Smugg sat down on the bank, wet though the grass was, and clasped
his hands over his knees. I crouched down a little way behind
him, ready and alert. I am a good swimmer, and I did not doubt
my power to pull him out, even if I were not in time to prevent
him jumping in. I saw him rise, look over the brink, and sit
down again. I almost thought I saw him shiver. And presently,
through the stillness of the summer night, came the strangest,
saddest sound; catching my ear as it drifted across the meadow.
Smugg was sobbing, and his sobs--never loud--rose and fell with
the subdued stress of intolerable pain.
Suddenly he leaped up, cried aloud, and flung his hands above his
head. I thought he was gone this time; but he stopped, poised,
as it seemed, over the water, and I heard him cry, "I can't, I
can't!" and he sank down all in a heap on the bank, and fell
again to sobbing. I hope never to see a man--if you can call
Smugg a man--like that again.
He sat where he was, and I where I was, till the moon paled and a
distant hint of day discovered us. Then he rose, brushed himself
with his hands, and slunk quickly from the bank. Had he looked
anywhere but on the ground, he must have seen me; as it was, I
only narrowly avoided him, and fell again into my place behind
him. All the way back to our garden I followed him. As he
passed through the gate, I quickened my pace, overtook him, and
laid my hand on his arm. The man's face gave me what I remember
my old nurse used to call "quite a turn."
"You're an average idiot, aren't you?" said I. "Oh, yes; I've
been squatting in the wet by that infernal river, too. You ought
to get three months, by rights."
He looked at me in a dazed sort of way.
"I daren't," he said. "I wanted to, but I daren't."
There is really nothing more. We went to the wedding, leaving
Smugg in bed; and in the evening we, leaving Smugg still in bed
(I told Mary to keep an eye on him), and carrying a dozen of the
grocer's best port, went up to dance at Dill's farm. Joe was
polished till I could almost see myself in his cheek, and Pyrrha
looked more charming than ever. She and Joe were to leave us
early, to go to Joe's own house in the village, but I managed to
get one dance with her. Indeed, I believe she wanted a word
"Well, all's well that ends well, isn't it?" I began. "No more
scoldings! Not from Mrs. Dill, anyhow."
"You can't let that alone, sir," said Pyrrha.
I chuckled gently.
"Oh, I'll never refer to it again," said I. "This is a fine
wedding of yours, Betsy."
"It's good of you and the other gentlemen to come, sir."
"We had to see the last of you," and I sighed very
Pyrrha laughed. She did not believe in it, and she knew that I
knew she did not, but the little compliment pleased her, all the
"Smugg," I pursued, "is ill in bed. But perhaps he wouldn't have
"If you please, sir----" Pyrrha began; but she stopped.
"Yes, Betsy? What is it?"
"Would you take a message for me, sir?"
"If it's a proper one, Betsy, for a married lady to send."
She laughed a little, and said:
"Oh, it's no harm, sir. I'm afraid he aint--he's rather down,
"Why, that Smugg, sir."
"Oh, that Smugg! Why, yes; a little down, Betsy, I fear."
"You might tell him as I bear no malice, sir--as I'm not angry--
with him, I mean."
"Certainly," said I. "It will probably do him good."
"He got me into trouble; but there, I can make allowances; and
it's all right now, sir."
"In fact you forgive him?"
"I think you might tell him so, sir," said Betsy.
"But," said I, "are you aware that he was another's all the
"Oh, yes! engaged to be married."
"Well, I never! Him! What, all the while he----"
"Well, that beats everything. Oh, if I'd known that!"
"I'll give him your message."
"No, sir, not now, I thank you. The villain!"
"You are right," said I. "I think your mother ought to have--
scolded him, too."
"Now you promised, sir----" but Joe came up, and I escaped.
A REPENTANT SINNER.
It was, I believe, mainly as a compliment to me that Miss Audrey
Liston was asked to Poltons. Miss Liston and I were very good
friends, and my cousin Dora Polton thought, as she informed me,
that it would be nice for me to have someone I could talk to
about "books and so on." I did not complain. Miss Liston was a
pleasant young woman of six-and-twenty; I liked her very much
except on paper, and I was aware that she made it a point of duty
to read something at least of what I wrote. She was in the habit
of describing herself as an "authoress in a small way." If it
were pointed out that six three-volume novels in three years (the
term of her literary activity, at the time of which I
write) could hardly be called "a small way," she would smile
modestly and say that it was not really much; and if she were
told that the English language embraced no such word as
"authoress," she would smile again and say that it ought to; a
position toward the bugbear of correctness with which, I confess,
I sympathize in some degree. She was very diligent; she worked
from ten to one every day while she was at Poltons; how much she
wrote is between her and her conscience.
There was another impeachment which Miss Liston was hardly at the
trouble to deny. "Take my characters from life?" she would
exclaim. "Surely every artist" (Miss Liston often referred to
herself as an artist) "must?" And she would proceed to
maintain--what is perhaps true sometimes--that people rather
liked being put into books, just as they like being photographed,
for all that they grumble and pretend to be afflicted when either
process is levied against them. In discussing this matter
with Miss Liston I felt myself on delicate ground, for it was
notorious that I figured in her first book in the guise of a
misogynistic genius; the fact that she lengthened (and thickened)
my hair, converted it from an indeterminate brown to a dusky
black, gave me a drooping mustache, and invested my very ordinary
workaday eyes with a strange magnetic attraction, availed
nothing; I was at once recognized; and, I may remark in passing,
an uncommonly disagreeable fellow she made me. Thus I had passed
through the fire. I felt tolerably sure that I presented no
other aspect of interest, real or supposed, and I was quite
content that Miss Liston should serve all the rest of her
acquaintance as she had served me. I reckoned they would last
her, at the present rate of production, about five years.
Fate was kind to Miss Liston, and provided her with most suitable
patterns for her next piece of work at Poltons itself. There
were a young man and a young woman staying in the house--Sir
Gilbert Chillington and Miss Pamela Myles. The moment Miss
Liston was apprized of a possible romance, she began the study of
the protagonists. She was looking out, she told me, for some new
types (if it were any consolation--and there is a sort of dignity
about it--to be called a type, Miss Liston's victims were always
welcome to so much), and she had found them in Chillington and
Pamela. The former appeared to my dull eye to offer no salient
novelty; he was tall, broad, handsome, and he possessed a manner
of enviable placidity. Pamela, I allowed, was exactly the
heroine Miss Liston loved--haughty, capricious, difficile, but
sound and true at heart (I was mentally skimming Volume I). Miss
Liston agreed with me in my conception of Pamela, but declared
that I did not do justice to the artistic possibilities latent in
Chillington; he had a curious attraction which it would tax her
skill (so she gravely informed me) to the utmost to reproduce.
She proposed that I also should make a study of him, and
attributed my hurried refusal to a shrinking from the
difficulties of the task.
"Of course," she observed, looking at our young friends, who were
talking nonsense at the other side of the lawn, "they must have a
"Why, of course," said I, lighting my pipe. "What should you say
to another man?"
"Or another woman?" said Miss Liston.
"It comes to the same thing," said I. (About a volume and a half
"But it's more interesting. Do you think she'd better be a
married woman?" And Miss Liston looked at me inquiringly.
"The age prefers them married," I remarked.
This conversation happened on the second day of Miss Liston's
visit, and she lost no time in beginning to study her subjects.
Pamela, she said, she found pretty plain sailing, but Chillington
continued to puzzle her. Again, she could not make up her
mind whether to have a happy or a tragic ending. In the
interests of a tenderhearted public, I pleaded for marriage
"Yes, I think so," said Miss Liston, but she sighed, and I think
she had an idea or two for a heart-broken separation, followed by
mutual, lifelong, hopeless devotion.
The complexity of young Sir Gilbert did not, in Miss Liston's
opinion, appear less on further acquaintance; and indeed, I must
admit that she was not altogether wrong in considering him worthy
of attention. As I came to know him better, I discerned in him a
smothered self-appreciation, which came to light in response to
the least tribute of interest or admiration, but was yet far
remote from the aggressiveness of a commonplace vanity. In a
moment of indiscretion I had chaffed him--he was very good-
natured--on the risks he ran at Miss Liston's hands; he was not
disgusted, but neither did he plume himself or spread his
feathers. He received the suggestion without surprise, and
without any attempt at disclaiming fitness for the purpose; but
he received it as a matter which entailed a responsibility on
him. I detected the conviction that, if the portrait was to be
painted, it was due to the world that it should be well painted;
the subject must give the artist full opportunities.
"What does she know about me?" he asked, in meditative tones.
"She's very quick; she'll soon pick up as much as she wants," I
"She'll probably go all wrong," he said somberly; and of course I
could not tell him that it was of no consequence if she did. He
would not have believed me, and would have done precisely what he
proceeded to do, and that was to afford Miss Liston every chance
of appraising his character and plumbing the depths of his soul.
I may say at once that I did not regret this course of action;
for the effect of it was to allow me a chance of talking to
Pamela Myles, and Pamela was exactly the sort of girl to beguile
the long, pleasant morning hours of a holiday in the country. No
one had told Pamela that she was going to be put in a book, and I
don't think it would have made any difference had she been told.
Pamela's attitude toward books was one of healthy scorn,
confidently based on admitted ignorance. So we never spoke of
them, and my cousin Dora condoled with me more than once on the
way in which Miss Liston, false to the implied terms of her
invitation, deserted me in favor of Sir Gilbert, and left me to
the mercies of a frivolous girl. Pamela appeared to be as little
aggrieved as I was. I imagined that she supposed that
Chillington would ask her to marry him some day, before very
long, and I was sure she would accept him; but it was quite plain
that, if Miss Liston persisted in making Pamela her heroine, she
would have to supply from her own resources a large supplement of
passion. Pamela was far too deficient in the commodity to be
made anything of without such re-enforcement, even by an art more
adept at making much out of nothing than Miss Liston's
straightforward method could claim to be.
A week passed, and then, one Friday morning, a new light burst on
me. Miss Liston came into the garden at eleven o'clock and sat
down by me on the lawn. Chillington and Pamela had gone riding
with the squire, Dora was visiting the poor. We were alone. The
appearance of Miss Liston at this hour (usually sacred to the use
of the pen), no less than her puzzled look, told me that an
obstruction had occurred in the novel. Presently she let me know
what it was.
"I'm thinking of altering the scheme of my story, Mr. Wynne,"
said she. "Have you ever noticed how sometimes a man thinks he's
in love when he isn't really?"
"Such a case sometimes occurs," I acknowledged.
"Yes, and he doesn't find out his mistake----"
"Till they're married?"
"Sometimes, yes," she said, rather as though she were making an
unwilling admission. "But sometimes he sees it before--when he
meets somebody else."
"Very true," said I, with a grave nod.
"The false can't stand against the real," pursued Miss Liston;
and then she fell into meditative silence. I stole a glance at
her face; she was smiling. Was it in the pleasure of literary
creation--an artistic ecstasy? I should have liked to answer
yes, but I doubted it very much. Without pretending to Miss
Liston's powers, I have the little subtlety that is needful to
show me that more than one kind of smile may be seen on the human
face, and that there is one very different from others; and,
finally, that that one is not evoked, as a rule, merely by the
evolution of the troublesome encumbrance in pretty writing
vulgarly called a "plot."
"If," pursued Miss Liston, "someone comes who can appreciate him
and draw out what is best in him----"
"That's all very well," said I, "but what of the first girl?"
"Oh, she's--she can be made shallow, you know; and I can put in a
man for her. People needn't be much interested in her."
"Yes, you could manage it that way," said I, thinking how
Pamela--I took the liberty of using her name for the shallow
girl--would like such treatment.
"She will really be valuable mainly as a foil," observed Miss
Liston; and she added generously, "I shall make her nice, you
know, but shallow--not worthy of him."
"And what are you going to make the other girl like?" I asked.
Miss Liston started slightly; also she colored very slightly, and
she answered, looking away from me across the lawn:
"I haven't quite made up my mind yet, Mr. Wynne."
With the suspicion which this conversation aroused fresh in my
mind, it was curious to hear Pamela laugh, as she said to me
on the afternoon of the same day:
"Aren't Sir Gilbert and Audrey Liston funny? I tell you what,
Mr. Wynne, I believe they're writing a novel together."
"Perhaps Chillington's giving her the materials for one," I
"I shouldn't think," observed Pamela in her dispassionate way,
"that anything very interesting had ever happened to him."
"I thought you liked him," I remarked humbly.
"So I do. What's that got to do with it?" asked Pamela.
It was beyond question that Chillington enjoyed Miss Liston's
society; the interest she showed in him was incense to his
nostrils. I used to overhear fragments of his ideas about
himself which he was revealing in answer to her tactful
inquiries. But neither was it doubtful that he had by no means
lost his relish for Pamela's lighter talk; in fact, he seemed to
turn to her with some relief--perhaps it is refreshing to
escape from self-analysis, even when the process is conducted in
the pleasantest possible manner--and the hours which Miss Liston
gave to work were devoted by Chillington to maintaining his
cordial relations with the lady whose comfortable and not over-
tragical disposal was taxing Miss Liston's skill. For she had
definitely decided all her plot--she told me so a few days later.
It was all planned out; nay, the scene in which the truth as to
his own feelings bursts on Sir Gilbert (I forget at the moment
what name the novel gave him) was, I understood, actually
written; the shallow girl was to experience nothing worse than a
wound to her vanity, and was to turn, with as much alacrity as
decency allowed, to the substitute whom Miss Liston had now
provided. All this was poured into my sympathetic ear, and I say
sympathetic in all sincerity; for, although I may occasionally
treat Miss Liston's literary efforts with less than proper
respect, she herself was my friend, and the conviction under
which she was now living would, I knew, unless it were
justified, bring her into much of that unhappiness in which one
generally found her heroine plunged about the end of Volume II.
The heroine generally got out all right, and the knowledge that
she would enabled the reader to preserve cheerfulness. But would
poor little Miss Liston get out? I was none too sure of it.
Suddenly a change came in the state of affairs. Pamela produced
it. It must have struck her that the increasing intimacy of Miss
Liston and Chillington might become something other than "funny."
To put it briefly and metaphorically, she whistled her dog back
to her heels. I am not skilled in understanding or describing
the artifices of ladies; but even I saw the transformation in
Pamela. She put forth her strength and put on her prettiest
gowns; she refused to take her place in the sea-saw of society
which Chillington had recently established for his pleasure. If
he spent an hour with Miss Liston, Pamela would have nothing
of him for a day; she met his attentions with scorn unless they
were undivided. Chillington seemed at first puzzled; I believe
that he never regarded his talks with Miss Liston in other than a
business point of view, but directly he understood that Pamela
claimed him, and that she was prepared, in case he did not obey
her call, to establish a grievance against him, he lost no time
in manifesting his obedience. A whole day passed in which, to my
certain knowledge, he was not alone a moment with Miss Liston,
and did not, save at the family meals, exchange a word with her.
As he walked off with Pamela, Miss Liston's eyes followed him in
wistful longing; she stole away upstairs and did not come down
till five o'clock. Then, finding me strolling about with a
cigarette, she joined me.
"Well, how goes the book?" I asked.
"I haven't done much to it just lately," she answered, in a low
voice. "I--it's--I don't quite know what to do with it."
"I thought you'd settled?"
"So I had, but--oh, don't let's talk about it, Mr. Wynne!"
But a moment later she went on talking about it.
"I don't know why I should make it end happily," she said. "I'm
sure life isn't always happy, is it?"
"Certainly not," I answered. "You mean your man might stick to
the shallow girl after all?"
"Yes," I just heard her whisper.
"And be miserable afterward?" I pursued.
"I don't know," said Miss Liston. "Perhaps he wouldn't."
"Then you must make him shallow himself."
"I can't do that," she said quickly. "Oh, how difficult it is!"
She may have meant merely the art of writing--when I cordially
agree with--but I think she meant also the way of the world--
which does not make me withdraw my assent. I left her walking up
and down in front of the drawing-room windows, a rather
forlorn little figure, thrown into distinctness by the cold
rays of the setting sun.
All was not over yet. That evening Chillington broke away. Led
by vanity, or interest, or friendliness, I know not which--tired
may be of paying court (the attitude in which Pamela kept him),
and thinking it would be pleasant to play the other part for a
while--after dinner he went straight to Miss Liston, talked to
her while we had coffee on the terrace, and then walked about
with her. Pamela sat by me; she was very silent; she did not
appear to be angry, but her handsome mouth wore a resolute
expression. Chillington and Miss Liston wandered on into the
shrubbery, and did not come into sight again for nearly half an
"I think it's cold," said Pamela, in her cool, quiet tones. "And
it's also, Mr. Wynne, rather slow. I shall go to bed."
I thought it a little impertinent of Pamela to attribute the
"slowness" (which had undoubtedly existed) to me, so I took
my revenge by saying with an assumption of innocence purposely
and obviously unreal:
"Oh, but won't you wait and bid Miss Liston and Chillington
Pamela looked at me for a moment. I made bold to smile.
Pamela's face broke slowly into an answering smile.
"I don't know what you mean, Mr. Wynne," said she.
"No?" said I.
"No," said Pamela, and she turned away. But before she went she
looked over her shoulder, and still smiling, said, "Wish Miss
Liston good-night for me, Mr. Wynne. Anything I have to say to
Sir Gilbert will wait very well till to-morrow."
She had hardly gone in when the wanderers came out of the
shrubbery and rejoined me. Chillington wore his usual passive
look, but Miss Liston's face was happy and radiant. Chillington
passed on into the drawing room. Miss Liston lingered a
moment by me.
"Why, you look," said I, "as if you'd invented the finest scene
She did not answer me directly, but stood looking up at the
stars. Then she said, in a dreamy tone:
"I think I shall stick to my old idea in the book."
As she spoke, Chillington came out. Even in the dim light I saw
a frown on his face.
"I say, Wynne," said he, "where's Miss Myles?"
"She's gone to bed," I answered. "She told me to wish you good
night for her, Miss Liston. No message for you, Chillington."
Miss Liston's eyes were on him. He took no notice of her; he
stood frowning for an instant, then, with some muttered
ejaculation, he strode back into the house. We heard his heavy
tread across the drawing room; we heard the door slammed behind
him, and I found myself looking on Miss Liston's altered face.
"What does he want her for, I wonder!" she said, in an agitation
that made my presence, my thoughts, my suspicions, nothing to
her. "He said nothing to me about wanting to speak to her to-
night." And she walked slowly into the house, her eyes on the
ground, and all the light gone from her face, and the joy dead in
it. Whereupon I, left alone, began to rail at the gods that a
dear, silly little soul like Miss Liston should bother her poor,
silly little head about a hulking fool; in which reflections I
did, of course, immense injustice not only to an eminent author,
but also to a perfectly honorable, though somewhat dense and
decidedly conceited, gentleman.
The next morning Sir Gilbert Chillington ate dirt--there is no
other way of expressing it--in great quantities and with infinite
My admirable friend Miss Pamela was severe. I saw him walk six
yards behind her for the length of the terrace: not a look nor a
turn of her head gave him leave to join her. Miss Liston
had gone upstairs, and I watched the scene from the window of the
smoking room. At last, at the end of the long walk, just where
the laurel-bushes mark the beginning of the shrubberies--on the
threshold of the scene of his crime--Pamela turned round suddenly
and faced the repentant sinner. The most interesting things in
life are those which, perhaps by the inevitable nature of the
case, one does not hear; and I did not hear the scene which
followed. For a while they stood talking--rather, he talked and
she listened. Then she turned again and walked slowly into the
shrubbery. Chillington followed. It was the end of a chapter,
and I laid down the book.
How and from whom Miss Liston heard the news which Chillington
himself told me, without a glimmer of shame or a touch of
embarrassment, some two hours later, I do not know; but hear it
she did before luncheon; for she came down, ready armed with
the neatest little speeches for both the happy lovers.
I did not expect Pamela to show an ounce more feeling than the
strictest canons of propriety demanded, and she fulfilled my
expectations to the letter; but I had hoped, I confess, that
Chillington would have displayed some little consciousness. He
did not; and it is my belief that, throughout the events which I
have recorded, he retained, and that he still retains, the
conviction that Miss Liston's interest in him was purely literary
and artistic, and that she devoted herself to his society simply
because he offered an interesting problem and an inspiring theme.
An ingenious charity may find in that attitude evidence of
modesty; to my thinking, it argues a more subtle and magnificent
conceit than if he had fathomed the truth, as many humbler men in
his place would have done.
On the day after the engagement was accomplished Miss Liston left
us to return to London. She came out in her hat and jacket
and sat down by me; the carriage was to be round in ten minutes.
She put on her gloves slowly and buttoned them carefully. This
done, she said:
"By the way, Mr. Wynne, I've adopted your suggestion. The man
doesn't find out."
"Then you've made him a fool?" I asked bluntly.