Part 3 out of 4
have your Wilbraham Hall," in tones of affecting, sad surrender, he
"I'm sorry to lose thee, my girl; but what must be must."
And when he caught the look in her eyes, he was more than ever
convinced that he would be able to keep Helen without satisfying her
extremely expensive whim.
Helen, for her part, began to suspect that if she played the fish with
sufficient skill, she would capture it. Thus they both, in a manner of
speaking, got out their landing-nets.
"I don't say," James Ollerenshaw proceeded, in accents calculated to
prove to her that he had just as great a horror of sentimentality as she
had--"I don't say as you wouldn't make a rare good mistress o' Wilbraham
Hall. I don't say as I wouldn't like to see you in it. But when a man
reaches my age, he's fixed in his habits like. And, what's more,
supposing I _am_ saving a bit o' money, who am I saving it for, if it
isn't for you and your mother? You said as much yourself. I might pop
off any minute--"
"Uncle!" Helen protested.
"Ay, any minute!" he repeated, firmly. "I've known stronger men nor me
pop off as quick as a bottle o' ginger-beer near the fire." Here he
gazed at her, and his gaze said: "If I popped off here and now, wouldn't
you feel ashamed o' yerself for being so hard on your old uncle?"
"You'll live many and many a year yet," Helen smiled.
He shook his head pessimistically. "I've set my heart," he continued,
"on leaving a certain sum for you and yer mother. I've had it in mind
since I don't know when. It's a fancy o' mine. And I canna' do it if I'm
to go all around th' Five Towns buying barracks."
Helen laughed. "What a man you are for exaggerating!" she flattered him.
Then she sat down.
He considered that he was gradually winding in his line with immense
skill. "Ay," he ejaculated, with an absent air, "it's a fancy o' mine."
"How much do you want to leave?" Helen questioned, faintly smiling.
"Don't you bother your head about that," said he. "You may take it from
me as it's a tidy sum. And when I'm dead and gone, and you've got it
all, then ye can do as ye feel inclined."
"I shall beat her, as sure as eggs!" he told himself.
"All this means that he'll give in when it comes to the point," she told
And aloud she said: "Have you had supper, uncle?"
"No," he replied.
The next development was that, without another word, she removed her
gloves, lifted her pale hands to her head, and slowly drew hatpins from
her hat. Then she removed her hat, and plunged the pins into it again.
He could scarcely refrain from snatching off his own tasselled Turkish
cap and pitching it in the air. He felt as if he had won the Battle of
Hastings, or defeated the captain of the bowling club in a single-handed
"And to think," he reflected, "that I should ha' given in to her by this
time if I hadn't got more sense in my little finger than--" etc.
"I think I'll stay and cook you a bit of supper," said Helen. "I suppose
Georgiana is in the kitchen?"
"If her isn't, her's in the back entry," said Jimmy.
"What's she doing in the back entry?"
"Counting the stars," said Jimmy; "and that young man as comes with the
bread helping her, most like."
"I must talk to that girl." Helen rose.
"Ye may," said Jimmy; "but th' baker's man'll have th' last word, or
times is changed."
He was gay. He could not conceal his gaiety. He saw himself freed from
the menace of the thraldom of Mrs. Butt. He saw himself gourmandising
over the meals that Helen alone could cook. He saw himself trotting up
and down the streets of Bursley with the finest, smartest lass in the
Five Towns by his side. And scarcely a penny of extra expenditure! And
all this happy issue due to his diplomatic and histrionic skill! The
fact was, Helen really liked him. There could be no doubt about that.
She liked him, and she would not leave him. Also, she was a young woman
of exceptional common sense, and, being such, she would not risk the
loss of a large fortune merely for the sake of indulging pique
engendered by his refusal to gratify a ridiculous caprice.
Before she had well quitted the room he saw with clearness that he was
quite the astutest man in the world, and that Helen was clay in his
The sound of crockery in the scullery, and the cheerful little explosion
when the gas-ring was ignited, and the low mutter of conversation that
ensued between Helen and Georgiana--these phenomena were music to the
artist in him. He extracted the concertina from its case and began to
play "The Dead March in Saul." Not because his sentiments had a
foundation in the slightest degree funereal, but because he could
perform "The Dead March in Saul" with more virtuosity than any other
piece except "The Hallelujah Chorus." And he did not desire to insist
too much on his victory by filling Trafalgar-road with "The Hallelujah
Chorus." He was discretion itself.
When she came back to the parlour (astoundingly natty in a muslin apron
of Georgiana's) to announce supper, she made no reference to the concert
which she was interrupting. He abandoned the concertina gently,
caressing it into its leather shell. He was full to the brim with
kindliness. It seemed to him that his life with Helen was commencing
all over again. Then he followed the indications of his nose, which
already for some minutes had been prophesying to him that in the
concoction of the supper Helen had surpassed herself.
And she had. There was kidney ... No, not in an omelette, but impaled on
a skewer. A novel species of kidney, a particularity in kidneys!
"Where didst pick this up, lass?" he asked.
"It's the kidneys of that rabbit that you've bought for to-morrow," said
Now, he had no affection for rabbit as an article of diet, and he had
only bought the rabbit because the rabbit happened to be going past his
door (in the hands of a hawker) that morning. His perfunctory purchase
of it showed how he had lost interest in life and meals since Helen's
departure. And lo! she had transformed a minor part of it into something
wondrous, luscious, and unforgettable. Ah, she was Helen! And she was
"I've asked Georgiana to make up my bed," Helen said, after the divine
"I'll tell ye what I'll do," he said, in an ecstasy of generosity, "I'll
buy thee a piano, lass, and we'll put it in th' parlour against the wall
where them books are now."
She kept silence--a silence which vaguely disturbed him.
So that he added: "And if ye're bent on a bigger house, there's one up
at Park-road, above th' Park, semi-detached--at least, it's the end of a
terrace--as I can get for thirty pounds a year."
"My dearest uncle," she said, in a firm, even voice, "what _are_ you
talking about? Didn't I tell you when I came in that I had settled to go
to Canada? I thought it was all decided. Surely you don't think I'm
going to live in a poky house in Park-road--the very street where my
school was, too! I perfectly understand that you won't buy Wilbraham
Hall. That's all right. I shan't pout. I hate women who pout. We can't
agree, but we're friends. You do what you like with your money, and I do
what I like with myself. I had a sort of idea I would try to make you
beautifully comfortable just for the last time before I left England,
and that's why I'm staying. I do hope you didn't imagine anything else,
She kissed him, not as a niece, but as a wise, experienced nurse might
have kissed a little boy. For she too, in her way, reckoned herself
somewhat of a diplomatist and a descendant of Machiavelli. She had
thought: "It's a funny thing if I can't bring him to his knees with a
tasty supper--just to make it clear to him what he'll lose if he loses
James Ollerenshaw had no sleep that night. And Helen had but little.
He came downstairs early, as he had done after a previous sleepless
night--also caused by Helen.
That it would be foolish, fatuous, and inexcusable to persevere further
in his obstinacy against Helen, this he knew. He saw clearly that all
his arguments to her about money and the saving of money were
ridiculous; they would not have carried conviction even to the most
passive intelligence, and Helen's intelligence was far from passive.
They were not even true in fact, for he had never intended to leave any
money to Helen's mother; he had never intended to leave any money to
anybody, simply because he had not cared to think of his own decease; he
had made no plans about the valuable fortune which, as Helen had too
forcibly told him, he would not be able to bear away with him when he
left Bursley for ever; this subject was not pleasant to him. All his
rambling sentences to Helen (which he had thought so clever when he
uttered them) were merely an excuse for not parting with money--money
that was useless to him.
On the other hand, what Helen had said was both true and convincing; at
any rate, it convinced him.
He was a miser; he admitted it. Being a miser, he saw, was one way of
enjoying yourself, but not the best way. Again, if he really desired to
enrich Helen, how much better to enrich her at once than at an uncertain
date when he would be dead. Dead people can't be thanked. Dead people
can't be kissed. Dead people can't have curious dainties offered to them
for their supper. He wished to keep Helen; but Helen would only stay on
one condition. That condition was a perfectly easy condition for him to
fulfil. After paying eight thousand pounds (or a bit less) for Wilbraham
Hall, he would still have about ten times as much money as he could
possibly require. Of course, eight thousand pounds was a lot of coin.
But, then, you can't measure women (especially when they are good cooks)
in terms of coin. For instance, it happened that he had exactly L8,000
in shares of the London and North Western Railway Company. The
share-certificates were in his safe; he could hold them in his hand; he
could sell them and buy Wilbraham Hall with the proceeds. That is to
say, he could exchange them for Helen. Now, it would be preposterous to
argue that he would not derive more satisfaction from Helen than from
those crackling share-certificates.
Wilbraham Hall, once he became its owner, would be a worry--an awful
worry. Well, would it? Would not Helen be entirely capable of looking
after it, of superintending it in every way? He knew that she would! As
for the upkeep of existence in Wilbraham Hall, had not Helen proved to
him that its cost was insignificant when compared to his income? She
And as to his own daily manner of living, could he not live precisely as
he chose at Wilbraham Hall? He could. It was vast; but nothing would
compel him to live in all of it at once. He could choose a nice little
room, and put a notice on the door that it was not to be disturbed. And
Helen could run the rest of the mansion as her caprice dictated.
The process of argument was over when Helen descended to put the
finishing touches to a breakfast which she had evidently concocted with
Georgiana the night before.
"Breakfast is ready, uncle," she called to him.
He obeyed. Flowers on the table once more! The first since her
departure! A clean cloth! A general, inexplicable tuning-up of the
You would now, perhaps, have expected him to yield, as gracefully as an
old man can. He wanted to yield. He hungered to yield. He knew that it
was utterly for his own good to yield. But if you seriously expected
him to yield, your knowledge of human nature lacks depth. Something far
stronger than argument, something far stronger than desire for his own
happiness, prevented him from yielding. Pride, a silly self-conceit, the
greatest enemy of the human race, forbade him to yield. For, on the
previous night, Helen had snubbed him--and not for the first time. He
could not accept the snub with meekness, though it would have paid him
handsomely to do so, though as a Christian and a philosopher he ought to
have done so. He could not.
So he put on a brave face, pretended to accept the situation with
contented calm, and talked as if Canada was the next street, and as if
her going was entirely indifferent to him. Helen imitated him.
It was a lovely morning; not a cloud in the sky--only in their hearts.
"Uncle!" she said after breakfast was done and cleared away.
He was counting rents in his cashbox in the front parlour, and she had
come to him, and was leaning over his shoulder.
"Have you got twenty-five pounds in that box?"
It was obvious that he had.
"I shouldna' be surprised," said he.
"I wish you'd lend it me."
"I want to go over to Hanbridge and book my berth, definitely, and I've
no loose cash."
Now here was a chance to yield. But no.
"Dost mean to say," he exclaimed, "as ye havena' booked your berth? When
does th' steamer sail?"
"There's one from Glasgow next Saturday," said she--"the _Saskatchewan_.
I secured the berth, but I didn't pay for it."
"It's a rare lot of money," he observed.
"Oh," she said, "I didn't want all that for the fare. I've other things
to pay for--railway to Glasgow, etc. You will lend it me, won't you?"
Her fingers were already in the cashbox. She was behaving just like a
little girl, like a spoilt child. It was remarkable, he considered, how
old and mature Helen could be when she chose, and how kittenish when she
She went off with four five-pound notes and five sovereigns. "Will you
ask me to come back and cook the dinner?" she smiled, ironically,
"Ay!" he said. He was bound to smile also.
She returned in something over two hours.
"There you are!" she said, putting a blue-green paper into his hand.
"Ever seen one of these before?"
It was the ticket for the steamer.
This staggered him. A sensible, determined woman, who disappears to buy
a steamer-ticket, may be expected to reappear with a steamer-ticket. And
yet it staggered him. He could scarcely believe it. She was going, then!
She was going! It was inevitable now.
"The boat leaves the Clyde at ten in the morning," she said, resuming
possession of the paper, "so we must go to Glasgow on Friday, and stop
the night at an hotel."
"We?" he murmured, aghast.
"Well," she said, "you surely won't let me travel to Glasgow all alone,
"Her's a caution, her is!" he privately reflected.
"You can come back on Saturday," she said; "so that you'll be in time to
collect your rents. There's an express to Glasgow from Crewe at 1.15,
and to catch that we must take the 12.20 at Shawport."
She had settled every detail.
"And what about my dinner?" he inquired.
"I'm going to set about it instantly," laughed she.
"I mean my dinner on Friday?" he said.
"Oh, _that_!" she replied. "There's a restaurant-car from Crewe. So we
can lunch on the train."
This idea of accompanying her to Glasgow pleased him intensely.
"Glasgow isna' much i' my line," he said. "But you wenches do as ye
Thus, on the Friday morning, he met her down at Shawport Station. He was
in his best clothes, but he had walked. She arrived in a cab, that
carried a pagoda of trunks on its fragile roof; she had come straight
from her lodgings. There was a quarter of an hour before train-time. He
paid for the cab. He also bought one second-class single and one
second-class return to Glasgow, while she followed the porter who
trundled her luggage. When he came out of the booking-office (minus
several gold pieces), she was purchasing papers at the bookstall, and
farther up the platform the porter had seized a paste-brush, and was
opening a cupboard of labels. An extraordinary scheme presented itself
to James Ollerenshaw's mind, and he trotted up to the porter.
"I've seen to the baggage myself," said Helen, without looking at him.
"All right," he said.
The porter touched his cap.
"Label that luggage for Crewe," he whispered to the porter, and passed
straight on, as if taking exercise on the platform.
"Yes, sir," said the porter.
When he got back to Helen of course he had to make conversation with a
nonchalant air, in order to hide his guilty feelings.
"So none of 'em has come to see you off!" he observed.
"None of whom?"
"None o' yer friends."
"No fear!" she said. "I wouldn't have it for anything. I do hate and
loathe good-byes at a railway station. Don't you?"
"Never had any," he said.
The train was prompt, but between Shawport and Crewe it suffered delays,
so that there was not an inordinate amount of time to spare at the
Heedless, fly-away creature that she was, Helen scurried from the North
Stafford platform to the main-line platform without a thought as to her
luggage. She was apparently so preoccupied with her handbag, which
contained her purse, that she had no anxiety left over for her heavy
As they hastened forward, he saw the luggage being tumbled out on to the
The Glasgow train rolled grandiosely in, and the restaurant-car came to
a standstill almost exactly opposite the end of the North Stafford
platform. They obtained two seats with difficulty. Then, as there was
five minutes to wait, Jimmy descended from the car to the asphalte and
peeped down the North Stafford platform. Yes, her luggage was lying
there, deserted, in a pile. He regained the carriage.
"I suppose the luggage will be all right?" Helen said, calmly, just as
the guard whistled.
"Ay!" said he, with the mien of a traveller of vast experience. "I saw
'em bringing all th' N.S. luggage over. It were th' fust thing I thought
As a liar he reckoned he was pretty good.
He glanced from the window as the train slid away from Crewe, and out of
the tail of his eye, in the distance, over the heads of people, he had a
momentary glimpse of the topmost of Helen's trunks safely at rest on the
North Stafford platform.
He felt safe. He felt strangely joyous. He ate largely, and made very
dry, humorous remarks about the novelty of a restaurant on wheels.
"Bless us!" he said, as the express flashed through Preston without
stopping. "It's fust time as I've begun a bottle o' Bass in one town and
finished it in another."
He grew positively jolly, and the journey seemed to be accomplished with
the rapidity of a dream.
"You said you'd seen it into the van," pouted Helen--she who never
"Nay, lass," he corrected her, "I said I'd seen 'em bringing all th'
The inevitable moment of reckoning had arrived. They stood together on
the platform of St. Enoch's, Glasgow. The last pieces of luggage were
being removed from the guard's van under the direction of passengers,
and there was no sign whatever of Helen's trunks. This absence of
Helen's trunks did not in the least surprise James Ollerenshaw; he was
perfectly aware that Helen's trunks reposed, at that self-same instant,
in the lost luggage office at Crewe; but, of course, he had to act
surprise. In case of necessity he could act very well. It was more
difficult for him to act sorrow than to act surprise; but he did both to
his own satisfaction. He climbed into the van and scanned its
corners--in vain. Then, side by side, they visited the other van at the
head of the train, with an equal result.
The two guards, being Scotch, responded to inquiries with extreme
caution. All that they would answer for was that the trunks were not in
the train. Then the train was drawn out of the station by a toy-engine,
and the express engine followed it with grave dignity, and Helen and
Jimmy were left staring at the empty rails.
"Something must be done," said Helen, crossly.
"Ay!" Jimmy agreed. "It's long past my tea-time. We must find out if
there's anything to eat i' Scotland."
But Helen insisted on visiting the stationmaster. Now, the stationmaster
at St. Enoch's is one of the most important personages north of the
Tweed, and not easily to be seen. However, Helen saw him. He pointed out
that the train came from London in two portions, which were divided in
Scotland, one going to Edinburgh, and his suggestion was that
conceivably the luggage had been put into the Edinburgh van in mistake
for the Glasgow van. Such errors did occur sometimes, he said, implying
that the North Western was an English railway, and that surprising
things happened in England. He said, also, that Helen might telephone to
Edinburgh and inquire.
She endeavoured to act on this counsel, but came out of the telephone
cabin saying that she could not get into communication with Edinburgh.
"Better go over to Edinburgh and see for yourself," said Jimmy,
"Yes, and what about my steamer?" Helen turned on him.
"Scotland canna' be so big as all that," said Jimmy. "Not according to
th' maps. Us could run over to Edinburgh to-night, and get back to
Glasgow early to-morrow."
Just as he was taking two second returns to Edinburgh (they had snatched
railway eggs and railway tea while waiting for a fast train) he stopped
"Unless ye prefer to sail without your trunks, and I could send 'em on
by th' next steamer?"
"Uncle," she protested, "I do wish you wouldn't be so silly. The idea of
me sailing without my trunks! Why don't you ask me to sail without my
"All right--all right!" he responded. "But don't snap mine off. Two
second returns to Edinburgh, young man, and I'll thank ye to look slippy
In the Edinburgh train he could scarcely refrain from laughing. And
Helen, too, seemed more in a humour to accept the disappearance of five
invaluable trunks, full of preciosities, as a facetious sally on the
part of destiny.
He drew out a note-book which he always carried, and did mathematical
"That makes twenty-seven pounds eighteen and ninepence as ye owe me," he
"What? For railway tickets?"
"Railway tickets, tips, and that twenty-five pounds I lent ye. I'm
making ye a present o' _my_ fares, and dinner, and tea and so forth."
"Twenty-five pounds that you lent me!" she murmured.
"Yes," he said. "Tuesday morning, while I was at my cashbox."
"Oh, _that_!" she ejaculated. "I thought you were giving me that. I
never thought you'd ask me for it again, uncle. I'd completely forgotten
all about it."
She seemed quite sincere in this amazing assertion.
His acquaintance with the ways of women was thus enlarged, suddenly, and
at the merely nominal expense of twenty-five pounds. It was a wondrous
proof of his high spirits and his general contentedness with himself
that he should have submitted to the robbery without a groan.
"What's twenty-five pun'?" he reflected. "There'll be no luggage for her
at Edinburgh; that steamer'll go without her; and then I shall give in.
I shall talk to her about the ways o' Providence, and tell her it's
borne in upon me as she must have Wilbraham Hall if she's in a mind to
stay. I shall save my face, anyhow."
And he further decided that, in case of necessity, in case of Helen at a
later stage pushing her inquiries as to the luggage inconveniently far
he would have to bribe the porter at Shawport to admit to her that he,
the porter, had made a mistake in the labelling.
When they had satisfied themselves that Edinburgh did not contain
Helen's trunks--no mean labour, for the lost luggage office was closed,
and they had to move mountains in order to get it opened on the plea of
extremest urgency--Jimmy Ollerenshaw turned to Susan's daughter, saying
to himself that she must be soothed regardless of cost. Miracles would
not enable her to catch the steamer now, and the hour was fast
approaching when he would benevolently offer her the gift of Wilbraham
"Well, lass," he began, "I'm right sorry. What's to be done?"
"There's nothing at all to be done," she replied, smiling sadly. She
might have upbraided him for carelessness in the matter of the luggage.
She might have burst into tears and declared passionately that it was
all _his_ fault. But she did not. "Except, of course, that I must cable
to mother. She's coming to Quebec to meet me."
"That'll do to-morrow," he said. "What's to be done to-night? In th' way
o' supper, as ye might say?"
"We must go to an hotel. I believe the station hotel is the best." She
pointed to a sign and a directing black hand which said: "To the hotel."
In a minute James Ollerenshaw found himself in the largest and most
gorgeous hotel in Scotland.
"Look here, wench," he said. "I don't know as this is much in my line.
Summat a thought less gaudy'll do for my old bones."
"I won't move a step farther this night!" Helen declared. "I'm ready to
He remembered that she must be soothed.
"Well," he said, "here goes!"
And he strode across the tessellated pavement under the cold,
scrutinizing eye of menials to a large window marked in gold letters:
"Have ye gotten a couple of bedrooms like?" he asked the clerk.
"Yes, sir," said the clerk (who was a perfect lady). "What do you want?"
"Don't I tell ye as we want a couple o' bedrooms, miss?"
After negotiations she pushed across the counter to him--two discs of
cardboard numbered 324 and 326, each marked 6s. 6d. He regarded the
price as fantastic, but no cheaper rooms were to be had, and Helen's
glance was dangerous.
"Why," he muttered, "I've got a four-roomed cottage empty at Turnhill as
I'd let for a month for thirteen shillings, _and_ paper it!"
"Where is your luggage, sir?" asked a muscular demon with shiny sleeves.
"That's just what we want to know, young feller," said Jimmy. "For the
present, that's all as we can lay our hands on." And he indicated
His experiences in the lift were exciting, and he suggested the laying
of a tramway along the corridor of the fourth floor. The beautiful
starched creature who brought in his hot water (without being asked)
found him in the dark struggling with the electric light, which he had
extinguished from curiosity and had not been able to rekindle, having
lost the location of the switch.
At 10.30 the travellers were seated at a table in the immense
dining-room, which was populated by fifteen waiters of various European
nationalities, and six belated guests including themselves. The one item
on the menu which did not exceed his comprehension was Welsh rarebit,
and he ordered it.
It was while they were waiting in anticipation of this dish that he
decided to commence operations upon Helen. The fact was, he was becoming
very anxious to put affairs on a definite footing. "Well, my girl," he
said, "cheer up. If ye tak' my advice ye'll make up yer mind to stop i'
owd England with yer owd uncle."
"Of course I will," she answered, softly; and added: "If you'll do as I
"Buy that barracks?"
He was on the very point of yielding; he was on the very point of
saying, with grandfatherly, god-like tone of utter beneficence: "Lass,
ye shall have it. I wouldn't ha' given it ye, but it's like as if what
must be--this luggage being lost. It's like as if Providence was in it."
He was on the very point of this decisive pronouncement, when a novel
and dazzling idea flashed into his head.
"Listen here," he said, bending across the table towards her, "I'll toss
"Toss me?" she exclaimed, startled.
"Ay! I'll toss thee, if thou'lt stay. Heads I buy the barracks; tails I
don't, and you live with me in a _house_."
"Very well," she agreed, lightly.
He had not really expected her to agree to such a scheme. But, then,
young women named Helen can be trusted absolutely to falsify
He took a sixpence from his pocket.
"Heads I win, eh?" he said.
She acquiesced, and up went the sixpence.
It rolled off the table on to the Turkey carpet (Jimmy was not so adroit
as he had been in his tossing days), and seven Austrians, Germans, and
Swiss sprang towards it with a simultaneous impulse to restore it to its
Jimmy jumped to his feet.
"Don't touch it!" he cried, and bent over it.
"Nay, nay!" he muttered, "I've lost. Th' old man's lost, after all!"
And he returned to the table, having made a sensation in the room.
Helen was in paradise. "I'm surprised you were ready to toss, uncle,"
said she. "However, it's all right; we can get the luggage to-morrow.
It's at Crewe."
"How dost know it's at Crewe?" he demanded.
"Because I had it labelled for Crewe. You _were_ silly to imagine that I
was going to leave you. But I thought I'd just leave nothing undone to
make you give way. I made sure I was beaten. I made sure I should have
to knuckle under. And now you are goose enough to toss, and you've lost,
you've lost! Hurrah!" She clapped her hands softly.
"Do ye mean to tell me," Jimmy thundered, "as ye've been playing a game
wi' me all this time?"
"Of course." She had no shame.
"And bought th' steamer-ticket without meaning to go?"
"Well," she said, "it's no good half-playing when you're playing for
high stakes. Besides, what's fifteen pounds?"
He did not let her into the secret that he also had ordered the luggage
to be labelled for Crewe. They returned to the Five Towns the following
morning. And by mutual tacit agreement they never spoke of that
excursion to Scotland.
In such manner came Helen Rathbone to be the mistress of Wilbraham Hall.
Before the spacious crimson facade of Wilbraham Hall upon an autumn day
stood Mr. Crump's pantechnicon. That is to say, it was a pantechnicon
only by courtesy--Mr. Crump's courtesy. In strict adherence to truth it
was just a common furniture-removing van, dragged over the earth's
surface by two horses. On the outer walls of it were an announcement
that Mr. Crump removed goods by road, rail or steamer, and vast coloured
pictures of Mr. Crump removing goods by road, rail and steamer. One saw
the van in situations of grave danger--travelling on an express train
over a lofty viaduct at sixty miles an hour, or rolling on the deck of a
steamer in a stormy sea. One saw it also in situations of impressive
natural beauty--as, for instance, passing by road through terrific
mountain defiles, where cataracts rushed and foamed. The historic fact
was that the van had never been beyond the Five Towns. Nevertheless, Mr.
Crump bound himself in painted letters six inches high to furnish
estimates for any removal whatsoever; and, what is more, as a special
boon to the Five Towns, to furnish estimates free of charge. In
this detail Mr. Crump had determined not to lag behind his
fellow-furniture-removers, who, one and all, persist in refusing to
accept even a small fee for telling you how much they demand for their
In the van were the entire worldly possessions of James Ollerenshaw
(except his houses, his investments, a set of bowls up at the bowling
club, and the clothes he wore), and the entire worldly possessions of
Helen Rathbone (except the clothes she wore). If it be asked where was
the twenty-six pounds so generously given to her by a loving uncle, the
reply is that the whole sum, together with much else, was in the coffers
of Ezra Brunt, the draper and costumier at Hanbridge; and the reply
further is that Helen was in debt. I have hitherto concealed Helen's
tendency to debts, but it was bound sooner or later to come out. And
here it is.
After an adventurous journey by bridge over the North Staffordshire
Railway, and by bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal, and by bridge
over the foaming cataract of the Shaws Brook, and down the fearful
slants of Oldcastle-street, and through the arduous terrific denies of
Oldcastle-road, the van had arrived at the portals of Wilbraham Hall. It
would have been easy, by opening wide the portals, to have introduced
the van and the horses too into the hall of Wilbraham Hall. But this
course was not adopted.
Helen and Georgiana had preceded the van, and they both stood at the
door to receive the goods. Georgiana was in one of Georgiana's aprons,
and Helen also was in one of Georgiana's aprons. Uncle James had
followed the van. He had not let it out of his sight. The old man's
attachment to even the least of his goods was touching, and his
attachment to the greatest of his goods carried pathos into farce. The
greatest of his goods was, apparently, the full-rigged ship and
tempestuous ocean in a glass box which had stood on the table in the
front room of the other house for many years. No one had suspected his
esteem for that glass box and its contents. He had not suspected it
himself until the moment for packing it had come. But he seemed to love
it more than his bits of Spode china or his concertina; and, taking it
with him, he had quitted with a softened regret the quantity of
over-blown blue roses which, in their eternal bloom, had enlivened his
existence during a longer period even than the ship and ocean.
The ship and ocean was the last thing put into the van and the first
thing taken out, and James Ollerenshaw introduced the affair, hugged
against his own breast, into the house of his descendants. The remainder
of the work of transference was relatively unimportant. Two men
accomplished it easily while the horses ate a late dinner. And then the
horses and the van and the men went off, and there was nothing left but
a few wisps of straw and so forth, on the magnificent sweep of gravel,
to indicate that they had ever been there. And Uncle James, and Helen,
and Georgiana felt rather forlorn and abandoned. They stood in the hall
and looked at each other a little blankly, like gipsies camping out in
an abandoned cathedral. An immense fire was burning in the immense
fireplace of the hall, and similar fires were burning in the state
bedroom, in a little drawing-room beyond the main drawing-room, in
another bedroom, in the giant's kitchen, and in one of the attics. These
fires and a certain amount of cleaning were the only preparations which
Helen had permitted herself to make. Even the expense of the coal had
startled James, and she proposed to get him safely in the cage before
commencing the serious business which would shatter all his nerves. By a
miracle of charm and audacity she had obtained from him the control of a
sum of seven hundred and fifty pounds. This sum, now lying nominally to
her credit at one of James's various banks, represented the difference
between eight thousand pounds (at which James had said Wilbraham Hall
would be cheap) and seven thousand two hundred and fifty pounds (at
which James had succeeded in buying Wilbraham Hall).
To the left of the hall, near the entrance, was quite a small room
(originally, perhaps, a butler's lair), and James was obstinate in
selecting this room as his office. He had his desk carried there, and
everything that personally affected him except his safe and the simple
necessaries of his bedroom. These were taken, not to the state bedroom,
which he had declined, after insincere pressure from Helen to accept it,
but to a much smaller sleeping-chamber. The numerous family of Windsor
chairs, together with other ancient honesties, were sent up to
attics--too old at forty! Georgiana was established in a glorious attic;
the state bedroom was strewn with Helen's gear; and scarcely anything
remained unniched in the Hall save the ship and ocean. They all rested
from their labours, and Helen was moved by one of her happiest
"Georgiana," she said, "go and make some tea. Bring a cup for yourself."
"Yes, miss. Thank you, miss."
On removal days miserable distinctions of class are invariably lost in
the large-heartedness of mutual endeavour.
It was while the trio were thus drinking tea together, standing, and, as
it were, with loins still girt after the pilgrimage, that the first
visitor to the new owners of Wilbraham Hall rang its great bell and
involved Georgiana in her first ceremonial duty. Georgiana was quite
nervous as she went to the door.
The caller was Emanuel Prockter.
"Mother thought I might perhaps be able to help you," said he, in the
slightly simpering tone which he adopted in delicate situations, and
which he thought suited him. What made the situation delicate, to him,
was Helen's apron--quite agreeable though the apron was. He felt, with
his unerring perceptiveness, that young ladies do not care to receive
young gentlemen in the apron of a Georgiana. His own attire was, as
usual, fabulously correct; the salient features of it being a pair of
light yellow chamois gloves, loose-fitting and unbuttoned, with the
gauntlets negligently turned back. These gloves were his method of
expressing the fact that the visit was a visit of usefulness and not a
kid-glove visit. But Helen seemed quite composed behind Georgiana's
"Yes," he repeated, with smiling inanity, after he had shaken hands.
"Mother thought I might help you."
("What a fool that woman is!" reflected James. "And what a fool _he_ is
to put it on to his mother instead of keeping it to himself!")
"And what did _you_ think, Mr. Prockter?" Helen demanded. "Another cup
and saucer, Georgiana."
Helen's question was one of her insolent questions.
("Perhaps his mother ain't such a fool!" reflected James. And he
perceived, or imagined he perceived, that their fears of Helen marrying
Emanuel were absurd.)
Emanuel sniffed humour in the air. He never understood humour; but he
was, at any rate, sufficiently gifted with the wisdom of the simple to
smile vaguely and amiably when he sniffed humour.
And then Helen said, with cordial kindliness: "It's awfully good of
you--awfully good of you. Here we are, you see!"
And the degree of cordiality was such that the fear of her marrying
Emanuel suddenly seemed less absurd to James. The truth was that James
never had a moment's peace of mind with Helen. She was continually
proving that as a student in the University of Human Nature he had not
Georgiana appeared with an odd cup and saucer, and a giggling statement
that she had not been able to discover any more teaspoons.
"Never mind," said Helen. "Mr. Prockter shall have mine."
("Well, I'm hanged!" reflected James.)
Whereupon Georgiana departed, bearing her own tea, into the giant's
kitchen. The miserable distinctions of class had been mysteriously
SHIP AND OCEAN
The host, the hostess, and the guest all remained on their feet in the
noble hall of the Wilbrahams, it not being good etiquette to sit at
removals, even when company calls. Emanuel, fortunately for him, was
adept at perambulation with a full cup of tea in one hand and a hat or
so in the other. There were two things which he really could do--one was
to sing a sentimental song without laughing, and the other was to
balance a cup of tea. And it was only when he was doing the one or the
other that he genuinely lived. During the remainder of his existence he
was merely a vegetable inside a waistcoat. He held his cup without a
tremor while Helen charmingly introduced into it her teaspoon and
stirred up the sugar. Then, after he had sipped and pronounced the
result excellent, he began to admire the Hall and the contents of the
Hall. A proof of his real Christian charity was that, whereas he had
meant to have that Hall for himself, he breathed no word of envy nor
discontent. He praised everything; and presently he arrived at the ship
and ocean, and praised that. He particularly praised the waves.
The heart of James instantly and instinctively softened towards him. For
the realism of those foaming waves had always struck James as the final
miracle of art. And, moreover, this was the first time that any of
Helen's haughty "set" had ever deigned to recognise the merits of the
ship and ocean.
"Where shouldst hang it, Master Prockter?" James genially asked.
"Hang it, uncle?" exclaimed Helen. "Are you going to hang it? Aren't you
going to keep it on the table in your own room?"
She was hoping that it might occupy a position not too prominent. She
did not intend it to be the central decorative attraction of the palace.
"It ought to be hung," said Emanuel. "See, here are the little iron
things for the nails."
This gift of observation pleased James. Emanuel was indeed beginning to
show quite an intelligent interest in the ship and ocean.
"Of course it must be hung," said he.
He was very human, was Jimmy Ollerenshaw. For at least twenty-five years
he had possessed the ship and ocean, and cherished it, always meaning
one day to hang it against the wall as it deserved. And yet he had never
arrived at doing so, though the firm resolution to do so had not a whit
weakened in his mind. And now he was absolutely decided, with the whole
force of his will behind him, to hang the ship and ocean at once.
"There! under the musicians' gallery wouldn't be a bad place, would it,
Mr. Ollerenshaw?" Emanuel suggested, respectfully.
James trained his eye on the spot. "The very thing, lad!" said he, with
"Lad!" Helen had not recovered from a private but extreme astonishment
at this singular mark of paternal familiarity to Emanuel when there was
another and a far louder ring at the door.
Georgiana minced and tripped out of her retreat, and opened the majestic
portal to a still greater surprise for Helen. The ringer was Mr. Andrew
Dean--Mr. Andrew Dean with his dark, quasi-hostile eyes, and his heavy
shoulders, and his defiant, suspicious bearing--Mr. Andrew Dean in
workaday clothes and with hands that could not be called clean. Andrew
stared about him like a scout, and then advanced rapidly to Helen and
seized her hand, hurting it.
"I was just passing," said he, in a hoarse voice. "I expected you'd be
in a bit of a mess, so I thought I might be useful. How d'ye do, Mr.
Ollerenshaw?" And he hurt James's hand also.
"It's very kind of you," Helen remarked, flushing.
"How do, Prockter?" Andrew jerked out at Emanuel, not taking his hand.
This abstention on Andrew's part from physical violence was capable of
two interpretations. The natural interpretation was that Andrew's social
methods were notoriously casual and capricious. The interesting
interpretation was that a failure of the negotiations between Emanuel
and Andrew for a partnership--a failure which had puzzled Bursley--had
left rancour behind it.
Emanuel, however, displayed no symptom of being disturbed. His blandness
remained intact. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was mysteriously electric.
Helen felt it to be so, and an atmosphere which is deemed to be electric
by even one person only, _ipso facto_, is electric. As for James
Ollerenshaw, he was certainly astonished by the visit of Andrew Dean;
but, being absorbed in the welfare of his ship and ocean, he permitted
his astonishment to dissolve in a vague satisfaction that, anyhow,
Helen's unexplained quarrel with Andrew Dean was really at an end. This
call was assuredly Andrew's way of expiatory repentance.
"The very thing!" he repeated, glancing at Emanuel as if in expectation.
Emanuel did not seem to comprehend that aught was expected of him. He
amiably stood, with hands still appropriately gloved, and his kindly
glance wandered between the ship and ocean and the spot which he had hit
on for the ship and ocean's last resting-place.
"Where's the steps, Helen?" James inquired, and, after a brief silence:
"Georgiana!" he yelled.
The girl flew in.
"Bring us a pair o' steps," said he.
Followed an unsuccessful search for the pair of steps, which Andrew Dean
ultimately discovered in a corner of the hall itself, lying flat behind
a vast roll of carpet which was included in the goods purchased for
seven thousand two hundred and fifty pounds. The steps being found,
Georgiana explained at length how she distinctly remembered seeing one
of the men put them behind the roll of carpet.
"Now, what is it?" Andrew vigorously questioned. He was prepared,
evidently, to do anything that a man may do with a pair of steps. When
the operation was indicated to him, his first act was to take off his
coat, which he threw on the floor.
"Hammer! Nails!" he ejaculated. And Georgiana, intimidated by his tone,
contrived to find both hammer and nails. It is true that the hammer was
a coal hammer.
And in a remarkably short space of time he was balanced on the summit of
the steps with a nail in one hand, a hammer in the other, a pencil
behind his ear, and another nail in his mouth. The other three encircled
him from below, with upturned faces and open mouths, like young birds
expecting food. (Not that young birds expecting food wear gloves so
appropriate to the occasion as were Emanuel's.) James Ollerenshaw was
impressed by the workmanlike manner in which Andrew measured the width
of the glass box and marked it off on the wall before beginning to knock
nails. The presence of one nail in Andrew's mouth while he was knocking
in the other with a coal hammer, prevented him from outraging the social
code when the coal hammer embraced his fingers as well as the nail in
the field of its activity. Unhappily, when it came to the second nail,
no such hindrance operated.
The nails, having been knocked in, were duly and satisfactorily tested.
Then solemnly James seized the glass box containing the ship and ocean,
and bore it with all possible precautions to the pair of steps in front
of the great doors. Andrew descended two storeys, and, bending his body,
received the box from James as a parson receives a baby at the font. He
then remounted. The steps rocked.
"I'd happen better hold 'em," said James.
"It'll be all right," said Andrew.
"I'll hold them," said Emanuel, hastening forward.
The precise cause of the accident will probably never be known, but no
sooner did Emanuel lay his gloved hand on the steps than the whole
edifice, consisting of steps, Andrew, and ship and ocean tottered and
"Clumsy fool!" Andrew was distinctly heard to exclaim during his swift
passage to the floor.
The ship and ocean were incurably disintegrated into a mess of coloured
cardboard, linen, and sticks.
And catastrophes even more dreadful might have occurred had it not been
for the calm and wise tact of Helen. Where a person is pleased by an
event, that person can usually, without too much difficulty, exercise a
calm and wise tact upon other persons whom the event has not pleased.
And Helen was delighted by the catastrophe to the ship and ocean. The
ship and ocean had formed no part in her scheme for the decoration of
the hall; her one poor solace had been that the relative proportions of
the hall and of the ship and ocean were such that even a careful
observer might have spent hours in the former without discovering the
latter; on the other hand, some blundering ninny might have lighted
instantly on the ship and ocean, and awkwardly inquired what it was
doing there. So Helen was really enchanted by the ruin. She handled her
men with notable finesse: Uncle James savage and vindictive, but
uncertain upon whom to pour out his anger; Emanuel nursing his injured
innocence; and Andrew Dean nursing his elbow, his head, and vengeance.
She also found a moment in which to calm Georgiana, who had run flying
and hysterical into the hall at the sound of the smash.
Even the steps were broken.
After a time harmony was established, both Uncle James and Emanuel
being, at bottom, men of peace. But it was undeniable that Uncle James
had lost more than gold, and that Emanuel had been touched in a perilous
place--his conceit of himself.
Then Georgiana swept up the ship and ocean, and James retired to his own
little room, where he assumed his Turkish cap, and began to arrange his
personal effects in a manner definite and final, which would be a law
for ever to the servants of Wilbraham Hall.
Left with the two young men, Helen went from triumph to triumph. In
quite a few minutes she had them actually talking to each other. And she
ended by speeding them away together. And by the time they departed each
was convinced that Georgiana's apron, on Helen, was one of the most
bewitching manifestations of the inexpressibly feminine that he had ever
been privileged to see.
They took themselves off by a door at the farther end of the hall behind
the stairs, whence there was a short cut through the undulating grounds
to the main road.
Helen ascended to the state bedroom, where there was simply everything
to be done; Georgiana followed her, after having made up the fires, and,
while helping to unpack boxes, offered gossamer hints--fluffy, scarcely
palpable, elusive things--to her mistress that her real ambition had
always been to be a lady's-maid, and to be served at meals by the third,
or possibly the fourth, house-maid. And the hall of Wilbraham Hall was
abandoned for a space to silence and solitude.
Now, the window of Uncle James's little room was a little window that
lived modestly between the double pillars of the portico and the first
window of the great dining-room. Resting from his labours of sorting and
placing, he gazed forth at his domain, and mechanically calculated what
profit would accrue to him if he cut off a slip a hundred and fifty feet
deep along by the Oldcastle-road, and sold it in lots for villas, or
built villas and sold them on ninety-nine-year leases. He was engaged in
his happy exercise of mental arithmetic when he heard footsteps
crunching the gravel, and then a figure, which had evidently come round
by the north side from the back of the Hall, passed across the field of
James's vision. This figure was a walking baptism to the ground it trod.
It dripped water plenteously. It was, in a word, soaked, and its
garments clung to it. Its yellow chamois gloves clung to its hands. It
had no hat. It hesitated in front of the entrance.
Uncle James pushed up his window. "What's amiss, lad?" he inquired, with
a certain blandness of satisfaction.
"I fell into the Water," said Emanuel, feebly, meaning the sheet known
as Wilbraham Water, which diversified the park-like splendours of
"How didst manage that?"
"The path is very muddy and slippery just there," said Emanuel.
"Hadn't you better run home as quick as may be?" James suggested.
"I can't," said Emanuel.
"I've got no hat, and I'm all wet. And everybody in Oldcastle-road will
see me. Can you lend me a hat and coat?"
And all the while he was steadily baptising the gravel.
Uncle James's head disappeared for a moment, and then he threw out of
the window a stiff yellow mackintosh of great age. It was his
rent-collecting mackintosh. It had the excellent quality of matching the
Emanuel thankfully took it. "And what about a cap or something?" he
"Tak' this," said Uncle James, with remarkable generosity whipping the
Turkish cap from his own head, and handing it to Emanuel.
Emanuel hesitated, then accepted; and, thus uniquely attired, sped away,
At tea (tea proper) James recounted this episode to a somewhat taciturn
and preoccupied Helen.
"He didn't fall into the Water," said Helen, curtly. "Andrew Dean pushed
"How dost know that?"
"Georgiana and I saw it from my bedroom window. It was she who first saw
them fighting, or at any rate arguing. Then Andrew Dean 'charged' him
in, as if they were playing football, and walked on; and Emanuel
Prockter scrambled out."
"H'm!" reflected James. "Well, if ye ask me, lass, Emanuel brought that
on himsen. I never seed a man look a bigger foo' than Emanuel looked
when he went off in my mackintosh and Turkish cap."
"Your Turkish cap?"
"One of 'em."
"With the tassel?"
"It's a great shame! That's what it is! I'm sure he didn't look a fool!
He's been very badly treated, and I'll--"
She rose from the table, in sudden and speechless indignation.
"You should ha' seen him, lass!" said James, and added: "I wish ye had!"
He tried to be calm. But she had sprung on him another of her
disconcerting surprises. Was it, after all, possible, conceivable, that
she was in love with Emanuel?
She sat down again. "I know why you say that, uncle"--she looked him in
the face, and put her elbows on the table. "Now, just listen to me!"
Highly perturbed, he wondered what was coming next.
"What's the matter with Emanuel Prockter?" Helen asked; meaning, what
were the implied faults of Emanuel Prockter.
There was defiance in her tone. She had risen from the table, and she
had sat down again, and she seemed by her pose to indicate that she had
sat down again with a definite purpose, a purpose to do grievous harm to
the soul's peace of anybody who differed from the statements which she
was about to enunciate, or who gave the wrong sort of answers to her
catechism. She was wearing her black mousseline dress (theoretically
"done with"), which in its younger days always had the effect of rousing
the _grande dame_ in her. She laid her ringless hands, lightly clasped,
on a small, heavy, round mahogany table which stood in the middle of the
little drawing-room, and she looked over James's shoulder into the
vistas of the great drawing-room. The sombre, fading magnificence of the
Wilbrahams--a magnificence of dark woods, tasselled curtains, reps, and
gilt--was her theatre, and the theatre suited her mood.
Still, Jimmy Ollerenshaw, somewhat embittered by the catastrophe of the
afternoon, conceived that he was not going to be brow-beaten.
"What's the matter with Emanuel Prockter," said he, "is as he's probably
gotten a cold by this."
"Yes, and you're glad!" Helen retorted. "You think he looked a fool
after he'd been in the water. And you were glad."
"I dunna think," said James, "I'm sure."
"But why should you be glad? That's what I want to know."
James could not sagaciously reply to this query. He merely scratched his
head, tilting one of his Turkish caps to that end.
"The fact is," she cried, with a grammatical carelessness which was
shocking in a woman who had professed to teach everything, "every one
has got their knives into Emanuel Prockter. And it's simply because he's
good-looking and well-dressed and sings beautifully."
"Good-looking!" murmured James.
"Well, isn't he?"
"He's pretty," said James.
"No one ever said he had a lot of brains--"
"I never did," James put in.
"But what does that matter? He _is_ polite. He does know how to behave
himself in polite society. If Andrew Dean pushed him into the water,
that wasn't his fault. Andrew is stronger than he is, but that's no
credit to Andrew Dean. It's to his discredit. Andrew Dean is nothing but
a bully--we all know that. He might have pushed you into the water, or
"He might," James admitted, "if I'd been silly enough to get between the
water and him."
"And I should like to know who looked a fool when Andrew Dean fell off
those steps. And just listen to the language the man used. I will say
this for Emanuel Prockter--I never heard him swear."
"No," said James. "He wears gloves. He even wears 'em when he takes his
bath of a November afternoon."
"I don't care who knows it," Helen observed, hotly, "I like Emanuel
"There's nobody as dunna' know it," said James. "It's the talk of Bosley
as you've set your cap at him."
"I don't wear caps," said Helen. "I'm not a servant."
"Hat, then," James corrected himself. "Ye'll not deny as you wear hats,
I reckon. I've seen ye in forty."
"I know who started that tale," Helen exploded. "Andrew Dean started
"No," said James. "It was Mrs. Prockter, I'm thinking."
"Has Mrs. Prockter spoken to you about me and--and Emanuel?"
James hesitated. But the devil-may-care, agreeably vicious Ollerenshaw
impulses were afoot in him, and he did not hesitate long.
"Her has," said he.
"What a ridiculous, fat old woman she is, with her fancies!"
Frankly, James did not like this. He was in a mind to resent it, and
then a certain instinct of self-preservation prompted him to seek cover
in silence. But in any battle of the sexes silence is no cover to the
male, as he ought to have known.
Helen pursued him behind his cover. "I wonder who _she's_ setting her
cap at! I suppose you'll not deny that _she_ wears a cap?"
It was quite a long time since James Ollerenshaw had blushed; but he
blushed at these words. Nothing could have been more foolish, inept, on
his part. Why should he blush because Helen expressed a vague, hostile
curiosity as to the direction of Mrs. Prockter's cap? What had the
direction of Mrs. Prockter's cap to do with him? Yet blush he did. He
grew angry, not--curiously enough--with Helen, but with himself and with
Mrs. Prockter. His anger had the strange effect of making him an arrant
coward. He got up from his chair, having pushed away his cup towards the
centre of the table. As tea was over he was within his rights in doing
"I mun be getting to work again," he muttered.
"Please do wait a minute, uncle," she said, imperiously. "Can't you see
I want to talk to you? Can't you see I've got something on my mind?"
Deliberately challenged in this way, the formidable James was no more
than a sheep to the shearer. Until he met Helen, he had perhaps never
received deliberate, audacious challenges, and even now he was far from
being accustomed to them. So he just stood foolishly near his chair.
"I can't talk to you while you're standing up," she said.
So he sat down. How simple it ought to have been for him to exert
authority over Helen, to tell her fiercely that he had no intention of
being talked to like that, and that if she persisted in such tactics the
front door was at her entire disposal! She had no claim on him. Yet he
ate his humble pie and sat down.
"So they are saying that there is something between Emanuel Prockter and
me, are they?" she recommenced, in a new, mollified voice, a voice that
waved the white flag over her head.
"It wouldna' surprise me to hear as they were," said James.
"And supposing there _was_ something between us, uncle, should you
"I don't know as I should mind," said he. "And I don't know as it 'ud
matter a brass button if I did mind."
"What should you do, uncle?"
"I should do as I've always done," said he; "eat and sleep and take my
walks abroad. Them as wants to marry will marry, and they will marry
what suits 'em. But I shall tak' my meat and drink as usual."
"Would you come to the wedding?"
"I've only got a funeral suit," said he. "But I'd buy me some togs if
Emanuel 'ud tak' this place off my hands at what I gave."
"Would you give me a wedding-present?"
"I'd give thee some advice. It's what thou'rt most in need of."
His tone was gloomy and resigned.
She slipped round the table and sat on the arm of his chair.
"You are a horrid old thing," she told him--not for the first time. "I
_am_ in need of advice. And there's no one can give it me but you."
"Nay, nay!" he recoiled. "There's Sarah Swetnam. You're as thick as
"She's the very last person I can go to," said Helen.
"Why! Because Andrew is engaged to her sister, of course. That's the
awful part of it."
"Ay?" he questioned.
"Yes. Because, you see, it's Andrew Dean that I'm in love with."
She said it in very pert and airy accents. And then the next moment she
put James into terrible consternation by crying, and clutching his arm.
He saw that she was serious. Light beat down upon him. He had to blink
and collect himself.
"I' thy place, lass," he said, "I should keep that to mysen."
"But I can't, uncle. That is, I haven't done. Andrew knows. You don't
understand how much I'm in love with him. I've--he's--"
"Thou'st not kissed him?"
"He's been kissing you in mistake for his other young woman?"
"Helen, what 'ud thy mother say?"
"It was because of Andrew Dean that I came to live in Bursley," said
she. "I knew I shouldn't see him often enough if I stayed in Longshaw.
So I came here. You know we had always liked each other, I _think_, ever
since he spent two years at Longshaw at Spitz Brothers'. Then I didn't
see him for some time. You know how rude and awkward he is. Well, there
was a coolness. And then we didn't see each other for another long time.
And then when I next saw him I knew I really _was_ in love with him. (Of
course, I never said anything to mother. One doesn't, you know. And she
was so taken up with her own affairs, poor dear!) And I thought he was
really fond of me. I thought so because he was so cross and queer. He's
like that, you know. And, after all, it was not that that made him cross
and queer. It was just because he was as good as engaged to Lilian, and
he didn't like to tell me. And I never knew. How could I guess? I'd
never heard there was anything between him and Lilian. And besides,
although he was cross and queer, he said things to me that he oughtn't
to have said, considering how he was carrying on with Lilian. It was
then that I settled on coming to Bursley. There was no _reason_ why I
should stay in Longshaw. I saw him again in Longshaw, _after_ he was
engaged to Lilian, and yet he never told me! And then, when I come here,
the first thing I hear is that he's engaged to Lilian. It was that
afternoon when Sarah called; do you remember, uncle?"
"I saw Mr. Dean that night, and somehow I told him what I thought of
him. I don't know how it began; but I did. He said he couldn't help
being engaged to Lilian. He said it was one of those engagements that go
on by themselves, and you can't stop them. He wanted to stop it. But he
was engaged before he knew where he was--so he says. He said he
preferred me, and if he'd known--So of course I was obliged to be very
angry with him. That was why I didn't speak to him at first at Mrs.
Prockter's; at least, that was partly why. The other reason was that he
had accused me of running after Emanuel--of all people! I had been, you
know. But what had that got to do with Andrew, seeing that he was
engaged to Lilian? Besides, I'd been doing it on purpose. And he was so
_insolent_. And then, to crown all, Mrs. Prockter makes me dance with
him. No wonder I fainted! He is the rudest, _rudest_, crudest man I ever
She wiped her eyes.
"H'm!" mused James.
"He'll simply kill poor little Lilian!" She sobbed.
"What's that got to do with you, if you and Emanuel has got nothing to
do with him? It isn't you as'll be hung when Lilian's murdered."
"Can't you see he mustn't marry Lilian?" Helen burst out. "Silly little
thing! How can she understand him? She's miles beneath him."
"Is there anybody as does understand him?" James asked.
"I do," said she. "And that's flat. And I've got to marry him, and you
must help me. I wanted to tell you, and now I've told you. Don't you
think I've done right in being quite open with you? Most girls are so
foolish in these things. But I'm not. Aren't you glad, uncle?"
"Glad inna' the word," said he.
"_You must help me_," she repeated.
Many things which previously had not been plain to James Ollerenshaw
were plain to him that night, as, in the solitude of his chosen room, he
reflected upon the astonishing menu that Helen had offered him by way of
supplement to his tea. But the chief matter in his mind was the great,
central, burning, blinding fact of the endless worry caused to him by
his connection with the chit. He had bought Wilbraham Hall under her
threat to leave him if he did not buy it. Even at Trafalgar-road she had
filled the little house with worry. And now, within a dozen hours of
arriving in it, she had filled Wilbraham Hall with worry--filled it to
its farthest attic. If she had selected it as a residence, she would
have filled the Vatican with worry. All that James demanded was a quiet
life; and she would not let him have it. He wished he was back again in
Trafalgar-road. He wished he had never met Helen and her sunshade in the
That is to say, he asserted to himself positively that he wished he had
never met Helen. But he did not mean it.
And so he was to help her to wrest Andrew Dean from Lilian Swetnam! He
was to take part in a shameful conspiracy! He was to assist in ruining
an innocent child's happiness! And he was deliberately to foster the raw
material of a scandal in which he himself would be involved! He, the
strong, obstinate, self-centred old man who had never, till Helen's
advent, done anything except to suit his own convenience!
The one bright spot was that Helen had no genuine designs on Emanuel
Prockter. As a son-in-law, Andrew Dean would be unbearable; but Emanuel
Prockter would have been--well, impossible. Andrew Dean (he mused) was
at any rate a man whom you could talk to and look at without feeling
When he had gazed at the affair from all points of view, and repeated to
himself the same deep moral truths (such as "There's no doing nowt wi' a
young woman afore she's forty") about thirty-nine times, and pitied
himself from every quarter of the compass, he rose to go to bed; he did
not expect to sleep. But the gas was not yet in order, and he had only
one candle, which was nearly at its latter end. The ladies--Helen and
Georgiana--had retired long since.
He left his little room, and was just setting forth on the adventure of
discovering his bedchamber, when a bell rang in the bowels of the
house. His flesh crept. It was as if--
The clock struck twelve, and shook the silent tower.
Then he collected his powers of memory and of induction, and recognised
in the sound of the bell the sound of the front door bell. Some one must
be at the front door. The singular and highly-disturbing phenomena of
distant clanging, of thrills, and of flesh-creepings were all resolved
into the simple fact that some one was at the front door.
He went back into his little room; instead of opening the front door
like a man, he opened the window of the little room, and stuck out the
tassel of his cap.
"Who's there?" he demanded.
"It's I, Mr. Ollerenshaw," said a voice, queenly and nervous.
"Not Mrs. Prockter?" he suggested.
"I reckon ye'd like to come in," he said.
She admitted the desire with a laugh which struck him as excessively
free. He did not know whether to be glad or sorry that Helen had
departed to bed. He did not even know whether to be glad or sorry that
Mrs. Prockter had called. But he vividly remembered what Helen had said
Naturally, he had to let her in. He held the candle in his left hand,
as he opened the door with his right, and the tassel of his cap was over
"You'll think I'm in the habit of calling on you at night," said Mrs.
Prockter, as she slid through the narrow space which James allotted to
her, and she laughed again. "Where is dear Helen?"
"She's gone to bed, missis," said James, holding high the candle and
gazing at the generous vision in front of him. It wore a bonnet, and a
rich Paisley shawl over its flowered silk.
"But it's only ten o'clock!" Mrs. Prockter protested.
"Yes. But her's gone to bed."
"Why," Mrs. Prockter exclaimed, changing the subject wilfully, "you are
all straight here!" (For the carpets had been unrolled and laid.)
And she sat down on a massive Early Victorian mahogany chair about
fifteen feet from the dying fire, and began to fan herself with her
hands. She was one of your women who are never cold.
James, having nothing to say, said nothing, following his custom.
"I'm not ill-pleased," said Mrs. Prockter, "that Helen is out of the
way. The fact is--it was you that I wanted to have a word with. You'll
guess what about?"
"Mr. Emanuel?" James hazarded.
"Precisely. I had to put him to bed. He is certainly in for a very
serious cold, and I trust--I fervently trust--it may not be bronchitis.
That would mean nurses, and nothing upsets a house more than nurses.
What happened, Mr. Ollerenshaw?"
James set the candle down on another Early Victorian chair, there being
no occasional table at hand, and very slowly lowered himself to a
sitting posture on a third.
"I'll tell you what happened, missis," he said, putting his hands on his
And he told her, beginning with the loss of the ship and ocean, and
ending with Helen's ever memorable words: "You must help me."
"That's what happened, missis," he said, grimly.
She had punctuated his recital by several exclamations, and when he had
finished she gave rein to her sentiments.
"My _dear_ Mr. Ollerenshaw," she said, in the kindest manner
conceivable, "how I sympathise with you! How I wish I could help you!"
Her sympathy was a genuine comfort to him. He did not, in that instant,
care a fig for Helen's notion about the direction of caps. He was simply
and humanly eased by the sweet tones of this ample and comely dame.
Besides, the idea of a woman such as Mrs. Prockter marrying a man such
as him was (he knew) preposterous. She belonged to a little world which
called him "Jimmy," whereas he belonged to a little world of his own.
True, he was wealthy; but she was not poor--and no amount of money (he
thought) could make a bridge to join those two worlds. Nevertheless,
here she was, talking to him alone at ten o'clock at night--and not for
the first time, either! Obviously, then, there was no nonsense about
_her_, whatever nonsensical world she belonged to.
She ran over with sympathy. Having no further fear of Helen making
trouble in her own family, she had all her feelings at liberty to
condone with James.
The candle, throwing a small hemisphere of feeble radiance in the
vastness of the dim hall, sat on its chair between them.
"I _can_ help you," she said, suddenly, after grunts from James. "I'm
calling on the Swetnams the day after to-morrow. I'll tell them
about--about to-day, and when Mrs. Swetnam asks me for an explanation of
it, I will be mysterious. If Lilian is there, Mrs. Swetnam will
certainly get her out of the room. Then I will just give the faintest
hint that the explanation is merely jealousy between Emanuel and Mr.
Dean concerning--a certain young lady. I shall treat it all as a joke;
you can rely on me. Immediately I am gone Lilian will hear about it. She
will quarrel with Andrew the next time she sees him; and if he _wishes_
to be free, he may be."
She smiled the arch, naughty, pleasantly-malign smile of a terribly
experienced dowager. And she seemed positively anxious that James should
have Andrew Dean for a son-in-law.
James, in his simplicity, was delighted. It appeared to him a
Mephistophelian ingenuity. He thought how clever women were, on their
own ground, and what an advantage they had in their immense lack of
"Of course," said she, "I have always said that a marriage between
Andrew Dean and Lilian would be a mistake--a very serious mistake. They
are quite unsuited to each other. She isn't in love with him--she's only
been flattered by his attentions into drawing him on. I feel sorry for
the little thing."
At a stroke, she had converted a shameful conspiracy into an act of the
highest virtue. And her smile changed, too--became a _good_ smile, a
smile on which a man might depend. His heart went out to her, and he
contemplated the smile in a pleased, beatific silence.
Just then the candle--a treacherous thing--flamed up and went out.
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Prockter.
And James had not a match. He never smoked. And without an atlas of the
Hall, showing the location of match-boxes, he saw no hope of finding a
The fire was as good as gone. A few cinders burnt red under the ash,
showing the form of the chimney-piece, but no more.
"An ye got a match?" he asked her.
"No," she said, drily, "I don't carry matches. But I can tell you I
don't like being in the dark at all." Her voice came to him out of
nothing, and had a most curious effect on his spine. "Where are you, Mr.
"I'm a-sitting here," he replied.
"Well," said she, "if _you_ can't find a match, I think you had better
lead me to the door. I certainly can't find my way there myself. Where
is your hand?"
Then a hand touched his shoulder and burnt him. "Is that you?" asked the
"Ay!" he said.
And he took the hand, and the hand squeezed his hand--squeezed it
violently. It may have been due to fear, it may have been due to mere
inadvertence on the part of the hand; but the hand did, with
unmistakable, charming violence, squeeze his hand.
And he rose.
"What's that light there?" questioned the voice, in a whisper.
"Where?" he whispered also.
He turned. A luminance seemed to come from above, from the unseen
heights of the magnificent double staircase. As his eyes grew accustomed
to the conditions, he gradually made out the details of the staircase.
"You'd better go and see," the whispering voice commanded.
He dropped the hand and obeyed, creeping up the left wing of the
staircase. As he faced about at the half-landing, he saw Helen, in an
orange-tinted peignoir, and her hair all down her back, holding a
candle. She beckoned to him. He ascended to her.
"Who's there?" she inquired, coldly.
"Mrs. Prockter," he murmured.
"And are you sitting together in the dark?" she inquired, coldly.
The story that the candle had expired seemed feeble in the extreme. And
for him the word "cap" was written in letters of fire on the darkness
He made no attempt to answer her question.
SEEING A LADY HOME
Those words of Helen's began a fresh chapter in the life of her
great-stepuncle, James Ollerenshaw. They set up in him a feeling, or
rather a whole range of feelings, which he had never before experienced.
At tea, Helen had hinted at the direction of Mrs. Prockter's cap. That
was nothing. He could not be held responsible for the direction of Mrs.
Prockter's cap. He could laugh at that, even though he faintly blushed.
But to be caught sitting in the dark with Mrs. Prockter, after ten
o'clock at night, in his own house; to have the fact pointed out to him
in such a peculiar, meaningful tone as Helen employed--here was
something that connected him and Mrs. Prockter in a manner just a shade
too serious for mere smiling. Here was something that had not before
happened to him in his career as rent-collector and sage.
Not that he minded! No, he did not mind. Although he had no intention
whatever of disputing the possession of Mrs. Prockter with her stepson,
he did not object to all the implication in Helen's remarkable tone. On
the contrary, he was rather pleased. Why should not he sit with a lady
in the dark? Was he not as capable as any man of sitting with a lady in
the dark? He was even willing that Helen should credit him, or pretend
to credit him, with having prearranged the dark.
Ah! People might say what they chose! But what a dog he might have been
had he cared to be a dog! Here he was, without the slightest preliminary
practice, successfully sitting with a lady in the dark, at the first
attempt! And what lady? Not the first-comer! Not Mrs. Butt! Not the
Mayoress! But the acknowledged Queen of Bursley, the undisputed leader
of all that was most distinguished in Bursley society! And no difficulty
about it either! And she had squeezed his hand. She had continued to
squeeze it. She, in her rich raiment, with her fine ways, and her
correct accent, had squeezed the hand of Jimmy Ollerenshaw, with his
hard old clothes and his Turkish cap, his simple barbarisms, his lack of
style, and his uncompromising dialect! Why? Because he was rich? No.
Because he was a man, because he was the best man in Bursley, when you
came down to essentials.
So his thoughts ran.
His interest in Helen's heart had become quite a secondary interest, but
she recalled him to a sense of his responsibilities as great-stepuncle
of a capricious creature like her.
"What are you and Mrs. Prockter talking about?" she questioned him in a
whisper, holding the candle towards his face and scrutinising it, as
seemed to him, inimically.
"Well," he said, "if you must know, about you and that there Andrew
She made a brusque movement. And then she beckoned him to follow her
along the corridor, out of possible earshot of Mrs. Prockter.
"Do you mean to say, uncle," she demanded, putting the candle down on a
small table that stood under a large oil-painting of Joshua and the Sun
in the corridor, "that you've been discussing my affairs with Mrs.
He saw instantly that he had not been the sage he imagined himself to
be. But he was not going to be bullied by Helen, or any other woman
younger than Mrs. Prockter. So he stiffly brazened it out.
"Ay!" he said.
"I never heard of such a thing!" she exploded, but still whispering.
"You said as I must help ye, and I'm helping ye," said he.
"But I didn't mean that you were to go chattering about me all over
Bursley, uncle," she protested, adopting now the pained, haughty, and
"I don't know as I've been chattering all over Bursley," he rebutted
her. "I don't know as I'm much of a chatterer. I might name them as
could give me a start and a beating when it comes to talking the nose
off a brass monkey. Mrs. Prockter came in to inquire about what had
happened here this afternoon, as well she might, seeing as Emanuel went
home with a couple o' gallons o' my water in his pockets. So I told her
all about it. Her's a very friendly woman. And her's promised to do what
her can for ye."
"Why, to get Andrew Dean for ye, seeing as ye're so fixed on him, wi' as
little gossip as maybe."
"Oh! So Mrs. Prockter has kindly consented to get Andrew Dean for me!
And how does she mean to do it?"
James had no alternative; he was obliged to relate how Mrs. Prockter
meant to do it.
"Now, uncle," said Helen, "just listen to me. If Mrs. Prockter says a
single word about me to any one, I will never speak either to her or you
again. Mind! A single word! A nice thing that she should go up to
Swetnam's, and hint that Andrew and Emanuel have been fighting because
of me! What about my reputation? And do you suppose that I want the
leavings of Lilian Swetnam? Me! The idea is preposterous!"
"You wanted 'em badly enough this afternoon," said he.
"No, I didn't," she contradicted him passionately. "You are quite
mistaken. You misunderstood me, though I'm surprised that you should
have done. Perhaps I was a little excited this afternoon. Certainly you
were thinking about other things. I expect you were expecting Mrs.
Prockter this evening. It would have been nicer of you to have told me
she was coming."
"Now, please let it be clearly understood," she swept on. "You must go
down and tell Mrs. Prockter at once that you were entirely in error, and
that she is on no account to breathe a word about me to any one.
Whatever you were both thinking of I cannot imagine! But I can assure
you I'm extremely annoyed. Mrs. Prockter putting her finger in the
pie!... Let her take care that I don't put my finger into _her_ pie! I
always knew she was a gossiping old thing, but, really--"
"Mr. Ollerenshaw!" A prettily plaintive voice rose from the black depths
"There! she's getting impatient for you!" Helen snapped. "Run off to her
at once. To think that if I hadn't happened to hear the bell ring, and
come out to see what was the matter, I should have been the talk of
Bursley before I was a day older!"
She picked up the candle.
"I must have a light!" said James, somewhat lamely.
"Why?" Helen asked, calmly. "If you could begin in the dark, why can't
you finish in the dark? You and she seem to like being in the dark."
"Mr. Ollerenshaw!" The voice was a little nearer.
"Her's coming!" James ejaculated.
Helen seemed to lose her courage before that threat.
"Here! Take this one, then!" said she, giving James her candle, and
fleeing down the corridor.
James had the sensation of transacting a part in a play at a theatre
where the scenery was absolutely realistic and at the same time of a
romantic quality. Moonlight streaming in through the windows of the
interminable corridor was alone wanting to render the illusion perfect.
It was certainly astonishing--what you could buy with seven thousand two
hundred and fifty pounds! Perhaps the most striking portion of the
scenery was Helen's peignoir. He had not before witnessed her in a
peignoir. The effect of it was agreeable; but, indeed, the modern taste
for luxury was incredible! He wondered if Mrs. Prockter practised
While such notions ran through his head he was hurrying to the stairs,
and dropping a hail of candle-grease on the floor. He found Mrs.
Prockter slowly and cautiously ascending the stairway. If he was at the
summit of Mont Blanc she had already reached Les Grands Mulets.
"What is it?" she asked, pausing, and looking up at him with an
"Why have you been so long?" It was as if she implied that these minutes
without him were an eternity of ennui. He grew more and more conceited.
He was already despising Don Juan as a puling boy.
"Helen heard summat, and so she had come out of her bedroom. Her's
nervous i' this big house."
"Did you tell her I was here, Mr. Ollerenshaw?"
By this time he had rejoined her at Les Grands Mulets.
"No," he said, without sufficiently reflecting.
"She didn't hear me call out, then?"
"Did ye call out?" If he was in a theatre, he also could act.
"Perhaps it's just as well," said Mrs. Prockter, after a momentary
meditation. "Under the circumstances she cannot possibly suspect our
Their little plot! In yielding to the impulse to tell her that Helen was
unaware of her presence in the house he had forgotten that he had made
it excessively difficult for him to demolish the said plot. He could not
one moment agree with enthusiasm to the plot, and the next moment say
that the plot had better be abandoned. Some men, doubtless, could. But
he could not. He was scarcely that kind of man. His proper course would
have been to relate to Mrs. Prockter exactly what had passed between
himself and Helen, and trust to her common sense. Unhappily, with the
intention of pleasing her, or reassuring her, or something equally
silly, he had lied to her and rendered the truth impracticable. However,
he did not seem to care much. He had already pushed Helen's affairs back
again to quite a secondary position.
"I suppose ye think it'll be all right, missis," he said,
carelessly--"ye going up to Mrs. Swetnam's o' that 'n, and--"
"Rely on me," said she, silencing him. Thus, without a pang, he left
Helen to her fate. They had touched the ground-floor. "Thank you very
much, Mr. Ollerenshaw," said Mrs. Prockter. "Good-night. I'll make the
best of my way home."
Curious, how sorry he felt at this announcement! He had become quite
accustomed to being a conspirator with her in the vast house lighted by
a single candle, and he did not relish the end of the performance.
"I'll step along wi' ye," said he.
"Oh, no!" she said. "I really can't allow--"
"Allow you to inconvenience yourself like that for me."
"Pooh!" said he.
And he, who had never in his life seen a lady to her door, set out on
the business as though he had done nothing else every night of his life,
as though it was an enterprise that did not require practice.
He opened the door, and put the candle on the floor behind it, where he
could easily find it on returning. "I'll get a box o' matches from
somewhere while I'm out," said he.
He was about to extinguish the candle when she stopped him. "Mr.
Ollerenshaw," she said, firmly, "you haven't got your boots on. Those
slippers are not thick enough for this weather."
He gazed at her. Should he yield to her? The idea of yielding to her,
for the mere sake of yielding to her, presented itself to him as a
charming idea. So he disappeared with the candle, and reappeared in his
"You won't need a muffler?" she suggested.
Now was the moment to play the hardy Norseman. "Oh, no!" he laughed.
This concern for his welfare, coming from such a royal creature, was,
however, immensely agreeable.
She stood out on the steps; he extinguished the candle, and then joined
her and banged the door. They started. Several hundred yards of winding
pitch-dark drive had to be traversed.
"Will you kindly give me your arm?" she said.
She said it so primly, so correctly, and with such detachment, that they
might have been in church, and she saying: "Will you kindly let me look
over your Prayer Book?"
When they arrived at the gas-lit Oldcastle-road he wanted to withdraw
his arm, but he did not know how to begin withdrawing it. Hence he was
obliged to leave it where it was.
And as they were approaching the front gate of the residence of Mr.
Buchanan, the Scotch editor of the _Signal_, a perfect string of people
emerged from that front gate. Mrs. Buchanan had been giving a whist
drive. There were sundry Swetnams among the string. And the whole string
was merry and talkative. It was a fine night. The leading pearls of the
string bore down on the middle-aged pair, and peered, and passed.
"Good-night, Mrs. Prockter. Good-night, Mr. Ollerenshaw."
Then another couple did the same. "Good-night, Mrs. Prockter.
Good-night, Mr. Ollerenshaw."
And so it went on. And the string, laughing and talking, gradually
disappeared diminuendo in the distance towards Bursley.
"I suppose you know you've done it this time?" observed Mrs. Prockter.
It was a dark saying, but James fully understood it. He felt as though
he had drunk champagne. "As well be hung for a sheep as a lamb!" he said
to himself. And deliberately squeezed the royal arm.
Nothing violent happened. He had rather expected the heavens to fall, or
that at least Mrs. Prockter would exclaim: "Unhand me, monster!" But
nothing violent happened.
"And this is me, James Ollerenshaw!" he said to himself, still
One afternoon Sarah Swetnam called, and Helen in person opened the great
door to the visitor.
"I saw that frock in Brunt's three days ago," Helen began, kissing the
tall, tightbound, large-boned woman.
"I know you did, Nell," Sarah admitted. "But you needn't tell me so.
Don't you like it?"
"I think it's a dream," Helen replied, quickly. "Turn round." But there
was a certain lack of conviction in her voice, and in Sarah's manner
there was something strained. Accordingly, they both became
extravagantly effusive--or, at any rate, more effusive than usual,