Part 2 out of 8
be able to use crutches; but she is as weakly as a baby now, for all
she has turned eight."
"Kit's a slight stronger than she was last year," interposed Caleb,
laying down the boots he was cobbling; but Ma'am was down on him in
"You may as well shut your mouth, Caleb, if you have got nothing
better to say than that, and if you have not eyes to see the dear
lamb is dwindling more and more every day in this cellar of a place.
'Plenty of fresh air and light,' says the doctor, 'and as much
nourishment as you can get her to swallow,' and all the winter we
have to burn gas or sit in darkness through the livelong day, and
the fog choking the breath out of one."
"It is our misfortune, sir, as Kezia knows," began Caleb feebly; but
his pale blue eyes grew watery as he spoke; "it is not much of an
'ome when one has seen better days, but to my thinking Solomon was
in the right when he talked of that dinner of herbs. If Kezia had a
contented mind we should maybe all of us get on better."
"A contented fiddlestick!" exclaimed Mrs. Martin, so angrily that
Malcolm thought it wise to make a diversion, especially as a warm
fishy odour in the adjoining kitchen heralded the near arrival of
the noontide repast. When he saw more of the Martins he invariably
noticed the smell of fish; it seemed to be their principal diet--
fish broiled or fried or boiled, or even at tea-time shrimps or
periwinkles. He saw that Anna found the atmosphere oppressive, and
determined to beat a hasty retreat.
"Well, we must be going," he observed. "Good-day, Kit. Now I wonder,
if I were to give you a doll, what sort you would like?" Then Kit,
who had been frowning fiercely over the ball dress, looked up at him
with astonished blue eyes.
"A real new dollie for me," she said breathlessly. "Oh my, Ma'am, do
you hear that? Oh please may I have a baby that shuts its eyes, and
that I can love?"
"Oh yes, I think we can manage that very well, Kit. You may look for
your new baby in a few days." And then Anna kissed the sharp little
face, and Mrs. Martin smiled at her quite affably.
"She'll talk of nothing else from morning to night. Thank you
kindly, sir--and you too, young lady."
"Who is she?" whispered Kit, so loudly that both Malcolm and Anna
overheard her. "Who is that nice lady, dad, in the white dress? Is
she the gentleman's wife?"
Malcolm laughed in amused fashion as he assisted Anna up the crazy
steps, but for once the girl did not respond. "It was so hot in that
room," she said rather impatiently, putting up her hands to her
burning cheeks. "Oh, Malcolm, what a dreadful woman and what a
"Oh I don't know," he returned. "Mrs. Martin's bark's worse than her
bite, and one can see she is fond of the child. We may as well buy
that doll, Anna, and then we will have some luncheon. There is a
place I know where they do cutlets remarkably well, and their ices
are capital," and then they set out in search of a toy-shop.
The shop where Malcolm proposed they should eat their luncheon had
an upper window overhanging Piccadilly. Here they secured a small
table to themselves.
At first Anna seemed a little thoughtful and abstracted. Kit's
innocent suggestion had startled her out of her maidenly
unconsciousness. It was such a strange thing to say. It was so
terrible that people could think such things, and that Malcolm
should only laugh as though he were amused. Somehow that laugh
seemed to hurt her more than anything.
Malcolm was quite aware of the girl's discomposure; his gentlemanly
instincts were never at fault. He knew that many of his mother's
friends often hinted that his position with regard to her adopted
daughter must be somewhat difficult. At such times he was given to
affirm that no tie of blood could be stronger. "She is my sister in
everything but name," he would say.
His influence over her was so great that he charmed her out of her
quiet mood, and they were soon laughing and chatting in their old
They got into a hansom presently and drove to Cheyne Walk. As they
passed Cheyne Row, and looked up at the grim old figure of the Sage
of Chelsea, looking so gray and weather-beaten, Malcolm proposed
that they should make a pilgrimage to No. 5, but Anna refused.
"We have been there three times," she objected, "and I do so dislike
that dismal, dreary old house. I don't wonder that bright, clever
Mrs. Carlyle was moped to death there."
"Hush, you little heretic," returned Malcolm good-humouredly. "To me
No. 5 Cheyne Row is a shrine of suffering, struggling genius. When I
stand in that bare, sound-proof room and think of the work done
there by that tormented, dyspeptic man with such infinite labour,
with sweat of brow and anguish of heart, I feel as though I must
bare my head even to his majestic memory." Malcolm had mounted his
favourite hobby-horse, but Anna listened to him rebelliously. They
had been over this ground before, and she had always taken Mrs.
Carlyle's part. "Think of a handsome, brilliant little creature like
Jane Welsh," she would say indignantly, "thrown away on a learned,
heavy peasant, as rugged and ungainly as that 'Hill of the Hawk,'
that Craigen-puttoch, where he buried her alive. Oh, no wonder she
became a neurotic invalid, shut up from week's end to week's end
with a dyspeptic, irritable scholar in an old dressing-gown."
Indeed, it must be owned, in spite of all Malcolm's eloquence, Anna
was singularly perverse on this subject, and absolutely refused to
burn incense to his hero.
As Anna must have her way on her birthday, Malcolm said no more, and
the next moment they arrived at their destination--a gray, dingy-
looking old house, somewhat high and narrow, overlooking the river.
The first floor windows opened on a balcony, which had an awning
over it. Two or three deck-chairs had been placed there, and on
summer evenings Malcolm loved to sit there, either alone or with a
congenial spirit, enjoying the refreshing breezes from the river.
The house belonged to his friend Amias Keston, and some years before
he had built himself a studio in the back garden. As his income was
remarkably small, and his work at that time far from remunerative,
he was obliged to let the upper floor. The situation charmed
Malcolm, and the society of his old friend was a strong inducement,
so they soon came to terms. Malcolm was an ideal lodger; he gave
little trouble, beyond having his bath filled and his boots well
polished. He breakfasted in his own apartment, but he always dined
with the Kestons. A solitary chop eaten in solitude was not to his
taste, and he much preferred sharing his friends' homely meals.
"Plain living and high thinking suit me down to the ground," he
would say--"a laugh helps digestion;" but in spite of his
philosophic theories, many secret dainties found their way into the
Keston larder, and were regarded doubtfully and with awe by an
anxious young housekeeper.
Anna felt a little quickening of excitement as they walked up the
flagged path--she could not look indifferently at the house where
Malcolm lived. It seemed an age to both of them before the door was
opened. Malcolm had knocked twice, and was meditating a third
assault, when they heard footsteps, and the next moment a little
brown girl appeared on the threshold with a child in her arms.
"I am so sorry, Mr. Herrick, but Hepsy has just gone for the milk,"
she whispered to Malcolm, who did not seem a bit surprised by the
He had grown used to these domestic episodes. The milkman was
generally late, and Hepsy, otherwise Hephzibah, was for ever on his
track with a yellow jug in her hand; they called it the "Hunting of
the Snark," for they were wont to treat the minor accidents of life
in a playful fashion.
"Anna, this is Mrs. Keston," observed Malcolm--"my friend Verity,
and Babs." Then Anna, in some confusion and much astonishment, shook
hands with this very singular young person.
Verity! could this be the Verity that Malcolm had eulogised with
such enthusiasm--this little brown girl who was regarding her so
gravely and fixedly?
Anna was obliged to own afterwards that her appearance had given her
a shock. She was so small and sallow and insignificant, and her
short curly hair was parted on one side like a boy, and cropped
quite closely behind. The baby was small and brown too, a tiny
edition of herself, and they both had dark eyes that looked
preternaturally solemn; Babs, indeed, wore an injured expression,
and a puckered look of anguish spoke of the pangs of hunger and the
delinquencies of milkmen.
"Babs wants her tea," observed Verity cheerfully; "I am going to
give her a crust to amuse her. Will you bring Miss Sheldon into the
studio, Mr. Herrick? Amias will be so pleased to see her, though he
is very busy. I know your name," she continued smilingly to Anna--
she had a fresh clear voice that sounded pleasantly on Anna's ear;
"I have heard so much about you, that of course I recognised you
directly, though Mr. Herrick did not introduce you properly."
Verity spoke with so much ease and frankness that Anna began to feel
interested in her; she seemed so utterly oblivious of her shabby
cotton dress and ridiculous bib-apron. Babs presented a far more
imposing appearance in a white frock and pink ribbons, underneath
which the bare little brown feet were peeping. Anna would willingly
have made friends with her, but Verity advised her to wait. "Babs
will not be sociable until she has had her tea," she remarked; "we
had better take no notice of her for the present," and indeed that
much-enduring and long-suffering infant was at that moment so
reduced by famine as to attempt swallowing her own dimpled fist.
"What a capital boy she would make!" thought Anna as she followed
Mrs. Keston into the dining-room; for the dark, closely-cropped head
and a certain boyish freedom of step and bearing gave her this idea.
The dining-room was rather a gloomy apartment; the front windows
were high and narrow, and the overhanging balcony rather obscured
the light; the folding-doors had been taken away, but though this
added to the size of the room, there was no additional cheerfulness
gained, as the glass door in the inner room, which once had opened
into a pleasant garden, now merely led into a covered way to the
This sombre apartment was furnished in a curious manner, which made
people open their eyes with astonishment until they found out that
Amias Keston had acquired his household goods at second-hand sales.
The table of good Spanish mahogany had been a bargain, but it hardly
harmonised with a Sheraton cabinet and a light oak sideboard, though
both were good of their kind. Then the chairs had been picked up
singly, and were of all sizes and patterns. Amias always sat in a
grandfather chair of carved dark oak at the bottom of the table, and
Verity in a high-backed chair in light oak and red morocco, while
others were rosewood, mahogany, or Sheraton. Nothing matched,
nothing harmonized; it was merely a curiosity shop in which they
stored their purchases. So there were plush curtains and Japanese
screens, a bronze Mazeppa, and an alabaster boy and butterfly, while
blue dragon china and some lovely bits of Chelsea were in a corner
cupboard. Anna, who knew there was no other living room, looked
vainly round for some feminine occupation, and Verily, who was as
sharp as a needle, seemed to guess her thought.
"Oh, I never sit here," she said confidentially, "it is too dark;
Babs and I prefer the studio," and Anna did not wonder at the
preference. The studio was a delightful room, high and well-
proportioned, and with plenty of light. The part used by Amias
Keston as his workshop was quite bare with the exception of the
sitter's throne and an easel or two; this could at any time be
curtained off to secure privacy.
The rest of the studio was fitted up as a sitting-room, with rugs,
easy-chairs, and a couch, and a table with work and writing-
materials. Here, in a retired nook behind an old screen, stood
"Babs's" bassinette, where she took her mid-day naps.
"This is Verity's and Bab's playroom," explained Malcolm with a
patronising air; "here the Martha of the establishment takes her
well-earned rest." Then Verity flashed a sudden look at him which
expressed unmitigated indignation.
"Hit one of your own size, Malcolm, my boy," observed a voice
genially from the distance; and then, as Verity drew back a curtain,
Anna saw a big, burly-looking man, with shaggy hair and a fair
moustache, painting at an easel.
He was so big, so colossal in fact, that he seemed to shake the
floor as he walked; everything was big about him, his hands and
feet, his voice and his laugh, and when he whispered his words were
audible at the other end of the room. This giant among men wore an
old brown velvet coat, very frayed about the elbows, and though he
was by no means handsome, there was such a pleasant, kindly
expression on his face that Anna felt drawn to him at once.
"How do you do, Miss Sheldon?" he said, as Malcolm introduced them;
"my wife and I have long wished to make your acquaintance," and here
his big hand seemed to swallow Anna's up.
"Go on with your painting, Goliath," interrupted Malcolm. "He is
working against time, Anna, and every daylight hour is of
consequence to him; it was Verity who drew that curtain that he
might not be disturbed;" and then Amias Keston stretched his huge
arms and gave himself a shake.
"The Philistines are upon thee, Samson! Yea-Verily, my child, if the
Snark is back, you had better tell her to bring us some tea." But
here Malcolm again interposed. Goliath was far too busy, they would
have tea upstairs, and then sit on the balcony afterwards; and
Verity understood him at once. "Hepsy is back," she said composedly;
"please take Miss Sheldon upstairs, and then Amias will go on with
his work, and I will send up tea as soon as possible;" but before
they were out of the studio Goliath was back at his easel and
painting away for dear life.
MORE ANCIENT HISTORY WITH VERITY
Heart, are you great enough
For a love that never tires?
Oh heart, are you great enough for love?
I have heard of thorns and briers?
As the studio door closed behind them, Anna said regretfully, "I
wish we could have stayed longer, Malcolm, I wanted to see more of
that nice Mr. Keston; and I did so long to peep at his picture."
"Did you?" observed Malcolm in a surprised tone, but he was
evidently gratified at this expression of interest. "Well, we will
go back there presently, when he has finished that bit of drapery
that is bothering him. Goliath is as nervous as a cat when he is
working against time. He and Verity have arranged a regular code of
signals," he went on: "when the curtain is drawn right across the
arch, it means no admittance except on business, and all loafers and
trespassers will be prosecuted. On these occasions Verity is a
perfect dragon, and he would be an audacious man who would try to
force his way in."
Anna nodded as though this explanation satisfied her, and then she
followed Malcolm up the steep, narrow staircase into a pleasant,
well-furnished room, with two windows opening on to the balcony.
Everything was in good taste and thoroughly well chosen. The dark
oak bureau and writing-table, the book-shelves filled with well-
bound volumes, the proof engravings on the walls, and a handsome
bronze group on the mantelpiece; while the deep easy-chairs and
couch gave it an air of comfort.
Anna had been there before, but she always reiterated her first
remark on seeing it, "that it was the most comfortable room she had
ever entered. You have such good taste, Malcolm," she would say;
"even your paperweight and the coal-scuttle are artistic."
"I am a lover of the picturesque," he would return solemnly, "and
anything ugly or unsuitable would jar on me. I like subdued tints
and mellow rich tones; that is why I bind my books in buff-coloured
Russian calf. They harmonise so splendidly with the dark oak and the
faded russet and brown and blue of the rug. Take my advice, Anna,
cultivate your eye, and you will add much to the pleasures of life."
When Anna had inspected the latest engraving and tested the
Chesterfield couch--a recent purchase--they went out on the balcony
until tea was ready. A red-haired, buxom-looking maid brought it in.
It was evident that the mistress of the establishment was not
without resources, for quite a pretty, tempting little meal was
spread on the oval table. There was sponge-cake and shortbread, a
dish of fruit, and delicious bread-and-butter. The beautiful teacups
were Malcolm's own property, and had been picked up by him at a
fabulous price in Wardour Street, and the little melon-shaped teapot
had been a present from his mother. Verity always washed up these
teacups herself. She said it was just for the pleasure of handling
such lovely things, but in reality she knew Hepsy's clumsy fingers
were not to be trusted.
Anna had only taken her place at the tea-tray, and was manipulating
the curiously-shaped sugar-tongs rather carefully, when Malcolm
looked at her a little searchingly. "Hurry up," he said severely;
"how long do you suppose I am going to wait for your opinion of the
Then Anna, who had been vaguely alarmed by his judicial tone, filled
up the teacups with a reassured air and in a leisurely manner. "You
can hardly expect me to judge of any human being in five minutes,"
she answered with some show of reason.
"That sounds very plausible, my dear, but I can read you like
print," and here Malcolm looked at her squarely. "You may as well
confess, Anna, you are far more struck with Goliath than with poor
Anna looked rather guilty; as usual, Malcolm's penetration had not
deceived him. She had been most favourably impressed with the good-
humoured giant, with his honest face and kindly blue eyes; but
Verity, a brown slip of a girl with big solemn eyes, how was she to
perjure herself by pretending that she was attracted by such a
unique little piece of eccentricity.
"I wish she did not look so like a boy," she observed in a
deprecating voice. But Malcolm took this remark in good part.
"Oh, you mean her hair," he replied coolly. "Oh, poor girl, that is
the result of brain fever. She had the most wonderful hair you ever
saw. When she let it down it quite swept the floor, and though it
was so dark it had such splendid shades in it. Have you ever seen
Keston's 'Leah and Rachel at the Well'?" Then, as Anna shook her
head, "Well, Verity was his model for Leah. Leah is filling her
pitcher and looking down into the well, so the eyes are hidden, but
it is Verity's small brown face to the life. I always say that was
his best picture. His Rachel was marvellous, but I liked Leah best;
she was more human somehow, and those dark plaits of hair escaping
from her turban were so beautiful. Poor little Leah! a month later
they robbed her of her chief beauty by cutting off her hair. Old
Goliath nearly sobbed as he told me."
Anna's face was full of sympathy. "Mr. Keston must be very fond of
her," she returned in such a surprised and dubious tone that Malcolm
"You are not very flattering to poor little Verity," he observed,
"but I can assure you that Goliath worships the ground she walks on.
They are the happiest couple in the world. Amias is a good fellow
and a fine artist, who will make his mark some day when he has got
rid of his cranks, but he has not an ounce of his wife's brains; she
is the cleverest and brightest little woman I ever met, and she has
a heart big enough to hold the whole world."
Anna pondered over this splendid eulogium with some surprise; then
she said quickly--
"You must allow me a little time before I can fairly judge of your
friends, Malcolm. I know so little about Mrs. Keston. I remember you
once promised to tell me about her early life, but somehow there has
been no opportunity."
"Let us go out on the balcony and have our talk there, while I enjoy
a cigarette," was Malcolm's answer to this. "We must not go back to
the studio for another hour;" and then Anna took possession of one
deck-chair while Malcolm occupied the other.
There was a short silence while Malcolm lighted his cigarette. Anna
looked down on the broad gray river and a passing steamer with eyes
shining with happiness. To her the hour was simply perfect. Malcolm
was beside her, and in his kindest and most brotherly mood. What did
it matter on what subject they talked? Verity or Cedric or Lincoln's
Inn--anything that interested him would interest her. When Malcolm
held forth on his favourite theories, Anna would listen with
unflagging attention, and never once hint at her lack of
comprehension, although the effort to understand him had made her
head ache. The very sound of his voice was music in her ears, and
this unconscious flattery was very soothing to his masculine
Malcolm, who had masterful ways of his own, was bent on convincing
Anna that she was wrong in her estimate of Verity Keston, and he was
very willing at this moment to tell her all he knew of her.
"I have heard all about things from Goliath," he began, "and Verity
often talks about her old life to me. Neither of them make any
secret about it. She was only seven or eight when he first saw her;
she had just lost her mother. Her father's name was Westbrook; he
was a scene-painter, a thriftless ne'er-do-weel, whose intemperate
habits had brought them to poverty and broken his wife's heart; but
in his sober moments he was good to the child, and she certainly
seemed devoted to him."
"Oh dear, how sad it sounds, Malcolm!"
"My dear, it was far sadder in reality. Think of that lonely little
creature, with no one to guide and befriend her except the woman of
"In her rough way Mrs. Parker kept watch over the child, but she had
children of her own and a sick husband, and had to drudge and slave
for her family and lodgers from morning until night. Oh, I must tell
you her answer to a well-meaning district visitor one day, Anna. The
lady had just said very sweetly, 'It is so good for us to count our
blessings, Mrs. Parker; we are so apt to forget our thanksgivings.'"
"'Humph,' returned Mrs. Parker, 'I don't reckon that I shall take
long in counting mine--unless backaches and singing in your ears are
amongst them. But then we have got something to look forward to in
t'other world--there'll be no wash-tubs and no district visitors
there, with their texts and high-falutin' nonsense.'"
Anna laughed merrily. In her quiet way she had a strong sense of
"I think I like Mrs. Parker, Malcolm."
"Verity liked her too; she always says that she owes a great deal to
her motherly care. 'I got a few cuffs sometimes,' she once said to
me, 'but I daresay I deserved them, and, poor woman, she had
troubles of her own to bear. But on cold nights I can't forget how
she would come upstairs to tuck me up, and see if I were warm
enough; and once, when I could not sleep for shivering, she brought
me up some hot drink, and covered me up in an old shawl of her own;'
and as long as Mrs. Parker lived Verity never forgot her.'"
"I am beginning to feel interested in her, Malcolm."
"My dear child, if you could only hear Goliath talk on this subject
your heart would ache for many a day. Think of that poor child
growing up to womanhood in such surroundings; spending her days in a
dirty, bare studio, with only rough, dissipated men for her
companions--though to do them justice they treated her with respect
and kindness. Somehow she picked up a desultory education among
them. One broken-down old scene-painter taught her to read and
write, and another, a French artist, taught her the rudiments of
French, and also to play on the violin. 'They all treated me as a
plaything,' she once said to me, 'and poor as they were, they would
bring me toys and sweets. I think, nay, I am sure, that they were
careful of their talk before me, but it was a strange life for a
child. Very often I could not see their faces for the cloud of
tobacco smoke, and sometimes the atmosphere was so stifling that I
preferred to sit outside on the cold dark landing.'"
"Poor mite, what a life!"
"Amias told me once that he should never forget the first time he
saw her. He was a mere lad himself of sixteen or seventeen, and a
student in a life academy."
"Some errand had brought him to Westbrook's lodgings. It was a dull,
cold January afternoon, and though it was only three o'clock, he
said the light was so dim that he nearly stumbled over the child.
She was sitting huddled up in the doorway of the studio, with an old
red shawl over her head to protect her against the draughts, and a
tiny black kitten was mewing piteously in her arms."
"'Kitty's crying for her mother pussy,' she said, looking at him
without the least shyness, 'but I want her to keep me company out
here. It is not kind of her to cry.'"
"'But it is too cold for you and Kitty too,' observed Amias; 'you
had better come in with me.' But the child shook her head."
"'No, I durst not,' she whispered; 'daddy's drunk, and he is
flinging things about so hard that Kitty and me might get hurt; so I
am making believe we are the Prince and Princess in the enchanted
forest. Will you stop and play with me?' and actually Amias--he was
always a good fellow--squatted on the ground beside her and entered
into the game. From that day they were the best of friends, and he
was Verity's favourite playmate. On Sunday afternoons he took her
out to feed the ducks in St. James's Park, or to watch the boys sail
their boats on the pond in Kensington Gardens. He was only a poor
art student, but he would forego a meal cheerfully to provide some
little treat for his protegee. As the days grew darker with trouble,
and Westbrook grew more hopeless and degraded in his habits, the
neglected child turned to Amias for help and sympathy. There were
terrible scenes towards the last, but I will spare you the fearful
details; it was a miracle how any girl of fifteen could endure what
Verity had to bear. For some months Westbrook's friends were fully
aware that he was hardly accountable for his actions, and there was
an attempt made to shut him up in an asylum. It was certain that the
man was insane, and that his daughter was not safe from his
violence. Amias concurred in this opinion, and the necessary steps
were taken. Unfortunately, either the thing was bungled or Westbrook
was too cunning for them, but before they could secure him he had
hidden himself in Verity's room, and when the poor child entered he
thought she was his keeper and felled her brutally to the ground.
They were only just in time to save her. Don't look so pale, Anna, I
am not going to harrow up your feelings. It is not a nice story.
Westbrook was raving in a strait waistcoat before night, but he did
not live many months afterwards;" and then Malcolm related the rest
of the story.
It was after that terrible experience that Verity had brain fever
and lost her beautiful hair. She had only just left the hospital
when the news of her father's death reached her. It was Amias who
The good fellow had visited her constantly, and as soon as she was
strong enough to be moved, he took lodgings for her in a farmhouse
in Kent where he had often stayed. The woman of the house was a
simple, kindly creature who had grown-up daughters of her own, and
Amias knew he could safely trust Verity to her care.
No environment could have been better for the girl: the beautiful
air, the fresh country sights and sounds, soothed and strengthened
her worn nerves. When Verity woke in the morning, instead of the
rumbling of carts and wagons, she heard the fluting of blackbirds
and thrushes in the orchard below, and the lowing of cows for their
pastures. Everything was new and fresh to her; every flower in the
hedgerow, every bird singing in the copse, was a miracle and
revelation; the old miserable life had slipped away from her like a
disused and faded garment, and her soul seemed new-born and steeped
in beauty. "Oh, the peace and the loveliness of it all!" she would
say to Amias when he came down for his Sunday visit. "Am I really
Verity--Verity Westbrook, who used to live in that dreadful Montagu
Street?" And then she would look wistfully at him--for she had grown
strangely timid and self-distrustful. But he would only laugh at her
in his kindly way. "Yea-Verily, my child, it is certainly you
yourself," he would answer; "when Nature made you she broke her
mould, there could not be two editions of Verity." Sometimes, when
she was low and weak, and memories of the past horrors were too
vivid, and even his big laugh and little jokes failed to drive them
away, she would cling to his arm and entreat him not to send her
back. "If I see that place again I shall die," she once said, and
the look in her eyes, and the way her small hand went to her throat,
as though the very thought impeded her breathing, told him that she
spoke the truth.
What was he to do with her? That was the question that occupied him
for many a day. The summer had passed, and autumn was well advanced
before he found the right answer.
One October afternoon he had taken her out for a walk as usual, and
they had sat down to rest on a bench under a wide-spreading chestnut
tree overlooking a village green. An aged donkey and some geese were
feeding near them, but there was no one in sight. The old gammers
and gaffers of the village were sitting by their firesides, for, in
spite of the sunshine, the air was cold, and more than once Verity
shivered as she sat.
"This wind is too cold for you, my child," he said presently; "let
us walk on." But she shook her head.
"No, please let us stay a little longer. I do so love this village.
If I were an artist I would paint it. Amias," interrupting herself,
"there is something I want to say to you. I have been at dear
Colbrook seven months--seven happy, beautiful months--but I am well
now, and quite strong, and it is time for me to work and get my own
Verity spoke with great determination, but he noticed that her lips
were white and drawn, and that there was a strained look in her
eyes, and a sort of pitiful feeling came over him, such as a mother
would feel for a suffering child. In spite of her brave words, he
knew how she dreaded to face the world, though her womanly pride and
spirit would prevent her from telling him so. More than once she had
hinted to him that she felt herself a burden on his generosity; but
at the first word he had checked her.
"How old are you, dear?" he asked by way of answer to her remark.
The question seemed to surprise her.
"Oh, Amias, don't you remember I was seventeen on the first of May,
and Mrs. Craven gave us a syllabub in honour of the occasion?" and
Verity's dark eyes were a little reproachful. It seemed so strange
to her that he could have forgotten that day. But Amias only tugged
at his moustache and pondered deeply.
"I have it," he said briskly. "Verity, you shall be married on your
eighteenth birthday, and you shall marry me." Then, as the girl
shrank from him, and her thin face was covered with a burning blush
at these unexpected words, his manner changed and grew very gentle.
"Darling, you need not be afraid of me. Every hair of your head is
sacred to me, for I love you dearly. I will take such care of you,
my little Verity, You will be my child as well as my wife. You can
trust your old friend Amias, can you not?" and though such an idea
had never entered her head, Verity's confidence in him was so great
that she actually put her hand in his and promised to marry him.
Never for one moment did she repent her resolution, and before the
wedding day arrived she had learned to love him dearly. Amias had
not long lost his mother, and the old house at Chelsea was empty
when he took Verity there after their brief honeymoon. She was
almost frightened at its magnificence until her husband explained to
her that they would be too poor to keep it all for themselves, and
that a friend of his had taken the drawing-room floor and would live
Such were the outlines of the story related by Malcolm, but in
reality much of it was only learnt later on from Verity's lips; but
even the slight sketch as Malcolm told it affected Anna almost to
"Oh, how she must have loved him!" were her first words when he had
finished. "Malcolm, I know you will laugh at my enthusiasm, but I
think Mr. Keston is one of the grandest and noblest of men. What a
friend he has been to her all her life--she owes her life and peace
and happiness to him! What would have become of her when she left
the hospital if he had not cared for her and placed her with those
kind people at the farm?"
"One can easily answer that question," returned Malcolm; "she would
not have been alive now. Her nerves were fearfully shattered, Anna,
and she was as weak as a baby when she arrived at the Hill Farm.
Amias told me himself that he carried her into house like an infant.
There, dry your eyes, lady fair, all's well that ends well. Now, as
our hour is up, I think we may safely venture into the studio
THE RECORD OF AN IMPOTENT GENIUS
And whether you climb up the mountain or go down the hill
to the valley, whether you journey to the end of the world or
merely walk round your house, none but yourself shall you meet
on the highway of fate.--MAETERLINCK.
The door of the studio was slightly ajar, and the sound of a
singularly sweet voice crooning out a lullaby was plainly audible.
Malcolm, who was about to knock, changed his mind and peeped in
through the aperture; then he beckoned to Anna to do likewise.
It was certainly a pretty picture before them. Verity was sitting in
her low nursery chair, in the shadow of the heavy, ruby-coloured
curtains, hushing her child to sleep, while her husband, at a little
distance, stood before his easel; but she was so utterly transformed
that Anna would not have known her.
She wore the dress of a Roman peasant; heavy gilt beads were clasped
round her throat and fell over her white pleated chemisette, a gay-
coloured scarf was arranged picturesquely on her head and gave
warmth and colour to the small brown face. On her lap lay Babs,
open-eyed and rebellious, kicking up her bare little feet and
humming baby fashion in pleased accompaniment.
"Oh, Amias," exclaimed Verity at last in a laughing voice, "what am
I to do with this naughty girlie, who refuses to go to sleep and
only laughs in her mother's face? Oh, you darling, you darling!" and
here Verity smothered the little one with kisses.
"Behold the stern parent!" observed Malcolm mockingly at this point.
"Verity, that rogue of a Babs is a match for you already. Why don't
you put her in her cot and order her to go to sleep, instead of
crooning absurd ditties over her? Oh, I thought so," severely, as
Babs grasped her toes with her dimpled hands in the practised style
of an acrobat, and gurgled defiantly in his face; "she is just
exulting over her own victory as an emancipated daughter."
"Babs takes after her great-grandmother," observed Amias cheerfully
from the background; "it is the law of heredity, you see. Her name
was also Barbara--Barbara Allen, and she was remarkable for her
brown skin, her gipsy beauty, and her incorrigible self-will. She
had lovers by the score, and flouted them all except my great-
grandfather, whom I have reason to believe wished himself dead
before he had been married a week. She was the mother of fifteen,
and lived to a good old age, and was a pride and terror to the
neighbourhood, and the mantle of her self-will has fallen upon
Barbara Maud Keston. Yea-Verily, my child, the oracle has spoken,"
and Amias went on with his work, while Babs gurgled at him in
delighted appreciation of these paternal sentiments.
"Would Miss Sheldon care to see my picture, Malcolm?" he asked the
next minute in his usual voice; "it is nearly finished, and I shall
be glad of an opinion;" and then he drew back from the canvas, and
Malcolm and Anna took his place.
It was one of those little studies from life that appeal so strongly
to the popular taste, and in spite of its simplicity and absence of
breadth, it was exquisitely painted. It was only a couple of organ-
grinders resting during the noontide heat. The man was sitting on
the curb with a short pipe in his mouth--a handsome rascal of a
fellow, evidently an Italian, with gold rings in his ears. The
woman, in peasant costume, looked heated and weary, and had a baby
in her arms. Both mother and child were painted from life.
"How beautiful!" whispered Anna, looking reverently at the giant
"It is one of your best pictures, Goliath," observed Malcolm, "but I
suppose you do not intend to exhibit it next year?"
"Oh no," he returned, "it is already bespoken by a rich Australian.
Rainsford brought him here to see if he would give me an order, and
he fell in love with my organ-grinders at once. I had a sort of idea
that I would keep it myself, for the sake of Verity and the kid; but
with a family"--here Amias smoothed his yellow moustache proudly--
"one is bound to keep the pot boiling."
"I did not want it to go," sighed Verity, who had just then sidled
up to her husband--she looked a mere child beside him--"it is such a
perfect likeness of Babs." And then she withdrew with the rebel,
while the others made a turn round the studio; and Amias showed them
sketches, and also a more important picture that was to be exhibited
at the Royal Academy the following year. Verity was the model again-
-this time as a sick gipsy girl lying on a heap of straw in a barn,
while the caravan and encampment were painted most realistically,
even to the old horse and shaggy donkey hobbled to the trunk of a
tree, with a thin yellow cur near them. When completed it would be a
striking picture: the smoky sunset tints of a November afternoon
were faithfully depicted; and a woodman's hut, just falling into
decay, with golden lichen on the rotting roof, was marvellously
painted. Malcolm stood before it in a rapt mood of ecstasy, then he
struck himself dramatically on the breast.
"Goliath," he said sorrowfully, "I am the most miserable of men, a
'mute inglorious Milton' is nothing to me. Nature has created me a
lover of the picturesque. In heart and soul I am an artist, I dabble
in colours, I dream of lights and shades and glorious effects; but
the power of working out my ideas is denied me. If I try to paint a
tree my friends gibe at me. I am a poor literary hack; but I give
you my word, my dear old Philistine, that I would willingly change
places with you." Anna smiled, she was accustomed to this sort of
talk; but to her surprise Verity, who had just rejoined them, looked
"I am always so sorry for Mr. Herrick when he says this sort of
thing," she observed in a low voice aside to Anna. "He means us to
laugh, but he is quite serious. Amias and I just know how he feels.
It must be so sad to love the beautiful with all one's heart and not
have the power to create--to be just a thought and word painter and
"Perhaps if Malcolm took lessons he might be able to paint in time,"
suggested Anna. She felt rather culpable, as though all these years
she had not sympathised enough with him; but then it was so
difficult for any one to know when he was serious.
It was evident that Verity understood him.
"Oh no, it is too late now," she remarked; "besides, the gift has
been denied him. But he helps Amias so much by his clever
suggestions. He would not tell you, of course, but this caravan
scene is all his idea. He came upon a gipsy encampment in a Kentish
lane one afternoon, and he made Amias go down the next day and see
it. There was the woodman's hut, and the barn, and the hobbled horse
and donkey. Amias was down there at the inn three days, making
sketches for the picture, and getting some of the gipsies to sit to
him. There was one woman ill in the tent, but Amias declared she
looked more like a sick ape, she was so ugly--so I had to be the
"Isn't it rather tiring work, Mrs. Keston?"
"Oh dear, no," returned Verity smiling; "it never tires me to do
things for Amias; and then he lets me talk to him all the time. I
like to feel I am useful to him, and can help him a little with his
"Oh yes, I can understand that," returned Anna softly. She thought
Verity looked quite beautiful as she spoke; perhaps the costume of a
Roman peasant suited her, but Anna, who was standing quite close to
her, noticed the wonderful softness of the brown eyes and the length
of the curling lashes. Babs had grown drowsy at last, and Verity had
placed her in the cot. Then they all sat down for a brief chat
before it was time for Malcolm to take Anna home.
They had been talking about Amias Keston's unfinished picture, and,
as usual, Malcolm had been holding forth in his role of art critic,
when one of those sudden pauses which seem to drop softly between
intimate friends followed his concluding speech. Verity held up her
finger with the hackneyed allusion to a passing angel, at which
Malcolm laughed scornfully.
"You are too poetical, my dear Verity," he observed; "it was no
white-robed celestial vision brushing past us in the twilight and
fanning us with plumed and balmy wings; the gliding shadow that
moved between us was merely the guardian genius who presides over my
destiny. But as he passed I touched his mantle"--and here Malcolm
regarded his audience with infinite meaning.
No one hazarded an observation. Amias, who had been filling his pipe
with tobacco, looked at it longingly and returned it to his pocket.
This process he repeated at intervals from sheer force of habit.
With his pipe alight he was an ideal listener; without it his
attention wandered and grew drowsy. But Malcolm, wrapt up in his own
visionary conceits, did not see the pathos of the action.
He was on his favourite hobby-horse--life, and its limitations, its
enforced denials and futile sacrifices, was opening before his eyes.
"I am going to write a book," he announced abruptly. "I mean to take
the world by storm--to say my say--for once. It will not be a novel.
The public is inundated by the flood of fiction that threatens to
engulf it. We have biographies by the ton, in two, three, or four
volumes; in every public place in England we set up our golden
image, and we bid men, women, and children fall down and do it
homage. Hero-worship is our favourite cult; woe to that man who
refuses to burn incense before it!"
"I suppose you intend to bring out a volume of essays?" queried
"No, my dear fellow," returned Malcolm rather mendaciously, for he
was planning a series of essays at that very time. "No trifles and
syllabubs for me--froth above and sweetness and jam beneath. Every
one writes essays nowadays, and tries to stir with his little
Gulliver pen the yeasty foam raised by a Carlyle or an Emerson. One
might as well watch the effort of a small hairy caterpillar to
follow in the wake of a sea-serpent. Oh ye gods and little fishes,
could anything be more grotesque!"
"But the book?" growled Amias, with a surreptitious glance at his
"Oh, the book," returned Malcolm loftily, "it is a sudden
inspiration, but I feel the grip of my Frankenstein already; I have
not yet let go the mantle of my guardian genius. It will be
autobiographical, expansive, and deep as human nature itself, and I
shall call it 'The Record of an Impotent Genius.'"
"Good lack!" observed Amias in a disgusted tone, "what a drivelling
title! Why impotent, in the name of all that is rational?"
"My dear old Philistine," returned his friend in a measured voice,
"I use the word impotent in the meaning attached to it in Holy Writ,
and as my beloved and well-thumbed Thesaurus uses it: impotent,
powerless, unarmed, weaponless, paralytic, crippled, inoperative,
ineffectual, inadequate. Think of the strong man bound for a
lifetime, Goliath--of a dumb and palsied genius gazing out of a
prison-house. Could even a blinded Samson equal the pathos of such a
Amias shook his head mutely, and felt a third time for his pipe, and
plugged the tobacco tenderly with his finger. In some moods he never
argued with Malcolm.
"I shall write the autobiography of this poor tormented soul," went
on Malcolm--"this dumb poet, this crippled artist, to whom the
birthright of failure has descended, who has to look on for a
lifetime at other men's labours, and to whom the power of expression
and creation is denied, who has been gifted with the seeing eye in
"Oh that seeing eye!" groaned Amias, who had heard this observation
at least a hundred times. Then Verity began to laugh, and, to Anna's
surprise, Malcolm followed suit. Then he clapped Amias heavily on
"Where's your pipe, Goliath? Poor old Philistine, he is a gone coon
without his baccy. Fetch him a match somebody." And as Amias feebly
protested against this, he went on--"Anna is quite a Bohemian, and
rather likes the smell of tobacco. I will have a cigarette to keep
you company," and in another minute Amias's broad countenance wore
its usual expression of placid enjoyment.
The conversation turned on Cedric Templeton, and Malcolm asked
Verity if she could transform the lumber-room into a bedroom for two
or three nights for the use of his friend. This she at once
cheerfully undertook to do, and promised to have it ready by the
following evening, and then he informed them of his intended visit
Verity's eyes at once challenged her husband. "Staplegrove," she
said in a surprised voice, "do you mean Staplegrove in Surrey? Why,
that is the very place where the Logans live."
"Are you speaking of Matt Logan?" asked Malcolm.
"Of course he lives down there; but I heard the other day that he
had come in for some money, and had gone abroad for his wife's
"Oh, that's right enough," returned Amias. "Verity and I saw them
off two days ago. They have gone to the Black Forest. I meant to
have told you before, but something put it out of my head--that he
has lent us his cottage."
"What a piece of good luck! Upon my word, I am inclined to envy you,
"There is no need for you to do that," returned Amias cordially.
"There will be a 'prophet's chamber' ready for you when you feel
inclined to run down. It is a nice little place enough. 'The Crow's
Nest' they call it, though I am not sure there are any crows about.
Verity and I ran down to have a look at it. The house is a mere
cottage, only just room to swing two cats and a kitten--not a corner
for any impotent genius to woo the drowsy god in," and here Amias
gave a great laugh; "but there is a queer sort of garden room Logan
has built which he calls his workshop, and part of it is partitioned
off as a bedroom. It is a bit airy in the winter, he says, but
simply perfect in the summer. You can sleep with your window wide
open, and great tea-roses nodding in at you, and now and then a
night-jar or a black-winged bat flitting between you and the moon."
"It is a little bare certainly," observed Verity, "but so pleasant,
and I think I could make it comfortable for you, Mr. Herrick. The
side window looks out on a flower-border. There are great yellow
clumps of evening primroses and milky white nicotiana, and the roses
are simply everywhere."
"How long shall you stay?" asked Malcolm in an interested voice.
"Well, the Logans have offered it to us until the end of October,"
returned Verity; "and as it is so hot in town, Amias proposed this
morning that we should try and get off in another ten days. I think
we shall stay there until the end of summer."
"And what am I to do without you both--a lonely bachelor?" exclaimed
Malcolm. "For selfishness and want of feeling commend me to married
people. With regard to their less fortunate fellows they have simply
"My dear fellow, you will be as right as a trivet," returned Amias.
"You will have the Snark to attend to your comforts, and the
maternal Snark--a sad-faced but most respectable woman--to attend to
her daughter's. We have the Logan's servant, and a slip of a girl
besides, a sort of Marchioness, who answers to the name of Miranda.
Verity will find her a comfort with Babs."
"And I am to run down to the Crow's Nest when I like?" Then Amias
nodded a cheerful assent.
"We shall expect you from Saturday till Monday, and as many more
days as you like to give us. You are part of the household, my dear
fellow. I wish we could offer a room to Miss Sheldon; but we shall
have to turn the spare room into a nursery. By the bye, Malcolm, I
strolled down the road with Logan and passed the Wood House. It
looks a charming place, and it is only a stone's throw from the
Malcolm felt vaguely interested. What a small world it was after
all! He was going to make acquaintance with Cedric's people in this
remote corner of Surrey, and lo and behold, Goliath and his
belongings were following him.
Well, he was sick of the heat and turmoil of town, and it would not
be a bad plan to take possession of the garden room, and make Verity
find a quiet nook where he could write undisturbed. He really had a
brilliant scheme in his head--some essays which should interlace and
overlap each other like a linked chain of curious workmanship. He
had already accumulated his material, and he only wanted leisure to
write. He knew his trade well, and his strong, vigorous style, his
admirable choice of words, his pure English, and above all, his
complete knowledge of his subject, were already bringing him into
notice with the critics.
Yes, his summer holiday should be spent at the Crow's Nest, and he
would work and play at his own sweet will. It was a pity Anna could
not join them for a week or two. She and Verity would have become
such friends; and then he remembered his mother's prejudices.
Besides, she was thinking of going to Whitby, and if so she would
expect Anna to accompany her.
It was time for them to go now; but, as they drove home in a hansom,
Malcolm suddenly laid his hand on Anna's. "You are very quiet,
dear," he said gently. "Have I tired you, or has your day
disappointed you?" But he was amazed when the girl turned her face
to him, for he saw her eyes were full of unshed tears.
"Oh no, it has been perfect--you and your friends have been so good
to me, Malcolm. It will be like a beautiful picture--the river and
the studio and the sunset. But why must pleasant things come to an
end?" And then she sighed, and said half to herself, "There will be
no Wood House or Crow's Nest for me;" and Anna's voice was so sad as
she said this that Malcolm felt quite a pang of pity cross him. Why
was Anna's life so dull, and his so full of interest?
THE WOOD HOUSE
Without love there is no interior pleasantness of life.
It was a lovely July afternoon when Malcolm Herrick and his friend
arrived at Earlsfield. A smart dog-cart, Cedric's own especial
property, was waiting for them at the station. As they mounted to
their places, and Cedric took the reins from the groom, he pointed
out the good points of the mare with an air of complacency and
satisfaction that somewhat amused Malcolm; but the next moment he
said in a boyish manner, "You see, Herrick, I have not got quite
used to my new toy. My sisters gave me the trap on my last birthday.
I have had Brown Becky for two years. She is good for either driving
or riding; but I dropped a hint once, in Dinah's hearing, that I
longed for a dog-cart, and though she said nothing at the time, she
and Elizabeth put their heads together, and they got Mr. Brodrick, a
neighbour of ours, to choose it."
"Your sisters are very good to you," observed Malcolm in rather a
patronising manner. He even smiled to himself furtively at the
thought of the two gentle spinsters. "A good-looking boy like Cedric
is always spoilt by his womankind," he said to himself. "If I ever
get on intimate terms with them, which is very unlikely, I shall
tell them that all this petting and spoiling is not good for the
lad, and will only unfit him for his work in life. Women have no
sense of proportion," he continued rather irritably; "they either do
too much or too little, and the Misses Templeton seem to be no
exceptions to the rule."
They had left Earlsfield behind them, and were now climbing the
long, winding ascent that led to Staplegrove. As the road grew
steeper, Brown Becky slackened her pace.
The heavy storms had tempered the great heat, and though the sky was
cloudless and the sunshine brilliant, the trees meeting overhead
gave them a pleasant shade, and a soft, refreshing breeze blew in
their faces. Malcolm drew a long breath of delight.
"There is nothing like the country after all," he observed. "When I
have made my pile, I shall pitch my tent or build myself a hut far
from the madding crowd, and bid good-bye to Lincoln's Inn, and
Piccadilly, and club-land, and all the delights of modern
"Not you, old fellow," returned Cedric sagaciously. "Why, you would
be bored to death in no time." But Malcolm shook his head.
"Am I not a lover of the picturesque, my dear boy? Nature intended
me for a country gentleman." Malcolm so dearly loved argument for
its own sake that he did not always consider it necessary to weigh
the accurate truth of his words. He liked to take different views of
the same subject. On more than one occasion in Cedric's hearing he
had compared himself with Charles Lamb.
Custom had made the presence of society, streets and crowds, the
theatre and the picture-gallery, an absolute necessity. Why, in some
moods he would take this as his text, and discourse most eloquently
on what he called the spectacle of the streets. "There are few days
when there are not groups of Hogarth-like figures," he would say--
"sketches from the life, abounding in humour or infinite pathos.
There is a blind beggar and his dog over in a corner by the Temple
station," he continued, "that I never can pass without putting a
penny in the box. The dog's face is perfectly human in its
expression. The eyes speak. I gave him a bone once--a meaty bone it
was, too"--and here Malcolm looked a little ashamed of himself--"in
fact, it was a mutton chop, and I stole it off the luncheon table. I
kept the beggar in conversation while he ate it. Sir," for he was
addressing Amias Keston at that moment, "that dog positively
grovelled at my feet with affection and gratitude."
"How many mutton chops has he had since?" asked his friend.
"He never had another," responded Malcolm sadly. "The carriage of a
greasy paper full of meat is too much even for my philanthropy; but
I take him dry biscuits--sometimes Spratt's meat biscuits--and
tobacco for the beggar. He is an old soldier and wears his medal;
and the dog--Boxer is his name--is like Nathan's ewe lamb to him. He
has got a crippled son--a natural he calls him--who fetches him home
in the evening. I saw him once," went on Malcolm, puffing slowly at
his cigarette, "an uncouth sort of chap on crutches; and when Boxer
saw him he nearly knocked him down, jumping on him for joy; and they
all went home together, quite a cheerful family party."
"You would not be happy away from town, Herrick," persisted Cedric;
"that's such a jolly crib of yours at Cheyne Walk;" for he had been
greatly struck by the Keston menage, and had quite fallen in love
with his quaint little hostess; while Verity, on her side, had taken
very kindly to the handsome lad, and made much of him for Malcolm's
"Oh, I am comfortable enough," returned Malcolm. "Chelsea is sacred
ground to me. Did not Carlyle live and die there! Besides, there is
the river and the bridges, and Battersea Park in the distance, and
the house where Gabriel Dante Rossetti lived, and an old historical
church, and the grand old Hospital, and all sorts of gray secluded
old nooks and corners over which I can gloat when I take my walks
"What a queer chap you are, Herrick," Cedric returned in a puzzled
tone. He felt rather like the bewildered Satyr when the traveller
blew hot and cold. But Malcolm was perfectly sincere. No man loved
the country more truly and sincerely. Nevertheless, the town was
equally necessary to him; and if he had been compelled to choose
between them, his casting vote would have been for town.
"We are at the top of the hill now," observed Cedric presently, with
a jerk of the reins to remind Brown Becky that she must not go to
sleep, and then they bowled swiftly down a wide-open road. They had
just passed a cross-road, which, as Cedric informed Malcolm, led to
Rotherwood, where the nearest church and shops were, when Malcolm's
attention was attracted by a house they were passing. It was a small
gray house, standing rather back from the road, with a garden at the
side full of gay flower-borders.
"Oh, that's the Crow's Nest," observed Cedric, "where the Logans
live; that is where your friends the Kestons are coming. Oh, there
is no need of looking at it now," as Malcolm craned his neck in his
effort to see more of it;, "we can go over it any day we like. Here
we are at the Wood House," and Cedric drove in at an open gate.
Malcolm looked round in pleased surprise. At that moment the house
was not visible. They seemed driving through a little wood--only the
carriage road winding between the fir trees was beautifully kept.
Now and then there was an open glade, but the greater part was
thickly fringed with heather, bracken, and whortleberry bushes.
The next moment Cedric turned a corner sharply, and a low gray house
and a well-kept tennis lawn were before them.
"What a charming place!" exclaimed Malcolm. "It certainly merits its
name--it is indeed a Wood House."
"Dinah is going to build a lodge next year," returned Cedric. "Lots
of people refuse to believe there is a house in the wood, and lose
themselves a dozen times before they find it. Ah, there's Dinah on
the look-out for us. Jump down, Herrick; I will follow you directly.
I want to speak to Forbes about the mare."
Malcolm did as he was told, and entered the long, softly-lighted
hall. Perhaps the sunshine had dazzled his eyes a little, but at
that instant he thought it was a young girl who was advancing to
meet him. The figure was so rounded and graceful, and there was such
alertness and youthfulness in the bearing; but as she came closer to
him he saw that her hair was quite gray.
"I am very pleased indeed to see you, Mr. Herrick," she observed in
a pleasant voice. "We have heard so much of you from Cedric that you
seem quite an old friend. I am afraid you will find us very quiet,
homely people; but I daresay Cedric will have prepared you for that.
He grumbles dreadfully, poor boy, at our old-fashioned, humdrum
"I can assure you, Miss Templeton, that the quiet will be very
restful after the turmoil of town," returned Malcolm seriously;
"and, as far as I can judge at present, Staplegrove seems a perfect
paradise;" and then Miss Templeton smiled and led the way into a
pleasant, cosy-looking drawing-room, with three windows opening on
to a terrace, below which lay a charming garden. On this side of the
house the wood ended abruptly; but in the distance, beyond a rose
arch, Malcolm caught sight of a little rustic bridge which seemed to
span a sort of green ravine.
Miss Templeton had taken her place at the tea-table; but Malcolm did
not at once follow her. "After all, town has its drawbacks," he said
half to himself; but Miss Templeton understood him.
"You mean one has to do without gardens there," she returned. "That
would never suit either my sister or myself; our garden is very dear
to us. You have not seen all its beauties yet, Mr. Herrick," she
continued brightly; "it is full of surprises. When I have given you
some tea we will go in search of my sister. She is sure to be down
at the Pool--we call it Ophelia's Pool, because it reminds us so of
a picture we have seen in the Royal Academy. It is our favourite
haunt on a hot summer's afternoon."
Malcolm made an appropriate reply, and for the next few minutes they
talked pleasantly of Staplegrove, and the short cut that led to
Rotherwood church and village; and then Cedric joined them, and
began chatting volubly to his sister; and Malcolm drank his tea and
watched them both. He owned to Anna afterwards that Dinah Templeton
was a revelation to him, and that all his preconceived notions of
her fell as flat as a pack of cards.
The demure and somewhat stately spinster he was expecting to see was
certainly not en evidence in this gray-haired, radiant-looking
woman; the soft, girlish bloom and the silvery hair were wonderfully
attractive; and yet what struck him most, with a sort of indefinable
surprise, was the mingled gentleness and brightness of expression;
there was such a wonderful clearness in the eyes--it somehow
reminded him of the innocent look of a happy child.
And it was to this sweet woman that Cedric was talking in that
cavalier fashion--with much affection certainly, but little
reverence, after the manner of the nineteenth-century youth. More
than once Malcolm muttered "Jackanapes" under his breath, and once
"Our young friend is too modern in his notions, Miss Templeton," he
observed. "Young Oxford is so cock-sure of everything under the sun-
-it is a fault of the age."
"Oh, do you think so?" and Miss Templeton looked relieved; for the
moment her serenity had seemed slightly clouded with what her sister
always called her "hen and duckling look."
"Oh, you may laugh, Cedric," looking at him fondly, "but I intend to
believe Mr. Herrick, he is older and more experienced. Oh, we have
such arguments sometimes," turning to Malcolm. "Cedric will have it
that we are not sufficiently up-to-date. We are mediaeval or in the
Dark Ages, according to him, but how is one to alter one's nature or
to talk unknown languages? My sister and I are very conservative,
and we cling to the beliefs and loves of the past."
"I don't believe Cedric wants to change you in the least, Miss
Templeton; he is only posing a bit for your edification, and trying
to make you think that he is as clever as he looks."
"Come now, draw it mild," growled Cedric. And then he looked
discontentedly round the room. "Where's Dick and the rest of the
fellows? I bet you anything you like, Die, that they are down with
Elizabeth at the Pool."
Dinah smiled as she rose from the table. "You are right, dear," she
returned composedly, "I saw the whole train following her as usual.
Dick wanted to go with the dog-cart,--he knew his master was
expected, but Forbes said it was too hot for the run. If you are
ready, Cedric, we might go down to the Pool now." And as Cedric
graciously intimated his readiness, Dinah led the way through the
flower-garden, only pausing on the rustic bridge to let Malcolm lean
over and admire the hanging gardens below, the sides of the little
ravine being clothed from the top to the bottom with wild-flowers
and plants of every description. The traveller's joy had even gained
a footing on the bridge itself. To add to the beauty, a tiny
rivulet, which seemed to take its rise from some invisible source,
flowed through the flowery ravine like a silver thread.
"What a charming spot!" observed Malcolm in a tone of such sincere
admiration that Miss Templeton looked quite gratified.
"It was my sister's idea," she said softly; "she originates most of
our improvements. Now, as you see, we have come to the end of our
garden and are going down that little woodland path. We are both
passionately fond of flowers, and like to see them from the house,
but in our hearts I believe we love our wild garden best."
"And you are right--one could never be tired of this," and Malcolm
glanced at the slender sterns of the firs and the soft green light
between the tree-boles. Just here the ground was bare except for the
carpet of brown needles, but the next moment the path became more
tangled and sloped rather steeply. They could distinctly hear a dog
bark. "Take him to the peep-hole," whispered Cedric in his sister's
ear, and Miss Templeton nodded and stepped off the path; then she
beckoned Malcolm to look through some interlacing branches which
formed a natural arch.
It was a charming little sylvan scene that met his eyes. The spot
had been fitly called Ophelia's Pool. The small pond was shut in
with rowans and thickets of alder and blackberry bushes, and on the
pond itself some water-lilies and other aquatic plants were growing.
Two or three rough boulders, cushioned with moss, made comfortable
seats, and were at the present moment occupied by two people--one of
them evidently the second Miss Templeton, and the other a young man
in a rough serge suit, whom at first sight Malcolm certainly did not
take for a clergyman; and round them, in various attitudes of
waiting and expectancy, dogs of all sorts and conditions--from a
handsome brown retriever to Cedric's little fox-terrier, Dick.
"My word, there's Carlyon," observed Cedric in rather an aggrieved
tone; "why, the fellow lives here;" and then he put his hands to his
mouth and gave a view-hallo so lustily that all the dogs began
barking like mad. Only Dick--who was a knowing fellow and up to
tricks--rushed up the path and began dancing excitedly round his
"What barbarians boys are!" observed the other Miss Templeton
somewhat coolly to her companion, and then she rose from the boulder
and walked rather majestically towards her sister and their guest.
Her manner was friendly, and she greeted Malcolm kindly enough, but
it was less soft and winning than her sister's, and did not impress
him so favourably. Then she introduced Mr. Carlyon, and the two
young men shook hands; and afterwards the dogs passed in review, and
Elizabeth gravely named each one, ending up with her sister's little
Malcolm, who was a dog-lover, although he had none of his own, was
soon making friends with all the animals; but as he praised and
caressed them, he was telling himself over and over again that the
second Miss Templeton could not hold a candle to her sister.
Malcolm was terribly critical with regard to women; Anna had often
blamed him for his severity.
"It is a mistake to expect perfection," she would say; "it is so
easy to find fault and pick holes in people;" but though Malcolm
agreed with her, he still remained fastidious and hard to please. So
he at once decided that Miss Elizabeth Templeton was not to his
taste. In the first place, he did not admire big women--and she was
tall, and decidedly massive. Her dress, too, was singularly
unbecoming--a big woman in a cotton blouse and a battered old hat
was a spectacle to make him shudder. Miss Templeton's blue muslin
and dainty ruffles were a pleasing contrast.
"It is a woman's duty to set herself off as much as possible," he
would say to the long-suffering Anna, and then he transposed a
certain saying, "If you can't be handsome, be as handsome as you
can;" and he would hold forth on the immorality of slovenliness.
"I daresay Miss Elizabeth Templeton would not be bad-looking if she
only took a little pains with herself," he thought, as they all
grouped themselves comfortably on the boulders. After a moment's
hesitation, Elizabeth placed herself beside him and begun to talk to
him. Somehow her voice pleased him. It was not so sweet as her
sister's, and there was a sort of burr in it, and when he knew her
better he discovered that when she was eager or excited about
anything there was a slight hesitation, as though her words tripped
each other up; but with all its defects it was a voice to linger in
the memory. She was so close to him now that he could judge of her
better. She was certainly not handsome, her features were irregular
and her mouth decidedly too wide for beauty; but the gleam of
faultlessly white teeth and a certain brightness in the dark Irish-
gray eyes redeemed her face from plainness; her skin, too, was clear
and naturally fair, but was evidently embrowned by air and sunshine.
Nature had formed her in a generous mould, for even her hands and
feet were large; and then Malcolm thought of Anna's pretty little
hands, and again he said to himself that in his opinion Elizabeth
Templeton was not an attractive woman.
WHAT THE FERN-OWL HEARD
There is but one thing that can never turn into
suffering, and that is the good we have done.
It takes two to speak truth--one to speak and another
While Malcolm was trying to make himself agreeable to the second
Miss Templeton, and not succeeding as well as he could wish, he more
than once broke off the conversation to listen with some amusement
to the bantering by-play going on between Cedric and the young
clergyman, Mr. Carlyon.
They were evidently on intimate terms, for Cedric addressed him as
David or Davie in the most unceremonious manner. Mr. Carlyon
appeared to be quite young, certainly not more than six-or seven-
and-twenty, and had an odd, characteristic, but most pleasant face,
that somehow took Malcolm's fancy at once. It was rather thin and
pale, and the mouth a little receding, but the broad forehead and
kindly, frank-looking eyes somewhat redeemed this defect. There was
so much life and animation in his expression; and a boyish eagerness
in his manner, a curious abruptness in his speech, a certain quick
clipping of words and sentences, only added to his marked
individuality, and was by no means disagreeable when one had become
accustomed to it.
Malcolm soon found out that he was the curate belonging to
Rotherwood, the church attended by the Templeton family; and it was
soon evident to him that the sisters, Miss Elizabeth especially,
took a great interest in parochial matters.
"How is old Dr. Dryasdust?" asked Cedric presently, but he spoke in
a jeering tone. Then Elizabeth laughed, but Dinah looked shocked,
and Mr. Carlyon threw a dry clod at him.
"It really is not such a bad name," observed Elizabeth softly, as
though to herself, and then her eyes encountered Mr. Carlyon's--it
was evident that he agreed with her.
"The vicar is not a lively person, certainly," he rejoined, "but all
the same I have a great respect for him. He is a trifle too
mediaeval for these days, and his environment does not suit him a
"He ought to be a fellow of his college--spending his days in
disinterring dusty old folios in the Bodleian," pursued Cedric,
"instead of being vicar of Rotherwood."
"I think very highly of Mr. Charrington," and Dinah spoke rather
gravely. "He is not only a very learned man, but he is such a
thorough gentleman. Poor man, it is a blessing that he has you near
him, Mr. Carlyon, for his life is very lonely."
"Why does he not get married then?" growled Cedric. "I bet you he is
not much over fifty." Then again Elizabeth and Mr. Carlyon exchanged
"I don't think the vicar ever intends to enter the holy estate of
matrimony," returned Mr. Carlyon. "He is an old bachelor by choice,
and in my humble opinion is likely to remain so; and then his worthy
housekeeper, Mrs. Finch, makes him so thoroughly comfortable."
"I heard something once from one of our fellows," observed Cedric,
with a mischievous glance at Dinah--he knew well her objection to
gossip. "He was not always a woman-hater. Palgrave of Lincoln told
me that he had been engaged to a lady, and that just before the
wedding-day the engagement was broken off; no one seemed to know the
rights of it, but ever since he has been a little shy of
"Cedric, I am sure it is time for us to dress for dinner,, the gong
must have sounded long ago. Will you show Mr. Herrick his room?"
Dinah spoke with gentle decision, and as she evidently expected
Malcolm to join her, he rose from his seat. As he did so he heard
Elizabeth say in a low voice to Mr. Carlyon, "I wonder if Cedric's
story is a true one." "Very possibly--why not?" was the answer; "he
looks like a man with a past," and then they dropped behind and he
heard no more.
It is never well to form an opinion too soon; before the next half-
hour had passed Malcolm had been compelled to readjust his ideas on
the subject of Miss Elizabeth Templeton. When he saw her again he
would hardly have recognised her. Her massive but well-proportioned
figure looked to its best advantage in the black evening dress; the
transparent material only set off the round white throat and finely-
moulded arms to perfection. The coils of brown hair were effectively
arranged, and the shape of the head was beautiful. Before the
evening was over Malcolm, in sheer honesty, was obliged to confess
to himself that Miss Elizabeth Templeton was a very attractive
woman, and would cast many prettier and younger faces into the
shade. "I wonder where her charm lies," he soliloquised when he had
retired to his bedroom that evening; "her sister is really almost
beautiful, but, with the exception of a pair of very bright and
expressive eyes, Miss Elizabeth has not a single good feature, and
yet one is compelled to admire her. She is a little dignified and
reserved with a stranger, and yet she is not shy; even while she
talked to Mr. Carlyon, who certainly seems a sort of tame cat at the
Wood House, I could see her looking at me as though she regarded me
with interest, but we have broken the ice now with a vengeance."
"One thing I have discovered," he went on, as he looked dreamily
down into the scented darkness of the garden, "she is a woman of
large sympathies, with an excellent sense of humour, which her good
heart and kindly nature keeps in good control; and if I do not
mistake, she is the leading spirit of the house. The sisters seem to
be devoted to each other; and the way they spoil that boy--" and
here Malcolm shook his head in strong disapproval, without being in
the least aware that he was not free from that fault himself. He had
just sent the lad away proud and happy by his delicately implied
praise of the Wood House and its inmates.
"I am quite sure that I shall get on with your sisters, Cedric," he
had said with good-natured condescension; "they seem to me such
thoroughly good, kind-hearted women, and very superior to the
generality of folk. How beautifully your sister Elizabeth sings! I
have seldom heard a voice that pleased me better."
"They both like you," returned Cedric shyly. "Dinah told me so at
once; and though Elizabeth did not actually say so, I could see by
her manner how she enjoyed talking to you;" and indeed Malcolm had
never been in better form.
It had been a very pleasant evening; the small oval dinner-table,
with its flowers exquisitely arranged, the open windows, with the
dogs lying out on the terrace, were all to Malcolm's taste.
Everything was so well-appointed and so well-managed. The servants
were evidently old retainers, and took a warm interest in their
After dinner they had their coffee on the terrace, and watched the
sun setting behind the fir woods, and when the last yellow gleam had
faded away from the sky, at Dinah's suggestion Elizabeth went into
the drawing-room, where two pink-shaded lamps were already lighted,
and seated herself at the piano.
"There is no occasion for us to go in," observed Dinah, who had
noticed Malcolm's evident enjoyment of his cigarette; "we shall hear
her perfectly out here, and Mr. Carlyon will turn over for her."
Such is human nature, for one instant Malcolm felt strongly impelled
to throw away his cigarette and oust Mr. Carlyon from his snug
corner, if only to teach him his place; but indolence prevailed: his
cigarette was too delicious, the air was so refreshing and balmy,
and the pale globes of the evening primroses and the milky whiteness
of the nicotianas gleamed so entrancingly in the soft dusk, that he
felt himself unwilling to move. Even the curious notes of the night-
jar seeking its prey in the dim light had a strange fascination for
him, and he spoke of it more than once to Dinah. "It is like the
humming of a spinning-wheel," he remarked; "it is very weird and
"So people always say," she returned. "It is the goat-sucker, you
know; they are very fond of feeding on that sort of beetle called
the gnat-chafer; in fact, it is their favourite food. It has another
name, the fern-owl."
"So I have heard;" and then, as a rich strong voice broke suddenly
on his startled ears, he leant back in his hammock chair and
composed himself to listen.
It was a wonderful voice, so sweet and true and full of expression;
there was such tenderness and depth in it, that it seemed in some
mysterious way to touch the very recesses of the heart, and to play
on the whole gamut of human feeling. Malcolm found himself thinking
of his lonely childhood, and of his father, then he recalled his
youthful aspirations and his old ideals. "The thoughts of youth are
long, long thoughts," he said to himself, "and the wind's will is a
boy's will;" and then, as the last lingering notes died away, he
flung his cigarette aside and rose abruptly from his seat.
"You have given us a great treat," he said in a low voice as
Elizabeth stepped through the window. Mr. Carlyon was laying aside
the pile of songs in the music cabinet as neatly as though it were
an accustomed duty. Malcolm gave him an impatient glance. "One would
think he belonged to the house," he said to himself rather crossly.
"Please do not thank me," returned Elizabeth smiling; her eyes were
very bright, and there was a warm flush on her face, which made her
look young and handsome. "It is my greatest pleasure to sing; I
believe if I had nothing else to do I should waste hours at the
"The hours would not be wasted," replied Malcolm. "It is a great
gift, and like all other great gifts it should be utilised as much
as possible. I could find it in my heart to envy you, Miss
"Oh, how often I have said that!" chimed in Dinah. "I think I enjoy
my sister's voice as much as she does herself; in the evening she
always sings to me."
"Mr. Herrick and Dinah are trying to make me vainer than I am by
nature," observed Elizabeth with her happy, childlike laugh, as Mr.
Carlyon came to her side. "Cedric, it is such a lovely evening that
we might have our usual stroll. Would you care to come with us?" to
"You may as well go my way," remarked Mr. Carlyon, and Elizabeth
nodded; and then Dinah fetched her a light gossamer scarf, which she
tied over her head.
"Dinah does not care for moonlight rambles, she thinks them
frivolous," she observed, as they walked slowly through the dark
woodlands, "but Cedric and I love them. I like the silence and
emptiness; the villages are asleep, and the whole world seems given
up to fern-owls and bats and night-moths. Take care of the branch,
Mr. Herrick, or you will knock your head. It will be lighter on the
road outside. I am so used to this path that I think I could find my
The two young men were before them, but Elizabeth, to Malcolm's
relief, showed no inclination to join them; even at this early stage
of their acquaintance he experienced an odd desire to monopolise her
society. He never felt more content with his surroundings. The
tranquillity of the hour, the soft half-lights, the mystery of the
long wide road, with two dark specks moving before them-all appealed
to Malcolm's artistic and romantic sense.
"It is a study in black and white," he half murmured to himself; but
at that moment he was not thinking of the tall, black-robed woman
beside him, with the shimmering white veil over her head.
Nevertheless, when Elizabeth laughed, he understood her and laughed
"Mr. Herrick," she said suddenly, and her voice became grave, "I am
so glad to have this opportunity of speaking to you alone--without
my sister, I mean. For months--for nearly two years--I have longed
to see you and thank you for what you have done for Cedric. No--do
not stop"--for in his surprise Malcolm had paused in the act of
crossing the road; "they are looking back, and I do not want them
just now," and here she waved her hand a little impatiently. "We
must follow them through that gate into the woodland path that leads
to Rotherwood. It is so pretty in daylight. The moon will soon be
rising, and then you will see it better."
Malcolm followed her meekly. When he stumbled over a concealed root,
Elizabeth quietly put her hand on his arm to guide him. The firm,
soft touch, the spontaneous kindness of the action, and her utter
unconsciousness, gave him a positive thrill of pleasure.
"When one's heart is full of gratitude to a person," went on
Elizabeth in the same grave, low tone, "it is so difficult to find
words. Mr. Herrick, I know all you did for our dear boy--I know
everything." Malcolm started. "Cedric told me; but of course we kept
it from my sister."
"My dear Miss Templeton," began Malcolm in an embarrassed voice, for
he was not prepared for this. But Elizabeth would not let him speak.
"You must let me have my innings," she said, with a delicious laugh.
"I have pent up my feelings for nearly two years, and they must find
vent. Mr. Herrick, you have been our benefactor--Dinah's and mine as
well as Cedric's. When you held out your generous hand to a
stranger--when you saved our poor boy from disgrace and a ruined
career, you did far more than you thought--"
"Miss Templeton, for pity's sake--"
"Please, please, let me finish," a pressure of his arm emphasised
her words; "it is so difficult for a woman to hold her tongue. Dinah
knows nothing of all this; we dare not tell her--it would break her
heart. My sister is too good for this world; you know what I mean
Mr. Herrick--she believes too much in other people's goodness, and
then when they disappoint her she is quite crushed."
"I should have thought Miss Templeton's nature an exceptionally
happy one," returned Malcolm.
"You are right," and Elizabeth spoke with evident feeling; "but
these bright, sunshiny natures have their hours of eclipse. Cedric
is her special darling, the object of her tenderest care; if she
only knew--" but here she paused, as though her emotions were too
"My dear Miss Templeton"--Malcolm was determined to be heard now, he
should not be suppressed and silenced any more--"you are making far
too much of the trifling service I was able to render to your
brother. What was a small loan?"
"What was it?" here Elizabeth struck in again; "it was, humanly
speaking, life and salvation to a poor weak boy who was on the brink
of despair; who was so desperate, with trouble and misery, that he
might have fallen deeper and deeper if a Good Samaritan had not
passed that way. He has told me since that the thought of Dinah's
unhappiness almost drove him crazy, and that he could not have
answered for himself. Cedric is a dear lad, but he is not strong."
"He has had his lesson. We all enter our kingdom of manhood through
some tribulation, Miss Templeton."
"Ah, true, but we would gladly spare our belongings such a painful
experience. Mr. Herrick, they are waiting for us at the little gate,
and I have only time to say one thing more. I offered to help Cedric
repay his debt, but he refused. I am glad to say he absolutely
refused; he wishes to do it all himself."
"I think all the more of him," was Malcolm's answer; "a little self-
denial will be good for Cedric. He has already paid the first
instalment. Miss Templeton, in return for your confidence, I will be
quite frank with you: I do not need the money, as far as that goes
he is welcome to every penny, but for Cedric's sake I thought it
best to take it. I hope you will understand this."
"I understand you perfectly, and I thank you from my heart for
dealing so wisely with him; but not another word--voices travel far
in this clear silence--and they are just by." Indeed, the next
moment a voice hailed them.
"Hallo, you people," shouted Cedric, "have you been looking for
glowworms or hunting moths? David is quite tired of waiting."
"I am afraid we have dawdled," observed Elizabeth briskly. "Mr.
Herrick and I were deep in conversation. I think we will not come
any farther; I have done my lady's mile, or thereabouts. Good-night,
Mr. Carlyon, I shall be over at the school to-morrow morning--" but
here Elizabeth dropped her voice, and Malcolm heard no more.
She was rather silent when she joined them, and left the
conversation to Cedric. More than once Malcolm wondered what made
her so thoughtful; but when they reached the house, and she bade him
good-night in the hall, there was no coldness or abstraction in her
"If you sleep as well as you deserve--" she said; but he chose to
"I should be hag-ridden and tormented, I fear."
"Oh no, you would have rosy visions of celestial bowers," returned
Elizabeth merrily. "Now; Mike," to the little dachshund, "let us
make tracks for the upper regions. Good-night, Cedric."
As Elizabeth paused at the foot of the staircase, Malcolm thought
what a splendid subject she would make for a picture. The soft
draperies gave her a queenly, aspect, and the white scarf that she
still wore over her head lent her a mystic look; in her hand she
carried a curious brass lamp of some antique design, and at her
bosom were fastened, negligently, a great spray of crimson roses.
"She looks like a St. Elizabeth in this dim lamplight," he thought.
"Those red roses look like a dark stain on her breast. The figure,
the turn of the head, is superb. If only Goliath could see her. Ah,
now she has moved, and the illusion has gone--faded into thin air,"
and then Malcolm smiled at his own conceit and fancy as he took up
his chamber candlestick.
"A LITTLE EGOTISTICAL, PERHAPS"
We always like those who admire us, but do not always
like those whom we admire.
Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.
The bedrooms at the Wood House opened on a wide corridor which
extended the whole length of the house. It was known by the name of
the Red Gallery, probably from the great stained-glass window
through which the sunset glow filtered on summer evenings, and
reflected purple and crimson stains on the tessellated pavement of
the hall below. By some odd coincidence, a figure of the Thuringian
queen St. Elizabeth was the subject of the window. Something in the
figure and the pose of the crowned head of the saint reminded
Malcolm of Elizabeth Templeton; but the meek beauty of the upturned
face resembled Dinah.
The gallery was carpeted, and comfortably furnished with easy-chairs
and one or two oak settles; the walls were covered with pictures. On
winter afternoons, when a great beech log burnt cheerily in the
fireplace, it must have been a pleasant place for a twilight gossip
before dressing for dinner. As the family was small, several of the
bedrooms had never been used; they were twelve in number, and an
artist friend of the sisters had suggested that each chamber should
bear the name of a month of the year. By a happy conceit which had
greatly delighted them, he had with his own hand not only
illuminated the name, but had with exquisite taste painted a spray
of flowers that were typical of each month. For example, over
Elizabeth's door--June--hung a lovely cluster of crimson and white
roses; while Dinah, who had appropriated September, had a cluster of
blackberries and traveller's joy.
When Malcolm had taken possession of the guest-room--April--he had
gazed admiringly at a festoon of pink apple-blossoms over his door,
but when he had praised the novel adornment with his wonted
enthusiasm, the sisters modestly disclaimed all credit.
"It was not our idea," observed Elizabeth regretfully; "neither
Dinah nor I had the genius to evolve it. It was our friend, Mr. Leon
Power. You will know his name; his 'Andromache' was so much talked
about last year.'"
"Of course, every one knows Leon Power," returned Malcolm quickly.
"A friend of mine, Mr. Keston, quite swears by him."
"We know Mr. Keston's pictures well," observed Dinah in her placid
way. "I hear he is to have Mr. Logan's house for the summer, and
then we shall have the pleasure of making his acquaintance. I assure
you, Mr. Herrick, that it was all Mr. Power's idea. He used to come
down for a few days and paint a door at a time. We loved to sit in
the gallery and watch him. You have no idea how it interested us."
When Elizabeth, still carrying her antique lamp, passed swiftly down
the gallery, she paused as usual at her sister's door. Dinah was
sitting in a carved oak chair by the open window with a reading-lamp
beside her. Her evening dress was replaced by a white muslin
wrapper, which made her look younger than ever. The red edges of the
St. Thomas a Kempis that she had been reading was the only spot of
colour about her.
"You are later than usual, dear," she said gently. "Did you go all
the way to Rotherwood?"
"In this garb! My dear child, supposing I had met the vicar! Oh no,
we only walked to the usual trysting-place. Well, Dinah"--seating
herself in a comfortable easy-chair beside her--"what do you think
of our new friend?"
"I was going to ask you that question," returned her sister in a
disappointed voice. "I did so want to know your opinion; but you are
so dreadfully quick, Betty. Of course I like him; he is very
gentlemanly and agreeable, and I think clever."
"Oh, I should say there was no doubt of his cleverness." Then Dinah
brightened up as though she had received a personal compliment.
"I am so glad you think so. The society of a clever, cultured man
like Mr. Herrick must be so good for Cedric; and then he is so
pleasant, and has so much to say on every subject, and he has such
original ideas. Really, poor dear Mr. Carlyon was quite cast into
the shade this evening."
"Oh, there I differ from you. Mr. Carlyon is original too, and can
hold his own with any one;" and Elizabeth spoke with some warmth,
almost with asperity, and her sister looked at her rather anxiously.
"Dear Betty, I meant no disparagement of Mr. Carlyon. He is such a
favourite with all of us that we are not likely to undervalue him.
It struck me once or twice that he was not quite in his usual
"He is a little worried about his father," returned Elizabeth. "He
thinks Theo does not look after him properly. But we were talking
about Mr. Herrick, were we not?"
Elizabeth was not quite herself. Something in Dinah's speech had
ruffled her. She was a little quick-tempered and impulsive; but she
soon recovered herself.
"Does it strike you, Die, that Mr. Herrick is quite aware of his own
cleverness, and that he rather prides himself on being original and
out of the common. Oh, I mean nothing unkind," as Dinah looked
rather grave at this. "I like him exceedingly. I should be an
ungrateful wretch if I did not," she added to herself. "He is a good
man, I am sure of that; and," with a merry laugh, "I am also sure
that to know him will be a liberal education."
Though Dinah joined in the laugh, she was evidently discomposed by
her sister's observation. "I am afraid you think him conceited," she
"Oh dear, no; a little egotistical, perhaps--I might even say a
little opinionative; but then we all have our faults, and I fancy he
will improve greatly on acquaintance. When I know him better, Die, I
shall delight in arguing with him. There is no use arguing with Mr.
Carlyon, he always gives in to me at once; but Mr. Herrick would
fight it out to the bitter end."
Dinah shook her head at this lukewarm praise. Elizabeth's opinion
was of the utmost moment to her. She relied on it with a simple
faith that astonished strangers. Malcolm was right in suspecting
that the younger sister was the moving spirit of the house.
Elizabeth's vigorous mind, her clear insight, and strong common-
sense, made her quick to judge and discriminate. As Dinah knew, she
very seldom made a mistake in her opinion of a person. Dinah's
charitable nature was rather prone to overestimate her friends and
acquaintances--"all her geese were swans." As Elizabeth often said,
when she cared for any one she simply could not see their faults.
"If we were all as blind as Dinah," her sister would say, "the world
would be a happier place;" but all the same she loved and reverenced
the simple goodness and sweetness that by a divine alchemy
transmuted base metal into gold.
Elizabeth was quite aware why Dinah shook her head so
disapprovingly. Cedric's hero had found favour in her eyes, and she
wished her other self--for so she tenderly termed Elizabeth--to do
homage to him likewise; but Elizabeth's gratitude and her wholesome
liking were not disposed to hero-worship. "Mr. Herrick was very
nice, and a great acquisition, and she was quite sure they would
soon be good friends;" and as Elizabeth always meant what she said,
Dinah felt tolerably satisfied with this verdict.
"And now let me hear about Mr. Carlyon, Betty," she observed
cheerfully. "I do hope his holiday was not spoiled by Theo's
"Oh, as to that," returned Elizabeth impatiently, "Theo will be Theo
to the end of her days. It is a mystery to me how good people can be
so aggravating. Her brother always declares that she is really a
"I should certainly think he was right, dear."
"Her goodness is rather microscopic then," returned Elizabeth drily.
"Mr. Carlyon--our Mr. Carlyon, you know--told me that it fretted him
sadly to see how his father's little comforts were neglected. Theo
puts her parochial work before her home duties. He said the meals
were badly served and badly cooked; that Theo often came in late for
dinner and took a hasty meal in her bonnet; that in the evening
there was no sociality--his father wrote his sermons or buried
himself in his books, and Theo worked at her accounts or dropped
asleep from sheer fatigue on the couch."
"Poor Mr. Carlyon, he deserves a better daughter; but Theo has
always been a restless, bustling sort of mortal. I suppose David--we
really must call him David between ourselves, Betty, to distinguish
him--I suppose he will have his father as usual in August?"
"Oh dear, yes; and Mrs. Pratt will lead them both a life. She always
does; I never saw such, a woman. I mean to give her a bit of my mind
one of these days."
"She is almost as trying as Theo," returned Dinah with a smile. "I
think David gives in to her too much for the sake of peace."
"So I often tell him." "I wish Mr. Charrington would invite Mr.
Carlyon to the vicarage. Mrs. Finch is such a comfortable soul; she
thinks nothing a trouble. But I suppose such an idea would never
enter the vicar's head."
"Oh dear, no. But after all it does not matter, Die; nothing would
induce Mr. Carlyon to leave his son's roof. I do not believe that
any amount of creature comforts or learned conversations would tempt
him away from his boy. I think their affection for each other is one
of the most touching things I know."
"Indeed it is, Betty," and Dinah looked at her sister rather
wistfully; but Elizabeth was too much engrossed with her subject to
"David's attachment to his father is quite beautiful," she went on;
"but I cannot help wondering over it sometimes. He seems as proud of
that shabby, mild-spoken little man as though he were a bishop in
lawn sleeves, and not a broken-down, hard-working curate-in-charge,
who preaches dull, dry little sermons."
"But his life is his best sermon, Betty!"
"Ah, you are right there," and Elizabeth's beaming look was good to
see. "David sometimes tells me that his father's patience with Theo
is almost angelic. 'I don't know how he bears it,' he said once. 'I
am not particular about food myself, and would dine cheerfully on
bread and cheese any day; but I hate a smoky chimney and dust; and
really that Bridget of theirs is a terrible female, and one of the
worst specimens of a maid-of-all-work that I ever knew. I took to
dusting the place myself, but Theo never noticed it.' Well, well,
it's a queer world, Die. Now it is late and I am keeping you up,"
and then the sisters kissed each other affectionately, and Elizabeth
withdrew to her own room.
Dinah sat still in her chair, and there was a thoughtful, almost a
perplexed look on her face.
"I wish I could understand it," she said to herself; "but in some
things Betty is so reserved. People who only know her a little would
never find it out. They persist that she is frankness itself, but
there are limits that no one can overstep--even I dare not." Here
Dinah paused. "But she knows very well that I should never ask her
"All the same," a moment later, "I am sorely puzzled. Is it only a
friendship between those two, or is it something else on David
Carlyon's part? Once or twice I have seen him looking at her as a
man only looks at one woman."
"If I could venture to give her a hint, to beg her to be careful!
Elizabeth is so careless. She has no idea of her own attractions,
and how irresistible she can be. It is all very well for her to say
she is older than David, and that she takes a sisterly interest in
him because Theo is so unsatisfactory; but there is no need to give
him so much of her company. Oh, no need at all, and it will only
make people talk." And here the careful elder sister sighed as
though she were oppressed with her responsibilities.
"Elizabeth is only thirty," she went on. "Why, that is quite young
nowadays, and after all David is not more than three or four years
younger. It is not the age that matters, or David's poverty, for
Betty has plenty of money of her own. But he is not good enough for
her. She is such a grand creature--when she marries she ought to
have a husband worthy of her--one whom she could honour and obey as
well as love--a man of intellect and power." Had a name suddenly
occurred to Dinah, for as she rose hastily a girlish blush came to
her cheek? "I am quite ashamed of myself," she whispered. "If there
is one thing or person I detest it is a match-maker. How could such
an idea come into my head!" But whatever idea it was, Dinah soon
banished it, and before long both the sisters were sleeping sweetly
on their lavender-scented pillows.
Malcolm saw little of his hostesses the next day. Elizabeth spent
the greater part of the day at Rotherwood, and Dinah was busy with
her household duties. He and Cedric played tennis the most of the
morning. Then they lounged about the garden and woodlands in their
flannels, and chatted and smoked endless cigarettes, and after
luncheon Cedric ordered out the dog-cart and showed his friend some
of the beauties of the surrounding neighbourhood. They drove back
through Rotherwood, and as they turned the corner by the church they
came upon Mr. Carlyon. Malcolm did not recognise him at first in his
straw hat, until he hailed them in a cheery voice.
"Hallo, Cedric, are you going to cut me? Look here, my dear fellow,
you and Mr. Herrick must have some tea at my digging. It is a few
steps farther. The mare looks hot. Why don't you put her up at 'The
Plough' and let her have a feed and a rub down?" And as Cedric
approved of this arrangement, Malcolm was obliged to acquiesce,
though he was inwardly bored by the delay.
They had been out for hours, and he was rather weary of the lad's
chatter. Some new acquaintances of the name of Jacobi had been the
subject of Cedric's talk--a brother and sister living in Gresham
Gardens. It was in vain that Malcolm had repeated more than once
that he knew nothing of them. Cedric would not take the hint, and he
held forth on the brother's cleverness and the sister's beauty. To
listen to the boy one might have thought the Jacobis were much above
the average of human beings--that there must be something idyllic,
angelic, and altogether seraphic in their persons and dispositions;
but Malcolm, who knew his man, discounted largely from this, and
kept his amusement and incredulity to himself.
But the name of Jacobi palled on him at last, and he was counting
the milestones between him and the Wood House rather anxiously, when
they saw Mr. Carlyon standing on the curb with his straw hat very
much tilted over his eyes.
No maiden lady of uncertain age loved her tea better than Malcolm.
Nevertheless, the curate's invitation did not please him.
As he got down from the dog-cart he thought regretfully of the cool,
shady drawing-room at the Wood House, and the pretty tea-table with
its silver urn and old-fashioned china. Cedric was so thoughtless.
Of course his sisters would be expecting them. Carlyon seemed a
pleasant fellow, but he was not sure that he desired a closer
acquaintance with him. Malcolm was inclined to be a little distant,
but neither of his companions seemed to notice it. A low white
cottage, standing back in a shady little garden, was their
destination. As Mr. Carlyon unlatched the gate, Cedric said in an