Part 2 out of 2
and she then returned to what he had just asked her. "Oh yes, I
quite believe you like it--my always being there and our taking
things up so familiarly and successfully: if not exactly where we
left them," she laughed, "almost always at least at an interesting
point!" He was about to say something in reply to this, but her
friendly gaiety was quicker. "You want a great many things in
life, a great many comforts and helps and luxuries--you want
everything as pleasant as possible. Therefore, so far as it's in
the power of any particular person to contribute to all that--"
She had turned her face to him smiling, just thinking.
"Oh see here!" But he was highly amused. "Well, what then?" he
enquired as if to humour her.
"Why the particular person must never fail. We must manage it for
He threw back his head, laughing out; he was really exhilarated.
"Oh yes, somehow!"
"Well, I think we each do--don't we?--in one little way and another
and according to our limited lights. I'm pleased at any rate, for
myself, that you are; for I assure you I've done my best."
"You do better than any one!" He had struck a match for another
cigarette, and the flame lighted an instant his responsive finished
face, magnifying into a pleasant grimace the kindness with which he
paid her this tribute. "You're awfully clever, you know; cleverer,
cleverer, cleverer--!" He had appeared on the point of making some
tremendous statement; then suddenly, puffing his cigarette and
shifting almost with violence on his seat, he let it altogether
In spite of this drop, if not just by reason of it, she felt as if
Lady Bradeen, all but named out, had popped straight up; and she
practically betrayed her consciousness by waiting a little before
she rejoined: "Cleverer than who?"
"Well, if I wasn't afraid you'd think I swagger, I should say--than
anybody! If you leave your place there, where shall you go?" he
more gravely asked.
"Oh too far for you ever to find me!"
"I'd find you anywhere."
The tone of this was so still more serious that she had but her one
acknowledgement. "I'd do anything for you--I'd do anything for
you," she repeated. She had already, she felt, said it all; so
what did anything more, anything less, matter? That was the very
reason indeed why she could, with a lighter note, ease him
generously of any awkwardness produced by solemnity, either his own
or hers. "Of course it must be nice for you to be able to think
there are people all about who feel in such a way."
In immediate appreciation of this, however, he only smoked without
looking at her. "But you don't want to give up your present work?"
he at last threw out. "I mean you WILL stay in the post-office?"
"Oh yes; I think I've a genius for that."
"Rather! No one can touch you." With this he turned more to her
again. "But you can get, with a move, greater advantages?"
"I can get in the suburbs cheaper lodgings. I live with my mother.
We need some space. There's a particular place that has other
He just hesitated. "Where is it?"
"Oh quite out of YOUR way. You'd never have time."
"But I tell you I'd go anywhere. Don't you believe it?"
"Yes, for once or twice. But you'd soon see it wouldn't do for
He smoked and considered; seemed to stretch himself a little and,
with his legs out, surrender himself comfortably. "Well, well,
well--I believe everything you say. I take it from you--anything
you like--in the most extraordinary way." It struck her certainly-
-and almost without bitterness--that the way in which she was
already, as if she had been an old friend, arranging for him and
preparing the only magnificence she could muster, was quite the
most extraordinary. "Don't, DON'T go!" he presently went on. "I
shall miss you too horribly!"
"So that you just put it to me as a definite request?"--oh how she
tried to divest this of all sound of the hardness of bargaining!
That ought to have been easy enough, for what was she arranging to
get? Before he could answer she had continued: "To be perfectly
fair I should tell you I recognise at Cocker's certain strong
attractions. All you people come. I like all the horrors."
"Those you all--you know the set I mean, YOUR set--show me with as
good a conscience as if I had no more feeling than a letter-box."
He looked quite excited at the way she put it. "Oh they don't
"Don't know I'm not stupid? No, how should they?"
"Yes, how should they?" said the Captain sympathetically. "But
isn't 'horrors' rather strong?"
"What you DO is rather strong!" the girl promptly returned.
"What I do?"
"Your extravagance, your selfishness, your immorality, your
crimes," she pursued, without heeding his expression.
"I SAY!"--her companion showed the queerest stare.
"I like them, as I tell you--I revel in them. But we needn't go
into that," she quietly went on; "for all I get out of it is the
harmless pleasure of knowing. I know, I know, I know!"--she
breathed it ever so gently.
"Yes; that's what has been between us," he answered much more
She could enjoy his simplicity in silence, and for a moment she did
so. "If I do stay because you want it--and I'm rather capable of
that--there are two or three things I think you ought to remember.
One is, you know, that I'm there sometimes for days and weeks
together without your ever coming."
"Oh I'll come every day!" he honestly cried.
She was on the point, at this, of imitating with her hand his
movement of shortly before; but she checked herself, and there was
no want of effect in her soothing substitute. "How can you? How
can you?" He had, too manifestly, only to look at it there, in the
vulgarly animated gloom, to see that he couldn't; and at this
point, by the mere action of his silence, everything they had so
definitely not named, the whole presence round which they had been
circling, became part of their reference, settled in solidly
between them. It was as if then for a minute they sat and saw it
all in each other's eyes, saw so much that there was no need of a
pretext for sounding it at last. "Your danger, your danger--!"
Her voice indeed trembled with it, and she could only for the
moment again leave it so.
During this moment he leaned back on the bench, meeting her in
silence and with a face that grew more strange. It grew so strange
that after a further instant she got straight up. She stood there
as if their talk were now over, and he just sat and watched her.
It was as if now--owing to the third person they had brought in--
they must be more careful; so that the most he could finally say
was: "That's where it is!"
"That's where it is!" the girl as guardedly replied. He sat still,
and she added: "I won't give you up. Good-bye."
"Good-bye?"--he appealed, but without moving.
"I don't quite see my way, but I won't give you up," she repeated.
It brought him with a jerk to his feet, tossing away his cigarette.
His poor face was flushed. "See here--see here!"
"No, I won't; but I must leave you now," she went on as if not
"See here--see here!" He tried, from the bench, to take her hand
But that definitely settled it for her: this would, after all, be
as bad as his asking her to supper. "You mustn't come with me--no,
He sank back, quite blank, as if she had pushed him. "I mayn't see
"No, no; let me go." He looked almost as if she had struck him,
but she didn't care; and the manner in which she spoke--it was
literally as if she were angry--had the force of a command. "Stay
where you are!"
"See here--see here!" he nevertheless pleaded.
"I won't give you up!" she cried once more--this time quite with
passion; on which she got away from him as fast as she could and
left him staring after her.
Mr. Mudge had lately been so occupied with their famous "plans"
that he had neglected for a while the question of her transfer; but
down at Bournemouth, which had found itself selected as the field
of their recreation by a process consisting, it seemed, exclusively
of innumerable pages of the neatest arithmetic in a very greasy but
most orderly little pocket-book, the distracting possible melted
away--the fleeting absolute ruled the scene. The plans, hour by
hour, were simply superseded, and it was much of a rest to the
girl, as she sat on the pier and overlooked the sea and the
company, to see them evaporate in rosy fumes and to feel that from
moment to moment there was less left to cipher about. The week
proves blissfully fine, and her mother, at their lodgings--partly
to her embarrassment and partly to her relief--struck up with the
landlady an alliance that left the younger couple a great deal of
freedom. This relative took her pleasure of a week at Bournemouth
in a stuffy back-kitchen and endless talks; to that degree even
that Mr. Mudge himself--habitually inclined indeed to a scrutiny of
all mysteries and to seeing, as he sometimes admitted, too much in
things--made remarks on it as he sat on the cliff with his
betrothed, or on the decks of steamers that conveyed them, close-
packed items in terrific totals of enjoyment, to the Isle of Wight
and the Dorset coast.
He had a lodging in another house, where he had speedily learned
the importance of keeping his eyes open, and he made no secret of
his suspecting that sinister mutual connivances might spring, under
the roof of his companions, from unnatural sociabilities. At the
same time he fully recognised that as a source of anxiety, not to
say of expense, his future mother-in law would have weighted them
more by accompanying their steps than by giving her hostess, in the
interest of the tendency they considered that they never mentioned,
equivalent pledges as to the tea-caddy and the jam-pot. These were
the questions--these indeed the familiar commodities--that he had
now to put into the scales; and his betrothed had in consequence,
during her holiday, the odd and yet pleasant and almost languid
sense of an anticlimax. She had become conscious of an
extraordinary collapse, a surrender to stillness and to retrospect.
She cared neither to walk nor to sail; it was enough for her to sit
on benches and wonder at the sea and taste the air and not be at
Cocker's and not see the counter-clerk. She still seemed to wait
for something--something in the key of the immense discussions that
had mapped out their little week of idleness on the scale of a
world-atlas. Something came at last, but without perhaps appearing
quite adequately to crown the monument.
Preparation and precaution were, however, the natural flowers of
Mr. Mudge's mind, and in proportion as these things declined in one
quarter they inevitably bloomed elsewhere. He could always, at the
worst, have on Tuesday the project of their taking the Swanage boat
on Thursday, and on Thursday that of their ordering minced kidneys
on Saturday. He had moreover a constant gift of inexorable enquiry
as to where and what they should have gone and have done if they
hadn't been exactly as they were. He had in short his resources,
and his mistress had never been so conscious of them; on the other
hand they never interfered so little with her own. She liked to be
as she was--if it could only have lasted. She could accept even
without bitterness a rigour of economy so great that the little fee
they paid for admission to the pier had to be balanced against
other delights. The people at Ladle's and at Thrupp's had THEIR
ways of amusing themselves, whereas she had to sit and hear Mr.
Mudge talk of what he might do if he didn't take a bath, or of the
bath he might take if he only hadn't taken something else. He was
always with her now, of course, always beside her; she saw him more
than "hourly," more than ever yet, more even than he had planned
she should do at Chalk Farm. She preferred to sit at the far end,
away from the band and the crowd; as to which she had frequent
differences with her friend, who reminded her often that they could
have only in the thick of it the sense of the money they were
getting back. That had little effect on her, for she got back her
money by seeing many things, the things of the past year, fall
together and connect themselves, undergo the happy relegation that
transforms melancholy and misery, passion and effort, into
experience and knowledge.
She liked having done with them, as she assured herself she had
practically done, and the strange thing was that she neither missed
the procession now nor wished to keep her place for it. It had
become there, in the sun and the breeze and the sea-smell, a far-
away story, a picture of another life. If Mr. Mudge himself liked
processions, liked them at Bournemouth and on the pier quite as
much as at Chalk Farm or anywhere, she learned after a little not
to be worried by his perpetual counting of the figures that made
them up. There were dreadful women in particular, usually fat and
in men's caps and write shoes, whom he could never let alone--not
that she cared; it was not the great world, the world of Cocker's
and Ladle's and Thrupp's, but it offered an endless field to his
faculties of memory, philosophy, and frolic. She had never
accepted him so much, never arranged so successfully for making him
chatter while she carried on secret conversations. This separate
commerce was with herself; and if they both practised a great
thrift she had quite mastered that of merely spending words enough
to keep him imperturbably and continuously going.
He was charmed with the panorama, not knowing--or at any rate not
at all showing that he knew--what far other images peopled her mind
than the women in the navy caps and the shop-boys in the blazers.
His observations on these types, his general interpretation of the
show, brought home to her the prospect of Chalk Farm. She wondered
sometimes that he should have derived so little illumination,
during his period, from the society at Cocker's. But one evening
while their holiday cloudlessly waned he gave her such a proof of
his quality as might have made her ashamed of her many
suppressions. He brought out something that, in all his overflow,
he had been able to keep back till other matters were disposed of.
It was the announcement that he was at last ready to marry--that he
saw his way. A rise at Chalk Farm had been offered him; he was to
be taken into the business, bringing with him a capital the
estimation of which by other parties constituted the handsomest
recognition yet made of the head on his shoulders. Therefore their
waiting was over--it could be a question of a near date. They
would settle this date before going back, and he meanwhile had his
eye on a sweet little home. He would take her to see it on their
His having kept this great news for the last, having had such a
card up his sleeve and not floated it out in the current of his
chatter and the luxury of their leisure, was one of those
incalculable strokes by which he could still affect her; the kind
of thing that reminded her of the latent force that had ejected the
drunken soldier--an example of the profundity of which his
promotion was the proof. She listened a while in silence, on this
occasion, to the wafted strains of the music; she took it in as she
had not quite done before that her future was now constituted. Mr.
Mudge was distinctly her fate; yet at this moment she turned her
face quite away from him, showing him so long a mere quarter of her
cheek that she at last again heard his voice. He couldn't see a
pair of tears that were partly the reason of her delay to give him
the assurance he required; but he expressed at a venture the hope
that she had had her fill of Cocker's.
She was finally able to turn back. "Oh quite. There's nothing
going on. No one comes but the Americans at Thrupp's, and they
don't do much. They don't seem to have a secret in the world."
"Then the extraordinary reason you've been giving me for holding on
there has ceased to work?"
She thought a moment. "Yes, that one. I've seen the thing
through--I've got them all in my pocket."
"So you're ready to come?"
For a little again she made no answer. "No, not yet, all the same.
I've still got a reason--a different one."
He looked her all over as if it might have been something she kept
in her mouth or her glove or under her jacket--something she was
even sitting upon. "Well, I'll have it, please."
"I went out the other night and sat in the Park with a gentleman,"
she said at last.
Nothing was ever seen like his confidence in her and she wondered a
little now why it didn't irritate her. It only gave her ease and
space, as she felt, for telling him the whole truth that no one
knew. It had arrived at present at her really wanting to do that,
and yet to do it not in the least for Mr. Mudge, but altogether and
only for herself. This truth filled out for her there the whole
experience about to relinquish, suffused and coloured it as a
picture that she should keep and that, describe it as she might, no
one but herself would ever really see. Moreover she had no desire
whatever to make Mr. Mudge jealous; there would be no amusement in
it, for the amusement she had lately known had spoiled her for
lower pleasures. There were even no materials for it. The odd
thing was how she never doubted that, properly handled, his passion
was poisonable; what had happened was that he had cannily selected
a partner with no poison to distil. She read then and there that
she should never interest herself in anybody as to whom some other
sentiment, some superior view, wouldn't be sure to interfere for
him with jealousy. "And what did you get out of that?" he asked
with a concern that was not in the least for his honour.
"Nothing but a good chance to promise him I wouldn't forsake him.
He's one of my customers."
"Then it's for him not to forsake YOU."
"Well, he won't. It's all right. But I must just keep on as long
as he may want me."
"Want you to sit with him in the Park?"
"He may want me for that--but I shan't. I rather liked it, but
once, under the circumstances, is enough. I can do better for him
in another manner."
"And what manner, pray?"
This was an ejaculation used also by Captain Everard, but oh with
what a different sound! "You needn't 'say'--there's nothing to be
said. And yet you ought perhaps to know."
"Certainly I ought. But WHAT--up to now?"
"Why exactly what I told him. That I'd do anything for him."
"What do you mean by 'anything'?"
Mr. Mudge's immediate comment on this statement was to draw from
his pocket a crumpled paper containing the remains of half a pound
of "sundries." These sundries had figured conspicuously in his
prospective sketch of their tour, but it was only at the end of
three days that they had defined themselves unmistakeably as
chocolate-creams. "Have another?--THAT one," he said. She had
another, but not the one he indicated, and then he continued:
"What took place afterwards?"
"What did you do when you had told him you'd do everything?"
"I simply came away."
"Out of the Park?"
"Yes, leaving him there. I didn't let him follow me."
"Then what did you let him do?"
"I didn't let him do anything."
Mr. Mudge considered an instant. "Then what did you go there for?"
His tone was even slightly critical.
"I didn't quite know at the time. It was simply to be with him, I
suppose--just once. He's in danger, and I wanted him to know I
know it. It makes meeting him--at Cocker's, since it's that I want
to stay on for--more interesting."
"It makes it mighty interesting for ME!" Mr. Mudge freely declared.
"Yet he didn't follow you?" he asked. "I would!"
"Yes, of course. That was the way you began, you know. You're
awfully inferior to him."
"Well, my dear, you're not inferior to anybody. You've got a
cheek! What's he in danger of?"
"Of being found out. He's in love with a lady--and it isn't right-
-and I've found him out."
"That'll be a look-out for ME!" Mr. Mudge joked. "You mean she has
"Never mind what she has! They're in awful danger, but his is the
worst, because he's in danger from her too."
"Like me from you--the woman I love? If he's in the same funk as
"He's in a worse one. He's not only afraid of the lady--he's
afraid of other things."
Mr. Mudge selected another chocolate-cream. "Well, I'm only afraid
of one! But how in the world can you help this party?"
"I don't know--perhaps not at all. But so long as there's a
"You won't come away?"
"No, you've got to wait for me."
Mr. Mudge enjoyed what was in his mouth. "And what will he give
"If you do help him."
"Nothing. Nothing in all the wide world."
"Then what will he give ME?" Mr. Mudge enquired. "I mean for
The girl thought a moment; then she got up to walk. "He never
heard of you," she replied.
"You haven't mentioned me?"
"We never mention anything. What I've told you is just what I've
Mr. Mudge, who had remained on the bench, looked up at her; she
often preferred to be quiet when he proposed to walk, but now that
he seemed to wish to sit she had a desire to move. "But you
haven't told me what HE has found out."
She considered her lover. "He'd never find YOU, my dear!"
Her lover, still on his seat, appealed to her in something of the
attitude in which she had last left Captain Everard, but the
impression was not the same. "Then where do I come in?"
"You don't come in at all. That's just the beauty of it!"--and
with this she turned to mingle with the multitude collected round
the band. Mr. Mudge presently overtook her and drew her arm into
his own with a quiet force that expressed the serenity of
possession; in consonance with which it was only when they parted
for the night at her door that he referred again to what she had
"Have you seen him since?"
"Since the night in the Park? No, not once."
"Oh, what a cad!" said Mr. Mudge.
It was not till the end of October that she saw Captain Everard
again, and on that occasion--the only one of all the series on
which hindrance had been so utter--no communication with him proved
possible. She had made out even from the cage that it was a
charming golden day: a patch of hazy autumn sunlight lay across
the sanded floor and also, higher up, quickened into brightness a
row of ruddy bottled syrups. Work was slack and the place in
general empty; the town, as they said in the cage, had not waked
up, and the feeling of the day likened itself to something than in
happier conditions she would have thought of romantically as Saint
Martin's summer. The counter-clerk had gone to his dinner; she
herself was busy with arrears of postal jobs, in the midst of which
she became aware that Captain Everard had apparently been in the
shop a minute and that Mr. Buckton had already seized him.
He had as usual half a dozen telegrams; and when he saw that she
saw him and their eyes met he gave, on bowing to her, an
exaggerated laugh in which she read a new consciousness. It was a
confession of awkwardness; it seemed to tell her that of course he
knew he ought better to have kept his head, ought to have been
clever enough to wait, on some pretext, till he should have found
her free. Mr. Buckton was a long time with him, and her attention
was soon demanded by other visitors; so that nothing passed between
them but the fulness of their silence. The look she took from him
was his greeting, and the other one a simple sign of the eyes sent
her before going out. The only token they exchanged therefore was
his tacit assent to her wish that since they couldn't attempt a
certain frankness they should attempt nothing at all. This was her
intense preference; she could be as still and cold as any one when
that was the sole solution.
Yet more than any contact hitherto achieved these counted instants
struck her as marking a step: they were built so--just in the mere
flash--on the recognition of his now definitely knowing what it was
she would do for him. The "anything, anything" she had uttered in
the Park went to and fro between them and under the poked-out china
that interposed. It had all at last even put on the air of their
not needing now clumsily to manoeuvre to converse: their former
little postal make-believes, the intense implications of questions
and answers and change, had become in the light of the personal
fact, of their having had their moment, a possibility comparatively
poor. It was as if they had met for all time--it exerted on their
being in presence again an influence so prodigious. When she
watched herself, in the memory of that night, walk away from him as
if she were making an end, she found something too pitiful in the
primness of such a gait. Hadn't she precisely established on the
part of each a consciousness that could end only with death?
It must be admitted that in spite of this brave margin an
irritation, after he had gone, remained with her; a sense that
presently became one with a still sharper hatred of Mr. Buckton,
who, on her friend's withdrawal, had retired with the telegrams to
the sounder and left her the other work. She knew indeed she
should have a chance to see them, when she would, on file; and she
was divided, as the day went on, between the two impressions of all
that was lost and all that was re-asserted. What beset her above
all, and as she had almost never known it before, was the desire to
bound straight out, to overtake the autumn afternoon before it
passed away for ever and hurry off to the Park and perhaps be with
him there again on a bench. It became for an hour a fantastic
vision with her that he might just have gone to sit and wait for
her. She could almost hear him, through the tick of the sounder,
scatter with his stick, in his impatience, the fallen leaves of
October. Why should such a vision seize her at this particular
moment with such a shake? There was a time--from four to five--
when she could have cried with happiness and rage.
Business quickened, it seemed, toward five, as if the town did wake
up; she had therefore more to do, and she went through it with
little sharp stampings and jerkings: she made the crisp postal-
orders fairly snap while she breathed to herself "It's the last
day--the last day!" The last day of what? She couldn't have told.
All she knew now was that if she WERE out of the cage she wouldn't
in the least have minded, this time, its not yet being dark. She
would have gone straight toward Park Chambers and have hung about
there till no matter when. She would have waited, stayed, rung,
asked, have gone in, sat on the stairs. What the day was the last
of was probably, to her strained inner sense, the group of golden
ones, of any occasion for seeing the hazy sunshine slant at that
angle into the smelly shop, of any range of chances for his wishing
still to repeat to her the two words she had in the Park scarcely
let him bring out. "See here--see here!"--the sound of these two
words had been with her perpetually; but it was in her ears to-day
without mercy, with a loudness that grew and grew. What was it
they then expressed? what was it he had wanted her to see? She
seemed, whatever it was, perfectly to see it now--to see that if
she should just chuck the whole thing, should have a great and
beautiful courage, he would somehow make everything up to her.
When the clock struck five she was on the very point of saying to
Mr. Buckton that she was deadly ill and rapidly getting worse.
This announcement was on her lips, and she had quite composed the
pale hard face she would offer him: "I can't stop--I must go home.
If I feel better, later on, I'll come back. I'm very sorry, but I
MUST go." At that instant Captain Everard once more stood there,
producing in her agitated spirit, by his real presence, the
strangest, quickest revolution. He stopped her off without knowing
it, and by the time he had been a minute in the shop she felt
That was from the first minute how she thought of it. There were
again other persons with whom she was occupied, and again the
situation could only be expressed by their silence. It was
expressed, of a truth, in a larger phrase than ever yet, for her
eyes now spoke to him with a kind of supplication. "Be quiet, be
quiet!" they pleaded; and they saw his own reply: "I'll do
whatever you say; I won't even look at you--see, see!" They kept
conveying thus, with the friendliest liberality, that they wouldn't
look, quite positively wouldn't. What she was to see was that he
hovered at the other end of the counter, Mr. Buckton's end, and
surrendered himself again to that frustration. It quickly proved
so great indeed that what she was to see further was how he turned
away before he was attended to, and hung off, waiting, smoking,
looking about the shop; how he went over to Mr. Cocker's own
counter and appeared to price things, gave in fact presently two or
three orders and put down money, stood there a long time with his
back to her, considerately abstaining from any glance round to see
if she were free. It at last came to pass in this way that he had
remained in the shop longer than she had ever yet known to do, and
that, nevertheless, when he did turn about she could see him time
himself--she was freshly taken up--and cross straight to her postal
subordinate, whom some one else had released. He had in his hand
all this while neither letters nor telegrams, and now that he was
close to her--for she was close to the counter-clerk--it brought
her heart into her mouth merely to see him look at her neighbour
and open his lips. She was too nervous to bear it. He asked for a
Post-Office Guide, and the young man whipped out a new one;
whereupon he said he wished not to purchase, but only to consult
one a moment; with which, the copy kept on loan being produced, he
once more wandered off.
What was he doing to her? What did he want of her? Well, it was
just the aggravation of his "See here!" She felt at this moment
strangely and portentously afraid of him--had in her ears the hum
of a sense that, should it come to that kind of tension, she must
fly on the spot to Chalk Farm. Mixed with her dread and with her
reflexion was the idea that, if he wanted her so much as he seemed
to show, it might be after all simply to do for him the "anything"
she had promised, the "everything" she had thought it so fine to
bring out to Mr. Mudge. He might want her to help him, might have
some particular appeal; though indeed his manner didn't denote
that--denoted on the contrary an embarrassment, an indecision,
something of a desire not so much to be helped as to be treated
rather more nicely than she had treated him the other time. Yes,
he considered quite probably that he had help rather to offer than
to ask for. Still, none the less, when he again saw her free he
continued to keep away from her; when he came back with his thumbed
Guide it was Mr. Buckton he caught--it was from Mr. Buckton he
obtained half-a-crown's-worth of stamps.
After asking for the stamps he asked, quite as a second thought,
for a postal-order for ten shillings. What did he want with so
many stamps when he wrote so few letters? How could he enclose a
postal-order in a telegram? She expected him, the next thing, to
go into the corner and make up one of his telegrams--half a dozen
of them--on purpose to prolong his presence. She had so completely
stopped looking at him that she could only guess his movements--
guess even where his eyes rested. Finally she saw him make a dash
that might have been toward the nook where the forms were hung; and
at this she suddenly felt that she couldn't keep it up. The
counter-clerk had just taken a telegram from a slavey, and, to give
herself something to cover her, she snatched it out of his hand.
The gesture was so violent that he gave her in return an odd look,
and she also perceived that Mr. Buckton noticed it. The latter
personage, with a quick stare at her, appeared for an instant to
wonder whether his snatching it in HIS turn mightn't be the thing
she would least like, and she anticipated this practical criticism
by the frankest glare she had ever given him. It sufficed: this
time it paralysed him; and she sought with her trophy the refuge of
It was repeated the next day; it went on for three days; and at the
end of that time she knew what to think. When, at the beginning,
she had emerged from her temporary shelter Captain Everard had
quitted the shop; and he had not come again that evening, as it had
struck her he possibly might--might all the more easily that there
were numberless persons who came, morning and afternoon, numberless
times, so that he wouldn't necessarily have attracted attention.
The second day it was different and yet on the whole worse. His
access to her had become possible--she felt herself even reaping
the fruit of her yesterday's glare at Mr. Buckton; but transacting
his business with him didn't simplify--it could, in spite of the
rigour of circumstance, feed so her new conviction. The rigour was
tremendous, and his telegrams--not now mere pretexts for getting at
her--were apparently genuine; yet the conviction had taken but a
night to develop. It could be simply enough expressed; she had had
the glimmer of it the day before in her idea that he needed no more
help than she had already given; that it was help he himself was
prepared to render. He had come up to town but for three or four
days; he had been absolutely obliged to be absent after the other
time; yet he would, now that he was face to face with her, stay on
as much longer as she liked. Little by little it was thus
clarified, though from the first flash of his re-appearance she had
read into it the real essence.
That was what the night before, at eight o'clock, her hour to go,
had made her hang back and dawdle. She did last things or
pretended to do them; to be in the cage had suddenly become her
safety, and she was literally afraid of the alternate self who
might be waiting outside. HE might be waiting; it was he who was
her alternate self, and of him she was afraid. The most
extraordinary change had taken place in her from the moment of her
catching the impression he seemed to have returned on purpose to
give her. Just before she had done so, on that bewitched
afternoon, she had seen herself approach without a scruple the
porter at Park Chambers; then as the effect of the rush of a
consciousness quite altered she had on at last quitting Cocker's,
gone straight home for the first time since her return from
Bournemouth. She had passed his door every night for weeks, but
nothing would have induced her to pass it now. This change was the
tribute of her fear--the result of a change in himself as to which
she needed no more explanation than his mere face vividly gave her;
strange though it was to find an element of deterrence in the
object that she regarded as the most beautiful in the world. He
had taken it from her in the Park that night that she wanted him
not to propose to her to sup; but he had put away the lesson by
this time--he practically proposed supper every time he looked at
her. This was what, for that matter, mainly filled the three days.
He came in twice on each of these, and it was as if he came in to
give her a chance to relent. That was after all, she said to
herself in the intervals, the most that he did. There were ways,
she fully recognised, in which he spared her, and other particular
ways as to which she meant that her silence should be full to him
of exquisite pleading. The most particular of all was his not
being outside, at the corner, when she quitted the place for the
night. This he might so easily have been--so easily if he hadn't
been so nice. She continued to recognise in his forbearance the
fruit of her dumb supplication, and the only compensation he found
for it was the harmless freedom of being able to appear to say:
"Yes, I'm in town only for three or four days, but, you know, I
WOULD stay on." He struck her as calling attention each day, each
hour, to the rapid ebb of time; he exaggerated to the point of
putting it that there were only two days more, that there was at
last, dreadfully, only one.
There were other things still that he struck her as doing with a
special intention; as to the most marked of which--unless indeed it
were the most obscure--she might well have marvelled that it didn't
seem to her more horrid. It was either the frenzy of her
imagination or the disorder of his baffled passion that gave her
once or twice the vision of his putting down redundant money--
sovereigns not concerned with the little payments he was
perpetually making--so that she might give him some sign of helping
him to slip them over to her. What was most extraordinary in this
impression was the amount of excuse that, with some incoherence,
she found for him. He wanted to pay her because there was nothing
to pay her for. He wanted to offer her things he knew she wouldn't
take. He wanted to show her how much he respected her by giving
her the supreme chance to show HIM she was respectable. Over the
dryest transactions, at any rate, their eyes had out these
questions. On the third day he put in a telegram that had
evidently something of the same point as the stray sovereigns--a
message that was in the first place concocted and that on a second
thought he took back from her before she had stamped it. He had
given her time to read it and had only then bethought himself that
he had better not send it. If it was not to Lady Bradeen at
Twindle--where she knew her ladyship then to be--this was because
an address to Doctor Buzzard at Brickwood was just as good, with
the added merit of its not giving away quite so much a person whom
he had still, after all, in a manner to consider. It was of course
most complicated, only half lighted; but there was, discernibly
enough, a scheme of communication in which Lady Bradeen at Twindle
and Dr. Buzzard at Brickwood were, within limits, one and the same
person. The words he had shown her and then taken back consisted,
at all events, of the brief but vivid phrase "Absolutely
impossible." The point was not that she should transmit it; the
point was just that she should see it. What was absolutely
impossible was that before he had setted something at Cocker's he
should go either to Twindle or to Brickwood.
The logic of this, in turn, for herself, was that she could lend
herself to no settlement so long as she so intensely knew. What
she knew was that he was, almost under peril of life, clenched in a
situation: therefore how could she also know where a poor girl in
the P.O. might really stand? It was more and more between them
that if he might convey to her he was free, with all the impossible
locked away into a closed chapter, her own case might become
different for her, she might understand and meet him and listen.
But he could convey nothing of the sort, and he only fidgeted and
floundered in his want of power. The chapter wasn't in the least
closed, not for the other party; and the other party had a pull,
somehow and somewhere: this his whole attitude and expression
confessed, at the same time that they entreated her not to remember
and not to mind. So long as she did remember and did mind he could
only circle about and go and come, doing futile things of which he
was ashamed. He was ashamed of his two words to Dr. Buzzard; he
went out of the shop as soon as he had crumpled up the paper again
and thrust it into his pocket. It had been an abject little
exposure of dreadful impossible passion. He appeared in fact to be
too ashamed to come back. He had once more left town, and a first
week elapsed, and a second. He had had naturally to return to the
real mistress of his fate; she had insisted--she knew how to
insist, and he couldn't put in another hour. There was always a
day when she called time. It was known to our young friend
moreover that he had now been dispatching telegrams from other
offices. She knew at last so much that she had quite lost her
earlier sense of merely guessing. There were no different shades
of distinctness--it all bounced out.
Eighteen days elapsed, and she had begun to think it probable she
should never see him again. He too then understood now: he had
made out that she had secrets and reasons and impediments, that
even a poor girl at the P.O. might have her complications. With
the charm she had cast on him lightened by distance he had suffered
a final delicacy to speak to him, had made up his mind that it
would be only decent to let her alone. Never so much as during
these latter days had she felt the precariousness of their
relation--the happy beautiful untroubled original one, if it could
only have been restored--in which the public servant and the casual
public only were concerned. It hung at the best by the merest
silken thread, which was at the mercy of any accident and might
snap at any minute. She arrived by the end of the fortnight at the
highest sense of actual fitness, never doubting that her decision
was now complete. She would just give him a few days more to come
back to her on a proper impersonal basis--for even to an
embarrassing representative of the casual public a public servant
with a conscience did owe something--and then would signify to Mr.
Mudge that she was ready for the little home. It had been visited,
in the further talk she had had with him at Bournemouth, from
garret to cellar, and they had especially lingered, with their
respectively darkened brows, before the niche into which it was to
be broached to her mother that she must find means to fit.
He had put it to her more definitely than before that his
calculations had allowed for that dingy presence, and he had
thereby marked the greatest impression he had ever made on her. It
was a stroke superior even again to his handling of the drunken
soldier. What she considered that in the face of it she hung on at
Cocker's for was something she could only have described as the
common fairness of a last word. Her actual last word had been,
till it should be superseded, that she wouldn't forsake her other
friend, and it stuck to her through thick and thin that she was
still at her post and on her honour. This other friend had shown
so much beauty of conduct already that he would surely after all
just re-appear long enough to relieve her, to give her something
she could take away. She saw it, caught it, at times, his parting
present; and there were moments when she felt herself sitting like
a beggar with a hand held out to almsgiver who only fumbled. She
hadn't taken the sovereigns, but she WOULD take the penny. She
heard, in imagination, on the counter, the ring of the copper.
"Don't put yourself out any longer," he would say, "for so bad a
case. You've done all there is to be done. I thank and acquit and
release you. Our lives take us. I don't know much--though I've
really been interested--about yours, but I suppose you've got one.
Mine at any rate will take ME--and where it will. Heigh-ho! Good-
bye." And then once more, for the sweetest faintest flower of all:
"Only, I say--see here!" She had framed the whole picture with a
squareness that included also the image of how again she would
decline to "see there," decline, as she might say, to see anywhere,
see anything. Yet it befell that just in the fury of this escape
she saw more than ever.
He came back one night with a rush, near the moment of their
closing, and showed her a face so different and new, so upset and
anxious, that almost anything seemed to look out of it but clear
recognition. He poked in a telegram very much as if the simple
sense of pressure, the distress of extreme haste, had blurred the
remembrance of where in particular he was. But as she met his eyes
a light came; it broke indeed on the spot into a positive conscious
glare. That made up for everything, since it was an instant
proclamation of the celebrated "danger"; it seemed to pour things
out in a flood. "Oh yes, here it is--it's upon me at last!
Forget, for God's sake, my having worried or bored you, and just
help me, just SAVE me, by getting this off without the loss of a
second!" Something grave had clearly occurred, a crisis declared
itself. She recognised immediately the person to whom the telegram
was addressed--the Miss Dolman of Parade Lodge to whom Lady Bradeen
had wired, at Dover, on the last occasion, and whom she had then,
with her recollection of previous arrangements, fitted into a
particular setting. Miss Dolman had figured before and not figured
since, but she was now the subject of an imperative appeal.
"Absolutely necessary to see you. Take last train Victoria if you
can catch it. If not, earliest morning, and answer me direct
"Reply paid?" said the girl. Mr. Buckton had just departed and the
counter-clerk was at the sounder. There was no other
representative of the public, and she had never yet, as it seemed
to her, not even in the street or in the Park, been so alone with
"Oh yes, reply paid, and as sharp as possible, please."
She affixed the stamps in a flash. "She'll catch the train!" she
then declared to him breathlessly, as if she could absolutely
"I don't know--I hope so. It's awfully important. So kind of you.
Awfully sharp, please." It was wonderfully innocent now, his
oblivion of all but his danger. Anything else that had ever passed
between them was utterly out of it. Well, she had wanted him to be
There was less of the same need therefore, happily, for herself;
yet she only took time, before she flew to the sounder, to gasp at
him: "You're in trouble?"
"Horrid, horrid--there's a row!" But they parted, on it, in the
next breath; and as she dashed at the sounder, almost pushing, in
her violence, the counter-clerk off the stool, she caught the bang
with which, at Cocker's door, in his further precipitation, he
closed the apron of the cab into which he had leaped. As he
rebounded to some other precaution suggested by his alarm, his
appeal to Miss Dolman flashed straight away.
But she had not, on the morrow, been in the place five minutes
before he was with her again, still more discomposed and quite,
now, as she said to herself, like a frightened child coming to its
mother. Her companions were there, and she felt it to be
remarkable how, in the presence of his agitation, his mere scared
exposed nature, she suddenly ceased to mind. It came to her as it
had never come to her before that with absolute directness and
assurance they might carry almost anything off. He had nothing to
send--she was sure he had been wiring all over--and yet his
business was evidently huge. There was nothing but that in his
eyes--not a glimmer of reference or memory. He was almost haggard
with anxiety and had clearly not slept a wink. Her pity for him
would have given her any courage, and she seemed to know at last
why she had been such a fool. "She didn't come?" she panted.
"Oh yes, she came; but there has been some mistake. We want a
"One that was sent from here ever so long ago. There was something
in it that has to be recovered. Something very, very important,
please--we want it immediately."
He really spoke to her as if she had been some strange young woman
at Knightsbridge or Paddington; but it had no other effect on her
than to give her the measure of his tremendous flurry. Then it was
that, above all, she felt how much she had missed in the gaps and
blanks and absent answers--how much she had had to dispense with:
it was now black darkness save for this little wild red flare. So
much as that she saw, so much her mind dealt with. One of the
lovers was quaking somewhere out of town, and the other was quaking
just where he stood. This was vivid enough, and after an instant
she knew it was all she wanted. She wanted no detail, no fact--she
wanted no nearer vision of discovery or shame. "When was your
telegram? Do you mean you sent it from here?" She tried to do the
young woman at Knightsbridge.
"Oh yes, from here--several weeks ago. Five, six, seven"--he was
confused and impatient--"don't you remember?"
"Remember?" she could scarcely keep out of her face, at the word,
the strangest of smiles.
But the way he didn't catch what it meant was perhaps even stranger
still. "I mean, don't you keep the old ones?"
"For a certain time."
"But how long?"
She thought; she must do the young woman, and she knew exactly what
the young woman would say and, still more, wouldn't. "Can you give
me the date?"
"Oh God, no! It was some time or other in August--toward the end.
It was to the same address as the one I gave you last night."
"Oh!" said the girl, knowing at this the deepest thrill she had
ever felt. It came to her there, with her eyes on his face, that
she held the whole thing in her hand, held it as she held her
pencil, which might have broken at that instant in her tightened
grip. This made her feel like the very fountain of fate, but the
emotion was such a flood that she had to press it back with all her
force. That was positively the reason, again, of her flute-like
Paddington tone. "You can't give us anything a little nearer?"
Her "little" and her "us" came straight from Paddington. These
things were no false note for him--his difficulty absorbed them
all. The eyes with which he pressed her, and in the depths of
which she read terror and rage and literal tears, were just the
same he would have shown any other prim person.
"I don't know the date. I only know the thing went from here, and
just about the time I speak of. It wasn't delivered, you see.
We've got to recover it."
She was as struck with the beauty of his plural pronoun as she had
judged he might be with that of her own; but she knew now so well
what she was about that she could almost play with him and with her
new-born joy. "You say 'about the time you speak of.' But I don't
think you speak of an exact time--do you?"
He looked splendidly helpless. "That's just what I want to find
out. Don't you keep the old ones?--can't you look it up?"
Our young lady--still at Paddington--turned the question over. "It
"Yes, it WAS; yet, at the same time, don't you know? it wasn't."
He just hung back, but he brought it out. "I mean it was
intercepted, don't you know? and there was something in it." He
paused again and, as if to further his quest and woo and supplicate
success and recovery, even smiled with an effort at the agreeable
that was almost ghastly and that turned the knife in her
tenderness. What must be the pain of it all, of the open gulf and
the throbbing fever, when this was the mere hot breath? "We want
to get what was in it--to know what it was."
"I see--I see." She managed just the accent they had at Paddington
when they stared like dead fish. "And you have no clue?"
"Not at all--I've the clue I've just given you."
"Oh the last of August?" If she kept it up long enough she would
make him really angry.
"Yes, and the address, as I've said."
"Oh the same as last night?"
He visibly quivered, as with a gleam of hope; but it only poured
oil on her quietude, and she was still deliberate. She ranged some
papers. "Won't you look?" he went on.
"I remember your coming," she replied.
He blinked with a new uneasiness; it might have begun to come to
him, through her difference, that he was somehow different himself.
"You were much quicker then, you know!"
"So were you--you must do me that justice," she answered with a
smile. "But let me see. Wasn't it Dover?"
"Yes, Miss Dolman--"
"Parade Lodge, Parade Terrace?"
"Exactly--thank you so awfully much!" He began to hope again.
"Then you HAVE it--the other one?"
She hesitated afresh; she quite dangled him. "It was brought by a
"Yes; and she put in by mistake something wrong. That's what we've
got to get hold of!" Heavens, what was he going to say?--flooding
poor Paddington with wild betrayals! She couldn't too much, for
her joy, dangle him, yet she couldn't either, for his dignity, warn
or control or check him. What she found herself doing was just to
treat herself to the middle way. "It was intercepted?"
"It fell into the wrong hands. But there's something in it," he
continued to blurt out, "that MAY be all right. That is, if it's
wrong, don't you know? It's all right if it's wrong," he
What WAS he, on earth, going to say? Mr. Buckton and the counter-
clerk were already interested; no one would have the decency to
come in; and she was divided between her particular terror for him
and her general curiosity. Yet she already saw with what
brilliancy she could add, to carry the thing off, a little false
knowledge to all her real. "I quite understand," she said with
benevolent, with almost patronising quickness. "The lady has
forgotten what she did put."
"Forgotten most wretchedly, and it's an immense inconvenience. It
has only just been found that it didn't get there; so that if we
could immediately have it--"
"Every minute counts. You have," he pleaded, "surely got them on
"So that you can see it on the spot?"
"Yes, please--this very minute." The counter rang with his
knuckles, with the knob of his stick, with his panic of alarm.
"Do, DO hunt it up!" he repeated.
"I dare say we could get it for you," the girl weetly returned.
"Get it?"--he looked aghast. "When?"
"Probably by to-morrow."
"Then it isn't here?"--his face was pitiful.
She caught only the uncovered gleams that peeped out of the
blackness, and she wondered what complication, even among the most
supposable, the very worst, could be bad enough to account for the
degree of his terror. There were twists and turns, there were
places where the screw drew blood, that she couldn't guess. She
was more and more glad she didn't want to. "It has been sent on."
"But how do you know if you don't look?"
She gave him a smile that was meant to be, in the absolute irony of
its propriety, quite divine. "It was August 23rd, and we've
nothing later here than August 27th."
Something leaped into his face. "27th--23rd? Then you're sure?
She felt she scarce knew what--as if she might soon be pounced upon
for some lurid connexion with a scandal. It was the queerest of
all sensations, for she had heard, she had read, of these things,
and the wealth of her intimacy with them at Cocker's might be
supposed to have schooled and seasoned her. This particular one
that she had really quite lived with was, after all, an old story;
yet what it had been before was dim and distant beside the touch
under which she now winced. Scandal?--it had never been but a
silly word. Now it was a great tense surface, and the surface was
somehow Captain Everard's wonderful face. Deep down in his eyes a
picture, a scene--a great place like a chamber of justice, where,
before a watching crowd, a poor girl, exposed but heroic, swore
with a quavering voice to a document, proved an ALIBI, supplied a
link. In this picture she bravely took her place. "It was the
"Then can't you get it this morning--or some time to-day?"
She considered, still holding him with her look, which she then
turned on her two companions, who were by this time unreservedly
enlisted. She didn't care--not a scrap, and she glanced about for
a piece of paper. With this she had to recognise the rigour of
official thrift--a morsel of blackened blotter was the only loose
paper to be seen. "Have you got a card?" she said to her visitor.
He was quite away from Paddington now, and the next instant,
pocket-book in hand, he had whipped a card out. She gave no glance
at the name on it--only turned it to the other side. She continued
to hold him, she felt at present, as she had never held him; and
her command of her colleagues was for the moment not less marked.
She wrote something on the back of the card and pushed it across to
He fairly glared at it. "Seven, nine, four--"
"Nine, six, one"--she obligingly completed the number. "Is it
right?" she smiled.
He took the whole thing in with a flushed intensity; then there
broke out in him a visibility of relief that was simply a
tremendous exposure. He shone at them all like a tall lighthouse,
embracing even, for sympathy, the blinking young men. "By all the
powers--it's WRONG!" And without another look, without a word of
thanks, without time for anything or anybody, he turned on them the
broad back of his great stature, straightened his triumphant
shoulders, and strode out of the place.
She was left confronted with her habitual critics. "'If it's wrong
it's all right!'" she extravagantly quoted to them.
The counter-clerk was really awe-stricken. "But how did you know,
"I remembered, love!"
Mr. Buckton, on the contrary, was rude. "And what game is that,
No happiness she had ever known came within miles of it, and some
minutes elapsed before she could recall herself sufficiently to
reply that it was none of his business.
If life at Cocker's, with the dreadful drop of August, had lost
something of its savour, she had not been slow to infer that a
heavier blight had fallen on the graceful industry of Mrs. Jordan.
With Lord Rye and Lady Ventnor and Mrs. Bubb all out of town, with
the blinds down on all the homes of luxury, this ingenious woman
might well have found her wonderful taste left quite on her hands.
She bore up, however, in a way that began by exciting much of her
young friend's esteem; they perhaps even more frequently met as the
wine of life flowed less free from other sources, and each, in the
lack of better diversion, carried on with more mystification for
the other an intercourse that consisted not a little in peeping out
and drawing back. Each waited for the other to commit herself,
each profusely curtained for the other the limits of low horizons.
Mrs. Jordan was indeed probably the more reckless skirmisher;
nothing could exceed her frequent incoherence unless it was indeed
her occasional bursts of confidence. Her account of her private
affairs rose and fell like a flame in the wind--sometimes the
bravest bonfire and sometimes a handful of ashes. This our young
woman took to be an effect of the position, at one moment and
another, of the famous door of the great world. She had been
struck in one of her ha'penny volumes with the translation of a
French proverb according to which such a door, any door, had to be
either open or shut; and it seemed part of the precariousness of
Mrs. Jordan's life that hers mostly managed to be neither. There
had been occasions when it appeared to gape wide--fairly to woo her
across its threshold; there had been others, of an order distinctly
disconcerting, when it was all but banged in her face. On the
whole, however, she had evidently not lost heart; these still
belonged to the class of things in spite of which she looked well.
She intimated that the profits of her trade had swollen so as to
float her through any state of the tide, and she had, besides this,
a hundred profundities and explanations.
She rose superior, above all, on the happy fact that there were
always gentlemen in town and that gentlemen were her greatest
admirers; gentlemen from the City in especial--as to whom she was
full of information about the passion and pride excited in such
breasts by the elements of her charming commerce. The City men did
in short go in for flowers. There was a certain type of awfully
smart stockbroker--Lord Rye called them Jews and bounders, but she
didn't care--whose extravagance, she more than once threw out, had
really, if one had any conscience, to be forcibly restrained. It
was not perhaps a pure love of beauty: it was a matter of vanity
and a sign of business; they wished to crush their rivals, and that
was one of their weapons. Mrs. Jordan's shrewdness was extreme;
she knew in any case her customer--she dealt, as she said, with all
sorts; and it was at the worst a race for her--a race even in the
dull months--from one set of chambers to another. And then, after
all, there were also still the ladies; the ladies of stockbroking
circles were perpetually up and down. They were not quite perhaps
Mrs. Bubb or Lady Ventnor; but you couldn't tell the difference
unless you quarrelled with them, and then you knew it only by their
making-up sooner. These ladies formed the branch of her subject on
which she most swayed in the breeze; to that degree that her
confidant had ended with an inference or two tending to banish
regret for opportunities not embraced. There were indeed tea-gowns
that Mrs. Jordan described--but tea-gowns were not the whole of
respectability, and it was odd that a clergyman's widow should
sometimes speak as if she almost thought so. She came back, it was
true, unfailingly to Lord Rye, never, evidently, quite losing sight
of him even on the longest excursions. That he was kindness itself
had become in fact the very moral it all pointed--pointed in
strange flashes of the poor woman's nearsighted eyes. She launched
at her young friend portentous looks, solemn heralds of some
extraordinary communication. The communication itself, from week
to week, hung fire; but it was to the facts over which it hovered
that she owed her power of going on. "They are, in one way and
another," she often emphasised, "a tower of strength"; and as the
allusion was to the aristocracy the girl could quite wonder why, if
they were so in "one way," they should require to be so in two.
She thoroughly knew, however, how many ways Mrs. Jordan counted in.
It all meant simply that her fate was pressing her close. If that
fate was to be sealed at the matrimonial altar it was perhaps not
remarkable that she shouldn't come all at once to the scratch of
overwhelming a mere telegraphist. It would necessarily present to
such a person a prospect of regretful sacrifice. Lord Rye--if it
WAS Lord Rye--wouldn't be "kind" to a nonentity of that sort, even
though people quite as good had been.
One Sunday afternoon in November they went, by arrangement, to
church together; after which--on the inspiration of the moment the
arrangement had not included it--they proceeded to Mrs. Jordan's
lodging in the region of Maida Vale. She had raved to her friend
about her service of predilection; she was excessively "high," and
had more than once wished to introduce the girl to the same comfort
and privilege. There was a thick brown fog and Maida Vale tasted
of acrid smoke; but they had been sitting among chants and incense
and wonderful music, during which, though the effect of such things
on her mind was great, our young lady had indulged in a series of
reflexions but indirectly related to them. One of these was the
result of Mrs. Jordan's having said to her on the way, and with a
certain fine significance, that Lord Rye had been for some time in
town. She had spoken as if it were a circumstance to which little
required to be added--as if the bearing of such an item on her life
might easily be grasped. Perhaps it was the wonder of whether Lord
Rye wished to marry her that made her guest, with thoughts straying
to that quarter, quite determine that some other nuptials also
should take place at Saint Julian's. Mr. Mudge was still an
attendant at his Wesleyan chapel, but this was the least of her
worries--it had never even vexed her enough for her to so much as
name it to Mrs. Jordan. Mr. Mudge's form of worship was one of
several things--they made up in superiority and beauty for what
they wanted in number--that she had long ago settled he should take
from her, and she had now moreover for the first time definitely
established her own. Its principal feature was that it was to be
the same as that of Mrs. Jordan and Lord Rye; which was indeed very
much what she said to her hostess as they sat together later on.
The brown fog was in this hostess's little parlour, where it acted
as a postponement of the question of there being, besides, anything
else than the teacups and a pewter pot and a very black little fire
and a paraffin lamp without a shade. There was at any rate no sign
of a flower; it was not for herself Mrs. Jordan gathered sweets.
The girl waited till they had had a cup of tea--waited for the
announcement that she fairly believed her friend had, this time,
possessed herself of her formally at last to make; but nothing
came, after the interval, save a little poke at the fire, which was
like the clearing of a throat for a speech.
"I think you must have heard me speak of Mr. Drake?" Mrs. Jordan
had never looked so queer, nor her smile so suggestive of a large
"Mr. Drake? Oh yes; isn't he a friend of Lord Rye?"
"A great and trusted friend. Almost--I may say--a loved friend."
Mrs. Jordan's "almost" had such an oddity that her companion was
moved, rather flippantly perhaps, to take it up. "Don't people as
good as love their friends when they I trust them?"
It pulled up a little the eulogist of Mr. Drake. "Well, my dear, I
"But you don't trust me?" the girl unmercifully asked.
Again Mrs. Jordan paused--still she looked queer. "Yes," she
replied with a certain austerity; "that's exactly what I'm about to
give you rather a remarkable proof of." The sense of its being
remarkable was already so strong that, while she bridled a little,
this held her auditor in a momentary muteness of submission. "Mr.
Drake has rendered his lordship for several years services that his
lordship has highly appreciated and that make it all the more--a--
unexpected that they should, perhaps a little suddenly, separate."
"Separate?" Our young lady was mystified, but she tried to be
interested; and she already saw that she had put the saddle on the
wrong horse. She had heard something of Mr. Drake, who was a
member of his lordship's circle--the member with whom, apparently,
Mrs. Jordan's avocations had most happened to throw her. She was
only a little puzzled at the "separation." "Well, at any rate,"
she smiled, "if they separate as friends--!"
"Oh his lordship takes the greatest interest in Mr. Drake's future.
He'll do anything for him; he has in fact just done a great deal.
There MUST, you know, be changes--!"
"No one knows it better than I," the girl said. She wished to draw
her interlocutress out. "There will be changes enough for me."
"You're leaving Cocker's?"
The ornament of that establishment waited a moment to answer, and
then it was indirect. "Tell me what YOU'RE doing."
"Well, what will you think of it?"
"Why that you've found the opening you were always so sure of."
Mrs. Jordan, on this, appeared to muse with embarrassed intensity.
"I was always sure, yes--and yet I often wasn't!"
"Well, I hope you're sure now. Sure, I mean, of Mr. Drake."
"Yes, my dear, I think I may say I AM. I kept him going till I
"Then he's yours?"
"My very own."
"How nice! And awfully rich?" our young woman went on.
Mrs. Jordan showed promptly enough that she loved for higher
things. "Awfully handsome--six foot two. And he HAS put by."
"Quite like Mr. Mudge, then!" that gentleman's friend rather
"Oh not quite!" Mr. Drake's was ambiguous about it, but the name of
Mr. Mudge had evidently given her some sort of stimulus. "He'll
have more opportunity now, at any rate. He's going to Lady
"To Lady Bradeen?" This was bewilderment. "'Going--'?"
The girl had seen, from the way Mrs. Jordan looked at her, that the
effect of the name had been to make her let something out. "Do you
She floundered, but she found her feet. "Well, you'll remember
I've often told you that if you've grand clients I have them too."
"Yes," said Mrs. Jordan; "but the great difference is that you hate
yours, whereas I really love mine. DO you know Lady Bradeen?" she
"Down to the ground! She's always in and out."
Mrs. Jordan's foolish eyes confessed, in fixing themselves on this
sketch, to a degree of wonder and even of envy. But she bore up
and, with a certain gaiety, "Do you hate HER?" she demanded.
Her visitor's reply was prompt. "Dear no!--not nearly so much as
some of them. She's too outrageously beautiful."
Mrs. Jordan continued to gaze. "Outrageously?"
"Well, yes; deliciously." What was really delicious was Mrs.
Jordan's vagueness. "You don't know her--you've not seen her?" her
guest lightly continued.
"No, but I've heard a great deal about her."
"So have I!" our young lady exclaimed.
Jordan looked an instant as if she suspected her good faith, or at
least her seriousness. "You know some friend--?"
"Of Lady Bradeen's? Oh yes--I know one."
The girl laughed out. "Only one--but he's so intimate."
Mrs. Jordan just hesitated. "He's a gentleman?"
"Yes, he's not a lady."
Her interlocutress appeared to muse. "She's immensely surrounded."
"She WILL be--with Mr. Drake!"
Mrs. Jordan's gaze became strangely fixed. "Is she VERY good-
"The handsomest person I know."
Mrs. Jordan continued to brood. "Well, I know some beauties."
Then with her odd jerkiness: "Do you think she looks GOOD?"
"Because that's not always the case with the good-looking?"--the
other took it up. "No, indeed, it isn't: that's one thing
Cocker's has taught me. Still, there are some people who have
everything. Lady Bradeen, at any rate, has enough: eyes and a
nose and a mouth, a complexion, a figure--"
"A figure?" Mrs. Jordan almost broke in.
"A figure, a head of hair!" The girl made a little conscious
motion that seemed to let the hair all down, and her companion
watched the wonderful show. "But Mr. Drake IS another--?"
"Another?"--Mrs. Jordan's thoughts had to come back from a
"Of her ladyship's admirers. He's 'going,' you say, to her?"
At this Mrs. Jordan really faltered. "She has engaged him."
"Engaged him?"--our young woman was quite at sea.
"In the same capacity as Lord Rye."
"And was Lord Rye engaged?"
Mrs. Jordan looked away from her now--looked, she thought, rather
injured and, as if trifled with, even a little angry. The mention
of Lady Bradeen had frustrated for a while the convergence of our
heroine's thoughts; but with this impression of her old friend's
combined impatience and diffidence they began again to whirl round
her, and continued it till one of them appeared to dart at her, out
of the dance, as if with a sharp peck. It came to her with a
lively shock, with a positive sting, that Mr. Drake was--could it
be possible? With the idea she found herself afresh on the edge of
laughter, of a sudden and strange perversity of mirth. Mr. Drake
loomed, in a swift image, before her; such a figure as she had seen
in open doorways of houses in Cocker's quarter--majestic, middle-
aged, erect, flanked on either side by a footman and taking the
name of a visitor. Mr. Drake then verily WAS a person who opened
the door! Before she had time, however, to recover from the effect
of her evocation, she was offered a vision which quite engulfed it.
It was communicated to her somehow that the face with which she had
seen it rise prompted Mrs. Jordan to dash, a bit wildly, at
something, at anything, that might attenuate criticism. "Lady
Bradeen's re-arranging--she's going to be married."
"Married?" The girl echoed it ever so softly, but there it was at
"Didn't you know it?"
She summoned all her sturdiness. "No, she hasn't told me."
"And her friends--haven't they?"
"I haven't seen any of them lately. I'm not so fortunate as you."
Mrs. Jordan gathered herself. "Then you haven't even heard of Lord
Her comrade, unable for a moment to speak, gave a slow headshake.
"You know it from Mr. Drake?" It was better surely not to learn
things at all than to learn them by the butler.
"She tells him everything."
"And he tells YOU--I see." Our young lady got up; recovering her
muff and her gloves she smiled. "Well, I haven't unfortunately any
Mr. Drake. I congratulate you with all my heart. Even without
your sort of assistance, however, there's a trifle here and there
that I do pick up. I gather that if she's to marry any one it must
quite necessarily be my friend."
Mrs. Jordan was now also on her feet. "Is Captain Everard your
The girl considered, drawing on a glove. "I saw, at one time, an
immense deal of him."
Mrs. Jordan looked hard at the glove, but she hadn't after all
waited for that to be sorry it wasn't cleaner. "What time was
"It must have been the time you were seeing so much of Mr. Drake."
She had now fairly taken it in: the distinguished person Mrs.
Jordan was to marry would answer bells and put on coals and
superintend, at least, the cleaning of boots for the other
distinguished person whom she might--well, whom she might have had,
if she had wished, so much more to say to. "Good-bye," she added;
Mrs. Jordan, however, again taking her muff from her, turned it
over, brushed it off and thoughtfully peeped into it. "Tell me
this before you go. You spoke just now of your own changes. Do
you mean that Mr. Mudge--?"
"Mr. Mudge has had great patience with me--he has brought me at
last to the point. We're to be married next month and have a nice
little home. But he's only a grocer, you know"--the girl met her
friend's intent eyes--"so that I'm afraid that, with the set you've
got into, you won't see your way to keep up our friendship."
Mrs. Jordan for a moment made no answer to this; she only held the
muff up to her face, after which she gave it back. "You don't like
it. I see, I see."
To her guest's astonishment there were tears now in her eyes. "I
don't like what?" the girl asked.
"Why my engagement. Only, with your great cleverness," the poor
lady quavered out, "you put it in your own way. I mean that you'll
cool off. You already have--!" And on this, the next instant, her
tears began to flow. She succumbed to them and collapsed; she sank
down again, burying her face and trying to smother her sobs.
Her young friend stood there, still in some rigour, but taken much
by surprise even if not yet fully moved to pity. "I don't put
anything in any 'way,' and I'm very glad you're suited. Only, you
know, you did put to me so splendidly what, even for me, if I had
listened to you, it might lead to."
Mrs. Jordan kept up a mild thin weak wail; then, drying her eyes,
as feebly considered this reminder. "It has led to my not
starving!" she faintly gasped.
Our young lady, at this, dropped into the place beside her, and
now, in a rush, the small silly misery was clear. She took her
hand as a sign of pitying it, then, after another instant,
confirmed this expression with a consoling kiss. They sat there
together; they looked out, hand in hand, into the damp dusky shabby
little room and into the future, of no such very different
suggestion, at last accepted by each. There was no definite
utterance, on either side, of Mr. Drake's position in the great
world, but the temporary collapse of his prospective bride threw
all further necessary light; and what our heroine saw and felt for
in the whole business was the vivid reflexion of her own dreams and
delusions and her own return to reality. Reality, for the poor
things they both were, could only be ugliness and obscurity, could
never be the escape, the rise. She pressed her friend--she had
tact enough for that--with no other personal question, brought on
no need of further revelations, only just continued to hold and
comfort her and to acknowledge by stiff little forbearances the
common element in their fate. She felt indeed magnanimous in such
matters; since if it was very well, for condolence or reassurance,
to suppress just then invidious shrinkings, she yet by no means saw
herself sitting down, as she might say, to the same table with Mr.
Drake. There would luckily, to all appearance, be little question
of tables; and the circumstance that, on their peculiar lines, her
friend's interests would still attach themselves to Mayfair flung
over Chalk Farm the first radiance it had shown. Where was one's
pride and one's passion when the real way to judge of one's luck
was by making not the wrong but the right comparison? Before she
had again gathered herself to go she felt very small and cautious
and thankful. "We shall have our own house," she said, "and you
must come very soon and let me show it you."
"WE shall have our own too," Mrs. Jordan replied; "for, don't you
know? he makes it a condition that he sleeps out?"
"A condition?"--the girl felt out of it.
"For any new position. It was on that he parted with Lord Rye.
His lordship can't meet it. So Mr. Drake has given him up."
"And all for you?"--our young woman put it as cheerfully as
"For me and Lady Bradeen. Her ladyship's too glad to get him at
any price. Lord Rye, out of interest in us, has in fact quite MADE
her take him. So, as I tell you, he will have his own
Mrs. Jordan, in the elation of it, had begun to revive; but there
was nevertheless between them rather a conscious pause--a pause in
which neither visitor nor hostess brought out a hope or an
invitation. It expressed in the last resort that, in spite of
submission and sympathy, they could now after all only look at each
other across the social gulf. They remained together as if it
would be indeed their last chance, still sitting, though awkwardly,
quite close, and feeling also--and this most unmistakeably--that
there was one thing more to go into. By the time it came to the
surface, moreover, our young friend had recognised the whole of the
main truth, from which she even drew again a slight irritation. It
was not the main truth perhaps that most signified; but after her
momentary effort, her embarrassment and her tears Mrs. Jordan had
begun to sound afresh--and even without speaking--the note of a
social connexion. She hadn't really let go of it that she was
marrying into society. Well, it was a harmless compensation, and
it was all the prospective bride of Mr. Mudge had to leave with
This young lady at last rose again, but she lingered before going.
"And has Captain Everard nothing to say to it?"
"To what, dear?"
"Why, to such questions--the domestic arrangements, things in the
"How can he, with any authority, when nothing in the house is his?"
"Not his?" The girl wondered, perfectly conscious of the
appearance she thus conferred on Mrs. Jordan of knowing, in
comparison with herself, so tremendously much about it. Well,
there were things she wanted so to get at that she was willing at
last, though it hurt her, to pay for them with humiliation. "Why
are they not his?"
"Don't you know, dear, that he has nothing?"
"Nothing?" It was hard to see him in such a light, but Mrs.
Jordan's power to answer for it had a superiority that began, on
the spot, to grow. "Isn't he rich?"
Mrs. Jordan looked immensely, looked both generally and
particularly, informed. "It depends upon what you call--! Not at
any rate in the least as she is. What does he bring? Think what
she has. And then, love, his debts."
"His debts?" His young friend was fairly betrayed into helpless
innocence. She could struggle a little, but she had to let herself
go; and if she had spoken frankly she would have said: "Do tell
me, for I don't know so much about him as THAT!" As she didn't
speak frankly she only said: "His debts are nothing--when she so
Mrs. Jordan began to fix her again, and now she saw that she must
only take it all. That was what it had come to: his having sat
with her there on the bench and under the trees in the summer
darkness and put his hand on her, making her know what he would
have said if permitted; his having returned to her afterwards,
repeatedly, with supplicating eyes and a fever in his blood; and
her having, on her side, hard and pedantic, helped by some miracle
and with her impossible condition, only answered him, yet
supplicating back, through the bars of the cage,--all simply that
she might hear of him, now for ever lost, only through Mrs. Jordan,
who touched him through Mr. Drake, who reached him through Lady
Bradeen. "She adores him--but of course that wasn't all there was
The girl met her eyes a minute, then quite surrendered. "What was
there else about it?"
"Why, don't you know?"--Mrs. Jordan was almost compassionate.
Her interlocutress had, in the cage, sounded depths, but there was
a suggestion here somehow of an abyss quite measureless. "Of
course I know she would never let him alone."
"How COULD she--fancy!--when he had so compromised her?"
The most artless cry they had ever uttered broke, at this, from the
younger pair of lips. "HAD he so--?"
"Why, don't you know the scandal?"
Our heroine thought, recollected there was something, whatever it
was, that she knew after all much more of than Mrs. Jordan. She
saw him again as she had seen him come that morning to recover the
telegram--she saw him as she had seen him leave the shop. She
perched herself a moment on this. "Oh there was nothing public."
"Not exactly public--no. But there was an awful scare and an awful
row. It was all on the very point of coming out. Something was
lost--something was found."
"Ah yes," the girl replied, smiling as if with the revival of a
blurred memory; "something was found."
"It all got about--and there was a point at which Lord Bradeen had
"Had to--yes. But he didn't."
Mrs. Jordan was obliged to admit it. "No, he didn't. And then,
luckily for them, he died."
"I didn't know about his death," her companion said.
"It was nine weeks ago, and most sudden. It has given them a
"To get married?"--this was a wonder--"within nine weeks?"
"Oh not immediately, but--in all the circumstances--very quietly
and, I assure you, very soon. Every preparation's made. Above all
she holds him."
"Oh yes, she holds him!" our young friend threw off. She had this
before her again a minute; then she continued: "You mean through
his having made her talked about?"
"Yes, but not only that. She has still another pull."
Mrs. Jordan hesitated. "Why, he was IN something."
Her comrade wondered. "In what?"
"I don't know. Something bad. As I tell you, something was
The girl stared. "Well?"
"It would have been very bad for him. But, she helped him some
way--she recovered it, got hold of it. It's even said she stole
Our young woman considered afresh. "Why it was what was found that
precisely saved him."
Mrs. Jordan, however, was positive. "I beg your pardon. I happen
Her disciple faltered but an instant. "Do you mean through Mr.
Drake? Do they tell him these things?"
"A good servant," said Mrs. Jordan, now thoroughly superior and
proportionately sententious, "doesn't need to be told! Her
ladyship saved--as a woman so often saves!--the man she loves."
This time our heroine took longer to recover herself, but she found
a voice at last. "Ah well--of course I don't know! The great
thing was that he got off. They seem then, in a manner," she
added, "to have done a great deal for each other."
"Well, it's she that has done most. She has him tight."
"I see, I see. Good-bye." The women had already embraced, and
this was not repeated; but Mrs. Jordan went down with her guest to
the door of the house. Here again the younger lingered, reverting,
though three or four other remarks had on the way passed between
them, to Captain Everard and Lady Bradeen. "Did you mean just now
that if she hadn't saved him, as you call it, she wouldn't hold him
"Well, I dare say." Mrs. Jordan, on the doorstep, smiled with a
reflexion that had come to her; she took one of her big bites of
the brown gloom. "Men always dislike one when they've done one an
"But what injury had he done her?"
"The one I've mentioned. He MUST marry her, you know."
"And didn't he want to?"
"Not before she recovered the telegram?"
Mrs. Jordan was pulled up a little. "Was it a telegram?"
The girl hesitated. "I thought you said so. I mean whatever it
"Yes, whatever it was, I don't think she saw THAT."
"So she just nailed him?"
"She just nailed him." The departing friend was now at the bottom
of the little flight of steps; the other was at the top, with a
certain thickness of fog. "And when am I to think of you in your
little home?--next month?" asked the voice from the top.
"At the very latest. And when am I to think of you in yours?"
"Oh even sooner. I feel, after so much talk with you about it, as
if I were already there!" Then "GOOD-bye!" came out of the fog.
"Good-BYE!" went into it. Our young lady went into it also, in the
opposed quarter, and presently, after a few sightless turns, came
out on the Paddington canal. Distinguishing vaguely what the low
parapet enclosed she stopped close to it and stood a while very
intently, but perhaps still sightlessly, looking down on it. A
policeman; while she remained, strolled past her; then, going his
way a little further and half lost in the atmosphere, paused and
watched her. But she was quite unaware--she was full of her
thoughts. They were too numerous to find a place just here, but
two of the number may at least be mentioned. One of these was
that, decidedly, her little home must be not for next month, but
for next week; the other, which came indeed as she resumed her walk
and went her way, was that it was strange such a matter should be
at last settled for her by Mr. Drake