Part 3 out of 9
'Take care, then, that your wife is ornamental.'
'I'll take precious good care of that!' Crewe exclaimed merrily. 'Do
you suppose I should dream of marrying a woman who wasn't
'Don't shout, please. People can hear you.'
'I beg your pardon.' His voice sank to humility. 'That's a bad habit
of mine. But I was going to say--I went to the Academy this year
just to look at the portraits of men's wives. There was nothing
particular in that line. Not a woman I should have felt particularly
proud of. Tastes differ, of course. Mine has altered a good deal in
the last ten years. A man can't trust himself about women till he's
thirty or near it.'
'Talk of something else,' Nancy commanded.
'Certainly. There's the sun coming out. You see, I was afraid it
would keep on raining, and you would have an excuse for staying at
'I needed no excuse,' said Nancy. 'If I hadn't wished to come, you
may be sure I should have said so.'
Crewe flashed a look at her.
'Ah, that's how I like to hear you speak! That does one good. Well,
here we are. People used to be fond of going up, they say, just to
pitch themselves down. A good deal of needless trouble, it seems to
me. Perhaps they gave themselves the off-chance of changing their
minds before they got to the top.'
'Or wanted to see if life looked any better from up there,'
'Or hoped somebody would catch them by the coat-tails, and settle a
pension on them out of pity.'
Thus jesting, they began the ascent. Crewe, whose spirits were at
high pressure, talked all the way up the winding stairs; on issuing
into daylight, he became silent, and they stood side by side, mute
before the vision of London's immensity. Nancy began to move round
the platform. The strong west wind lashed her cheeks to a glowing
colour; excitement added brilliancy to her eyes. As soon as she had
recovered from the first impression, this spectacle of a world's
wonder served only to exhilarate her; she was not awed by what she
looked upon. In her conceit of self-importance, she stood there,
above the battling millions of men, proof against mystery and dread,
untouched by the voices of the past, and in the present seeing only
common things, though from an odd point of view. Here her senses
seemed to make literal the assumption by which her mind had always
been directed: that she--Nancy Lord--was the mid point of the
universe. No humility awoke in her; she felt the stirring of envies,
avidities, unavowable passions, and let them flourish unrebuked.
Crewe had his eyes fixed upon her; his lips parted hungrily.
'Now _that's_ how I should like to see you painted,' he said all at
once. 'Just like that! I never saw you looking so well. I believe
you're the most beautiful girl to be found anywhere in this London!'
There was genuine emotion in his voice, and his sweeping gesture
suited the mood of vehemence. Nancy, having seen that the two or
three other people on the platform were not within hearing, gave an
answer of which the frankness surprised even herself.
'Portraits for the Academy cost a great deal, you know.'
'I know. But that's what I'm working for. There are not many men
down yonder,' he pointed over the City, 'have a better head for
money-making than I have.'
'Well, prove it,' replied Nancy, and laughed as the wind caught her
'How long will you give me?'
She made no answer, but walked to the side whence she could look
westward. Crewe followed close, his features still set in the hungry
look, his eyes never moving from her warm cheek and full lips.
'What it must be,' she said, 'to have about twenty thousand a year!'
The man of business gave a gasp. In the same moment he had to clutch
at his hat, lest it should be blown away.
'Twenty thousand a year?' he echoed. 'Well, it isn't impossible. Men
get beyond that, and a good deal beyond it. But it's a large order.'
'Of course it is. But what was it you said? The most beautiful girl
in all London? That's a large order, too, isn't it? How much is she
'You're talking for the joke now,' said Crewe. 'I don't like to hear
that kind of thing, either. You never think in that way.'
'My thoughts are my own. I may think as I choose.'
'Yes. But you have thoughts above money.'
'Have I? How kind of you to say so.--I've had enough of this wind;
we'll go down.'
She led the way, and neither of them spoke till they were in the
street again. Nancy felt her hair.
'Am I blown to pieces?' she asked.
'No, no; you're all right. Now, will you walk through the City?'
'Where's the place you spoke of?'
'Farringdon Street. That'll bring you round to Blackfriars Bridge,
when you want to go home. But there's plenty of time yet.'
So they rambled aimlessly by the great thoroughfares, and by hidden
streets of which Nancy had never heard, talking or silent as the
mood dictated. Crewe had stories to tell of this and that thriving
firm, of others struggling in obscurity or falling from high estate;
to him the streets of London were so many chapters of romance, but a
romance always of to-day, for he neither knew nor cared about
historic associations. Vast sums sounded perpetually on his lips; he
glowed with envious delight in telling of speculations that had
built up great fortunes. He knew the fabulous rents that were paid
for sites that looked insignificant; he repeated anecdotes of calls
made from Somerset House upon men of business, who had been too
modest in returning the statement of their income; he revived
legends of dire financial disaster, and of catastrophe barely
averted by strange expedients. To all this Nancy listened with only
moderate interest; as often as not, she failed to understand the
details which should have excited her wonder. None the less, she
received an impression of knowledge, acuteness, power, in the
speaker; and this was decidedly pleasant.
'Here's the place where I think of starting for myself,' said Crewe,
as he paused at length before a huge building in Farringdon Street.
'This?--Can you afford such a rent?'
Her companion burst into laughter.
'I don't mean the whole building. Two or three rooms, that's all,
Nancy made a jest of her mistake.
'An advertising agent doesn't want much space,' said Crewe. 'I know
a chap who's doing a pretty big business in one room, not far from
here.--Well, we've had a long walk; now you must rest a bit, and
have a cup of tea.'
'I thought you were going to propose champagne.'
'Oh--if you like--'
They went to a restaurant in Fleet Street, and sat for half an hour
over the milder beverage. Crewe talked of his projects, his
prospects; and Nancy, whom the afternoon had in truth fatigued a
little, though her mind was still excited, listened without remark.
'Well,' he said at length, leaning towards her, 'how long do you
She looked away, and kept silence.
'Two years:--just to make a solid start; to show that something
worth talking 'about is to come?'
'I'll think about it.'
He kept his position, and gazed at her.
'I know it isn't money that would tempt you.' He spoke in a very low
voice, though no one was within earshot. 'Don't think I make any
mistake about _that_! But I have to show you that there's something
in me. I wouldn't marry any woman that thought I made love to her
out of interest.'
Nancy began to draw on her gloves, and smiled, just biting her lower
'Will you give me a couple of years, from to-day? I won't bother
you. It's honour bright!'
'I'll think about it,' Nancy repeated.
'Whilst you're away?'
'Yes, whilst I'm away at Teignmouth.'
'And tell me when you come back?'
'Tell you--how long. Yes.'
And she rose.
From the mouth of Exe to the mouth of Teign the coast is
uninteresting. Such beauty as it once possessed has been destroyed
by the railway. Cliffs of red sandstone drop to the narrow beach,
warm between the blue of sky and sea, but without grandeur, and
robbed of their native grace by navvy-hewing, which for the most
part makes of them a mere embankment: their verdure stripped away,
their juttings tunnelled, along their base the steel parallels of
smoky traffic. Dawlish and Teignmouth have in themselves no charm;
hotel and lodging-house, shamed by the soft pure light that falls
about them, look blankly seaward, hiding what remains of farm or
cottage in the older parts. Ebb-tide uncovers no fair stretch of
sand, and at flood the breakers are thwarted on a bulwark of piled
stone, which supports the railway, or protects a promenade.
But inland these discontents are soon forgotten; there amid tilth
and pasture, gentle hills and leafy hollows of rural Devon, the eye
rests and the mind is soothed. By lanes innumerable, deep between
banks of fern and flower; by paths along the bramble-edge of scented
meadows; by the secret windings of copse and brake and stream-worn
valley--a way lies upward to the long ridge of Haldon, where
breezes sing among the pines, or sweep rustling through gorse and
bracken. Mile after mile of rustic loveliness, ever and anon the
sea-limits blue beyond grassy slopes. White farms dozing beneath
their thatch in harvest sunshine; hamlets forsaken save by women and
children, by dogs and cats and poultry, the labourers afield. Here
grow the tall foxgloves, bending a purple head in the heat of noon;
here the great bells of the convolvulus hang thick from lofty
hedges, massing their pink and white against dark green leafage;
here amid shadowed undergrowth trail the long fronds of lustrous
hartstongue; wherever the eye falls, profusion of summer's glory.
Here, in many a nook carpeted with softest turf, canopied with
tangle of leaf and bloom, solitude is safe from all intrusion--
unless it be that of flitting bird, or of some timid wild thing that
rustles for a moment and is gone. From dawn to midnight, as from
midnight to dawn, one who would be alone with nature might count
upon the security of these bosks and dells.
By Nancy Lord and her companions such pleasures were unregarded. For
the first few days after their arrival at Teignmouth, they sat or
walked on the promenade, walked or sat on the pier, sat or walked on
the Den--a long, wide lawn, decked about with shrubs and
flower-beds, between sea-fronting houses and the beach. Nancy had no
wish to exert herself, for the weather was hot; after her morning
bathe with Jessica, she found amusement enough in watching the
people--most of whom were here simply to look at each other, or in
listening to the band, which played selections from Sullivan varied
with dance music, or in reading a novel from the book-lender's,--
that is to say, gazing idly at the page, and letting such
significance as it possessed float upon her thoughts.
She was pleasantly conscious that the loungers who passed by, male
and female, gave something of attention to her face and costume.
Without attempting to rival the masterpieces of fashion which
invited envy or wonder from all observers, she thought herself
nicely dressed, and had in fact, as always, made good use of her
father's liberality. Her taste in garments had a certain timidity
that served her well; by avoiding the extremes of mode, and in
virtue of her admirable figure, she took the eye of those who looked
for refinement rather than for extravagance. The unconsidered grace
of her bearing might be recognised by all whom such things
concerned; it by no means suggested that she came from a small house
in Camberwell. In her companions, to be sure, she was unfortunate;
but the over-modest attire and unimpressive persons of Mrs. Morgan
and Jessica at least did her the office of relief by contrast.
Nancy had made this reflection; she was not above it. Yet her actual
goodness of heart saved her from ever feeling ashamed of the
Morgans. It gratified her to think that she was doing them a
substantial kindness; but for her, they would have dragged through a
wretched summer in their unwholesome, jimcrack house, without a
breath of pure air, without a sight of the free heaven. And to both
of them that would probably have meant a grave illness.
Mrs. Morgan was a thin, tremulous woman, with watery eyes and a
singular redness about the prominent part of her face, which seemed
to indicate a determination of blood to the nose. All her married
life had been spent in a cheerless struggle to maintain the
externals of gentility. Not that she was vain or frivolous--indeed
her natural tendencies made for homeliness in everything--but, by
birth and by marriage connected with genteel people, she felt it
impossible to abandon that mode of living which is supposed to
distinguish the educated class from all beneath it. She had brought
into the world three sons and three daughters; of the former, two
were dead, and of the latter, one,--in each case, poverty of diet
having proved fatal to a weak constitution. For close upon thirty
years the family had lived in houses of which the rent was out of
all reasonable proportion to their means; at present, with a total
income of one hundred and sixty pounds (Mr. Morgan called himself a
commission agent, and seldom had anything to do), they paid in rent
and rates a matter of fifty-five, and bemoaned the fate which
neighboured them with people only by courtesy to be called
gentlefolk. Of course they kept a servant,--her wages nine pounds
a year. Whilst the mother and elder daughter were at Teignmouth, Mr
Morgan, his son, and the younger girl felt themselves justified in
making up for lack of holiday by an extra supply of butcher's meat.
Well-meaning, but with as little discretion in this as in other
things, Mrs. Morgan allowed scarce an hour of the day to pass without
uttering her gratitude to Nancy Lord for the benefit she was
enjoying. To escape these oppressive thanks, Nancy did her best
never to be alone with the poor lady; but a _tete-a-tete_ was
occasionally unavoidable, as, for instance, on the third or fourth
day after their arrival, when Mrs. Morgan had begged Nancy's company
for a walk on the Den, whilst Jessica wrote letters. At the end of a
tedious hour Jessica joined them, and her face had an unwonted
expression. She beckoned her friend apart.
'You'll be surprised. Who do you think is here?'
'No one that will bore us, I hope.'
'Mr. Tarrant. I met him near the post-office, and he stopped me.'
'Are they all here again?'
'No; he says he's alone.--One minute, mamma; please excuse us.'
'He was surprised to see you?' said Nancy, after reflecting.
'He said so. But--I forgot to tell you--in a letter to Mrs. Baker
I spoke of our plans. She had written to me to propose a pupil for
after the holidays.--Perhaps she didn't mention it to Mr. Tarrant.'
'Evidently not!' Nancy exclaimed, with some impatience. 'Why should
you doubt his word?'
'I can't help thinking'--Jessica smiled archly--'that he has
come just to meet--somebody.'
'Somebody? Who do you mean?' asked her friend, with a look of
'I may be mistaken'--a glance completed the suggestion.
For the rest of that day the subject was unmentioned. Nancy kept
rather to herself, and seemed meditative. Next morning she was in
the same mood. The tide served for a bathe at eleven o'clock;
afterwards, as the girls walked briskly to and fro near the seat
where Mrs. Morgan had established herself with a volume of Browning,
--Jessica insisted on her reading Browning, though the poor mother
protested that she scarcely understood a word,--they came full
upon the unmistakable presence of Mr. Lionel Tarrant. Miss. Morgan, in
acknowledging his salute, offered her hand; it was by her that the
young man had stopped. Miss. Lord only bent her head, and that
slightly. Tarrant expected more, but his half-raised hand dropped in
time, and he directed his speech to Jessica. He had nothing to say
but what seemed natural and civil; the dialogue--Nancy remained
mute--occupied but a few minutes, and Tarrant went his way,
As Mrs. Morgan had observed the meeting, it was necessary to offer
her an explanation. But Jessica gave only the barest facts
concerning their acquaintance, and Nancy spoke as though she hardly
The weather was oppressively hot; in doors or out, little could be
done but sit or lie in enervated attitudes, a state of things
accordant with Nancy's mood. Till late at night she watched the blue
starry sky from her open window, seeming to reflect, but in reality
wafted on a stream of fancies and emotions. Jessica's explanation of
the arrival of Lionel Tarrant had strangely startled her; no such
suggestion would have occurred to her own mind. Yet now, she only
feared that it might not be true. A debilitating climate and
absolute indolence favoured that impulse of lawless imagination
which had first possessed her on the evening of Jubilee Day. With
luxurious heedlessness she cast aside every thought that might have
sobered her; even as she at length cast off all her garments, and
lay in the warm midnight naked upon her bed.
The physical attraction of which she had always been conscious in
Tarrant's presence seemed to have grown stronger since she had
dismissed him from her mind. Comparing him with Luckworth Crewe, she
felt only a contemptuous distaste for the coarse vitality and
vigour, whereto she had half surrendered herself, when hopeless of
the more ambitious desire.
Rising early, she went out before breakfast, and found that a little
rain had fallen. Grass and flowers were freshened; the air had an
exquisite clearness, and a coolness which struck delightfully on the
face, after the close atmosphere within doors. She had paused to
watch a fishing-boat off shore, when a cheery voice bade her
'good-morning,' and Tarrant stepped to her side.
'You are fond of this place,' he said.
'Then why do you choose it?'
'It does for a holiday as well as any other.'
He was gazing at her, and with the look which Nancy resented, the
look which made her feel his social superiority. He seemed to
observe her features with a condescending gratification. Though
totally ignorant of his life and habits, she felt a conviction that
he had often bestowed this look upon girls of a class below his own.
'How do you like those advertisements of soaps and pills along the
pier?' he asked carelessly.
'I see no harm in them.'
Perversity prompted her answer, but at once she remembered Crewe,
and turned away in annoyance. Tarrant was only the more
'You like the world as it is? There's wisdom in that. Better be in
harmony with one's time, advertisements and all.' He added, 'Are you
reading for an exam?'
'I? You are confusing me with Miss. Morgan.'
'Oh, not for a moment! I couldn't possibly confuse you with any one
else. I know Miss. Morgan is studying professionally; but I thought
you were reading for your own satisfaction, as so many women do
The distinction was flattering. Nancy yielded to the charm of his
voice and conversed freely. It began to seem not impossible that he
found some pleasure in her society. Now and then he dropped a word
that made her pulses flutter; his eyes were constantly upon her
'Don't you go off into the country sometimes?' he inquired, when she
had turned homewards.
'We are thinking of having a drive to-day.'
'And I shall most likely have a ride; we may meet.'
Nancy ordered a carriage for the afternoon, and with her friends
drove up the Teign valley; but they did not meet Tarrant. But next
morning he joined them on the pier, and this time Jessica had no
choice but to present him to her mother. Nancy felt annoyed that
this should have come about; Tarrant, she supposed, would regard
poor Mrs. Morgan with secret ridicule. Yet, if that were his
disposition, he concealed it perfectly; no one could have behaved
with more finished courtesy. He seated himself by Mrs. Morgan, and
talked with her of the simplest things in a pleasant, kindly humour.
Yesterday, so he made known, he had ridden to Torquay and back,
returning after sunset. This afternoon he was going by train to
Exeter, to buy some books.
Again he strolled about with Nancy, and talked of idle things with
an almost excessive amiability. As the girl listened, a languor
crept upon her, a soft and delicious subdual of the will to dreamy
luxury. Her eyes were fixed on the shadows cast by her own figure
and that of her companion. The black patches by chance touched. She
moved so as to part them, and then changed her position so that they
touched again--so that they blended.
Nancy had written to her father, a short letter but affectionate,
begging him to let her know whether the improvement in his health,
of which he had spoken before she left home, still continued. The
answer came without delay. On the whole, said Mr. Lord, he was doing
well enough; no need whatever to trouble about him. He wrote only a
few lines, but closed with 'love to you, my dear child,' an unwonted
At the same time there came a letter from Horace.
'You will be surprised,' it began, 'at the address I write from. As
you know, I had planned to go to Brighton; but on the day before my
holiday commenced I heard from F. F., saying that she and Mrs.
Peachey had had a quarrel, and she was tired of Brighton, and was
coming home. So I waited a day or two, and then, as I had half
promised, I went to see Mrs. D. We had a long talk, and it ended in
my telling her about F., and all the row there's been. Perhaps you
will think I had better have kept it to myself, but Mrs. D. and I are
on first-rate terms, and she seems to understand me better than any
one I ever met. We talked about my holiday, and she persuaded me to
come to Scarborough, where she herself was going for a week or two.
It's rather an expensive affair, but worth the money. Of course I
have lodgings of my own. Mrs. D. is at a big hotel, where friends of
hers are staying. I have been introduced to two or three people,
great swells, and I've had lunch with Mrs. D. at the hotel twice.
This kind of life suits me exactly. I don't think I get on badly
with the swells. Of course I say not a word about my position, and
of course nobody would think of asking questions. You would like
this place; I rather wish you were here. Of course father thinks I
have come on my own hook. It's very awkward having to keep a secret
of this kind; I must try and persuade Mrs. D. to have a talk with
father. But one thing I can tell you,--I feel pretty sure that she
will get me, somehow or other, out of that beastly City life; she's
always talking of things I might do. But not a word to any one about
all this--be sure.'
This news caused Nancy to ponder for a long time. The greater part
of the morning she spent at home, and in her own room; after lunch,
she sat idly on the promenade, little disposed for conversation.
It was the second day since Tarrant had told her that he was going
to Exeter, and they had not again met; the Morgans had not seen him
either. The next morning, however, as all three were sitting in one
of their favourite places, Tarrant approached them. Mrs. Morgan, who
was fluttered by the natural supposition of a love affair between
Miss. Lord and the interesting young man, made it easy for them to
'Did you get your books?' Nancy asked, when silence followed on
'Yes, and spent half a day with them in a favourite retreat of mine,
inland. It's a very beautiful spot. I should like you to see it.
Indeed, you ought to.'
Nancy turned her eyes to the sea.
'We might walk over there one afternoon,' he added.
'Mrs. Morgan can't walk far.'
'Why should we trouble her? Are you obliged to remain under Mrs.
It was said jestingly, but Nancy felt piqued.
'Certainly not. I am quite independent.'
'So I should have supposed. Then why not come?'
He seemed perfectly self-possessed, but the voice was not quite his
own. To Nancy, her eyes still looking straight forward, it sounded
as though from a distance; it had an effect upon her nerves similar
to that she had experienced three days ago, when they were walking
about the pier. Her hands fell idly; she leaned back more heavily on
the seat; a weight was on her tongue.
'A country ramble of an hour or two,' pursued the voice, which
itself had become languorous. 'Surely you are sometimes alone? It
isn't necessary to give a detailed account of your time?'
She answered impatiently. 'Of course not.' In this moment her
thoughts had turned to Luckworth Crewe, and she was asking herself
why this invitation of Tarrant's affected her so very differently
from anything she had felt when Crewe begged her to meet him in
London. With him she could go anywhere, enjoying a genuine
independence, a complete self-confidence, thinking her
unconventional behaviour merely good fun. Tarrant's proposal
startled her. She was not mistress of the situation, as when
trifling with Crewe. A sense of peril caused her heart to beat
'This afternoon, then,' the voice was murmuring.
She answered mechanically. 'It's going to rain, I think.'
'I think not. But, if so, to-morrow.'
'To-morrow is Sunday.'
'Yes. Monday, then.'
Nancy heard him smother a laugh. She wished to look at him, but
'It won't rain,' he continued, still with the ease of one who speaks
of everyday matters. 'We shall see, at all events. Perhaps you will
want to change your book at the library.' A novel lay on her lap.
'We'll leave it an open possibility--to meet there about three
Nancy pointed out to sea, and asked where the steamer just passing
might be bound for. Her companion readily turned to this subject.
The rain--she half hoped for it--did not come. By luncheon-time
every doubtful cloud had vanished. Before sitting down to table, she
observed the sky at the open window.
'Lovely weather!' sighed Mrs. Morgan behind her. 'But for you, dear
Nancy, I should have been dreaming and wishing--oh, how vainly!--
in the stifling town.'
'We'll have another drive this afternoon,' Nancy declared.
'Oh, how delightful! But pray, pray, not on our account--'
'Jessica,'--Nancy turned to her friend, who had just entered the
room,--'we'll have the carriage at three. And a better horse than
last time; I'll take good care of that. Pen, ink, and paper!' she
cried joyously. 'The note shall go round at once.'
'You're a magnificent sort of person,' said Jessica. 'Some day, no
doubt, you'll keep a carriage and pair of your own.'
'Shan't I, just! And drive you down to Burlington House, for your
exams. By-the-bye, does a female Bachelor of Arts lose her degree if
she gets married?'
Nancy was sprightlier than of late. Her mood maintained itself
throughout the first half of the drive, then she seemed to be
overcome by a sudden weariness, ceased to talk, and gave only a
listless look at things which interested her companions. By when
they reached home again, she had a pale troubled countenance. Until
dinner nothing more was seen of her, and after the meal she soon
excused herself on the plea of a headache.
Again there passed two days, Sunday and Monday, without Tarrant's
appearing. Mrs. Morgan and Jessica privately talked much of the
circumstance. Sentimental souls, they found this topic
inexhaustible; Jessica, having her mind thus drawn away from
Burlington House, benefited not a little by the mystery of her
friend's position; she thought, however, that Nancy might have
practised a less severe reticence. To Mrs. Morgan it never occurred
that so self-reliant a young woman as Miss. Lord stood in need of
matronly counsel, of strict chaperonage; she would have deemed it an
impertinence to allow herself the most innocent remark implying such
On Wednesday afternoon, about three o'clock, Nancy walked alone to
the library. There, looking at books and photographs in the window,
stood Lionel Tarrant. He greeted her as usual, seemed not to remark
the hot colour in her cheeks, and stepped with her into the shop.
She had meant to choose a novel, but, with Tarrant looking on, felt
constrained to exhibit her capacity for severe reading. The choice
of grave works was not large, and she found it difficult to command
her thoughts even for the perusal of titles; however, she ultimately
discovered a book that promised anything but frivolity, Helmholtz's
'Lectures on Scientific Subjects,' and at this she clutched.
Two loudly-dressed women were at the same time searching the
'I wonder whether this is a pretty book?' said one to the other,
taking down a trio of volumes.
'Oh, it looks as if it might be pretty,' returned her friend,
examining the cover.
They faced to the person behind the counter.
'Is this a pretty book?' one of them inquired loftily.
'Oh yes, madam, that's a very pretty book--very pretty.'
Nancy exchanged a glance with her companion and smiled. When they
were outside again Tarrant asked:
'Have you found a pretty book?'
She showed the title of her choice.
'Merciful heavens! You mean to read that? The girls of to-day! What
mere man is worthy of them? But--I must rise to the occasion.
We'll have a chapter as we rest.'
Insensibly, Nancy had followed the direction he chose. His words
took for granted that she was going into the country with him.
'My friends are on the pier,' she said, abruptly stopping.
'Where doubtless they will enjoy themselves. Let me carry your book,
please. Helmholtz is rather heavy.'
'Thanks, I can carry it very well. I shall turn this way.'
'No, no. My way this afternoon.'
Nancy stood still, looking up the street that led towards the sea.
She was still bright-coloured; her lips had a pathetic expression, a
'There was an understanding,' said Tarrant, with playful firmness.
'Not for to-day.'
'No. For the day when you disappointed me. The day after, I didn't
think it worth while to come here; yesterday I came, but felt no
surprise that I didn't meet you. To-day I had a sort of hope. This
She followed, and they walked for several minutes in silence.
'Will you let me look at Helmholtz?' said the young man at length.
'Most excellent book, of course. "Physiological Causes of Harmony in
Music," "Interaction of Natural Forces," "Conservation of Force."--
You enjoy this kind of thing?'
'One must know something about it.'
'I suppose so. I used to grind at science because everybody talked
science. In reality I loathed it, and now I read only what I like.
Life's too short for intellectual make-believe. It is too short for
anything but enjoyment. Tell me what you read for pure pleasure.
They had left the streets, and were pursuing a road bordered with
gardens, gardens of glowing colour, sheltered amid great laurels,
shadowed by stately trees; the air was laden with warm scents of
flower and leaf. On an instinct of resistance, Nancy pretended that
the exact sciences were her favourite study. She said it in the tone
of superiority which habit had made natural to her in speaking of
intellectual things. And Tarrant appeared to accept her declaration
without scepticism; but, a moment after, he turned the talk upon
Thus, for half an hour and more, they strolled on by upward ways,
until Teignmouth lay beneath them, and the stillness of meadows all
about. Presently Tarrant led from the beaten road into a lane all
but overgrown with grass. He began to gather flowers, and offered
them to Nancy. Personal conversation seemed at an end; they were
enjoying the brilliant sky and the peaceful loveliness of earth.
They exchanged simple, natural thoughts, or idle words in which was
no thought at all.
Before long, they came to an old broken gate, half open; it was the
entrance to a narrow cartway, now unused, which descended windingly
between high thick hedges. Ruts of a foot in depth, baked hard by
summer, showed how miry the track must be in the season of rain.
'This is our way,' said Tarrant, his hand on the lichened wood.
'Better than the pier or the promenade, don't you think?'
'But we have gone far enough.'
Nancy drew back into the lane, looked at her flowers, and then
shaded her eyes with them to gaze upward.
'Almost. Another five minutes, and you will see the place I told you
of. You can't imagine how beautiful it is.'
'We are all but there--'
He seemed regretfully to yield; and Nancy yielded in her turn. She
felt a sudden shame in the thought of having perhaps betrayed
timidity. Without speaking, she passed the gate.
The hedge on either side was of hazel and dwarf oak, of hawthorn and
blackthorn, all intertwined with giant brambles, and with briers
which here and there met overhead. High and low, blackberries hung
in multitudes, swelling to purple ripeness. Numberless the trailing
and climbing plants. Nancy's skirts rustled among the greenery; her
cheeks were touched, as if with a caress, by many a drooping
branchlet; in places, Tarrant had to hold the tangle above her while
she stooped to pass.
And from this they emerged into a small circular space, where the
cartway made a turn at right angles and disappeared behind thickets.
They were in the midst of a plantation; on every side trees closed
about them, with a low and irregular hedge to mark the borders of
the grassy road. Nancy's eyes fell at once upon a cluster of
magnificent foxgloves, growing upon a bank which rose to the foot of
an old elm; beside the foxgloves lay a short-hewn trunk, bedded in
the ground, thickly overgrown with mosses, lichens, and small fungi.
'Have I misled you?' said Tarrant, watching her face with frank
'No, indeed you haven't. This is very beautiful!'
'I discovered it last year, and spent hours here alone. I couldn't
ask you to come and see it then,' he added, laughing.
'It is delightful!'
'Here's your seat,--who knows how many years it has waited for
She sat down upon the old trunk. About the roots of the elm above
grew masses of fern, and beneath it a rough bit of the bank was
clothed with pennywort, the green discs and yellowing fruity spires
making an exquisite patch of colour. In the shadow of bushes near at
hand hartstongue abounded, with fronds hanging to the length of an
'Now,' said Tarrant, gaily, 'you shall have some blackberries. And
he went to gather them, returning in a few minutes with a large leaf
full. He saw that Nancy, meanwhile, had taken up the book from where
he dropped it to the ground; it lay open on her lap.
'Helmholtz! Away with him!'
'No; I have opened at something interesting.'
She spoke as though possession of the book were of vital importance
to her. Nevertheless, the fruit was accepted, and she drew off her
gloves to eat it. Tarrant seated himself on the ground, near her,
and gradually fell into a half-recumbent attitude.
'Won't you have any?' Nancy asked, without looking at him.
'One or two, if you will give me them.'
She chose a fine blackberry, and held it out. Tarrant let it fall
into his palm, and murmured, 'You have a beautiful hand.' When, a
moment after, he glanced at her, she seemed to be reading Helmholtz.
The calm of the golden afternoon could not have been more profound.
Birds twittered softly in the wood, and if a leaf rustled, it was
only at the touch of wings. Earth breathed its many perfumes upon
the slumberous air.
'You know,' said Tarrant, after a long pause, and speaking as though
he feared to break the hush, 'that Keats once stayed at Teignmouth.'
Nancy did not know it, but said 'Yes.' The name of Keats was
familiar to her, but of his life she knew hardly anything, of his
poetry very little. Her education had been chiefly concerned with
'Will you read me a paragraph of Helmholtz?' continued the other,
looking at her with a smile. 'Any paragraph, the one before you.'
She hesitated, but read at length, in an unsteady voice, something
about the Conservation of Force. It ended in a nervous laugh.
'Now I'll read something to you,' said Tarrant. And he began to
repeat, slowly, musically, lines of verse which his companion had
'_O what can ail thee, Knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing_.'
He went through the poem; Nancy the while did not stir. It was as
though he murmured melody for his own pleasure, rather than recited
to a listener; but no word was inaudible. Nancy knew that his eyes
rested upon her; she wished to smile, yet could not. And when he
ceased, the silence held her motionless.
'Isn't it better?' said Tarrant, drawing slightly nearer to her.
'Of course it is.'
'I used to know thousands of verses by heart.'
'Did you ever write any?'
'Half-a-dozen epics or so, when I was about seventeen. Yet, I don't
come of a poetical family. My father--'
He stopped abruptly, looked into Nancy's face with a smile, and said
in a tone of playfulness:
'Do you remember asking me whether I had anything to do with--'
Nancy, flushing over all her features, exclaimed, 'Don't! please
don't! I'm ashamed of myself!'
'I didn't like it. But we know each other better now. You were quite
right. That was how my grandfather made his money. My father, I
believe, got through most of it, and gave no particular thought to
me. His mother--the old lady whom you know--had plenty of her
own--to be mine, she tells me, some day. Do you wish to be
forgiven for hurting my pride?' he added.
'I don't know what made me say such a thing--'
She faltered the words; she felt her will subdued. Tarrant reached a
hand, and took one of hers, and kissed it; then allowed her to draw
'Now will you give me another blackberry?'
The girl was trembling; a light shone in her eyes. She offered the
leaf with fruit in it; Tarrant, whilst choosing, touched the blue
veins of her wrist with his lips.
'What are you going to do?' she asked presently. 'I mean, what do
you aim at in life?'
'Enjoyment. Why should I trouble about anything else. I should be
content if life were all like this: to look at a beautiful face, and
listen to a voice that charms me, and touch a hand that makes me
thrill with such pleasure as I never knew.'
'It's waste of time.'
'Oh, never time was spent so well! Look at me again like that--
with the eyes half-closed, and the lips half-mocking. Oh, the
exquisite lips! If I might--if I might--'
He did not stir from his posture of languid ease, but Nancy, with a
quick movement, drew a little away from him, then rose.
'It's time to go back,' she said absently.
'No, no; not yet. Let me look at you for a few minutes more!'
She began to walk slowly, head bent.
'Well then, to-morrow, or the day after. The place will be just as
beautiful, and you even more. The sea-air makes you lovelier from
day to day.'
Nancy looked back for an instant. Tarrant followed, and in the deep
leafy way he again helped her to pass the briers. But their hands
never touched, and the silence was unbroken until they had issued
into the open lane.
The lodgings were taken for three weeks, and more than half the time
had now elapsed.
Jessica, who declared herself quite well and strong again, though
her face did not bear out the assertion, was beginning to talk of
matters examinational once more. Notwithstanding protests, she
brought forth from their hiding-place sundry arid little manuals and
black-covered notebooks; her thoughts were divided between algebraic
formulae and Nancy's relations with Lionel Tarrant. Perhaps because
no secret was confided to her, she affected more appetite for the
arid little books than she really felt. Nancy would neither speak of
examinations, nor give ear when they were talked about; she, whether
consciously or not, was making haste to graduate in quite another
On the morning after her long walk with Tarrant, she woke before
sunrise, and before seven o'clock had left the house. A high wind
and hurrying clouds made the weather prospects uncertain. She
strayed about the Den, never losing sight for more than a minute or
two of the sea-fronting house where Tarrant lived. But no familiar
form approached her, and she had to return to breakfast unrewarded
for early rising.
Through the day she was restless and silent, kept alone as much as
possible, and wore a look which, as the hours went on, darkened from
anxiety to ill-humour. She went to bed much earlier than usual.
At eleven next morning, having lingered behind her friends, she
found Tarrant in conversation with Mrs. Morgan and Jessica on the
pier. His greeting astonished her; it had precisely the gracious
formality of a year ago; a word or two about the weather, and he
resumed his talk with Miss. Morgan--its subject, the educational
value of the classics. Obliged to listen, Nancy suffered an anguish
of resentful passion. For a quarter of an hour she kept silence,
then saw the young man take leave and saunter away with that air
which, in satire, she had formerly styled majestic.
And then passed three whole days, during which Lionel was not seen.
The evening of the fourth, between eight and nine o'clock, found
Nancy at the door of the house which her thoughts had a thousand
times visited. A servant, in reply to inquiry, told her that Mr
Tarrant was in London; he would probably return to-morrow.
She walked idly away--and, at less than a hundred yards' distance,
met Tarrant himself. His costume showed that he had just come from
the railway station. Nancy would gladly have walked straight past
him, but the tone in which he addressed her was a new surprise, and
she stood in helpless confusion. He had been to London--called
away on sudden business.
'I thought of writing--nay, I did write, but after all didn't post
the letter. For a very simple reason--I couldn't remember your
And he laughed so naturally, that the captive walked on by his side,
unresisting. Their conversation lasted only a few minutes, then
Nancy resolutely bade him good-night, no appointment made for the
A day of showers, then a day of excessive heat. They saw each other
several times, but nothing of moment passed. The morning after they
met before breakfast.
'To-morrow is our last day,' said Nancy.
'Yes, Mrs. Morgan told me.' Nancy herself had never spoken of
departure. 'This afternoon we'll go up the hill again.'
'I don't think I shall care to walk so far. Look at the mist; it's
going to be dreadfully hot again.'
Tarrant was in a mood of careless gaiety; his companion appeared to
struggle against listlessness, and her cheek had lost its wonted
'You have tea at four or five, I suppose. Let us go after that, when
the heat of the day is over.'
To this, after various objections, Nancy consented. Through the
hours of glaring sunshine she stayed at home, lying inert, by an
open window. Over the tea-cups she was amiable, but dreamy. When
ready to go out, she just looked into the sitting-room, where
Jessica bent over books, and said cheerfully:
'I may be a little late for dinner. On no account wait--I forbid
And so, without listening to the answer, she hurried away.
In the upward climbing lanes, no breeze yet tempered the still air;
the sky of misted sapphire showed not a cloud from verge to verge.
Tarrant, as if to make up for his companion's silence, talked
ceaselessly, and always in light vein. Sunshine, he said, was
indispensable to his life; he never passed the winter in London; if
he were the poorest of mortals, he would, at all events, beg his
bread in a sunny clime.
'Are you going to the Bahamas this winter?' Nancy asked, mentioning
the matter for the first time since she heard of it at Champion
'I don't know. Everything is uncertain.'
And he put the question aside as if it were of no importance.
They passed the old gate, and breathed with relief in the
never-broken shadow of tangled foliage. Whilst pushing a bramble
aside, Tarrant let his free arm fall lightly on Nancy's waist. At
once she sprang forward, but without appearing to notice what had
'Stay--did you ever see such ivy as this?'
It was a mass of large, lustrous leaves, concealing a rotten trunk.
Whilst Nancy looked on, Tarrant pulled at a long stem, and tried to
break it away.
'I must cut it.'
'You shall see.'
He wove three stems into a wreath.
'There now, take off your hat, and let me crown you. Have I made it
too large for the little head?'
Nancy, after a moment's reluctance, unfastened her hat, and stood
bareheaded, blushing and laughing.
'You do your hair in the right way--the Greek way. A diadem on the
top--the only way when the hair and the head are beautiful. It
leaves the outline free--the exquisite curve that unites neck and
head. Now the ivy wreath; and how will you look?'
She wore a dress of thin, creamy material, which, whilst seeming to
cumber her as little as garments could, yet fitted closely enough to
declare the healthy beauty of her form. The dark green garland, for
which she bent a little, became her admirably.
'I pictured it in my letter,' said Tarrant, 'the letter you never
'Where is it?'
'Oh, I burnt it.'
'Tell me what was in it.'
'All sorts of things--a long letter.'
'I think that's all nonsense about forgetting my address.'
'Mere truth. In fact, I never knew it.'
'Be so good as to tell me,' she spoke as she walked on before him,
'what you meant by your behaviour that morning before you went to
'But how did I behave?'
Tarrant affected not to understand; but, when she again turned,
Nancy saw a mischievous smile on his face.
'A bit of nonsense.--Shall I tell you?' He stepped near, and
suddenly caught both her hands,--one of them was trailing her
sunshade. 'Forgive me in advance--will you?'
'I don't know about that.' And she tried, though faintly, to get
'But I will make you--now, refuse!'
His lips had just touched hers, just touched and no more. Rosy red,
she trembled before him with drooping eyelids.
'It meant nothing at all, really,' he pursued, his voice at its
softest. 'A sham trial--to see whether I was hopelessly conquered
or not. Of course I was.'
Nancy shook her head.
'You dare to doubt it?--I understand now what the old poet meant,
when he talked of bees seeking honey on his lady's lips. That fancy
isn't so artificial as it seemed.'
'That's all very pretty'--she spoke between quick breaths, and
tried to laugh--'but you have thrown my hat on the ground. Give it
me, and take the ivy for yourself.'
'I am no Bacchus.' He tossed the wreath aside. 'Take the hat; I like
you in it just as well.--You shall have a girdle of woodbine, instead.'
'I don't believe your explanation,' said Nancy.
'Not believe me?'
With feigned indignation, he moved to capture her again; but Nancy
escaped. Her hat in her hand, she darted forward. A minute's run
brought her into the open space, and there, with an exclamation of
surprise, she stopped. Tarrant, but a step or two behind her, saw at
almost the same moment the spectacle which had arrested her flight.
Before them stood two little donkeys munching eagerly at a crop of
rosy-headed thistles. They--the human beings--looked at each
other; Tarrant burst into extravagant laughter, and Nancy joined
him. Neither's mirth was spontaneous; Nancy's had a note of nervous
tension, a ring of something like recklessness.
'Where can they come from?' she asked.
'They must have strayed a long way. I haven't seen any farm or
cottage.--But perhaps some one is with them. Wait, I'll go on a
little, and see if some boy is hanging about.'
He turned the sharp corner, and disappeared. For two or three
minutes Nancy stood alone, watching the patient little grey beasts,
whose pendent ears, with many a turn and twitch, expressed their joy
in the feast of thistles. She watched them in seeming only; her eyes
A voice sounded from behind her--'Nancy!' Startled, she saw
Tarrant standing high up, in a gap of the hedge, on the bank which
bordered the wood.
'How did you get there?'
'Went round.' He showed the direction with his hand. 'I can see no
one, but somebody may come. It's wonderful here, among the trees.
'How can I?--We will drive the donkeys away.'
'No; it's much better here; a wild wood, full of wonderful things.
The bank isn't too steep. Give me your hand, and you can step up
easily, just at this place.'
She drew near.
'Your sunshade first.'
'Oh, it's too much trouble,' she said languidly, all but
plaintively. 'I'd rather be here.'
She gave it.
'Now, your hand.'
He was kneeling on the top of the bank. With very little exertion,
Nancy found herself beside him. Then he at once leapt down among the
brushwood, a descent of some three feet.
'We shall be trespassing,' said Nancy.
'What do I care? Now, jump!'
'As if you could catch me!' Again she uttered her nervous laugh. 'I
'Obey! Jump!' he cried impatiently, his eyes afire.
She knelt, seated herself, dropped forward. Tarrant caught her in
'You heavy! a feather weight! Why, I can carry you; I could run with
And he did carry her through the brushwood, away into the shadow of
At dinner-time, Mrs. Morgan and her daughter were alone. They agreed
to wait a quarter of an hour, and sat silent, pretending each to be
engaged with a book. At length their eyes met.
'What does it mean, Jessica?' asked the mother timidly.
'I'm sure I don't know. It doesn't concern us. She didn't mean to be
back, by what she said.'
'But--isn't it rather--?'
'Oh, Nancy is all right. I suppose she'll have something to tell
you, to-night or to-morrow. We must have dinner; I'm hungry.'
'So am I, dear.--Oh, I'm quite afraid to think of the appetites
we're taking back. Poor Milly will be terrified.'
Eight o'clock, nine o'clock. The two conversed in subdued voices;
Mrs. Morgan was anxious, all but distressed. Half-past nine. 'What
_can_ it mean, Jessica? I can't help feeling a responsibility. After
all, Nancy is quite a young girl; and I've sometimes thought she
might be steadier.'
'Hush! That was a knock.'
They waited. In a minute or two the door was opened a few inches,
and a voice called 'Jessica!'
She responded. Nancy was standing in the gloom.
'Come into my room,' she said curtly.
Arrived there, she did not strike a light. She closed the door, and
took hold of her friend's arm.
'We can't go back the day after to-morrow, Jessica. We must wait a
day longer, till the afternoon of Friday.'
'Why? What's the matter, Nancy?'
'Nothing serious. Don't be frightened, I'm tired, and I shall go to
'But why must we wait?'
'Listen: will you promise me faithfully--as friend to friend,
faith fully--not to tell the reason even to your mother?'
'I will, faithfully.'
'Then, it's this. On Friday morning I shall be married to Mr
'I may tell you more, before then; but perhaps not. We shall be
married by licence, and it needs one day between getting the licence
and the marriage. You may tell your mother, if you like, that I want
to stay longer on _his_ account. I don't care; of course she
suspects something. But not a syllable to hint at the truth. I have
been your best friend for a long time, and I trust you.'
She spoke in a passionate whisper, and Jessica felt her trembling.
'You needn't have the least fear of me, dear.'
'I believe it. Kiss me, and good-night!'
Part III: Into Bontage
During his daughter's absence, Stephen Lord led a miserable life.
The wasting disease had firm hold upon him; day by day it consumed
his flesh, darkened his mind. The more need he had of nursing and
restraint, the less could he tolerate interference with his habits,
invasion of his gloomy solitude. The doctor's visits availed
nothing; he listened to advice, or seemed to listen, but with a
smile of obstinate suspicion on his furrowed face which conveyed too
plain a meaning to the adviser.
On one point Mary had prevailed with him. After some days'
resistance, he allowed her to transform the cabin-like arrangements
of his room, and give it the appearance of a comfortable
bed-chamber. But he would not take to his bed, and the suggestion of
professional nursing excited his wrath.
'Do you write to Nancy?' he asked one morning of his faithful
attendant, with scowling suspicion.
'You are telling me the truth?'
'I never write to any one.'
'Understand plainly that I won't have a word said to her about me.'
This was when Horace had gone away to Scarborough, believing, on his
father's assurance, that there was no ground whatever for anxiety.
Sometimes Mr. Lord sat hour after hour in an unchanging position, his
dull eyes scarcely moving from one point. At others he paced his
room, or wandered about the house, or made an attempt at gardening
--which soon ended in pain and exhaustion. Towards night he became
feverish, his hollow cheeks glowing with an ominous tint. In the
morning he occasionally prepared himself as if to start for his
place of business; he left the house, and walked for perhaps a
couple of hundred yards, then slackened his pace, stopped, looked
about him in an agony of indecision, and at length returned. After
this futile endeavour, he had recourse to the bottles in his
cupboard, and presently fell into a troubled sleep.
At the end of the second week, early one evening, three persons came
to him by appointment: his partner Samuel Barmby, Mr. Barmby, senior,
and a well-dressed gentleman whom Mary--she opened the door to
them--had never seen before. They sat together in the drawing-room
for more than an hour; then the well-dressed gentleman took his
leave, the others remaining for some time longer.
The promoted servant, at Mr. Lord's bidding, had made a change in her
dress; during the latter part of the day she presented the
appearance of a gentlewoman, and sat, generally with needlework,
sometimes with a book, alone in the dining-room. On a Sunday, whilst
Nancy and her brother were away, the Barmby family--father, son,
and two daughters--came to take tea and spend the evening, Mary
doing the honours of the house; she bore herself without
awkwardness, talked simply, and altogether justified Mr. Lord's
opinion of her. When the guests were gone, Stephen made no remark,
but, in saying good-night to her, smiled for an instant--the first
smile seen upon his face for many days.
Mary remained ignorant of the disease from which he was suffering;
in the matter of his diet, she consulted and obeyed him, though
often enough it seemed to her that his choice suited little with the
state of an invalid. He ate at irregular times, and frequently like
a starving man. Mary suspected that, on the occasions when he went
out for half-an-hour after dark, he brought back food with him: she
had seen him enter with something concealed beneath his coat. All
his doings were to her a subject of ceaseless anxiety, of a profound
distress which, in his presence, she was obliged to conceal. If she
regarded him sadly, the sufferer grew petulant or irate. He would
not endure a question concerning his health.
On the day which was understood to be Nancy's last at Teignmouth, he
brightened a little, and talked with pleasure, as it seemed, of her
return on the morrow. Horace had written that he would be home this
evening, but Mr. Lord spoke only of his daughter. At about six
o'clock he was sitting in the garden, and Mary brought him a letter
just delivered; he looked at the envelope with a smile.
'To tell us the train she's coming by, no doubt.'
Mary waited. When Mr. Lord had read the brief note, his face
darkened, first with disappointment, then with anger.
'Here, look at it,' he said harshly. 'What else was to be expected?'
'Dearest Father,' wrote Nancy, 'I am sorry that our return must be
put off; we hope to get back on Friday evening. Of course this will
make no difference to you.--With best love, dear father, and
hoping I shall find you much better--'
'What does she mean by behaving in this way?' resumed the angry
voice, before Mary had read to the end. 'What does she mean by it?
Who gave her leave to stay longer? Not a word of explanation. How
does she know it will make no difference to me? What does she mean
'The fine weather has tempted them,' replied Mary. 'I daresay they
want to go somewhere.'
'What right has she to make the change at a moment's notice?'
vociferated the father, his voice suddenly recovering its old power,
his cheeks and neck suffused with red wrath. 'And hopes she will
find me better. What does _she_ care whether she finds me alive or
'Oh, don't say that! You wouldn't let her know that you were worse.'
'What does it mean? I hate this deceitful behaviour! She knew
before, of course she knew; and she left it to the last moment, so
that I couldn't write and prevent her from staying. As if I should
have wished to! As if I cared a brass farthing how long she stays,
or, for that matter, whether I ever see her again!'
He checked the course of his furious speech, and stood staring at
'What did you say?' He spoke now in a hoarse undertone. 'You thought
they were going somewhere?'
'Last year there used to be steamers that went to places on certain
'Nonsense! She wouldn't alter all their plans for that. It's
something I am not to know--of course it is. She's deceitful--
like all women.'
He met Mary's eye, suddenly turned upon him. His own fell before it,
and without speaking again he went into the house.
In half-an-hour's time his bell rang, and not Mary, but the young
servant responded. According to her directions, she knocked at the
door, and, without opening it, asked her master's pleasure. Mr. Lord
said that he was going out, and would not require a meal till late
in the evening.
It was nearly ten o'clock when he returned. Mary, sitting in the
front room, rose at his entrance.
'I want nothing,' he said. 'I've been to the Barmbys'.' Voice and
movements proved how the effort had taxed him. In sitting down, he
trembled; fever was in his eyes, and pain in every line of his
Mary handed him a letter; it came from Horace, and was an intimation
that the young gentleman would not return to-night, but to-morrow.
When Mr. Lord had read it, he jerked a contemptuous laugh, and threw
the sheet of note-paper across the table.
'There you are. Not much to choose between daughter and son. He's
due at business in the morning; but what does that matter? It
doesn't suit his lordship to keep time.'
He laughed again, his emphasis on 'lordship' showing that he
consciously played with the family name.
'But I was a fool to be angry. Let them come when they will.'
For a few minutes he lay back in the chair, gazing at vacancy.
'Has the girl gone to bed?'
'I'll tell her she can go.'
Mary soon returned, and took up the book with which she had been
engaged. In a low voice, and as if speaking without much thought,
Stephen asked her what she was reading. It was a volume of an old
magazine, bought by Mr. Lord many years ago.
'Yes, yes. Nancy laughs at it--calls it old rubbish. These young
people are so clever.'
His companion made no remark. Unobserved, he scrutinised her face
for a long time, and said at length:
'Don't let _us_ fall out, Mary. You're not pleased with me, and I
know why. I said all women were deceitful, and you took it too
seriously. You ought to know me better. There's something comes on
me every now and then, and makes me say the worst I can no matter
who it hurts. Could I be such a fool as to think ill of _you_?'
'It did hurt me,' replied the other, still bent over her book. 'But
it was only the sound of it. I knew you said more than you meant.'
'I'm a fool, and I've been a fool all my life. Is it likely I should
have wise children? When I went off to the Barmbys', I thought of
sending Samuel down to Teignmouth, to find out what they were at.
But I altered my mind before I got there. What good would it have
done? All I _can_ do I've done already. I made my will the other
day; it's signed and witnessed. I've made it as I told you I should.
I'm not much longer for this world, but I've saved the girl from
foolishness till she's six-and-twenty. After that she must take care
They sat silent whilst the clock on the mantelpiece ticked away a
few more minutes. Mr. Lord's features betrayed the working of turbid
thought, a stern resentment their prevailing expression. When
reverie released him, he again looked at his companion.
'Mary, did you ever ask yourself what sort of woman Nancy's mother
may have been?'
The listener started, like one in whom a secret has been surprised.
She tried to answer, but after all did not speak.
'I'll tell you,' Stephen pursued. 'Yes, I'll tell you. You must know
it. Not a year after the boy's birth, she left me. And I made myself
free of her--I divorced her.'
Their eyes just met.
'You needn't think that it cost me any suffering. Not on her
account; not because I had lost my wife. I never felt so glad,
before or since, as on the day when it was all over, and I found
myself a free man again. I suffered only in thinking how I had
fooled away some of the best years of my life for a woman who
despised me from the first, and was as heartless as the stones of
the street. I found her in beggary, or close upon it. I made myself
her slave--it's only the worthless women who accept from a man,
who expect from him, such slavish worship as she had from me. I gave
her clothing; she scarcely thanked me, but I thought myself happy. I
gave her a comfortable home, such as she hadn't known for years; for
a reward she mocked at my plain tastes and quiet ways--but I
thought no ill of it--could see nothing in it but a girlish,
lighthearted sort of way that seemed one of her merits. As long as
we lived together, she pretended to be an affectionate wife; I
should think no one ever matched her in hypocrisy. But the first
chance she had--husband, children, home, all flung aside in a
moment. Then I saw her in the true light, and understood all at once
what a blind fool I had been.'
He breathed quickly and painfully. Mary sat without a movement.
'I thought I had done a great thing in marrying a wife that was born
above me. Her father had been a country gentleman; horse-racing and
such things had brought him down, and from her twelfth year his
daughter lived--I never quite knew how, but on charity of some
kind. She grew up without trying to earn her own living; she thought
herself too good for that, thought she had a claim to be supported,
because as a child she was waited upon by servants. When I asked her
once if she couldn't have done something, she stared at me and
laughed in my face. For all that she was glad enough to marry a man
of my sort--rough and uneducated as I was. She always reminded me
of it, though--that I had no education; I believe she thought that
she had a perfect right to throw over such a husband, whenever she
chose. Afterwards, I saw very well that _her_ education didn't
amount to much. How could it, when she learnt nothing after she was
twelve? She was living with very poor people who came from my part
of the country--that's how I met her. The father led some sort of
blackguard life in London, but had no money for her, nor yet for his
other girl, who went into service, I was told, and perhaps made
herself a useful, honest woman. He died in a hospital, and he was
buried at my expense--not three months before his daughter went
off and left me.'
'You will never tell your children,' said Mary, when there had been
a long pause.
'I've often thought it would only be right if I told them. I've
often thought, the last year or two, that Nancy ought to know. It
might make her think, and do her good.'
'No, no,' returned the other hurriedly. 'Never let her know of it--
never. It might do her much harm.'
'You know now, Mary, why I look at the girl so anxiously. She's not
like her mother; not much like her in face, and I can't think she's
like her in heart. But you know what her faults are as well as I do.
Whether I've been right or wrong in giving her a good education, I
shall never know. Wrong, I fear--but I've told you all about
'You don't know whether she's alive or not?' asked Mary, when once
more it was left to her to break silence.
'What do I care? How should I know?'
'Don't be tempted to tell them--either of them!' said the other
'My friend Barmby knows. Whether he's told his son, I can't say;
it's twenty years since we spoke about it. If he _did_ ever mention
it to Samuel, then it might somehow get known to Horace or the girl,
when I'm gone.--I won't give up the hope that young Barmby may be
her husband. She'll have time to think about it. But if ever she
should come to you and ask questions--I mean, if she's been told
what happened--you'll set me right in her eyes? You'll tell her
what I've told you?'
'I hope it may never--'
'So do I,' Stephen interrupted, his voice husky with fatigue. 'But I
count on you to make my girl think rightly of me, if ever there's
occasion. I count on you. When I'm dead, I won't have her think that
I was to blame for her mother's ill-doing. That's why I've told you.
You believe me, don't you?'
And Mary, lifting her eyes, met his look of appeal with more than a
From chambers in Staple Inn, Lionel Tarrant looked forth upon the
laborious world with a dainty enjoyment of his own limitless
leisure. The old gables fronting upon Holborn pleased his fancy; he
liked to pass under the time-worn archway, and so, at a step,
estrange himself from commercial tumult,--to be in the midst of
modern life, yet breathe an atmosphere of ancient repose.
He belonged to an informal club of young men who called themselves,
facetiously, the Hodiernals. _Vixi hodie_! The motto, suggested by
some one or other after a fifth tumbler of whisky punch, might bear
more than a single interpretation. Harvey Munden, the one member of
this genial brotherhood who lived by the sweat of his brow, proposed
as a more suitable title, Les Faineants; that, however, was judged
pedantic, not to say offensive. For these sons of the Day would not
confess to indolence; each deemed himself, after his own fashion, a
pioneer in art, letters, civilisation. They had money of their own,
or were supported by some one who could afford that privilege; most
of them had, ostensibly, some profession in view; for the present,
they contented themselves with living, and the weaker brethren read
in their hodiernity an obligation to be 'up to date.'
Tarrant professed himself critical of To-day, apprehensive of
To-morrow; he cast a backward eye. None the less, his avowed
principle was to savour the passing hour. When night grew mellow,
and the god of whisky inspired his soul, he shone in a lyrical
egoism which had but slight correspondence with the sincerities of
his solitude. His view of woman--the Hodiernals talked much of
woman--differed considerably from his thoughts of the individual
women with whom he associated; protesting oriental sympathies, he
nourished in truth the chivalry appropriate to his years and to his
education, and imaged an ideal of female excellence whereof the
prime features were moral and intellectual.
He had no money of his own. What could be saved for him from his
father's squandered estate--the will established him sole
inheritor--went in the costs of a liberal education, his
grandmother giving him assurance that he should not go forth into
the world penniless. This promise Mrs. Tarrant had kept, though not
exactly in the manner her grandson desired. Instead of making him a
fixed allowance, the old lady supplied him with funds at uncertain
intervals; with the unpleasant result that it was sometimes
necessary for him to call to her mind his dependent condition. The
cheques he received varied greatly in amount,--from handsome
remittances of a hundred pounds or so, down to minim gifts which
made the young man feel uncomfortable when he received them. Still,
he was provided for, and it could not be long before this dependency
came to an end.
He believed in his own abilities. Should it ever be needful, he
could turn to journalism, for which, undoubtedly, he had some
aptitude. But why do anything at all, in the sense of working for
money? Every year he felt less disposed for that kind of exertion,
and had a greater relish of his leisurely life. Mrs. Tarrant never
rebuked him; indeed she had long since ceased to make inquiry about
his professional views. Perhaps she felt it something of a dignity
to have a grandson who lived as gentleman at large.
But now, in the latter days of August, the gentleman found himself,
in one most important particular, at large no longer. On returning
from Teignmouth to Staple Inn he entered his rooms with a confused,
disagreeable sense that things were not as they had been, that his
freedom had suffered a violation, that he could not sit down among
his books with the old self-centred ease, that his prospects were
completely, indescribably changed, perchance much for the worse. In
brief, Tarrant had gone forth a bachelor, and came back a married
Could it be sober fact? Had he in very deed committed so gross an
He had purposed no such thing. Miss. Nancy Lord was not by any means
the kind of person that entered his thoughts when they turned to
marriage. He regarded her as in every respect his inferior. She
belonged to the social rank only just above that of wage-earners;
her father had a small business in Camberwell; she dressed and
talked rather above her station, but so, now-a-days, did every
daughter of petty tradesfolk. From the first he had amused himself
with her affectation of intellectual superiority. Miss. Lord
represented a type; to study her as a sample of the pretentious
half-educated class was interesting; this sort of girl was turned
out in thousands every year, from so-called High Schools; if they
managed to pass some examination or other, their conceit grew
boundless. Craftily, he had tested her knowledge; it seemed all
sham. She would marry some hapless clerk, and bring him to
bankruptcy by the exigencies of her 'refinement.'
So had he thought of Nancy till a few months ago. But in the
spring-time, when his emotions blossomed with the blossoming year,
he met the girl after a long interval, and saw her with changed
eyes. She had something more than prettiness; her looks undeniably
improved. It seemed, too, that she bore herself more gracefully, and
even talked with, at times, an approximation to the speech of a
lady. These admissions signified much in a man of Tarrant's social
prejudice--so strong that it exercised an appreciable effect upon
his every-day morals. He began to muse about Miss. Lord, and the
upshot of his musing was that, having learnt of her departure for
Teignmouth, he idly betook himself in the same direction.
But as for marriage, he would as soon have contemplated taking to
wife a barmaid. Between Miss. Lord and the young lady who dispenses
refreshment there were distinctions, doubtless, but none of the
first importance. Then arose the question, in what spirit, with what
purpose, did he seek her intimacy? The answer he simply postponed.
And postponed it very late indeed. Until the choice was no longer
between making love in idleness, and conscientiously holding aloof;
but between acting like a frank blackguard, and making the amends of
an honest man.
The girl's fault, to be sure. He had not credited himself with this
power of fascination, and certainly not with the violence of passion
which recklessly pursues indulgence. Still, the girl's fault; she
had behaved--well, as a half-educated girl of her class might be
expected to behave. Ignorance she could not plead; that were
preposterous. Utter subjugation by first love; that, perhaps; she
affirmed it, and possibly with truth; a flattering assumption, at
all events. But, all said and done, the issue had been of her own
seeking. Why, then, accuse himself of blackguardly conduct, if he
had turned a deaf ear to her pleading? Not one word of marriage had
previously escaped his lips, nor anything that could imply a
Well, there was the awkward and unaccountable fact that he _felt_
himself obliged to marry her; that, when he seemed to be preparing
resistance, downright shame rendered it impossible. Her face--her
face when she looked at him and spoke! The truth was, that he had
not hesitated at all; there was but one course open to him. He gave
glances in the other direction; he wished to escape; he reviled
himself for his folly; he saw the difficulties and discontents that
lay before him; but choice he had none.
Love, in that sense of the word which Tarrant respected, could not
be said to influence him. He had uttered the word; yes, of course he
had uttered it; as a man will who is goaded by his raging blood. But
he was as far as ever from loving Nancy Lord. Her beauty, and a
certain growing charm in her companionship, had lured him on; his
habitual idleness, and the vagueness of his principles, made him
guilty at last of what a moralist would call very deliberate
rascality. He himself was inclined to see his behaviour in that
light; yet why had Nancy so smoothed the path of temptation?
That _her_ love was love indeed, he might take for granted. To a
certain point, it excused her. But she seemed so thoroughly able to
protect herself; the time of her green girlhood had so long gone by.
For explanation, he must fall back again on the circumstances of her
origin and training. Perhaps she illustrated a social peril, the
outcome of modern follies. Yes, that was how he would look at it. A
result of charlatan 'education' operating upon crude character.
Who could say what the girl had been reading, what cheap
philosophies had unsettled her mind? Is not a little knowledge a
Thus far had he progressed in the four and twenty hours which
followed his--or Nancy's--conquest. Meanwhile he had visited the
office of the registrar, had made his application for a marriage
licence, a proceeding which did not tend to soothe him. Later, when
he saw Nancy again, he experienced a revival of that humaner mood
which accompanied his pledge to marry her, the mood of regret, but
also of tenderness, of compassion. A tenderness that did not go very
deep, a half-slighting compassion. His character, and the features
of the case, at present allowed no more; but he preferred the
Of course he preferred it. Was he not essentially good-natured?
Would he not, at any ordinary season, go out of his way to do a
kindness? Did not his soul revolt against every form of injustice?
Whom had he ever injured? For his humanity, no less than for his
urbanity, he claimed a noteworthy distinction among young men of the
And there lay the pity of it. But for Nancy's self-abandonment, he
might have come to love her in good earnest. As it was, the growth
of their intimacy had been marked with singular, unanticipated
impulses on his side, impulses quite inconsistent with heartless
scheming. In the compunctious visitings which interrupted his
love-making at least twice, there was more than a revolt of mere
honesty, as he recognised during his brief flight to London. Had she
exercised but the common prudence of womanhood!
Why, that she did not, might tell both for and against her. Granting
that she lacked true dignity, native refinement, might it not have
been expected that artfulness would supply their place? Artful
fencing would have stamped her of coarse nature. But coarseness she
had never betrayed; he had never judged her worse than
intellectually shallow. Her self-surrender might, then, indicate a
trait worthy of admiration. Her subsequent behaviour undeniably
pleaded for respect. She acquainted him with the circumstances of
her home life, very modestly, perhaps pathetically. He learnt that
her father was not ill to do, heard of her domestic and social
troubles, that her mother had been long dead, things weighing in her
favour, to be sure.
If only she had loved him less!
It was all over; he was married. In acting honourably, it seemed
probable that he had spoilt his life. He must be prepared for
anything. Nancy said that she should not, could not, tell her
father, yet awhile; but that resolution was of doubtful stability.
For his own part, he thought it clearly advisable that the fact
should not become known at Champion Hill; but could he believe
Nancy's assurance that Miss. Morgan remained in the dark? Upon one
catastrophe, others might naturally follow.
Here, Saturday at noon, came a letter of Nancy's writing. A long
letter, and by no means a bad one; superior, in fact, to anything he
thought she could have written. It moved him somewhat, but would
have moved him more, had he not been legally bound to the writer. On
Sunday she could not come to see him; but on Monday, early in the
Well, there were consolations. A wise man makes the best of the
Since his return he had seen no one, and none of his friends knew
where he had been. A call from some stray Hodiernal would be very
unseasonable this Monday afternoon; but probably they were all
enjoying their elegant leisure in regions remote from town. As the
hour of Nancy's arrival drew near, he sat trying to compose himself
--with indifferent success. At one moment his thoughts found
utterance, and he murmured in a strange, bewildered tone--'My
wife.' Astonishing words! He laughed at their effect upon him, but
unmirthfully. And his next murmur was--'The devil!' A mere
ejaculation, betokening his state of mind.
He reached several times for his pipe, and remembered when he had
touched it that the lips with which he greeted Nancy ought not to be
redolent of tobacco. In outward respect, at all events, he would not
Just when his nervousness was becoming intolerable, there sounded a
knock. The knock he had anticipated--timid, brief. He stepped
hastily from the room, and opened. Nancy hardly looked at him, and
neither of them spoke till the closing of two doors had assured
'Well, you had no difficulty in finding the place?'
'No--none at all.'
They stood apart, and spoke with constraint. Nancy's bosom heaved,
as though she had been hastening overmuch; her face was deeply
coloured; her eyes had an unwonted appearance, resembling those of a
night-watcher at weary dawn. She cast quick glances about the room,
but with the diffidence of an intruder. Her attitude was marked by
the same characteristic; she seemed to shrink, to be ashamed.
'Come and sit down,' said Tarrant cheerfully, as he wheeled a chair.
She obeyed him, and he, stooping beside her, offered his lips. Nancy
kissed him, closing her eyes for the moment, then dropping them
'It seems a long time, Nancy--doesn't it?'
'Yes--a very long time.'
'You couldn't come on Sunday?'
'I found my father very ill. I didn't like to leave home till
'Your father ill?--You said nothing of it in your letter.'
'No--I didn't like to--with the other things.'
A singular delicacy this; Tarrant understood it, and looked at her
thoughtfully. Again she was examining the room with hurried glance;
upon him her eyes did not turn. He asked questions about Mr. Lord.
Nancy could not explain the nature of his illness; he had spoken of
gout, but she feared it must be something worse; the change in him
since she went away was incredible and most alarming. This she said
in short, quick sentences, her voice low. Tarrant thought to himself
that in her too, a very short time had made a very notable change;
he tried to read its significance, but could reach no certainty.
'I'm sorry to hear all this--very sorry. You must tell me more
about your father. Take off your hat, dear, and your gloves.'
Her gloves she removed first, and laid them on her lap; Tarrant took
them away. Then her hat; this too he placed on the table. Having
done so, he softly touched the plaits of her hair. And, for the
first time, Nancy looked up at him.
'Are you glad to see me?' she asked, in a voice that seemed subdued
by doubt of the answer.
'I am--very glad.'
His hand fell to her shoulder. With a quick movement, a stifled
exclamation, the girl rose and flung her arms about him.
'Are you really glad?--Do you really love me?'
'Never doubt it, dear girl.'
'Ah, but I can't help. I have hardly slept at night, in trying to
get rid of the doubt. When you opened the door, I felt you didn't
welcome me. Don't you think of me as a burden? I can't help
wondering why I am here.'
He took hold of her left hand, and looked at it, then said
'Of course you wonder. What business has a wife to come and see her
husband without the ring on her finger?'
Nancy turned from him, opened the front of her dress, unknotted a
string of silk, and showed her finger bright with the golden
'That's how I must wear it, except when I am with you. I keep
touching--to make sure it's there.'
Tarrant kissed her fingers.
'Dear,'--she had her face against him--'make me certain that you
love me. Speak to me like you did before. Oh, I never knew in my
life what it was to feel ashamed!'
'Ashamed? Because you are married, Nancy?'
'Am I really married? That seems impossible. It's like having dreamt
that I was married to you. I can hardly remember a thing that
'The registry at Teignmouth remembers,' he answered with a laugh.
'Those books have a long memory.'
She raised her eyes.
'But wouldn't you undo it if you could?--No, no, I don't mean
that. Only that if it had never happened--if we had said good-bye
before those last days--wouldn't you have been glad now?'
'Why, that's a difficult question to answer,' he returned gently.
'It all depends on your own feeling.'
For whatever reason, these words so overcame Nancy that she burst
into tears. Tarrant, at once more lover-like, soothed and fondled
her, and drew her to sit on his knee.
'You're not like your old self, dear girl. Of course, I can
understand it. And your father's illness. But you mustn't think of
it in this way. I do love you, Nancy. I couldn't unsay a word I said
to you--I don't wish anything undone.'
'Make me believe that. I think I should be quite happy then. It's
the hateful thought that perhaps you never wanted me for your wife;
it _will_ come, again and again, and it makes me feel as if I would
rather have died.'
'Send such thoughts packing. Tell them your husband wants all your
heart and mind for himself.'
'But will you never think ill of me?'
She whispered the words, close-clinging.
'I should be a contemptible sort of brute.'
'No. I ought to have--. If we had spoken of our love to each
other, and waited.'
'A very proper twelvemonth's engagement,--meetings at five o'clock
tea,--fifty thousand love-letters,--and all that kind of thing.
Oh, we chose a better way. Our wedding was among the leaves and
flowers. You remember the glow of evening sunlight between the red
pine and the silver birch? I hope that place may remain as it is all
our lives; we will go there--'
'Never! Never ask me to go there. I want to forget--I hope some
day I may forget.'
'If you hope so, then I will hope the same.'
'And you love me--with real, husband's love--love that will
'Why should _I_ answer all the questions?' He took her face between
his hands. What if the wife's love should fail first?'
'You can say that lightly, because you know--'
'What do I know?'
'You know that I am _all_ love of you. As long as I am myself, I
must love you. It was because I had no will of my own left, because
I lived only in the thought of you day and night--'
Their lips met in a long silence.
'I mustn't stay past four o'clock,' were Nancy's next words. 'I
don't like to be away long from the house. Father won't ask me
anything, but he knows I'm away somewhere, and I'm afraid it makes
him angry with me.' She examined the room. 'How comfortable you are
here! what a delightful old place to live in!'
'Will you look at the other rooms?'
'Not to-day--when I come again. I must say good-bye very soon--