Part 4 out of 9
oh, see how the time goes! What a large library you have! You must
let me look at all the books, when I have time.'
'Let you? They are yours as much as mine.'
Her face brightened.
'I should like to live here; howl should enjoy it after that hateful
Grove Lane! Shall I live here with you some day?'
'There wouldn't be room for two. Why, your dresses would fill the
She went and stood before the shelves.
'But how dusty you are! Who cleans for you?'
'No one. A very rickety old woman draws a certain number of
shillings each week, on pretence of cleaning.'
'What a shame! She neglects you disgracefully. You shall go away
some afternoon, and leave me here with a great pile of dusters.'
'You can do that kind of thing? It never occurred to me to ask you:
are you a domestic person?'
She answered with something of the old confident air.
'That was an oversight, wasn't it? After all, how little you know
'Do you know much more of me?'
Her countenance fell.
'You are going to tell me--everything. How long have you lived
'Two years and a half.'
'And your friends come to see you here? Of course they do. I meant,
have you many friends?'
'Friends, no. A good many acquaintances.'
'Men, like yourself?'
'Mostly men, fellows who talk about art and literature.'
'And women?' Nancy faltered, half turning away.
'Oh, magnificent creatures--Greek scholars--mathematicians--
all that is most advanced!'
'That's the right answer to a silly question,' said Nancy humbly.
Whereat, Tarrant fixed his gaze upon her.
'I begin to think that--'
He checked himself awkwardly. Nancy insisted on the completion of
'That of all the women I know, you have the most sense.'
'I had rather hear you say that than have a great fortune.' She
blushed with joy. 'Perhaps you will love me some day, as I wish to
'I'll tell you another time. If it weren't for my father's illness,
I think I could go home feeling almost happy. But how am I to know
what you are doing?'
'What do you wish me to do?'
'Just tell me how you live. What shall you do now, when I'm gone?'
'Sit disconsolate,'--he came nearer--'thinking you were just a
'No, don't say that.' Nancy was flurried. 'I have told you the real
reason. Our housekeeper says that father was disappointed and angry
because I put off my return from Teignmouth. He spoke to me very
coldly, and I have hardly seen him since. He won't let me wait upon
him; and I have thought, since I know how ill he really is, that I
must seem heartless. I will come for longer next time.'
To make amends for the reproach he had uttered in spite of himself,
Tarrant began to relate in full the events of his ordinary day.
'I get my own breakfast--the only meal I have at home. Look,
here's the kitchen, queer old place. And here's the dining-room.
Cupboards everywhere, you see; we boast of our cupboards. The green
paint is _de rigueur_; duck's egg colour; I've got to like it. That
door leads into the bedroom. Well, after breakfast, about eleven
o'clock that's to say, I light up--look at my pipe-rack--and
read newspapers. Then, if it's fine, I walk about the streets, and
see what new follies men are perpetrating. And then--'
He told of his favourite restaurants, of his unfashionable club, of
a few houses where, at long intervals, he called or dined, of the
Hodiernals, of a dozen other small matters.
'What a life,' sighed the listener, 'compared with mine!'
'We'll remedy that, some day.'
'When?' she asked absently.
'Wait just a little.--You don't wish to tell your father?'
'I daren't tell him. I doubt whether I shall ever dare to tell him
face to face.'
'Don't think about it. Leave it to me.'
'I must have letters from you--but how? Perhaps, if you could
promise always to send them for the first post--I generally go to
the letter-box, and I could do so always--whilst father is ill.'
This was agreed upon. Nancy, whilst they were talking, took her hat
from the table; at the same moment, Tarrant's hand moved towards it.
Their eyes met, and the hand that would have checked her was drawn
back. Quickly, secretly, she drew the ring from her finger, hid it
somewhere, and took her gloves.
'Did you come by the back way?' Tarrant asked, when he had bitten
his lips for a sulky minute.
'Yes, as you told me.'
He said he would walk with her into Chancery Lane; there could be no
risk in it.
'You shall go out first. Any one passing will suppose you had
business with the solicitor underneath. I'll overtake you at
Impatient to be gone, she lingered minute after minute, and broke
hurriedly from his restraining arms at last. The second outer door,
which Tarrant had closed on her entrance, surprised her by its
prison-like massiveness. In the wooden staircase she stopped
timidly, but at the exit her eyes turned to an inscription above,
which she had just glanced at when arriving: _Surrexit e flammis_,
and a date. Nancy had no Latin, but guessed an interpretation from
the last word. Through the little court, with its leafy plane-trees
and white-worn cobble-stones, she walked with bent head, hearing the
roar of Holborn through the front archway, and breathing more freely
when she gained the quiet garden at the back of the Inn.
Tarrant's step sounded behind her. Looking up she asked the meaning
of the inscription she had seen.
'You don't know Latin? Well, why should you? _Surrexit e flammis_,
"It rose again from the flames."
'I thought it might be something like that. You will be patient with
A strange word upon Nancy's lips. No mortal ere this had heard her
confess to ignorance.
'But you know the modern languages?' said Tarrant, smiling.
'Yes. That is, a little French and German--a very little German.'
Tarrant mused, seemingly with no dissatisfaction.
In her brother's looks and speech Nancy detected something
mysterious. Undoubtedly he was keeping a secret from her, and there
could be just as little doubt that he would not keep it long.
Whenever she questioned him about the holiday at Scarborough, he put
on a smile unlike any she had ever seen on his face, so profoundly
thoughtful was it, so loftily reserved. On the subject of Mrs.
Damerel he did not choose to be very communicative; Nancy gathered
little more than she had learnt from his letter. But very plainly
the young man held himself in higher esteem than hitherto; very
plainly he had learnt to think of 'the office' as a burden or
degradation, from which he would soon escape. Prompted by her own
tormenting conscience, his sister wondered whether Fanny French had
anything to do with the mystery; but this seemed improbable. She
mentioned Fanny's name one evening.
'Do you see much of her?'
'Not much,' was the dreamy reply. 'When are you going to call?'
'Oh, not at present,' said Nancy.
'You've altered again, then?'
She vouchsafed no answer.
'There's something I think I ought to tell you,' said Horace,
speaking as though he were the elder and felt a responsibility.
'People have been talking about you and Mr. Crewe.'
'What!' She flashed into excessive anger. 'Who has been talking?'
'The people over there. Of course I know it's all nonsense. At
least'--he raised his eyebrows--'I suppose it is.'
'_I_ should suppose so,' said Nancy, with vehement scorn.
Their father's illness imposed a restraint upon trifling
conversation. Mary Woodruff, now attending upon Mr. Lord under the
doctor's directions, had held grave talk with Nancy. The Barmbys,
father and son, called frequently, and went away with gloomy faces.
Nancy and her brother were summoned, separately, to the invalid's
room at uncertain times, but neither was allowed to perform any
service for him; their sympathy, more often than not, excited
irritation; the sufferer always seemed desirous of saying more than
the few and insignificant words which actually passed his lips, and
generally, after a long silence, he gave the young people an abrupt
dismissal. With his daughter he spoke at length, in language which
awed her by its solemnity; Nancy could only understand him as
meaning that his end drew near. He had been reviewing, he said, the
course of her life, and trying to forecast her future.
'I give you no more advice; it would only be repeating what I have
said hundreds of times. All I can _do_ for your good, I have done.
You will understand me better if you live a few more years, and I
think, in the end, you will be grateful to me.'
Nancy, sitting by the bedside, laid a hand upon her father's and
sobbed. She entreated him to believe that even now she understood
how wisely he had guided her.
'Tried to, Nancy; tried to, my dear. Guidance isn't for young people
now-a-days. Don't let us shirk the truth. I have never been
satisfied with you, but I have loved you--'
'And I you, dear father--I have! I have!--I know better now how
good your advice was. I wish--far, far more sincerely than you
think--that I had kept more control upon myself--thought less of
myself in every way--'
Whilst she spoke through her tears, the yellow, wrinkled face upon
the pillow, with its sunken eyes and wasted lips, kept sternly
'If you won't mock at me,' Stephen pursued, 'I will show you an
example you would do well to imitate. It is our old servant, now my
kindest, truest friend. If I could hope that you will let her be
_your_ friend, it would help to put my mind at rest. Don't look down
upon her,--that's such a poor way of thinking. Of all the women I
have known, she is the best. Don't be too proud to learn from her,
Nancy. In all these twenty years that she has been in my house,
whatever she undertook to do, she did well;--nothing too hard or
too humble for her, if she thought it her duty. I know what that
means; I myself have been a poor, weak creature, compared with her.
Don't be offended because I ask you to take pattern by her. I know
her value now better than I ever knew it before. I owe her a debt I
Nancy left the room burdened with strange and distressful thoughts.
When she saw Mary she looked at her with new feelings, and spoke to
her less familiarly than of wont. Mary was very silent in these
days; her face had the dignity of a profound unspoken grief.
To his son, Mr. Lord talked only of practical things, urging sound
advice, and refraining, now, from any mention of their differences.
Horace, absorbed in preoccupations, had never dreamt that this
illness might prove fatal; on finding Nancy in tears, he was
'Do you think it's dangerous?' he asked.
'I'm afraid he will never get well.'
It was Sunday morning. The young man went apart and pondered. After
the mid-day meal, having heard from Mary that his father was no
worse, he left home without remark to any one, and from Camberwell
Green took a cab to Trafalgar Square. At the Hotel Metropole he
inquired for Mrs. Damerel; her rooms were high up, and he ascended by
the lift. Sunk in a deep chair, her feet extended upon a hassock,
Mrs. Damerel was amusing herself with a comic paper; she rose
briskly, though with the effort of a person who is no longer slim.
'Here I am, you see!--up in the clouds. Now, _did_ you get my
'No letter, but a telegram.'
'There, I thought so. Isn't that just like me? As soon as I had sent
out the letter to post, I said to myself that I had written the
wrong address. What address it _was_, I couldn't tell you, to save
my life, but I shall see when it comes back from the post-office. I
rather suspect it's gone to Gunnersbury; just then I was thinking
about somebody at Gunnersbury--or somebody at Hampstead, I can't
be sure which. What a good thing I wired!--Oh, now, Horace, I
_don't_ like that, I don't really!'
The young man looked at her in bewilderment.
'What don't you like?'
'Why, that tie. It won't do at all. Your taste is generally very
good, but that tie! I'll choose one for you to-morrow, and let you
have it the next time you come. Do you know, I've been thinking that
it might be well if you parted your hair in the middle. I don't care
for it as a rule; but in your case, with your soft, beautiful hair,
I think it would look well. Shall we try? Wait a minute; I'll run
for a comb.'
'But suppose some one came--'
'Nobody will come, my dear boy. Hardly any one knows I'm here. I
like to get away from people now and then; that's why I've taken
refuge in this cock-loft.'
She disappeared, and came back with a comb of tortoise-shell.
'Sit down there. Oh, what hair it is, to be sure! Almost as fine as
my own. I think you'll have a delicious moustache.'
Her personal appearance was quite in keeping with this vivacity.
Rather short, and inclining--but as yet only inclining--to
rotundity of figure, with a peculiarly soft and clear complexion,
Mrs. Damerel made a gallant battle against the hostile years. Her
bright eye, her moist lips, the admirable smoothness of brow and
cheek and throat, bore witness to sound health; as did the rows of
teeth, incontestably her own, which she exhibited in her frequent
mirth. A handsome woman still, though not of the type that commands
a reverent admiration. Her frivolity did not exclude a suggestion of
shrewdness, nor yet of capacity for emotion, but it was difficult to
imagine wise or elevated thought behind that narrow brow. She was
elaborately dressed, with only the most fashionable symbols of
widowhood; rings adorned her podgy little hand, and a bracelet her
white wrist. Refinement she possessed only in the society-journal
sense, but her intonation was that of the idle class, and her
grammar did not limp.
'There--let me look. Oh, I think that's an improvement--more
_distingue_. And now tell me the news. How is your father?'
'Very bad, I'm afraid,' said Horace, when he had regarded himself in
a mirror with something of doubtfulness. 'Nancy says that she's
afraid he won't get well.'
'Oh, you don't say that! Oh, how very sad! But let us hope. I can't
think it's so bad as that.'
Horace sat in thought. Mrs. Damerel, her bright eyes subduing their
gaiety to a keen reflectiveness, put several questions regarding the
invalid, then for a moment meditated.
'Well, we must hope for the best. Let me know to-morrow how he gets
on--be sure you let me know. And if anything _should_ happen--
oh, but that's too sad; we won't talk about it.'
Again she meditated, tapping the floor, and, as it seemed, trying
not to smile.
'Don't be downcast, my dear boy. Never meet sorrow half-way--if
you knew how useful I have found it to remember that maxim. I have
gone through sad, sad things--ah! But now tell me of your own
affairs. Have you seen _la petite_?'
'I just saw her the other evening,' he answered uneasily.
'Just? What does that mean, I wonder? Now you don't look anything
like so well as when you were at Scarborough. You're worrying; yes,
I know you are. It's your nervous constitution, my poor boy. So you
just saw her? No more imprudences?'
She examined his face attentively, her lips set with tolerable
'It's a very difficult position, you know,' said Horace, wriggling
in his chair. 'I can't get out of it all at once. And the truth is,
I'm not sure that I wish to.'
Mrs. Damerel drew her eyebrows together, and gave a loud tap on the
'Oh, that's weak--that's very weak! After promising me! Now
listen; listen seriously.' She raised a finger. 'If it goes on, I
have nothing--more--whatever to do with you. It would distress
me very, very much; but I can't interest myself in a young man who
makes love to a girl so very far beneath him. Be led by me, Horace,
and your future will be brilliant. Prefer this young lady of
Camberwell, and lose everything.'
Horace leaned forward and drooped his head.
'I don't think you form anything like a right idea of her,' he said.
The other moved impatiently.
'My dear boy, I know her as well as if I'd lived with her for years.
Oh, how silly you are! But then you are so young, so very young.'
With the vexation on her face there blended, as she looked at him, a
tenderness unmistakably genuine.
'Now, I'll tell you what. I have really no objection to make Fanny's
acquaintance. Suppose, after all, you bring her to see me one of
these days. Not just yet. You must wait till I am in the mood for
it. But before very long.'
Horace looked up with pleasure and gratitude.
'Now, that's really kind of you!'
'Really? And all the rest is only pretended kindness? Silly boy!
Some day you will know better. Now, think, Horace; suppose you were
so unhappy as to lose your father. Could you, as soon as he was
gone, do something that you know would have pained him deeply?'
The pathetic note was a little strained; putting her head aside, Mrs.
Damerel looked rather like a sentimental picture in an
advertisement. Horace did not reply.
'You surely wouldn't,' pursued the lady, with emphasis, watching him
closely; 'you surely wouldn't and couldn't marry this girl as soon
as your poor father was in his grave?'
'Oh, of course not.'
Mrs. Damerel seemed relieved, but pursued her questioning.
'You couldn't think of marrying for at least half a year?'
'Fanny wouldn't wish it.'
'No, of course not,--well now, I think I must make her
acquaintance. But how weak you are, Horace! Oh, those nerves! All
finely, delicately organised people, like you, make such blunders in
life. Your sense of honour is such a tyrant over you. Now, mind, I
don't say for a moment that Fanny isn't fond of you,--how could
she help being, my dear boy? But I do insist that she will be very
much happier if you let her marry some one of her own class. You,
Horace, belong to a social sphere so far, far above her. If I could
only impress that upon your modesty. You are made to associate with
people of the highest refinement. How deplorable to think that a
place in society is waiting for you, and you keep longing for
The listener's face wavered between pleasure in such flattery and
the impulse of resistance.
'Remember, Horace, if anything _should_ happen at home, you are your
own master. I could introduce you freely to people of wealth and
fashion. Of course you could give up the office at once. I shall be
taking a house in the West-end, or a flat, at all events. I shall
entertain a good deal--and think of your opportunities! My dear
boy, I assure you that, with personal advantages such as yours, you
might end by marrying an heiress. Nothing more probable! And you can
talk of such a girl as Fanny French--for shame!
'I mustn't propose any gaieties just now,' she said, when they had
been together for an hour. 'And I shall wait so anxiously for news
of your father. If anything _did_ happen, what would your sister do,
'I'm sure I don't know--except that she'd get away from
Camberwell. Nancy hates it.'
'Who knows? I may be able to be of use to her. But, you say she is
such a grave and learned young lady? I am afraid we should bore each
To this, Horace could venture only an uncertain reply. He had not
much hope of mutual understanding between his sister and Mrs.
At half-past five he was home again, and there followed a cheerless
evening. Nancy was in her own room until nine o'clock. She came down
for supper, but had no appetite; her eyes showed redness from
weeping; Horace could say nothing for her comfort. After the meal,
they went up together to the drawing-room, and sat unoccupied.
'If we lose father,' said Nancy, in a dull voice very unlike her
ordinary tones, 'we shall have not a single relative left, that is
anything to us.'
Her brother kept silence.
'Has Mrs. Damerel,' she continued, 'ever said anything to you about
After hesitation, Horace answered, 'Yes,' and his countenance showed
that the affirmative had special meaning. Nancy waited with an
'I haven't told you,' he added, 'because--we have had other things
to think about. But Mrs. Damerel is mother's sister, our aunt.'
'How long have you known that?'
'She told me at Scarborough.'
'But why didn't she tell you so at first?'
'That's what I can't understand. She says she was afraid I might
mention it; but I don't believe that's the real reason.'
Nancy's questioning elicited all that was to be learnt from her
brother, little more than she had heard already; the same story of a
disagreement between Mrs. Damerel and their father, of long absences
from England, and a revival of interest in her relatives, following
upon Mrs. Damerel's widowhood.
'She would be glad to see you, if you liked. But I doubt whether you
would get on very well.'
'She doesn't care about the same things that you do. She's a woman
of society, you know.'
'But if she's mother's sister. Yes, I should like to know her.'
Nancy spoke with increasing earnestness. 'It makes everything quite
different. I must see her.'
'Well, as I said, she's quite willing. But you remember that I'm
supposed not to have spoken about her at all. I should have to get
her to send you a message, or something of that kind. Of course, we
have often talked about you.'
'I can't form an idea of her,' said Nancy impatiently. 'Is she good?
Is she really kind? Couldn't you get her portrait to show me?'
'I should be afraid to ask, unless she had given me leave to speak
'She really lives in good society?'
'Haven't I told you the sort of people she knows? She must be very
well off; there can't be a doubt of it.'
I don't care so much about that,' said Nancy in a brooding voice.
'It's herself,--whether she's kind and good and wishes well to us.
The next day there was no change in Mr. Lord's condition; a deep
silence possessed the house. In the afternoon Nancy went to pass an
hour with Jessica Morgan; on her return she met Samuel Barmby, who
was just leaving after a visit to the sick man. Samuel bore himself
with portentous gravity, but spoke only a few commonplaces,
affecting hope; he bestowed upon Nancy's hand a fervent pressure,
and strode away with the air of an undertaker who had called on
Two more days of deepening gloom, then a night through which Nancy
sat with Mary Woodruff by her father's bed. Mr. Lord was unconscious,
but from time to time a syllable or a phrase fell from his lips,
meaningless to the watchers. At dawn, Nancy went to her chamber,
pallid, exhausted. Mary, whose strength seemed proof against
fatigue, moved about the room, preparing for a new day; every few
minutes she stood with eyes fixed on the dying face, and the tears
she had restrained in Nancy's presence flowed silently.
When the sun made a golden glimmer upon the wall, Mary withdrew, and
was absent for a quarter of an hour. On returning, she bent at once
over the bed; her eyes were met by a grave, wondering look.
'Do you know me?' she whispered.
The lips moved; she bent lower, but could distinguish no word. He
was speaking; the murmur continued; but she gathered no sense.
'You can trust me, I will do all I can.'
He seemed to understand her, and smiled. As the smile faded away,
passing into an austere calm, Mary pressed her lips upon his
After breakfast, and before Arthur Peachey's departure for business,
there had been a scene of violent quarrel between him and his wife.
It took place in the bed-room, where, as usual save on Sunday
morning, Ada consumed her strong tea and heavily buttered toast; the
state of her health--she had frequent ailments, more or less
genuine, such as afflict the indolent and brainless type of woman--
made it necessary for her to repose till a late hour. Peachey did
not often lose self-control, though sorely tried; the one occasion
that unchained his wrath was when Ada's heedlessness or ill-temper
affected the well-being of his child. This morning it had been
announced to him that the nurse-girl, Emma, could no longer be
tolerated; she was making herself offensive to her mistress, had
spoken insolently, disobeyed orders, and worst of all, defended
herself by alleging orders from Mr. Peachey. Hence the outbreak of
strife, signalled by furious shrill voices, audible to Beatrice and
Fanny as they sat in the room beneath.
Ada came down at half-past ten, and found Beatrice writing letters.
She announced what any who did not know her would have taken for a
'I'm going--I won't put up with that beast any longer. I shall go
and live at Brighton.'
Her sister paid not the slightest heed; she was intent upon a
business letter of much moment.
'Do you hear what I say? I'm going by the first train this
'All right,' remarked Beatrice placidly. 'Don't interrupt me just
The result of this was fury directed against Beatrice, who found
herself accused of every domestic vice compatible with her position.
She was a sordid creature, living at other people's expense,--a
selfish, scheming, envious wretch--
'If I were your husband,' remarked the other without looking up, 'I
should long since have turned you into the street--if I hadn't
broken your neck first.'
Exercise in quarrel only made Ada's voice the clearer and more
shrill. It rose now to the highest points of a not inconsiderable
compass. But Beatrice continued to write, and by resolute silence
put a limit to her sister's railing. A pause had just come about,
when the door was thrown open, and in rushed Fanny, hatted and
gloved from a walk.
'He's dead!' she said excitedly. 'He's dead!'
Beatrice turned with a look of interest. 'Who? Mr. Lord?'
'Yes. The blinds are all down. He must have died in the night.'
Her cheeks glowed and her eyes sparkled, as though she had brought
the most exhilarating news.
'What do I care?' said Mrs. Peachey, to whom her sister had addressed
the last remark.
'Just as much as I care about your affairs, no doubt,' returned
Fanny, with genial frankness.
'Don't be in too great a hurry,' remarked Beatrice, who showed the
calculating wrinkle at the corner of her eye. 'Because he's dead,
that doesn't say that your masher comes in for money.'
'Who'll get it, then?'
'There may be nothing worth speaking of to get, for all we know.'
Beatrice had not as yet gained Fanny's co-operation in the
commercial scheme now being elaborated; though of far more amiable
nature than Mrs. Peachey, she heartily hoped that the girl might be
disappointed in her expectations from Mr. Lord's will. An hour later,
she walked along Grove Lane, and saw for herself that Fanny's
announcement was accurate; the close-drawn blinds could mean but one
To-day there was little likelihood of learning particulars, but on
the morrow Fanny might perchance hear something from Horace Lord.
However, the evening brought a note, hand-delivered by some
stranger. Horace wrote only a line or two, informing Fanny that his
father had died about eight o'clock that morning, and adding:
'Please be at home to-morrow at twelve.'
At twelve next day Fanny received her lover alone in the
drawing-room. He entered with the exaggerated solemnity of a very
young man who knows for the first time a grave bereavement, and
feels the momentary importance it confers upon him. Fanny, trying to
regard him without a smile, grimaced; decorous behaviour was at all
times impossible to her, for she neither understood its nature nor
felt its obligation. In a few minutes she smiled unrestrainedly, and
spoke the things that rose to her lips.
'I've been keeping a secret from you,' said Horace, in the low voice
which had to express his sorrow,--for he could not preserve a
gloomy countenance with Fanny before him. 'But I can tell you now.'
'A secret? And what business had you to keep secrets from me?'
'It's about Mrs. Damerel. When I was at the seaside she told me who
she really is. She's my aunt--my mother's sister. Queer, isn't it?
Of course that makes everything different. And she's going to ask
you to come and see her. It'll have to be put off a little--now;
but not very long, I dare say, as she's a relative. You'll have to
do your best to please her.'
'I'm sure I shan't put myself out of the way. People must take me as
they find me.'
'Now don't talk like that, Fanny. It isn't very kind--just now. I
thought you'd be different to-day.'
'All right.--Have you anything else to tell me?'
Horace understood her significant glance, and shook his head.
'I'll let you know everything as soon as I know myself.'
Having learnt the day and hour of Mr. Lord's funeral, Ada and Fanny
made a point of walking out to get a glimpse of it. The procession
of vehicles in Grove Lane excited their contempt, so far was it from
the splendour they had anticipated.
'There you are!' said Ada; 'I shouldn't wonder if it's going to be a
jolly good take in for you, after all. If he'd died worth much, they
wouldn't have buried him like that.'
Fanny's heart sank. She could conceive no other explanation ofa
simple burial save lack of means, or resentment in the survivors at
the disposition made of his property by the deceased. When, on the
morrow, Horace told her that his father had strictly charged Mr
Barmby to have him buried in the simplest mode compatible with
decency, she put it down to the old man's excessive meanness.
On this occasion she learnt the contents of Mr. Lord's will, and
having learnt them, got rid of Horace as soon as possible that she
might astonish her sisters with the report.
In the afternoon of that day, Beatrice had an appointment with
Luckworth Crewe. She was to meet him at the office he had just taken
in Farringdon Street, whence they would repair to a solicitor's in
the same neighbourhood, for the discussion of legal business
connected with Miss. French's enterprise. She climbed the staircase
of a big building, and was directed to the right door by the sound
of Crewe's voice, loudly and jocularly discoursing. He stood with
two men in the open doorway, and at the sight of Beatrice waved a
hand to her.
'Take your hook, you fellows; I have an engagement.' The men,
glancing at Miss. French facetiously, went their way. 'How do, old
chum? It's all in a mess yet; hold your skirts together. Come along
Through glue-pots and shavings and an overpowering smell of paint,
Beatrice followed to inspect the premises, which consisted of three
rooms; one, very much the smallest, about ten feet square. Three
workmen were busy, and one, fitting up shelves, whistled a melody
with ear-piercing shrillness.
'Stop that damned noise!' shouted Crewe. 'I've told you once
already. Try it on again, my lad, and I'll drop you down the well of
the staircase--you've too much breath, you have.'
The other workmen laughed. It was evident that Crewe had made
friends with them all.
'Won't be bad, when we get the decks cleared,' he remarked to
Beatrice. 'Plenty of room to make twenty thousand a year or so.'
He checked himself, and asked in a subdued voice, 'Seen anything of
Beatrice nodded with a smile. 'And heard about the will. Have you?'
'No, I haven't. Come into this little room.'
He closed the door behind them, and looked at his companion with
curiosity, but without show of eagerness.
'Well, it's a joke,' said Miss. French.
'Is it? How?'
'Fanny's that mad about it! She'd got it into her silly noddle that
Horace Lord would drop in for a fortune at once. As it is, he gets
nothing at all for two years, except what the Barmbys choose to give
him. And if he marries before he's four-and-twenty, he loses
Crewe whistled a bar of a street-melody, then burst into laughter.
'That's how the old joker has done them, is it? Quite right too. The
lad doesn't know his own mind yet. Let Fanny wait if she really
wants him--and if she can keep hold of him. But what are the
'Nothing startling. Of course I don't know all the ins and outs of
it, but Horace Lord will get seven thousand pounds, and a sixth
share in the piano business. Old Barmby and his son are trustees.
They may let Horace have just what they think fit during the next
two years. If he wants money to go into business with, they may
advance what they like. But for two years he's simply in their
hands, to be looked after. And if he marries--pop goes the
'And Miss. Lord?' asked Crewe carelessly.
Beatrice pointed a finger at him.
'You want to know badly, don't you? Well, it's pretty much the same
as the other. To begin with, if she marries before the age of
six-and-twenty, she gets nothing whatever. If she doesn't marry,
there's two hundred a year to live on and to keep up the house.--
Oh, I was forgetting; she must not only keep single to twenty-six,
but continue to live where she does now, with that old servant of
theirs for companion. At six-and-twenty she takes the same as her
brother, about seven thousand, and a sixth share in Lord and
Again Crewe whistled.
'That's about three years still to live in Grove Lane,' he said
thoughtfully. 'Well, the old joker has pinned them, and no mistake.
I thought he had more to leave.'
'Of course you did,' remarked Beatrice significantly.
'Look here, old fellow, don't talk to me like that,' he replied
good-humouredly, but with a reproof not to be mistaken. 'I thought
nothing about it in the way that _you_ mean. But it isn't much,
after living as he has done. I suppose you don't know how the money
'I have it all from Fanny, and it's a wonder she remembered as much
as she did.'
'Oh, Fanny's pretty smart in L. s. d. But did she say what becomes
of the money if either of them break the terms?'
'Goes to a girl's orphanage, somewhere in the old man's country. But
there's more than I've accounted for yet. Young Barmby's sisters get
legacies--a hundred and fifty apiece. And, last of all, the old
servant has an annuity of two hundred. He made her a sort of
housekeeper not long ago, H. L. says; thought no end of her.'
'Don't know anything about her,' said Crewe absently. 'I should like
to know the business details. What arrangement was made, I wonder,
when he took Barmby into partnership?'
'I shouldn't be surprised if he simply gave him a share. Old Barmby
and Lord were great chums. Then, you see, Samuel Barmby has a third
of his profits to pay over, eventually.'
Beatrice went on to speak of the mysterious Mrs. Damerel, concerning
whom she had heard from Fanny. The man of business gave particular
ear to this story, and asked many questions. Of a sudden, as if
dismissing matters which hardly concerned him, he said mirthfully:
'You've heard about the row at Lillie Bridge yesterday?'
'I saw something about it in the paper.'
'Well, I was there. Pure chance; haven't been at that kind of place
for a year and more. It was a match for the Sprint Championship and
a hundred pounds. Timed for six o'clock, but at a quarter past the
chaps hadn't come forward. I heard men talking, and guessed there
was something wrong; they thought it a put-up job. When it got round
that there'd be no race, the excitement broke out, and then--I'd
have given something for you to see it! First of all there was a
rush for the gate-money; a shilling a piece, you know, we'd all
paid. There were a whole lot of North-of-England chaps, fellow
countrymen of mine, and I heard some of them begin to send up a roar
that sounded dangerous. I was tumbling along with the crowd, quite
ready for a scrimmage--I rather enjoy a fight now and then,--and
all at once some chap sang out just in front, 'Let's burst up the
blooming show!'--only he used a stronger word. And a lot of us
yelled hooray, and to it we went. I don't mean I had a hand in the
pillaging and smashing,--it wouldn't have done for a man just
starting in business to be up at the police-court,--but I looked
on and laughed--laughed till I could hardly stand! They set to
work on the refreshment place. It was a scene if you like! Fellows
knocking off the heads of bottles, and drinking all they could, then
pouring the rest on the ground. Glasses and decanters flying right
and left,--sandwiches and buns, and I don't know what, pelting
about. They splintered all the small wood they could lay their hands
on, and set fire to it, and before you could say Jack Robinson the
whole place was blazing. The bobbies got it pretty warm--bottles
and stones and logs of wood; I saw one poor chap with the side of
his face cut clean open. It does one good, a real stirring-up like
that; I feel better to-day than for the last month. And the swearing
that went on! It's a long time since I heard such downright, hearty,
solid swearing. There was one chap I kept near, and he swore for a
full hour without stopping, except when he had a bottle at his
mouth; he only stopped when he was speechless with liquor.'
'I wish I'd been there,' said Miss. French gaily. 'It must have been
no end of fun.'
'A right down good spree. And it wasn't over till about eight
o'clock. I stayed till the police had cleared the grounds, and then
came home, laughing all the way. It did me good, I tell you!'
'Well, shall we go and see the lawyer?' suggested Beatrice.
'Right you are.--Have a drink first? Nice quiet place round in
Fleet Street--glass of wine. No? As you please, old chum.--Think
this shop 'll do, don't you? You must come round when it's finished.
But I daresay you'll be here many a time--on biz.'
'Oh, I daresay.'
And as they went down the stairs, Crewe laughed again at his
recollections of yesterday's sport.
Gusts of an October evening swept about the square of the old Inn,
and made rushes at the windows; all the more cosy seemed it here in
Tarrant's room, where a big fire, fed into smokeless placidity,
purred and crackled. Pipe in mouth, Tarrant lay back in his big
chair, gracefully indolent as ever. Opposite him, lamp-light
illuminating her face on one side, and fire-gloom on the other,
Nancy turned over an illustrated volume, her husband's gift today.
Many were the presents he had bestowed upon her, costly some of
them, all flattering the recipient by a presumption of taste and
She had been here since early in the afternoon, it was now near
Nancy looked at the pictures, but inattentively, her brows slightly
knitted, and her lips often on the point of speech that concerned
some other matter. Since the summer holiday she had grown a trifle
thinner in face; her beauty was no longer allied with perfect
health; a heaviness appeared on her eyelids. Of course she wore the
garb of mourning, and its effect was to emphasise the maturing
change manifest in her features.
For several minutes there had passed no word; but Tarrant's face, no
less than his companion's, signalled discussion in suspense. No
unfriendly discussion, yet one that excited emotional activity in
both of them. The young man, his pipe-hand falling to his knee,
first broke silence.
'I look at it in this way. We ought to regard ourselves as married
people living under exceptionally favourable circumstances. One has
to bear in mind the brutal fact that man and wife, as a rule, see a
great deal too much of each other--thence most of the ills of
married life: squabblings, discontents, small or great disgusts,
leading often enough to _altri guai_ People get to think themselves
victims of incompatibility, when they are merely suffering from a
foolish custom--the habit of being perpetually together. In fact,
it's an immoral custom. What does immorality mean but anything that
tends to kill love, to harden hearts? The common practice of man and
wife occupying the same room is monstrous, gross; it's astounding
that women of any sensitiveness endure it. In fact, their
sensitiveness is destroyed. Even an ordinary honeymoon generally
ends in quarrel--as it certainly ought to. You and I escape all
that. Each of us lives a separate life, with the result that we like
each other better as time goes on; I speak for myself, at all
events. I look forward to our meetings. I open the door to you with
as fresh a feeling of pleasure as when you came first. If we had
been ceaselessly together day and night--well, you know the result
as well as I do.'
He spoke with indulgent gravity, in the tone of kindness to which
his voice was naturally attuned. And Nancy's reply, though it
expressed a stronger feeling, struck the same harmonious note.
'I can agree with all that. But it applies to people married in the
ordinary way. I was speaking of ourselves, placed as we are.'
'I don't pretend to like the concealment,' said Tarrant. 'For one
thing, there's a suggestion of dishonour about it. We've gone over
'Oh, I don't mean that for a moment. It isn't really dishonourable.
My father could never have objected to _you_ for my husband. He only
wanted to guard me--Mary says so, and he told her everything. He
thought me a silly, flighty girl, and was afraid I should be trapped
for the sake of my money. I wish--oh how I wish I had had the
courage to tell him! He would have seen you, and liked and trusted
you--how could he help?'
'It might have been better--but who knows whether he would have
seen me with your eyes, Nancy?'
'Yes, yes. But I was going to say----'
'There are so many difficulties before us, dear.'
'Not if we continue to think of each other as we do now. Do you mean
it might be discovered?'
'Yes, through no fault of ours.'
She hesitated again.
'Quite sure you haven't told anybody?'
Tarrant had a doubt on this point. He strongly suspected that
Jessica Morgan knew the truth, but he shrank from pressing Nancy to
an avowal of repeated falsehood.
'Then it's very unlikely we should be found out. Who would dream of
tracking you here, for instance? And suppose we were seen together
in the street or in the country, who would suspect anything more
than love-making? and that is not forbidden you.'
'But suppose I--'
She rose, crossed to him, seated herself on his knee and put an arm
about his neck. Before she had spoken another word, Tarrant
understood; the smile on his face lost its spontaneity; a bitter
taste seemed to distort his lips.
'You think--you are afraid--'
He heard a monosyllable, and sat silent. This indeed had not entered
into his calculations; but why not? He could hardly say; he had
ignored the not unimportant detail, as it lurked among
possibilities. Perhaps had willingly ignored it, as introducing a
complication oppressive to his indolence, to his hodiernal
philosophy. And now he arraigned mother-nature, the very divinity
whom hitherto he had called upon to justify him. All at once he grew
cold to Nancy. The lulled objections to matrimony awoke in him
again; again he felt that he had made a fool of himself. Nancy was
better than he had thought; he either loved her, or felt something
towards her, not easily distinguishable from love. His inferior she
remained, but not in the sense he had formerly attributed to the
word. Her mind and heart excelled the idle conception he had formed
of them. But Nancy was not his wife, as the world understands that
relation; merely his mistress, and as a mistress he found her
charming, lovable. What she now hinted at, would shatter the
situation. Tarrant thought not of the peril to her material
prospects; on that score he was indifferent, save in so far as Mr
Lord's will helped to maintain their mutual independence. But he
feared for his liberty, in the first place, and in the second,
abhorred the change that must come over Nancy herself. Nancy a
mother--he repelled the image, as though it degraded her.
Delicacy, however, constrained him to a disguise of these emotions.
He recognised the human sentiments that should have weighed with
him; like a man of cultivated intelligence, he admitted their force,
their beauty. None the less, a syllable on Nancy's lips had arrested
the current of his feelings, and made him wish again that he had
been either more or less a man of honour down at Teignmouth.
'And yet,' he said to himself, 'could I have resisted an appeal for
marriage _now_? That comes of being so confoundedly humane. It's a
marvel that I didn't find myself married to some sheer demirep long
Nancy was speaking.
'Will it make you love me less?'
'I have always refused to prophesy about love,' he answered, with
'But you wouldn't--you wouldn't?'
'We should find ourselves in a very awkward position.'
'I know,' said Nancy hurriedly. 'I can't see what would be done. But
you seem colder to me all at once, Lionel. Surely it oughtn't to--
to turn you away from me. Perhaps I am mistaken.'
This referred to the alarming possibility, and Tarrant caught at
hope. Yes, she might be mistaken; they wouldn't talk about it; he
shook it away.
'Let me fill my pipe again. Yes, you can do it for me. That reminds
me of a story Harvey Munden tells. A man he knew, a doctor, got
married, and there was nothing his wife wouldn't do for him. As he
sat with her one evening, smoking, a patient called him into the
consulting-room. He had only just lighted a fresh pipe, and laid it
down regretfully. 'I'll keep it in for you,' said his wife. And she
did so, with dainty and fearful puffs, at long intervals. But the
doctor was detained, and when he came back--well, the poor wife
had succumbed to her devotion. She never kept in his pipe again.
Nancy tried to laugh. She was in her own chair again, and sat
resting her cheek upon her hand, gazing at the fire.
'How is it, Lionel, that no one ever knocks at your door when I'm
'Oh, very simple. I sport the oak--as you know.'
'But don't you think some friend of yours might see a light in your
window, and come up?'
'If so, _il respecte la consigne_.'
'No, no; I don't like you when you begin to use French words. I
think it reminds me of once when you did it a long time ago,--and
I thought you--never mind.'
'Weren't they strange--those meetings of ours at Champion Hill?
What did you think me? Arrogant? Insolent? That is my tendency with
strangers, I admit.'
'But I was asking you a question,' said Nancy. 'You mean that no one
would knock, if he saw your outer door closed. But what would they
'No doubt--that I was working. I am supposed to be secretly
engaged on some immortal composition.'
'I do hope no one that knows you will ever see me coming or going.'
'What could it matter? They wouldn't know who you were.'
'But to have such things thought. I should feel it just as if they
knew me. I believe I could never come again.'
'Why, what's the matter with you?' Tarrant asked. 'You have tears in
your eyes. You're not well to-day.' He checked himself on an
unwelcome thought, and proceeded more carelessly. 'Do you suppose
for a moment that any friend of mine is ass enough to think with
condemnation of a girl who should come to my rooms--whatever the
circumstances? You must get rid of that provincialism--let us call
'They wouldn't think it any harm--even if--?'
'My dear girl, we have outgrown those ancestral prejudices.'
Tarrant's humour never quite deserted him, least of all when he
echoed the talk of his world; but his listener kept a grave face.
'We have nothing to do with Mrs. Grundy's morals.'
'But you believe in a morality of some kind?' she pursued with
diffidence. 'You used the word "immoral" just now.'
Nancy felt no consciousness of the gulf that yawned between herself
as she spoke now and the old self which had claimed 'superiority.'
Her mind was so completely unsettled that she never tried to connect
its present state with its earlier phases. For the most part, her
sensations and her reflections were concerned with the crude
elements of life; the exceptional moments she spent in a world of
vague joys and fears, wherein thought, properly speaking, had no
share. Before she could outlive the shock of passion which seemed at
once to destroy and to re-create her, she was confronted with the
second supreme crisis of woman's existence,--its natural effects
complicated with the trials of her peculiar position. Tarrant's
reception of her disclosure came as a new disturbance--she felt
bewildered and helpless.
He, preoccupied with the anxiety he affected to dismiss, had no
inclination to debate ethical problems. For a while he talked
jestingly, and at length fell into a mood of silence. Nancy did not
stay much longer; they parted without mention of the subject
uppermost in their thoughts.
They had no stated times of meeting. Tarrant sent an invitation
whenever it pleased him. When the next arrived, in about a week,
Nancy made reply that she did not feel well enough to leave home. It
was the briefest letter Tarrant had yet received from her, and the
least affectionate. He kept silence for a few days, and wrote again.
This time Nancy responded as usual, and came.
To the involuntary question in his eyes, hers answered unmistakably.
For the first few minutes they said very little to each other.
Tarrant was struggling with repulsions and solicitudes of which he
felt more than half ashamed; Nancy, reticent for many reasons, not
the least of them a resentful pride, which for the moment overcame
her fondness, endeavoured to speak of trivial things. They kept
apart, and at length the embarrassment of the situation held them
With a nervous movement, the young man pushed forward the chair on
which Nancy usually sat.
'I see that you don't look well.'
Nancy turned to the window. She had unbuttoned her jacket, and taken
off her gloves, but went no further in the process of preparing
herself for the ordinary stay of some hours.
'Did something in my letter displease you?' inquired her husband.
'You mean--because I didn't come? No; I really didn't feel well
Tarrant hesitated, but the softer feeling prevailed with him. He
helped to remove her jacket, seated her by the fire, and led her to
'So there's no doubt of it?'
Her silence made answer.
'Then of course there's just as little doubt as to what we must do.'
His voice had not a convincing sincerity; he waited for the reply.
'You mean that we can't keep the secret?'
'How is it possible?'
'But you are vexed about it. You don't speak to me as you used to. I
don't think you ever will again.'
'It will make no change in _me_,' said Tarrant, with resolute good
humour. 'All I want to be sure of is that you are quite prepared for
the change in your prospects.'
'Are _you_, dear?'
Her tone and look deprived the inquiry of unpleasant implication. He
answered her with a laugh.
'You know exactly how I regard it. In one way I should feel relief.
Of course I don't like the thought that I shall have caused you to
suffer such a loss.'
'I should never have that thought. But are you quite sure about the
result to yourself? You remember saying that you couldn't be certain
'How it will be taken at Champion Hill? I was going to tell you the
latest report from there. It is very doubtful whether I should ever
have to break the news.'
They did not look at each other.
'Everything, in that quarter, must be long since settled. Pray
remember that I have no vast expectations. Quite certainly, it won't
be a large fortune; very likely not more than your own. But enough
to live on, no doubt. I know the value of money--no man better. It
would be pleasant enough to play with thousands a year. But I don't
grumble so long as I have a competency.'
Nancy meditated, and sighed.
'Oh, it's a pity. Father never meant me to be penniless if I married
'I suppose not.'
'Of course not!'
They both meditated.
'It wouldn't be possible--would it?'
'Why,' he answered with a laugh, 'last time you were here you spoke
in quite the other way. You were utterly miserable at the thought of
living through it alone.'
'Yes--I don't know whether I could--even if--'
'What are you thinking of?'
'I've been talking with Mary,' she replied, after an uneasy pause.
'She has lived with us so long; and since father's death it seems
quite natural to make a friend of her. No one could be more devoted
to me than she is. I believe there's nothing she wouldn't do. I
believe I might trust her with any secret.'
The obvious suggestion demanded thought.
'By-the-bye,' said Tarrant, looking up, 'have you seen your aunt
Nancy's face changed to a cold expression.
'No. And I don't think I shall.'
'Probably you were as little sympathetic to her as she to you.'
'I don't like her,' was the brief reply.
'I've had curious thoughts about that lady,' said Tarrant, smiling.
'The mystery, it seems to me, is by no means solved. You think she
really _is_ your aunt?'
'Impossible to doubt it. Any one could see her likeness to Horace at
'Ah, you didn't mention that. I had a fear that she might be simply
an adventuress, with an eye to your brother's money.'
'She is what she says, I'm sure. But I shall never ask her to come
and see me again, and I don't think she'll want to. That would be
fortunate if--if we wished--'
Tarrant nodded. At the same moment they heard a sound that startled
'That's a knock at the door,' said Nancy, rising as if to escape.
'So it is. Banging with a stick. Let him bang. It must be a
stranger, or he'd respect the oak.'
They sat listening. The knock sounded again, loud and prolonged.
Tarrant joked about it; but a third time came the summons.
'I may as well go and see who it is.'
'Oh--you won't let any one--'
'Of course not. Sit quietly.'
He went out, closing the room-door behind him, and opened the heavy
door which should have ensured his privacy. For five minutes he was
absent, then returned with a face portending news.
'It was Vawdrey. He knew my habit of sporting the oak, and wouldn't
go away till he had made sure. My grandmother is dying. They
telegraphed to Vawdrey in the City, and he came here at once to tell
me. I must go. Perhaps I shall be too late.'
'What did he think of your keeping him outside?'
'I made some sort of excuse. He's a good-natured fellow; it didn't
matter. Stay a little after I'm gone; stay as long as you like, In
fact. You can pull to the inner door when you go.'
'What did the telegram say?'
'Mrs. Tarrant sinking. Come immediately.' Of course we expected it.
It's raining hard: wait and see if it stops; you must take care of
For this, Nancy was not slow in exhibiting her gratitude, which
served as mask of the pleasure she could not decently betray. When
her husband had hastened off, she sat for a few minutes in thought;
then, alone here for the first time, she began to walk about the
rooms, and to make herself more intimately acquainted with their
Whilst she was thus occupied, darkness came on. She did not care to
light the lamp, so made herself ready, and stole forth.
The rain had ceased. Walking alone at night was a pleasure in which
she now indulged herself pretty frequently; at such times Mary
Woodruff believed her in the company of Miss. Morgan. The marked
sobriety of her demeanour since Mr. Lord's death, and the
friendliness, even the affection, she evinced in their common life
at home, had set Mary's mind at ease concerning her. No murmur at
her father's will had escaped Nancy, in this respect very unlike her
brother, who, when grief was forgotten, declared himself ill-used;
she seemed perfectly content with the conditions laid upon her, and
the sincerity of her mourning could not be doubted. Anxious to
conciliate the girl in every honest way, Mary behaved to her with
the same external respect as ever, and without a hint of express
guardianship. The two were on excellent terms. It seemed likely that
before long they would have the house to themselves; already Horace
had spoken of taking lodgings in a part of London more congruous
with the social aspirations encouraged by his aunt, Mrs. Damerel.
From Chancery Lane she passed into Fleet Street, and sauntered along
with observation of shop-windows. She was unspeakably relieved by
the events of the afternoon; it would now depend upon her own choice
whether she preserved her secret, or declared herself a married
woman. Her husband had proved himself generous as well as loving;
yes, she repeated to herself, generous and loving; her fears and
suspicions had been baseless. Mrs. Tarrant's death freed them from
all sordid considerations. A short time, perhaps a day or two, might
put an end to irregularities, and enable her to hold up her head
Feeling hungry, she entered a restaurant, and dined. Not carelessly,
but with fastidious choice of viands. This was enjoyable; she began
to look more like herself of a few months ago.
She would return to Camberwell by train from Ludgate Hill. At the
circus, crowding traffic held her back for a minute or two; just as
she ran forward, a familiar voice caused her to stop again. She
became flurried, lost her head, stood still amid a tumult of
omnibuses, cabs and carts; but a hand grasped her by the arm, and
led her safely to the opposite pavement.
'What do you mean by shouting at me in the street?' were her first
The person addressed was Luckworth Crewe; he had by no means
anticipated such wrathful greeting, and stood in confusion.
'I beg your pardon, Miss. Lord. I didn't think I shouted. I only
meant to call your attention.'
'Why should you call my attention?' Her cheeks were flushed with
anger; she regarded him as though he were a stranger guilty of mere
insolence. 'I don't wish to speak to you.'
With astonishment, Crewe found himself alone. But a rebuff such as
this, so irrational as he thought it, so entirely out of keeping
with Miss. Lord's behaviour, he could by no means accept. Nancy was
walking towards the railway-station; he followed. He watched her as
she took a ticket, then put himself in her way, with all the
humility of countenance he could command.
'I'm so sorry I offended you. It wasn't the right thing to do; I
ought to have waited till you were across. I'm a blundering sort of
fellow in those things. Do let me beg your pardon, and forgive me.'
She was calmer now, though still tremulous. But for the attack of
nervousness, she would have met Crewe with nothing worse than a
slight reserve, to mark a change in their relations. Very soon after
her father's death he had written a becoming letter, though it
smacked of commercial phraseology. To the hope expressed in it, that
he might be allowed to call upon her in a few weeks' time, Nancy
made no reply. A fortnight later he wrote again, this time reminding
her, with modest propriety, of what had occurred between them before
she left town in August. Nancy responded, and in grave, friendly
language, begged him to think of her no more; he must not base the
slightest hope upon anything she might have said. To her surprise,
Crewe held his peace, and she saw him now for the first time since
their ascent of the Monument.
'I'm ashamed that I lost my temper, Mr. Crewe. I am in a hurry to get
In the booking-office at Ludgate Hill it is not easy to detain, by
chivalrous discourse, a lady bent on escaping; but Crewe attempted
it. He subdued his voice, spoke rapidly and with emotion, implored
that he might be heard for a moment. Would she not permit him to
call upon her? He had waited, respecting her seclusion. He asked for
nothing whatever but permission to call, as any acquaintance might.
'Have you heard I have opened an office in Farringdon Street? I
should so like to tell you all about it--what I'm doing--'
'No one calls to see me,' said Nancy, with firmness. 'I wish to live
quite alone. I'm very sorry to seem unfriendly.'
'Is it anything I've done?'
'No--nothing whatever. I assure you, nothing. Let us say good-bye;
I can't stop another moment.'
They shook hands and so parted.
'You're back early,' said Mary, when Nancy entered the drawing-room.
'Yes. I left Jessica to her books sooner than usual. The examination
Quiet, sad, diligent ever, Mary kept unchanged the old domestic
routine. There was the same perfect order, the same wholesome
economy, as when she worked under the master's eyes. Nancy had
nothing to do but enjoy the admirable care with which she was
surrounded; she took it all as a matter of course, never having
considered the difference between her own home and those of her
Horace had dined, and was gone out again. They talked of him; Mary
said that he had spoken of moving into lodgings very soon.
'Of course he doesn't tell us everything,' said Nancy. 'I feel
pretty sure that he's going to leave the office, but how he means to
live I don't understand. Perhaps Mrs. Damerel will give him money, or
lend it him. I only hope she may break it off between him and
'Hasn't he told you that Fanny is often with Mrs. Damerel?'
'With her?' Nancy exclaimed. 'He never said a word of it to me.'
'He said so to me this evening, and laughed when I looked
'Well then, I don't pretend to understand what's going on. We can't
About nine o'clock the servant entered the room, bringing Miss. Lord
a note, which had just been left by a cab-driver. Nancy, seeing that
the address was in Tarrant's hand, opened it with a flutter of joy;
such a proceeding as this, openly sending a note by a messenger,
could only mean that her husband no longer cared to preserve
secrecy. To her astonishment, the envelope contained but a hurried
'Not a word yet to any one. Without fail, come to-morrow afternoon,
With what show of calmness she could command, she looked up at her
'The idea of his sending in this way! It's that Mr. Crewe I've told
you of. I met him as I was coming home, and had to speak to him
rather sharply to get rid of him. Here comes his apology, foolish
Living in perpetual falsehood, Nancy felt no shame at a fiction such
as this. Mere truth-telling had never seemed to her a weighty matter
of the law. And she was now grown expert in lies. But Tarrant's
message disturbed her gravely. Something unforeseen must have
happened--something, perhaps, calamitous. She passed a miserable
When she ascended the stairs at Staple Inn, next afternoon, it
wanted ten minutes to four. As usual at her coming, the outer door
stood open, exposing the door with the knocker. She had just raised
her hand, when, with a sound of voices from inside, the door opened,
and Tarrant appeared in company with a stranger. Terror-stricken,
she stepped back. Tarrant, after a glance, paid no attention to her.
'All right,' he was saying to his friend, 'I shall see you in a day
or two. Good-bye, old man.'
The stranger had observed Nancy, but withheld his eyes from her, and
quickly vanished down the stairs.
'Who was that?' she whispered.
'I told you four o'clock.'
'It is four.'
'No--ten minutes to at least. It doesn't matter, but if you had
been punctual you wouldn't have had a fright.'
Nancy had dropped into a chair, white and shaking. Tarrant's voice,
abruptly reproachful, affected her scarcely less than the preceding
shock. In the struggle to recover herself she sobbed and choked, and
at length burst into tears. Tarrant spoke impatiently.
'What's the matter? Surely you are not so childish'--
She stood up, and went into the bedroom, where she remained for
several minutes, returning at length without her jacket, but with
her hat still on.
'I couldn't help it; and you shouldn't speak to me in that way. I
have felt ill all the morning.'
Looking at her, the young man said to himself, that love was one
thing, wedded life another. He could make allowance for Nancy's
weakness--but it was beyond his power to summon the old warmth and
tenderness. If henceforth he loved her, it must be with husband's
love--a phrase which signified to him something as distinct as
possible from the ardour he had known; a moral attachment instead of
a passionate desire.
And there was another reason for his intolerant mood.
'You hadn't spoken to any one before you got my note?'
'No.--Why are you treating me like this? Are you ashamed that your
friend saw me?'
'Ashamed? not at all.'
'Who did he think I was?'
'I don't know. He doesn't know anything about you, at all events. As
you may guess, I have something not very pleasant to tell. I didn't
mean to be unkind; it was only the surprise at seeing you when I
opened the door. I had calculated the exact time. But never mind.
You look cold; warm yourself at the fire. You shall drink a glass of
wine; it will put your nerves right again.'
'No, I want nothing. Tell me at once what it is.'
But Tarrant quietly brought a bottle and glass from his cupboard.
Nancy again refused, pettishly.
'Until you have drunk,' he said, with a smile of self-will, 'I shall
tell you nothing.'
'I don't know what I've done to make you like this.'
Her sobs and tears returned. After a moment of impatience, Tarrant
went up to her with the glass, laid a hand upon her shoulder, and
'Now, come, be reasonable. We have uncommonly serious things to talk
'What did your friend think of me?'
'That you were one of the prettiest girls he had ever been
privileged to see, and that I was an enviable fellow to have such a
visitor. There now, another sip, and let us have some colour back
into your cheeks. There's bad news, Nancy; confoundedly bad news,
dear girl. My grandmother was dead when I got there. Well, the
foolish old woman has been muddling her affairs for a long time,
speculating here and there without taking any one's advice, and so
on; and the result is that she leaves nothing at all.'
Nancy was mute.
'Less than nothing, indeed. She owed a few hundreds that she had no
means of paying. The joke of the thing is, that she has left an
elaborate will, with legacies to half-a-dozen people, myself first
of all. If she had been so good as to die two years ago, I should
have come in for a thousand a year or so. No one suspected what was
going on; she never allowed Vawdrey, the one man who could have been
useful to her, to have an inkling of the affair. An advertising
broker got her in his clutches. Vawdrey's lawyer has been going
through her papers, and finds everything quite intelligible. The
money has gone in lumps, good after bad. Swindling, of course, but
perfectly legal swindling, nothing to be done about it. A minute or
two before her death she gasped out some words of revelation to the
nurse, enough to set Vawdrey on the track, when he was told.'
Still the listener said nothing.
'Well, I had a talk with Vawdrey. He's a blackguard, but not a bad
fellow. Wished he could help me, but didn't quite see how, unless I
would go into business. However, he had a suggestion to make.'
For Nancy, the pause was charged with apprehensions. She seemed to
discover in her husband's face a purpose which he knew would excite
'He and I have often talked about my friend Sutherland, in the
Bahamas, and Vawdrey has an idea that there'll be a profitable
opening in that quarter, before long. Sutherland has written to me
lately that he thinks of bestirring himself in the projects I've
told you about; he has got the old man's consent to borrow money on
the property. Now Vawdrey, naturally enough, would like Sutherland
to join him in starting a company; the thoughts of such men run only
on companies. So he offers, if I will go out to the Bahamas for a
month or two, and look about me, and put myself in a position to
make some kind of report--he offers to pay my expenses. Of course
if the idea came to anything, and a company got floated, I should
Again he paused. The listener had wide, miserable eyes.
'Well, I told him at once that I would accept the proposal. I have
no right to refuse. All I possess in the world, at this moment, is
about sixty pounds. If I sold all my books and furniture, they might
bring another sixty or so. What, then, is to become of me? I must
set to work at something, and here's the first work that comes to
hand. But,' his voice softened, 'this puts us face to face with a
very grave question; doesn't it? Are we to relinquish your money,
and be both of us penniless? Or is there any possibility of saving
'How _can_ we? How could the secret be kept?'
Voice and countenance joined in utter dismay.
'It doesn't seem to me,' said Tarrant slowly, 'a downright
impossibility. It _might_ be managed, with the help of your friend
Mary, and granting that you yourself have the courage. But'--he
made a large gesture--'of course I can't exact any such thing of
you. It must seem practicable to you yourself.'
'What are we to do if my money is lost?'
'Don't say _we_.' He smiled generously, perhaps too generously. 'A
man must support his wife. I shall arrange it somehow, of course, so
that _you_ have no anxiety. But--'
His voice dropped.
'Lionel!' She sprang up and approached him as he stood by the
fireplace. 'You won't leave me, dear? How can you think of going so
far away--for months--and leaving me as I am now? Oh, you won't
He arched his eyebrows, and smiled gently.
'If that's how you look at it--well, I must stay.'
'You can do something here,' Nancy continued, with rapid pleading.
'You can write for the papers. You always said you could--yes, you
did say so. We don't need very much to live upon--at first. I
shall be content--'
'A moment. You mean that the money must be abandoned.'
She had meant it, but under his look her confused thoughts took a
'No. We needn't lose it. Only stay near me, and I will keep the
secret, through everything. You will only need, then, just to
support yourself, and that is so easy. I will tell Mary how it is.
She can be trusted, I am sure she can. She would do anything for me.
She knows that father was not thinking of a man such as you. It
would be cruelly wrong if I lost everything. I will tell her, and
she will help me. Scarcely any one comes to the house, as it is; and
I will pretend to have bad health, and shut myself up. And then,
when the time comes, Mary will go away with me, and--and the child
shall be taken care of by some people we can trust to be kind to it.
Horace is going to live in lodgings; and Mrs. Damerel, I am sure,
won't come to see me again; and I can get rid of other people. The
Barmbys shall think I am sulking about the will; I'm sure they think
already that I dislike them because of it. Let them think it; I will
refuse, presently, to see them at all. It's only a few months. If I
tell people I'm not well, nobody will feel surprised if I go away
for a month or two--now--soon. Mary would go with me, of course.
I might go for December and January. Father didn't mean I was never
to have change of air. Then there would be February and March at
home. And then I might go away again till near the end of May. I'm
sure we can manage it.'
She stopped, breathless. Tarrant, who had listened with averted
face, turned and spoke judicially.
'There's one thing you're forgetting, Nancy. Do you propose that we
shall never acknowledge the child? Remember that even if you were
bold enough, after our second marriage, to acknowledge it in the
face of scandal--that wouldn't be safe. Any one, if suspicion is
aroused, can find out when we were actually married.'
'We can't think of that. The child may not live.'
Tarrant moved, and the movement startled Nancy. It meant that she
had pained him, perhaps made him think of her with repugnance.
'I hardly know what I am saying. You know I don't wish that. But all
I can think of now is to keep you near me. I can't bear to be
separated from you. I love you so much more than you love me.'
'Let me just tell you what I had in mind, Nancy. Supposing the
secret can be kept, we must eventually live abroad, that is to say,
if our child is not to grow up a stranger to us, which neither you
nor I could wish. Now, at Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, a lot
of Americans always spend the winter. If I made acquaintances among
them, it might be a very useful step, it would be preparing for the
To Nancy this sounded far from convincing. She argued against it in
a perfectly natural way, and as any one else would have done who
knew Tarrant. More than once he had declared to her that he would
rather die than drag out his life in one of the new countries, that
he could not breathe in an atmosphere of commercialism unrelieved by
historic associations. Nancy urged that it would be better to make a
home on the continent, whither they could go, at any moment, without
a sense of exile.
'So it comes to this,' he interrupted, with an air of resignation.
'I must refuse Vawdrey's offer, and, in doing so, refuse an
excellent chance of providing for our future, _if_--what is by no
means improbable--the secret should be discovered. I must turn to
journalism, or be a clerk. Well and good. My wife decrees it.'
And he began to hum an air, as if the matter were dismissed. There
was a long silence.
'How long would you be away?' murmured Nancy, at length.
'I suppose two months at most.'
'The second of those months you might be spending, as you said, away
from London. Down in Devon, perhaps. I can't blame your thoughts
about it; but it seems--doesn't it?--a trifle inconsiderate,
when you think what may result from my journey.'
'Would you promise me to be back by the end of the year?'
'Not promise, Nancy. But do my best. Letters take fourteen days,
that's all. You should hear by every mail.'
'Why not promise?'
'Because I can't foresee how much I may have to do there, and how
long it will take me. But you may be very sure that Vawdrey won't
pay expenses for longer than he can help. It has occurred to me that
I might get materials for some magazine articles. That would help to
float me with the editors, you know, if it's necessary.'
'If I consented--if I did my best not to stand in your way--
would you love me better when you came back?'
The answer was a pleased laugh.
'Why, there,' he cried, 'you've given in a nutshell the whole duty
of a wife who wishes to be loved!'
Nancy tried to laugh with him.
He must be a strong man whom the sudden stare of Penury does not
daunt and, in some measure, debase. Tarrant, whatever the
possibilities of his nature, had fallen under a spell of indolent
security, which declared its power only when he came face to face
with the demand for vigorous action. The moment found him a sheer
poltroon. 'What! Is it possible that I--_I_--am henceforth
penniless? I, to whom the gods were so gracious? I, without warning,
flung from sheltered comfort on to the bare road side, where I must
either toil or beg?' The thing seemed unintelligible. He had never
imagined such ruin of his hopes.
For the first time, he turned anxious thoughts upon the money to
which his wife was--would be--might be--entitled. He computed
the chances of success in the deception he and she were practising,
and knew with shame that he must henceforth be party to a vulgar
fraud. Could Nancy be trusted to carry through this elaborate
imposition--difficult for the strongest-minded woman? Was it not a
certainty that some negligence, or some accident, must disclose her
secret? Then had he a wife and child upon his hands, to support even
as common men support wife and child, by incessant labour. The
prospect chilled him.
If he went to the West Indies, his absence would heighten the
probability of Nancy's detection. Yet he desired to escape from her.
Not to abandon her; of that thought he was incapable; but to escape
the duty--repulsive to his imagination--of encouraging her
through the various stages of their fraud. From the other side of
the Atlantic he would write affectionate, consolatory letters; face
to face with her, could he support the show of tenderness, go
through an endless series of emotional interviews, always reminding
himself that the end in view was hard cash? Not for love's sake; he
loved her less than before she proved herself his wife in earnest.
Veritable love--no man knew better--would have impelled him to
save himself and her from a degrading position.
Was he committing himself to a criminality which the law would
visit? Hardly that--until he entered into possession of money
In miserable night-watchings, he fell to the most sordid
calculations. Supposing their plot revealed, would Nancy in fact be
left without resources? Surely not,--with her brother, her aunt,
her lifelong friends the Barmbys, to take thought for her. She could
not suffer extremities. And upon this he blushed relief.
Better to make up his mind that the secret must inevitably out. For
the moment, Nancy believed she had resigned herself to his
departure, and that she had strength to go through with the long
ordeal. But a woman in her situation cannot be depended upon to
pursue a consistent course. It is Nature's ordinance that motherhood
shall be attained through phases of mental disturbance, which leave
the sufferer scarce a pretence of responsibility. Nancy would play
strange pranks, by which, assuredly, he would be driven to
exasperation if they passed under his eyes. He had no mind to be
called father; perhaps even his humanity might fail under the test
to which, as a lover, he had given scarce a casual thought. By
removing himself, and awaiting the issue afar off, he gained time
and opportunity for reflection. Of course his wife could not come to
want; that, after all, was the one clearly comforting thought. Her
old servant would take good care of her, happen what might.
He must taste of liberty again before sinking into the humdrum of
married life. The thought of an ocean voyage, of the new life amid
tropic splendours, excited his imagination all the more because it
blended with the thought of recovered freedom. Marriage had come
upon him with unfair abruptness; for such a change as that, even the
ordinary bachelor demands a season preparative; much more, then, the
young man who revelled in a philosophic sense of detachment, who
wrote his motto 'Vixi hodie!' For marriage he was simply unfit;
forced together, he and his wife would soon be mutually detestable.
A temporary parting might mature in the hearts of both that
affection of which the seed was undeniably planted. With passion
they had done; the enduring tenderness of a reasonable love must now
unite them, were they to be united at all. And to give such love a
chance of growing in him, Tarrant felt that he must lose sight of
Nancy until her child was born.
Yes, it had begun already, the trial he dreaded. A letter from
Nancy, written and posted only an hour or two after her return home
--a long, distracted letter. Would he forgive her for seeming to be
an obstacle in the way of what he had proposed? Would he promise her
to be faithful? Would he--
He had hardly patience to read it through.
The next evening, on returning home about ten o'clock, he was
startled by the sight of Nancy's figure at the foot of his
'What has happened?'
'Nothing--don't be frightened. But I wanted to see you tonight.'
She gripped his hand.
'How long have you waited? What! Hours? But this is downright
madness--such a night as this! Couldn't you put a note for me in
'Don't--don't speak so! I wanted to see you.' She hurried her
words, as if afraid he would refuse to listen. 'I have told Mary--
I wanted you to know--'
'Come in. But there's no fire, and you're chilled through. Do you
want to be ill? What outrageous silliness!'
Her vitality was indeed at a low ebb, and reproaches made her weep.
Tarrant half carried her up to his room, made a light, and fell to
his knees at fire-building.
'Let me do it,' Nancy exclaimed. 'Let me wait upon you--'
'If you don't sit still and keep quiet, you'll make me angry in
'Then you're not _really_ angry with me? I couldn't help it.'
'No, I'm afraid you couldn't,' Tarrant muttered cheerlessly.
'I wanted to tell you that Mary will be our friend. She was
speechless with astonishment; at first I didn't know what she would
say; she looked at me as she had never looked before--as if she
were the mistress, and I the servant. But see what I have come to;
all I felt was a dread lest she should think it her duty to cast me
off. I haven't a bit of pride left. I could have fallen on my knees
before her; I almost did. But she was very good and kind and gentle
at last. She'll do everything she can for me.'
The fire in a blaze, Tarrant stood up and regarded it gloomily.
'Well, did she think it possible?' he asked at length.
'Yes, she did. She said it would be very difficult, but the secret
might be kept--if I were strong enough. And I _am_ strong enough
--I _will_ be--'
'It doesn't look like it,' said Tarrant, taking the edge off his
words with a smile.
'I won't come again in this way. Where have you been tonight?'
'Oh, with friends.'
'Which friends? where?'
He moved impatiently.
'People you don't know, Nancy, and wouldn't care about if you did.
Do you know what time it is?'
'Do tell me where you have been. It isn't prying into your affairs.
Your friends ought to be mine; at least, I mean, I ought to know
their names, and something about them. Suppose I were to tell you I
had been spending the evening with friends--'
'My dear girl, I shouldn't ask a question, unless you invited it.
However, it's better to tell you that I have been making
arrangements to sublet these chambers. I can't afford to keep them,
even if there were any use in it. Harvey Munden has introduced me to
a man who is likely to relieve me of the burden. I shall warehouse
my books and furniture--'
'Then you are going? Really going to leave England?'
He affected astonishment; in truth, nothing now could surprise him.
'But wasn't it all decided between us? Didn't you repeat it in your
'Yes--I know--but I didn't think it would come so soon.'
'We won't talk about it to-night,' said Tarrant firmly. 'For one
thing, there's no time. Come closer to the fire, and get warm
through; then I must see you home.'
Nancy hung her head. When, in a few moments, she looked up again, it
was to say drily:
'There's no need for you to see me home.'
'I'm going to, at all events.'
'Why? You don't care much about me. I might as well be run over--
To this remark no sort of answer was vouchsafed. Nancy sat with her
feet on the fender, and Tarrant kept up a great blaze with chips,
which sputtered out their moisture before they began to crackle. He
and she both seemed intent on this process of combustion.
'Now you're quite warm,' said the young man, as if speaking to a
child, 'and it's time to go.'
Nancy rose obediently, gazed at him with dreaming eyes, and suffered
herself to be led away by the arm. In Chancery Lane, Tarrant hailed
a crawling hansom. When they were driving rapidly southward, Nancy