Part 5 out of 9
began to question him about the date of his departure; she learnt
that he might be gone in less than a week.
'If you could behave quietly and sensibly, we would have an evening
to make final arrangements.'
'I can,' she answered, with a calm that surprised him. 'If you go
without letting me see you again, I don't know what I might do. But
I can be as sensible as you are, if I'm treated fairly.'
He grasped her hand.
'Remember, dear girl, that I have a good deal to worry me just now.
Do you suppose I leave you with a light heart?'
'If you can persuade me that you care--'
'I care a good deal more than I can easily say. Your position is a
very hard one,--harder than mine. But I'm going away to work for
your future. I see clearly that it's the best thing I could do.
Whether Vawdrey's ideas come to anything or not, I shall make profit
out of the journey; I mean to write,--I think it's all I can do to
any purpose,--and the material I shall get together over there
will give me a start. Don't think I am cold-hearted because I talk
in this way; if I broke down, so much the worse for both of us. The
time has come for serious work.'
'But we shan't lose my money. I've made up my mind we shan't.'
'It's impossible for you to guard against every danger. We must be
prepared for the worst, and that responsibility rests on me. Try and
keep your mind at ease; whatever happens, to protect you is my duty,
and I shall not fail in it.'
Speaking thus, Tarrant felt the glow of virtue. His words were
perfectly sincere, but had reference to a future which his thoughts
left comfortably vague.
They were to meet again, probably for the definite parting, three
days hence. Tarrant, whose desire for escape had now become
incontrollable, used the intervening time in a rush of preparations.
He did not debate with himself as to the length of his sojourn in
the West Indies; that must be determined by circumstances.
Explicitly he had avoided a promise on the subject. What money he
possessed he would take with him; it might be to his interest, for
Nancy's likewise, to exceed the term of absence provided for in his
stipulations with Mr. Vawdrey. But all he deliberately thought of was
the getting away. Impatient with Nancy, because of the vagaries
resultant from her mental and physical state, he himself exhibited a
flagrant triumph of instinct over reason. Once in enjoyment of
liberty, he would reflect, like a practical man, on the details of
his position, review and recognise his obligations, pay his debt to
honour; but liberty first of all. Not his the nature to accept
bondage; it demoralised him, made him do and say things of which he
was ashamed. Only let him taste the breezes of ocean, and the
healthful spirit which is one with rectitude would again inspire
Much to his surprise, he neither saw nor heard from Nancy until the
hour appointed. She came very punctually. On opening the door to
her, with an air of resolute cheerfulness, he saw something in her
face that removed the necessity for playing a part. It was the look
which had so charmed him in their love-days, the indescribable look,
characteristic of Nancy, and of her alone; a gleam between smile and
laughter, a glance mingling pride with submission, a silent note of
personality which thrilled the senses and touched the heart.
'What now?' he asked, holding her hand and gazing at her. 'Some good
'None that I know of. How hot your room is! Why, you look glad to
'Was I ever anything else?'
She answered him with a smile.
'It's a very pleasant surprise,' he continued, watching her as she
threw off her out-door things. 'I expected a doleful visage, eyes
red with weeping.'
'Did you? See how much a man thinks of himself! If you choose to go
away, I choose to think as little of you as possible. That's common
'I don't want you to cry about it.'
'Oh yes, you do. It flatters you, and you like flattery. But I've
been too obliging. I feel myself again, and there's no more flattery
for you--till you come back. I don't ask you when that will be. I
ask you nothing at all. I am independent of you.'
Tarrant grew uneasy. He feared that this mood of jest would change
only too suddenly, and her collapse into feminine feebleness be the
'Be as independent as you like,' he said; 'only keep your love for
'Oh, indeed! It's your experience, is it, that the two things can go
together? That's the difference between man and woman, I suppose. I
shall love you just as little as possible--and how little that
will be, perhaps I had better not tell you.'
Still he stood gazing at her.
'You look very beautiful to-day.'
'I know. I saw it for myself before I left home. But we won't talk
about that. When do you go?'
'My goods will be warehoused to-morrow, and the next day I go to
'I'm glad it's so soon. We shan't need to see each other again.
Smoke your pipe. I'm going to make a cup of tea.'
'Kiss me first. You forgot when you came in.'
'You get no kiss by ordering it. Beg for it prettily, and we'll
'What does it all mean, Nancy? How can you have altered like this?'
'You prefer me as I was last time?'
'Not I, indeed. You make me feel that it will be very hard to leave
you. I shall carry away a picture of you quite different from the
dreary face that I had got to be afraid of.'
Nancy laughed, and of a sudden held out her hands to him.
'Haven't I thought of that? These were the very words I hoped to
hear from you. Now beg for a kiss, and you shall have one.'
Never, perhaps, had they spent together so harmonious an evening.
Nancy's tenderness took at length a graver turn, but she remained
herself, face and speech untroubled by morbid influence.
'I won't see you again,' she said, 'because I mightn't be able to
behave as I can to-day. To-day I am myself; for a long time I have
been living I don't know how.'
Tarrant murmured something about her state of health.
'Yes, I know all about that. A strange thought came to me last
night. When my father was alive I fretted because I couldn't be
independent; I wanted to be quite free, to live as I chose; I looked
forward to it as the one thing desirable. Now, I look back on that
as a time of liberty. I am in bondage, now--threefold bondage.'
'To you, because I love you, and couldn't cease loving you, however
I tried. Then, to my father's will, which makes me live in hiding,
as if I were a criminal. And then--'
'What other tyranny?'
'You mustn't expect all my love. Before long some one else will rule
over me.--What an exchange I have made! And I was going to be so
To the listener, her speech seemed to come from a maturer mind than
she had hitherto revealed. But he suffered from the thought that
this might be merely a pathological phase. In reminding him of her
motherhood, she checked the flow of his emotion.
'You'll remember,' Nancy went on, 'that I'm not enjoying myself
whilst you are away. I don't want you to be unhappy--only to think
of me, and keep in mind what I'm going through. If you do that, you
won't be away from me longer than you can help.'
It was said with unforced pathos, and Tarrant's better part made
'If you find it too hard, dear, write to me, and tell me, and there
shall be an end of it.'
'Never. You think me wretchedly weak, but you shall see--'
'It's of your own free will you undertake it?'
'Yes, of my own free will,' she answered firmly. 'I won't come to
you penniless. It isn't right I should do so. My father didn't mean
that. If I had had the sense and the courage to tell him, all this
misery would have been spared. That money is mine by every right,
and I won't lose it. Not only for your sake and my own--there is
some one else to think of.'
Tarrant gave her a kind look.
'Don't count upon it. Trust to me.'
'I like to hear you say that, but I don't wish you to be put to
proof. You are not the kind of man to make money.'
'How do you mean it?'
'As you like to take it. Silly boy, don't I love you just because
you are _not_ one of the money-making men? If you hadn't a penny in
the world, I should love you just the same; and I couldn't love you
more if you had millions.'
The change which Tarrant expected did not come. To the end, she was
brave and bright, her own best self. She said good-bye without a
tear, refused to let him accompany her, and so, even as she had
resolved, left in her husband's mind an image beckoning his return.
Part IV: The Veiled Figure
Before his admission to a partnership in Mr. Lord's business, Samuel
Barmby lived with his father and two sisters in Coldharbour Lane.
Their house was small, old and crumbling for lack of repair; the
landlord, his ground-lease having but a year or two to run, looked
on with equanimity whilst the building decayed. Under any
circumstances, the family must soon have sought a home elsewhere,
and Samuel's good fortune enabled them to take a house in Dagmar
Road, not far from Grove Lane; a new and most respectable house,
with bay windows rising from the half-sunk basement to the second
storey. Samuel, notwithstanding his breadth of mind, privately
admitted the charm of such an address as 'Dagmar Road,' which looks
well at the head of note-paper, and falls with sonority from the
The Barmby sisters, Lucy and Amelia by name, were unpretentious
young women, without personal attractions, and soberly educated.
They professed a form of Dissent; their reading was in certain
religious and semi-religious periodicals, rarely in books; domestic
occupations took up most of their time, and they seldom had any
engagements. At appointed seasons, a festivity in connection with
'the Chapel' called them forth; it kept them in a flutter for many
days, and gave them a headache. In the strictest sense their life
was provincial; nominally denizens of London, they dwelt as remote
from everything metropolitan as though Camberwell were a village of
the Midlands. If they suffered from discontent, no one heard of it;
a confession by one or the other that she 'felt dull' excited the
sister's surprise, and invariably led to the suggestion of 'a little
Their brother they regarded with admiration, tempered by anxiety.
'Great talents,' they knew by report, were often perilous to the
possessor, and there was reason to fear that Samuel Bennett Barmby
had not resisted all the temptations to which his intellect exposed
him. At the age of one-and-twenty he made a startling announcement;
'the Chapel' no longer satisfied the needs of his soul, and he found
himself summoned to join the Church of England as by law
established. Religious intolerance not being a family
characteristic, Mr. Barmby and his daughters, though they looked
grave over the young man's apostasy, admitted his freedom in this
matter; their respected friend Mr. Lord belonged to the Church, and
it could not be thought that so earnest-minded a man walked in the
way to perdition. At the same time, Samuel began to exhibit a liking
for social pleasures, which were, it might be hoped, innocent, but,
as they kept him from home of evenings, gave some ground for
uneasiness. He had joined a society of young men who met for
intellectual debate, and his success as an orator fostered the
spiritual pride already discernible in him. His next step could not
be regarded without concern, for he became a member of the National
Sunday League. Deceptive name! At first the Miss. Barmbys supposed
this was a union for safe-guarding the Sabbath-day; it appalled them
to discover that the League had quite an opposite tendency, that its
adherents sallied forth together on 'Sunday excursions,' that they
received tickets for Sunday admission to picture galleries, and in
various other ways offended orthodox feeling. But again the father
and sisters gave patient ear to Samuel's elaborate arguments. They
became convinced that he had no evil intentions. The elder girl,
having caught up a pregnant phrase in some periodical she approved,
began to remark that Samuel had 'a modern mind;' and this eventually
When it began to be observed that Samuel talked somewhat frequently
of Miss. Lord, the implied suggestion caused a tremor of confused
feeling. To the Miss. Barmbys, Nancy seemed an enigmatic person; they
had tried to like her, but could not; they objected to her
assumption of superiority, and were in grave doubt as to her
opinions on cardinal points of faith and behaviour. Yet, when it
appeared a possibility that their brother might woo Miss. Lord and
win her for a wife, the girls did their best to see her in a more
favourable light. Not for a moment did it occur to them that Nancy
could regard a proposal from Samuel as anything but an honour; to
_them_ she might behave slightingly, for they were of her own sex,
and not clever; but a girl who prided herself on intellectual
attainments must of course look up to Samuel Bennett with reverence.
In their unworldliness--of a truth they were good, simple
creatures--the slight difference of social position seemed
unimportant. And with Samuel's elevation to a partnership, even that
one shadowy obstacle was removed. Henceforth they would meet Nancy
in a conciliatory spirit, and, if she insisted upon it, bow down
Mr. Barmby, senior, whose years drew nigh to three-score, had a great
advantage in point of physical health over his old friend Stephen
Lord, and his mind enjoyed a placidity which promised him length of
days. Since the age of seventeen he had plied a pen in the office of
a Life Assurance Company, where his salary, by small and slow
increments, had grown at length to two hundred and fifty a year.
Himself a small and slow person, he had every reason to be satisfied
with this progress, and hoped for no further advance. He was of
eminently sober mind, profoundly conscientious, and quite devoid of
social ambition,--points of character which explained the long
intimacy between him and Stephen Lord. Yet one habit he possessed
which foreshadowed the intellectual composition of his son,--he
loved to write letters to the newspapers. At very long intervals one
of these communications achieved the honour of type, and then Mr
Barmby was radiant with modest self-approval. He never signed such
letters with his own name, but chose a pseudonym befitting the
subject. Thus, if moved to civic indignation by pieces of
orange-peel on the pavement, he styled himself 'Urban Rambler;' if
anxious to protest against the overcrowding of 'bus or
railway-carriage, his signature was 'Otium cum Dignitate.' When he
took a holiday at the seaside, unwonted leisure and novel
circumstances prompted him to address local editors at considerable
length. The preservation of decency by bathers was then his
favourite topic, and he would sign 'Pudor,' or perchance
'Paterfamilias.' His public epistles, if collected, would have made
an entertaining and lnstructive volume, so admirably did they
represent one phase of the popular mind. 'No, sir,'--this sentence
frequently occurred,--'it was not thus that our fathers achieved
national and civic greatness.' And again: 'All the feelings of an
English parent revolt,' &c. Or: 'And now, sir, where is this to
end?'--a phrase applied at one moment to the prospects of religion
and morality, at another to the multiplication of muffin-bells.
On a Sunday afternoon, Mr. Barmby often read aloud to his daughters,
and in general his chosen book was 'Paradise Lost.' These
performances had an indescribable solemnity, but it unfortunately
happened that, as his fervour increased, the reader became
regardless of aspirates. Thus, at the culmination of Satanic
impiety, he would give forth with shaking voice--
'_Ail, orrors, ail! and thou profoundest Ell,
Receive thy new possessor!'_
This, though it did not distress the girls, was painful to Samuel
Bennett, who had given no little care to the correction of similar
lapses in his own speech.
Samuel conceived himself much ahead of his family. Quite uneducated,
in any legitimate sense of the word, he had yet learnt that such a
thing as education existed, and, by dint of busy perusal of penny
popularities, had even become familiar with names and phrases, with
modes of thought and of ambition, appertaining to a world for ever
closed against him. He spoke of Culture, and imagined himself far on
the way to attain it. His mind was packed with the oddest jumble of
incongruities; Herbert Spencer jostled with Charles Bradlaugh,
Matthew Arnold with Samuel Smiles; in one breath he lauded George
Eliot, in the next was enthusiastic over a novel by Mrs. Henry Wood;
from puerile facetiae he passed to speculations on the origin of
being, and with equally light heart. Save for Pilgrim's Progress and
Robinson Crusoe, he had read no English classic; since boyhood,
indeed, he had probably read no book at all, for much diet of
newspapers rendered him all but incapable of sustained attention.
Whatever he seemed to know of serious authors came to him at second
or third hand. Avowing his faith in Christianity when with orthodox
people, in the society of sceptics he permitted himself to smile at
the old faiths,--though he preferred to escape this temptation,
the Nonconformist conscience still reigning within him. At home he
posed as a broad-minded Anglican, and having somewhere read that
Tennyson's 'In Memoriam' represented this attitude, he spoke of the
poem as 'one of the books that have made me what I am.'
His circle of acquaintances lay apart from that in which the Lords
moved; it consisted for the most part of young men humbly endowed in
the matter of income, and making little pretence of social dignity.
When others resorted to theatre or public-house, or places not so
readily designated, Samuel and his friends met together to discourse
on subjects of which they knew somewhat less than nothing. Some of
them occasionally held audacious language, especially when topics
such as the relations of the sexes invited their wisdom; they had
read something somewhere which urged them to cast off the trammels
of conventional thought; they 'ventured to say' that in a very few
years 'surprising changes of opinion would come about.' These
revolutionaries, after startling the more sober of their hearers,
went quietly home to mother or landlady, supped on cheese and cocoa,
and next day plied the cleric pen with exemplary zeal.
Samuel believed himself in love. That he should conceive matrimonial
intentions with regard to Stephen Lord's daughter was but the
natural issue of circumstance; from that conception resulted an
amorous mood, so much inflamed by Nancy's presence that a young man,
whose thoughts did not often transgress decorum, had every reason to
suppose himself her victim. When Nancy rejected his formal offer of
devotion, the desire to wed her besieged him more vigorously; Samuel
was piqued at the tone of lofty trifling in which the girl answered
his proposal; for assuredly he esteemed himself no less remarkable a
person than he appeared in the eyes of his sisters, and his vanity
had been encouraged by Mr. Lord's favour. Of his qualities as a man
of business there was no doubt; in one direction or another, he
would have struck the road to fortune; why Nancy should regard him
with condescension, and make him feel at once that his suit was
hopeless, puzzled him for many a day. He tried flattery, affecting
to regard her as his superior in things of the intellect, but only
with the mortifying result that Miss. Lord accepted his humility as
quite natural. Then he held apart in dignified reserve, and found no
difficulty in maintaining this attitude until after Mr. Lord's death.
Of course he did not let his relatives know of the repulse he had
suffered, but, when speaking to them of what had happened on Jubilee
night, he made it appear that his estimate of Miss. Lord was
undergoing modification. 'She has lost him, all through her
flightiness,' said the sisters to each other. They were not sorry,
and felt free again to criticise Nancy's ideas of maidenly modesty.
The provisions of Mr. Lord's will could not but trouble the
intercourse between Grove Lane and Dagmar Road. Mr. Barmby, senior,
undertook with characteristic seriousness the guardianship conferred
upon him. He had long interviews with Horace and Nancy, in which he
acquitted himself greatly to his own satisfaction. Samuel, equally a
trustee, showed his delicacy by holding aloof save when civility
dictated a call upon the young people. But his hopes had revived; he
was quite willing to wait three years for Nancy, and it seemed to
him more than probable that this period of reflection would bring
the young lady to a sense of his merits. In the meantime, he would
pursue with energy the business now at his sole direction, and make
it far more lucrative than when managed on Mr. Lord's old-fashioned
As the weeks went on, it seemed more clear than at first that Nancy
resented the authority held by Samuel and his father. They were not
welcome at the house in Grove Lane; the Miss. Barmbys called several
times without being admitted, though they felt sure that Nancy was
at home. Under these circumstances, it became desirable to discover
some intermediary who would keep them acquainted with the details of
Nancy's life and of her brother's. Such intermediary was at hand, in
the person of Miss. Jessica Morgan.
Until of late there had existed a bare acquaintance between Jessica
and the Barmby family. The two or three hours which she perforce
spent in Samuel's company on Jubilee night caused Jessica no little
embarrassment; as a natural result, their meetings after that had a
colour of intimacy, and it was not long before Miss. Morgan and the
Miss. Barmbys began to see more of each other. Nancy, on a motive
correspondent with that which actuated her guardians, desired
Jessica's familiarity with the household in Dagmar Road; her friend
could thus learn and communicate sundry facts of importance, else
hidden from her in the retirement to which she was now condemned.
How did the Barmbys regard her behaviour to them? Did they, in their
questioning, betray any suspicion fraught with danger? Jessica,
enjoying the possession of a most important secret, which she had
religiously guarded even from her mother, made time to accept the
Barmbys' invitations pretty frequently, and invited the girls to her
own home as often as she could afford a little outlay on cakes and
It made a salutary distraction in her life. As December drew near,
she exhibited alarming symptoms of over-work, and but for the
romance which assured to her an occasional hour of idleness, she
must have collapsed before the date of her examination. As it was,
she frightened one of her pupils, at the end of a long lesson, by
falling to the floor and lying there for ten minutes in
unconsciousness. The warning passed unheeded; day and night she
toiled at her insuperable tasks, at times half frenzied by the
strangest lapses of memory, and feeling, the more she laboured, only
the more convinced that at the last moment every fact she had
acquired would ruthlessly desert her.
Her place of abode favoured neither health nor mental tranquillity.
It was one of a row of new houses in a new quarter. A year or two
ago the site had been an enclosed meadow, portion of the land
attached to what was once a country mansion; London, devourer of
rural limits, of a sudden made hideous encroachment upon the old
estate, now held by a speculative builder; of many streets to be
constructed, three or four had already come into being, and others
were mapped out, in mud and inchoate masonry, athwart the ravaged
field. Great elms, the pride of generations passed away, fell before
the speculative axe, or were left standing in mournful isolation to
please a speculative architect; bits of wayside hedge still shivered
in fog and wind, amid hoardings variegated with placards and
scaffolding black against the sky. The very earth had lost its
wholesome odour; trampled into mire, fouled with builders' refuse
and the noisome drift from adjacent streets, it sent forth, under
the sooty rain, a smell of corruption, of all the town's
uncleanliness. On this rising locality had been bestowed the title
of 'Park.' Mrs. Morgan was decided in her choice of a dwelling here
by the euphonious address, Merton Avenue, Something-or-other Park.
The old mansion--not very old, and far from beautiful, but stoutly
built--stood grim and desolate, long dismantled, and waiting only
to be torn down for the behoof of speculative dealers in old
material. What aforetime was a tree-bordered drive, now curved
between dead stumps, a mere slushy cartway; the stone pillars, which
had marked the entrance, damaged in the rending away of metal with a
market value, drooped sideways, ready at a touch to bury themselves
Through summer months the Morgans had suffered sufficiently from the
defects of their house; with the coming on of winter, they found
themselves exposed to miseries barely endurable. At the first slight
frost, cistern and water-pipes went to ruin; already so damp that
unlovely vegetation had cropped up on cellar walls, the edifice was
now drenched with torrents of water. Plaster fell from the ceilings;
paper peeled away down the staircase; stuccoed portions of the front
began to crack and moulder. Not a door that would close as a door
should; not a window that would open in the way expected of it; not
a fireplace but discharged its smoke into the room, rather than by
the approved channel. Everywhere piercing draughts, which often
entered by orifices unexplained and unexplainable. From cellar floor
to chimney-pot, no square inch of honest or trustworthy workmanship.
So thin were the parti-walls that conversation not only might, but
must, be distinctly heard from room to room, and from house to
house; the Morgans learnt to subdue their voices, lest all they said
should become common property of the neighbourhood. For the
privilege of occupying such a residence, 'the interior,' said
advertisement, 'handsomely decorated,' they were racked with an
expenditure which, away in the sweet-scented country, would have
housed them amid garden graces and orchard fruitfulness.
At this time, Mr. Morgan had joined an acquaintance in the
establishment of a debt-collecting agency; his partner provided the
modest capital needful for such an enterprise, and upon himself fell
the disagreeable work. A man of mild temper and humane instincts, he
spent his day in hunting people who would not or could not pay the
money they owed, straining his wits to circumvent the fraudulent,
and swooping relentlessly upon the victims of misfortune. The
occupation revolted him, but at present he saw no other way of
supporting the genteel appearances which--he knew not why--were
indispensable to his life. He subsisted like a bird of prey; he was
ever on the look out for carrion which the law permitted him to
seize. From the point of view forced upon him, society became a mere
system of legalised rapine. 'You are in debt; behold the bond.
Behold, too, my authority for squeezing out of you the uttermost
farthing. You must beg or starve? I deplore it, but I, for my part,
have a genteel family to maintain on what I rend from your grip.' He
set his forehead against shame; he stooped to the basest chicanery;
he exposed himself to insult, to curses, to threats of violence.
Sometimes a whole day of inconceivably sordid toil resulted in the
pouching of a few pence; sometimes his reward was a substantial sum.
He knew himself despised by many of the creditors who employed him.
'Bad debts? For how much will you sell them to me?' And as often as
not he took away with his bargain a glance which was equivalent to a
The genteel family knew nothing of these expedients. Mrs. Morgan
talked dolorously to her friends of 'commercial depression,' and
gave it to be vaguely understood that her husband had suffered great
losses because he conducted his affairs in the spirit of a
gentleman. Her son was in an office;' her elder daughter was
attempting the art of fiction, which did not promise to be
lucrative; Jessica, more highly educated, would shortly matriculate
at the University of London--a consoling prospect, but involving
the payment of a fee that could with difficulty be afforded.
Every friend of the family held it a matter of course that Jessica
would succeed in the examination. It seemed probable that she would
have a place in Honours.
And, meanwhile, the poor girl herself was repenting of the
indiscreet boastfulness with which she had made known her purpose.
To come out in an inferior class would be painful enough; how
support the possibility of absolute failure? Yet she knew only too
well that in certain 'subjects' she was worse than shaky. Her Greek
--her Chemistry--her Algebra--
By way of propitiating the stern fates, she began to talk with Lucy
and Amelia Barmby in a tone of diffidence. Half a year ago, she
would have held her head very high in such company; now the simple
goodness of the old-fashioned girls made an appeal to her aching
heart, and their homely talk soothed her exhausted brain.
'It's fearfully difficult,' she said to them one evening, as she sat
in their parlour. 'And I lose so much time with my pupils. Really,
you know, I haven't a fair chance. I was showing Nancy Lord the
Algebra paper set last summer, and she confessed she could hardly do
a single question.'
'She couldn't?' exclaimed one of the sisters in astonishment. 'But
we always thought she was so very clever.'
'So she is--in many things. But she never dreamt of going in for
such an examination as this.'
'And do you really know more than she does?'
Jessica smiled with affected modesty.
'Oh, I have studied so much more.'
It was sweet to gain this triumph over her friend, whose progress in
the school of life she watched with the jealousy of a girl condemned
to sterile passions.
Their talk was interrupted by the entrance of Samuel Barmby, and his
elder sister, addressing him without reflection, said wonderingly:
'Sam, did you know that Nancy Lord couldn't pass the examination
that Miss. Morgan is going in for?'
Jessica blushed, and hastened to extenuate this crude statement.
'Oh, I didn't say that. Only that she would have to study very hard
if she went in for the matriculation.'
'Of course she would,' Samuel assented, largely, as he took his
stand before the fireplace and beamed upon the female trio. 'Miss
Lord goes in for broad culture; that's quite a different thing from
studying for examinations.'
To the hearers, Jessica not excepted, this seemed to argue the
spirit of broad culture in Samuel himself. Miss. Morgan pursued
'Examinations are nothing. I believe very stupid people often do
well in them, and clever people often fail.'
Her voice sank on the last word, and she tried to read Barmby's face
without meeting his look. Of late, a change had come about in her
estimation of Samuel. Formerly she spoke of him with contemptuous
amusement, in the tone set by Nancy; since she had become a friend
of the family, his sisters' profound respect had influenced her way
of thinking, and in secret she was disposed rather to admire 'the
Prophet.' He had always struck her as a comely man, and, her
education notwithstanding, she never perceived in his remarks that
downright imbecility which excited Nancy's derision. On Jubilee
night he was anything but a tedious companion; apart from her
critical friend, Jessica had listened without impatience to his
jests, his instructive facts, his flowing rhetoric. Now-a-days, in
her enfeebled state of body and mind, she began to look forward with
distinct pleasure to her occasional meetings with Samuel, pleasure
which perhaps was enhanced by the air of condescension wherewith he
tempered his courtesy. Morbid miseries brought out the frailty of
her character. Desiring to be highly esteemed by Mr. Barmby, she
found herself no less willing to join his sisters in a chorus of
humbly feminine admiration, when he discoursed to them from an
altitude. At moments, after gazing upon his eloquent countenance,
she was beset by strange impulses which brought blood to her cheek,
and made her dread the Miss. Barmbys' scrutiny.
'I look upon examinations,' Samuel was saying, 'as a professional
matter. I never went in for them myself, simply because I--I
turned my energies in another direction.'
'You _could_ have passed them,' remarked one of his sisters, 'easily
'In Miss. Morgan's presence,'--he stroked his chin, and smiled with
delicious fatuity--'I prefer to say nothing on that point.'
'Oh but of course you could, Mr. Barmby,' sounded Jessica's voice, in
an unsteady falsetto, whilst her eyes were turned upon the floor.
'You would have thought nothing of this matriculation, which seems
to me so dreadful.'
Profoundly flattered, Samuel addressed the girl in his suavest
'I have a theory, Miss. Morgan, that young ladies ought not to
undergo these ordeals. The delicacy of their nervous system unfits
them for such a strain. I'm sure we shall all feel very glad when
you are successfully through the trial. After it, you ought to have
a long rest.'
'Oh, you ought--indeed you ought,' assented the girls.
'By the bye,' said Samuel, 'my father has heard from Miss. Lord that
she is going away for a month or two. She says her health requires
Jessica sat silent, still with downcast eyes.
'But it's a new thing, isn't it,' remarked Amelia, 'for Miss. Lord to
be in bad health?'
'She has suffered a good deal, I'm afraid,' said Jessica, 'since her
father's death. The doctor tells her she oughtn't to live in that
dull house through the winter.'
'In that case,' Samuel exclaimed, 'of course she must go at once--
He never spoke of Nancy but with stress of unctuous generosity.
This, if his hearers knew what he had suffered at her hands, must
tell greatly to his credit; if they were not aware of the
circumstances, such a tone would become him as the young lady's
'I fear her nerves are affected,' pursued Jessica. 'She can't bear
society. So unlike her, isn't it? She goes out very little indeed,
--sometimes not for days together. And really she sees nobody. I'm
getting quite anxious about her.'
The subject was an awkward one in this house, and it soon gave place
to freer conversation. On her way home, though mechanically
repeating dates and formulae, Jessica could not resist the tendency
of her thoughts, to dwell on Samuel's features and Samuel's
eloquence. This was a new danger; she had now little more than a
fortnight for her final 'cram,' and any serious distraction meant
In a day or two she took leave of Nancy, who had chosen for her
winter retreat no less remote a spot than Falmouth. Horace having
settled himself in lodgings, the house was to be shut up; Mary
Woodruff of course went down into Cornwall. Nancy had written a
letter to Mr. Barmby, senior, excusing herself for not being able to
see him before her departure; it was an amiable letter, but
contained frank avowal of pain and discontent at the prospect of her
long pupilage. 'Of course I submit to the burden my father chose to
lay upon me, and before long, I hope, I shall be able to take things
in a better spirit. All I ask of you, dear Mr. Barmby, is to have
forbearance with me until I get back my health and feel more
cheerful. You know that I could not be in better hands whilst Mary
is with me. I shall write frequently, and give you an account of
myself. Let me hear sometimes, and show me that you make allowance
for my very trying position.'
Jessica heard the letter discussed by its recipient and his family.
Samuel spoke with his wonted magnanimity; his father took a liberal
view of the matter. And in writing to her friend a few days later,
Jessica was able to say: 'I think you may safely stay at Falmouth
for the whole winter. You will not be interfered with if you write
nicely. I shouldn't wonder if they would let you keep out of their
reach _as long as it is necessary_.'
The week of Jessica's ordeal was now at hand. She had had another
fainting-fit; her sleep was broken every night with hideous dreams;
she ate scarce enough to keep herself alive; a perpetual fever
parched her throat and burned at her temples.
On the last day of 'cram,' she sat from morning to night in her
comfortless little bedroom, bending over the smoky fire, reading
desperately through a pile of note-books. The motive of vanity no
longer supported her; gladly she would have crept away into a life
of insignificance; but the fee for the examination was paid, and she
must face the terrors, the shame, that waited her at Burlington
House. No hope of 'passing.' Perhaps at the last moment a stroke of
mortal illness would come to her relief.
Not so. She found herself in the ghastly torture-hall, at a desk on
which lay sheets of paper, not whiter than her face. Somebody gave
her a scroll, stereotyped in imitation of manuscript--the
questions to be answered. For a quarter of an hour she could not
understand a word. She saw the face of Samuel Barmby, and heard his
tones--'The delicacy of a young lady's nervous system unfits her
for such a strain.'
That evening she went home with a half-formed intention of poisoning
But the morrow saw her seated again before another scroll of
stereotype, still thinking of Samuel Barmby, still hearing his
voice. The man was grown hateful to her; he seemed to haunt her
brain malignantly, and to paralyse her hand.
Day after day in the room of torture, until all was done. Then upon
her long despair followed a wild, unreasoning hope. Though it
rained, she walked all the way home, singing, chattering to herself,
and reached the house-door without consciousness of the distance she
had traversed. Her mother and sister came out into the hall; they
had been watching for her.
'I did a good paper to-day--I think I've passed after all--yes,
I feel sure I've passed!'
'You look dreadful,' exclaimed Mrs. Morgan. 'And you're wet through--'
'I did a good paper to-day--I feel sure I've passed!'
She sat down to a meal, but could not swallow.
'I feel sure I've passed--I feel sure--'
And she fell from the chair, to all appearances stone-dead.
They took her upstairs, undressed her, sent for the doctor. When he
came, she had been lying for half-an-hour conscious, but mute. She
looked gravely at him, and said, as if repeating a lesson:
'The delicacy of a young lady's nervous system unfits her for such a
'Undoubtedly,' repeated the doctor, with equal gravity.
'But,' she added eagerly, 'let Mr. Barmby know at once that I have
'He shall know at once,' said the doctor.
A lady who lived at Kilburn, and entertained largely in a house not
designed for large entertainment, was 'at home' this evening. At
eleven o'clock the two drawing-rooms contained as many people as
could sit and stand with semblance of comfort; around the hostess,
on the landing, pressed a crowd, which grew constantly thicker by
affluence from the staircase. In the hall below a 'Hungarian band'
discoursed very loud music. Among recent arrivals appeared a troupe
of nigger minstrels, engaged to give their exhilarating
entertainment--if space could be found for them. Bursts of
laughter from the dining-room announced the success of an American
joker, who, in return for a substantial cheque, provided amusement
in fashionable gatherings. A brilliant scene. The air, which
encouraged perspiration, was rich with many odours; voices
endeavouring to make themselves audible in colloquy, swelled to a
tumultuous volume that vied with the Hungarian clangours.
In a corner of the staircase, squeezed behind two very fat women in
very low dresses, stood Horace Lord. His heated countenance wore a
look of fretful impatience; he kept rising upon his toes in an
endeavour to distinguish faces down in the hall. At length his
expression changed, and with eager eyes he began to force a way for
himself between the fat women. Not unrewarded with glaring glances,
and even with severe remarks, he succeeded in gaining the foot of
the staircase, and came within reach of the persons for whom he had
been waiting. These were Mrs. Damerel and Fanny French. The elder
lady exhibited a toilet of opulence corresponding with her mature
charms; the younger, as became a _debutante_, wore graceful white,
symbol of her maiden modesty.
'You promised to be early,' said Horace, addressing Mrs. Damerel, but
regarding Fanny, who stood in conversation with a florid man of
'Couldn't get here before, my dear boy.'
'Surely you haven't brought that fellow with you?'
'Hush! You mustn't talk in that way. We met at the door. Mrs. Dane
knows him. What does it matter?'
Horace moved aside to Fanny. Flushed with excitement, her hair
adorned with flowers, she looked very pretty.
'Come along,' he said, gripping her hand more violently than he
intended. 'Let us get upstairs.'
'Oh, you hurt me! Don't be so silly.'
The man beside her gave Horace a friendly nod. His name was
Mankelow. Horace had met him once or twice of late at Mrs. Damerel's,
but did not like him, and felt still less disposed to do so now that
Mankelow was acquainted with Fanny French. He suspected that the two
were more familiar than Fanny pretended. With little ceremony, he
interposed himself between the girl and this possible rival.
'Why didn't you make her come earlier?' he said to Fanny, as they
began a slow upward struggle in the rear of Mrs. Damerel.
'It isn't fashionable to come early.'
'Nonsense! Look at the people here already.'
Fanny threw up her chin, and glanced back to see that Mankelow was
following. In his vexation, Horace was seized with a cough--a
cough several times repeated before he could check it.
'Your cold's no better,' said Fanny. 'You oughtn't to have come out
'It _is_ better,' he replied sharply. 'That's the first time I've
coughed to-day. Do you mean you would rather not have found me
'How silly you are! People will hear what you're saying.'
It was Fanny's 'first season,' but not her first 'at home.' Mrs.
Damerel seemed to be taking an affectionate interest in her, and had
introduced her to several people. Horace, gratified in the
beginning, now suffered from jealousy; it tortured him to observe
Fanny when she talked with men. That her breeding was defective,
mattered nothing in this composite world of pseudo-elegance. Young
Lord, who did not lack native intelligence, understood by this time
that Mrs. Damerel and her friends were far from belonging to a high
order of society; he saw vulgarity rampant in every drawing-room to
which he was admitted, and occasionally heard things which startled
his suburban prejudices. But Fanny, in her wild enjoyment of these
novel splendours, appeared to lose all self-control. She flirted
outrageously, and before his very eyes. If he reproached her, she
laughed at him; if he threatened to free himself, she returned a
look which impudently bade him try. Horace had all her faults by
heart, and no longer tried to think that he respected her, or that,
if he married such a girl, his life could possibly be a happy one;
but she still played upon his passions, and at her beck he followed
like a dog.
The hostess, Mrs. Dane, a woman who looked as if she had once been
superior to the kind of life she now led, welcomed him with peculiar
warmth, and in a quick confidential voice bade him keep near her for
a few minutes.
'There's some one I want to introduce you to--some one I'm sure
you will like to know.'
Obeying her, he soon lost sight of Fanny; but Mrs. Dane continued to
talk, at intervals, in such a flattering tone, that his turbid
emotions were soothed. He had heard of the Chittles? No? They were
very old friends of hers, said Mrs. Dane, and she particularly wanted
him to know them. Ah, here they came; mother and daughter. Horace
observed them. Mrs. Chittle was a frail, worn, nervous woman, who
must once have been comely; her daughter, a girl of two-and-twenty,
had a pale, thin face of much sweetness and gentleness. They seemed
by no means at home in this company; but Mrs. Chittle, when she
conversed, assumed a vivacious air; the daughter, trying to follow
her example, strove vainly against an excessive bashfulness, and
seldom raised her eyes. Why he should be expected to pay special
attention to these people, Horace was at a loss to understand; but
Mrs. Chittle attached herself to him, and soon led him into familiar
dialogue. He learnt from her that they had lived for two or three
years in a very quiet country place; they had come up for the
season, but did not know many people. She spoke of her daughter, who
stood just out of earshot,--her eyes cast down, on her face a sad
fixed smile,--and said that it had been necessary almost to force
her into society. 'She loves the country, and is so fond of books;
but at her age it's really a shame to live like a nun--don't you
think so, Mr. Lord?' Decidedly it was, said Horace. 'I'm doing my
best,' pursued Mrs. Chittle, 'to cure her of her shyness. She is
really afraid of people--and it's such a pity. She says that the
things people talk about don't interest her; but _all_ people are
not frivolous--are they, Mr. Lord?' Horace hoped not; and presently
out of mere good-nature he tried to converse with the young lady in
a way that should neither alarm her shyness nor prove distasteful to
her intelligence. But with very little success. From time to time
the girl glanced at him with strange timidity, yet seemed quite
willing to listen as long as he chose to talk.
Fanny, being at a considerable distance from home, was to return to
the boarding-house where her chaperon now lived, and have a room
there for the night. Horace disliked this arrangement, for the
objectionable Mankelow lived in the same house. When he was able to
get speech with Fanny, he tried to persuade her to go with him all
the way home to Camberwell in a cab. Miss. French would not listen to
'Who ever heard of such a thing? It wouldn't be proper.'
'Proper! Oh, I like that!' he replied, with scathing irony.
'You can either like it or not. Mrs. Damerel wouldn't dream of
allowing it. I think she's quite as good a judge of propriety as you
They were in a corner of the dining-room. Fanny, having supped much
to her satisfaction, had a high colour, and treated her lover with
more than usual insolence. Horace had eaten little, but had not
refrained from beverages; he was disposed to assert himself.
'It seems to me that we ought to have an understanding. You never do
as I wish in a single thing. What do you mean by it?'
'Oh, if you're going to be nasty--'
She made the gesture of a servant-girl who quarrels with her young
man at the street-corner.
'I can't stand the kind of treatment you've given me lately,' said
Horace, with muffled anger.
'I've told you I shall do just as I like.'
'Very well. That's as much as to say that you care nothing about me.
I'm not going to be the slave of a girl who has no sense of honour
--not even of decency. If you wish me to speak to you again you
must speak first.'
And he left her, Fanny laughing scornfully.
It drew towards one o'clock when, having exhausted the delights of
the evening, and being in a decidedly limp condition, Mrs. Damerel
and her protegee drove home. Fanny said nothing of what had passed
between her and Horace. The elder lady, after keeping silence for
half the drive, spoke at length in a tone of indulgent playfulness.
'So you talked a good deal with Mr. Mankelow?'
'Not for long. Now and then. He took me down to supper--the first
'I'm afraid somebody will be a little jealous. I shall get into
trouble. I didn't foresee this.'
'Somebody must treat me in a reasonable way,' Fanny answered, with a
'I'm quite sure he will,' said Mrs. Damerel suavely. 'But I feel
myself a little responsible, you know. Let me put you on your guard
against Mr. Mankelow. I'm afraid he's rather a dangerous man. I have
heard rather alarming stories about him. You see he's very rich, and
very rich men, if they're rather handsome as well, say and do things
'Is he really very rich?'
'Well, several thousands a year, and a prospect of more when
relatives die. I don't mean to say that he is a bad man. He belongs
to a very good family, and I believe him perfectly honourable. He
would never do any one any harm--or, if he happened to, without
meaning it, I'm quite sure he'd repair it in the honourable way.'
'You said he was dangerous--'
'To a young lady who is already engaged. Confess that you think him
Having inflamed the girl's imagination, Mrs. Damerel presently
dropped the subject, and fell again into weary silence.
At noon of the next day she received a call from Horace, who found
her over tea and toast in her private sitting-room. The young man
looked bilious; he coughed, too, and said that he must have caught
fresh cold last night.
'That house was like an oven. I won't go to any more such places.
That isn't my idea of enjoying myself.'
Mrs. Damerel examined him with affectionate solicitude, and reflected
'Haven't you been living rather fast lately?'
He avoided her eyes.
'Not at all.'
'Quite sure? How much money have you spent this last month?'
By careful interrogation--the caressing notes of her voice seemed
to convey genuine feeling--Mrs. Damerel elicited the fact that he
had spent not less than fifty pounds in a few weeks. She looked very
'What would our little Fanny say to this?'
'I don't care what she would say.'
And he unburdened himself of his complaints against the frivolous
charmer, Mrs. Damerel listening with a compassionate smile.
'I'm afraid it's all too true, dear boy. But didn't I warn you?'
'You have made her worse. And I more than half believe you have
purposely put her in the way of that fellow Mankelow. Now I tell you
plainly'--his voice quivered--'if I lose her, I'll raise all the
money I can and play the very devil.'
'Hush! no naughty words! Let us talk about something else till you
are quieter.--What did you think of Mrs. Chittle?'
'I thought nothing of her, good or bad.'
'Of her daughter, then. Isn't she a sweet, quiet girl? Do you know
that she is rich? It's perfectly true. Mrs. Chittle is the widow of a
man who made a big fortune out of a kind of imitation velvet. It
sold only for a few years, then something else drove it out of the
market; but the money was made. I know all about it from Mrs. Dane.'
'It's nothing to me,' said Horace peevishly.
But Mrs. Damerel continued:
'The poor girl has been very unfortunate. In the last year of her
father's life they lived in good style, town-house and
country-house. And she fell in love with somebody who--who treated
her badly; broke it off, in fact, just before the wedding. She had a
bad illness, and since then she has lived as her mother told you.'
'How do you know she told me?'
'I--oh, I took it for granted. She said you had had a long talk.
You can see, of course, that they're not ordinary people. Didn't
Winifred--her name is Winifred--strike you as very refined and
'She hardly spoke half-a-dozen words.'
'That's her nervousness. She has quite got out of the habit of
society. But she's very clever, and so good. I want you to see more
of her. If she comes here to tea, will you--just to please me--
look in for half-an-hour?'
She bent her head aside, wistfully. Horace vouchsafed no reply.
'Dear boy, I know very well what a disappointment you are suffering.
Why not be quite open with me? Though I'm only a tiresome old aunt,
I feel every bit as anxious for your happiness as if I were your
mother--I do indeed, Horace. You believe me, don't you?'
'You have been very kind, in many ways. But you've done harm to
'No harm whatever, Horace--believe me. I have only given her an
opportunity of showing what she really is. You see now that she
thinks of nothing at all but money and selfish pleasures. Compare
her, my dear, with such a girl as Winifred Chittle. I only mean--
just to show you the difference between a lady and such a girl as
Fanny. She has treated you abominably, my poor boy. And what would
she bring you? Not that I wish you to marry for money. I have seen
too much of the world to be so foolish, so wicked. But when there
_are_ sweet, clever, lady-like girls, with large incomes--! And a
handsome boy like you! You may blush, but there's no harm in telling
the truth. You are far too modest. You don't know how you look in
the eyes of an affectionate, thoughtful girl--like Winifred, for
instance. It's dreadful to think of you throwing yourself away! My
dear, it may sound shocking to you, but Fanny French isn't the sort
of girl that men _marry_.'
Horace showed himself startled.
'You are so young,' pursued the mature lady, with an indulgent
smile. 'You need the advice of some one who knows the world. In
years to come, you will feel very grateful to me. Now don't let us
talk any more of that, just now; but tell me something about Nancy.
How much longer does she mean to stay in Cornwall?'
He answered absently.
'She talks of another month or two.'
'But what have her guardians to say to that? Why, she has been away
for nearly half a year. How can that be called living at the old
'It's no business of mine.'
'Nor of mine, you mean to say. Still, it does seem rather strange. I
suppose she is quite to be trusted?'
'Trusted? What harm can come to her? She's keeping out of Sam
Barmby's way, that's all. I believe he plagued her to marry him. A
nice husband for Nancy!'
'I wish we had taken to each other,' said Mrs. Damerel musingly. 'I
think she was a little jealous of the attention I had paid to _you_.
But perhaps we shall do better some day. And I'm quite content so
long as _you_ care a little for me, dear boy. You'll never give me
up, will you?'
It was asked with unusual show of feeling; she leaned forward, her
eyes fixed tenderly upon the boy's face.
'You would never let a Fanny French come between us, Horace dear?'
'I only wish you hadn't brought her among your friends.'
'Some day you will be glad of what I did. Whatever happens, I am
your best friend--the best and truest friend you will ever have.
You will know it some day.'
The voice impressed Horace, its emotion was so true. Several times
through the day he recalled and thought of it. As yet he had felt
nothing like affection for Mrs. Damerel, but before their next
meeting an impulse he did not try to account for caused him to write
her a letter--simply to assure her that he was not ungrateful for
her kindness. The reply that came in a few hours surprised and
touched him, for it repeated in yet warmer words all she had spoken.
'Let me be in the place of a mother to you, dear Horace. Think of me
as if I were your mother. If I were your mother indeed, I could not
love you more.' He mused over this, and received from it a sense of
comfort which was quite new to him.
All through the winter he had been living as a gentleman of assured
independence. This was managed very simply. Acting on Mrs. Damerel's
counsel he insured his life, and straightaway used the policy as
security for a loan of five hundred pounds from a friend of Mrs.
Damerel's. The insurance itself was not effected without a
disagreeable little episode. As a result of the medical examination,
Horace learnt, greatly to his surprise, that he would have to pay a
premium somewhat higher than the ordinary. Unpleasant questions were
asked: Was he quite sure that he knew of no case of consumption in
his family? Quite sure, he answered stoutly, and sincerely. Why? Did
the doctor think _him_ consumptive? Oh dear no, but--a slight
constitutional weakness. In fine, the higher premium must be
exacted. He paid it with the indifference of his years, but said
nothing to Mrs. Damerel.
And thereupon began the sowing of wild oats. At two-and-twenty,
after domestic restraint and occupations that he detested, he was
let loose upon life. Five hundred pounds seemed to him practically
inexhaustible. He did not wish to indulge in great extravagance;
merely to see and to taste the world.
Ah, the rapture of those first nights, when he revelled amid the
tumult of London, pursuing joy with a pocket full of sovereigns!
Theatres, music-halls, restaurants and public-houses--he had seen
so little of these things, that they excited him as they do a lad
fresh from the country. He drew the line nowhere. Love of a worthy
woman tells for chastity even in the young and the sensual; love of
a Fanny French merely debauches the mind and inflames the passions.
Secure in his paganism, Horace followed where the lures of London
beckoned him; he knew not reproach of conscience; shame offered but
thin resistance to his boiling blood. By a miracle he had as yet
escaped worse damage to health than a severe cold, caught one night
after heroic drinking. That laid him by the heels for a time, and
the cough still clung to him.
In less than two years he would command seven thousand pounds, and a
share in the business now conducted by Samuel Barmby. What need to
stint himself whilst he felt able to enjoy life? If Fanny deceived
him, were there not, after all, other and better Fannys to be won by
his money? For it was a result of this girl's worthlessness that
Horace, in most things so ingenuous, had come to regard women with
unconscious cynicism. He did not think he could be loved for his own
sake, but he believed that, at any time, the show of love, perhaps
its ultimate sincerity, might be won by display of cash.
Midway in the month of May he again caught a severe cold, and was
confined to the house for nearly three weeks. Mrs. Damerel, who
nursed him well and tenderly, proposed that he should go down for
change of air to Falmouth. He wrote to Nancy, asking whether she
would care to see him. A prompt reply informed him that his sister
was on the point of returning to London, so that he had better
choose some nearer seaside resort.
He went to Hastings for a few days, but wearied of the place, and
came back to his London excitements. Nancy, however, had not yet
returned; nor did she until the beginning of July.
This winter saw the establishment of the South London Fashionable
Dress Supply Association--the name finally selected by Beatrice
French and her advisers. It was an undertaking shrewdly conceived,
skilfully planned, and energetically set going. Beatrice knew the
public to which her advertisements appealed; she understood exactly
the baits that would prove irresistible to its folly and greed. In
respect that it was a public of average mortals, it would believe
that business might be conducted to the sole advantage of the
customer. In respect that it consisted of women, it would give eager
attention to a scheme that permitted each customer to spend her
money, and yet to have it. In respect that it consisted of ignorant
and pretentious women, this public could be counted upon to deceive
itself in the service of its own vanity, and maintain against all
opposition that the garments obtained on this soothing system were
supremely good and fashionable.
On a basis of assumptions such as these, there was every possibility
of profitable commerce without any approach to technical fraud.
By means of the familiar 'goose-club,' licensed victuallers make
themselves the bankers of people who are too weak-minded to save
their own money until they wish to spend it, and who are quite
content to receive in ultimate return goods worth something less
than half the deposit. By means of the familiar teapot, grocers
persuade their customers that an excellent trade can be done by
giving away the whole profit on each transaction. Beatrice French,
an observant young woman, with a head for figures, had often noted
and reflected upon these two egregious illustrations of human
absurdity. Her dressmaking enterprise assimilated the features of
both, and added novel devices that sprang from her own fruitful
brain. The 'Fashion Club,' a wheel within a wheel, was merely the
goose-club; strictly a goose-club, for the licensed victualler
addresses himself to the male of the species. The larger net, cast
for those who lacked money or a spirit of speculation, caught all
who, in the realm of grocery, are lured by the teapot. Every
sovereign spent with the Association carried a bonus, paid not in
cash but in kind. These startling advantages were made known through
the medium of hand-bills, leaflets, nicely printed little pamphlets,
gorgeously designed placards; the publicity department, being in the
hands of Mr. Luckworth Crewe, of Farringdon Street, was most ably and
Thanks also to Luckworth Crewe, Beatrice had allied herself with
partners, who brought to the affair capital, experience, and
activity. Before Christmas--an important point--the scene of
operations was ready: a handsome shop, with the new and attractive
appendages (so-called 'club-room,' refreshment-bar, &c.) which Crewe
and Beatrice had visioned in their prophetic minds. Before the close
of the year substantial business had been done, and 1888 opened with
The ineptitude of uneducated English women in all that relates to
their attire is a fact that it boots not to enlarge upon. Beatrice
French could not be regarded as an exception; for though she
recognised monstrosities, she very reasonably distrusted her own
taste in the choice of a garment. For her sisters, monstrosities had
a distinct charm, and to this class of women belonged all customers
of the Association who pretended to think for themselves as to
wherewithal they should be clothed. But women in general came to the
shop with confessed blankness of mind; beyond the desire to buy
something that was modish, and to pay for it in a minus quantity,
they knew, felt, thought nothing whatever. Green or violet, cerulean
or magenta, all was one to them. In the matter of shape they sought
merely a confident assurance from articulate man or woman--
themselves being somewhat less articulate than jay or jackdaw--
that this or that was 'the feature of the season.' They could not
distinguish between a becoming garment and one that called for the
consuming fires of Heaven. It is often assumed as a commonplace that
women, whatever else they cannot do, may be trusted to make up their
minds about habiliments. Nothing more false, as Beatrice French was
abundantly aware. A very large proportion of the servant-keeping
females in Brixton, Camberwell, and Peckham could not, with any
confidence, buy a chemise or a pair of stockings; and when it came
to garments visible, they were lost indeed.
Fanny French began to regret that she had not realised her capital,
and put it into the Association. Wishing at length to do so, she met
with a scornful rebuff. Beatrice would have none of her money, but
told her she might use the shop like any other customer, which of
course Fanny did.
Mrs. Peachey, meanwhile, kept declaring to both her sisters that they
must not expect to live henceforth in De Crespigny Park on the old
nominal terms. Beatrice was on the way to wealth; Fanny moved in
West End society, under the chaperonage of a rich woman; they ought
to be ashamed of themselves for not volunteering handsome
recognition of the benefits they had received beneath their sister's
roof. But neither Beatrice nor Fanny appeared to see the matter in
this light. The truth was, that they both had in view a change of
domicile. The elder desired more comfort and more independence than
De Crespigny Park could afford her; the younger desired a great many
things, and flattered herself that a very simple step would put her
in possession of them.
The master of the house no longer took any interest in the fortunes
of his sisters-in-law. He would not bid them depart, he would not
bid them stay, least of all would he demand money from them. Of
money he had no need, and he was the hapless possessor of a
characteristic not to be found in any other member of his household
Arthur Peachey lived only for his child, the little boy, whose newly
prattling tongue made the sole welcome he expected or cared for on
his return from a hard day's work. Happily the child had good
health, but he never left home without dread of perils that might
befall it in his absence. On the mother he counted not at all; a
good-tempered cow might with more confidence have been set to watch
over the little one's safety. The nurse-girl Emma, retained in spite
of her mistress's malice, still seemed to discharge her duties
faithfully; but, being mortal, she demanded intervals of leisure
from time to time, and at such seasons, as Peachey too well knew,
the child was uncared for. Had his heart been resolute as it was
tender, he would long ago have carried out a project which haunted
him at every moment of anger or fear. In the town of Canterbury
lived a sister of his who for several years had been happily wedded,
but remained childless. If the worst came to the worst, if his wife
compelled him to the breaking-up of a home which was no home, this
married sister would gladly take the little boy into her motherly
care. He had never dared to propose the step; but Ada might
perchance give ready assent to it, even now. For motherhood she had
no single qualification but the physical. Before her child's coming
into the world, she snarled at the restraints it imposed upon her;
at its birth, she clamoured against nature for the pains she had to
undergo, and hated her husband because he was the intermediate cause
of them. The helpless infant gave her no pleasure, touched no
emotion in her heart, save when she saw it in the nurse's care, and
received female compliments upon its beauty. She rejected it at
night because it broke her sleep; in the day, because she could not
handle it without making it cry. When Peachey remonstrated with her,
she stared in insolent surprise, and wished that _he_ had had to
suffer all her hardships of the past year.
Peachey could not be said to have any leisure. On returning from
business he was involved forthwith in domestic troubles and broils,
which consumed the dreary evening, and invaded even his sleep. Thus
it happened that at long intervals he was tempted, instead of going
home to dinner, to spend a couple of hours at a certain small
eating-house, a resort of his bachelor days, where he could read the
newspapers, have a well-cooked chop in quietude, and afterwards, if
acquaintances were here, play a game of chess. Of course he had to
shield this modest dissipation with a flat falsehood, alleging to
his wife that business had kept him late. Thus on an evening of
June, when the soft air and the mellow sunlight overcame him with a
longing for rest, he despatched a telegram to De Crespigny Park, and
strolled quietly about the streets until the hour and his appetite
pointed him tablewards. The pity of it was that he could not dismiss
anxieties; he loathed the coward falsehood, and thought more of home
than of his present freedom. But at least Ada's tongue was silent.
He seated himself in the familiar corner, and turned over
illustrated papers, whilst his chop hissed on the grid. Ah, if he
were but unmarried, what a life he might make for himself now that
the day's labour brought its ample reward! He would have rooms in
London, and a still, clean lodging somewhere among the lanes and
fields. His ideals expressed the homeliness of the man. On intellect
he could not pride himself; his education had been but of the
'commercial' order; he liked to meditate rather than to read;
questions of the day concerned him not at all. A weak man, but of
clean and kindly instincts. In mercantile life he had succeeded by
virtue of his intensely methodical habits--the characteristic
which made him suffer so from his wife's indolence, incapacity, and
Before his marriage he had thought of women as domestic beings. A
wife was the genius of home. He knew men who thanked their wives for
all the prosperity and content that they enjoyed. Others he knew who
told quite a different tale, but these surely were sorrowful
exceptions. Nowadays he saw the matter in a light of fuller
experience. In his rank of life married happiness was a rare thing,
and the fault could generally be traced to wives who had no sense of
responsibility, no understanding of household duties, no love of
simple pleasures, no religion.
Yes, there was the point--no religion. Ada had grown up to regard
church-going as a sign of respectability, but without a shadow of
religious faith. Her incredible ignorance of the Bible story, of
Christian dogmas, often amazed him. Himself a believer, though
careless in the practice of forms, he was not disturbed by the
modern tendency to look for morals apart from faith; he had not the
trouble of reflecting that an ignorant woman is the last creature to
be moralised by anything but the Christian code; he saw straight
into the fact--that there was no hope of impressing Ada with ideas
of goodness, truthfulness, purity, simply because she recognised no
For such minds no moral authority--merely as a moral authority--
is or can be valid. Such natures are ruled only by superstition--
the representative of reasoned faith in nobler beings. Rob them of
their superstition, and they perish amid all uncleanliness.
Thou shalt not lie--for God consumes a liar in the flames of hell!
Ada Peachey could lend ear to no admonition short of that. And,
living when she did, bred as she was, only a John Knox could have
impressed her with this menace--to be forgotten when the echoes of
his voice had failed.
He did not enjoy his chop this evening. In the game of chess that
followed he played idly, with absent thoughts. And before the glow
of sunset had died from the calm heaven he set out to walk homeward,
On approaching the house he suffered, as always, from quickened
pulse and heart constricted with fear. Until he knew that all was
well, he looked like a man who anticipates dread calamity. This
evening, on opening the door, he fell back terror-stricken. In the
hall stood a police-constable, surrounded by a group of women: Mrs.
Peachey, her sisters, Emma the nurse-girl, and two other servants.
'Oh, here you are at last!' exclaimed his wife, in a voice exhausted
with rage. 'You're just in time to see this beast taken off to the
lock-up. Perhaps you'll believe me now!'
'What is it? What has she done?'
'Stolen money, that's what she's done--your precious Emma! She's
been at it for a long time; I've told you some one was robbing me.
So I marked some coins in my purse, and left it in the bedroom
whilst we were at dinner; and then, when I found half-a-crown gone
--and it was her evening out, too--I sent for a policeman before
she knew anything, and we made her turn out her pockets. And there's
the half-crown! Perhaps you'll believe it this time!'
The girl's face declared her guilt; she had hardly attempted denial.
Then, with a clamour of furious verbosity, Ada enlightened her
husband on other points of Emma's behaviour. It was a long story,
gathered, in the last few minutes, partly from the culprit herself,
partly from her fellow-servants. Emma had got into the clutches of a
jewellery tallyman, one of the fellows who sell trinkets to
servant-girls on the pay-by-instalment system. She had made several
purchases of gewgaws, and had already paid three or four times their
value, but was still in debt to the tallyman, who threatened all
manner of impossible proceedings if she did not make up her arrears.
Bottomless ignorance and imbecile vanity had been the girl's ruin,
aided by a grave indiscretion on Peachey's part, of which he was to
Some one must go to the police-station and make a formal charge. Ada
would undertake this duty with pious eagerness, enjoying it all the
more because of loud wailings and entreaties which the girl now
addressed to her master. Peachey looked at his sisters-in-law, and
in neither face perceived a compassionate softening. Fanny stood by
as at a spectacle provided for her amusement, without rancour, but
equally without pity. Beatrice was contemptuous. What right, said
her countenance, had a servant-girl to covet jewellery? And how
pitiable the spirit that prompted to a filching of half-crowns! For
the criminals of finance, who devastate a thousand homes, Miss
French had no small admiration; crimes such as the present were mean
Ada reappeared, hurriedly clad for going forth; but no one had
fetched a cab. Incensed, she ordered her husband to do so.
'Who are you speaking to?' he replied wrathfully. 'I am not your
Fanny laughed. The policeman, professionally calm, averted a smiling
'It's nothing to me,' said Mrs. Peachey. 'I'm quite willing to walk.
Come along, constable.'
Her husband interposed.
'The girl doesn't go from my house until she's properly dressed.' He
turned to the other servants. 'Please to blow the whistle at the
door, or get a cab somehow. Emma, go upstairs and put your things
'It was about time you behaved like a man,' fell quietly from
'You're right.' He looked sternly at the speaker. 'It _is_ time, and
that you shall all know.'
The culprit, suddenly silent, obeyed his order. The constable went
out at the front door, and there waited whilst a cab-summoning
whistle shrilled along De Crespigny Park.
Ada had ascended to the first landing, to make sure that the culprit
did not escape her. Beatrice and Fanny retired into the
drawing-room. After a lapse of some ten minutes two cabs rattled up
to the door from opposite directions, each driver lashing his horse
to gain the advantage. So nearly were they matched, that with
difficulty the vehicles avoided a collision. The man who had secured
a place immediately in front of the doorsteps, waved his whip and
uttered a shout of insulting triumph; his rival answered with
volleys of abuse, and drove round as if meditating an assault; it
was necessary for the policeman to interfere. Whereupon the defeated
competitor vowed that it was sanguinary hard lines; that for the
sanguinary whole of this sanguinary day had he waited vainly for a
sanguinary fare, and but for a sanguinary stumble of his sanguinary
Tired of waiting, and suspicious of the delay, Ada went up to the
room where the servant was supposed to be making ready. It was a
little room, which served as night-nursery; by the girl's bed stood
a cot occupied by the child. Ada, exclaiming 'Now, come along!'
opened the door violently. A candle was burning; the boy, awake but
silent, sat up in his cot, and looked about with sleepy, yet
'Where are you?'
Emma could not be seen. Astonished and enraged, Ada rushed forward;
she found the girl lying on the floor, and after bending over her,
started back with a cry half of alarm, half of disgust.
'Come up here at once!' she screamed down the staircase. 'Come up!
The wretch has cut her throat!'
There was a rush of feet. Peachey, the first to enter, saw a gash on
the neck of the insensible girl; in her hand she held a pair of
'I hope you're satisfied,' he said to his wife.
The police-officer, animated by a brisk succession of events such as
he could not hope for every day, raised the prostrate figure, and
speedily announced that the wound was not mortal.
'She's fainted, that's all. Tried to do for herself with them
scissors, and didn't know the way to go about it. We'll get her off
sharp to the surgeon.'
'It'll be attempted suicide, now, as well as stealing,' cried Ada.
Terrified by the crowd of noisy people, the child began to cry
loudly. Peachey lifted him out of the cot, wrapped a blanket about
him, and carried him down to his own bedroom. There, heedless of
what was going on above, he tried to soothe the little fellow,
lavishing caresses and tender words.
'My little boy will be good? He'll wait here, quietly, till father
comes back? Only a few minutes, and father will come back, and sit
by him. Yes--he shall sleep here, all night--'
Ada burst into the room.
'I should think you'd better go and look after your dear Emma. As if
I didn't know what's been going on! It's all come out, so you
needn't tell me any lies. You've been giving her money. The other
servants knew of it; she confessed it herself. Oh, you're a nice
sort of man, you are! Men of your sort are always good at preaching
to other people. You've given her money--what does _that_ mean? I
suspected it all along. You wouldn't have her sent away; oh no! She
was so good to the child--and so good to somebody else! A dirty
servant! I'd choose some one better than that, if I was a man. How
much has she cost you? As much, no doubt, as one of the swell women
in Piccadilly Circus--'
Peachey turned upon her, the sweat beading on his ghastly face.
'Go!--Out of this room--or by God I shall do something fearful!
She backed before him. He seized her by the shoulders, and flung her
forth, then locked the door. From without she railed at him in the
language of the gutter and the brothel. Presently her shouts were
mingled with piercing shrieks; they came from the would-be-suicide,
who, restored to consciousness, was being carried down for removal
in the cab. Peachey, looking and feeling like a man whom passion had
brought within sight of murder, stopped his ears and huddled himself
against the bedside. The child screamed in terror.
At length came silence. Peachey opened the door, and listened. Below,
voices sounded in quiet conversation.
'Who is down there?' he called.
'All of us except Ada,' replied Beatrice. 'The policeman said she
needn't go unless she liked, but she _did_ like.'
He ran up to the deserted bedroom, carefully gathered together his
child's day-garments, and brought them down. Then, as well as he
could, he dressed the boy.
'Is it time to get up?' inquired the little three-year-old,
astonished at all that was happening, but soothed and amused by the
thought that his father had turned nurse. 'It isn't light yet.'
'You are going somewhere with father, dear. Somewhere nice.'
The dialogue between them, in sweet broken words such as the child
had not yet outgrown, and the parent did not wish to abandon for
common speech, went on until the dressing was completed.
'Now, will my boy show me where his clothes are for going out? His
cap, and his coat--'
Oh yes, they were up in the nursery; boy would show father--and
laughed merrily that he knew something father didn't. A few minutes
more, and the equipment was completed.
'Now wait for me here--only a minute. My boy won't cry, if I leave
him for a minute?'
'Cry! of course not!' Peachey descended to the drawing-room, closed
the door behind him, and stood facing his sisters-in-law.
'I want to tell you that I am going away, and taking the child with
me. Ada needn't expect me back to-night--nor ever. As long as I
live I will never again be under the same roof with her. You,
Beatrice, said it was about time I behaved like a man. You were
right. I've put up long enough with things such as no man ought to
endure for a day. Tell your sister that she may go on living here,
if she chooses, for another six months, to the end of the year--
not longer. She shall be supplied with sufficient money. After
Christmas she may find a home for herself where she likes; money
will be paid to her through a lawyer, but from this day I will
neither speak nor write to her. You two must make your own
arrangements; you have means enough. You know very well, both of
you, why I am taking this step; think and say about me what you
like. I have no time to talk, and so I bid you good-bye.'
They did not seek to detain him, but stood mute whilst he left the
The little boy, timid and impatient, was at the head of the stairs.
His father enveloped him warmly in a shawl, and so they went forth.
It was not long before they met with a vacant cab. Half-an-hour's
drive brought them to the eating-house where Peachey had had his
chop that evening, and here he obtained a bedroom for the night.
By eleven o'clock the child slept peacefully. The father, seated at
a table, was engaged in writing to a solicitor.
At midnight he lay softly down by the child's side, and there, until
dawn, listened to the low breathing of his innocent little
bedfellow. Though he could not sleep, it was joy, rather than any
painful excitement, that kept him wakeful. A great and loathsome
burden had fallen from him, and in the same moment he had rescued
his boy out of an atmosphere of hated impurity. At length he could
respect himself, and for the first time in four long years he looked
to the future with tranquil hope.
Careless of the frank curiosity with which the people of the house
regarded him, he went down at seven o'clock, and asked for a railway
time-table. Having found a convenient train to Canterbury, he
ordered breakfast for himself and the child to be laid in a private
room. It was a merry meal. Sunshine of midsummer fell warm and
bright upon the table; the street below was so full of busy life
that the little boy must needs have his breakfast by the window,
where he could eat and look forth at the same time. No such
delightful holiday had he ever enjoyed. Alone with father, and going
away by train into wonderful new worlds.
'Is Emma coming?' he asked.
It was significant that he did not speak of his mother.
They drove to the railway station, Peachey no less excited than the
child. From here he despatched a telegram to his partners, saying
that he should be absent for a day or two.
Then the train, struggling slowly out of London's welter, through
the newest outposts of gloom and grime, bore them, hearts
companioned in love and blamelessness, to the broad sunny meadows
and the sweet hop-gardens of Kent.
'Serves her jolly well right,' said Beatrice.
'A lot _she'll_ care,' said Fanny. 'I should think myself precious
lucky. She gets rid of him, and of the kid too, and has as much as
she wants to live on. It's better than she deserves.--Do you
believe he's been carrying on with that girl?'
Miss. French laughed contemptuously.
'Well, there's been a jolly good row to-night, if we never see
another. We shall all be in the papers!' The prospect had charms for
Fanny. 'What are you going to do? Live here till Christmas?'
Beatrice was quietly reviewing the situation. She kept silence, and
her sister also became meditative. Suddenly Fanny inquired:
'What sort of a place is Brussels?'
'Brussels? Why? I know nothing about it. Not much of a place, I
think; sprouts come from there, don't they?'
'It's a big town,' said the other, 'and a lively sort of place, they
'Why do you ask me, if you know? What about it?'
As usual when performing the operation which, in her, answered to
thought, Fanny shuffled with her hands on her waist. At a distance
from Beatrice she stood still, and said:
'Some one I know is going there. I've a good mind to go too. I want
to see abroad.'
Her sister asked several searching questions, but Fanny would not
make known whether the friend was male or female.
'I shouldn't be much surprised,' remarked the woman of business,
indifferently, 'if you go and make a fool of yourself before long.
That Mrs. Damerel is up to some game with you; any one could see it
with half an eye. I suppose it isn't Lord that's going to Brussels?'
Fanny sputtered her disdain.
'If you had any common sense,' pursued her sister, 'you'd stick to
him; but you haven't. Oh yes, you think you can do better. Very
well, we shall see. If you find yourself in a hole one of these
days, don't expect _me_ to pull you out. I wouldn't give you a penny
to save you from the workhouse.'
'Wait till you're asked. I know where all _your_ money 'll go to.
And that's into Crewe's pocket. He'll fool you out of all you have.'
Beatrice reddened with wrath. But, unlike the other members of her
family, she could command her tongue. Fanny found it impossible to
draw another word from her.
On returning from the police-station, haggard and faint with
excitement, but supported by the anticipation of fresh attacks upon
her husband, Ada immediately learnt what had happened. For the first
moment she could hardly believe it. She rushed upstairs, and saw
that the child was really gone; then a blind frenzy took hold upon
her. Alarming and inexplicable sounds drew her sisters from below;
they found her, armed with something heavy, smashing every breakable
object in her bedroom--mirrors, toilet-ware, pictures,
'She's gone mad!' shrieked Fanny. 'She'll kill us!'
'That beast shall pay for it!' yelled Ada, with a frantic blow at
Wanton destruction of property revolted all Beatrice's instincts.
Courageous enough, she sprang upon the wild animal, and flung her
Now indeed the last trace of veneer was gone, the last rag of
pseudo-civilisation was rent off these young women; in physical
conflict, vilifying each other like the female spawn of Whitechapel,
they revealed themselves as born--raw material which the mill of
education is supposed to convert into middle-class ladyhood. As a
result of being held still by superior strength Ada fell into
convulsions, foamed at the mouth, her eyes starting from their
sockets; then she lay as one dead.
'You've killed her,' cried the terrified Fanny.
'No fear. Give me some water to pitch over her.'
With a full jug from another bedroom, she drenched the prostrate
figure. When Ada came round she was powerless; even her rancorous
lips could utter only a sound of moaning. The sisters stripped her
stark naked on the floor, made a show of drying her with towels, and
tumbled her into bed. Then Beatrice brewed a great jorum of hot
whisky-punch, and after drinking freely to steady her shaken nerves,
poured a pint or so down Mrs. Peachey's throat.
'There won't be a funeral just yet,' she remarked, with a laugh.
'Now we'll have supper; I feel hungry.'
They went to bed at something after midnight. The servants, having
stolen a bottle of spirits from the cupboard, which Beatrice left
open, both got drunk, and slept till morning upon the kitchen-floor.
On the morrow, Miss. French, attired as a walking advertisement of
the South London Fashionable Dress Supply Association, betook
herself to Farringdon Street for an interview with her commercial
friend. Crewe was absent, but one of three clerks, who occupied his
largest room, informed her that it could not be very long before he
returned, and being so familiar a figure here, she was permitted to
wait in the agent's sanctum. When the door closed upon her, the
three young men discussed her character with sprightly freedom.
Beatrice, the while, splendidly indifferent to the remarks she could
easily divine, made a rapid examination of loose papers lying on
Crewe's desk, read several letters, opened several books, and found
nothing that interested her until, on turning over a slip of paper
with pencilled figures upon it, she discovered a hotel-bill, the
heading: Royal Hotel, Falmouth. It was for a day and night's
entertainment, the debtor 'Mr. Crewe,' the date less than a week gone
by. This document she considered attentively, her brows knitted, her
eyes wide. But a sound caused her to drop it upon the desk again.
Another moment, and Crewe entered.
He looked keenly at her, and less good-humouredly than of wont.
These persons never shook hands, and indeed dispensed, as a rule,
with all forms of civility.
'What are you staring at?' asked Crewe bluffly.
'What are _you_ staring at?'
'Nothing, that I know.' He hung up his hat, and sat down. 'I've a
note to write; wait a minute.'
The note written, and given to a clerk, Crewe seemed to recover
equanimity. His visitor told him all that happened in De Crespigny
Park, even to the crudest details, and they laughed together
'I'm going to take a flat,' Beatrice then informed him. 'Just find
me something convenient and moderate, will you? A bachelor's flat.'
'What about Fanny?'
'She has something on; I don't know what it is. Talks about going to
Brussels--with a friend.'
Crewe looked astonished.
'You ought to see after her. I know what the end 'll be. Brussels?
I've heard of English girls going there, but they don't usually come
'What can I do? I'm pretty certain that Damerel woman has a game on
hand. She doesn't want Fanny to marry her nephew--if Lord _is_ her
nephew. She wants his money, that's my idea.'
'Mine, too,' remarked the other quietly. 'Look here, old chap, it's
your duty to look after your little damned fool of a sister; I tell
you that plainly. I shan't think well of you if you don't.'
Beatrice displayed eagerness to defend herself. She had done her
best; Fanny scorned all advice, and could not be held against her
'Has she given up all thought of Lord?'
'I'm not sure, but I think so. And it looks as if he was going his
own way, and didn't care much. He never writes to her now. Of course
it's that woman's doing.'
'I shall have to look into Mrs. Damerel's affairs. Might be worth
while. Where is she living?' He made a note of the information.
'Well, anything else to tell me?'
Beatrice spoke of business matters, then asked him if he had been
out of town lately. The question sounded rather abrupt, and caused
Crewe to regard her with an expression she privately interpreted.
'A few short runs. Nowhere particular.'
'Oh?--Not been down into Cornwall?'
He lost his temper.
'What are you after? What business is it of yours? If you're going
to spy on me, I'll soon let you know that I won't stand that kind of
'Don't disturb yourself,' said Beatrice, with a cold smile. 'I
haven't been spying, and you can go where you like for anything I
care. I guessed you _had_ been down there, that's all.'
Crewe kept silence, his look betraying uneasiness as well as anger.
Speaking at length, he fixed her with keen eyes.
'If it's any satisfaction to you, you're welcome to know that I have
been into Cornwall--and to Falmouth.'
Beatrice merely nodded, and still he searched her face.
'Just answer me a plain question, old chap. Come, there's no
nonsense between us; we know each other--eh?'
'Oh yes, we know each other,' Miss. French answered, her lips
puckering a little.
'What do you know about _her_? What has she been doing all this
'I know just as little about her as I care.'
'You care a good deal more than you'll confess. I wouldn't be up to
women's tricks, if I were you.'
'After all, I suppose I _am_ a woman?'
'Well, I suppose so.' Crewe grinned good-naturedly. 'But that isn't
in the terms of our partnership, you remember. You can be a
reasonable fellow enough, when you like. Just tell me the truth.
What do you know about Nancy Lord?' Beatrice assumed an air of
'I'll tell you that, if you tell me what it is you want of her. Is
it her money?'
'Her money be damned!'
'It's herself, then.'
'And what if it is? What have _you_ to say to it?'
Her eyes fell, and she muttered 'Nothing.'
'Just bear that in mind, then. And now that I've answered your
question, answer mine. What have you heard about her? Or what have
you found out?'
She raised her eyes again and again, but in a mocking voice said,
'You're telling me a lie.'
'You're a brute to say so!'
They exchanged fierce glances, but could not meet each other's eyes
steadily. Crewe, mastering his irritation, said with a careless
'All right, I believe you. Didn't mean to offend you, old chap.'
'I won't be called that!' She was trembling with stormy emotions.
'You shall treat me decently.'
'Very well. Old girl, then.'
'I'm a good deal younger than you are. And I'm a good deal better
than you, in every way. I'm a lady, at all events, and you can't
pretend to be a gentleman. You're a rough, common fellow--'
'Holloa! Holloa! Draw it mild.'
He was startled, and in some degree abashed; his eyes, travelling to
the door, indicated a fear that this singular business-colloquy
might be overheard. But Beatrice went on, without subduing her
voice, and, having delivered herself of much plain language, walked
from the room, leaving the door open behind her.
As a rule, she returned from her day's occupations to dinner, in De
Crespigny Park, at seven o'clock. To-day her arrival at home was
considerably later. About three o'clock she made a call at the
boarding-house where Mrs. Damerel lived, but was disappointed in her
wish to see that lady, who would not be in before the hour of
dining. She called again at seven, and Mrs. Damerel received her very
graciously. It was the first time they had met. Beatrice, in no mood
for polite grimaces, at once disclosed the object of her visit; she
wanted to talk about Fanny; did Mrs. Damerel know anything of a