Part 6 out of 9
proposed journey to Brussels? The lady professed utter ignorance of
any such intention on Fanny's part. She had not seen Fanny for at
least a fortnight.
'How can that be? She told me she dined here last Sunday.'
'That's very strange,' answered Mrs. Damerel, with suave concern.
'She certainly did not dine here.'
'And the Sunday before?'
'Your sister has dined here only once, Miss. French, and that was
three months ago.'
'Then I don't understand it. Haven't you been taking her to
theatres, and parties, and that kind of thing?'
'I have taken her once to a theatre, and twice to evening "at
homes." The last time we were together anywhere was at Mrs. Dane's,
about the middle of May. Since then I have seen her hardly at all.
I'm very much afraid you are under some misconception. Thinking your
sister was engaged to marry my nephew, Mr. Lord, I naturally desired
to offer her a few friendly attentions. But it came out, at length,
that she did not regard the engagement as serious. I was obliged to
speak gravely to my young nephew, and beg him to consider his
position. There is the second dinner-bell, but I am quite at your
service, Miss. French, if you wish to question me further.'
Beatrice was much inclined to resent this tone, and to use her
vernacular. But it seemed only too probable that Fanny had been
deceiving her, and, as she really feared for the girl's safety,
prudence bade her be civil with Mrs. Damerel.
'Can't you help me to find out what Fanny has really been doing?'
'I'm afraid it's quite out of my power. She never confided in me,
and it is so long since I have seen anything of her at all.'
'It's best to speak plainly,' said Beatrice, in her business tone.
'Can't you think of any man, in the society you introduced her to,
who may be trying to lead her astray?'
'Really, Miss. French! The society in which I move is not what you
seem to suppose. If your sister is in any danger of _that_ kind, you
must make your inquiries elsewhere--in an inferior rank of life.'
Beatrice no longer contained herself.
'Perhaps I know rather more than you think about your kind of
society. There's not much to choose between the men and the women.'
'Miss. French, I believe you reside in a part of London called
Camberwell. And I believe you are engaged in some kind of millinery
business. This excuses you for ill-manners. All the same, I must beg
you to relieve me of your presence.' She rang the bell. 'Good
'I dare say we shall see each other again,' replied Beatrice, with
an insulting laugh. 'I heard some one say to-day that it might be as
well to find out _who you really are_. And if any harm comes to
Fanny, I shall take a little trouble about that inquiry myself.'
Mrs. Damerel changed colour, but no movement betrayed anxiety. In the
attitude of dignified disdain, she kept her eyes on a point above
Miss. French's head, and stood so until the plebeian adversary had
Then she sat down, and for a few minutes communed with herself. In
the end, instead of going to dinner, she rang her bell again. A
'Is Mr. Mankelow in the dining-room?'
'Ask him to be kind enough to come here for a moment.'
With little delay, Mr. Mankelow answered the summons which called him
from his soup. He wore evening dress; his thin hair was parted down
the middle; his smooth-shaven and rather florid face expressed the
annoyance of a hungry man at so unseasonable an interruption.
'Do forgive me,' began Mrs. Damerel, in a pathetic falsetto. 'I have
been so upset, I felt obliged to seek advice immediately, and no one
seemed so likely to be of help to me as you--a man of the world.
Would you believe that a sister of that silly little Miss. French has
just been here--a downright. virago--declaring that the girl has
been led astray, and that I am responsible for it? Can you imagine
such impertinence? She has fibbed shockingly to the people at home
--told them she was constantly here with me in the evenings, when
she must have been--who knows where. It will teach me to meddle
again with girls of that class.'
Mankelow stood with his hands behind him, and legs apart, regarding
the speaker with a comically puzzled air.
'My dear Mrs. Damerel,'--he had a thick, military sort of voice,--
'why in the world should this interpose between us and dinner?
Afterwards, we might--'
'But I am really anxious about the silly little creature. It would
be extremely disagreeable if my name got mixed up in a scandal of
any kind. You remember my telling you that she didn't belong exactly
to the working-class. She has even a little property of her own; and
I shouldn't wonder if she has friends who might make a disturbance
if her--her vagaries could be in any way connected with me and my
circle. Something was mentioned about Brussels. She has been
chattering about some one who wanted to take her to Brussels--'
The listener arched his eyebrows more and more.
'What _can_ it matter to you?'
'To be sure, I have no acquaintance with any one who could do such
'Why, of course not. And even if you had, I understand that the girl
is long out of her teens--'
'Then it's her own affair--and that of the man who cares to
purchase such amusement. By-the-bye, it happens rather oddly that I
myself have to run over to Brussels on business; but I trust'--he
laughed--'that my years and my character--'
'Oh, Mr. Mankelow, absurd! It's probably some commercial traveller,
or man of that sort, don't you think? The one thing I _do_ hope is,
that, if anything like this happens, the girl will somehow make it
clear to her friends that _I_ had no knowledge whatever of what was
going on. But that can hardly be hoped, I fear!--'
Their eyes crossed; they stood for a moment perusing vacancy.
'Yes, I think it might be hoped,' said Mankelow airily. 'She seemed
to me a rather reckless sort of young person. It's highly probable
she will write letters which release every one but herself from
responsibility. In fact'--he gazed at her with a cynical smile--
'my knowledge of human nature disposes me to assure you that she
certainly will. She might even, I should say, write a letter to
_you_--perhaps a cheeky sort of letter, which would at once set
your mind at ease.'
'Oh, if you really take that view--'
'I do indeed. Don't you think we might dismiss the matter, and
They did so.
Until noon of to-day, Mrs. Peachey had kept her bed, lying amid the
wreck wrought by last night's madness. She then felt well enough to
rise, and after refreshment betook herself by cab to the offices of
Messrs Ducker, Blunt & Co., manufacturers of disinfectants, where
she conversed with one of the partners, and learnt that her husband
had telegraphed his intention to be absent for a day or two. Having,
with the self-respect which distinguished her, related her story
from the most calumnious point of view, she went home again to nurse
her headache and quarrel with Fanny. But Fanny had in the meantime
left home, and, unaccountable fact, had taken with her a large tin
box and a dress-basket; heavily packed, said the servants. Her
direction to the cabman was merely Westminster Bridge, which
conveyed to Mrs. Peachey no sort of suggestion.
When Beatrice came back, and learnt this event, she went apart in
wrathful gloom. Ada could not engage her in a quarrel. It was a
wretchedly dull evening.
They talked next morning, and Beatrice announced her purpose of
going to live by herself as soon as possible. But she would not
quarrel. Left alone, Ada prepared to visit certain of their
relatives in different parts of London, to spread among them the
news of her husband's infamy.
When Mary Woodruff unlocked the house-door and entered the little
hall, it smelt and felt as though the damp and sooty fogs of winter
still lingered here, untouched by the July warmth. She came alone,
and straightway spent several hours in characteristic activity--
airing, cleaning, brightening. For a few days there would be no
servant; Mary, after her long leisure down in Cornwall, enjoyed the
prospect of doing all the work herself. They had reached London last
evening, and had slept at a family hotel, where Nancy remained until
the house was in order for her.
Unhappily, their arrival timed with a change of weather, which
brought clouds and rain. The glories of an unshadowed sky would have
little more than availed to support Nancy's courage as she passed
the creaking little gate and touched the threshold of a home to
which she returned only on compulsion; gloom overhead, and puddles
underfoot, tried her spirit sorely. She had a pale face, and thin
cheeks, and moved with languid step.
Her first glance was at the letter-box.
Mary shook her head. During their absence letters had been
re-addressed by the post-office, and since the notice of return
nothing had come.
'I'm quite sure a letter has been lost.'
'Yes, it may have been. But there'll be an answer to your last very
'I don't think so. Most likely I shall never hear again.'
And Nancy sat by the window of the front room, looking, as she had
looked so many a time, at the lime tree opposite and the house
visible through wet branches. A view unchanged since she could
remember; recalling all her old ambitions, revolts, pretences, and
ignorances; recalling her father, who from his grave still oppressed
her living heart.
Somewhere near sounded the wailing shout of a dustman. It was like
the voice of a soul condemned to purge itself in filth.
'Mary!' She rose up and went to the kitchen. 'I can't live here! It
will kill me if I have to live in this dreadful place. Why, even you
have been crying; I can see you have. If _you_ give way, think what
it must be to me!'
'It's only for a day or two, dear,' answered Mary. 'We shall feel at
home again very soon. Miss. Morgan will come this evening, and
perhaps your brother.'
'I must do something. Give me some work.'
Mary could not but regard this as a healthy symptom, and she
suggested tasks that called for moderate effort. Sick of reading--
she had read through a whole circulating library in the past six
months--Nancy bestirred herself about the house; but she avoided
her father's room.
Horace did not come to-day; a note arrived from him, saying that he
would call early to-morrow morning. But at tea-time Jessica
presented herself. She looked less ghostly than half a year ago; the
grave illness through which she had passed seemed to have been
helpful to her constitution. Yet she was noticeably changed. In her
letters Nancy had remarked an excessive simplicity, a sort of
childishness, very unlike Jessica's previous way of writing; and the
same peculiarity now appeared in her conversation. By turns she was
mawkish and sprightly, tearful and giggling. Her dress, formerly
neglected to the point of untidiness, betrayed a new-born taste for
fashionable equipment; she suddenly drew attention to it in the
midst of serious talk, asking with a bashful smirk whether Nancy
thought it suited her.
'I got it at Miss. French's place--the Association, you know. It's
really wonderful how cheap things are there. And the very best cut,
by dressmakers from Paris.'
Nancy wondered, and felt that her diminishing regard for Miss. Morgan
had suffered a fresh blow.
There was much news to receive and impart. In writing from Falmouth,
Nancy had referred to the details of her own life with studied
ambiguity. She regretted having taken Jessica into her confidence,
and avoided penning a word which, if read by any one but her
correspondent, would betray the perilous secret. Jessica, after her
illness, was inclined to resent this extreme caution, which
irritated her curiosity; but in vain she assured Nancy that there
was not the least fear of her letters falling into wrong hands. For
weeks at a time she heard nothing, and then would come a letter,
long indeed, but without a syllable of the information she desired.
Near the end of May she received a line or two, 'I have been really
ill, but am now much better. I shall stay here only a few weeks
more. Don't be anxious; I am well cared for, and the worst is over.'
She heard the interpretation from Nancy's lips, and laughed and
cried over it.
'What you must have suffered, my poor dear! And to be separated from
the little darling! Oh, it's too cruel! You are sure they will be
kind to it?'
'Mary has every confidence in the woman. And I like the look of her;
I don't feel uneasy. I shall go there very often, of course.'
'And when is _he_ coming back? He oughtn't to have kept away all
this time. How unkind!'
'Not at all,' Nancy replied, with sudden reserve. 'He is acting for
the best. You mustn't ask me about that; you shall know more some
Jessica, whose face made legible presentment of her every thought,
looked disappointed and peevish.
'And you are really going in for the examination again?' Nancy
'Oh, of course I am!' answered the other perkily; 'but not till
summer of next year. I'm not allowed to study much yet; the doctor
says I might do my brain a serious injury. I read a great deal;
books that rest the mind--poetry and fiction; of course only the
very best fiction. I shall soon be able to begin teaching again; but
I must be very careful. Only an hour or two a day at first, and
perhaps quite young children.'
Evidently the girl felt a certain pride in what she had undergone.
Her failure to matriculate was forgotten in the sense that she
offered a most interesting case of breakdown from undue mental
exertion. The doctor had declared his astonishment that she held up
until the examination was over.
'He simply wouldn't believe me when I told him the hours I worked.
He said I ought to be on my trial for attempted suicide!'
And she laughed with extravagant conceit.
'You have quite made friends with the Barmbys,' said Nancy, eyeing
'They are very nice people. Of course the girls quite understand
what a difference there is between themselves and me. I like them
because they are so modest; they would never think of contradicting
my opinion about anything.'
'And what about the Prophet?'
'I don't think you ever quite understood him,' Jessica replied, with
an obvious confusion which perplexed her friend. 'He isn't at all
the kind of man you thought.'
'No doubt I was wrong,' Nancy hastened to say. 'It was prejudice.
And you remember that I never had any fault to find with his--his
'You disliked him,' said the other sharply. 'And you still dislike
him. I'm sure you do.'
So plainly did Jessica desire a confirmation of this statement, that
Nancy allowed herself to be drawn into half avowing a positive
dislike for Samuel. Whereupon Jessica looked pleased, and tossed her
head in a singular way.
'I needn't remind you,' fell from Nancy, after a moment of troubled
reflection, 'how careful you must be in talking about me to the
'Oh, don't have the slightest fear.'
'Weren't you delirious in your illness?'
'I should think I was indeed! For a long time.'
'I hope you said nothing--'
'About you? Oh, not a word; I'm quite sure. I talked all the time
about my studies. The doctor heard me one day repeating a long bit
of Virgil. And I kept calling for bits of paper to work out problems
in Geometrical Progression. Just fancy! I don't think most girls are
delirious in that way. If I had said anything about you that sounded
queer, of course mother would have told me afterwards. Oh, it was
quite an intellectual delirium.'
Had Jessica, since her illness, become an insufferable simpleton? or
--Nancy wondered--was it she herself who, through experience and
sorrows, was grown wiser, and saw her friend in a new light? It
troubled her gravely that the preservation of a secret more than
ever momentous should depend upon a person with so little sense. The
girl's departure was a relief; but in the silence that followed upon
silly talk, she had leisure to contemplate this risk, hitherto
scarce taken into account. She spoke of it with Mary, the one friend
to whom her heart went out in absolute trust, from whom she
concealed but few of her thoughts, and whose moral worth, only
understood since circumstances compelled her reliance upon it, had
set before her a new ideal of life. Mary, she well knew, abhorred
the deceit they were practising, and thought hard things of the man
who made it a necessity; so it did not surprise her that the devoted
woman showed no deep concern at a new danger.
'It's more the shame than anything else, that I fear now,' said
Nancy. 'If I have to support myself and my child, I shall do it.
How, I don't know; but other women find a way, and I should. If he
deserts me, I am not such a poor creature as to grieve on that
account; I should despise him too much even to hate him. But the
shame of it would be terrible. It's common, vulgar cheating--such
as you read of in the newspapers--such as people are punished for.
I never thought of it in that way when he was here. Yet he felt it.
He spoke of it like that, but I wouldn't listen.'
Mary heard this with interest.
'Did he wish you to give it up?' she asked. 'You never told me
'He said he would rather we did. But that was when he had never
thought of being in want himself. Afterwards--yes, even then he
spoke in the same way; but what could we do?'
'Don't fear that he will forsake you,' said Mary. 'You will hear
from him very soon. He knows the right and the wrong, and right will
be stronger with him in the end.'
'If only I were sure that he has heard of his child's birth. If he
_has_, and won't even write to me, then he is no man, and it's
better we should never see each other again.'
She knew the hours of postal delivery, and listened with throbbing
heart to the double knocks at neighbouring houses. When the last
postman was gone by, she sat down, sick with disappointment.
At bedtime she said to Mary, 'My little baby is asleep; oh, if I
could but see it for a moment!' And tears choked her as she turned
It was more than two months since she had heard from her husband.
At first Tarrant wrote as frequently as he had promised. She learnt
speedily of his arrival at New York, then that he had reached
Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, then that he was with his friend
Sutherland on the little island amid the coral reefs. Subsequent
letters, written in buoyant spirits, contained long descriptions of
the scenery about him, and of the life he led. He expressed a firm
confidence in Sutherland's enterprises; beyond a doubt, there was no
end of money to be made by an energetic man; he should report most
favourably to Mr. Vawdrey, whose co-operation would of course be
invaluable. For his own part, whether he profited or not from these
commercial schemes, he had not been mistaken in foreseeing material
for journalism, even for a book. Yes, he should certainly write a
book on the Bahamas, if only to expose the monstrous system of
misgovernment which accounted for the sterility into which these
islands had fallen. The climate, in winter at all events, was
superb. Sutherland and he lay about in delicious sunshine, under a
marvellous sky, smoking excellent cigars, and talking over old
Oxford days. He quoted Tennyson: 'Larger constellations burning,'
At the end of December, when Nancy, according to their agreement,
began to hope for his return, a letter in a very different tone
burdened her with dismal doubts. Tarrant had quarrelled with his
friend. He had discovered that Sutherland was little better than a
swindler. 'I see that the fellow's professed energy was all sham. He
is the laziest scamp imaginable; lazier even than his boozing old
father. He schemes only to get money out of people; and his
disappointment on finding that _I_ have no money to lose, has shown
itself at length in very gross forms. I find he is a gambler; there
has just been a tremendous row between him and an American, whom he
is said to have cheated at cards. Last year he was for several weeks
in Mexico City, a place notorious for gambling, and there lost a
large sum of money that didn't belong to him.' The upshot was that
he could no longer advise Mr. Vawdrey to have anything to do with
Sutherland. But he must not leave the Bahamas yet; that would be
most unwise, as he was daily gathering most valuable information.
Vawdrey might be induced to lend him a hundred pounds or so. But he
would write again very soon.
It was the close of January when he dated his next letter. Vawdrey
had sent him fifty pounds; this, however, was to include the cost of
his return to England. 'See, then, what I have decided. I shall make
a hurried tour through the West Indian Islands, then cross to the
States, and travel by land to New York or Boston, seeing all I can
afford to on the way. If I have to come home as a steerage
passenger, never mind; that, too, will be valuable experience.'
There followed many affectionate phrases, but Nancy's heart remained
He wrote next from Washington, after six weeks' silence.
Difficulties of which he would speak at length in another letter had
caused him to postpone answering the two letters he had received.
Nancy must never lose faith in him; his love was unshaken; before
the birth of her child he would assuredly be back in England. Let
her address to New York. He was well, but could not pretend to be
very cheerful. However, courage! He had plans and hopes, of which
she should soon hear.
After that, Nancy knew nothing of him, save that he was living in
New York. He wrote two or three times, but briefly, always promising
details in the next epistle. Then he ceased to correspond. Not even
the announcement of the child's birth elicited a word from him. One
subsequent letter had Nancy despatched; this unanswered, she would
write no more.
She was herself surprised at the calmness with which she faced so
dreadful a possibility as desertion by the man she had loved and
married, the father of her baby. It meant, perhaps, that she could
not believe such fate had really befallen her. Even in Tarrant's
last short letter sounded a note of kindness, of truthfulness,
incompatible, it seemed to her, with base cruelty. 'I dreamt of you
last night, dearest, and woke up with a heart that ached for your
suffering.' How could a man pen those words, and be meditating
dastardly behaviour to the woman he addressed? Was he ill, then? or
had fatal accident befallen him? She feared such explanation only in
her weakest moments. If, long ago, he could keep silence for six
weeks at a time, why not now for months? As for the news she had
sent him--does a man think it important that a little child has
been born into the world? Likely enough that again he merely
'postponed' writing. Of course he no longer loved her, say what he
might; at most he thought of her with a feeling of compassion--not
strong enough to overcome his dislike of exertion. He would come
back--when it pleased him.
Nancy would not sully her mind by thinking that he might only return
when her position made it worth his while. He was not a man of that
stamp. Simply, he had ceased to care for her; and having no means of
his own, whilst she was abundantly provided, he yielded to the
temptation to hold aloof from a woman whose claim upon him grew
burdensome. Her thoughts admitted no worse accusation than this. Did
any grave ill befall her; if, for instance, the fact of her marriage
became known, and she were left helpless; her letter to New York
would not be disregarded. To reflect thus signified a mental balance
rare in women, and remarkable in one situated as Nancy was. She
talked with her companion far less consistently, for talk served to
relieve the oppression of her heart and mind.
When, next morning, Horace entered the sitting-room, brother and
sister viewed each other with surprise. Neither was prepared for the
outward change wrought in both by the past half-year. Nancy looked
what she in truth had become, a matronly young woman, in uncertain
health, and possessed by a view of life too grave for her years;
Horace, no longer a mere lad, exhibited in sunken cheeks and eyes
bright with an unhappy recklessness, the acquisition of experience
which corrupts before it can mature. Moving to offer her lips, Nancy
was checked by the young man's exclamation.
'What on earth has been the matter with you? I never saw any one so
His voice, with its deepened note, and the modification of his very
accent, due to novel circumstances, checked the hearer's
affectionate impulse. If not unfeeling, the utterance had nothing
fraternal. Deeply pained, and no less alarmed by this warning of the
curiosity her appearance would excite in all who knew her, Nancy
made a faltering reply.
'Why should you seem astonished? You know very well I have had an
'But what sort of illness? What caused it? You used always to be
'You had better go and talk to my medical attendant,' said Nancy, in
a cold, offended voice.
Horace resumed with irritability.
'Isn't it natural for me to ask such questions? You're not a bit
like yourself. And what did you mean by telling me you were coming
back at once, when I wanted to join you at Falmouth?'
'I meant to. But after all, I had to stay longer.'
'Oh well, it's nothing to me.'
They had not even shaken hands, and now felt no desire to correct
the omission, which was at first involuntary. Horace seemed to have
lost all the amiability of his nature; he looked about him with
restless, excited eyes.
'Are you in a hurry?' asked his sister, head erect.
'No hurry that I know of.--You haven't heard what's been going
'Of course it won't interest you. There's something about you I
can't understand. Is it father's will that has spoilt your temper,
and made you behave so strangely?'
'It is not _my_ temper that's spoilt. And as for behaving strangely--.'
She made an effort to command herself. 'Sit down, Horace, and
let me know what is the matter with you. Why we should be
unfriendly, I really can't imagine. I have suffered from ill health,
that's all. I'm sorry I behaved in that way when you talked of
coming to Falmouth; it wasn't meant as you seem to think. Tell me
what you have to tell.'
He could not take a reposeful attitude, but, after struggling with
some reluctance, began to explain the agitation that beset him.
'Mrs. Damerel has done something I didn't think any woman would be
capable of. For months she has been trying to ruin Fanny, and now it
has come--she has succeeded. She made no secret of wanting to
break things off between her and me, but I never thought her
plotting could go as far as this. Fanny has run away--gone to the
Continent with a man Mrs. Damerel introduced to her.'
'Perhaps they are married,' said Nancy, with singular impulsiveness.
'Of course they're not. It's a fellow I knew to be a scoundrel the
first time I set eyes on him. I warned Fanny against him, and I told
Mrs. Damerel that I should hold her responsible if any harm came of
the acquaintance she was encouraging between him and Fanny. She did
encourage it, though she pretended not to. Her aim was to separate
me and Fanny--she didn't care how.'
He spoke in a high, vehement note; his cheeks flushed violently, his
clenched fist quivered at his side.
'How do you know where she is gone?' Nancy asked.
'She as good as told her sister that she was going to Brussels with
some one. Then one day she disappeared, with her luggage. And that
fellow--Mankelow's his name--has gone too. He lived in the same
boarding-house with Mrs. Damerel.'
'That is all the evidence you have?'
'Quite enough,' he replied bitterly.
'It doesn't seem so to me. But suppose you're right, what proof have
you that Mrs. Damerel had anything to do with it? If she is our
mother's sister--and you say there can be no doubt of it--I
won't believe that she could carry out such a hateful plot as this.'
'What does it matter who she is? I would swear fifty times that she
has done it. You know very well, when you saw her, you disliked her
at once. You were right in that, and I was wrong.'
'I can't be sure. Perhaps it was she that disliked me, more than I
did her. For one thing, I don't believe that people make such plots.
And what plotting was needed? Couldn't any one have told you what a
girl like Fanny French would do if she lost her head among people of
a higher class?'
'Then Mrs. Damerel must have foreseen it. That's just what I say. She
pretended to be a friend to the girl, on purpose to ruin her.'
'Have you accused her of it?'
'Yes, I have.' His eyes flashed. Nancy marvelled at this fire, drawn
from a gentle nature by what seemed to her so inadequate, so
contemptible a cause. 'Of course she denied it, and got angry with
me; but any one could see she was glad of what had happened. There's
an end between us, at all events. I shall never go to see her again;
she's a woman who thinks of nothing but money and fashion. I dislike
her friends, every one of them I've met. I told her that what she
had done ought to be a punishable crime.'
Nancy reflected, then said quietly:
'Whether you are right or wrong, I don't think you would have got
any good from her. But will you tell me what you are going to do? I
told you that I thought borrowing money only to live on it in
idleness was very foolish.'
Her brother stiffened his neck.
'You must allow me to judge for myself.'
'But have you judged for yourself? Wasn't it by Mrs. Damerel's advice
that you gave up business?'
'Partly. But I should have done it in any case.'
'Have you any plans?'
'No, I haven't,' he answered. 'You can't expect a man to have plans
whose life has been thoroughly upset.'
Nancy, reminded of his youthfulness by the tone in which he called
himself a 'man,' experienced a revival of natural feeling. Though
revolting against the suggestion that a woman akin to them had been
guilty of what her brother believed, she was glad to think that
Fanny French had relinquished all legitimate claim upon him, and
that his connection with 'smart' society had come to an end. Obvious
enough were the perils of his situation, and she, as elder sister,
recognised a duty towards him; she softened her voice, and
endeavoured to re-establish the confidence of old time. Impossible
at once, though with resolution she might ultimately succeed.
Horace, at present, was a mere compound of agitated and inflamed
senses. The life he had been leading appeared in a vicious
development of his previously harmless conceit and egoism. All his
characteristics had turned out, as it were, the seamy side; and
Nancy with difficulty preserved her patience as he showed point
after point of perverted disposition. The result of their talk was a
careless promise from Horace that he would come to Grove Lane not
seldomer than once a week.
He stayed only an hour, resisting Nancy's endeavour to detain him at
least for the mid-day meal. To Mary he spoke formally, awkwardly, as
though unable to accept her position in the house, and then made his
escape like one driven by an evil spirit.
With the clearing of the sky, Nancy's spirit grew lighter. She went
about London, and enjoyed it after her long seclusion in the little
Cornish town; enjoyed, too, her release from manifold restraints and
perils. Her mental suffering had made the physical harder to bear;
she was now recovering health of mind and body, and found with
surprise that life had a new savour, independent of the timorous joy
born with her child. Strangely, as it seemed to her, she grew
conscious of a personal freedom not unlike what she had vainly
desired in the days of petulant girlhood; the sense came only at
moments, but was real and precious; under its influence she forgot
everything abnormal in her situation, and--though without
recognising this significance--knew the exultation of a woman who
has justified her being.
A day or two of roaming at large gave her an appetite for activity.
Satisfied that her child was safe and well cared for, she turned her
eyes upon the life of the world, and wished to take some part in it
--not the part she had been wont to picture for herself before
reality supplanted dreams. Horace's example on the one hand, and
that of Jessica Morgan on the other, helped her to contemn mere
social excitement and the idle vanity which formerly she styled
pursuit of culture. Must there not be discoverable, in the world to
which she had, or could obtain, access, some honest, strenuous
occupation, which would hold in check her unprofitable thoughts and
soothe her self-respect?
That her fraud, up to and beyond the crucial point, had escaped
detection, must be held so wonderful, that she felt justified in an
assurance of impunity. The narrowest escape of which she was aware
had befallen only a few weeks ago. On the sixth day after the birth
of the child, there was brought to her lodgings at Falmouth a note
addressed to 'Miss. Lord.' Letters bearing this address had arrived
frequently, and by the people of the house were supposed to be for
Mary Woodruff, who went by the name of 'Miss. Lord,' Nancy having
disguised herself as 'Mrs. Woodruff;' but they had always come by
post, and the present missive must be from some acquaintance
actually in the town. Nancy could not remember the handwriting.
Breaking open the envelope as she lay in bed, she saw with alarm the
signature 'Luckworth Crewe.' He was at Falmouth on business, Crewe
wrote, and, before leaving London, he had ventured to ask Miss
Lord's address from her brother, whom he casually met somewhere.
Would Nancy allow him to see her, were it but for a minute or two?
Earnestly he besought this favour. He desired nothing more than to
see Miss. Lord, and to speak with her in the way of an ordinary
acquaintance. After all this time, she had, he felt sure, forgiven
his behaviour at their last meeting. Only five minutes of
All seemed lost. Nancy was silent in despair. But Mary faced the
perilous juncture, and, to all appearances, averted catastrophe. She
dressed herself, and went straight to the hotel where Crewe had put
up, and where he awaited an answer. Having made known who she was,
she delivered a verbal message: Miss. Lord was not well enough to see
any one to-day, and, in any case, she could not have received Mr
Crewe; she begged him to pardon her; before long, they might perhaps
meet in London, but, for her own part, she wished Mr. Crewe would
learn to regard her as a stranger. Of course there followed a
dialogue; and Mary, seeming to speak with all freedom, convinced
Crewe that his attempt to gain an interview was quite hopeless. She
gave him much information concerning her mistress--none of it
false, but all misleading--and in the end had to resist an offer
of gold coins, pressed upon her as a bribe for her good word with
The question was--had Crewe been content to leave Falmouth without
making inquiries of other people? To a man of his experience,
nothing was easier than such investigation. But, with other grounds
of anxiety, this had ceased to disturb Nancy's mind. Practically,
she lived as though all danger were at an end. The task immediately
before her seemed very simple; she had only to resume the old
habits, and guard against thoughtless self-betrayal in her everyday
talk. The chance that any one would discover her habit of visiting a
certain house at the distance of several miles from Camberwell, was
too slight for consideration.
She wrote to Mr. Barmby, senior, informing him of her return, in
improved health, to Grove Lane, and thanking him once more for his
allowing her to make so long a stay in Cornwall. If he wished to see
her, she would be at home at any time convenient to him. In a few
days the old gentleman called, and for an hour or two discoursed
well-meaning commonplace. He was sorry to observe that she looked a
trifle pale; in the autumn she must go away again, and to a more
bracing locality--he would suggest Broadstairs, which had always
exercised the most beneficial effect upon his own health. Above all,
he begged her to refrain from excessive study, most deleterious to a
female constitution. Then he asked questions about Horace, and
agreed with Nancy that the young man ought to decide upon some new
pursuit, if he had definitely abandoned the old; lack of steady
occupation was most deleterious at his age. In short, Mr. Barmby
rather apologised for his guardianship than sought to make assertion
of it; and Nancy, by a few feminine devices, won a better opinion
than she had hitherto enjoyed. On the day following, Samuel Barmby
and his sisters waited upon Miss. Lord; all three were surprisingly
solemn, and Samuel talked for the most part of a 'paragraph' he had
recently read, which stated that the smoke of London, if properly
utilised, would be worth a vast sum of money. 'The English are a
wasteful people,' was his conclusion; to which Nancy assented with a
face as grave as his own.
Not a little to her astonishment, the next day brought her a long
letter in Samuel's fair commercial hand. It began by assuring her
that the writer had no intention whatever of troubling her with the
renewal of a suit so firmly rejected on more than one occasion; he
wished only to take this opportunity of her return from a long
absence to express the abiding nature of his devotion, which years
hence would be unbroken as to-day. He would never distress her by
unwelcome demonstrations; possibly she might never again hear from
his lips what he now committed to paper. Enough for him, Samuel, to
cherish a love which could not but exalt and purify him, which was
indeed, 'in the words of Shakespeare, "a liberal education."' In
recompense of his self-command, he only besought that Miss. Lord
would allow him, from time to time, to look upon her face, and to
converse with her of intellectual subjects. 'A paper,' he added,
'which I read last week at our Society, is now being printed--
solely at the request of friends. The subject is one that may
interest you, "The Influence of Culture on Morality." I beg that you
will accept the copy I shall have the pleasure of sending you, and
that, at some future date, you will honour me with your remarks
Which epistle Nancy cruelly read aloud to Mary, with a sprightliness
and sarcastic humour not excelled by her criticisms of 'the Prophet'
in days gone by. Mary did not quite understand, but she saw in this
behaviour a proof of the wonderful courage with which Nancy faced
A week had passed, and no news from America.
'I don't care,' said Nancy. 'Really and truly, I don't care.
Yesterday I never once thought of it--never once looked for the
postman. The worst is over now, and he may write or not, as he
Mary felt sure there would be an explanation of such strange
'Only illness or death would explain it so as to make me forgive
him. But he isn't ill. He is alive, and enjoying himself.'
There was no bitterness in her voice. She seemed to have outlived
all sorrows and anxieties relative to her husband.
Mary suggested that it was always possible to call at Mr. Vawdrey's
house and make inquiries of Mrs. Baker.
'No, I won't do that. Other women would do it, but I won't. So long
as I mayn't tell the truth, I should only set them talking about me;
you know how. I see the use, now, of having a good deal of pride.
I'm only sorry for those letters I wrote when I wasn't in my senses.
If he writes now, I shall not answer. He shall know that I am as
independent as he is. What a blessed thing it is for a woman to have
money of her own! It's because most women haven't, that they're such
poor, wretched slaves.'
'If he knew you were in want,' said her companion, 'he would never
have behaved like this.'
'Who can say?--No, I won't pretend to think worse of him than I
do. You're quite right. He wouldn't leave his wife to starve. It's
certain that he hears about me from some one. If I were found out,
and lost everything, some one would let him know. But I wouldn't
accept support from him, now. He might provide for his child, but he
shall never provide for me, come what may--never!'
It was in the evening, after dinner. Nancy had a newspaper, and was
reading the advertisements that offered miscellaneous employment.
'What do you think this can be?' she asked, looking up after a long
silence. '"To ladies with leisure. Ladies desiring to add to their
income by easy and pleasant work should write"'--&c. &c.
'I've no faith in those kind of advertisements,' said Mary.
'No; of course it's rubbish. There's no easy and pleasant way of
earning money; only silly people expect it. And I don't want
anything easy or pleasant. I want honest hard work. Not work with my
hands--I'm not suited for that, but real work, such as lots of
educated girls are doing. I'm quite willing to pay for learning it;
most likely I shall have to. Who could I write to for advice?'
They were sitting upstairs, and so did not hear a visitor's knock
that sounded at the front door. The servant came and announced that
Miss. French wished to see Miss. Lord.
'Miss. French? Is it the younger Miss. French?'
The girl could not say; she had repeated the name given to her.
Nancy spoke to her friend in a low voice.
'It may be Fanny. I don't think Beatrice would call, unless it's to
say something about her sister. She had better come up here, I
Mary retired, and in a few moments there entered, not Fanny, but
Beatrice. She was civilly, not cordially, welcomed. Her eye, as she
spoke the words natural at such a meeting, dwelt with singular
persistency on Nancy's face.
'You are quite well again?'
'Quite, thank you.'
'It has been a troublesome illness, I'm afraid.'
Nancy hesitated, detecting a peculiarity of look and tone which
caused her uneasiness.
'I had a sort of low fever--was altogether out of sorts--"below
par," the doctor said. Are you all well?'
Settling herself comfortably, as if for a long chat, Beatrice
sketched with some humour the course of recent events in De
'I'm out of it all, thank goodness. I prefer a quiet life. Then
there's Fanny. You know all about _her_, I dare say?'
'Nothing at all,' Nancy replied distantly.
'But your brother does. Hasn't he been to see you yet?'
Nancy was in no mood to submit to examination.
'Whatever I may have heard, I know nothing about Fanny's, affairs,
and, really, they don't concern me.
'I should have thought they might,' rejoined the other, smiling
absently. 'She has run away from her friends'--a pause--'and is
living somewhere rather mysteriously'--another pause--'and I
think it more than likely that she's _married_.'
The listener preserved a face of indifference, though the lines were
'Doesn't that interest you?' asked Beatrice, in the most genial
'If it's true,' was the blunt reply.
'You mean, you are glad if she has married somebody else, and not
'Yes, I am glad of that.'
Beatrice mused, with wrinkles at the corner of her eye. Then, fixing
Nancy with a very keen look, she said quietly:
'I'm not sure that she's married. But if she isn't, no doubt she
ought to be.'
On Nancy's part there was a nervous movement, but she said nothing.
Her face grew rigid.
'I have an idea who the man is,' Miss. French pursued; 'but I can't
be quite certain. One has heard of similar cases. Even _you_ have,
'I don't care to talk about it,' fell mechanically from Nancy's
lips, which had lost their colour.
'But I've come just for that purpose.'
The eyes of mocking scrutiny would not be resisted. They drew a gaze
from Nancy, and then a haughty exclamation.
'I don't understand you. Please say whatever you have to say in
'Don't be angry with me. You were always too ready at taking
offence. I mean it in quite a friendly way; you can trust me; I'm
not one of the women that chatter. Don't you think you ought to
sympathise a little with Fanny? She has gone to Brussels, or
somewhere about there. But she _might_ have gone down into Cornwall
--to a place like Falmouth. It was quite far enough off--don't
Nancy was stricken mute, and her countenance would no longer
disguise what she suffered.
'No need to upset yourself,' pursued the other in smiling
confidence. 'I mean no harm. I'm curious, that's all; just want to
know one or two things. We're old friends, and whatever you tell me
will go no further, depend upon that.'
'What do you mean?'
The words came from lips that moved with difficulty. Beatrice, still
smiling, bent forward.
'Is it any one that I know?'
'Any one--? Who--?'
'That made it necessary for you to go down into Cornwall, my dear.'
Nancy heaved a sigh, the result of holding her breath too long. She
half rose, and sat down again. In a torture of flashing thoughts,
she tried to determine whether Beatrice had any information, or
spoke conjecturally. Yet she was able to discern that either case
meant disaster; to have excited the suspicions of such a person, was
the same as being unmasked; an inquiry at Falmouth, and all would at
once be known.
No, not all. Not the fact of her marriage; not the name of her
Driven to bay by such an opponent, she assumed an air wholly
unnatural to her--one of cynical effrontery.
'You had better say what you know.'
'All right. Who was the father of the child born not long ago?'
'That's asking a question.'
'And telling what I know at the same time. It saves breath.'
Beatrice laughed; and Nancy, become a mere automaton, laughed too.
'That's more like it,' said Miss. French cheerfully. 'Now we shall
get on together. It's very shocking, my dear. A person of my strict
morality hardly knows how to look you in the face. Perhaps you had
rather I didn't try. Very well. Now tell me all about it,
comfortably. I have a guess, you know.'
'What is it?'
'Wait a little. I don't want to be laughed at. Is it any one I
'You have never seen him, and I dare say never heard of him.'
Beatrice stared incredulously.
'I wouldn't tell fibs, Nancy.'
'I'm telling the truth.'
'It's very queer, then.'
'Who did you think--?'
The speaking automaton, as though by defect of mechanism, stopped
'Look straight at me. I shouldn't have been surprised to hear that
it was Luckworth Crewe.'
Nancy's defiant gaze, shame in anguish shielding itself with the
front of audacity, changed to utter astonishment. The blood rushed
back into her cheeks; she voiced a smothered exclamation of scorn.
'The father of my child? Luckworth Crewe?'
'I thought it not impossible,' said Beatrice, plainly baffled.
'It was like you.' Nancy gave a hard laugh. 'You judged me by
yourself. Have another guess!'
Surprised both at the denial, so obviously true, and at the
unexpected tone with which Nancy was meeting her attack, Miss. French
'It's no use guessing,' she said at length, with complete
good-humour. 'I don't know of any one else.'
'Very well. You can't expect me to tell you.'
'As you please. It's a queer thing; I felt pretty sure. But if
you're telling the truth, I don't care a rap who the man is.'
'You can rest in peace,' said Nancy, with careless scorn.
'Any way of convincing me, except by saying it?'
'Yes. Wait here a moment.'
She left the room, and returned with the note which Crewe had
addressed to her from the hotel at Falmouth.
'Read that, and look at the date.'
Beatrice studied the document, and in silence canvassed the
possibilities of trickery. No; it was genuine evidence. She
remembered the date of Crewe's journey to Falmouth, and, in this new
light, could interpret his quarrelsome behaviour after he had
returned. Only the discovery she had since made inflamed her with a
suspicion which till then had never entered her mind.
'Of course, you didn't let him see you?'
'Of course not.'.
'All right. Don't suppose I wanted to insult you. I took it for
granted you were married. Of course it happened before your father's
death, and his awkward will obliged you to keep it dark?'
Again Nancy was smitten with fear. Deeming Miss. French an
unscrupulous enemy, she felt that to confess marriage was to abandon
every hope. Pride appealed to her courage, bade her, here and now,
have done with the ignoble fraud; but fear proved stronger. She
could not face exposure, and all that must follow.
She spoke coldly, but with down-dropt eyes.
'I am not married.'
The words cost her little effort. Practically, she had uttered them
before; her overbold replies were an admission of what, from the
first, she supposed Beatrice to charge her with--not secret
wedlock, but secret shame. Beatrice, however, had adopted that line
of suggestion merely from policy, hoping to sting the proud girl
into avowal of a legitimate union; she heard the contrary
declaration with fresh surprise.
'I should never have believed it of Miss. Lord,' was her half
ingenuous, half sly comment.
Nancy, beginning to realise what she had done, sat with head bent,
'Don't distress yourself,' continued the other. 'Not a soul will
hear of it from me. If you like to tell me more, you can do it quite
safely; I'm no blabber, and I'm not a rascal. I should never have
troubled to make inquiries about you, down yonder, if it hadn't been
that I suspected Crewe. That's a confession, you know; take it in
return for yours.'
Nancy was tongue-tied. A full sense of her humiliation had burst
upon her. She, who always condescended to Miss. French, now lay
smirched before her feet, an object of vulgar contempt.
'What does it matter?' went on Beatrice genially. 'You've got over
the worst, and very cleverly. Are you going to marry him when you
come in for your money?'
'Perhaps--I don't know--'
She faltered, no longer able to mask in impudence, and hardly
restraining tears. Beatrice ceased to doubt, and could only wonder
'Why shouldn't we be good friends, Nancy? I tell you, I am no
rascal. I never thought of making anything out of your secret--not
I. If it had been Crewe, marriage or no marriage--well, I might
have shown my temper. I believe I have a pretty rough side to my
tongue; but I'm a good enough sort if you take me in the right way.
Of course I shall never rest for wondering who it can be--'
She paused, but Nancy did not look up, did not stir.
'Perhaps you'll tell me some other time. But there's one thing I
should like to ask about, and it's for your own good that I should
know it. When Crewe was down there, don't you think he tumbled to
Perplexed by unfamiliar slang, Nancy raised her eyes.
'Found out anything, you mean? I don't know.'
'But you must have been in a jolly fright about it?'
'I gave it very little thought,' replied Nancy, able now to command
a steady voice, and retiring behind a manner of frigid indifference.
'No? Well, of course I understand that better now I know that you
can't lose anything. Still, it is to be hoped he didn't go asking
questions. By-the-bye, you may as well just tell me: he has asked
you to marry him, hasn't he?'
'Doesn't matter. You needn't be afraid, even if he got hold of
anything. He isn't the kind of man to injure you out of spite.'
'I fear him as little as I fear you.'
'Well, as I've told you, you needn't fear me at all. I like you
better for this--a good deal better than I used to. If you want
any help, you know where to turn; I'll do whatever I can for you;
and I'm in the way of being useful to my friends. You're cut up just
now; it's natural. I won't bother you any longer. But just remember
what I've said. If I can be of any service, don't be above making
use of me.'
Nancy heard without heeding; for an anguish of shame and misery once
more fell upon her, and seemed to lay waste her soul.
Part V: Compassed Round
There needed not Mary Woodruff's suggestion to remind Nancy that no
further away than Champion Hill were people of whom, in extremity,
she might inquire concerning her husband. At present, even could she
have entertained the thought, it seemed doubtful whether the Vawdrey
household knew more of Tarrant's position and purposes than she
herself; for, only a month ago, Jessica Morgan had called upon the
girls and had ventured a question about their cousin, whereupon they
answered that he was in America, but that he had not written for a
long time. To Mrs. Baker, Jessica did not like to speak on the
subject, but probably that lady could have answered only as the
Once, indeed, a few days after her return, Nancy took the familiar
walk along Champion Hill, and glanced, in passing, at Mr. Vawdrey's
house; afterwards, she shunned that region. The memories it revived
were infinitely painful. She saw herself an immature and foolish
girl, behaving in a way which, for all its affectation of reserve
and dignity, no doubt offered to such a man as Lionel Tarrant a hint
that here, if he chose, he might make a facile conquest. Had he not
acted upon the hint? It wrung her heart with shame to remember how,
in those days, she followed the lure of a crude imagination. A year
ago? Oh, a lifetime!
Unwilling, now, to justify herself with the plea of love; doubtful,
in very truth, whether her passion merited that name; she looked
back in the stern spirit of a woman judging another's frailty. What
treatment could she have anticipated at the hands of her lover save
that she had received? He married her--it was much; he forsook her
--it was natural. The truth of which she had caught troublous
glimpses in the heyday of her folly now stood revealed as pitiless
condemnation. Tarrant never respected her, never thought of her as a
woman whom he could seriously woo and wed. She had a certain power
over his emotions, and not the sensual alone; but his love would not
endure the test of absence. From the other side of the Atlantic he
saw her as he had seen her at first, and shrank from returning to
the bondage which in a weak moment he had accepted.
One night about this time she said to herself:
'I was his mistress, never his wife.'
And all her desperate endeavours to obscure the history of their
love, to assert herself as worthy to be called wife, mother, had
fallen fruitless. Those long imploring letters, despatched to
America from her solitude by the Cornish sea, elicited nothing but a
word or two which sounded more like pity than affection. Pity does
not suffice to recall the wandering steps of a man wedded against
In her heart, she absolved him of all baseness. The man of ignoble
thought would have been influenced by her market value as a wife.
Tarrant, all the more because he was reduced to poverty, would
resolutely forget the crude advantage of remaining faithful to her.
Herein Nancy proved herself more akin to her father than she had
ever seemed when Stephen Lord sought eagerly in her character for
The severity of her self-judgment, and the indulgence tempering her
attitude towards Tarrant, declared a love which had survived its
phase of youthful passion. But Nancy did not recognise this symptom
of moral growth. She believed herself to have become indifferent to
her husband, and only wondered that she did not hate him. Her heart
seemed to spend all its emotion on the little being to whom she had
given life--a healthy boy, who already, so she fancied, knew a
difference between his mother and his nurse, and gurgled a peculiar
note of contentment when lying in her arms. Whether wife or not, she
claimed every privilege of motherhood. Had the child been a
weakling, she could not have known this abounding solace: the defect
would have reproached her. But from the day of his birth he
manifested so vigorous a will to live, clung so hungrily to the
fountain-breast, kicked and clamoured with such irresistible
self-assertion, that the mother's pride equalled her tenderness. 'My
own brave boy! My son!' Wonderful new words: honey upon the lips and
rapture to the ear. She murmured them as though inspired with speech
never uttered by mortal.
The interval of a day between her journeys to see the child taxed
her patience; but each visit brought a growth of confidence. No harm
would befall him: Mary had chosen wisely.
Horace kept aloof and sent no message. When at length she wrote to
him a letter all of sisterly kindness, there came a stinted reply.
He said that he was going away for a holiday, and might be absent
until September. 'Don't bother about me. You shall hear again before
long. There's just a chance that I may go in for business again,
with prospect of making money. Particulars when I see you.'
Nancy found this note awaiting her after a day's absence from home,
and with it another. To her surprise, Mrs. Damerel had written. 'I
called early this afternoon, wishing particularly to see you. Will
you please let me know when I should find you at home? It is about
Horace that I want to speak.' It began with 'My dear Nancy,' and
ended, 'Yours affectionately.' Glad of the opportunity thus offered,
she answered at once, making an appointment for the next day.
When Mrs. Damerel came, Nancy was even more struck than at their
former meeting with her resemblance to Horace. Eyes and lips
recalled Horace at every moment. This time, the conversation began
more smoothly. On both sides appeared a disposition to friendliness,
though Nancy only marked her distrust in the hope of learning more
about this mysterious relative and of being useful to her brother.
'You have a prejudice against me,' said the visitor, when she had
inquired concerning Nancy's health. 'It's only natural. I hardly
seem to you a real relative, I'm afraid--you know so little about
me; and now Horace has been laying dreadful things to my charge.'
'He thinks you responsible for what has happened to Fanny French,'
Nancy replied, in an impartial voice.
'Yes, and I assure you he is mistaken. Miss. French deceived him and
her own people, leading them to think that she was spending her time
with me, when really she was--who knows where? To you I am quite
ready to confess that I hoped something might come between her and
Horace; but as for plotting--really lam not so melodramatic a
person. All I did in the way of design was to give Horace an
opportunity of seeing the girl in a new light. You can imagine very
well, no doubt, how she conducted herself. I quite believe that
Horace was getting tired and ashamed of her, but then came her
disappearance, and that made him angry with me.'
Even the voice suggested Horace's tones, especially when softened in
familiar dialogue. Nancy paid closer attention to the speaker's
looks and movements than to the matter of what she said. Mrs. Damerel
might possibly be a well-meaning woman--her peculiarities might
result from social habits, and not from insincerity; yet Nancy could
not like her. Everything about her prompted a question and a doubt.
How old was she? Probably much older than she looked. What was her
breeding, her education? Probably far less thorough than she would
have one believe. Was she in good circumstances? Nancy suspected
that her fashionable and expensive dress signified extravagance and
vanity rather than wealth.
'I have brought a letter to show you which she has sent me from
abroad. Read it, and form your own conclusion. Is it the letter of
an injured innocent?'
A scrawl on foreign note-paper, which ran thus:
DEAR MRS DAMEREL,--Just a word to console you for the loss of my
society. I have gone to a better world, so dry your tears. If you
see my masher, tell him I've met with somebody a bit more like a
man. I should advise him to go to school again and finish his
education. I won't trouble you to write. Many thanks for the
kindness you _didn't_ mean to do me.--Yours in the best of spirits
(I don't mean Cognac),
FANNY (_nee_) FRENCH.
Nancy returned the paper with a look of disgust, saying, 'I didn't
think she was as bad as that.'
'No more did I. It really gave me a little shock of surprise.'
'Do you think it likely she is married?'
Mrs. Damerel pursed her lips and arched her eyebrows with so
unpleasant an effect on Nancy that she looked away.
'I have no means whatever of forming an opinion.'
'But there's no more fear for Horace,' said Nancy.
'I hope not--I think not. But my purpose in coming was to consult
with you about the poor boy. He has renounced me; he won't answer my
letters; and I am so dreadfully afraid that a sort of despair--it
sounds ridiculous, but he is so very young--may drive him into
reckless living. You have taken part with him against me, I fear--'
'No, I haven't. I told him I was quite sure the girl had only
herself to blame, whatever happened.'
'How kind of you!' Mrs. Damerel sank her voice to a sort of cooing,
not unmelodious, but to Nancy's ear a hollow affectation. 'If we
could understand each other! I am so anxious for your dear brother's
happiness--and for yours, believe me. I have suffered greatly
since he told me I was his enemy, and cast me off.'
Here sounded a note of pathos which impressed the critical listener.
There was a look, too, in Mrs. Damerel's eyes quite unlike any that
Nancy had yet detected.
'What do you wish him to do?' she asked. 'If I must tell you the
truth, I don't think he'll get any good in the life of society.'
Society's representative answered in a tone of affectionate
'He won't; I can see that. I don't wish him to live idly. The
question is, What ought he to do? I think you know a gentleman of
his acquaintance, Mr. Crewe?'
The question was added rather abruptly, and with a watchful gaze.
'I know him a little.'
'Something has been said, I believe, about Horace investing money in
Mr. Crewe's business. Do you think it would be advisable?'
Surprise kept Nancy silent.
'Is Mr. Crewe trustworthy? I understand he has been in business for
himself only a short time.'
Nancy declared herself unable to judge Mr. Crewe, whether in private
or in commercial life. And here she paused, but could not refrain
from adding the question whether Mrs. Damerel had personal knowledge
'I have met him once.'
Immediately, all Nancy's suspicions were revived. She had felt a
desire to talk of intimate things, with mention of her mother's
name; but the repulsion excited in her by this woman's air of
subtlety, by looks, movements, tones which she did not understand,
forbade it. She could not speak with satisfaction even of Horace,
feeling that Mrs. Damerel's affection, however genuine, must needs be
baleful. From this point her part in the dialogue was slight.
'If any of Miss. French's relatives,' said the visitor presently,
'should accuse me to you, you will be able to contradict them. I am
sure I can depend upon you for that service?'
'I am not likely to see them; and I should have thought you would
care very little what was said about you by people of that kind.'
'I care little enough,' rejoined Mrs. Damerel, with a curl of the
lips. 'It's Horace I am thinking of. These people will embitter him
against me, so long as they have any ground to go upon.'
'But haven't you let him know of that letter?'
Mrs. Damerel seemed to fall into abstraction, answered with a vague
'Yes,' and after surveying the room, said softly:
'So you must live here alone for another two or three years?'
'It isn't compulsory: it's only a condition.'
Another vague 'Yes.' Then:
'I do so wish Horace would come back and make his home here.'
'I'm afraid you have spoilt him for that,' said Nancy, with relief
in this piece of plain speaking.
Mrs. Damerel did not openly resent it. She looked a mild surprise,
and answered blandly:
'Then I must undo the mischief. You shall help me. When he has got
over this little trouble, he will see who are his true friends. Let
us work together for his good.'
Nancy was inclined, once more, to reproach herself, and listened
with patience whilst her relative continued talking in grave kindly
tones. Lest she should spoil the effect of these impressive remarks,
Mrs. Damerel then took leave. In shaking hands, she bent upon the
girl a gaze of affection, and, as she turned away, softly sighed.
Of what had passed in the recent interview with Beatrice French,
Nancy said nothing to her faithful companion. This burden of shame
must be borne by herself alone. It affected profoundly the
courageous mood which had promised to make her life tolerable;
henceforth, she all but abandoned the hope of gaining that end for
which she had submitted to so deep a humiliation. Through Beatrice,
would not her secret, coloured shamefully, become known to Luckworth
Crewe, and to others? Already, perchance, a growing scandal attached
to her name. Fear had enabled her to endure dishonour in the eyes of
one woman, but at any moment the disgrace might front her in an
intolerable shape; then, regardless of the cost, she would proclaim
her marriage, and have, in return for all she had suffered, nothing
but the reproach of an attempted fraud.
To find employment, means of honourable support, was an urgent
She had written in reply to sundry advertisements, but without
result. She tried to draw up an advertisement on her own account,
but found the difficulty insuperable. What was there she could do?
Teach children, perhaps; but as a visiting governess, the only
position of the kind which circumstances left open to her, she could
hope for nothing more than the paltriest remuneration. Be somebody's
'secretary'? That sounded pleasant, but very ambitious: a sense of
incompetency chilled her. In an office, in a shop, who would dream
of giving her an engagement?
Walking about the streets of London in search of suggestions, she
gained only an understanding of her insignificance. In the battle of
life every girl who could work a sewing-machine or make a matchbox
was of more account than she. If she entered a shop to make
purchases, the young women at the counter seemed to smile
superiority. Of what avail her 'education,' her 'culture'? The roar
of myriad industries made mocking laughter at such futile
pretensions. She shrank back into her suburban home.
A little book on 'employments for women,' which she saw advertised
and bought, merely heightened her discouragement. Here, doubtless,
were occupations she might learn; but, when it came to choosing, and
contemplating the practical steps that must be taken, her heart
sank. She was a coward; she dreaded the world; she saw as never yet
the blessedness of having money and a secure home.
The word 'home' grew very sweet to her ears. A man, she said to
herself, may go forth and find his work, his pleasure, in the
highways; but is not a woman's place under the sheltering roof? What
right had a mother to be searching abroad for tasks and duties? Task
enough, duty obvious, in the tending of her child. Had she but a
little country cottage with needs assured, and her baby cradled
beside her, she would ask no more.
How idle all the thoughts of her girlhood! How little she knew of
life as it would reveal itself to her mature eyes!
Fatigued into listlessness, she went to the lending-library, and
chose a novel for an hour's amusement. It happened that this story
was concerned with the fortunes of a young woman who, after many an
affliction sore, discovered with notable suddenness the path to
fame, lucre, and the husband of her heart: she became at a bound a
successful novelist. Nancy's cheek flushed with a splendid thought.
Why should not _she_ do likewise? At all events--for modesty was
now her ruling characteristic--why should she not earn a little
money by writing Stories? Numbers of women took to it; not a few
succeeded. It was a pursuit that demanded no apprenticeship, that
could be followed in the privacy of home, a pursuit wherein her
education would be of service. With imagination already fired by the
optimistic author, she began to walk about the room and devise
romantic incidents. A love story, of course--and why not one very
like her own? The characters were ready to her hands. She would
begin this very evening.
Mary saw the glow upon her face, the delightful frenzy in her eyes,
'I have an idea,' said Nancy. 'Don't ask me about it. Just leave me
alone. I think I see my way.'
Daily she secluded herself for several hours; and, whatever the
literary value of her labour, it plainly kept her in good spirits,
and benefited her health. Save for the visits to her baby, regular
as before, she hardly left home.
Jessica Morgan came very often, much oftener than Nancy desired; not
only was her talk wearisome, but it consumed valuable time. She much
desired to see the baby, and Nancy found it difficult to invent
excuses for her unwillingness. When importunity could not be
otherwise defeated, she pretended a conscientious scruple.
'I have deceived my husband in telling him that no one knows of our
marriage but Mary. If I let you see the child, I should feel that I
was deceiving him again. Don't ask me; I can't.'
Not unnaturally this struck Jessica as far-fetched. She argued
against it, and became petulant. Nancy lost patience, but remembered
in time that she was at Jessica's mercy, and, to her mortification,
had to adopt a coaxing, almost a suppliant, tone, with the result
that Miss. Morgan's overweening conceit was flattered into arrogance.
Her sentimental protestations became strangely mixed with a
self-assertiveness very galling to Nancy's pride. Without the
slightest apparent cause for ill-humour, she said one day:
'I do feel sorry for you; it must be a dreadful thing to have
married a man who has no sense of honour.'
Nancy fired up.
'What do you mean?'
'How can he have, when he makes you deceive people in this way for
the sake of the money he'll get?'
'He doesn't! It's my own choice.'
'Then he oughtn't let you do it. No honourable man would.'
'That has nothing to do with you,' Nancy exclaimed, anger blanching
her cheek. 'Please don't talk about my husband. You say things you
ought to be ashamed of.'
'Oh, don't be angry!' The facile tears started in Jessica's eyes.
'It's because I feel indignant on your account, dear.'
'I don't want your indignation. Never mention this subject again, or
I shall feel sure you do it on purpose to annoy me.'
Jessica melted into mawkishness; none the less, Nancy felt a slave
to her former friend, who, for whatever reason, seemed to have grown
hypocritical and spiteful. When next the girl called, she was told
that Miss. Lord had left home for the day, a fiction which spared
Nancy an hour's torment. Miss. Morgan made up for it by coming very
early on the next Sunday afternoon, and preparing herself avowedly
for a stay until late in the evening. Resolute to avoid a long
_tete-a-tete_, which was sure to exasperate her temper, Nancy kept
Mary in the room, and listened to no hint from Jessica that they
should retire for the accustomed privacy.
At four o'clock they were joined by Samuel Barmby, whom, for once,
Nancy welcomed with pleasure. Samuel, who had come in the hope of
finding Miss. Lord alone, gave but the coldest attention to Jessica;
Mary, however, he greeted with grave courtesy, addressing to her
several remarks which were meant as a recognition of social equality
in the quondam servant. He was dressed with elaborate care. Snowy
cuffs concealed half his hands; his moustache, of late in training,
sketched the graceful curl it would presently achieve; a faint
perfume attended the drawing forth of his silk handkerchief.
Samuel never lacked a subject for the display of eloquence. Today it
was one that called for indignant fervour.
'A most disgraceful fact has come under my notice, and I am sorry to
say, Miss. Lord, that it concerns some one with whom you are
'Indeed?' said Nancy, not without tremor. 'Who is that?'
'Mr. Peachey, of De Crespigny Park. I believe you are on terms of
friendship with the family.'
'Oh, you can hardly call it friendship. I know them.'
'Then I may speak without fear of paining you. You are aware that Mr
Peachey is a member of the firm of Ducker, Blunt & Co., who
manufacture disinfectants. Now, if any manufacture should be carried
on in a conscientious spirit--as of course _all_ manufactures
should--surely it is that of disinfectants. Only think what
depends upon it! People who make disinfectants ought to regard
themselves as invested with a sacred trust. The whole community
looks to them for protection against disease. The abuse of such
confidence cannot be too severely condemned, all the more so, that
there is absolutely no legal remedy against the adulteration of
disinfectants. Did you know that, Miss. Lord? The law guards against
adulteration of food, but it seems--I have been making inquiry
into the matter--that no thought has ever been given by the
legislature to the subject of disinfectants!'
Nancy saw that Jessica was watching the speaker with jealous eyes,
and, in spite of prudence, she could not help behaving to Mr. Barmby
more graciously than usual; a small revenge for the treatment she
had suffered at the hands of Miss. Morgan.
'I could point out a great number of such anomalies,' pursued
Samuel. 'But this matter of disinfectants is really one of the
gravest. My father has written to _The Times_ about it, and his
letter will probably be inserted to-morrow. I am thinking of
bringing it before the attention of our Society.'
'Do Mr. Peachey's people adulterate their disinfectants?' inquired
'I was going to tell you. Some acquaintances of ours have had a
severe illness in their house, and have been using disinfectants
made by Ducker, Blunt & Co. Fortunately they have a very good
medical man, and through him it has been discovered that these
pretended safeguards are all but absolutely worthless. He had the
stuff analysed. Now, isn't this shameful? Isn't this abominable? For
my own part, I should call it constructive murder.'
The phrase came by haphazard to Samuel's tongue, and he uttered it
with gusto, repeating it twice or thrice.
'Constructive murder--nothing short of that. And to think that
these people enjoy a positive immunity--impunity.' He corrected
himself quickly; then, uncertain whether he had really made a
mistake, reddened and twisted his gloves. 'To think'--he raised
his voice--'that they are capable of making money out of disease
and death! It is one of the worst illustrations of a corrupt spirit
in the commercial life of our times that has yet come under my
He remained for a couple of hours, talking ceaselessly. A glance
which he now and then cast at Miss. Morgan betrayed his hope that she
would take her leave before the necessary time of his own departure.
Jessica, perfectly aware of this desire, sat as though no less at
home than Nancy. Every remark she made was a stroke of malice at her
friend, and in her drawn features appeared the passions by which she
As soon as Mr. Barmby had regretfully withdrawn, Nancy turned upon
the girl with flashing eyes.
'I want to speak to you. Come downstairs.'
She led the way to the dining-room. Jessica followed without a word.
'Why are you behaving like this? What has come to you?'
The feeble anaemic creature fell back before this outbreak of
wholesome wrath; her eyes stared in alarm.
'I won't put up with it,' cried Nancy. 'If you think you can insult
me because I trusted you when you were my only friend, you'll find
your mistake. A little more, and you shall see how little your power
over me is worth. Am I to live at _your_ mercy! I'd starve rather.
What do you mean by it?'
'Oh--Nancy--to think you should speak to me like this.'
'You are to be allowed to spit poison at me--are you? And I must
bear it? No, that I won't! Of course I know what's the matter with
you. You have fallen in love with Samuel Barmby.--You have! Any
one can see it. You have no more command of yourself than a child.
And because he prefers me to you, you rage against me. Idiot! What
is Samuel Barmby to me? Can I do more to keep him off? Can I say to
him, "Do have pity on poor Miss. Morgan, who--"'
She was interrupted by a scream, on which followed a torrent of
frenzied words from Jessica.
'You're a bad-hearted woman! You've behaved disgracefully yourself
--oh! I know more than you think; and now you accuse me of being as
bad. Why did you get married in such a hurry? Do you think I didn't
understand it? It's you who have no command over yourself. If the
truth were known, no decent woman would ever speak to You again. And
you've got your reward. Pretend as you like, I know your husband has
deserted you. What else could you expect? That's what makes you hate
every one that hasn't fallen into the mud. I wouldn't have such a
character as yours! All this afternoon you've been looking at that
man as no married woman could who respected herself. You encourage
him; he comes here often--'
Hysterical passion strangled her voice, and before she could recover
breath, Nancy, terrible in ire, advanced upon her.
'Leave this house, and never dare to show yourself here again! Do
what you like, I'll endure you no longer--be off!'
Jessica retreated, her bloodless lips apart, her eyes starting as in
suffocation. She stumbled against a chair, fell to the ground, and,
with a cry of anguish, threw herself upon her knees before Nancy.
'What did I say? I didn't mean it--I don't know what I have been
saying--it was all madness. Oh, do forgive me! That isn't how I
really think of you--you know it isn't--I'm not so wicked as
that. We have been friends so long--I must have gone mad to speak
such words. Don't drive me away from you, dear, dear Nancy! I
implore you to forgive me! Look, I pray to you on my knees to forget
it. Despise me for being such a weak, wicked creature, but don't
drive me away like that! I didn't mean one word I said.'
'Rubbish! Of course you meant it. You have thought it every day, and
you'll say it again, behind my back, if not to my face. Stand up,
and don't make yourself sillier than you are.'
'You can't call me anything too bad--but don't drive me away. I
can't bear it. You are the only friend I have in the world--the
only, only friend. No one was ever kind and good to me but you, and
this is how I have repaid you. Oh, I hate myself! I could tear my
tongue out for saying such things. Only say that you'll try to
forgive me--dear Nancy--dear--'
She fell with face upon the carpet, and grovelled there in anguish
of conflicting passions, a lamentable object. Unable to bear the
sight of her, Nancy moved away, and stood with back turned, perforce
hearing the moans and sobs and half-articulate words which lasted
until the fit of hysteria left its victim in mute exhaustion. Then,
contemptuously pitiful, she drew near again to the prostrate figure.
'Stand up at once, and let us have an end of this vulgar folly.
Stand up, or I'll leave you here, and never speak to you again.'
'Nancy--can you forgive me?'
'I believe you have never got over your illness. If I were you, I
should see the doctor again, and try to be cured. You'll end in an
asylum, if you don't mind.'
'I often feel almost mad--I do really. Will you forget those
dreadful words I spoke? I know you can't forgive me at once--'
'Only stand up, and try to behave like a reasonable being. What do I
care for your words?'
The girl raised herself, threw her arms over a chair, and wept
On an afternoon at the end of October, Samuel Barmby, returned from
business, found Miss. Morgan having tea with his sisters. For a month
or two after Midsummer the Barmbys had scarcely seen her; now their
friendly intercourse was renewed, and Jessica came at least once a
week. She had an engagement at a girls' school in this
neighbourhood, and, though her health threatened another collapse,
she talked of resuming study for the Matriculation of next year.
Samuel, perfectly aware of the slavish homage which Miss. Morgan paid
him, took pleasure in posing before her. It never entered his mind
to make any return beyond genial patronage, but the incense of a
female devotee was always grateful to him, and he had come to look
upon Jessica as a young person peculiarly appreciative of
intellectual distinction. A week ago, walking with her to the
omnibus after an evening she had spent in Dagmar Road, he had
indulged a spirit of confidence, and led her to speak of Nancy Lord.
The upshot of five minutes' conversation was a frank inquiry, which
he could hardly have permitted himself but for the shadow of night
and the isolating noises around them. As an intimate friend, did she
feel able to tell him whether or not Miss. Lord was engaged to be
married? Jessica, after a brief silence, answered that she did _not_
feel at liberty to disclose what she knew on the subject; but the
words she used, and her voice in uttering them, left no doubt as to
her meaning. Samuel said no more. At parting, he pressed the girl's
This afternoon, they began by avoiding each other's look. Samuel
seemed indisposed for conversation; he sipped at a cup of tea with
an abstracted and somewhat weary air, until Miss. Morgan addressed
'To-morrow is the evening of your lecture, isn't it, Mr. Barmby?'
By the agency of a friend who belonged to a society of mutual
improvement at Pentonville, Samuel had been invited to go over and
illumine with his wisdom the seekers after culture in that remote
district, a proposal that flattered him immensely, and inspired him
with a hope of more than suburban fame. For some months he had
spoken of the engagement. He was to discourse upon 'National
Greatness: its Obligations and its Dangers.'
'Of course it will be printed afterwards?' pursued the devotee.
'Oh, I don't know. It's hardly worth that.'
'Oh, I'm sure it will be!'
And Jessica appealed to the sisters, who declared that certain
passages they had been privileged to hear seemed to them very
Ladies were to be admitted, but the Miss. Barmbys felt afraid to
undertake so long a journey after dark.
'I know some one who would very much like to go,' said Jessica,
steadying her voice. 'Could you spare me a ticket to give away, Mr
Samuel smiled graciously, and promised the ticket.
Of course it was for Jessica's own use. On the following evening,
long before the hour which would have allowed her ample time to
reach Pentonville by eight o'clock, she set forth excitedly. Unless
Samuel Barmby were accompanied by some friend from Camberwell,--
only too probable,--she might hope to make the return journey
under his protection. Perhaps he would speak again of Nancy Lord,
and this time he should be answered with less reserve. What harm if
she even told him the name of the man whom Nancy was 'engaged' to
Nancy was no longer her friend. A show of reconciliation had
followed that scene on the Sunday afternoon three months ago; but
Jessica well knew that she had put herself beyond forgiveness, nor
did she desire it. Even without the memory of her offence, by this
time she must needs have regarded Nancy with steadfast dislike.
Weeks had gone by since their last meeting, which was rendered so
unpleasant by mutual coldness that a renewal of intercourse seemed
out of the question.
She would not be guilty of treachery. But, in justice to herself,
she might give Samuel Barmby to understand how hopeless was his
To her disappointment, the lecture-room was small and undignified;
she had imagined a capacious hall, with Samuel Bennett Barmby
standing up before an audience of several hundred people. The
cane-bottomed chairs numbered not more than fifty, and at eight
o'clock some of them were still unoccupied. Nor did the assembly
answer to her expectation. It seemed to consist of young shopmen,
with a few females of their kind interspersed. She chose a place in
the middle of the room, where the lecturer could hardly fail to
observe her presence.
With Barmby's entrance disillusion gave way before the ardours of
flesh and spirit. The whole hour through she never took her eyes
from him. His smooth, pink face, with its shining moustache,
embodied her ideal of manly beauty; his tall figure inflamed her
senses; the words that fell from his lips sounded to her with
oracular impressiveness, conveying a wisdom before which she bowed,
and a noble enthusiasm to which she responded in fervent exaltation.
And she had been wont to ridicule this man, to join in mockery of
his eloquence with a conceited wanton such as Nancy Lord! No, it
never came from her heart; it was moral cowardice; from the first
she had recognised Samuel Barmby's infinite superiority to the
ignoble, the impure girl who dared to deride him.
He saw her; their eyes met once, and again, and yet again. He knew
that she alone in the audience could comprehend his noble morality,
grasp the extent of his far-sighted speculations. To her he spoke.
And in his deep glowing heart he could not but thank her for such
evidence of sympathy.
There followed a tedious debate, a muddy flow of gabble and
balderdash. It was over by ten o'clock. With jealous eyes she
watched her hero surrounded by people who thought, poor creatures,
that they were worthy of offering him congratulations. At a distance
she lingered. And behold, his eye once more fell upon her! He came
out from among the silly chatterers, and walked towards her.
'You played me a trick, Miss. Morgan. I should never have allowed you
to come all this way to hear me.'
'If I had come ten times the distance, I should have been repaid!'
His round eyes gloated upon the flattery.
'Well, well, I mustn't pretend that I think the lecture worthless.
But you might have had the manuscript to read. Are you quite alone?
Then I must take care of you. It's a wretched night; we'll have a
cab to King's Cross.'
He said it with a consciousness of large-handed generosity.
Jessica's heart leapt and throbbed.
She was by his side in the vehicle. Her body touched his. She felt
his warm breath as he talked. In all too short a time they reached
the railway station.
'Did you come this way? Have you a ticket? Leave that to me.'
Again largely generous, he strode to the booking-office.
They descended and stood together upon the platform, among hurrying
crowds, in black fumes that poisoned the palate with sulphur. This
way and that sped the demon engines, whirling lighted waggons full
of people. Shrill whistles, the hiss and roar of steam, the bang,
clap, bang of carriage-doors, the clatter of feet on wood and stone
--all echoed and reverberated from a huge cloudy vault above them.
High and low, on every available yard of wall, advertisements
clamoured to the eye: theatres, journals, soaps, medicines,
concerts, furniture, wines, prayer-meetings--all the produce and
refuse of civilisation announced in staring letters, in daubed
effigies, base, paltry, grotesque. A battle-ground of
advertisements, fitly chosen amid subterranean din and reek; a
symbol to the gaze of that relentless warfare which ceases not,
night and day, in the world above.
For the southward train they had to wait ten minutes. Jessica,
keeping as close as possible to her companion's side, tried to
converse, but her thoughts were in a tumult like to that about her.
She felt a faintness, a quivering in her limbs.
'May I sit down for a moment?' she said, looking at Barmby with a
'To be sure.'
She pointed in a direction away from the crowd.
'I have something to say--it's quieter--'
Samuel evinced surprise, but allowed himself to be led towards the
black mouth of the tunnel, whence at that moment rushed an engine
with glaring lights upon its breast.
'We may not be alone in the train,' continued Jessica. 'There's
something you ought to know I must tell you to-night. You were
asking me about Nancy Lord.'
She spoke with panting breath, and looked fixedly at him. The
eagerness with which he lent ear gave her strength to proceed.
'You asked me if she was engaged.'
He had even forgotten his politeness; he saw in her a mere source of
information. Jessica moved closer to him on the bench.
'Had you any reason for thinking she was?'
'No particular reason, except something strange in her behaviour.'
'Would you like to know the whole truth?'
It was a very cold night, and a keen wind swept the platform; but
Jessica, though indifferently clad, felt no discomfort from this
cause. Yet she pressed closer to her companion, so that her cheek
all but touched his shoulder.
'Of course I should,' Barmby answered. 'Is there any mystery?'
'I oughtn't to tell.'
'Then you had better not. But why did you begin?'
'You ought to know.'
'Why ought I to know?'
'Because you--.' She broke off. A sudden chill made her teeth