Part 7 out of 9
'Well--why?' asked Samuel, with impatience.
'Are you--are you in love with her?'
Voice and look embarrassed him. So did the girl's proximity; she was
now all but leaning on his shoulder. Respectable Mr. Barmby could not
be aware that Jessica's state of mind rendered her scarcely
responsible for what she said or did.
'That's a very plain question,' he began; but she interrupted him.
'I oughtn't to ask it. There's no need for you to answer. I know you
have wanted to marry her for a long time. But you never will.'
'Perhaps not--if she has promised somebody else.'
'If I tell you--will you be kind to me?'
'I didn't mean that,' she added hurriedly. 'I mean--will you
understand that I felt it a duty? I oughtn't to tell a secret; but
it's a secret that oughtn't to be kept. Will you understand that I
did it out of--out of friendship for you, and because I thought it
'Oh, certainly. After going so far, you had better tell me and have
done with it.'
Jessica approached her lips to his ear, and whispered:
'She is married.'
'She was married at Teignmouth, just before she came back from her
holiday, last year.'
'Well! Upon my word! And that's why she has been away in Cornwall?'
Again Jessica whispered, her body quivering the while:
'She has a child. It was born last May.'
'Well! Upon my word! Now I understand. Who could have imagined!'
'You see what she is. She hides it for the sake of the money.'
'But who is her husband?' asked Samuel, staring at the bloodless
'A man called Tarrant, a relative of Mr. Vawdrey, of Champion Hill.
She thought he was rich. I don't know whether he is or not, but I
believe he doesn't mean to come back to her. He's in America now.'
Barmby questioned, and Jessica answered, until there was nothing
left to ask or to tell,--save the one thing which rose suddenly to
'You won't let her know that I have told you?'
Samuel gravely, but coldly, assured her that she need not fear
It was to be in three volumes. She saw her way pretty clearly to the
end of the first; she had ideas for the second; the third must take
care of itself--until she reached it. Hero and heroine ready to
her hand; subordinate characters vaguely floating in the background.
After an hour or two of meditation, she sat down and dashed at
Long before the end of the year it ought to be finished.
But in August came her baby's first illness; for nearly a fortnight
she was away from home, and on her return, though no anxiety
remained, she found it difficult to resume work. The few chapters
completed had a sorry look; they did not read well, not at all like
writing destined to be read in print. After a week's disheartenment
she made a new beginning.
At the end of September baby again alarmed her. A trivial ailment as
before, but she could not leave the child until all was well. Again
she reviewed her work, and with more repugnance than after the
previous interruption. But go on with it she must and would. The
distasteful labour, slow, wearisome, often performed without
pretence of hope, went on until October. Then she broke down. Mary
Woodruff found her crying by the fireside, feverish and unnerved.
'I can't sleep,' she said. 'I hear the clock strike every hour,
night after night.'
But she would not confess the cause. In writing her poor novel she
had lived again through the story enacted at Teignmouth, and her
heart failed beneath its burden of hopeless longing. Her husband had
forsaken her. Even if she saw him again, what solace could be found
in the mere proximity of a man who did not love her, who had never
loved her? The child was not enough; its fatherless estate enhanced
the misery of her own solitude. When the leaves fell, and the sky
darkened, and the long London winter gloomed before her, she sank
with a moan of despair.
Mary's strength and tenderness were now invaluable. By sheer force
of will she overcame the malady in its physical effects, and did
wonders in the assailing of its moral source. Her appeal now, as
formerly, was to the nobler pride always struggling for control in
Nancy's character. A few days of combat with the besieging
melancholy that threatened disaster, and Nancy could meet her
friend's look with a smile. She put away and turned the key upon her
futile scribbling; no more of that. Novel-writing was not her
vocation; she must seek again.
Early in the afternoon she made ready to go forth on the only
business which now took her from home. It was nearly a week since
she had seen her boy.
Opening the front door, she came unexpectedly under two pairs of
eyes. Face to face with her stood Samuel Barmby, his hand raised to
signal at the knocker, just withdrawn from him. And behind Barmby
was a postman, holding a letter, which in another moment would have
dropped into the box.
Samuel performed the civil salute.
'Ha!--How do you do, Miss. Lord?--You are going out, I'm afraid.'
'Yes, I am going out.'
She replied mechanically, and in speaking took the letter held out
to her. A glance at it sent all her blood rushing upon the heart.
'I want to see you particularly,' said Samuel. 'Could I call again,
Nancy gazed at him, but did not hear. He saw the sudden pallor of
her cheeks, and thought he understood it. As she stood like a
statue, he spoke again.
'It is very particular business. If you could give me an appointment--'
'Business?--Oh, come in, if you like.'
She drew back to admit him, but in the passage stood looking at her
letter. Barmby was perplexed and embarrassed.
'You had rather I called again?'
'Called again? Just as you like.'
'Oh, then I will stay,' said Samuel bluntly. For he had things in
mind which disposed him to resent this flagrant discourtesy.
His voice awakened Nancy. She opened the door of the dining-room.
'Will you sit down, Mr. Barmby, and excuse me for a few minutes?'
'Certainly. Don't let me inconvenience you, Miss. Lord.'
At another time Nancy would have remarked something very unusual in
his way of speaking, especially in the utterance of her name. But
for the letter in her hand she must have noticed with uneasiness a
certain severity of countenance, which had taken the place of
Barmby's wonted smile. As it was, she scarcely realised his
presence; and, on closing the door of the room he had entered, she
forthwith forgot that such a man existed.
Her letter! His handwriting at last. And he was in England.
She flew up to her bedroom, and tore open the envelope. He was in
London; 'Great College Street, S. W.' A short letter, soon read.
DEAREST NANCY,--I am ashamed to write, yet write I must. All your
letters reached me; there was no reason for my silence but the
unwillingness to keep sending bad news. I have still nothing good to
tell you, but here I am in London again, and you must know of it.
When I posted my last letter to you from New York, I meant to come
back as soon as I could get money enough to pay my passage. Since
then I have gone through a miserable time, idle for the most part,
ill for a few weeks, and occasionally trying to write something that
editors would pay for. But after all I had to borrow. It has brought
me home (steerage, if you know what that means), and now I must earn
If we were to meet, I might be able to say something else. I can't
write it. Let me hear from you, if you think me worth a letter.--
Yours ever, dear girl,
For a quarter of an hour she stood with this sheet open, as though
still reading. Her face was void of emotion; she had a vacant look,
cheerless, but with no more decided significance.
Then she remembered that Samuel Barmby was waiting for her
downstairs. He might have something to say which really concerned
her. Better see him at once and get rid of him. With slow step she
descended to the dining-room. The letter, folded and rolled, she
carried in her hand.
'I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, Mr. Barmby.'
'Don't mention it. Will you sit down?'
'Yes, of course.' She spoke abstractedly, and took a seat not far
from him. 'I was just going out, but--there's no hurry.'
'I hardly know how to begin. Perhaps I had better prepare you by
saying that I have received very strange information.'
His air was magisterial; he subdued his voice to a note of profound
'What sort of information?' asked Nancy vaguely, her brows knitted
in a look rather of annoyance than apprehension.
'Very strange indeed.'
'You have said that already.'
Her temper was failing. She felt a nervous impulse to behave rudely,
to declare the contempt it was always difficult to disguise when
talking with Barmby.
'I repeat it, because you seem to have no idea what I am going to
speak of. I am the last person to find pleasure in such a
disagreeable duty as is now laid upon me. In that respect, I believe
you will do me justice.'
'Will you speak plainly? This roundabout talk is intolerable.'
Samuel drew himself up, and regarded her with offended dignity. He
had promised himself no small satisfaction from this interview, had
foreseen its salient points. His mere aspect would be enough to
subdue Nancy, and when he began to speak she would tremble before
him. Such a moment would repay him for the enforced humility of
years. Perhaps she would weep; she might even implore him to be
merciful. How to act in that event he had quite made up his mind.
But all such anticipations were confused by Nancy's singular
behaviour. She seemed, in truth, not to understand the hints which
should have overwhelmed her.
More magisterial than ever, he began to speak with slow emphasis.
'Miss. Lord,--I will still address you by that name,--though for
a very long time I have regarded you as a person worthy of all
admiration, and have sincerely humbled myself before you, I cannot
help thinking that a certain respect is due to me. Even though I
find that you have deceived me as to your position, the old feelings
are still so strong in me that I could not bear to give you needless
pain. Instead of announcing to my father, and to other people, the
strange facts which I have learnt, I come here as a friend,--I
speak with all possible forbearance,--I do my utmost to spare you.
Am I not justified in expecting at least courteous treatment?'
A pause of awful impressiveness. The listener, fully conscious at
length of the situation she had to face, fell into a calmer mood.
All was over. Suspense and the burden of falsehood had no longer to
be endured. Her part now, for this hour at all events, was merely to
stand by whilst Fate unfolded itself.
'Please say whatever you have to say, Mr. Barmby,' she replied with
quiet civility. 'I believe your intention was good. You made me
nervous, that was all.'
'Pray forgive me. Perhaps it will be best if I ask you a simple
question. You will see that the position I hold under your father's
will leaves me no choice but to ask it. Is it true that you are
'I will answer if you tell me how you came to think that I was
'I have been credibly informed.'
'You must forgive me. I can't tell you the name.'
'Then I can't answer your question.'
Samuel mused. He was unwilling to break a distinct promise.
'No doubt,' said Nancy, 'you have undertaken not to mention the
'If it is some one who used to be a friend of mine, you needn't have
any scruples. She as good as told me what she meant to do. Of course
it is Miss. Morgan?'
'As you have yourself spoken the name--'
'Very well. She isn't in her senses, and I wonder she has kept the
secret so long.'
'You admit the truth of what she has told me?'
'Yes. I am married.'
She made the avowal in a tone very like that in which, to Beatrice
French, she had affirmed the contrary.
'And your true name is Mrs. Tarrant?'
'That is my name.'
The crudely masculine in Barmby prompted one more question, but some
other motive checked him. He let his eyes wander slowly about the
room. Even yet there was a chance of playing off certain effects
which he had rehearsed with gusto.
'Can you imagine,'--his voice shook a little,--'how much I
suffer in hearing you say this?'
'If you mean that you still had the hopes expressed in your letter
some time ago, I can only say, in my defence, that I gave you an
'Yes. You said you could never marry me. But of course I couldn't
understand it in this sense. It is a blow. I find it very hard to
He rose and went to the window, as if ashamed of the emotion he
could not command. Nancy, too much occupied with her own troubles to
ask or care whether his distress was genuine, laid Tarrant's letter
upon a side-table, and began to draw off her gloves. Then she
unbuttoned her jacket. These out-of-door garments oppressed her.
Samuel turned his head and came slowly back.
'There are things that might be said, but I will not say them. Most
men in my position would yield to the temptation of revenge. But for
many years I have kept in view a moral ideal, and now I have the
satisfaction of conquering my lower self. You shall not hear one
word of reproach from my lips.'
He waited for the reply, the expected murmur of gratitude. Nancy
'Mrs. Tarrant,'--he stood before her,--'what do you suppose must
be the result of this?'
'There can only be one.'
'You mean the ruin of your prospects. But do you forget that all the
money you have received since Mr. Lord's death has been obtained by
false pretences? Are you not aware that this is a criminal offence?'
Nancy raised her eyes and looked steadily at him.
'Then I must bear the punishment.'
For a minute Barmby enjoyed her suffering. Of his foreseen effects,
this one had come nearest to succeeding. But he was not satisfied;
he hoped she would beseech his clemency.
'The punishment might be very serious. I really can't say what view
my father may take of this deception.'
'Is there any use in talking about it? I am penniless--that's all
you have to tell me. What else I have to bear, I shall know soon
'One thing I must ask. Isn't your husband in a position to support
'I can't answer that. Please to say nothing about my husband.'
Barmby caught at hope. It might be true, as Jessica Morgan believed,
that Nancy was forsaken. The man Tarrant might be wealthy enough to
disregard her prospects. In that case an assiduous lover, one who,
by the exercise of a prudent generosity, had obtained power over the
girl, could yet hope for reward. Samuel had as little of the villain
in his composition as any Camberwell householder. He cherished no
dark designs. But, after the manner of his kind, he was in love with
Nancy, and even the long pursuit of a lofty ideal does not render a
man proof against the elementary forces of human nature.
'We will suppose then,' he said, with a certain cheerfulness, 'that
you have nothing whatever to depend upon but your father's will.
What is before you? How can you live?'
'That is my own affair.'
It was not said offensively, but in a tone of bitter resignation.
Barmby sat down opposite to her, and leaned forward.
'Do you think for one moment,'--his voice was softly melodious,--
'that I--I who have loved you for years--could let you suffer
for want of money?'
He had not skill to read her countenance. Trouble he discerned, and
shame; but the half-veiled eyes, the quivering nostril, the hard,
cold lips, spoke a language beyond Samuel's interpretation. Even had
he known of the outrages previously inflicted upon her pride, and
that this new attack came at a moment when her courage was baffled,
her heart cruelly wounded, he would just as little have comprehended
the spirit which now kept her mute.
He imagined her overcome by his generosity. Another of his great
effects had come off with tolerable success.
'Put your mind at rest,' he pursued mellifluously. 'You shall suffer
no hardships. I answer for it.'
Still mute, and her head bowed low. Such is the power of nobility
displayed before an erring soul!
'You have never done me justice. Confess that you haven't!'
To this remarkable appeal Nancy perforce replied:
'I never thought ill of you.'
When she had spoken, colour came into her cheeks. Observing it,
Samuel was strangely moved. Had he impressed her even more
profoundly than he hoped to do? Jessica Morgan's undisguised
subjugation had flattered him into credulity respecting his
influence over the female mind.
'But you didn't think me capable of--of anything extraordinary?'
Even in her torment, Nancy marvelled at this revelation of fatuity.
She did not understand the pranks of such a mind as Barmby's when
its balance is disturbed by exciting circumstance.
'What are you offering me?' she asked, in a low voice. 'How could I
take money from you?'
'I didn't mean that you should. Your secret has been betrayed to me.
Suppose I refuse to know anything about it, and leave things as they
Nancy kept her eyes down.
'Suppose I say: Duty bids me injure this woman who has injured _me_;
but no, I will not! Suppose I say: I can make her regret bitterly
that she married that other man; but no, I will not! Suppose,
instead of making your secret known, I do my utmost to guard it!
What would be your opinion of this behaviour?'
'I should think it was kindly meant, but useless.'
'Because it isn't in your power to guard the secret. Jessica Morgan
won't leave her work half done.'
'If that's all, I say again that you can put your mind at rest. I
answer for Miss. Morgan. With her my will is law.'
Samuel smiled. A smile ineffable. The smile of a suburban deity.
'Why should you take any trouble about me?' said Nancy. 'I can do
nothing for you in return.'
She looked anxiously at him, for his voice sounded ominous.
'You can acknowledge that you never did me justice.'
'It's true that I didn't,' she answered languidly; speaking as
though the concession mattered little.
Barmby brightened. His hands were upon his knees; he raised his
chin, and smiled at vacancy.
'You thought me unworthy of you. You can confess to me that you were
'I didn't know you as I do now,' fell from the expressionless lips.
'Thank you for saying that! Well, then, your anxiety is at an end.
You are not in the hands of a mercenary enemy, but of a man whose
principles forbid him to do anything ignoble, who has an ideal of
life, the result of much study and thought. You have never heard me
speak about religion, but you would be gravely mistaken if you
thought I had no religious convictions. Some day I shall treat that
subject before our Society, and it is probable that my views will
give rise to a good deal of discussion. I have formed a religion for
myself; when I write my essay, I think I shall call it "The Religion
of a Man of Business." One of the great evils of the day is the
vulgar supposition that commerce has nothing to do with religious
faith. I shall show how utterly wrong that is. It would take too
long to explain to you my mature views of Christianity. I am not
sure that I recognise any of the ordinary dogmas; I think I have
progressed beyond them. However, we shall have many opportunities of
talking about these things.'
Nancy uttered a mere 'Yes.' She was looking at Tarrant's letter on
the side-table, and wishing to be alone that she might read it
'In the meantime,' Samuel pursued, 'whatever difficulty arises,
confide it to me. Probably you will wish to tell me more before
long; you know that I am not unworthy to be your adviser. And so let
us shake hands, in sign of genuine friendship.'
Nancy gave her fingers, which felt very cold upon Barmby's warm,
'This conversation has been trying to you,' he said, 'but relief of
mind will soon follow. If anything occurs to me that may help to
soothe you, I will write.'
'At the beginning of our interview you didn't think it would end
There was something of the boy in Samuel, perhaps the wholesomest
part of him. Having manifested his admirable qualities, he felt a
light-hearted pleasure in asking for renewed assurance of the good
opinion he had earned.
'I hardly cared,' said Nancy, as she rose with a sigh of weariness.
'But you have got over that. You will be quite cheerful now?'
'In time, no doubt.'
'I shall call again--let us say on Wednesday evening. By that time
I shall be able to put you entirely at ease with regard to Miss
Nancy made no reply. In shaking hands, she regarded the radiant
Samuel with a dreamy interest; and when he had left her, she still
gazed for a few moments at the door.
The habit of confidence prompted Nancy to seek Mary Woodruff, and
show her the long-expected letter. But for Barmby's visit she would
have done so. As it was, her mind sullenly resisted the natural
impulse. Forlorn misery, intensified by successive humiliations,
whereof the latest was the bitterest, hardened her even against the
one, the indubitable friend, to whom she had never looked in vain
for help and solace. Of course it was not necessary to let Mary know
with what heart-breaking coldness Tarrant had communicated the fact
of his return; but she preferred to keep silence altogether. Having
sunk so low as to accept, with semblance of gratitude, pompous
favours, dishonouring connivance, at the hands of Samuel Barmby, she
would now stand alone in her uttermost degradation. Happen what
might, she would act and suffer in solitude.
Something she had in mind to do which Mary, if told of it, would
regard with disapproval. Mary was not a deserted and insulted wife;
she could reason and counsel with the calmness of one who
sympathised, but had nothing worse to endure. Even Mary's sympathy
was necessarily imperfect, since she knew not, and should never
know, what had passed in the crucial interviews with Beatrice
French, with Jessica Morgan, and with Samuel Barmby. Bent on
indulging her passionate sense of injury, hungering for a taste of
revenge, however poor, Nancy executed with brief delay a project
which had come into her head during the hour of torture just
She took a sheet of notepaper, and upon it wrote half-a-dozen lines,
'As your reward for marrying me is still a long way off, and as you
tell me that you are in want, I send you as much as I can spare at
present. Next month you shall hear from me again.'
Within the paper she folded a five-pound note, and placed both in an
envelope, which she addressed to Lionel Tarrant, Esq., at his
lodgings in Westminster. Having posted this at the first pillar-box
she walked on.
Her only object was to combat mental anguish by bodily exercise, to
distract, if possible, the thoughts which hammered upon her brain by
moving amid the life of the streets. In Camberwell Road she passed
the place of business inscribed with the names 'Lord and Barmby'; it
made her think, not of the man who, from being an object of her
good-natured contempt, was now become a hated enemy, but of her
father, and she mourned for him with profounder feeling than when
her tears flowed over his new-made grave. But for headstrong folly,
incredible in the retrospect, that father would have been her dear
and honoured companion, her friend in every best sense of the word,
her guide and protector. Many and many a time had he invited her
affection, her trust. For long years it was in her power to make him
happy, and, in doing so, to enrich her own life, to discipline her
mind as no study of books, even had it been genuine, ever could. Oh,
to have the time back again--the despised privilege--the
thwarted embittered love! She was beginning to understand her
father, to surmise with mature intelligence the causes of his
seeming harshness. To her own boy, when he was old enough, she would
talk of him and praise him. Perhaps, even thus late, his spirit of
stern truthfulness might bear fruit in her life and in her son's.
The tender memory and pure resolve did not long possess her. They
soon yielded before the potency of present evil, and for an hour or
more she walked along the sordid highway, nursing passions which
struck their venom into her heart.
It was one of those cold, dry, clouded evenings of autumn, when
London streets affect the imagination with a peculiar
suggestiveness. New-lit lamps, sickly yellow under the dying day,
stretch in immense vistas, unobscured by fog, but exhibit no detail
of the track they will presently illumine; one by one the
shop-fronts grow radiant on deepening gloom, and show in silhouette
the figures numberless that are hurrying past. By accentuating a
pause between the life of daytime and that which will begin after
dark, this grey hour excites to an unwonted perception of the city's
vastness and of its multifarious labour; melancholy, yet not dismal,
the brooding twilight seems to betoken Nature's compassion for
myriad mortals exiled from her beauty and her solace. Noises far and
near blend into a muffled murmur, sound's equivalent of the
impression received by the eye; it seems to utter the weariness of
unending ineffectual toil.
Nancy had now walked as far as Newington, a district unfamiliar to
her, and repulsive. By the Elephant and Castle she stood watching
the tumultuous traffic which whirls and roars at this confluence of
six highways; she had neither a mind to go on, nor yet to return.
The conductor of an omnibus close at hand kept bellowing 'London
Bridge!' and her thoughts wandered to that day of meeting with
Luckworth Crewe, when he took her up the Monument. She had never
felt more than an idle interest in Crewe, and whenever she
remembered him nowadays, it was only to reflect with bitterness that
he doubtless knew a part of her secret,--the part that was known
to Beatrice French,--and on that account had ceased to urge his
suit; yet at this moment she wished that she had pledged herself to
him in good faith. His behaviour argued the steadfast devotion of an
honest man, however lacking in refinement. Their long engagement
would have been brightened with many hopes; in the end she might
have learned to love him, and prosperity would have opened to her a
world of satisfactions, for which she could no longer hope.
It grew cold. She allowed the movements of a group of people to
direct her steps, and went eastward along New Kent Road. But when
the shops were past, and only a dreary prospect of featureless
dwellings lay before her, she felt her heart sink, and paused in
From a house near by sounded a piano; a foolish jingle, but it smote
her with a longing for companionship, for friendly, cheerful talk.
And then of a sudden she determined that this life of intolerable
isolation should come to an end. Her efforts to find employment that
would bring her among people had failed simply because she applied
to strangers, who knew nothing of her capabilities, and cared
nothing for her needs. But a way offered itself if she could
overcome the poor lingering vestiges of pride and shame which
hitherto had seemed to render it impossible. In this hour her
desolate spirit rejected everything but the thought of relief to be
found in new occupation, fresh society. She had endured to the limit
of strength. Under the falling night, before the grey vision of a
city which, by its alien business and pleasure, made her a mere
outcast, she all at once found hope in a resource which till now had
Summoning the first empty cab, she gave an address known to her only
by hearsay, that of the South London Fashionable Dress Supply
Association, and was driven thither in about a quarter of an hour.
The shop, with its windows cunningly laid out to allure the female
eye, spread a brilliant frontage between two much duller places of
business; at the doorway stood a commissionaire, distributing some
newly printed advertisements to the persons who entered, or who
paused in passing. Nancy accepted a paper without thinking about it,
and went through the swing doors held open for her by a stripling in
buttons; she approached a young woman at the nearest counter, and in
a low voice asked whether Miss. French was on the premises.
'I'm not sure, madam. I will inquire at once.'
'She calls me "madam,"' said Nancy to herself whilst waiting. 'So do
shopkeepers generally. I suppose I look old.'
The young person (she honeyed a Cockney twang) speedily came back to
report that Miss. French had left about half-an-hour ago, and was not
likely to return.
'Can you give me her private address?'
Not having seen Miss. French since the latter's unwelcome call in
Grove Lane, she only knew that Beatrice had left De Crespigny Park
to inhabit a flat somewhere or other.
'I wish to see her particularly, on business.'
'Excuse me a moment, madam.'
On returning, the young person requested Nancy to follow her up the
shop, and led into a glass-partitioned office, where, at a table
covered with fashion-plates, sat a middle-aged man, with a bald head
of peculiar lustre. He rose and bowed; Nancy repeated her request.
'Could I despatch a message for you, madam?'
'My business is private.'
The bald-headed man coughed urbanely, and begged to know her name.
'Miss. Lord--of Grove Lane.'
Immediately his countenance changed from deprecating solemnity to a
broad smile of recognition.
'Miss. Lord! Oh, to be sure; I will give you the address at once.
Pray pardon my questions; we have to be so very careful. So many
people desire private interviews with Miss. French. I will jot down
He did so on the back of an advertisement, and added verbal
directions. Nancy hurried away.
Another cab conveyed her to Brixton, and set her down before a block
of recently built flats. She ascended to the second floor, pressed
the button of a bell, and was speedily confronted by a girl of the
natty parlour-maid species. This time she began by giving her name,
and had only a moment to wait before she was admitted to a small
drawing-room, furnished with semblance of luxury. A glowing fire and
the light of an amber-shaded lamp showed as much fashionable
upholstery and bric-a-brac as could be squeezed into the narrow
space. Something else was perceptible which might perhaps have been
dispensed with; to wit, the odour of a very savoury meal, a meal in
which fried onions had no insignificant part. But before the visitor
could comment to herself upon this disadvantage attaching to flats,
Beatrice joined her.
'I could hardly believe it! So you have really looked me up? Awfully
jolly of you! I'm quite alone; we'll have a bit of dinner together.'
Miss. French was in her most expansive mood. She understood the call
as one of simple friendliness.
'I wasn't sure that you knew the address. Got it at the shop? They
don't go telling everybody, I hope--'
'Some one there seemed to know my name,' said Nancy, whom the warmth
and light and cheery welcome encouraged in the step she had taken.
And she explained.
'Ah, Mr. Clatworthy--rum old cove, when you get to know him. Yes,
yes; no doubt he has heard me speak of you--in a general way, you
know. Come into my snooze-corner, and take your things off.'
The snooze-corner, commonly called a bedroom, lacked one detail of
comfort--pure air. The odour of dinner blending with toilet
perfumes made an atmosphere decidedly oppressive. Beatrice remarked
on the smallness of the chamber, adding archly, 'But I sleep
'What's your brother doing?' she asked, while helping to remove
Nancy's jacket. 'I passed him in Oxford Street the other day, and he
either didn't see me, or didn't want to. Thought he looked rather
'I know very little about him,' answered the visitor, who spoke and
acted without reflection, conscious chiefly at this moment of
faintness induced by fatigue and hunger.
'Fanny's in Paris,' pursued Miss. French. 'Writes as if she was
amusing herself. I think I shall run over and have a look at her.
Seen Ada? She's been playing the fool as usual. Found out that
Arthur had taken the kid to his sister's at Canterbury; went down
and made a deuce of a kick-up; they had to chuck her out of the
house. Of course she cares no more about the child than I do; it's
only to spite her husband. She's going to law with him, she says.
She won't leave the house in De Crespigny Park, and she's running up
Nancy tried to laugh. The effort, and its semi-success, indicated
surrender to her companion's spirit rather than any attention to the
subject spoken of.
They returned to the drawing-room, but had not time to begin a
conversation before the servant summoned them to dinner. A very
satisfying meal it proved; not badly cooked, as cooking is
understood in Brixton, and served with more of ceremony than the
guest had expected. Fried scallops, rump steak smothered in onions,
an apple tart, and very sound Stilton cheese. Such fare testified to
the virile qualities of Beatrice's mind; she was above the feminine
folly of neglecting honest victuals. Moreover, there appeared two
wines, sherry and claret.
'Did you ever try this kind of thing?' said the hostess finally,
reaching a box of cigarettes.
'I?--Of course not,' Nancy replied, with a laugh.
'It's expected of a sensible woman now-a-days. I've got to like it.
Better try; no need to make yourself uncomfortable. Just keep the
smoke in your mouth for half-a-minute, and blow it out prettily. I
buy these in the Haymarket; special brand for women.'
'And you dine like this, by yourself, every day?'
'Like this, but not always alone. Some one or other drops in.
Luckworth Crewe was here yesterday.'
Speaking, she watched Nancy, who bore the regard with carelessness,
and replied lightly:
'It's an independent sort of life, at all events.'
'Just the kind of life that suits me. I'm my own mistress.'
There was a suggested allusion in the sly tone of the last phrase;
but Nancy, thinking her own thoughts, did not perceive it. As the
servant had left them alone, they could now talk freely. Beatrice,
by her frequent glance of curiosity, seemed to await some
explanation of a visit so unlooked-for.
'How are things going with you?' she asked at length, tapping the
ash of her cigarette over a plate.
'I want something to do,' was the blunt reply.
'Too much alone--isn't that it?'
'Just what I thought. You don't see him often?'
Nancy had ceased her pretence of smoking, and leaned back. A flush
on her face, and something unwonted in the expression of her eyes,
--something like a smile, yet touched with apathy,--told of
physical influences which assisted her resolve to have done with
scruple and delicacy. She handled her wine-glass, which was half
full, and, before answering, raised it to her lips.
'No, I don't see him often.'
'Well, I told you to come to me if I could be any use. What's your
'Do you know of anything I could do? It isn't so much to earn money,
as to--to be occupied, and escape from loneliness. But I must have
two afternoons in the week to myself.'
Beatrice nodded and smiled.
'No,--not for that,' Nancy added hastily. 'To see my boy.'
The other appeared to accept this correction.
'All right. I think I can find you something. We're opening a
branch.' She mentioned the locality. 'There'll be a club-room, like
at headquarters, and we shall want some one ladylike to sit there
and answer questions. You wouldn't be likely to see any one that
knows you, and you'd get a good deal of fun out of it. Hours from
ten to five, but Saturday afternoon off, and Wednesday after three,
if that would do?'
'Yes, that would do very well. Any payment, at first?'
'Oh, we wouldn't be so mean as all that. Say ten shillings a week
till Christmas, and afterwards we could see'--she laughed--
'whether you're worth more.'
'I know nothing about fashions.'
'You can learn all you need to know in an hour. It's the ladylike
appearance and talk more than anything else.'
Nancy sipped again from her wine-glass.
'When could I begin?'
'The place 'll be ready on Monday week. Next week you might put in a
few hours with us. Just sit and watch and listen, that's all; to get
the hang of the thing.'
'Thank you for being so ready to help me.'
'Not a bit of it. I haven't done yet. There's a condition. If I fix
up this job for you, will you tell me something I want to know?'
Nancy turned her eyes apprehensively.
'You can guess what it is. I quite believe what you told me some
time ago, but I shan't feel quite easy until I know--'
She finished the sentence with a look. Nancy's eyes fell.
'Curiosity, nothing else,' added the other. 'Just to make quite sure
it isn't anybody I've thought of.'
There was a long silence. Leaning forward upon the table, Nancy
turned her wine-glass about and about. She now had a very high
colour, and breathed quickly.
'Is it off, then?' said Beatrice, in an indifferent tone.
Thereupon Nancy disclosed the name of her husband--her lover, as
Miss. French thought him. Plied with further questions, she told
where he was living, but gave no account of the circumstances that
had estranged them. Abundantly satisfied, Beatrice grew almost
affectionate, and talked merrily.
Nancy wished to ask whether Luckworth Crewe had any knowledge of her
position. It was long before her lips could utter the words, but at
length they were spoken. And Beatrice assured her that Crewe, good
silly fellow, did not even suspect the truth.
'For a man,' said Tarrant, 'who can pay no more than twelve and
sixpence a week, it's the best accommodation to be found in London.
There's an air of civilisation about the house. Look; a bath, and a
little book-case, and an easy-chair such as can be used by a man who
respects himself. You feel you are among people who tub o' mornings
and know the meaning of leisure. Then the view!'
He was talking to his friend Harvey Munden, the journalist. The room
in which they stood might with advantage have been larger, but as a
bed-chamber it served well enough, and only the poverty of its
occupant, who put it to the additional use of sitting-room and
study, made the lack of space particularly noticeable. The window
afforded a prospect pleasant enough to eyes such as theirs. Above
the lower houses on the opposite side of the way appeared tall
trees, in the sere garb of later autumn, growing by old Westminster
School; and beyond them, grey in twilight, rose the towers of the
Abbey. From this point of view no vicinage of modern brickwork
spoilt their charm; the time-worn monitors stood alone against a sky
of ruddy smoke-drift and purple cloud.
'The old Adam is stronger than ever in me,' he pursued. 'If I were
condemned for life to the United States, I should go mad, and perish
in an attempt to swim the Atlantic.'
'Then why did you stay so long?'
'I could have stayed with advantage even longer. It's something to
have studied with tolerable thoroughness the most hateful form of
society yet developed. I saw it at first as a man does who is living
at his ease; at last, as a poor devil who is thankful for the
institution of free lunches. I went first-class, and I came back as
a steerage passenger. It has been a year well spent.'
It had made him, in aspect, more than a twelve-month older. His
lounging attitude, the spirit of his talk, showed that he was
unchanged in bodily and mental habits; but certain lines new-graven
upon his visage, and an austerity that had taken the place of
youthful self-consciousness, signified a more than normal progress
'Do you know,' said Munden slyly, 'that you have brought back a
'Accent? The devil! I don't believe it.'
'Intonation, at all events.'
Tarrant professed a serious annoyance.
'If that's true, I'll go and live for a month in Limerick.'
'It would be cheaper to join a Socialist club in the East End. But
just tell me how you stand. How long can you hold out in these
'Till Christmas. I'm ashamed to say how I've got the money, so don't
ask. I reached London with empty pockets. And I'll tell you one
thing I have learnt, Munden. There's no villainy, no scoundrelism,
no baseness conceivable, that isn't excused by want of money. I
understand the whole "social question." The man who has never felt
the perspiration come out on his forehead in asking himself how he
is going to keep body and soul together, has no right to an opinion
on the greatest question of the day.'
'What particular scoundrelism or baseness have you committed?' asked
Tarrant averted his eyes.
'I said I could understand such things.'
'One sees that you have been breathed upon by democracy.'
'I loathe the word and the thing even more than I did, which is
saying a good deal.'
'Be it so. You say you are going to work?'
'Yes, I have come back to work. Even now, it's difficult to realise
that I must work or starve. I understand how fellows who have
unexpectedly lost their income go through life sponging on relatives
and friends. I understand how an educated man goes sinking through
all the social grades, down to the common lodging-house and the
infirmary. And I honestly believe there's only one thing that saves
me from doing likewise.'
'And what's that?'
'I can't tell you--not yet, at all events.'
'I always thought you a very fine specimen of the man born to do
nothing,' said Munden, with that smile which permitted him a
surprising candour in conversation.
'And you were quite right,' returned Tarrant, with a laugh. 'I am a
born artist in indolence. It's the pity of pities that circumstances
will frustrate Nature's purpose.'
'You think you can support yourself by journalism?'
'I must try.--Run your eye over that.'
He took from the table a slip of manuscript, headed, 'A Reverie in
Wall Street.' Munden read it, sat thoughtful for a moment, and
'Devilish savage. Did you write it after a free lunch?'
'Wrote it this morning. Shall I try one of the evening papers with
it,--or one of the weeklies?'
Munden suggested a few alterations, and mentioned the journal which
he thought might possibly find room for such a bit of satire.
'Done anything else?'
'Here's a half-finished paper--"The Commercial Prospects of the
'Let me look.'
After reading a page or two with critically wrinkled forehead,
Munden laid it down.
'Seems pretty solid,--libellous, too, I should say. You've more
stuff in you than I thought. All right: go ahead.--Come and dine
with me to-morrow, to meet a man who may be useful.'
'To-morrow I can't. I dine at Lady Pollard's.'
'Who is she?'
'Didn't you know Pollard of Trinity?--the only son of his mother,
and she a widow.'
'Next day, then.'
'Can't. I dine with some people at Bedford Park.'
Munden lifted his eyebrows.
'At this rate, you may live pretty well on a dress suit. Any more
'None that I know of. But I shall accept all that offer. I'm hungry
for the society of decent English people. I used to neglect my
acquaintances; I know better now. Go and live for a month in a cheap
New York boarding-house, and you'll come out with a wholesome taste
for English refinement.'
To enable his friend to read, Tarrant had already lit a lamp.
Munden, glancing about the room, said carelessly:
'Do you still possess the furniture of the old place?'
'No,' was the answer, given with annoyance. 'Vawdrey had it sold for
'Pictures, books, and all the nick-nacks?'
'Everything.--Of course I'm sorry for it; but I thought at the
time that I shouldn't return to England for some years.'
'You never said anything of that kind to me.'
'No, I didn't,' the other replied gloomily. And all at once he fell
into so taciturn a mood, that his companion, after a few more
remarks and inquiries, rose from his chair to leave.
From seven to nine Tarrant sat resolutely at his table, and covered
a few pages with the kind of composition which now came most easily
to him,--a somewhat virulent sarcasm. He found pleasure in the
work; but after nine o'clock his thoughts strayed to matters of
personal interest, and got beyond control. Would the last post of
the evening bring him an answer to a letter he had despatched this
morning? At length he laid down his pen, and listened nervously for
that knock which, at one time or another, is to all men a
It came at the street door, and was quickly followed by a tap at his
own. Nancy had lost no time in replying. What her letter might
contain he found it impossible to conjecture. Reproaches? Joyous
welcome? Wrath? Forgiveness? He knew her so imperfectly, that he
could not feel sure even as to the probabilities of the case. And
his suspense was abundantly justified. Her answer came upon him with
the force of a shock totally unexpected.
He read the lines again and again; he stared at the bank-note. His
first sensation was one of painful surprise; thereupon succeeded
fiery resentment. Reason put in a modest word, hinting that he had
deserved no better; but he refused to listen. Nothing could excuse
so gross an insult. He had not thought Nancy capable of this
behaviour. Tested, she betrayed the vice of birth. Her imputation
upon his motive in marrying her was sheer vulgar abuse, possible
only on vulgar lips. Well and good; now he knew her; all the torment
of conscience he had suffered was needless. And for the moment he
experienced a great relief.
In less than ten minutes letter and bank-note were enclosed in a new
envelope, and addressed back again to the sender. With no word of
comment; she must interpret him as she could, and would. He went
out, and threw the offensive packet into the nearest receptacle for
Work was over for to-night. After pacing in the obscurity of Dean's
Yard until his pulse had recovered a normal beat, he issued into the
peopled ways, and turned towards Westminster Bridge.
Despite his neglect of Nancy, he had never ceased to think of her
with a tenderness which, in his own judgment, signified something
more than the simple fidelity of a married man. Faithful in the
technical sense he had not been, but the casual amours of a young
man caused him no self-reproach; Nancy's image remained without
rival in his mind; he had continued to acknowledge her claims upon
him, and, from time to time, to think of her with a lover's longing.
As he only wrote when prompted by such a mood, his letters, however
unsatisfying, were sincere. Various influences conflicted with this
amiable and honourable sentiment. The desire of independence which
had speeded him away from England still accompanied him on his
return; he had never ceased to regret his marriage, and it seemed to
him that, without this legal bondage, it would have been much easier
to play a manly part at the time of Nancy's becoming a mother. Were
she frankly his mistress, he would not be keeping thus far away when
most she needed the consolation of his presence. The secret marriage
condemned him to a course of shame, and the more he thought of it,
the more he marvelled at his deliberate complicity in such a fraud.
When poverty began to make itself felt, when he was actually
hampered in his movements by want of money, this form of indignity,
more than any galling to his pride, intensified the impatience with
which he remembered that he could no longer roam the world as an
adventurer. Any day some trivial accident might oppress him with the
burden of a wife and child who looked to him for their support.
Tarrant the married man, unless he were content to turn simple rogue
and vagabond, must make for himself a place in the money-earning
world. His indolence had no small part in his revolt against the
stress of such a consideration. The climate of the Bahamas by no
means tended to invigorate him, and in the United States he found so
much to observe,--even to enjoy,--that the necessity of effort
was kept out of sight as long as, by one expedient and another, he
succeeded in procuring means to live upon without working.
During the homeward voyage--a trial such as he had never known,
amid squalid discomforts which enraged even more than they disgusted
him--his heart softened in anticipation of a meeting with Nancy,
and of the sight of his child. Apart from his fellow-travellers,--
in whom he could perceive nothing but coarseness and vileness,--he
spent the hours in longing for England and for the home he would
make there, in castigating the flagrant faults of his character,
moderating his ambitions, and endeavouring to find a way out of the
numerous grave difficulties with which his future was beset.
Landed, he rather forgot than discarded these wholesome meditations.
What he had first to do was so very unpleasant, and taxed so rudely
his self-respect, that he insensibly fell back again into the
rebellious temper. Choice there was none; reaching London with a few
shillings in his pocket, of necessity he repaired forthwith to Mr
Vawdrey's office in the City, and made known the straits into which
he had fallen.
'Now, my dear fellow,' said Mr. Vawdrey, with his usual good-humour,
'how much have you had of me since you started for the Bahamas?'
'That is hardly a fair question,' Tarrant replied, endeavouring not
to hang his head like an everyday beggar. 'I went out on a
'True. But after you ceased to be a commissioner?'
'You have lent me seventy pounds. Living in the States is expensive.
What I got for my furniture has gone as well, yet I certainly
haven't been extravagant; and for the last month or two I lived like
a tramp. Will you make my debt to you a round hundred? It shall be
repaid, though I may be a year or two about it.'
The loan was granted, but together with a great deal of unpalatable
counsel. Having found his lodging, Tarrant at once invested ten
pounds in providing himself with a dress suit, and improving his
ordinary attire,--he had sold every garment he could spare in New
York. For the dress suit he had an immediate use; on the very
platform of Euston Station, at his arrival, a chance meeting with
one of his old college friends resulted in an invitation to dine,
and, even had not policy urged him to make the most of such
acquaintances, he was in no mood for rejecting a summons back into
the world of civilisation. Postponing the purposed letter to Nancy
(which, had he written it sooner, would have been very unlike the
letter he subsequently sent), he equipped himself once more as a
gentleman, and spent several very enjoyable hours in looking up the
members of his former circle--Hodiernals and others. Only to
Harvey Munden did he confide something of the anxieties which lay
beneath his assumed lightheartedness. Munden was almost the only man
he knew for whom he had a genuine respect.
Renewal of intercourse with people of good social standing made him
more than ever fretful in the thought that he had clogged himself
with marriage. Whatever Nancy's reply to his announcement that he
was home again, he would have read it with discontent. To have the
fact forced upon him (a fact he seriously believed it) that his wife
could not be depended upon even for elementary generosity of
thought, was at this moment especially disastrous; it weighed the
balance against his feelings of justice and humanity, hitherto, no
matter how he acted, always preponderant over the baser issues of
character and circumstance.
He stood leaning upon the parapet of Westminster Bridge, his eyes
scanning the dark facade of the Houses of Parliament.
How would the strong, unscrupulous, really ambitious man act in such
a case? What was to prevent him from ignoring the fact that he was
married, and directing his course precisely as he would have done if
poverty had come upon him before his act of supreme foolishness?
Journalism must have been his refuge then, as now; but Society would
have held out to him the hope of every adventurer--a marriage with
some woman whose wealth and connections would clear an upward path
in whatever line he chose to follow. Why not abandon to Nancy the
inheritance it would degrade him to share, and so purchase back his
freedom? The bargain might be made; a strong man would carry it
through, and ultimately triumph by daring all risks.
Having wrought himself to this point of insensate revolt, he quitted
his musing-station on the bridge, and walked away.
Nancy did not write again. There passed four or five days, and
Tarrant, working hard as well as enjoying the pleasures of Society,
made up his mind not to see her. He would leave events to take their
course. A heaviness of heart often troubled him, but he resisted it,
and told himself that he was becoming stronger.
After a long day of writing, he addressed a packet to a certain
periodical, and went out to post it. No sooner had he left the house
than a woman, who had been about to pass him on the pavement,
abruptly turned round and hurriedly walked away. But for this
action, he would not have noticed her; as it was, he recognised the
figure, and an impulse which allowed of no reflection brought him in
a moment to her side. In the ill-lighted street a face could with
difficulty be observed, but Nancy's features were unmistakable to
the eye that now fell upon them.
'Stop, and let me speak to you,' he exclaimed.
She walked only the more quickly, and he was obliged to take her by
'What do you want?'
She spoke as if to an insolent stranger, and shook off his grasp.
'If you have nothing to say to me, why are you here?'
'Here? I suppose the streets are free to me?'
'Nothing would bring you to Great College Street if you didn't know
that I was living here. Now that we have met, we must talk.'
'I have nothing at all to say to you.'
'Well, then _I_ will talk.--Come this way; there's a quiet place
where no one will notice us.'
Nancy kept her eyes resolutely averted from him; he, the while,
searched her face with eagerness, as well as the faint rays of the
nearest lamp allowed it.
'If you have anything to say, you must say it here.'
'It's no use, then. Go your way, and I'll go mine.'
He turned, and walked slowly in the direction of Dean's Yard. There
was the sound of a step behind him, and when he had come into the
dark, quiet square, Nancy was there too.
'Better to be reasonable,' said Tarrant, approaching her again. 'I
want to ask you why you answered a well-meant letter with vulgar
'The insult came from you,' she answered, in a shaking voice.
'What did I say that gave you offence?'
'How can you ask such a question? To write in that way after never
answering my letter for months, leaving me without a word at such a
time, making me think either that you were dead or that you would
never let me hear of you again--'
'I told you it was a mere note, just to let you know I was back. I
said you should hear more when we met.'
'Very well, we have met. What have you to say for yourself?'
'First of all, this. That you are mistaken in supposing I should
ever consent to share your money. The thought was natural to you, no
doubt; but I see things from a different point of view.'
His cold anger completely disguised the emotion stirred in him by
Nancy's presence. Had he not spoken thus, he must have given way to
joy and tenderness. For Nancy seemed more beautiful than the memory
he had retained of her, and even at such a juncture she was far from
exhibiting the gross characteristics attributed to her by his
'Then I don't understand,' were her next words, 'why you wrote to me
again at all.'
'There are many things in me that you don't understand, and can't
'Yes, I think so. That's why I see no use in our talking.'
Tarrant was ashamed of what he had said--a meaningless retort,
which covered his inability to speak as his heart prompted.
'At all events I wanted to see you, and it's fortunate you passed
just as I was coming out.'
Nancy would not accept the conciliatory phrase.
'I hadn't the least intention of seeing you,' she replied. 'It was a
curiosity to know where you lived, nothing else. I shall never
forgive you for the way in which you have behaved to me, so you
needn't try to explain yourself.'
'Here and now, I should certainly not try. The only thing I will say
about myself is, that I very much regret not having made known that
you were married to me when plain honesty required it. Now, I look
upon it as something over and done with, as far as I am concerned. I
shall never benefit by the deception--'
She interrupted him.
'How do you know that _I_ shall benefit by it? How can you tell what
has been happening since you last heard from me in America?'
'I have taken it for granted that things are the same.'
'Then you didn't even take measures to have news of me from any one
'What need? I should always have received any letter you sent.'
'You thought it likely that I should appeal to you if I were in
He stood silent, glad of the obscurity which made it needless for
him to command his features. At length:
'What is the simple fact? Has your secret been discovered, or not?'
'How does it concern you?'
'Only in this way: that if you are to be dependent upon any one, it
must be upon me.'
Nancy gave a scornful laugh.
'That's very generous, considering your position. But happily you
can't force me to accept your generosity, any more than I can compel
you to take a share of my money.'
'Without the jibe at my poverty,' Tarrant said, 'that is a
sufficient answer. As we can't even pretend to be friendly with each
other, I am very glad there need be no talk of our future relations.
You are provided for, and no doubt will take care not to lose the
provision. If ever you prefer to forget that we are legally bound, I
shall be no obstacle.'
'I have thought of that,' replied Nancy, after a pause, her voice
expressing satisfaction. 'Perhaps we should do better to make the
understanding at once. You are quite free; I should never
acknowledge you as my husband.'
'You seriously mean it?'
'Do I seem to be joking?'
'Very well. I won't say that I should never acknowledge you as my
wife; so far from that, I hold myself responsible whenever you
choose to make any kind of claim upon me. But I shall not dream of
interfering with your liberty. If ever you wish to write to me, you
may safely address to the house at Champion Hill.--And remember
always,' he added sternly, 'that it was not I who made such a
Nancy returned his look through the gloom, and said in like tone:
'I shall do my best never to think of it at all. Fortunately, my
time and my thoughts are occupied.'
'How?' Tarrant could not help asking, as she turned away; for her
tone implied some special significance in the words.
'You have no right to ask anything whatever about me,' came from
Nancy, who was already moving away.
He allowed her to go.
'So it is to be as I wished,' he said to himself, with mock courage.
'So much the better.'
And he went home to a night of misery.
Not long after the disappearance of Fanny French, Mrs. Damerel called
one day upon Luckworth Crewe at his office in Farringdon Street.
Crewe seldom had business with ladies, and few things could have
surprised him more than a visit from this lady in particular, whom
he knew so well by name, and regarded with such special interest.
She introduced herself as a person wishing to find a good investment
for a small capital; but the half-hour's conversation which followed
became in the end almost a confidential chat. Mrs. Damerel spoke of
her nephew Horace Lord, with whom, she understood, Mr. Crewe was on
terms of intimacy; she professed a grave solicitude on his account,
related frankly the unhappy circumstances which had estranged the
young man from her, and ultimately asked whether Crewe could not
make it worth his own while to save Horace from the shoals of
idleness, and pilot him into some safe commercial haven. This
meeting was the first of many between the fashionable lady and the
keen man of affairs. Without a suspicion of how it had come about,
Horace Lord presently found himself an informal partner in Crewe's
business; he invested only a nominal sum, which might be looked upon
as a premium of apprenticeship; but there was an understanding that
at the close of the term of tutelage imposed by his father's will,
he should have the offer of a genuine partnership on very inviting
Horace was not sorry to enter again upon regular occupation. He had
considerably damaged his health in the effort to live up to his
ideal of thwarted passion, and could no longer entertain a hope that
Fanny's escapade was consistent with innocence. Having learnt how
money slips through the fingers of a gentleman with fastidious
tastes, he welcomed a prospect of increased resources, and applied
himself with some energy to learning his new business. But with Mrs.
Damerel he utterly refused to be reconciled, and of his sister he
saw very little. Nancy, however, approved the step he had taken, and
said she would be content to know that all was well with him.
Upon a Sunday morning, when the church bells had ceased to clang,
Luckworth Crewe, not altogether at his ease in garb of flagrant
respectability, sat by the fireside of a pleasant little room
conversing with Mrs. Damerel. Their subject, as usual at the
beginning of talk, was Horace Lord.
'He won't speak of you at all,' said Crewe, in a voice singularly
subdued, sympathetic, respectful. 'I have done all I could, short of
telling him that I know you. He's very touchy still on that old
'How would he like it,' asked the lady, 'if you told him that we are
'Impossible to say. Perhaps it would make no difference one way or
Mrs. Damerel was strikingly, yet becomingly, arrayed. The past year
had dealt no less gently with her than its predecessors; if
anything, her complexion had gained in brilliancy, perhaps a
consequence of the hygienic precautions due to her fear of becoming
stout. A stranger, even a specialist in the matter, might have
doubted whether the fourth decade lay more than a month or two
behind her. So far from seeking to impress her visitor with a pose
of social superiority, she behaved to him as though his presence
honoured as much as it delighted her; look, tone, bearing, each was
a flattery which no obtuseness could fail to apprehend, and Crewe's
countenance proved him anything but inappreciative. Hitherto she had
spoken and listened with her head drooping in gentle melancholy;
now, with a sudden change intended to signify the native buoyancy of
her disposition, she uttered a rippling laugh, which showed her
excellent teeth, and said prettily:
'Poor boy! I must suffer the penalty of having tried to save him
from one of my own sex.--Not,' she added, 'that I foresaw how that
poor silly girl would justify my worst fears of her. Perhaps,' her
head drooping again, 'I ought to reproach myself with what
'I don't see that at all,' replied Crewe, whose eyes lost nothing of
the exhibition addressed to them. 'Even if you had been the cause of
it, which of course you weren't, I should have said you had done the
right thing. Every one knew what Fanny French must come to.'
'Isn't it sad? A pretty girl--but so ill brought up, I fear. Can
you give me any news of her sister, the one who came here and
frightened me so?'
'Oh, she's going on as usual.'
Crewe checked himself, and showed hesitation.
'She almost threatened me,' Mrs. Damerel pursued, with timid
sweetness. 'Do you think she is the kind of person to plot any harm
'She had better not try it on,' said Crewe, in his natural voice.
Then, as if recollecting himself, he pursued more softly: 'But I was
going to speak of her. You haven't heard that Miss. Lord has taken a
position in the new branch of that Dress Supply Association?'
Mrs. Damerel kept an astonished silence.
'There can't be any doubt of it; I have been told on the best
authority. She is in what they call the "club-room," a
superintendent. It's a queer thing; what can have led her to it?'
'I must make inquiries,' said Mrs. Damerel, with an air of concern.
'How sad it is, Mr. Crewe, that these young relatives of mine,--
almost the only relatives I have,--should refuse me their
confidence and their affection. Pray, does Horace know of what his
sister is doing?'
'I thought I wouldn't speak to him about it until I had seen you.'
'How very kind! How grateful I am to you for your constant
Why Crewe should have practised such reticence, why it signified
kindness and thoughtfulness to Mrs. Damerel, neither he nor she could
easily have explained. But their eyes met, with diffident admiration
on the one side, and touching amiability on the other. Then they
discussed Nancy's inexplicable behaviour from every point of view;
or rather, Mrs. Damerel discussed it, and her companion made a
pretence of doing so. Crewe's manner had become patently artificial;
he either expressed himself in trivial phrases, which merely avoided
silence, or betrayed an embarrassment, an abstraction, which caused
the lady to observe him with all the acuteness at her command.
You haven't seen her lately?' she asked, when Crewe had been staring
at the window for a minute or two.
'Seen her?--No; not for a long time.'
'I think you told me you haven't called there since Mr. Lord's
'I never was there at all,' he answered abruptly.
'Oh, I remember your saying so. Of course there is no reason why she
shouldn't go into business, if time is heavy on her hands, as I dare
say it may be. So many ladies prefer to have an occupation of that
kind now-a-days. It's a sign of progress; we are getting more
sensible; Society used to have such silly prejudices. Even within my
recollection--how quickly things change!--no lady would have
dreamt of permitting her daughter to take an engagement in a shop or
any such place. Now we have women of title starting as milliners and
modistes, and soon it will be quite a common thing to see one's
friends behind the counter.'
She gave a gay little laugh, in which Crewe joined unmelodiously,--
for he durst not be merry in the note natural to him,--then raised
her eyes in playful appeal.
'If ever I should fall into misfortune, Mr. Crewe, would you put me
in the way of earning my living.'
'You couldn't. You're above all that kind of thing. It's for the
rough and ready sort of women, and I can't say I have much opinion
'That's a very nice little compliment; but at the same time, it's
rather severe on the women who are practical.--Tell me frankly: Is
my--my niece one of the people you haven't much opinion of?'
Crewe shuffled his feet.
'I wasn't thinking of Miss. Lord.'
'But what is really your opinion of her?' Mrs. Damerel urged softly.
Crewe looked up and down, smiled in a vacant way, and appeared very
'May I guess the truth?' said his playful companion.
'No, I'll tell you. I wanted to marry her, and did my best to get
her to promise.'
'I thought so!' She paused on the note of arch satisfaction, and
mused. 'How nice of you to confess!--And that's all past and
forgotten, is it?'
Never man more unlike himself than the bold advertising-agent in
this colloquy. He was subdued and shy; his usual racy and virile
talk had given place to an insipid mildness. He seemed bent on
showing that the graces of polite society were not so strange to him
as one might suppose. But under Mrs. Damerel's interrogation a
restiveness began to appear in him, and at length he answered in his
natural blunt voice:
'Yes, it's all over--and for a good reason.'
The lady's curiosity was still more provoked.
'No,' she exclaimed laughingly, 'I am _not_ going to ask the reason.
That would be presuming too far on friendship.'
Crewe fixed his eyes on a corner of the room, and seemed to look
there for a solution of some difficulty. When the silence had lasted
more than a minute, he began to speak slowly and awkwardly.
'I've half a mind to--in fact, I've been thinking that you ought
'The good reason?'
'Yes. You're the only one that could stand in the place of a mother
to her. And I don't think she ought to be living alone, like she is,
with no one to advise and help her.'
'I have felt that very strongly,' said Mrs. Damerel. 'The old servant
who is with her can't be at all a suitable companion--that is, to
be treated on equal terms. A very strange arrangement, indeed. But
you don't mean that you thought less well of her because she is
living in that way?'
'Of course not. It's something a good deal more serious than that.'
Mrs. Damerel became suddenly grave.
'Then I certainly ought to know.'
'You ought. I think it very likely she would have been glad enough
to make a friend of you, if it hadn't been for this--this affair,
which stood in the way. There can't be any harm in telling you, as
you couldn't wish anything but her good.'
'That surely you may take for granted.'
'Well then, I have an idea that she's trying to earn money because
some one is getting all he can out of her--leaving her very little
for herself; and if so, it's time you interfered.'
The listener was so startled that she changed colour.
'You mean that some man has her in his power?'
'If I'm not mistaken, it comes to that. But for her father's will,
she would have been married long ago, and--she ought to be.'
Having blurted out these words, Crewe felt much more at ease. As Mrs.
Damerel's eyes fell, the sense of sexual predominance awoke in him,
and he was no longer so prostrate before the lady's natural and
'How do you know this?' she asked, in an undertone.
'From some one who had it from Miss. Lord herself.'
'Are you quite sure that it isn't a malicious falsehood?'
'As sure as I am that I sit here. I know the man's name, and where
he lives, and all about him. And I know where the child is at nurse.
A genuine agitation possessed her; she had a frightened,
pain-stricken look, and moved as if she must act without delay.
'It's nearly six months old,' Crewe continued. 'Of course that's why
she was away so long.'
'But why haven't you told me this before? It was your duty to tell
me--your plain duty. How long have you known?'
'I heard of it first of all about three months ago, but it was only
the other day that I was told the man's name, and other things about
'Is it known to many people? Is the poor girl talked about?'
'No, no,' Crewe replied, with confidence. 'The person who told me is
the only one who has found it out; you may depend upon that.'
'It must be a woman,' said Mrs. Damerel sharply.
'Yes, it's a woman. Some one _I_ know very well. She told me just
because she thought I was still hoping to marry Miss. Lord, and--
well, the truth is, though we're good friends, she has a little
spite against me, and I suppose it amused her to tell me something
'I have no doubt,' said Mrs. Damerel, 'that the secret has been
betrayed to a dozen people.'
'I'll go bail it hasn't!' returned Crewe, falling into his
'I can hardly believe it at all. I should never have dreamt that
such a thing was possible. What is the man's name? what is his
'Tarrant is his name, and he's related somehow to a Mr. Vawdrey, well
known in the City, who has a big house over at Champion Hill. I have
no notion how they came together, or how long it was going on. But
this Mr. Tarrant has been in America for a year, I understand; has
only just come back; and now he's living In poorish lodgings,--
Great College Street, Westminster. I've made a few inquiries about
him, but I can't get at very much. A man who knows Vawdrey tells me
that Tarrant has no means, and that he's a loafing, affected sort of
chap. If that's true,--and it seems likely from the way he's
living,--of course he will be ready enough to marry Miss. Lord when
the proper time has come; I'm only afraid that's all he had in view
from the first. And I can't help suspecting, as I said, that she's
supporting him now. If not, why should she go and work in a shop? At
all events, a decent man wouldn't allow her to do it.'
'A decent man,' said the listener, 'would never have allowed her to
fall into disgrace.'
'Certainly not,' Crewe assented with energy. 'And as for my keeping
quiet about it, Mrs. Damerel, you've only to think what an awkward
affair it was to mention. I'm quite sure you'll have a little
feeling against me, because I knew of it--'
'I beg you not to think that!' She returned to her manner of suave
friendliness. 'I shall owe you gratitude for telling me, and nothing
but gratitude. You have behaved with very great delicacy; I cannot
say how highly I appreciate your feeling on the poor girl's behalf.'
'If I can be of any use, I am always at your service.'
'Thank you, dear Mr. Crewe, thank you! In you I have found a real
friend,--and how rarely they are met with! Of course I shall make
inquiries at once. My niece must be protected. A helpless girl in
that dreadful position may commit unheard-of follies. I fear you are
right. He is making her his victim. With such a secret, she is
absolutely at his mercy. And it explains why she has shunned me. Oh,
do you think her brother knows it?'
'I'm quite sure he doesn't; hasn't the least suspicion.'
'Of course not. But it's wonderful how she has escaped. Your
informant--how did she find it out? You say she had the story from
the girl's own lips. But why? She must have shown that she knew
Crewe imparted such details as had come to his knowledge; they were
meagre, and left many obscurities, but Mrs. Damerel rewarded him with
effusive gratitude, and strengthened the spell which she had cast
upon this knight of Farringdon Street.
Every day Tarrant said to himself: 'I am a free man; I was only
married in a dream.' Every night he thought of Nancy, and suffered
He thought, too, of Nancy's child, his own son. That Nancy was a
tender mother, he knew from the letter she had written him after the
baby's birth,--a letter he would have liked to read again, but
forbore. Must not the separation from her child be hard? If he saw
the poor little mortal, how would the sight affect him? At moments
he felt a longing perhaps definable as the instinct of paternity;
but he was not the man to grow sentimental over babies, his own or
other people's. Irony and sarcasm--very agreeable to a certain
class of newspaper readers--were just now his stock-in-trade, and
he could not afford to indulge any softer mode of meditation.
His acquaintances agreed that the year of absence had not improved
him. He was alarmingly clever; he talked well; but his amiability,
the poetry of his mind, seemed to have been lost in America. He
could no longer admire or praise.
For his own part, he did not clearly perceive this change. It struck
him only that the old friends were less interesting than he had
thought them; and he looked for reception in circles better able to
appreciate his epigrams and paradoxes.
A few weeks of such life broke him so completely to harness, that he
forgot the seasonable miseries which had been wont to drive him from
London at the approach of November. When the first fog blackened
against his windows, he merely lit the lamp and wrote on,
indifferent. Two years ago he had declared that a London November
would fatally blight his soul; that he must flee to a land of
sunshine, or perish. There was little time, now, to think about his
One Monday morning arrived a letter which surprised and disturbed
him. It ran thus:
'Mrs. Eustace Damerel presents her compliments to Mr. Tarrant, and
would take it as a great favour if he could call upon her, either
to-morrow or Tuesday, at any hour between three and seven. She
particularly desires to see Mr. Tarrant on a private matter of mutual
Now this could have but one meaning. Mrs. Eustace Damerel was, of
course, Nancy's relative; from Nancy herself, or in some other way,
she must have learnt the fact of his marriage. Probably from Nancy,
since she knew where he lived. He was summoned to a judicial
interview. Happily, attendance was not compulsory.
Second thoughts advised him that he had better accept the
invitation. He must know what measures were in progress against him.
If Nancy had already broken her word, she might be disposed to
revenge herself in every way that would occur to an angry woman of
small refinement; she might make life in London impossible for him.
He sat down and penned a reply, saying that he would call upon Mrs.
Damerel at five to-morrow. But he did not post this. After all, a
day's delay would only irritate him; better to go this afternoon, in
which case it was not worth while sending an answer.
It seemed to him very probable that Nancy would be with her aunt, to
confront him. If so,--if indeed she were going to act like any
coarse woman, with no regard but for her own passions and Interests,
--he would at least have the consolation of expelling from his
mind, at once and for ever, her haunting image.
Mrs. Damerel, who during the past twelve months had changed her abode
half-a-dozen times, now occupied private lodgings in Tyburnia. On
his admittance, Tarrant sat alone for nearly five minutes in a
pretentiously furnished room--just the room in which he had
expected to find Nancy's relative; the delay and the surroundings
exasperated his nervous mood, so that, when the lady entered, he
behaved with slighter courtesy than became his breeding. Nothing in
her appearance surprised or interested him. There was a distant
facial resemblance to Nancy, natural in her mother's sister; there
was expensive, though not particularly tasteful dress, and a gait, a
manner, distinguishable readily enough from what they aimed at
displaying--the grace of a woman born to social privilege.
It would be a humiliating conversation; Tarrant braced himself to go
through with it. He stood stiffly while his hostess regarded him
with shrewd eyes. She had merely bent her head.
'Will you sit down, Mr. Tarrant?'
He took a chair without speaking.
'I think you know me by name?'
'I have heard of a Mrs. Damerel.'
'Some time ago, I suppose? And in that you have the advantage of me.
I heard your name yesterday for the first time.'
It was the sharp rejoinder of a woman of the world. Tarrant began to
perceive that he had to do with intelligence, and would not be
allowed to perform his share of the talking _de haut en bas._
'In what can I be of service to you?' he asked with constrained
'You can tell me, please, what sort of connection there is between
you and my niece, Miss. Lord.'
Mrs. Damerel was obviously annoyed by his demeanour, and made little
effort to disguise her feeling. She gave him the look of one who
does not mean to be trifled with.
'Really,' answered the young man with a smile, 'I don't know what
authority you have to make such inquiries. You are not, I believe,
Miss. Lord's guardian.'
'No, but I am her only relative who can act on her behalf where
knowledge of the world is required. As a gentleman, you will bear
this in mind. It's quite true that I can't oblige you to tell me
anything; but when I say that I haven't spoken even to my niece of
what I have heard, and haven't communicated with the gentlemen who
_are_ her guardians, I think you will see that I am not acting in a
way you ought to resent.'
'You mean, Mrs. Damerel, that what passes between us is in
'I only mean, Mr. Tarrant, that I am giving you an opportunity of
explaining yourself--so that I can keep the matter private if your
explanation is satisfactory.'
'You have a charge of some kind to bring against me,' said Tarrant
composedly. 'I must first of all hear what it is. The prisoner at
the bar can't be prosecuting counsel at the same time.'
'Do you acknowledge that you are on intimate terms with Miss. Lord?'
'I have known her for a year or two.'
Tarrant began to exercise caution. Nancy had no hand in this matter;
some one had told tales about her, that was all. He must learn,
without committing himself, exactly how much had been discovered.
'Are you engaged to her?'
'Engaged to marry her? No.'
He saw in Mrs. Damerel's clear eye that she convicted him of
'You have not even made her a promise of marriage?'
'How much simpler, if you would advance a clear charge. I will
answer it honestly.'
Mrs. Damerel seemed to weigh the value of this undertaking. Tarrant
met her gaze with steady indifference.
'It may only be a piece of scandal,--a mistake, or a malicious
invention. I have been told that--that you are in everything but
law my niece's husband.'
They regarded each other during a moment's silence. Tarrant's look
indicated rapid and anxious thought.
'It seems,' he said at length, 'that you have no great faith in the
person who told you this.'
'It is the easiest matter in the world to find out whether the story
is true or not. Inquiries at Falmouth would be quite sufficient, I
dare say. I give you the opportunity of keeping it quiet, that's
'You won't care to let me know who told you?'
'There's no reason why I shouldn't,' said Mrs. Damerel, after
reflection. 'Do you know Mr. Luckworth Crewe?'
'I don't think I ever heard the name.'
'Indeed? He is well acquainted with Miss. Lord. Some one he wouldn't
mention gave him all the particulars, having learnt them from Miss
Lord herself, and he thought it his duty to inform me of my niece's
very painful position.'
'Who is this man?' Tarrant asked abruptly.
'I am rather surprised you have never heard of him. He's a man of
business. My nephew, Mr. Horace Lord, is shortly to be in partnership
'Crewe? No, the name is quite strange to me.'
Tarrant's countenance darkened; he paused for an instant, then added
'You say he had "all the particulars." What were they, these
'Will one be enough? A child was born at Falmouth, and is now at a
place just outside London, in the care of some stranger.'
The source of this information might, or might not, be Nancy
herself. In either case, there was no further hope of secrecy.
Tarrant abandoned his reserve, and spoke quietly, civilly.
'So far, you have heard the truth. What have you to ask of me, now?'
'You have been abroad for a long time, I think?'
'For about a year.'
'Does that mean that you wished to see no more of her?'
'That I deserted her, in plain words? It meant nothing of the kind.'
'You are aware, then, that she has taken a place in a house of
business, just as if she thought it necessary to earn her own
Tarrant displayed astonishment.
'I am aware of no such thing. How long has that been going on?'
'Then you don't see her?'