Part 8 out of 9
'I have seen her, but she told me nothing of that.'
'There's something very strange in this, Mr. Tarrant. You seem to me
to be speaking the truth. No, please don't take offence. Before I
saw you, you were a total stranger to me, and after what I had
heard, I couldn't think very well of you. I may as well confess that
you seem a different kind of man from what I expected. I don't wish
to offend you, far from it. If we can talk over this distressing
affair in a friendly way, so much the better. I have nothing
whatever in view but to protect my niece--to do the best that can
be done for her.'
'That I have taken for granted,' Tarrant replied. 'I understand that
you expected to meet a scoundrel of a very recognisable type. Well,
I am not exactly that. But what particular act of rascality have you
in mind? Something worse than mere seduction, of course.'
'Will you answer a disagreeable question? Are you well-to-do?'
'Anything but that.'
'Indeed? And you can form no idea why Nancy has gone to work in a
Tarrant raised his eyebrows.
'I see,' he said deliberately. 'You suspect that I have been taking
money from her?'
'I _did_ suspect it; now it seems to me more unlikely.'
'Many thanks,' he answered, with cold irony. 'So the situation was
this: Miss. Lord had been led astray by a rascally fellow, who not
only left her to get on as best she could, but lived on her income,
so that she had at length to earn money for her own needs. There's
something very clear and rounded, very dramatic, about that. What I
should like to know is, whether Miss. Lord tells the story in this
'I can't say that she does. I think it was Mr. Crewe who explained
things like that.'
'I am obliged to Mr. Crewe. But he may, after all, only repeat what
he has heard. It's a pity we don't know Miss. Lord's actual
'Of course you have _not_ received assistance from her?'
Tarrant stared for a moment, then laughed unpleasantly.
'I have no recollection of it.'
'Another disagreeable question. Did you really go away and leave her
to get on as best she could?'
He looked darkly at her.
'And if I did?'
'Wasn't it rather unaccountable behaviour--in a gentleman?'
'I can't believe it. There is something unexplained.'
'Yes, there _is_ something unexplained.--Mrs. Damerel, I should
have thought you would naturally speak first to your niece. Why did
you send for me before doing so?'
'To find out what sort of man you were, so that I should be able to
form my own opinion of what Nancy chose to tell me. Perhaps she may
refuse to tell me anything at all--we are not like ordinary
relatives, I am sorry to say. But I dare say you know better than I
do how she thinks of me.'
'I have heard her speak of you only once or twice. At all events,
now that you are prepared, you will go and see her?'
'I must. It would be wrong to stand by and do nothing.'
'And you will see her guardians?'
'That must depend. I certainly shall if she seems to be suffering
hardships. I must know why she goes out to work, as if she were
pinched for money. There is her child to support, of course, but
that wouldn't make any difference to her; she is well provided for.'
'Yes. There's no choice but to fall back upon the villain theory.'
He rose, and took up his hat.
'You mustn't go yet, Mr. Tarrant,' said his hostess firmly. 'I have
said that I can't believe such things of you. If you would only
'That's just what I can't do. It's as much a mystery to me as to you
--her wishing to earn money.'
'I was going to say--if you would only explain your intentions as
to the future--'
'My intentions will depend entirely on what I hear from your niece.
I shall see her as soon as possible. Perhaps you can tell me at what
hour she returns from business?'
'No, I can't. I wish you would talk a little longer.'
His eyes flashed angrily.
'Mrs. Damerel, I have said all that I am willing to say. What you
have heard is partly true; you probably won't have to wait very long
for the rest of the story, but I have no time and no inclination to
tell it. Go and see your niece to-morrow by all means,--or her
guardians, if it seems necessary.
'I am very sorry we are parting in this way.'
'You must remember how difficult it is to keep one's temper under
certain kinds of accusation.'
'I don't accuse you.'
'Well, then, to explain calmly that one couldn't commit this or that
sordid rascality;--it comes to the same thing. However, I am
obliged to you for opening my eyes. I have got into a very foolish
position, and I promise you I will get out of it as quickly as may
Whereupon he bowed his leave-taking, and withdrew.
It was not yet dark, but street-lamps had begun to flare and flicker
in the gust of a cold, damp evening. A thin and slippery mud smeared
the pavement. Tarrant had walked mechanically as far as to the top
of Park Lane before he began to consider his immediate course. Among
the people who stood waiting for omnibuses, he meditated thus:
'She may not get home until seven or half-past; then she will have a
meal. I had better put it off till about half-past eight. That
leaves me some four hours to dispose of. First of all I'll walk
home, and--yes, by all the devils! I'll finish that bit of
writing. A year ago I could no more have done it, under such
circumstances, than have built a suspension bridge. To-day I will--
just to show that I've some grit in me.'
Down Park Lane, and by Buckingham Palace across to Westminster, he
kept his thoughts for the most part on that bit of writing. Only
thus could he save himself from an access of fury which would only
have injured him--the ire of shame in which a man is tempted to
beat his head against stone walls. He composed aloud, balancing many
a pretty antithesis, and polishing more than one lively paradox.
In his bedroom-study the fire had gone out. No matter; he would
write in the cold. It was mere amanuensis work, penning at the
dictation of his sarcastic demon. Was he a sybarite? Many a poor
scribbler has earned bed and breakfast with numb fingers. The fire
in his body would serve him for an hour or two.
So he sat down, and achieved his task to the last syllable. He read
it through, corrected it, made it up for post, and rose with the
plaudits of conscience. 'Who shall say now that I am a fop and a
Half-past seven. Good; just time enough to appease his hunger and
reach Grove Lane by the suitable hour. He went out to the little
coffee-shop which was his resort in Spartan moods, ate with
considerable appetite, and walked over Westminster Bridge to the
Camberwell tram. To kill time on the journey he bought a halfpenny
As he ascended Grove Lane his heart throbbed more than the exercise
warranted. At the door of the house, which he had never yet entered,
and which he had not looked upon for more than a year, he stood to
calm himself, with lips set and cheek pale in the darkness. Then a
confident peal at the knocker.
It was Mary who opened. He had never seen her, but knew that this
grave, hard-featured person, not totally unlike a born gentlewoman,
must be Mary Woodruff. And in her eyes he read a suspicion of his
'Is Miss. Lord at home?' he asked, in a matter-of-fact way.
'Yes.--What name shall I mention?'
Her eyes fell, and she requested him to enter, to wait in the hall
for a moment; then went upstairs. She was absent for a few minutes,
and on returning asked him to follow her. She led to the
dawing-room: on the way, Tarrant felt a surprise that in so small a
house the drawing-room should be correctly situated on the upper
Here he had again to wait. A comfortable room, he thought, and with
a true air of home about it. He knew how significant is this
impression first received on entering a strange abode; home or
encampment, attraction or repulsion, according to the mind of the
woman who rules there. Was it Nancy, or Mary, who made the
atmosphere of the house?
The door opened, and he faced towards it.
Nancy's dress had an emphasis of fashion formerly unknown to it;
appropriate enough considering her new occupation. The flush upon
her cheeks, the light of doubtful meaning in her eyes, gave
splendour to a beauty matured by motherhood. In the dark street, a
fortnight ago, Tarrant could hardly be said to have seen her; he
gazed in wonder and admiration.
'What has brought you here?'
'A cause quite sufficient.--This is a little house; can we talk
without being overheard?'
'You can shout if you wish to,' she answered flippantly. 'The
servant is Out, and Mary is downstairs.'
Nancy did not seat herself, and offered no seat to the visitor.
'Why have you made yourself a shop-girl?'
'I didn't know that I had.'
'I am told you go daily to some shop or other.'
'I am engaged at a place of business, but I don't.--However, that
doesn't matter. What business is it of yours?'
'Who is Mr. Luckworth Crewe?'
Nancy kept her eyes still more resolutely fronting his severe look.
'A man I used to know.'
'You don't see him now-a-days?'
'It's many months since I saw him.'
'Who, then, is the woman who has told him your whole story--with
embellishments, and who says she has had it from you yourself?'
Nancy was speechless.
'I don't say there is any such person,' Tarrant continued. 'The man
may have lied in that particular. But he has somehow got to know a
good deal about you,--where and when your child was born, where it
is now, where I live, and so on. And all this he has reported to
your aunt, Mrs. Damerel.'
'To her?--How do you know?'
For answer he held out Mrs. Damerel's note of invitation, then added:
'I have been with her this afternoon. She is coming to offer you her
protection against the scoundrel who has ruined you, and who is now
living upon you.'
'What do you mean?'
'That's the form the story has taken, either in Mr. Crewe's mind, or
in that of the woman who told it to him.'
'Don't they know that I am married?'
'And they think you--are having money from me?'
'That's how they explain your taking a place in a shop.'
Nancy laughed, and laughed again.
'I'm glad you can get amusement out of it. Perhaps you can suggest
how the joke began?'
She moved a few steps, then turned again to him.
'Yes, I know who the woman must be. It's Beatrice French.'
'A bosom friend of yours, of course.'
'Nothing of the kind.'
'But you have taken her into your confidence--up to a certain
'Yes, I have told her. And she told Mr. Crewe? I understand that.
Well, what does it matter?'
Tarrant was at a loss to interpret this singular levity. He had
never truly believed that reading of Nancy's character by means of
which he tried to persuade himself that his marriage was an
unmitigated calamity, and a final parting between them the best
thing that could happen. His memories of her, and the letters she
had written him, coloured her personality far otherwise. Yet was not
the harsh judgment after all the true one?
'It doesn't matter to you,' he said, 'that people think you an
unmarried mother,--that people are talking about you with grins
Nancy reddened in angry shame.
'Let them talk!' she exclaimed violently. 'What does it matter, so
long as they don't know I'm married?'
'So long as they don't know?--How came you to tell this woman?'
'Do you suppose I told her for amusement? She found out what had
happened at Falmouth,--found out simply by going down there and
making inquiries; because she suspected me of some secret affair
with a man she wants to marry herself--this Mr. Crewe. The wonder
of wonders is that no one else got to know of it in that way. Any
one who cared much what happened to me would have seen the all but
impossibility of keeping such a secret.'
It is a notable instance of evolutionary process that the female
mind, in wrath, flies to just those logical ineptitudes which most
surely exasperate the male intelligence. Tarrant gave a laugh of
'Why, you told me the other day that I cared particularly whether
your secret was discovered or not--that I only married you in the
hope of profiting by it?'
'Wouldn't any woman think so?'
'I hope not. I believe there are some women who don't rush naturally
to a base supposition.'
'Did I?' Nancy exclaimed, with a vehement passion that made her
breast heave. 'Didn't I give you time enough--believe in you until
I could believe no longer?'
The note of her thrilling voice went to Tarrant's heart, and his
'That may be true,' he said gravely. 'But go on with your
explanation. This woman came to you, and told you what she had
'And you allowed her to think you unmarried?'
'What choice had I? How was my child to be brought up if I lost
'Good God, Nancy! Did you imagine I should leave you to starve?'
His emotion, his utterance of her name, caused her to examine him
with a kind of wonder.
'How did I know?--How could I tell, at that time, whether you were
alive or dead?--I had to think of myself and the child.'
'My poor girl!'
The words fell from him involuntarily. Nancy's look became as
scornful and defiant as before.
'Oh, that was nothing. I've gone through a good deal more than
'Stop. Tell me this. Have you in your anger--anger natural enough
--allowed yourself to speak to any one about me in the way I should
never forgive? In the spirit of your letter, I mean. Did you give
this Beatrice French any ground for thinking that I made a
speculation of you?'
'I said nothing of that kind.'
'Nor to any one else?'
'To no one.'
'Yet you told this woman where I was living, and that I had been
abroad for a long time. Why?'
'Yes, I told her so much about you,' Nancy replied. 'Not when she
first came to me, but afterwards--only the other day. I wanted
employment, and didn't know how to get it, except through her. She
promised me a place if I would disclose your name; not that she knew
or cared anything about _you_, but because she still had suspicions
about Mr. Crewe. I was desperate, and I told her.'
'How can I make you understand what I have gone through? What do you
care? And what do _I_ care whether you understand or not? It wasn't
for money, and Beatrice French knew it wasn't.'
'Then it must have been that you could not bear the monotony of your
Her answer was a short, careless laugh.
'Where is this shop? What do you do?'
'It's a dress-supply association. I advise fools about the fashions,
and exhibit myself as a walking fashion-plate. I can't see how it
should interest you.'
'Whatever concerns you, Nancy, interests me more than anything else
in the world.'
Again she laughed.
'What more do you want to know?'
She was half turned from him, leaning at the mantelpiece, a foot on
'You said just now that you have gone through worse things than the
shame of being thought unmarried. Tell me about it all.'
'Not I, indeed. When I was willing to tell you everything, you
didn't care to hear it. It's too late now.'
'It's not too late, happily, to drag you out of this wretched slough
into which you are sinking. Whatever the cost, _that_ shall be
'Thank you, I am not disposed to let any one drag me anywhere. I
want no help; and if I did, you would be the last person I should
accept it from. I don't know why you came here after the agreement
we made the other night.'
Tarrant stepped towards her.
'I came to find out whether you were telling lies about me, and I
should never have thought it possible but for my bad conscience. I
know you had every excuse for being embittered and for acting
revengefully. It seems you have only told lies about yourself. As,
after all, you are my wife, I shan't allow that.'
Once more she turned upon him passionately.
'I am _not_ your wife! You married me against your will, and shook
me off as soon as possible. I won't be bound to you; I shall act as
a free woman.'
'Bound to me you are, and shall be--as I to you.'
'You may say it fifty times, and it will mean nothing.--How bound
to you? Bound to share my money?'
'I forgive you that, because I have treated you ill. You don't mean
it either. You know I am incapable of such a thought. But that shall
very soon be put right. Your marriage shall be made known at once.'
'Known to whom?'
'To the people concerned--to your guardians.'
'Don't trouble yourself,' she answered, with a smile. 'They know it
Tarrant half closed his eyes as he looked at her.
'What's the use of such a silly falsehood?'
'I told you I had gone through a good deal more than you imagined. I
have struggled to keep my money, in spite of shames and miseries,
and I will have it for myself--and my child! If you want to know
the truth, go to Samuel Barmby, and ask him what he has had to do
with me. I owe no explanation to _you_.'
Tarrant could see her face only in profile. Marvelling at the
complications she gradually revealed, he felt his blood grow warm
with desire of her beauty. She was his wife, yet guarded as by
maidenhood. A familiar touch would bring the colour to her cheeks,
the light of resentment to her eyes. Passion made him glad of the
estrangement which compelled a new wooing, and promised, on her
part, a new surrender.
'You don't owe it me, Nancy; but if I beg you to tell me all--
because I have come to my senses again--because I know how foolish
and cruel I have been--'
'Remember what we agreed. Go your way, and let me go mine.'
'I had no idea of what I was agreeing to. I took it for granted that
your marriage was strictly a secret, and that you might be free in
the real sense if you chose.'
'Yes, and you were quite willing, because it gave you your freedom
as well. I am as free as I wish to be. I have made a life for myself
that satisfies me--and now you come to undo everything. I won't be
tormented--I have endured enough.'
'Then only one course is open to me. I shall publish your marriage
everywhere. I shall make a home for you, and have the child brought
to it; then come or not, as you please.'
At mention of the child Nancy regarded him with cold curiosity.
'How are you to make a home for me? I thought you had difficulty
enough in supporting yourself.'
'That is no concern of yours. It shall be done, and in a day or two.
Then make your choice.'
'You think I can be forced to live with a man I don't love?'
'I shouldn't dream of living with a woman who didn't love me. But
you are married, and a mother, and the secrecy that is degrading you
shall come to an end. Acknowledge me or not, I shall acknowledge
_you_, and make it known that I am to blame for all that has
'And what good will you do?'
'I shall do good to myself, at all events. I'm a selfish fellow, and
shall be so to the end, no doubt.'
Nancy glanced at him to interpret the speech by his expression. He
'What good will it do you to have to support me? The selfishness I
see in it is your wishing to take me from a comfortable home and
make me poor.'
'That can't be helped. And, what's more, you won't think it a
'How do you know that? I have borne dreadful degradations rather
than lose my money.'
'That was for the child's sake, not for your own.'
He said it softly and kindly, and for the first time Nancy met his
eyes without defiance.
'It was; I could always have earned my own living, somehow.'
Tarrant paused a moment, then spoke with look averted.
'Is he well, and properly cared for?'
'If he were not well and safe, I shouldn't be away from him.'
'When will you let me see him, Nancy?'
She did not smile, but there was a brightening of her countenance,
which she concealed. Tarrant stepped to her side.
'Dear--my own love--will you try to forgive me? It was all my
cursed laziness. It would never have happened if I hadn't fallen
into poverty. Poverty is the devil, and it overcame me.'
'How can you think that _I_ shall be strong enough to face it?' she
asked, moving half a step away. 'Leave me to myself; I am contented;
I have made up my mind about what is before me, and I won't go
through all that again.'
Tired of standing, she dropped upon the nearest chair, and lay back.
'You can't be contented, Nancy, in a position that dishonours you.
From what you tell me, it seems that your secret is no secret at
all. Will you compel me to go to that man Barmby and seek
information from him about my own wife?'
'I have had to do worse things than that.'
'Don't torture me by such vague hints. I entreat you to tell me at
once the worst that you have suffered. How did Barmby get to know of
your marriage? And why has he kept silent about it? There can't be
anything that you are ashamed to say.'
'No. The shame is all yours.'
'I take it upon myself, all of it; I ought never to have left you;
but that baseness followed only too naturally on the cowardice which
kept me from declaring our marriage when honour demanded it. I have
played a contemptible part in this story; don't refuse to help me
now that I am ready to behave more like a man. Put your hand in
mine, and let us be friends, if we mayn't be more.'
She sat irresponsive.
'You were a brave girl. You consented to my going away because it
seemed best, and I took advantage of your sincerity. Often enough
that last look of yours has reproached me. I wonder how I had the
heart to leave you alone.'
Nancy raised herself, and said coldly:
'It was what I might have expected. I had only my own folly to
thank. You behaved as most men would.'
This was a harder reproach than any yet. Tarrant winced under it. He
would much rather have been accused of abnormal villainy.
'And I was foolish,' continued Nancy, 'in more ways than you knew.
You feared I had told Jessica Morgan of our marriage, and you were
right; of course I denied it. She has been the cause of my worst
In rapid sentences she told the story of her successive
humiliations, recounted her sufferings at the hands of Jessica and
Beatrice and Samuel Barmby. When she ceased, there were tears in her
'Has Barmby been here again?' Tarrant asked sternly.
'Yes. He has been twice, and talked in just the same way, and I had
to sit still before him--'
'Has he said one word that--?'
'No, no,' she interrupted hastily. 'He's only a fool--not man
'That saves me trouble,' said Tarrant; 'I have only to treat him
like a fool. My poor darling, what vile torments you have endured!
And you pretend that you would rather live on this fellow's
interested generosity--for, of course, he hopes to be rewarded--
than throw the whole squalid entanglement behind you and be a free,
honest woman, even if a poor one?'
'I see no freedom.'
'You have lost all your love for me. Well, I can't complain of that.
But bear my name you shall, and be supported by me. I tell you that
it was never _possible_ for me actually to desert you and the little
one--never possible. I shirked a duty as long as I could; that's
all it comes to. I loafed and paltered until the want of a dinner
drove me into honesty. Try to forget it, dear Nancy. Try to forgive
me, my dearest!'
She was dry-eyed again, and his appeal seemed to have no power over
'You are forgetting,' she said practically, 'that I have lived on
money to which I had no right, and that I--or you--can be forced
to repay it.'
'Repaid it must be, whether demanded or not. Where does Barmby live?
Perhaps I could see him to-night.'
'What means have you of keeping us all alive?'
'Some of my work has been accepted here and there; but there's
something else I have in mind. I don't ask you to become a
poverty-stricken wife in the ordinary way. I can't afford to take a
house. I must put you, with the child, into as good lodgings as I
can hope to pay for, and work on by myself, just seeing you as often
as you will let me. Even if you were willing, it would be a mistake
for us to live together. For one thing, I couldn't work under such
conditions; for another, it would make you a slave. Tell me: are you
willing to undertake the care of the child, if nothing else is asked
Nancy gave him a disdainful smile, a smile like those of her
'I'm not quite so feeble a creature as you think me.'
'You would rather have the child to yourself, than be living away
'If you have made up your mind, why trouble to ask such questions?'
'Because I have no wish to force burdens upon you. You said just now
that you could see little prospect of freedom in such a life as I
have to offer you. I thought you perhaps meant that the care of the
'I meant nothing,' Nancy broke in, with fretful impatience.
'Where is he--our boy?'
'At Dulwich. I told you that in my last letter.'
'Yes--yes. I thought you might have changed.'
'I couldn't have found a better, kinder woman. Can you guess how
many answers I had to the advertisement? Thirty-two.'
'Of course five-and-twenty of them took it for granted you would pay
so much a week and ask no questions. They would just not have
starved the baby,--unless you had hinted to them that you were
willing to pay a lump sum for a death-certificate, in which case the
affair would have been more or less skilfully managed.'
'Mary knew all about that. She came from Falmouth, and spent two
days in visiting people. I knew I could rely on her judgment. There
were only four or five people she cared to see at all, and of these
only one that seemed trustworthy.'
'To be sure. One out of two-and-thirty. A higher percentage than
would apply to mankind at large, I dare say. By-the-bye, I was
afraid you might have found a difficulty in registering the birth.'
'No. I went to the office myself, the morning that I was leaving
Falmouth, and the registrar evidently knew nothing about me. It
isn't such a small place that everybody living there is noticed and
'And Mary took the child straight to Dulwich?'
'Two days before I came,--so as to have the house ready for me.
'Perhaps it was unfortunate, Nancy, that you had so good a friend.
But for that, I should have suffered more uneasiness about you.'
She answered with energy:
'There is no husband in the world worth such a friend as Mary.'
At this Tarrant first smiled, then laughed. Nancy kept her lips
rigid. It happened that he again saw her face in exact profile, and
again it warmed the current of his blood.
'Some day you shall think better of that.'
She paid no attention. Watching her, he asked:
'What are you thinking of so earnestly?'
Her answer was delayed a little, but she said at length, with an
'Horace might lend me the money to pay back what I owe.'
'Your brother?--If he can afford it, there would be less objection
to that than to any other plan I can think of. But I must ask it
myself; you shall beg no more favours. I will ask it in your
'You will do nothing of the kind,' Nancy replied drily. 'If you
think to please me by humiliating yourself, you are very much
mistaken. And you mustn't imagine that I put myself into your hands
to be looked after as though I had no will of my own. With the past
you have nothing to do,--with _my_ past, at all events. Care for
the future as you like.'
'But I must see your guardians.'
'No. I won't have that.'
She stood up to emphasise her words.
'I must. It's the only way in which I can satisfy myself--'
'Then I refuse to take a step,' said Nancy. 'Leave all that to me,
and I will go to live where you please, and never grumble, however
poor I am. Interfere, and I will go on living as now, on Samuel
There was no mistaking her resolution. Tarrant hesitated, and bit
'How long, then, before you act?' he inquired abruptly.
'When my new home is found, I am ready to go there.'
'You will deal honestly with me? You will tell every one, and give
up everything not strictly yours?'
'I have done with lies,' said Nancy.
'Thank heaven, so have I!'
Part VI: A Virtue of Necessity
Upon the final tempest in De Crespigny Park there followed, for
Arthur Peachey, a calmer and happier season than he had ever known.
To have acted with stern resolve is always a satisfaction,
especially to the man conscious of weak good-nature, and condemned
for the most part to yield. In his cheap lodging at Clapham, Peachey
awoke each morning with a vague sense of joy, which became delight
as soon as he had collected his senses. He was a free man. No snarl
greeted him as he turned his head upon the pillow; he could lie and
meditate, could rise quietly when the moment sounded, could go
downstairs to a leisurely meal, cheered perhaps by a letter
reporting that all was well with his dear little son. Simple,
elementary pleasures, but how he savoured them after his years of
It was the blessedness of divorce, without squalid publicity. It was
the vast relief of widowerhood, without dreary memories of death and
In releasing himself from such companionship, the man felt as though
he had washed and become clean.
Innocent of scientific speculation, he had the misfortune about this
time to read in paper or magazine something on the subject of
heredity, the idle verbiage of some half-informed scribbler. It set
him anxiously thinking whether his son would develop the vices of
the mother's mind, and from that day he read all the printed chatter
regarding natural inheritance that he could lay his hands on. The
benefit he derived from this course of study was neither more nor
less than might have been expected; it supplied him with a new
trouble, which sometimes kept him wakeful. He could only resolve
that his boy should have the best education procurable for money, if
he starved himself in providing it.
He had begun to live with the utmost economy, and for a twofold
reason: the business of Messrs Ducker, Blunt & Co. threatened a
decline, and, this apart, he desired to get out of it, to obtain an
interest in some more honourable concern. For a long time it had
been known to him that the disinfectants manufactured by his firm
were far from trustworthy, and of late the complaints of purchasers
had become frequent. With the manufacturing department he had
nothing to do; he tried to think himself free from responsibility;
for, in spite of amiable qualities, he was a man of business, and
saw a great part of life through the commercial spectacles commonly
worn now-a-days. Nevertheless conscience unsettled him. One day he
heard his partners joking over the legislative omission by virtue of
which they were able to adulterate their disinfectants to any extent
without fear of penalty; their laughter grated upon him, and he got
out of the way. If he could lay aside a few thousands of pounds,
assuredly his connection with the affair should be terminated. So he
lived, for his own part, on a pound a week, and informed Ada through
his solicitor that she must be satisfied with a certain very
Mrs. Peachey naturally laid herself out to give every one as much
trouble as possible. Insulting post-cards showered upon her husband
at his place of business. After a few weeks she discovered his
lodging, and addressed the post-cards thither; but she made no
attempt at personal molestation. The loss of her child gave her not
the slightest concern, yet she determined to find out where the boy
was living. She remembered that Peachey had relatives at Canterbury,
and after a troublesome search succeeded in her purpose. An
interview with her husband's married sister proved so unsatisfactory
to Ada, that she had recourse to her familiar weapons, rage, insult,
and menace; with the result that she was forcibly removed, and made
a scandal in the quiet street.
Then she consulted men of law, and found one who encouraged her to
sue for restitution of conjugal rights. It came to nothing, however;
for in the meantime she was growing tired of her solitary existence,
--friends of course she had none,--and the spirit moved her to
try a change of tactics.
She wrote a long, long letter, penitent, tear-bestained. 'I have
behaved outrageously to you, dearest Arthur; I must have been mad to
say and do such things. The doctor tells me that my health has been
in a very bad state for a long time, and I really don't remember
half that has happened. You were quite right when you told me that I
should be better if I didn't live such an idle life, and I have
quite, quite made up my mind to be an industrious and a _good_
woman. All yesterday I spent in needlework and crying. Oh, the tears
that I have shed! My darling husband, what can I do to win your
forgiveness? Do consider how lonely I am in this house. Beatrice has
been horrid to me. If I said all I think about _her_, she wouldn't
like to hear it; but I am learning to control my tongue. She lives
alone in a flat, and has men to spend every evening with her; it's
disgraceful! And there's Fanny, who I am sure is leading an immoral
life abroad. Of course I shall never speak to her again. You were
quite right when you said my sisters were worthless.'--Peachey had
never permitted himself any such remark.--'I will have no one but
you, my dear, good, sweet husband.'
So on, over several pages. Reading it, the husband stood aghast at
this new revelation of female possibilities; at the end, he
hurriedly threw it into the fire, fearing, and with good reason,
that weakness in his own character to which the woman addressed
Every day for a week there arrived a replica of this epistle, and at
length he answered. It was the fatal concession. Though he wrote
with almost savage severity, Ada replied in terms of exuberant
gratitude. Oh, how delighted she was to see his dear handwriting
once more! How it reminded her of happy days, when they loved each
other so tenderly! Then came two strophes of a sentimental
drawing-room song, and lastly, an impassioned appeal to be allowed
to see her husband, were it only for five minutes.
Another week of such besieging, and the poor fellow's foolish heart
gave way. He would see the wretched woman, and tell her that, though
never could he consent to live with her again, he had no malicious
feeling, and was willing to be her friend at a distance. So, at six
o'clock one evening, behold him tremulously approaching the house in
De Crespigny Park,--tremulously, because he dreaded the assault
upon his emotions to which he so recklessly exposed himself. He was
admitted by a very young servant, in a very clean cap and apron.
Silence possessed the dwelling; he did not venture to tread with
natural step. He entered the drawing-room, and there, from amid a
heap of household linen which required the needle, rose the penitent
wife. Ostentatiously she drew from her finger a thimble, then
advanced with head bent.
'How kind of you, Arthur! How--how very--'
And she was dissolved in tears--so genuine, that they marked pale
rillets across the bloom of her cheeks.
About a month after that the furniture was removed from De Crespigny
Park to a much smaller house at Brixton, where Mr. and Mrs. Peachey
took up their abode together. A medical man shortly called, and Ada,
not without secret disgust, smilingly made known to her husband that
she must now be very careful of her health.
On one point only the man had held to a rational resolve; he would
not allow his little son to be brought back to London, away from the
home where he was happy and thriving. Out of mere self-will Ada
strove for a long time to overcome this decision; finding argument
and artifice of no avail, she dropped the matter. Peachey owed this
triumph largely to the firm commonsense of his sister, who plainly
refused to let the little fellow quit her care for that of such a
woman as he was unfortunate enough to call mother.
Christmas came, and with it an unanticipated call from Miss. Fanny
French, who said she had lately recovered from a serious illness in
Paris; the nature of her malady she did not specify; it had left her
haggard and thin, but by no means deficient in vivacity. She was
dressed with tawdry extravagance, wore a mass of false yellow hair,
had her eyebrows dyed black,--piquant contrast,--and her cheeks
and lips richly carmined. No veritable information as to her past
and present could be gleaned from the mixture of French and English
which she ceaselessly gabbled. She had come over for Christmas, that
was all; could not dream of returning to live in wretched England.
At Brussels and in Paris she had made hosts of friends, just the
right sort of people.
Ada told her all the news. Of most interest was that which related
to Nancy Lord. Only a month ago it had become known that Nancy was
married, and the mother of a child.
'The Barmbys found it out somehow,' Ada narrated. 'She was married
to a man called Tarrant, some one we never heard of, on the very day
of her father's death, and, of course, before she knew anything
about his will. Then, of course, it had to be kept dark, or she'd
lose all her money. Her husband hadn't a farthing. She supported
him, and they say he lived most of the time in her house. He's a
regular scamp, a drinking, betting fellow. Well, it all came out,
and the Barmbys turned her into the street at a moment's notice--
serve her right!'
Fanny shrieked with merriment.
'And what is she doing?'
'She went on her knees to Beatrice, and begged for a place at the
shop, if it was only a few shillings a week. Nice come-down for
Nancy Lord, wasn't it? Of course Beatrice sent her off with a flea
in her ear. I don't know where she's living, but I've heard that her
husband has gone to America, and left her to shift for herself, now
there's nothing more to be got out of her.'
For supplementary details of this racy narrative, Fanny sought out
Beatrice; but to her astonishment and annoyance Beatrice would tell
nothing. The elder sister urged Fanny to give an account of herself,
and used some very plain speech of the admonitory kind.
'What has become of that jackanapes, Horace Lord?' asked Fanny,
after a contemptuous remark about 'sermons.'
'I don't know. The question is, what's going to become of _you_?'
Whereupon the girl grew vituperative in two languages, and made off.
Her relatives saw no more of her for a long time.
To Mrs. Peachey was born a daughter. Naturally, the months preceding
this event had been, for her husband, a renewal of martyrdom; his
one supporting solace lay in the thought of the little lad at
Canterbury. All the old troubles were revived; from morning to night
the house rang with brawls between mistress and servants; in the
paroxysms favoured by her physical condition, Ada behaved like a
candidate for Bedlam, and more than once obliged her husband to seek
temporary peace in lodgings. He left home at eight o'clock every
morning, and returned as late as possible. The necessity of passing
long evenings made him haunt places of entertainment, and he
sometimes had recourse to drink,--he by nature the soberest of
men,--in fear of what awaited him on his tardy appearance at
Brixton. A month after Ada's confinement he once more acted a sane
part, and announced by letter that he would die rather than continue
living with his wife. As it was fine autumn weather he went down to
a seaside place, where his Canterbury relatives and the little boy
joined him for a holiday of several weeks. Again Ada was to receive
an allowance. She despatched a few very virulent post-cards, but
presently grew quiet, and appeared to accept the situation.
In early winter Fanny French came over to England. She had again
been ill, and this time with results obviously graver. Her first
call was upon Beatrice, who still occupied the flat at Brixton, and
here she unbosomed herself of a dolorous story. All her money had
vanished; stolen, most of it, Fanny declared; she was without
resources, and, as any one could see, in a wretched state of health.
Would Beatrice have compassion on her? Would she lend her money till
she was well enough to 'look round'?
Miss. French at once took the girl into her own home, and had her
looked after. Fanny coughed in an alarming way; the doctor, speaking
privately with Beatrice, made an unpleasant report; was it possible
to send the patient to a mild climate for the winter months? Yes,
Miss. French could manage that, and would. A suitable attendant
having been procured, Fanny was despatched to Bournemouth, whence,
in a day or two, she wrote to her sister thus:
'You've been awfully kind to me, and I shan't forget it when I'm
well again. Feel a good deal fitter already. Dullish place this, but
I've got to put up with it. I've had a letter from Ada. If you see
her, tell her she's a beast, and I wish Arthur would wring her
scraggy neck. She says it's all my own fault; wait till I'm back
again, and I'll pay her a call. My own fault indeed! It seems to me
I'm very much to be pitied.'
Walking one day along the sea-front by herself, Fanny observed a
young man's figure a few paces in advance of her, which seemed to
awaken recollections. Presently the young man turned and showed,
beyond doubt, the countenance of Horace Lord. He met her eyes, gave
a doubtful, troubled look, and was going past when Fanny accosted
'Well, don't you know me?'
'Why, it _is_--it really _is_! How glad I am to see you! But what
on earth are you doing here?'
'Amusing myself--_comme vous voyez_; and you?'
'Oh, doing the same.'
They had shaken hands, and were sauntering on together.
'Anything wrong with your health?' Fanny asked, scrutinising the
pale thin face, with its touch of warmth on the cheeks.
'Oh, I've had a bit of a cold; nothing to speak of. You been out of
'A little run down. Over-study, they say.'
Horace looked his surprise.
'Why, I didn't know you went in for that kind of thing.'
'Didn't you? I've been studying abroad for a long time. Thinking of
taking a place as French teacher in some tip-top high school.'
'I am very glad to hear it. Capital idea. Sure I hope you'll be
'Thanks awf'ly. Tell me something about yourself. Why, it's two
years since we saw each other, isn't it? Are you married yet?'
Horace smiled and coloured.
'No, no--not yet. I'm in business with Luckworth Crewe,--sort of
sleeping partner just now.'
'Are you really? And how's your sister?'
The young man bent his brows uncomfortably.
'Don't you know anything about her?' he asked.
'I've heard she's married.'
'Yes, a man called Tarrant. Very clever fellow; he writes for the
papers.--I say, Miss. French, I generally have a glass of wine and
a biscuit, at the confectioner's, about this time. Will you give me
the pleasure of your company?'
'_Charmee_, _Monsieur_! I generally go in for the same kind of
So they repaired to the cake-shop, and sat talking for half-an-hour
of trifles which made them laugh.
'And you really didn't know me?' said Fanny, when her glass of wine
was finished. 'Have I changed so much?'
'A good deal. Not for the worse, oh dear no!'
The girl giggled.
'Well, I don't mind saying that _you_ have changed a good deal for
Horace flushed at the compliment.
'I'm much older,' he answered with a sigh, as though the years of a
sexagenarian weighed upon him.
'That's just what I like in you. You're so much more of a man. Don't
They went forth again into the sunshine. At the door both coughed,
and both pretended that it wasn't a cough at all, but a voluntary
Mrs. Damerel was younger than ever. She had spent October abroad,
with her friends Mrs. and Miss. Chittle, and the greater part of
November at Brighton, with other friends. Back in town she
established herself at one of the various boarding-houses honoured
by her patronage, and prepared to enjoy the social life of winter.
Half a year ago an unwonted depression had troubled her serene
existence. At the close of the London season she seemed weary and
spiritless, very unlike herself; having no invitation for the next
two months, she withdrew to Whitsand, and there spent some cheerless
Whitsand was the as yet unfashionable seaside place which had
attracted the speculative eye of Luckworth Crewe. For the past two
years he had been trying to inspire certain men of capital with his
own faith in the possibilities of Whitsand; he owned a share in the
new hotel just opened; whenever his manifold affairs allowed him a
day's holiday, he spent it at Whitsand, pacing the small esplanade,
and meditating improvements. That these 'improvements' signified the
conversion of a pretty little old-world spot into a hideous brand
new resort of noisy hordes, in no degree troubled Mr. Crewe's
conscience. For his own part, he could appreciate the charms of
Whitsand as it stood; he was by no means insensible to natural
beauty and the ancient peace which so contrasted with his life of
every day; but first and foremost in his mind came the necessity of
making money; and to fill his pockets he would no more hesitate
about destroying the loveliest spot on earth, than the starving
hunter would stay his hand out of admiration for bird or beast.
It was with much delight that he heard of Mrs. Damerel's retreat to
Whitsand. To the note in which she acquainted him with her arrival
there he replied effusively. 'The patronage of a few really
fashionable people, such as yourself, would soon do wonders. We must
have a special paragraph in the local paper, drawing attention to
your being there'--and so on. An answer by return of post rather
disappointed him. On no account, wrote Mrs. Damerel, must her name be
specially mentioned in the paper. She had taken very simple
lodgings, very inexpensive, and wished to live as quietly as
possible. But, after seeing the place, she quite agreed with Mr
Crewe that it had a future, and if he could run down some day,
whilst she was here, it would give her great pleasure to hear his
projects explained on the spot.
Crewe ran down. In speaking of Mrs. Damerel as a 'really fashionable'
person, he used no insincerity; from their first meeting he had seen
in this lady his ideal of social distinction; she was, in fact, the
only woman of skilfully pretentious demeanour with whom he had ever
spoken. Her distant likeness to Nancy Lord interested and attracted
him; her suave superiority awed his conscious roughness; she seemed
to him exquisitely gracious, wonderfully sweet. And as, little by
little, he attained the right to think of her almost as a friend,
his humble admiration became blended with feelings he took
particular care not to betray, lest he should expose himself to
ridicule. That her age exceeded his own by some years he was of
course aware, but this fact soon dropped out of his mind, and never
returned to it. Not only did he think Mrs. Damerel a type of
aristocratic beauty, he saw in her countenance all the freshness and
the promise of youth.
The slight mystery attaching to her position only increased his
susceptibility to her charms. It seemed to him very probable that
she had but a moderate income; perhaps she was not free from
anxieties on that score. But such a woman would of course marry
again, and marry well. The thought grew troublesome, and presently
accounted for ebullitions of wrath, accompanied by more than usually
vigorous language, when business matters went wrong.
At Whitsand, Mrs. Damerel showed herself more than ever sweetly
affable. The season, she said, had been rather too much for her; she
must take care of her health; besides--and her smile played upon
Crewe's pulses--there were troubles, cares, of which she could not
speak _even_ to so valued a friend.
'I'm afraid you're anxious about your nephew,' murmured the man of
business; though at the same time he suspected other things, for the
lodgings in which he found Mrs. Damerel were certainly modest.
'Yes, I trouble a good deal about him. If only dear Horace would be
reconciled to me. It seems such a long, long time. You know that we
have corresponded, but he refuses to see me. It pains me deeply, Mr
And, after a silence:
'There's a special reason why I wish he would be friends with me,--
a reason that concerns his own future. Why should I not tell you? I
am sure you will respect my confidence.--He will very soon become
independent, and then I do so fear he may make a foolish marriage.
Yet all the time there is a chance waiting for him which would
establish his fortune and his happiness for life. Did he ever speak
to you of Miss. Chittle?'
'I don't remember the name.'
'Such a dear, sweet girl, and with really large means. He was
introduced to her during the happy time when we saw so much of each
other, and she at once became interested in him. Her dear mother
assured me of it. She is a very shy, retiring girl, and has refused
many offers, before and since then. Isn't it a pity? But I am losing
all hope, and I so fear he may have formed some other attachment.'
Crewe went back to London resolved that Horace Lord should no longer
'play the fool.' And he was successful. Horace had all but lost his
resentment against Mrs. Damerel; he kept aloof out of stubborn
conceit--it had not dignity enough to be called pride; the same
feeling that still estranged him from Nancy, though he would gladly
have welcomed his sister's offer of affection. Persuaded, or
commanded, by Luckworth Crewe, he took the train to Whitsand, and
remained there for several days. Mrs. Damerel wrote her friend in
Farringdon Street a letter of gratitude, which acted upon him like
champagne. In a postscript she said: 'Mrs. Chittle and her daughter
have consented to come here for a week or two. They will take rooms
at the Imperial.'
Before the end of September, Horace Lord was engaged to Winifred
Two years had made very little change in Miss. Chittle's appearance.
She was still colourless and abnormally shy, still had the look of
one who sheds secret tears, and her repugnance to Society had, if
possible, increased. Horace thought her pretty, was impressed by her
extreme gentleness and refinement, but she obtained no power over
his emotions such as that formerly exercised by Fanny French. It
struck him, too, as a very strange thing, that a young lady with a
large fortune should be willing to marry a man of his social
insignificance. 'My dear,' said Mrs. Damerel, 'it was a case of love
at first sight.' But Horace, who had gained some experience of life,
could not believe this. He wooed, and won; yet even when Winifred
accepted him, he felt that she did it under some constraint. Her
pale face declared no happiness.
Had she chosen, Mrs. Damerel could have explained the mystery. She
knew that, several years ago, Winifred's name had been blighted by a
scandal, and that the girl's shrinking from every proposal of
marriage was due, in part perhaps, to the memory of love betrayed,
in part to a sense of honour, and to the suspicion that men, knowing
her disgrace, condoned it for the sake of her wealth. Interest made
Mrs. Damerel generous; she admitted every excuse for Winifred, and
persuaded herself that in procuring Horace such a wife she was doing
him only a nominal wrong. The young people could live apart from
that corner of Society in which Miss. Chittle's name gave occasion to
smiles or looks of perfunctory censure. If Winifred, after marriage,
chose to make confession, why, that was her own affair, and Horace
would be wise enough, all advantages considered, to take the matter
That was the view of a practical-minded observer. To read Winifred
perfectly, there needed a much more subtle and sympathetic
intelligence. The girl had, in truth, conceived a liking for Horace
Lord, and it grew stronger when she learnt that neither by birth nor
present circumstances did he belong to her own world. To please her
mother she was willing to take a husband, but the husband must be of
her own choice. She wished to enter upon a wholly new life, remote
from the social conditions which of late years had crushed her
spirit. From the men who had hitherto approached her, she shrank in
fear. Horace Lord, good-looking and not uneducated, yet so far from
formidable, suggested a new hope; even though he might be actuated
by the ordinary motives, she discerned in him a softness, a
pliability of nature, which would harmonise with her own timid
disposition. To the thought of deceiving him on the subject of her
past, she was reconciled by a resolve to make his happiness the sole
object of her existence in the future. Horace was amiability itself,
and seemed, if not to love her ardently (which, perhaps, she did not
even desire), at least to regard her with an increasing affection.
Nothing was said about the condition of the prospective bridegroom's
health, though Horace had confided to Mrs. Damerel that he suffered
from a troublesome cough, accompanied now and then by an alarming
symptom. In her boundless exultation at the end achieved, Mrs.
Damerel made light of this complaint. Horace was not free to marry
until nearly the end of the year; for, though money would henceforth
be no matter of anxiety, he might as well secure the small
inheritance presently due to him. November and December he should
spend at Bournemouth under the best medical care, and after that, if
needful, his wife would go with him to Madeira or some such place.
No wonder Mrs. Damerel could think of nothing but the great fact that
Horace had secured a fortune. Her own resources were coming to an
end, and but for the certainty that Horace would not grudge her an
ample provision, she must at this moment have been racking her
brains (even as through the summer) for help against the evil that
drew near. Constitutional lightness of heart had enabled her to
enjoy life on a steadily, and rapidly, diminishing fund. There had
been hope in Nancy's direction, as well as in her brother's; but the
disclosure of Nancy's marriage, and Horace's persistency in
unfriendliness, brought Mrs. Damerel to a sense of peril. One offer
of marriage she had received and declined; it came from a man of
advanced years and small property. Another offer she might, or
thought she might, at any moment provoke; but only in direst
extremity could she think of bestowing her hand upon Luckworth
Crewe. Crewe was in love with her, an amusing fact in itself, and
especially so in regard to his former relations with Nancy Lord. He
might become a wealthy man; on the other hand, he might not; and in
any case he was a plebeian.
All such miseries were now dismissed from her mind. She went abroad
with the Chittles, enjoyed herself at Brighton, and came home to
prepare for Horace's wedding, Horace himself being at Bournemouth.
After her letter of gratitude to Crewe she had ceased to correspond
with him; she did not trouble to acquaint him with Horace's
engagement; and when Crewe, having heard the news from his partner,
ventured to send her a letter of congratulation, Mrs. Damerel replied
in two or three very civil but cold sentences. Back in London, she
did not invite the man of projects to call upon her. The status she
had lost when fears beset her must now be recovered. Let Crewe
cherish a passion for her if he liked, but let him understand that
social reasons made it laughably hopeless.
Horace was to come up to London in the third week of December, and
to be married on New Year's Day; the honeymoon would be spent at
Ventnor, or somewhere thereabout. Afraid to lose sight of her
relative for more than a week or two, Mrs. Damerel had already been
twice to Bournemouth, and now she decided to go for a third time,
just to talk quietly over the forthcoming event, and, whether Horace
broached the subject or not, to apprise him of the straits into
which she was drifting. Unannounced by letter, she reached
Bournemouth early in the afternoon, and went straight to Horace's
lodgings. The young man had just finished luncheon, and, all things
considered, including the fact that it was a remarkably bright and
warm day for the time of year, he might have been expected to
welcome Mrs. Damerel cheerfully. Yet on seeing her his countenance
fell; he betrayed an embarrassment which the lady noted with anxious
'Aren't you glad to see me, dear boy?' she began, with a kiss upon
'Yes--oh yes. I never dreamt of your appearing just now, that was
'I couldn't resist the temptation. Such a morning in London! Almost
as fine as it is here. And how is your cough?'
Even as she made the inquiry, he answered it by coughing very badly.
'I don't think this place suits you, Horace,' said Mrs. Damerel
gravely. 'You're not imprudent, I hope? Don't go out after dark?'
Oh, it was nothing, Horace maintained; for several days he had
hardly coughed at all. But with every word he uttered, Mrs. Damerel
became more convinced of something unusual in his state of mind; he
could not keep still, and, in trying to put himself at ease, assumed
'When did you hear from Winifred?' she asked.
'Yesterday--no, the day before.'
He shrank from her scrutiny, and an expression of annoyance began to
disturb his features. Mrs. Damerel knew well enough the significance
of that particular look; it meant the irritation of his self-will,
the summoning of forces to resist something he disliked.
'There has been no difference between you, I hope?'
'No--oh no,' Horace replied, wriggling under her look.
At that moment a servant opened the door.
'Two ladies have called in a carriage, sir, and would like to see
'I'll go down. Excuse me for a moment, aunt.'
'Who are they, Horace?' asked Mrs. Damerel, rising with an
ill-concealed look of dismay.
'Some friends I have made here. I'll just go and speak to them.'
He hurried away. No sooner was he gone than Mrs. Damerel sprang to
the window, where she could look down upon the carriage standing
before the house; it was open, and in it sat two ladies, one
middle-aged, the other much younger. To her vexation she could not,
from this distance, clearly discern their faces; but on glancing
rapidly round the room, she saw Horace's little binocular. An
instant brought it into focus upon the carriage, and what she then
saw gave Mrs. Damerel such a shock, that an exclamation escaped her.
Still she gazed through the glasses, and only turned away when the
vehicle drove on.
Horace came up flushed and panting.
'It's all right. They wanted me to go for a drive, but I explained--'
He saw the binocular in Mrs. Damerel's hand, and at the same moment
read detection on her countenance. She gazed at him; he answered the
look with lowering challenge.
'Horace, that was Fanny French.'
'So it was, aunt.'
'What is going on between you?'
The young man took a seat on the edge of the table, and swung his
leg. He looked suddenly obstinate.
'We met by accident--here--the other day.'
'How can I believe that, Horace?' said Mrs. Damerel, in a voice of
soft reproach. And she drew near to him. 'Be truthful with me, dear.
Do tell me the truth!--Is she anything to you?'
'I have told you the truth, aunt. She came here, as I have done, for
her health. I haven't seen her for two years.'
'And you don't wish to renew acquaintance with her,--I'm sure you
He looked away, and said nothing.
'My dear, do you know her character?'
'What about her?'
The tone was startling, but Mrs. Damerel kept firm, though agitated.
'She has led the most disgraceful life. I heard about her half a
year after she ran away, but of course I wouldn't tell you such
Horace reddened with anger.
'And who is to blame for it?' he cried passionately. 'Who drove her
'Oh, don't, don't come back to that again, Horace!' pleaded the
other. 'How can any one drive a girl into a life of scandalous
immorality? It was in herself, dear. She took to it naturally, as so
many women do. Remember that letter she wrote from Brussels, which I
sent you a copy of--'
'It was a forgery!' thundered Horace. 'I have asked her. She says
she never wrote any such letter.'
'Then she lies, as such creatures always do.'
Bitterness of apprehension overcame Mrs. Damerel's prudence. With
flashing eyes, she faced the young man and dared his wrath. As they
stood thus, the two were astonishingly like each other, from
forehead to chin.
'It's no use, I'm not going to quarrel with you, aunt. Think what
you like of Miss. French, _I_ know the truth about her.'
He slipped from the table, and moved away.
'I will say no more, Horace. You are independent, and must have your
own acquaintances. But after you are married--'
The other voice interrupted.
'I had better tell you at once. I shall not marry Miss. Chittle. I am
going to write this afternoon to break it off.'
Mrs. Damerel went pale, and stood motionless.
'Horace, you can't be so wicked as that!'
'It's better,' he pursued recklessly, 'to break it off now, than to
marry her and make her miserable. I don't love her, and I have never
really thought I did. I was going to marry her only for her money.
Why she wants to marry me, I don't know. There's something wrong;
she doesn't really care for me.'
'She does! I assure you she does!'
'Then I can't help it.'
Mrs. Damerel went close to him, and touched his arm.
'My dear,'--her voice was so low that it seemed terror-stricken,
--'you don't mean to marry--any one else?'
He drew apart, she followed him.
'Oh, that would be terrible! What can I say to open your eyes and
show you what you are doing? Horace, have you no sense of honour?
Can you find it in your heart to cast off a girl who loves you, and
thinks that in so short a time she will be your wife?'
'This again is your fault,' he replied, with a violence which proved
the conflict of emotions in him. 'But for you, I should never have
proposed to Winifred--never dreamt of such a thing. What do I want
with her money? I have enough of my own, and I shall make more in
business. Why have you driven me into this? Did you expect to get
some profit out of it?'
The blow struck home, and Mrs. Damerel flinched.
'I had your happiness in view, my dear.'
'My happiness! that's your view of things; that's why I couldn't
really like you, from the first. You think of nothing but money. Why
you objected to Fanny French at first was because you wished me to
marry some one richer. I don't thank you for that kind of happiness;
I had rather marry a woman I can love.'
'And you can love such a creature as that?'
Again she lost her self-command; the mere thought of Fanny's
possible triumph exasperated her.
'I won't hear her abused,' cried Horace, with answering passion.
'You are the last person who ought to do it. Comparing her and you,
I can't help saying--'
An exclamation of pain checked his random words; he looked at Mrs.
Damerel, and saw her features wrung with anguish.
'You mustn't speak to me like that!' Once more she approached him.
'If you only knew--I can't bear it--I've always been a worldly
woman, but you are breaking my heart, Horace! My dear, my dear, if
only out of pity for me--'
'Why should I pity you?' he cried impatiently.
'Because--Horace--give me your hand, dear; let me tell you
something.--I am your mother.'
She sobbed and choked, clinging to his arm, resting her forehead
against it. The young man, stricken with amazement, stared at her,
'I am your own mother, dear,' she went on, in a quivering voice.
'Your mother and Nancy's. And neither of you can love me.'
'How can that be?' Horace asked, with genuine perplexity. 'How could
you have married some one else?'
She passed an arm about his neck, and hid her face against him.
'I left your father--and he made me free to marry again.'
'You were divorced?'
Horace did not mean to speak brutally; in his wonderment he merely
pressed for a complete explanation. The answer was a sob, and for
some moments neither of them spoke. Then the mother, her face still
hidden, went on in a thick voice:
'I married because I was poor--for no other reason--and then
came the temptation. I behaved wickedly, I deserted my little
children. Don't revenge yourself upon me now, darling! If only I
could have told you this before--I did so want to, but I was
afraid. I had to conceal half my love for you. You can't imagine how
I have suffered from your anger, and from Nancy's coldness. You
don't know me; I have never been able to let you see what I really
think and feel. I am worldly; I can't live without luxuries and
society and amusements; but I love you, my dear son, and it will
break my heart if you ruin yourself. It's true I thought of
Winifred's money, but she is very fond of you, Horace; her mother
has told me she is. And it was because of my own position. I have
spent nearly all my husband left me; it wasn't enough to supply me
with an income; I could only hope that something--that you, dear,
would forgive your poor mother, and help her. If you cast me off,
what shall I do?'
There was a silence. Then the young man spoke gravely:
'You are welcome, mother, to half my income. But you must leave me
free to marry as I like.'
'Then I can't take a penny from you,' she answered, weeping. 'If you
ruin yourself, you ruin me as well.'
'The ruin would come if I married Winifred. I love Fanny; I love her
with all my heart and soul, and have never ceased to love her. Tell
me what you like about her, it will make no difference.'
A fit of violent coughing stopped his speech; he turned away, and
stood by the window, holding his handkerchief to his mouth.
Mrs. Damerel sank upon a chair in mute misery.
Below the hill at Harrow, in a byway which has no charm but that of
quietness, stands a row of small plain houses, built not long ago,
yet at a time when small houses were constructed with some regard
for soundness and durability. Each contains six rooms, has a little
strip of garden in the rear, and is, or was in 1889, let at a rent
of six-and-twenty pounds. The house at the far end of the row (as
the inhabitants described it) was then tenanted by Mary Woodruff,
and with her, as a lodger, lived Mrs. Tarrant.
As a lodger, seeing that she paid a specified weekly sum for her
shelter and maintenance; in no other respect could the wretched
title apply to her. To occupy furnished lodgings, is to live in a
house owned and ruled by servants; the least tolerable status known
to civilisation. From her long experience at Falmouth, Nancy knew
enough of the petty miseries attendant upon that condition to think
of it with dread when the stress of heroic crisis compelled her
speedy departure from the old home. It is seldom that heroic crisis
bears the precise consequence presumed by the actors in it; supreme
moments are wont to result in some form of compromise. So Nancy,
prepared to go forth into the wilderness of landladies, babe in arm,
found that so dreary a self-sacrifice neither was exacted of her,
nor would indeed be permitted; she had to reckon with Mary Woodruff.
Mary, thanks to her old master, enjoyed an income more than
sufficient to her needs; if Nancy must needs go into lodgings,--
inevitable, perhaps, as matters stood,--her friend was ready with
kind and practical suggestion; to wit, that she should take and
furnish a house for herself, and place a portion of it at Mrs.
Tarrant's disposal. To this even Tarrant could offer no objection;
he stipulated only that his wife should find a temporary refuge from
the home she had occupied on false pretences until Mary had her new
house in readiness. This was managed without difficulty. Nancy went
to Dulwich, and for several weeks dwelt with the honest woman who
took care of her child.
Of the dealings between Nancy and her legal guardians Tarrant
learned nothing, save the bare fact that her marriage was avowed,
and all benefit under her father's will renounced. He did not visit
the house at Dulwich, and only saw his child after the removal to
Harrow. On this occasion he asked Nancy what arrangements had been
made concerning the money that must be reimbursed to the Messrs
Barmby; she replied that justice would be done, but the affair was
hers alone, and to her must be left.
Tarrant himself suggested the neighbourhood of Harrow for Nancy's
abode. It united the conditions of being remote from Camberwell, of
lying beyond the great smoke-area, and of permitting him, poor as he
was, to visit his wife whenever he thought fit.
In December, Nancy had lived thus for all but a twelvemonth, seeing
the while none of her old acquaintances, and with very little news
from her old world. What she heard came through Horace, who, after
learning with astonishment the secret in his sister's life, came by
degrees to something like the old terms of affection with her, and
went over to Harrow pretty frequently. Of his engagement to Winifred
Chittle he at once informed Nancy, who tried to be glad of it, but
could have little faith in anything traceable to the influence of
Mrs. Damerel. With that lady the Harrow household had no direct
communication; Tarrant had written to her on the night of crisis,
civilly requesting her to keep aloof, as her advice and assistance
were m nowise needed. She answered him with good temper, and wrote
kindly to Nancy; after that, silence on both sides.
It wanted a few days to Christmas; with nightfall had come a roaring
wind and sleety rain; the house-door was locked; within, lamps and
fires burned cheerily. At half-past six, Nancy--she occupied the
two front rooms--sat in her parlour, resting after the exertion of
putting her son to bed. To judge from her countenance, she was well
and happy. The furniture about her aimed at nothing but homely
comfort; the pictures and books, being beyond dispute her own, had
come from Grove Lane.
Save when Tarrant was here, Nancy and Mary of course lived like
friends who share a house, eating together and generally sitting
together. During an hour or two each day the younger woman desired
solitude, for a reason understood by her companion, who then looked
after the baby. This present evening Nancy had proposed to spend
alone; but, after sitting idly for a few minutes, she opened the
door and called Mary--just then occupied in teaching a young
servant how to iron.
'I shall not write, after all,' she said, when her friend came. 'I'm
too tired. Bring your sewing, or your book, here.'
Mary was never talkative; Nancy kept a longer silence than usual.
'How,' she exclaimed at length, 'do poor women with a lot of
children manage? It really is a mystery to me. Here am I with one
baby, and with the constant help of two people; yet he tires me out.
Not a troublesome baby, either; healthy and good-tempered. Yet the
thought and anxiety and downright hard labour for a good twelve
hours out of the twenty-four! I feel that a second child would be
too much for me.'
She laughed, but looked seriously for the reply.
'Poor mothers,' said Mary, 'can't give the same care to their
children that you give to baby. The little ones grow up, or they
don't grow up--that's what it comes to.'
'Yes; that is to say, only the fit survive. A very good thing--
when other people's children are in question. But I should kill
myself in taking care of them, if I had a large family.'
'I have known mothers who did,' Mary remarked.
'It comes to this. Nature doesn't intend a married woman to be
anything _but_ a married woman. In the natural state of things, she
must either be the slave of husband and children, or defy her duty.
She can have no time to herself, no thoughts for herself. It's a
hard saying, but who can doubt that it is Nature's law? I should
like to revolt against it, yet I feel revolt to be silly. One might
as well'I revolt against being born a woman instead of a man.'
Mary reflected, but held her peace.
'Then comes in money,' pursued Nancy, 'and that alters the state of
the case at once. The wife with money says to people: Come here, and
be my slaves. Toil for me, whilst I am enjoying myself in ways that
Dame Nature wouldn't allow. I want to read, to play music, to see my
friends, to see the world. Unless you will slave for me, I can't
budge from nursery and kitchen.--Isn't it a queer thing?'
The less sophisticated woman had a difficulty in catching Nancy's
point of view. She began to argue that domestic service was no
'But it _comes_ to that,' Nancy insisted. 'And what I mean is, that
the thought has made me far more contented than I was at first.
After all, one can put up with a great deal, if you feel you're
obeying a law of Nature. Now, I have brains, and I should like to
use them; but Nature says that's not so important as bringing up the
little child to whom I have given life. One thought that troubles me
is, that every generation of women is sacrificed to the generation
that follows; and of course that's why women are so inferior to men.
But then again, Nature says that women are born _only_ to be
sacrificed. I always come round to that. I don't like it, but I am
bound to believe it.'
'Children grow up,' said Mary, 'and then mothers are free.'
'Free to do what? To think of what they _might_ have done in the
best years of their life.'
It was not said discontentedly; Nancy's mood seemed to be singularly
calm and philosophical. She propped her chin on her hand, and gazed
at the fire.
'Well,' remarked Mary, with a smile, 'you, at all events, are not
one of the poorest women. All seems to be going well, and you will
be able, I am sure, to get all the help you need.'
'Perhaps. But I shall never feel quiet in my conscience. I shall
feel as if I had defeated Nature by a trick, and fear that she'll
somehow be revenged on me.'
This was quite beyond Mary's scope of thought, and she frankly said
'One thing I'm quite sure of, Nancy,' she added, 'and that is, that
education makes life very much harder to live. That's why I don't
hold with educating the poor--not beyond reading and writing.
Without education, life is very plain, though it may be a struggle.
But from what I have seen of highly-taught people, I'm very sure
they suffer worse in their minds than the poor ever do in their
Nancy interrupted her.
'Hush! Was that baby?'
'Only the wind, I think.'
Not content, Nancy went to the foot of the stairs. Whilst she stood
there listening, Mary came out, and said in a low voice:
'There's a tap at the window.'
'No!--You must have been mistaken.'
'I'm sure it was a tap on the glass.'
She withdrew to the back sitting-room, and Nancy, with quick step,
went to open the house-door. A great gust of wind forced it against
her as soon as she turned the handle; standing firm, she peeped into
'Any one there?'
'No enemy but winter and rough weather,' chanted a familiar voice.
'Why, what brings you here, frightening lone women at this time of
night? Shut and lock the door for me. The house will be blown out of
Nancy retreated to her parlour, and stood there in an attitude of
joyous expectation. Without hurry Tarrant hung up his coat and hat
in the passage, then came forward, wiping rain from his moustache.
Their eyes met in a smile, frank and confident.
'Why have you come, Lionel?'
'No reason in particular. The fancy took me. Am I unwelcome?'
For answer, his wife's arms were thrown about him. A lovers'
meeting, with more of tenderness, and scarcely less of warmth, than
when Nancy knocked at the door in Staple Inn.
'Are you hungry?'
'Only for what you have given me.'
'Some tea, then, after that wretched journey.'
'No. How's the boy?'
He drew her upon his knee, and listened laughingly whilst the newest
marvels of babyhood were laughingly related.
'Anything from Horace?'
'Not a word. He must be in London now; I shall write tomorrow.'
Tarrant nodded carelessly. He had the smallest interest in his
wife's brother, but could not help satisfaction in the thought that
Horace was to be reputably, and even brilliantly, married. From all
he knew of Horace, the probability had seemed that his marriage
would be some culmination of folly.
'I think you have something to tell me,' Nancy said presently, when
her hand had been fondled for a minute or two.
'Nothing much, but good as far as it goes. Bunbury has asked me to
write him an article every week for the first six months of '90.
Column and a half, at two guineas a column.'
'Three guineas a week.'
'O rare head!'
'So there's no anxiety for the first half of next year, at all
events,' said Nancy, with a sigh of relief.
'I think I can count on a margin of fifty pounds or so by midsummer
--towards the debt, of course.'
Nancy bit her lip in vexation, but neither made nor wished to make
any protest. Only a week or two ago, since entering upon his
patrimony, Horace Lord had advanced the sum necessary to repay what
Nancy owed to the Barmbys. However rich Horace was going to be, this
debt to him must be cancelled. On that, as on most other points,
Tarrant and his wife held a firm agreement of opinion. Yet they
wanted money; the past year had been a time of struggle to make ends
meet. Neither was naturally disposed to asceticism, and if they did
not grumble it was only because grumbling would have been
'Did you dine with the great people on Thursday?' Nancy asked.
'Yes, and rather enjoyed it. There were one or two clever women.'
'Been anywhere else?'
'An hour at a smoking-concert the other evening. Pippit, the actor,
was there, and recited a piece much better than I ever heard him
speak anything on the stage. They told me he was drunk; very
possibly that accounted for it.'
To a number of such details Nancy listened quietly, with bent head.
She had learned to put absolute faith in all that Tarrant told her
of his quasi-bachelor life; she suspected no concealment; but the
monotony of her own days lay heavy upon her whilst he talked.
'Won't you smoke?' she asked, rising from his knee to fetch the pipe
and tobacco-jar kept for him upon a shelf. Slippers also she brought
him, and would have unlaced his muddy boots had Tarrant permitted
it. When he presented a picture of masculine comfort, Nancy, sitting
opposite, cautiously approached a subject of which as yet there had
been no word between them.
'Oughtn't you to get more comfortable lodgings?'
'Oh, I do very well. I'm accustomed to the place, and I like the
He had kept his room in Great College Street, though often obliged
to scant his meals as the weekly rent-day approached.
'Don't you think we might make some better--some more economical
Nancy took courage, and spoke her thoughts.
'It's more expensive to live separately than if we were together.'
Tarrant seemed to give the point his impartial consideration.
'H'm--no, I think not. Certainly not, with our present
arrangements. And even if it were we pay for your comfort, and my
'Couldn't you have as much liberty if we were living under the same
roof? Of course I know that you couldn't live out here; it would put
a stop to your work at once. But suppose we moved. Mary might take a
rather larger house--it needn't be much larger--in a part
convenient for you. We should be able to pay her enough to set off
against her increased expenses.'
Smoking calmly, Tarrant shook his head.
'Impracticable. Do you mean that this place is too dull for you?'
'It isn't lively, but I wasn't thinking of the place. If _you_ lived
here, it would be all I should wish.'
'That sounds so prettily from your lips, Nancy, that I'm half
ashamed to contradict it. But the truth is that you can only say
such things because we live apart. Don't deceive yourself. With a
little more money, this life of ours would be as nearly perfect as
married life ever can be.'
Nancy remembered a previous occasion when he spoke to the same
purpose. But it was in the time she did not like to think of, and in
spite of herself the recollection troubled her.
'You must have more variety,' he added. 'Next year you shall come
into town much oftener--'
'I'm not thinking of that. I always like going anywhere with you;
but I have plenty of occupations and pleasures at home.--I think
we ought to be under the same roof.'
'Ought? Because Mrs. Tomkins would cry _haro_! if her husband the
greengrocer wasn't at her elbow day and night?'
'Have more patience with me. I didn't mean _ought_ in the vulgar
sense--I have as little respect for Mrs. Tomkins as you have. I
don't want to interfere with your liberty for a moment; indeed it
would be very foolish, for I know that it would make you detest me.
But I so often want to speak to you--and--and then, I can't
quite feel that you acknowledge me as your wife so long as I am
'I quite understand. The social difficulty. Well, there's no doubt
it is a difficulty; I feel it on your account. I wish it were
possible for you to be invited wherever I am. Some day it will be,
if I don't get run over in the Strand; but--'
'I should like the invitations,' Nancy broke in, 'but you still
don't understand me.'
'Yes, I think I do. You are a woman, and it's quite impossible for a
woman to see this matter as a man does. Nancy, there is not one wife
in fifty thousand who retains her husband's love after the first
year of marriage. Put aside the fools and the worthless; think only
of women with whom you might be compared--brave, sensible,
pure-hearted; they can win love, but don't know how to keep it.'
'Why not put it the other way about, and say that men can love to
begin with, but so soon grow careless?'
'Because I am myself an instance to the contrary.'
Nancy smiled, but was not satisfied.
'The only married people,' Tarrant pursued, 'who can live together
with impunity, are those who are rich enough, and sensible enough,
to have two distinct establishments under the same roof. The
ordinary eight or ten-roomed house, inhabited by decent middle-class
folk, is a gruesome sight. What a huddlement of male and female!
They are factories of quarrel and hate--those respectable,
brass-curtain-rodded sties--they are full of things that won't
bear mentioning. If our income never rises above that, we shall live
to the end of our days as we do now.'
Nancy looked appalled.
'But how can you hope to make thousands a year?'
'I have no such hope; hundreds would be sufficient. I don't aim at a
house in London; everything there is intolerable, except the fine
old houses which have a history, and which I could never afford. For
my home, I want to find some rambling old place among hills and
woods,--some house where generations have lived and died,--where
my boy, as he grows up, may learn to love the old and beautiful
things about him. I myself never had a home; most London children
don't know what is meant by home; their houses are only more or less
comfortable lodgings, perpetual change within and without.'
'Your thoughts are wonderfully like my father's, sometimes,' said