Part 9 out of 9
'From what you have told me of him, I think we should have agreed in
a good many things.'
'And how unfortunate we were! If he had recovered from that illness,
--if he had lived only a few months,--everything would have been
'For me altogether too easy,' Tarrant observed.
'It has been a good thing for you to have to work,' Nancy assented.
'I understand the change for the better in you. But'--she smiled
--'you have more self-will than you used to have.'
'That's just where I have gained.--But don't think that I find it
easy or pleasant to resist your wish. I couldn't do it if I were not
so sure that I am acting for your advantage as well as my own. A man
who finds himself married to a fool, is a fool himself if he doesn't
take his own course regardless of his wife. But I am in a very
different position; I love you more and more, Nancy, because I am
learning more and more to respect you; I think of your happiness
most assuredly as much as I think of my own. But even if my own good
weighed as nothing against yours, I should be wise to resist you
just as I do now. Hugger-mugger marriage is a defilement and a
curse. We know it from the experience of the world at large,--
which is perhaps more brutalised by marriage than by anything else.
--No need to test the thing once more, to our own disaster.'
'What I think is, that, though you pay me compliments, you really
have a very poor opinion of me. You think I should burden and worry
you in endless silly ways. I am not such a simpleton. In however
small a house, there could be your rooms and mine. Do you suppose I
should interfere with your freedom in coming and going?'
'Whether you meant to or not, you would--so long as we are
struggling with poverty. However self-willed I am, I am not selfish;
and to see you living a monotonous, imprisoned life would be a
serious hindrance to me in my own living and working. Of course the
fact is so at present, and I often enough think in a troubled way
about you; but you are out of my sight, and that enables me to keep
you out of mind. If I am away from home till one or two in the
morning, there is no lonely wife fretting and wondering about me.
For work such as mine, I must live as though I were not married at
'But suppose we got out of our poverty,' urged Nancy, 'you would be
living the same life, I suppose; and how would it be any better for
you or me that we had a large house instead of a small one?'
'Your position will be totally changed. When money comes, friends
come. You are not hiding away from Society because you are unfit for
it, only because you can't live as your social equals do. When you
have friends of your own, social engagements, interests on every
hand, I shall be able to go my own way without a pang of conscience.
When we come together, it will be to talk of your affairs as well as
of mine. Living as you do now, you have nothing on earth but the
baby to think about--a miserable state of things for a woman with
a mind. I know it is miserable, and I'm struggling tooth and nail to
help you out of it.'
'Then there are years of it still before me.'
'Heaven forbid! Some years, no doubt, before we shall have a home;
but not before I can bring you in contact with the kind of people
you ought to know. You shall have a decent house--socially
possible--somewhere out west; and I, of course, shall still go on
He waited for Nancy's reply, but she kept silence.
'You are still dissatisfied?'
She looked up, and commanded her features to the expression which
makes whatever woman lovely--that of rational acquiescence. On the
faces of most women such look is never seen.
'No, I am content. You are working hard, and I won't make it harder
'Speak always like that!' Tarrant's face was radiant. 'That's the
kind of thing that binds man to woman, body and soul. With the
memory of that look and speech, would it be possible for me to
slight you in my life apart? It makes you my friend; and the word
friend is better to my ear than wife. A man's wife is more often
than not his enemy. Harvey Munden was telling me of a poor devil of
an author who daren't be out after ten at night because of the
fool-fury waiting for him at home.'
'I suppose she can't trust him.'
'And suppose she can't? What is the value of nominal fidelity,
secured by mutual degradation such as that? A rational woman would
infinitely rather have a husband who was often unfaithful to her
than keep him faithful by such means. Husband and wife should
interfere with each other not a jot more than two friends of the
same sex living together. If a man, under such circumstances,
worried his friend's life out by petty prying, he would get his head
punched. A wife has no more justification in worrying her husband
'How if it were the wife that excited suspicion?' asked Nancy.
'Infidelity in a woman is much worse than in a man. If a man really
suspects his wife, he must leave her, that's all; then let her
justify herself if she can.'
Nancy cared little to discuss this point. In argument with any one
else, she would doubtless have maintained the equality of man and
woman before the moral law; but that would only have been in order
to prove herself modern-spirited. Tarrant's dictum did not revolt
'Friends are equals,' she said, after a little thought. 'But you
don't think me your equal, and you won't be satisfied with me unless
I follow your guidance.'
Tarrant laughed kindly.
'True, I am your superior in force of mind and force of body. Don't
you like to hear that? Doesn't it do you good--when you think of
the maudlin humbug generally talked by men to women? We can't afford
to disguise that truth. All the same, we are friends, because each
has the other's interest at heart, and each would be ashamed to
doubt the other's loyalty.'
The latter part of the evening they spent with Mary, in whom Tarrant
always found something new to admire. He regarded her as the most
wonderful phenomenon in nature--an uneducated woman who was
neither vulgar nor foolish.
Baby slept in a cot beside Nancy's bed. For fear of waking him, the
wedded lovers entered their room very softly, with a shaded candle.
Tarrant looked at the curly little head, the little clenched hand,
and gave a silent laugh of pleasure.
On the breakfast-table next morning lay a letter from Horace. As
soon as she had opened it, Nancy uttered an exclamation which
prepared her companion for ill news.
'Just what I expected--though I tried not to think so. "I write
aline only to tell you that my marriage is broken off. You will know
the explanation before long. Don't trouble yourself about it. I
should never have been happy with Winifred, nor she with me. We may
not see each other for some time, but I will write again soon." He
doesn't say whether he or she broke it off. I hope it was Winifred.'
'I'm afraid not,' said Tarrant, 'from the tone of that letter.'
'I'm afraid not, too. It means something wretched. He writes from
his London lodgings. Lionel, let me go back with you, and see him.'
'By all means.'
Her gravest fear Nancy would not communicate. And it hit the truth.
They parted at Baker Street, Tarrant for his lodgings and the work
that awaited him there, Nancy to go westward by another train.
When she reached the house from which her brother had dated his
letter, it was half-past ten. At the door stood a cab, and a servant
was helping the driver to hoist a big trunk on to the top.
'Is Mr. Lord still here?' Nancy asked of the girl.
'He's just this minute a-goin', miss. This is his luggage.'
She sent her name, and was quickly led up to the first floor. There
stood Horace, ready for departure.
'Why have you come?' he asked, with annoyance.
'What else could I do on hearing such news?'
'I told you I should write again, and I said plainly that it was
better we shouldn't see each other for some time.--Why will people
pester me out of my life?--I'm not a child to be hunted like
On the instant, he had fallen into a state of excitement which
alarmed his sister. There were drops of sweat on his forehead, and
tears in his eyes; the blood had rushed to his cheeks, and he
'I am so troubled about you,' said Nancy, with anxious tenderness.
'I have been looking forward with such hope to your marriage,--and
'I can't tell you anything about it just now. It was all Mrs.
Damerel's doing; the engagement, I mean. It's a good thing I drew
back in time.--But I have a train to catch; I really mustn't stay
'Are you going far, Horace?'
'To Bournemouth again,--for the present. I've given up these
rooms, and I'm taking all my things away. In a month or two I may go
abroad; but I'll let you know.'
Already he was out of the room; his sister had no choice but to
follow him downstairs. He looked so ill, and behaved with such lack
of self-restraint, that Nancy kept her eyes upon him in an
awestricken gaze, as though watching some one on the headlong way to
destruction. Pouring rain obliged her to put up her umbrella as she
stepped down on to the pavement. Horace, having shouted a direction
to the driver, entered the cab.
'You haven't even shaken hands with me, Horace,' Nancy exclaimed,
standing at the window.
'Good-bye, dear; good-bye! You shouldn't have come in weather such
as this. Get home as fast as you can. Good-bye!--Tell the fellow
to drive sharp.'
And the cab clattered away, sending spurts of mud on to Nancy's
She walked on for a few paces without reflection, until the vehicle
disappeared round a corner. Coming to herself, she made for the
railway again, which was at only a few minutes' distance, and there
she sat down by the fire in the waiting-room. Her health for the
last year had been sound as in the days of girlhood; it was rarely
that she caught cold, and weather would have been indifferent to her
but for the discomfort which hindered her free movement.
Vexed at so futile a journey, she resolved not to return home
without making another effort to learn something about Horace. The
only person to whom she could apply was the one who would certainly
be possessed of information,--Mrs. Damerel. At the time of Horace's
engagement, Nancy had heard from Mrs. Damerel, and replied to the
letter; she remembered her aunt's address, and as the distance was
not great, the temptation to go there now proved irresistible. Her
husband would dislike to hear of such a step, but he had never
forbidden communication with Mrs. Damerel.
By help of train and omnibus she reached her new destination in
half-an-hour, and felt a relief on learning that Mrs. Damerel was at
home. But it surprised her to be conducted into a room where lamps
were burning, and blinds drawn close; she passed suddenly from
cheerless day to cosy evening. Mrs. Damerel, negligently attired,
received her with a show of warm welcome, but appeared nervous and
out of spirits.
'I am not very well,' she admitted, 'and that's why I have shut out
the dreadful weather. Isn't it the most sensible way of getting
through the worst of a London winter? To pretend that there is
daylight is quite ridiculous, so one may as well have the comforts
'I have come to speak about Horace,' said Nancy, at once. In any
case, she would have felt embarrassment, and it was increased by the
look with which Mrs. Damerel kept regarding her,--a look of
confusion, of shrinking, of intense and painful scrutiny.
'You know what has happened?'
'I had a letter from him this morning, to say that his marriage was
broken off--nothing else. So I came over from Harrow to see him.
But he had hardly a minute to speak to me. He was just starting for
'And what did he tell you?' asked Mrs. Damerel, who remained
standing,--or rather had risen, after a pretence of seating
'Nothing at all. He was very strange in his manner. He said he would
'You know that he is seriously ill?'
'I am afraid he must be.'
'He has grown much worse during the last fortnight. Don't you
suspect any reason for his throwing off poor Winifred?'
'I wondered whether he had met that girl again. But it seemed very
'He has. She was at Bournemouth for her health. She, too, is ill;
consumptive, like poor Horace,--of course a result of the life she
has been leading. And he is going to marry her.'Nancy's heart sank.
She could say nothing. She remembered Horace's face, and saw in him
the victim of ruthless destiny.
'I have done my utmost. He didn't speak of me?'
'Only to say that his engagement with Winifred was brought about by
'And wasn't I justified? If the poor boy must die, he would at least
have died with friends about him, and in peace. I always feared just
what has happened. It's only a few months ago that he forgave me for
being, as he thought, the cause of that girl's ruin; and since then
I have hardly dared to lose sight of him. I went down to Bournemouth
unexpectedly, and was with him when that creature came to the door
in a carriage. You haven't seen her. She looks what she is, the
vilest of the vile. As if any one can be held responsible for that!
She was born to be what she is. And if I had the power, I would
crush out her hateful life to save poor Horace!'
Nancy, though at one with the speaker in her hatred of Fanny French,
found it as difficult as ever to feel sympathetically towards Mrs.
Damerel. She could not credit this worldly woman with genuine
affection for Horace; the vehemence of her speech surprised and
troubled her, she knew not how.
'He said nothing more about me?' added Mrs. Damerel, after a silence.
'Nothing at all.'
It seemed to Nancy that she heard a sigh of relief. The other's face
was turned away. Then Mrs. Damerel took a seat by the fire.
'They will be married to-morrow, I dare say, at Bournemouth--no
use trying to prevent it. I don't know whether you will believe me,
but it is a blow that will darken the rest of my life.'
Her voice sounded slightly hoarse, and she lay back in the chair,
with drooping head.
'You have nothing to reproach yourself with,' said Nancy, yielding
to a vague and troublous pity. 'And you have done as much as any one
could on his behalf.'
'I shall never see him again--that's the hardest thought. She will
poison him against me. He told me I had lied to him about a letter
that girl wrote from Brussels; she has made him think her a spotless
innocent, and he hates me for the truth I told about her.'
'However short his life,' said Nancy, 'he is only too likely to find
out what she really is.'
'I am not sure of that. She knows he is doomed, and it's her
interest to play a part. He will die thinking the worst of me.--
Nancy, if he writes to you, and says anything against me, you will
remember what it means?'
'My opinion of people is not affected by hearsay,' Nancy replied.
It was a remark of dubious significance, and Mrs. Damerel's averted
eyes seemed to show that she derived little satisfaction from it. As
the silence was unbroken, Nancy rose.
'I hope you will soon get rid of your cold.'
'Thank you, my dear. I haven't asked how the little boy is. Well, I
'Very well, I am glad to say.'
'And your husband--he is prospering?'
'I shouldn't like to say he is prospering; it seems to mean so much;
but I think he is doing good work, and we are satisfied with the
'My dear, you are an admirable wife.'
Nancy coloured; for the first time, a remark of Mrs. Damerel's had
given her pleasure. She moved forward with hand offered for
leave-taking. They had never kissed each other, but, as if
overcoming diffidence, Mrs. Damerel advanced her lips; then, as
suddenly, she drew back.
'I had forgotten. I may give you my sore throat.'
Nancy kissed her cheek.
That night Mrs. Damerel was feverish, and the next day she kept her
bed. The servant who waited upon her had to endure a good many sharp
reproofs; trouble did not sweeten this lady's temper, yet she never
lost sight of self-respect, and even proved herself capable of
acknowledging that she was in the wrong. Mrs. Damerel possessed the
elements of civilisation.
This illness tried her patience in no slight degree. Something she
had wished to do, something of high moment, was vexatiously
postponed. A whole week went by before she could safely leave the
house, and even then her mirror counselled a new delay. But on the
third day of the new year she made a careful toilette, and sent for
a cab,--the brougham she had been wont to hire being now beyond
She drove to Farringdon Street, and climbed to the office of Mr
Luckworth Crewe. Her knowledge of Crewe's habits enabled her to
choose the fitting hour for this call; he had lunched, and was
smoking a cigar.
'How delightful to see you here!' he exclaimed. 'But why did you
trouble to come? If you had written, or telegraphed, I would have
saved you the journey. I haven't even a chair that's fit for you to
sit down on.'
'What nonsense! It's a most comfortable little room. Haven't you
improved it since I called?'
'I shall have to look out for a bigger place. I'm outgrowing this.'
'Are you really? That's excellent news. Ah, but what sad things have
'It's a bad business,' Crewe answered, shaking his head.
'I thought I should have heard from you about it.'
The reason of his silence she perfectly understood. Since Horace's
engagement, there had been a marked change in her demeanour towards
the man of business; she had answered his one or two letters with
such cold formality, and, on the one occasion of his venturing to
call, had received him with so marked a reserve, that Crewe, as he
expressed it to himself, 'got his back up.' His ideas of chivalrous
devotion were anything but complex; he could not bend before a
divinity who snubbed him; if the once gracious lady chose to avert
her countenance, he would let her know that it didn't matter much to
him after all. Moreover, Mrs. Damerel's behaviour was too suggestive;
he could hardly be wrong in explaining it by the fact that her
nephew, about to be enriched by marriage, might henceforth be
depended upon for all the assistance she needed. This, in the
Americanism which came naturally to Crewe's lips, was 'playing it
rather low down,' and he resented it.
The sudden ruin of Horace Lord's prospects (he had learnt the course
of events from Horace himself) amused and gratified him. How would
the high and mighty Mrs. Damerel relish this catastrophe? Would she
have the 'cheek' to return to her old graciousness? If so, he had
the game in his hands; she should see that he was not to be made a
fool of a second time.
Yet the mere announcement of her name sufficed to shatter his
resolve. Her smile, her soft accents, her polished manners, laid the
old spell upon him. He sought to excuse himself for having forsaken
her in her trial.
'It really floored me. I didn't know what to say or do. I was afraid
you might think I was meddling with what didn't concern me.'
'Oh, how could I have thought that? It has made me ill; I have
suffered more than I can tell you.'
'You don't look quite the thing,' said Crewe, searching her face.
'Have you heard all?'
'I think so. He is married, and that's the end of it, I suppose.'
Mrs. Damerel winced at this blunt announcement.
'When was it?' she asked, in an undertone. 'I only knew he had made
up his mind.'
Crewe mentioned the date; the day after Nancy's call upon her.
'And are they at Bournemouth?'
'Yes. Will be for a month or so, he says.'
'Well, we won't talk of it. As you say, that's the end. Nothing
worse could have happened. Has he been speaking of me again like he
'I haven't heard him mention your name.'
She heaved a sigh, and began to look round the office.
'Let us try to forget, and talk of pleasanter things. It seems such
a long time since you told me anything about your business. You
remember how we used to gossip. I suppose I have been so absorbed in
that poor boy's affairs; it made me selfish--I was so overjoyed, I
really could think of nothing else. And now--! But I must and will
drive it out of my mind. I have been moping at home, day after day,
in wretched solitude. I wanted to write to you, but I hadn't the
heart--scarcely the strength. I kept hoping you might call--if
only to ask howl was. Of course everything had to be explained to
inquisitive people--how I hate them all! It's the nature of the
world to mock at misfortunes such as this. It would really have done
me good to speak for a few minutes with such a friend as you--a
real friend. I am going to live a quiet, retired life. I am sick of
the world, its falsity, and its malice, and its bitter, bitter
Crewe's native wit and rich store of experience availed him nothing
when Mrs. Damerel discoursed thus. The silvery accents flattered his
ear, and crept into the soft places of his nature. He felt as when a
clever actress in a pathetic part wrought upon him in the
'You must bear up against it, Mrs. Damerel. And I don't think a
retired life would suit you at all. You are made for Society.'
'Don't seek for compliments. I am speaking quite sincerely. Ah,
those were happy days that I spent at Whitsand! Tell me what you
have been doing. Is there any hope of the pier yet?'
'Why, it's as good as built!' cried the other. 'Didn't you see the
advertisements, when we floated the company a month ago? I suppose
you don't read that kind of thing. We shall begin at the works in
early spring.--Look here!'
He unrolled a large design, a coloured picture of Whitsand pier as
it already existed in his imagination. Not content with having the
mere structure exhibited, Crewe had persuaded the draughtsman to add
embellishments of a kind which, in days to come, would be his own
peculiar care; from end to end, the pier glowed with the placards of
advertisers. Below, on the sands, appeared bathing-machines, and
these also were covered with manifold advertisements. Nay, the very
pleasure-boats on the sunny waves declared the glory of somebody's
soap, of somebody's purgatives.
'I'll make that place one of the biggest advertising stations in
England--see if I don't! You remember the caves? I'm going to have
them lighted with electricity, and painted all round with
advertisements of the most artistic kind.'
'What a brilliant idea!'
'There's something else you might like to hear of. It struck me I
would write a Guide to Advertising, and here it is.' He handed a
copy of the book. 'It advertises _me_, and brings a little grist to
the mill on its own account. Three weeks since I got it out, and
we've sold three thousand of it. Costs nothing to print; the
advertisements more than pay for that. Price, one shilling.'
'But how you do work, Mr. Crewe! It's marvellous. And yet you look so
well,--you have really a seaside colour!'
'I never ailed much since I can remember. The harder I work, the
better I feel.'
'I, too, have always been rather proud of my constitution.' Her eyes
dropped. 'But then I have led a life of idleness. Couldn't you make
me useful in some way? Set me to work! I am convinced I should be so
much happier. Let me help you, Mr. Crewe. I write a pretty fair hand,
Crewe smiled at her, made a sound as if clearing his throat, grasped
his knee, and was on the very point of momentous utterance, when the
door opened. Turning his head impatiently, he saw, not the clerk
whose duty it was to announce people, but a lady, much younger than
Mrs. Damerel, and more fashionably dressed, who for some reason had
preferred to announce herself.
'Why do you come in like that?' Crewe demanded, staring at her. 'I'm
'Are you indeed?'
'You ought to send in your name.
'They said you had a lady here, so I told them another would make no
difference.--How do you do, Mrs. Damerel? It's so long since I had
the pleasure of seeing you.'
Beatrice French stepped forward, smiling ominously, and eyeing first
Crewe then his companion with curiosity of the frankest
impertinence. Mrs. Damerel stood up.
'We will speak of our business at another time, Mr. Crewe.'
Crewe, red with anger, turned upon Beatrice.
'I tell you I am engaged--'
'To Mrs. Damerel?' asked the intruder airily.
'You might suppose,'--he addressed the elder lady,--'that this
woman has some sort of hold upon me--'
'I'm sure I hope not,' said Mrs. Damerel, 'for your own sake.'
'Nothing of the kind. She has pestered me a good deal, and it began
in this way.'
Beatrice gave him so fierce a look, that his tongue faltered.
'Before you tell that little story,' she interposed, 'you had better
know what I've come about. It's a queer thing that Mrs. Damerel
should be here; happens more conveniently than things generally do.
I had something to tell you about her. You may know it, but most
likely you don't.--You remember,' she faced the other listener,
'when I came to see you a long time ago, I said it might be worth
while to find out who you really were. I haven't given much thought
to you since then, but I've got hold of what I wanted, as I knew I
Crewe did not disguise his eagerness to hear the rest. Mrs. Damerel
stood like a statue of British respectability, deaf and blind to
everything that conflicts with good-breeding; stony-faced, she had
set her lips in the smile appropriate to one who is braving torture.
'Do you know who she is--or not?' Beatrice asked of Crewe.
He shuffled, and made no reply.
'Fanny has just told me in a letter; she got it from her husband.
Our friend here is the mother of Horace Lord and of Nancy. She ran
away from her first husband, and was divorced. Whether she really
married afterwards, I don't quite know; most likely not. At all
events, she has run through her money, and wants her son to set her
For a few seconds Mrs. Damerel bore the astonished gaze of her
admirer, then, her expression scarcely changing, she walked steadily
to the door and vanished. The silence was prolonged till broken by
'Has she been bamboozling you, old man? I didn't know what was going
on. You had bad luck with the daughter; shouldn't wonder if the
mother would suit you better, all said and done.'
Crewe seated himself and gave vent to his feelings in a phrase of
pure soliloquy: 'Well, I'm damned!'
'I cut in just at the right time, did I?--No malice. I've had my
hit back at her, and that's enough.'
As the man of business remained absorbed in his thoughts, Beatrice
took a chair. Presently he looked up at her, and said savagely:
'What the devil do you want?'
'Then take it and go.'
But Beatrice smiled, and kept her seat.
Nancy stood before her husband with a substantial packet in brown
paper. It was after breakfast, at the moment of their parting.
'Here is something I want you to take, and look at, and speak about
the next time you come.'
'Ho, ho! I don't like the look of it.' He felt the packet. 'Several
quires of paper here.'
'Be off, or you'll miss the train.'
'Poor little girl! _Et tu_!'
He kissed her affectionately, and went his way. In the ordinary
course of things Nancy would not have seen him again for ten days or
a fortnight. She expected a letter very soon, but on the fourth
evening Tarrant's fingers tapped at the window-pane. In his hand was
the brown paper parcel, done up as when he received it.
Nancy searched his face, her own perturbed and pallid.
'How long have you been working at this?'
'Nearly a year. But not every day, of course. Sometimes for a week
or more I could get no time. You think it bad?'
'No,'--puff--'not in any sense'--puff--'bad. In one sense,
it's good. But'--puff--'that's a private sense; a domestic
'The question is, dear, can it be sold to a publisher.'
'The question is nothing of the kind. You mustn't even try to sell
it to a publisher.'
'Why not? You mean you would be ashamed if it came out. But I
shouldn't put my own name to it. I have written it only in the hope
of making money, and so helping you. I'll put any name to it you
Tarrant smoked for a minute or two, until his companion gave a sign
of impatience. He wore a very good-humoured look.
'It's more than likely you might get the thing accepted--'
'Oh, then why not?' she interrupted eagerly, with bright eyes.
'Because it isn't literature, but a little bit of Nancy's mind and
heart, not to be profaned by vulgar handling. To sell it for hard
cash would be horrible. Leave that to the poor creatures who have no
choice. You are not obliged to go into the market.'
'But, Lionel, if it is a bit of my mind and heart, it must be a good
book. You have often praised books to me just on that account
because they were genuine.'
'The books I praised were literature. Their authors came into the
world to write. It isn't enough to be genuine; there must be
workmanship. Here and there you have a page of very decent English,
and you are nowhere on the level of the ordinary female novelist.
Indeed--don't take it ill--I was surprised at what you had
turned out. But--'
He finished the sentence in smoke wreaths.
'Then I'll try again. I'll do better.'
'Never _much_ better. It will never be literature.'
'What does that matter? I never thought myself a Charlotte Bronte or
a George Eliot. But so many women make money out of novels, and as I
had spare time I didn't see why I shouldn't use it profitably. We
want money, and if it isn't actually disgraceful--and if I don't
use my own name--'
'We don't want money so badly as all that. I am writing, because I
must do something to live by, and I know of nothing else open to me
except pen-work. Whatever trash I turned out, I should be justified;
as a man, it's my duty to join in the rough-and-tumble for more or
less dirty ha'pence. You, as a woman, have no such duty; nay, it's
your positive duty to keep out of the beastly scrimmage.'
'It seemed to me that I was _doing_ something. Why should a woman be
shut out from the life of the world?'
'It seems to me that your part in the life of the world is very
considerable. You have given the world a new inhabitant, and you are
shaping him into a man.'
Nancy laughed, and reflected, and returned to her discontent.
'Oh, every woman can do that.'
'Not one woman in a thousand can bear a sound-bodied child; and not
one in fifty thousand can bring up rightly the child she has borne.
Leisure you must have; but for Heaven's sake don't waste it. Read,
enjoy, sit down to the feast prepared for you.'
'I wanted to _do_ something,' she persisted, refusing to catch his
eye. 'I have read enough.'
'Read enough? Ha, then there's no more to be said.'
His portentous solemnity overcame her. Laughter lighted her face,
and Tarrant, laying down his pipe, shouted extravagant mirth.
'Am I to burn it then?'
'You are not. You are to seal it with seven seals, to write upon it
_peche de jeunesse_, and to lay it away at the back of a very
private drawer. And when you are old, you shall some day bring it
out, and we'll put our shaky heads together over it, and drop a tear
from our dim old eyes.--By-the-bye, Nancy, will you go with me to
a music-hall to-morrow night?'
'Yes. It would do us both good, I think. I feel fagged, and you want
a change.--Here's the end of March; please Heaven, another month
shall see us rambling in the lanes somewhere; meantime, we'll go to
a music-hall. Each season has its glory; if we can't hear the lark,
let us listen to the bellow of a lion-comique.--Do you appreciate
this invitation? It means that I enjoy your company, which is more
than one man in ten thousand can say of his wife. The ordinary man,
when he wants to dissipate, asks--well, not his wife. And I, in
plain sober truth, would rather have Nancy with me than anyone
'You say that to comfort me after my vexation.'
'I say it because I think it.--The day after to-morrow I want you
to come over in the morning to see some pictures in Bond Street. And
the next day we'll go to the theatre.'
'You can't afford it.'
'Mind your own business. I remembered this morning that I was young,
and that I shall not be so always. Doesn't that ever come upon you?'
The manuscript, fruit of such persevering toil, was hidden away, and
its author spoke of it no more. But she suffered a grave
disappointment. Once or twice a temptation flashed across her mind;
if she secretly found a publisher, and if her novel achieved
moderate success (she might alter the title), would not Tarrant
forgive her for acting against his advice? It was nothing more than
advice; often enough he had told her that he claimed no coercive
right; that their union, if it were to endure, must admit a genuine
independence on both sides. But herein, as on so many other points,
she subdued her natural impulse, and conformed to her husband's idea
of wifehood. It made her smile to think how little she preserved of
that same 'genuine independence;' but the smile had no bitterness.
Meanwhile, nothing was heard of Horace. The winter passed, and June
had come before Nancy again saw her brother's handwriting. It was on
an ordinary envelope, posted, as she saw by the office-stamp, at
Brighton; the greater her surprise to read a few lines which coldly
informed her that Horace's wife no longer lived. 'She took cold one
evening a fortnight ago, and died after three days' illness.'
Nancy tried to feel glad, but she had little hope of any benefit to
her brother from this close of a sordid tragedy. She answered his
letter, and begged that, as soon as he felt able to do so, he would
come and see her. A month's silence on Horace's part had led her to
conclude that he would not come, when, without warning, he presented
himself at her door. It was morning, and he stayed till nightfall,
but talked very little. Sitting in the same place hour after hour,
he seemed overcome with a complete exhaustion, which made speech too
great an effort and kept his thoughts straying idly. Fanny's name
did not pass his lips; when Nancy ventured an inquiry concerning
her, he made an impatient gesture, and spoke of something else.
His only purpose in coming, it appeared, was to ask for information
about the Bahamas.
'I can't get rid of my cough, and I'm afraid it may turn to
something dangerous. You said, I remember, that people with weak
chests wintered in the Bahamas.'
'Lionel can tell you all about it. He'll be here to-morrow. Come and
have a talk with him.'
'No.' He moved pettishly. 'Tell me as much as you know yourself. I
don't feel well enough to meet people.'
Looking at him with profound compassion, Nancy thought it very
doubtful whether he would see another winter. But she told him all
she could remember about Nassau, and encouraged him to look forward
with pleasure and hopefulness to a voyage thither.
'How are you going to live till then?'
'What do you mean?' he answered, with a startled and irritated look.
'I'm not so bad as all that.'
'I meant--how are you going to arrange your life?' Nancy hastened
'Oh, I have comfortable lodgings.'
'But you oughtn't to be quite alone.--I mean it must be so
She made a proposal that he should have a room in this little house,
and use it as a home whenever he chose; but Horace so fretted under
the suggestion, that it had to be abandoned. His behaviour was that
of an old man, enfeebled in mind and body. Once or twice his manner
of speaking painfully reminded Nancy of her father during the last
days of his life.
With a peevish sort of interest he watched his little nephew
toddling about the room, but did not address a word to the child.
A cab was sent for to convey him to the railway station. Nancy had
known few such melancholy days as this.
On the morning when, by agreement, she was to go into town to see
her brother, there arrived a note from him. He had been advised to
try a health-resort in Switzerland, and was already on the way.
Sorry he could not let Nancy know before; would visit her on his
return. Thus, in the style of telegraphy, as though he wrote in hot
From Switzerland came two letters, much more satisfactory in tone
and contents. The first, written in July, announced a distinct
improvement of health. No details being supplied, Nancy could only
presume that her brother was living alone at the hotel from which he
dated. The second communication, a month later, began thus: 'I think
I forgot to tell you that I came here with Mrs. Damerel. She will
stay till the end of the summer, and then, perhaps, go with me to
the Bahamas, if that seems necessary. But I am getting wonderfully
well and strong. Mrs. Damerel is kinder to me than any one in the
world ever was. I shall tell you more about her some day.' The
writer went on to describe a project he had of taking a small farm
in Devonshire, and living upon it as a country gentleman.
Tarrant warned his wife not to build hopes upon this surprising
report, and a few weeks brought news that justified him. Horace
wrote that he had suffered a very bad attack, and was only now
sufficiently recovered to hold a pen. 'I don't know what we shall
do, but I am in good hands. No one was ever better nursed, night and
day--More before long.'
Indeed, it was not long. A day or two after Nancy's return from a
seaside holiday, Mary brought in a telegram. It came from Mrs.
Damerel. 'Your brother died at ten o'clock last night, suddenly, and
without pain. I am posting a letter he had written for you.'
When the promised letter arrived, it was found to bear a date two
months ago. An unwonted tenderness marked the opening words.
MY DEAREST SISTER--What I am going to write is not to be sent to
you at once. Sometimes I feel afraid that I can't live very long, so
I have been making a will, and I want you to know why I have left
you only half of what I have to leave. The other half will go to
some one who has an equal claim on me, though you don't know it. She
has asked me to tell you. If I get thoroughly well again, there will
be no need of this letter, and I shall tell you in private something
that will astonish you very much. But if I were to die, it will be
best for you to learn in this way that Mrs. Damerel is much more to
us than our mother's sister; she is our own mother. She told me at
the time when I was behaving like an idiot at Bournemouth. It ought
to have been enough to stop me. She confessed that she had done
wrong when you and I were little children; that was how she came to
marry again whilst father was still alive. Though it seemed
impossible, I have come to love her for her great kindness to me. I
know that I could trust you, dearest Nancy, to let her share
whatever you have; but it will be better if I provide for her in my
will. She has been living on a small capital, and now has little
left. What I can give her is little enough, but it will save her
from the worst extremities. And I beg you, dear sister, to forgive
her fault, if only for my sake, because she has been so loving to a
silly and useless fellow.
I may as well let you know about my wife's death. She was
consumptive, but seemed to get much better at Bournemouth; then she
wanted to go to Brighton. We lived there at a boardinghouse, and she
behaved badly, very badly. She made acquaintances I didn't like, and
went about with them in spite of my objections. Like an obstinate
fool, I had refused to believe what people told me about her, and
now I found it all out for myself. Of course she only married me
because I had money. One evening she made up her mind to go with
some of her friends in a boat, by moonlight. We quarrelled about it,
but she went all the same. The result was that she got inflammation
of the lungs, and died. I don't pretend to be sorry for her, and I
am thankful to have been released from misery so much sooner than I
And now let me tell you how my affairs stand--
At the first reading, Nancy gave but slight attention to this
concluding paragraph. Even the thought of her brother's death was
put aside by the emotions with which she learnt that her mother
still lived. After brooding over the intelligence for half a day,
she resolved to question Mary, who perhaps, during so long a
residence in Grove Lane, had learnt something of the trouble that
darkened her master's life. The conversation led to a disclosure by
Mary of all that had been confided to her by Mr. Lord; the time had
come for a fulfilment of her promise to the dead man.
Horace's letter Nancy sent by post to her husband, requesting him to
let her know his thoughts about it in writing before they again met.
Of her own feeling she gave no sign. 'I want you to speak of it just
as if it concerned a stranger, plainly and simply. All I need say
is, that I never even suspected the truth.'
Tarrant did not keep her long in suspense, and his answer complied
in reasonable measure with the desire she had expressed.
'The disclosure has, of course, pained you. Equally, of course, you
wish it were not necessary to let me know of it; you are in doubt as
to how it will affect me; you perhaps fear that I shall--never
mind about phrasing. First, then, a word on that point. Be assured
once for all that nothing external to yourself can ever touch the
feeling which I now have for you. "One word is too often profaned";
I will say simply that I hold you in higher regard that any other
'Try not to grieve, my dearest. It is an old story, in both senses.
You wish to know how I view the matter. Well, if a wife cannot love
her husband, it is better she should not pretend to do so; if she
love some one else, her marriage is at an end, and she must go.
Simple enough--provided there be no children. Whether it is ever
permissible for a mother to desert her children, I don't know. I
will only say that, in you yourself, I can find nothing more
admirable than the perfect love which you devote to your child.
Forsake it, you could not.
'In short, act as feeling dictates. Your mother lives; that fact
cannot be ignored. In your attitude towards her, do not consult me
at all; whatever your heart approves, I shall find good and right.
Only, don't imagine that your feeling of to-day is final--I would
say, make no resolve; they are worth little, in any concern of life.
'Write to me again, and say when you wish to see me.
After reading this, Nancy moved about with the radiance of a great
joy on her countenance. She made no haste to reply; she let a day
elapse; then, in the silence of a late hour, took pen and paper.
'When do I wish to see you? Always; in every moment of my day. And
yet I have so far conquered "the unreasonable female"--do you
remember saying that?--that I would rather never see you again
than bring you to my side except when it was your pleasure to be
with me. Come as soon as you can--as soon as you will.
'My mother--how shall I word it? She is nothing to me. I don't
feel that Nature bids me love her. I could pardon her for leaving my
father; like you, I see nothing terrible in that; but, like you, I
_know_ that she did wrong in abandoning her little children, and her
kindness to Horace at the end cannot atone for it. I don't think she
has any love for _me_. We shall not see each other; at all events,
that is how I feel about it at present. But I am very glad that
Horace made provision for her--that of course was right; if he had
not done it, it would have been my duty.
'I had better tell you that Mary has known my mother's story for a
long time--but not that she still lived. My father told her just
before his death, and exacted her promise that, if it seemed well,
she would repeat everything to me. You shall know more about it,
though it is bad all through. My dear father had reason bitterly to
regret his marriage long before she openly broke it.
'But come and see me, and tell me what is to be done now that we are
free to look round. There is no shame in taking what poor Horace has
given us. You see that there will be at least three thousand pounds
for our share, apart from the income we shall have from the
He was sure to come on the evening of the morrow. Nancy went out
before breakfast to post her letter; light-hearted in the assurance
that her husband's days of struggle were over, that her child's
future no longer depended upon the bare hope that its father would
live and thrive by a profession so precarious as that of literature,
she gave little thought to the details of the new phase of life
before her. Whatever Tarrant proposed would be good in her sight.
Probably he would wish to live in the country; he might discover the
picturesque old house of which he had so often spoken. In any case,
they would now live together. He had submitted her to a probation,
and his last letter declared that he was satisfied with the result.
Midway in the morning, whilst she was playing with her little boy,
--rain kept them in the house,--a knock at the front door
announced some unfamiliar visit. Mary came to the parlour, with a
face of surprise.
'Who is it?'
Mary handed an envelope, addressed to 'Mrs. Tarrant.' It contained a
sheet of paper, on which was written in pencil: 'I beg you to see
me, if only for a minute.'
'Yes, I will see her,' said Nancy, when she had frowned in brief
Mary led away the little boy, and, a moment after, introduced
Jessica Morgan. At the appearance of her former friend, Nancy with
difficulty checked an exclamation; Miss. Morgan wore the garb of the
Salvation Army. Harmonious therewith were the features shadowed by
the hideous bonnet: a face hardly to be recognised, bloodless, all
but fleshless, the eyes set in a stare of weak-minded fanaticism.
She came hurriedly forward, and spoke in a quick whisper.
'I was afraid you would refuse to see me.'
'Why have you come?'
'I was impelled--I had a duty to perform.'
Coldly, Nancy invited her to sit down, but the visitor shook her
'I mustn't take a seat in your house. I am unwelcome; we can't
pretend to be on terms of friendliness. I have come, first of all,'
--her eyes wandered as she spoke, inspecting the room,--'to
humble myself before you--to confess that I was a dishonourable
friend,--to make known with my lips that I betrayed your secret--'
Nancy interrupted the low, hurrying, panting voice, which distressed
her ear as much as the facial expression that accompanied it did her
'There's no need to tell me. I knew it at the time, and you did me
no harm. Indeed, it was a kindness.'
She drew away, but Jessica moved after her.
'I supposed you knew. But it is laid upon me to make a confession
before you. I have to ask your pardon, most humbly and truly.'
'Do you mean that some one has told you to do this?'
'Oh no!' A gleam of infinite conceit shot over the humility of
Jessica's countenance. 'I am answerable only to my own soul. In the
pursuit of an ideal which I fear you cannot understand, I subdue my
pride, and confess how basely I behaved to you. Will you grant me
She clasped her gloveless hands before her breast, and the fingers
'If it is any satisfaction to you,' replied Nancy, overcome with
wonder and pity, 'I will say those words. But don't think that I
take upon myself--'
'Only say them. I ask your pardon--say you grant it.'
Nancy uttered the formula, and with bowed head Jessica stood for a
minute in silence; her lips moved.
'And now,' she said at length, 'I must fulfil the second part of the
duty which has brought me here.' Her attitude changed to one of
authority, and her eyes fixed themselves on Nancy's, regarding her
with the mild but severe rebuke of a spiritual superior. 'Having
acknowledged my wrong-doing, I must remind you of your own. Let me
ask you first of all--have you any religious life?'
Nancy's eyes had turned away, but at these words they flashed
sternly upon the speaker.
'I shall let you ask no such question.'
'I expected it,' Jessica sighed patiently. 'You are still in the
darkness, out of which _I_ have been saved.'
'If you have nothing more to say than this, I must refuse to talk
'There is a word I must speak,' pursued Jessica. 'If you will not
heed it now, it will remain in your memory, and bear fruit at the
appointed time. I alone know of the sin which poisons your soul, and
the experiences through which I have passed justify me in calling
you to repentance.'
Nancy raised her hand.
'Stop! That is quite enough. Perhaps you are behaving
conscientiously; I will try to believe it. But not another word, or
I shall speak as I don't wish to.'
'It is enough. You know very well what I refer to. Don't imagine
that because you are now a married woman--'
Nancy stepped to the door, and threw it open.
'Leave the house,' she said, in an unsteady tone. 'You said you were
unwelcome, and it was true. Take yourself out of my sight!'
Jessica put her head back, murmured some inaudible words, and with a
smile of rancorous compassion went forth into the rain.
On recovering from the excitement of this scene, Nancy regretted her
severity; the poor girl in the hideous bonnet had fallen very low,
and her state of mind called for forbearance. The treachery for
which Jessica sought pardon was easy to forgive; not so, however,
the impertinent rebuke, which struck at a weak place in Nancy's
conscience. Just when the course of time and favour of circumstances
seemed to have completely healed that old wound, Jessica, with her
crazy malice grotesquely disguised, came to revive the
half-forgotten pangs, the shame and the doubt that had seemed to be
things gone by. It would have become her, Nancy felt, to treat her
hapless friend of years ago in a spirit of gentle tolerance; that
she could not do so proved her--and she recognised the fact--
still immature, still a backward pupil in the school of life.--
'And in the Jubilee year I thought myself a decidedly accomplished
Never mind. Her husband would come this evening. Of him she could
learn without humiliation.
His arrival was later than of wont. Only at eleven o'clock, when
with disappointment she had laid aside her book to go to bed, did
Tarrant's rap sound on the window.
'I had given you up,' said Nancy.
'Yet you are quite good-tempered.'
'It is the pleasant custom of wives to make a husband uncomfortable
if he comes late.'
'Then I am no true wife!' laughed Nancy.
'Something much better,' Tarrant muttered, as he threw off his
He began to talk of ordinary affairs, and nearly half-an-hour
elapsed before any mention was made of the event that had bettered
their prospects. Nancy looked over a piece of his writing in an
evening paper which he had brought; but she could not read it with
attention. The paper fell to her lap, and she sat silent. Clearly,
Tarrant would not be the first to speak of what was in both their
minds. The clock ticked; the rain pattered without; the journalist
smoked his pipe and looked thoughtfully at the ceiling.
'Are you sorry,' Nancy asked, 'that I am no longer penniless?'
'Ah--to be sure. We must speak of that. No, I'm not sorry. If I
get run over, you and the boy--'
'Can make ourselves comfortable, and forget you; to be sure. But for
the present, and until you do get run over?'
'You wish to make changes?'
'In one or two respects, perhaps. But leave me out of the question.
You have an income of your own to dispose of; nothing oppressively
splendid, I suppose. What do you think of doing?'
'What do you advise?'
'No, no. Make your own suggestion.
Nancy smiled, hesitated, and said at length:
'I think we ought to take a house.'
'That's as you wish.'
'Not at all. As _you_ wish. Do you want society?'
'In moderation. And first of all, yours.
Tarrant met her eyes.
'Of my society, you have quite as much as is good for you,' he
answered amiably. 'That you should wish for acquaintances, is
reasonable enough. Take a house somewhere in the western suburbs.
One or two men I know have decent wives, and you shall meet them.'
'But you? You won't live with me?'
'You know my view of that matter.'
Nancy kept her eyes down, and reflected.
'Will it be known to everybody that we don't live together?'
'Well,' answered Tarrant, with a laugh, 'by way of example, I should
rather like it to be known; but as I know _you_ wouldn't like it,
let the appearances be as ordinary as you please.'
Again Nancy reflected. She had a struggle with herself.
'Just one question,' she said at length. 'Look me in the face. Are
you--ever so little--ashamed of me?'
He regarded her steadily, smiling.
'Not in the least.'
'You were--you used to be?'
'Before I knew you; and before I knew myself. When, in fact, _you_
were a notable young lady of Camberwell, and _I_--'
He paused to puff at his pipe.
'A notable young fool of nowhere at all.'