Part 12 out of 13
to think Edwin will not be forgotten, and I am very sure that the
friendly office you have so admirably performed will in itself
reward you more than any poor expression of gratitude from me. I
write hurriedly, anxious to let you hear as soon as possible.
'Believe me, dear Mr Milvain,
CHAPTER XXXIV. A CHECK
Marian was at work as usual in the Reading-room. She did her
best, during the hours spent here, to convert herself into the
literary machine which it was her hope would some day be invented
for construction in a less sensitive material than human tissue.
Her eyes seldom strayed beyond the limits of the desk; and if she
had occasion to rise and go to the reference shelves, she looked
at no one on the way. Yet she herself was occasionally an object
of interested regard. Several readers were acquainted with the
chief facts of her position; they knew that her father was now
incapable of work, and was waiting till his diseased eyes should
be ready for the operator; it was surmised, moreover, that a good
deal depended upon the girl's literary exertions. Mr Quarmby and
his gossips naturally took the darkest view of things; they were
convinced that Alfred Yule could never recover his sight, and
they had a dolorous satisfaction in relating the story of
Marian's legacy. Of her relations with Jasper Milvain none of
these persons had heard; Yule had never spoken of that matter to
any one of his friends.
Jasper had to look in this morning for a hurried consultation of
certain encyclopaedic volumes, and it chanced that Marian was
standing before the shelves to which his business led him. He saw
her from a little distance, and paused; it seemed as if he would
turn back; for a moment he wore a look of doubt and worry. But
after all he proceeded. At the sound of his 'Good-morning,'
Marian started--she was standing with an open book in hand--and
looked up with a gleam of joy on her face.
'I wanted to see you to-day,' she said, subduing her voice to the
tone of ordinary conversation. 'I should have come this evening.'
'You wouldn't have found me at home. From five to seven I shall
be frantically busy, and then I have to rush off to dine with
'I couldn't see you before five?'
'Is it something important?'
'Yes, it is.'
'I tell you what. If you could meet me at Gloucester Gate at
four, then I shall be glad of half an hour in the park. But I
mustn't talk now; I'm driven to my wits' end. Gloucester Gate, at
four sharp. I don't think it'll rain.'
He dragged out a tome of the 'Britannica.' Marian nodded, and
returned to her seat.
At the appointed hour she was waiting near the entrance of
Regent's Park which Jasper had mentioned. Not long ago there had
fallen a light shower, but the sky was clear again. At five
minutes past four she still waited, and had begun to fear that
the passing rain might have led Jasper to think she would not
come. Another five minutes, and from a hansom that rattled hither
at full speed, the familiar figure alighted.
'Do forgive me!' he exclaimed. 'I couldn't possibly get here
before. Let us go to the right.'
They betook themselves to that tree-shadowed strip of the park
which skirts the canal.
'I'm so afraid that you haven't really time,' said Marian, who
was chilled and confused by this show of hurry. She regretted
having made the appointment; it would have been much better to
postpone what she had to say until Jasper was at leisure. Yet
nowadays the hours of leisure seemed to come so rarely.
'If I get home at five, it'll be all right,' he replied. 'What
have you to tell me, Marian?'
'We have heard about the money, at last.'
'Oh?' He avoided looking at her. 'And what's the upshot?'
'I shall have nearly fifteen hundred pounds.'
'So much as that? Well, that's better than nothing, isn't it?'
'Very much better.'
They walked on in silence. Marian stole a glance at her
'I should have thought it a great deal,' she said presently,
'before I had begun to think of thousands.'
'Fifteen hundred. Well, it means fifty pounds a year, I suppose.'
He chewed the end of his moustache.
'Let us sit down on this bench. Fifteen hundred--h'm! And nothing
more is to be hoped for?'
'Nothing. I should have thought men would wish to pay their
debts, even after they had been bankrupt; but they tell us we
can't expect anything more from these people.'
'You are thinking of Walter Scott, and that kind of thing'--
Jasper laughed. 'Oh, that's quite unbusinesslike; it would be
setting a pernicious example nowadays. Well, and what's to be
Marian had no answer for such a question. The tone of it was a
new stab to her heart, which had suffered so many during the past
'Now, I'll ask you frankly,' Jasper went on, 'and I know you will
reply in the same spirit: would it be wise for us to marry on
'On this money?'
She looked into his face with painful earnestness.
'You mean,' he said, 'that it can't be spared for that purpose?'
What she really meant was uncertain even to herself. She had
wished to hear how Jasper would receive the news, and thereby to
direct her own course. Had he welcomed it as offering a
possibility of their marriage, that would have gladdened her,
though it would then have been necessary to show him all the
difficulties by which she was beset; for some time they had not
spoken of her father's position, and Jasper seemed willing to
forget all about that complication of their troubles. But
marriage did not occur to him, and he was evidently quite
prepared to hear that she could no longer regard this money as
her own to be freely disposed of. This was on one side a relief
but on the other it confirmed her fears. She would rather have
heard him plead with her to neglect her parents for the sake of
being his wife. Love excuses everything, and his selfishness
would have been easily lost sight of in the assurance that he
still desired her.
'You say,' she replied, with bent head, 'that it would bring us
fifty pounds a year. If another fifty were added to that, my
father and mother would be supported in case the worst comes. I
might earn fifty pounds.'
'You wish me to understand, Marian, that I mustn't expect that
you will bring me anything when we are married.'
His tone was that of acquiescence; not by any means of
displeasure. He spoke as if desirous of saying for her something
she found a difficulty in saying for herself.
'Jasper, it is so hard for me! So hard for me! How could I help
remembering what you told me when I promised to be your wife?'
'I spoke the truth rather brutally,' he replied, in a kind voice.
'Let all that be unsaid, forgotten. We are in quite a different
position now. Be open with me, Marian; surely you can trust my
common sense and good feeling. Put aside all thought of things I
have said, and don't be restrained by any fear lest you should
seem to me unwomanly--you can't be that. What is your own wish?
What do you really wish to do, now that there is no uncertainty
calling for postponements?'
Marian raised her eyes, and was about to speak as she regarded
him; but with the first accent her look fell.
'I wish to be your wife.'
He waited, thinking and struggling with himself.
'Yet you feel that it would be heartless to take and use this
money for our own purposes?'
'What is to become of my parents, Jasper?'
'But then you admit that the fifteen hundred pounds won't support
them. You talk of earning fifty pounds a year for them.'
'Need I cease to write, dear, if we were married? Wouldn't you
let me help them?'
'But, my dear girl, you are taking for granted that we shall have
enough for ourselves.'
'I didn't mean at once,' she explained hurriedly. 'In a short
time--in a year. You are getting on so well. You will soon have a
sufficient income, I am sure.'
'Let us walk as far as the next seat. Don't speak. I have
something to think about.'
Moving on beside him, she slipped her hand softly within his arm;
but Jasper did not put the arm into position to support hers, and
her hand fell again, dropped suddenly. They reached another
bench, and again became seated.
'It comes to this, Marian,' he said, with portentous gravity.
'Support you, I could--I have little doubt of that. Maud is
provided for, and Dora can make a living for herself. I could
support you and leave you free to give your parents whatever you
can earn by your own work. But--'
He paused significantly. It was his wish that Marian should
supply the consequence, but she did not speak.
'Very well,' he exclaimed. 'Then when are we to be married?'
The tone of resignation was too marked. Jasper was not good as a
comedian; he lacked subtlety.
'We must wait,' fell from Marian's lips, in the whisper of
'Wait? But how long?' he inquired, dispassionately.
'Do you wish to be freed from your engagement, Jasper?'
He was not strong enough to reply with a plain 'Yes,' and so have
done with his perplexities. He feared the girl's face, and he
feared his own subsequent emotions.
'Don't talk in that way, Marian. The question is simply this: Are
we to wait a year, or are we to wait five years? In a year's
time, I shall probably be able to have a small house somewhere
out in the suburbs. If we are married then, I shall be happy
enough with so good a wife, but my career will take a different
shape. I shall just throw overboard certain of my ambitions, and
work steadily on at earning a livelihood. If we wait five years,
I may perhaps have obtained an editorship, and in that case I
should of course have all sorts of better things to offer you.'
'But, dear, why shouldn't you get an editorship all the same if
you are married?'
'I have explained to you several times that success of that kind
is not compatible with a small house in the suburbs and all the
ties of a narrow income. As a bachelor, I can go about freely,
make acquaintances, dine at people's houses, perhaps entertain a
useful friend now and then--and so on. It is not merit that
succeeds in my line; it is merit plus opportunity. Marrying now,
I cut myself off from opportunity, that's all.'
She kept silence.
'Decide my fate for me, Marian,' he pursued, magnanimously. 'Let
us make up our minds and do what we decide to do. Indeed, it
doesn't concern me so much as yourself. Are you content to lead a
simple, unambitious life? Or should you prefer your husband to be
a man of some distinction?'
'I know so well what your own wish is. But to wait for years--you
will cease to love me, and will only think of me as a hindrance
in your way.'
'Well now, when I said five years, of course I took a round
number. Three--two might make all the difference to me.'
'Let it be just as you wish. I can bear anything rather than lose
'You feel, then, that it will decidedly be wise not to marry
whilst we are still so poor?'
'Yes; whatever you are convinced of is right.'
He again rose, and looked at his watch.
'Jasper, you don't think that I have behaved selfishly in wishing
to let my father have the money?'
'I should have been greatly surprised if you hadn't wished it. I
certainly can't imagine you saying: "Oh, let them do as best they
can!" That would have been selfish with a vengeance.'
'Now you are speaking kindly! Must you go, Jasper?'
'I must indeed. Two hours' work I am bound to get before seven
'And I have been making it harder for you, by disturbing your
'No, no; it's all right now. I shall go at it with all the more
energy, now we have come to a decision.'
'Dora has asked me to go to Kew on Sunday. Shall you be able to
'By Jove, no! I have three engagements on Sunday afternoon. I'll
try and keep the Sunday after; I will indeed.'
'What are the engagements?' she asked timidly.
As they walked back towards Gloucester Gate, he answered her
question, showing how unpardonable it would be to neglect the
people concerned. Then they parted, Jasper going off at a smart
Marian turned down Park Street, and proceeded for some distance
along Camden Road. The house in which she and her parents now
lived was not quite so far away as St Paul's Crescent; they
rented four rooms, one of which had to serve both as Alfred
Yule's sitting-room and for the gatherings of the family at
meals. Mrs Yule generally sat in the kitchen, and Marian used her
bedroom as a study. About half the collection of books had been
sold; those that remained were still a respectable library,
almost covering the walls of the room where their disconsolate
possessor passed his mournful days.
He could read for a few hours a day, but only large type, and
fear of consequences kept him well within the limit of such
indulgence laid down by his advisers. Though he inwardly spoke as
if his case were hopeless, Yule was very far from having resigned
himself to this conviction; indeed, the prospect of spending his
latter years in darkness and idleness was too dreadful to him to
be accepted so long as a glimmer of hope remained. He saw no
reason why the customary operation should not restore him to his
old pursuits, and he would have borne it ill if his wife or
daughter had ever ceased to oppose the despair which it pleased
him to affect.
On the whole, he was noticeably patient. At the time of their
removal to these lodgings, seeing that Marian prepared herself to
share the change as a matter of course, he let her do as she
would without comment; nor had he since spoken to her on the
subject which had proved so dangerous. Confidence between them
there was none; Yule addressed his daughter in a grave, cold,
civil tone, and Marian replied gently, but without tenderness.
For Mrs Yule the disaster to the family was distinctly a gain;
she could not but mourn her husband's affliction, yet he no
longer visited her with the fury or contemptuous impatience of
former days. Doubtless the fact of needing so much tendance had
its softening influence on the man; he could not turn brutally
upon his wife when every hour of the day afforded him some proof
of her absolute devotion. Of course his open-air exercise was
still unhindered, and in this season of the returning sun he
walked a great deal, decidedly to the advantage of his general
health--which again must have been a source of benefit to his
temper. Of evenings, Marian sometimes read to him. He never
requested this, but he did not reject the kindness.
This afternoon Marian found her father examining a volume of
prints which had been lent him by Mr Quarmby. The table was laid
for dinner (owing to Marian's frequent absence at the Museum, no
change had been made in the order of meals), and Yule sat by the
window, his book propped on a second chair. A whiteness in his
eyes showed how the disease was progressing, but his face had a
more wholesome colour than a year ago.
'Mr Hinks and Mr Gorbutt inquired very kindly after you to-day,'
said the girl, as she seated herself.
'Oh, is Hinks out again?'
'Yes, but he looks very ill.'
They conversed of such matters until Mrs Yule--now her own
servant--brought in the dinner. After the meal, Marian was in her
bedroom for about an hour; then she went to her father, who sat
in idleness, smoking.
'What is your mother doing?' he asked, as she entered.
'I had perhaps better say'--he spoke rather stiffly, and with
averted face--'that I make no exclusive claim to the use of this
room. As I can no longer pretend to study, it would be idle to
keep up the show of privacy that mustn't be disturbed. Perhaps
you will mention to your mother that she is quite at liberty to
sit here whenever she chooses.'
It was characteristic of him that he should wish to deliver this
permission by proxy. But Marian understood how much was implied
in such an announcement.
'I will tell mother,' she said. 'But at this moment I wished to
speak to you privately. How would you advise me to invest my
Yule looked surprised, and answered with cold dignity.
'It is strange that you should put such a question to me. I
should have supposed your interests were in the hands of--of some
'This will be my private affair, father. I wish to get as high a
rate of interest as I safely can.'
'I really must decline to advise, or interfere in any way. But,
as you have introduced this subject, I may as well put a question
which is connected with it. Could you give me any idea as to how
long you are likely to remain with us?'
'At least a year,' was the answer, 'and very likely much longer.'
'Am I to understand, then, that your marriage is indefinitely
'And will you tell me why?'
'I can only say that it has seemed better--to both of us.'
Yule detected the sorrowful emotion she was endeavouring to
suppress. His conception of Milvain's character made it easy for
him to form a just surmise as to the reasons for this
postponement; he was gratified to think that Marian might learn
how rightly he had judged her wooer, and an involuntary pity for
the girl did not prevent his hoping that the detestable alliance
was doomed. With difficulty he refrained from smiling.
'I will make no comment on that,' he remarked, with a certain
emphasis. 'But do you imply that this investment of which you
speak is to be solely for your own advantage?'
'For mine, and for yours and mother's.'
There was a silence of a minute or two. As yet it had not been
necessary to take any steps for raising money, but a few months
more would see the family without resources, save those provided
by Marian, who, without discussion, had been simply setting aside
what she received for her work.
'You must be well aware,' said Yule at length, 'that I cannot
consent to benefit by any such offer. When it is necessary, I
shall borrow on the security of--'
'Why should you do that, father?' Marian interrupted. 'My money
is yours. If you refuse it as a gift, then why may not I lend to
you as well as a stranger? Repay me when your eyes are restored.
For the present, all our anxieties are at an end. We can live
very well until you are able to write again.'
For his sake she put it in his way. Supposing him never able to
earn anything, then indeed would come a time of hardship; but she
could not contemplate that. The worst would only befall them in
case she was forsaken by Jasper, and if that happened all else
would be of little account.
'This has come upon me as a surprise,' said Yule, in his most
reserved tone. 'I can give no definite reply; I must think of
'Should you like me to ask mother to bring her sewing here now?'
asked Marian, rising.
'Yes, you may do so.'
In this way the awkwardness of the situation was overcome, and
when Marian next had occasion to speak of money matters no
serious objection was offered to her proposal.
Dora Milvain of course learnt what had come to pass; to
anticipate criticism, her brother imparted to her the decision at
which Marian and he had arrived. She reflected with an air of
'So you are quite satisfied,' was her question at length, 'that
Marian should toil to support her parents as well as herself?'
'Can I help it?'
'I shall think very ill of you if you don't marry her in a year
'I tell you, Marian has made a deliberate choice. She understands
me perfectly, and is quite satisfied with my projects. You will
have the kindness, Dora, not to disturb her faith in me.'
'I agree to that; and in return I shall let you know when she
begins to suffer from hunger. It won't be very long till then,
you may be sure. How do you suppose three people are going to
live on a hundred a year? And it's very doubtful indeed whether
Marian can earn as much as fifty pounds. Never mind; I shall let
you know when she is beginning to starve, and doubtless that will
At the end of July Maud was married. Between Mr Dolomore and
Jasper existed no superfluous kindness, each resenting the
other's self-sufficiency; but Jasper, when once satisfied of his
proposed brother-in-law's straightforwardness, was careful not to
give offence to a man who might some day serve him. Provided this
marriage resulted in moderate happiness to Maud, it was
undoubtedly a magnificent stroke of luck. Mrs Lane, the lady who
has so often been casually mentioned, took upon herself those
offices in connection with the ceremony which the bride's mother
is wont to perform; at her house was held the wedding-breakfast,
and such other absurdities of usage as recommend themselves to
Society. Dora of course played the part of a bridesmaid, and
Jasper went through his duties with the suave seriousness of a
man who has convinced himself that he cannot afford to despise
anything that the world sanctions.
About the same time occurred another event which was to have more
importance for this aspiring little family than could as yet be
foreseen. Whelpdale's noteworthy idea triumphed; the weekly paper
called Chat was thoroughly transformed, and appeared as Chit-
Chat. From the first number, the success of the enterprise was
beyond doubt; in a month's time all England was ringing with the
fame of this noble new development of journalism; the proprietor
saw his way to a solid fortune, and other men who had money to
embark began to scheme imitative publications. It was clear that
the quarter-educated would soon be abundantly provided with
literature to their taste.
Whelpdale's exultation was unbounded, but in the fifth week of
the life of Chit-Chat something happened which threatened to
overturn his sober reason. Jasper was walking along the Strand
one afternoon, when he saw his ingenious friend approaching him
in a manner scarcely to be accounted for, unless Whelpdale's
abstemiousness had for once given way before convivial
invitation. The young man's hat was on the back of his head, and
his coat flew wildly as he rushed forwards with perspiring face
and glaring eyes. He would have passed without observing Jasper,
had not the latter called to him; then he turned round, laughed
insanely, grasped his acquaintance by the wrists, and drew him
aside into a court.
'What do you think?' he panted. 'What do you think has happened?'
'Not what one would suppose, I hope. You seem to have gone mad.'
'I've got Lake's place on Chit-Chat!' cried the other hoarsely.
'Two hundred and fifty a year! Lake and the editor quarrelled--
pummelled each other--neither know nor care what it was about.
My fortune's made!'
'You're a modest man,' remarked Jasper, smiling.
'Certainly I am. I have always admitted it. But remember that
there's my connection with Fleet as well; no need to give that
up. Presently I shall be making a clear six hundred, my dear sir!
A clear six hundred, if a penny!'
'Satisfactory, so far.'
'But you must remember that I'm not a big gun, like you! Why, my
dear Milvain, a year ago I should have thought an income of two
hundred a glorious competence. I don't aim at such things as are
fit for you. You won't be content till you have thousands; of
course I know that. But I'm a humble fellow. Yet no; by Jingo,
I'm not! In one way I'm not--I must confess it.'
'In what instance are you arrogant?'
'I can't tell you--not yet; this is neither time nor place. I
say, when will you dine with me? I shall give a dinner to half a
dozen of my acquaintances somewhere or other. Poor old Biffen
must come. When can you dine?'
'Give me a week's notice, and I'll fit it in.'
That dinner came duly off. On the day that followed, Jasper and
Dora left town for their holiday; they went to the Channel
Islands, and spent more than half of the three weeks they had
allowed themselves in Sark. Passing over from Guernsey to that
island, they were amused to see a copy of Chit-Chat in the hands
of an obese and well-dressed man.
'Is he one of the quarter-educated?' asked Dora, laughing.
'Not in Whelpdale's sense of the word. But, strictly speaking, no
doubt he is. The quarter-educated constitute a very large class
indeed; how large, the huge success of that paper is
demonstrating. I'll write to Whelpdale, and let him know that his
benefaction has extended even to Sark.'
This letter was written, and in a few days there came a reply.
'Why, the fellow has written to you as well!' exclaimed Jasper,
taking up a second letter; both were on the table of their
sitting-room when they came to their lodgings for lunch. 'That's
'It looks like it.'
Dora hummed an air as she regarded the envelope, then she took it
away with her to her room upstairs.
'What had he to say?' Jasper inquired, when she came down again
and seated herself at the table.
'Oh, a friendly letter. What does he say to you?'
Dora had never looked so animated and fresh of colour since
leaving London; her brother remarked this, and was glad to think
that the air of the Channel should be doing her so much good. He
read Whelpdale's letter aloud; it was facetious, but oddly
'The reverence that fellow has for me is astonishing,' he
observed with a laugh. 'The queer thing is, it increases the
better he knows me.'
Dora laughed for five minutes.
'Oh, what a splendid epigram!' she exclaimed. 'It is indeed a
queer thing, Jasper! Did you mean that to be a good joke, or was
it better still by coming out unintentionally?'
'You are in remarkable spirits, old girl. By-the-by, would you
mind letting me see that letter of yours?'
He held out his hand.
'I left it upstairs,' Dora replied carelessly.
'Rather presumptuous in him, it seems to me.'
'Oh, he writes quite as respectfully to me as he does to you,'
she returned, with a peculiar smile.
'But what business has he to write at all? It's confounded
impertinence, now I come to think of it. I shall give him a hint
to remember his position.'
Dora could not be quite sure whether he spoke seriously or not.
As both of them had begun to eat with an excellent appetite, a
few moments were allowed to pass before the girl again spoke.
'His position is as good as ours,' she said at length.
'As good as ours? The "sub." of a paltry rag like Chit-Chat, and
assistant to a literary agency!'
'He makes considerably more money than we do.'
'Money! What's money?'
Dora was again mirthful.
'Oh, of course money is nothing! We write for honour and glory.
Don't forget to insist on that when you reprove Mr Whelpdale; no
doubt it will impress him.'
Late in the evening of that day, when the brother and sister had
strolled by moonlight up to the windmill which occupies the
highest point of Sark, and as they stood looking upon the pale
expanse of sea, dotted with the gleam of light-houses near and
far, Dora broke the silence to say quietly:
'I may as well tell you that Mr Whelpdale wants to know if I will
'The deuce he does!' cried Jasper, with a start. 'If I didn't
half suspect something of that kind! What astounding impudence!'
'You seriously think so?'
'Well, don't you? You hardly know him, to begin with. And then--
oh, confound it!'
'Very well, I'll tell him that his impudence astonishes me.'
'Certainly. Of course in civil terms. But don't let this make any
difference between you and him. Just pretend to know nothing
about it; no harm is done.'
'You are speaking in earnest?'
'Quite. He has written in a very proper way, and there's no
reason whatever to disturb our friendliness with him. I have a
right to give directions in a matter like this, and you'll please
to obey them.'
Before going to bed Dora wrote a letter to Mr Whelpdale, not,
indeed, accepting his offer forthwith, but conveying to him with
much gracefulness an unmistakable encouragement to persevere.
This was posted on the morrow, and its writer continued to
benefit most remarkably by the sun and breezes and
rock-scrambling of Sark.
Soon after their return to London, Dora had the satisfaction of
paying the first visit to her sister at the Dolomores' house in
Ovington Square. Maud was established in the midst of luxuries,
and talked with laughing scorn of the days when she inhabited
Grub Street; her literary tastes were henceforth to serve as
merely a note of distinction, an added grace which made evident
her superiority to the well-attired and smooth-tongued people
among whom she was content to shine. On the one hand, she had
contact with the world of fashionable literature, on the other
with that of fashionable ignorance. Mrs Lane's house was a
meeting-point of the two spheres.
'I shan't be there very often,' remarked Jasper, as Dora and he
discussed their sister's magnificence. 'That's all very well in
its way, but I aim at something higher.'
'So do I,' Dora replied.
'I'm very glad to hear that. I confess it seemed to me that you
were rather too cordial with Whelpdale yesterday.'
'One must behave civilly. Mr Whelpdale quite understands me.'
'You are sure of that? He didn't seem quite so gloomy as he ought
to have been.'
'The success of Chit-Chat keeps him in good spirits.'
It was perhaps a week after this that Mrs Dolomore came quite
unexpectedly to the house by Regent's Park, as early as eleven
o'clock in the morning. She had a long talk in private with Dora.
Jasper was not at home; when he returned towards evening, Dora
came to his room with a countenance which disconcerted him.
'Is it true,' she asked abruptly, standing before him with her
hands strained together, 'that you have been representing
yourself as no longer engaged to Marian?'
'Who has told you so?'
'That doesn't matter. I have heard it, and I want to know from
you that it is false.'
Jasper thrust his hands into his pockets and walked apart.
'I can take no notice,' he said with indifference, 'of anonymous
'Well, then, I will tell you how I have heard. Maud came this
morning, and told me that Mrs Betterton had been asking her about
it. Mrs Betterton had heard from Mrs Lane.'
'From Mrs Lane? And from whom did she hear, pray?'
'That I don't know. Is it true or not?'
'I have never told anyone that my engagement was at an end,'
replied Jasper, deliberately.
The girl met his eyes.
'Then I was right,' she said. 'Of course I told Maud that it was
impossible to believe this for a moment. But how has it come to
'You might as well ask me how any lie gets into circulation among
people of that sort. I have told you the truth, and there's an
end of it.'
Dora lingered for a while, but left the room without saying
She sat up late, mostly engaged in thinking, though at times an
open book was in her hand. It was nearly half-past twelve when a
very light rap at the door caused her to start. She called, and
Jasper came in.
'Why are you still up?' he asked, avoiding her look as he moved
forward and took a leaning attitude behind an easy-chair.
'Oh, I don't know. Do you want anything?'
There was a pause; then Jasper said in an unsteady voice:
'I am not given to lying, Dora, and I feel confoundedly
uncomfortable about what I said to you early this evening. I
didn't lie in the ordinary sense; it's true enough that I have
never told anyone that my engagement was at an end. But I have
acted as if it were, and it's better I should tell you.'
His sister gazed at him with indignation.
'You have acted as if you were free?'
'Yes. I have proposed to Miss Rupert. How Mrs Lane and that lot
have come to know anything about this I don't understand. I am
not aware of any connecting link between them and the Ruperts, or
the Barlows either. Perhaps there are none; most likely the
rumour has no foundation in their knowledge. Still, it is better
that I should have told you. Miss Rupert has never heard that I
was engaged, nor have her friends the Barlows--at least I don't
see how they could have done. She may have told Mrs Barlow of my
proposal--probably would; and this may somehow have got round to
those other people. But Maud didn't make any mention of Miss
Rupert, did she?'
Dora replied with a cold negative.
'Well, there's the state of things. It isn't pleasant, but that's
what I have done.'
'Do you mean that Miss Rupert has accepted you?'
'No. I wrote to her. She answered that she was going to Germany
for a few weeks, and that I should have her reply whilst she was
away. I am waiting.'
'But what name is to be given to behaviour such as this?'
'Listen: didn't you know perfectly well that this must be the end
'Do you suppose I thought you utterly shameless and cruel beyond
'I suppose I am both. It was a moment of desperate temptation,
though. I had dined at the Ruperts'--you remember--and it seemed
to me there was no mistaking the girl's manner.'
'Don't call her a girl!' broke in Dora, scornfully. 'You say she
is several years older than yourself.'
'Well, at all events, she's intellectual, and very rich. I
yielded to the temptation.'
'And deserted Marian just when she has most need of help and
consolation? It's frightful!'
Jasper moved to another chair and sat down. He was much
'Look here, Dora, I regret it; I do, indeed. And, what's more, if
that woman refuses me--as it's more than likely she will--I will
go to Marian and ask her to marry me at once. I promise that.'
His sister made a movement of contemptuous impatience.
'And if the woman doesn't refuse you?'
'Then I can't help it. But there's one thing more I will say.
Whether I marry Marian or Miss Rupert, I sacrifice my strongest
feelings--in the one case to a sense of duty, in the other to
worldly advantage. I was an idiot to write that letter, for I
knew at the time that there was a woman who is far more to me
than Miss Rupert and all her money--a woman I might, perhaps,
marry. Don't ask any questions; I shall not answer them. As I
have said so much, I wished you to understand my position fully.
You know the promise I have made. Don't say anything to Marian;
if I am left free I shall marry her as soon as possible.'
And so he left the room.
For a fortnight and more he remained in uncertainty. His life was
very uncomfortable, for Dora would only speak to him when
necessity compelled her; and there were two meetings with Marian,
at which he had to act his part as well as he could. At length
came the expected letter. Very nicely expressed, very friendly,
very complimentary, but--a refusal.
He handed it to Dora across the breakfast-table, saying with a
'Now you can look cheerful again. I am doomed.'
CHAPTER XXXV. FEVER AND REST
Milvain's skilful efforts notwithstanding, 'Mr Bailey, Grocer,'
had no success. By two publishers the book had been declined; the
firm which brought it out offered the author half profits and
fifteen pounds on account, greatly to Harold Biffen's
satisfaction. But reviewers in general were either angry or
coldly contemptuous. 'Let Mr Biffen bear in mind,' said one of
these sages, 'that a novelist's first duty is to tell a story.'
'Mr Biffen,' wrote another, 'seems not to understand that a work
of art must before everything else afford amusement.' 'A
pretentious book of the genre ennuyant,' was the brief comment of
a Society journal. A weekly of high standing began its short
notice in a rage: 'Here is another of those intolerable
productions for which we are indebted to the spirit of grovelling
realism. This author, let it be said, is never offensive, but
then one must go on to describe his work by a succession of
negatives; it is never interesting, never profitable, never--'
and the rest. The eulogy in The West End had a few timid echoes.
That in The Current would have secured more imitators, but
unfortunately it appeared when most of the reviewing had already
been done. And, as Jasper truly said, only a concurrence of
powerful testimonials could have compelled any number of people
to affect an interest in this book. 'The first duty of a novelist
is to tell a story:' the perpetual repetition of this phrase is a
warning to all men who propose drawing from the life. Biffen only
offered a slice of biography, and it was found to lack flavour.
He wrote to Mrs Reardon: 'I cannot thank you enough for this very
kind letter about my book; I value it more than I should the
praises of all the reviewers in existence. You have understood my
aim. Few people will do that, and very few indeed could express
it with such clear conciseness.'
If Amy had but contented herself with a civil acknowledgment of
the volumes he sent her! She thought it a kindness to write to
him so appreciatively, to exaggerate her approval. The poor
fellow was so lonely. Yes, but his loneliness only became
intolerable when a beautiful woman had smiled upon him, and so
forced him to dream perpetually of that supreme joy of life which
to him was forbidden.
It was a fatal day, that on which Amy put herself under his
guidance to visit Reardon's poor room at Islington. In the old
times, Harold had been wont to regard his friend's wife as the
perfect woman; seldom in his life had he enjoyed female society,
and when he first met Amy it was years since he had spoken with
any woman above the rank of a lodging-house keeper or a
needle-plier. Her beauty seemed to him of a very high order, and
her mental endowments filled him with an exquisite delight, not
to be appreciated by men who have never been in his position.
When the rupture came between Amy and her husband, Harold could
not believe that she was in any way to blame; held to Reardon by
strong friendship, he yet accused him of injustice to Amy. And
what he saw of her at Brighton confirmed him in this judgment.
When he accompanied her to Manville Street, he allowed her, of
course, to remain alone in the room where Reardon had lived; but
Amy presently summoned him, and asked him questions. Every tear
she shed watered a growth of passionate tenderness in the
solitary man's heart. Parting from her at length, he went to hide
his face in darkness and think of her--think of her.
A fatal day. There was an end of all his peace, all his capacity
for labour, his patient endurance of penury. Once, when he was
about three-and-twenty, he had been in love with a girl of gentle
nature and fair intelligence; on account of his poverty, he could
not even hope that his love might be returned, and he went away
to bear the misery as best he might. Since then the life he had
led precluded the forming of such attachments; it would never
have been possible for him to support a wife of however humble
origin. At intervals he felt the full weight of his loneliness,
but there were happily long periods during which his Greek
studies and his efforts in realistic fiction made him indifferent
to the curse laid upon him. But after that hour of intimate
speech with Amy, he never again knew rest of mind or heart.
Accepting what Reardon had bequeathed to him, he removed the
books and furniture to a room in that part of the town which he
had found most convenient for his singular tutorial pursuits. The
winter did not pass without days of all but starvation, but in
March he received his fifteen pounds for 'Mr Bailey,' and this
was a fortune, putting him beyond the reach of hunger for full
six months. Not long after that he yielded to a temptation that
haunted him day and night, and went to call upon Amy, who was
still living with her mother at Westbourne Park. When he entered
the drawing-room Amy was sitting there alone; she rose with an
exclamation of frank pleasure.
'I have often thought of you lately, Mr Biffen. How kind to come
and see me!'
He could scarcely speak; her beauty, as she stood before him in
the graceful black dress, was anguish to his excited nerves, and
her voice was so cruel in its conventional warmth. When he looked
at her eyes, he remembered how their brightness had been dimmed
with tears, and the sorrow he had shared with her seemed to make
him more than an ordinary friend. When he told her of his success
with the publishers, she was delighted.
'Oh, when is it to come out? I shall watch the advertisements so
'Will you allow me to send you a copy, Mrs Reardon?'
'Can you really spare one?'
Of the half-dozen he would receive, he scarcely knew how to
dispose of three. And Amy expressed her gratitude in the most
charming way. She had gained much in point of manner during the
past twelve months; her ten thousand pounds inspired her with the
confidence necessary to a perfect demeanour. That slight hardness
which was wont to be perceptible in her tone had altogether
passed away; she seemed to be cultivating flexibility of voice.
Mrs Yule came in, and was all graciousness. Then two callers
presented themselves. Biffen's pleasure was at an end as soon as
he had to adapt himself to polite dialogue; he escaped as
speedily as possible.
He was not the kind of man that deceives himself as to his own
aspect in the eyes of others. Be as kind as she might, Amy could
not set him strutting Malvolio-wise; she viewed him as a poor
devil who often had to pawn his coat--a man of parts who would
never get on in the world--a friend to be thought of kindly
because her dead husband had valued him. Nothing more than that;
he understood perfectly the limits of her feeling. But this could
not put restraint upon the emotion with which he received any
most trifling utterance of kindness from her. He did not think of
what was, but of what, under changed circumstances, might be. To
encourage such fantasy was the idlest self-torment, but he had
gone too far in this form of indulgence. He became the slave of
his inflamed imagination.
In that letter with which he replied to her praises of his book,
perchance he had allowed himself to speak too much as he thought.
He wrote in reckless delight, and did not wait for the prudence
of a later hour. When it was past recall, he would gladly have
softened many of the expressions the letter contained. 'I value
it more than the praises of all the reviewers in existence'--
would Amy be offended at that? 'Yours in gratitude and
reverence,' he had signed himself--the kind of phrase that comes
naturally to a passionate man, when he would fain say more than
he dares. To what purpose this half-revelation? Unless, indeed,
he wished to learn once and for ever, by the gentlest of
repulses, that his homage was only welcome so long as it kept
well within conventional terms.
He passed a month of distracted idleness, until there came a day
when the need to see Amy was so imperative that it mastered every
consideration. He donned his best clothes, and about four o'clock
presented himself at Mrs Yule's house. By ill luck there happened
to be at least half a dozen callers in the drawing-room; the
strappado would have been preferable, in his eyes, to such an
ordeal as this. Moreover, he was convinced that both Amy and her
mother received him with far less cordiality than on the last
occasion. He had expected it, but he bit his lips till the blood
came. What business had he among people of this kind? No doubt
the visitors wondered at his comparative shabbiness, and asked
themselves how he ventured to make a call without the regulation
chimney-pot hat. It was a wretched and foolish mistake.
Ten minutes saw him in the street again, vowing that he would
never approach Amy more. Not that he found fault with her; the
blame was entirely his own.
He lived on the third floor of a house in Goodge Street, above a
baker's shop. The bequest of Reardon's furniture was a great
advantage to him, as he had only to pay rent for a bare room; the
books, too, came as a godsend, since the destruction of his own.
He had now only one pupil, and was not exerting himself to find
others; his old energy had forsaken him.
For the failure of his book he cared nothing. It was no more than
he anticipated. The work was done--the best he was capable of--
and this satisfied him.
It was doubtful whether he loved Amy, in the true sense of
exclusive desire. She represented for him all that is lovely in
womanhood; to his starved soul and senses she was woman, the
complement of his frustrate being. Circumstance had made her the
means of exciting in him that natural force which had hitherto
either been dormant or had yielded to the resolute will.
Companionless, inert, he suffered the tortures which are so
ludicrous and contemptible to the happily married. Life was
barren to him, and would soon grow hateful; only in sleep could
he cast off the unchanging thoughts and desires which made all
else meaningless. And rightly meaningless: he revolted against
the unnatural constraints forbidding him to complete his manhood.
By what fatality was he alone of men withheld from the winning of
a woman's love?
He could not bear to walk the streets where the faces of
beautiful women would encounter him. When he must needs leave the
house, he went about in the poor, narrow ways, where only
spectacles of coarseness, and want, and toil would be presented
to him. Yet even here he was too often reminded that the
poverty-stricken of the class to which poverty is natural were
not condemned to endure in solitude. Only he who belonged to no
class, who was rejected alike by his fellows in privation and by
his equals in intellect, must die without having known the touch
of a loving woman's hand.
The summer went by, and he was unconscious of its warmth and
light. How his days passed he could not have said.
One evening in early autumn, as he stood before the book-stall at
the end of Goodge Street, a familiar voice accosted him. It was
Whelpdale's. A month or two ago he had stubbornly refused an
invitation to dine with Whelpdale and other acquaintances--you
remember what the occasion was--and since then the prosperous
young man had not crossed his path.
'I've something to tell you,' said the assailer, taking hold of
his arm. 'I'm in a tremendous state of mind, and want someone to
share my delight. You can walk a short way, I hope? Not too busy
with some new book?'
Biffen gave no answer, but went whither he was led.
'You are writing a new book, I suppose? Don't be discouraged, old
fellow. "Mr Bailey" will have his day yet; I know men who
consider it an undoubted work of genius. What's the next to deal
'I haven't decided yet,' replied Harold, merely to avoid
argument. He spoke so seldom that the sound of his own voice was
strange to him.
'Thinking over it, I suppose, in your usual solid way. Don't be
hurried. But I must tell you of this affair of mine. You know
Dora Milvain? I have asked her to marry me, and, by the Powers!
she has given me an encouraging answer. Not an actual yes, but
encouraging! She's away in the Channel Islands, and I wrote--'
He talked on for a quarter of an hour. Then, with a sudden
movement, the listener freed himself.
'I can't go any farther,' he said hoarsely. 'Good-bye!'
Whelpdale was disconcerted.
'I have been boring you. That's a confounded fault of mine; I
Biffen had waved his hand, and was gone.
A week or two more would see him at the end of his money. He had
no lessons now, and could not write; from his novel nothing was
to be expected. He might apply again to his brother, but such
dependence was unjust and unworthy. And why should he struggle to
preserve a life which had no prospect but of misery?
It was in the hours following his encounter with Whelpdale that
he first knew the actual desire of death, the simple longing for
extinction. One must go far in suffering before the innate will-
to-live is thus truly overcome; weariness of bodily anguish may
induce this perversion of the instincts; less often, that despair
of suppressed emotion which had fallen upon Harold. Through the
night he kept his thoughts fixed on death in its aspect of
repose, of eternal oblivion. And herein he had found solace.
The next night it was the same. Moving about among common needs
and occupations, he knew not a moment's cessation of heart-ache,
but when he lay down in the darkness a hopeful summons whispered
to him. Night, which had been the worst season of his pain, had
now grown friendly; it came as an anticipation of the sleep that
A few more days, and he was possessed by a calm of spirit such as
he had never known. His resolve was taken, not in a moment of
supreme conflict, but as the result of a subtle process by which
his imagination had become in love with death. Turning from
contemplation of life's one rapture, he looked with the same
intensity of desire to a state that had neither fear nor hope.
One afternoon he went to the Museum Reading-room, and was busy
for a few minutes in consultation of a volume which he took from
the shelves of medical literature. On his way homeward he entered
two or three chemists' shops. Something of which he had need
could be procured only in very small quantities; but repetition
of his demand in different places supplied him sufficiently. When
he reached his room, he emptied the contents of sundry little
bottles into one larger, and put this in his pocket. Then he
wrote rather a long letter, addressed to his brother at
It had been a beautiful day, and there wanted still a couple of
hours before the warm, golden sunlight would disappear. Harold
stood and looked round his room. As always, it presented a neat,
orderly aspect, but his eye caught sight of a volume which stood
upside down, and this fault--particularly hateful to a bookish
man--he rectified. He put his blotting-pad square on the table,
closed the lid of the inkstand, arranged his pens. Then he took
his hat and stick, locked the door behind him, and went
downstairs. At the foot he spoke to his landlady, and told her
that he should not return that night. As soon as possible after
leaving the house he posted his letter.
His direction was westward; walking at a steady, purposeful pace,
with cheery countenance and eyes that gave sign of pleasure as
often as they turned to the sun-smitten clouds, he struck across
Kensington Gardens, and then on towards Fulham, where he crossed
the Thames to Putney. The sun was just setting; he paused a few
moments on the bridge, watching the river with a quiet smile, and
enjoying the splendour of the sky. Up Putney Hill he walked
slowly; when he reached the top it was growing dark, but an
unwonted effect in the atmosphere caused him to turn and look to
the east. An exclamation escaped his lips, for there before him
was the new-risen moon, a perfect globe, vast and red. He gazed
at it for a long time.
When the daylight had entirely passed, he went forward on to the
heath, and rambled, as if idly, to a secluded part, where trees
and bushes made a deep shadow under the full moon. It was still
quite warm, and scarcely a breath of air moved among the
Sure at length that he was remote from all observation, he
pressed into a little copse, and there reclined on the grass,
leaning against the stem of a tree. The moon was now hidden from
him, but by looking upward he could see its light upon a long,
faint cloud, and the blue of the placid sky. His mood was one of
ineffable peace. Only thoughts of beautiful things came into his
mind; he had reverted to an earlier period of life, when as yet
no mission of literary realism had been imposed upon him, and
when his passions were still soothed by natural hope. The memory
of his friend Reardon was strongly present with him, but of Amy
he thought only as of that star which had just come into his
vision above the edge of dark foliage--beautiful, but infinitely
Recalling Reardon's voice, it brought to him those last words
whispered by his dying companion. He remembered them now:
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
CHAPTER XXXVI. JASPER'S DELICATE CASE
Only when he received Miss Rupert's amiably-worded refusal to
become his wife was Jasper aware how firmly he had counted on her
accepting him. He told Dora with sincerity that his proposal was
a piece of foolishness; so far from having any regard for Miss
Rupert, he felt towards her with something of antipathy, and at
the same time he was conscious of ardent emotions, if not love,
for another woman who would be no bad match even from the
commercial point of view. Yet so strong was the effect upon him
of contemplating a large fortune, that, in despite of reason and
desire, he lived in eager expectation of the word which should
make him rich. And for several hours after his disappointment he
could not overcome the impression of calamity.
A part of that impression was due to the engagement which he must
now fulfil. He had pledged his word to ask Marian to marry him
without further delay. To shuffle out of this duty would make him
too ignoble even in his own eyes. Its discharge meant, as he had
expressed it, that he was 'doomed'; he would deliberately be
committing the very error always so flagrant to him in the case
of other men who had crippled themselves by early marriage with a
penniless woman. But events had enmeshed him; circumstances had
proved fatal. Because, in his salad days, he dallied with a girl
who had indeed many charms, step by step he had come to the
necessity of sacrificing his prospects to that raw attachment.
And, to make it more irritating, this happened just when the way
began to be much clearer before him.
Unable to think of work, he left the house and wandered gloomily
about Regent's Park. For the first time in his recollection the
confidence which was wont to inspirit him gave way to an attack
of sullen discontent. He felt himself ill-used by destiny, and
therefore by Marian, who was fate's instrument. It was not in his
nature that this mood should last long, but it revealed to him
those darker possibilities which his egoism would develop if it
came seriously into conflict with overmastering misfortune. A
hope, a craven hope, insinuated itself into the cracks of his
infirm resolve. He would not examine it, but conscious of its
existence he was able to go home in somewhat better spirits.
He wrote to Marian. If possible she was to meet him at half-past
nine next morning at Gloucester Gate. He had reasons for wishing
this interview to take place on neutral ground.
Early in the afternoon, when he was trying to do some work, there
arrived a letter which he opened with impatient hand; the writing
was Mrs Reardon's, and he could not guess what she had to
'DEAR MR MILVAIN,--I am distressed beyond measure to read in this
morning's newspaper that poor Mr Biffen has put an end to his
life. Doubtless you can obtain more details than are given in
this bare report of the discovery of his body. Will you let me
hear, or come and see me?'
He read and was astonished. Absorbed in his own affairs, he had
not opened the newspaper to-day; it lay folded on a chair.
Hastily he ran his eye over the columns, and found at length a
short paragraph which stated that the body of a man who had
evidently committed suicide by taking poison had been found on
Putney Heath; that papers in his pockets identified him as one
Harold Biffen, lately resident in Goodge Street, Tottenham Court
Road; and that an inquest would be held, &c. He went to Dora's
room, and told her of the event, but without mentioning the
letter which had brought it under his notice.
'I suppose there was no alternative between that and starvation.
I scarcely thought of Biffen as likely to kill himself. If
Reardon had done it, I shouldn't have felt the least surprise.'
'Mr Whelpdale will be bringing us information, no doubt,' said
Dora, who, as she spoke, thought more of that gentleman's visit
than of the event that was to occasion it.
'Really, one can't grieve. There seemed no possibility of his
ever earning enough to live decently upon. But why the deuce did
he go all the way out there? Consideration for the people in
whose house he lived, I dare say; Biffen had a good deal of
Dora felt a secret wish that someone else possessed more of that
Leaving her, Jasper made a rapid, though careful, toilet, and was
presently on his way to Westbourne Park. It was his hope that he
should reach Mrs Yule's house before any ordinary afternoon
caller could arrive; and so he did. He had not been here since
that evening when he encountered Reardon on the road and heard
his reproaches. To his great satisfaction, Amy was alone in the
drawing-room; he held her hand a trifle longer than was
necessary, and returned more earnestly the look of interest with
which she regarded him.
'I was ignorant of this affair when your letter came,' he began,
'and I set out immediately to see you.'
'I hoped you would bring me some news. What can have driven the
poor man to such extremity?'
'Poverty, I can only suppose. But I will see Whelpdale. I hadn't
come across Biffen for a long time.'
'Was he still so very poor?' asked Amy, compassionately.
'I'm afraid so. His book failed utterly.'
'Oh, if I had imagined him still in such distress, surely I might
have done something to help him!'--So often the regretful remark
of one's friends, when one has been permitted to perish.
With Amy's sorrow was mingled a suggestion of tenderness which
came of her knowledge that the dead man had worshipped her.
Perchance his death was in part attributable to that hopeless
'He sent me a copy of his novel,' she said, 'and I saw him once
or twice after that. But he was much better dressed than in
former days, and I thought--'
Having this subject to converse upon put the two more quickly at
ease than could otherwise have been the case. Jasper was closely
observant of the young widow; her finished graces made a strong
appeal to his admiration, and even in some degree awed him. He
saw that her beauty had matured, and it was more distinctly than
ever of the type to which he paid reverence. Amy might take a
foremost place among brilliant women. At a dinner-table, in grand
toilet, she would be superb; at polite receptions people would
whisper: 'Who is that?'
Biffen fell out of the dialogue.
'It grieved me very much,' said Amy, 'to hear of the misfortune
that befell my cousin.'
'The legacy affair? Why, yes, it was a pity. Especially now that
her father is threatened with blindness.'
'Is it so serious? I heard indirectly that he had something the
matter with his eyes, but I didn't know--'
'They may be able to operate before long, and perhaps it will be
successful. But in the meantime Marian has to do his work.'
'This explains the--the delay?' fell from Amy's lips, as she
Jasper moved uncomfortably. It was a voluntary gesture.
'The whole situation explains it,' he replied, with some show of
impulsiveness. 'I am very much afraid Marian is tied during her
'Indeed? But there is her mother.'
'No companion for her father, as I think you know. Even if Mr
Yule recovers his sight, it is not at all likely that he will be
able to work as before. Our difficulties are so grave that--'
He paused, and let his hand fail despondently.
'I hope it isn't affecting your work--your progress?'
'To some extent, necessarily. I have a good deal of will, you
remember, and what I have set my mind upon, no doubt, I shall
some day achieve. But--one makes mistakes.'
There was silence.
'The last three years,' he continued, 'have made no slight
difference in my position. Recall where I stood when you first
knew me. I have done something since then, I think, and by my own
'Indeed, you have.'
'Just now I am in need of a little encouragement. You don't
notice any falling off in my work recently?'
'Do you see my things in The Current and so on, generally?'
'I don't think I miss many of your articles. Sometimes I believe
I have detected you when there was no signature.'
'And Dora has been doing well. Her story in that girls' paper has
attracted attention. It's a great deal to have my mind at rest
about both the girls. But I can't pretend to be in very good
spirits.' He rose. 'Well, I must try to find out something more
about poor Biffen.'
'Oh, you are not going yet, Mr Milvain?'
'Not, assuredly, because I wish to. But I have work to do.' He
stepped aside, but came back as if on an impulse. 'May I ask you
for your advice in a very delicate matter?'
Amy was a little disturbed, but she collected herself and smiled
in a way that reminded Jasper of his walk with her along Gower
'Let me hear what it is.'
He sat down again, and bent forward.
'If Marian insists that it is her duty to remain with her father,
am I justified or not in freely consenting to that?'
'I scarcely understand. Has Marian expressed a wish to devote
herself in that way?'
'Not distinctly. But I suspect that her conscience points to it.
I am in serious doubt. On the one hand,' he explained in a tone
of candour, 'who will not blame me if our engagement terminates
in circumstances such as these? On the other--you are aware, by-
the-by, that her father objects in the strongest way to this
'No, I didn't know that.'
'He will neither see me nor hear of me. Merely because of my
connection with Fadge. Think of that poor girl thus situated. And
I could so easily put her at rest by renouncing all claim upon
'I surmise that--that you yourself would also be put at rest by
such a decision?'
'Don't look at me with that ironical smile,' he pleaded. 'What
you have said is true. And really, why should I not be glad of
it? I couldn't go about declaring that I was heartbroken, in any
event; I must be content for people to judge me according to
their disposition, and judgments are pretty sure to be
unfavourable. What can I do? In either case I must to a certain
extent be in the wrong. To tell the truth, I was wrong from the
There was a slight movement about Amy's lips as these words were
uttered: she kept her eyes down, and waited before replying.
'The case is too delicate, I fear, for my advice.'
'Yes, I feel it; and perhaps I oughtn't to have spoken of it at
all. Well, I'll go back to my scribbling. I am so very glad to
have seen you again.'
'It was good of you to take the trouble to come--whilst you have
so much on your mind.'
Again Jasper held the white, soft hand for a superfluous moment.
The next morning it was he who had to wait at the rendezvous; he
was pacing the pathway at least ten minutes before the appointed
time. When Marian joined him, she was panting from a hurried
walk, and this affected Jasper disagreeably; he thought of Amy
Reardon's air of repose, and how impossible it would be for that
refined person to fall into such disorder. He observed, too, with
more disgust than usual, the signs in Marian's attire of
encroaching poverty--her unsatisfactory gloves, her mantle out of
fashion. Yet for such feelings he reproached himself, and the
reproach made him angry.
They walked together in the same direction as when they met here
before. Marian could not mistake the air of restless trouble on
her companion's smooth countenance. She had divined that there
was some grave reason for this summons, and the panting with
which she had approached was half caused by the anxious beats of
her heart. Jasper's long silence again was ominous. He began
'You've heard that Harold Biffen has committed suicide?'
'No!' she replied, looking shocked.
'Poisoned himself. You'll find something about it in today's
He gave her such details as he had obtained, then added:
'There are two of my companions fallen in the battle. I ought to
think myself a lucky fellow, Marian. What?'
'You are better fitted to fight your way, Jasper.'
'More of a brute, you mean.'
'You know very well I don't. You have more energy and more
'Well, it remains to be seen how I shall come out when I am
weighted with graver cares than I have yet known.'
She looked at him inquiringly, but said nothing.
'I have made up my mind about our affairs,' he went on presently.
'Marian, if ever we are to be married, it must be now.'
The words were so unexpected that they brought a flush to her
cheeks and neck.
'Yes. Will you marry me, and let us take our chance?'
Her heart throbbed violently.
'You don't mean at once, Jasper? You would wait until I know what
father's fate is to be?'
'Well, now, there's the point. You feel yourself indispensable to
your father at present?'
'Not indispensable, but--wouldn't it seem very unkind? I should
be so afraid of the effect upon his health, Jasper. So much
depends, we are told, upon his general state of mind and body. It
would be dreadful if I were the cause of--'
She paused, and looked up at him touchingly.
'I understand that. But let us face our position. Suppose the
operation is successful; your father will certainly not be able
to use his eyes much for a long time, if ever; and perhaps he
would miss you as much then as now. Suppose he does not regain
his sight; could you then leave him?'
'Dear, I can't feel it would be my duty to renounce you because
my father had become blind. And if he can see pretty well, I
don't think I need remain with him.'
'Has one thing occurred to you? Will he consent to receive an
allowance from a person whose name is Mrs Milvain?'
'I can't be sure,' she replied, much troubled.
'And if he obstinately refuses--what then? What is before him?'
Marian's head sank, and she stood still.
'Why have you changed your mind so, Jasper?' she inquired at
'Because I have decided that the indefinitely long engagement
would be unjust to you--and to myself. Such engagements are
always dangerous; sometimes they deprave the character of the man
She listened anxiously and reflected.
'Everything,' he went on, 'would be simple enough but for your
domestic difficulties. As I have said, there is the very serious
doubt whether your father would accept money from you when you
are my wife. Then again, shall we be able to afford such an
'I thought you felt sure of that?'
'I'm not very sure of anything, to tell the truth. I am harassed.
I can't get on with my work.'
'I am very, very sorry.'
'It isn't your fault, Marian, and-- Well, then, there's only one
thing to do. Let us wait, at all events, till your father has
undergone the operation. Whichever the result, you say your own
position will be the same.'
'Except, Jasper, that if father is helpless, I must find means of
assuring his support.'
'In other words, if you can't do that as my wife, you must remain
After a silence, Marian regarded him steadily.
'You see only the difficulties in our way,' she said, in a colder
voice. 'They are many, I know. Do you think them insurmountable?'
'Upon my word, they almost seem so,' Jasper exclaimed,
'They were not so great when we spoke of marriage a few years
'A few years!' he echoed, in a cheerless voice. 'That is just
what I have decided is impossible. Marian, you shall have the
plain truth. I can trust your faith, but I can't trust my own. I
will marry you now, but--years hence--how can I tell what may
happen? I don't trust myself.'
'You say you "will" marry me now; that sounds as if you had made
up your mind to a sacrifice.'
'I didn't mean that. To face difficulties, yes.'
Whilst they spoke, the sky had grown dark with a heavy cloud, and
now spots of rain began to fall. Jasper looked about him in
annoyance as he felt the moisture, but Marian did not seem aware
'But shall you face them willingly?'
'I am not a man to repine and grumble. Put up your umbrella,
'What do I care for a drop of rain,' she exclaimed with
passionate sadness, 'when all my life is at stake! How am I to
understand you? Every word you speak seems intended to dishearten
me. Do you no longer love me? Why need you conceal it, if that is
the truth? Is that what you mean by saying you distrust yourself?
If you do so, there must be reason for it in the present. Could I
distrust myself? Can I force myself in any manner to believe that
I shall ever cease to love you?'
Jasper opened his umbrella.
'We must see each other again, Marian. We can't stand and talk in
the rain--confound it! Cursed climate, where you can never be
sure of a clear sky for five minutes!'
'I can't go till you have spoken more plainly, Jasper! How am I
to live an hour in such uncertainty as this? Do you love me or
not? Do you wish me to be your wife, or are you sacrificing
'I do wish it!' Her emotion had an effect upon him, and his voice
trembled. 'But I can't answer for myself--no, not for a year.
And how are we to marry now, in face of all these--'
'What can I do? What can I do?' she sobbed. 'Oh, if I were but
heartless to everyone but to you! If I could give you my money,
and leave my father and mother to their fate! Perhaps some could
do that. There is no natural law that a child should surrender
everything for her parents. You know so much more of the world
than I do; can't you advise me? Is there no way of providing for
'Good God! This is frightful, Marian. I can't stand it. Live as
you are doing. Let us wait and see.'
'At the cost of losing you?'
'I will be faithful to you!'
'And your voice says you promise it out of pity.'
He had made a pretence of holding his umbrella over her, but
Marian turned away and walked to a little distance, and stood
beneath the shelter of a great tree, her face averted from him.
Moving to follow, he saw that her frame was shaken by soundless
sobbing. When his footsteps came close to her, she again looked
'I know now,' she said, 'how foolish it is when they talk of love
being unselfish. In what can there be more selfishness? I feel as
if I could hold you to your promise at any cost, though you have
made me understand that you regard our engagement as your great
misfortune. I have felt it for weeks--oh, for months! But I
couldn't say a word that would seem to invite such misery as
this. You don't love me, Jasper, and that's an end of everything.
I should be shamed if I married you.'
'Whether I love you or not, I feel as if no sacrifice would be
too great that would bring you the happiness you deserve.'
'Deserve!' she repeated bitterly. 'Why do I deserve it? Because I
long for it with all my heart and soul? There's no such thing as
deserving. Happiness or misery come to us by fate.'
'Is it in my power to make you happy?'
'No; because it isn't in your power to call dead love to life
again. I think perhaps you never loved me. Jasper, I could give
my right hand if you had said you loved me before--I can't put it
into words; it sounds too base, and I don't wish to imply that
you behaved basely. But if you had said you loved me before that,
I should have it always to remember.'
'You will do me no wrong if you charge me with baseness,' he
replied gloomily. 'If I believe anything, I believe that I did
love you. But I knew myself and I should never have betrayed what
I felt, if for once in my life I could have been honourable.'
The rain pattered on the leaves and the grass, and still the sky
'This is wretchedness to both of us,' Jasper added. 'Let us part
now, Marian. Let me see you again.'
'I can't see you again. What can you say to me more than you have
said now? I should feel like a beggar coming to you. I must try
and keep some little self-respect, if I am to live at all.'
'Then let me help you to think of me with indifference. Remember
me as a man who disregarded priceless love such as yours to go
and make himself a proud position among fools and knaves--indeed
that's what it comes to. It is you who reject me, and rightly.
One who is so much at the mercy of a vulgar ambition as I am, is
no fit husband for you. Soon enough you would thoroughly despise
me, and though I should know it was merited, my perverse pride
would revolt against it. Many a time I have tried to regard life
practically as I am able to do theoretically, but it always ends
in hypocrisy. It is men of my kind who succeed; the
conscientious, and those who really have a high ideal, either
perish or struggle on in neglect.'
Marian had overcome her excess of emotion.
'There is no need to disparage yourself' she said. 'What can be
simpler than the truth? You loved me, or thought you did, and now
you love me no longer. It is a thing that happens every day,
either in man or woman, and all that honour demands is the
courage to confess the truth. Why didn't you tell me as soon as
you knew that I was burdensome to you?'
'Marian, will you do this?--will you let our engagement last for
another six months, but without our meeting during that time?'
'But to what purpose?'
'Then we would see each other again, and both would be able to
speak calmly, and we should both know with certainty what course
we ought to pursue.'
'That seems to me childish. It is easy for you to contemplate
months of postponement. There must be an end now; I can bear it
The rain fell unceasingly, and with it began to mingle an
autumnal mist. Jasper delayed a moment, then asked calmly:
'Are you going to the Museum?'
'Go home again for this morning, Marian. You can't work--'
'I must; and I have no time to lose. Good-bye!'
She gave him her hand. They looked at each other for an instant,
then Marian left the shelter of the tree, opened her umbrella,
and walked quickly away. Jasper did not watch her; he had the
face of a man who is suffering a severe humiliation.
A few hours later he told Dora what had come to pass, and without
extenuation of his own conduct. His sister said very little, for
she recognised genuine suffering in his tones and aspect. But
when it was over, she sat down and wrote to Marian.
'I feel far more disposed to congratulate you than to regret what
has happened. Now that there is no necessity for silence, I will
tell you something which will help you to see Jasper in his true
light. A few weeks ago he actually proposed to a woman for whom
he does not pretend to have the slightest affection, but who is
very rich, and who seemed likely to be foolish enough to marry
him. Yesterday morning he received her final answer--a refusal.
I am not sure that I was right in keeping this a secret from you,
but I might have done harm by interfering. You will understand
(though surely you need no fresh proof) how utterly unworthy he
is of you. You cannot, I am sure you cannot, regard it as a
misfortune that all is over between you. Dearest Marian, do not
cease to think of me as your friend because my brother has
disgraced himself. If you can't see me, at least let us write to
each other. You are the only friend I have of my own sex, and I
could not bear to lose you.'
And much more of the same tenor.
Several days passed before there came a reply. It was written
with undisturbed kindness of feeling, but in few words.
'For the present we cannot see each other, but I am very far from
wishing that our friendship should come to an end. I must only
ask that you will write to me without the least reference to
these troubles; tell me always about yourself, and be sure that
you cannot tell me too much. I hope you may soon be able to send
me the news which was foreshadowed in our last talk--though
"foreshadowed" is a wrong word to use of coming happiness, isn't
it? That paper I sent to Mr Trenchard is accepted, and I shall be
glad to have your criticism when it comes out; don't spare my
style, which needs a great deal of chastening. I have been
thinking: couldn't you use your holiday in Sark for a story? To
judge from your letters, you could make an excellent background
Dora sighed, and shook her little head, and thought of her
brother with unspeakable disdain.
CHAPTER XXXVII. REWARDS
When the fitting moment arrived, Alfred Yule underwent an
operation for cataract, and it was believed at first that the
result would be favourable. This hope had but short duration;
though the utmost prudence was exercised, evil symptoms declared
themselves, and in a few months' time all prospect of restoring
his vision was at an end. Anxiety, and then the fatal assurance,
undermined his health; with blindness, there fell upon him the
debility of premature old age.
The position of the family was desperate. Marian had suffered
much all the winter from attacks of nervous disorder, and by no
effort of will could she produce enough literary work to
supplement adequately the income derived from her fifteen hundred
pounds. In the summer of 1885 things were at the worst; Marian
saw no alternative but to draw upon her capital, and so relieve
the present at the expense of the future. She had a mournful
warning before her eyes in the case of poor Hinks and his wife,
who were now kept from the workhouse only by charity. But at this
juncture the rescuer appeared. Mr Quarmby and certain of his
friends were already making a subscription for the Yules'
benefit, when one of their number--Mr Jedwood, the publisher--
came forward with a proposal which relieved the minds of all
concerned. Mr Jedwood had a brother who was the director of a
public library in a provincial town, and by this means he was
enabled to offer Marian Yule a place as assistant in that
institution; she would receive seventy-five pounds a year, and
thus, adding her own income, would be able to put her parents
beyond the reach of want. The family at once removed from London,
and the name of Yule was no longer met with in periodical
By an interesting coincidence, it was on the day of this
departure that there appeared a number of The West End in which
the place of honour, that of the week's Celebrity, was occupied
by Clement Fadge. A coloured portrait of this illustrious man
challenged the admiration of all who had literary tastes, and two
columns of panegyric recorded his career for the encouragement of
aspiring youth. This article, of course unsigned, came from the
pen of Jasper Milvain.
It was only by indirect channels that Jasper learnt how Marian
and her parents had been provided for. Dora's correspondence with
her friend soon languished; in the nature of things this could
not but happen; and about the time when Alfred Yule became
totally blind the girls ceased to hear anything of each other. An
event which came to pass in the spring sorely tempted Dora to
write, but out of good feeling she refrained.
For it was then that she at length decided to change her name for
that of Whelpdale. Jasper could not quite reconcile himself to
this condescension; in various discourses he pointed out to his
sister how much higher she might look if she would only have a
'Whelpdale will never be a man of any note. A good fellow, I
admit, but borne in all senses. Let me impress upon you, my dear
girl, that I have a future before me, and that there is no
reason--with your charm of person and mind--why you should not
marry brilliantly. Whelpdale can give you a decent home, I admit,
but as regards society he will be a drag upon you.'
'It happens, Jasper, that I have promised to marry him,' replied
Dora, in a significant tone.
'Well, I regret it, but--you are of course your own mistress. I
shall make no unpleasantness. I don't dislike Whelpdale, and I
shall remain on friendly terms with him.'
'That is very kind of you,' said his sister suavely.
Whelpdale was frantic with exultation. When the day of the
wedding had been settled, he rushed into Jasper's study and
fairly shed tears before he could command his voice.
'There is no mortal on the surface of the globe one-tenth so
happy as I am!' he gasped. 'I can't believe it! Why in the name
of sense and justice have I been suffered to attain this
blessedness? Think of the days when I all but starved in my
Albany Street garret, scarcely better off than poor, dear old
Biffen! Why should I have come to this, and Biffen have poisoned
himself in despair? He was a thousand times a better and cleverer
fellow than I. And poor old Reardon, dead in misery! Could I for
a moment compare with him?'
'My dear fellow,' said Jasper, calmly, 'compose yourself and be
logical. In the first place, success has nothing whatever to do
with moral deserts; and then, both Reardon and Biffen were
hopelessly unpractical. In such an admirable social order as
ours, they were bound to go to the dogs. Let us be sorry for
them, but let us recognise causas rerum, as Biffen would have
said. You have exercised ingenuity and perseverance; you have
'And when I think that I might have married fatally on thirteen
or fourteen different occasions. By-the-by, I implore you never
to tell Dora those stories about me. I should lose all her
respect. Do you remember the girl from Birmingham?' He laughed
wildly. 'Heaven be praised that she threw me over! Eternal
gratitude to all and sundry of the girls who have plunged me into
'I admit that you have run the gauntlet, and that you have had
marvellous escapes. But be good enough to leave me alone for the
present. I must finish this review by midday.'
'Only one word. I don't know how to thank Dora, how to express my
infinite sense of her goodness. Will you try to do so for me? You
can speak to her with calmness. Will you tell her what I have
said to you?'
'Oh, certainly.--I should recommend a cooling draught of some
kind. Look in at a chemist's as you walk on.'
The heavens did not fall before the marriage-day, and the wedded
pair betook themselves for a few weeks to the Continent. They had
been back again and established in their house at Earl's Court
for a month, when one morning about twelve o'clock Jasper dropped
in, as though casually. Dora was writing; she had no thought of
entirely abandoning literature, and had in hand at present a very
pretty tale which would probably appear in The English Girl. Her
boudoir, in which she sat, could not well have been daintier and
more appropriate to the charming characteristics of its mistress.
Mrs Whelpdale affected no literary slovenliness; she was dressed
in light colours, and looked so lovely that even Jasper paused on
the threshold with a smile of admiration.
'Upon my word,' he exclaimed, 'I am proud of my sisters! What did
you think of Maud last night? Wasn't she superb?'
'She certainly did look very well. But I doubt if she's very
'That is her own look out; I told her plainly enough my opinion
of Dolomore. But she was in such a tremendous hurry.'
'You are detestable, Jasper! Is it inconceivable to you that a
man or woman should be disinterested when they marry?'
'By no means.'
'Maud didn't marry for money any more than I did.'
'You remember the Northern Farmer: "Doan't thou marry for money,
but go where money is." An admirable piece of advice. Well, Maud
made a mistake, let us say. Dolomore is a clown, and now she
knows it. Why, if she had waited, she might have married one of
the leading men of the day. She is fit to be a duchess, as far as
appearance goes; but I was never snobbish. I care very little
about titles; what I look to is intellectual distinction.'
'Combined with financial success.'
'Why, that is what distinction means.' He looked round the room
with a smile. 'You are not uncomfortable here, old girl. I wish
mother could have lived till now.'
'I wish it very, very often,' Dora replied in a moved voice.
'We haven't done badly, drawbacks considered. Now, you may speak
of money as scornfully as you like; but suppose you had married a
man who could only keep you in lodgings! How would life look to
'Who ever disputed the value of money? But there are things one
mustn't sacrifice to gain it.'
'I suppose so. Well, I have some news for you, Dora. I am
thinking of following your example.'
Dora's face changed to grave anticipation.
'And who is it?'
His sister turned away, with a look of intense annoyance.
'You see, I am disinterested myself,' he went on. 'I might find a
wife who had wealth and social standing. But I choose Amy
'An abominable choice!'
'No; an excellent choice. I have never yet met a woman so well
fitted to aid me in my career. She has a trifling sum of money,
which will be useful for the next year or two--'
'What has she done with the rest of it, then?'
'Oh, the ten thousand is intact, but it can't be seriously spoken
of. It will keep up appearances till I get my editorship and so
on. We shall be married early in August, I think. I want to ask
you if you will go and see her.'