Part 3 out of 10
closing years all that is wittiest, best, and wisest in the great world.
Her ladyship was reposing in her low reading-chair, with a volume of
Tyndall on the book-stand before her, when the door was opened softly
and Lesbia came gliding in, and seated herself without a word on the
hassock at her grandmother's feet. Lady Maulevrier passed her hand
caressingly over the girl's soft brown hair, without looking up from her
'You are a late visitor,' she said; 'why did you not come to me after
'It was such a lovely morning, we went straight from the breakfast table
to the garden; I did not think you wanted me.'
'I did not want you; but I am always glad to see my pet. What were you
doing in the garden all the morning? I did not hear you playing tennis.'
Lady Maulevrier had already interrogated the German governess upon this
very subject, but she had her own reasons for wishing to hear Lesbia's
'No, it was too warm for tennis. Fraeulein and I sat and worked, and Mr.
Hammond read to us.'
'What did he read?'
'Heine's ballads. He reads German beautifully.
'Indeed! I daresay he was at school in Germany. There are cheap schools
there to which middle-class people send their boys.'
This was like a thrust from a rusty knife.
'Mr. Hammond was at Oxford,' Lesbia said, reproachfully; and then, after
a longish pause, she clasped her hands upon the arm of Lady Maulevrier's
chair, and said, in a pleading voice, 'Grandmother, Mr. Hammond has
asked me to marry him.'
'Indeed! Only that? And pray, did he tell you what are his means of
maintaining Lord Maulevrier's sister in the position to which her birth
entitles her?' inquired the dowager, with crushing calmness.
'He is not rich; indeed, I believe, he is poor; but he is brave and
clever, and he is full of confidence in his power to conquer fortune.'
'No doubt; that is your true adventurer's style. He confides implicitly
in his own talents, and in somebody else's banker. Mr. Hammond would
make a tremendous figure in the world, I daresay, and while he was
making it your brother would have to keep him. Well, my dear Lesbia, I
hope you gave this gentleman the answer his insolence deserved; or that
you did better, and referred him to me. I should be glad to give him my
opinion of his conduct--a person admitted to this house as your
brother's hanger-on--tolerated only on your brother's account; such a
person, nameless, penniless, friendless (except for Maulevrier's too
facile patronage), to dare to lift his eyes to my granddaughter! It is
Lesbia crouched by her grandmother's chair, her face hidden from Lady
Maulevrier's falcon eye. Every word uttered by her ladyship stung like
the knotted cords of a knout. She knew not whether to be most ashamed of
her lover or of herself--of her lover for his obscure position, his
hopeless poverty; of herself for her folly in loving such a man. And she
did love him, and would fain have pleaded his cause, had she not been
cowed by the authority that had ruled her all her life.
'Lesbia, if I thought you had been silly enough, degraded enough, to
give this young man encouragement, to have justified his audacity of
to-day by any act or word of yours, I should despise, I should detest
you,' said Lady Maulevrier, sternly. 'What could be more contemptible,
more hateful in a girl reared as you have been than to give
encouragement to the first comer--to listen greedily to the first
adventurer who had the insolence to make love to you, to be eager to
throw yourself into the arms of the first man who asked you. That my
granddaughter, a girl reared and taught and watched and guarded by me,
should have no more dignity, no more modesty, or womanly feeling, than a
barmaid at an inn!'
Lesbia began to cry.
'I don't see why a barmaid, should not be a good woman, or why it
should be a crime to fall in love,' she said, in a voice broken by sobs.
'You need not speak to me so unkindly. I am not going to marry Mr.
'Oh, you are not? that is very good of you. I am deeply grateful for
such an assurance.'
'But I like him better than anyone I ever saw in my life before.'
'You have seen to many people. You have had such a wide area for
'No; I know I have been kept like a nun in a convent: but I don't think
when I go into the world I shall ever see anyone I should like better
than Mr. Hammond.'
'Wait till you have seen the world before you make up your mind about
that. And now, Lesbia, leave off talking and thinking like a child; look
me in the face and listen to me, for I am going to speak seriously; and
with me, when I am in earnest, what is said once is said for ever.'
Lady Maulevrier grasped her granddaughter's arm with long slender
fingers which held it as tightly as the grasp of a vice. She drew the
girl's slim figure round till they were face to face, looking into each
other's eyes, the dowager's eagle countenance lit up with impassioned
feeling, severe, awful as the face of one of the fatal sisters, the
avengers of blood, the harbingers of doom.
'Lesbia, I think I have been good to you, and kind to you,' she said.
'You have been all that is kind and dear,' faltered Lesbia.
'Then give me measure for measure. My life has been a hard one, child;
hard and lonely, and loveless and joyless. My son, to whom I devoted
myself in the vigour of youth and in the prime of life, never loved me,
never repaid me for my love. He spent his days far away from me, when
his presence would have gladdened my difficult life. He died in a
strange land. Of his three children, you are the one I took into my
heart. I did my duty to the others; I lavished my love upon you. Do not
give me cursing instead of blessing. Do not give me a stone instead of
bread. I have built every hope of happiness or pleasure in this world
upon you and your obedience. Obey me, be true to me, and I will make you
a queen, and I will sit in the shadow of your throne. I will toil for
you, and be wise for you. You shall have only to shine, and dazzle, and
enjoy the glory of life. My beautiful darling, for pity's sake do not
give yourself over to folly.'
'Did not you marry for love, grandmother?'
'No, Lesbia. Lord Maulevrier and I got on very well together, but ours
was no love-match.'
'Does nobody in our rank ever marry for love? are all marriages a mere
exchange and barter?'
'No, there are love-matches now and then, which often turn out badly.
But, my darling, I am not asking you to marry for rank or for money. I
am only asking you to wait till you find your mate among the noblest in
the land. He may be the handsomest and most accomplished of men, a man
born to win women's hearts; and you may love him as fervently as ever a
village girl loved her first lover. I am not going to sacrifice you, or
to barter you, dearest. I mean to marry you to the best and noblest
young man of his day. You shall never be asked to stoop to the unworthy,
not even if worthlessness wore strawberry leaves in his cap, and owned
the greatest estate in the land.'
'And if--instead of waiting-for this King Arthur of yours--I were to do
as Iseult did--as Guinevere did--choose for myself----'
'Iseult and Guinevere were wantons. I wonder that you can name them in
comparison with yourself.'
'If I were to marry a good and honourable man who has his place to make
in the world, would you never forgive me?'
'You mean Mr. Hammond? You may just as well speak plainly,' said Lady
Maulevrier, freezingly. 'If you were capable of such idiocy as that,
Lesbia, I would pluck you out of my heart like a foul weed. I would
never look upon you, or hear your name spoken, or think of you again as
long as I lived. My life would not last very long after that blow. Old
age cannot bear such shocks. Oh, Lesbia, I have been father and mother
to you; do not bring my grey hairs in sorrow to the grave.'
Lesbia gave a deep sigh, and brushed the tears from her cheeks. Yes, the
very idea of such a marriage was foolishness. Just now, in the pine
wood, carried away by the force of her lover's passion, by her own
softer feelings, it had seemed to her as if she could count the world
well lost for his sake; but now, at Lady Maulevrier's feet, she became
again true to her training, and the world was too much to lose.
'What can I do, grandmother?' she asked, submissively, despairingly. 'He
loves me, and I love him. How can I tell him that he and I can never be
anything to each other in this world?'
'Refer him to me. I will give him his answer.'
'No, no; that will not do. I have promised to answer him myself. He has
gone for a walk on the hills, and will come back at four o'clock for my
'Sit down at that table, and write as I dictate.'
'But a letter will be so formal.'
'It is the only way in which you can answer him. When he comes back from
his walk you will have left Fellside. I shall send you off to St. Bees
with Fraeulein. You must never look upon that man's face again.'
Lesbia brushed away a few more tears, and obeyed. She had been too well
trained to attempt resistance. Defiance was out of the question.
'THE GREATER CANTLE OF THE WORLD IS LOST.'
The sky was still cloudless when John Hammond strolled slowly up the
leafy avenue at Fellside. He had been across the valley and up the hill
to Easedale Tarn, and then by rough untrodden ways, across a chaos of
rock and heather, into a second valley, long, narrow, and sterile, known
as Far Easedale, a desolate gorge, a rugged cleft in the heart of the
mountains. The walk had been long and laborious; but only in such
clambering and toiling, such expenditure of muscular force and latent
heat, could the man's restless soul endure those long hours of suspense.
'How will she answer me? Oh, my God! how will she answer?' he said
within himself, as he walked up the romantic winding road, which made so
picturesque an approach to Lady Maulevrier's domain, 'Is my idol gold or
clay? How will she come through the crucible? Oh, dearest, sweetest,
loveliest, only be true to the instinct of your womanhood, and my cup
will be full of bliss, and all my days will flow as sweetly as the
burden of a song. But if you prove heartless, if you love the world's.
wealth better than you love me--ah! then all is over, and you and I are
lost to each other for ever. I have made up my mind.'
His face settled into an expression of indomitable determination, as of
a man who would die rather than be false to his own purpose. There was
no glow of hope in his heart. He had no deep faith in the girl he loved;
indeed in his heart of hearts he knew that this being to whom he had
trusted his hopes of bliss was no heroine. She was a lovely, loveable
girl, nothing more. How would she greet him when they met presently on
the tennis lawn? With tears and entreaties, and pretty little
deprecating speeches, irresolution, timidity, vacillation, perhaps;
hardly with heroic resolve to act and dare for his sake.
There was no one on the tennis lawn when he went there, though the hour
was close at hand at which Lesbia had promised to give him his answer.
He sat down in one of the low chairs, glad to rest after his long ramble
having had no refreshment but a bottle of soda-water and a biscuit at
the cottage by Easedale Tarn. He waited, calmly as to outward seeming,
but with a heavy heart.
'If it were Mary now whom I loved, I should have little fear of the
issue,' he thought, weighing his sweetheart's character, as he weighed
his chances of success. 'That young termagant would defy the world for
He sat in the summer silence for nearly half-an-hour, and still there
was no sign of Lady Lesbia. Her satin-lined workbasket, with the work
thrown carelessly across it, was still on the rustic table, just as she
had left it when they went to the pine wood. Waiting was weary work when
the bliss of a lifetime trembled in the balance; and yet he did not want
to be impatient. She might find it difficult to get away from her
family, perhaps. She was closely watched and guarded, as the most
precious thing at Fellside.
At last the clock struck five, and Hammond could endure delay no longer.
He went round by the flower garden to the terrace before the
drawing-room windows, and through an open window to the drawing-room.
Lady Maulevrier was in her accustomed seat, with her own particular
little table, magazines, books, newspapers at her side. Lady Mary was
pouring out the tea, a most unusual thing; and Maulevrier was sitting on
a stool at her feet, with his knees up to his chin, very warm and dusty,
eating pound cake.
'Where the mischief have you been hiding yourself all day, Jack?' he
called out as Hammond appeared, looking round the room as he entered,
with eager, interrogating eyes, for that one figure which was absent.
'I have been for a walk.'
'You might have had the civility to announce your design, and Molly and
I would have shared your peregrinations.'
'I am sorry that I lost the privilege of your company.'
'I suppose you lost your luncheon, which was of more importance,' said
'Will you have some tea?' asked Mary, who looked more womanly than usual
in a cream-coloured surah gown--one of her Sunday gowns.
She had a faint hope that by this essentially feminine apparel she might
lessen the prejudicial effect of Maulevrier's cruel story about the
Mr. Hammond answered absently, hardly looking at Mary, and quite
unconscious of her pretty gown.
'Thanks, yes,' he said, taking the cup and saucer, and looking at the
door by which he momently expected Lady Lesbia's entrance, and then, as
the door did not open, he looked down at Mary, very busy with china
teapots and a brass kettle which hissed and throbbed over a spirit lamp.
'Won't you have some cake,' she asked, looking up at him gently, grieved
at the distress and disappointment in his face. 'I am sure you must be
'Not in the least, thanks. How came you to be entrusted with those
sacred vessels, Lady Mary? What has become of Fraeulein and your sister?'
'They have rushed off to St. Bees. Grandmother thought Lesbia looking
pale and out of spirits, and packed her off to the seaside at a minute's
'What! She has left Fellside?' asked Hammond, paling suddenly, as if a
man had struck him. 'Lady Maulevrier, do I understand that Lady Lesbia
has gone away?'
He asked the question in an authoritative tone, with the air of a man
who had a right to be answered. The dowager wondered at his surpassing
'My granddaughter has gone to the seaside with her governess,' she said,
'At a minute's notice?'
'At a minute's notice. I am not in the habit of hesitating about any
step which I consider necessary for my grandchildren's welfare.'
She looked him full in the face, with those falcon eyes of hers; and he
gave her back a look as resolute, and every whit as full of courage and
'Well,' he said, after a very perceptible pause, 'no doubt your ladyship
has done wisely, and I must submit to your jurisdiction. But I had asked
Lady Lesbia a question, and I had been promised an answer.'
'Your question has been answered by Lady Lesbia. She left a note for
you,' replied Lady Maulevrier.
'Thanks,' answered Mr. Hammond, briefly, and he hurried from the room
without another word.
The letter was on the table in his bedroom. He had little hope of any
good waiting for him in a letter so written. The dowager and the world
had triumphed over a girl's dawning love, no doubt.
This was Lesbia's letter:
'Dear Mr. Hammond,--Lady Maulevrier desires me to say that the
proposal which you honoured me by making this morning is one which I
cannot possibly accept, and that any idea of an engagement between
you and me could result only in misery and humiliation to both. She
thinks it best, under these circumstances, that we should not again
meet, and I shall therefore have left Fellside before you receive
'With all good wishes, very faithfully yours,
'Very faithfully mine--faithful to her false training, to the worldly
mind that rules her; faithful to the gods of this world--Belial and
Mammon, and the Moloch Fashion. Poor cowardly soul! She loves me, and
owns as much, yet weakly flies from me, afraid to trust the strong arm
and the brave heart of the man who loves her, preferring the glittering
shams of the world to the reality of true and honest love. Well, child,
I have weighed you in the balance and found you wanting. Would to God it
had been otherwise! If you had been brave and bold for love's sake,
where is that pure and perfect chrysolite for which I would have
He flung himself into a chair, and sat with his head bowed upon his
folded arms, and his eyes not innocent of tears. What would he not have
given to find truth and courage and scorn of the world's wealth in that
heart which he had tried to win. Did he think her altogether heartless
because she so glibly renounced him? No, he was too just for that. He
called her only half-hearted. She was like the cat in the adage,
'Letting I dare not, wait upon I would.' But he told himself with one
deep sigh of resignation that she was lost to him for ever.
'I have tried her, and found her not worth the winning,' he said.
The house, even the lovely landscape smiling under his windows, the
pastoral valley, smooth lake and willowy island, seemed hateful to him.
He felt himself hemmed round by those green hills, by yonder brown and
rugged wall of Nabb Scar, stifled for want of breathing space. The
landscape was lovely enough, but it was like a beautiful grave. He
longed to get away from it.
'Another man would follow her to St. Bees,' he said. 'I will not.'
He flung a few things into a Gladstone bag, sat down, and wrote a brief
note to Maulevrier, asking him to make his excuses to her ladyship. He
had made up his mind to go to Keswick that afternoon, and would rejoin
his friend to-morrow, at Carlisle. This done, he rang for Maulevrier's
valet, and asked that person to look after his luggage and bring it on
to Scotland with his master's things; and then, without a word of adieu
to anyone, John Hammond went out of the house, with the Gladstone bag in
his hand, and shook the dust of Fellside off his feet.
He ordered a fly at the Prince of Wales's Hotel, and drove to Keswick,
whence he went on to the Lodore. The gloom and spaciousness of
Derwentwater, grey in the gathering dusk, suited his humour better than
the emerald prettiness of Grasmere--the roar of the waterfall made music
in his ear. He dined in a private room, and spent the evening roaming on
the shores of the lake, and at eleven o'clock went back to his hotel and
sat late into the night reading Heine, and thinking of the girl who had
Mr. Hammond's letter was delivered to Lord Maulevrier five minutes
before dinner, as he sat in the drawing-room with her ladyship and Mary.
Poor Mary had put on another pretty gown for dinner, still bent upon
effacing Mr. Hammond's image of her as a tousled, frantic creature in
torn and muddy raiment. She sat watching the door, just as Hammond had
watched it three hours ago.
'So,' said Maulevrier, 'your ladyship has succeeded in driving my friend
away. Hammond has left Fellside, and begs me to convey to you his
compliments and his grateful acknowledgment of all your kindness.'
'I hope I have not been uncivil to him,' answered Lady Maulevrier
coldly. 'As you had both made up your minds to go to-morrow, it can
matter very little that he should go to-day.'
Mary looked down at the ribbon and lace on her prettiest frock, and
thought that it mattered a great deal to her. Yet, if he had stayed,
would he have seen her frock or her? With his bodily eyes, perhaps, but
not with the eyes of his mind. Those eyes saw only Lesbia.
'No, perhaps it hardly matters,' answered Maulevrier, with suppressed
anger. 'The man is not worth talking about or thinking about. What is
he? Only the best, truest, bravest fellow I ever knew.'
'There are shepherds and guides in Grasmere of whom we could say almost
as much,' said Lady Maulevrier, 'yet you would scarcely expect me to
encourage one of them to pay his addresses to your sister? Pray spare us
all nonsense-talk, Maulevrier. This business is very well ended. You
ought never to have brought Mr. Hammond here.'
'I am sure of that now. I am very sorry I did bring him.'
'Oh, the man will not die for love. A disappointment of that kind is
good for a young man in his position. It will preserve him from more
vulgar entanglements, and perhaps from the folly of a too early
'That is a mighty philosophical way of looking at the matter.'
'It is the only true way. I hope when you are my age you will have
learnt to look at everything in a philosophical spirit.'
'Well, Lady Maulevrier, you have had it all your own way,' said the
young man, walking up and down the room in an angry mood. 'I hope you
will never be sorry for having come between two people who loved each
other, and might have made each other happy.'
'I shall never he sorry for having saved my granddaughter from an
imprudent marriage. Give me your arm, Maulevrier, and let me hear no
more about Mr. Hammond. We have all had quite enough of him,' said her
ladyship, as the butler announced dinner.
'SINCE PAINTED OR NOT PAINTED ALL SHALL FADE.'
Fraeulein Mueller and her charge returned from St. Bees after a sojourn of
about three weeks upon that quiet shore: but Lady Lesbia did not appear
to be improved in health or spirits by the revivifying breezes of the
'It is a dull, horrid place, and I was bored to death there!' she said,
when Mary asked how she had enjoyed herself. 'There was no question of
enjoyment. Grandmother took it into her head that I was looking ill, and
sent me to the sea; but I should have been just as well at Fellside.'
This meant that between Lesbia and that distinctly inferior being, her
younger sister, there was to be no confidence. Mary had watched the
life-drama acted under her eyes too closely not to know all about it,
and was not inclined to be so put off.
That pale perturbed countenance of John Hammond's, those eager inquiring
eyes looking to the door which opened not, had haunted Mary's waking
thoughts, had even mingled with the tangled web of her dreams. Oh, how
could any woman scorn such love? To be so loved, and by such a man,
seemed to Mary the perfection of earthly bliss. She had never been
educated up to those wider and loftier views of life, which teach a
woman that houses and lands, place and power, are the supreme good.
'I can't understand how you could treat that noble-minded man so badly,'
she exclaimed one day, when she and Lesbia were alone in the library,
and after she had sat for ever so long, staring out of the window,
meditating upon her sister's cruelty.
'Of whom are you speaking, pray?'
'As if you didn't know! Of Mr. Hammond.'
'And pray, how do you know that he is noble-minded, or that I treated
'Well, as to his being noble-minded, that jumps to the eyes, as French
books say. As for your treatment of him, I was looking on all the time,
and I know how unkind you were, and I heard him talking to you in the
fir-copse that day.'
'You Were listening' cried Lesbia indignantly.
'I was not listening! I was passing by. And if people choose to carry on
their love affairs out of doors they must expect to be overheard. I
heard him pleading to you, telling you how he would work for you, fight
the battle of life for you, asking you to be trustful and brave for his
sake. But you have a heart of stone. You and grandmother both have
hearts of stone. I think she must have taken out your heart when you
were little, and put a stone in its place.'
'Really,' said Lesbia, trying to carry things with a high hand, albeit
her very human heart was beating passionately all the time, 'I think you
ought to be very grateful to me--and grandmother--for refusing Mr.
'Because it leaves you a chance of getting him for yourself; and
everybody can see that you are over head and ears in love with him. That
jumps to the eyes, as you say.'
Mary turned crimson, trembled with rage, looked at her sister as if she
would kill her, for a moment or so, and finally burst into tears.
'That is not true, and it is shameful for you to say such a thing,' she
'Why, what a virago you are, Mary. Well, I'm very glad it is not true.
Mr. Hammond is--yes, I will be quite candid with you--he is the only man
I am ever likely to admire for his own sake. He is good, brave, clever,
all that you think him. But you and I do not live in a world in which
girls are free to follow their own inclinations. I should break Lady
Maulevrier's heart if I were to make a foolish marriage; and I owe her
too much to set her wishes at naught, or to make her declining years
unhappy. I must obey her, at any cost to my own feelings. Please never
mention Mr. Hammond's name. I'm sure I've had quite enough unhappiness
'I see,' said Mary, bitterly. 'It is your own pain you think of, not
his. He may suffer, so long as you are not worried.'
'You are an impertinent chit,' retorted Lesbia, 'and you know nothing
After this there was no more said about Mr. Hammond; but Mary did not
forget him. She wrote long letters to her brother, who was still in
Scotland, shooting, deer-stalking, fishing, killing something or other
daily, in the most approved fashion of an Englishman taking his
pleasure. Maulevrier occasionally repaid her with a telegram; but he was
not a good correspondent. He declared that life was too short for
Summer was gone; the lake was no longer a shining emerald floor, dotted
with the reflection of the flock upon the verdant slopes above it, but
dull and grey of hue, and broken by white-edged wavelets. Patches of
snow gleamed on the misty heights of Helvellyn, and the autumn winds
howled and shrieked around Fellside in the evenings, when all the
shutters were shut, and the outside world seemed little more than an
idea: that mystic hour when the sheep are slumbering under the starry
sky, and when, as the Westmoreland peasant believes, the fairies help
the housewife at her spinning-wheel.
Those October evenings were very long and weary for Lesbia and her
sister. Lady Maulevrier read and mused in her low chair beside the fire,
with her books piled upon her own particular table, and lighted by her
own particular lamp. She talked very little, but she was always gracious
to her granddaughters and their governess, and she liked them to be with
her in the evening. Lesbia played or sang, or sat at work at her
basket-table, which occupied the other side of the fireplace; and
Fraeulein and Mary had the rest of the room to themselves, as it were,
those two places by the hearth being sacred, as if dedicated to
household gods. Mary read immensely in those long evenings, devouring
volume after volume, feeding her imagination with every kind of
nutriment, good, bad, and indifferent. Fraeulein Mueller knitted a woollen
shawl, which seemed to have neither beginning, middle, nor end, and was
always ready for conversation, but there were times when silence brooded
over the scene for long intervals, and when every sound of the light
wood-ashes dropping on the tiled hearth was distinctly audible.
This state of things went on for about three weeks after Lesbia's return
from St. Bees, Lady Maulevrier watchful of her granddaughter all the
time, though saying nothing. She saw that Lesbia was not happy, not as
she had been in the time before the coming of John Hammond. She had
never been particularly gay or light-hearted, never gifted with the wild
spirits and buoyancy which make girlhood so lovely a season to some
natures, a time of dance and song and joyousness, a morning of life
steeped in the beauty and gladness of the universe. She had never been
gay as young lambs and foals and fawns and kittens and puppy dogs are
gay, by reason of the well-spring of delight within them, needing no
stimulus from the outside world. She had been just a little inclined to
murmur at the dulness of her life at Fellside; yet she had borne herself
with a placid sweetness which had been Lady Maulevrier's delight. But
now there was a marked change in her manner. She was not the less
submissive and dutiful in her bearing to her grandmother, whom she both
loved and feared; but there were moments of fretfulness and impatience
which she could not conceal. She was captious and sullen in her manner
to Mary and the Fraeulein. She would not walk or drive with them, or
share in any of their amusements. Sometimes of an evening that studious
silence of the drawing-room was suddenly broken by Lesbia's weary sigh,
breathed unawares as she bent over her work.
Lady Maulevrier saw, too, that Lesbia's cheek was paler than of old, her
eyes less bright. There was a heavy look that told of broken slumbers,
there was a pinched look in that oval check. Good heavens! if her beauty
were to pale and wane, before society had bowed down and worshipped it;
if this fair flower were to fade untimely; if this prize rose in the
garden of beauty were to wither and decay before it won the prize.
Her ladyship was a woman of action, and no sooner did this fear shape
itself in her mind than she took steps to prevent the evil her thoughts
Among those friends of her youth and allies of her house with whom she
had always maintained an affectionate correspondence was Lady Kirkbank,
the fashionable wife of a sporting baronet, owner of a castle in
Scotland, a place in Yorkshire, a villa at Cannes, and a fine house in
Arlington Street, with an income large enough for their enjoyment. When
Lady Diana Angersthorpe shone forth in the West End world as the
acknowledged belle of the season, the star of Georgina Lorimer was
beginning to wane. She was the eldest daughter of Colonel Lorimer, a man
of good old family, and a fine soldier, who had fought shoulder to
shoulder with Gough and Lawrence, and who had contrived to make a figure
in society with very small means. Georgina's sisters had all married
well. It was a case of necessity, the Colonel told them; they must
either marry or gravitate ultimately to the workhouse. So the Miss
Lorimers made the best use of their youth and freshness, and 'no good
offer refused' was the guiding rule of their young lives. Lucy married
an East India merchant, and set up a fine house in Porchester Terrace.
Maud married wealth personified in the person of a leading member of the
Tallow Chandlers' Company, and had her town house and country house, and
as fine a set of diamonds as a duchess.
But Georgina, the eldest, trifled with her chances, and her
twenty-seventh birthday beheld her pouring out her father's tea in a
small furnished house in a street off Portland Place, which the Colonel
had hired on his return from India, and which he declared himself unable
to maintain another year.
'Directly the season is over I shall give up housekeeping and take a
lodging at Bath,' said Colonel Lorimer. 'If you don't like Bath all the
year round you can stay with your sisters.'
'That is the last thing I am likely to do,' answered Georgina; 'my
sisters were barely endurable when they were single and poor. They are
quite intolerable now they are married and rich. I would sooner live in
the monkey-house at the Zoological than stay with either Lucy or Maud.'
'That's rank envy,' retorted her father 'You can't forgive them for
having done so much better than you.'
'I can't forgive them for having married snobs. When I marry I shall
marry a gentleman.'
'When!' echoed the parent, with a sneering laugh. 'Hadn't you better say
At this period Georgina's waning good looks were in some measure
counterbalanced by the cumulative effects of half a dozen seasons in
good society, which had given style to her person, ease to her manners,
and sharpness to her tongue. Nobody in society said sharper or more
unpleasant things than Miss Lorimer, and by virtue of this gift she got
invited about a great deal more than she might have done had she been
distinguished for sweetness of speech and manner. Georgie Lorimer's
presence at a dinner table gave just that pungent flavour which is like
the faint suspicion of garlic in a fricassee or of tarragon in a salad.
Now in this very season, when Colonel Lorimer was inclined to speak of
his daughter, as Sainte Beuve wrote of Musset, as a young woman with a
very brilliant past, a lucky turn of events gave Georgina a fresh start
in life, which may be called a new departure. Lady Diana Angersthorpe,
the belle of the season, took a fancy to her, was charmed with her sharp
tongue and acute sense of the ridiculous. The two became fast friends,
and were seen everywhere together. The best men all flocked round the
beauty, and all talked to the beauty's companion: and before the season
was over, Sir George Kirkbank, who had had half made up his mind to
propose to Lady Diana, found himself engaged to that uncommonly jolly
girl, Lady Diana's friend. Georgina spent August and September with Lady
Di, at the Marchioness of Carisbroke's delightful villa in the Isle of
Wight, and Sir George kept his yacht at Cowes all the time, and was in
constant attendance upon his fiancee. It was George and Georgie
everywhere. In October Colonel Lorimer had the profound pleasure of
giving away his daughter, before the altar in St. George's, Hanover
Square, and it may be said of him that nothing in his relations with
that young lady became him better than his manner of parting with her.
So the needy Colonel's daughter became Lady Kirkbank, and in the
following spring Diana Angersthorpe was married at the same St. George's
to the Earl of Maulevrier. The friends were divided by distance and by
circumstance as the years rolled on; but friendship was steadily
maintained; and a regular correspondence with Lady Kirkbank, whose pen
was as sharp as her tongue, was one of the means by which Lady
Maulevrier had kept herself thoroughly posted in all those small events,
unrecorded by newspapers, which make up the secret history of society.
It was of her old friend Georgie that her ladyship thought in her
present anxiety. Lady Kirkbank had more than once suggested that Lady
Maulevrier's granddaughters should vary the monotony of Fellside by a
visit to her place near Doncaster, or her castle north of Aberdeen; but
her ladyship had evaded these friendly suggestions, being very jealous
of any strange influence upon Lesbia's life. Now, however, there had
come a time when Lesbia must have a complete change of scenery and
surroundings, lest she should pine and dwindle in sullen submission to
fate, or else defy the world and elope with John Hammond.
Now, therefore, Lady Maulevrier decided to accept Lady Kirkbank's
hospitality. She told her friend the whole story with perfect frankness,
and her letter was immediately answered by a telegram.
'I start for Scotland to-morrow, will break my journey by staying a
night at Fellside, and will take Lady Lesbia on to Kirkbank with me next
day, if she can be ready to go.'
'She shall be ready,' said Lady Maulevrier.
She told Lesbia that she had accepted an invitation for her, and that
she was to go to Kirkbank Castle the day after to-morrow. She was
prepared for unwillingness, resistance even; but Lesbia received the
news with evident pleasure.
'I shall be very glad to go,' she said, 'this place is so dull. Of
course I shall be sorry to leave you, grandmother, and I wish you would
go with me; but any change will be a relief. I think if I had to stay
here all the winter, counting the days and the hours, I should go out of
The tears came into her eyes, but she wiped them away hurriedly, ashamed
of her emotion.
'My dearest child, I am so sorry for you,' murmured Lady Maulevrier.
'But believe me the day will come when you will be very glad that you
conquered the first foolish inclination of your girlish heart.'
'Yes, I daresay, when I am eighty,' Lesbia answered, impatiently. She
had made up her mind to submit to the inevitable. She had loved John
Hammond--had been as near breaking her heart for him as it was in her
nature to break her heart for anybody; but she wanted to make a great
marriage, to be renowned and admired. She had been reared and trained
for that; and she was not going to belie her training.
A visitor from the great London world was so rare an event that there
was naturally a little excitement in the idea of Lady Kirkbank's
arrival. The handsomest and most spacious of the spare bedrooms was
prepared for the occasion. The housekeeper was told that the dinner must
be perfect. There must be nothing old-fashioned or ponderous; there must
be mind as well as matter in everything. Rarely did Lady Maulevrier look
at a bill of fare; but on this particular morning she went carefully
through the menu, and corrected it with her own hand.
A pair of post-horses brought Lady Kirkbank and her maid from Windermere
station, in time for afternoon tea, and the friends who had only met
twice within the last forty years, embraced each other on the threshold
of Lady Maulevrier's morning-room.
'My dearest Di,' cried Lady Kirkbank, 'what a delight to see you again
after such ages; and what a too lovely spot you have chosen for your
retreat from the world, the flesh, and the devil. If I could be a
recluse anywhere, it would be amongst just such delicious surroundings.'
Without, twilight shades were gathering; within, there was only the
light of a fire and a shaded lamp upon the tea table; there was just
light enough for the two women to see each other's faces, and the change
which time had wrought there.
Never did womanhood in advanced years offer a more striking contrast
than that presented by the woman of fashion and the recluse. Lady
Maulevrier was almost as handsome in the winter of her days as she had
been when life was in its spring. The tall, slim figure, erect as a
dart, the delicately chiselled features and alabaster complexion, the
soft silvery hair, the perfect hand, whiter and more transparent than
the hand of girlhood, the stately movements and bearing, all combined to
make Lady Maulevrier a queen among woman. Her brocade gown of a deep
shade of red, with a border of dark sable on cuffs and collar, suggested
a portrait by Velasquez. She wore no ornaments except the fine old
Brazilian diamonds which flashed and sparkled upon her slender fingers.
If Lady Maulevrier looked like a picture in the Escurial, Lady Kirkbank
resembled a caricature in _La Vie Parisienne_. Everything she wore was
in the very latest fashion of the Parisian _demi-monde_, that
exaggerated elegance of a fashion plate which only the most exquisite of
women could redeem from vulgarity. Plush, brocade, peacock's feathers,
golden bangles, mousquetaire gloves, a bonnet of purple plumage set off
by ornaments of filagree gold, an infantine little muff of lace and wild
flowers, buttercups and daisies; and hair, eyebrows and complexion as
artificial as the flowers on the muff.
All that art could do to obliterate the traces of age had been done for
Georgina Kirkbank. But seventy years are not to be obliterated easily,
and the crow's feet showed through the bloom de Ninon, and the eyes
under the painted arches were glassy and haggard, the carnation lips had
a withered look. Age was made all the more palpable by the artifice
which would have disguised it.
Lady Maulevrier suffered an absolute shock at beholding the friend of
her youth. She had not accustomed herself to the idea that women in
society could raddle their cheeks, stain their lips, and play tricks
before high heaven with their eyebrows and eyelashes. In her own youth
painted faces had been the ghastly privilege of a class of womankind of
which the women of society were supposed to know nothing. Persons who
showed their ankles and rouged their cheeks were to be seen of an
afternoon in Bond Street; but Lady Diana Angersthorpe had been taught to
pass them by as if she saw them not, to behold without seeing these
creatures outside the pale. And now she saw her own dearest friend, a
person distinctly within the pale, plastered with bismuth and stained
with carmine, and wearing hair of a colour so obviously false and
inharmonious, that child-like faith could hardly accept it as reality.
Forty years ago Lady Kirkbank's long ringlets had been darkest glossiest
brown, to-day she wore a tousled fringe of bright yellow, piquantly
contrasting with Vandyke brown eyebrows.
It took Lady Maulevrier some moments to get over the shock. She drew a
chair to the fire and established her friend in it, and then, with a
little gasp, she said:
'I am charmed to see you again, Georgie!'
'You darling, I was sure you would be glad. But you must find me awfully
For worlds Lady Maulevrier could not have denied this truth. Happily
Lady Kirkbank did not wait for an answer.
'Society is so wearing, and George and I never seem to get an interval
of quiet. Kirkbank is to be full of men next week. Your granddaughter
will have a good time.'
'There will be a few women, of course?'
'Oh, yes, there's no avoiding that; only one doesn't reckon them. Sir
George only counts his guns. We expect a splendid season. I shall send
you some birds of my own shooting.'
'You shoot!' exclaimed Lady Maulevrier, amazed.
'Shoot! I should think I do. What else is there to amuse one in
Scotland, after the salmon fishing is over? I have never missed a season
for the last thirty years, unless we have been abroad.'
'Please, don't innoculate Lesbia with your love of sport.'
'What! you wouldn't like her to shoot? Well, perhaps you are right. It
is hardly the thing for a pretty girl with her fortune to make. It
spoils the delicacy of the skin. But I'm afraid she'll find Kirkbank
dull if she doesn't go out with the guns. She can meet us with the rest
of the women at luncheon. We have some capital picnic luncheons on the
moor, I can assure you.'
'I know she will enjoy herself with you. She has been accustomed to a
very quiet life here.'
'It is a lovely spot; but I own I cannot understand how you can have
lived here exclusively during all these years--you who used to be all
life and fire, loving change, action, political and diplomatic society,
to dance upon the crest of the wave, as it were. Your whole nature must
have suffered some curious change.'
Their close intimacy of the past warranted freedom of speech in the
'My nature did undergo a change, and a severe one,' answered Lady
'It was that horrid--and I daresay unfortunate scandal about his
lordship; and then the sad shock of his death,' murmured Lady Kirkbank,
sympathetically. 'Most women, with your youth and beauty, would have
forgotten the scandal and the husband in a twelvemonth, and would have
made a second marriage more brilliant than the first. But no Indian
widow who ever performed suttee was more worthy of praise than you, or
even that person of Ephesus, whose story I have heard somewhere. Indeed,
I have always spoken of your life as a long suttee. But you mean to
re-appear in society next season, I hope, when you present your
'I shall certainly go up to London to present her, and possibly I may
spend the season in town; but I shall feel like Rip Van Winkle.'
'No, no, you won't, my dear Di. You have kept yourself _au courant_, I
know. Even my silly gossiping letters may have been of _some_ use.'
'They have been most valuable. Let me give you another cup of tea,' said
Lady Maulevrier, who had been officiating at her own exquisite
tea-table, an arrangement of inlaid woods, antique silver, and modern
china, which her friend pronounced a perfect poem.
Indeed, the whole room was poetic, Lady Kirkbank declared, and there are
many highly praised scenes which less deserve the epithet. The dark red
walls and cedar dado, the stamped velvet curtains, of an indescribable
shade between silver-grey and olive, the Sheraton furniture, the
parqueterie floor and Persian prayer-rugs, the deep yet brilliant hues
of crackle porcelain and Chinese cloisonne enamel, the artistic
fireplace, with dog-stove, low brass fender, and ingle-nook recessed
under the high mantelpiece, all combined to form a luxurious and
Lady Kirkbank admired the _tout ensemble_ in the fitful light of the
fire, the dim grey of deepening twilight.
'There never was a more delicious cell!' she exclaimed, 'but still I
should feel it a prison, if I had to spend six weeks in the year in it.
I never stay more than six weeks anywhere out of London; and I always
find six weeks more than enough. The first fortnight is rapture, the
third and fourth weeks are calm content, the fifth is weariness, the
sixth a fever to be gone. I once tried a seventh week at Pontresina, and
I hated the place so intensely that I dared not go back there for the
next three years. But now tell me. Diana, have you really performed
suttee, have you buried yourself alive in this sweet spot deliberately,
or has the love of retirement grown upon you, and have you become a kind
'I believe I have become a kind of lotus-eater. My retirement here has
been no sentimental sacrifice to Lord Maulevrier's memory.'
'I am glad to hear that; for I really think the worst possible use a
woman can make of her life is in wasting it on lamentation for a dead
and gone husband. Life is odiously short at the best, and it is mere
imbecility to fritter away any of our scanty portion upon the dead, who
can never be any the better for our tears.'
'My motive in living at Fellside was not reverence for the dead. And now
let us talk of the gay world, of which you know all the secrets. Have
you heard anything more about Lord Hartfield?'
'Ah, there is a subject in which you have reason to be interested. I
have not forgotten the romance of your youth--that first season in which
Ronald Hollister used to haunt every place at which you appeared. Do you
remember that wet afternoon at the Chiswick flower-show, when you and he
and I took shelter in the orange house, and you two made love to each
other most audaciously in an atmosphere of orange-blossoms that almost
stifled me? Yes, those were glorious days!'
'A short summer of gladness, a brief dream,' sighed Lady Maulevrier. 'Is
young Lord Hartfield like his father?'
'No, he takes after the Ilmingtons; but still there is a look of your
old sweetheart--yes, I think there is an expression. I have not seen him
for nearly a year. He is still abroad, roaming about somewhere in search
of adventures. These young men who belong to the Geographical and the
Alpine Club are hardly ever at home.'
'But though they may be sometimes lost to society, they are all the
more worthy of society's esteem when they do appear,' said Lady
Maulevrier. 'I think there must be an ennobling influence in Alpine
travel, or in the vast solitudes of the Dark Continent. A man finds
himself face to face with unsophisticated nature, and with the grandest
forces of the universe. Professor Tyndall writes delightfully of his
Alpine experiences; his mind seems to have ripened in the solitude and
untainted air of the Alps. And I believe Lord Hartfield is a young man
of very high character and of considerable cultivation, is he not?'
'He is a splendid young fellow. I never heard a word to his
disparagement, even from those people who pretend to know something bad
about everybody. What a husband he would make for one of your girls!'
'Admirable! But those perfect arrangements, which seem predestined by
heaven itself, are so rarely realised on earth,' answered the dowager,
She was not going to show her cards, even to an old friend.
'Well, it would be very sweet if they were to meet next season and fall
in love with each other,' said Lady Kirkbank. 'He is enormously rich, and
I daresay your girls will not be portionless.'
'Lesbia may take a modest place among heiresses,' answered Lady
Maulevrier. 'I have lived so quietly during the last forty years that I
could hardly help saving money.'
'How nice!' sighed Georgie. 'I never saved sixpence in my life, and am
always in debt.'
'The little fortune I have saved is much too small for division. Lesbia
will therefore have all I can leave her. Mary has the usual provision as
a daughter of the Maulevrier house.'
'And I suppose Lesbia has that provision also?'
'Lucky Lesbia. I only wish Hartfield were coming to us for the shooting.
I would engage he should fall in love with her. Kirkbank is a splendid
place for match-making. But the fact is I am not very intimate with him.
He is almost always travelling, and when he is at home he is not in our
set. And now, my dear Diana, tell me more about yourself, and your own
life in this delicious place.'
'There is so little to tell. The books I have read, the theories of
literature and art and science which I have adopted and dismissed,
learnt and forgotten--those are the history of my life. The ideas of the
outside world reach me here only in books and newspapers; but you who
have been living in the world must have so much to say. Let me be the
Lady Kirkbank desired nothing better. She rattled on for three-quarters
of an hour about her doings in the great world, her social triumphs, the
wonderful things she had done for Sir George, who seemed to be as a
puppet in her hands, the princes and princelings she had entertained,
the songs she had composed, the comedy she had written, for private
representation only, albeit the Haymarket manager was dying to produce
it, the scathing witticisms with which she had withered her social
enemies. She would have gone on much longer, but for the gong, which
reminded her that it was time to dross for dinner.
Half-an-hour later Lady Kirkbank was in the drawing-room, where Mary had
retired to the most shadowy corner, anxious to escape the gaze of the
But Lady Kirkbank was not inclined to take much notice of Mary. Lesbia's
brilliant beauty, the exquisite Greek head, the faultless complexion,
the deep, violet eyes, caught Georgina Kirkbank's eye the moment she had
entered the room, and she saw that this girl and no other must be the
beauty, the beloved and chosen grandchild.
'How do you do, my dear?' she said, taking Lesbia's hand, and then, as
if with a gush of warm feeling, suddenly drawing the girl towards her
and kissing her on both cheeks. 'I am going to be desperately fond of
you, and I hope you will soon contrive to like me--just a little.'
'I feel sure that I shall like you very much,' Lesbia answered sweetly.
'I am prepared to love you as grandmother's old friend.'
'Oh, my dear, to think that I should ever be the old friend of anybody's
grandmother!' sighed Lady Kirkbank, with unaffected regret. 'When I was
your age I used to think all old people odious. It never occurred to me
that I should live to be one of them.'
'Then you had no dear grandmother whom you loved,' said Lesbia, 'or you
would have liked old people for her sake.'
'No, my love, I had no grandparents. I had a father, and he was
all-sufficient--anything beyond him in the ancestral line would have
been a burden laid upon me greater than I could bear, as the poet says.'
Dinner was announced, and Mary came shyly out of her corner, blushing
'And this is Lady Mary, I suppose?' said Lady Kirkbank, in an off-hand
way, 'How do you do, my dear? I am going to steal your sister.'
'I am very glad,' faltered Mary. 'I mean I am glad that Lesbia should
'And some fine day, when Lesbia is married and a great lady, I shall ask
you to come to Scotland,' said Lady Kirkbank, condescendingly, and than
she murmured in her friend's ear, as they went to the dining-room,
'Quite an English girl. Very fresh and frank and nice,' which was great
praise for such a second-rate young person as Lady Mary.
'What do you think of Lesbia?' asked Lady Maulevrier, in the same
'She is simply adorable. Your letters prepared me to expect beauty, but
not such beauty. My dear, I thought the progress of the human race was
all in a downward line since our time; but your granddaughter is as
handsome as you were in your first season, and that is going very far.'
Lady Kirkbank carried off Lesbia early next day, the girl radiant at the
idea of seeing life under new conditions. She had a few minutes' serious
talk with her grandmother before she went.
'Lesbia, you are going into the world,' said Lady Maulevrier; 'yes, even
a country house is the world in little. You will have many admirers
instead of one; but I think, I believe, that you will be true to me and
'You need not fear, grandmother. I have been an idiot; but--but it was
only a passing folly, and I shall never be so weak again.'
Lesbia's scornful lips and kindling eyes gave intensity to her speech.
It was evident that she despised herself for that one touch of womanly
softness which had made her as ready to fall in love with her first
wooer as any peasant girl in Grasmere Vale.
'I am delighted to hear you speak thus, dearest,' said Lady Maulevrier.
'And if Mr. Hamilton--Hammond, I mean--should have the audacity to
follow you to Kirkbank, and to intrude himself upon you there--perhaps
to persecute you with clandestine addresses----'
'I do not believe he would do anything clandestine,' said Lesbia,
drawing herself up. 'He is quite above that.'
'My dear child, we know absolutely nothing about him. He has his way to
make in the world unaided by family or connections. He is
clever--daring. Such a man cannot help being an adventurer; and an
adventurer is capable of anything. I warn you to beware of him.'
'I don't suppose I shall ever see his face again,' retorted Lesbia,
She had made up her mind that her life was not to be spoiled, her
brilliant future sacrificed, for the sake of John Hammond; but the wound
which she had suffered in renouncing him was still fresh, her feelings
were still sore. Any contemptuous mention of him stung her to the quick.
'I hope not. And you will beware of other adventurers, Lesbia, men of a
worse stamp than Mr. Hammond, more experienced in ruse and iniquity, men
steeped to the lips in worldly knowledge, men who look upon women as
mere counters in the game of life. The world thinks that I am rich, and
you will no doubt take rank as an heiress. You will therefore be a mark
for every spendthrift, noble or otherwise, who wants to restore his
broken fortunes by a wealthy marriage. And now, my dearest, good-bye.
Half my heart goes with you. Nothing could induce me to part with you,
even for a few weeks, except the conviction that it is for your good.'
'But we shall not be parted next year, I hope, grandmother,' said
Lesbia, affectionately. 'You said something about presenting me, and
then leaving me in Lady Kirkbank's care for the season. I should not
like that at all. I want you to go everywhere with me, to teach me all
the mysteries of the great world. You have always promised me that it
should be so.'
'And I have always intended that it should be so. I hope that it will be
so,' answered her grandmother, with a sigh; 'but I am an old woman,
Lesbia, and I am rooted to this place.'
'But why should you be rooted here? What charm can keep you here, when
you are so fitted to shine in society? You are old in nothing but years,
and not even old in years in comparison with women whom we hear of,
going everywhere and mixing in every fashionable amusement. You are full
of fire and energy, and as active as a girl. Why should you not enjoy a
London season, grandmother?' pleaded Lesbia, nestling her head lovingly
against Lady Maulevrier's shoulder.
'I should enjoy it, dearest, with you. It would be a renewal of my youth
to see you shine and conquer. I should be as proud as if the glory were
all my own. Yes, dear, I hope that I shall be a spectator of your
triumphs. But do not let us plan the future. Life is so full of changes.
Remember what Horace says----'
'Horace is a bore,' said Lesbia. 'I hate a poet who is always harping
upon change and death.'
The carriage, which was to take the travellers to Windermere Station,
was announced at this moment, and Lesbia and her grandmother gave each
other the farewell embrace.
'You like Lady Kirkbank, I hope?' said Lady Maulevrier, as they went
towards the ball, where that lady was waiting for them, with Lady Mary
and Fraeulein Mueller in attendance upon her.
'She seems very kind, but I should like her better if she did not
paint--or if she painted better.'
'My dear child I'm afraid it is the fashion of the day, just as it was
in Pope's time, and we ought to think nothing about it.'
'Well, I suppose I shall get hardened in time.'
'My dearest Lesbia,' shrieked Lady Kirkbank from below, 'remember we
have to catch a train.'
Lesbia hurried downstairs, followed by Lady Maulevrier, who had to bid
her friend adieu. The luggage had been sent on in a cart, Lesbia's
trunks and dress baskets forming no small item. She was so well
furnished with pretty gowns of all kinds that there had been no
difficulty in getting her ready for this sudden visit. Her maid was on
the box beside the coachman. Lady Kirkbank's attendant, a Frenchwoman of
five-and-thirty, who looked as if she had graduated at Mabille, was to
occupy the back seat of the landau.
Lady Mary looked after her sister longingly, as the carriage drove down
the hill. She was going into a new world, to see all kinds of
people--clever people--distinguished people--musical, artistic,
political people--hunting and shooting people--while Mary was to stay at
home all the winter among the old familiar faces. Dearly as she loved
these hills and vales her heart sank a little at the thought of those
long lonely months, days and evenings that would be all alike, and which
must be spent without sympathetic companionship. And there would be
dreary days on which the weather would keep her a prisoner in her
luxurious gaol, when the mountains, and the rugged paths beside the
mountain streams, would be inaccessible, when she would be restricted to
Fraeulein's phlegmatic society, that lady being stout and lazy, fond of
her meals, and given to afternoon slumbers. Lesbia and Mary were not by
any means sympathetic; yet, after all, blood is thicker than water; and
Lesbia was intelligent, and could talk of the things Mary loved, which
was better than total dumbness, even if she generally took an
antagonistic view of them.
'I shall miss her dreadfully,' thought Mary, as she strolled listlessly
in the gardens, where the leaves where falling and the flowers fading.
'I wonder if she will see Mr. Hammond at Lady Kirkbank's?' mused Mary.
'If he were anything like a lover he would find out all about her visit,
and seize the opportunity of her being away from grandmother. But then
if he had been much of a lover he would have followed her to St. Bees.'
Lady Maulevrier sorely missed her favourite grandchild. In a life spent
in such profound seclusion, so remote from the busy interests of the
world, this beloved companionship had become a necessity to her. She had
concentrated her affections upon Lesbia, and the girl's absence made a
fearful blank. But her ladyship's dignity was not compromised by any
outward signs of trouble or loss.
She spent her mornings in her own room, reading and writing and musing
at her leisure; she drove or walked every fine afternoon, sometimes
alone, sometimes attended by Mary, who hated these stately drives and
walks. She dined _tete-a-tete_ with Mary, except on those rare occasions
when there were visitors--the Vicar and his wife, or some wandering star
from other worlds Mary lived in profound awe of her grandmother, but
was of far too frank a nature to be able to adapt her speech or her
manners to her ladyship's idea of feminine perfection. She was silent
and shy under those falcon eyes; but she was still the same Mary, the
girl to whom pretence or simulation of any kind was impossible.
Letters came almost every day from Kirkbank Castle, letters from Lesbia
describing the bright gay life she was living at that hospitable abode,
the excursions, the rides, the picnic luncheons after the morning's
sport, the dinner parties, the dances.
'It is the most delightful house you can imagine,' wrote Lesbia; 'and
Lady Kirkbank is an admirable hostess. I have quite forgiven her for
wearing false eyebrows; for after all, you know, one must _have_
eyebrows; they are a necessity; but why does she not have the two arches
alike? They are _never_ a pair, and I really think that French maid of
hers does it on purpose.
'By-the-bye, Lady Kirkbank is going to write to you to beseech you to
let me go to Cannes and Monte Carlo with her. Sir George insists upon
it. He says they both like young society, and will be horribly vexed if
I refuse to go with them. And Lady Kirkbank thinks my chest is just a
little weak--I almost broke down the other night in that lovely little
song of Jensen's--and that a winter in the south is just what I want.
But, of course, dear grandmother, I won't ask you to let me be away so
long if you think you will miss me.'
'If I think I shall miss her!' repeated Lady Maulevrier. 'Has the girl
no heart, that she can ask such a question? But can I wonder at that? Of
what account was I or my love to her father, although I sacrificed
myself for his good name? Can I expect that she should be of a different
And then, meditating upon the events of the summer that was gone, Lady
She renounced her first lover at my bidding; she renounces her love for
me at the bidding of the world. Or was it not rather self-interest, the
fear of making a bad marriage, which influenced her in her renunciation
of Mr. Hammond. It was not obedience to me, it was not love for me which
made her give him up. It was the selfishness engrained in her race.
Well, I have heaped my love upon her, because she is fair and sweet, and
reminds me of my own youth. I must let her go, and try to be happy in
the knowledge that she is enjoying her life far away from me.'
Lady Maulevrier wrote her consent to the extension of Lesbia's visit,
and by return of post came a letter from Lesbia which seemed brimming
over with love, and which comforted the grandmother's wounded heart.
'Lady Kirkbank and I are both agreed, dearest, that you must join us at
Cannes,' wrote Lesbia. 'At your age it is very wrong of you to spend a
winter in our horrible climate. You can travel with Steadman and your
maid. Lady Kirkbank will secure you a charming suite of rooms at the
hotel, or she would like it still better if you would stay at her own
villa. Do consent to this plan, dear grandmother, and then we shall not
be parted for a long winter. Of course Mary would be quite happy at home
Lady Maulevrier sighed as she read this letter, sighed again, and
heavily, as she put it back into the envelope. Alas, how many and many a
year had gone, long, monotonous, colourless years, since she had seen
that bright southern world which she was now urged to revisit. In fancy
she saw it again to-day, the tideless sea of deepest sapphire blue, the
little wavelets breaking on a yellow beach, the white triangular sails,
the woods full of asphodel and great purple and white lilies, the
atmosphere steeped in warmth and light and perfume, the glare of white
houses in the sun, the red and yellow blinds, the pots of green and
orange and crimson clay, with oleanders abloom, the wonderful glow of
colour everywhere and upon all things. And then as the eyes of the mind
recalled these vivid images her bodily eyes looked out upon the
rain-blotted scene, the mountains rising in a dark and dismal circle
round that sombre pool below, walling her in from the outer world.
'I am at the bottom of a grave,' she said to herself. 'I am in a living
tomb, from which there is no escape. Forty years! Forty years of
patience and hope, for what? For dreams which may never be realised; for
descendants who may never give me the price of my labours. Yes, I should
like to go to my dear one. I should like to revisit the South of France,
to go on to Italy. I should feel young again amidst that eternal,
unchangeable loveliness. I should forget all I have suffered. But it
cannot be. Not yet, not yet!'
Presently with a smile of concentrated bitterness she repeated the words
'Surely at my age it must be folly to dream of the future; and yet I
feel as if there were half a century of life in me, as if I had lost
nothing in either mental or bodily vigour since I came here forty years
She rose as she said these words, and began to pace the room, with
quiet, firm step, erect, stately, beautiful in her advanced years as she
had been in her bloom and freshness, only with another kind of
beauty--an empress among women. The boast that she had made to herself
was no idle boast. At sixty-seven years of age her physical powers
showed no signs of decay, her mental qualities were at their best and
brightest. Long years of thought and study had ripened and widened her
mind. She was a woman fit to be the friend and counsellor of statesmen,
the companion and confidant of her sovereign: and yet fate willed that
she should be buried alive in a Westmoreland valley, seeing the same
hills and streams, the same rustic faces, from year's end to year's end.
Surely it was a hard fate, a heavy penance, albeit self-imposed.
Lesbia went straight from Scotland to Paris with Sir George and Lady
Kirkbank. Here they stayed at the Bristol for just two days, during
which her hostess went all over the fashionable quarter buying clothes
for the Cannes campaign, and assisting Lesbia to spend the hundred
pounds which her grandmother had sent her for the replenishment of her
well-provided wardrobe. It is astonishing how little way a hundred
pounds goes among the dressmakers, corset-makers, and shoemakers of
'I had no notion that clothes were so dear,' said Lesbia, when she saw
how little she had got for her money.
'My dear, you have two gowns which are absolutely _chien_,' replied Lady
Kirkbank, 'and you have a corset which gives you a figure, which you
must forgive me for saying you never had before.'
Lady Kirkbank had to explain that _chien_ as applied to a gown or bonnet
was the same thing as _chic_, only a little more so.
'I hope my gowns will always be _chien_,' said Lesbia meekly.
Next evening they were dining at Cannes, with the blue sea in front of
their windows, dining at a table all abloom with orange flowers, tea
roses, mignonette, waxen camellias, and pale Parma violets, while Lady
Maulevrier and Mary dined _tete-a-tete_ at Fellside, with the feathery
snow flakes falling outside, and the world whitening all around them.
Next day the world was all white, and Mary's beloved hills were
Who could tell how long they might be covered; the winding tracks
hidden; the narrow forces looking like black water or molten iron
against that glittering whiteness? Mary could only walk along the road
by Loughrigg to the bench called 'Rest and be thankful,' from which she
looked with longing eyes across towards the Langdale Pikes, and to the
sharp cone-shaped peak, known as Coniston Old Man, just visible above
the nearer hills. Fraeulein Mueller suggested that it was in just such
weather as this that a well brought up young lady, a young lady with
_Vernunft_ and _Anstand_, should devote herself to the improvement of
'Let us read German this _abscheulich_ afternoon,' said the Fraeulein.
'Suppose we go on with the "Sorrows of Werther."'
'Werther was a fool,' cried Mary; 'any book but that.'
'Will you choose your own book?'
'Let me read Heine.'
Fraeulein looked doubtful. There were things in Heine--an all-pervading
tone--which rendered him hardly an appropriate poet for 'the young
person.' But Fraeulein compromised the matter by letting Mary read Atta
Troll, the exact bearing of which neither of them understood.
'How beautifully Mr. Hammond read Heine that morning!' said Mary,
breaking off suddenly from a perfectly automatic reading.
'You did not hear him, did you? You were not there,' said the Fraeulein.
'I was not _there_, but I heard him. I--I was sitting on the bank among
the pine trees.'
'Why did you not come and sit with us? It would have been more ladylike
than to hide yourself behind the trees.'
Mary blushed crimson.
'I had been in the kennels with Maulevrier; I was not fit to be seen,'
'Hardly a ladylike admission,' replied the Fraeulein, who felt that with
Lady Mary her chief duty was to reprove.
'OF ALL MEN ELSE I HAVE AVOIDED THEE.'
It was afternoon. The white hills yonder and all the length of the
valley were touched here and there with gleams of wintry sunlight, and
Lady Maulevrier was taking her solitary walk in the terrace in front of
her house, a stately figure wrapped in a furred mantle, tall, erect,
moving with measured pace up and down the smooth gravel path. Now and
then at the end of the walk the dowager stopped for a minute or so, and
stood as if in deep thought, with her eyes dreamily contemplating the
landscape. An intense melancholy shadowed her face, as she thus gazed
with brooding eyes on the naked monotony of those wintry hills. So had
she looked in many and many a winter, and it seemed to her that her life
was of a piece with those bleak hills, where in the dismal winter time
nothing living trod. She stood gazing at the sinking sun, a fiery ball
shining at the end of a long gallery of crag and rock, like a lamp at
the end of a corridor; and as she gazed the red round orb dropped
suddenly behind the edge of a crag, as if she had been an enchantress
and had dismissed it with a wave of her wand.
'O Lord, how long, how long?' she said. 'How many times have I seen that
sun go down from this spot, in winter and summer, in spring and autumn!
And now that the one being I loved and cared for is far away, I feel all
the weariness and emptiness of my life.'
As she turned to resume her walk she heard the muffled sound of wheels
in the road below, that road which was completely hidden by foliage in
summer, but which was now visible here and there between the leafless
trees. A carriage with a pair of horses was coming along the road from
Lady Maulevrier stood and watched until the carriage drew up at the
lodge gate, and then, when the gate had been opened, slowly ascended the
winding drive to the house.
She expected no visitor; indeed, there was no one likely to come to her
from the direction of Ambleside. Her heart began to beat heavily, with
the apprehension of coming evil. What kind of evil she knew not. Bad
news about her granddaughter, perhaps, or about Maulevrier. And yet that
could hardly be. Evil tidings of that kind would have reached her by
Perhaps it was Maulevrier himself. His movements were generally erratic.
Lady Maulevrier hurried back to the house. She went through the
conservatory, where the warm whiteness of azalia, and spirea, and arum
lilies contrasted curiously with the cold white snow out of doors, to
the hall, where a stranger was standing talking to the butler.
He was a man of foreign appearance, wearing a cloak lined with sables,
and a sable cap, which he removed as Lady Maulevrier approached. He was
thin and small, with a clear olive complexion, olive inclining to pale
bronze, sleek raven hair, and black almond-shaped eyes. At the first
glance Lady Maulevrier knew that he was an Oriental. Her heart sank
within her, and seemed to grow chill as death at sight of him. Anything
associated with India was horrible to her.
The stranger came forward to meet her, bowing deferentially. He had
those lithe, gliding movements which she remembered of old, when she had
seen princes and dignitaries of the East creeping shoeless to her
'Will your ladyship do me the honour to grant me an interview?' he said
in very good English. 'I have travelled from London expressly for that
'Then I fear you have wasted your time, sir, whatever your mission may
be,' the dowager answered, haughtily. 'However, I am willing to hear
anything you may have to say, if you will be good enough to come this
She moved towards the library, the butler preceding her to open the
door, and the stranger followed her into the spacious room, where coals
and logs were heaped high upon the wide dog stove, deeply recessed
beneath the old English mantelpiece.
It was one of the handsomest rooms of the house, furnished with oak
bookcases about seven feet high, above which vases of Oriental ware and
varied colouring stood boldly out against the dark oak wall. Richly
bound books in infinite variety testified to the wealth and taste of the
owner; while one side of the room was absorbed by a wide Gothic window,
beyond which appeared the panorama of lake and mountain, beautiful in
every season. A tawny velvet curtain divided this room from the
drawing-room; but there was also a strong oak door behind the curtain,
which was generally closed in cold weather.
Lady Maulevrier went over to this door, and took the precaution to draw
the bolt, before she seated herself in her arm-chair by the hearth. She
had her own particular chair in all the rooms she occupied--a chair
which was sacred as a throne.
She drew off her sealskin gloves, and motioned with a slender white hand
to the stranger to be seated.
'To whom have I the honour of speaking?' she asked, looking; him through
and through with an unflinching gaze, as she would have looked at Death
himself, had the grim skeleton figure come to beckon her.
He handed her a visiting card on which was engraved--
'Louis Asoph, Rajah of Bisnagar.'
'If my memory does not deceive me as to the history of modern India, the
territory from which you take your title has been absorbed into the
English dominion?' said Lady Maulevrier.
'It was trafficked away forty-three years ago, stolen, filched from my
father! but so long as I have power to think and to act I will maintain
my claim to that land; yes, if only by the empty mockery of a name on a
visiting card. It is a duty I owe to myself as a man, which I owe still
more to my murdered father.'
'Have you come all the way from London, and in such weather, only to
tell me this story?'
She had twisted his card between her fingers as she listened to him, and
now, with an action at once careless and contemptuous, she flung it upon
the burning logs. Slight as the action was it was eloquent of scorn for
'No, Lady Maulevrier, my mention of this story, with which you are no
doubt perfectly familiar, is only a preliminary. I have come to claim my
own, and to appeal to you as a woman of honour to do me justice. Nay, I
will say as a woman of common honesty; since there is no nice point of
honour in question, only the plain laws of mine and thine, which I
believe are the same among all nations and creeds. I come to you, Lady
Maulevrier, to ask you to restore to me the wealth which your husband
stole from my father.'
'You come to my house, to me, an old woman, helpless, defenceless, in
the absence of my grandson, the present Earl, to insult me, and insult
the dead,' said Lady Maulevrier, white as statuary marble, and as cold
and calm. 'You come to rake up old lies, and to fling them in the face
of a solitary woman, old enough to be your mother. Do you think that is
a noble thing to do? Even in your barbarous Eastern code of morals and
manners is _that_ the act of a gentleman?'
'We are no barbarians in the East, Lady Maulevrier. I come from the
cradle of civilisation, the original fount of learning. We were
scholars and gentleman, priests and soldiers, two thousand years before
your British ancestors ran wild in their woods, and sacrificed to their
unknown gods or rocky altars reeking with human blood! I know the errand
upon which I have come is not a pleasant one, either for you or for me;
but I come to you strong in the right of a son to claim the heritage
which was stolen from him by an infamous mother and her more infamous
'I will not hear another word!' cried Lady Maulevrier, starting to her
feet, livid with passion. 'Do not dare to pronounce that name in my
hearing--the name of that abominable woman who brought disgrace and
dishonour upon my husband and his race.'
'And who brought your husband the wealth of my murdered father,'
answered the Indian, defiantly. 'Do not ignore that fact, Lady
Maulevrier. What has become of that fortune--two hundred thousand pounds
in money and jewels. It was known to have passed into Lord Maulevrier's
possession after my father was put away by his paid instruments.
'How dare you bring that vile charge against the dead?'
'There are men living in India who know the truth of that charge: men
who were at Bisnagar when my father, sick and heartbroken, was shut up
in his deserted harem, hemmed in by spies and traitors, men with murder
in their faces. There are those who know tint he was strangled by one of
those wretches, that a grave was dug for him under the marble floor of
his zenana, a grave in which his bones were found less than a year ago,
in my presence, and fitly entombed at my bidding. He was said to have
disappeared of his own free will--to have left his palace under cover of
night, and sought refuge from possible treachery in another province;
but there were those, and not a few, who knew the real history of his
disappearance--who knew, and at the time were ready to testify in any
court of justice, that he had been got rid of by the Ranee's agents, and
at Lord Maulevrier's instigation, and that his possessions in money and
jewels had been conveyed in the palankins that carried the Ranee and her
women to his lordship's summer retreat near Madras. The Ranee died at
that retreat six months after her husband's murder, not without
suspicion of poison, and the wealth which she carried with her when she
left Bisnagar passed into his lordship's possession. Had your husband
lived, Lady Maulevrier, this story must have been brought to light.
There were too many people in Madras interested in sifting the facts.
There must have been a public inquiry. It was a happy thing for you and
your race that Lord Maulevrier died before that inquiry had been
instituted, and that many animosities died with him. Lucky too for you
that I was a helpless infant at the time, and that the Mahratta
adventurer to whom my father's territory had been transferred in the
shuffling of cards at the end of the war was deeply concerned in hushing
up the story.'
'And pray, why have you nursed your wrath in all these years? Why do
you intrude on me after nearly half a century, with this legend of
rapine and murder?'
'Because for nearly half a century I have been kept in profound
ignorance of my father's fate--in ignorance of my race. Lord
Maulevrier's jealousy banished me from my mother's arms shortly after my
father's death. I was sent to the South of France under the care of an
ayah. My first memories are of a monastery near Marseilles, where I was
reared and educated by a Jesuit community, where I was baptised and
brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. By the influence of the Jesuit
Fathers I was placed in a house of commerce at Marseilles. Funds to
provide for my education and establishment in life, under very modest
conditions, were sent periodically by an agent at Madras. It was known
that I was of East Indian birth, but little more was known about me. It
was only when years had gone by and I was a merchant on my own account
and could afford to go to India on a voyage of discovery--yes, as much a
voyage of discovery as that of Vasco de Gama or of Drake--that I got
from the Madras agent the clue which enabled me, at the cost of infinite
patience and infinite labour, to unravel the mystery of my birth. There
is no need to enter now upon the details of that story. I have
overwhelming documentary evidence--a cloud of witnesses--to convince the
most sceptical as to who and what I am. The documents are some of them
in my valise, at your ladyship's service. Others are at my hotel in
London, ready for the inspection of your ladyship's lawyers. I do not
think you will desire to invite a public inquiry, or force me to recover
my birthright in a court of justice. I believe that you will take a
broader and nobler view of the case, and that you will restore to the
wronged and abandoned son the fortune stolen from his murdered father.'
'How dare you come to me with this tissue of lies? How dare you look me
in the face and charge my dead husband with treachery and dishonour? I
believe neither in your story nor in you, and I defy you to the proof of
this vile charge against the dead!'
'In other words you mean that you will keep the money and jewels which
Lord Maulevrier stole from my father?'
'I deny the fact that any such jewels or money ever passed into his
lordship's possession. That vile woman, your mother, whose infamy cast a
dark cloud over Lord Maulevrier's honour, may have robbed her husband,
may have emptied the public treasury. But not a rupee or a jewel
belonging to her ever came into my possession. I will not bear the
burden of her crimes. Her existence spoiled my life--banished me from
India, a widow in all but the name, and more desolate than many widows.'
'Lord Maulevrier was known to leave India carrying with him two large
chests--supposed to contain books--but actually containing treasure. A
man who was in the Governor's confidence, and who had been the
go-between in his intrigues, confessed on his death-bed that he had
assisted in removing the treasure. Now, Lady Maulevrier, since your
husband died immediately after his arrival in England, and before he
could have had any opportunity of converting or making away with the
valuables so appropriated, it stands to reason that those valuables must
have passed into your possession, and it is from your honour and good
feeling that I claim their restitution. If you deny the claim so
advanced, there remains but one course open to me, and that is to make
my wrongs public, and claim my right from the law of the land.'
'And do you suppose that any English judge or English jury would believe
so wild a story--or countenance so vile an accusation against the
defenceless?' demanded Lady Maulevrier, standing up before him, tall,
stately, with flashing eye and scornful lip, the image of proud
defiance. 'Bring forward your claim, produce your documents, your
witnesses, your death-bed confessions. I defy you to injure my dead
husband or me by your wild lies, your foul charges! Go to an English
lawyer, and see what an English law court will do for you--and your
claim. I will hear no more of either.'
She rang the bell once, twice, thrice, with passionate hand, and a
servant flew to answer that impatient summons.
'Show this gentlemen to his carriage,' she said, imperiously.
The gentleman who called himself Louis Asoph bowed, and retired without
As the door closed upon him, Lady Maulevrier stood, with clenched hands
and frowning brow, staring into vacancy. Her right arm was outstretched,
as if she would have waved the intruder away. Suddenly, a strange
numbness crept over that uplifted arm, and it fell to her side. From her
shoulder down to her foot, that proud form grew cold and feelingless and
dead, and she, who had so long carried herself as a queen among women,
sank in a senseless heap upon the floor.
'HER FACE RESIGNED TO BLISS OR BALE.'
Lady Mary and the Fraeulein had been sitting in the drawing-room all this
time waiting for Lady Maulevrier to come to tea. They heard her come in
from the garden; and then the footman told them that she was in the
library with a stranger. Not even the muffled sound of voices penetrated
the heavy velvet curtain and the thick oak door. It was only by the loud
ringing of the bell and the sound of footsteps in the hall that Lady
Mary knew of the guest's departure. She went to the door between the
two rooms, and was surprised to find it bolted.
'Grandmamma, won't you come to tea?' she asked timidly, knocking on the
oaken panel, but there was no reply.
She knocked again, and louder. Still no reply.
'Perhaps her ladyship is going to take tea in her own room,' she said,
afraid to be officious.
Attendance upon her grandmother at afternoon tea had been one of
Lesbia's particular duties; but Mary felt that she was an unwelcome
substitute for Lesbia. She wanted to get a little nearer her
grandmother's heart if she could; but she knew that her attentions were
endured rather than liked.
She went into the hall, where the footman on duty was staring at the
light snowflakes dancing past the window, perhaps wishing he were a
snowflake himself, and enjoying himself in that white whirligig.
'Is her ladyship having tea in the morning-room?' asked Mary.
The footman gave a little start, as if awakened out of a kind of trance.
The sheer vacuity of his mind might naturally slide into mesmeric sleep.
He told Lady Mary that her ladyship had not left the library, and Mary
went in timidly, wondering why her grandmother had not joined them in
the drawing-room when the stranger was gone.
The sky was dark outside the wide windows, white hills and valleys
shrouded in the shades of night. The library was only lighted by the
glow of the logs on the hearth, and in that ruddy light the spacious
room looked empty. Mary was turning to go away, thinking the footman had
been mistaken, when her eye suddenly lighted upon a dark figure lying on
the ground. And then she heard an awful stertorous breathing, and knew
that her grandmother was lying there, stricken and helpless.
Mary shrieked aloud, with a cry that pierced curtains and doors, and
brought Fraeulein and half-a-dozen servants to her help. One of the men
brought a lamp, and among them they lifted the smitten figure. Oh, God!
how ghastly the face looked in the lamplight!--the features drawn to one
side, the skin livid.
'Her ladyship has had a stroke,' said the butler.
'Is she dying?' faltered Mary, white as ashes. 'Oh, grandmother, dear
grandmother, don't look at us like that!'
One of the servants rushed off to the stables to send for the doctor. Of
course, being an indoor man, he no more thought of going out himself
into the snowy night on such an errand than Noah thought of going out of
the ark to explore the face of the waters in person.
They carried Lady Maulevrier to her bed and laid her there, like a
figure carved out of stone. She was not unconscious. Her eyes were
open, and she moaned every now and then as if in bodily or mental pain.
Once she tried to speak, but had no power to shape a syllable aright,
and ended with a shuddering sigh. Once she lifted her left arm and waved
it in the air, as if waving some one off in fear or anger. The right
arm, indeed the whole of the right side, was lifeless, motionless as a
stone. It was a piteous sight to see the beautiful features drawn and
distorted, the lips so accustomed to command mouthing the broken
syllables of an unknown tongue. Lady Mary sat beside the bed with
clasped hands, praying dumbly, with her eyes fixed on her grandmother's
Mr. Horton came, as soon as his stout mountain pony could bring him. He
did not seem surprised at her ladyship's condition, and accepted the
situation with professional calmness.
'A marked case of hemiplegia,' he said, when he had observed the
'Will she die?' asked Mary.
'Oh, dear, no! She will want great care for a little while, but we shall
bring her round easily. A splendid constitution, a noble frame; but I
think she has overworked her brain a little, reading Huxley and Darwin,
and the German physiologists upon whom Huxley and Darwin have built
themselves. Metaphysics too. Schopenhauer, and the rest of them. A
wonderful woman! Very few brains could hold what hers has had poured
into it in the last thirty years. The conducting nerves between the
brain and the spinal marrow have been overworked: too much activity, too
constant a strain. Even the rails and sleepers on the railroad wear out,
don't you know, if there's excessive traffic.'
Mr. Horton had known Mary from her childhood, had given her Gregory's
powder, and seen her safely through measles and other infantine
ailments, so he was quite at home with her, and at Fellside generally.
Lady Maulevrier had given him a good deal of her confidence during those
thirty years in which he had practised as his father's partner and
successor at Grasmere. He used to tell people that he owed the best part
of his education to her ladyship, who condescended to talk to him of the
new books she read, and generally gave him a volume to put in his pocket
when he was leaving her.
'Don't be downhearted, Lady Mary,' he said; 'I shall come in two or
three times a day and see how things are going on, and if I see the
slightest difficulty in the case I'll telegraph for Jenner.'
Mary and the Fraeulein sat up with the invalid all that night. Lady
Maulevrier's maid was also in attendance, and one of the menservants
slept in his clothes on a couch in the corridor, ready for any
emergency. But the night passed peacefully, the patient slept a good
deal, and next day there was evident improvement. The stroke which had
prostrated the body, which reduced the vigorous, active frame to an
awful statue--like stillness--a quietude as of death of itself--had not
overclouded the intellect. Lady Maulevrier lay on her bed in her
luxurious room, with wide Tudor windows commanding half the circle of
the hills, and was still the ruling spirit of the house, albeit
powerless to move that slender hand, the lightest wave of which had been
as potent to command in her little world as royal sign-manual or sceptre
in the great world outside.
Now there remained only one thing unimpaired by that awful shock which
had laid the stately frame low, and that was the will and sovereign
force of the woman's nature. Voice was altered, speech was confused and
difficult; but the strength of will, the supreme power of mind, seemed
When Lady Maulevrier was asked if Lesbia should be telegraphed for, she
replied no, not unless she was in danger of sudden death.
'I should like to see her before I go,' she said, labouring to pronounce
'Dear grandmother,' said Mary, tenderly, 'Mr. Horton says there is no
'Then do not send for her; do not even tell her what has happened; not
'But she will miss your letters.'
'True. You must write twice a week at my dictation. You must tell her
that I have hurt my hand, that I am well but cannot use a pen. I would
not spoil her pleasure for the world.'
'Dear grandmother, how unselfish you are! And Maulevrier, shall he be
sent for? He is not so far away,' said Mary, hoping her grandmother
would say yes.
What a relief, what an unspeakable solace Maulevrier's presence would be
in that dreary house, smitten to a sudden and awful stillness, as if by
the Angel of Death!
'No, I do not want Maulevrier!' answered her ladyship impatiently.
'May I sit here and read to you, grandmother?' Mary asked, timidly. 'Mr.
Horton said you were to be kept very quiet, and that we were not to let
you talk, or talk much to you, but that we might read to you if you
'I do not wish to be read to. I have my thoughts for company,' said Lady
Mary felt that this implied a wish to be alone. She bent over the
invalid's pillow and kissed the pale cheek, feeling as if she were
taking a liberty in venturing so much. She would hardly have done it had
Lesbia been at home; but she had a feeling that in Lesbia's absence Lady
Maulevrier must want somebody's love--even hers. And then she crept
away, leaving Halcott the maid in attendance, sitting at her work at the
window furthest from the bed.
'Alone with my thoughts,' mused Lady Maulevrier, looking out at the
panorama of wintry hills, white, ghost-like against an iron sky.
'Pleasant thoughts, truly! Walled in by the hills--walled in and hemmed
round for ever. This place has always felt like a grave: and now I know
that it _is_ my grave.'
Fraeulein, and Lady Mary, and the maid Halcott, a sedate personage of
forty summers, had all been instructed by the doctor that Lady
Maulevrier was to be kept profoundly quiet. She must not talk much,
since speech was likely to be a painful effort with her for some little
time; she must not be talked to much by anyone, least of all must she be
spoken to upon any agitating topic. Life must be made as smooth and easy
for her as for a new-born infant. No rough breath from the outer world
must come near her. She was to see no one but her maid and her
granddaughter. Mr. Horton, a plain family man, took it for granted that
the granddaughter was dear to her heart, and likely to exercise a
soothing influence. Thus it happened that although Lady Maulevrier asked
repeatedly that James Steadman should be brought to her, she was not
allowed to see him. She whose will had been paramount in that house,
whose word had been law, was now treated as a little child, while the
will was still as strong, the mind as keen as ever.
'She would talk to him of business,' said Mr. Horton, when he was told
of her ladyship's desire to see Steadman, 'and that cannot be allowed,
not for some little time at least.'
'She is very angry with us for refusing to obey her,' said Lady Mary.
'Naturally, but it is for her own welfare she is disobeyed. She can have
nothing to say to Steadman which will not keep till she is better. This
establishment goes by clockwork.'
Mary wished it was a little less like clockwork. Since Lady Maulevrier
had been lying upstairs--the voice which had once ruled over the house
muffled almost to dumbness--the monotony of life at Fellside had seemed
all the more oppressive. The servants crept about with stealthier tread.
Mary dared not touch either piano or billiard balls, and was naturally
seized with a longing to touch both. The house had a darkened-look, as
if the shadow of doom overhung it.
During this regimen of perfect quiet Lady Maulevrier was not allowed to
see the newspapers; and Mary was warned that in reading to her
grandmother she was to avoid all exciting topics. Thus it happened that
the account of a terrible collision between the Scotch express and a
luggage train, a little way beyond Preston, an accident in which seven
people were killed and about thirty seriously hurt, was not made known
to her ladyship; and yet that fact would have been of intense interest
and significance to her, since one of those passengers whose injuries
were fatal bore the name of Louis Asoph.
'AND THE SPRING COMES SLOWLY UP THIS WAY.'
The wintry weeks glided smoothly by in a dull monotony, and now Lady
Maulevrier, still helpless, still compelled to lie on her bed or her
invalid couch, motionless as marble, had at least recovered her power of
speech, was allowed to read and to talk, and to hear what was going on
in that metropolitan world which she seemed unlikely ever to behold
Lady Lesbia was still at Cannes, whence she wrote of her pleasures and
her triumphs, of flowers and sapphire sea, and azure sky, of all things
which were not in the grey bleak mountain world that hemmed in Fellside.
She was meeting many of the people whom she was to meet again next
season in the London world. She had made an informal _debut_ in a very
select circle, a circle in which everybody was more or less _chic_, or
_chien_, or _zinc_, and she was tasting all the sweets of success. But
in none of her letters was there any mention of Lord Hartfield. He was
not in the little great world by the blue tideless sea.
There was no talk of Lesbia's return. She was to stay till the carnival;
she was to stay till the week before Easter. Lady Kirkbank insisted upon
it; and both Lesbia and Lady Kirkbank upbraided Lady Maulevrier for her
cruelty in not joining them at Cannes.
So Lady Maulevrier had to resign herself to that solitude which had
become almost the habit of her life, and to the society of Mary and the
Fraeulein. Mary was eager to be of use, to sit with her grandmother, to
read to her, to write for her. The warm young heart was deeply moved by
the spectacle of this stately woman stricken into helplessness, chained
to her couch, immured within four walls. To Mary, who so loved the hills
and the streams, the sun and the wind, this imprisonment seemed
unspeakable woe. In her pity for such a martyrdom she would have done
anything to give pleasure or solace to her grandmother. Unhappily there
was very little Mary could do to increase the invalid's sum of pleasure.
Lady Maulevrier was a woman of strong feeling, not capable of loving
many people. She had concentrated her affection upon Lesbia: and she
could not open her heart to Mary all at once because Lesbia was out of
'If I had a dog I loved, and he were to die, I would never have another
in his place,' Lady Maulevrier said once; and that speech was the
keynote of her character.
She was very courteous to Mary, and seemed grateful for her attentions;
but she did not cultivate the girl's society. Mary wrote all her letters
in a fine bold hand, and with a rapid pen; but when the letter-writing
was over Lady Maulevrier always dismissed her.
'My dear, you want to be out in the air, riding your pony, or
scampering about with your dogs,' she said, kindly. 'It would be a
cruelty to keep you indoors.'
'No, indeed, dear grandmother, I should like to stay. May I stop and
read to you?'
'No, thank you, Mary. I hate being read to. I like to devour a book.
Reading aloud is such slow work.
'But I am afraid you must sometimes feel lonely,' faltered Mary.
'Lonely,' echoed the dowager, with a sigh. 'I have been lonely for the
last forty years--I have been lonely all my life. Those I loved never
gave me back love for love--never--not even your sister. See how lightly
she cuts the link that bound her to me. How happy she is among
strangers! Yes, there was one who loved me truly, and fate parted us.
Does fate part all true lovers, I wonder?'
'You parted Lesbia and Mr. Hammond,' said Mary, impetuously. 'I am sure
they loved each other truly.'
'The old and the worldly-wise are Fate, Mary,' answered the dowager, not
angry at this daring reproach. 'I know your sister; and I know she is
not the kind of woman to be happy in an ignoble life--to bear poverty
and deprivation. If it had been you, now, whom Mr. Hammond had chosen, I
might have taken the subject into my consideration.'
Mary flamed crimson.
'Mr. Hammond never gave me a thought,' she said, 'unless it was to think
me contemptible. He is worlds too good for such a Tomboy. Maulevrier
told him about the fox-hunt, and they both laughed at me--at least I
have no doubt Mr. Hammond laughed, though I was too much ashamed to look
'Poor Mary, you are beginning to find out that a young lady ought to be
ladylike,' said Lady Maulevrier; 'and now, my dear, you may go. I was
only joking with you. Mr. Hammond would be no match for any
granddaughter of mine. He is nobody, and has neither friends nor
interest. If he had gone into the church Maulevrier could have helped
him; but I daresay his ideas are too broad for the church; and he will
have to starve at the bar, where nobody can help him. I hope you will
bear this in mind, Mary, if Maulevrier should ever bring him here
'He is never likely to come back again. He suffered too much; he was
treated too badly in this house.'
'Lady Mary, be good enough to remember to whom you are speaking,' said
her ladyship, with a frown. 'And now please go, and tell some one to
send Steadman to me.'
Mary retired without a word, gave Lady Maulevrier's message to a footman
in the corridor, slipped off to her room, put on her sealskin hat and
jacket, took her staff and went out for a long ramble. The hills and
valleys were still white. It had been a long, cold winter, and spring
was still far off--February had only just begun.
Lady Maulevrier's couch had been wheeled into the morning-room--that
luxurious room which was furnished with all things needful to her quiet