Part 7 out of 8
once that it was his own leader, as altered and corrected by Mr.
Lancaster. He asked the boy whether he might see it; and the boy,
knowing it was Ernest's own writing, handed it to him at once
without further question. Ernest did not dare to look at it then
and there for fear he should break down utterly before the boy; he
put it for the moment into his inner pocket, and buttoned his thin
overcoat tightly around him. It was colder still in the frosty air
of early morning, and the contrast to the heated atmosphere of the
printing house struck him with ominous chill as he issued slowly
forth into the silent precincts of unpeopled Fleet Street.
It was a terrible memorable night, that awful Tuesday; the coldest
night known for many years in any English winter. Snow lay deep upon
the ground, and a few flakes were falling still from the cloudy
sky, for it was in the second week of January. The wind was drifting
it in gusty eddies down the long streets, and driving the drifts
before it like whirling dust in an August storm. Not a cab was to
be seen anywhere, not even a stray hansom crawling home from clubs
or theatres; and Ernest set out with a rueful countenance to walk
as best he might alone through the snow all the way to Holloway.
It is a long and dreary trudge at any time; it seemed very long
and dreary indeed to Ernest Le Breton, with his delicate frame and
weak chest, battling against the fierce wind on a dark and snowy
winter's night, and with the fever of a great anxiety and a great
remorse silently torturing his distracted bosom. At each step he
took through the snow, he almost fancied himself a hunted Bodahl.
Would British soldiers drive those poor savage women and children
to die so of cold and hunger on their snowy hilltops? Would English
fathers and mothers, at home at their ease, applaud the act with
careless thoughtlessness as a piece of our famous spirited foreign
policy? And would his own article, written with his own poor thin
cold fingers in that day's 'Morning Intelligence,' help to spur
them on upon that wicked and unnecessary war? What right had we to
conquer the Bodahls? What right had we to hold them in subjection
or to punish them for revolting? And above all, what right had
he, Ernest Le Breton, upon whose head the hereditary guilt of the
first conquest ought properly to have weighed with such personal
heaviness--what right had he, of all men, directly or indirectly,
to aid or abet the English people in their immoral and inhuman
resolve? Oh, God, his sin was worse than theirs; for they sinned,
thinking they did justly; but as for him, he sinned against the
light; he knew the better, and, bribed by gold, he did the worse.
At that moment, the little slip of printed paper in his waistcoat
pocket seemed to burn through all the frosts of that awful evening
like a chain of molten steel into his very marrow!
Trudging on slowly through the white stainless snow, step by
step,--snow that cast a sheet of pure white even over the narrow
lanes behind the Farringdon Road,--cold at foot and hot at heart,
he reached at last the wide corner by the Angel at Islington. The
lights in the windows were all out long ago, of course, but the
lamps outside were still flaring brightly, and a solitary policeman
was standing under one of them, trying to warm his frozen hands by
breathing rapidly on the curved and distorted fingers. Ernest was
very tired of his tramp by that time, and emboldened by companionship
he stopped awhile to rest himself in the snow and wind under the
opposite lamplight. Putting his back against the post, he drew the
altered proof of his article slowly out of his inner pocket. It
had a strange fascination for him, and yet he dreaded to look at
it. With an effort, he unfolded it in his stiff fingers, and held
the paper up to the light, regardless of the fact that the policeman
was watching his proceedings with the interest naturally due from
a man of his profession to a suspicious-looking character who
was probably a convicted pickpocket. The first sentence once more
told him the worst. There was no doubt at all about it. The three
guineas in his pocket were the price of blood!
'The insult to British prestige in the East,' ran that terrible
opening paragraph, 'implied in the brief telegram which we publish
this morning from our own Correspondent at Simla, calls for a speedy
and a severe retribution. It must be washed out in blood.' Blood,
blood, blood! The letters swam before his eyes. It was this, then,
that he, the disciple of peace-loving Max Schurz, the hater of war
and conquest, the foe of unjust British domination over inferior
races--it was this that he had helped to make plausible with his
special knowledge and his ready pen! Oh, heaven, what reparation
could he make for this horrid crime he had knowingly and wilfully
committed? What could he do to avoid the guilt of those poor
savages' blood upon his devoted head? In one moment he thought out
a hundred scenes of massacre and pillage--scenes such as he knew
only too well always precede and accompany the blessings of British
rule in distant dependencies. The temptation had been strong--the
money had been sorely wanted--there was very little food in
the house; but how could he ever have yielded to such a depth of
premeditated wickedness! He folded the piece of paper into his
pocket once more, and buried his face in his hands for a whole
minute. The policeman now began to suspect that he was not so much
a pickpocket as an escaped lunatic.
And so he was, no doubt. Of course we who are practical men of
the world know very well that all this foolish feeling on Ernest
Le Breton's part was very womanish and weak and overwrought; that
he ought to have done the work that was set before him, asking no
questions for conscience' sake; and that he might honestly have
pocketed the three guineas, letting his supposed duty to a few
naked brown people somewhere up in the Indian hill-country take
care of itself, as all the rest of us always do. But some allowance
must naturally be made for his peculiar temperament and for his
particular state of health. Consumptive people are apt to take a
somewhat hectic view of life in every way; they lack the common-sense
ballast that makes most of us able to value the lives of a few
hundred poor distant savages at their proper infinitesimal figure.
At any rate, Ernest Le Breton, as a matter of fact, rightly or
wrongly, did take this curious standpoint about things in general;
and did then and there turn back through the deep snow, all his
soul burning within him, fired with dire remorse, and filled only
with one idea--how to prevent this wicked article to which he had
contributed so many facts and opinions from getting printed in
to-morrow's paper. True, it was not he who had put in the usual
newspaper platitudes about the might of England, and the insult to
the British flag, and the immediate necessity for a stern retaliation;
but all that vapouring wicked talk (as he thought it) would go
forth to the world fortified by the value of his special facts and
his obviously intimate acquaintance with the whole past history of
the Bodahl people. So he turned back and battled once more with the
wind and snow as far as Fleet Street; and then he rushed excitedly
into the 'Morning Intelligence' office, and asked with the wildness
of despair to see the editor.
Mr. Lancaster had gone home an hour since, the porter said; but
Mr. Wilks, the sub-editor, was still there, superintending the
printing of the paper, and if Ernest liked, Mr. Wilks would see
Ernest nodded assent at once, and was forthwith ushered up into Mr.
Wilks's private sanctum. The sub-editor was a dry, grizzly-bearded
man, with a prevailing wolfish greyness of demeanour about his whole
person; and he shook Ernest's proffered hand solemnly, in the dreary
fashion that is always begotten of the systematic transposition of
night and day.
'For heaven's sake, Mr. Wilks,' Ernest cried imploringly, 'I want
to know whether you can possibly suppress or at least alter my
leader on the Bodahl insurrection!'
Mr. Wilks looked at him curiously, as one might look at a person
who had suddenly developed violent symptoms of dangerous insanity.
'Suppress the Bodahl leader,' he said slowly like one dreaming.
'Suppress the Bodahl leader! Impossible! Why, it's the largest type
heading in the whole of to-day's paper, is this Bodahl business.
"Shocking Outrage upon a British Commissioner on the Indian
Frontier. Revolt of the Entire Bodahl Tribe. Russian Intrigue
in Central Asia. Dangerous Position of the Viceroy at Simla." Oh,
dear me, no; not to have a leader upon THAT, my dear sir, would be
'But can't you cut out my part of it, at least,' Ernest said
anxiously. 'Oh, Mr. Wilks, you don't know what I've suffered to-night
on account of this dreadful unmerited leader. It's wicked, it's
unjust, it's abominable, and I can't bear to think that I have had
anything to do with sending it out into the world to inflame the
passions of unthinking people! Do please try to let my part of it
be left out, and only Mr. Lancaster's, at least, be printed.'
Mr. Wilks looked at him again with the intensest suspicion.
'A sub-editor,' he answered evasively, 'has nothing at all to do with
the politics of a paper. The editor alone manages that department
on his own responsibility. But what on earth would you have me do?
I can't stop the machines for half an hour, can I, just to let you
have the chance of doctoring your leader? If you thought it wrong
to write it, you ought never to have written it; now it's written
it must certainly stand.'
Ernest sank into a chair, and said nothing; but he turned so deadly
pale that Mr. Wilks was fain to have recourse to a little brown
flask he kept stowed away in a corner of his desk, and to administer
a prompt dose of brandy and water.
'There, there,' he said, in the kindest manner of which he was
capable, 'what are you going to do now? You can't be going out
again in this state and in this weather, can you?'
'Yes, I am,' Ernest answered feebly. 'I'm going to walk home at
once to Holloway.'
'To Holloway!' the sub-editor said in a tone of comparative
horror. 'Oh! no, I can't allow that. Wait here an hour or two till
the workmen's trains begin running. Or, stay; Lancaster left his
brougham here for me to-night, as I have to be off early to-morrow
on business; I'll send you home in that, and let Hawkins get me a
cab from the mews by order.'
Ernest made no resistance; and so the sub-editor sent him home at
once in Lancaster's brougham.
When he got home in the early grey of morning, he found Edie still
sitting up for him in her chair, and wondering what could be
detaining him so long at the newspaper office. He threw himself
wildly at her feet, and, in such broken sentences as he was able
to command, he told her all the pitiful story. Edie soothed him
and kissed him as he went along, but never said a word for good or
evil till he had finished.
'It was a terrible temptation, darling,' she said softly: 'a terrible
temptation, indeed, and I don't wonder you gave way to it; but we
mustn't touch the three guineas. As you say rightly, it's blood-money.'
Ernest drew the cheque slowly from his pocket, and held it hesitatingly
a moment in his hand. Edie looked at him curiously.
'What are you going to do with it, darling?' she asked in a low
voice, as he gazed vacantly at the last dying embers in the little
'Nothing, Edie dearest,' Ernest answered huskily, folding it
up and putting it away in the drawer by the window. They neither
of them dared to look the other in the face, but they bad not the
heart to burn it boldly. It was blood-money, to be sure; but three
guineas are really so very useful!
Four days later, little Dot was taken with a sudden illness. Ernest
and Edie sat watching by her little cradle throughout the night,
and saw with heavy hearts that she was rapidly growing feebler. Poor
wee soul, they had nothing to keep her for: it would be better,
perhaps, if she were gone; and yet, the human heart cannot be stifled
by such calm deliverances of practical reason; it WILL let its hot
emotions overcome the cold calculations of better and worse supplied
it by the unbiassed intellect.
All night long they sat there tearfully, fearing she would not
live till morning; and in the early dawn they sent round hastily
for a neighbouring doctor. They had no money to pay him with, to
be sure; but that didn't much matter; they could leave it over for
the present, and perhaps some day before long Ernest might write
another social, and earn an honest three guineas. Anyhow, it was
a question of life and death, and they could not help sending for
the doctor, whatever difficulty they might afterwards find in paying
The doctor came, and looked with the usual professional seriousness
at the baby patient. Did they feed her entirely on London milk? he
asked doubtfully. Yes, entirely. Ah! then that was the sole root
of the entire mischief. She was very dangerously ill, no doubt,
and he didn't know whether he could pull her through anyhow; but
if anything would do it, it was a change to goat's milk. There was
a man who sold goat's milk round the corner. He would show Ernest
where to find him.
Ernest looked doubtfully at Edie, and Edie looked back again
at Ernest. One thought rose at once in both their minds. They had
no money to pay for it with, except--except that dreadful cheque.
For four days it had lain, burning a hole in Ernest's heart from
its drawer by the window, and he had not dared to change it. Now
he rose without saying a word, and opened the drawer in a solemn,
hesitating fashion. He looked once more at Edie inquiringly; Edie
nodded a faint approval. Ernest, pale as death, put on his hat,
and went out totteringly with the doctor. He stopped on the way
to change the cheque at the baker's where they usually dealt, and
then went on to the goat's milk shop. How that sovereign he flung
upon the counter seemed to ring the knell of his seif-respect! The
man who changed it noticed the strangeness of Ernest's look, and
knew at once he had not come by the money honestly. He rang it twice
to make sure it was good, and then gave the change to Ernest. But
Dot, at least, was saved; that was a great thing. The milk arrived
duly every morning for some weeks, and, after a severe struggle,
Dot grew gradually better. While the danger lasted, neither of
them dared think much of the cheque; but when Dot had got quite
well again, Ernest was concious of a certain unwonted awkwardness
of manner in talking to Edie. He knew perfectly well what it meant;
they were both accomplices in crime together.
When Ernest wrote his 'social' after Max Schurz's affair, he felt
he had already touched the lowest depths of degradation. He knew
now that he had touched a still lower one. Oh! horrible abyss of
self-abasement!--he had taken the blood-money. And yet, it was to
save Dot's life! Herbert was right, after all: quite right. Yes,
yes, all hope was gone: the environment had finally triumphed.
In the awful self-reproach of that deadly remorse for the acceptance
of the blood-money, Ernest Le Breton felt at last in his heart
that surely the bitterness of death was past. It would be better
for them all to die together than to live on through such a life of
shame and misery. Ah, Peter, Peter, you are not the only one that
has denied his Lord and Master!
And yet, Ernest Le Breton had only written part of a newspaper
leader about a small revolt of the Bodahls. And he suffered more
agony for it than many a sensitive man, even, has suffered for the
commission of some obvious crime.
'I say, Berkeley,' Lancaster droned out in the lobby of their club
one afternoon shortly afterwards, 'what on earth am I ever to do
about that socialistic friend of yours, Le Breton? I can't ever
give him any political work again, you know. Just fancy! first, you
remember, I set him upon the Schurz imprisonment business, and he
nearly went mad then because I didn't back up Schurz for wanting to
murder the Emperor of Russia. After that, just now the other day,
I tried him on the Bodahl business, and hang me if he didn't have
qualms of conscience about it afterwards, and trudge back through
all the snow that awful Tuesday, to see if he couldn't induce Wilks
to stop the press, and let him cut it all out at the last moment!
He's as mad as a March hare, you know, and if it weren't that I'm
really sorry for him I wouldn't go on taking socials from him any
longer. But I will; I'll give him work as long as he'll do it for
me on any terms; though, of course, it's obviously impossible under
the circumstances to let him have another go at politics, isn't
'You're really awfully kind, Lancaster,' Berkeley answered warmly.
'No other fellow would do as much for Le Breton as you do. I admit
he's absolutely impracticable, but I would give more than I can
tell you if only I thought he could be made to pull through somehow.'
'Impracticable!' the editor said shortly, 'I believe you, indeed.
Why, do you remember that ridiculous Schurz business? Well, I sent
Le Breton a cheque for eight guineas for that lot, and can you
credit it, it's remained uncashed from that day to this. I really
think he must have destroyed it.'
'No doubt,' Arthur answered, with a smile. 'And the Bodahls? What
'Oh! he kept that cheque for a few days uncashed--though I'm sure
he wanted money at the time; but in the end, I'm happy to say, he
Arthur's countenance fell ominously.
'He did!' he said gloomily. 'He cashed it! That's bad news indeed,
then. I must go and see them to-morrow morning early. I'm afraid
they must be at the last pitch of poverty before they'd consent to
do that. And yet, Solomon says, men do not despise a thief if he
steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry. And Le Breton, after
all, has a wife and child to think of.'
Lancaster stared at him blankly, and turned aside to glance at
the telegrams, saying to himself meanwhile, that all these young
fellows of the new school alike were really quite too incomprehensible
for a sensible, practical man like himself to deal with comfortably.
After all Ernest didn't get many more socials to write for the
'Morning Intelligence,' as it happened; for the war that came on
shortly after crowded such trifles as socials fairly out of all the
papers, and he had harder work than ever to pick up a precarious
living somehow by the most casual possible contributions. Of course
he tried many other channels; but he had few introductions, and then
his views were really so absurdly ultra that no reasonable editor
could ever be expected to put up with them. He got tired at last of
seeing his well-meant papers return to him, morning after morning,
with the unvarying legend, 'Declined with thanks;' and he might have
gone to the wall utterly but for the kindly interest which Arthur
Berkeley still took in his and Edie's future. On the very day
after his conversation with Lancaster at the club Arthur dropped
round casually at Holloway, and brought with him a proposal which
he said had just been made him by a colonial newsagent. It was a
transparent little ruse enough; but Ernest and Edie were not learned
in the ways of the world and did not suspect it so readily as older
and wiser heads might probably have done. Would Ernest supply a
fortnightly letter, to go by the Australian mail, to the Paramatta
'Chronicle and News,' containing London political and social gossip
of a commonplace kind--just the petty chit-chat he could pick up
easily out of 'Truth' and the 'World'--for the small sum of thirty
shillings a letter?
Yes, Ernest thought he could manage that.
Very well, then. The letter must be sent on alternate Wednesdays
to the colonial newsagent's address, and it would be duly forwarded
by mail to the office of the Paramatta 'Chronicle.' A little
suspicious, that item, Berkeley thought, but Ernest swallowed it
like a child and made no comment. It must be addressed to 'Paramatta,
care of Lane & Co.,' and the payments would be made fortnightly
through the same agency. Arthur watched his friend's face narrowly
at this point again; but Ernest in his simple-minded, unsuspecting
wasy, never noticed the obvious meaning of this little deception.
He thanked Arthur over and over again for his kindness, but he
never guessed how far it extended. The letters kept him employed
for two days a week, or thereabouts, and though they never got
to Paramatta, nor any farther than Arthur Berkeley's own study in
the little house he had taken for himself at Chelsea, they were
regularly paid for through the colonial newsagents, by means of
a cheque which really owed its ultimate origin to Arthur Berkeley
himsslf. Fifteen shillings a week is not a large fortune, certainly;
but still it is considerably better than nothing, when you come to
try both methods of living by practical experience.
Even so, however, Ernest and Edie had a hard struggle, with their
habits of life and Ernest's delicate health, to make both ends meet
upon that modest income. They found the necessity for recourse to
the imaginary pawnbroker growing upon them with alarming rapidity;
and though the few small articles that they sent out for that purpose
never really went beyond kind Mrs. Halliss's kitchen dresser, yet
so far as Ernest and Edie were concerned, the effect was much the
same as if they had been really pledged to the licensed broker.
The good woman hid them away carefully in the back drawers of the
dresser, sending up as much money for the poor little trinkets as
she thought it at all credible that any man in his senses could
possibly advance--if she had given altogether too much, she thought
it probable that even the unsuspicious Le Bretons would detect the
kindly deception--at the time remarking to John that 'if ever them
pore dear young creechurs was able to redeem 'em again, why, well
an' good; an' if not, why, they could just find some excuse to
give 'em back to the dear lady after pore Mr. Le Breting was dead
an' gone, as he must be, no doubt, afore many months was over.'
What wretched stuff that is that some narrow-minded cynics love
to talk, after their cheap moralising fashion, about the coldness
and cruelty of the world! The world is not cold and cruel; it is
brimming over everywhere with kindliness and warmth of heart; and
you have only got to put yourself into the proper circumstances
in order to call forth at once on every hand, and in all classes,
its tenderest and truest sympathies. None but selfish, unsympathetic
people themselves ever find it otherwise in the day of trouble. It
is not the world that is cold and heartless--it is not the individual
members of the world that are cruel and unkind--it is the relentless
march of circumstances--the faulty organisation which none of us
can control, and for which none of us is personally responsible,
that grinds us to powder under its Juggernaut wheels. Private
kindliness is for ever trying, feebly and unsuccessfully, but with
its best efforts, to undo the evil that general mismanagement is
for ever perpetrating in its fateful course.
One day, a few weeks later, Arthur Berkeley called in again, and on
the stairs he met a child playing--a neighbour's child whom good
Mrs. Halliss allowed to come in and amuse herself while the mother
went out charing. The girl had a bright gold object in her hand;
and Arthur, wondering how she came by it, took it from her and
looked at it curiously. He recognised it in a moment for what it
was--a gold bracelet, a well remembered gold bracelet--the very
one that he himself had given as a wedding present to poor Edie.
He turned it over and looked closely at the inside: cut into the
soft gold he saw the one word 'Frustra,' that he himself had carved
into it with his penknife the night before the memorable wedding.
'Where did you get this?' he asked the child.
'Mrs. 'Alliss give it me,' the little one answered, beginning to
Arthur ran lightly down the steps again, and knocked at the door of
Mrs. Halliss's kitchen, with the tell-tale bracelet in his hand.
Mrs. Halliss opened the dcor to him respectfully, and after a faint
attempt at innocent prevarication, felt bound to let out all the
pitiful little secret without further preamble. So Arthur, good,
kind-hearted, delicate-souled Arthur, took his seat sadly upon one
of the hard wooden kitchen chairs, and waited patiently while Mrs.
Halliss and honest John, in their roundabout inarticulate fashion,
slowly unfolded the story how them two pore young creechurs upstairs
had been druv that low through want of funs that Mrs. Le Breting,
God bless 'er 'eart, 'ad 'ad to pawn her poor little bits of
jewelry and such like: and how they 'adn't 'ad the face to go an'
pawn it for her, and so 'ad locked it up in their drawers, and
waited hopefully for better times. Arthur listened to all this with
an aching heart, and went home alone to ponder on the best way of
still further assisting them.
The only thing that occurred to him was a plan for giving Edie,
too, a little relief, in the way of what she might suppose to be
money-getting occupation. She used to paint a little in water-colours,
he remembered, in the old days; so he put an advertisement in a
morning paper, which he got Mrs. Halliss to show Edie, asking for
drawings of orchids, the flowers to be supplied and accurately copied
by an amateur at a reasonable price. Edie fell into the harmless
friendly trap readily enough, and was duly supplied with orchids by
a florist in Regent Street, who professed to receive his instructions
from the advertiser. The pictures were all produced in due time,
and were sent to a fixed address, where a gentleman in a hansom used
to call for them at regular intervals. Arthur Berkeley kept those
poor little water-colours long afterwards locked up in a certain
drawer all by themselves: they were sacred mementoes to him of that
old hopeless love for the little Miss Butterfly of his Oxford days.
With the very first three guineas that Edie earned, carefully
saved and hoarded out of her payments for the water-colours, she
insisted in the pride of her heart that Ernest should go and visit
a great London consulting physician. Sir Antony Wraxall was the
best specialist in town on the subject of consumption, she had heard,
and she was quite sure so clever a man must do Ernest a great deal
of good, if he didn't even permanently cure him.
'It's no use, Edie darling,' Ernest said to her imploringly. 'You'll
only be wasting your hard-earned money. What I want is not advice
or medicine; I want what no doctor on earth can possibly give
me--relief from this terrible crushing responsibility.'
But Edie would bear no refusal. It was HER money, she said, the
first she had ever earned in her whole life, and she should certainly
do as she herself liked with it. Sir Antony Wraxall, she was quite
confident, would soon be able to make him better.
So Ernest, overborne by her intreaties, yielded at last, and made
an appointment with Sir Antony Wraxall. He took his quarter-hour in
due form, and told the great physician all his symptoms as though
he believed in the foolish farce. Sir Antony held his head solemnly
on one side, weighed him with puritanical scrupulosity to a quarter
of an ounce on his delicate balance, listened attentively at the
chest with his silver-mounted stethoscope, and perpended the net
result of his investigation with professional gravity; then he gave
Edie his full advice and opinion to the maximum extent of five
'Your husband's case is not a hopeful one, Mrs. Le Breton,' he said
solemnly, 'but still, a great deal may be done for him.' Edie's face
brightened visibly. 'With care, his life may be prolonged for many
years,--I may even say, indeed, quite indefinitely.' Edie smiled
with joy and gratitude. 'But you must strictly observe my rules
and directions--the same that I've just given in a similar case to
the Crown Prince of Servia who was here before you. In the first
place, your husband must give up work altogether. He must be
content to live perfectly and absolutely idle. Then, secondly, he
must live quite away from England. I should recommend the Engadine
in summer, and Algeria or the Nile trip every winter; but, if that's
beyond your means--and I understand from Mr. Le Breton that you're
in somewhat straitened circumstances--I don't object to Catania,
or Malaga, or even Mentone and the Riviera. You can rent furnished
villas for very little on the Riviera. But he must in no case come
farther north, even in summer, than the Lake of Geneva. That, I
assure you, is quite indispensable, if he wishes to live another
twelvemonth. Take him south at once, in a coupé-lit of course, and
break the journey once or twice at Lyons and Marseilles. Next, as
to diet, he must live generously--very generously. Don't let him
drink claret; claret's poor sour stuff; a pint of good champagne
daily, or a good, full-bodied, genial vintage Burgundy would be
far better and more digestible for him. Oysters, game, sweetbreads,
red mullet, any little delicacy of that sort as much as possible.
Don't let him walk; let him have carriage exercise daily; you can
hire carriages for a mere trifle monthly at Cannes and Mentone.
Above all things, give him perfect freedom from anxiety. Allow him
to concentrate his whole attention on the act of getting well,
and you'll find he'll improve astonishingly in no time. But if you
keep him here in England and feed him badly and neglect my directions,
I can't answer for his getting through another winter....Don't
disturb yourself, I beg of you; don't, pray, give way to tears;
there is really no occasion for it, my dear madam, no occasion for
it at all, if you'll only do as I tell you....Quite right, thank
you. Good morning.--Next case, McFarlane.--Good morning. Good
So that was the end of weeping little Edie's poor hardly-spared
The very next day Arthur Berkeley happened to mount the stairs
quietly, at an earlier hour than usual, and knocked at the door
of Ernest's lodging. There was no answer, so he turned the handle,
and entered by himself. The remains of breakfast lay upon the
table. Arthur did not want to spy, but he couldn't help remarking
that these remains were extremely meagre and scanty. Half a loaf
of bread stood upon a solitary plate in the centre; a teapot and
two cups occupied one side; and--that was all. In spite of himself,
he couldn't restrain his curiosity, and he looked more closely at
the knives and plates. Not a mark of anything but crumbs upon them,
not even butter! He looked into the cups. Nothing but milkless
tea at the bottom! Yes, the truth was only too evident; they had
had no meat for breakfast, no butter, no milk, no sugar; it was
quite clear that the meal had consisted entirely of dry bread with
plain tea--call it hot water--and that for a dying man and a delicate
over-worked lady! Arthur looked at that pitiable breakfast-table with
a twinge of remorse, and the tears rose sharply and involuntarily
into his eyes. He had not done enough for them, then; he had not
done enough for them.
Poor little Miss Butterfly! and had it really come to this! You,
so bright, so light, so airy, in want, in positive want, in hunger
even, with your good, impossible, impracticable Ernest! Had it
come to this! Bread and water; dry bread and water! Down tears,
down; a man must be a man; but, oh, what a bitter sight for Arthur
Berkeley! And yet, what could he do to mend it? Money they would
not take; he dare not even offer it; and he was at his wit's end
for any other contrivance for serving them without their knowledge.
He must do what he could; but how he was to do it, he couldn't
As he stood there, ruminating bitterly over that poor bare table,
he thought he heard sounds above, as of Edie coming downstairs
with Dot on her shoulder. He knew she would not like to know that
he had surprised the secret of their dire poverty; and he turned
silently and cautiously to descend the stair. There was only just
time enough to get away, for Edie was even then opening the door
of the nursery. Noiselessly, with cat-like tread, he crept down
the steps once more, and heard Edie descending, and singing as she
came down to Dot. It was a plaintive little song, in a sad key--a
plaintive little song of his own--but not wholly distressful,
Arthur thought; she could still sing, then, to her baby! With the
hot tears rising a second time to his eyes, he groped his way to
the foot of the staircase. There he brushed them hurriedly aside
with his hand, and turned out into the open street. The children
were playing and tumbling in the sun, and a languid young man
in a faultless frock coat and smooth silk hat was buying a showy
button-hole flower from the little suburban florist's opposite.
With a heavy heart Arthur Berkeley turned homeward to his own cosy
little cottage; that modest palace of art which he had once hoped
little Miss Butterfly might have shared with him. He went up the
steps, and turned quickly into his own small study. The Progenitor
was there, sitting reading in an easy-chair. 'At least,' Arthur
thought to himself, 'I have made HIS old age happy. If I could only
do as much for little Miss Butterfly! for little Miss Butterfly!
for little Miss Butterfly! If I could only do as much for her, oh,
how happy and contented I should be!'
He flung himself down on his own sofa, and brushed big eyes nervously
with his handkerchief before he dared lookup again towards the
Progenitor. 'Father,' he said, clutching his watchchain hard and
playing with it nervously to keep down his emotion, 'I'm afraid
those poor Le Bretons are in an awfully bad way. I'm afraid, do you
know, that they actually haven't enough to eat! I went into their
rooms just now, and, would you believe it, I found nothing on the
table for breakfast but dry bread and tea!'
The Progenitor looked up quietly from the volume of Morley's 'Voltaire'
which he was at that moment placidly engaged in devouring. 'Nothing
but dry bread and tea,' he said, in what seemed to Arthur a horribly
unconcerned tone. 'Really, hadn't they? Well, I dare say they ARE
very badly off, poor people. But after all, you know, Artie, they
can't be really poor, for Le Breton told me himself he was generally
earning fifteen shillings or a pound a week, and that, you see, is
really for three people a very good income, now isn't it?'
Arthur, delicate-minded, gentle, chivalrous Arthur, gazed in surprise
and sudden distress at that dear, good, unselfish old father of
his. How extraordinary that the kindly old man couldn't grasp the
full horror of the situation! How strange that he, who would himself
have been so tender, so considerate, so womanly in his care and
sympathy towards anything that seemed to him like real poverty
or real suffering, should have been so blinded by his long hard
workingman life towards the peculiar difficulties and trials of
classes other than his own as not to recognise the true meaning of
that dreadful disclosure! Arthur was not angry with him--he felt
too fully at that moment what depths of genuine silent hardship
uncomplainingly endured were implied in the stoically calm frame
of mind which could treat Edie Le Breton's penury of luxuries as
a comparatively slight matter: after all, his father was right at
bottom; such mere sentimental middle-class poverty is as nothing
to the privations of the really poor; yet he could not help feeling
a little disappointed for all that. He wanted sympathy in his
pity, and he could clearly expect none here. 'Why, father,' he
cried bitterly, 'you don't throw yourself into the position as you
ought to do. A pound a week, paid regularly, would be a splendid
income of course for people brought up like you or me. But just
consider how those two young people have been brought up! Consider
their wants and their habits! Consider the luxury they have been
accustomed to! And then think of their being obliged to want now
almost for food in their last extremity!'
His father answered in the same quiet tone--not hardly, but calmly,
as though he were discussing a problem in political economy instead
of the problem of Edie Le Breton's happiness--'Well, you see, it's
all a matter of the standard of comfort. These two friends of yours
have been brought up above their future; and now that they're got
to come down to their natural level, why, of course, they feel it,
depend upon it, they feel it. Their parents, of course, shouldn't
have accustomed them to a style of life above their station. Good
dry bread, not too stale, does nobody any harm: still, I dare say
they don't like coming down to it. But bless your heart, Artie,
if you'd seen the real want and poverty that I've seen, my boy--the
actual hunger and cold and nakedness that I've known honest working
people brought down to by no work, and nothing but the House open
before them, or not that even, you wouldn't think so much of the
sentimental grievances of people who are earning fifteen shillings
a week in ease and comfort.'
'But, Father,' Arthur went on, scarcely able to keep down the
rising tone of indignation at such seeming heartlessness, 'Ernest
doesn't earn even that always. Sometimes he earns nothing, or next
to nothing; and it's the uncertainty and insecurity that tells
upon them even more than the poverty itself. Oh, Father, Father,
you who have always been so good and kind, I never heard you speak
so cruelly about anyone before as you're speaking now about that
poor, friendless, helpless, penniless, heart-broken little woman!'
The old shoemaker caught at the word suddenly, and looking him
through and through with an unexpected gleam of discovery, laid
down the life of Voltaire on the table with a bang, and sat straight
upright in his chair, nodding his head, and muttering slowly to
himself, 'Little woman--he said "little woman!" Poor Artie, Poor
Artie!' in a tone of inexpressible pity. At last he turned to Arthur
and cried with a voice of womanly tenderness, 'My boy, my boy, I
didn't know before it was the lassie you were thinking of; I thought
it was only poor young Le Breton. I see it all now; I've surprised
your secret; you've let it out to me without knowing it. Oh, Artie,
if that's She, I'm sorry for her, and I'm sorry for you, my boy,
from the bottom of my heart. If that's She, Artie, we'll put our
heads together, and see what plan we can manage to save her from
what she has never been accustomed to. Don't think too hardly of
your old Progenitor, Artie; he hasn't mixed with these people all
his life, and learned to sympathise with them as you've done, my
son; he doesn't understand them or know their troubles as you do:
but if that's her that you told me about one day, we shall find the
means to make her happy and comfortable yet, if we have to starve
for it. Dear Arthur, do not think I could be harsh or unfeeling
for a moment to the woman that you ever once in passing fixed your
heart upon. Let's talk it over and think it over, and sooner or
later we'll surely find the way to accomplish it.'
PRECONTRACT OF MARRIAGE.
Whether Ronald Le Breton's abstruse speculations on the theory of
heredity were well founded or not, it certainly did happen, at any
rate, that the more he saw of Selah Briggs the better he liked her;
and the more Selah saw of him the better she liked him in return.
Curiously enough, too, Selah did actually recognise in him what
he fancied he recognised in himself, that part of his brother's
nature (not all wholly assumed) which was just what Selah had
first been drawn to admire in Herbert himself. It wasn't merely
the originality of his general point of view: it was something more
deep-seated and undefinable than that--in a word, his idiosyncrasy.
Selah Briggs, with her peculiar fiery soul and rebellious nature,
found in both the Le Bretons something that seemed at once to satisfy
her wants, to fulfil her desires, to saturate her affinities: and
with Ronald, as with Herbert before, she was conscious of a certain
awe and respect which was all the more pleasant to her because
her untamed spirit had never felt anything like it with any other
human being. She didn't understand them, and she didn't want to
understand them: that constituted just the very charm of their
whole personality to her peculiar fancy. All the other people she
had ever met were as transparent as glass, for good or for evil;
she could see through all their faults and virtues as easily as
one sees through a window: the Le Bretons were to her inscrutable,
novel, incomprehensible, inexplicable, and she prized them for
their very inscrutability. And so it came to pass, that almost by
a process of natural and imperceptible transference, she passed on
at last to Ronald's account very much the same intensity of feeling
that she had formerly felt towards his brother Herbert.
But at the same time, Selah never for a moment let him see it. She
was too proud to confess now that she could ever love another man:
the Mr. Walters she had once believed in had never, never, never
existed: and she would raise no other idol in future to take the
place of that vanished ideal. She was grateful to Ronald, and even
fond of him: but that was all-outwardly at least. She never let him
see, by word or act, that in her heart of hearts she was beginning
to love him. And yet Ronald instinctively knew it. He himself
could not have told you why; but he knew it. Even a woman cannot
hide a secret from a man with that peculiarly penetrating intuitive
temperament which belongs to sensitive, delicate types like Ronald
One Sunday evening, when Selah had been spending a few hours at
Edie's lodgings (Ronald always made it an excuse for finding them
a supper, on the ground that Selah was really his guest, though he
could not conveniently ask her to his own rooms), he walked home
towards Notting Hill with Selah; and as they crossed the Regent's
Park, he took the opportunity to say something to her that he had
had upon his mind for a few weeks past, in some vague, indefinite,
'Selah,' he began, a little timidly, 'don't you think it's very
probable we shan't have Ernest here much longer with us?'
'I'm afraid it is, Ronald,' Selah answered. She had got quite
accustomed now to calling him Ronald. With such a poor, weak, sickly
fellow as that, why really, after all, it did not much matter.
'Well, Selah,' Ronald went on, gravely, his eyes filling with
tears as he spoke, 'in that case, you know, I can't think what's
to become of poor Edie. It's a dreadful contingency to talk about,
Selah, and I can't bear talking about it; but we MUST face these
things, however terrible, mustn't we? and in this case one's
absolutely bound to face it for poor Edie's sake as well as for
Ernest's. Selah, she must have a home to go to, when dear Ernest's
taken from us.'
'I'm very sorry for her, Ronald,' Selah answered, with unusual
softness of manner, 'but I really don't see how a home can possibly
be provided for her.'
'I do,' Ronald answered, more calmly; 'and for their sakes, Selah,
I want you to help me in trying to provide it.'
'How?' Selah asked, looking up in his face curiously, as they passed
into a ray of lamplight.
'Listen, Selah, and I'll tell you. Why, by marrying me.'
'Never?' Selah answered, firmly, and with a decided tinge of the old
Adam in her trembling voice. 'Never, Ronald! Never, never, never!'
'Wait a minute, Selah,' Ronald pleaded, 'till you've heard the
end of what I have to say to you. Consider that when dear Ernest's
gone (oh! Selah, you must excuse me; it makes me cry so to think
of it), there'll be nowhere on earth for poor little Edie and Dot
to go to.'
'Did ever a man propose to a girl so extraordinarily in all this
world,' Selah thought to herself, angrily. 'He actually expects me
to marry him in order to provide a home for his precious sister-in-law.
That's really carrying unselfishness a step too far, I call it.'
'Edie couldn't come and live with me, of course,' Ronald went on,
quickly, 'if I were a bachelor; but if I were married, why then,
naturally, she and Dot could come and live with us; and she could
earn a little money somehow, no doubt; and, at any rate, it'd be
better for her than starvation.'
Selah stopped a minute, and tapped the hard ground two or three
times angrily with the point of her umbrella. 'And me, Ronald?'
she said in a curious defiant voice. 'And ME? I suppose you've
forgotten all about ME. You don't ask me to marry you because
you love me; you don't ask me whether I love you or not; you only
propose to me that I should quietly turn domestic housekeeper for
Mrs. Ernest Le Breton. And for my part, I answer you plainly, once
for all, that I'm not going to do it--no, never, never, never!'
She spoke haughtily, flashing her eyes at him in the fierce old
fashion, and Ronald was almost frightened at the angry intensity
of her contemptuous gestures. 'Selah,' he cried, trying to take
her hand, which she tore away from him hurriedly: 'Selah, you
misunderstand me. I only approached the subject that way because
I didn't want to seem overweening and presumptuous. It's a very
great piece of vanity, it seems to me, for any man to ask a woman
whether she loves him. I'm too conscious of all my own faults and
failings, Selah, to venture upon asking you ever to love me; but
I do love you, Selah, I'm sure I do love you; and I hoped, I somehow
fancied--it may have been mere fancy, but I DID imagine--that I
detected, I can't say how, that you did really love me, too, just
a very very little. Oh, Selah, it's because I really love you that
I ask you whether you'll marry me, such as I am; I know I'm a poor
sort of person to marry, but I ventured to hope you might love me
just a little for all that.'
He looked so frail and gentle as he stood there pleading in the
pale moonlight, that Selah could have taken him to her bosom then
and there and fondled him as one would pet a sick child, for pure
womanliness; but the devil in her blood kept her from doing it, and
she answered haughtily, instead: 'Ronald, if you wanted to marry
me, you ought to have asked me for my own sake. Now that you've
asked me for another's, you can't expect me to give you an answer.
Keep your money, my poor boy; you'll want it all for you and her
hereafter; don't go sharing it and spending it on perfect strangers
such as me. And don't go talking to me again about this business
as long as your sister-in-law is unprovided for. I'm not going to
take the bread out of her mouth, and I'm not going to marry a man
who doesn't utterly and entirely love me.'
'But I do,' Ronald answered, earnestly; 'I do, Selah; I love you
truly and faithfully from the very bottom of my heart.'
'Leave off, Roland,' Selah said in the same angry tone. 'If you
ever talk to me of this again, I give you my word of honour about
it, I'll never speak another word to you.'
And Ronald, who deeply respected the sanctity of a promise, were
it only a threat, bided his time, and said no more about it for
Next day, as Ronald sat reading in his own rooms, he was much
surprised at hearing a well-known voice at the door, inquiring
with some asperity whether Mr. Le Breton was at home. He listened
to the voice in intense astonishment. It was his mother's.
'Ronald,' Lady Le Breton began, the moment she had been shown into
his little sitting-room, 'I didn't think, after your undutiful,
ungrateful conduct--with that abominable woman, too--that I should
ever have come to see you, unless you came first, as you ought
clearly to do, and begged my pardon penitently for your disgraceful
behaviour. It's hard, I know, to acknowledge oneself in the wrong,
but every Christian ought to be above vindictiveness and obstinate
self-will; and I expect you, therefore, sooner or later, to come
and ask forgiveness for your dreadful unkindness to me. Till then,
as I said, I didn't expect to call upon you in any way. But I've
felt compelled to-day to come and speak to you about a matter
of duty, and as a matter of duty strictly I regard it, not as any
relaxation of my just attitude of indignant expectancy towards
yourself; no parent ought rightly to overlook such conduct as
yours on the part of a son.' Ronald inclined his head respectfully.
'Well, what I've come to speak to you about to-day, Ronald, is
about your poor misguided brother Ernest. He, too, as you know,
has behaved very badly to me.'
'No,' Ronald answered stoutly, without further note or comment.
Where the matter touched himself only he could maintain a decent
silence, but where it touched poor dying Ernest he couldn't possibly
restrain himself, even from a sense of filial obligation.
'Very badly to me,' Lady Le Breton went on sternly, without in any
way noticing the brief interruption, 'and I can't, of course, go
to see him either, especially not as I should by so doing expose
myself to meeting the person whom he has chosen to make his wife.
Still, as I hear that Ernest a in a very serious or even dangerous
'He's dying,' Ronald answered, the quick tears once more finding
the easy road to his eyes as usual.
'I considered, as a mother, it was my duty to warn him to take a
little thought about his soul.'
'His soul!' Ronald exclaimed in astonishment. 'Ernest's soul! Why,
mother, dear Ernest has no need to look after his soul. He doesn't
take that sordid, petty, limited view of our relations with
eternity, and of our relations with the Infinite, which makes them
all consist of the miserable, selfish, squalid desire to save our
own poor personal little souls at all hazards. Ernest has something
better and nobler to think of, I can assure you, than such a mere
self-centred idea as that.'
'Ronald!' Lady Breton exclaimed, drawing herself up with much
dignity; 'how on earth you, who have always pretended to be a
religious person, can utter such a shocking and wicked sentiment
as that, really passes my comprehension. What in the world is
religion for, I should like to know, if it isn't to teach us how
to save our own souls? But the particular thing I want to speak
to you about is just this: couldn't you manage to induce Ernest to
see the Archdeacon a little, and let the Archdeacon speak to him
about his deplorable spiritual condition? I thought about you both
so much at church yesterday, when the dear Archdeacon was preaching
such a beautiful sermon; his text was like this, as far as I can
remember it. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but
the end thereof are the ways of death." I couldn't help thinking
all the time of my own two poor rebellious boys, and of the path
that their misguided notions were leading them on. For I believe
Ernest does really somehow persuade himself that he's in the
right--it's inconceivable, but it's the fact; and I'm afraid the end
thereof will be the ways of death; and then, as the dear Archdeacon
said, "After death the judgment." Oh, Ronald, when I think of your
poor dear brother Ernest's open unbelief, it makes me tremble for
his future, so that I couldn't rest upon my bed until I'd been to
see you and urged you to go and try to save him.'
'Mother,' Ronald said with that tone in which he was well accustomed
to answering Lady Le Breton's religious harangues; 'I don't think
you need feel any uneasiness whatever on dear Ernest's account,
so far as all that's concerned. What does HE want with saving
his soul, mother? "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it."
Remember what is written: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord,
Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."'
'But, Ronald,' Lady Le Breton continued, half angrily, 'consider
his unbelief, his dreadful opinions, his errors of doctrine! How
on earth can we be happy about him when we think of those?'
'I don't think, Mother,' Ronald answered gently, 'that Infinite
Justice and Infinite Love take much account of a man's opinions.
They take account of his life and soul only, not of the correctness
of his propositions in dogmatic theology; "Other sheep have I which
are not of this fold--them also must I bring."'
'It seems to me, Ronald,' Lady Le Breton rejoined coldly, 'that
you don't in the least care for whatever is most distinctive and
characteristic in the whole of Christian doctrine. You talk so
very very differently on religious subjects from that dear, good,
A GLEAM OF SUNSHINE.
Lady Hilda Tregellis rang the bell resolutely. 'I shall have no
more nonsense about it,' she said to herself in her most decisive
and determined manner. 'Whether mamma wishes it or not, I shall go
and see them this very day without another word upon the subject.'
The servant answered the bell and stood waiting for his orders by
'Harris, will you tell Jenkins at once that I shall want
the carriage at half-past eleven?'
'Yes, my lady.'
'All right then. That'll do. Don't stand staring at me there like
an image, but go this minute and do as I tell you.'
'Beg pardon, my lady, but her ladyship said she wanted the carriage
herself at twelve puncshual.'
'She can't have it, then, Harris. That's all. Go and give my message
to Jenkins at once, and I'll settle about the carriage with my lady
'She's the rummest young lady ever I come across,' the man murmured
to himself in a dissatisfied fashion, as he went down the stairs
again: 'but there, it's none of my business, thank goodness. The
places and the people she does go and hunt up when she's got the
fit on are truly ridic'lous: blest if she didn't acshally make Mr.
Jenkins drive her down into Camberwell the other mornin', to see
'ow the poor lived, she said; as if it mattered tuppence to us in
our circles of society 'ow the poor live. I wonder what little game
she's up to now? Well, well, what the aristocracy is coming to in
these days is more'n I can fathom, as sure as my name's William
The little game that Lady Hilda was up to that morning was one that
a gentleman in Mr. Harris's position was certainly hardly like to
appreciate or sympathise with.
The evening before, she had met Arthur Berkeley once more at a small
At Home, and had learned from him full particulars as to the dire
straits into which the poor Le Bretons had finally fallen. Now,
Hilda Tregellis was a kind-hearted girl at bottom, and when she
heard all about it, she said at once to Arthur, 'I shall go and
see them myself to-morrow, Mr. Berkeley, whether mamma allows me
'What good will it do?' Arthur had answered her quickly. 'You
can't find work for poor Le Breton, can you? and of course if you
can't do that you can be of no earthly use in any way to the poor
'I don't know about that,' Hilda responded warmly. 'Sympathy's
always something, isn't it, Mr. Berkeley? Nobody ought to know that
better than you do. Besides, there's no saying when one may happen
to turn up useful. Of course, I've never been of the slightest use
to anybody in all my life, myself, I know, and I dare say I never
shall be, but at least there's no harm in trying, is there? I'm on
speaking terms with such an awful lot of people, all of them rich
and many of them influential--Parliament, and Government offices,
and all that sort of nonsense, you know--people who have no end
of things to give away, and can't tell who on earth they'd better
give them to, for fear of offending all the others, that I might
possibly hear of something or other.'
'I'm afraid, Lady Hilda,' Berkeley answered smiling, 'none of those
people would have anything to offer that could possibly be of the
slightest use to poor Le Breton. If he's to be saved at all, he
must be saved in his own time and by his own methods. For my own
part, I don't see what conceivable chance of success in life there
is left for him. You can't imagine a man like him making money
and living comfortably. It's a tragedy--all the dramas of real life
always ARE tragedies; but I'm terribly afraid there's no conceivable
way out of it.'
Lady Hilda only looked at him with bold good humour. 'Nonsense,'
she said bravely. 'All pure rubbishing pessimistic nonsense. (I
hope pessimistic's the right word--it's a very good word, anyhow,
even if it isn't in the proper place.) Well, I don't agree with you
at all about this question, Mr. Berkeley. I'm very fond of Mr. Le
Breton, really very fond of him; and I believe there's a corner
somewhere for every man if only he can jog down properly into his
own corner instead of being squeezed forcibly into somebody else's.
The worst of it is, all the holes are round, and Mr. Le Breton's
a square man, I allow: he wants all the angles cutting down off
'But you can't cut them off; that's the very trouble,' Arthur answered,
with just a faint rising suspicion that he was half jealous of the
interest Hilda showed even in poor lonely Ernest Le Breton. Gracious
heavens! could he be playing false at last to the long-cherished
memory of little Miss Butterfly? could he be really beginning to
fall just a little in love, after all, with this bold beautiful
Lady Hilda Tregellis? He didn't know, and yet he somehow hardly
liked himself to think it. And while Edie was still so poor too!
'No, you can't cut them off; I know that perfectly well,' Hilda
rejoined quickly. 'I wouldn't care twopence for him if I thought
you could. It's the angles that give him all his charming delicious
originality. But you can look out a square hole for him somewhere,
you know, and that of course would be a great deal better. Depend
upon it, Mr. Berkeley, there are square holes up and down in the
world, if only we knew where to look for them; and the mistake
that everybody has made in poor Mr. Le Breton's case has been that
instead of finding one to suit him, they've gone on trying to poke
him down anyhow by main force into one of the round ones. That
goes against the grain, you know; besides which I call it a clear
waste of the very valuable solid mahogany corners.'
Arthur Berkeley looked at her silently for a moment, as if a gleam
of light had burst suddenly in upon him. Then he said to her slowly
and deliberately, 'Perhaps you're right, Lady Hilda, though I never
thought of it quite in that light before. But one thing certainly
strikes me now, and that is that you're a great deal cleverer after
all than I ever thought you.'
Lady Hilda made a little mock curtsey. 'It's very good of you to
say so,' she answered, half-saucily. 'Only the compliment is rather
double-edged, you must confess, because it implies that up to now
you've had a dreadfully low opinion of my poor little intelligence.'
So after that conversation Lady Hilda made up her mind that she
would certainly go the very next day and call as soon as possible
upon Edie Le Breton. Nobody could tell what good might possibly
come of it; but at least there could come no harm. And so, when the
carriage drew up it the door at half-past eleven, Hilda Tregellis
stepped into it with a vague consciousness of an important mission,
and ordered Jenkins to drive at once to the side street in Holloway,
whose address Arthur Berkeley had last night given her. Jenkins
touched his hat with mechanical respect, but inwardly wondered what
the dickens my lady would think if only she came to know of these
'ere extrornary goin's on.
At the door of the lodgings Hilda alighted and rang the bell herself.
Good Mrs. Halliss opened the door, and answered quickly that Mrs.
Le Breton was at home. Her woman's eye detected at once the coronet
on the carriage, and she was ready to burst with delight when the
tall visitor handed her a card for Edie, bearing the name of Lady
Hilda Tregellis. It was almost the first time that Edie had had
any lady callers; certainly the first time she had had any of such
social distinction; and Mrs. Halliss made haste to usher her up in
due form, and then ran down hastily to communicate the good news
to honest John, who in his capacity of past coachman was already
gazing out of the area window with deep interest at the carriage
'There, John dear,' she cried, with tears of joy in her eyes,
forgetting in her excitement to drat the man for not being in the
back kitchen, 'to think that we should see a carriage an' pair like
that there a-drawin' up in front of out own very 'ouse, and Lady
'Ilder Tergellis, or summat o' the sort, a-comin' 'ere to see that
dear little lady in the parlour, why, it's enough to make one's
'eart burst, nearly, just you see now if it reelly isn't. You could
a' knocked me down with a feather, a'most, when that there Lady
'Ilder 'anded me 'er curd, and asked so sweet-like if Mrs. Le
Breting was at 'ome. Mr. Le Breting's people is comin' round, you
may be sure of it; 'is mother's a lady of title, that much we know
for certing; and she wouldn't go and let 'er own flesh an' blood
die 'ere of downright poverty, as they're like to do and won't let
us 'elp it, pore dears, without sendin' round to inquire and assist
'em. Married against 'er will, I understand, from what that dear
Mr. Berkeley, bless 'is kind 'eart, do tell me; not as I can believe
'e married beneath 'im, no, not no ways; for a sweeter, dearer,
nicer little lady than our Mrs. Le Breting I never did, an' that
I tell you. Sweeter manners you never did see yourself, John, for
all you've lived among the aristocracy: an' I always knew 'is people
'ud come round at last, and do what was right by 'im. An' you may
depend upon it, John, this 'ere Lady 'Ilder's one of his relations,
an' she's come round on a message from Lady Le Breting, to begin
a reconciliation. And though we should be sorry to lose 'em, as
'as stood by 'em through all their troubles, I'm glad to 'ear it,
John, that I am, for I can't a-bear to see that dear young fellow
a-eatin' 'is life out with care and anxiety.' And Mrs. Halliss, who
had always felt convinced in her own mind that Ernest must really
be the unacknowledged heir to a splendid fortune, began to wipe
her eyes violently in her delight at this evident realisation of
her wildest fancies and wishes.
Meanwhile, upstairs in the little parlour, Edie had risen in some
trepidation as Mrs. Halliss placed in her hands Lady Hilda Tregellis's
card. Ernest was out, gone to walk feebly around the streets of
Holloway, and she hardly knew at first what to say to so unexpected
a visitor. But Lady Hilda put her almost at her ease at once
by coming up to her with both her arms outstretched, as to an old
friend, and saying, with one of her pleasantest smiles:
'You must forgive me, Mrs. Le Breton, for never having come to
call on you before; but I have been long meaning to, and doubting
whether you would care to see me or not. You know, I'm a very old
friend of your husband's--he was SO kind to me always when he was
down at our place in dear old Devonshire. (You're a Devonshire girl
yourself, aren't you? just as I am. I thought so. I'm so glad of
it. I always get on so well with the dear old Devonshire folk.)
Well, I've been meaning to come for ever so long, and putting
it off, and putting it off, and putting it off, as one WILL put
things off, you know, when you're not quite sure about them, until
last evening. And then our friend, Mr. Arthur Berkeley, who knows
everybody, talked to me about your husband and you, and told me
he thought you wouldn't mind my coming to see you, for he fancied
you hadn't much society up here that you cared for or sympathised
with: though, of course, I'm dreadfully afraid of coming to call
upon you, because I know you're the sister of that very clever Mr.
Oswald, whose sad death we were all so sorry to hear about in the
papers; and naturally, as you've lived so much with him and with
Mr. Le Breton, you must be so awfully learned and all that sort of
thing, and no doubt despise ignorant people like myself dreadfully.
But you really mustn't despise me, Mrs. Le Breton, because, you
see, I haven't had all the advantages that you've had; indeed, the
only clever people I've ever met in all my life are your husband
and Mr. Arthur Berkeley, except, of course, Cabinet ministers and
so forth, and they don't count, because they're political, and so
very old, and solemn, and grand, and won't take any notice of us
girls, except to sit upon us. So that's what's made me rather afraid
to call upon you, because I thought you'd be quite too much in
the higher education way for a girl like me; and I haven't got any
education at all, except in rubbish, as your husband used always
to tell me. And now I want you to tell me all about Mr. Le Breton,
and the baby--Dot, you call her, Mr. Berkeley told me--and yourself,
too; for, though I've never seen you before, I feel, of course,
like an old friend of the family, having known your husband so very
Lady Hilda designedly delivered all this long harangue straight
off without a break, in her go-ahead, breathless, voluble fashion,
because she felt sure Edie wouldn't feel perfectly at her ease at
first, and she wanted to give her time to recover from the first
foolish awe of that meaningless prefix, Lady. Moreover, Lady Hilda,
in spite of her offhand manner was a good psychologist, and a true
woman: and she had concocted her little speech on the spur of the
moment with some cleverness, so as just to suit her instinctive
reading of Edie's small personal peculiarities. She saw in a moment
that that slight, pale, delicate girl was lost in London, far from
her own home and surroundings; and that the passing allusion to
their common Devonshire origin would please and conciliate her, as
it always does with the clannish, warm-hearted, simple-minded West
Country folk. Then again, the deft hints as to their friendship
with Arthur Berkeley, as to Ernest's stay at Dunbude, and as to
her own fear lest Edie should be too learned for her, all tended
to bring out whatever points of interest they had together: while
the casual touch about poor Harry's reputation, and the final
mention of little Dot by name, completed the conquest of Edie's
simple, gentle little woman's heart. So this was the great Lady
Hilda Tregellis, she thought, of whom she had heard so much, and
whom she had dreaded so greatly as a grand rival! Why, after all,
she was exactly like any other Devonshire girl in Calcombe Pomeroy,
except, perhaps, that she was easier to get on with, and smiled a
great deal more pleasantly than ten out of a dozen.
'It's very kind indeed of you to come,' Edie answered, smiling back
as well as she was able the first moment that Lady Hilda allowed
her a chance to edge in a word sideways. 'Ernest will be so very
very sorry that he's missed you when he comes in. He's spoken to
me a great deal about you ever so many times.'
'No, has he really?' Lady Hilda asked quickly, with unmistakable
interest and pleasure. 'Well, now, I'm so glad of that, for to tell
you the truth, Mrs. Le Breton, though he was really always very
kind to me, and so patient with all my stupidity, I more than
half fancied he didn't exactly like me. In fact, I was dreadfully
afraid he thought me a perfect nuisance. I'm so sorry he isn't in,
because the truth is, I came partly to see him as well as to see
you, and I should be awfully disappointed if I had to miss him.
Where's he gone, if I may ask? Perhaps I may be able to wait and
'Oh, he's only out walking somewhere--ur--somewhere about Holloway,'
Edie answered, half blushing at the nature of their neighbourhood,
and glancing round the little room to see how it was likely to
strike so grand a person as Lady Hilda Tregellis.
Hilda noticed the glance, and made as if she did not notice it. Her
heart had begun to warm at once to this poor, pale, eager-looking
little woman, who had had the doubtful happiness of winning Ernest
Le Breton's love. 'Then I shall certainly wait and see him, Mrs. Le
Breton.' she said cordially. 'What a dear cosy little room you've
got here, to be sure. I do so love those nice bright little
cottage parlours, with their pretty pots of flowers and cheerful
furniture--so much warmer and more comfortable, you know, than the
great dreary empty barns that most people go and do penance by
living in. If ever I marry--which I don't suppose I ever shall do,
for nobody'll have me, I'm sorry to say: at least, nobody but stupid
people in the peerage, Algies and Berties and Monties I always call
them--well, if I ever do marry, I shall have a cosy little house
just like this one, with no unnecessary space to walk over every
time you come in or out, and with a chance of keeping yourself
warm without having to crone over the fire in order to get safely
out of the horrid draughts. And Dot, now let me see, how old is
she by this time? I ought to remember, I'm sure, for Mr. Berkeley
told me all about her at the time; and I said should I write and
ask if I might stand as godmother; and Mr. Berkeley laughed at
me, and said what could I be dreaming of, and did I think you were
going to make your baby liable to fine and imprisonment if it ever
published works hereafter on philosophy or something of the sort.
So delightfully original of all of you, really.'
Once started on that fertile theme of female conversation, Edie and
Hilda got on well enough in all conscience to satisfy the most
exacting mind. Dot was duly brought in and exhibited by Mrs. Halliss;
and was pronounced to be the very sweetest, dearest, darlingest
little duck ever seen on earth since the beginning of all things.
Her various points of likeness to all her relations were duly
discussed; and Hilda took particular pains to observe that she
didn't in the very faintest degree resemble that old horror, Lady
Le Breton. Then her whole past history was fully related, she had
been fed on, and what illnesses she had had, and how many teeth
she had got, and all the other delightful nothings so perennially
interesting to the maternal heart. Hilda listened to the whole
account with unfeigned attention, and begged leave to be allowed
to dance Dot in her own strong arms, and tickled her fat cheek with
her slender forefinger, and laughed with genuine delight when the
baby smiled again at her and turned her face to be tickled a second
time. Gradually Hilda brought the conversation round to Ernest's
journalistic experiences, and at last she said very quietly, 'I'm
sorry to learn from Mr. Berkeley, dear, that your husband doesn't
get quite as much work to do as he would like to have.'
Edie's tender eyes filled at once with swimming tears. That one
word 'dear,' said so naturally and simply, touched her heart at
once with its genuine half unspoken sympathy. 'Oh, Lady Hilda,'
she answered falteringly, 'please don't make me talk about that.
We are so very, very, very poor. I can't bear to talk about it to
you. Please, please don't make me.'
Hilda looked at her with the moisture welling up in her own eyes
too, and said softly, 'I'm SO sorry: dear, dear little Mrs. Le
Breton, I'm so very, very, very sorry for you! from the bottom of
my heart I'm sorry for you.'
'It isn't for myself, you know,' Edie answered quickly: 'for
myself, of course, I could stand anything; but it's the trouble
and privations for darling Ernest. Oh, Lady Hilda, I can't bear to
say it, but he's dying, he's dying.'
Hilda took the pretty small hand affectionately in hers. 'Don't,
dear, don't,' she said, brushing away a tear from her own eyes at
the same time. 'He isn't, believe me, he isn't. And don't call
me by that horrid stiff name, dear, please don't. Call me Hilda.
I should be so pleased and flattered if you would call me Hilda.
And may I call you Edie? I know your husband calls you Edie, because
Mr. Ronald Le Breton told me so. I want to be a friend of yours;
and I feel sure, if only you will let me, that we might be very
good and helpful friends indeed together.'
Edie pressed her hand softly. How very different from the imaginary
Lady Hilda she had. pictured to herself in her timid, girlish fancy!
How much even dear Ernest had been mistaken as to what there was
of womanly really in her. 'Oh, don't speak so kindly to me,' she
said imploringly; 'don't speak so kindly, or else you'll make me
cry. I can't bear to hear you speak so kindly.'
'Cry, dear,' Lady Hilda whispered in a gentle tone, kissing her
forehead delicately as she spoke: 'cry and relieve yourself. There'a
nothing gives one so much comfort when one's heart is bursting as a
regular good downright cry.' And, suiting the action to the word,
forthwith Lady Hilda laid her own statuesque head down beside Edie's,
and so those two weeping women, rivals once in a vague way, and
now bound to one another by a new-found tie, mingled their tears
silently together for ten minutes in unuttered sympathy.
As they sat there, both tearful and speechless, with Lady Hilda
soothing Edie's wan hand tenderly in hers, and leaning above her,
and stroking her hair softly with a sister's fondness, the door
opened very quietly, and Arthur Berkeley stood for a moment pausing
in the passage, and looking in without a word upon the unexpected
sight that greeted his wondering vision. He had come to call upon
Ernest about some possible opening for a new writer on a paper lately
started; and hearing the sound of sobs within had opened the door
quietly and tentatively. He could hardly believe his own eyes when
he actually saw Lady Hilda Tregellis sitting there side by side
with Edie Le Breton, kissing her pale forehead a dozen times in
a minute, and crying over her like a child with unwonted tears of
unmistakable sympathy. For ten seconds Arthur held the door ajar
in his hands, and gazed silently with the awe of chivalrous respect
upon the tearful, beautiful picture. Then he shut the door again
noiselessly and unperceived, and stole softly out into the street
to wait alone for Ernest's return. It was not for him to intrude
his unbidden presence upon the sacred sorrow of those two weeping
He lighted a cigar outside, and walked up and down a neighbouring
street feverishly till he thought it likely the call would be
finished. 'Dear little Mrs. Le Breton,' he said to himself softly,
'dear little Miss Butterfly of the days that are dead; softened
and sweetened still more by suffering, with the beauty of holiness
glowing in your face, how I wish some good for you could unexpectedly
come out of this curious visit. Though I don't see how it's
possible: I don't see how it's possible. The stream carries us all
down unresistingly before its senseless flood, and sweeps us at
last, sooner or later, like helpless logs, into the unknown sea.
Poor Ernest is drifting fast thitherwards before the current, and
nothing on earth, it seems to me, can conceivably stop him!'
He paced up and down a little, with a quick, unsteady tread, and
took a puff or two again at his cigar abstractedly. Then he held
it thoughtfully between his fingers for a while and began to hum
a few bars from his own new opera then in course of composition--a
stately long-drawn air, it was. something like the rustle of Hilda
Tregellis's satin train as she swept queenlike down the broad marble
staircase of some great Elizabethan country palace. 'And dear Lady
Hilda too,' he went on, musingly: 'dear, kind, sympathising Lady
Hilda. Who on earth would ever have thought she had it in her to
comfort that poor, weeping, sorrowing girl as I just now saw her
doing? Dear Lady Hilda! Kind Lady Hilda! I have undervalued you
and overlooked you, because of the mere accident of your titled
birth, but I could have kissed you myself, for pure gratitude,
that very minute, Hilda Tregellis, when I saw you stooping down and
kissing that dear white forehead that looked so pale and womanly
and beautiful. Yes, Hilda, I could have kissed you. I could have
kissed your own grand, smooth, white marble forehead. And no very
great trial of endurance, either, Arthur Berkeley, if it comes to
that; for say what you will of her, she's a beautiful, stately,
queenlike woman indeed; and it somehow strikes me she's a truer
and better woman, too, than you have ever yet in your shallow
superficiality imagined. Not like little Miss Butterfly! Oh, no,
not like little Miss Butterfly! But still, there are keys and keys
in music; and if every tune was pitched to the self-same key, even
the tenderest, what a monotonous, dreary world it would be to live
and sing in after all. Perhaps a man might make himself a little
shrine not wholly without sweet savour of pure incense for beautiful,
stately, queenlike Hilda Tregellis too! But no; I mustn't think
of it. I have no other duty or prospect in life possible as yet
while dear little Miss Butterfly still remains practically unprovided
From Edie Le Breton's lodgings, Hilda Tregellis drove straight,
without stopping all the way, to Arthur Berkeley's house at Chelsea;
for Arthur had long since risen to the dignity of an enfranchised
householder, and had bought himself a pretty cottage near the
Embankment, with room enough for himself and the Progenitor, and
even for any possible future domestic contingency in the way of
wife and children. It was a very unconventional thing for her to
do, no doubt; but Lady Hilda was certainly not the person to be
deterred from doing anything she contemplated on the bare ground
of its extreme unconventionally; and so far was she from objecting
personally to her visit on this score, that before she rang the
Berkeleys' bell she looked quietly at her little bijou watch, and
said with a bland smile to the suspicious Mr. Jenkins, 'Let me see,
Jenkins; it's one o'clock. I shall lunch with my friends here this
morning; so you may take the carriage home now for my lady, and I
shall cab it back, or come round by Metropolitan.' Jenkins was too
much accustcmed to Lady Hilda's unaccountable vagaries to express
any surprise at her wildest resolutions, even if she had proposed
to go home on a costermonger's barrow; so he only touched his hat
respectfully, in his marionette fashion, and drove away at once
without further colloquy.
'Is Mr. Berkeley at home?' Hilda asked of the pretty servant girl
who opened the door to her, mentally taking note at the same time
that Arthur's aesthetic tendencies evidently extended even to his
'Which Mr. Berkeley?' the girl asked in reply. 'Mr. Berkeley
senerer, 'e's at 'ome, but Mr. Arthur, 'e's gone up this mornin'
Hilda seized with avidity upon this unexpected and almost providential
opening. 'No, is he?' she said, delighted. 'Then I'll go in and see
Mr. Berkeley senior. No card, thank you: no name: tell him merely
a lady would like to see him. I dare say Mr. Arthur'll be back
before long from Holloway.'
The girl hesitated a moment as if in doubt, and surveyed Lady Hilda
from head to foot. Hilda, whose eyes were still red from crying,
couldn't help laughing outright at the obvious cause of the girl's
hesitation. 'Do as I tell you,' she said in her imperious way. 'Who
on earth do you take me for, my good girl? That's my card, see: but
you needn't give it to Mr. Berkeley senior. Now go and tell him at
once that a lady is waiting to see him.'
The innate respect of the English working classes for the kind of
nobility that is supposed to be represented by the British peerage
made the girl drop an instinctive curtsey as she looked at the card,
and answer in a voice of hushed surprise, 'Yes, my lady.' She had
heard Lady Hilda Tregellis spoken of more than once at her master's
table, and she knew, of course, that so great a personage as that
could do no wrong. So she merely ushered her visitor at once into
Arthur Berkeley's beautiful little study, with its delicate grey
pomegranate wall paper and its exquisite unpolished oak fittings,
and said simply, in an overawed manner, 'A lady wishes to speak to
The old shoemaker looked up from the English translation of Ribot's
'Psychologie Anglaise Contemporaine,' with whose intricacies he
was manfully struggling, and rose with native politeness to welcome
'Good morning,' Hilda said, extending her hand to him with one of
her beaming disarming smiles, and annihilating all that was most
obtrusively democratic in him at once by her pleasant manner. 'I'm
a friend of your son's, Mr. Berkeley, and I've come here to see
him about very particular private business--in short, on an errand
of charity. Will he be long gone, do you know?'
'Not very,' the Progenitor answered, in a somewhat embarrassed
manner, surveying her curiously. 'At least, I should think not.
He's gone to Holloway for an hour or two, but I fancy he'll be back
for two o'clock luncheon, Miss----ur, I don't think I caught your
name, did I?'
'To Holloway,' Hilda echoed, taking no notice of his suggested
query. 'Oh, then he's gone to see the poor dear Le Bretons, of
course. Why, that's just what I wanted to see him about. If you'll
allow me then, I'll just stop and have lunch with you.'
'The dickens you will,' the Progenitor thought to himself in speechless
astonishment. 'That's really awfully cool of you. However, I dare
say it's usual to invite oneself in the state of life that that boy
Artie has gone and hoisted himself into, most unnaturally. A fine
lady, no doubt, of their modern pattern; but in my day, up in
Paddington, we should have called her a brazen hussey.--Certainly,
if you will,' he added aloud. 'If you've come on any errand that
will do any good to the Le Bretons, I'm sure my son'll be delighted
to see you. He's greatly grieved at their unhappy condition.'
'I'm afraid I've nothing much to suggest of any very practical
sort,' Hilda answered, with a slight sigh; 'but at least I should
like to talk with him about the matter. Something must be done
for these two poor young people, you know, Mr. Berkeley. Something
must really be done to help them.'
'Then you're interested in them, Miss--ur--ur--ah, yes--are you?'
'Look at my eyes,' Hilda said plumply. 'Are they very red, Mr.
'Well....ur...yes, if I may venture to say so to a lady,' the old
shoemaker answered hesitatingly, with unwonted gallantry. 'I should
say they were a trifle, ur, just a trifle roseate, you know.'
'Quite so,' Hilda went on, seriously. 'That's it. They're red with
crying. I've been crying like a baby all the morning with that
poor, dear, sweet little angel of a Mrs. Le Breton.'
'Then you're a great friend of hers, I suppose,' the Progenitor
'Never set eyes on her in my life before this morning, on the
contrary,' Hilda continued in her garrulous fashion. 'But, oh, Mr.
Berkeley, if you'd only seen that dear little woman, crying as if
her heart would break, and telling me that dear Ernest was dying,
actually dying; why--there--excuse me--I can't help it, you know;
we women are always crying about something or other, aren't we?'
The old man laid his hand on hers quietly. 'Don't mind ME, my
dear,' he said with genuine tenderness. 'Don't mind me a bit; I'm
only an old shoemaker, as I dare say you've heard before now; but
I know you'll be the better for crying--women always are--and tears
shed on somebody else's account are never thrown away, my dear,
Hilda took his hand between hers, and wiping her eyes once more
whispered softly, 'No, Mr. Berkeley, no; perhaps they're not; but
oh, they're so useless; so very, very, very useless. Do you know,
I never felt my own powerlessness and helplessness in all my life
so much as I did at that dear, patient little Mrs. Le Breton's
this very morning. There I sat, knowing she was in dire need of
money for her poor husband, and wanting sufficient food and drink,
perhaps, for herself, and him, and the dear darling baby; and in
my hand in my muff I had my purse there with five tenners--Bank of
England ten-pound uotes, you know--fifty pounds altogether, rolled
up inside it; and I would have given anything if only I could have
pulled them out and made them a present to her then and there; and
I couldn't, you see: and, oh, Mr. Berkeley, isn't it terrible to
look at them? And then, before I left, poor Mr. Le Breton himself
came in, and I was quite shocked to see him. I used to know him a
few years ago, and even then he wasn't what you'd call robust by
any means; but now, oh, dear me, he does look so awfully ill and
haggard and miserable that it quite made me break down again, and I
cried about him before his very face; and the moment I got away, I
said to the coachman, "Jenkins, drive straight off to the Embankment
at Chelsea;" and here I am, you see, waiting to talk with your
clever son about it; for, really, Mr. Berkeley, the poor Le Bretons
haven't got a single friend anywhere like your son Arthur.'
And then Lady Hilda went on to praise Arthur's music to the
Progenitor, and to speak of how much admired he was everywhere,
and to hint that so much genius and musical power must of course be
largely hereditary. Whereat the old man, not unmoved by her gentle
insinuating flattery, at last confessed to his own lifelong musical
tastes, and even casually acknowledged that the motive for one or
two of the minor songs in the famous operas was not entirely of
Arthur's own unaided invention. And so, from one subject to another,
they passed on so quickly, and hit it off with one another so exactly
(for Hilda had a wonderful knack of leading up to everybody's strong
points), that long before lunch was ready, the Progenitor had been
quite won over by the fascinations of the brazen hussey, and was
prepared to admit that she was really a very nice, kind, tender-hearted,
intelligent, appreciative, and discriminating young lady. True,
she had not read Mill or Fawcett, and was ignorant of the very name
of Herbert Spencer; but she had a vast admiration for his dear boy
Artie, and she saw that he himself knew a thing or two in his own
modest way, though he was only what the grand world she moved in
would doubtless call an old superannuated journeyman shoemaker.
'Ah, yes, a shoemaker! so I've heard somewhere, I fancy,' Lady
Hilda remarked brightly, when for the third time in the course of
their conversation he informed her with great dignity of the interesting
fact; 'how very delightful and charming that is, really, now isn't
it? So original, you know, to make shoes instead of going into some
useless profession, especially when you're such a great reader
and student and thinker as you are--for I see you're a philosopher
and a psychologist already, Mr. Berkeley'--Hilda considered it rather
a bold effort on her part to pronounce the word 'psychologist' at
the very first trial without stumbling; but though she was a little
doubtful about the exact pronunciation of that fearful vocable,
she felt quite at her ease about the fact at least, because
she carefully noticed him lay down Ribot on the table beside him,
name upward; 'one can't help finding that much out on a very short
acquaintance, can one? Though, indeed, now I come to think of it,
I believe I've heard often that men of your calling generally ARE
very fond of reading, and are very philosophical, and clever, and
political, and all that sort of thing; and they say that's the
reason, of course, why Northampton's such an exceptionally intelligent
constituency, and always returns such thoroughgoing able logical
The old man's eyes beamed, as she spoke, with inexpressible pride
and pleasure. 'I'm very glad indeed to hear you say so,' he answered
promptly with a complacent self-satisfied smile, 'and I believe
you're right too, Miss, ur--ur--ur--quite so. The practice of
shoemaking undoubtedly tends to develop a very high and exceptional
level of general intelligence and logical power.'
'I'm sure of it,' Hilda answered demurely, in a tone of the deepest
and sincerest conviction; 'and when I heard somebody say somewhere,
that your son was...--well, WAS your son, I said to myself at once,
"Ah, well, there now, that quite accounts, of course, for young
Mr. Berkeley's very extraordinary and unusual abilities!"'
'She's really a most sensible, well-informed young woman, whoever
she is,' the Progenitor thought to himself silently; 'and it's
certainly a pity that dear Artie couldn't take a fancy to some nice,
appreciative, kind-hearted, practical girl like that now, instead
of wearing away all the best days of his life in useless regret
for that poor slender, unsubstantial nonentity of a watery little
Mrs. Le Breton.'
By two o'clock lunch was ready, and just as it had been announced,
Arthur Berkeley ran up the front steps, and let himself in with
his proprietory latch-key. Turning straight into the dining-room,
he was just in time to see his own father walking into lunch arm
in arm with Lady Hilda Tregellis. As Mrs. Hallis had graphically
expressed it, he felt as if you might have knocked him down with
a feather! Was she absolutely ubiquitous, then, this pervasive
Lady Hilda? and was he destined wherever he went to come upon her
suddenly in the most unexpected and incomprehensible situations?
'Will you sit down here, my dear,' the Progenitor was saying to
Hilda at the exact moment he entered, 'or would you prefer your
back to the fire?'
Arthur Berkeley opened his eyes wide with unspeakable amazement.
'What, YOU here,' he exclaimed, coming forward suddenly to shake
hands with Hilda; 'why, I saw you only a couple of hours since at
the Le Bretons' at Holloway.'
'You did!' Hilda cried with almost equal astonishment, 'Why, how
was that? I never saw YOU.'
Arthur sighed quietly. 'No,' he answered, with a curious look at
the Progenitor; 'you were engaged when I opened the door, and I
didn't like to disturb you. You were--you were speaking with poor
little Mrs. Le Breton. But I'm so much obliged to you for your
kindness to them, Lady Hilda; so very much obliged to you for your
great kindness to them.'
It was the Progenitor's turn now to start in surprise. 'What! Lady
Hilda!' he cried with a bewildered look. 'Lady Hilda! Did I hear
you say "Lady Hilda"? Is this Lady Hilda Tregellis, then, that I've
heard you talk about so often, Artie?'
'Why, of course, Father. You didn't know who it was, then, didn't
you? Lady Hilda, I'm afraid you've been stealing a march upon the
poor unsuspecting hostile Progenitor.'
'Not quite that, Mr. Berkeley,' Hilda replied, laughing; 'only
after the very truculent character I had heard of your father as
a regular red-hot militant Radical, I thought I'd better not send
in my name to him at once for fear it might prejudice him against
me before first acquaintance.'
The Progenitor looked at her steadfastly from head to foot, standing
before him there in her queenly beauty, as if she were some strange
wild beast that he had been requested to inspect and report upon
for a scientific purpose. 'Lady Hilda Tregellis!' he said slowly
and deliberately; 'Lady Hilda Tregellis! So this is Lady Hilda
Tregellis, is it? Well, all I can say is this, then, that as far as
I can judge her, Lady Hilda Tregellis is a very sensible, modest,
intelligent, well-conducted young woman, which is more than I
could possibly have expected from a person of her unfortunate and
distressing hereditary antecedents. But you know, my dear, it was
a very mean trick of you to go and take an old man's heart by guile
and stratagem in that way!'
Hilda laughed a little uneasily. The Progenitor's manner was perhaps
a trifle too open and unconventional even for her. 'It wasn't for
that I came, Mr. Berkeley,' she said again with one of her sunny
smiles, which brought the Progenitor metaphorically to her feet
again, 'but to talk over this matter of the poor Le Bretons with
your son. Oh, Mr. Arthur, something must really be done to help
them. I know you say there's nothing to be done; but there must be;
we must find it out; we must invent it; we must compel it. When
I sat there this morning with that dear little woman and saw
her breaking her full heart over her husband's trouble, I said to
myself, somehow, Hilda Tregellis, if you can't find a way out of
this, you're not worth your salt in this world, and you'd better
make haste and take a rapid through-ticket at once to the next, if
there is one.'
'Which is more than doubtful, really,' the Progenitor muttered
softly half under his breath; 'which, as Strauss has conclusively
shown, is certainly a good deal more than doubtful.'
Arthur took no notice of the interruption, but merely answered
imploringly, with a despairing gesture of his hands, 'What are we
to do, Lady Hilda? What can we possibly do?'
'Why, sit down and have some lunch first,' Hilda rejoined with
practical common-sense, 'and then talk it over rationally afterwards,
instead of wringing our hands helplessly like a pair of Frenchmen
in a street difficulty.' (Hilda had a fine old crusted English
contempt, by the way, for those vastly inferior and foolish creatures
known as foreigners.)
Thus adjured, Berkeley sat down promptly, and they proceeded to take
counsel together in this hard matter over the cutlets and claret
provided before them. 'Ernest and Mrs. Le Breton told me all about
your visit,' Arthur went on, soon after; 'and they're so much obliged
to you for having taken the trouble to look them up in their sore
distress. Do you know, Lady Hilda, I think you've quite made a
conquest of our dear little friend, Mrs. Le Breton.'
'I don't know about that,' Hilda responded with a smile, 'but I'm
sure, at any rate, that the sweet little woman quite made a conquest
of me, Mr. Berkeley. In fact, I can't say what you think, but for
my part I'm determined an effort must be made one way or another
to save them.'
'It's no use,' Arthur answered, shaking his head sadly; 'it can't
be done. There's nothing for it but to let them float down helplessly
with the tide, wherever it may bear them.'
'Stuff and nonsense,' Hilda replied energetically. 'All rubbish,
utter rubbish, and if I were a man as you are, Mr. Berkeley, I
should be ashamed to take such a desponding view of the situation.
If we say it's got to be done, it will be done, and that's an end
of it. Work must and can be found for him somehow or somewhere.'
'But the man's dying,' Arthur interrupted with a vehement gesture.
'There's no more work left in him. The only thing that's any use
is to send him off to Madeira, or Egypt, or Catania, or somewhere
of that sort, and let him die quietly among the palms and cactuses
and aloes. That's Sir Antony Wraxall's opinion, and surely nobody
in London can know half as well as he does about the matter.'
'Sir Antony's a fool,' Hilda responded with refreshing bluntness.
'He knows nothing on earth at all about it. He's accustomed to
prescribing for a lot of us idle good-for-nothing rich people'--('Very
true,' the Progenitor assented parenthetically;) 'and he's got
into a fixed habit of prescribing a Nile voyage, just as he's got
into a fixed habit of prescribing old wine, and carriage exercise,
and ten thousand a year to all his patients. What Mr. Le Breton
really wants is not Egypt, or old wine, or Sir Antony, or anything
of the sort, but relief from this pressing load of anxiety and
responsibility. Put him in my hands for six months, and I'll back
myself at a hundred to six against Sir Antony to cure him for a
'For a what!' the Progenitor asked with a puzzled expression of
'Back myself for a monkey, you know,' Hilda answered, without
perceiving the cause of the old man's innocent confusion.
The Progenitor was evidently none the wiser still for Hilda's
answer, though he forbore to pursue the subject any farther, lest
he should betray his obvious ignorance of aristocratic manners and
But Arthur looked up at Lady Hilda with something like the gleam of
a new-born hope on his distressed features. 'Lady Hilda,' he said
almost cheerfully, 'you really speak as if you had some practicable
plan actually in prospect. It seems to me, if anybody can pull
them through, you can, because you've got such a grand reserve of
faith and energy. What is it, now, you think of doing?'
'Well,' Hilda answered, taken a little aback at this practical
question, 'I've hardly got my plan matured yet; but I've got a
plan; and I thought it all out as far as it went as I came along
here just now in the carriage. The great thing is, we must inspire
Mr. Le Breton with a new confidence; we must begin by showing him
we believe in him, and letting him see that he may still manage
in some way or other to retrieve himself. He has lost all hope: we
must begin with him over again. I've got an idea, but it'll take
money. Now, I can give up half my allowance for the next year--the
Le Bretons need never know anything about it--that'll be something:
you're a rich man now, I believe, Mr. Berkeley; will you make up
as much as I do, if my plan seems a feasible one to you for retrieving
The Progenitor answered quickly for him: 'Miss Tregellis,' he
said, with a little tremor in his voice, '--you'll excuse me, my
dear, but it's against my principles to call anybody my lady:--he
will, I know he will; and if he wouldn't, why, my dear, I'd go
back to my cobbling and earn it myself rather than that you or your
friends should go without it for a single minute.'
Arthur said nothing, but he bowed his head silently. What a lot of
good there was really in that splendid woman, and what a commanding,
energetic, masterful way she had about her! To a feckless, undecided,
faltering man like Arthur Berkeley there was something wonderfully
attractive and magnificent, after all, in such an imperious resolute
woman as Lady Hilda.
'Then this is my plan,' Hilda went on hastily. 'We must do
something that'll take Mr. Le Breton out of himself for a short
time entirely--that'll give him occupation of a kind he thinks
right, and at the same time put money in his pocket. Now, he's
always talking about this socialistic business of his; but why
doesn't he tell us what he has actually seen about the life and
habits of the really poor? Mrs. Le Breton tells me he knows the
East End well: why doesn't he sit down and give us a good rattling,
rousing, frightening description of all that's in it? Of course,
I don't care twopence about the poor myself--not in the lump, I
mean--I beg your pardon, Mr. Berkeley,'--for the Progenitor gave
a start of surprise and astonishment--'you know we women are nothing
if not concrete; we never care for anything in the abstract, Mr. Le
Breton used to tell me; we want the particular case brought home
to our sympathies before we can interest ourselves about it. After
all, even YOU who are men don't feel very much for all the miserable
wretched people there are in China, you know; they're too far away
for even you to bother your heads about. But I DO care about the
Le Bretons, and it strikes me we might help them a little in this
way. I know a lot of artists, Mr. Berkeley; and I know one who
I think would just do for the very work I want to set him. (He's
poor, too, by the way, and I don't mind giving him a lift at the
same time and killing two birds with one stone.) Very well, then;
I go to him, and say, "Mr. Verney," I say,--there now, I didn't mean
to tell you his name, but no matter; "Mr. Verney," I shall say, "a
friend of mine in the writing line is going to pay some visits to
the very poor quarters in the East End, and write about it, which
will make a great noise in the world as sure as midday."'
'But how do you know it will?' asked the Progenitor, simply.
Hilda turned round upon him with an unfeigned look of startled
astonishment. 'How do I know it will?' she said confidently. 'Why,
because I mean it to, Mr. Berkeley. Because I say it shall. Because
I choose to make it. Two Cabinet ministers shall quote it in the
House, and a duke shall write letters to the "Times" denouncing it
as an intensely wicked and revolutionary publication. If I choose
to float it, I WILL float it.--Well, "Mr. Verney," I say for example,
"will you undertake to accompany him and make sketches? It'll be
unpleasant work, I know, because I've been there myself to see,
and the places don't smell nice at all--worse than Genoa or the
old town at Nice even, I can tell you: but it'll make you a name;
and in any case the publisher who's getting it up'll pay you well
for it." Of course, Mr. Verney says "Yes." Then we go on to Mr.
Le Breton and say, "A young artist of my acquaintance is making a
pilgrimage into the East End to see for himself how the people live,
and to make pictures of them to stir up the sluggish consciences of
the lazy aristocrats"--that's me and my people, of course: that'll
be the way to work it. Play upon Mr. Le Breton's tenderest feelings.
Make him feel he's fighting for the Cause; and he'll be ready to
throw himself, heart and soul, into the spirit of the project. I
don't care twopence about the Cause myself, of course, so that's
flat, and I don't pretend to, either, Mr. Berkeley; but I care a
great deal for the misery of that poor, dear, pale little woman,
sitting there with me this morning and regularly sobbing her heart
out; and if I can do anything to help her, why, I shall be only
'Le Breton's a well-meaning young fellow, certainly,' the Progenitor
murmured gently in a voice of graceful concession; 'and I believe
his heart's really in the Cause, as you call it; but you know, my
dear, he's very far from being sound in his economical views as to
the relations of capital and labour. Far from sound, as John Stuart
Mill would have judged the question, I can solemnly assure you.'
'Very well,' Hilda went on, almost without noticing the interruption.
'We shall say to him, or rather we shall get our publisher to say
to him, that as he's interested in the matter, and knows the East
End well, he has been selected--shall we put it on somebody's
recommendation?--to accompany the artist, and to supply the reading
matter, the letter-press I think you call it; in fact, to write up
to our illustrator's pictures; and that he is to be decently paid
for his trouble. He must do something graphic, something stirring,
something to wake up lazy people in the West End to a passing
sense of what he calls their responsibilities. That'll seem like
real work to Mr. Le Breton. It'll put new heart into him; he'll take
up the matter vigorously; he'll do it well; he'll write a splendid
book; and I shall guarantee its making a stir in the world this
very dull season. What's the use of knowing half the odiously
commonplace bores and prigs in all London if you can't float a
single little heterodox pamphlet for a particular purpose? What do
you think of it, Mr. Berkeley?'
Arthur sighed again. 'It seems to me, Lady Hilda,' he said, regretfully,
'a very slender straw indeed to hang Ernest Le Breton's life on:
but any straw is better than nothing to a drowning man. And you
have so much faith yourself, and mean to fling yourself into it so
earnestly, that I shouldn't be wholly surprised if you were somehow
to pull it through. If you do, Lady Hilda--if you manage to save
these two poor young people from the verge of starvation--you'll
have done a very great good work in your day, and you'll have made
me personally eternally your debtor.'
Was it mere fancy, the Progenitor wondered, or did Hilda cast her
eyes down a little and half blush as she answered in a lower and
more tremulous tone than usual, 'I hope I shall, Mr. Berkeley;
for their sakes, I hope I shall.' The Progenitor didn't feel quite
certain about it, but somehow, more than once that evening, as he
sat reading Spencer's 'Data of Ethics' in his easy-chair, a curious
vision of Lady Hilda as a future daughter-in-law floated vaguely
with singular persistence before the old shoemaker's bewildered
eyes. 'It'd be a shocking falling away on Artie's part from his
father's principles,' he muttered inarticulately to himself several
times over; 'and yet, on the other hand, I can't deny that this bit
of a Tregellis girl is really a very tidy, good-looking, respectable,
well-meaning, intelligent, and appreciative sort of a young woman,
who'd, maybe, make Artie as good a wife as anybody else he'd be
likely to pitch on.'
THE TIDE TURNS.
When Ernest Le Breton got a letter from the business house of a
well-known publishing firm, asking him whether he would consent to
supply appropriate letterpress for an illustrated work on the poor
of London, then in course of preparation, his delight and relief
were positively unbounded. That anyone should come and ask him for
work, instead of his asking them, was in itself a singular matter
for surprise and congratulation; that the request should be based
on the avowed ground of his known political and social opinions
was almost incredible. Ernest felt that it was a triumph, not only
for him, but for his dearly-loved principles and beliefs as well.
For the first time in his life, he was going to undertake a piece
of work which he not only thought not wrong, but even considered
hopeful and praise-worthy. Arthur Berkeley, who called round as if
by accident the same morning, saw with delight that Lady Hilda's
prognostication seemed likely to be fulfilled, and that if only
Ernest could be given some congenial occupation there was still
a chance, after all, for his permanent recovery; for it was clear
enough that as there was hope, there must be a little life yet left
It was Lady Hilda who, as she herself expressively phrased it,
had squared the publishers. She had called upon the head of the
well-known house in person, and had told him fully and frankly
exactly what was the nature of the interest she took in the poor
of London. At first the publisher was scandalised and obdurate: the
thing was not regular, he said--not in the ordinary way of business;
his firm couldn't go writing letters of that sort to unknown young
authors and artists. If she wanted the work done, she must let them
give her own name as the promoter of the undertaking. But Hilda
persevered, as she always did; she smiled, pleaded, cajoled,
threatened, and made desperate love to the publisher to gain his
acquiescence in her benevolent scheme. After all, even publishers
are only human (though authors have been frequently known to deny
the fact); and human nature, especially in England, is apt to
be very little proof against the entreaties of a pretty girl who
happens also to be an earl's daughter. So in the end, when Lady Hilda
said most bewitchingly, 'I put it upon the grounds of a personal
favour, Mr. Percival,' the obdurate publisher gave way at last,
and consented to do her bidding gladly.
For six weeks Ernest went daily with Ronald and the young artist into
the familiar slums of Bethnal Green, and Bermondsey, and Lambeth,
whose ins and outs he was beginning to know with painful accuracy;
and every night he came back, and wrote down with a glowing pen all
that he had seen and heard of distressing and terrible during his
day's peregrination. It was an awful task from one point of view,
for the scenes he had to visit and describe were often heart-rending;
and Arthur feared more than once that the air of so many loathsome
and noxious dens might still further accelerate the progress of
Ernest's disease; but Lady Hilda said emphatically, No; and somehow
Arthur was beginning now to conceive an immense respect for the
practical value of Lady Hilda's vehement opinions. As a matter of
fact, indeed, Ernest did not visibly suffer at all either from the
unwonted hard work or from the strain upon mind and body to which
he had been so little accustomed. Distressing as it all was, it
was change, it was variety, it was occupation, it was relief from
that terrible killing round of perpetual personal responsibility.
Above all, Ernest really believed that here at last was an
opportunity of doing some practical good in his generation, and he
threw himself into it with all the passionate ardour of a naturally
eager and vivid nature. The enthusiasm of humanity was upon him, and
it kept him going at high-pressure rate, with no apparent loss of
strength and vigour throughout the whole ordeal. To Arthur Berkeley's
intense delight, he was even visibly fatter to the naked eye at the
end of his six weeks' exploration of the most dreary and desolate
slums in all London.
The book was written at white heat, as the best of such books always
are, and it was engraved and printed at the very shortest possible
notice. Terrible and ghastly it certainly was at last--instinct
with all the grim local colouring of those narrow, squalid,
fever-stricken dens, where misfortune and crime huddle together
indiscriminately in dirt and misery--a book to make one's blood run
cold with awe and disgust, and to stir up even the callous apathy
of the great rich capitalist West End to a passing moment's
ineffective remorse; but very clever and very graphic after its
own sort beyond the shadow of a question, for all its horror. When
Arthur Berkeley turned over the first proof-sheets of 'London's
Shame,' with its simple yet thrilling recital of true tales taken
down from the very lips of outcast children or stranded women, with
its awful woodcuts and still more awful descriptions--word-pictures
reeking with the vice and filth and degradation of the most
pestilent, overcrowded, undrained tenements--he felt instinctively
that Ernest Le Breton's book would not need the artificial aid of
Lady Hilda's influential friends in order to make it successful
and even famous. The Cabinet ministers might be as silent as they
chose, the indignant duke might confine his denunciations to the
attentive and sympathetic ear of his friend Lord Connemara; but
nothing on earth could prevent Ernest Le Breton's fiery and scathing
diatribe from immediately enthralling the public attention. Lady
Hilda had hit upon the exact subject which best suited his peculiar
character and temperament, and he had done himself full justice in
it. Not that Ernest had ever thought of himself, or even of his
style, or the effect he was producing by his narrative; it was just
the very non-self-consciousness of the thing that gave it its power.
He wrote down the simple thoughts that came up into his own eager
mind at the sight of so much inequality and injustice; and the
motto that Arthur prefixed upon the title-page, 'Facit indignatio
versum,' aptly described the key-note of that fierce and angry
final denunciation. 'Yes, Lady Hilda had certainly hit the right
nail on the head,' Arthur Berkeley said to himself more than once:
'A wonderful woman, truly, that beautiful, stately, uncompromising,
brilliant, and still really tender Hilda Tregellis.'
Hilda, on her part, worked hard and well for the success of Ernest's
book as soon as it appeared. Nay, she even condescended (not being
what Ernest himself would have described as an ethical unit) to
practise a little gentle hypocrisy in suiting her recommendations
of 'London's Shame' to the tastes and feelings of her various
acquaintances. To her Radical Cabinet minister friend, she openly
praised its outspoken zeal for the cause of the people, and its