Part 8 out of 8
value as a wonderful storehouse of useful facts at first hand for
political purposes in the increasingly important outlying Metropolitan
boroughs. 'Just think, Sir Edmund,' she said, persuasively, 'how
you could crush any Conservative candidate for Hackney or the Tower
Hamlets out of that awful chapter on the East End match-makers;'
while with the Duke, to whom she presented a marked copy as a
sample of what our revolutionary thinkers were really coming to,
she insisted rather upon its wicked interference with the natural
rights of landlords, and its abominable insinuation (so subversive
of all truly English ideas as to liberty and property) that they
were bound not to poison their tenants by total neglect of sanitary
precautions. 'If I were you, now,' she said to the Duke in the
most seemingly simple-minded manner possible, 'I'd just quote those
passages I've marked in pencil in the House to-night on the Small
Urban Holdings Bill, and point out how the wave of Continental
Socialism is at last invading England with its devastating flood.'
And the Duke, who was a complacent, thick-headed, obstinate old
gentleman, congenitally incapable of looking at any question from
any other point of view whatsoever except that of his own order,
fell headlong passively into Lady Hilda's cruel little trap, and
murmured to himself as he rolled down luxuriously to the august
society of his peers that evening, 'Tremendous clever girl, Hilda
Tregellis, really. "Wave of Continental Socialism at last invading
England with its what-you-may-call-it flood," she said, if I remember
rightly. Capital sentence to end off one's speech with, I declare.
Devizes'll positively wonder where I got it from. I'd no idea before
that girl took such an intelligent interest in political questions.
So they want their cottages whitewashed, do they? What'll they ask
for next, I wonder? Do they think we're to be content at last with
one and a-half per cent, upon the fee-simple value of our estates,
I should like to know? Why, some of the places this writer-fellow
talks about are on my own property in The Rookery--"one of the most
noisome court-yards in all London," he actually calls it. Whitewash
their cottages, indeed! The lazy improvident creatures! They'll
be asking us to put down encaustic tiles upon the floors next, and
to paper their walls with Japanese leather or fashionable dados.
Really, the general ignorance that prevails among the working classes
as to the clearest principles of political economy is something
absolutely appalling, absolutely appalling.' And his Grace scribbled
a note in his memorandum-book of Hilda's ready-made peroration, for
fear he should forget its precise wording before he began to give
the House the benefit of his views that night upon the political
economy of Small Urban Holdings.
Next morning, all London was talking of the curious coincidence
by which a book from the pen of an unknown author, published only
one day previously, had been quoted and debated upon simultaneously
in both Houses of Parliament on a single evening. In the Commons,
Sir Edmund Calverley, the distinguished Radical minister, had read
a dozen pages from the unknown work in his declamatory theatrical
fashion, and had so electrified the House with its graphic and
horrible details that even Mr. Fitzgerald-Grenville, the well-known
member for the Baroness Drummond-Lloyd (whose rotten or at least
decomposing borough of Cherbury Minor he faithfully represented in
three successive Parliaments), had mumbled out a few half-inaudible
apologetic sentences about this state of things being truly
deplorable, and about the necessity for meeting such a distressing
social crisis by the prompt and vigorous application of that excellent
specific and familiar panacea, a spirited foreign policy. In the
Lords, the Duke himself, by some untoward coincidence, had been
moved to make a few quotations, accompanied by a running fire of
essentially ducal criticism, from the very selfsame obscure author;
and to his immense surprise, even the members of his own party
moved uneasily in their seats during the course of his speech; while
later in the evening, Lord Devizes muttered to him angrily in the
robing-room, 'Look here, Duke, you've been and put your foot in it,
I assure you, about that Radical book you were ill-advised enough
to quote from. You ought never to have treated the Small Urban
Holdings Bill in the way you did; and just you mark my words,
the papers'll all be down upon you to-morrow morning, as sure as
daylight. You've given the "Bystander" such an opening against
you as you'll never forget till your dying day, I can tell you.'
And as the Duke drove back again after his arduous legislative
efforts that evening, he said to himself between the puffs at his
Havana, 'This comes, now, of allowing oneself to be made a fool
of by a handsome woman. How the dooce I could ever have gone and
taken Hilda Tregellis's advice on a political question is really
more than I can fathom:--and at my time of life too! And yet, all
the same, there's no denying that she's a devilish fine woman, by
Jove, if ever there was one.'
Of course, everybody asked themselves next day what this book
'London's Shame' was like, and who on earth its author could be;
so much so, indeed, that a large edition was completely exhausted
within a fortnight. It was the great sensational success of that
London season. Everybody read it, discussed it, dissected it,
corroborated it, refuted it, fought over it, and wrote lengthy
letters to all the daily papers about its faults and its merits.
Imitators added their sincerest flattery: rivals proclaimed themselves
the original discoverers of 'London's Shame': one enterprising author
even thought of going to law about it as a question of copyright.
Owners of noisome lanes in the East End trembled in their shoes,
and sent their agents to inquire into the precise degree of squalor
to be found in the filthy courts and alleys where they didn't care
to trust their own sensitive aristocratic noses. It even seemed as
if a little real good was going to come at last out of Ernest Le
Breton's impassioned pleading--as if the sensation were going to
fall not quite flat at the end of its short run in the clubs and
drawing-rooms of London as a nine days' wonder.
And Ernest Le Breton? and Edie? In the little lodgings at Holloway,
they sat first trembling for the result, and ready to burst with
excitement when Lady Hilda, up at the unwonted hour of six in the
morning, tore into their rooms with an early copy of the 'Times'
to show them the Duke's speech, and Sir Edmund's quotations, and
the editorial leader in which even that most dignified and reticent
of British journals condescended to speak with studiously moderated
praise of the immense collection of facts so ably strung together
by Mr. Ernest Le Breton (in all the legible glory of small capitals,
too,) as to the undoubtedly disgraceful condition of some at
least among our London alleys. How Edie clung around Lady Hilda
and kissed her! and how Lady Hilda kissed her back and cried over
her with tears of happier augury! and how they both kissed and
cried over unconscious wondering little Dot! And how Lady Hilda
could almost have fallen upon Ernest, too, as he sat gazing in
blank astonishment and delight at his own name in the magnificent
small capitals of a 'Times' leader. Between crying and laughing,
with much efficient aid in both from good Mrs. Halliss, they hardly
knew how they ever got through the long delightful hours of that
memorable epoch-making morning.
And then there came the gradual awakening to the fact that this
was really fame--fame, and perhaps also competence. First in the
field, of course, was the editor of the 'Cosmopolitan Review,'
with a polite request that Ernest would give the readers of that
intensely hot-and-hot and thoughtful periodical the opportunity of
reading his valuable views on the East End outcast question, before
they had had time to be worth nothing for journalistic purposes,
through the natural and inevitable cooling of the public interest
in this new sensation. Then his old friends of the 'Morning
Intelligence' once more begged that he would be good enough to
contribute a series of signed and headed articles to their columns,
on the slums and fever dens of poverty-stricken London. Next,
an illustrated weekly asked him to join with his artist friend in
getting up another pilgrimage into yet undiscovered metropolitan
plague-spots. And so, before the end of a month, Ernest Le Breton,
for the first time in his life, had really got more work to do
than he could easily manage, and work, too, that he felt he could
throw his whole life and soul into with perfect honesty.
When the first edition of 'London's Shame' was exhausted, there
was already a handsome balance to go to Ernest and his artist
coadjutor, who, by the terms of the agreement, were to divide
between them half the profits. The other half, for appearance'
sake, Lady Hilda and Arthur had been naturally compelled to reserve
for themselves: for of course it would not have been probable that
any publisher would have undertaken the work without any hope of
profit in any way. Arthur called upon Hilda at Lord Exmoor's house
in Wilton Place to show her the first balance-sheet and accompanying
cheque. 'What on earth can we do with it?' he asked seriously. 'We
can't divide it between us: and yet we can't give it to the poor
Le Bretons. I don't see how we're to manage.'
'Why, of course,' Hilda answered promptly. 'Put it into the Consols
or whatever you call it, for the benefit of little Dot.'
'The very thing!' Arthur answered in a tone of obvious admiration.
'What a wonderfully practical person you really are, Lady Hilda.'
As to Ernest and Edie, when they got their own cheque for their
quarter of the proceeds, they gazed in awe and astonishment at the
bigness of the figure; and then they sat down and cried together
like two children, with their hands locked in one another's.
'And you'll get well, now, Ernest dear,' Edie whispered gently.
'Why, you're ever so much fatter, darling, already. I'm sure you'll
get well in no time, now, Ernest.'
'Upon my word, Edie,' Ernest answered, kissing her white forehead
tenderly, 'I really and truly believe I shall. It's my opinion
that Sir Antony Wraxall's an unmitigated ignorant humbug.'
A few weeks later, when Ernest's remarkable article on 'How to Improve
the Homes of the Poor' appeared in one of the leading magazines,
Mr. Herbert Le Breton of the Education Office looked up from his
cup of post-prandial coffee in his comfortable dining-room at South
Kensington, and said musingly to his young wife, 'Do you know,
Ethel, it seems to me that my brother Ernest's going to score a
success at last with this slum-hunting business that he's lately
invented. There's an awful lot about it now in all the papers
and reviews. Perhaps it might be as well, after all, to scrape an
acquaintance with him again, especially as he's my own brother.
There's no knowing, really, when a man of his peculiar ill-regulated
mercurial temperament may be going to turn out famous. Don't you
think you'd better find out where they're living now--they've left
Holloway, no doubt, since this turn of the tide--and go and call
upon Mrs. Ernest?'
Whereto Mrs. Herbert Le Breton, raising her eyes for a moment from
the pages of her last new novel, answered languidly: 'Don't you
think, Herbert, it'd be better to wait a little while and see how
things turn out with them in the long run, you know, before we
commit ourselves by going to call upon them? One swallow, you see,
doesn't make a summer, does it, dear, ever?' Whence the acute and
intelligent reader will doubtless conclude that Mrs. Herbert Le
Breton was a very prudent sensible young woman, and that perhaps
even Herbert himself had met at last with his fitting Nemesis. For
what worse purgatory could his bitterest foe wish for a selfishly
prudent and cold-hearted man, than that he should pass his whole
lifetime in congenial intercourse with a selfishly prudent and
cold-hearted wife, exactly after his own pattern?
OUT OF THE HAND OP THE PHILISTINES.
Ernest's unexpected success with 'London's Shame' was not, as Arthur
Berkeley at first feared it might be, the mere last dying flicker
of a weak and failing life. Arthur was quite right, indeed, when
he said one day to Lady Hilda that its very brilliancy and fervour
had the hectic glow about it, as of a man who was burning himself
out too fiercely and rapidly; you could read the feverish eagerness
of the writer in every line; but still, Lady Hilda answered with
her ordinary calm assurance that it was all going well, and that
Ernest only needed the sense of security to pull him round again;
and as usual, Lady Hilda's practical sagacity was not at fault.
The big pamphlet--for it was hardly more than that--soon proved
an opening for further work, in procuring which Hilda and Arthur
were again partially instrumental. An advanced Radical member
of Parliament, famous for his declamations against the capitalist
faction, and his enormous holding of English railway stock, was
induced to come forward as the founder of a new weekly paper,
'in the interest of social reform.' Of course the thing was got
up solely with an idea to utilising Ernest as editor, for, said
the great anti-capitalist with his usual charming frankness, 'the
young fellow has a positive money-value, now, if he's taken in hand
at once before the sensation's over, and there can be no harm in
turning an honest penny by exploiting him, you know, and starting
a popular paper.' When Ernest was offered the post of editor to
the new periodical, at a salary which almost alarmed him by its
plutocratic magnificence (for it was positively no less than six
hundred a year), he felt for a moment some conscientious scruples
about accepting so splendid a post. And when Lady Hilda in her
emphatic fashion promptly over-ruled these nascent scruples by the
application of the very simple solvent formula, 'Bosh!' he felt
bound at least to stipulate that he should be at perfect liberty
to say whatever he liked in the new paper, without interference or
supervision from the capitalist proprietor. To which the Radical
member, in his business capacity, immediately responded, 'Why,
certainly. What we want to pay you for is just your power of startling
people, which, in its proper place, is a very useful marketable
commodity. Every pig has its value--if only you sell it in the
'The Social Reformer, a Weekly Advocate of the New Economy,' achieved
at once an immense success among the working classes, and grew
before long to be one of the most popular journals of the second
rank in all London. The interest that Ernest had aroused by his big
pamphlet was carried on to his new venture, which soon managed to
gain many readers by its own intrinsic merits. 'Seen your brother's
revolutionary broadsheet, Le Breton?' asked a friend at the club
of Herbert not many weeks later--he was the same person who had
found it 'so very embarrassing' to recognise Ernest--in his shabby
days when walking with a Q.C.--'It's a dreadful tissue of the
reddest French communism, I believe, but still, it's scored the
biggest success of its sort in journalism, I'm told, since the
days of Kenealy's "Englishman." Bradbury, who's found the money to
start it--deuced clever fellow in his way, Bradbury!--is making an
awful lot out of the speculation, they say. What do you think of
the paper, eh?'
Herbert drew himself up grimly. 'To tell you the truth,' he said
in his stiffest style, 'I haven't yet had time to look at a copy.
Ernest Le Breton's not a man in whose affairs I feel called upon to
take any special interest; and I haven't put myself to the trouble
of reading his second-hand political lucubrations. Faint echoes of
Max Schurz, all of it, no doubt; and having read and disposed of
Schurz himself long ago, I don't feel inclined now to go in for a
second supplementary course of Schurz and water.'
'Well, well, that may be so,' the friend answered, turning over the
pages of the peccant periodical carelessly; 'but all the same I'm
afraid your brother's really going to do an awful lot of mischief
in the way of setting class against class, and stirring up the
dangerous orders to recognise their own power. You see, Le Breton,
the real danger of this sort of thing lies in the fact that your
brother Ernest's a more or less educated and cultivated person. I
don't say he's really got any genuine depth of culture--would you
believe it, he told me once he'd never read Rabelais, and didn't
want to?--and of course a man of true culture in the grain, like
you and me now, my dear fellow, would never dream of going and
mistaking these will-o'-the-wisps of socialism for the real guiding
light of regenerated humanity--of course not. But the dangerous
symptom at the present day lies just in the fact that while the
papers written for the mob used to be written by vulgar, noisy,
self-made, half-educated demagogues, they're sent out now with all
the authority and specious respectability of decently instructed
and comparatively literary English gentlemen. Now, nobody can
deny that that's a thing very seriously to be regretted; and for my
part I'm extremely sorry your brother has been ill-advised enough
to join the mob that's trying to pull down our comfortably built
and after all eminently respectable, even if somewhat patched up,
old British constitution.'
'The subject's one,' Herbert answered curtly, 'in which I for my
part cannot pretend to feel the remotest personal interest.'
Ernest and Edie, howerer, in the little lodgings up at Holloway,
which they couldn't bear to desert even now in this sudden burst
of incredible prosperity, went their own way as self-containedly
as usual, wholly unconcerned by the non-arrival of Mrs. Herbert
on a visit of ceremony, or the failure of the 'Social Reformer' to
pierce the lofty ethereal regions of abstract contemplation where
Herbert himself sat throned like an Epicurean god in the pure halo
of cultivated pococurantism. Every day, as that eminent medical
authority, Hilda Tregellis, had truly prophesied, Ernest's cheeks
grew less and less sunken, and a little colour returned slowly
to their midst; while Edie's face was less pale than of old, and
her smile began to recover something of its old-fashioned girlish
joyousness. She danced about once more as of old, and Arthur Berkeley,
when he dropped in of a Sunday afternoon for a chat with Ernest,
noticed with pleasure that little Miss Butterfly was beginning to
flit round again almost as naturally as in the old days when he
first saw her light little form among the grey old pillars of Magdalen
Cloisters. Yet he couldn't help observing, too, that his feeling
towards her was more one of mere benevolence now, and less of tender
regret, than it used to be even a few short months before, in the
darkest days of Edie's troubles. Could it be, he asked himself
more than once, that the tall stately picture of Hilda Tregellis
was overshadowing in his heart the natural photograph of that
unwedded Edie Oswald that he once imagined was so firmly imprinted
there? Ah well, ah well, it may be true that a man can love really
but once in his whole lifetime; and yet, the second spurious
imitation is positively sometimes a very good facsimile of the
genuine first impression, for all that.
As the months went slowly round, too, the time came in the end for
good Herr Max to be released at last from his long imprisonment.
On the day that he came out, there was a public banquet at the
Marylebone dancing saloon; and all the socialists and communards
were there, and all the Russian nihilists, and all the other
wicked revolutionary plotters in all London: and in the chair sat
Ernest Le Breton, now the editor of an important social paper, while
at his left hand, to balance the guest of the evening, sat Arthur
Berkeley, the well-known dramatic author, who was himself more than
suspected of being the timid Nicodemus of the new faith. And when
Ernest announced that Herr Schurz had consented to aid him on the
'Social Reformer,' and to add the wisdom of age to the impetuosity
of youth in conducting its future, the simple enthusiasm of the wicked
revolutionists knew no bounds. And they cried 'Hoch!' and 'Viva!'
and 'Hooray!' and many other like inarticulate shouts in many
varieties of interjectional dialect all the evening; and everybody
agreed that after all Herr Max was VERY little grayer than before
the trial, in spite of his long and terrible term of imprisonment.
He WAS a little embittered by his troubles, no doubt;--what can
you expect if you clap men in prison for the expression of their
honest political convictions?--but Ernest tried to keep his eye
steadily rather on the future than on the past; and with greater
ease and unwonted comforts the old man's cheerfulness as well as
his enthusiasm gradually returned. 'I'm too old now to do anything
more worth doing myself before I die,' he used to say, holding
Ernest's arm tightly in his vice-like grip: 'but I have great hopes
in spite of everything for friend Ernest; I have very great hopes
indeed for friend Ernest here. There's no knowing yet what he may
Ernest only smiled a trifle sadly, and murmured half to himself that
this was a hard world, and he began himself to fear there was no
fitting feeling for a social reformer except one of a brave despair.
'We can do little or nothing, after all,' he said slowly; 'and
our only consolation must be that even that little is perhaps just
LAND AT LAST: BUT WHAT LAND?
Long before the 'Social Reformer' had fully made its mark in the
world, another event had happened of no less importance to some
of the chief actors in the little drama whose natural termination
it seemed to form. While the pamphlet and the paper were in course
of maturation, Arthur Berkeley had been running daily in and out
of the house in Wilton Place in what Lady Exmoor several times
described as a positively disgraceful and unseemly manner. ('What
Hilda can mean,' her ladyship observed to her husband more than
once, 'by encouraging that odd young man's extraordinary advances
in the way she does is really more than I can understand even in
her.') But when the Le Bretons were fairly launched at last on the
favourable flood of full prosperity, both Hilda and Arthur began to
feel as though they had suddenly been deprived of a very pleasant
common interest. After all, benevolent counsel on behalf of other
people is not so entirely innocent and impersonal in certain cases
as it seems to be at first sight. 'Do you know, Lady Hilda,'
Berkeley said one afternoon, when he had come to pay, as it were,
a sort of farewell visit, on the final completion of their joint
schemes for restoring happiness to the home of the Le Bretons,
'our intercourse together has been very delightful, and I'm quite
sorry to think that in future we must see so much less of one another
than we've been in the habit of doing for the last month or so.'
Hilda looked at him straight and said in her own frank unaffected
fashion, 'So am I, Mr. Berkeley, very sorry, very sorry indeed.'
Arthur looked back at her once more, and their eyes met. His
look was full of admiration, and Hilda saw it. She moved a little
uneasily upon the ottoman, waiting apparently as though she expected
Arthur to say something else. But Arthur looked at her long and
steadfastly, and said nothing.
At last he seemed to wake from his reverie, and make up his mind
for a desperate venture. Could he be mistaken? Could he have read
either record wrong--his own heart, or Hilda's eyes? No, no, both
of them spoke to him too plainly and evidently. His heart was
fluttering like a wind-shaken aspen-leaf; and Hilda's eyes were
dimming visibly with a tender moisture. Yes, yes, yes, there was
no misreading possible. He knew he loved her! he knew she loved
Bending over towards where Hilda sat, he took her hand in
his dreamily: and Hilda let him take it without a movement. Then
he looked deeply into her eyes, and felt a curious speechlessness
coming over him, deep down in the ball of his throat.
'Lady Hilda,' he began at last with an effort, in a low voice, not
wholly untinged with natural timidity, 'Lady Hilda, is a working
Hilda looked back at him with a sudden look of earnest deprecation.
'Not that way, Mr. Berkeley,' she said quietly: 'not that way,
please: you'll hurt me if you do: you know that's not the way _I_
look at the matter. Why not simply "Hilda"?'
Berkeley clasped her hand eagerly and raised it to his lips. 'Hilda,
then,' he said, kissing it twice over. 'It SHALL be Hilda.'
Hilda rose and stood before him erect in all her queenlike beauty.
'So now that's settled,' she said, with a vain endeavour to control
her tears of joy. 'Don't let's talk about it any more, now; I can't
bear to talk about it: there's nothing to arrange, Arthur. Whenever
you like will suit me. But, oh, I'm so happy, so happy, so happy--I
never thought I could be so happy.'
'Nor I,' Arthur answered, holding her hand a moment in his tenderly.
'How strange,' Hilda said again, after a minute's delicious silence;
'it's the poor Le Bretons who have brought us two thus together.
And yet, they were both once our dearest rivals. YOU were in love
with Edie Le Breton: _I_ was half in love with Ernest Le Breton:
and now--why, now, Arthur, I DO believe we're both utterly in love
with one another. What a curious little comedy of errors!'
'And yet only a few months ago it came very near being a tragedy,
rather,' Arthur put in softly.
'Never mind!' Hilda answered in her brightest and most joyous tone,
as she wiped the joyful tears from her eyes. 'It isn't a tragedy,
now, after all, Arthur, and all's well that ends well!'
When the Countess heard of Hilda's determination--Hilda didn't
pretend to go through the domestic farce of asking her mother's
consent to her approaching marriage--she said that so far as she
was concerned a more shocking or un-Christian piece of conduct on
the part of a well-brought-up girl had never yet been brought to
her knowledge. To refuse Lord Connemara, and then go and marry the
son of a common cobbler! But the Earl only puffed away vigorously
at his cheroot, and observed philosophically that for his part he
just considered himself jolly well out of it. This young fellow
Berkeley mightn't be a man of the sort of family Hilda would
naturally expect to marry into, but he was decently educated and
in good society, and above all, a gentleman, you know, don't you
know: and, hang it all, in these days that's really everything.
Besides, Berkeley was making a pot of money out of these operas
of his, the Earl understood, and as he had always expected that
Hilda'd marry some penniless painter or somebody of that sort, and
be a perpetual drag upon the family exchequer, he really didn't see
why they need trouble their heads very much about it. By George,
if it came to that, he rather congratulated himself that the girl
hadn't taken it into her nonsensical head to run away with the groom
or the stable-boy! As to Lynmouth, he merely remarked succinctly in
his own dialect, 'Go it, Hilda, go it, my beauty! You always were
a one-er, you know, and it's my belief you always will be.'
It was somewhere about the same time that Ronald Le Breton, coming
back gladdened in soul from a cheerful talk with Ernest, called
round of an evening in somewhat unwonted exultation at Selah's
lodgings. 'Selah,' he said to her calmly, as she met him at the door
to let him in herself, 'I want to have a little talk with you.'
'What is it about, Ronald?' Selah asked, with a perfect consciousness
in her own mind of what the subject he wished to discourse about
was likely to be.
'Why, Selah,' Ronald went on in his quiet, matter-of-fact, unobtrusive
manner, 'do you know, I think we may fairly consider Ernest and
Edie out of danger now.'
'I hope so, Ronald,' Selah answered imperturbably. 'I've no doubt
your brother'll get along all right in future, and I'm sure at least
that he's getting stronger, for he looks ten per cent. better than
he did three months ago.'
'Why, in that case, you see, your objection falls to the ground.
There can be no possible reason on either side why you should any
longer put off marrying me. We needn't consider Edie now; and you
can't have any reasonable doubt that I want to marry you for your
own sake this time.'
'What a nuisance the man is!' Selah cried impetuously. 'Always
bothering a body out of her nine senses to go and marry him. Have
you never read what Paul says, that it's good for the unmarried
and widows to abide? He was always dead against the advisability
of marriage, Paul was.'
'Brother Paul was an able and earnest preacher,' Ronald murmured
gravely, 'from whose authority I should be sorry to dissent except
for sufficient and weighty reason; but you must admit that on this
particular question he was prejudiced, Selah, decidedly prejudiced,
and that the balance of the best opinion goes distinctly the other
Selah laughed lightly. 'Oh, does it?' she said, in her provoking,
mocking manner. 'Then you propose to marry me, I suppose, on the
balance of the best Scriptural opinion.'
'Not at all, Selah,' Ronald replied without a touch of anything
but grave earnestness in his tone--it must be admitted Ronald was
distinctly lacking in the sense of humour. 'Not at all, I assure
you. I propose to marry you because I love you, and I believe in
your heart of hearts you love me, too, you provoking girl, though
you're too proud or too incomprehensible ever to acknowledge it.'
'And even if I do?' Selah asked. 'What then?'
'Why, then, Selah,' Ronald answered confidently, taking her hand
boldly in his own and actually kissing her--yes, kissing her; 'why,
then, Selah, suppose we say Monday fortnight?'
'It's awfully soon,' Selah replied, half grumbling. 'You don't give
a body time to think it over.'
'Certainly not,' Ronald responded, quickly, taking the handsome
face firmly between his two spare hands, and kissing her lips half
a dozen times over in rapid succession.
'Let me go, Ronald,' Selah cried, struggling to be free, and trying
in vain to tear down his thin wiry arms with her own strong shapely
hands. 'Let me go at once,--there's a good boy, and I'll marry you
on Monday fortnight, or do anything else you like, just to keep
you quiet. After all, you're a kind-hearted fellow enough, and you
want looking after and taking care of, and if you insist upon it,
I don't mind giving way to you in this small matter.'
Ronald stepped back a pace or two, and stood looking at her a little
sadly with his hands folded. 'Oh, Selah,' he cried in a tone of
bitter disappointment, 'don't speak like that to me, don't, please.
Don't, don't tell me that you don't really love me--that you're
going to marry me for nothing else but out of mere compassion for
my weakness and helplessness!'
Selah burst at once into a wild flood of uncontrollable tears: 'Oh,
Ronald,' she cried in her old almost fiercely passionate manner,
flinging her arms around his neck and covering him with kisses;
'Oh, Ronald, how can you ever ask me whether I really really love
you! You know I love you! You know I love you! You've given me back
life and everything that's dear in it, and I never want to live
for anything any longer except to love you, and wait upon you,
and make you happy. I'm stronger than you, Ronald, and I shall be
able to do a little to make you happy, I do believe. My ways are
not your ways, nor my thoughts your thoughts, my darling; but I
love you all the better for that, Ronald, I love you all the better
for that; and if you were to kick me, beat me, trample on me now,
Ronald, I should love you, love you, love you for ever still.'
So they two were quietly married, with no audience save Ernest and
Edie, on that very Monday fortnight.
When Herbert Le Breton heard of it from his mother a few days later,
he went home at once to his own eminently cultured home and told
Mrs. Le Breton the news, of course without much detailed allusion
to Selah's earlier antecedents. 'And do you know, Ethel,' he added
significantly, 'I think it was an excellent thing that you decided
not to call after all upon Ernest's wife, for I'm sure it'll be
a great deal safer for you and me to have nothing to say in any
way to the whole faction of them. A greengrocer's daughter, you
know--quite unpresentable. They'll be all mixed up together in
future, which'll make it quite impossible to know the one without
at the same time knowing the other. Now, it'd be just practicable
for you to call upon Mrs. Ernest, I must admit, but to call upon
Mrs. Ronald would be really and truly too inconceivable.'
At the end of the first year of the 'Social Reformer,' the annual
balance was duly audited, and it showed a very considerable and
solid surplus to go into the pocket of the enterprising Radical
proprietor. Ernest and Herr Max scanned it closely together, and
even Ernest could not refrain from a smile of pleasure when he saw
how thoroughly successful the doubtful venture had finally turned
out. 'And yet,' he said regretfully, as he looked at the heavy
balance-sheet, 'what a strange occupation after all for the author
of "Gold and the Proletariate," to be looking carefully over the
sum-total of a capitalist's final balance! To think, too, that all
that money has come out of the hard-earned scraped-up pennies of
the toiling poor! I often wish, Herr Max, that even so I had been
brought up an honest shoemaker! But whether I'm really earning my
salt at the hands of humanity now or not is a deep problem I often
have many an uncomfortable internal sigh over to this day.'
'There is work and work, friend Ernest,' Herr Max answered, as gently
as had been his wont in older years; 'and for my part it seems to
me you are better here writing your Social Reformers than making
shoes for a single generation. One man builds for to-day, another
man builds for to-morrow; and he that plants a fruit tree for his
children to eat of is doing as much good work in the world as he
that sows the corn in spring to be reaped and eaten at this autumn's
'Perhaps so,' Ernest answered softly. 'I wish I could think so.
But after all I'm not quite sure whether, if we had all starved
eighteen months ago together, as seemed so likely then, it wouldn't
have been the most right thing in the end that could possibly have
happened to all of us. As things are constituted now, there seems
only one life that's really worth living for an honest man, and
that's a martyr's. A martyr's or else a worker's. And I, I greatly
fear, have managed somehow to miss being either. The wind carries
us this way and that, and when we would do that which is right, it
drifts us away incontinently into that which is only profitable.'
'Dear Ernest,' Edie cried in her bright old-fashioned manner from
the ofice door, 'Dot has come in her new frock to bring Daddy home
for her birthday dinner as she was promised. Come quick, or your
little daughter'll be very angry with you. And Lady Hilda Berkeley
has come, too, to drive us back in her own brougham. Now don't
be a silly, there's a dear, or say that you can't drive away from
the office of the "Social Reformer" in Lady Hilda's brougham!'