Part 1 out of 5
THE CORYSTON FAMILY
MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
ILLUSTRATED BY ELIZABETH SHIPPEN GREEN
G.M.T. AND J.P.T.
"HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN CONCOCTING THIS, MOTHER?" _Frontispiece_
THE CONVERSATION DROPPED, JUST AS THE VOICE OF THE ORATOR ROSE TO HIS
AS SHE SAW MARCIA HER FACE LIT UP
THIS MORNING HE FOUND HER ALL GIRLISH GENTLENESS AND APPEAL
"I DO WISH I COULD HELP YOU"
MARCIA WAS SINGING, IN A LOW VOICE AS SHE CAME
HE SAT STILL, STUDYING HIS MOTHER'S STRONG, LINED FACE
NOW SUDDENLY--HERE WAS A FRIEND--ON WHOM TO LEAN
[Greek: turannon einai moria kai tonthelein.]
The hands of the clock on the front of the Strangers' Gallery were nearing
six. The long-expected introductory speech of the Minister in charge of the
new Land Bill was over, and the leader of the Opposition was on his feet.
The House of Commons was full and excited. The side galleries were no less
crowded than the benches below, and round the entrance-door stood a compact
throng of members for whom no seats were available. With every sentence,
almost, the speaker addressing the House struck from it assent or protest;
cheers and counter-cheers ran through its ranks; while below the gangway
a few passionate figures on either side, the freebooters of the two great
parties, watched one another angrily, sitting on the very edge of their
seats, like arrows drawn to the string.
Within that privileged section of the Ladies' Gallery to which only the
Speaker's order admits, there was no less agitation than on the floor
below, though the signs of it were less evident. Some half a dozen chairs
placed close against the grille were filled by dusky forms invisible, save
as a dim patchwork, to the House beneath them--women with their faces
pressed against the lattice-work which divided them from the Chamber,
endeavoring to hear and see, in spite of all the difficulties placed in
their way by a graceless Commons. Behind them stood other women, bending
forward sometimes over the heads of those in front, in the feverish effort
to catch the words of the speech. It was so dark in the little room that
no inmate of it could be sure of the identity of any other unless she was
close beside her; and it was pervaded by a constant soft _frou-frou_
of silk and satin, as persons from an inner room moved in and out, or some
lady silently gave up her seat to a new-comer, or one of those in front
bent over to whisper to a friend behind. The background of all seemed
filled with a shadowy medley of plumed hats, from which sometimes a face
emerged as a shaft of faint light from the illumined ceiling of the House
struck upon it.
The atmosphere was very hot, and heavy with the scent of violets, which
seemed to come from a large bunch worn by a slim standing girl. In front
of the girl sat a lady who was evidently absorbed in the scene below. She
rarely moved, except occasionally to put up an eyeglass the better to
enable her to identify some face on the Parliamentary benches, or the
author of some interruption to the speaker. Meanwhile the girl held her
hands upon the back of the lady's chair, and once or twice stooped to speak
Next to this pair, but in a corner of the gallery, and occupying what
seemed to be a privileged and habitual seat, was a woman of uncouth figure
and strange headgear. Since the Opposition leader had risen, her attention
had wholly wandered. She yawned perpetually, and talked a great deal to a
lady behind her. Once or twice her neighbor threw her an angry glance. But
it was too dark for her to see it; though if she had seen it she would have
paid no attention.
"Lady Coryston!" said a subdued voice. The lady sitting in front of the
girl turned and saw an attendant beckoning.
The girl moved toward him, and returned.
"What is it, Marcia?"
"A note from Arthur, mamma."
A slip of paper was handed to Lady Coryston, who read it in the gloom with
difficulty. Then she whispered to her daughter:
"He hopes to get his chance about seven; if not then, after dinner."
"I really don't think I can stay so long," said the girl, plaintively.
"It's dreadfully tiring."
"Go when you like," said her mother, indifferently. "Send the car back for
She resumed her intent listening just as a smart sally from the speaker
below sent a tumultuous wave of cheers and counter-cheers through his
"He can be such a buffoon, can't he?" said the stout lady in the corner to
her companion, as she yawned again. She had scarcely tried to lower
her voice. Her remark was, at any rate, quite audible to her next-door
neighbor, who again threw her a swift, stabbing look, of no more avail,
however, than its predecessors.
"Who is that lady in the corner--do you mind telling me?"
The query was timidly whispered in the ear of Marcia Coryston by a veiled
lady, who on the departure of some other persons had come to stand beside
"She is Mrs. Prideaux." said Miss Coryston, stiffly.
"The wife of the Prime Minister!" The voice showed emotion.
Marcia Coryston looked down upon the speaker with an air that said, "A
country cousin, I suppose."
But she whispered, civilly enough: "Yes. She always sits in that corner.
Weren't you here when he was speaking?"
"No--I've not long come in."
The conversation dropped, just as the voice of the orator standing on the
left of the Speaker rose to his peroration.
It was a peroration of considerable eloquence, subtly graduated through a
rising series of rhetorical questions, till it finally culminated and broke
in the ringing sentences:
"Destroy the ordered hierarchy of English land, and you will sweep away a
growth of centuries which would not be where it is if it did not in the
main answer to the needs and reflect the character of Englishmen. Reform
and develop it if you will; bring in modern knowledge to work upon it;
change, expand, without breaking it; appeal to the sense of property,
while enormously diffusing property; help the peasant without slaying the
landlord; in other words, put aside rash, meddlesome revolution, and set
yourselves to build on the ancient foundations of our country what may
yet serve the new time! Then you will have an _English_, a national
policy. It happens to be the Tory policy. Every principle of it is violated
by the monstrous bill you have just brought in. We shall oppose it by every
means and every device in our power!"
[Illustration: THE CONVERSATION DROPPED, JUST AS THE VOICE OF THE ORATOR
ROSE TO HIS PERORATION]
The speaker sat down amid an ovation from his own side. Three men on the
Liberal side jumped up, hat in hand, simultaneously. Two of them subsided
at once. The third began to speak.
A sigh of boredom ran through the latticed gallery above, and several
persons rose and prepared to vacate their places. The lady in the corner
addressed some further remarks on the subject of the speech which had
just concluded to an acquaintance who came up to greet her.
Lady Coryston caught the words, and as Mrs. Prideaux rose with alacrity
to go into the Speaker's private house for a belated cup of tea, her Tory
neighbor beckoned to her daughter Marcia to take the vacant chair.
"Intolerable woman!" she said, drawing a long breath. "And they're in for
years! Heaven knows what we shall all have to go through."
"Horrible!" said the girl, fervently. "She always behaves like that. Yet of
course she knew perfectly who you were."
"Arthur will probably follow this man," murmured Lady Coryston, returning
to her watch.
"Go and have some tea, mother, and come back."
"No. I might miss his getting up."
There was silence a little. The House was thinning rapidly, and half the
occupants of the Ladies' Galleries had adjourned to the tearooms on the
farther side of the corridor. Marcia could now see her mother's face more
distinctly as Lady Coryston sat in a brown study, not listening, evidently,
to the very halting gentleman who was in possession of the House, though
her eyes still roamed the fast-emptying benches.
It was the face of a woman on the wrong side of fifty. The complexion
was extremely fair, with gray shades in it. The eyes, pale in color but
singularly imperious and direct, were sunk deep under straight brows.
The nose was long, prominent, and delicately sharp in the nostril. These
features, together with the long upper lip and severely cut mouth and chin,
the slightly hollow cheeks and the thin containing oval of the face, set
in pale and still abundant hair, made a harsh yet, on the whole, handsome
impression. There was at Coryston, in the gallery, a picture of Elizabeth
Tudor in her later years to which Lady Coryston had been often compared;
and she, who as a rule disliked any reference to her personal appearance,
did not, it was sometimes remarked, resent this particular comparison. The
likeness was carried further by Lady Coryston's tall and gaunt frame; by
her formidable carriage and step; and by the energy of the long-fingered
hands. In dress also there was some parallel between her and the Queen of
many gowns. Lady Coryston seldom wore colors, but the richest of black
silks and satins and the finest of laces were pressed night and day into
the service of her masterful good looks. She made her own fashions. Amid
the large and befeathered hats of the day, for instance, she alone wore
habitually a kind of coif made of thin black lace on her fair face, the
lappets of which were fastened with a diamond close beneath her chin. For
the country she invented modifications of her London dress, which, while
loose and comfortable, were scarcely less stately. And whatever she wore
seemed always part and parcel of her formidable self.
In Marcia's eyes, her mother was a wonderful being--oppressively
wonderful--whom she could never conveniently forget. Other people's mothers
were, so to speak, furniture mothers. They became the chimney-corner, or
the sofa; they looked well in combination, gave no trouble, and could be
used for all the common purposes of life. But Lady Coryston could never be
used. On the contrary, her husband--while he lived--her three sons, and her
daughter, had always appeared to her in the light of so many instruments of
her own ends. Those ends were not the ends of other women. But did it very
much matter? Marcia would sometimes ask herself. They seemed to cause just
as much friction and strife and bad blood as other people's ends.
As the girl sat silent, looking down on the bald heads of a couple of
Ministers on the Front Bench, she was uneasily conscious of her mother as
of some charged force ready to strike. And, indeed, given the circumstances
of the family, on that particular afternoon, nothing could be more certain
than blows of some kind before long....
"You see Mr. Lester?" said her mother, abruptly. "I thought Arthur would
get him in."
Marcia's dreaminess departed. Her eyes ran keenly along the benches of the
Strangers' Gallery opposite till they discovered the dark head of a man who
was leaning forward on his elbows, closely attentive, apparently, to the
"Has he just come in?"
"A minute or two ago. It means, I suppose, that Arthur told him he expected
to be up about seven. When will this idiot have done!" said Lady Coryston,
But the elderly gentleman from the Highlands, to whom she thus unkindly
referred, went on humming and hawing as before, while the House lumbered or
fidgeted, hats well over noses and legs stretched to infinity.
"Oh, there is Arthur!" cried Marcia, having just discovered her brother
among the shadows under the gallery to the left. "I couldn't make him out
before. One can see he's on wires."
For while everybody else, after the excitement of the two opening speeches,
which was now running its course through the crowded lobbies outside, had
sunk into somnolence within the House itself, the fair-haired youth on whom
her eyes were bent was sitting erect on the edge of his seat, papers in
hand, his face turned eagerly toward the speaker on the other side of the
House. His attitude gave the impression of one just about to spring to his
But Marcia was of opinion that he would still have to wait some time before
springing. She knew the humming and hawing gentleman--had heard him often
before. He was one of those plagues of debate who rise with ease and cease
with difficulty. She would certainly have time to get a cup of tea and come
back. So with a word to her mother she groped her way through the dark
gallery across the corridor toward a tearoom. But at the door of the
gallery she turned back. There through the lattice which shuts in the
Ladies' Gallery, right across the House, she saw the Strangers' Gallery at
the other end. The man whose head had been propped on his hands when she
first discovered his presence was now sitting upright, and seemed to be
looking straight at herself, though she knew well that no one in the
Ladies' Gallery was really visible from any other part of the House. His
face was a mere black-and-white patch in the distance. But she imagined the
clear, critical eyes, their sudden frown or smile.
"I wonder what _he_'ll think of Arthur's speech--and whether he's
seen Coryston. I wonder whether he knows there's going to be an awful row
to-night. Coryston's mad!"
Coryston was her eldest brother, and she was very fond of him. But the way
he had been behaving!--the way he had been defying mamma!--it was really
ridiculous. What could he expect?
She seemed to be talking to the distant face, defending her mother and
herself with a kind of unwilling deference.
"After all, do I really care what he thinks?"
She turned and went her way to the tearoom. As she entered it she saw some
acquaintances at the farther end, who waved their hands to her, beckoning
her to join them. She hastened across the room, much observed by the way,
and conscious of the eyes upon her. It was a relief to find herself among a
group of chattering people.
Meanwhile at the other end of the room three ladies were finishing their
tea. Two of them were the wives of Liberal Ministers--by name, Mrs. Verity
and Mrs. Frant. The third was already a well-known figure in London society
and in the precincts of the House of Commons--the Ladies' Gallery, the
Terrace, the dining-rooms--though she was but an unmarried girl of two-and-
twenty. Quite apart, however, from her own qualities and claims, Enid
Glenwilliam was conspicuous as the only daughter of the most vigorously
hated and ardently followed man of the moment--the North Country miner's
agent, who was now England's Finance Minister.
"You saw who that young lady was?" said Mrs. Frant to Miss Glenwilliam. "I
thought you knew her."
"Marcia Coryston? I have just been introduced to her. But she isn't allowed
to know me!" The laugh that accompanied the words had a pleasant childish
chuckle in it.
Mrs. Frant laughed also.
"Girls, I suppose, have to do what they're told," she said, dryly. "But it
_was_ Arthur Coryston, wasn't it, who sent you that extra order for
"Yes," laughed the girl again; "but I am quite certain he didn't tell his
mother! We must really be civil and go back to hear him speak. His mother
will think it magnificent, anyway. She probably wrote it for him. He's
quite a nice boy--but--"
She shook her head over him, softly smiling to herself. The face which
smiled had no very clear title to beauty, but it was arresting and
expressive, and it had beautiful points. Like the girl's figure and dress,
it suggested a self-conscious, fastidious personality: egotism, with charm
for its weapon.
"I wonder what Lady Coryston thinks of her eldest son's performances in the
papers this morning!" said lively little Mrs. Frant, throwing up hands and
Mrs. Verity, a soft, faded woman, smiled responsively.
"They can't be exactly dull in that family," she said. "I'm told they all
talk at once; and none of them listens to a word the others say."
"I think I'll bet that Lady Coryston will make Lord Coryston listen to a
few remarks on that speech!" laughed Enid Glenwilliam. "Is there such a
thing as _matria potestas_? I've forgotten all the Latin I learned
at Cambridge, so I don't know. But if there is, that's what Lady Coryston
stands for. How splendid--to stand for anything--nowadays!"
The three fell into an animated discussion of the Coryston family and their
characteristics. Enid Glenwilliam canvassed them all at least as freely as
her neighbors. But every now and then little Mrs. Frant threw her an odd
look, as much as to say, "Am I really taken in?"
* * * * *
Meanwhile a very substantial old lady, scarcely less deliberate and finely
finished, in spite of her size, than Lady Coryston herself, had taken a
chair beside her in the gallery, which was still very empty.
"My dear," she said, panting a little and grasping Lady Coryston's wrist,
with a plump hand on which the rings sparkled--"My dear! I came to bring
you a word of sympathy."
Lady Coryston looked at her coldly.
"Are you speaking of Coryston?"
"Naturally. The only logical result of those proceedings last night would
be, of course, the guillotine at Hyde Park Corner. Coryston wants our
heads! There's nothing else to be said. I took the speeches for young men's
nonsense--just midsummer madness, but I find people very angry. _Your_
son! one of _us_!"
"I thought the speeches very clever," said Lady Coryston.
"I'm rejoiced you take it so philosophically, my dear Emilia!"--the tone
was a little snappish--"I confess I thought you would have been much
"What's the good of being distressed? I have known Coryston's opinions for
a long time. One has to _act_--of course," the speaker added, with
"Act? I don't understand."
Lady Coryston did not enlighten her. Indeed, she did not hear her. She was
bending forward eagerly. The fair-haired youth on the back benches, who had
been so long waiting his turn, was up at last.
It was a maiden speech, and a good one, as such things go. There was enough
nervousness and not too much; enough assurance and not too much. The facts
and figures in it had been well arranged. A modest jest or two tripped
pleasantly out; and the general remarks at the end had been well chosen
from the current stock, and were not unduly prolonged. Altogether a
creditable effort, much assisted by the young man's presence and manner. He
had no particular good looks, indeed; his nose ascended, his chin satisfied
no one; but he had been a well-known bat in the Oxford eleven of his day,
and was now a Yeomanry officer; he held himself with soldierly erectness,
and his slender body, cased in a becoming pale waistcoat under his tail
coat, carried a well-shaped head covered with thick and tumbling hair.
The House filled up a little to hear him. His father had been a member of
Parliament for twenty years, and a popular member. There was some curiosity
to know what his son would make of his first speech. And springing from the
good feeling which always animates the House of Commons on such occasions,
there was a fair amount of friendly applause from both sides when he sat
"Features the father, and takes after the mother!" said a white-haired
listener in the Strangers' Gallery to himself, as the young man ceased
speaking. "She's drilled him! Well, now I suppose I must go and
congratulate her." He rose from his seat and began to make his way out. In
the passage outside the Gallery he overtook and recognized the man whose
entrance into the House Lady Coryston and her daughter had noticed about an
"Well, what did you think of it, Lester?"
The other smiled good-humoredly.
"Capital! Everybody must make a beginning. He's taken a lot of pains."
"It's a beastly audience!" said Sir Wilfrid Bury, in reply. "Don't I know
it! Well, I'm off to congratulate. How does the catalogue get on?"
"Oh, very well. I sha'n't finish till the summer. There's a good deal still
to do at Coryston. Some of the things are really too precious to move
"How do you get on with her ladyship?" asked the old man, gaily, lowering
The young man smiled discreetly.
"Oh, very well. I don't see very much of her."
"I suppose she's pressed you into the service--makes you help Arthur?"
"I looked out a few things for his speech to-day. But he has his own
"You're not staying for the rest of the debate?"
"No, I'm going back to St. James's Square. I have a heap of arrears to get
"Do they put you up there? I know it's a huge house."
"Yes. I have a bedroom and sitting-room there when I want them, and my own
Sir Wilfrid nodded pleasantly, and vanished into a side passage leading to
the Ladies' Gallery. The young man, Reginald Lester, to whom he had been
chatting, was in some sort a protege of his own. It was Sir Wilfrid,
indeed, who had introduced him, immediately after he had won an Oxford
historical fellowship, to Lady Coryston, as librarian, for the highly paid
work of cataloguing a superb collection of MSS. belonging to the Corystons.
A generation earlier, Lester's father had been a brother officer of Sir
Wilfrid's, in days when the Lester family was still rich, and before the
crashing failure of the great banking-house of the name.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the House of Commons, Lady Coryston had
been sitting pleasantly absorbed, watching her son, who lay now like a man
relieved, lolling on the half-empty bench, chatting to a friend beside him.
His voice was still in her ears: mingled with the memory of other voices
from old, buried times. For more than twenty years how familiar had she
been with this political scene!--these galleries and benches, crowded or
listless; these opposing Cabinets--the Ins and Outs--on either side of the
historic table; the glitter of the Mace at its farther end; the books, the
old morocco boxes, the tops of the official wigs, the ugly light which
bathed it all; the exhausted air, the dreariness, the boredom! all
worth while, these last, just for the moments, the crises, the play of
personalities, the conflict of giants, of which they were the inevitable
conditions. There, on the second bench above the gangway on the Tory
side, her husband, before he succeeded to the title, had sat through four
Parliaments. And from the same point of vantage above she had watched him
year after year, coming in and out, speaking occasionally, never eloquent
or brilliant, but always respected; a good, worthy, steady-going fellow
with whom no one had any fault to find, least of all his wife, to whom he
had very easily given up the management of their common life, while he
represented her political opinions in Parliament much more than his own.
Well, until in an evil hour, a great question, the only political question
on which he differed and had always differed from his wife, on which he
felt he _must_ speak for himself and stand on his own feet, arose to
divide them. There, in that Gallery, she had sat, with rage and defeat in
her heart, watching him pass along, behind the Speaker's chair, toward the
wrong division lobby, his head doggedly held down, as though he knew and
felt her eyes upon him, but must do his duty all the same. On this one
matter he had voted against her, spoken against her, openly flouted and
disavowed her. And it had broken down their whole relation, poisoned
their whole life. "Women are natural tyrants," he had said to her once,
bitterly--"no man could torment me as you do." And then had come his
death--his swift last illness, with those tired eyes still alive in the
dumb face, after speech and movement were no longer possible--eyes which
were apt to close when she came near.
And yet, after all--the will!--the will which all his relations and friends
had taken as the final expression of his life's weakness, his miserable
failure to play the man in his own household, and in which _she_, his
wife, had recognized with a secret triumph his last effort to propitiate
her, his last surrender to her. Everything left to her, both land and
personalty, everything! save for a thousand a year to each of the children,
and fifteen hundred a year to Coryston, his heir. The great Irish, the
great Devonshire properties, the accumulated savings of a lifetime, they
were all hers--hers absolutely. Her husband had stood last in the entail;
and with a view to her own power, she had never allowed him to renew it.
Coryston had been furiously angry when the terms of his father's will were
revealed. She could never think without shivering of certain scenes, with
Coryston in the past--of a certain other scene that was still to come.
Well, it had been a duel between them; and after apparently sore defeat,
she had won, so far as influence over his father was concerned. And since
his father's death she had given him every chance. He had only to hold his
tongue, to keep his monstrous, _sans-culotte_ opinions to himself, at
least, if he could not give them up; and she would have restored him his
inheritance, would have dealt with him not only justly, but generously. He
had chosen; he had deliberately chosen. Well, now then it was for her--as
she had said to old Lady Frensham--it was for her to reply, but not in
She fell back upon the thought of Arthur, Arthur, her darling; so manly,
and yet so docile; so willing to be guided! Where was he, that she might
praise him for his speech? She turned, searching the dark doorway with her
eyes. But there was no Arthur, only the white head and smiling countenance
of her old friend, Sir Wilfrid Bury, who was beckoning to her. She
hurriedly bade Marcia, who had just returned to the Gallery, to keep her
seat for her, and went out into the corridor to speak to him.
"Well, not bad, was it? These youngsters have got the trick! I thought it
capital. But I dare say you'll have all sorts of fault to find, you most
exacting of women!"
"No, no; it was good," she said, eagerly. "And he's improving fast."
"Well then"--the wise old eyes beside her laughed kindly into hers--"be
content, and don't take Coryston's escapades too hardly!"
She drew back, and her long face and haughty mouth stiffened in the way he
"Are you coming to see me on Sunday?" she said, quietly.
He took his snubbing without resentment.
"I suppose so. I don't often miss, do I? Well, I hear Marcia was the beauty
at the Shrewsbury House ball, and that--" he whispered something, laughing
in her ear.
Lady Coryston looked a little impatient.
"Oh, I dare say. And if it's not he, it will be some one else. She'll marry
directly. I always expected it. Well, now I must go. Have you seen Arthur?"
"Mother! Hullo, Sir Wilfrid!"
There was the young orator, flushed and radiant. But his mother could say
very little to him, for the magnificent person in charge of the Gallery and
its approaches intervened. "No talking allowed here, sir, please." Even
Lady Coryston must obey. All she could add to her hurried congratulations
"You're coming in to-night, remember, Arthur?--nine-thirty."
"Yes, I've paired. I'm coming. But what on earth's up, mother?"
Her lips shut closely.
"Remember, nine-thirty!" She turned and went back into the darkness of the
Arthur hesitated a moment in the passage outside. Then he turned back
toward the little entrance-room opposite the entrance to the ordinary
Ladies' Gallery, where he found another attendant.
"Is Miss Glenwilliam here?" he inquired, carelessly.
"Yes, sir, in the front row, with Mrs. Verity and Mrs. Frant. Do you wish
to speak to her, sir? The Gallery's pretty empty."
Arthur Coryston went in. The benches sloped upward, and on the lowest one,
nearest the grille, he saw the lady of his quest, and was presently bending
"Well," he said, flushing, "I suppose you thought it all bosh!"
"Not at all! That's what you have to say. What else can you say? You did it
Her lightly mocking eyes looked into his. His flush deepened.
"Are you going to be at the Frenshams' dance?" he asked her, presently.
"We're not invited. They're too savage with father. But we shall be at the
Opera to-morrow night."
His face lightened. But no more talk was possible. A Minister was up, and
people were crowding back into the Gallery. He hurriedly pressed her hand
Lady Coryston and her daughter had made a rapid and silent meal. Marcia
noticed that her mother was unusually pale, and attributed it partly to the
fatigue and bad air of the House of Commons, partly to the doings of her
eldest brother. What were they all going to meet for after dinner--her
mother, her three brothers, and herself? They had each received a formal
summons. Their mother "wished to speak to them on important business." So
Arthur--evidently puzzled--had paired for the evening, and would return
from the House at nine-thirty; James had written to say he would come, and
Coryston had wired an hour before dinner--"Inconvenient, but will turn up."
What was it all about? Some business matter clearly. Marcia knew very well
that the family circumstances were abnormal. Mothers in Lady Coryston's
position, when their husbands expire, generally retire to a dower-house,
on a jointure; leaving their former splendors--the family mansion and the
family income--behind them. They step down from their pedestal, and
efface themselves; their son becomes the head of the family, and the
daughter-in-law reigns in place of the wife. Nobody for many years past
could ever have expected Lady Coryston to step down from anything. Although
she had brought but a very modest dowry, such from earliest days had been
the strength and dominance of her character, that her divine right of rule
in the family had never been seriously questioned by any of her children
except Coryston; although James, who had inherited money from his
grandmother, was entirely independent of her, and by the help of a detached
and humorous mind could often make his mother feel the stings of criticism,
when others were powerless. And as for Coryston, who had become a
quasi-Socialist at Cambridge, and had ever since refused to suit his
opinions in the slightest degree to his mother's, his long absences abroad
after taking his degree had for some years reduced the personal friction
between them; and it was only since his father's death, which had occurred
while he himself was in Japan, and since the terms of his father's will had
been known, that Coryston had become openly and angrily hostile.
Why should Coryston, a gentleman who denounced property, and was all for
taxing land and landlords into the Bankruptcy Court, resent so bitterly
his temporary exclusion from the family estates? Marcia could not see that
there was any logical answer. If landlordism was the curse of England, why
be angry that you were not asked to be a landlord?
And really--of late--his behavior! Never coming to see his mother--writing
the most outrageous things in support of the Government--speaking for
Radical candidates in their very own county--denouncing by name some of
their relations and old family friends: he had really been impossible!
Meanwhile Lady Coryston gave her daughter no light on the situation. She
went silently up-stairs, followed by Marcia. The girl, a slight figure in
white, mounted unwillingly. The big, gloomy house oppressed her as she
passed through it. The classical staircase with its stone-colored paint
and its niches holding bronze urns had always appeared to her since her
childhood as the very top of dreariness; and she particularly disliked the
equestrian portrait of her great-grandfather by an early Victorian artist,
which fronted her as she ascended, in the gallery at the top of the
staircase, all the more that she had been supposed from her childhood to be
like the portrait. Brought up as she had been in the belief that family
and heredity are the master forces of life, she resented this teasing
association with the weak, silly fellow on the ill-balanced rocking-horse
whose double chin, button nose, and receding forehead not even the evident
flattery of the artist had been able to disguise. Her hatred of the
picture often led her to make a half-protesting pause in front of the long
Chippendale mirror which hung close to it. She made it to-night.
Indeed, the dim reflection in the glass might well have reassured her. Dark
eyes and hair, a brunette complexion, grace, health, physical strength--she
certainly owed none of these qualities or possessions to her ancestor.
The face reminded one of ripe fruit--so rich was the downy bloom on the
delicate cheeks, so vivid the hazel of the wide black-fringed eyes. A touch
of something heavy and undecided in the lower part of the face made it
perhaps less than beautiful. But any man who fell in love with her would
see in this defect only the hesitancy of first youth, with its brooding
prophecy of passion, of things dormant and powerful. Face and form were
rich--quite unconsciously--in that magic of sex which belongs to only
a minority of women, but that, a minority drawn from all ranks and
occupations. Marcia Coryston believed herself to be interested in many
things--in books, in the Suffrage, in the girls' debating society of which
she was the secretary, in politics, and in modern poetry. In reality her
whole being hung like some chained Andromeda at the edge of the sea of
life, expecting Perseus. Her heart listened for him perpetually--the
unknown!--yearning for his call, his command....
There were many people--witness Sir Wilfrid Bury's remark to her
mother--who had already felt this magic in her. Without any conscious
effort of her own she had found herself possessed, in the course of three
seasons since her coming out, of a remarkable place in her own circle and
set. She was surrounded by a court of young people, men and women; she
received without effort all the most coveted invitations; she was watched,
copied, talked about; and rumor declared that she had already refused--or
made her mother refuse for her--one or more of the men whom all other
mothers desired to capture. This quasi-celebrity had been achieved no one
quite knew how, least of all Marcia herself. It had not, apparently, turned
her head, though those who knew her best were aware of a vein of natural
arrogance in her character. But in manner she remained _nonchalant_
and dreamy as before, with just those occasional leaps to the surface of
passionate, or scornful, or chivalrous feeling which made her interesting.
Her devotion to her mother was plain. She espoused all her mother's
opinions with vehemence, and would defend her actions, in the family or out
of it, through thick and thin. But there were those who wondered how long
the subservience would last, supposing the girl's marriage were delayed.
As to the gossip repeated by Sir Wilfrid Bury, it referred to the latest of
Marcia's adventures. Her thoughts played with the matter, especially with
certain incidents of the Shrewsbury House ball, as she walked slowly into
the drawing-room in her mother's wake.
The drawing-room seemed to her dark and airless. Taste was not the Coryston
strong point, and this high, oblong room was covered with large Italian
pictures, some good, some indifferent, heavily framed, and hung on
wine-colored damask. A feebly false Guido Reni, "The Sacrifice of Isaac,"
held the center of one wall, making vehement claim to be just as well worth
looking at as the famous Titian opposite. The Guido had hung there since
1820, and what was good enough for the Corystons of that date was good
enough for their descendants, who were not going to admit that their
ancestors were now discredited--laughed out of court--as collectors, owing
to the labors of a few middle-aged intellectuals. The floor was held by a
number of gilt chairs and sofas covered also in wine-colored damask, or
by tables holding _objets d'art_ of the same mixed quality as the
pictures. Even the flowers, the stands of splendid azaleas and early roses
with which the room was lavishly adorned, hardly produced an impression
of beauty. Marcia, looking slowly round her with critical eyes, thought
suddenly of a bare room she knew in a Roman palace, some faded hangings in
dull gold upon the walls, spaces of light and shadow on the empty matted
floor, and a great branch of Judas tree in blossom lighting up a corner.
The memory provoked in her a thrill of sensuous pleasure.
Meanwhile Lady Coryston was walking slowly up and down, her hands behind
her. She looked very thin and abnormally tall; and Marcia saw her profile,
sharply white, against the darkness of the wall. A vague alarm struck
through the daughter's mind. What was her mother about to say or do? Till
now Marcia had rather lazily assumed that the meeting would concern some
matter of family property--some selling or buying transaction--which a
mother, even in the abnormally independent position Lady Coryston, might
well desire to communicate to her children. There had been a family meeting
in the preceding year when the Dorsetshire property had been sold under a
recent Act of Parliament. Coryston wouldn't come. "I take no interest in
the estates "--he had written to his mother. "They're your responsibility,
And yet of course Coryston would inherit some day. That was taken for
granted among them. What were Tory principles worth if they did not some
time, at some stage, secure an eldest son, and an orthodox succession?
Corry was still in the position of heir, when he should normally have
become owner. It was very trying for him, no doubt. But exceptional women
make exceptional circumstances. And they were all agreed that their mother
was an exceptional woman.
But whatever the business, they would hardly get through without a scene,
and during the past week there had been a number of mysterious interviews
with lawyers going on.... What was it all about? To distract her thoughts
she struck up conversation.
"Did you see Enid Glenwilliam, mother, in Palace Yard?"
"I just noticed her," said Lady Coryston, indifferently. "One can't help
it, she dresses so outrageously."
"Oh, mother, she dresses very well! Of course nobody else could wear that
kind of thing."
Lady Coryston lifted her eyebrows.
"That's where the ill-breeding comes in--that a young girl should make
herself so conspicuous."
"Well, it seems to pay," laughed Marcia. "She has tremendous success.
People on our side--people you'd never think--will do anything to get her
for their parties. They say she makes things go. She doesn't care what she
"That I can quite believe! Yes--I saw she was at Shrewsbury House the
other day--dining--when the Royalties were there. The daughter of that
Lady Coryston's left foot gave a sharp push to a footstool lying in her
path, as though it were Glenwilliam himself.
"And she's very devoted to him, too. She told some one who told me, that he
was so much more interesting than any other man she knew, that she hadn't
the least wish to marry! I suppose you wouldn't like it if I were to make a
friend of her?" The girl's tone had a certain slight defiance in it.
"Do what you like when I'm gone, my dear," said Lady Coryston, quietly.
Marcia flushed, and would have replied, but for the sudden and distant
sound of the hall-door bell. Lady Coryston instantly stopped her pacing and
took her seat beside a table on which, as Marcia now noticed, certain large
envelopes had been laid. The girl threw herself into a low chair behind her
mother, conscious of a distress, a fear, she could not analyze. There was a
small fire in the grate, for the May evening was chilly, but on the other
side of the room a window was open to the twilight, and in a luminous sky
cut by the black boughs of a plane tree, and the roofs of a tall building,
Marcia saw a bright star shining. The heavy drawing-room, with its gilt
furniture and its electric lights, seemed for a moment blotted out. That
patch of sky suggested strange, alien, inexorable things; while all the
time the sound of mounting footsteps on the stairs grew nearer.
In they came, her three brothers, laughing and talking. Coryston first,
then James, then Arthur. Lady Coryston rose to meet them, and they all
kissed their mother. Then Coryston, with his hands on his sides, stood in
front of her, examining her face with hard, amused eyes, as much as to say,
"Now, then, for the scene. Let's get it over!" He was the only one of
the three men who was not in evening dress. He wore, indeed, a shabby
greenish-gray suit, and a flannel shirt. Marcia noticed it with
indignation. "It's not respectful to mother!" she thought, angrily. "It's
all very well to be a Socialist and a Bohemian. But there are decencies!"
In spite, however, of the shabby suit and the flannel shirt, in spite also
of the fact that he was short and very slight, while his brothers were both
of them over six feet and broadly built men, there could be no doubt that,
as soon as he entered, Coryston held the stage. He was one of the mercurial
men who exist in order to keep the human tide in movement. Their opinions
matter principally because without them the opinions of other men would not
exist. Their function is to provoke. And from the time he was a babe in the
nursery Coryston had fulfilled it to perfection.
He himself would have told you he was simply the reaction from his mother.
And indeed, although from the time he had achieved trousers their joint
lives had been one scene of combat, they were no sooner in presence of each
other than the strange links between them made themselves felt no less than
the irreconcilable differences.
Now, indeed, as, after a few bantering remarks to his mother on his recent
political escapades--remarks which she took in complete silence--he settled
himself in a high chair in front of her to listen to what she had to
say, no subtle observer of the scene but must have perceived the
likeness--through all contrast--between mother and son. Lady Coryston was
tall, large-boned, thin to emaciation, imposing--a Lady Macbeth of the
drawing-room. Coryston was small, delicately finished, a whimsical snippet
of a man--on wires--never at ease--the piled fair hair overbalancing the
face and the small, sarcastic chin. And yet the essential note of both
physiognomies, of both aspects, was the same. _Will_--carried to
extremes, absorbing and swallowing up the rest of the personality. Lady
Coryston had handed on the disease of her own character to her son, and it
was in virtue of what she had given him that she had made him her enemy.
Her agitation in his presence, in spite of her proud bearing, was indeed
evident, at least to Marcia. Marcia read her; had indeed been compelled
to read her mother--the movements of hand and brow, the tricks of
expression--from childhood up. And she detected, from various signs of
nervousness, that Lady Coryston expected a rough time.
She led the way to it, however, with deliberation. She took no notice of
Coryston's, "Well, mother, what's up? Somebody to be tried and executed?"
but, waving to him to take a particular chair, she asked the others to
sit, and placed herself beside the table which held the sheets of folded
foolscap. The ugly electric light from overhead fell full upon the pallid
oval of her face, on her lace cap, and shimmering black dress. Only Marcia
noticed that the hand which took up the foolscap shook a little. It was an
old hand, delicately white, with large finger-joints.
"I can't pretend to make a jest of what I'm going to say," she said, with
a look at Coryston. "I wanted to speak to you all on a matter of
business--not very agreeable business, but necessary. I am sure you will
hear me out, and believe that I am doing my best, according to my lights,
by the family--the estates--and the country."
At the last slowly spoken words Lady Coryston drew herself up. Especially
when she said "the country," it was as though she mentioned something
peculiarly her own, something attacked which fled to her for protection.
Marcia looked round on her three brothers: Coryston sunk in a big gilt
chair, one leg cocked over the other, his fingers lightly crossed above his
head; James with his open brow, his snub nose, his charming expression;
and Arthur, who had coaxed Lady Coryston's spaniel on to his lap and was
pulling his ears. He looked, she thought, bored and only half attentive.
And yet she was tolerably certain that he knew no more than she did what
Was going to happen.
"I am quite aware," said Lady Coryston, resuming after a pause, "that in
leaving his estates and the bulk of his fortune to myself your dear father
did an unusual thing, and one for which many persons have blamed him--"
Coryston's cocked leg descended abruptly to the ground. Marcia turned an
anxious eye upon him; but nothing more happened, and the voice speaking
"He did it, as I believe you have all recognized, because he desired that
in these difficult times, when everything is being called in question, and
all our institutions, together with the ideas which support them, are in
danger, I should, during my lifetime, continue to support and carry out
his ideas--the ideas he and I had held in common--and should remain the
guardian of all those customs and traditions on his estates which he had
inherited--and in which he believed--"
Coryston suddenly sat up, shook down his coat vehemently, and putting his
elbows on his knees, propped his face on them, the better to observe his
mother. James was fingering his watch-chain, with downcast eyes, the
slightest smile on his gently twitching mouth; Arthur was measuring one ear
of the spaniel against the other.
"Two years," said Lady Coryston, "have now passed since your father's
death. I have done my best with my trust, though of course I realize that I
cannot have satisfied _all_ my children." She paused a moment. "I have
not wasted any of your father's money in personal luxury--that none of you
can say. The old establishment, the old ways, have been kept up--nothing
more. And I have certainly _wished_"--she laid a heavy emphasis on
the word--"to act for the good of all of you. You, James, have your own
fortune, but I think you know that if you had wanted money at any time, for
any reasonable purpose, you had only to ask for it. Marcia also has her own
money; but when it comes to her marriage, I desire nothing better than to
provide for her amply. And now, as to Coryston--"
She turned to him, facing him magnificently, though not, as Marcia was
certain, without trepidation. Coryston flung back his head with a laugh.
"Ah, now we come to it!" he said. "The rest was all 'but leather and
James murmured, "Corry--old man?" Marcia flushed angrily.
"Coryston also knows very well," said Lady Coryston, coldly, "that
everything he could possibly have claimed--"
"Short of the estates--which were my right," put in Coryston, quietly, with
an amused look.
His mother went on without noticing the interruption:
"--would have been his--either now or in due time--if he would only have
made certain concessions--"
"Sold my soul and held my tongue?--quite right!" said Coryston. "I have
scores of your letters, my dear mother, to that effect."
Lady Coryston slightly raised her voice, and for the first time it betrayed
"If he would, in simple decent respect to his father's memory and
consideration of his mother's feelings, have refrained from attacking his
"What!--you think he still has them--in the upper regions?"
Coryston flung an audacious hand toward the ceiling. Lady Coryston grew
pale. Marcia looked fiercely at her brother, and, coming to her mother's
side, she took her hand.
"Your brothers and sister, Coryston, will not allow you, I think, to insult
your father's memory!" The voice audibly shook.
Coryston sprang up impetuously and came to stand over his mother, his hands
on his sides.
"Now look here, mother. Let's come to business. You've been plotting
something more against me, and I want to know what it is. Have you been
dishing me altogether?--cutting me finally out of the estates? Is that what
you mean? Let's have it!"
Lady Coryston's face stiffened anew into a gray obstinacy.
"I prefer, Coryston, to tell my story in my own words and in my own way--"
"Yes--but please _tell_ it!" said Coryston, sharply. "Is it fair to
keep us on tenter-hooks? What is that paper, for instance? Extracts, I
guess, from your will--which concern me--and the rest of them"--he waved
his hand toward the other three. "For God's sake let's have them, and get
done with it."
"I will read them, if you will sit down, Coryston."
With a whimsical shake of the head Coryston returned to his chair. Lady
Coryston took up the folded paper.
"Coryston guessed rightly. These are the passages from my will which
concern the estates. I should like to have explained before reading them,
in a way as considerate to my eldest son as possible" she looked steadily
at Coryston--"the reasons which have led me to take this course. But--"
"No, no! Business first and pleasure afterward!" interrupted the eldest
son. "Disinherit me and then pitch into me. You get at me unfairly while
I'm speculating as to what's coming."
"I think," said Marcia, in a tone trembling with indignation, "that
Coryston is behaving abominably."
But her brothers did not respond, and Coryston looked at his sister with
lifted brows. "Go it, Marcia!" he said, indulgently.
Lady Coryston began to read.
Before she had come to the end of her first paragraph Coryston was pacing
the drawing-room, twisting his lips into all sorts of shapes, as was his
custom when the brain was active. And with the beginning of the second,
Arthur sprang to his feet.
"I say, mother!"
"Let me finish?" asked Lady Coryston with a hard patience.
She read to the end of the paper. And with the last words Arthur broke out:
"I won't have it, mother! It's not fair on Corry. It's beastly unfair!"
Lady Coryston made no reply. She sat quietly staring into Arthur's face,
her hands, on which the rings sparkled, lightly clasped over the paper
which lay upon her knee. James's expression was one of distress. Marcia sat
James approached his mother.
"I think, mother, you will hardly maintain these provisions."
She turned toward him.
"Yes, James, I shall maintain them."
Meanwhile Arthur, deeply flushed, stood running his hand through his fair
hair as though in bewilderment.
"I sha'n't take it, mother! I give you full warning. Whenever it comes to
me I shall hand it back to Corry."
"It won't come to you, except as a life interest. The estates will be in
trust," said Lady Coryston.
Coryston gave a loud, sudden laugh, and stood looking at his mother from a
"How long have you been concocting this, mother? I suppose my last speeches
"They have made me finally certain that your father could never have
intrusted you with the estates."
"How do you know? He meant me to have the property if I survived you. The
letter which he left for me said as much."
"He gave me absolute discretion," said Lady Coryston, firmly.
"At least you have taken it!" said Coryston, with emphasis. "Now let's see
how things stand."
He paused, a thin, wiry figure, under the electric light, checking off the
items on his fingers. "On the ground of my political opinion--you cut me
out of the succession. Arthur is to have the estates. And you propose to
buy me off by an immediate gift of seven thousand a year in addition to my
present fortune--the whole income from the land and the tin-mines being, I
understand, about ten times that; and you intend to sell certain outlying
properties in order to do this. That's your proposal. Well, now, here's
mine. I won't take your seven thousand a year! I will have all--all, that
is, which would have normally come to me--or _nothing_!"
He stood gazing intently at his mother's face, his small features
"I will have all--or nothing!" he repeated. "Of course I don't deny it for
a moment, if the property had come to me I should have made all sorts of
risky experiments with it. I should have cut it up into small holdings. I
should have pulled down the house or made it into a county hospital."
"You make it your business to wound, Coryston."
"No, I simply tell you what I should have done. And I should have been
_absolutely in my right_!" He brought his hand down with passion
on the chair beside him. "My father had his way. In justice I--the next
generation--ought to have mine. These lands were not yours. You have no
moral rights over them whatever. They come from my father, and his father.
There is always something to be said for property, so long as each
generation is free to make its own experiments upon it. But if property
is to be locked in the dead hand, so that the living can't get at it,
_then_ it is what the Frenchman called it, _theft_!--or worse....
Well, I'm not going to take this quietly, I warn you. I refuse the seven
thousand a year! and if I can't possess the property--well!--I'm going to a
large extent to manage it!"
Lady Coryston started.
"Cony!" cried Marcia, passionately.
"I have a responsibility toward my father's property," said Coryston,
calmly. "And I intend to settle down upon it, and try and drum a few sound
ideas into the minds of our farmers and laborers. Owing to my absurd title
I can't stand for our parliamentary division--but I shall look out for
somebody who suits me, and run him. You'll find me a nuisance, mother, I'm
afraid. But you've done your best for your principles. Don't quarrel with
me if I do the best for mine. Of course I know it's hard for you. You would
always have liked to manage me. But I never could be managed--least of all
by a woman."
Lady Coryston rose from her seat.
"James!--Arthur!--" The voice had regained all its strength. "You will
understand, I think, that it is better for me to leave you. I do not wish
that either Coryston or I should say things we should afterward find it
hard to forgive. I had a public duty to do. I have performed it. Try and
understand me. Good night."
"You will let me come and see you to-morrow?" said James, anxiously.
She made no reply. Then James and Arthur kissed her, Marcia threw an arm
round her and went with her, the girl's troubled, indignant eyes holding
Coryston at bay the while.
As Lady Coryston approached the door her eldest son made a sudden rush and
opened it for her.
"Good night, mother. We'll play a great game, you and I--but we'll play
Lady Coryston swept past him without a word. The door closed on her and
Marcia. Then Coryston turned, laughing, to his brother Arthur, and punched
him in the ribs.
"I say, Arthur, old boy, you talked a jolly lot of nonsense this afternoon!
I slipped into the Gallery a little to hear you."
Arthur grew red.
"Of course it was nonsense to you!"
"What did Miss Glenwilliam say to you?"
"Nothing that matters to you, Corry."
"Arthur, my son, you'll be in trouble, too, before you know where you are!"
"Do hold your tongue, Corry!"
"Why should I? I back you strongly. But you'll have to stick to her. Mother
will fight you for all she's worth."
"I'm no more to be managed than you, if it comes to that."
"Aren't you? You're the darling, at present. I don't grudge you the
"I never lifted a finger to get them," said Arthur, moodily. "And I shall
find a way of getting out of them--the greater part of them, anyway. All
the same, Corry, if I do--you'll have to give guarantees."
"Don't you wish you may get them! Well now"--Coryston gave a great
stretch--"can't we have a drink? You're the master here, Arthur. Just order
it. James, did you open your mouth while mother was here? I don't remember.
You looked unutterable things. But nobody could be as wise as you look. I
tell you, though you are a philosopher and a man of peace, you'll have to
take sides in this family row, whether you like it or not. Ah! Here's the
whisky. Give us a cigar. Now then, we'll sit on this precious paper!"
He took up the roll his mother had left behind her and was soon sipping
and puffing in the highest good humor, while he parodied and mocked at the
legal phraseology of the document which had just stripped him of seventy
thousand a year.
Half an hour later the brothers had dispersed, Coryston and James to their
bachelor quarters, Arthur to the House of Commons. The front door was no
sooner shut than a slender figure in white emerged from the shadows of the
landing overhead. It was Marcia, carrying a book.
She came to the balustrade and looked over into the hall below. Nothing to
be heard or seen. Her brothers, she perceived, had not left the house
from the drawing-room. They must have adjourned to the library, the large
ground-floor room at the back.
"Then Mr. Lester knows," she thought, indignantly. "Just like Corry!"
And her pride revolted against the notion of her brothers discussing her
mother's actions, her mother's decisions, with this stranger in the house.
It was quite true that Mr. Lester had been a friend both of Arthur and of
Coryston at Oxford, and that Arthur in particular was devoted to him. But
that did not excuse the indiscretion, the disloyalty, of bringing him into
the family counsels at such a juncture. Should she go down? She was certain
she would never get to sleep after these excitements, and she wanted the
second volume of _Diana of the Crossways_. Why not? It was only just
eleven. None of the lights had yet been put out. Probably Mr. Lester had
gone to bed.
She ran down lightly, and along the passage leading to the library. As she
opened the door, what had been light just before became suddenly darkness,
and she heard some one moving about.
"Who is that?" said a voice. "Wait a moment."
A little fumbling; and then a powerful reading-lamp, standing on a desk
heaped with books midway down the large room, was relit. The light flashed
toward the figure at the door.
"Miss Coryston! I beg your pardon! I was just knocking off work. Can I do
anything for you?"
The young librarian came toward her. In the illumination from the passage
behind her she saw his dark Cornish face, its red-brown color, broad brow,
and blue eyes.
"I came for a book," said Marcia, rather hurriedly, as she entered. "I know
where to find it. Please don't trouble." She went to the shelves, found her
volume, and turned abruptly. The temptation which possessed her proved too
"I suppose my brothers have been here?"
Lester's pleasant face showed a certain embarrassment.
"They have only just gone--at least, Arthur and Lord Coryston. James went
some time ago."
Marcia threw her head back defiantly against the latticed bookcase.
"I suppose Corry has been attacking my mother?"
Lester hesitated; then spoke with grave sincerity: "I assure you, he did
nothing of the kind. I should not have let him." He smiled.
"But they've told you--he and Arthur--they've told you what's happened?"
"Yes," he said, reluctantly. "I tried to stop them."
"As if anything could stop Corry!" cried Marcia--"when he wants to do
something he knows he oughtn't to do. And he's told you his precious
plan?--of coming to settle down at Coryston--in our very pockets--in order
to make mother's life a burden to her?"
"A perfectly mad whim!" said Lester, smiling again. "I don't believe he'll
"Oh yes, he will," said Marcia; "he'll do anything that suits his ideas. He
calls it following his conscience. Other people's ideas and other people's
consciences don't matter a bit."
Lester made no answer. His eyes were on the ground. She broke out
"You think he's been badly treated?"
"I had rather not express an opinion. I have no right to one."
"Mayn't women care for politics just as strongly as men?" cried the girl,
as though arguing the question with herself. "I think it's _splendid_
my mother should care as she does! Corry ought to respect her for it."
Lester made a pretense of gathering up some papers on his desk, by way of
covering his silence. Marcia observed him, with red cheeks.
"But of course you don't, you can't, feel with us, Mr. Lester. You're a
"No!" he protested mildly, raising his eyes in surprise. "I really don't
agree with Coryston at all. I don't intend to label myself just yet, but if
I'm anything I think I'm a Conservative."
"But you think other things matter more than politics?"
"Ah yes," he said, smiling, "that I do. Especially--" He stopped.
"Especially--for women?" The breaking of Marcia's delightful smile answered
his. "You see, I guessed what you meant to say. What things? I think I
"Beauty--poetry--sympathy. Wouldn't you put those first?"
He spoke the words shyly, looking down upon her.
There was something in the mere sound of them that thrilled, that made
a music in the girl's ears. She drew a long breath, and suddenly, as he
raised his eyes, he saw her as a white vision, lit up, Rembrandt-like,
in the darkness, by the solitary light--the lines of her young form, the
delicate softness of cheek and brow, the eager eyes.
She held out her hand.
"Good night. I shall see what Meredith has to say about it!"
She held up her volume, ran to the door, and disappeared.
"Her ladyship says she would like to see you, Miss, before you go."
The speaker was Lady Coryston's maid. She stood just within the doorway of
the room where Marcia was dressing for the Opera, delivering her message
mechanically, but really absorbed in the spectacle presented by the young
girl before her. Sewell was an artist in her own sphere, and secretly
envious of the greater range of combination which Marcia's youth and beauty
made possible for the persons who dressed her, as compared with Lady
Coryston. There are all kinds of subtle variants, no doubt, in "black,"
such as Lady Coryston habitually wore; and the costliness of them left
nothing to be desired. But when she saw Marcia clothed in a new Worth or
Paquin, Sewell was sorely tempted to desert her elderly mistress and go in
search of a young one.
"Come in, Sewell," cried Marcia. "What do you think of it?"
The woman eagerly obeyed her. Marcia's little maid, Bellows, did the
honors, and the two experts, in an ecstasy, chattered the language of
their craft, while Marcia, amid her shimmering white and pink, submitted
good-humoredly to being pulled about and twisted round, till after endless
final touches, she was at last pronounced the perfect thing.
Then she ran across the passage to her mother's sitting-room. Lady Coryston
had complained of illness during the day and had not been down-stairs. But
Marcia's experience was that when her mother was ill she was not less, but
more active than usual, and that withdrawal to her sitting-room generally
meant a concentration of energy.
Lady Coryston was sitting with a writing-board on her knee, and a
reading-lamp beside her, lighting a table covered with correspondence.
Within her reach was a deep cupboard in the wall containing estate and
business letters, elaborately labeled and subdivided. A revolving bookcase
near carried a number of books of reference, and at her elbow, with the
paper-knife inside it, lay a copy of the _Quarterly Review_. The walls
of the room were covered with books--a fine collection of county histories,
and a large number of historical memoirs and biographies. In a corner,
specially lit, a large bust of the late Lord Coryston conveyed to a younger
generation the troubled, interrogative look which in later life had been
the normal look of the original. His portrait by Holl hung over the
mantelpiece, flanked on either side by water-color pictures of his sons and
daughter in their childhood.
There was only one comfortable chair in the room, and Lady Coryston never
sat in it. She objected to flowers as being in the way; and there was not
a sign anywhere of the photographs and small knick-knacks which generally
belitter a woman's sitting--room. Altogether, an ugly room, but
characteristic, businesslike, and not without a dignity of its own.
"Mother!--why don't you rest a little?" cried Marcia, eying the black-robed
figure and the long pale face, marked by very evident fatigue. "You've been
writing letters or seeing people all day. How long did James stay?"
"About an hour."
"And Mr. Page?" Mr. Page was the agent of the main Coryston estate.
"Some time. There was a great deal to settle."
"Did you"--the girl fidgeted--"did you tell him about Coryston?"
"Certainly. He says there is only one house in the neighborhood he could
"He has taken it." Marcia opened her right hand, in which she crushed a
telegram. "Bellows has just brought me this."
Lady Coryston opened and read it.
"Have taken Knatchett for three years. Tell mother." Lady Coryston's lips
"He has lost no time. He can vex and distress us, of course. We shall have
to bear it."
"Vex and distress us! I should think he can!" cried Marcia. "Has James been
talking to him?"
"I dare say," said Lady Coryston, adding, with a slight, sarcastic laugh,
"James is a little too sure of being always in the right."
From which Marcia guessed that James had not only been talking to Coryston,
but also remonstrating with his mother, which no doubt accounted for Lady
Coryston's worn-out looks. James had more effect upon her than most people;
though never quite effect enough.
Marcia stood with one foot on the fender, her gaze fixed on her mother in
a frowning abstraction. And suddenly Lady Coryston, lifting her eyes,
realized her daughter, and the vision that she made.
"You look very well, Marcia. Have I seen that dress before?"
"No. I designed it last week. Ah!"--the sound of a distant gong made itself
heard--"there's the motor. Well, good night, mother. Take care of yourself
and do go to bed soon."
She stooped to kiss her mother.
"Who's going with you?"
"Waggin and James. Arthur may come in. He thinks the House will be up
early. And I asked Mr. Lester. But he can't come for the first part."
Her mother held her sleeve and looked up, smiling. Lady Coryston's smiles
were scarcely less formidable than her frowns.
"You expect to see Edward Newbury?"
"I dare say. They have their box, as usual."
"Well!--run off and enjoy yourself. Give my love to Miss Wagstaffe."
"Waggin" was waiting in the hall for Marcia. She had been Miss Coryston's
governess for five years, and was now in retirement on a small income,
partly supplied by a pension from Lady Coryston. It was understood that
when she was wanted to act duenna, she came--at a moment's notice. And she
was very willing to come. She lived in an Earl's Court lodging, and these
occasional expeditions with Marcia represented for her the gilt on her
modest gingerbread. She was a small, refined woman, with a figure still
slender, gray hair, and a quiet face. Her dresses were years old, but she
had a wonderful knack of bringing them up-to-date, and she never did Marcia
any discredit. She adored Marcia, and indeed all the family. Lady Coryston
called her "Miss Wagstaffe"--but to the others, sons and daughter, she was
only "Waggin." There were very few things about the Coryston family she did
not know; but her discretion was absolute.
As she saw Marcia running down-stairs her face lit up.
"My dear, what a lovely gown!--and how sweet you look!"
"Don't talk nonsense, Waggin!--and put on this rose I've brought for you!"
Waggin submitted while Marcia adorned her and gave various pats and pulls
to her hair.
"There!--you look ten years younger," said the girl, with her bright look,
stepping back. "But where is James?"
The butler stepped forward.
"Mr. James will meet you at the Opera."
"Oh, good!" murmured Marcia in her companion's ear. "Now we can croon."
And croon they did through the long crowded way to Covent Garden. By the
time the motor reached St. Martin's Lane, Waggin was in possession of all
that had happened. She had long expected it, having shrewdly noted many
signs of Lady Coryston's accumulating wrath. But now that "Corry," her dear
"Corry," with whom she had fought so many a schoolroom fight in the days
of his Eton jackets, was really disinherited, her concern was great. Tears
stood in her kind eyes. "Poor Corry!" alternated in her mouth with "Your
poor mother!" Sinner and judge appealed equally to her pity.
Marcia meanwhile sat erect and fierce.
"What else could he expect? Father _did_ leave the estates to
mother--just because Corry had taken up such views--so that she might keep
[Illustration: AS SHE SAW MARCIA HER FACE LIT UP]
"But _afterward_! My dear, he is so young! And young men change."
Lady Coryston's death was not, of course, to be mentioned--except with this
awe and vagueness--scarcely to be thought of. But hotter revolutionists
than Corry have turned Tories by forty. Waggin harped on this theme.
Marcia shook her head.
"He won't change. Mother did not ask it. All she asked was--for her sake
and father's--that he should hold his tongue."
A flush sprang to Waggin's faded cheek.
"A _man_!--a grown man!" she said, wondering--"forbid him to speak
Marcia looked anxiously at her companion. It was very seldom that Waggin
betrayed so much heat.
"I know," said the girl, gloomily--"'Your money or your life'--for I
suppose it sounds like that. Corry would say his convictions are his life.
But why 'a man,' Waggin?" She straightened her pretty shoulders. "I don't
believe you'd mind if it were a woman. You don't believe in a _woman_
Waggin looked a little bewildered.
"I'm old-fashioned, I suppose--but--"
Marcia laughed triumphantly.
"Why shouldn't Corry respect his mother's convictions? She wants to prove
that women oughtn't to shrink from fighting for what they believe, even--"
"Even with their sons?" said Waggin, tremulously. "Lady Coryston is so
"Even with their sons!" cried Marcia, vehemently. "You take it for granted,
Waggin, that they trample on their daughters!"
Waggin protested, and slipped her thin hand into the girl's. The note of
storm in Marcia's mood struck her sharply. She tried, for a moment, to
change the subject. Who, she asked, was a tall, fair girl whom she had seen
with Mr. Arthur, "a week ago" at the National Gallery? "I took my little
niece--and suddenly I turned, and there at the end of the room were Mr.
Arthur--and this lady. Such a remarkable-looking young woman!--not exactly
handsome--but you couldn't possibly pass her over."
"Enid Glenwilliam!" exclaimed Marcia, with a startled voice. "But of
course, Waggin, they weren't alone?"
"Oh no--probably not!--though--though I didn't see any one else. They
seemed so full of talk--I didn't speak to Mr. Arthur. _Who_ do you say
she was?" repeated Waggin, innocently.
Marcia turned upon her.
"The daughter of the man mother hates most in the world! It's too bad of
Arthur! It's abominable! It would kill mother if she knew! I've heard
things said sometimes--but I never believed them for a moment. Oh,
Waggin!--you _didn't_ see them alone?"
The voice changed into what was almost a wail of indignation. "Of course
Enid Glenwilliam would never consider appearances for a moment. She does
exactly what suits her. She never bothers about chaperons, unless
she absolutely must. When she sees what she wants she takes it. But
Marcia leaned back in the car, and as in the crush of the traffic they
passed under a lamp Waggin saw a countenance of genuine distress.
"Oh, my dear, I'm so sorry to have worried you. How stupid of me to mention
it! I'm sure there's nothing in it."
"I've half suspected it for the last month," said Marcia with low-toned
emphasis. "But I wouldn't believe it!--I shall tell Arthur what I think of
him! Though, mind you, I admire Enid Glenwilliam myself enormously; but
that's quite another thing. It's as though mother were never to have any
pleasure in any of us! Nothing but worry and opposition!--behind her back,
"My dear!--it was probably nothing! Girls do just as they like nowadays,
and who notices!" said Waggin, disingenuously. "And as to pleasing your
mother, I know somebody who has only to put out her hand--"
"To please mother--and somebody else?" said Marcia, turning toward her with
perfect composure. "You're thinking of Edward Newbury?"
"Who else should I be thinking of!--after all you told me last week?"
"Oh yes--I like Edward Newbury"--the tone betrayed a curious
irritation--"and apparently he likes me. But if he tries to make me answer
him too soon I shall say No, Waggin, and there will be an end of it!"
"Marcia--dearest!--don't be cruel to him!"
"No--but he mustn't press me! I've given him hints--and he won't take them.
I can't make up my mind, Waggin. I can't! It's not only marrying him--it's
the relations. Yesterday a girl I know described a week-end to me--at
Hoddon Grey. A large, smart party--evening prayers in the private chapel,
_before dinner_!--nobody allowed to breakfast in bed--everybody driven
off to church--and such a _fuss_ about Lent! It made me shiver. I'm
not that sort, Waggin--I never shall be."
And as again a stream of light from a music-hall facade poured into the
carriage, Waggin was aware of a flushed, rebellious countenance, and dark
eyes full of some passionate feeling, not very easy to understand.
"He is at your feet, dear goose!" murmured the little gray-haired
lady--"make your own conditions!"
"No, no!--never. Not with Edward Newbury! He seems the softest,
kindest--and underneath--_iron_! Most people are taken in. I'm not."
There was silence in the car. Waggin was uneasily pondering. Nothing--she
knew it--would be more acceptable to Lady Coryston than this match, though
she was in no sense a scheming mother, and had never taken any special
pains on Marcia's behalf. Her mind was too full of other things. Still
undoubtedly this would suit her. Old family--the young man himself heir
presumptive to a marquisate money--high character--everything that mortal
mother could desire. And Marcia was attracted--Waggin was certain of it.
The mingled feeling with which she spoke of him proved it to the hilt. And
yet--let not Mr. Newbury suppose that she was to be easily run to earth! In
Waggin's opinion he had his work cut out for him.
Covent Garden filled from floor to ceiling with a great audience for
an important "first night"--there is no sight in London, perhaps, that
ministers more sharply to the lust of modern eyes and the pride of modern
life. Women reign supreme in it. The whole object of it is to provide
the most gorgeous setting possible, for a world of women--women old and
young--their beauty or their jewels, their white necks and their gray
heads; the roses that youth wears--divinely careless; or the diamonds
wherewith age must make amends for lost bloom and vanished years.
Marcia never entered the Coryston box, which held one of the most coveted
positions on the grand tier, without a vague thrill of exultation; that
instinctive, overbearing delight in the goods of Vanity Fair, which the
Greek called _hubris_, and which is only vile when it outlives youth.
It meant in her--"I am young--I am handsome--the world is all on my
side--who shall thwart or deny me?" To wealth, indeed, Marcia rarely gave
a conscious thought, although an abundance of it was implied in all her
actions and attitudes of mind. It would have seemed to her, at any rate,
so strange to be without it, that poverty was not so much an object of
compassion as of curiosity; the poverty, for instance, of such a man as Mr.
Lester. But behind this ignorance there was no hardness of heart; only a
The overture had begun--in a shadowy house. But the stream of the audience
was still pouring in from all sides, in spite of the indignant "Hush" of
those who wanted not to lose a note of something new and difficult. Marcia
sat in the front of the box, conscious of being much looked at, and raising
her own opera-glass from time to time, especially to watch the filling up
of two rows of chairs on the floor, just below the lower tier of boxes. It
was there that Mr. Newbury had told her to look for him. James, who had
joined them at the entrance of the theater and was now hanging on the
music, observed her once or twice uneasily. Presently he bent over.
The girl started and blushed.
"I don't understand the music, James!--it's so strange and barbarous."
"Well, it isn't Glueck, certainly," said James, smiling.
Marcia turned her face toward it. And as she did so there rose from the
crash of its opening tumult, like a hovering bird in a clear space of sky,
a floating song of extraordinary loveliness. It rose and fell--winds caught
it--snatches of tempest overpowered it--shrieking demons rushed upon it and
silenced it. But it persisted; passing finally into a processional march,
through which it was still dimly, mysteriously traceable to the end.
"The song of Iphigenia!" said James. And as the curtain rose, "And here are
the gulfs of Aulis, and the Greek host."
The opera, by a young Bavarian of genius, a follower of Strauss, who had
but recently captured Munich and Berlin, was based on the great play of
Euripides, freely treated by a translator who had known, a hundred and
fifty years after Glueck, how to make it speak, through music, to more
modern ears. It was carried through without any lowering of the curtain,
and the splendid story unfolded itself through a music at once sensuous
and heroic, with a swiftness and a passion which had soon gripped Covent
There, in a thousand ships, bound motionless by unrelenting winds, lies the
allied host that is to conquer Troy and bring back the stolen Helen. But
at the bidding of Artemis, whose temple crowns the coast, fierce, contrary
blasts keep it prisoner in the harbor. Hellas cannot avenge itself on the
Phrygian barbarians who have carried off a free Greek woman. Artemis holds
back the hunters from the prey. Why? Because, as goddess of the land, she
claims her toll, the toll of human blood. Agamemnon, the leader of the
host, distracted by fears of revolt and of the break-up of the army, has
vowed to Artemis the dearest thing he possesses. The answer is, "Your
Under pressure from the other chiefs of the host, and from the priests, the
stricken father consents at last to send a letter to Clytemnestra at Argos,
bidding her bring their young daughter to the camp, on the pretext that
she is to become the bride of the hero Achilles. The letter is no sooner
despatched than, tormented with remorse, he tries to recall it. In vain.
Mother and child arrive, with the babe Orestes; the mother full of exultant
joy in such a marriage, the daughter thinking only of her father, on whose
neck she throws herself with fond home prattle, lifting Orestes to him to
kiss, saying tender, touching things--how she has missed him--how long the
time has been....
The young singer, an American, with a voice and a magic reminding many an
old frequenter of Covent Garden, through all difference, of Giulia Ravogli
in her prime, played this poignant scene as though the superb music in
which it was clothed was her natural voice, the mere fitting breath of the
Marcia sat arrested. The door of the box opened softly. A young man,
smiling, stood in the doorway. Marcia, looking round, flushed deeply; but
in the darkness only Waggin saw it. The girl beckoned to him. He came in
noiselessly, nodded to James, bowed ceremoniously to Waggin, and took a
seat beside Marcia.
He bent toward her, whispering, "I saw you weren't very full, and I wanted
to hear this--with you."
"She's good!" was all that Marcia could find to whisper in return, with a
motion of her face toward the Iphigenia.
"Yes--but only as part of the poem! Don't mistake it--please!--for the
"But she is the play!"
"She is the _idea_! She is the immortal beauty that springs out of
sorrow. Watch the contrast between the death she shrinks from--and the
death she accepts; between the horror--and the greatness! Listen!--here is
the dirge music beginning."
Marcia listened--with a strange tremor of pulse. Even through the stress of
the music her mind went wandering over the past weeks, and those various
incidents which had marked the growth of her acquaintance with the man
beside her. How long had she known him? Since Christmas only? The Newburys
and the Corystons were now neighbors indeed in the country; but it was not
long since his father had inherited the old house of Hoddon Grey, and of
the preceding three years Edward Newbury had spent nearly two in India.
They had first met at a London dinner party; and their friendship, then
begun, had ripened rapidly. But it was not till the Shrewsbury House ball
that a note of excitement, of uncertain or thrilled expectation, had crept
into what was at first a mere pleasant companionship. She had danced with
him the whole night, reckless of comment; and had been since, it seemed
to her, mostly engaged in trying to avoid him. But to-night there was no
avoiding him. And as his murmured yet eager comments on the opera reached
her, she became more and more conscious of his feelings toward her, which
were thus conveyed to her, as it were, covertly, and indirectly, through
the high poetry and passion of the spectacle on which they both looked.
With every stage of it Newbury was revealing himself; and exploring her.
Waggin smiled to herself in the darkness of the box. James and she once
exchanged glances. Marcia, to both of them, was a dim and beautiful vision,
as she sat with her loosely clasped hands lying on the edge of the box, her
dark head now turned toward the stage, and now toward Newbury.
* * * * *
The ghastly truth had been revealed; Iphigenia, within earshot, almost,
of the baffled army clamoring for her blood, was clinging to her father's
knees, imploring him to save her:
"Tears will I bring--my only cunning--all I have! Round your knees, my
father, I twine this body, which my mother bare you. Slay me not, before
my time! Sweet, sweet is the light!--drive me not down into the halls of
death. 'Twas I first called you father--I, your firstborn. What fault have
I in Paris's sin? Oh, father, why, why did he ever come--to be my death?
Turn to me--give me a look--a kiss! So that at least, in dying, I may have
that to remember--if you will not heed my prayers."
She takes the infant Orestes in her arms:
"Brother!--you are but a tiny helper--and yet--come, weep with me!--come,
pray our father not to slay your sister. Look, father, how--silently--he
implores you! Have pity! Oh, light, light, dearest of all goods to men!
He is mad indeed who prays for death. Better an ill living than a noble
The music rose and fell like dashing waves upon a fearful coast--through
one of the most agonizing scenes ever imagined by poet, ever expressed in
art. Wonderful theme!--the terror-stricken anguish of the girl, little more
than a child, startled suddenly from bridal dreams into this open-eyed
vision of a hideous doom; the helpless remorse of the father; the misery
of the mother; and behind it all the pitiless fate--the savage creed--the
blood-thirst of the goddess--and the maddened army howling for its prey.
Marcia covered her eyes a moment. "Horrible!" she said, shivering, "too
Newbury shook his head, smiling.
"No! You'll see. She carries in her hands the fate of her race--of the
Hellenic, the nobler world, threatened by the barbarian, the baser world.
She dies, to live. It's the motive of all great art--all religion. Ah--here
There followed the strangest, pitifulest love scene. Achilles, roused to
fury by the foul use made of his great name in the plot against the girl,
adopts the shrinking, lovely creature as his own. She has been called his
bride; she shall be his bride; and he will fight for her--die for her--if
need be. And suddenly, amid the clashing horror of the story, there springs
up for an instant the red flower of love. Iphigenia stands dumb in the
background, while her mother wails, and Achilles, the goddess-born, puts on
his armor and his golden-crested helmet. An exultant sword-song rises from
the orchestra. There is a gleam of hope; and the girl, as she looks at her
champion, loves him.
The music sank into tenderness, flowing like a stream in summer. And the
whole vast audience seemed to hold its breath.
"Marvelous!" The word was Newbury's.
He turned to look at his companion, and the mere energy of his feeling
compelled Marcia's eyes to his. Involuntarily, she smiled an answer.
But the golden moment dies!--forever. Shrieking and crashing, the
vulture-forces of destruction sweep upon it. Messengers rush in, announcing
blow on blow. Achilles' own Myrmidons have turned against him. Agamemnon
is threatened--Achilles--Argos! The murderous cries of the army fill the
distance like the roar of an uncaged beast.
Iphigenia raises her head. The savage, inexorable music still surges and
thunders round her. And just as Achilles is about to leave her, in order to
throw himself on the spears of his own men, her trance breaks.
"Mother!--we cannot fight with gods. I die!--I die! But let me die
gloriously--unafraid. Hellas calls to me!--Hellas, my country. I alone can
give her what she asks--fair sailing, and fair victory. You bore me for the
good of Hellas--not for your own joy only, mother! Shall men brave all for
women and their fatherland?--and shall one life, one little life, stand in
their way? Nay! I give my self to Hellas! Slay me!--pull down the towers of
Troy! This through all time shall be sung of me--this be my glory!--this,
child and husband both. Hellas, through me, shall conquer. It is meet that
Hellenes should rule barbarians, and not barbarians Hellenes. For they are
slave-folk--and _we_ are free!"
Achilles cries out in mingled adoration and despair. Now he knows her for
what she is--now that he has "looked into her soul"--must he lose her?--is
it all over? He pleads again that he may fight and die for her.
But she puts him gently aside.
"Die not for me, kind stranger. Slay no man for me! Let it be _my_
boon to save Hellas, if I may."
And under her sternly sweet command he goes, telling her that he will await
her beside the altar of Artemis, there to give his life for her still, if
she calls to him--even at the last moment.
But she, tenderly embracing her mother, and the child Orestes, forbidding
all thought of vengeance, silencing all clamor of grief--she lifts the song
of glorious death, as she slowly passes from view, on her way to the place
of sacrifice, the Greek women chanting round her.
"Hail, Hellas, Mother-land! Hail, light-giving Day--torch of Zeus!"
"To another life, and an unknown fate, I go! Farewell, dear
"That," said Newbury, gently, to Marcia only, as the music died away, "is
the death--_she accepts_!" The tears stood in the girl's eyes. The
exaltation of great passion, great poetry, had touched her; mingled
strangely with the spell, the resisted spell, of youth and sex. Newbury's
dark, expressive face, its proud refinement, its sensitive feeling; the
growing realization in her of his strong, exacting personality;
the struggle of her weaker will against an advancing master;
fascination--revolt; of all these things she was conscious as they both sat
drowned in the passion of applause which was swelling through the Opera
House, and her eyes were still vaguely following that white figure on the
stage, with the bouquets at its feet....
Bright eyes sought her own; a hand reached out, caught hers, and pressed
it. She recoiled--released herself sharply. Then she saw that Edward
Newbury had risen, and that at the door of the box stood Sir Wilfrid Bury.
* * * * *
Edward Newbury gave up his seat to Sir Wilfrid, and stood against the back
of the box talking to Waggin. But she could not flatter herself he paid
much attention to her remarks. Marcia could not see him; but his eyes were
on her perpetually. A wonderfully handsome fellow, thought Waggin. The
profile and brow perfect, the head fine, the eyes full--too full!--of
consciousness, as though the personality behind burnt with too intense a
flame. Waggin liked him, and was in some sort afraid of him. Never did her
small talk seem to her so small as when she launched it at Edward Newbury.
And yet no one among the young men of Marcia's acquaintance showed so much
courtesy to Marcia's "companion."
"Oh, very fine! very fine!" said Sir Wilfrid; "but I wanted a big
fight--Achilles and his Myrmidons going for the other fellows--and somebody
having the decency to burn the temple of that hag Artemis! I say!" He
spoke, smiling, in Marcia's ear. "Your brother Arthur's in very bad
company! Do you see where he is? Look at the box opposite."
Marcia raised her opera-glass, and saw Enid Glenwilliam sitting in front
of the box to which Sir Wilfrid pointed her. The Chancellor's daughter was
bending her white neck back to talk to a man behind her, who was clearly
Arthur Coryston. Behind her also, with his hands in his pockets, and
showing a vast expanse of shirt-front, was a big, burly man, who stood
looking out on the animated spectacle which the Opera House presented,
in this interval between the opera and the ballet, with a look half
contemptuous, half dreamy. It was a figure wholly out of keeping--in
spite of its conformity in dress--with the splendid opera-house, and the
bejeweled crowd which filled it. In some symbolic group of modern
statuary, it might have stood for the Third Estate--for
Democracy--Labor--personified. But it was a Third Estate, as the modern
world has developed it--armed with all the weapons of the other two!
"The Chancellor himself!" said Sir Wilfrid; "watching 'the little victims
play'! I picture him figuring up all these smart people. 'How much can I
get out of you?--and you?'"
Marcia abruptly put down the glass she held, and turned to Sir Wilfrid. He
was her godfather, and he had been her particular friend since the days
when they used to go off together to the Zoo or the Pantomime.
"Do, please, talk to Arthur!" she said, eagerly, but so as not to be heard
by any one else. "Perhaps he'd listen to you. People are beginning to
notice--and it's too, too dreadful. You know what mother would feel!"
"I do," said Sir Wilfrid, gravely; "if that's what you mean." His eyes
rested a moment on the striking figure of the Chancellor's daughter.
"Certainly--I'll put in a word. But she is a very fascinating young woman,
"I know," said Marcia, helplessly, "I know."
There was a pause. Then Sir Wilfrid asked:
"When do you go down to Coryston?"
"Just before Whitsuntide."
He looked round with a smile, saw that Edward Newbury was still in the box,
and whispered, mischievously:
"Hoddon Grey, too, I think, will not be empty?"
Marcia kept an indifferent face.
"I dare say. You're coming?" Sir Wilfrid nodded. "Oh, _have_ you
She murmured to him behind her fan. Sir Wilfrid knew all their history--had
been her father's most intimate friend. She gave him a rapid account of
Coryston's disinheriting. The old man rose, his humorous eyes suddenly
"We'll talk of this--at Coryston. Ah, Newbury--I took your chair--I resign.
Hullo, Lester--good evening. Heavens, there's the curtain going up. Good
He hurried away. Newbury moved forward, his eager look on Marcia. But she
turned, smiling, to the young librarian.
"You haven't seen this ballet, Mr. Lester?--Schumann's 'Carnival'? Oh,
you mustn't stand so far back. We can make room, can't we?" She addressed
Newbury, and before he knew what had happened, the chairs had been so
manipulated that Lester sat between Marcia and Newbury, while Waggin had
drawn back into the shadow. The eyes of Marcia's duenna twinkled. It
pleased her that this magnificent young man, head, it was said, of the
young High Church party, distinguished in many ways, and as good as he was
handsome, was not to have too easy a game. Marcia had clearly lost her head
a little at the Shrewsbury House ball; and was now trying to recover it.
After one of those baffling fortnights of bitter wind and cold, which so
often mark the beginning of an English May, when all that the spring has
slowly gained since March seems to be confiscated afresh by returning
winter, the weather had repented itself, the skies had cleared, and
suddenly, under a flood of sunshine, there were blue-bells in the
copses, cowslips in the fields, a tawny leaf breaking on the oaks, a new
cheerfulness in the eyes and gait of the countryman.
A plain, pleasant-looking woman sat sewing out-of-doors, in front of a
small verandaed cottage, perched high on a hillside which commanded a wide
view of central England. The chalk down fell beneath her into a sheath of
beech woods; the line of hills, slope behind slope, ran westward to the
sunset, while eastward they mounted to a wooded crest beyond which the
cottage could not look. Northward, beginning some six hundred feet below
the cottage, stretched a wide and varied country, dotted with villages and
farms, with houses and woods, till it lost itself in the haze of a dim
A man of middle age, gray-headed, spare in figure, emerged from one of the
French windows of the cottage.
"Marion, when did you say that you expected Enid?"
"Between three and four, papa."
"I don't believe Glenwilliam himself will get here at all. There will be a
long Cabinet this afternoon, and another to-morrow probably--Sunday or no
"Well then, he won't come, father," said the daughter, placidly, thrusting
her hand into a sock riddled with holes, and looking at it with concern.
"Annoying! I wanted him to meet Coryston--who said he would be here to
Miss Atherstone looked a little startled.
"Will that do, father? You know Enid told me to ask Arthur Coryston, and I
"Do? Why not? Because of politics? They must have got used to that in
the Coryston family! Or because of the gossip that Arthur is to have the
estates? But it's not his fault. I hear the two brothers are on excellent
terms. They say that Arthur has warned his mother that he means to make it
up to Coryston somehow."
"Enid doesn't like Lord Coryston," said Miss Atherstone, slowly.
"I dare say. He finds out her weak points. She has a good many. And he's
not a ladies' man. Between ourselves, my dear, she poses a good deal. I
never know quite where to have her, though I dandled her as a baby."
"Oh, Enid's all right," said Marion Atherstone, taking a fresh needleful of
brown wool. Miss Atherstone was not clever, though she lived with clever
people, and her powers of expressing herself were small. Her father, a
retired doctor, on the other hand, was one of the ablest Liberal organizers
in the country. From his perch on the Mintern hills he commanded half the
midlands, in more senses than one; knew thirty or forty constituencies by
heart; was consulted in all difficulties; was better acquainted with "the
pulse of the party" than its chief agent, and was never left out of count
by any important Minister framing an important bill.