Part 7 out of 9
'We have been well entertained so far. I could scarcely believe
that the story I was listening to was utterly an invention, so
vividly does Mrs. Petherwin bring the scenes before our eyes. She
must now be exhausted; we will have the remainder to-morrow.'
They all agreed that this was well, and soon after fell into groups,
and dispersed about the rooms. When everybody's attention was thus
occupied Lord Mountclere whispered to Ethelberta tremulously, 'Don't
tell more: you think too much of them: they are no better than
you! Will you meet me in the little winter garden two minutes
hence? Pass through that door, and along the glass passage.' He
himself left the room by an opposite door.
She had not set three steps in the warm snug octagon of glass and
plants when he appeared on the other side.
'You knew it all before!' she said, looking keenly at him. 'Who
told you, and how long have you known it?'
'Before yesterday or last week,' said Lord Mountclere. 'Even before
we met in France. Why are you so surprised?'
Ethelberta had been surprised, and very greatly, to find him, as it
were, secreted in the very rear of her position. That nothing she
could tell was new to him was a good deal to think of, but it was
little beside the recollection that he had actually made his first
declaration in the face of that knowledge of her which she had
supposed so fatal to all her matrimonial ambitions.
'And now only one point remains to be settled,' he said, taking her
hand. 'You promised at Rouen that at our next interview you would
honour me with a decisive reply--one to make me happy for ever.'
'But my father and friends?' said she.
'Are nothing to be concerned about. Modern developments have shaken
up the classes like peas in a hopper. An annuity, and a comfortable
'My brothers are workmen.'
'Manufacture is the single vocation in which a man's prospects may
be said to be illimitable. Hee-hee!--they may buy me up before they
die! And now what stands in the way? It would take fifty alliances
with fifty families so little disreputable as yours, darling, to
drag mine down.'
Ethelberta had anticipated the scene, and settled her course; what
had to be said and done here was mere formality; yet she had been
unable to go straight to the assent required. However, after these
words of self-depreciation, which were let fall as much for her own
future ease of conscience as for his present warning, she made no
'I shall think it a great honour to be your wife,' she said simply.
39. KNOLLSEA - MELCHESTER
The year was now moving on apace, but Ethelberta and Picotee chose
to remain at Knollsea, in the brilliant variegated brick and stone
villa to which they had removed in order to be in keeping with their
ascending fortunes. Autumn had begun to make itself felt and seen
in bolder and less subtle ways than at first. In the morning now,
on coming downstairs, in place of a yellowish-green leaf or two
lying in a corner of the lowest step, which had been the only
previous symptoms around the house, she saw dozens of them playing
at corkscrews in the wind, directly the door was opened. Beyond,
towards the sea, the slopes and scarps that had been muffled with a
thick robe of cliff herbage, were showing their chill grey substance
through the withered verdure, like the background of velvet whence
the pile has been fretted away. Unexpected breezes broomed and
rasped the smooth bay in evanescent patches of stippled shade, and,
besides the small boats, the ponderous lighters used in shipping
stone were hauled up the beach in anticipation of the equinoctial
A few days after Ethelberta's reception at Enckworth, an improved
stanhope, driven by Lord Mountclere himself, climbed up the hill
until it was opposite her door. A few notes from a piano softly
played reached his ear as he descended from his place: on being
shown in to his betrothed, he could perceive that she had just left
the instrument. Moreover, a tear was visible in her eye when she
came near him.
They discoursed for several minutes in the manner natural between a
defenceless young widow and an old widower in Lord Mountclere's
position to whom she was plighted--a great deal of formal
considerateness making itself visible on her part, and of extreme
tenderness on his. While thus occupied, he turned to the piano, and
casually glanced at a piece of music lying open upon it. Some words
of writing at the top expressed that it was the composer's original
copy, presented by him, Christopher Julian, to the author of the
song. Seeing that he noticed the sheet somewhat lengthily,
Ethelberta remarked that it had been an offering made to her a long
time ago--a melody written to one of her own poems.
'In the writing of the composer,' observed Lord Mountclere, with
interest. 'An offering from the musician himself--very gratifying
and touching. Mr. Christopher Julian is the name I see upon it, I
believe? I knew his father, Dr. Julian, a Sandbourne man, if I
'Yes,' said Ethelberta placidly. But it was really with an effort.
The song was the identical one which Christopher sent up to her from
Sandbourne when the fire of her hope burnt high for less material
ends; and the discovery of the sheet among her music that day had
started eddies of emotion for some time checked.
'I am sorry you have been grieved,' said Lord Mountclere, with
'Grieved?' said Ethelberta.
'Did I not see a tear there? or did my eyes deceive me?'
'You might have seen one.'
'Ah! a tear, and a song. I think--'
'You naturally think that a woman who cries over a man's gift must
be in love with the giver?' Ethelberta looked him serenely in the
Lord Mountclere's jealous suspicions were considerably shaken.
'Not at all,' he said hastily, as if ashamed. 'One who cries over a
song is much affected by its sentiment.'
'Do you expect authors to cry over their own words?' she inquired,
merging defence in attack. 'I am afraid they don't often do that.'
'You would make me uneasy.'
'On the contrary, I would reassure you. Are you not still
doubting?' she asked, with a pleasant smile.
'I cannot doubt you!'
'Swear, like a faithful knight.'
'I swear, my fairy, my flower!'
After this the old man appeared to be pondering; indeed, his
thoughts could hardly be said to be present when he uttered the
words. For though the tabernacle was getting shaky by reason of
years and merry living, so that what was going on inside might often
be guessed without by the movement of the hangings, as in a puppet-
show with worn canvas, he could be quiet enough when scheming any
plot of particular neatness, which had less emotion than impishness
in it. Such an innocent amusement he was pondering now.
Before leaving her, he asked if she would accompany him to a morning
instrumental concert at Melchester, which was to take place in the
course of that week for the benefit of some local institution.
'Melchester,' she repeated faintly, and observed him as searchingly
as it was possible to do without exposing herself to a raking fire
in return. Could he know that Christopher was living there, and was
this said in prolongation of his recent suspicion? But Lord
Mountclere's face gave no sign.
'You forget one fatal objection,' said she; 'the secrecy in which it
is imperative that the engagement between us should be kept.'
'I am not known in Melchester without my carriage; nor are you.'
'We may be known by somebody on the road.'
'Then let it be arranged in this way. I will not call here to take
you up, but will meet you at the station at Anglebury; and we can go
on together by train without notice. Surely there can be no
objection to that? It would be mere prudishness to object, since we
are to become one so shortly.' He spoke a little impatiently. It
was plain that he particularly wanted her to go to Melchester.
'I merely meant that there was a chance of discovery in our going
out together. And discovery means no marriage.' She was pale now,
and sick at heart, for it seemed that the viscount must be aware
that Christopher dwelt at that place, and was about to test her
'Why does it mean no marriage?' said he.
'My father might, and almost certainly would, object to it.
Although he cannot control me, he might entreat me.'
'Why would he object?' said Lord Mountclere uneasily, and somewhat
'I don't know.'
'But you will be my wife--say again that you will.'
He breathed. 'He will not object--hee-hee!' he said. 'O no--I
think you will be mine now.'
'I have said so. But look to me all the same.'
'You malign yourself, dear one. But you will meet me at Anglebury,
as I wish, and go on to Melchester with me?'
'I shall be pleased to--if my sister may accompany me.'
'Ah--your sister. Yes, of course.'
They settled the time of the journey, and when the visit had been
stretched out as long as it reasonably could be with propriety, Lord
Mountclere took his leave.
When he was again seated on the driving-phaeton which he had brought
that day, Lord Mountclere looked gleeful, and shrewd enough in his
own opinion to outwit Mephistopheles. As soon as they were
ascending a hill, and he could find time to free his hand, he pulled
off his glove, and drawing from his pocket a programme of the
Melchester concert referred to, contemplated therein the name of one
of the intended performers. The name was that of Mr. C. Julian.
Replacing it again, he looked ahead, and some time after murmured
with wily mirth, 'An excellent test--a lucky thought!'
Nothing of importance occurred during the intervening days. At two
o'clock on the appointed afternoon Ethelberta stepped from the train
at Melchester with the viscount, who had met her as proposed; she
was followed behind by Picotee.
The concert was to be held at the Town-hall half-an-hour later.
They entered a fly in waiting, and secure from recognition, were
driven leisurely in that direction, Picotee silent and absorbed with
her own thoughts.
'There's the Cathedral,' said Lord Mountclere humorously, as they
caught a view of one of its towers through a street leading into the
'It boasts of a very fine organ.'
'And the organist is a clever young man.'
Lord Mountclere paused a moment or two. 'By the way, you may
remember that he is the Mr. Julian who set your song to music!'
'I recollect it quite well.' Her heart was horrified and she
thought Lord Mountclere must be developing into an inquisitor, which
perhaps he was. But none of this reached her face.
They turned in the direction of the Hall, were set down, and
The large assembly-room set apart for the concert was upstairs, and
it was possible to enter it in two ways: by the large doorway in
front of the landing, or by turning down a side passage leading to
council-rooms and subsidiary apartments of small size, which were
allotted to performers in any exhibition; thus they could enter from
one of these directly upon the platform, without passing through the
'Will you seat yourselves here?' said Lord Mountclere, who, instead
of entering by the direct door, had brought the young women round
into this green-room, as it may be called. 'You see we have come in
privately enough; when the musicians arrive we can pass through
behind them, and step down to our seats from the front.'
The players could soon be heard tuning in the next room. Then one
came through the passage-room where the three waited, and went in,
then another, then another. Last of all came Julian.
Ethelberta sat facing the door, but Christopher, never in the least
expecting her there, did not recognize her till he was quite inside.
When he had really perceived her to be the one who had troubled his
soul so many times and long, the blood in his face--never very much-
-passed off and left it, like the shade of a cloud. Between them
stood a table covered with green baize, which, reflecting upwards a
band of sunlight shining across the chamber, flung upon his already
white features the virescent hues of death. The poor musician,
whose person, much to his own inconvenience, constituted a complete
breviary of the gentle emotions, looked as if he were going to fall
down in a faint.
Ethelberta flung at Lord Mountclere a look which clipped him like
pincers: he never forgot it as long as he lived.
'This is your pretty jealous scheme--I see it!' she hissed to him,
and without being able to control herself went across to Julian.
But a slight gasp came from behind the door where Picotee had been
sitting. Ethelberta and Lord Mountclere looked that way: and
behold, Picotee had nearly swooned.
Ethelberta's show of passion went as quickly as it had come, for she
felt that a splendid triumph had been put into her hands. 'Now do
you see the truth?' she whispered to Lord Mountclere without a
drachm of feeling; pointing to Christopher and then to Picotee--as
like as two snowdrops now.
'I do, I do,' murmured the viscount hastily.
They both went forward to help Christopher in restoring the fragile
Picotee: he had set himself to that task as suddenly as he possibly
could to cover his own near approach to the same condition. Not
much help was required, the little girl's indisposition being quite
momentary, and she sat up in the chair again.
'Are you better?' said Ethelberta to Christopher.
'Quite well--quite,' he said, smiling faintly. 'I am glad to see
you. I must, I think, go into the next room now.' He bowed and
walked out awkwardly.
'Are you better, too?' she said to Picotee.
'Quite well,' said Picotee.
'You are quite sure you know between whom the love lies now--eh?'
Ethelberta asked in a sarcastic whisper of Lord Mountclere.
'I am--beyond a doubt,' murmured the anxious nobleman; he feared
that look of hers, which was not less dominant than irresistible.
Some additional moments given to thought on the circumstances
rendered Ethelberta still more indignant and intractable. She went
out at the door by which they had entered, along the passage, and
down the stairs. A shuffling footstep followed, but she did not
turn her head. When they reached the bottom of the stairs the
carriage had gone, their exit not being expected till two hours
later. Ethelberta, nothing daunted, swept along the pavement and
down the street in a turbulent prance, Lord Mountclere trotting
behind with a jowl reduced to a mere nothing by his concern at the
discourtesy into which he had been lured by jealous whisperings.
'My dearest--forgive me; I confess I doubted you--but I was beside
myself,' came to her ears from over her shoulder. But Ethelberta
walked on as before.
Lord Mountclere sighed like a poet over a ledger. 'An old man--who
is not very old--naturally torments himself with fears of losing--
no, no--it was an innocent jest of mine--you will forgive a joke--
hee-hee?' he said again, on getting no reply.
'You had no right to mistrust me!'
'I do not--you did not blench. You should have told me before that
it was your sister and not yourself who was entangled with him.'
'You brought me to Melchester on purpose to confront him!'
'Yes, I did.'
'Are you not ashamed?'
'I am satisfied. It is better to know the truth by any means than
to die of suspense; better for us both--surely you see that?'
They had by this time got to the end of a long street, and into a
deserted side road by which the station could be indirectly reached.
Picotee appeared in the distance as a mere distracted speck of
girlhood, following them because not knowing what else to do in her
sickness of body and mind. Once out of sight here, Ethelberta began
'Ethelberta,' said Lord Mountclere, in an agony of trouble, 'don't
be vexed! It was an inconsiderate trick--I own it. Do what you
will, but do not desert me now! I could not bear it--you would kill
me if you were to leave me. Anything, but be mine.'
Ethelberta continued her way, and drying her eyes entered the
station, where, on searching the time-tables, she found there would
be no train for Anglebury for the next two hours. Then more slowly
she turned towards the town again, meeting Picotee and keeping in
Lord Mountclere gave up the chase, but as he wished to get into the
town again, he followed in the same direction. When Ethelberta had
proceeded as far as the Red Lion Hotel, she turned towards it with
her companion, and being shown to a room, the two sisters shut
themselves in. Lord Mountclere paused and entered the White Hart,
the rival hotel to the Red Lion, which stood in an adjoining street.
Having secluded himself in an apartment here, walked from window to
window awhile, and made himself generally uncomfortable, he sat down
to the writing materials on the table, and concocted a note:--
'WHITE HART HOTEL.
'MY DEAR MRS. PETHERWIN,--You do not mean to be so cruel as to break
your plighted word to me? Remember, there is no love without much
jealousy, and lovers are ever full of sighs and misgiving. I have
owned to as much contrition as can reasonably be expected. I could
not endure the suspicion that you loved another.--Yours always,
This he sent, watching from the window its progress along the
street. He awaited anxiously for an answer, and waited long. It
was nearly twenty minutes before he could hear a messenger
approaching the door. Yes--she had actually sent a reply; he prized
it as if it had been the first encouragement he had ever in his life
received from woman:--
'MY LORD' (wrote Ethelberta),--'I am not prepared at present to
enter into the question of marriage at all. The incident which has
occurred affords me every excuse for withdrawing my promise, since
it was given under misapprehensions on a point that materially
affects my happiness.
'Ho-ho-ho--Miss Hoity-toity!' said Lord Mountclere, trotting up and
down. But, remembering it was her June against his November, this
did not last long, and he frantically replied:--
'MY DARLING,--I cannot release you--I must do anything to keep my
treasure. Will you not see me for a few minutes, and let bygones go
to the winds?'
Was ever a thrush so safe in a cherry net before!
The messenger came back with the information that Mrs. Petherwin had
taken a walk to the Close, her companion alone remaining at the
hotel. There being nothing else left for the viscount to do, he put
on his hat, and went out on foot in the same direction. He had not
walked far when he saw Ethelberta moving slowly along the High
Street before him.
Ethelberta was at this hour wandering without any fixed intention
beyond that of consuming time. She was very wretched, and very
indifferent: the former when thinking of her past, the latter when
thinking of the days to come. While she walked thus unconscious of
the streets, and their groups of other wayfarers, she saw
Christopher emerge from a door not many paces in advance, and close
it behind him: he stood for a moment on the step before descending
into the road.
She could not, even had she wished it, easily check her progress
without rendering the chance of his perceiving her still more
certain. But she did not wish any such thing, and it made little
difference, for he had already seen her in taking his survey round,
and came down from the door to her side. It was impossible for
anything formal to pass between them now.
'You are not at the concert, Mr. Julian?' she said. 'I am glad to
have a better opportunity of speaking to you, and of asking for your
sister. Unfortunately there is not time for us to call upon her to-
'Thank you, but it makes no difference,' said Julian, with somewhat
sad reserve. 'I will tell her I have met you; she is away from home
just at present.' And finding that Ethelberta did not rejoin
immediately he observed, 'The chief organist, old Dr. Breeve, has
taken my place at the concert, as it was arranged he should do after
the opening part. I am now going to the Cathedral for the afternoon
service. You are going there too?'
'I thought of looking at the interior for a moment.'
So they went on side by side, saying little; for it was a situation
in which scarcely any appropriate thing could be spoken. Ethelberta
was the less reluctant to walk in his company because of the
provocation to skittishness that Lord Mountclere had given, a
provocation which she still resented. But she was far from wishing
to increase his jealousy; and yet this was what she was doing, Lord
Mountclere being a perturbed witness from behind of all that was
They turned the corner of the short street of connection which led
under an archway to the Cathedral Close, the old peer dogging them
still. Christopher seemed to warm up a little, and repeated the
invitation. 'You will come with your sister to see us before you
leave?' he said. 'We have tea at six.'
'We shall have left Melchester before that time. I am now only
waiting for the train.'
'You two have not come all the way from Knollsea alone?'
'Part of the way,' said Ethelberta evasively.
'And going back alone?'
'No. Only for the last five miles. At least that was the
arrangement--I am not quite sure if it holds good.'
'You don't wish me to see you safely in the train?'
'It is not necessary: thank you very much. We are well used to
getting about the world alone, and from Melchester to Knollsea is no
serious journey, late or early. . . . Yet I think I ought, in
honesty, to tell you that we are not entirely by ourselves in
'I remember I saw your friend--relative--in the room at the Town-
hall. It did not occur to my mind for the moment that he was any
other than a stranger standing there.'
'He is not a relative,' she said, with perplexity. 'I hardly know,
Christopher, how to explain to you my position here to-day, because
of some difficulties that have arisen since we have been in the
town, which may alter it entirely. On that account I will be less
frank with you than I should like to be, considering how long we
have known each other. It would be wrong, however, if I were not to
tell you that there has been a possibility of my marriage with him.'
'The elderly gentleman?'
'Yes. And I came here in his company, intending to return with him.
But you shall know all soon. Picotee shall write to Faith.'
'I always think the Cathedral looks better from this point than from
the point usually chosen by artists,' he said, with nervous
quickness, directing her glance upwards to the silent structure, now
misty and unrelieved by either high light or deep shade. 'We get
the grouping of the chapels and choir-aisles more clearly shown--and
the whole culminates to a more perfect pyramid from this spot--do
you think so?'
'Yes. I do.'
A little further, and Christopher stopped to enter, when Ethelberta
bade him farewell. 'I thought at one time that our futures might
have been different from what they are apparently becoming,' he said
then, regarding her as a stall-reader regards the brilliant book he
cannot afford to buy. 'But one gets weary of repining about that.
I wish Picotee and yourself could see us oftener; I am as confirmed
a bachelor now as Faith is an old maid. I wonder if--should the
event you contemplate occur--you and he will ever visit us, or we
shall ever visit you!'
Christopher was evidently imagining the elderly gentleman to be some
retired farmer, or professional man already so intermixed with the
metamorphic classes of society as not to be surprised or
inconvenienced by her beginnings; one who wished to secure
Ethelberta as an ornament to his parlour fire in a quiet spirit, and
in no intoxicated mood regardless of issues. She could scarcely
reply to his supposition; and the parting was what might have been
predicted from a conversation so carefully controlled.
Ethelberta, as she had intended, now went on further, and entering
the nave began to inspect the sallow monuments which lined the
grizzled pile. She did not perceive amid the shadows an old
gentleman who had crept into the mouldy place as stealthily as a
worm into a skull, and was keeping himself carefully beyond her
observation. She continued to regard feature after feature till the
choristers had filed in from the south side, and peals broke forth
from the organ on the black oaken mass at the junction of nave and
choir, shaking every cobweb in the dusky vaults, and Ethelberta's
heart no less. She knew the fingers that were pressing out those
rolling sounds, and knowing them, became absorbed in tracing their
progress. To go towards the organ-loft was an act of
unconsciousness, and she did not pause till she stood almost beneath
Ethelberta was awakened from vague imaginings by the close approach
of the old gentleman alluded to, who spoke with a great deal of
'I have been trying to meet with you,' said Lord Mountclere. 'Come,
let us be friends again!--Ethelberta, I MUST not lose you! You
cannot mean that the engagement shall be broken off?' He was far
too desirous to possess her at any price now to run a second risk of
exasperating her, and forbore to make any allusion to the recent
pantomime between herself and Christopher that he had beheld, though
it might reasonably have filled him with dread and petulance.
'I do not mean anything beyond this,' said she, 'that I entirely
withdraw from it on the faintest sign that you have not abandoned
such miserable jealous proceedings as those you adopted to-day.'
'I have quite abandoned them. Will you come a little further this
way, and walk in the aisle? You do still agree to be mine?'
'If it gives you any pleasure, I do.'
'Yes, yes. I implore that the marriage may be soon--very soon.'
The viscount spoke hastily, for the notes of the organ which were
plunging into their ears ever and anon from the hands of his young
rival seemed inconveniently and solemnly in the way of his suit.
'Well, Lord Mountclere?'
'Say in a few days?--it is the only thing that will satisfy me.'
'I am absolutely indifferent as to the day. If it pleases you to
have it early I am willing.'
'Dare I ask that it may be this week?' said the delighted old man.
'I could not say that.'
'But you can name the earliest day?'
'I cannot now. We had better be going from here, I think.'
The Cathedral was filling with shadows, and cold breathings came
round the piers, for it was November, when night very soon succeeds
noon in spots where noon is sobered to the pallor of eve. But the
service was not yet over, and before quite leaving the building
Ethelberta cast one other glance towards the organ and thought of
him behind it. At this moment her attention was arrested by the
form of her sister Picotee, who came in at the north door, closed
the lobby-wicket softly, and went lightly forward to the choir.
When within a few yards of it she paused by a pillar, and lingered
there looking up at the organ as Ethelberta had done. No sound was
coming from the ponderous mass of tubes just then; but in a short
space a whole crowd of tones spread from the instrument to accompany
the words of a response. Picotee started at the burst of music as
if taken in a dishonest action, and moved on in a manner intended to
efface the lover's loiter of the preceding moments from her own
consciousness no less than from other people's eyes.
'Do you see that?' said Ethelberta. 'That little figure is my
dearest sister. Could you but ensure a marriage between her and him
she listens to, I would do anything you wish!'
'That is indeed a gracious promise,' said Lord Mountclere. 'And
would you agree to what I asked just now?'
'When?' A gleeful spark accompanied this.
'As you requested.'
'This week? The day after to-morrow?'
'If you will. But remember what lies on your side of the contract.
I fancy I have given you a task beyond your powers.'
'Well, darling, we are at one at last,' said Lord Mountclere,
rubbing his hand against his side. 'And if my task is heavy and I
cannot guarantee the result, I can make it very probable. Marry me
on Friday--the day after to-morrow--and I will do all that money and
influence can effect to bring about their union.'
'You solemnly promise? You will never cease to give me all the aid
in your power until the thing is done?'
'I do solemnly promise--on the conditions named.'
'Very good. You will have ensured my fulfilment of my promise
before I can ensure yours; but I take your word.'
'You will marry me on Friday! Give me your hand upon it.'
She gave him her hand.
'Is it a covenant?' he asked.
'It is,' said she.
Lord Mountclere warmed from surface to centre as if he had drunk of
hippocras, and, after holding her hand for some moments, raised it
gently to his lips.
'Two days and you are mine,' he said.
'That I believe I never shall be.'
'Never shall be? Why, darling?'
'I don't know. Some catastrophe will prevent it. I shall be dead
'You distress me. Ah,--you meant me--you meant that I should be
dead, because you think I am old! But that is a mistake--I am not
'I thought only of myself--nothing of you.'
'Yes, I know. Dearest, it is dismal and chilling here--let us go.'
Ethelberta mechanically moved with him, and felt there was no
retreating now. In the meantime the young ladykin whom the solemn
vowing concerned had lingered round the choir screen, as if fearing
to enter, yet loth to go away. The service terminated, the heavy
books were closed, doors were opened, and the feet of the few
persons who had attended evensong began pattering down the paved
alleys. Not wishing Picotee to know that the object of her secret
excursion had been discovered, Ethelberta now stepped out of the
west doorway with the viscount before Picotee had emerged from the
other; and they walked along the path together until she overtook
'I fear it becomes necessary for me to stay in Melchester to-night,'
said Lord Mountclere. 'I have a few matters to attend to here, as
the result of our arrangements. But I will first accompany you as
far as Anglebury, and see you safely into a carriage there that
shall take you home. To-morrow I will drive to Knollsea, when we
will make the final preparations.'
Ethelberta would not have him go so far and back again, merely to
attend upon her; hence they parted at the railway, with due and
correct tenderness; and when the train had gone, Lord Mountclere
returned into the town on the special business he had mentioned, for
which there remained only the present evening and the following
morning, if he were to call upon her in the afternoon of the next
day--the day before the wedding--now so recklessly hastened on his
part, and so coolly assented to on hers.
By the time that the two young people had started it was nearly
dark. Some portions of the railway stretched through little copses
and plantations where, the leaf-shedding season being now at its
height, red and golden patches of fallen foliage lay on either side
of the rails; and as the travellers passed, all these death-stricken
bodies boiled up in the whirlwind created by the velocity, and were
sent flying right and left of them in myriads, a clean-fanned track
being left behind.
Picotee was called from the observation of these phenomena by a
remark from her sister: 'Picotee, the marriage is to be very early
indeed. It is to be the day after to-morrow--if it can.
Nevertheless I don't believe in the fact--I cannot.'
'Did you arrange it so? Nobody can make you marry so soon.'
'I agreed to the day,' murmured Ethelberta languidly.
'How can it be? The gay dresses and the preparations and the
people--how can they be collected in the time, Berta? And so much
more of that will be required for a lord of the land than for a
common man. O, I can't think it possible for a sister of mine to
marry a lord!'
'And yet it has been possible any time this last month or two,
strange as it seems to you. . . . It is to be not only a plain and
simple wedding, without any lofty appliances, but a secret one--as
secret as if I were some under-age heiress to an Indian fortune, and
he a young man of nothing a year.'
'Has Lord Mountclere said it must be so private? I suppose it is on
account of his family.'
'No. I say so; and it is on account of my family. Father might
object to the wedding, I imagine, from what he once said, or he
might be much disturbed about it; so I think it better that he and
the rest should know nothing till all is over. You must dress again
as my sister to-morrow, dear. Lord Mountclere is going to pay us an
early visit to conclude necessary arrangements.'
'O, the life as a lady at Enckworth Court! The flowers, the woods,
the rooms, the pictures, the plate, and the jewels! Horses and
carriages rattling and prancing, seneschals and pages, footmen
hopping up and hopping down. It will be glory then!'
'We might hire our father as one of my retainers, to increase it,'
said Ethelberta drily.
Picotee's countenance fell. 'How shall we manage all about that?
'Tis terrible, really!'
'The marriage granted, those things will right themselves by time
and weight of circumstances. You take a wrong view in thinking of
glories of that sort. My only hope is that my life will be quite
private and simple, as will best become my inferiority and Lord
Mountclere's staidness. Such a splendid library as there is at
Enckworth, Picotee--quartos, folios, history, verse, Elzevirs,
Caxtons--all that has been done in literature from Moses down to
Scott--with such companions I can do without all other sorts of
'And you will not go to town from Easter to Lammastide, as other
noble ladies do?' asked the younger girl, rather disappointed at
this aspect of a viscountess's life.
'I don't know.'
'But you will give dinners, and travel, and go to see his friends,
and have them to see you?'
'I don't know.'
'Will you not be, then, as any other peeress; and shall not I be as
any other peeress's sister?'
'That, too, I do not know. All is mystery. Nor do I even know that
the marriage will take place. I feel that it may not; and perhaps
so much the better, since the man is a stranger to me. I know
nothing whatever of his nature, and he knows nothing of mine.'
40. MELCHESTER (continued)
The commotion wrought in Julian's mind by the abrupt incursion of
Ethelberta into his quiet sphere was thorough and protracted. The
witchery of her presence he had grown strong enough to withstand in
part; but her composed announcement that she had intended to marry
another, and, as far as he could understand, was intending it still,
added a new chill to the old shade of disappointment which custom
was day by day enabling him to endure. During the whole interval in
which he had produced those diapason blasts, heard with such
inharmonious feelings by the three auditors outside the screen, his
thoughts had wandered wider than his notes in conjectures on the
character and position of the gentleman seen in Ethelberta's
company. Owing to his assumption that Lord Mountclere was but a
stranger who had accidentally come in at the side door, Christopher
had barely cast a glance upon him, and the wide difference between
the years of the viscount and those of his betrothed was not so
particularly observed as to raise that point to an item in his
objections now. Lord Mountclere was dressed with all the cunning
that could be drawn from the metropolis by money and reiterated
dissatisfaction; he prided himself on his upright carriage; his
stick was so thin that the most malevolent could not insinuate that
it was of any possible use in walking; his teeth had put on all the
vigour and freshness of a second spring. Hence his look was the
slowest of possible clocks in respect of his age, and his manner was
equally as much in the rear of his appearance.
Christopher was now over five-and-twenty. He was getting so well
accustomed to the spectacle of a world passing him by and splashing
him with its wheels that he wondered why he had ever minded it. His
habit of dreaming instead of doing had led him up to a curious
discovery. It is no new thing for a man to fathom profundities by
indulging humours: the active, the rapid, the people of splendid
momentum, have been surprised to behold what results attend the
lives of those whose usual plan for discharging their active labours
has been to postpone them indefinitely. Certainly, the immediate
result in the present case was, to all but himself, small and
invisible; but it was of the nature of highest things. What he had
learnt was that a woman who has once made a permanent impression
upon a man cannot altogether deny him her image by denying him her
company, and that by sedulously cultivating the acquaintance of this
Creature of Contemplation she becomes to him almost a living soul.
Hence a sublimated Ethelberta accompanied him everywhere--one who
never teased him, eluded him, or disappointed him: when he smiled
she smiled, when he was sad she sorrowed. He may be said to have
become the literal duplicate of that whimsical unknown rhapsodist
who wrote of his own similar situation--
'By absence this good means I gain,
That I can catch her,
Where none can watch her,
In some close corner of my brain:
There I embrace and kiss her;
And so I both enjoy and miss her.'
This frame of mind naturally induced an amazing abstraction in the
organist, never very vigilant at the best of times. He would stand
and look fixedly at a frog in a shady pool, and never once think of
batrachians, or pause by a green bank to split some tall blade of
grass into filaments without removing it from its stalk, passing on
ignorant that he had made a cat-o'-nine-tails of a graceful slip of
vegetation. He would hear the cathedral clock strike one, and go
the next minute to see what time it was. 'I never seed such a man
as Mr. Julian is,' said the head blower. 'He'll meet me anywhere
out-of-doors, and never wink or nod. You'd hardly expect it. I
don't find fault, but you'd hardly expect it, seeing how I play the
same instrument as he do himself, and have done it for so many years
longer than he. How I have indulged that man, too! If 'tis Pedals
for two martel hours of practice I never complain; and he has plenty
of vagaries. When 'tis hot summer weather there's nothing will do
for him but Choir, Great, and Swell altogether, till yer face is in
a vapour; and on a frosty winter night he'll keep me there while he
tweedles upon the Twelfth and Sixteenth till my arms be scrammed for
want of motion. And never speak a word out-of-doors.' Somebody
suggested that perhaps Christopher did not notice his coadjutor's
presence in the street; and time proved to the organ-blower that the
remark was just.
Whenever Christopher caught himself at these vacuous tricks he would
be struck with admiration of Ethelberta's wisdom, foresight, and
self-command in refusing to wed such an incapable man: he felt that
he ought to be thankful that a bright memory of her was not also
denied to him, and resolved to be content with it as a possession,
since it was as much of her as he could decently maintain.
Wrapped thus in a humorous sadness he passed the afternoon under
notice, and in the evening went home to Faith, who still lived with
him, and showed no sign of ever being likely to do otherwise. Their
present place and mode of life suited her well. She revived at
Melchester like an exotic sent home again. The leafy Close, the
climbing buttresses, the pondering ecclesiastics, the great doors,
the singular keys, the whispered talk, echoes of lonely footsteps,
the sunset shadow of the tall steeple, reaching further into the
town than the good bishop's teaching, and the general complexion of
a spot where morning had the stillness of evening and spring some of
the tones of autumn, formed a proper background to a person
constituted as Faith, who, like Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon's chicken,
possessed in miniature all the antiquity of her progenitors.
After tea Christopher went into the streets, as was frequently his
custom, less to see how the world crept on there than to walk up and
down for nothing at all. It had been market-day, and remnants of
the rural population that had visited the town still lingered at
corners, their toes hanging over the edge of the pavement, and their
eyes wandering about the street.
The angle which formed the turning-point of Christopher's promenade
was occupied by a jeweller's shop, of a standing which completely
outshone every other shop in that or any trade throughout the town.
Indeed, it was a staple subject of discussion in Melchester how a
shop of such pretensions could find patronage sufficient to support
its existence in a place which, though well populated, was not
fashionable. It had not long been established there, and was the
enterprise of an incoming man whose whole course of procedure seemed
to be dictated by an intention to astonish the native citizens very
considerably before he had done. Nearly everything was glass in the
frontage of this fairy mart, and its contents glittered like the
hammochrysos stone. The panes being of plate-glass, and the shop
having two fronts, a diagonal view could be had through it from one
to the other of the streets to which it formed a corner.
This evening, as on all evenings, a flood of radiance spread from
the window-lamps into the thick autumn air, so that from a distance
that corner appeared as the glistening nucleus of all the light in
the town. Towards it idle men and women unconsciously bent their
steps, and closed in upon the panes like night-birds upon the
lantern of a lighthouse.
When Christopher reached the spot there stood close to the pavement
a plain close carriage, apparently waiting for some person who was
purchasing inside. Christopher would hardly have noticed this had
he not also perceived, pressed against the glass of the shop window,
an unusual number of local noses belonging to overgrown working
lads, tosspots, an idiot, the ham-smoker's assistant with his
sleeves rolled up, a scot-and-lot freeholder, three or four
seamstresses, the young woman who brought home the washing, and so
on. The interest of these gazers in some proceedings within, which
by reason of the gaslight were as public as if carried on in the
open air, was very great.
'Yes, that's what he's a buying o'--haw, haw!' said one of the young
men, as the shopman removed from the window a gorgeous blue velvet
tray of wedding-rings, and laid it on the counter.
''Tis what you may come to yerself, sooner or later, God have mercy
upon ye; and as such no scoffing matter,' said an older man.
'Faith, I'd as lief cry as laugh to see a man in that corner.'
'He's a gent getting up in years too. He must hev been through it a
few times afore, seemingly, to sit down and buy the tools so cool as
'Well, no. See what the shyest will do at such times. You bain't
yerself then; no man living is hisself then.'
'True,' said the ham-smoker's man. ''Tis a thought to look at that
a chap will take all this trouble to get a woman into his house, and
a twelvemonth after would as soon hear it thunder as hear her sing!'
The policeman standing near was a humane man, through having a young
family he could hardly keep, and he hesitated about telling them to
move on. Christopher had before this time perceived that the
articles were laid down before an old gentleman who was seated in
the shop, and that the gentleman was none other than he who had been
with Ethelberta in the concert-room. The discovery was so startling
that, constitutionally indisposed as he was to stand and watch, he
became as glued to the spot as the other idlers. Finding himself
now for the first time directly confronting the preliminaries of
Ethelberta's marriage to a stranger, he was left with far less
equanimity than he could have supposed possible to the situation.
'So near the time!' he said, and looked hard at Lord Mountclere.
Christopher had now a far better opportunity than before for
observing Ethelberta's betrothed. Apart from any bias of jealousy,
disappointment, or mortification, he was led to judge that this was
not quite the man to make Ethelberta happy. He had fancied her
companion to be a man under fifty; he was now visibly sixty or more.
And it was not the sort of sexagenarianism beside which a young
woman's happiness can sometimes contrive to keep itself alive in a
quiet sleepy way. Suddenly it occurred to him that this was the man
whom he had helped in the carriage accident on the way to Knollsea.
He looked again.
By no means undignified, the face presented that combination of
slyness and jocundity which we are accustomed to imagine of the
canonical jolly-dogs in mediaeval tales. The gamesome Curate of
Meudon might have supplied some parts of the countenance; cunning
Friar Tuck the remainder. Nothing but the viscount's constant habit
of going to church every Sunday morning when at his country
residence kept unholiness out of his features, for though he lived
theologically enough on the Sabbath, as it became a man in his
position to do, he was strikingly mundane all the rest of the week,
always preferring the devil to God in his oaths. And nothing but
antecedent good-humour prevented the short fits of crossness
incident to his passing infirmities from becoming established. His
look was exceptionally jovial now, and the corners of his mouth
twitched as the telegraph-needles of a hundred little erotic
messages from his heart to his brain. Anybody could see that he was
a merry man still, who loved good company, warming drinks, nymph-
like shapes, and pretty words, in spite of the disagreeable
suggestions he received from the pupils of his eyes, and the joints
of his lively limbs, that imps of mischief were busy sapping and
mining in those regions, with the view of tumbling him into a
certain cool cellar under the church aisle.
In general, if a lover can find any ground at all for serenity in
the tide of an elderly rival's success, he finds it in the fact
itself of that ancientness. The other side seems less a rival than
a makeshift. But Christopher no longer felt this, and the
significant signs before his eyes of the imminence of Ethelberta's
union with this old hero filled him with restless dread. True, the
gentleman, as he appeared illuminated by the jeweller's gas-jets,
seemed more likely to injure Ethelberta by indulgence than by
severity, while her beauty lasted; but there was a nameless
something in him less tolerable than this.
The purchaser having completed his dealings with the goldsmith, was
conducted to the door by the master of the shop, and into the
carriage, which was at once driven off up the street.
Christopher now much desired to know the name of the man whom a nice
chain of circumstantial evidence taught him to regard as the happy
winner where scores had lost. He was grieved that Ethelberta's
confessed reserve should have extended so far as to limit her to
mere indefinite hints of marriage when they were talking almost on
the brink of the wedding-day. That the ceremony was to be a private
one--which it probably would be because of the disparity of ages--
did not in his opinion justify her secrecy. He had shown himself
capable of a transmutation as valuable as it is rare in men, the
change from pestering lover to staunch friend, and this was all he
had got for it. But even an old lover sunk to an indifferentist
might have been tempted to spend an unoccupied half-hour in
discovering particulars now, and Christopher had not lapsed nearly
so far as to absolute unconcern.
That evening, however, nothing came in his way to enlighten him.
But the next day, when skirting the Close on his ordinary duties, he
saw the same carriage standing at a distance, and paused to behold
the same old gentleman come from a well-known office and re-enter
the vehicle--Lord Mountclere, in fact, in earnest pursuit of the
business of yesternight, having just pocketed a document in which
romance, rashness, law, and gospel are so happily made to work
together that it may safely be regarded as the neatest compromise
which has ever been invented since Adam sinned.
This time Julian perceived that the brougham was one belonging to
the White Hart Hotel, which Lord Mountclere was using partly from
the necessities of these hasty proceedings, and also because, by so
doing, he escaped the notice that might have been bestowed upon his
own equipage, or men-servants, the Mountclere hammer-cloths being
known in Melchester. Christopher now walked towards the hotel,
leisurely, yet with anxiety. He inquired of a porter what people
were staying there that day, and was informed that they had only one
person in the house, Lord Mountclere, whom sudden and unexpected
business had detained in Melchester since the previous day.
Christopher lingered to hear no more. He retraced the street much
more quickly than he had come; and he only said, 'Lord Mountclere--
it must never be!'
As soon as he entered the house, Faith perceived that he was greatly
agitated. He at once told her of his discovery, and she exclaimed,
'What a brilliant match!'
'O Faith,' said Christopher, 'you don't know! You are far from
knowing. It is as gloomy as midnight. Good God, can it be
Faith blinked in alarm, without speaking.
'Did you never hear anything of Lord Mountclere when we lived at
'I knew the name--no more.'
'No, no--of course you did not. Well, though I never saw his face,
to my knowledge, till a short time ago, I know enough to say that,
if earnest representations can prevent it, this marriage shall not
be. Father knew him, or about him, very well; and he once told me--
what I cannot tell you. Fancy, I have seen him three times--
yesterday, last night, and this morning--besides helping him on the
road some weeks ago, and never once considered that he might be Lord
Mountclere. He is here almost in disguise, one may say; neither man
nor horse is with him; and his object accounts for his privacy. I
see how it is--she is doing this to benefit her brothers and
sisters, if possible; but she ought to know that if she is miserable
they will never be happy. That's the nature of women--they take the
form for the essence, and that's what she is doing now. I should
think her guardian angel must have quitted her when she agreed to a
marriage which may tear her heart out like a claw.'
'You are too warm about it, Kit--it cannot be so bad as that. It is
not the thing, but the sensitiveness to the thing, which is the true
measure of its pain. Perhaps what seems so bad to you falls lightly
on her mind. A campaigner in a heavy rain is not more uncomfortable
than we are in a slight draught; and Ethelberta, fortified by her
sapphires and gold cups and wax candles, will not mind facts which
look like spectres to us outside. A title will turn troubles into
romances, and she will shine as an interesting viscountess in spite
The discussion with Faith was not continued, Christopher stopping
the argument by saying that he had a good mind to go off at once to
Knollsea, and show her her danger. But till the next morning
Ethelberta was certainly safe; no marriage was possible anywhere
before then. He passed the afternoon in a state of great
indecision, constantly reiterating, 'I will go!'
41. WORKSHOPS - AN INN - THE STREET
On an extensive plot of ground, lying somewhere between the Thames
and the Kensington squares, stood the premises of Messrs. Nockett
and Perch, builders and contractors. The yard with its workshops
formed part of one of those frontier lines between mangy business
and garnished domesticity that occur in what are called improving
neighbourhoods. We are accustomed to regard increase as the chief
feature in a great city's progress, its well-known signs greeting
our eyes on every outskirt. Slush-ponds may be seen turning into
basement-kitchens; a broad causeway of shattered earthenware
smothers plots of budding gooseberry-bushes and vegetable trenches,
foundations following so closely upon gardens that the householder
may be expected to find cadaverous sprouts from overlooked potatoes
rising through the chinks of his cellar floor. But the other great
process, that of internal transmutation, is not less curious than
this encroachment of grey upon green. Its first erections are often
only the milk-teeth of a suburb, and as the district rises in
dignity they are dislodged by those which are to endure. Slightness
becomes supplanted by comparative solidity, commonness by novelty,
lowness and irregularity by symmetry and height.
An observer of the precinct which has been named as an instance in
point might have stood under a lamp-post and heard simultaneously
the peal of the visitor's bell from the new terrace on the right
hand, and the stroke of tools from the musty workshops on the left.
Waggons laden with deals came up on this side, and landaus came down
on the other--the former to lumber heavily through the old-
established contractors' gates, the latter to sweep fashionably into
About twelve o'clock on the day following Lord Mountclere's
exhibition of himself to Christopher in the jeweller's shop at
Melchester, and almost at the identical time when the viscount was
seen to come from the office for marriage-licences in the same
place, a carriage drove nearly up to the gates of Messrs. Nockett
and Co.'s yard. A gentleman stepped out and looked around. He was
a man whose years would have been pronounced as five-and-forty by
the friendly, fifty by the candid, fifty-two or three by the grim.
He was as handsome a study in grey as could be seen in town, there
being far more of the raven's plumage than of the gull's in the
mixture as yet; and he had a glance of that practised sort which can
measure people, weigh them, repress them, encourage them to sprout
and blossom as a March sun encourages crocuses, ask them questions,
give them answers--in short, a glance that could do as many things
as an American cooking-stove or a multum-in-parvo pocket-knife.
But, as with most men of the world, this was mere mechanism: his
actual emotions were kept so far within his person that they were
rarely heard or seen near his features.
On reading the builders' names over the gateway he entered the yard,
and asked at the office if Solomon Chickerel was engaged on the
premises. The clerk was going to be very attentive, but finding the
visitor had come only to speak to a workman, his tense attitude
slackened a little, and he merely signified the foot of a Flemish
ladder on the other side of the yard, saying, 'You will find him,
sir, up there in the joiner's shop.'
When the man in the black coat reached the top he found himself at
the end of a long apartment as large as a chapel and as low as a
malt-room, across which ran parallel carpenters' benches to the
number of twenty or more, a gangway being left at the side for
access throughout. Behind every bench there stood a man or two,
planing, fitting, or chiselling, as the case might be. The visitor
paused for a moment, as if waiting for some cessation of their
violent motions and uproar till he could make his errand known. He
waited ten seconds, he waited twenty; but, beyond that a quick look
had been thrown upon him by every pair of eyes, the muscular
performances were in no way interrupted: every one seemed oblivious
of his presence, and absolutely regardless of his wish. In truth,
the texture of that salmon-coloured skin could be seen to be
aristocratic without a microscope, and the exceptious artizan has an
offhand way when contrasts are made painfully strong by an idler of
this kind coming, gloved and brushed, into the very den where he is
sweating and muddling in his shirt-sleeves.
The gentleman from the carriage then proceeded down the workshop,
wading up to his knees in a sea of shavings, and bruising his ankles
against corners of board and sawn-off blocks, that lay hidden like
reefs beneath. At the ninth bench he made another venture.
'Sol Chickerel?' said the man addressed, as he touched his plane-
iron upon the oilstone. 'He's one of them just behind.'
'Damn it all, can't one of you show me?' the visitor angrily
observed, for he had been used to more attention than this. 'Here,
point him out.' He handed the man a shilling.
'No trouble to do that,' said the workman; and he turned and
signified Sol by a nod without moving from his place.
The stranger entered Sol's division, and, nailing him with his eye,
said at once: 'I want to speak a few words with you in private. Is
not a Mrs. Petherwin your sister?'
Sol started suspiciously. 'Has anything happened to her?' he at
length said hurriedly.
'O no. It is on a business matter that I have called. You need not
mind owning the relationship to me--the secret will be kept. I am
the brother of one whom you may have heard of from her--Lord
'I have not. But if you will wait a minute, sir--' He went to a
little glazed box at the end of the shop, where the foreman was
sitting, and, after speaking a few words to this person, Sol led
Mountclere to the door, and down the ladder.
'I suppose we cannot very well talk here, after all?' said the
gentleman, when they reached the yard, and found several men moving
'Perhaps we had better go to some room--the nearest inn will answer
the purpose, won't it?'
'There's the "Green Bushes" over the way. They have a very nice
private room upstairs.'
'Yes, that will do.' And passing out of the yard, the man with the
glance entered the inn with Sol, where they were shown to the
parlour as requested.
While the waiter was gone for some wine, which Mountclere ordered,
the more ingenuous of the two resumed the conversation by saying,
awkwardly: 'Yes, Mrs. Petherwin is my sister, as you supposed, sir;
but on her account I do not let it be known.'
'Indeed,' said Mountclere. 'Well, I came to see you in order to
speak of a matter which I thought you might know more about than I
do, for it has taken me quite by surprise. My brother, Lord
Mountclere, is, it seems, to be privately married to Mrs. Petherwin
'Is that really the fact?' said Sol, becoming quite shaken. 'I had
no thought that such a thing could be possible!'
'It is imminent.'
'Father has told me that she has lately got to know some nobleman;
but I never supposed there could be any meaning in that.'
'You were altogether wrong,' said Mountclere, leaning back in his
chair and looking at Sol steadily. 'Do you feel it to be a matter
upon which you will congratulate her?'
'A very different thing!' said Sol vehemently. 'Though he is your
brother, sir, I must say this, that I would rather she married the
poorest man I know.'
'From what my father has told me of him, he is not--a more desirable
brother-in-law to me than I shall be in all likelihood to him. What
business has a man of that character to marry Berta, I should like
'That's what I say,' returned Mountclere, revealing his satisfaction
at Sol's estimate of his noble brother: it showed that he had
calculated well in coming here. 'My brother is getting old, and he
has lived strangely: your sister is a highly respectable young
'And he is not respectable, you mean? I know he is not. I worked
near Enckworth once.'
'I cannot say that,' returned Mountclere. Possibly a certain
fraternal feeling repressed a direct assent: and yet this was the
only representation which could be expected to prejudice the young
man against the wedding, if he were such an one as the visitor
supposed Sol to be--a man vulgar in sentiment and ambition, but pure
in his anxiety for his sister's happiness. 'At any rate, we are
agreed in thinking that this would be an unfortunate marriage for
both,' added Mountclere.
'About both I don't know. It may be a good thing for him. When do
you say it is to be, sir--to-morrow?'
'I don't know what to do!' said Sol, walking up and down. 'If half
what I have heard is true, I would lose a winter's work to prevent
her marrying him. What does she want to go mixing in with people
who despise her for? Now look here, Mr. Mountclere, since you have
been and called me out to talk this over, it is only fair that you
should tell me the exact truth about your brother. Is it a lie, or
is it true, that he is not fit to be the husband of a decent woman?'
'That is a curious inquiry,' said Mountclere, whose manner and
aspect, neutral as a winter landscape, had little in common with
Sol's warm and unrestrained bearing. 'There are reasons why I think
your sister will not be happy with him.'
'Then it is true what they say,' said Sol, bringing down his fist
upon the table. 'I know your meaning well enough. What's to be
done? If I could only see her this minute, she might be kept out of
'You think your presence would influence your sister--if you could
see her before the wedding?'
'I think it would. But who's to get at her?'
'I am going, so you had better come on with me--unless it would be
best for your father to come.'
'Perhaps it might,' said the bewildered Sol. 'But he will not be
able to get away; and it's no use for Dan to go. If anybody goes I
must! If she has made up her mind nothing can be done by writing to
'I leave at once to see Lord Mountclere,' the other continued. 'I
feel that as my brother is evidently ignorant of the position of
Mrs. Petherwin's family and connections, it is only fair in me, as
his nearest relative, to make them clear to him before it is too
'You mean that if he knew her friends were working-people he would
not think of her as a wife? 'Tis a reasonable thought. But make
your mind easy: she has told him. I make a great mistake if she
has for a moment thought of concealing that from him.'
'She may not have deliberately done so. But--and I say this with no
ill-feeling--it is a matter known to few, and she may have taken no
steps to undeceive him. I hope to bring him to see the matter
clearly. Unfortunately the thing has been so secret and hurried
that there is barely time. I knew nothing until this morning--never
dreamt of such a preposterous occurrence.'
'Preposterous! If it should come to pass, she would play her part
as his lady as well as any other woman, and better. I wish there
was no more reason for fear on my side than there is on yours!
Things have come to a sore head when she is not considered lady
enough for such as he. But perhaps your meaning is, that if your
brother were to have a son, you would lose your heir-presumptive
title to the cor'net of Mountclere? Well, 'twould be rather hard
for ye, now I come to think o't--upon my life, 'twould.'
'The suggestion is as delicate as the ---- atmosphere of this vile
room. But let your ignorance be your excuse, my man. It is hardly
worth while for us to quarrel when we both have the same object in
view: do you think so?'
'That's true--that's true. When do you start, sir?'
'We must leave almost at once,' said Mountclere, looking at his
watch. 'If we cannot catch the two o'clock train, there is no
getting there to-night--and to-morrow we could not possibly arrive
'I wish there was time for me to go and tidy myself a bit,' said
Sol, anxiously looking down at his working clothes. 'I suppose you
would not like me to go with you like this?'
'Confound the clothes! If you cannot start in five minutes, we
shall not be able to go at all.'
'Very well, then--wait while I run across to the shop, then I am
ready. How do we get to the station?'
'My carriage is at the corner waiting. When you come out I will
meet you at the gates.'
Sol then hurried downstairs, and a minute or two later Mr.
Mountclere followed, looking like a man bent on policy at any price.
The carriage was brought round by the time that Sol reappeared from
the yard. He entered and sat down beside Mountclere, not without a
sense that he was spoiling good upholstery; the coachman then
allowed the lash of his whip to alight with the force of a small fly
upon the horses, which set them up in an angry trot. Sol rolled on
beside his new acquaintance with the shamefaced look of a man going
to prison in a van, for pedestrians occasionally gazed at him, full
of what seemed to himself to be ironical surprise.
'I am afraid I ought to have changed my clothes after all,' he said,
writhing under a perception of the contrast between them. 'Not
knowing anything about this, I ain't a bit prepared. If I had got
even my second-best hat, it wouldn't be so bad.'
'It makes no difference,' said Mountclere inanimately.
'Or I might have brought my portmantle, with some things.'
'It really is not important.'
On reaching the station they found there were yet a few minutes to
spare, which Sol made use of in writing a note to his father, to
explain what had occurred.
42. THE DONCASTLES' RESIDENCE, AND OUTSIDE THE SAME
Mrs. Doncastle's dressing-bell had rung, but Menlove, the lady's
maid, having at the same time received a letter by the evening post,
paused to read it before replying to the summons:--
'ENCKWORTH COURT, Wednesday.
DARLING LOUISA,--I can assure you that I am no more likely than
yourself to form another attachment, as you will perceive by what
follows. Before we left town I thought that to be able to see you
occasionally was sufficient for happiness, but down in this lonely
place the case is different. In short, my dear, I ask you to
consent to a union with me as soon as you possibly can. Your
prettiness has won my eyes and lips completely, sweet, and I lie
awake at night to think of the golden curls you allowed to escape
from their confinement on those nice times of private clothes, when
we walked in the park and slipped the bonds of service, which you
were never born to any more than I. . . .
'Had not my own feelings been so strong, I should have told you at
the first dash of my pen that what I expected is coming to pass at
last--the old dog is going to be privately married to Mrs. P. Yes,
indeed, and the wedding is coming off to-morrow, secret as the
grave. All her friends will doubtless leave service on account of
it. What he does now makes little difference to me, of course, as I
had already given warning, but I shall stick to him like a Briton in
spite of it. He has to-day made me a present, and a further five
pounds for yourself, expecting you to hold your tongue on every
matter connected with Mrs. P.'s friends, and to say nothing to any
of them about this marriage until it is over. His lordship
impressed this upon me very strong, and familiar as a brother, and
of course we obey his instructions to the letter; for I need hardly
say that unless he keeps his promise to help me in setting up the
shop, our nuptials cannot be consumed. His help depends upon our
obedience, as you are aware. . . .'
This, and much more, was from her very last lover, Lord Mountclere's
valet, who had been taken in hand directly she had convinced herself
of Joey's hopeless youthfulness. The missive sent Mrs. Menlove's
spirits soaring like spring larks; she flew upstairs in answer to
the bell with a joyful, triumphant look, which the illuminated
figure of Mrs. Doncastle in her dressing-room could not quite
repress. One could almost forgive Menlove her arts when so modest a
result brought such vast content.
Mrs. Doncastle seemed inclined to make no remark during the
dressing, and at last Menlove could repress herself no longer.
'I should like to name something to you, m'm.'
'I shall be wishing to leave soon, if it is convenient.'
'Very well, Menlove,' answered Mrs. Doncastle, as she serenely
surveyed her right eyebrow in the glass. 'Am I to take this as a
'If you please; but I could stay a week or two beyond the month if
suitable. I am going to be married--that's what it is, m'm.'
'O! I am glad to hear it, though I am sorry to lose you.'
'It is Lord Mountclere's valet--Mr. Tipman--m'm.'
Menlove went on building up Mrs. Doncastle's hair awhile in silence.
'I suppose you heard the other news that arrived in town to-day,
m'm?' she said again. 'Lord Mountclere is going to be married to-
'To-morrow? Are you quite sure?'
'O yes, m'm. Mr. Tipman has just told me so in his letter. He is
going to be married to Mrs. Petherwin. It is to be quite a private
Mrs. Doncastle made no remark, and she remained in the same still
position as before; but a countenance expressing transcendent
surprise was reflected to Menlove by the glass.
At this sight Menlove's tongue so burned to go further, and unfold
the lady's relations with the butler downstairs, that she would have
lost a month's wages to be at liberty to do it. The disclosure was
almost too magnificent to be repressed. To deny herself so
exquisite an indulgence required an effort which nothing on earth
could have sustained save the one thing that did sustain it--the
knowledge that upon her silence hung the most enormous desideratum
in the world, her own marriage. She said no more, and Mrs.
Doncastle went away.
It was an ordinary family dinner that day, but their nephew Neigh
happened to be present. Just as they were sitting down Mrs.
Doncastle said to her husband: 'Why have you not told me of the
wedding to-morrow?--or don't you know anything about it?'
'Wedding?' said Mr. Doncastle.
'Lord Mountclere is to be married to Mrs. Petherwin quite
'Good God!' said some person.
Mr. Doncastle did not speak the words; they were not spoken by
Neigh: they seemed to float over the room and round the walls, as
if originating in some spiritualistic source. Yet Mrs. Doncastle,
remembering the symptoms of attachment between Ethelberta and her
nephew which had appeared during the summer, looked towards Neigh
instantly, as if she thought the words must have come from him after
all; but Neigh's face was perfectly calm; he, together with her
husband, was sitting with his eyes fixed in the direction of the
sideboard; and turning to the same spot she beheld Chickerel
standing pale as death, his lips being parted as if he did not know
where he was.
'Did you speak?' said Mrs. Doncastle, looking with astonishment at
'Chickerel, what's the matter--are you ill?' said Mr. Doncastle
simultaneously. 'Was it you who said that?'
'I did, sir,' said Chickerel in a husky voice, scarcely above a
whisper. 'I could not help it.'
'She is my daughter, and it shall be known at once!'
'Who is your daughter?'
He paused a few moments nervously. 'Mrs. Petherwin,' he said.
Upon this announcement Neigh looked at poor Chickerel as if he saw
through him into the wall. Mrs. Doncastle uttered a faint
exclamation and leant back in her chair: the bare possibility of
the truth of Chickerel's claims to such paternity shook her to
pieces when she viewed her intimacies with Ethelberta during the
past season--the court she had paid her, the arrangements she had
entered into to please her; above all, the dinner-party which she
had contrived and carried out solely to gratify Lord Mountclere and
bring him into personal communication with the general favourite;
thus making herself probably the chief though unconscious instrument
in promoting a match by which her butler was to become father-in-law
to a peer she delighted to honour. The crowd of perceptions almost
took away her life; she closed her eyes in a white shiver.
'Do you mean to say that the lady who sat here at dinner at the same
time that Lord Mountclere was present, is your daughter?' asked
'Yes, sir,' said Chickerel respectfully.
'How did she come to be your daughter?'
'I-- Well, she is my daughter, sir.'
'Did you educate her?'
'Not altogether, sir. She was a very clever child. Lady Petherwin
took a deal of trouble about her education. They were both left
widows about the same time: the son died, then the father. My
daughter was only seventeen then. But though she's older now, her
marriage with Lord Mountclere means misery. He ought to marry
'It is very extraordinary,' Mr. Doncastle murmured. 'If you are ill
you had better go and rest yourself, Chickerel. Send in Thomas.'
Chickerel, who seemed to be much disturbed, then very gladly left
the room, and dinner proceeded. But such was the peculiarity of the
case, that, though there was in it neither murder, robbery, illness,
accident, fire, or any other of the tragic and legitimate shakers of
human nerves, two of the three who were gathered there sat through
the meal without the least consciousness of what viands had composed
it. Impressiveness depends as much upon propinquity as upon
magnitude; and to have honoured unawares the daughter of the vilest
Antipodean miscreant and murderer would have been less discomfiting
to Mrs. Doncastle than it was to make the same blunder with the
daughter of a respectable servant who happened to live in her own
house. To Neigh the announcement was as the catastrophe of a story
already begun, rather than as an isolated wonder. Ethelberta's
words had prepared him for something, though the nature of that
thing was unknown.
'Chickerel ought not to have kept us in ignorance of this--of course
he ought not!' said Mrs. Doncastle, as soon as they were left alone.
'I don't see why not,' replied Mr. Doncastle, who took the matter
very coolly, as was his custom.
'Then she herself should have let it be known.'
'Nor does that follow. You didn't tell Mrs. Petherwin that your
grandfather narrowly escaped hanging for shooting his rival in a
'Of course not. There was no reason why I should give extraneous
'Nor was there any reason why she should. As for Chickerel, he
doubtless felt how unbecoming it would be to make personal remarks
upon one of your guests--Ha-ha-ha! Well, well--Ha-ha-ha-ha!'
'I know this,' said Mrs. Doncastle, in great anger, 'that if my
father had been in the room, I should not have let the fact pass
unnoticed, and treated him like a stranger!'
'Would you have had her introduce Chickerel to us all round? My
dear Margaret, it was a complicated position for a woman.'
'Then she ought not to have come!'
'There may be something in that, though she was dining out at other
houses as good as ours. Well, I should have done just as she did,
for the joke of the thing. Ha-ha-ha!--it is very good--very. It
was a case in which the appetite for a jest would overpower the
sting of conscience in any well-constituted being--that, my dear, I
'I say she should not have come!' answered Mrs. Doncastle firmly.
'Of course I shall dismiss Chickerel.'
'Of course you will do no such thing. I have never had a butler in
the house before who suited me so well. It is a great credit to the
man to have such a daughter, and I am not sure that we do not derive
some lustre of a humble kind from his presence in the house. But,
seriously, I wonder at your short-sightedness, when you know the
troubles we have had through getting new men from nobody knows
Neigh, perceiving that the breeze in the atmosphere might ultimately
intensify to a palpable black squall, seemed to think it would be
well to take leave of his uncle and aunt as soon as he conveniently
could; nevertheless, he was much less discomposed by the situation
than by the active cause which had led to it. When Mrs. Doncastle
arose, her husband said he was going to speak to Chickerel for a
minute or two, and Neigh followed his aunt upstairs.
Presently Doncastle joined them. 'I have been talking to
Chickerel,' he said. 'It is a very curious affair--this marriage of
his daughter and Lord Mountclere. The whole situation is the most
astounding I have ever met with. The man is quite ill about the
news. He has shown me a letter which has just reached him from his
son on the same subject. Lord Mountclere's brother and this young
man have actually gone off together to try to prevent the wedding,
and Chickerel has asked to be allowed to go himself, if he can get
soon enough to the station to catch the night mail. Of course he
may go if he wishes.'
'What a funny thing!' said the lady, with a wretchedly factitious
smile. 'The times have taken a strange turn when the angry parent
of the comedy, who goes post-haste to prevent the undutiful
daughter's rash marriage, is a gentleman from below stairs, and the
unworthy lover a peer of the realm!'
Neigh spoke for almost the first time. 'I don't blame Chickerel in
objecting to Lord Mountclere. I should object to him myself if I
had a daughter. I never liked him.'
'Why?' said Mrs. Doncastle, lifting her eyelids as if the act were a
'For reasons which don't generally appear.'
'Yes,' said Mr. Doncastle, in a low tone. 'Still, we must not
believe all we hear.'
'Is Chickerel going?' said Neigh.
'He leaves in five or ten minutes,' said Doncastle.
After a few further words Neigh mentioned that he was unable to stay
longer that evening, and left them. When he had reached the outside
of the door he walked a little way up the pavement and back again,
as if reluctant to lose sight of the street, finally standing under
a lamp-post whence he could command a view of Mr. Doncastle's front.
Presently a man came out in a great-coat and with a small bag in his
hand; Neigh at once recognizing the person as Chickerel, went up to
'Mr. Doncastle tells me you are going on a sudden journey. At what
time does your train leave?' Neigh asked.
'I go by the ten o'clock, sir: I hope it is a third-class,' said
Chickerel; 'though I am afraid it may not be.'
'It is as much as you will do to get to the station,' said Neigh,
turning the face of his watch to the light. 'Here, come into my
cab--I am driving that way.'
'Thank you, sir,' said Chickerel.
Neigh called a cab at the first opportunity, and they entered and
drove along together. Neither spoke during the journey. When they
were driving up to the station entrance Neigh looked again to see
'You have not a minute to lose,' he said, in repressed anxiety.
'And your journey will be expensive: instead of walking from
Anglebury to Knollsea, you had better drive--above all, don't lose
time. Never mind what class the train is. Take this from me, since
the emergency is great.' He handed something to Chickerel folded up
The butler took it without inquiry, and stepped out hastily.
'I sincerely hope she-- Well, good-night, Chickerel,' continued
Neigh, ending his words abruptly. The cab containing him drove
again towards the station-gates, leaving Chickerel standing on the
He passed through the booking-office, and looked at the paper Neigh
had put into his hand. It was a five-pound note.
Chickerel mused on the circumstance as he took his ticket and got
into the train.
43. THE RAILWAY - THE SEA - THE SHORE BEYOND
By this time Sol and the Honourable Edgar Mountclere had gone far on
their journey into Wessex. Enckworth Court, Mountclere's
destination, though several miles from Knollsea, was most easily
accessible by the same route as that to the village, the latter
being the place for which Sol was bound.
From the few words that passed between them on the way, Mountclere
became more stubborn than ever in a belief that this was a carefully
laid trap of the fair Ethelberta's to ensnare his brother without
revealing to him her family ties, which it therefore behoved him to
make clear, with the utmost force of representation, before the
fatal union had been contracted. Being himself the viscount's only
remaining brother and near relative, the disinterestedness of his
motives may be left to imagination; that there was much real excuse
for his conduct must, however, be borne in mind. Whether his
attempt would prevent the union was another question: he believed
that, conjoined with his personal influence over the viscount, and
the importation of Sol as a firebrand to throw between the betrothed
pair, it might do so.
About half-an-hour before sunset the two individuals, linked by
their differences, reached the point of railway at which the branch
to Sandbourne left the main line. They had taken tickets for
Sandbourne, intending to go thence to Knollsea by the steamer that
plied between the two places during the summer months--making this a
short and direct route. But it occurred to Mountclere on the way
that, summer being over, the steamer might possibly have left off
running, the wind might be too high for a small boat, and no large
one might be at hand for hire: therefore it would be safer to go by
train to Anglebury, and the remaining sixteen miles by driving over
the hills, even at a great loss of time.
Accident, however, determined otherwise. They were in the station
at the junction, inquiring of an official if the Speedwell had
ceased to sail, when a countryman who had just come up from
Sandbourne stated that, though the Speedwell had left off for the
year, there was that day another steamer at Sandbourne. This
steamer would of necessity return to Knollsea that evening, partly
because several people from that place had been on board, and also
because the Knollsea folk were waiting for groceries and draperies
from London: there was not an ounce of tea or a hundredweight of
coal in the village, owing to the recent winds, which had detained
the provision parcels at Sandbourne, and kept the colliers up-
channel until the change of weather this day. To introduce
necessaries by a roundabout land journey was not easy when they had
been ordered by the other and habitual route. The boat returned at
So on they went to Sandbourne, driving off to the pier directly they
reached that place, for it was getting towards night. The steamer
was there, as the man had told them, much to the relief of Sol, who,
being extremely anxious to enter Knollsea before a late hour, had
known that this was the only way in which it could be done.
Some unforeseen incident delayed the boat, and they walked up and
down the pier to wait. The prospect was gloomy enough. The wind
was north-east; the sea along shore was a chalky-green, though
comparatively calm, this part of the coast forming a shelter from
wind in its present quarter. The clouds had different velocities,
and some of them shone with a coppery glare, produced by rays from
the west which did not enter the inferior atmosphere at all. It was
reflected on the distant waves in patches, with an effect as if the
waters were at those particular spots stained with blood. This
departed, and what daylight was left to the earth came from strange
and unusual quarters of the heavens. The zenith would be bright, as
if that were the place of the sun; then all overhead would close,
and a whiteness in the east would give the appearance of morning;
while a bank as thick as a wall barricaded the west, which looked as
if it had no acquaintance with sunsets, and would blush red no more.
'Any other passengers?' shouted the master of the steamboat. 'We
must be off: it may be a dirty night.'
Sol and Mountclere went on board, and the pier receded in the dusk.
'Shall we have any difficulty in getting into Knollsea Bay?' said
'Not if the wind keeps where it is for another hour or two.'
'I fancy it is shifting to the east'ard,' said Sol.
The captain looked as if he had thought the same thing.
'I hope I shall be able to get home to-night,' said a Knollsea
woman. 'My little children be left alone. Your mis'ess is in a bad
way, too--isn't she, skipper?'
'And you've got the doctor from Sandbourne aboard, to tend her?'
'Then you'll be sure to put into Knollsea, if you can?'
'Yes. Don't be alarmed, ma'am. We'll do what we can. But no one
The skipper's remark was the result of an observation that the wind
had at last flown to the east, the single point of the compass
whence it could affect Knollsea Bay. The result of this change was
soon perceptible. About midway in their transit the land elbowed
out to a bold chalk promontory; beyond this stretched a vertical
wall of the same cliff, in a line parallel with their course. In
fair weather it was possible and customary to steer close along
under this hoary facade for the distance of a mile, there being six
fathoms of water within a few boats' lengths of the precipice. But
it was an ugly spot at the best of times, landward no less than
seaward, the cliff rounding off at the top in vegetation, like a
forehead with low-grown hair, no defined edge being provided as a
warning to unwary pedestrians on the downs above.
As the wind sprung up stronger, white clots could be discerned at
the water level of the cliff, rising and falling against the black
band of shaggy weed that formed a sort of skirting to the base of
the wall. They were the first-fruits of the new east blast, which
shaved the face of the cliff like a razor--gatherings of foam in the
shape of heads, shoulders, and arms of snowy whiteness, apparently
struggling to rise from the deeps, and ever sinking back to their
old levels again. They reminded an observer of a drowning scene in
a picture of the Deluge. At some points the face of rock was
hollowed into gaping caverns, and the water began to thunder into
these with a leap that was only topped by the rebound seaward again.
The vessel's head was kept a little further to sea, but beyond that
everything went on as usual.
The precipice was still in view, and before it several huge columns
of rock appeared, detached from the mass behind. Two of these were
particularly noticeable in the grey air--one vertical, stout and
square; the other slender and tapering. They were individualized as
husband and wife by the coast men. The waves leapt up their sides
like a pack of hounds; this, however, though fearful in its
boisterousness, was nothing to the terrible games that sometimes
went on round the knees of those giants in stone. Yet it was
sufficient to cause the course of the frail steamboat to be altered
yet a little more--from south-west-by-south to south-by-west--to
give the breakers a still wider berth.
'I wish we had gone by land, sir; 'twould have been surer play,'
said Sol to Mountclere, a cat-and-dog friendship having arisen
'Yes,' said Mountclere. 'Knollsea is an abominable place to get
into with an east wind blowing, they say.'
Another circumstance conspired to make their landing more difficult,
which Mountclere knew nothing of. With the wind easterly, the
highest sea prevailed in Knollsea Bay from the slackening of flood-
tide to the first hour of ebb. At that time the water outside stood
without a current, and ridges and hollows chased each other towards
the beach unchecked. When the tide was setting strong up or down
Channel its flow across the mouth of the bay thrust aside, to some
extent, the landward plunge of the waves.
We glance for a moment at the state of affairs on the land they were
This was the time of year to know the truth about the inner nature
and character of Knollsea; for to see Knollsea smiling to the summer
sun was to see a courtier before a king; Knollsea was not to be
known by such simple means. The half-dozen detached villas used as
lodging-houses in the summer, standing aloof from the cots of the
permanent race, rose in the dusk of this gusty evening, empty,
silent, damp, and dark as tombs. The gravel walks leading to them
were invaded by leaves and tufts of grass. As the darkness
thickened the wind increased, and each blast raked the iron railings
before the houses till they hummed as if in a song of derision.
Certainly it seemed absurd at this time of year that human beings
should expect comfort in a spot capable of such moods as these.
However, one of the houses looked cheerful, and that was the
dwelling to which Ethelberta had gone. Its gay external colours
might as well have been black for anything that could be seen of
them now, but an unblinded window revealed inside it a room bright
and warm. It was illuminated by firelight only. Within, Ethelberta
appeared against the curtains, close to the glass. She was watching
through a binocular a faint light which had become visible in the
direction of the bluff far away over the bay.
'Here is the Spruce at last, I think,' she said to her sister, who
was by the fire. 'I hope they will be able to land the things I
have ordered. They are on board I know.'
The wind continued to rise till at length something from the lungs
of the gale alighted like a feather upon the pane, and remained
there sticking. Seeing the substance, Ethelberta opened the window
to secure it. The fire roared and the pictures kicked the walls;
she closed the sash, and brought to the light a crisp fragment of
'How suddenly the sea must have risen,' said Picotee.
The servant entered the room. 'Please, mis'ess says she is afraid
you won't have your things to-night, 'm. They say the steamer can't
land, and mis'ess wants to know if she can do anything?'
'It is of no consequence,' said Ethelberta. 'They will come some
time, unless they go to the bottom.'
The girl left the room. 'Shall we go down to the shore and see what
the night is like?' said Ethelberta. 'This is the last opportunity
I shall have.'
'Is it right for us to go, considering you are to be married to-
morrow?' said Picotee, who had small affection for nature in this
Her sister laughed. 'Let us put on our cloaks--nobody will know us.
I am sorry to leave this grim and primitive place, even for
They wrapped themselves up, and descended the hill.
On drawing near the battling line of breakers which marked the
meeting of sea and land they could perceive within the nearly
invisible horizon an equilateral triangle of lights. It was formed
of three stars, a red on the one side, a green on the other, and a
white on the summit. This, composed of mast-head and side lamps,
was all that was visible of the Spruce, which now faced end-on about
half-a-mile distant, and was still nearing the pier. The girls went
further, and stood on the foreshore, listening to the din. Seaward
appeared nothing distinct save a black horizontal band embodying
itself out of the grey water, strengthening its blackness, and
enlarging till it looked like a nearing wall. It was the concave
face of a coming wave. On its summit a white edging arose with the
aspect of a lace frill; it broadened, and fell over the front with a
terrible concussion. Then all before them was a sheet of whiteness,
which spread with amazing rapidity, till they found themselves
standing in the midst of it, as in a field of snow. Both felt an
insidious chill encircling their ankles, and they rapidly ran up the
'You girls, come away there, or you'll be washed off: what need
have ye for going so near?'
Ethelberta recognized the stentorian voice as that of Captain
Flower, who, with a party of boatmen, was discovered to be standing
near, under the shelter of a wall. He did not know them in the
gloom, and they took care that he should not. They retreated
further up the beach, when the hissing fleece of froth slid again
down the shingle, dragging the pebbles under it with a rattle as of
a beast gnawing bones.
The spot whereon the men stood was called 'Down-under-wall;' it was
a nook commanding a full view of the bay, and hither the nautical
portion of the village unconsciously gravitated on windy afternoons
and nights, to discuss past disasters in the reticent spirit induced
by a sense that they might at any moment be repeated. The stranger
who should walk the shore on roaring and sobbing November eves when
there was not light sufficient to guide his footsteps, and muse on
the absoluteness of the solitude, would be surprised by a smart
'Good-night' being returned from this corner in company with the
echo of his tread. In summer the six or eight perennial figures
stood on the breezy side of the wall--in winter and in rain to
leeward; but no weather was known to dislodge them.
'I had no sooner come ashore than the wind began to fly round,' said
the previous speaker; 'and it must have been about the time they
were off Old-Harry Point. "She'll put back for certain," I said;
and I had no more thought o' seeing her than John's set-net that was
carried round the point o' Monday.'
'Poor feller: his wife being in such a state makes him anxious to
land if 'a can: that's what 'tis, plain enough.'
'Why that?' said Flower.
'The doctor's aboard, 'a believe: "I'll have the most understanding
man in Sandbourne, cost me little or much," he said.'
''Tis all over and she's better,' said the other. 'I called half-
an-hour afore dark.'
Flower, being an experienced man, knew how the judgment of a ship's
master was liable to be warped by family anxieties, many instances
of the same having occurred in the history of navigation. He felt
uneasy, for he knew the deceit and guile of this bay far better than
did the master of the Spruce, who, till within a few recent months,
had been a stranger to the place. Indeed, it was the bay which had
made Flower what he was, instead of a man in thriving retirement.
The two great ventures of his life had been blown ashore and broken
up within that very semicircle. The sturdy sailor now stood with
his eyes fixed on the triangle of lights which showed that the
steamer had not relinquished her intention of bringing up inside the
pier if possible; his right hand was in his pocket, where it played
with a large key which lay there. It was the key of the lifeboat