Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Beth Trapaga and PG Distributed Proofreaders
THE INCOMPLETE AMORIST
By E. NESBIT
Illustrated by CLARENCE F. UNDERWOOD
Justus Miles Forman
"Faire naitre un desir, le nourrir, le developper, le grandir, le
satisfaire, c'est un poeme tout entier."
BOOK I. THE GIRL
Chapter I. The Inevitable
Chapter II. The Irresistible
Chapter III. Voluntary
Chapter IV. Involuntary
Chapter V. The Prisoner
Chapter VI. The Criminal
Chapter VII. The Escape
BOOK II. THE MAN
Chapter VIII. The One and the Other
Chapter IX. The Opportunity
Chapter X. Seeing Life
Chapter XI. The Thought
Chapter XII. The Rescue
Chapter XIII. Contrasts
Chapter XIV. Renunciation
BOOK III. THE OTHER WOMAN
Chapter XV. On Mount Parnassus
Chapter XVI. "Love and Tupper"
Chapter XVII. Interventions
Chapter XVIII. The Truth
Chapter XIX. The Truth with a Vengeance
Chapter XX. Waking-up Time
BOOK IV. THE OTHER MAN
Chapter XXI. The Flight
Chapter XXII. The Lunatic
Chapter XXIII. Temperatures
Chapter XXIV. The Confessional
Chapter XXV. The Forest
Chapter XXVI. The Miracle
Chapter XXVII. The Pink Silk Story
Chapter XXVIII. "And so--"
PEOPLE OF THE STORY
Eustace Vernon. The Incomplete Amorist
Betty Desmond The Girl
The Rev. Cecil Underwood Her Step-Father
Miss Julia Desmond Her Aunt
Robert Temple The Other Man
Lady St. Craye The Other Woman
Miss Voscoe The Art Student
Madame Chevillon. The Inn-Keeper at Crez
Paula Conway A Soul in Hell
Mimi Chantal A Model
Village Matrons, Concierges, Art Students, Etc.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"'Oh, what a pity,' said Betty from the heart, 'that we aren't
"'Ah, don't be cross!' she said."
"Betty stared at him coldly."
"Betty looked nervously around--the scene was agitatingly unfamiliar."
"Unfinished, but a disquieting likeness."
"'No, thank you: it's all done now.'"
"On the further arm of the chair sat, laughing also, a very pretty
"The next morning brought him a letter."
Book 1.--The Girl
"No. The chemises aren't cut out. I haven't had time. There are enough
shirts to go on with, aren't there, Mrs. James?" said Betty.
"We can make do for this afternoon, Miss, but the men they're getting
blowed out with shirts. It's the children's shifts as we can't make
shift without much longer." Mrs. James, habitually doleful, punctuated
her speech with sniffs.
"That's a joke, Mrs. James," said Betty. "How clever you are!"
"I try to be what's fitting," said Mrs. James, complacently.
"Talk of fitting," said Betty, "If you like I'll fit on that black
bodice for you, Mrs. Symes. If the other ladies don't mind waiting for
the reading a little bit."
"I'd as lief talk as read, myself," said a red-faced sandy-haired
woman; "books ain't what they was in my young days."
"If it's the same to you, Miss," said Mrs. Symes in a thick rich
voice, "I'll not be tried on afore a room full. If we are poor we can
all be clean's what I say, and I keeps my unders as I keeps my
outside. But not before persons as has real imitation lace on their
petticoat bodies. I see them when I was a-nursing her with her fourth.
No, Miss, and thanking you kindly, but begging your pardon all the
"Don't mention it," said Betty absently. "Oh, Mrs. Smith, you can't
have lost your thimble already. Why what's that you've got in your
"So it is!" Mrs. Smith's face beamed at the gratifying coincidence. "It
always was my habit, from a child, to put things there for safety."
"These cheap thimbles ain't fit to put in your mouth, no more than
coppers," said Mrs. James, her mouth full of pins.
"Oh, nothing hurts you if you like it," said Betty recklessly. She had
been reading the works of Mr. G.K. Chesterton.
A shocked murmur arose.
"Oh, Miss, what about the publy kows?" said Mrs. Symes heavily. The
others nodded acquiescence.
"Don't you think we might have a window open?" said Betty. The May
sunshine beat on the schoolroom windows. The room, crowded with the
stout members of the "Mother's Meeting and Mutual Clothing Club," was
A murmur arose far more shocked than the first.
"I was just a-goin' to say why not close the door, that being what
doors is made for, after all," said Mrs. Symes. "I feel a sort of
draught a-creeping up my legs as it is."
The door was shut.
"You can't be too careful," said the red-faced woman; "we never know
what a chill mayn't bring forth. My cousin's sister-in-law, she had
twins, and her aunt come in and says she, 'You're a bit stuffy here,
ain't you?' and with that she opens the window a crack,--not meaning
no harm, Miss,--as it might be you. And within a year that poor
unfortunate woman she popped off, when least expected. Gas ulsters,
the doctor said. Which it's what you call chills, if you're a doctor
and can't speak plain."
"My poor grandmother come to her end the same way," said Mrs. Smith,
"only with her it was the Bible reader as didn't shut the door through
being so set on shewing off her reading. And my granny, a clot of
blood went to her brain, and her brain went to her head and she was a
corpse inside of fifty minutes."
Every woman in the room was waiting, feverishly alert, for the pause
that should allow her to begin her own detailed narrative of disease.
Mrs. James was easily first in the competition.
"Them quick deaths," she said, "is sometimes a blessing in disguise to
both parties concerned. My poor husband--years upon years he lingered,
and he had a bad leg--talk of bad legs, I wish you could all have seen
it," she added generously.
"Was it the kind that keeps all on a-breaking out?" asked Mrs. Symes
hastily, "because my youngest brother had a leg that nothing couldn't
stop. Break out it would do what they might. I'm sure the bandages
I've took off him in a morning--"
Betty clapped her hands.
It was the signal that the reading was going to begin, and the matrons
looked at her resentfully. What call had people to start reading when
the talk was flowing so free and pleasant?
Betty, rather pale, began: "This is a story about a little boy called
Wee Willie Winkie."
"I call that a silly sort of name," whispered Mrs. Smith.
"Did he make a good end, Miss?" asked Mrs. James plaintively.
"You'll see," said Betty.
"I like it best when they dies forgiving of everybody and singing
hymns to the last."
"And when they says, 'Mother, I shall meet you 'ereafter in the better
land'--that's what makes you cry so pleasant."
"Do you want me to read or not?" asked Betty in desperation.
"Yes, Miss, yes," hummed the voices heavy and shrill.
"It's her hobby, poor young thing," whispered Mrs. Smith, "we all 'as
'em. My own is a light cake to my tea, and always was. Ush."
When the mothers had wordily gone, she threw open the windows, propped
the door wide with a chair, and went to tea. She had it alone.
"Your Pa's out a-parishing," said Letitia, bumping down the tray in
front of her.
"That's a let-off anyhow," said Betty to herself, and she propped up a
Stevenson against the tea-pot.
After tea parishioners strolled up by ones and twos and threes to
change their books at the Vicarage lending library. The books were
covered with black calico, and smelt of rooms whose windows were never
When she had washed the smell of the books off, she did her hair very
carefully in a new way that seemed becoming, and went down to supper.
Her step-father only spoke once during the meal; he was luxuriating in
the thought of the _Summa Theologiae_ of Aquinas in leather still
brown and beautiful, which he had providentially discovered in the
wash-house of an ailing Parishioner. When he did speak he said:
"How extremely untidy your hair is, Lizzie. I wish you would take more
pains with your appearance."
When he had withdrawn to his books she covered three new volumes for
the library: the black came off on her hands, but anyway it was clean
She went to bed early.
"And that's my life," she said as she blew out the candle.
Said Mrs. James to Mrs. Symes over the last and strongest cup of tea:
"Miss Betty's ailing a bit, I fancy. Looked a bit peaky, it seemed to
me. I shouldn't wonder if she was to go off in a decline like her
"It wasn't no decline," said Mrs. Symes, dropping her thick voice,
"'e was cut off in the midst of his wicked courses. A judgment if
ever there was one."
Betty's blameless father had been killed in the hunting field.
"I daresay she takes after him, only being a female it all turns to
her being pernickety in her food and allus wanting the windows open.
And mark my words, it may turn into a decline yet, Mrs. Symes, my
Mrs. Symes laughed fatly. "That ain't no decline," she said, "you take
it from me. What Miss Betty wants is a young man. It is but nature
after all, and what we must all come to, gentle or simple. Give her a
young man to walk out with and you'll see the difference. Decline
indeed! A young man's what she wants. And if I know anything of gells
and their ways she'll get one, no matter how close the old chap keeps
Mrs. Symes was not so wrong as the delicate minded may suppose.
Betty did indeed desire to fall in love. In all the story books the
main interest of the heroine's career began with that event. Not that
she voiced the desire to herself. Only once she voiced it in her
"Oh, God," she said, "do please let something happen!"
That was all. A girl had her little reticences, even with herself,
even with her Creator.
Next morning she planned to go sketching; but no, there were three
more detestable books to be put into nasty little black cotton coats,
the drawing-room to be dusted--all the hateful china--the peas to be
shelled for dinner.
She shelled the peas in the garden. It was a beautiful green garden,
and lovers could have walked very happily down the lilac-bordered
"Oh, how sick I am of it all!" said Betty. She would not say, even to
herself, that what she hated was the frame without the picture.
As she carried in the peas she passed the open window of the study
where, among shelves of dull books and dusty pamphlets, her
step-father had as usual forgotten his sermon in a chain of references
to the Fathers. Betty saw his thin white hairs, his hard narrow face
and tight mouth, the hands yellow and claw-like that gripped the thin
"I suppose even he was young once," she said, "but I'm sure he doesn't
He saw her go by, young and alert in the sunshine, and the May air
stirred the curtains. He looked vaguely about him, unlocked a drawer
in his writing-table, and took out a leather case. He gazed long at
the face within, a young bright face with long ringlets above the
formal bodice and sloping shoulders of the sixties.
"Well, well," he said, "well, well," locked it away, and went back to
_De Poenis Parvulorum_.
"I _will_ go out," said Betty, as she parted with the peas. "I don't
It was not worth while to change one's frock. Even when one was
properly dressed, at rare local garden-party or flower-show, one never
met anyone that mattered.
She fetched her sketching things. At eighteen one does so pathetically
try to feed the burgeoning life with the husks of polite
accomplishment. She insisted on withholding from the clutches of the
Parish the time to practise Beethoven and Sullivan for an hour daily.
Daily, for half an hour, she read an improving book. Just now it was
The French Revolution, and Betty thought it would last till she was
sixty. She tried to read French and German--Telemaque and Maria
Stuart. She fully intended to become all that a cultured young woman
should be. But self-improvement is a dull game when there is no one to
applaud your score.
What the gardener called the gravel path was black earth, moss-grown.
Very pretty, but Betty thought it shabby.
It was soft and cool, though, to the feet, and the dust of the white
road sparkled like diamond dust in the sunlight.
She crossed the road and passed through the swing gate into the park,
where the grass was up for hay, with red sorrel and buttercups and
tall daisies and feathery flowered grasses, their colours all tangled
and blended together like ravelled ends of silk on the wrong side of
some great square of tapestry. Here and there in the wide sweep of
tall growing things stood a tree--a may-tree shining like silver, a
laburnum like fine gold. There were horse-chestnuts whose spires of
blossom shewed like fat candles on a Christmas tree for giant
children. And the sun was warm and the tree shadows black on the
Betty told herself that she hated it all. She took the narrow
path--the grasses met above her feet--crossed the park, and reached
the rabbit warren, where the chalk breaks through the thin dry turf,
and the wild thyme grows thick.
A may bush, overhanging a little precipice of chalk, caught her eye. A
wild rose was tangled round it. It was, without doubt, the most
difficult composition within sight.
"I will sketch that," said Eighteen, confidently.
For half an hour she busily blotted and washed and niggled. Then she
became aware that she no longer had the rabbit warren to herself.
"And he's an artist, too!" said Betty. "How awfully interesting! I
wish I could see his face."
But this his slouched Panama forbade. He was in white, the sleeve and
breast of his painting jacket smeared with many colours; he had a
camp-stool and an easel and looked, she could not help feeling, much
more like a real artist than she did, hunched up as she was on a
little mound of turf, in her shabby pink gown and that hateful garden
hat with last year's dusty flattened roses in it.
She went on sketching with feverish unskilled fingers, and a pulse
that had actually quickened its beat.
She cast little glances at him as often as she dared. He was certainly
a real artist. She could tell that by the very way he held his
palette. Was he staying with people about there? Should she meet him?
Would they ever be introduced to each other?
"Oh, what a pity," said Betty from the heart, "that we aren't
Her sketch grew worse and worse.
"It's no good," she said. "I can't do anything with it."
She glanced at him. He had pushed back the hat. She saw quite plainly
that he was smiling--a very little, but he _was_ smiling. Also he was
looking at her, and across the fifteen yards of gray turf their eyes
met. And she knew that he knew that this was not her first glance at
She paled with fury.
"He has been watching me all the time! He is making fun of me. He
knows I can't sketch. Of course he can see it by the silly way I hold
everything." She ran her knife around her sketch, detached it, and
tore it across and across.
The stranger raised his hat and called eagerly.
"I say--please don't move for a minute. Do you mind? I've just got
your pink gown. It's coming beautifully. Between brother artists--Do,
please! Do sit still and go on sketching--Ah, do!"
Betty's attitude petrified instantly. She held a brush in her hand,
and she looked down at her block. But she did not go on sketching. She
sat rigid and three delicious words rang in her ears: "Between brother
artists!" How very nice of him! He hadn't been making fun, after all.
But wasn't it rather impertinent of him to put her in his picture
without asking her? Well, it wasn't she but her pink gown he wanted.
And "between brother artists!" Betty drew a long breath.
"It's no use," he called; "don't bother any more. The pose is gone."
She rose to her feet and he came towards her.
"Let me see the sketch," he said. "Why did you tear it up?" He fitted
the pieces together. "Why, it's quite good. You ought to study in
Paris," he added idly.
She took the torn papers from his hand with a bow, and turned to go.
"Don't go," he said. "You're not going? Don't you want to look at my
Now Betty knew as well as you do that you musn't speak to people
unless you've been introduced to them. But the phrase "brother
artists" had played ninepins with her little conventions.
"Thank you. I should like to very much," said Betty. "I don't care,"
she said to herself, "and besides, it's not as if he were a young man,
or a tourist, or anything. He must be ever so old--thirty; I shouldn't
wonder if he was thirty-five."
When she saw the picture she merely said, "Oh," and stood at gaze. For
it _was_ a picture--a picture that, seen in foreign lands, might well
make one sick with longing for the dry turf and the pale dog violets
that love the chalk, for the hum of the bees and the scent of the
thyme. He had chosen the bold sweep of the brown upland against the
sky, and low to the left, where the line broke, the dim violet of the
Kentish hills. In the green foreground the pink figure, just roughly
blocked in, was blocked in by a hand that knew its trade, and was
artist to the tips of its fingers.
"Oh!" said Betty again.
"Yes," said he, "I think I've got it this time. I think it'll make a
hole in the wall, eh? Yes; it is good!"
"Yes," said Betty; "oh, yes."
"Do you often go a-sketching?" he asked.
"How modest he is," thought Betty; "he changes the subject so as not
to seem to want to be praised."
Aloud she answered with shy fluttered earnestness: "Yes--no. I don't
His lips were grave, but there was the light behind his eyes that goes
with a smile.
"What unnecessary agitation!" he was thinking. "Poor little thing, I
suppose she's never seen a man before. Oh, these country girls!" Aloud
he was saying: "This is such a perfect country. You ought to sketch
"I've no one to teach me," said Betty, innocently phrasing a long-felt
The man raised his eyebrows. "Well, after that, here goes!" he said to
himself. "I wish you'd let _me_ teach you," he said to her, beginning
to put his traps together.
"Oh, I didn't mean that," said Betty in real distress. What would he
think of her? How greedy and grasping she must seem! "I didn't mean
that at all!"
"No; but I do," he said.
"But you're a great artist," said Betty, watching him with clasped
hands. "I suppose it would be--I mean--don't you know, we're not rich,
and I suppose your lessons are worth pounds and pounds."
"I don't give lessons for money," his lips tightened--"only for love."
"That means nothing, doesn't it?" she said, and flushed to find
herself on the defensive feebly against--nothing.
"At tennis, yes," he said, and to himself he added: "_Vieux jeu_, my
dear, but you did it very prettily."
"But I couldn't let you give me lessons for nothing."
"Why not?" he asked. And his calmness made Betty feel ashamed and
"I don't know," she answered tremulously, but I don't think my
step-father would want me to."
"You think it would annoy him?"
"I'm sure it would, if he knew about it."
Betty was thinking how little her step-father had ever cared to know
of her and her interests. But the man caught the ball as he saw it.
"Then why let him know?" was the next move; and it seemed to him that
Betty's move of rejoinder came with a readiness born of some practice
at the game.
"Oh," she said innocently, "I never thought of that! But wouldn't it
"She's got the whole thing stereotyped. But it's dainty type anyhow,"
he thought. "Of course it wouldn't be wrong," he said. "It wouldn't
hurt him. Don't you know that nothing's wrong unless it hurts
"Yes," she said eagerly, "that's what I think. But all the same it
doesn't seem fair that you should take all that trouble for me and get
nothing in return."
"Well played! We're getting on!" he thought, and added aloud: "But
perhaps I shan't get nothing in return?"
Her eyes dropped over the wonderful thought that perhaps she might do
something for _him_. But what? She looked straight at him, and the
innocent appeal sent a tiny thorn of doubt through his armour of
complacency. Was she--after all? No, no novice could play the game so
well. And yet--
"I would do anything I could, you know," she said eagerly, "because it
is so awfully kind of you, and I do so want to be able to paint. What
can I do?"
"What can you do?" he asked, and brought his face a little nearer to
the pretty flushed freckled face under the shabby hat. Her eyes met
his. He felt a quick relenting, and drew back.
"Well, for one thing you could let me paint your portrait."
Betty was silent.
"Come, play up, you little duffer," he urged inwardly.
When she spoke her voice trembled.
"I don't know how to thank you," she said.
"And you will?"
"Oh, I will; indeed I will!"
"How good and sweet you are," he said. Then there was a silence.
Betty tightened the strap of her sketching things and said:
"I think I ought to go home now."
He had the appropriate counter ready.
"Ah, don't go yet!" he said; "let us sit down; see, that bank is quite
in the shade now, and tell me--"
"Tell you what?" she asked, for he had made the artistic pause.
"Oh, anything--anything about yourself."
Betty was as incapable of flight as any bird on a limed twig.
She walked beside him to the bank, and sat down at his bidding, and he
lay at her feet, looking up into her eyes. He asked idle questions:
she answered them with a conscientious tremulous truthfulness that
showed to him as the most finished art. And it seemed to him a very
fortunate accident that he should have found here, in this unlikely
spot, so accomplished a player at his favorite game. Yet it was the
variety of his game for which he cared least. He did not greatly
relish a skilled adversary. Betty told him nervously and in words
ill-chosen everything that he asked to know, but all the while the
undercurrent of questions rang strong within her--"When is he to teach
me? Where? How?"--so that when at last there was left but the bare
fifteen minutes needed to get one home in time for the midday dinner
she said abruptly:
"And when shall I see you again?"
"You take the words out of my mouth," said he. And indeed she had.
"She has no _finesse_ yet," he told himself. "She might have left that
move to me."
"The lessons, you know," said Betty, "and, and the picture, if you
really do want to do it."
"If I want to do it!--You know I want to do it. Yes. It's like the
nursery game. How, when and where? Well, as to the how--I can paint
and you can learn. The where--there's a circle of pines in the wood
here. You know it? A sort of giant fairy ring?"
She did know it.
"Now for the when--and that's the most important. I should like to
paint you in the early morning when the day is young and innocent and
beautiful--like--like--" He was careful to break off in a most natural
seeming embarrassment. "That's a bit thick, but she'll swallow it all
right. Gone down? Right!" he told himself.
"I could come out at six if you liked, or--or five," said Betty,
humbly anxious to do her part.
He was almost shocked. "My good child," he told her silently, "someone
really ought to teach you not to do all the running. You don't give a
man a chance."
"Then will you meet me here to-morrow at six?" he said. "You won't
disappoint me, will you?" he added tenderly.
"No," said downright Betty, "I'll be sure to come. But not to-morrow,"
she added with undisguised regret; "to-morrow's Sunday."
"Monday then," said he, "and good-bye."
"Good-bye, and--oh, I don't know how to thank you!"
"I'm very much mistaken if you don't," he said as he stood bareheaded,
watching the pink gown out of sight.
"Well, adventures to the adventurous! A clergyman's daughter, too! I
might have known it."
Betty had to run all the way home, and then she was late for dinner.
Her step-father's dry face and dusty clothes, the solid comfort of the
mahogany furnished dining room, the warm wet scent of mutton,--these
seemed needed to wake her from what was, when she had awakened, a
dream--the open sky, the sweet air of the May fields and _Him_.
Already the stranger was Him to Betty. But, then, she did not know his
She slipped into her place at the foot of the long white dining table,
a table built to serve a dozen guests, and where no guests ever sat,
save rarely a curate or two, and more rarely even, an aunt.
"You are late again, Lizzie," said her step-father.
"Yes, Father," said she, trying to hide her hands and the fact that
she had not had time to wash them. A long streak of burnt sienna
marked one finger, and her nails had little slices of various colours
in them. Her paint-box was always hard to open.
Usually Mr. Underwood saw nothing. But when he saw anything he saw
everything. His eye was caught by the green smudge on her pink sleeve.
"I wish you would contrive to keep yourself clean, or else wear a
pinafore," he said.
Betty flushed scarlet.
"I'm very sorry," she said, "but it's only water colour. It will wash
"You are nearly twenty, are you not?" the Vicar inquired with the dry
smile that always infuriated his step-daughter. How was she to know
that it was the only smile he knew, and that smiles of any sort had
long grown difficult to him?
"Eighteen," she said.
"It is almost time you began to think about being a lady."
This was badinage. No failures had taught the Reverend Cecil that his
step-daughter had an ideal of him in which badinage had no place. She
merely supposed that he wished to be disagreeable.
She kept a mutinous silence. The old man sighed. It is one's duty to
correct the faults of one's child, but it is not pleasant. The
Reverend Cecil had not the habit of shirking any duty because he
happened to dislike it.
The mutton was taken away.
Betty, her whole being transfigured by the emotions of the morning,
stirred the stewed rhubarb on her plate. She felt rising in her a sort
of wild forlorn courage. Why shouldn't she speak out? Her step-father
couldn't hate her more than he did, whatever she said. He might even
be glad to be rid of her. She spoke suddenly and rather loudly before
she knew that she had meant to speak at all.
"Father," she said, "I wish you'd let me go to Paris and study art.
Not now," she hurriedly explained with a sudden vision of being taken
at her word and packed off to France before six o'clock on Monday
morning, "not now, but later. In the autumn perhaps. I would work very
hard. I wish you'd let me."
He put on his spectacles and looked at her with wistful kindness. She
read in his glance only a frozen contempt.
"No, my child," he said. Paris is a sink of iniquity. I passed a week
there once, many years ago. It was at the time of the Great
Exhibition. You are growing discontented, Lizzie. Work is the cure for
that. Mrs. Symes tells me that the chemises for the Mother's sewing
meetings are not cut out yet."
"I'll cut them out to-day. They haven't finished the shirts yet,
anyway," said Betty; "but I do wish you'd just think about Paris, or
"You can have lessons at home if you like. I believe there are
excellent drawing-mistresses in Sevenoaks. Mrs. Symes was recommending
one of them to me only the other day. With certificates from the High
School I seem to remember her saying."
"But that's not what I want," said Betty with a courage that surprised
her as much as it surprised him. "Don't you see, Father? One gets
older every day, and presently I shall be quite old, and I shan't have
been anywhere or seen anything."
He thought he laughed indulgently at the folly of youth. She thought
his laugh the most contemptuous, the cruelest sound in the world. "He
doesn't deserve that I should tell him about Him," she thought, "and I
won't. I don't care!"
"No, no," he said, "no, no, no. The home is the place for girls. The
safe quiet shelter of the home. Perhaps some day your husband will
take you abroad for a fortnight now and then. If you manage to get a
husband, that is."
He had seen, through his spectacles, her flushed prettiness, and old
as he was he remembered well enough how a face like hers would seem to
a young man's eyes. Of course she would get a husband? So he spoke in
kindly irony. And she hated him for a wanton insult.
"Try to do your duty in that state of life to which you are called,"
he went on: "occupy yourself with music and books and the details of
housekeeping. No, don't have my study turned out," he added in haste,
remembering how his advice about household details had been followed
when last he gave it. "Don't be a discontented child. Go and cut out
the nice little chemises." This seemed to him almost a touch of kindly
humour, and he went back to Augustine, pleased with himself.
Betty set her teeth and went, black rage in her heart, to cut out the
hateful little chemises.
She dragged the great roll of evil smelling grayish unbleached calico
from the schoolroom cupboard and heaved it on to the table. It was
very heavy. The scissors were blunt and left deep red-blue
indentations on finger and thumb. She was rather pleased that the
scissors hurt so much.
"Father doesn't care a single bit, he hates me," she said, "and I hate
him. Oh, I do."
She would not think of the morning. Not now, with this fire of
impotent resentment burning in her, would she take out those memories
and look at them. Those were not thoughts to be dragged through the
litter of unbleached cotton cuttings. She worked on doggedly,
completed the tale of hot heavy little garments, gathered up the
pieces into the waste-paper basket and put away the roll.
Not till the paint had been washed from her hands, and the crumbled
print dress exchanged for a quite respectable muslin did she
consciously allow the morning's memories to come out and meet her
eyes. Then she went down to the arbour where she had shelled peas only
"It seems years and years ago," she said. And sitting there, she
slowly and carefully went over everything. What he had said, what she
had said. There were some things she could not quite remember. But she
remembered enough. "Brother artists" were the words she said oftenest
to herself, but the words that sank themselves were, "young and
innocent and beautiful like--like--"
"But he couldn't have meant me, of course," she told herself.
And on Monday she would see him again,--and he would give her a
Sunday was incredibly wearisome. Her Sunday-school class had never
been so tiresome nor so soaked in hair-oil. In church she was shocked
to find herself watching, from her pew in the chancel, the entry of
late comers--of whom He was not one. No afternoon had ever been half
so long. She wrote up her diary. Thursday and Friday were quickly
chronicled. At "Saturday" she paused long, pen in hand, and then wrote
very quickly: "I went out sketching and met a gentleman, an artist. He
was very kind and is going to teach me to paint and he is going to
paint my portrait. I do not like him particularly. He is rather old,
and not really good-looking. I shall not tell father, because he is
simply hateful to me. I am going to meet this artist at 6 to-morrow.
It will be dreadful having to get up so early. I almost wish I hadn't
said I would go. It will be such a bother."
Then she hid the diary in a drawer, under her confirmation dress and
veil, and locked the drawer carefully.
He was not at church in the evening either. He had thought of it, but
decided that it was too much trouble to get into decent clothes.
"I shall see her soon enough," he thought, "curse my impulsive
generosity! Six o'clock, forsooth, and all to please a clergyman's
She came back from church with tired steps.
"I do hope I'm not going to be ill," she said. "I feel so odd, just as
if I hadn't had anything to eat for days,--and yet I'm not a bit
hungry either. I daresay I shan't wake up in time to get there by
She was awake before five.
She woke with a flutter of the heart. What was it? Had anything
happened? Was anyone ill? Then she recognized that she was not
unhappy. And she felt more than ever as though it were days since she
had had anything to eat.
"Oh, dear," said Betty, jumping out of bed. "I'm going out, to meet
Him, and have a drawing-lesson!"
She dressed quickly. It was too soon to start. Not for anything must
she be first at the rendezvous, even though it were only for a
drawing-lesson. That "only" pulled her up sharply.
When she was dressed she dug out the diary and wrote:
"This is terrible. Is it possible that I have fallen in love with
him? I don't know. 'Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?'
It is a most frightful tragedy to happen to one, and at my age too.
What a long life of loneliness stretches in front of me! For of
course he could never care for me. And if this _is_ love--well, it
will be once and forever with me, I know.
"That's my nature, I'm afraid. But I'm not,--I can't be. But I never
felt so unlike myself. I feel a sort of calm exultation, as if
something very wonderful was very near me. Dear Diary, what a
comfort it is to have you to tell everything to!"
It seemed to her that she must certainly be late. She had to creep
down the front stairs so very slowly and softly in order that she
might not awaken her step-father. She had so carefully and silently to
unfasten a window and creep out, to close the window again, without
noise, lest the maids should hear and come running to see why their
young mistress was out of her bed at that hour. She had to go on
tiptoe through the shrubbery and out through the church yard. One
could climb its wall, and get into the Park that way, so as not to
meet labourers on the road who would stare to see her alone so early
and perhaps follow her.
Once in the park she was safe. Her shoes and her skirts were wet with
dew. She made haste. She did not want to keep him waiting.
But she was first at the rendezvous, after all.
She sat down on the carpet of pine needles. How pretty the early
morning was. The sunlight was quite different from the evening
sunlight, so much lighter and brighter. And the shadows were
different. She tried to settle on a point of view for her sketch, the
sketch he was to help her with.
Her thoughts went back to what she had written in her diary. If that
_should_ be true she must be very, very careful. He must never guess
it, never. She would be very cold and distant and polite. Not
hail-fellow well-met with a "brother artist," like she had been
yesterday. It was all very difficult indeed. Even if it really did
turn out to be true, if the wonderful thing had happened to her, if
she really was in love she would not try a bit to make him like her.
That would be forward and "horrid." She would never try to attract any
man. Those things must come of themselves or not at all.
She arranged her skirt in more effective folds, and wondered how it
would look as one came up the woodland path. She thought it would look
rather picturesque. It was a nice heliotrope colour. It would look
like a giant Parma violet against the dark green background. She hoped
her hair was tidy. And that her hat was not very crooked. However
little one desires to attract, one may at least wish one's hat to be
She looked for the twentieth time at her watch, the serviceable silver
watch that had been her mother's. Half-past six, and he had not come.
Well, when he did come she would pretend she had only just got there.
Or how would it be if she gave up being a Parma violet and went a
little way down the path and then turned back when she heard him
coming? She walked away a dozen yards and stood waiting. But he did
not come. Was it possible that he was not coming? Was he ill--lying
uncared for at the Peal of Bells in the village, with no one to smooth
his pillow or put eau-de-cologne on his head?
She walked a hundred yards or so towards the village on the spur of
Or perhaps he had come by another way to the trysting place? That
thought drove her back. He was not there.
Well, she would not stay any longer. She would just go away, and come
back ever so much later, and let him have a taste of waiting. She had
had her share, she told herself, as she almost ran from the spot. She
stopped suddenly. But suppose he did _not_ wait? She went slowly back.
She sat down again, schooled herself to patience.
What an idiot she had been! Like any school-girl. Of course he had
never meant to come. Why should he? That page in her diary called out
to her to come home and burn it. Care for him indeed! Not she! Why she
hadn't exchanged ten words with the man!
"But I knew it was all nonsense when I wrote it," she said. "I only
just put it down to see what it would look like."
* * * * *
Mr. Eustace Vernon roused himself, and yawned.
"It's got to be done, I suppose. Buck up,--you'll feel better after
your bath! Jove! Seven o'clock. Will she have waited? She's a keen
player if she has. It's just worth trying, I suppose."
The church clock struck the half-hour as he turned into the wood.
Something palely violet came towards him.
"So you _are_ here," he said. "Where's the pink frock?"
"It's--it's going to the wash," said a stiff and stifled voice. "I'm
sorry I couldn't get here at six. I hope you didn't wait long?"
"Not very long," he said, smiling; "but--Great Heavens, what on earth
is the matter?"
"Nothing," she said.
"But you've been--you are--"
"I'm not," she said defiantly,--"besides, I've got neuralgia. It
always makes me look like that."
"My Aunt!" he thought. "Then she _was_ here at six and--she's been
crying because I wasn't and--oh, where are we?" "I'm so sorry you've
got neuralgia," he said gently, "but I'm awfully glad you didn't get
here at six. Because my watch was wrong and I've only just got here,
and I should never have forgiven myself if you'd waited for me a
single minute. Is the neuralgia better now?"
"Yes," she said, smiling faintly, "much better. It was rather sharp
while it lasted, though."
"Yes," he said, "I see it was. I am so glad you did come. But I was so
certain you wouldn't that I didn't bring any of my traps. So we can't
begin the picture to-day. Will you start a sketch, or is your
neuralgia too bad?"
He knew it would be: and it was.
So they merely sat on the pine carpet and talked till it was time for
her to go back to the late Rectory breakfast. They told each other
their names that day. Betty talked very carefully. It was most
important that he should think well of her. Her manner had changed, as
she had promised herself it should do if she found she cared for him.
Now she was with him she knew, of course, that she did not care at
all. What had made her so wretched--no, so angry that she had actually
cried, was simply the idea that she had been made a fool of. That she
had kept the tryst and he hadn't. Now he had come she was quite calm.
She did not care in the least.
He was saying to himself: "I'm not often wrong, but I was off the line
yesterday. All that doesn't count. We take a fresh deal and start
fair. She doesn't know the game, _mais elle a des moyens_. She's never
played the game before. And she cried because I didn't turn up. And so
I'm the first--think of it, if you please--absolutely the first one!
Well: it doesn't detract from the interest of the game. It's quite a
different game and requires more skill. But not more than I have,
They parted with another tryst set for the next morning. The brother
artist note had been skilfully kept vibrating.
Betty was sure that she should never have any feeling for him but mere
friendliness. She was glad of that. It must be dreadful to be really
in love. So unsettling.
Mr. Eustace Vernon is not by any error to be imagined as a villain of
the deepest dye, coldly planning to bring misery to a simple village
maiden for his own selfish pleasure. Not at all. As he himself would
have put it, he meant no harm to the girl. He was a master of two
arts, and to these he had devoted himself wholly. One was the art of
painting. But one cannot paint for all the hours there are. In the
intervals of painting Vernon always sought to exercise his other art.
One is limited, of course, by the possibilities, but he liked to have
always at least one love affair on hand. And just now there were
none--none at least possessing the one charm that irresistibly drew
him--newness. The one or two affairs that dragged on merely meant
letter writing, and he hated writing letters almost as much as he
hated reading them.
The country had been unfortunately barren of interest until his eyes
fell on that sketching figure in the pink dress. For he respected one
of his arts no less than the other, and would as soon have thought of
painting a vulgar picture as of undertaking a vulgar love-affair. He
was no pavement artist. Nor did he degrade his art by caricatures drawn
in hotel bars. Dairy maids did not delight him, and the mood was rare
with him in which one finds anything to say to a little milliner. He
wanted the means, not the end, and was at one with the unknown sage
who said: "The love of pleasure spoils the pleasure of love."
There is a gift, less rare than is supposed, of wiping the slate clean
of memories, and beginning all over again: a certain virginity of soul
that makes each new kiss the first kiss, each new love the only love.
This gift was Vernon's, and he had cultivated it so earnestly, so
delicately, that except in certain moods when he lost his temper, and
with it his control of his impulses, he was able to bring even to a
conservatory flirtation something of the fresh emotion of a schoolboy
Betty's awkwardnesses, which he took for advances, had chilled him a
little, though less than they would have done had not one of the
evil-tempered moods been on him.
He had dreaded lest the affair should advance too quickly. His own
taste was for the first steps in an affair of the heart, the delicate
doubts, the planned misunderstandings. He did not question his own
ability to conduct the affair capably from start to finish, but he
hated to skip the dainty preliminaries. He had feared that with Betty
he should have to skip them, for he knew that it is only in their
first love affairs that women have the patience to watch the flower
unfold itself. He himself was of infinite patience in that pastime. He
bit his lip and struck with his cane at the buttercup heads. He had
made a wretched beginning, with his "good and sweet." his "young and
innocent and beautiful like--like." If the girl had been a shade less
innocent the whole business would have been muffed--muffed hopelessly.
To-morrow he would be there early. A ship of promise should be--not
launched--that was weeks away. The first timbers should be felled to
build a ship to carry him, and her too, of course, a little way
towards the enchanted islands.
He knew the sea well, and it would be pleasant to steer on it one to
whom it was all new--all, all.
"Dear little girl," he said, "I don't suppose she has ever even
thought of love."
He was not in love with her, but he meant to be. He carefully thought
of her all that day, of her hair, her eyes, her hands; her hands were
really beautiful--small, dimpled and well-shaped--not the hands he
loved best, those were long and very slender,--but still beautiful.
And before he went to bed he wrote a little poem, to encourage himself:
Yes. I have loved before; I know
This longing that invades my days,
This shape that haunts life's busy ways
I know since long and long ago.
This starry mystery of delight
That floats across my eager eyes,
This pain that makes earth Paradise,
These magic songs of day and night,
I know them for the things they are:
A passing pain, a longing fleet,
A shape that soon I shall not meet,
A fading dream of veil and star.
Yet, even as my lips proclaim
The wisdom that the years have lent,
Your absence is joy's banishment
And life's one music is your name.
I love you to the heart's hid core:
Those other loves? How can one learn
From marshlights how the great fires burn?
Ah, no--I never loved before!
When he read it through he entitled it, "The Veil of Maya," so that it
might pretend to have no personal application.
After that more than ever rankled the memory of that first morning.
"How could I?" he asked himself. "I must indeed have been in a gross
mood. One seems sometimes to act outside oneself altogether. Temporary
possession by some brutal ancestor perhaps. Well, it's not too late."
Next morning he worked at his picture, in the rabbit-warren, but his
head found itself turning towards the way by which on that first day
she had gone. She must know that on a day like this he would not be
wasting the light,--that he would be working. She would be wanting to
see him again. Would she come out? He wished she would. But he hoped
she wouldn't. It would have meant another readjustment of ideas. He
need not have been anxious. She did not come.
He worked steadily, masterfully. He always worked best at the
beginning of a love affair. All of him seemed somehow more alive, more
awake, more alert and competent. His mood was growing quickly to what
he meant it to be. He was what actors call a quick study. Soon he
would be able to play perfectly, without so much as a thought to the
"book," the part of Paul to this child's Virginia.
Had Virginia, he wondered, any relations besides the step-father whom
she so light-heartedly consented to hoodwink? Relations who might
interfere and pray and meddle and spoil things?
However ashamed we may be of our relations they cannot forever be
concealed. It must be owned that Betty was not the lonely orphan she
sometimes pretended to herself to be. She had aunts--an accident that
may happen to the best of us.
A year or two before Betty was born, a certain youth of good birth
left Harrow and went to Ealing where he was received in a family in
the capacity of Crammer's pup. The family was the Crammer and his
daughter, a hard-headed, tight-mouthed, black-haired young woman who
knew exactly what she wanted, and who meant to get it. Poverty had
taught her to know what she wanted. Nature, and the folly of
youth--not her own youth--taught her how to get it. There were several
pups. She selected the most eligible, secretly married him, and to the
day of her death spoke and thought of the marriage as a love-match. He
was a dreamy youth, who wrote verses and called the Crammer's daughter
his Egeria. She was too clever not to be kind to him, and he adored
her and believed in her to the end, which came before his twenty-first
birthday. He broke his neck out hunting, and died before Betty was
His people, exasperated at the news of the marriage, threatened to try
to invalidate it on the score of the false swearing that had been
needed to get the boy of nineteen married to the woman of twenty-four.
Egeria was frightened. She compromised for an annuity of two hundred
pounds, to be continued to her child.
The passion of this woman's life was power. One cannot be very
powerful with just two hundred a year, and a doubtful position as the
widow of a boy whose relations are prepared to dispute one's marriage.
Mrs. Desmond spent three years in thought, and in caring severely for
the wants of her child. Then she bought four handsome dresses, and
some impressive bonnets, went to a Hydropathic Establishment, and
looked about her. Of the eligible men there Mr. Cecil Underwood
seemed, on enquiry, to be the most eligible. So she married him. He
resisted but little, for his parish needed a clergywoman sadly. The
two hundred pounds was a welcome addition to an income depleted by the
purchase of rare editions, and at the moment crippled by his recent
acquisition of the Omiliac of Vincentius in its original oak boards
and leather strings; and, above all, he saw in the three-year-old
Betty the child he might have had if things had gone otherwise with
him and another when they both were young.
Mrs. Desmond had felt certain she could rule a parish. Mrs. Cecil
Underwood did rule it--as she had known she could. She ruled her
husband too. And Betty. When she caught cold from working all day
among damp evergreens for the Christmas decorations, and, developing
pneumonia, died, she died resentfully, thanking God that she had
always done her duty, and quite unable to imagine how the world would
go on without her. She felt almost sure that in cutting short her
career of usefulness her Creator was guilty of an error of judgment
which He would sooner or later find reason to regret.
Her husband mourned her. He had the habit of her, of her strong
capable ways, the clockwork precision of her household and parish
arrangements. But as time went on he saw that perhaps he was more
comfortable without her: as a reformed drunkard sees that it is better
not to rely on brandy for one's courage. He saw it, but of course he
never owned it to himself.
Betty was heart-broken, quite sincerely heart-broken. She forgot all
the mother's hard tyrannies, her cramping rules, her narrow bitter
creed, and remembered only the calm competence, amounting to genius,
with which her mother had ruled the village world, her unflagging
energy and patience, and her rare moments of tenderness. She
remembered too all her own lapses from filial duty, and those memories
were not comfortable.
Yet Betty too, when the self-tormenting remorseful stage had worn
itself out, found life fuller, freer without her mother. Her
step-father she hated--had always hated. But he could be avoided. She
went to a boarding-school at Torquay, and some of her holidays were
spent with her aunts, the sisters of the boy-father who had not lived
to see Betty.
She adored the aunts. They lived in a world of which her village world
did not so much as dream; they spoke of things which folks at home
neither knew of nor cared for; and they spoke a language that was not
spoken at Long Barton. Of course, everyone who was anyone at Long
Barton spoke in careful and correct English, but no one ever troubled
to turn a phrase. And irony would have been considered very bad form
indeed. Aunt Nina wore lovely clothes and powdered her still pretty
face; Aunt Julia smoked cigarettes and used words that ladies at Long
Barton did not use. Betty was proud of them both.
It was Aunt Nina who taught Betty how to spend her allowance, how to
buy pretty things, and, better still, tried to teach her how to wear
them. Aunt Julia it was who brought her the Indian necklaces, and
promised to take her to Italy some day if she was good. Aunt Nina
lived in Grosvenor Square and Aunt Julia's address was most often,
vaguely, the Continent of Europe. Sometimes a letter addressed to some
odd place in Asia or America would find her.
But when Betty had left school her visits to Aunt Nina ceased. Mr.
Underwood feared that she was now of an age to be influenced by
trifles, and that London society would make her frivolous. Besides he
had missed her horribly, all through her school-days, though he had
yielded to the insistence of the aunts. But he had wanted Betty badly.
Only of course it never occurred to him to tell her so.
So Betty had lived on at the Rectory carrying on, with more or less of
success, such of her Mother's Parish workings as had managed to
outlive their author, and writing to the aunts to tell them how bored
she was and how she hated to be called "Lizzie."
She could not be expected to know that her stepfather had known as
"Lizzie" the girl who, if Fate had been kind, would have been his wife
or the mother of his child. Betty's letters breathed contempt of
Parish matters, weariness of the dulness of the country, and
exasperation at the hardness of a lot where "nothing ever happened."
Well, something had happened now.
The tremendous nature of the secret she was keeping against the world
almost took Betty's breath away. It was to the adventure, far more
than to the man, that her heart's beat quickened. Something had
Long Barton was no longer the dullest place in the world. It was the
centre of the universe. See her diary, an entry following a gap where
a page had been torn out:
"Mr. V. is very kind. He is teaching me to sketch. He says I shall do
very well when I have forgotten what I learned at school. It is so
nice of him to be so straightforward. I hate flattery. He has begun my
portrait. It is beautiful, but he says it is exactly like me. Of
course it is his painting that makes it beautiful, and not anything to
do with me. That is not flattery. I do not think he could say anything
unless he really thought it. He is that sort of man, I think. I am so
glad he is so good. If he were a different sort of person perhaps it
would not be quite nice for me to go and meet him without any one
knowing. But there is nothing _of that sort_. He was quite different
the first day. But I think then he was off his guard and could not
help himself. I don't know quite what I meant by that. But, anyway, I
am sure he is as good as gold, and that is such a comfort. I revere
him. I believe he is really noble and unselfish, and so few men are,
The noble and unselfish Vernon meanwhile was quite happy. His picture
was going splendidly, and every morning he woke to the knowledge that
his image filled all the thoughts of a good little girl with gray dark
charming eyes and a face that reminded one of a pretty kitten. Her
drawing was not half bad either. He was spared the mortifying labour
of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. In one of his arts
as in the other he decided that she had talent. And it was pleasant
that to him should have fallen the task of teacher in both
departments. Those who hunt the fox will tell you that Reynard enjoys,
equally with the hounds and their masters, the pleasures of the chase.
Vernon was quite of this opinion in regard to his favourite sport. He
really felt that he gave as much pleasure as he took. And his own
forgettings were so easy that the easy forgetting of others seemed a
foregone conclusion. His forgetting always came first, that was all.
But now, the Spring, her charm and his own firm _parti pris_ working
together, it seemed to him that he could never forget Betty, could
never wish to forget her.
Her pretty conscious dignity charmed him. He stood still to look at
it. He took no step forward. His role was that of the deeply
respectful "brother artist." If his hand touched hers as he corrected
her drawing, that was accident. If, as he leaned over her, criticising
her work, the wind sent the end of her hair against his ear, that
could hardly be avoided in a breezy English spring. It was not his
fault that the little thrill it gave him was intensified a
hundred-fold when, glancing at her, he perceived that her own ears had
Betty went through her days in a dream. There were all the duties she
hated--the Mothers' meetings, the Parish visits when she tried to
adjust the quarrels and calm the jealousies of the stout aggressive
Mothers, the carrying round the Parish Magazine. There were no long
hours, now. In every spare moment she worked at her drawing to please
him. It was the least she could do, after all his kindness.
Her step-father surprised her once hard at work with charcoal and
board and plumb-line, a house-maid posing for her with a broom. He
congratulated himself that his little sermon on the advantages of
occupation as a cure for discontent had borne fruit so speedy and so
"Dear child, she only wanted a word in season," he thought. And he
"I am glad to see that you have put away vain dreams, Lizzie. And your
labours will not be thrown away, either. If you go on taking pains I
daresay you will be able to paint some nice blotting-books and screens
for the School Bazaar."
"I daresay," said Betty, adding between her teeth, "If you only knew!"
"But we mustn't keep Letitia from her work," he added, vaguely
conscientious. Letitia flounced off, and Betty, his back turned, tore
up the drawing.
And, as a beautiful background to the gross realism of Mothers'
meetings and Parish tiresomenesses, was always the atmosphere of the
golden mornings, the dew and the stillness, the gleam of his white
coat among the pine-trees. For he was always first at the tryst now.
Betty was drunk; and she was too young to distinguish between
vintages. When she had been sober she had feared intoxication. Now she
was drunk, she thanked Heaven that she was sober.
Six days of sunlight and clear air, of mornings as enchanting as
dreams, of dreams as full of magic as May mornings. Then an
interminable Sunday hot and sultry, with rolling purple clouds and an
evening of thunder and heavy showers. A magenta sunset, a night
working, hidden in its own darkness, its own secret purposes, and a
Monday morning gray beyond belief, with a soft steady rain.
Betty stood for full five minutes looking out at the straight fine
fall, at the white mist spread on the lawn, the blue mist twined round
the trees, listening to the plash of the drops that gathered and fell
from the big wet ivy leaves, to the guggle of the water-spout, the
hiss of smitten gravel.
"He'll never go," she thought, and her heart sank.
He, shaving, in the chill damp air by his open dimity-draped window,
"She'll be there, of course. Women are all perfectly insensible to
Two mackintoshed figures met in the circle of pines.
"You have come," he said. "I never dreamed you would. How cold your
He held it for a moment warmly clasped.
"I thought it might stop any minute," said Betty; "it seemed a pity to
waste a morning."
"Yes," he said musingly, "it would be a pity to waste a morning. I
would not waste one of these mornings for a kingdom."
Betty fumbled with her sketching things as a sort of guarantee of good
"But it's too wet to work," said she. "I suppose I'd better go home
"That seems a dull idea--for me," he said; "it's very selfish, of
course, but I'm rather sad this morning. Won't you stay a little and
cheer me up?"
Betty asked nothing better. But even to her a tete-a-tete in a wood,
with rain pattering and splashing on leaves and path and resonant
mackintoshes, seemed to demand some excuse.
"I should think breakfast and being dry would cheer you up better than
anything," said she. "And it's very wet here."
"Hang breakfast! But you're right about the wetness. There's a shed in
the field yonder. A harrow and a plough live there; they're sure to be
at home on a day like this. Let's go and ask for their hospitality."
"I hope they'll be nice to us," laughed Betty; "it's dreadful to go
where you're not wanted."
"How do you know?" he asked, laughing too. "Come, give me your hand
and let's run for it."
They ran, hand in hand, the wet mackintoshes flapping and slapping
about their knees, and drew up laughing and breathless in the dry
quiet of the shed. Vernon thought of Love and Mr. Lewisham, but it was
not the moment to say so.
"See, they are quite pleased to see us," said he, "they don't say a
word against our sheltering here. The plough looks a bit glum, but
she'll grow to like us presently. As for harrow, look how he's smiling
welcome at you with all his teeth."
"I'm glad he can't come forward to welcome us," said Betty. "His teeth
look very fierce."
"He could, of course, only he's enchanted. He used to be able to move
about, but now he's condemned to sit still and only smile till--till
he sees two perfectly happy people. Are you perfectly happy?" he asked
"I don't know," said Betty truly. "Are you?"
"No--not quite perfectly."
"I'm so glad," said Betty. "I shouldn't like the harrow to begin to
move while we're here. I'm sure it would bite us."
He sighed and looked grave. "So you don't want me to be perfectly
She looked at him with her head on one side.
"Not here," she said. "I can't trust that harrow."
His eyelids narrowed over his eyes--then relaxed. No, she was merely
playing at enchanted harrows.
"Are you cold still?" he asked, and reached for her hand. She gave it
"Not a bit," she said, and took it away again. "The run warmed me. In
She unbuttoned the mackintosh and spread it on the bar of the plough
and sat down. Her white dress lighted up the shadows of the shed.
Outside the rain fell steadily.
"May I sit down too? Can Mrs. Plough find room for two children on her
She drew aside the folds of her dress, but even then only a little
space was left. The plough had been carelessly housed and nearly half
of it was where the rain drove in on it. So that they were very close
So close that he had to throw his head back to see clearly how the
rain had made the short hair curl round her forehead and ears, and how
fresh were the tints of face and lips. Also he had to support himself
by an arm stretched out behind her. His arm was not round her, but it
might just as well have been, as far as the look of the thing went. He
thought of the arm of Mr. Lewisham.
"Did you ever have your fortune told?" he asked.
"No, never. I've always wanted to, but Father hates gipsies. When I
was a little girl I used to put on my best clothes, and go out into
the lanes and sit about and hope the gipsies would steal me, but they
"They're a degenerate race, blind to their own interests. But they
haven't a monopoly of chances--fortunately." His eyes were on her
"I never had my fortune told," said Betty. "I'd love it, but I think I
should be afraid, all the same. Something might come true."
Vernon was more surprised than he had ever been in his life at the
sudden involuntary movement in his right arm. It cost him a conscious
effort not to let the arm follow its inclination and fall across her
slender shoulders, while he should say:
"Your fortune is that I love you. Is it good or bad fortune?"
He braced the muscles of his arm, and kept it where it was. That
sudden unreasonable impulse was a mortification, an insult to the man
whose pride it was to believe that his impulses were always planned.
"I can tell fortunes," he said. "When I was a boy I spent a couple of
months with some gipsies. They taught me lots of things."
His memory, excellently trained, did not allow itself to dwell for an
instant on his reason for following those gipsies, on the dark-eyed
black-haired girl with the skin like pale amber, who had taught him,
by the flicker of the camp-fire, the lines of head and heart and life,
and other things beside. Oh, but many other things! That was before he
became an artist. He was only an amateur in those days.
"Did they teach you how to tell fortunes--really and truly?" asked
Betty. "We had a fortune-teller's tent at the School Bazaar last year,
and the youngest Smithson girl dressed up in spangles and a red dress
and said she was Zara, the Eastern Mystic Hand-Reader, and Foreteller
of the Future. But she got it all out of Napoleon's Book of Fate."
"I don't get my fortune-telling out of anybody's book of anything," he
said. "I get it out of people's hands, and their faces. Some people's
faces are their fortunes, you know."
"I know they are," she said a little sadly, "but everybody's got a
hand and a fortune, whether they've got that sort of fortune-face or
"But the fortunes of the fortune-faced people are the ones one likes
best to tell."
"Of course," she admitted wistfully, "but what's going to happen to
you is just as interesting to _you_, even if your face isn't
interesting to anybody. Do you always tell fortunes quite truly; I
mean do you follow the real rules? or do you make up pretty fortunes
for the people with the pretty fortune-faces."
"There's no need to 'make up.' The pretty fortunes are always there
for the pretty fortune-faces: unless of course the hand contradicts
"But can it?"
"Can't it? There may be a face that all the beautiful things in the
world are promised to: just by being so beautiful itself it draws
beautiful happenings to it. But if the hand contradicts the face, if
the hand is one of those narrow niggardly distrustful hands, one of
the hands that will give nothing and take nothing, a hand without
courage, without generosity--well then one might as well be born
without a fortune-face, for any good it will ever do one."
"Then you don't care to tell fortunes for people who haven't fortune
"I should like to tell yours, if you would let me. Shall I?"
He held out his hand, but her hand was withheld.
"I ought to cross your hand with silver, oughtn't I?" she asked.
"It's considered correct--but--"
"Oh, don't let's neglect any proper precaution," she said. "I haven't
got any money. Tell it me to-morrow, and I will bring a sixpence."
"You could cross my hand with your watch," he said, "and I could take
the crossing as an I.O.U. of the sixpence."
She detached the old watch. He held out his hand and she gravely
traced a cross on it.
"Now," he said, "all preliminary formalities being complied with, let
the prophet do his work. Give me your hand, pretty lady, and the old
gipsy will tell you your fortune true."
He held the hand in his, bending back the pink finger-tips with his
thumb, and looked earnestly at its lines. Then he looked in her face,
longer than he had ever permitted himself to look. He looked till her
eyes fell. It was a charming picture. He was tall, strong, well-built
and quite as good-looking as a clever man has any need to be. And she
was as pretty as any oleograph of them all.
It seemed a thousand pities that there should be no witness to such a
well-posed tableau, no audience to such a charming scene. The pity of
it struck Destiny, and Destiny flashed the white of Betty's dress, a
shrill point of light, into an eye a hundred yards away. The eye's
owner, with true rustic finesse, drew back into the wood's shadow,
shaded one eye with a brown rustic hand, looked again, and began a
detour which landed the rustic boots, all silently, behind the shed,
at a spot where a knot-hole served as frame for the little picture.
The rustic eye was fitted to the knot-hole while Vernon holding
Betty's hand gazed in Betty's face, and decided that this was no time
to analyse his sensations.
Neither heard the furtive rustic tread, or noted the gleam of the pale
The labourer shook his head as he hurried quickly away. He had
daughters of his own, and the Rector had been kind when one of those
daughters had suddenly come home from service, ill, and with no
prospect of another place.
"A-holdin' of hands and a-castin' of sheep's eyes," said he. "We knows
what that's the beginnings of! Well, well, youth's the season for
silliness, but there's bounds--there's bounds. And all of a mornin' so
early too. Lord above knows what it wouldn't be like of a evenin'." He
shook his head again, and made haste.
Vernon had forced his eyes to leave the face of Betty.
"Your fortune," he was saying, "is, curiously enough, just one of
those fortunes I was speaking of. You will have great chances of
happiness, if you have the courage to take them. You will cross the
sea. You've never travelled, have you?"
"No,--never further than Torquay; I was at school there, you know; and
London, of course. But I should love it. Isn't it horrid to think that
one might grow quite old and never have been anywhere or done
"That depends on oneself, doesn't it? Adventures are to the
"Yes, that's all very well--girls can't be adventurous."
"Yes,--it's the Prince who sets out to seek his fortune, isn't it? The
Princess has to sit at home and wait for hers to come to her. It
generally does if she's a real Princess."
"But half the fun must be the seeking for it," said Betty.
"You're right," said he, "it is."
The labourer had reached the park-gate. His pace had quickened to the
quickening remembrance of his own daughter, sitting at home silent and
"Do you really see it in my hand?" asked Betty,--"about my crossing
the sea, I mean."
"It's there; but it depends on yourself, like everything else."
"I did ask my step-father to let me go," she said, "after that first
day, you know, when you said I ought to study in Paris."
"And he wouldn't, of course?"
"No; he said Paris was a wicked place. It isn't really, is it?"
"Every place is wicked," said he, "and every place is good. It's all
as one takes things."
The Rectory gate clicked sharply as it swung to behind the labourer.
The Rectory gravel scrunched beneath the labourer's boots.
Yes, the Master was up; he could be seen.
The heavy boots were being rubbed against the birch broom that, rooted
at Kentish back doors, stands to receive on its purple twigs the
scrapings of Kentish clay from rustic feet.
"You have the artistic lines very strongly marked," Vernon was saying.
"One, two, three--yes, painting--music perhaps?"
"I am very fond of music," said Betty, thinking of the hour's daily
struggle with the Mikado and the Moonlight Sonata. "But three arts.
What could the third one be?" Her thoughts played for an instant with
unheard-of triumphs achieved behind footlights--rapturous applause,
showers of bouquets.
"Whatever it is, you've enormous talent for it," he said; "you'll find
out what it is in good time. Perhaps it'll be something much more
important than the other two put together, and perhaps you've got even
more talent for it than you have for others."
"But there isn't any other talent that I can think of."
"I can think of a few. There's the stage,--but it's not that, I fancy,
or not exactly that. There's literature--confess now, don't you write
poetry sometimes when you're all alone at night? Then there's the art
of being amusing, and the art of being--of being liked."
"Shall I be successful in any of the arts?"
"In one, certainly."
"Ah," said Betty, "if I could only go to Paris!"
"It's not always necessary to go to Paris for success in one's art,"
"But I want to go. I'm sure I could do better there."
"Aren't you satisfied with your present Master?"
"Oh!"--It was a cry of genuine distress, of heartfelt disclaim. "You
_know_ I didn't mean that! But you won't always be here, and when
you've gone--why then--"
Again he had to control the involuntary movement of his left arm.
"But I'm not going for months yet. Don't let us cross a bridge till we
come to it. Your head-line promises all sorts of wonderful things. And
your heart-line--" he turned her hand more fully to the light.
In the Rector's study the labourer was speaking, standing shufflingly
on the margin of the Turkey carpet. The Rector listened, his hand on
an open folio where fat infants peered through the ornamental
"And so I come straight up to you, Sir, me being a father and you the
same, Sir, for all the difference betwixt our ways in life. Says I to
myself, says I, and bitter hard I feels it too, I says: 'George,' says
I, 'you've got a daughter as begun that way, not a doubt of
it--holdin' of hands and sittin' close alongside, and you know what's
come to her!'"
The Rector shivered at the implication.
"Then I says, says I: 'Like as not the Rector won't thank you for
interferin'. Least said soonest mended,' says I."
"I'm very much obliged to you," said the Rector difficultly, and his
hand shook on Ambrosius's yellow page.
"You see, Sir," the man's tone held all that deferent apology that
truth telling demands, "gells is gells, be they never so up in the
world, all the world over, bless their hearts; and young men is young
men, d--n them, asking your pardon, Sir, I'm sure, but the word
slipped out. And I shouldn't ha' been easy if anything had have gone
wrong with Miss, God bless her, all along of the want of a word in
season. Asking your pardon, Sir, but even young ladies is flesh and
blood, when it comes to the point. Ain't they now?" he ended
The Rector spoke with an obvious effort, got his hand off the page and
closed the folio.
"You've done quite right, George," he said, "and I'm greatly obliged
to you. Only I do ask you to keep this to yourself. You wouldn't have
liked it if people had heard a thing like that about your Ruby
before--I mean when she was at home."
He replaced the two folios on the shelf.
"Not me, Sir," George answered. "I'm mum, I do assure you, Sir. And if
I might make so bold, you just pop on your hat and step acrost
directly minute. There's that little hole back of the shed what I told
you of. You ain't only got to pop your reverend eye to that there, and
you'll see for yourself as I ain't give tongue for no dragged scent."
"Thank you, George," said the Rector, "I will. Good morning. God bless
The formula came glibly, but it was from the lips only that it came.
Lizzie--his white innocent Lily-girl! In a shed--a man, a stranger,
holding her hand, his arm around her, his eyes--his lips perhaps,
The Rector was half way down his garden drive.
"Your heart-line," Vernon was saying, "it's a little difficult. You
will be deeply beloved."
To have one's fortune told is disquieting. To keep silence during the
telling deepens the disquiet curiously. It seemed good to Betty to
"Soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor," she said, "which am I going to
marry, kind gipsy?"
"I don't believe the gipsies who say they can see marriage in a hand,"
he answered gravely, and Betty feared he had thought her flippant, or
even vulgar; "what one sees are not the shadows of coming conventions.
One sees the great emotional events, the things that change and mould
and develop character. Yes, you will be greatly beloved, and you will
"I'm not to be happy in my affairs of the heart then." Still a careful
flippancy seemed best to Betty.
"Did I say so? Do you really think that there are no happy love
affairs but those that end in a wedding breakfast and bridesmaids,
with a Bazaar show of hideous silver and still more hideous crockery,
and all one's relations assembled to dissect one's most sacred
Betty had thought so, but it seemed coarse to own it.
"Can't you imagine," he went on dreamily, "a love affair so perfect
that it could not but lose its finest fragrance if the world were
called to watch the plucking of love's flower? Can't you imagine a
love so great, so deep, so tender, so absolutely possessing the whole
life of the lover that he would almost grudge any manifestation of it?
Because such a manifestation must necessarily be a repetition of some
of the ways in which unworthy loves have been manifested, by less
happy lovers? I can seem to see that one might love the one love of a
life-time, and be content to hold the treasure in one's heart, a
treasure such as no other man ever had, and grudge even a word or a
look that might make it less the single perfect rose of the world."
"Oh, dear!" said Betty to herself.
"But I'm talking like a book," he said, and laughed. "I always get
dreamy and absurd when I tell fortunes. Anyway, as I said before, you
will be greatly beloved. Indeed, unless your hand is very untruthful,
which I'm sure it never could be, you are beloved now, far more than
you can possibly guess."
Betty caught at her flippancy but it evaded her, and all she found to
say was, "Oh," and her eyes fell.
There was a silence. Vernon still held her hand, but he was no longer
looking at it.
A black figure darkened the daylight.
The two on the plough started up--started apart. Nothing more was
wanted to convince the Rector of all that he least wished to believe.
"Go home, Lizzie," he said, "go to your room," and to her his face
looked the face of a fiend. It is hard to control the muscles under a
sudden emotion compounded of sorrow, sympathy and an immeasurable
pity. "Go to your room and stay there till I send for you."
Betty went, like a beaten dog.
The Rector turned to the young man.
"Now, Sir," he said.
When Vernon looked back on that interview he was honestly pleased with
himself. He had been patient, he had been kind even. In the end he had
been positively chivalrous. He had hardly allowed himself to be
ruffled for an instant, but had met the bitter flow of Mr. Underwood's
biblical language with perfect courtesy.
He regretted, of course, deeply, this unfortunate misunderstanding.
Accident had made him acquainted with Miss Desmond's talent, he had
merely offered her a little of that help which between brother
artists--The well-worn phrase had not for the Rector the charm it had
had for Betty.
The Rector spoke again, and Mr. Vernon listened, bare-headed, in
No, he had not been holding Miss Desmond's hand--he had merely been
telling her fortune. No one could regret more profoundly than he,--and
so on. He was much wounded by Mr. Underwood's unworthy suspicions.
The Rector ran through a few texts. His pulpit denunciations of
iniquity, though always earnest, had lacked this eloquence.
Vernon listened quietly.
"I can only express my regret that my thoughtlessness should have
annoyed you, and beg you not to blame Miss Desmond. It was perhaps a
little unconventional, but--"
"Unconventional--to try to ruin--"
Mr. Vernon held up his hand: he was genuinely shocked.
"Forgive me," he said, "but I can't hear such words in connection
with--with a lady for whom I have the deepest respect. You are heated
now, Sir, and I can make every allowance for your natural vexation.
But I must ask you not to overstep the bounds of decency."
The Rector bit his lip, and Vernon went on:
"I have listened to your abuse--yes, your abuse--without defending
myself, but I can't allow anyone, even her father, to say a word
"I am not her father," said the old man bitterly. And on the instant
Vernon understood him as Betty had never done. The young man's tone
"Look here," he said, and his face grew almost boyish, "I am really
most awfully sorry. The whole thing--what there is of it, and it's
very little--was entirely my doing. It was inexcusably thoughtless.
Miss Desmond is very young and very innocent. It is I who ought to
have known better,--and perhaps I did. But the country is very dull,
and it was a real pleasure to teach so apt a pupil."
He spoke eagerly, and the ring of truth was in his voice. But the
Rector felt that he was listening to the excuses of a serpent.
"Then you'd have me believe that you don't even love her?"
"No more than she does me," said Vernon very truly. "I've never
breathed a word of love to her," he went on; "such an idea never
entered our heads. She's a charming girl, and I admire her immensely,
but--" he sought hastily for a weapon, and defended Betty with the
first that came to hand, "I am already engaged to another lady. It is
entirely as an artist that I am interested in Miss Betty."
"Serpent," said the Rector within himself, "Lying serpent!"
Vernon was addressing himself silently in terms not more flattering.
"Fool, idiot, brute to let the child in for this!--for it's going to
be a hell of a time for her, anyhow. And as for me--well, the game is
up, absolutely up!"
"I am really most awfully sorry," he said again.
"I find it difficult to believe in the sincerity of your repentance,"
said the Rector frowning.
"My regret you may believe in," said Vernon stiffly. "There is no
ground for even the mention of such a word as repentance."
"If your repentance is sincere"--he underlined the word--"you will
leave Long Barton to-day."
Leave without a word, a sign from Betty--a word or a sign to her? It
might be best--if--
"I will go, Sir, if you will let me have your assurance that you will
say nothing to Miss Desmond, that you won't make her unhappy, that
you'll let the whole matter drop."
"I will make no bargains with you!" cried the Rector. "Do your worst!
Thank God I can defend her from you!"
"She needs no defence. It's not I who am lacking in respect and
consideration for her," said Vernon a little hotly, "but, as I say,
I'll go--if you'll just promise to be gentle with her."
"I do not need to be taught my duty by a villain, Sir!--" The old
clergyman was trembling with rage. "I wish to God I were a younger
man, that I might chastise you for the hound you are." His upraised
cane shook in his hand. "Words are thrown away on you! I'm sorry I
can't use the only arguments that can come home to a puppy!"
"If you were a younger man," said Vernon slowly, "your words would not
have been thrown away on me. They would have had the answer they
deserved. I shall not leave Long Barton, and I shall see Miss Desmond
when and how I choose."
"Long Barton shall know you in your true character, Sir, I promise
"So you would blacken her to blacken me? One sees how it is that she
does not love her father."
He meant to be cruel, but it was not till he saw the green shadows
round the old man's lips that he knew just how cruel he had been. The
quivering old mouth opened and closed and opened, the cold eyes
gleamed. And the trembling hand in one nervous movement raised the
cane and struck the other man sharply across the face. It was a
hysterical blow, like a woman's, and with it the tears sprang to the
Then it was that Vernon behaved well. When he thought of it afterwards
he decided that he had behaved astonishingly well.
With the smart of that cut stinging on his flesh, the mark of it
rising red and angry across his cheek, he stepped back a pace, and
without a word, without a retaliatory movement, without even a change
of facial expression he executed the most elaborately courteous bow,
as of one treading a minuet, recovered the upright and walked away
bareheaded. The old clergyman was left planted there, the cane still
jigging up and down in his shaking hand.
"A little theatrical, perhaps," mused Vernon, when the cover of the
wood gave him leave to lay his fingers to his throbbing cheek, "but
nothing could have annoyed the old chap more."
However effective it may be to turn the other cheek, the turning of it
does not cool one's passions, and he walked through the wood angrier
than he ever remembered being. But the cool rain dripping from the
hazel and sweet chestnut leaves fell pleasantly on his uncovered head
and flushed face. Before he was through the wood he was able to laugh,
and the laugh was a real laugh, if rather a rueful one. Vernon could
never keep angry very long.
"Poor old devil!" he said. "He'll have to put a special clause in the
general confession next Sunday. Poor old devil! And poor little Betty!
And poorest me! Because, however, we look at it, and however we may
have damn well bluffed over it, the game _is_ up--absolutely up."
When one has a definite end in view--marriage, let us say, or an
elopement,--secret correspondences, the surmounting of garden walls,
the bribery of servants, are in the picture. But in a small sweet
idyll, with no backbone of intention to it, these things are
inartistic. And Vernon was, above and before all, an artist. He must