Part 3 out of 4
'I haven't heard of 'em,' she said without interest.
'Well, I have two servants there, and as my man has a holiday you can
help them for a month or two.'
'Would polishing furniture be any good? I can do that.'
'I haven't much furniture that requires polishing. But you can clear
away plaster and clay messes in the studio, and chippings of stone, and
help me in modelling, and dust all my Venus failures, and hands and
heads and feet and bones, and other objects.'
She was startled, yet attracted by the novelty of the proposal.
'Only for a time?' she said.
'Only for a time. As short as you like, and as long.'
The deliberate manner in which, after the first surprise, Avice
discussed the arrangements that he suggested, might have told him how
far was any feeling for himself beyond friendship, and possibly
gratitude, from agitating her breast. Yet there was nothing
extravagant in the discrepancy between their ages, and he hoped, after
shaping her to himself, to win her. What had grieved her to tears she
would not more particularly tell.
She had naturally not much need of preparation, but she made even less
preparation than he would have expected her to require. She seemed
eager to be off immediately, and not a soul was to know of her
departure. Why, if she were in love and at first averse to leave the
island, she should be so precipitate now he failed to understand.
But he took great care to compromise in no way a girl in whom his
interest was as protective as it was passionate. He accordingly left
her to get out of the island alone, awaiting her at a station a few
miles up the railway, where, discovering himself to her through the
carriage-window, he entered the next compartment, his frame pervaded by
a glow which was almost joy at having for the first time in his charge
one who inherited the flesh and bore the name so early associated with
his own, and at the prospect of putting things right which had been
wrong through many years.
2. XI. THE IMAGE PERSISTS
It was dark when the four-wheeled cab wherein he had brought Avice from
the station stood at the entrance to the pile of flats of which
Pierston occupied one floor--rarer then as residences in London than
they are now. Leaving Avice to alight and get the luggage taken in by
the porter Pierston went upstairs. To his surprise his floor was
silent, and on entering with a latchkey the rooms were all in darkness.
He descended to the hall, where Avice was standing helpless beside the
luggage, while the porter was outside with the cabman.
'Do you know what has become of my servants?' asked Jocelyn.
'What--and ain't they there, saur? Ah, then my belief is that what I
suspected is thrue! You didn't leave your wine-cellar unlocked, did
you, saur, by no mistake?'
Pierston considered. He thought he might have left the key with his
elder servant, whom he had believed he could trust, especially as the
cellar was not well stocked.
'Ah, then it was so! She's been very queer, saur, this last week or
two. O yes, sending messages down the spakin'-tube which were like
madness itself, and ordering us this and that, till we would take no
notice at all. I see them both go out last night, and possibly they
went for a holiday not expecting ye, or maybe for good! Shure, if ye'd
written, saur, I'd ha' got the place ready, ye being out of a man, too,
though it's not me duty at all!'
When Pierston got to his floor again he found that the cellar door was
open; some bottles were standing empty that had been full, and many
abstracted altogether. All other articles in the house, however,
appeared to be intact. His letter to his housekeeper lay in the box as
the postman had left it.
By this time the luggage had been sent up in the lift; and Avice, like
so much more luggage, stood at the door, the hall-porter behind
offering his assistance.
'Come here, Avice,' said the sculptor. 'What shall we do now? Here's
a pretty state of affairs!'
Avice could suggest nothing, till she was struck with the bright
thought that she should light a fire.
'Light a fire?--ah, yes. . . . I wonder if we could manage. This is
an odd coincidence--and awkward!' he murmured. 'Very well, light a
'Is this the kitchen, sir, all mixed up with the parlours?'
'Then I think I can do all that's wanted here for a bit; at any rate,
till you can get help, sir. At least, I could if I could find the
fuel-house. 'Tis no such big place as I thought!'
'That's right: take courage!' said he with a tender smile. 'Now, I'll
dine out this evening, and leave the place for you to arrange as best
you can with the help of the porter's wife downstairs.'
This Pierston accordingly did, and so their common residence began.
Feeling more and more strongly that some danger awaited her in her
native island he determined not to send her back till the lover or
lovers who seemed to trouble her should have cooled off. He was quite
willing to take the risk of his action thus far in his solicitous
regard for her.
* * *
It was a dual solitude, indeed; for, though Pierston and Avice were the
only two people in the flat, they did not keep each other company, the
former being as scrupulously fearful of going near her now that he had
the opportunity as he had been prompt to seek her when he had none.
They lived in silence, his messages to her being frequently written on
scraps of paper deposited where she could see them. It was not without
a pang that he noted her unconsciousness of their isolated position--a
position to which, had she experienced any reciprocity of sentiment,
she would readily have been alive.
Considering that, though not profound, she was hardly a matter-of-fact
girl as that phrase is commonly understood, she was exasperating in the
matter-of-fact quality of her responses to the friendly remarks which
would escape him in spite of himself, as well as in her general
conduct. Whenever he formed some culinary excuse for walking across
the few yards of tessellated hall which separated his room from the
kitchen, and spoke through the doorway to her, she answered, 'Yes,
sir,' or 'No, sir,' without turning her eyes from the particular work
that she was engaged in.
In the usual course he would have obtained a couple of properly
qualified servants immediately; but he lived on with the one, or rather
the less than one, that this cottage-girl afforded. It had been his
almost invariable custom to dine at one of his clubs. Now he sat at
home over the miserable chop or steak to which he limited himself in
dread lest she should complain of there being too much work for one
person, and demand to be sent home. A charwoman came every two or
three days, effecting an extraordinary consumption of food and
alcoholic liquids: yet it was not for this that Pierston dreaded her
presence, but lest, in conversing with Avice, she should open the
girl's eyes to the oddity of her situation. Avice could see for
herself that there must have been two or three servants in the flat
during his former residence there: but his reasons for doing without
them seemed never to strike her.
His intention had been to keep her occupied exclusively at the studio,
but accident had modified this. However, he sent her round one
morning, and entering himself shortly after found her engaged in wiping
the layers of dust from the casts and models.
The colour of the dust never ceased to amaze her. 'It is like the hold
of a Budmouth collier,' she said, 'and the beautiful faces of these
clay people are quite spoilt by it.'
'I suppose you'll marry some day, Avice?' remarked Pierston, as he
regarded her thoughtfully.
'Some do and some don't,' she said, with a reserved smile, still
attending to the casts.'
'You are very offhand,' said he.
She archly weighed that remark without further speech. It was
tantalizing conduct in the face of his instinct to cherish her;
especially when he regarded the charm of her bending profile; the well-
characterized though softly lined nose, the round chin with, as it
were, a second leap in its curve to the throat, and the sweep of the
eyelashes over the rosy cheek during the sedulously lowered glance.
How futilely he had laboured to express the character of that face in
clay, and, while catching it in substance, had yet lost something that
That evening after dusk, in the stress of writing letters, he sent her
out for stamps. She had been absent some quarter of an hour when,
suddenly drawing himself up from over his writing-table, it flashed
upon him that he had absolutely forgotten her total ignorance of
The head post-office, to which he had sent her because it was late, was
two or three streets off, and he had made his request in the most
general manner, which she had acceded to with alacrity enough. How
could he have done such an unreflecting thing?
Pierston went to the window. It was half-past nine o'clock, and owing
to her absence the blinds were not down. He opened the casement and
stepped out upon the balcony. The green shade of his lamp screened its
rays from the gloom without. Over the opposite square the moon hung,
and to the right there stretched a long street, filled with a
diminishing array of lamps, some single, some in clusters, among them
an occasional blue or red one. From a corner came the notes of a
piano-organ strumming out a stirring march of Rossini's. The shadowy
black figures of pedestrians moved up, down, and across the embrowned
roadway. Above the roofs was a bank of livid mist, and higher a
greenish-blue sky, in which stars were visible, though its lower part
was still pale with daylight, against which rose chimney-pots in the
form of elbows, prongs, and fists.
From the whole scene proceeded a ground rumble, miles in extent, upon
which individual rattles, voices, a tin whistle, the bark of a dog,
rode like bubbles on a sea. The whole noise impressed him with the
sense that no one in its enormous mass ever required rest.
In this illimitable ocean of humanity there was a unit of existence,
his Avice, wandering alone.
Pierston looked at his watch. She had been gone half an hour. It was
impossible to distinguish her at this distance, even if she approached.
He came inside, and putting on his hat determined to go out and seek
her. He reached the end of the street, and there was nothing of her to
be seen. She had the option of two or three routes from this point to
the post-office; yet he plunged at random into one, till he reached the
office to find it quite deserted. Almost distracted now by his anxiety
for her he retreated as rapidly as he had come, regaining home only to
find that she had not returned.
He recollected telling her that if she should ever lose her way she
must call a cab and drive home. It occurred to him that this was what
she would do now. He again went out upon the balcony; the dignified
street in which he lived was almost vacant, and the lamps stood like
placed sentinels awaiting some procession which tarried long. At a
point under him where the road was torn up there stood a red light, and
at the corner two men were talking in leisurely repose, as if sunning
themselves at noonday. Lovers of a feline disposition, who were never
seen by daylight, joked and darted at each other in and out of area
His attention was fixed on the cabs, and he held his breath as the
hollow clap of each horse's hoofs drew near the front of the house,
only to go onward into the square. The two lamps of each vehicle afar
dilated with its near approach, and seemed to swerve towards him. It
was Avice surely? No, it passed by.
Almost frantic he again descended and let himself out of the house,
moving towards a more central part, where the roar still continued.
Before emerging into the noisy thoroughfare he observed a small figure
approaching leisurely along the opposite side, and hastened across to
find it was she.
2. XII. A GRILLE DESCENDS BETWEEN
'O Avice!' he cried, with the tenderly subdued scolding of a mother.
'What is this you have done to alarm me so!'
She seemed unconscious of having done anything, and was altogether
surprised at his anxiety. In his relief he did not speak further till
he asked her suddenly if she would take his arm since she must be
'O no, sir!' she assured him, 'I am not a bit tired, and I don't
require any help at all, thank you.'
They went upstairs without using the lift, and he let her and himself
in with his latchkey. She entered the kitchen, and he, following, sat
down in a chair there.
'Where have you been?' he said, with almost angered concern on his
face. 'You ought not to have been absent more than ten minutes.'
'I knew there was nothing for me to do, and thought I should like to
see a little of London,' she replied naively. 'So when I had got the
stamps I went on into the fashionable streets, where ladies are all
walking about just as if it were daytime! 'Twas for all the world like
coming home by night from Martinmas Fair at the Street o' Wells, only
'O Avice, Avice, you must not go out like this! Don't you know that I
am responsible for your safety? I am your--well, guardian, in fact,
and am bound by law and morals, and I don't know what-all, to deliver
you up to your native island without a scratch or blemish. And yet you
indulge in such a midnight vagary as this!'
'But I am sure, sir, the gentlemen in the street were more respectable
than they are anywhere at home! They were dressed in the latest
fashion, and would have scorned to do me any harm; and as to their
love-making, I never heard anything so polite before.'
'Well, you must not do it again. I'll tell you some day why. What's
that you have in your hand?'
'A mouse-trap. There are lots of mice in this kitchen--sooty mice, not
clean like ours--and I thought I'd try to catch them. That was what I
went so far to buy, as there were no shops open just about here. I'll
set it now.'
She proceeded at once to do so, and Pierston remained in his seat
regarding the operation, which seemed entirely to engross her. It was
extraordinary, indeed, to observe how she wilfully limited her
interests; with what content she received the ordinary things that life
offered, and persistently refused to behold what an infinitely extended
life lay open to her through him. If she had only said the word he
would have got a licence and married her the next morning. Was it
possible that she did not perceive this tendency in him? She could
hardly be a woman if she did not; and in her airy, elusive, offhand
demeanour she was very much of a woman indeed.
'It only holds one mouse,' he said absently.
'But I shall hear it throw in the night, and set it again.'
He sighed and left her to her own resources and retired to rest, though
he felt no tendency to sleep. At some small hour of the darkness,
owing, possibly, to some intervening door being left open, he heard the
mouse-trap click. Another light sleeper must have heard it too, for
almost immediately after the pit-pat of naked feet, accompanied by the
brushing of drapery, was audible along the passage towards the kitchen.
After her absence in that apartment long enough to reset the trap, he
was startled by a scream from the same quarter. Pierston sprang out of
bed, jumped into his dressing-gown, and hastened in the direction of
Avice, barefooted and wrapped in a shawl, was standing in a chair; the
mouse-trap lay on the floor, the mouse running round and round in its
'I was trying to take en out,' said she excitedly, 'and he got away
Pierston secured the mouse while she remained standing on the chair.
Then, having set the trap anew, his feeling burst out petulantly--
'A girl like you to throw yourself away upon such a commonplace fellow
as that quarryman! Why do you do it!'
Her mind was so intently fixed upon the matter in hand that it was some
moments before she caught his irrelevant subject. 'Because I am a
foolish girl,' she said quietly.
'What! Don't you love him?' said Jocelyn, with a surprised stare up at
her as she stood, in her concern appearing the very Avice who had
kissed him twenty years earlier.
'It is not much use to talk about that,' said she.
'Then, is it the soldier?'
'Yes, though I have never spoken to him.'
'Never spoken to the soldier?'
'Has either one treated you badly--deceived you?'
'No. Certainly not.'
'Well, I can't make you out; and I don't wish to know more than you
choose to tell me. Come, Avice, why not tell me exactly how things
'Not now, sir!' she said, her pretty pink face and brown eyes turned in
simple appeal to him from her pedestal. 'I will tell you all to-
morrow; an that I will!'
He retreated to his own room and lay down meditating. Some quarter of
an hour after she had retreated to hers the mouse-trap clicked again,
and Pierston raised himself on his elbow to listen. The place was so
still and the jerry-built door-panels so thin that he could hear the
mouse jumping about inside the wires of the trap. But he heard no
footstep this time. As he was wakeful and restless he again arose,
proceeded to the kitchen with a light, and removing the mouse reset the
trap. Returning he listened once more. He could see in the far
distance the door of Avice's room; but that thoughtful housewife had
not heard the second capture. From the room came a soft breathing like
that of an infant.
He entered his own chamber and reclined himself gloomily enough. Her
lack of all consciousness of him, the aspect of the deserted kitchen,
the cold grate, impressed him with a deeper sense of loneliness than he
had ever felt before.
Foolish he was, indeed, to be so devoted to this young woman. Her
defencelessness, her freedom from the least thought that there lurked a
danger in their propinquity, were in fact secondary safeguards, not
much less strong than that of her being her mother's image, against
risk to her from him. Yet it was out of this that his depression came.
At sight of her the next morning Pierston felt that he must put an end
to such a state of things. He sent Avice off to the studio, wrote to
an agent for a couple of servants, and then went round to his work.
Avice was busy righting all that she was allowed to touch. It was the
girl's delight to be occupied among the models and casts, which for the
first time she regarded with the wistful interest of a soul struggling
to receive ideas of beauty vaguely discerned yet ever eluding her.
That brightness in her mother's mind which might have descended to the
second Avice with the maternal face and form, had been dimmed by
admixture with the mediocrity of her father's, and by one who
remembered like Pierston the dual organization the opposites could be
often seen wrestling internally.
They were alone in the studio, and his feelings found vent. Putting
his arms round her he said, 'My darling, sweet little Avice! I want to
ask you something--surely you guess what? I want to know this: will
you be married to me, and live here with me always and ever?'
'O, Mr. Pierston, what nonsense!'
'Nonsense?' said he, shrinking somewhat.
'Well, why? Am I too old? Surely there's no serious difference?'
'O no--I should not mind that if it came to marrying. The difference
is not much for husband and wife, though it is rather much for keeping
She struggled to get free, and when in the movement she knocked down
the Empress Faustina's head he did not try to retain her. He saw that
she was not only surprised but a little alarmed.
'You haven't said why it is nonsense!' he remarked tartly.
'Why, I didn't know you was thinking of me like that. I hadn't any
thought of it! And all alone here! What shall I do?'
'Say yes, my pretty Avice! We'll then go out and be married at once,
and nobody be any the wiser.'
She shook her head. 'I couldn't, sir.'
'It would be well for you. You don't like me, perhaps?'
'Yes I do--very much. But not in that sort of way--quite. Still, I
might have got to love you in time, if--'
'Well, then, try,' he said warmly. 'Your mother did!'
No sooner had the words slipped out than Pierston would have recalled
them. He had felt in a moment that they jeopardized his cause.
'Mother loved you?' said Avice, incredulously gazing at him.
'Yes,' he murmured.
'You were not her false young man, surely? That one who--'
'Yes, yes! Say no more about it.'
'Who ran away from her?'
'Then I can NEVER, NEVER like you again! I didn't know it was a
'It wasn't a gentleman, then.'
'O, sir, please go away! I can't bear the sight of 'ee at this moment!
Perhaps I shall get to--to like you as I did; but--'
'No; I'm d----d if I'll go away!' said Pierston, thoroughly irritated.
'I have been candid with you; you ought to be the same with me!'
'What do you want me to tell?'
'Enough to make it clear to me why you don't accept this offer.
Everything you have said yet is a reason for the reverse. Now, my
dear, I am not angry.'
'Yes you are.'
'No I'm not. Now what is your reason?'
'The name of it is Isaac Pierston, down home.'
'I mean he courted me, and led me on to island custom, and then I went
to chapel one morning and married him in secret, because mother didn't
care about him; and I didn't either by that time. And then he
quarrelled with me; and just before you and I came to London he went
away to Guernsey. Then I saw a soldier; I never knew his name, but I
fell in love with him because I am so quick at that! Still, as it was
wrong, I tried not to think of him, and wouldn't look at him when he
passed. But it made me cry very much that I mustn't. I was then very
miserable, and you asked me to come to London. I didn't care what I
did with myself, and I came.'
'Heaven above us!' said Pierston, his pale and distressed face showing
with what a shock this announcement had come. 'Why have you done such
extraordinary things? Or, rather, why didn't you tell me of this
before? Then, at the present moment you are the wife of a man who is
in Guernsey, whom you do not love at all; but instead of him love a
soldier whom you have never spoken to; while I have nearly brought
scandal upon us both by your letting me love you. Really, you are a
very wicked woman!'
'No, I am not!' she pouted.
Still, Avice looked pale and rather frightened, and did not lift her
eyes from the floor. 'I said it was nonsense in you to want to have
me!' she went on, 'and, even if I hadn't been married to that horrid
Isaac Pierston, I couldn't have married you after you told me that you
was the man who ran away from my mother.'
'I have paid the penalty!' he said sadly. 'Men of my sort always get
the worst of it somehow. Though I never did your mother any harm.
Now, Avice--I'll call you dear Avice for your mother's sake and not for
your own--I must see what I can do to help you out of the difficulty
that unquestionably you are in. Why can't you love your husband now
you have married him?'
Avice looked aside at the statuary as if the subtleties of her
organization were not very easy to define.
'Was he that black-bearded typical local character I saw you walking
with one Sunday? The same surname as mine; though, of course, you
don't notice that in a place where there are only half-a-dozen
'Yes, that was Ike. It was that evening we disagreed. He scolded me,
and I answered him (you must have heard us); and the next day he went
'Well, as I say, I must consider what it will be best to do for you in
this. The first thing, it seems to me, will be to get your husband
She impatiently shrugged her shoulders. 'I don't like him!'
'Then why did you marry him?'
'I was obliged to, after we'd proved each other by island custom.'
'You shouldn't have thought of such a thing. It is ridiculous and out
of date nowadays.'
'Ah, he's so old-fashioned in his notions that he doesn't think like
that. However, he's gone.'
'Ah--it is only a tiff between you, I dare say. I'll start him in
business if he'll come. . . . Is the cottage at home still in your
'Yes, it is my freehold. Grammer Stockwool is taking care o' it for
'Good. And back there you go straightway, my pretty madam, and wait
till your husband comes to make it up with you.'
'I won't go!--I don't want him to come!' she sobbed. 'I want to stay
here with you, or anywhere, except where he can come!'
'You will get over that. Now, go back to the flat, there's a dear
Avice, and be ready in one hour, waiting in the hall for me.'
'I don't want to!'
'But I say you shall!'
She found it was no use to disobey. Precisely at the moment appointed
he met her there himself, burdened only with a valise and umbrella, she
with a box and other things. Directing the porter to put Avice and her
belongings into a four-wheeled cab for the railway-station, he walked
onward from the door, and kept looking behind, till he saw the cab
approaching. He then entered beside the astonished girl, and onward
they went together.
They sat opposite each other in an empty compartment, and the tedious
railway journey began. Regarding her closely now by the light of her
revelation he wondered at himself for never divining her secret.
Whenever he looked at her the girl's eyes grew rebellious, and at last
'I don't want to go to him!' she sobbed in a miserable voice.
Pierston was almost as much distressed as she. 'Why did you put
yourself and me in such a position?' he said bitterly. 'It is no use
to regret it now! And I can't say that I do. It affords me a way out
of a trying position. Even if you had not been married to him you
would not have married me!'
'Yes, I would, sir.'
'What! You would? You said you wouldn't not long ago.'
'I like you better now! I like you more and more!'
Pierston sighed, for emotionally he was not much older than she. That
hitch in his development, rendering him the most lopsided of God's
creatures, was his standing misfortune. A proposal to her which
crossed his mind was dismissed as disloyalty, particularly to an
inexperienced fellow-islander and one who was by race and traditions
almost a kinswoman.
Little more passed between the twain on that wretched, never-to-be-
forgotten day. Aphrodite, Ashtaroth, Freyja, or whoever the love-queen
of his isle might have been, was punishing him sharply, as she knew but
too well how to punish her votaries when they reverted from the
ephemeral to the stable mood. When was it to end--this curse of his
heart not ageing while his frame moved naturally onward? Perhaps only
His first act the day after depositing her in her own house was to go
to the chapel where, by her statement, the marriage had been
solemnized, and make sure of the fact. Perhaps he felt an illogical
hope that she might be free, even then, in the tarnished condition
which such freedom would have involved. However, there stood the words
distinctly: Isaac Pierston, Ann Avice Caro, son and daughter of So-
and-so, married on such a day, signed by the contracting parties, the
officiating minister, and the two witnesses.
2. XIII. SHE IS ENSHROUDED FROM SIGHT
One evening in early winter, when the air was dry and gusty, the dark
little lane which divided the grounds of Sylvania Castle from the
cottage of Avice, and led down to the adjoining ruin of Red-King
Castle, was paced by a solitary man. The cottage was the centre of his
beat; its western limit being the gates of the former residence, its
eastern the drawbridge of the ruin. The few other cottages thereabout-
-all as if carved from the solid rock--were in darkness, but from the
upper window of Avice's tiny freehold glimmered a light. Its rays were
repeated from the far-distant sea by the lightship lying moored over
the mysterious Shambles quicksand, which brought tamelessness and
domesticity into due position as balanced opposites.
The sea moaned--more than moaned--among the boulders below the ruins, a
throe of its tide being timed to regular intervals. These sounds were
accompanied by an equally periodic moan from the interior of the
cottage chamber; so that the articulate heave of water and the
articulate heave of life seemed but differing utterances of the
selfsame troubled terrestrial Being--which in one sense they were.
Pierston--for the man in the lane was he--would look from lightship to
cottage window; then back again, as he waited there between the travail
of the sea without, and the travail of the woman within. Soon an
infant's wail of the very feeblest was also audible in the house. He
started from his easy pacing, and went again westward, standing at the
elbow of the lane a long time. Then the peace of the sleeping village
which lay that way was broken by light wheels and the trot of a horse.
Pierston went back to the cottage gate and awaited the arrival of the
It was a light cart, and a man jumped down as it stopped. He was in a
broad-brimmed hat, under which no more of him could be perceived than
that he wore a black beard clipped like a yew fence--a typical aspect
in the island.
'You are Avice's husband?' asked the sculptor quickly.
The man replied that he was, in the local accent. 'I've just come in
by to-day's boat,' he added. 'I couldn't git here avore. I had
contracted for the job at Peter-Port, and had to see to't to the end.'
'Well,' said Pierston, 'your coming means that you are willing to make
it up with her?'
'Ay, I don't know but I be,' said the man. 'Mid so well do that as
'If you do, thoroughly, a good business in your old line awaits you
here in the island.'
'Wi' all my heart, then,' said the man. His voice was energetic, and,
though slightly touchy, it showed, on the whole, a disposition to set
The driver of the trap was paid off, and Jocelyn and Isaac Pierston--
undoubtedly scions of a common stock in this isle of intermarriages,
though they had no proof of it--entered the house. Nobody was in the
ground-floor room, in the centre of which stood a square table, in the
centre of the table a little wool mat, and in the centre of the mat a
lamp, the apartment having the appearance of being rigidly swept and
set in order for an event of interest.
The woman who lived in the house with Avice now came downstairs, and to
the inquiry of the comers she replied that matters were progressing
favourably, but that nobody could be allowed to go upstairs just then.
After placing chairs and viands for them she retreated, and they sat
down, the lamp between them--the lover of the sufferer above, who had
no right to her, and the man who had every right to her, but did not
love her. Engaging in desultory and fragmentary conversation they
listened to the trampling of feet on the floor-boards overhead--
Pierston full of anxiety and attentiveness, Ike awaiting the course of
Soon they heard the feeble bleats repeated, and then the local
practitioner descended and entered the room.
'How is she now?' said Pierston, the more taciturn Ike looking up with
him for the answer that he felt would serve for two as well as for one.
'Doing well, remarkably well,' replied the professional gentleman, with
a manner of having said it in other places; and his vehicle not being
at the door he sat down and shared some refreshment with the others.
When he had departed Mrs. Stockwool again stepped down, and informed
them that Ike's presence had been made known to his wife.
The truant quarrier seemed rather inclined to stay where he was and
finish the mug of ale, but Pierston quickened him, and he ascended the
staircase. As soon as the lower room was empty Pierston leant with his
elbows on the table, and covered his face with his hands.
Ike was absent no great time. Descending with a proprietary mien that
had been lacking before, he invited Jocelyn to ascend likewise, since
she had stated that she would like to see him. Jocelyn went up the
crooked old steps, the husband remaining below.
Avice, though white as the sheets, looked brighter and happier than he
had expected to find her, and was apparently very much fortified by the
pink little lump at her side. She held out her hand to him.
'I just wanted to tell 'ee,' she said, striving against her feebleness,
'I thought it would be no harm to see you, though 'tis rather soon--to
tell 'ee how very much I thank you for getting me settled again with
Ike. He is very glad to come home again, too, he says. Yes, you've
done a good many kind things for me, sir.'
Whether she were really glad, or whether the words were expressed as a
matter of duty, Pierston did not attempt to learn.
He merely said that he valued her thanks. 'Now, Avice,' he added
tenderly, 'I resign my guardianship of you. I hope to see your husband
in a sound little business here in a very short time.'
'I hope so--for baby's sake,' she said, with a bright sigh. 'Would
you--like to see her, sir?'
'The baby? O yes--YOUR baby! You must christen her Avice.'
'Yes--so I will!' she murmured readily, and disclosed the infant with
some timidity. 'I hope you forgive me, sir, for concealing my
'If you forgive me for making love to you.'
'Yes. How were you to know! I wish--'
Pierston bade her good-bye, kissing her hand; turned from her and the
incipient being whom he was to meet again under very altered
conditions, and left the bed-chamber with a tear in his eye.
'Here endeth that dream!' said he.
* * *
Hymen, in secret or overt guise, seemed to haunt Pierston just at this
time with undignified mockery which savoured rather of Harlequin than
of the torch-bearer. Two days after parting in a lone island from the
girl he had so disinterestedly loved he met in Piccadilly his friend
Somers, wonderfully spruced up, and hastening along with a preoccupied
'My dear fellow,' said Somers, 'what do you think! I was charged not
to tell you, but, hang it! I may just as well make a clean breast of it
now as later.'
'What--you are not going to . . . ' began Pierston, with divination.
'Yes. What I said on impulse six months back I am about to carry out
in cold blood. Nichola and I began in jest and ended in earnest. We
are going to take one another next month for good and all.'
PART THIRD -- A YOUNG MAN OF SIXTY
'In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.'
3. I. SHE RETURNS FOR THE NEW SEASON
Twenty years had spread their films over the events which wound up with
the reunion of the second Avice and her husband; and the hoary
peninsula called an island looked just the same as before; though many
who had formerly projected their daily shadows upon its unrelieved
summer whiteness ceased now to disturb the colourless sunlight there.
The general change, nevertheless, was small. The silent ships came and
went from the wharf, the chisels clinked in the quarries; file after
file of whitey-brown horses, in strings of eight or ten, painfully
dragged down the hill the square blocks of stone on the antediluvian
wooden wheels just as usual. The lightship winked every night from the
quicksands to the Beal Lantern, and the Beal Lantern glared through its
eye-glass on the ship. The canine gnawing audible on the Pebble-bank
had been repeated ever since at each tide, but the pebbles remained
Men drank, smoked, and spat in the inns with only a little more
adulteration in their refreshments and a trifle less dialect in their
speech than of yore. But one figure had never been seen on the Channel
rock in the interval, the form of Pierston the sculptor, whose first
use of the chisel that rock had instigated.
He had lived abroad a great deal, and, in fact, at this very date he
was staying at an hotel in Rome. Though he had not once set eyes on
Avice since parting from her in the room with her firstborn, he had
managed to obtain tidings of her from time to time during the interval.
In this way Pierston learnt that, shortly after their resumption of a
common life in her house, Ike had ill-used her, till fortunately, the
business to which Jocelyn had assisted him chancing to prosper, he
became immersed in its details, and allowed Avice to pursue her
household courses without interference, initiating that kind of
domestic reconciliation which is so calm and durable, having as its
chief ingredient neither hate nor love, but an all-embracing
At first Pierston had sent her sums of money privately, fearing lest
her husband should deny her material comforts; but he soon found, to
his great relief, that such help was unnecessary, social ambition
prompting Ike to set up as quite a gentleman-islander, and to allow
Avice a scope for show which he would never have allowed in mere
Being in Rome, as aforesaid, Pierston returned one evening to his hotel
to dine, after spending the afternoon among the busts in the long
gallery of the Vatican. The unconscious habit, common to so many
people, of tracing likes in unlikes had often led him to discern, or to
fancy he discerned, in the Roman atmosphere, in its lights and shades,
and particularly in its reflected or secondary lights, something
resembling the atmosphere of his native promontory. Perhaps it was
that in each case the eye was mostly resting on stone--that the
quarries of ruins in the Eternal City reminded him of the quarries of
maiden rock at home.
This being in his mind when he sat down to dinner at the common table,
he was surprised to hear an American gentleman, who sat opposite,
mention the name of Pierston's birthplace. The American was talking to
a friend about a lady--an English widow, whose acquaintance they had
renewed somewhere in the Channel Islands during a recent tour, after
having known her as a young woman who came to San Francisco with her
father and mother many years before. Her father was then a rich man
just retired from the business of a stone-merchant in the Isle of
Slingers; but he had engaged in large speculations, and had lost nearly
all his fortune. Jocelyn further gathered that the widowed daughter's
name was Mrs. Leverre; that she had a step-son, her husband having been
a Jersey gentleman, a widower; and that the step-son seemed to be a
promising and interesting young man.
Pierston was instantly struck with the perception that these and other
allusions, though general, were in accord with the history of his long-
lost Marcia. He hardly felt any desire to hunt her up after nearly two
score years of separation, but he was impressed enough to resolve to
exchange a word with the strangers as soon as he could get opportunity.
He could not well attract their attention through the plants upon the
wide table, and even if he had been able he was disinclined to ask
questions in public. He waited on till dinner was over, and when the
strangers withdrew Pierston withdrew in their rear.
They were not in the drawing-room, and he found that they had gone out.
There was no chance of overtaking them, but Pierston, waked to
restlessness by their remarks, wandered up and down the adjoining
Piazza di Spagna, thinking they might return. The streets below were
immersed in shade, the front of the church of the Trinita de' Monti at
the top was flooded with orange light, the gloom of evening gradually
intensifying upon the broad, long flight of steps, which foot-
passengers incessantly ascended and descended with the insignificance
of ants; the dusk wrapped up the house to the left, in which Shelley
had lived, and that to the right, in which Keats had died.
Getting back to the hotel he learnt that the Americans had only dropped
in to dine, and were staying elsewhere. He saw no more of them; and on
reflection he was not deeply concerned, for what earthly woman, going
off in a freak as Marcia had done, and keeping silence so long, would
care for a belated friendship with him now in the sere, even if he were
to take the trouble to discover her.
* * *
Thus much Marcia. The other thread of his connection with the ancient
Isle of Slingers was stirred by a letter he received from Avice a
little after this date, in which she stated that her husband Ike had
been killed in his own quarry by an accident within the past year; that
she herself had been ill, and though well again, and left amply
provided for, she would like to see him if he ever came that way.
As she had not communicated for several long years, her expressed wish
to see him now was likely to be prompted by something more, something
newer, than memories of him. Yet the manner of her writing precluded
all suspicion that she was thinking of him as an old lover whose suit
events had now made practicable. He told her he was sorry to hear that
she had been ill, and that he would certainly take an early opportunity
of going down to her home on his next visit to England.
He did more. Her request had revived thoughts of his old home and its
associations, and instead of awaiting other reasons for a return he
made her the operating one. About a week later he stood once again at
the foot of the familiar steep whereon the houses at the entrance to
the Isle were perched like grey pigeons on a roof-side.
At Top-o'-Hill--as the summit of the rock was mostly called--he stood
looking at the busy doings in the quarries beyond, where the numerous
black hoisting-cranes scattered over the central plateau had the
appearance of a swarm of crane-flies resting there. He went a little
further, made some general inquiries about the accident which had
carried off Avice's husband in the previous year, and learnt that
though now a widow, she had plenty of friends and sympathizers about
her, which rendered any immediate attention to her on his part
unnecessary. Considering, therefore, that there was no great reason
why he should call on her so soon, and without warning, he turned back.
Perhaps after all her request had been dictated by a momentary feeling
only, and a considerable strangeness to each other must naturally be
the result of a score of dividing years. Descending to the bottom he
took his seat in the train on the shore, which soon carried him along
the Bank, and round to the watering-place five miles off, at which he
had taken up his quarters for a few days.
Here, as he stayed on, his local interests revived. Whenever he went
out he could see the island that was once his home lying like a great
snail upon the sea across the bay. It was the spring of the year;
local steamers had begun to run, and he was never tired of standing on
the thinly occupied deck of one of these as it skirted the island and
revealed to him on the cliffs far up its height the ruins of Red-King
Castle, behind which the little village of East Quarriers lay.
Thus matters went on, if they did not rather stand still, for several
days before Pierston redeemed his vague promise to seek Avice out. And
in the meantime he was surprised by the arrival of another letter from
her by a roundabout route. She had heard, she said, that he had been
on the island, and imagined him therefore to be staying somewhere near.
Why did he not call as he had told her he would do? She was always
thinking of him, and wishing to see him.
Her tone was anxious, and there was no doubt that she really had
something to say which she did not want to write. He wondered what it
could be, and started the same afternoon.
Avice, who had been little in his mind of late years, began to renew
for herself a distinct position therein. He was fully aware that since
his earlier manhood a change had come over his regard of womankind.
Once the individual had been nothing more to him than the temporary
abiding-place of the typical or ideal; now his heart showed its bent to
be a growing fidelity to the specimen, with all her pathetic flaws of
detail; which flaws, so far from sending him further, increased his
tenderness. This maturer feeling, if finer and higher, was less
convenient than the old. Ardours of passion could be felt as in youth
without the recuperative intervals which had accompanied evanescence.
The first sensation was to find that she had long ceased to live in the
little freehold cottage she had occupied of old. In answer to his
inquiries he was directed along the road to the west of the modern
castle, past the entrance on that side, and onward to the very house
that had once been his own home. There it stood as of yore, facing up
the Channel, a comfortable roomy structure, the euonymus and other
shrubs, which alone would stand in the teeth of the salt wind, living
on at about the same stature in front of it; but the paint-work much
renewed. A thriving man had resided there of late, evidently.
The widow in mourning who received him in the front parlour was, alas!
but the sorry shadow of Avice the Second. How could he have fancied
otherwise after twenty years? Yet he had been led to fancy otherwise,
almost without knowing it, by feeling himself unaltered. Indeed,
curiously enough, nearly the first words she said to him were: 'Why--
you are just the same!'
'Just the same. Yes, I am, Avice,' he answered sadly; for this
inability to ossify with the rest of his generation threw him out of
proportion with the time. Moreover, while wearing the aspect of
comedy, it was of the nature of tragedy.
'It is well to be you, sir,' she went on. 'I have had troubles to take
the bloom off me!'
'Yes; I have been sorry for you.'
She continued to regard him curiously, with humorous interest; and he
knew what was passing in her mind: that this man, to whom she had
formerly looked up as to a person far in advance of her along the lane
of life, seemed now to be a well-adjusted contemporary, the pair of
them observing the world with fairly level eyes.
He had come to her with warmth for a vision which, on reaching her, he
found to have departed; and, though fairly weaned by the natural
reality, he was so far staunch as to linger hankeringly. They talked
of past days, his old attachment, which she had then despised, being
now far more absorbing and present to her than to himself.
She unmistakably won upon him as he sat on. A curious closeness
between them had been produced in his imagination by the discovery that
she was passing her life within the house of his own childhood. Her
similar surname meant little here; but it was also his, and, added to
the identity of domicile, lent a strong suggestiveness to the accident.
'This is where I used to sit when my parents occupied the house,' he
said, placing himself beside that corner of the fireplace which
commanded a view through the window. 'I could see a bough of tamarisk
wave outside at that time, and, beyond the bough, the same abrupt
grassy waste towards the sea, and at night the same old lightship
blinking far out there. Place yourself on the spot, to please me.'
She set her chair where he indicated, and Pierston stood close beside
her, directing her gaze to the familiar objects he had regarded thence
as a boy. Her head and face--the latter thoughtful and worn enough,
poor thing, to suggest a married life none too comfortable--were close
to his breast, and, with a few inches further incline, would have
'And now you are the inhabitant; I the visitor,' he said. 'I am glad
to see you here--so glad, Avice! You are fairly well provided for--I
think I may assume that?' He looked round the room at the solid
mahogany furniture, and at the modern piano and show bookcase.
'Yes, Ike left me comfortable. 'Twas he who thought of moving from my
cottage to this larger house. He bought it, and I can live here as
long as I choose to.'
Apart from the decline of his adoration to friendship, there seemed to
be a general convergence of positions which suggested that he might
make amends for the desertion of Avice the First by proposing to this
Avice when a meet time should arrive. If he did not love her as he had
done when she was a slim thing catching mice in his rooms in London, he
could surely be content at his age with comradeship. After all she was
only forty to his sixty. The feeling that he really could be thus
content was so convincing that he almost believed the luxury of getting
old and reposeful was coming to his restless, wandering heart at last.
'Well, you have come at last, sir,' she went on; 'and I am grateful to
you. I did not like writing, and yet I wanted to be straightforward.
Have you guessed at all why I wished to see you so much that I could
not help sending twice to you?'
'I have tried, but cannot.'
'Try again. It is a pretty reason, which I hope you'll forgive.'
'I am sure I sha'n't unriddle it. But I'll say this on my own account
before you tell me. I have always taken a lingering interest in you,
which you must value for what it is worth. It originated, so far as it
concerns you personally, with the sight of you in that cottage round
the corner, nineteen or twenty years ago, when I became tenant of the
castle opposite. But that was not the very beginning. The very
beginning was a score of years before that, when I, a young fellow of
one-and-twenty, coming home here, from London, to see my father,
encountered a tender woman as like you as your double; was much
attracted by her as I saw her day after day flit past this window; till
I made it my business to accompany her in her walks awhile. I, as you
know, was not a staunch fellow, and it all ended badly. But, at any
rate you, her daughter, and I are friends.'
'Ah! there she is!' suddenly exclaimed Avice, whose attention had
wandered somewhat from his retrospective discourse. She was looking
from the window towards the cliffs, where, upon the open ground quite
near at hand, a slender female form was seen rambling along. 'She is
out for a walk,' Avice continued. 'I wonder if she is going to call
here this afternoon? She is living at the castle opposite as
'Yes. Her education was very thorough--better even than her
grandmother's. I was the neglected one, and her father and myself both
vowed that there should be no complaint on that score about her. We
christened her Avice, to keep up the name, as you requested. I wish
you could speak to her--I am sure you would like her.'
'Is that the baby?' faltered Jocelyn.
'Yes, the baby.'
The person signified, now much nearer, was a still more modernized, up-
to-date edition of the two Avices of that blood with whom he had been
involved more or less for the last forty years. A ladylike creature
was she--almost elegant. She was altogether finer in figure than her
mother or grandmother had ever been, which made her more of a woman in
appearance than in years. She wore a large-disked sun-hat, with a brim
like a wheel whose spokes were radiating folds of muslin lining the
brim, a black margin beyond the muslin being the felloe. Beneath this
brim her hair was massed low upon her brow, the colour of the thick
tresses being probably, from her complexion, repeated in the irises of
her large, deep eyes. Her rather nervous lips were thin and closed, so
that they only appeared as a delicate red line. A changeable
temperament was shown by that mouth--quick transitions from affection
to aversion, from a pout to a smile.
It was Avice the Third.
Jocelyn and the second Avice continued to gaze ardently at her.
'Ah! she is not coming in now; she hasn't time,' murmured the mother,
with some disappointment. 'Perhaps she means to run across in the
The tall girl, in fact, went past and on till she was out of sight.
Pierston stood as in a dream. It was the very she, in all essential
particulars, and with an intensification of general charm, who had
kissed him forty years before. When he turned his head from the window
his eyes fell again upon the intermediate Avice at his side. Before
but the relic of the Well-Beloved, she had now become its empty shrine.
Warm friendship, indeed, he felt for her; but whatever that might have
done towards the instauration of a former dream was now hopelessly
barred by the rivalry of the thing itself in the guise of a lineal
3. II. MISGIVINGS ON THE RE-EMBODIMENT
Pierston had been about to leave, but he sat down again on being asked
if he would stay and have a cup of tea. He hardly knew for a moment
what he did; a dim thought that Avice--the renewed Avice--might come
into the house made his reseating himself an act of spontaneity.
He forgot that twenty years earlier he had called the now Mrs. Pierston
an elf, a witch; and that lapse of time had probably not diminished the
subtleties implied by those epithets. He did not know that she had
noted every impression that her daughter had made upon him.
How he contrived to attenuate and disperse the rather tender
personalities he had opened up with the new Avice's mother, Pierston
never exactly defined. Perhaps she saw more than he thought she saw--
read something in his face--knew that about his nature which he gave
her no credit for knowing. Anyhow, the conversation took the form of a
friendly gossip from that minute, his remarks being often given while
his mind was turned elsewhere.
But a chill passed through Jocelyn when there had been time for
reflection. The renewed study of his art in Rome without any
counterbalancing practical pursuit had nourished and developed his
natural responsiveness to impressions; he now felt that his old
trouble, his doom--his curse, indeed, he had sometimes called it--was
come back again. His divinity was not yet propitiated for that
original sin against her image in the person of Avice the First, and
now, at the age of one-and-sixty, he was urged on and on like the Jew
Ahasuerus--or, in the phrase of the islanders themselves, like a blind
The Goddess, an abstraction to the general, was a fairly real personage
to Pierston. He had watched the marble images of her which stood in
his working-room, under all changes of light and shade in the
brightening of morning, in the blackening of eve, in moonlight, in
lamplight. Every line and curve of her body none, naturally, knew
better than he; and, though not a belief, it was, as has been stated, a
formula, a superstition, that the three Avices were inter-penetrated
with her essence.
'And the next Avice--your daughter,' he said stumblingly; 'she is, you
say, a governess at the castle opposite?'
Mrs. Pierston reaffirmed the fact, adding that the girl often slept at
home because she, her mother, was so lonely. She often thought she
would like to keep her daughter at home altogether.
'She plays that instrument, I suppose?' said Pierston, regarding the
'Yes, she plays beautifully; she had the best instruction that masters
could give her. She was educated at Sandbourne.'
'Which room does she call hers when at home?' he asked curiously.
'The little one over this.'
It had been his own. 'Strange,' he murmured.
He finished tea, and sat after tea, but the youthful Avice did not
arrive. With the Avice present he conversed as the old friend--no
more. At last it grew dusk, and Pierston could not find an excuse for
'I hope to make the acquaintance--of your daughter,' he said in
leaving, knowing that he might have added with predestinate truth, 'of
my new tenderly-beloved.'
'I hope you will,' she answered. 'This evening she evidently has gone
for a walk instead of coming here.'
'And, by-the-bye, you have not told me what you especially wanted to
see me for?'
'Ah, no. I will put it off.'
'Very well. I don't pretend to guess.'
'I must tell you another time.'
'If it is any little business in connection with your late husband's
affairs, do command me. I'll do anything I can.'
'Thank you. And I shall see you again soon?'
'Certainly. Quite soon.'
When he was gone she looked reflectively at the spot where he had been
standing, and said: 'Best hold my tongue. It will work of itself,
without my telling.'
Jocelyn went from the house, but as the white road passed under his
feet he felt in no mood to get back to his lodgings in the town on the
mainland. He lingered about upon the rugged ground for a long while,
thinking of the extraordinary reproduction of the original girl in this
new form he had seen, and of himself as of a foolish dreamer in being
so suddenly fascinated by the renewed image in a personality not one-
third of his age. As a physical fact, no doubt, the preservation of
the likeness was no uncommon thing here, but it helped the dream.
Passing round the walls of the new castle he deviated from his homeward
track by turning down the familiar little lane which led to the ruined
castle of the Red King. It took him past the cottage in which the new
Avice was born, from whose precincts he had heard her first infantine
cry. Pausing he saw near the west behind him the new moon growing
distinct upon the glow.
He was subject to gigantic fantasies still. In spite of himself, the
sight of the new moon, as representing one who, by her so-called
inconstancy, acted up to his own idea of a migratory Well-Beloved, made
him feel as if his wraith in a changed sex had suddenly looked over the
horizon at him. In a crowd secretly, or in solitude boldly, he had
often bowed the knee three times to this sisterly divinity on her first
appearance monthly, and directed a kiss towards her shining shape. The
curse of his qualities (if it were not a blessing) was far from having
spent itself yet.
In the other direction the castle ruins rose square and dusky against
the sea. He went on towards these, around which he had played as a
boy, and stood by the walls at the edge of the cliff pondering. There
was no wind and but little tide, and he thought he could hear from
years ago a voice that he knew. It certainly was a voice, but it came
from the rocks beneath the castle ruin.
A silence followed, and nobody came. The voice spoke again; 'John
Neither was this summons attended to. The cry continued, with more
entreaty: 'William Scribben!'
The voice was that of a Pierston--there could be no doubt of it--young
Avice's, surely? Something or other seemed to be detaining her down
there against her will. A sloping path beneath the beetling cliff and
the castle walls rising sheer from its summit, led down to the lower
level whence the voice proceeded. Pierston followed the pathway, and
soon beheld a girl in light clothing--the same he had seen through the
window--standing upon one of the rocks, apparently unable to move.
Pierston hastened across to her.
'O, thank you for coming!' she murmured with some timidity. 'I have
met with an awkward mishap. I live near here, and am not frightened
really. My foot has become jammed in a crevice of the rock, and I
cannot get it out, try how I will. What SHALL I do!'
Jocelyn stooped and examined the cause of discomfiture. 'I think if
you can take your boot off,' he said, 'your foot might slip out,
leaving the boot behind.'
She tried to act upon this advice, but could not do so effectually.
Pierston then experimented by slipping his hand into the crevice till
he could just reach the buttons of her boot, which, however, he could
not unfasten any more than she. Taking his penknife from his pocket he
tried again, and cut off the buttons one by one. The boot unfastened,
and out slipped the foot.
'O, how glad I am!' she cried joyfully. 'I was fearing I should have
to stay here all night. How can I thank you enough?'
He was tugging to withdraw the boot, but no skill that he could
exercise would move it without tearing. At last she said: 'Don't try
any longer. It is not far to the house. I can walk in my stocking.'
'I'll assist you in,' he said.
She said she did not want help, nevertheless allowed him to help her on
the unshod side. As they moved on she explained that she had come out
through the garden door; had been standing on the boulders to look at
something out at sea just discernible in the evening light as assisted
by the moon, and, in jumping down, had wedged her foot as he had found
Whatever Pierston's years might have made him look by day, in the dusk
of evening he was fairly presentable as a pleasing man of no marked
antiquity, his outline differing but little from what it had been when
he was half his years. He was well preserved, still upright, trimly
shaven, agile in movement; wore a tightly buttoned suit which set of a
naturally slight figure; in brief, he might have been of any age as he
appeared to her at this moment. She talked to him with the co-equality
of one who assumed him to be not far ahead of her own generation; and,
as the growing darkness obscured him more and more, he adopted her
assumption of his age with increasing boldness of tone.
The flippant, harmless freedom of the watering-place Miss, which Avice
had plainly acquired during her sojourn at the Sandbourne school,
helped Pierston greatly in this role of jeune premier which he was not
unready to play. Not a word did he say about being a native of the
island; still more carefully did he conceal the fact of his having
courted her grandmother, and engaged himself to marry that attractive
He found that she had come out upon the rocks through the same little
private door from the lawn of the modern castle which had frequently
afforded him egress to the same spot in years long past. Pierston
accompanied her across the grounds almost to the entrance of the
mansion--the place being now far better kept and planted than when he
had rented it as a lonely tenant; almost, indeed, restored to the order
and neatness which had characterized it when he was a boy.
Like her granny she was too inexperienced to be reserved, and during
this little climb, leaning upon his arm, there was time for a great
deal of confidence. When he had bidden her farewell, and she had
entered, leaving him in the dark, a rush of sadness through Pierston's
soul swept down all the temporary pleasure he had found in the charming
girl's company. Had Mephistopheles sprung from the ground there and
then with an offer to Jocelyn of restoration to youth on the usual
terms of his firm, the sculptor might have consented to sell a part of
himself which he felt less immediate need of than of a ruddy lip and
cheek and an unploughed brow.
But what could only have been treated as a folly by outsiders was
almost a sorrow for him. Why was he born with such a temperament? And
this concatenated interest could hardly have arisen, even with
Pierston, but for a conflux of circumstances only possible here. The
three Avices, the second something like the first, the third a
glorification of the first, at all events externally, were the outcome
of the immemorial island customs of intermarriage and of prenuptial
union, under which conditions the type of feature was almost uniform
from parent to child through generations: so that, till quite
latterly, to have seen one native man and woman was to have seen the
whole population of that isolated rock, so nearly cut off from the
mainland. His own predisposition and the sense of his early
faithlessness did all the rest.
He turned gloomily away, and let himself out of the precincts. Before
walking along the couple of miles of road which would conduct him to
the little station on the shore, he redescended to the rocks whereon he
had found her, and searched about for the fissure which had made a
prisoner of this terribly belated edition of the Beloved. Kneeling
down beside the spot he inserted his hand, and ultimately, by much
wriggling, withdrew the pretty boot. He mused over it for a moment,
put it in his pocket, and followed the stony route to the Street of
3. III. THE RENEWED IMAGE BURNS ITSELF IN
There was nothing to hinder Pierston in calling upon the new Avice's
mother as often as he should choose, beyond the five miles of
intervening railway and additional mile or two of clambering over the
heights of the island. Two days later, therefore, he repeated his
journey and knocked about tea-time at the widow's door.
As he had feared, the daughter was not at home. He sat down beside the
old sweetheart who, having eclipsed her mother in past days, had now
eclipsed herself in her child. Jocelyn produced the girl's boot from
'Then, 'tis YOU who helped Avice out of her predicament?' said Mrs.
Pierston, with surprise.
'Yes, my dear friend; and perhaps I shall ask you to help me out of
mine before I have done. But never mind that now. What did she tell
you about the adventure?'
Mrs. Pierston was looking thoughtfully upon him. 'Well, 'tis rather
strange it should have been you, sir,' she replied. She seemed to be a
good deal interested. 'I thought it might have been a younger man--a
much younger man.'
'It might have been as far as feelings were concerned. . . . Now,
Avice, I'll to the point at once. Virtually I have known your daughter
any number of years. When I talk to her I can anticipate every turn of
her thought, every sentiment, every act, so long did I study those
things in your mother and in you. Therefore I do not require to learn
her; she was learnt by me in her previous existences. Now, don't be
shocked: I am willing to marry her--I should be overjoyed to do it, if
there would be nothing preposterous about it, or that would seem like a
man making himself too much of a fool, and so degrading her in
consenting. I can make her comparatively rich, as you know, and I
would indulge her every whim. There is the idea, bluntly put. It
would set right something in my mind that has been wrong for forty
years. After my death she would have plenty of freedom and plenty of
means to enjoy it.'
Mrs. Isaac Pierston seemed only a little surprised; certainly not
'Well, if I didn't think you might be a bit taken with her!' she said
with an arch simplicity which could hardly be called unaffected.
'Knowing the set of your mind, from my little time with you years ago,
nothing you could do in this way would astonish me.'
'But you don't think badly of me for it?'
'Not at all. . . . By-the-bye, did you ever guess why I asked you to
come?. . . But never mind it now: the matter is past. . . . Of
course, it would depend upon what Avice felt. . . . Perhaps she would
rather marry a younger man.'
'And suppose a satisfactory younger man should not appear?'
Mrs. Pierston showed in her face that she fully recognized the
difference between a rich bird in hand and a young bird in the bush.
She looked him curiously up and down.
'I know you would make anybody a very nice husband,' she said. 'I know
that you would be nicer than many men half your age; and, though there
is a great deal of difference between you and her, there have been more
unequal marriages, that's true. Speaking as her mother, I can say that
I shouldn't object to you, sir, for her, provided she liked you. That
is where the difficulty will lie.'
'I wish you would help me to get over that difficulty,' he said gently.
'Remember, I brought back a truant husband to you twenty years ago.'
'Yes, you did,' she assented; 'and, though I may say no great things as
to happiness came of it, I've always seen that your intentions towards
me were none the less noble on that account. I would do for you what I
would do for no other man, and there is one reason in particular which
inclines me to help you with Avice--that I should feel absolutely
certain I was helping her to a kind husband.'
'Well, that would remain to be seen. I would, at any rate, try to be
worthy of your opinion. Come, Avice, for old times' sake, you must
help me. You never felt anything but friendship in those days, you
know, and that makes it easy and proper for you to do me a good turn
After a little more conversation his old friend promised that she
really would do everything that lay in her power. She did not say how
simple she thought him not to perceive that she had already, by writing
to him, been doing everything that lay in her power; had created the
feeling which prompted his entreaty. And to show her good faith in
this promise she asked him to wait till later in the evening, when
Avice might possibly run across to see her.
Pierston, who fancied he had won the younger Avice's interest, at
least, by the part he had played upon the rocks the week before, had a
dread of encountering her in full light till he should have advanced a
little further in her regard. He accordingly was perplexed at this
proposal, and, seeing his hesitation, Mrs. Pierston suggested that they
should walk together in the direction whence Avice would come, if she
came at all.
He welcomed the idea, and in a few minutes they started, strolling
along under the now strong moonlight, and when they reached the gates
of Sylvania Castle turning back again towards the house. After two or
three such walks up and down the gate of the castle grounds clicked,
and a form came forth which proved to be the expected one.
As soon as they met the girl recognized in her mother's companion the
gentleman who had helped her on the shore; and she seemed really glad
to find that her chivalrous assistant was claimed by her parent as an
old friend. She remembered hearing at divers times about this worthy
London man of talent and position, whose ancestry were people of her
own isle, and possibly, from the name, of a common stock with her own.
'And you have actually lived in Sylvania Castle yourself, Mr.
Pierston?' asked Avice the daughter, with her innocent young voice.
'Was it long ago?'
'Yes, it was some time ago,' replied the sculptor, with a sinking at
his heart lest she should ask how long.
'It must have been when I was away--or when I was very little?'
'I don't think you were away.'
'But I don't think I could have been here?'
'No, perhaps you couldn't have been here.'
'I think she was hiding herself in the parsley-bed,' said Avice's
They talked in this general way till they reached Mrs. Pierston's
house; but Jocelyn resisted both the widow's invitation and the desire
of his own heart, and went away without entering. To risk, by visibly
confronting her, the advantage that he had already gained, or fancied
he had gained, with the re-incarnate Avice required more courage than
he could claim in his present mood.
* * *
Such evening promenades as these were frequent during the waxing of
that summer moon. On one occasion, as they were all good walkers, it
was arranged that they should meet halfway between the island and the
town in which Pierston had lodgings. It was impossible that by this
time the pretty young governess should not have guessed the ultimate
reason of these rambles to be a matrimonial intention; but she inclined
to the belief that the widow rather than herself was the object of
Pierston's regard; though why this educated and apparently wealthy man
should be attracted by her mother--whose homeliness was apparent enough
to the girl's more modern training--she could not comprehend.
They met accordingly in the middle of the Pebble-bank, Pierston coming
from the mainland, and the women from the peninsular rock. Crossing
the wooden bridge which connected the bank with the shore proper they
moved in the direction of Henry the Eighth's Castle, on the verge of
the rag-stone cliff. Like the Red King's Castle on the island, the
interior was open to the sky, and when they entered and the full moon
streamed down upon them over the edge of the enclosing masonry, the
whole present reality faded from Jocelyn's mind under the press of
memories. Neither of his companions guessed what Pierston was thinking
of. It was in this very spot that he was to have met the grandmother
of the girl at his side, and in which he would have met her had she
chosen to keep the appointment, a meeting which might--nay, must--have
changed the whole current of his life.
Instead of that, forty years had passed--forty years of severance from
Avice, till a secondly renewed copy of his sweetheart had arisen to
fill her place. But he, alas, was not renewed. And of all this the
pretty young thing at his side knew nothing.
Taking advantage of the younger woman's retreat to view the sea through
an opening of the walls, Pierston appealed to her mother in a whisper:
'Have you ever given her a hint of what my meaning is? No? Then I
think you might, if you really have no objection.'
Mrs. Pierston, as the widow, was far from being so coldly disposed in
her own person towards her friend as in the days when he wanted to
marry her. Had she now been the object of his wishes he would not have
needed to ask her twice. But like a good mother she stifled all this,
and said she would sound Avice there and then.
'Avice, my dear,' she said, advancing to where the girl mused in the
window-gap, 'what do you think of Mr. Pierston paying his addresses to
you--coming courting, as _I_ call it in my old-fashioned way.
Supposing he were to, would you encourage him?'
'To ME, mother?' said Avice, with an inquiring laugh. 'I thought--he
'O no, he doesn't mean me,' said her mother hastily. 'He is nothing
more than my friend.'
'I don't want any addresses,' said the daughter.
'He is a man in society, and would take you to an elegant house in
London suited to your education, instead of leaving you to mope here.'
'I should like that well enough,' replied Avice carelessly.
'Then give him some encouragement.'
'I don't care enough about him to do any encouraging. It is his
business, I should think, to do all.'
She spoke in her lightest vein; but the result was that when Pierston,
who had discreetly withdrawn, returned to them, she walked docilely,
though perhaps gloomily, beside him, her mother dropping to the rear.
They came to a rugged descent, and Pierston took her hand to help her.
She allowed him to retain it when they arrived on level ground.
Altogether it was not an unsuccessful evening for the man with the
unanchored heart, though possibly initial success meant worse for him
in the long run than initial failure. There was nothing marvellous in
the fact of her tractability thus far. In his modern dress and style,
under the rays of the moon, he looked a very presentable gentleman
indeed, while his knowledge of art and his travelled manners were not
without their attractions for a girl who with one hand touched the
educated middle-class and with the other the rude and simple
inhabitants of the isle. Her intensely modern sympathies were
quickened by her peculiar outlook.
Pierston would have regarded his interest in her as overmuch selfish if
there had not existed a redeeming quality in the substratum of old
pathetic memory by which such love had been created--which still
permeated it, rendering it the tenderest, most anxious, most protective
instinct he had ever known. It may have had in its composition too
much of the boyish fervour that had characterized such affection when
he was cherry-cheeked, and light in the foot as a girl; but, if it was
all this feeling of youth, it was more.
Mrs. Pierston, in fearing to be frank, lest she might seem to be
angling for his fortune, did not fully divine his cheerful readiness to
offer it, if by so doing he could make amends for his infidelity to her
family forty years back in the past. Time had not made him mercenary,
and it had quenched his ambitions; and though his wish to wed Avice was
not entirely a wish to enrich her, the knowledge that she would be
enriched beyond anything that she could have anticipated was what
allowed him to indulge his love.
He was not exactly old he said to himself the next morning as he beheld
his face in the glass. And he looked considerably younger than he was.
But there was history in his face--distinct chapters of it; his brow
was not that blank page it once had been. He knew the origin of that
line in his forehead; it had been traced in the course of a month or
two by past troubles. He remembered the coming of this pale wiry hair;
it had been brought by the illness in Rome, when he had wished each
night that he might never wake again. This wrinkled corner, that drawn
bit of skin, they had resulted from those months of despondency when
all seemed going against his art, his strength, his happiness. 'You
cannot live your life and keep it, Jocelyn,' he said. Time was against
him and love, and time would probably win.
'When I went away from the first Avice,' he continued with whimsical
misery, 'I had a presentiment that I should ache for it some day. And
I am aching--have ached ever since this jade of an Ideal learnt the
unconscionable trick of inhabiting one image only.'
Upon the whole he was not without a bodement that it would be folly to
3. IV. A DASH FOR THE LAST INCARNATION
This desultory courtship of a young girl which had been brought about
by her mother's contrivance was interrupted by the appearance of Somers
and his wife and family on the Budmouth Esplanade. Alfred Somers, once
the youthful, picturesque as his own paintings, was now a middle-aged
family man with spectacles--spectacles worn, too, with the single
object of seeing through them--and a row of daughters tailing off to
infancy, who at present added appreciably to the income of the bathing-
machine women established along the sands.
Mrs. Somers--once the intellectual, emancipated Mrs. Pine-Avon--had now
retrograded to the petty and timid mental position of her mother and
grandmother, giving sharp, strict regard to the current literature and
art that reached the innocent presence of her long perspective of
girls, with the view of hiding every skull and skeleton of life from
their dear eyes. She was another illustration of the rule that
succeeding generations of women are seldom marked by cumulative
progress, their advance as girls being lost in their recession as
matrons; so that they move up and down the stream of intellectual
development like flotsam in a tidal estuary. And this perhaps not by
reason of their faults as individuals, but of their misfortune as
The landscape-painter, now an Academician like Pierston himself--rather
popular than distinguished--had given up that peculiar and personal
taste in subjects which had marked him in times past, executing instead
many pleasing aspects of nature addressed to the furnishing householder
through the middling critic, and really very good of their kind. In
this way he received many large cheques from persons of wealth in
England and America, out of which he built himself a sumptuous studio
and an awkward house around it, and paid for the education of the
The vision of Somers's humble position as jackal to this lion of a
family and house and studio and social reputation--Somers, to whom
strange conceits and wild imaginings were departed joys never to
return--led Pierston, as the painter's contemporary, to feel that he
ought to be one of the bygones likewise, and to put on an air of
unromantic bufferism. He refrained from entering Avice's peninsula for
the whole fortnight of Somers's stay in the neighbouring town, although
its grey poetical outline--'throned along the sea'--greeted his eyes
every morn and eve across the roadstead.
When the painter and his family had gone back from their bathing
holiday, he thought that he, too, would leave the neighbourhood. To do
so, however, without wishing at least the elder Avice good-bye would be
unfriendly, considering the extent of their acquaintance. One evening,
knowing this time of day to suit her best, he took the few-minutes'
journey to the rock along the thin connecting string of junction, and
arrived at Mrs. Pierston's door just after dark.
A light shone from an upper chamber. On asking for his widowed
acquaintance he was informed that she was ill, seriously, though not
dangerously. While learning that her daughter was with her, and
further particulars, and doubting if he should go in, a message was
sent down to ask him to enter. His voice had been heard, and Mrs.
Pierston would like to see him.
He could not with any humanity refuse, but there flashed across his
mind the recollection that Avice the youngest had never yet really seen
him, had seen nothing more of him than an outline, which might have
appertained as easily to a man thirty years his junior as to himself,
and a countenance so renovated by faint moonlight as fairly to
correspond. It was with misgiving, therefore, that the sculptor
ascended the staircase and entered the little upper sitting-room, now
arranged as a sick-chamber.
Mrs. Pierston reclined on a sofa, her face emaciated to a surprising
thinness for the comparatively short interval since her attack. 'Come
in, sir,' she said, as soon as she saw him, holding out her hand.
'Don't let me frighten you.'
Avice was seated beside her, reading. The girl jumped up, hardly
seeming to recognize him. 'O! it's Mr. Pierston,' she said in a
moment, adding quickly, with evident surprise and off her guard: 'I
thought Mr. Pierston was--'
What she had thought he was did not pass her lips, and it remained a
riddle for Jocelyn until a new departure in her manner towards him
showed that the words 'much younger' would have accurately ended the
sentence. Had Pierston not now confronted her anew, he might have
endured philosophically her changed opinion of him. But he was seeing
her again, and a rooted feeling was revived.
Pierston now learnt for the first time that the widow had been visited
by sudden attacks of this sort not infrequently of late years. They
were said to be due to angina pectoris, the latter paroxysms having
been the most severe. She was at the present moment out of pain,
though weak, exhausted, and nervous. She would not, however, converse
about herself, but took advantage of her daughter's absence from the
room to broach the subject most in her thoughts.
No compunctions had stirred her as they had her visitor on the
expediency of his suit in view of his years. Her fever of anxiety lest
after all he should not come to see Avice again had been not without an
effect upon her health; and it made her more candid than she had
intended to be.
'Troubles and sickness raise all sorts of fears, Mr. Pierston,' she
said. 'What I felt only a wish for, when you first named it, I have
hoped for a good deal since; and I have been so anxious that--that it
should come to something! I am glad indeed that you are come.'
'My wanting to marry Avice, you mean, dear Mrs. Pierston?'
'Yes--that's it. I wonder if you are still in the same mind? You are?
Then I wish something could be done--to make her agree to it--so as to
get it settled. I dread otherwise what will become of her. She is not
a practical girl as I was--she would hardly like now to settle down as
an islander's wife; and to leave her living here alone would trouble
'Nothing will happen to you yet, I hope, my dear old friend.'
'Well, it is a risky complaint; and the attacks, when they come, are so
agonizing that to endure them I ought to get rid of all outside
anxieties, folk say. Now--do you want her, sir?'
'With all my soul! But she doesn't want me.'
'I don't think she is so against you as you imagine. I fancy if it
were put to her plainly, now I am in this state, it might be done.'
They lapsed into conversation on the early days of their acquaintance,
until Mrs. Pierston's daughter re-entered the room.
'Avice,' said her mother, when the girl had been with them a few
minutes. 'About this matter that I have talked over with you so many
times since my attack. Here is Mr. Pierston, and he wishes to be your
husband. He is much older than you; but, in spite of it, that you will
ever get a better husband I don't believe. Now, will you take him,
seeing the state I am in, and how naturally anxious I am to see you
settled before I die?'
'But you won't die, mother! You are getting better!'
'Just for the present only. Come, he is a good man and a clever man,
and a rich man. I want you, O so much, to be his wife! I can say no
Avice looked appealingly at the sculptor, and then on the floor. 'Does
he really wish me to?' she asked almost inaudibly, turning as she spoke
to Pierston. 'He has never quite said so to me.'
'My dear one, how can you doubt it?' said Jocelyn quickly. 'But I
won't press you to marry me as a favour, against your feelings.'
'I thought Mr. Pierston was younger!' she murmured to her mother.
'That counts for little, when you think how much there is on the other
side. Think of our position, and of his--a sculptor, with a mansion,
and a studio full of busts and statues that I have dusted in my time,
and of the beautiful studies you would be able to take up. Surely the
life would just suit you? Your expensive education is wasted down
Avice did not care to argue. She was outwardly gentle as her
grandmother had been, and it seemed just a question with her of whether
she must or must not. 'Very well--I feel I ought to agree to marry
him, since you tell me to,' she answered quietly, after some thought.
'I see that it would be a wise thing to do, and that you wish it, and
that Mr. Pierston really does--like me. So--so that--'
Pierston was not backward at this critical juncture, despite unpleasant
sensations. But it was the historic ingredient in this genealogical
passion--if its continuity through three generations may be so
described--which appealed to his perseverance at the expense of his
wisdom. The mother was holding the daughter's hand; she took
Pierston's, and laid Avice's in it.
No more was said in argument, and the thing was regarded as determined.
Afterwards a noise was heard upon the window-panes, as of fine sand
thrown; and, lifting the blind, Pierston saw that the distant lightship
winked with a bleared and indistinct eye. A drizzling rain had come on
with the dark, and it was striking the window in handfuls. He had
intended to walk the two miles back to the station, but it meant a
drenching to do it now. He waited and had supper; and, finding the
weather no better, accepted Mrs. Pierston's invitation to stay over the
Thus it fell out that again he lodged in the house he had been
accustomed to live in as a boy, before his father had made his fortune,
and before his own name had been heard of outside the boundaries of the
He slept but little, and in the first movement of the dawn sat up in
bed. Why should he ever live in London or any other fashionable city
if this plan of marriage could be carried out? Surely, with this young
wife, the island would be the best place for him. It might be possible
to rent Sylvania Castle as he had formerly done--better still to buy
it. If life could offer him anything worth having it would be a home
with Avice there on his native cliffs to the end of his days.
As he sat thus thinking, and the daylight increased, he discerned, a
short distance before him, a movement of something ghostly. His
position was facing the window, and he found that by chance the
looking-glass had swung itself vertical, so that what he saw was his
own shape. The recognition startled him. The person he appeared was
too grievously far, chronologically, in advance of the person he felt
himself to be. Pierston did not care to regard the figure confronting
him so mockingly. Its voice seemed to say 'There's tragedy hanging on
to this!' But the question of age being pertinent he could not give
the spectre up, and ultimately got out of bed under the weird
fascination of the reflection. Whether he had overwalked himself
lately, or what he had done, he knew not; but never had he seemed so
aged by a score of years as he was represented in the glass in that
cold grey morning light. While his soul was what it was, why should he
have been encumbered with that withering carcase, without the ability
to shift it off for another, as his ideal Beloved had so frequently
By reason of her mother's illness Avice was now living in the house,
and, on going downstairs, he found that they were to breakfast en tete-
a-tete. She was not then in the room, but she entered in the course of
a few minutes. Pierston had already heard that the widow felt better
this morning, and elated by the prospect of sitting with Avice at this
meal he went forward to her joyously. As soon as she saw him in the
full stroke of day from the window she started; and he then remembered
that it was their first meeting under the solar rays.
She was so overcome that she turned and left the room as if she had
forgotten something; when she re-entered she was visibly pale. She
recovered herself, and apologized. She had been sitting up the night
before the last, she said, and was not quite so well as usual.
There may have been some truth in this; but Pierston could not get over
that first scared look of hers. It was enough to give daytime
stability to his night views of a possible tragedy lurking in this
wedding project. He determined that, at any cost to his heart, there
should be no misapprehension about him from this moment.
'Miss Pierston,' he said as they sat down, 'since it is well you should
know all the truth before we go any further, that there may be no
awkward discoveries afterwards, I am going to tell you something about
myself--if you are not too distressed to hear it?'
'No--let me hear it.'
'I was once the lover of your mother, and wanted to marry her, only she
wouldn't, or rather couldn't, marry me.'
'O how strange!' said the girl, looking from him to the breakfast
things, and from the breakfast things to him. 'Mother has never told
me that. Yet of course, you might have been. I mean, you are old
He took the remark as a satire she had not intended. 'O yes--quite old
enough,' he said grimly. 'Almost too old.'
'Too old for mother? How's that?'
'Because I belonged to your grandmother.'
'No? How can that be?'
'I was her lover likewise. I should have married her if I had gone
straight on instead of round the corner.'
'But you couldn't have been, Mr. Pierston! You are not old enough?
Why, how old are you?--you have never told me.'
'I am very old.'
'My mother's, and my grandmother's,' said she, looking at him no longer
as at a possible husband, but as a strange fossilized relic in human
form. Pierston saw it, but meaning to give up the game he did not care
to spare himself.
'Your mother's and your grandmother's young man,' he repeated.
'And were you my great-grandmother's too?' she asked, with an expectant
interest in his case as a drama that overcame her personal
considerations for a moment.
'No--not your great-grandmother's. Your imagination beats even my
confessions!. . . But I am VERY old, as you see.'
'I did not know it!' said she in an appalled murmur. 'You do not look
so; and I thought that what you looked you were.'
'And you--you are very young,' he continued.
A stillness followed, during which she sat in a troubled constraint,
regarding him now and then with something in her open eyes and large
pupils that might have been sympathy or nervousness. Pierston ate
scarce any breakfast, and rising abruptly from the table said he would
take a walk on the cliffs as the morning was fine.
He did so, proceeding along the north-east heights for nearly a mile.
He had virtually given Avice up, but not formally. His intention had
been to go back to the house in half-an-hour and pay a morning visit to
the invalid; but by not returning the plans of the previous evening
might be allowed to lapse silently, as mere pourparlers that had come
to nothing in the face of Avice's want of love for him. Pierston
accordingly went straight along, and in the course of an hour was at
his Budmouth lodgings.
Nothing occurred till the evening to inform him how his absence had
been taken. Then a note arrived from Mrs. Pierston; it was written in
pencil, evidently as she lay.
'I am alarmed,' she said, 'at your going so suddenly. Avice seems to
think she has offended you. She did not mean to do that, I am sure.
It makes me dreadfully anxious! Will you send a line? Surely you will
not desert us now--my heart is so set on my child's welfare!'
'Desert you I won't,' said Jocelyn. 'It is too much like the original
case. But I must let her desert me!'
On his return, with no other object than that of wishing Mrs. Pierston
good-bye, he found her painfully agitated. She clasped his hand and
wetted it with her tears.
'O don't be offended with her!' she cried. 'She's young. We are one
people--don't marry a kimberlin! It will break my heart if you forsake
her now! Avice!'
The girl came. 'My manner was hasty and thoughtless this morning,' she
said in a low voice. 'Please pardon me. I wish to abide by my
Her mother, still tearful, again joined their hands; and the engagement
stood as before.
Pierston went back to Budmouth, but dimly seeing how curiously, through
his being a rich suitor, ideas of beneficence and reparation were
retaining him in the course arranged by her mother, and urged by his
own desire in the face of his understanding.
3. V. ON THE VERGE OF POSSESSION
In anticipation of his marriage Pierston had taken a new red house of
the approved Kensington pattern, with a new studio at the back as large
as a mediaeval barn. Hither, in collusion with the elder Avice--whose
health had mended somewhat--he invited mother and daughter to spend a
week or two with him, thinking thereby to exercise on the latter's
imagination an influence which was not practicable while he was a guest
at their house; and by interesting his betrothed in the fitting and
furnishing of this residence to create in her an ambition to be its
It was a pleasant, reposeful time to be in town. There was nobody to
interrupt them in their proceedings, and, it being out of the season,
the largest tradesmen were as attentive to their wants as if those
firms had never before been honoured with a single customer whom they
really liked. Pierston and his guests, almost equally inexperienced--
for the sculptor had nearly forgotten what knowledge of householding he
had acquired earlier in life--could consider and practise thoroughly a
species of skeleton-drill in receiving visitors when the pair should
announce themselves as married and at home in the coming winter season.
Avice was charming, even if a little cold. He congratulated himself
yet again that time should have reserved for him this final chance for
one of the line. She was somewhat like her mother, whom he had loved
in the flesh, but she had the soul of her grandmother, whom he had
loved in the spirit--and, for that matter, loved now. Only one
criticism had he to pass upon his choice: though in outward semblance
her grandam idealized, she had not the first Avice's candour, but
rather her mother's closeness. He never knew exactly what she was
thinking and feeling. Yet he seemed to have such prescriptive rights
in women of her blood that her occasional want of confidence did not
deeply trouble him.
It was one of those ripe and mellow afternoons that sometimes colour
London with their golden light at this time of the year, and produce
those marvellous sunset effects which, if they were not known to be
made up of kitchen coal-smoke and animal exhalations, would be
rapturously applauded. Behind the perpendicular, oblique, zigzagged,
and curved zinc 'tall-boys,' that formed a grey pattern not unlike
early Gothic numerals against the sky, the men and women on the tops of
the omnibuses saw an irradiation of topaz hues, darkened here and there
into richest russet.
There had been a sharp shower during the afternoon, and Pierston--who
had to take care of himself--had worn a pair of goloshes on his short
walk in the street. He noiselessly entered the studio, inside which
some gleams of the same mellow light had managed to creep, and where he
guessed he should find his prospective wife and mother-in-law awaiting
him with tea. But only Avice was there, seated beside the teapot of
brown delf, which, as artists, they affected, her back being toward
him. She was holding her handkerchief to her eyes, and he saw that she
was weeping silently.
In another moment he perceived that she was weeping over a book. By
this time she had heard him, and came forward. He made it appear that
he had not noticed her distress, and they discussed some arrangements
of furniture. When he had taken a cup of tea she went away, leaving
the book behind her.
Pierston took it up. The volume was an old school-book; Stievenard's