Part 4 out of 4
'Lectures Francaises,' with her name in it as a pupil at Sandbourne
High School, and date-markings denoting lessons taken at a
comparatively recent time, for Avice had been but a novice as governess
when he discovered her.
For a school-girl--which she virtually was--to weep over a school-book
was strange. Could she have been affected by some subject in the
readings? Impossible. Pierston fell to thinking, and zest died for
the process of furnishing, which he had undertaken so gaily. Somehow,
the bloom was again disappearing from his approaching marriage. Yet he
loved Avice more and more tenderly; he feared sometimes that in the
solicitousness of his affection he was spoiling her by indulging her
He looked round the large and ambitious apartment, now becoming clouded
with shades, out of which the white and cadaverous countenances of his
studies, casts, and other lumber peered meditatively at him, as if they
were saying, 'What are you going to do now, old boy?' They had never
looked like that while standing in his past homely workshop, where all
the real labours of his life had been carried out. What should a man
of his age, who had not for years done anything to speak of--certainly
not to add to his reputation as an artist--want with a new place like
this? It was all because of the elect lady, and she apparently did not
Pierston did not observe anything further in Avice to cause him
misgiving till one dinner-time, a week later, towards the end of the
visit. Then, as he sat himself between her and her mother at their
limited table, he was struck with her nervousness, and was tempted to
say, 'Why are you troubled, my little dearest?' in tones which
disclosed that he was as troubled as she.
'Am I troubled?' she said with a start, turning her gentle hazel eyes
upon him. 'Yes, I suppose I am. It is because I have received a
letter--from an old friend.'
'You didn't show it to me,' said her mother.
'No--I tore it up.'
'It was not necessary to keep it, so I destroyed it.'
Mrs. Pierston did not press her further on the subject, and Avice
showed no disposition to continue it. They retired rather early, as
they always did, but Pierston remained pacing about his studio a long
while, musing on many things, not the least being the perception that
to wed a woman may be by no means the same thing as to be united with
her. The 'old friend' of Avice's remark had sounded very much like
'lover.' Otherwise why should the letter have so greatly disturbed
There seemed to be something uncanny, after all, about London, in its
relation to his contemplated marriage. When she had first come up she
was easier with him than now. And yet his bringing her there had
helped his cause; the house had decidedly impressed her--almost
overawed her, and though he owned that by no law of nature or reason
had her mother or himself any right to urge on Avice partnership with
him against her inclination, he resolved to make the most of having her
under his influence by getting the wedding details settled before she
and her mother left.
The next morning he proceeded to do this. When he encountered Avice
there was a trace of apprehension on her face; but he set that down to
a fear that she had offended him the night before by her taciturnity.
Directly he requested her mother, in Avice's presence, to get her to
fix the day quite early, Mrs. Pierston became brighter and brisker.
She, too, plainly had doubts about the wisdom of delay, and turning to
her daughter said, 'Now, my dear, do you hear?'
It was ultimately agreed that the widow and her daughter should go back
in a day or two, to await Pierston's arrival on the wedding-eve,
immediately after their return.
* * *
In pursuance of the arrangement Pierston found himself on the south
shore of England in the gloom of the aforesaid evening, the isle, as he
looked across at it with his approach, being just discernible as a
moping countenance, a creature sullen with a sense that he was about to
withdraw from its keeping the rarest object it had ever owned. He had
come alone, not to embarrass them, and had intended to halt a couple of
hours in the neighbouring seaport to give some orders relating to the
wedding, but the little railway train being in waiting to take him on,
he proceeded with a natural impatience, resolving to do his business
here by messenger from the isle.
He passed the ruins of the Tudor castle and the long featureless rib of
grinding pebbles that screened off the outer sea, which could be heard
lifting and dipping rhythmically in the wide vagueness of the Bay. At
the under-hill island townlet of the Wells there were no flys, and
leaving his things to be brought on, as he often did, he climbed the
eminence on foot.
Half-way up the steepest part of the pass he saw in the dusk a figure
pausing--the single person on the incline. Though it was too dark to
identify faces, Pierston gathered from the way in which the halting
stranger was supporting himself by the handrail, which here bordered
the road to assist climbers, that the person was exhausted.
'Anything the matter?' he said.
'O no--not much,' was returned by the other. 'But it is steep just
The accent was not quite that of an Englishman, and struck him as
hailing from one of the Channel Islands. 'Can't I help you up to the
top?' he said, for the voice, though that of a young man, seemed faint
'No, thank you. I have been ill; but I thought I was all right again;
and as the night was fine I walked into the island by the road. It
turned out to be rather too much for me, as there is some weakness left
still; and this stiff incline brought it out.'
'Naturally. You'd better take hold of my arm--at any rate to the brow
Thus pressed the stranger did so, and they went on towards the ridge,
till, reaching the lime-kiln standing there the stranger abandoned his
hold, saying: 'Thank you for your assistance, sir. Good-night.'
'I don't think I recognize your voice as a native's?'
'No, it is not. I am a Jersey man. Goodnight, sir.'
'Good-night, if you are sure you can get on. Here, take this stick--it
is no use to me.' Saying which, Pierston put his walking-stick into
the young man's hand.
'Thank you again. I shall be quite recovered when I have rested a
minute or two. Don't let me detain you, please.'
The stranger as he spoke turned his face towards the south, where the
Beal light had just come into view, and stood regarding it with an
obstinate fixity. As he evidently wished to be left to himself Jocelyn
went on, and troubled no more about him, though the desire of the young
man to be rid of his company, after accepting his walking-stick and his
arm, had come with a suddenness that was almost emotional; and
impressionable as Jocelyn was, no less now than in youth, he was
saddened for a minute by the sense that there were people in the world
who did not like even his sympathy.
However, a pleasure which obliterated all this arose when Pierston drew
near to the house that was likely to be his dear home on all future
visits to the isle, perhaps even his permanent home as he grew older
and the associations of his youth re-asserted themselves. It had been,
too, his father's house, the house in which he was born, and he amused
his fancy with plans for its enlargement under the supervision of Avice
and himself. It was a still greater pleasure to behold a tall and
shapely figure standing against the light of the open door and
presumably awaiting him.
Avice, who it was, gave a little jump when she recognized him, but
dutifully allowed him to kiss her when he reached her side; though her
nervousness was only too apparent, and was like a child's towards a
parent who may prove stern.
'How dear of you to guess that I might come on at once instead of
later!' said Jocelyn. 'Well, if I had stayed in the town to go to the
shops and so on, I could not have got here till the last train. How is
mother?--our mother, as I shall call her soon.'
Avice said that her mother had not been so well--she feared not nearly
so well since her return from London, so that she was obliged to keep
her room. The visit had perhaps been too much for her. 'But she will
not acknowledge that she is much weaker, because she will not disturb
Jocelyn was in a mood to let trifles of manner pass, and he took no
notice of the effort which had accompanied the last word. They went
upstairs to Mrs. Pierston, whose obvious relief and thankfulness at
sight of him was grateful to her visitor.
'I am so, O so glad you are come!' she said huskily, as she held out
her thin hand and stifled a sob. 'I have been so--'
She could get no further for a moment, and Avice turned away weeping,
and abruptly left the room.
'I have so set my heart on this,' Mrs. Pierston went on, 'that I have
not been able to sleep of late, for I have feared I might drop off
suddenly before she is yours, and lose the comfort of seeing you
actually united. Your being so kind to me in old times has made me so
sure that she will find a good husband in you, that I am over anxious,
I know. Indeed, I have not liked to let her know quite how anxious I
Thus they talked till Jocelyn bade her goodnight, it being noticeable
that Mrs. Pierston, chastened by her illnesses, maintained no longer
any reserve on her gladness to acquire him as her son-in-law; and her
feelings destroyed any remaining scruples he might have had from
perceiving that Avice's consent was rather an obedience than a desire.
As he went downstairs, and found Avice awaiting his descent, he
wondered if anything had occurred here during his absence to give Mrs.
Pierston new uneasiness about the marriage, but it was an inquiry he
could not address to a girl whose actions could alone be the cause of
He looked round for her as he supped, but though she had come into the
room with him she was not there now. He remembered her telling him
that she had had supper with her mother, and Jocelyn sat on quietly
musing and sipping his wine for something near half-an-hour. Wondering
then for the first time what had become of her, he rose and went to the
door. Avice was quite near him after all--only standing at the front
door as she had been doing when he came, looking into the light of the
full moon, which had risen since his arrival. His sudden opening of
the dining-room door seemed to agitate her.
'What is it, dear?' he asked.
'As mother is much better and doesn't want me, I ought to go and see
somebody I promised to take a parcel to--I feel I ought. And yet, as
you have just come to see me--I suppose you don't approve of my going
out while you are here?'
'Who is the person?'
'Somebody down that way,' she said indefinitely. 'It is not very far
off. I am not afraid--I go out often by myself at night hereabout.'
He reassured her good-humouredly. 'If you really wish to go, my dear,
of course I don't object. I have no authority to do that till
tomorrow, and you know that if I had it I shouldn't use it.'
'O but you have! Mother being an invalid, you are in her place, apart
'Nonsense, darling. Run across to your friend's house by all means if
you want to.'
'And you'll be here when I come in?'
'No, I am going down to the inn to see if my things are brought up.'
'But hasn't mother asked you to stay here? The spare room was got
ready for you. . . . Dear me, I am afraid I ought to have told you.'
'She did ask me. But I have some things coming, directed to the inn,
and I had better be there. So I'll wish you good-night, though it is
not late. I will come in quite early to-morrow, to inquire how your
mother is going on, and to wish you good-morning. You will be back
again quickly this evening?'
'And I needn't go with you for company?'
'O no, thank you. It is no distance.'
Pierston then departed, thinking how entirely her manner was that of
one to whom a question of doing anything was a question of permission
and not of judgment. He had no sooner gone than Avice took a parcel
from a cupboard, put on her hat and cloak, and following by the way he
had taken till she reached the entrance to Sylvania Castle, there stood
still. She could hear Pierston's footsteps passing down East Quarriers
to the inn; but she went no further in that direction. Turning into
the lane on the right, of which mention has so often been made, she
went quickly past the last cottage, and having entered the gorge beyond
she clambered into the ruin of the Red King's or Bow-and-Arrow Castle,
standing as a square black mass against the moonlit, indefinite sea.
3. VI. THE WELL-BELOVED IS--WHERE?
Mrs. Pierston passed a restless night, but this she let nobody know;
nor, what was painfully evident to herself, that her prostration was
increased by anxiety and suspense about the wedding on which she had
too much set her heart.
During the very brief space in which she dozed Avice came into her
room. As it was not infrequent for her daughter to look in upon her
thus she took little notice, merely saying to assure the girl: 'I am
better, dear. Don't come in again. Get to sleep yourself.'
The mother, however, went thinking anew. She had no apprehensions
about this marriage. She felt perfectly sure that it was the best
thing she could do for her girl. Not a young woman on the island but
was envying Avice at that moment; for Jocelyn was absurdly young for
three score, a good-looking man, one whose history was generally known
here; as also were the exact figures of the fortune he had inherited
from his father, and the social standing he could claim--a standing,
however, which that fortune would not have been large enough to procure
unassisted by his reputation in his art.
But Avice had been weak enough, as her mother knew, to indulge in
fancies for local youths from time to time, and Mrs. Pierston could not
help congratulating herself that her daughter had been so docile in the
circumstances. Yet to every one except, perhaps, Avice herself,
Jocelyn was the most romantic of lovers. Indeed was there ever such a
romance as that man embodied in his relations to her house? Rejecting
the first Avice, the second had rejected him, and to rally to the third
with final achievement was an artistic and tender finish to which it
was ungrateful in anybody to be blind.
The widow thought that the second Avice might probably not have
rejected Pierston on that occasion in the London studio so many years
ago if destiny had not arranged that she should have been secretly
united to another when the proposing moment came.
But what had come was best. 'My God,' she said at times that night,
'to think my aim in writing to him should be fulfilling itself like
When all was right and done, what a success upon the whole her life
would have been. She who had begun her career as a cottage-girl, a
small quarry-owner's daughter, had sunk so low as to the position of
laundress, had engaged in various menial occupations, had made an
unhappy marriage for love which had, however, in the long run, thanks
to Jocelyn's management, much improved her position, was at last to see
her daughter secure what she herself had just missed securing, and
established in a home of affluence and refinement.
Thus the sick woman excited herself as the hours went on. At last, in
her tenseness it seemed to her that the time had already come at which
the household was stirring, and she fancied she heard conversation in
her daughter's room. But she found that it was only five o'clock, and
not yet daylight. Her state was such that she could see the hangings
of the bed tremble with her tremors. She had declared overnight that
she did not require any one to sit up with her, but she now rang a
little handbell, and in a few minutes a nurse appeared; Ruth Stockwool,
an island woman and neighbour, whom Mrs. Pierston knew well, and who
knew all Mrs. Pierston's history.
'I am so nervous that I can't stay by myself,' said the widow. 'And I
thought I heard Becky dressing Miss Avice in her wedding things.'
'O no--not yet, ma'am. There's nobody up. But I'll get you
When Mrs. Pierston had taken a little nourishment she went on: 'I
can't help frightening myself with thoughts that she won't marry him.
You see he is older than Avice.'
'Yes, he is,' said her neighbour. 'But I don't see how anything can
hender the wedden now.'
'Avice, you know, had fancies; at least one fancy for another man; a
young fellow of five-and-twenty. And she's been very secret and odd
about it. I wish she had raved and cried and had it out; but she's
been quite the other way. I know she's fond of him still.'
'What--that young Frenchman, Mr. Leverre o' Sandbourne? I've heard a
little of it. But I should say there wadden much between 'em.'
'I don't think there was. But I've a sort of conviction that she saw
him last night. I believe it was only to bid him good-bye, and return
him some books he had given her; but I wish she had never known him; he
is rather an excitable, impulsive young man, and he might make
mischief. He isn't a Frenchman, though he has lived in France. His
father was a Jersey gentleman, and on his becoming a widower he married
as his second wife a native of this very island. That's mainly why the
young man is so at home in these parts.'
'Ah--now I follow 'ee. She was a Bencomb, his stepmother: I heard
something about her years ago.'
'Yes; her father had the biggest stone-trade on the island at one time;
but the name is forgotten here now. He retired years before I was
born. However, mother used to tell me that she was a handsome young
woman, who tried to catch Mr. Pierston when he was a young man, and
scandalized herself a bit with him. She went off abroad with her
father, who had made a fortune here; but when he got over there he lost
it nearly all in some way. Years after she married this Jerseyman, Mr.
Leverre, who had been fond of her as a girl, and she brought up his
child as her own.'
Mrs. Pierston paused, but as Ruth did not ask any question she
presently resumed her self-relieving murmur:
'How Miss Avice got to know the young man was in this way. When Mrs.
Leverre's husband died she came from Jersey to live at Sandbourne; and
made it her business one day to cross over to this place to make
inquiries about Mr. Jocelyn Pierston. As my name was Pierston she
called upon me with her son, and so Avice and he got acquainted. When
Avice went back to Sandbourne to the finishing school they kept up the
acquaintance in secret. He taught French somewhere there, and does
still, I believe.'
'Well, I hope she'll forget en. He idden good enough.'
'I hope so--I hope so. . . . Now I'll try to get a little nap.'
Ruth Stockwool went back to her room, where, finding it would not be
necessary to get up for another hour, she lay down again and soon
slept. Her bed was close to the staircase, from which it was divided
by a lath partition only, and her consciousness either was or seemed to
be aroused by light brushing touches on the outside of the partition,
as of fingers feeling the way downstairs in the dark. The slight noise
passed, and in a few seconds she dreamt or fancied she could hear the
unfastening of the back door.
She had nearly sunk into another sound sleep when precisely the same
phenomena were repeated; fingers brushing along the wall close to her
head, down, downward, the soft opening of the door, its close, and
She now became clearly awake. The repetition of the process had made
the whole matter a singular one. Early as it was the first sounds
might have been those of the housemaid descending, though why she
should have come down so stealthily and in the dark did not make itself
clear. But the second performance was inexplicable. Ruth got out of
bed and lifted her blind. The dawn was hardly yet pink, and the light
from the sandbank was not yet extinguished. But the bushes of euonymus
against the white palings of the front garden could be seen, also the
light surface of the road winding away like a riband to the north
entrance of Sylvania Castle, thence round to the village, the cliffs,
and the Cove behind. Upon the road two dark figures could just be
discerned, one a little way behind the other, but overtaking and
joining the foremost as Ruth looked. After all they might be quarriers
or lighthouse-keepers from the south of the island, or fishermen just
landed from a night's work. There being nothing to connect them with
the noises she had heard indoors she dismissed the whole subject, and
went to bed again.
* * *
Jocelyn had promised to pay an early visit to ascertain the state of
Mrs. Pierston's health after her night's rest, her precarious condition
being more obvious to him than to Avice, and making him a little
anxious. Subsequent events caused him to remember that while he was
dressing he casually observed two or three boatmen standing near the
cliff beyond the village, and apparently watching with deep interest
what seemed to be a boat far away towards the opposite shore of South
Wessex. At half-past eight he came from the door of the inn and went
straight to Mrs. Pierston's. On approaching he discovered that a
strange expression which seemed to hang about the house-front that
morning was more than a fancy, the gate, door, and two windows being
open, though the blinds of other windows were not drawn up, the whole
lending a vacant, dazed look to the domicile, as of a person gaping in
sudden stultification. Nobody answered his knock, and walking into the
dining-room he found that no breakfast had been laid. His flashing
thought was, 'Mrs. Pierston is dead.'
While standing in the room somebody came downstairs, and Jocelyn
encountered Ruth Stockwool, an open letter fluttering in her hand.
'O Mr. Pierston, Mr. Pierston! The Lord-a-Lord!'
'What? Mrs. Pierston--'
'No, no! Miss Avice! She is gone!--yes--gone! Read ye this, sir. It
was left in her bedroom, and we be fairly gallied out of our senses!'
He took the letter and confusedly beheld that it was in two
handwritings, the first section being in Avice's:
'MY DEAR MOTHER,--How ever will you forgive me for what I have done!
So deceitful as it seems. And yet till this night I had no idea of
deceiving either you or Mr. Pierston.
'Last night at ten o'clock I went out, as you may have guessed, to see
Mr. Leverre for the last time, and to give him back his books, letters,
and little presents to me. I went only a few steps--to Bow-and-Arrow
Castle, where we met as we had agreed to do, since he could not call.
When I reached the place I found him there waiting, but quite ill. He
had been unwell at his mother's house for some days, and had been
obliged to stay in bed, but he had got up on purpose to come and bid me
good-bye. The over-exertion of the journey upset him, and though we
stayed and stayed till twelve o'clock he felt quite unable to go back
home--unable, indeed, to move more than a few yards. I had tried so
hard not to love him any longer, but I loved him so now that I could
not desert him and leave him out there to catch his death. So I helped
him--nearly carrying him--on and on to our door, and then round to the
back. Here he got a little better, and as he could not stay there, and
everybody was now asleep, I helped him upstairs into the room we had
prepared for Mr. Pierston if he should have wanted one. I got him into
bed, and then fetched some brandy and a little of your tonic. Did you
see me come into your room for it, or were you asleep?
'I sat by him all night. He improved slowly, and we talked over what
we had better do. I felt that, though I had intended to give him up, I
could not now becomingly marry any other man, and that I ought to marry
him. We decided to do it at once, before anybody could hinder us. So
we came down before it was light, and have gone away to get the
'Tell Mr. Pierston it was not premeditated, but the result of an
accident. I am sincerely sorry to have treated him with what he will
think unfairness, but though I did not love him I meant to obey you and
marry him. But God sent this necessity of my having to give shelter to
my Love, to prevent, I think, my doing what I am now convinced would
have been wrong--Ever your loving daughter,
The second was in a man's hand:
'DEAR MOTHER (as you will soon be to me),--Avice has clearly explained
above how it happened that I have not been able to give her up to Mr.
Pierston. I think I should have died if I had not accepted the
hospitality of a room in your house this night, and your daughter's
tender nursing through the dark dreary hours. We love each other
beyond expression, and it is obvious that, if we are human, we cannot
resist marrying now, in spite of friends' wishes. Will you please send
the note lying beside this to my mother. It is merely to explain what
I have done--Yours with warmest regard, HENRI LEVERRE.'
Jocelyn turned away and looked out of the window.
'Mrs. Pierston thought she heard some talking in the night, but of
course she put it down to fancy. And she remembers Miss Avice coming
into her room at one o'clock in the morning, and going to the table
where the medicine was standing. A sly girl--all the time her young
man within a yard or two, in the very room, and a using the very clean
sheets that you, sir, were to have used! They are our best linen ones,
got up beautiful, and a kept wi' rosemary. Really, sir, one would say
you stayed out o' your chammer o' purpose to oblige the young man with
'Don't blame them, don't blame them!' said Jocelyn in an even and
characterless voice. 'Don't blame her, particularly. She didn't make
the circumstances. I did. . . . It was how I served her grandmother.
. . . Well, she's gone! You needn't make a mystery of it. Tell it to
all the island: say that a man came to marry a wife, and didn't find
her at home. Tell everybody that she's run away. It must be known
sooner or later.'
One of the servants said, after waiting a few moments: 'We shan't do
'Oh--Why won't you?'
'We liked her too well, with all her faults.'
'Ah--did you,' said he; and he sighed. He perceived that the younger
maids were secretly on Avice's side.
'How does her mother bear it?' Jocelyn asked. 'Is she awake?'
Mrs. Pierston had hardly slept, and, having learnt the tidings
inadvertently, became so distracted and incoherent as to be like a
person in a delirium; till, a few moments before he arrived, all her
excitement ceased, and she lay in a weak, quiet silence.
'Let me go up,' Pierston said. 'And send for the doctor.'
Passing Avice's chamber he perceived that the little bed had not been
slept on. At the door of the spare room he looked in. In one corner
stood a walking-stick--his own.
'Where did that come from?'
'We found it there, sir.'
'Ah yes--I gave it to him. 'Tis like me to play another's game!'
It was the last spurt of bitterness that Jocelyn let escape him. He
went on towards Mrs. Pierston's room, preceded by the servant.
'Mr. Pierston has come, ma'am,' he heard her say to the invalid. But
as the latter took no notice the woman rushed forward to the bed.
'What has happened to her, Mr. Pierston? O what do it mean?'
Avice the Second was lying placidly in the position in which the nurse
had left her; but no breath came from her lips, and a rigidity of
feature was accompanied by the precise expression which had
characterized her face when Pierston had her as a girl in his studio.
He saw that it was death, though she appeared to have breathed her last
only a few moments before.
Ruth Stockwool's composure deserted her. ''Tis the shock of finding
Miss Avice gone that has done it!' she cried. 'She has killed her
'Don't say such a terrible thing!' exclaimed Jocelyn.
'But she ought to have obeyed her mother--a good mother as she was!
How she had set her heart upon the wedding, poor soul; and we couldn't
help her knowing what had happened! O how ungrateful young folk be!
That girl will rue this morning's work!'
'We must get the doctor,' said Pierston, mechanically, hastening from
When the local practitioner came he merely confirmed their own verdict,
and thought her death had undoubtedly been hastened by the shock of the
ill news upon a feeble heart, following a long strain of anxiety about
the wedding. He did not consider that an inquest would be necessary.
* * *
The two shadowy figures seen through the grey gauzes of the morning by
Ruth, five hours before this time, had gone on to the open place by the
north entrance of Sylvania Castle, where the lane to the ruins of the
old castle branched off. A listener would not have gathered that a
single word passed between them. The man walked with difficulty,
supported by the woman. At this spot they stopped and kissed each
other a long while.
'We ought to walk all the way to Budmouth, if we wish not to be
discovered,' he said sadly. 'And I can't even get across the island,
even by your help, darling. It is two miles to the foot of the hill.'
She, who was trembling, tried to speak consolingly:
'If you could walk we should have to go down the Street of Wells, where
perhaps somebody would know me? Now if we get below here to the Cove,
can't we push off one of the little boats I saw there last night, and
paddle along close to the shore till we get to the north side? Then we
can walk across to the station very well. It is quite calm, and as the
tide sets in that direction, it will take us along of itself, without
much rowing. I've often got round in a boat that way.'
This seemed to be the only plan that offered, and abandoning the
straight road they wound down the defile spanned further on by the old
castle arch, and forming the original fosse of the fortress.
The stroke of their own footsteps, lightly as these fell, was flapped
back to them with impertinent gratuitousness by the vertical faces of
the rock, so still was everything around. A little further, and they
emerged upon the open ledge of the lower tier of cliffs, to the right
being the sloping pathway leading down to the secluded creek at their
base--the single practicable spot of exit from or entrance to the isle
on this side by a seagoing craft; once an active wharf, whence many a
fine public building had sailed--including Saint Paul's Cathedral.
The timorous shadowy shapes descended the footway, one at least of them
knowing the place so well that she found it scarcely necessary to guide
herself down by touching the natural wall of stone on her right hand,
as her companion did. Thus, with quick suspensive breathings they
arrived at the bottom, and trod the few yards of shingle which, on the
forbidding shore hereabout, could be found at this spot alone. It was
so solitary as to be unvisited often for four-and-twenty hours by a
living soul. Upon the confined beach were drawn up two or three
fishing-lerrets, and a couple of smaller ones, beside them being a
rough slipway for launching, and a boathouse of tarred boards. The two
lovers united their strength to push the smallest of the boats down the
slope, and floating it they scrambled in.
The girl broke the silence by asking, 'Where are the oars?'
He felt about the boat, but could find none. 'I forgot to look for the
oars!' he said.
'They are locked in the boathouse, I suppose. Now we can only steer
and trust to the current!'
The currents here were of a complicated kind. It was true, as the girl
had said, that the tide ran round to the north, but at a special moment
in every flood there set in along the shore a narrow reflux contrary to
the general outer flow, called 'The Southern' by the local sailors. It
was produced by the peculiar curves of coast lying east and west of the
Beal; these bent southward in two back streams the up-Channel flow on
each side of the peninsula, which two streams united outside the Beal,
and there met the direct tidal flow, the confluence of the three
currents making the surface of the sea at this point to boil like a
pot, even in calmest weather. The disturbed area, as is well known, is
called the Race.
Thus although the outer sea was now running northward to the roadstead
and the mainland of Wessex 'The Southern' ran in full force towards the
Beal and the Race beyond. It caught the lovers' hapless boat in a few
moments, and, unable to row across it--mere river's width that it was--
they beheld the grey rocks near them, and the grim wrinkled forehead of
the isle above, sliding away northwards.
They gazed helplessly at each other, though, in the long-living faith
of youth, without distinct fear. The undulations increased in
magnitude, and swung them higher and lower. The boat rocked, received
a smart slap of the waves now and then, and wheeled round, so that the
lightship which stolidly winked at them from the quicksand, the single
object which told them of their bearings, was sometimes on their right
hand and sometimes on their left. Nevertheless they could always
discern from it that their course, whether stemwards or sternwards, was
A bright idea occurred to the young man. He pulled out his
handkerchief and, striking a light, set it on fire. She gave him hers,
and he made that flare up also. The only available fuel left was the
small umbrella the girl had brought; this was also kindled in an opened
state, and he held it up by the stem till it was consumed.
The lightship had loomed quite large by this time, and a few minutes
after they had burnt the handkerchiefs and umbrella a coloured flame
replied to them from the vessel. They flung their arms round each
'I knew we shouldn't be drowned!' said Avice hysterically.
'I thought we shouldn't too,' said he.
With the appearance of day a boat put off to their assistance, and they
were towed towards the heavy red hulk with the large white letters on
3. VII. AN OLD TABERNACLE IN A NEW ASPECT
The October day thickened into dusk, and Jocelyn sat musing beside the
corpse of Mrs. Pierston. Avice having gone away nobody knew whither,
he had acted as the nearest friend of the family, and attended as well
as he could to the sombre duties necessitated by her mother's decease.
It was doubtful, indeed, if anybody else were in a position to do so.
Of Avice the Second's two brothers, one had been drowned at sea, and
the other had emigrated, while her only child besides the present Avice
had died in infancy. As for her friends, she had become so absorbed in
her ambitious and nearly accomplished design of marrying her daughter
to Jocelyn, that she had gradually completed that estrangement between
herself and the other islanders which had been begun so long ago as
when, a young woman, she had herself been asked by Pierston to marry
him. On her tantalizing inability to accept the honour offered, she
and her husband had been set up in a matter-of-fact business in the
stone trade by her patron, but that unforgettable request in the London
studio had made her feel ever since a refined kinship with sculpture,
and a proportionate aloofness from mere quarrying, which was, perhaps,
no more than a venial weakness in Avice the Second. Her daughter's
objection to Jocelyn she could never understand. To her own eye he was
no older than when he had proposed to her.
As he sat darkling here the ghostly outlines of former shapes taken by
his Love came round their sister the unconscious corpse, confronting
him from the wall in sad array, like the pictured Trojan women beheld
by AEneas on the walls of Carthage. Many of them he had idealized in
bust and in figure from time to time, but it was not as such that he
remembered and reanimated them now; rather was it in all their natural
circumstances, weaknesses, and stains. And then as he came to himself
their voices grew fainter; they had all gone off on their different
careers, and he was left here alone.
The probable ridicule that would result to him from the events of the
day he did not mind in itself at all. But he would fain have removed
the misapprehensions on which it would be based. That, however, was
impossible. Nobody would ever know the truth about him; what it was he
had sought that had so eluded, tantalized, and escaped him; what it was
that had led him such a dance, and had at last, as he believed just now
in the freshness of his loss, been discovered in the girl who had left
him. It was not the flesh; he had never knelt low to that. Not a
woman in the world had been wrecked by him, though he had been
impassioned by so many. Nobody would guess the further sentiment--the
cordial loving-kindness--which had lain behind what had seemed to him
the enraptured fulfilment of a pleasing destiny postponed for forty
years. His attraction to the third Avice would be regarded by the
world as the selfish designs of an elderly man on a maid.
His life seemed no longer a professional man's experience, but a ghost
story; and he would fain have vanished from his haunts on this critical
afternoon, as the rest had done. He desired to sleep away his
tendencies, to make something happen which would put an end to his
bondage to beauty in the ideal.
So he sat on till it was quite dark, and a light was brought. There
was a chilly wind blowing outside, and the lightship on the quicksand
afar looked harassed and forlorn. The haggard solitude was broken by a
ring at the door.
Pierston heard a voice below, the accents of a woman. They had a
ground quality of familiarity, a superficial articulation of
strangeness. Only one person in all his experience had ever possessed
precisely those tones; rich, as if they had once been powerful.
Explanations seemed to be asked for and given, and in a minute he was
informed that a lady was downstairs whom perhaps he would like to see.
'Who is the lady?' Jocelyn asked.
The servant hesitated a little. 'Mrs. Leverre--the mother of the--
young gentleman Miss Avice has run off with.'
'Yes--I'll see her,' said Pierston.
He covered the face of the dead Avice, and descended. 'Leverre,' he
said to himself. His ears had known that name before to-day. It was
the name those travelling Americans he had met in Rome gave the woman
he supposed might be Marcia Bencomb.
A sudden adjusting light burst upon many familiar things at that
moment. He found the visitor in the drawing-room, standing up veiled,
the carriage which had brought her being in waiting at the door. By
the dim light he could see nothing of her features in such
'I am Mr. Pierston.'
'You represent the late Mrs. Pierston?'
'I do--though I am not one of the family.'
'I know it. . . . I am Marcia--after forty years.'
'I was divining as much, Marcia. May the lines have fallen to you in
pleasant places since we last met! But, of all moments of my life, why
do you choose to hunt me up now?'
'Why--I am the step-mother and only relation of the young man your
bride eloped with this morning.'
'I was just guessing that, too, as I came downstairs. But--'
'And I am naturally making inquiries.'
'Yes. Let us take it quietly, and shut the door.'
Marcia sat down. And he learnt that the conjunction of old things and
new was no accident. What Mrs. Pierston had discussed with her nurse
and neighbour as vague intelligence, was now revealed to Jocelyn at
first hand by Marcia herself; how, many years after their separation,
and when she was left poor by the death of her impoverished father, she
had become the wife of that bygone Jersey lover of hers, who wanted a
tender nurse and mother for the infant left him by his first wife
recently deceased; how he had died a few years later, leaving her with
the boy, whom she had brought up at St. Heliers and in Paris, educating
him as well as she could with her limited means, till he became the
French master at a school in Sandbourne; and how, a year ago, she and
her son had got to know Mrs. Pierston and her daughter on their visit
to the island, 'to ascertain,' she added, more deliberately, 'not
entirely for sentimental reasons, what had become of the man with whom
I eloped in the first flush of my young womanhood, and only missed
marrying by my own will.'
'Well, that was how the acquaintance between the children began, and
their passionate attachment to each other.' She detailed how Avice had
induced her mother to let her take lessons in French of young Leverre,
rendering their meetings easy. Marcia had never thought of hindering
their intimacy, for in her recent years of affliction she had acquired
a new interest in the name she had refused to take in her purse-proud
young womanhood; and it was not until she knew how determined Mrs.
Pierston was to make her daughter Jocelyn's wife that she had objected
to her son's acquaintance with Avice. But it was too late to hinder
what had been begun. He had lately been ill, and she had been
frightened by his not returning home the night before. The note she
had received from him that day had only informed her that Avice and
himself had gone to be married immediately--whither she did not know.
'What do you mean to do?' she asked.
'I do nothing: there is nothing to be done. . . . It is how I served
her grandmother--one of Time's revenges.'
'Served her so for me.'
'Yes. Now she me for your son.'
Marcia paused a long while thinking that over, till arousing herself
she resumed: 'But can't we inquire which way they went out of the
island, or gather some particulars about them?'
'Aye--yes. We will.'
And Pierston found himself as in a dream walking beside Marcia along
the road in their common quest. He discovered that almost every one of
the neighbouring inhabitants knew more about the lovers than he did
At the corner some men were engaged in conversation on the occurrence.
It was allusive only, but knowing the dialect, Pierston and Marcia
gathered its import easily. As soon as it had got light that morning
one of the boats was discovered missing from the creek below, and when
the flight of the lovers was made known it was inferred that they were
Unconsciously Pierston turned in the direction of the creek, without
regarding whether Marcia followed him, and though it was darker than
when Avice and Leverre had descended in the morning he pursued his way
down the incline till he reached the water-side.
'Is that you, Jocelyn?'
The inquiry came from Marcia. She was behind him, about half-way down.
'Yes,' he said, noticing that it was the first time she had called him
by his Christian name.
'I can't see where you are, and I am afraid to follow.'
Afraid to follow. How strangely that altered his conception of her.
Till this moment she had stood in his mind as the imperious, invincible
Marcia of old. There was a strange pathos in this revelation. He went
back and felt for her hand. 'I'll lead you down,' he said. And he did
They looked out upon the sea, and the lightship shining as if it had
quite forgotten all about the fugitives. 'I am so uneasy,' said
Marcia. 'Do you think they got safely to land?'
'Yes,' replied some one other than Jocelyn. It was a boatman smoking
in the shadow of the boathouse. He informed her that they were picked
up by the lightship men, and afterwards, at their request, taken across
to the opposite shore, where they landed, proceeding thence on foot to
the nearest railway station and entering the train for London. This
intelligence had reached the island about an hour before.
'They'll be married to-morrow morning!' said Marcia.
'So much the better. Don't regret it, Marcia. He shall not lose by
it. I have no relation in the world except some twentieth cousins in
the isle, of whom her father was one, and I'll take steps at once to
make her a good match for him. As for me. . . I have lived a day too
3. VIII. 'ALAS FOR THIS GREY SHADOW, ONCE A MAN!'
In the month of November which followed Pierston was lying dangerously
ill of a fever at his house in London.
The funeral of the second Avice had happened to be on one of those
drenching afternoons of the autumn, when the raw rain flies level as
the missiles of the ancient inhabitants across the beaked promontory
which has formed the scene of this narrative, scarcely alighting except
against the upright sides of things sturdy enough to stand erect. One
person only followed the corpse into the church as chief mourner,
Jocelyn Pierston--fickle lover in the brief, faithful friend in the
long run. No means had been found of communicating with Avice before
the interment, though the death had been advertised in the local and
other papers in the hope that it might catch her eye.
So, when the pathetic procession came out of the church and moved round
into the graveyard, a hired vehicle from Budmouth was seen coming at
great speed along the open road from Top-o'-Hill. It stopped at the
churchyard gate, and a young man and woman alighted and entered, the
vehicle waiting. They glided along the path and reached Pierston's
side just as the body was deposited by the grave.
He did not turn his head. He knew it was Avice, with Henri Leverre--by
this time, he supposed, her husband. Her remorseful grief, though
silent, seemed to impregnate the atmosphere with its heaviness.
Perceiving that they had not expected him to be there Pierston edged
back; and when the service was over he kept still further aloof, an act
of considerateness which she seemed to appreciate.
Thus, by his own contrivance, neither Avice nor the young man held
communication with Jocelyn by word or by sign. After the burial they
returned as they had come.
It was supposed that his exposure that day in the bleakest churchyard
in Wessex, telling upon a distracted mental and bodily condition, had
thrown Pierston into the chill and fever which held him swaying for
weeks between life and death shortly after his return to town. When he
had passed the crisis, and began to know again that there was such a
state as mental equilibrium and physical calm, he heard a whispered
conversation going on around him, and the touch of footsteps on the
carpet. The light in the chamber was so subdued that nothing around
him could be seen with any distinctness. Two living figures were
present, a nurse moving about softly, and a visitor. He discerned that
the latter was feminine, and for the time this was all.
He was recalled to his surroundings by a voice murmuring the inquiry:
'Does the light try your eyes?'
The tones seemed familiar: they were spoken by the woman who was
visiting him. He recollected them to be Marcia's, and everything that
had happened before he fell ill came back to his mind.
'Are you helping to nurse me, Marcia?' he asked.
'Yes. I have come up to stay here till you are better, as you seem to
have no other woman friend who cares whether you are dead or alive. I
am living quite near. I am glad you have got round the corner. We
have been very anxious.'
'How good you are!. . . And--have you heard of the others?'
'They are married. They have been here to see you, and are very sorry.
She sat by you, but you did not know her. She was broken down when she
discovered her mother's death, which had never once occurred to her as
being imminent. They have gone away again. I thought it best she
should leave, now that you are out of danger. Now you must be quiet
till I come and talk again.'
Pierston was conscious of a singular change in himself, which had been
revealed by this slight discourse. He was no longer the same man that
he had hitherto been. The malignant fever, or his experiences, or
both, had taken away something from him, and put something else in its
During the next days, with further intellectual expansion, he became
clearly aware of what this was. The artistic sense had left him, and
he could no longer attach a definite sentiment to images of beauty
recalled from the past. His appreciativeness was capable of exercising
itself only on utilitarian matters, and recollection of Avice's good
qualities alone had any effect on his mind; of her appearance none at
At first he was appalled; and then he said, 'Thank God!'
Marcia, who, with something of her old absolutism, came to his house
continually to inquire and give orders, and to his room to see him
every afternoon, found out for herself in the course of his
convalescence this strange death of the sensuous side of Jocelyn's
nature. She had said that Avice was getting extraordinarily handsome,
and that she did not wonder her stepson lost his heart to her--an
inadvertent remark which she immediately regretted, in fear lest it
should agitate him. He merely answered, however, 'Yes; I suppose she
is handsome. She's more--a wise girl who will make a good housewife in
time. . . . I wish you were not handsome, Marcia.'
'I don't quite know why. Well--it seems a stupid quality to me. I
can't understand what it is good for any more.'
'O--I as a woman think there's good in it.'
'Is there? Then I have lost all conception of it. I don't know what
has happened to me. I only know I don't regret it. Robinson Crusoe
lost a day in his illness: I have lost a faculty, for which loss
Heaven be praised!'
There was something pathetic in this announcement, and Marcia sighed as
she said, 'Perhaps when you get strong it will come back to you.'
Pierston shook his head. It then occurred to him that never since the
reappearance of Marcia had he seen her in full daylight, or without a
bonnet and thick veil, which she always retained on these frequent
visits, and that he had been unconsciously regarding her as the Marcia
of their early time, a fancy which the small change in her voice well
sustained. The stately figure, the good colour, the classical profile,
the rather large handsome nose and somewhat prominent, regular teeth,
the full dark eye, formed still the Marcia of his imagination; the
queenly creature who had infatuated him when the first Avice was
despised and her successors unknown. It was this old idea which, in
his revolt from beauty, had led to his regret at her assumed
handsomeness. He began wondering now how much remained of that
presentation after forty years.
'Why don't you ever let me see you, Marcia?' he asked.
'O, I don't know. You mean without my bonnet? You have never asked me
to, and I am obliged to wrap up my face with this wool veil because I
suffer so from aches in these cold winter winds, though a thick veil is
awkward for any one whose sight is not so good as it was.'
The impregnable Marcia's sight not so good as it was, and her face in
the aching stage of life: these simple things came as sermons to
'But certainly I will gratify your curiosity,' she resumed good-
naturedly. 'It is really a compliment that you should still take that
sort of interest in me.'
She had moved round from the dark side of the room to the lamp--for the
daylight had gone--and she now suddenly took off the bonnet, veil and
all. She stood revealed to his eyes as remarkably good-looking,
considering the lapse of years.
'I am--vexed!' he said, turning his head aside impatiently. 'You are
fair and five-and-thirty--not a day more. You still suggest beauty.
YOU won't do as a chastisement, Marcia!'
'Ah, but I may! To think that you know woman no better after all this
'To be so easily deceived. Think: it is lamplight; and your sight is
weak at present; and. . . Well, I have no reason for being anything
but candid now, God knows! So I will tell you. . . . My husband was
younger than myself; and he had an absurd wish to make people think he
had married a young and fresh-looking woman. To fall in with his
vanity I tried to look it. We were often in Paris, and I became as
skilled in beautifying artifices as any passee wife of the Faubourg St.
Germain. Since his death I have kept up the practice, partly because
the vice is almost ineradicable, and partly because I found that it
helped me with men in bringing up his boy on small means. At this
moment I am frightfully made up. But I can cure that. I'll come in
to-morrow morning, if it is bright, just as I really am; you'll find
that Time has not disappointed you. Remember I am as old as yourself;
and I look it.'
The morrow came, and with it Marcia, quite early, as she had promised.
It happened to be sunny, and shutting the bedroom door she went round
to the window, where she uncovered immediately, in his full view, and
said, 'See if I am satisfactory now--to you who think beauty vain. The
rest of me--and it is a good deal--lies on my dressing-table at home.
I shall never put it on again--never!'
But she was a woman; and her lips quivered, and there was a tear in her
eye, as she exposed the ruthless treatment to which she had subjected
herself. The cruel morning rays--as with Jocelyn under Avice's
scrutiny--showed in their full bareness, unenriched by addition,
undisguised by the arts of colour and shade, the thin remains of what
had once been Marcia's majestic bloom. She stood the image and
superscription of Age--an old woman, pale and shrivelled, her forehead
ploughed, her cheek hollow, her hair white as snow. To this the face
he once kissed had been brought by the raspings, chisellings,
scourgings, bakings, freezings of forty invidious years--by the
thinkings of more than half a lifetime.
'I am sorry if I shock you,' she went on huskily but firmly, as he did
not speak. 'But the moth frets the garment somewhat in such an
'Yes--yes! . . . Marcia, you are a brave woman. You have the courage
of the great women of history. I can no longer love; but I admire you
from my soul!'
'Don't say I am great. Say I have begun to be passably honest. It is
more than enough.'
'Well--I'll say nothing then, more than how wonderful it is that a
woman should have been able to put back the clock of Time thirty
'It shames me now, Jocelyn. I shall never do it any more!'
* * *
As soon as he was strong enough he got her to take him round to his
studio in a carriage. The place had been kept aired, but the shutters
were shut, and they opened them themselves. He looked round upon the
familiar objects--some complete and matured, the main of them
seedlings, grafts, and scions of beauty, waiting for a mind to grow to
'No--I don't like them!' he said, turning away. 'They are as ugliness
to me! I don't feel a single touch of kin with or interest in any one
of them whatever.'
'Jocelyn--this is sad.'
'No--not at all.' He went again towards the door. 'Now let me look
round.' He looked back, Marcia remaining silent. 'The Aphrodites--how
I insulted her fair form by those failures!--the Freyjas, the Nymphs
and Fauns, Eves, Avices, and other innumerable Well-Beloveds--I want to
see them never any more! . . . "Instead of sweet smell there shall be
stink, and there shall be burning instead of beauty," said the
And they came away. On another afternoon they went to the National
Gallery, to test his taste in paintings, which had formerly been good.
As she had expected, it was just the same with him there. He saw no
more to move him, he declared, in the time-defying presentations of
Perugino, Titian, Sebastiano, and other statuesque creators than in the
work of the pavement artist they had passed on their way.
'It is strange!' said she.
'I don't regret it. That fever has killed a faculty which has, after
all, brought me my greatest sorrows, if a few little pleasures. Let us
He was now so well advanced in convalescence that it was deemed a most
desirable thing to take him down into his native air. Marcia agreed to
accompany him. 'I don't see why I shouldn't,' said she. 'An old
friendless woman like me, and you an old friendless man.'
'Yes. Thank Heaven I am old at last. The curse is removed.'
It may be shortly stated here that after his departure for the isle
Pierston never again saw his studio or its contents. He had been down
there but a brief while when, finding his sense of beauty in art and
nature absolutely extinct, he directed his agent in town to disperse
the whole collection; which was done. His lease of the building was
sold, and in the course of time another sculptor won admiration there
from those who knew not Joseph. The next year his name figured on the
retired list of Academicians.
* * *
As time went on he grew as well as one of his age could expect to be
after such a blasting illness, but remained on the isle, in the only
house he now possessed, a comparatively small one at the top of the
Street of Wells. A growing sense of friendship which it would be
foolish to interrupt led him to take a somewhat similar house for
Marcia quite near, and remove her furniture thither from Sandbourne.
Whenever the afternoon was fine he would call for her and they would
take a stroll together towards the Beal, or the ancient Castle, seldom
going the whole way, his sciatica and her rheumatism effectually
preventing them, except in the driest atmospheres. He had now changed
his style of dress entirely, appearing always in a homely suit of local
make, and of the fashion of thirty years before, the achievement of a
tailoress at East Quarriers. He also let his iron-grey beard grow as
it would, and what little hair he had left from the baldness which had
followed the fever. And thus, numbering in years but two-and-sixty, he
might have passed for seventy-five.
Though their early adventure as lovers had happened so long ago, its
history had become known in the isle with mysterious rapidity and
fulness of detail. The gossip to which its bearing on their present
friendship gave rise was the subject of their conversation on one of
these walks along the cliffs.
'It is extraordinary what an interest our neighbours take in our
affairs,' he observed. 'They say "those old folk ought to marry;
better late than never." That's how people are--wanting to round off
other people's histories in the best machine-made conventional manner.'
'Yes. They keep on about it to me, too, indirectly.'
'Do they! I believe a deputation will wait upon us some morning,
requesting in the interests of matchmaking that we will please to get
married as soon as possible. . . . How near we were to doing it forty
years ago, only you were so independent! I thought you would have come
back and was much surprised that you didn't.'
'My independent ideas were not blameworthy in me, as an islander,
though as a kimberlin young lady perhaps they would have been. There
was simply no reason from an islander's point of view why I should come
back, since no result threatened from our union; and I didn't. My
father kept that view before me, and I bowed to his judgment.'
'And so the island ruled our destinies, though we were not on it. Yes-
-we are in hands not our own. . . . Did you ever tell your husband?'
'Did he ever hear anything?'
'Not that I am aware.'
Calling upon her one day, he found her in a state of great discomfort.
In certain gusty winds the chimneys of the little house she had taken
here smoked intolerably, and one of these winds was blowing then. Her
drawing-room fire could not be kept burning, and rather than let a
woman who suffered from rheumatism shiver fireless he asked her to come
round and lunch with him as she had often done before. As they went he
thought, not for the first time, how needless it was that she should be
put to this inconvenience by their occupying two houses, when one would
better suit their now constant companionship, and disembarrass her of
the objectionable chimneys. Moreover, by marrying Marcia, and
establishing a parental relation with the young people, the rather
delicate business of his making them a regular allowance would become a
And so the zealous wishes of the neighbours to give a geometrical shape
to their story were fulfilled almost in spite of the chief parties
themselves. When he put the question to her distinctly, Marcia
admitted that she had always regretted the imperious decision of her
youth; and she made no ado about accepting him.
'I have no love to give, you know, Marcia,' he said. 'But such
friendship as I am capable of is yours till the end.'
'It is nearly the same with me--perhaps not quite. But, like the other
people, I have somehow felt, and you will understand why, that I ought
to be your wife before I die.'
It chanced that a day or two before the ceremony, which was fixed to
take place very shortly after the foregoing conversation, Marcia's
rheumatism suddenly became acute. The attack promised, however, to be
only temporary, owing to some accidental exposure of herself in making
preparations for removal, and as they thought it undesirable to
postpone their union for such a reason, Marcia, after being well
wrapped up, was wheeled into the church in a chair.
* * *
A month thereafter, when they were sitting at breakfast one morning,
Marcia exclaimed 'Well--good heavens!' while reading a letter she had
just received from Avice, who was living with her husband in a house
Pierston had bought for them at Sandbourne.
Jocelyn looked up.
'Why--Avice says she wants to be separated from Henri! Did you ever
hear of such a thing! She's coming here about it to-day.'
'Separated? What does the child mean!' Pierston read the letter.
'Ridiculous nonsense!' he continued. 'She doesn't know what she wants.
I say she sha'n't be separated! Tell her so, and there's an end of it.
Why--how long have they been married? Not twelve months. What will
she say when they have been married twenty years!'
Marcia remained reflecting. 'I think that remorseful feeling she
unluckily has at times, of having disobeyed her mother, and caused her
death, makes her irritable,' she murmured. 'Poor child!'
Lunch-time had hardly come when Avice arrived, looking very tearful and
excited. Marcia took her into an inner room, had a conversation with
her, and they came out together.
'O it's nothing,' said Marcia. 'I tell her she must go back directly
she has had some luncheon.'
'Ah, that's all very well!' sobbed Avice. 'B-b-but if you had been m-
married so long as I have, y-you wouldn't say go back like that!'
'What is it all about?' inquired Pierston.
'He said that if he were to die I--I--should be looking out for
somebody with fair hair and grey eyes, just--just to spite him in his
grave, because he's dark, and he's quite sure I don't like dark people!
And then he said--But I won't be so treacherous as to tell any more
about him! I wish--'
'Avice, your mother did this very thing. And she went back to her
husband. Now you are to do the same. Let me see; there is a train--'
'She must have something to eat first. Sit down, dear.'
The question was settled by the arrival of Henri himself at the end of
luncheon, with a very anxious and pale face. Pierston went off to a
business meeting, and left the young couple to adjust their differences
in their own way.
His business was, among kindred undertakings which followed the
extinction of the Well-Beloved and other ideals, to advance a scheme
for the closing of the old natural fountains in the Street of Wells,
because of their possible contamination, and supplying the townlet with
water from pipes, a scheme that was carried out at his expense, as is
well known. He was also engaged in acquiring some old moss-grown,
mullioned Elizabethan cottages, for the purpose of pulling them down
because they were damp; which he afterwards did, and built new ones
with hollow walls, and full of ventilators.
At present he is sometimes mentioned as 'the late Mr. Pierston' by
gourd-like young art-critics and journalists; and his productions are
alluded to as those of a man not without genius, whose powers were
insufficiently recognized in his lifetime.