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The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy

Part 4 out of 9

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have not heard the door close.'

Joey was summoned, and after a leisurely ascent, interspersed by
various gymnastic performances over the handrail here and there,
appeared again.

'He's there jest the same: he don't seem to be in no hurry at all,'
said Joey.

'What is he doing?' inquired Picotee solicitously.

'O, only looking at his watch sometimes, and humming tunes, and
playing rat-a-tat-tat upon the table. He says he don't mind waiting
a bit.'

'You must have made a mistake in the message,' said Ethelberta,
within.

'Well, no. I am correct as a jineral thing. I jest said perhaps
you would be engaged all the evening, and perhaps you wouldn't.'

When Joey had again retired, and they had waited another ten
minutes, Ethelberta said, 'Picotee, do you go down and speak a few
words to him. I am determined he shall not see me. You know him a
little; you remember when he came to the Lodge?'

'What must I say to him?'

Ethelberta paused before replying. 'Try to find out if--if he is
much grieved at not seeing me, and say--give him to understand that
I will forgive him, Picotee.'

'Very well.'

'And Picotee--'

'Yes.'

'If he says he MUST see me--I think I will get up. But only if he
says MUST: you remember that.'

Picotee departed on her errand. She paused on the staircase
trembling, and thinking between the thrills how very far would have
been the conduct of her poor slighted self from proud recalcitration
had Mr. Julian's gentle request been addressed to her instead of to
Ethelberta; and she went some way in the painful discovery of how
much more tantalizing it was to watch an envied situation that was
held by another than to be out of sight of it altogether. Here was
Christopher waiting to bestow love, and Ethelberta not going down to
receive it: a commodity unequalled in value by any other in the
whole wide world was being wantonly wasted within that very house.
If she could only have stood to-night as the beloved Ethelberta, and
not as the despised Picotee, how different would be this going down!
Thus she went along, red and pale moving in her cheeks as in the
Northern Lights at their strongest time.

Meanwhile Christopher had sat waiting minute by minute till the
evening shades grew browner, and the fire sank low. Joey, finding
himself not particularly wanted upon the premises after the second
inquiry, had slipped out to witness a nigger performance round the
corner, and Julian began to think himself forgotten by all the
household. The perception gradually cooled his emotions and enabled
him to hold his hat quite steadily.

When Picotee gently thrust open the door she was surprised to find
the room in darkness, the fire gone completely out, and the form of
Christopher only visible by a faint patch of light, which, coming
from a lamp on the opposite side of the way and falling upon the
mirror, was thrown as a pale nebulosity upon his shoulder. Picotee
was too flurried at sight of the familiar outline to know what to
do, and, instead of going or calling for a light, she mechanically
advanced into the room. Christopher did not turn or move in any
way, and then she perceived that he had begun to doze in his chair.

Instantly, with the precipitancy of the timorous, she said, 'Mr.
Julian!' and touched him on the shoulder--murmuring then, 'O, I beg
pardon, I--I will get a light.'

Christopher's consciousness returned, and his first act, before
rising, was to exclaim, in a confused manner, 'Ah--you have come--
thank you, Berta!' then impulsively to seize her hand, as it hung
beside his head, and kiss it passionately. He stood up, still
holding her fingers.

Picotee gasped out something, but was completely deprived of
articulate utterance, and in another moment being unable to control
herself at this sort of first meeting with the man she had gone
through fire and water to be near, and more particularly by the
overpowering kiss upon her hand, burst into hysterical sobbing.
Julian, in his inability to imagine so much emotion--or at least the
exhibition of it--in Ethelberta, gently drew Picotee further forward
by the hand he held, and utilized the solitary spot of light from
the mirror by making it fall upon her face. Recognizing the
childish features, he at once, with an exclamation, dropped her hand
and started back. Being in point of fact a complete bundle of
nerves and nothing else, his thin figure shook like a harp-string in
painful excitement at a contretemps which would scarcely have
quickened the pulse of an ordinary man.

Poor Picotee, feeling herself in the wind of a civil d----, started
back also, sobbing more than ever. It was a little too much that
the first result of his discovery of the mistake should be absolute
repulse. She leant against the mantelpiece, when Julian, much
bewildered at her superfluity of emotion, assisted her to a seat in
sheer humanity. But Christopher was by no means pleased when he
again thought round the circle of circumstances.

'How could you allow such an absurd thing to happen?' he said, in a
stern, though trembling voice. 'You knew I might mistake. I had no
idea you were in the house: I thought you were miles away, at
Sandbourne or somewhere! But I see: it is just done for a joke,
ha-ha!'

This made Picotee rather worse still. 'O-O-O-O!' she replied, in
the tone of pouring from a bottle. 'What shall I do-o-o-o! It is--
not done for a--joke at all-l-l-l!'

'Not done for a joke? Then never mind--don't cry, Picotee. What
was it done for, I wonder?'

Picotee, mistaking the purport of his inquiry, imagined him to refer
to her arrival in the house, quite forgetting, in her guilty sense
of having come on his account, that he would have no right or
thought of asking questions about a natural visit to a sister, and
she said: 'When you--went away from--Sandbourne, I--I--I didn't
know what to do, and then I ran away, and came here, and then
Ethelberta--was angry with me; but she says I may stay; but she
doesn't know that I know you, and how we used to meet along the road
every morning--and I am afraid to tell her--O, what shall I do!'

'Never mind it,' said Christopher, a sense of the true state of her
case dawning upon him with unpleasant distinctness, and bringing
some irritation at his awkward position; though it was impossible to
be long angry with a girl who had not reasoning foresight enough to
perceive that doubtful pleasure and certain pain must be the result
of any meeting whilst hearts were at cross purposes in this way.

'Where is your sister?' he asked.

'She wouldn't come down, unless she MUST,' said Picotee. 'You have
vexed her, and she has a headache besides that, and I came instead.'

'So that I mightn't be wasted altogether. Well, it's a strange
business between the three of us. I have heard of one-sided love,
and reciprocal love, and all sorts, but this is my first experience
of a concatenated affection. You follow me, I follow Ethelberta,
and she follows--Heaven knows who!'

'Mr. Ladywell!' said the mortified Picotee.

'Good God, if I didn't think so!' said Christopher, feeling to the
soles of his feet like a man in a legitimate drama.

'No, no, no!' said the frightened girl hastily. 'I am not sure it
is Mr. Ladywell. That's altogether a mistake of mine!'

'Ah, yes, you want to screen her,' said Christopher, with a
withering smile at the spot of light. 'Very sisterly, doubtless;
but none of that will do for me. I am too old a bird by far--by
very far! Now are you sure she does not love Ladywell?'

'Yes!'

'Well, perhaps I blame her wrongly. She may have some little good
faith--a woman has, here and there. How do you know she does not
love Ladywell?'

'Because she would prefer Mr. Neigh to him, any day.'

'Ha!'

'No, no--you mistake, sir--she doesn't love either at all--
Ethelberta doesn't. I meant that she cannot love Mr. Ladywell
because he stands lower in her opinion than Mr. Neigh, and him she
certainly does not care for. She only loves you. If you only knew
how true she is you wouldn't be so suspicious about her, and I wish
I had not come here--yes, I do!'

'I cannot tell what to think of it. Perhaps I don't know much of
this world after all, or what girls will do. But you don't excuse
her to me, Picotee.'

Before this time Picotee had been simulating haste in getting a
light; but in her dread of appearing visibly to Christopher's eyes,
and showing him the precise condition of her tear-stained face, she
put it off moment after moment, and stirred the fire, in hope that
the faint illumination thus produced would be sufficient to save her
from the charge of stupid conduct as entertainer.

Fluttering about on the horns of this dilemma, she was greatly
relieved when Christopher, who read her difficulty, and the general
painfulness of the situation, said that since Ethelberta was really
suffering from a headache he would not wish to disturb her till to-
morrow, and went off downstairs and into the street without further
ceremony.

Meanwhile other things had happened upstairs. No sooner had Picotee
left her sister's room, than Ethelberta thought it would after all
have been much better if she had gone down herself to speak to this
admirably persistent lover. Was she not drifting somewhat into the
character of coquette, even if her ground of offence--a word of
Christopher's about somebody else's mean parentage, which was spoken
in utter forgetfulness of her own position, but had wounded her to
the quick nevertheless--was to some extent a tenable one? She knew
what facilities in suffering Christopher always showed; how a touch
to other people was a blow to him, a blow to them his deep wound,
although he took such pains to look stolid and unconcerned under
those inflictions, and tried to smile as if he had no feelings
whatever. It would be more generous to go down to him, and be kind.
She jumped up with that alertness which comes so spontaneously at
those sweet bright times when desire and duty run hand in hand.

She hastily set her hair and dress in order--not such matchless
order as she could have wished them to be in, but time was precious-
-and descended the stairs. When on the point of pushing open the
drawing-room door, which wanted about an inch of being closed, she
was astounded to discover that the room was in total darkness, and
still more to hear Picotee sobbing inside. To retreat again was the
only action she was capable of at that moment: the clash between
this picture and the anticipated scene of Picotee and Christopher
sitting in frigid propriety at opposite sides of a well-lighted room
was too great. She flitted upstairs again with the least possible
rustle, and flung herself down on the couch as before, panting with
excitement at the new knowledge that had come to her.

There was only one possible construction to be put upon this in
Ethelberta's rapid mind, and that approximated to the true one. She
had known for some time that Picotee once had a lover, or something
akin to it, and that he had disappointed her in a way which had
never been told. No stranger, save in the capacity of the one
beloved, could wound a woman sufficiently to make her weep, and it
followed that Christopher was the man of Picotee's choice. As
Ethelberta recalled the conversations, conclusion after conclusion
came like pulsations in an aching head. 'O, how did it happen, and
who is to blame?' she exclaimed. 'I cannot doubt his faith, and I
cannot doubt hers; and yet how can I keep doubting them both?'

It was characteristic of Ethelberta's jealous motherly guard over
her young sisters that, amid these contending inquiries, her
foremost feeling was less one of hope for her own love than of
championship for Picotee's.

23. ETHELBERTA'S HOUSE (continued)

Picotee was heard on the stairs: Ethelberta covered her face.

'Is he waiting?' she said faintly, on finding that Picotee did not
begin to speak.

'No; he is gone,' said Picotee.

'Ah, why is that?' came quickly from under the handkerchief. 'He
has forgotten me--that's what it is!'

'O no, he has not!' said Picotee, just as bitterly.

Ethelberta had far too much heroism to let much in this strain
escape her, though her sister was prepared to go any lengths in the
same. 'I suppose,' continued Ethelberta, in the quiet way of one
who had only a headache the matter with her, 'that he remembered you
after the meeting at Anglebury?'

'Yes, he remembered me.'

'Did you tell me you had seen him before that time?'

'I had seen him at Sandbourne. I don't think I told you.'

'At whose house did you meet him?'

'At nobody's. I only saw him sometimes,' replied Picotee, in great
distress.

Ethelberta, though of all women most miserable, was brimming with
compassion for the throbbing girl so nearly related to her, in whom
she continually saw her own weak points without the counterpoise of
her strong ones. But it was necessary to repress herself awhile:
the intended ways of her life were blocked and broken up by this jar
of interests, and she wanted time to ponder new plans. 'Picotee, I
would rather be alone now, if you don't mind,' she said. 'You need
not leave me any light; it makes my eyes ache, I think.'

Picotee left the room. But Ethelberta had not long been alone and
in darkness when somebody gently opened the door, and entered
without a candle.

'Berta,' said the soft voice of Picotee again, 'may I come in?'

'O yes,' said Ethelberta. 'Has everything gone right with the house
this evening?'

'Yes; and Gwendoline went out just now to buy a few things, and she
is going to call round upon father when he has got his dinner
cleared away.'

'I hope she will not stay and talk to the other servants. Some day
she will let drop something or other before father can stop her.'

'O Berta!' said Picotee, close beside her. She was kneeling in
front of the couch, and now flinging her arm across Ethelberta's
shoulder and shaking violently, she pressed her forehead against her
sister's temple, and breathed out upon her cheek:

'I came in again to tell you something which I ought to have told
you just now, and I have come to say it at once because I am afraid
I shan't be able to to-morrow. Mr. Julian was the young man I spoke
to you of a long time ago, and I should have told you all about him,
but you said he was your young man too, and--and I didn't know what
to do then, because I thought it was wrong in me to love your young
man; and Berta, he didn't mean me to love him at all, but I did it
myself, though I did not want to do it, either; it would come to me!
And I didn't know he belonged to you when I began it, or I would not
have let him meet me at all; no I wouldn't!'

'Meet you? You don't mean to say he used to meet you?' whispered
Ethelberta.

'Yes,' said Picotee; 'but he could not help it. We used to meet on
the road, and there was no other road unless I had gone ever so far
round. But it is worse than that, Berta! That was why I couldn't
bide in Sandbourne, and--and ran away to you up here; it was not
because I wanted to see you, Berta, but because I--I wanted--'

'Yes, yes, I know,' said Ethelberta hurriedly.

'And then when I went downstairs he mistook me for you for a moment,
and that caused--a confusion!'

'O, well, it does not much matter,' said Ethelberta, kissing Picotee
soothingly. 'You ought not of course to have come to London in such
a manner; but, since you have come, we will make the best of it.
Perhaps it may end happily for you and for him. Who knows?'

'Then don't you want him, Berta?'

'O no; not at all!'

'What--and don't you REALLY want him, Berta?' repeated Picotee,
starting up.

'I would much rather he paid his addresses to you. He is not the
sort of man I should wish to--think it best to marry, even if I were
to marry, which I have no intention of doing at present. He calls
to see me because we are old friends, but his calls do not mean
anything more than that he takes an interest in me. It is not at
all likely that I shall see him again! and I certainly never shall
see him unless you are present.'

'That will be very nice.'

'Yes. And you will be always distant towards him, and go to leave
the room when he comes, when I will call you back; but suppose we
continue this to-morrow? I can tell you better then what to do.'

When Picotee had left her the second time, Ethelberta turned over
upon her breast and shook in convulsive sobs which had little
relationship with tears. This abandonment ended as suddenly as it
had begun--not lasting more than a minute and a half altogether--and
she got up in an unconsidered and unusual impulse to seek relief
from the stinging sarcasm of this event--the unhappy love of
Picotee--by mentioning something of it to another member of the
family, her eldest sister Gwendoline, who was a woman full of
sympathy.

Ethelberta descended to the kitchen, it being now about ten o'clock.
The room was empty, Gwendoline not having yet returned, and
Cornelia, being busy about her own affairs upstairs. The French
family had gone to the theatre, and the house on that account was
very quiet to-night. Ethelberta sat down in the dismal place
without turning up the gas, and in a few minutes admitted
Gwendoline.

The round-faced country cook floundered in, untying her bonnet as
she came, laying it down on a chair, and talking at the same time.
'Such a place as this London is, to be sure!' she exclaimed, turning
on the gas till it whistled. 'I wish I was down in Wessex again.
Lord-a-mercy, Berta, I didn't see it was you! I thought it was
Cornelia. As I was saying, I thought that, after biding in this
underground cellar all the week, making up messes for them French
folk, and never pleasing 'em, and never shall, because I don't
understand that line, I thought I would go out and see father, you
know.'

'Is he very well?' said Ethelberta.

'Yes; and he is going to call round when he has time. Well, as I
was a-coming home-along I thought, "Please the Lord I'll have some
chippols for supper just for a plain trate," and I went round to the
late greengrocer's for 'em; and do you know they sweared me down
that they hadn't got such things as chippols in the shop, and had
never heard of 'em in their lives. At last I said, "Why, how can
you tell me such a brazen story?--here they be, heaps of 'em!" It
made me so vexed that I came away there and then, and wouldn't have
one--no, not at a gift.'

'They call them young onions here,' said Ethelberta quietly; 'you
must always remember that. But, Gwendoline, I wanted--'

Ethelberta felt sick at heart, and stopped. She had come down on
the wings of an impulse to unfold her trouble about Picotee to her
hard-headed and much older sister, less for advice than to get some
heart-ease by interchange of words; but alas, she could proceed no
further. The wretched homeliness of Gwendoline's mind seemed at
this particular juncture to be absolutely intolerable, and
Ethelberta was suddenly convinced that to involve Gwendoline in any
such discussion would simply be increasing her own burden, and
adding worse confusion to her sister's already confused existence.

'What were you going to say?' said the honest and unsuspecting
Gwendoline.

'I will put it off until to-morrow,' Ethelberta murmured gloomily;
'I have a bad headache, and I am afraid I cannot stay with you after
all.'

As she ascended the stairs, Ethelberta ached with an added pain not
much less than the primary one which had brought her down. It was
that old sense of disloyalty to her class and kin by feeling as she
felt now which caused the pain, and there was no escaping it.
Gwendoline would have gone to the ends of the earth for her: she
could not confide a thought to Gwendoline!

'If she only knew of that unworthy feeling of mine, how she would
grieve,' said Ethelberta miserably.

She next went up to the servants' bedrooms, and to where Cornelia
slept. On Ethelberta's entrance Cornelia looked up from a perfect
wonder of a bonnet, which she held in her hands. At sight of
Ethelberta the look of keen interest in her work changed to one of
gaiety.

'I am so glad--I was just coming down,' Cornelia said in a whisper;
whenever they spoke as relations in this house it was in whispers.
'Now, how do you think this bonnet will do? May I come down, and
see how I look in your big glass?' She clapped the bonnet upon her
head. 'Won't it do beautiful for Sunday afternoon?'

'It looks very attractive, as far as I can see by this light,' said
Ethelberta. 'But is it not rather too brilliant in colour--blue and
red together, like that? Remember, as I often tell you, people in
town never wear such bright contrasts as they do in the country.'

'O Berta!' said Cornelia, in a deprecating tone; 'don't object. If
there's one thing I do glory in it is a nice flare-up about my head
o' Sundays--of course if the family's not in mourning, I mean.'
But, seeing that Ethelberta did not smile, she turned the subject,
and added docilely: 'Did you come up for me to do anything? I will
put off finishing my bonnet if I am wanted.'

'I was going to talk to you about family matters, and Picotee,' said
Ethelberta. 'But, as you are busy, and I have a headache, I will
put it off till to-morrow.'

Cornelia seemed decidedly relieved, for family matters were far from
attractive at the best of times; and Ethelberta went down to the
next floor, and entered her mother's room.

After a short conversation Mrs. Chickerel said, 'You say you want to
ask me something?'

'Yes: but nothing of importance, mother. I was thinking about
Picotee, and what would be the best thing to do--'

'Ah, well you may, Berta. I am so uneasy about this life you have
led us into, and full of fear that your plans may break down; if
they do, whatever will become of us? I know you are doing your
best; but I cannot help thinking that the coming to London and
living with you was wild and rash, and not well weighed afore we set
about it. You should have counted the cost first, and not advised
it. If you break down, and we are all discovered living so queer
and unnatural, right in the heart of the aristocracy, we should be
the laughing-stock of the country: it would kill me, and ruin us
all--utterly ruin us!'

'O mother, I know all that so well!' exclaimed Ethelberta, tears of
anguish filling her eyes. 'Don't depress me more than I depress
myself by such fears, or you will bring about the very thing we
strive to avoid! My only chance is in keeping in good spirits, and
why don't you try to help me a little by taking a brighter view of
things?'

'I know I ought to, my dear girl, but I cannot. I do so wish that I
never let you tempt me and the children away from the Lodge. I
cannot think why I allowed myself to be so persuaded--cannot think!
You are not to blame--it is I. I am much older than you, and ought
to have known better than listen to such a scheme. This undertaking
seems too big--the bills frighten me. I have never been used to
such wild adventure, and I can't sleep at night for fear that your
tale-telling will go wrong, and we shall all be exposed and shamed.
A story-teller seems such an impossible castle-in-the-air sort of a
trade for getting a living by--I cannot think how ever you came to
dream of such an unheard-of thing.'

'But it is NOT a castle in the air, and it DOES get a living!' said
Ethelberta, her lip quivering.

'Well, yes, while it is just a new thing; but I am afraid it cannot
last--that's what I fear. People will find you out as one of a
family of servants, and their pride will be stung at having gone to
hear your romancing; then they will go no more, and what will happen
to us and the poor little ones?'

'We must all scatter again!'

'If we could get as we were once, I wouldn't mind that. But we
shall have lost our character as simple country folk who know
nothing, which are the only class of poor people that squires will
give any help to; and I much doubt if the girls would get places
after such a discovery--it would be so awkward and unheard-of.'

'Well, all I can say is,' replied Ethelberta, 'that I will do my
best. All that I have is theirs and yours as much as mine, and
these arrangements are simply on their account. I don't like my
relations being my servants; but if they did not work for me, they
would have to work for others, and my service is much lighter and
pleasanter than any other lady's would be for them, so the
advantages are worth the risk. If I stood alone, I would go and
hide my head in any hole, and care no more about the world and its
ways. I wish I was well out of it, and at the bottom of a quiet
grave--anybody might have the world for me then! But don't let me
disturb you longer; it is getting late.'

Ethelberta then wished her mother good-night, and went away. To
attempt confidences on such an ethereal matter as love was now
absurd; her hermit spirit was doomed to dwell apart as usual; and
she applied herself to deep thinking without aid and alone. Not
only was there Picotee's misery to disperse; it became imperative to
consider how best to overpass a more general catastrophe.

24. ETHELBERTA'S HOUSE (continued) - THE BRITISH MUSEUM

Mrs. Chickerel, in deploring the risks of their present speculative
mode of life, was far from imagining that signs of the foul future
so much dreaded were actually apparent to Ethelberta at the time the
lament was spoken. Hence the daughter's uncommon sensitiveness to
prophecy. It was as if a dead-reckoner poring over his chart should
predict breakers ahead to one who already beheld them.

That her story-telling would prove so attractive Ethelberta had not
ventured to expect for a moment; that having once proved attractive
there should be any falling-off until such time had elapsed as would
enable her to harvest some solid fruit was equally a surprise.
Future expectations are often based without hesitation upon one
happy accident, when the only similar condition remaining to
subsequent sets of circumstances is that the same person forms the
centre of them. Her situation was so peculiar, and so unlike that
of most public people, that there was hardly an argument explaining
this triumphant opening which could be used in forecasting the
close; unless, indeed, more strategy were employed in the conduct of
the campaign than Ethelberta seemed to show at present.

There was no denying that she commanded less attention than at
first: the audience had lessened, and, judging by appearances,
might soon be expected to be decidedly thin. In excessive lowness
of spirit, Ethelberta translated these signs with the bias that a
lingering echo of her mother's dismal words naturally induced,
reading them as conclusive evidence that her adventure had been
chimerical in its birth. Yet it was very far less conclusive than
she supposed. Public interest might without doubt have been renewed
after a due interval, some of the falling-off being only an accident
of the season. Her novelties had been hailed with pleasure, the
rather that their freshness tickled than that their intrinsic merit
was appreciated; and, like many inexperienced dispensers of a unique
charm, Ethelberta, by bestowing too liberally and too frequently,
was destroying the very element upon which its popularity depended.
Her entertainment had been good in its conception, and partly good
in its execution; yet her success had but little to do with that
goodness. Indeed, what might be called its badness in a histrionic
sense--that is, her look sometimes of being out of place, the sight
of a beautiful woman on a platform, revealing tender airs of
domesticity which showed her to belong by character to a quiet
drawing-room--had been primarily an attractive feature. But alas,
custom was staling this by improving her up to the mark of an utter
impersonator, thereby eradicating the pretty abashments of a poetess
out of her sphere; and more than one well-wisher who observed
Ethelberta from afar feared that it might some day come to be said
of her that she had

'Enfeoffed herself to popularity:
That, being daily swallowed by men's eyes,
They surfeited with honey, and began
To loathe the taste of sweetness, whereof a little
More than a little is by much too much.'

But this in its extremity was not quite yet.

We discover her one day, a little after this time, sitting before a
table strewed with accounts and bills from different tradesmen of
the neighbourhood, which she examined with a pale face, collecting
their totals on a blank sheet. Picotee came into the room, but
Ethelberta took no notice whatever of her. The younger sister, who
subsisted on scraps of notice and favour, like a dependent animal,
even if these were only an occasional glance of the eye, could not
help saying at last, 'Berta, how silent you are. I don't think you
know I am in the room.'

'I did not observe you,' said Ethelberta. 'I am very much engaged:
these bills have to be paid.'

'What, and cannot we pay them?' said Picotee, in vague alarm.

'O yes, I can pay them. The question is, how long shall I be able
to do it?'

'That is sad; and we are going on so nicely, too. It is not true
that you have really decided to leave off story-telling now the
people don't crowd to hear it as they did?'

'I think I shall leave off.'

'And begin again next year?'

'That is very doubtful.'

'I'll tell you what you might do,' said Picotee, her face kindling
with a sense of great originality. 'You might travel about to
country towns and tell your story splendidly.'

'A man in my position might perhaps do it with impunity; but I could
not without losing ground in other domains. A woman may drive to
Mayfair from her house in Exonbury Crescent, and speak from a
platform there, and be supposed to do it as an original way of
amusing herself; but when it comes to starring in the provinces she
establishes herself as a woman of a different breed and habit. I
wish I were a man! I would give up this house, advertise it to be
let furnished, and sally forth with confidence. But I am driven to
think of other ways to manage than that.'

Picotee fell into a conjectural look, but could not guess.

'The way of marriage,' said Ethelberta. 'Otherwise perhaps the
poetess may live to become what Dryden called himself when he got
old and poor--a rent-charge on Providence. . . . . Yes, I must try
that way,' she continued, with a sarcasm towards people out of
hearing. I must buy a "Peerage" for one thing, and a "Baronetage,"
and a "House of Commons," and a "Landed Gentry," and learn what
people are about me. 'I must go to Doctors' Commons and read up
wills of the parents of any likely gudgeons I may know. I must get
a Herald to invent an escutcheon of my family, and throw a
genealogical tree into the bargain in consideration of my taking a
few second-hand heirlooms of a pawnbroking friend of his. I must
get up sham ancestors, and find out some notorious name to start my
pedigree from. It does not matter what his character was; either
villain or martyr will do, provided that he lived five hundred years
ago. It would be considered far more creditable to make good my
descent from Satan in the age when he went to and fro on the earth
than from a ministering angel under Victoria.'

'But, Berta, you are not going to marry any stranger who may turn
up?' said Picotee, who had creeping sensations of dread when
Ethelberta talked like this.

'I had no such intention. But, having once put my hand to the
plough, how shall I turn back?'

'You might marry Mr. Ladywell,' said Picotee, who preferred to look
at things in the concrete.

'Yes, marry him villainously; in cold blood, without a moment to
prepare himself.'

'Ah, you won't!'

'I am not so sure about that. I have brought mother and the
children to town against her judgment and against my father's; they
gave way to my opinion as to one who from superior education has
larger knowledge of the world than they. I must prove my promises,
even if Heaven should fall upon me for it, or what a miserable
future will theirs be! We must not be poor in London. Poverty in
the country is a sadness, but poverty in town is a horror. There is
something not without grandeur in the thought of starvation on an
open mountain or in a wide wood, and your bones lying there to
bleach in the pure sun and rain; but a back garret in a rookery, and
the other starvers in the room insisting on keeping the window shut-
-anything to deliver us from that!'

'How gloomy you can be, Berta! It will never be so dreadful. Why,
I can take in plain sewing, and you can do translations, and mother
can knit stockings, and so on. How much longer will this house be
yours?'

'Two years. If I keep it longer than that I shall have to pay rent
at the rate of three hundred a year. The Petherwin estate provides
me with it till then, which will be the end of Lady Petherwin's
term.'

'I see it; and you ought to marry before the house is gone, if you
mean to marry high,' murmured Picotee, in an inadequate voice, as
one confronted by a world so tragic that any hope of her assisting
therein was out of the question.

It was not long after this exposition of the family affairs that
Christopher called upon them; but Picotee was not present, having
gone to think of superhuman work on the spur of Ethelberta's
awakening talk. There was something new in the way in which
Ethelberta received the announcement of his name; passion had to do
with it, so had circumspection; the latter most, for the first time
since their reunion.

'I am going to leave this part of England,' said Christopher, after
a few gentle preliminaries. 'I was one of the applicants for the
post of assistant-organist at Melchester Cathedral when it became
vacant, and I find I am likely to be chosen, through the interest of
one of my father's friends.'

'I congratulate you.'

'No, Ethelberta, it is not worth that. I did not originally mean to
follow this course at all; but events seemed to point to it in the
absence of a better.'

'I too am compelled to follow a course I did not originally mean to
take.' After saying no more for a few moments, she added, in a tone
of sudden openness, a richer tincture creeping up her cheek, 'I want
to put a question to you boldly--not exactly a question--a thought.
Have you considered whether the relations between us which have
lately prevailed are--are the best for you--and for me?'

'I know what you mean,' said Christopher, hastily anticipating all
that she might be going to say; 'and I am glad you have given me the
opportunity of speaking upon that subject. It has been very good
and considerate in you to allow me to share your society so
frequently as you have done since I have been in town, and to think
of you as an object to exist for and strive for. But I ought to
have remembered that, since you have nobody at your side to look
after your interests, it behoved me to be doubly careful. In short,
Ethelberta, I am not in a position to marry, nor can I discern when
I shall be, and I feel it would be an injustice to ask you to be
bound in any way to one lower and less talented than you. You
cannot, from what you say, think it desirable that the engagement
should continue. I have no right to ask you to be my betrothed,
without having a near prospect of making you my wife. I don't mind
saying this straight out--I have no fear that you will doubt my
love; thank Heaven, you know what that is well enough! However, as
things are, I wish you to know that I cannot conscientiously put in
a claim upon your attention.'

A second meaning was written in Christopher's look, though he
scarcely uttered it. A woman so delicately poised upon the social
globe could not in honour be asked to wait for a lover who was
unable to set bounds to the waiting period. Yet he had privily
dreamed of an approach to that position--an unreserved, ideally
perfect declaration from Ethelberta that time and practical issues
were nothing to her; that she would stand as fast without material
hopes as with them; that love was to be an end with her henceforth,
having utterly ceased to be a means. Therefore this surreptitious
hope of his, founded on no reasonable expectation, was like a guilty
thing surprised when Ethelberta answered, with a predominance of
judgment over passion still greater than before:

'It is unspeakably generous in you to put it all before me so
nicely, Christopher. I think infinitely more of you for being so
unreserved, especially since I too have been thinking much on the
indefiniteness of the days to come. We are not numbered among the
blest few who can afford to trifle with the time. Yet to agree to
anything like a positive parting will be quite unnecessary. You did
not mean that, did you? for it is harsh if you did.' Ethelberta
smiled kindly as she said this, as much as to say that she was far
from really upbraiding him. 'Let it be only that we will see each
other less. We will bear one another in mind as deeply attached
friends if not as definite lovers, and keep up friendly remembrances
of a sort which, come what may, will never have to be ended by any
painful process termed breaking off. Different persons, different
natures; and it may be that marriage would not be the most
favourable atmosphere for our old affection to prolong itself in.
When do you leave London?'

The disconnected query seemed to be subjoined to disperse the crude
effect of what had gone before.

'I hardly know,' murmured Christopher. 'I suppose I shall not call
here again.'

Whilst they were silent somebody entered the room softly, and they
turned to discover Picotee.

'Come here, Picotee,' said Ethelberta.

Picotee came with an abashed bearing to where the other two were
standing, and looked down steadfastly.

'Mr. Julian is going away,' she continued, with determined firmness.
'He will not see us again for a long time.' And Ethelberta added,
in a lower tone, though still in the unflinching manner of one who
had set herself to say a thing, and would say it--'He is not to be
definitely engaged to me any longer. We are not thinking of
marrying, you know, Picotee. It is best that we should not.'

'Perhaps it is,' said Christopher hurriedly, taking up his hat.
'Let me now wish you good-bye; and, of course, you will always know
where I am, and how to find me.'

It was a tender time. He inclined forward that Ethelberta might
give him her hand, which she did; whereupon their eyes met.
Mastered by an impelling instinct she had not reckoned with,
Ethelberta presented her cheek. Christopher kissed it faintly.
Tears were in Ethelberta's eyes now, and she was heartfull of many
emotions. Placing her arm round Picotee's waist, who had never
lifted her eyes from the carpet, she drew the slight girl forward,
and whispered quickly to him--'Kiss her, too. She is my sister, and
I am yours.'

It seemed all right and natural to their respective moods and the
tone of the moment that free old Wessex manners should prevail, and
Christopher stooped and dropped upon Picotee's cheek likewise such a
farewell kiss as he had imprinted upon Ethelberta's.

'Care for us both equally!' said Ethelberta.

'I will,' said Christopher, scarcely knowing what he said.

When he had reached the door of the room, he looked back and saw the
two sisters standing as he had left them, and equally tearful.
Ethelberta at once said, in a last futile struggle against letting
him go altogether, and with thoughts of her sister's heart:

'I think that Picotee might correspond with Faith; don't you, Mr.
Julian?'

'My sister would much like to do so,' said he.

'And you would like it too, would you not, Picotee?'

'O yes,' she replied. 'And I can tell them all about you.'

'Then it shall be so, if Miss Julian will.' She spoke in a settled
way, as if something intended had been set in train; and Christopher
having promised for his sister, he went out of the house with a
parting smile of misgiving.

He could scarcely believe as he walked along that those late words,
yet hanging in his ears, had really been spoken, that still visible
scene enacted. He could not even recollect for a minute or two how
the final result had been produced. Did he himself first enter upon
the long-looming theme, or did she? Christopher had been so
nervously alive to the urgency of setting before the hard-striving
woman a clear outline of himself, his surroundings and his fears,
that he fancied the main impulse to this consummation had been his,
notwithstanding that a faint initiative had come from Ethelberta.
All had completed itself quickly, unceremoniously, and easily.
Ethelberta had let him go a second time; yet on foregoing mornings
and evenings, when contemplating the necessity of some such
explanation, it had seemed that nothing less than Atlantean force
could overpower their mutual gravitation towards each other.

On his reaching home Faith was not in the house, and, in the
restless state which demands something to talk at, the musician went
off to find her, well knowing her haunt at this time of the day. He
entered the spiked and gilded gateway of the Museum hard by, turned
to the wing devoted to sculptures, and descended to a particular
basement room, which was lined with bas-reliefs from Nineveh. The
place was cool, silent, and soothing; it was empty, save of a little
figure in black, that was standing with its face to the wall in an
innermost nook. This spot was Faith's own temple; here, among these
deserted antiques, Faith was always happy. Christopher looked on at
her for some time before she noticed him, and dimly perceived how
vastly differed her homely suit and unstudied contour--painfully
unstudied to fastidious eyes--from Ethelberta's well-arranged
draperies, even from Picotee's clever bits of ribbon, by which she
made herself look pretty out of nothing at all. Yet this negligence
was his sister's essence; without it she would have been a spoilt
product. She had no outer world, and her rusty black was as
appropriate to Faith's unseen courses as were Ethelberta's correct
lights and shades to her more prominent career.

'Look, Kit,' said Faith, as soon as she knew who was approaching.
'This is a thing I never learnt before; this person is really
Sennacherib, sitting on his throne; and these with fluted beards and
hair like plough-furrows, and fingers with no bones in them, are his
warriors--really carved at the time, you know. Only just think that
this is not imagined of Assyria, but done in Assyrian times by
Assyrian hands. Don't you feel as if you were actually in Nineveh;
that as we now walk between these slabs, so walked Ninevites between
them once?'

'Yes. . . . Faith, it is all over. Ethelberta and I have parted.'

'Indeed. And so my plan is to think of verses in the Bible about
Sennacherib and his doings, which resemble these; this verse, for
instance, I remember: "Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah
did Sennacherib, King of Assyria, come up against all the fenced
cities of Judah and took them. And Hezekiah, King of Judah, sent to
the King of Assyria to Lachish," and so on. Well, there it actually
is, you see. There's Sennacherib, and there's Lachish. Is it not
glorious to think that this is a picture done at the time of those
very events?'

'Yes. We did not quarrel this time, Ethelberta and I. If I may so
put it, it is worse than quarrelling. We felt it was no use going
on any longer, and so--Come, Faith, hear what I say, or else tell me
that you won't hear, and that I may as well save my breath!'

'Yes, I will really listen,' she said, fluttering her eyelids in her
concern at having been so abstracted, and excluding Sennacherib
there and then from Christopher's affairs by the first settlement of
her features to a present-day aspect, and her eyes upon his face.
'You said you had seen Ethelberta. Yes, and what did she say?'

'Was there ever anybody so provoking! Why, I have just told you!'

'Yes, yes; I remember now. You have parted. The subject is too
large for me to know all at once what I think of it, and you must
give me time, Kit. Speaking of Ethelberta reminds me of what I have
done. I just looked into the Academy this morning--I thought I
would surprise you by telling you about it. And what do you think I
saw? Ethelberta--in the picture painted by Mr. Ladywell.'

'It is never hung?' said he, feeling that they were at one as to a
topic at last.

'Yes. And the subject is an Elizabethan knight parting from a lady
of the same period--the words explaining the picture being--

"Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate."

The lady is Ethelberta, to the shade of a hair--her living face; and
the knight is--'

'Not Ladywell?'

'I think so; I am not sure.'

'No wonder I am dismissed! And yet she hates him. Well, come
along, Faith. Women allow strange liberties in these days.'

25. THE ROYAL ACADEMY - THE FARNFIELD ESTATE

Ethelberta was a firm believer in the kindly effects of artistic
education upon the masses. She held that defilement of mind often
arose from ignorance of eye; and her philanthropy being, by the
simple force of her situation, of that sort which lingers in the
neighbourhood of home, she concentrated her efforts in this kind
upon Sol and Dan. Accordingly, the Academy exhibition having now
just opened, she ordered the brothers to appear in their best
clothes at the entrance to Burlington House just after noontide on
the Saturday of the first week, this being the only day and hour at
which they could attend without 'losing a half' and therefore it was
necessary to put up with the inconvenience of arriving at a crowded
and enervating time.

When Ethelberta was set down in the quadrangle she perceived the
faithful pair, big as the Zamzummims of old time, standing like
sentinels in the particular corner that she had named to them: for
Sol and Dan would as soon have attempted petty larceny as broken
faith with their admired lady-sister Ethelberta. They welcomed her
with a painfully lavish exhibition of large new gloves, and chests
covered with broad triangular areas of padded blue silk, occupying
the position that the shirt-front had occupied in earlier days, and
supposed to be lineally descended from the tie of a neckerchief.

The dress of their sister for to-day was exactly that of a
respectable workman's relative who had no particular ambition in the
matter of fashion--a black stuff gown, a plain bonnet to match. A
veil she wore for obvious reasons: her face was getting well known
in London, and it had already appeared at the private view in an
uncovered state, when it was scrutinized more than the paintings
around. But now homely and useful labour was her purpose.

Catalogue in hand she took the two brothers through the galleries,
teaching them in whispers as they walked, and occasionally
correcting them--first, for too reverential a bearing towards the
well-dressed crowd, among whom they persisted in walking with their
hats in their hands and with the contrite bearing of meek people in
church; and, secondly, for a tendency which they too often showed
towards straying from the contemplation of the pictures as art to
indulge in curious speculations on the intrinsic nature of the
delineated subject, the gilding of the frames, the construction of
the skylights overhead, or admiration for the bracelets, lockets,
and lofty eloquence of persons around them.

'Now,' said Ethelberta, in a warning whisper, 'we are coming near
the picture which was partly painted from myself. And, Dan, when
you see it, don't you exclaim "Hullo!" or "That's Berta to a T," or
anything at all. It would not matter were it not dangerous for me
to be noticed here to-day. I see several people who would recognize
me on the least provocation.'

'Not a word,' said Dan. 'Don't you be afeard about that. I feel
that I baint upon my own ground to-day; and wouldn't do anything to
cause an upset, drown me if I would. Would you, Sol?'

In this temper they all pressed forward, and Ethelberta could not
but be gratified at the reception of Ladywell's picture, though it
was accorded by critics not very profound. It was an operation of
some minutes to get exactly opposite, and when side by side the
three stood there they overheard the immediate reason of the
pressure. 'Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing' had been
lengthily discoursed upon that morning by the Coryphaeus of popular
opinion; and the spirit having once been poured out sons and
daughters could prophesy. But, in truth, Ladywell's work, if not
emphatically original, was happily centred on a middle stratum of
taste, and apart from this adventitious help commanded, and deserved
to command, a wide area of appreciation.

While they were standing here in the very heart of the throng
Ethelberta's ears were arrested by two male voices behind her, whose
words formed a novel contrast to those of the other speakers around.

'Some men, you see, with extravagant expectations of themselves,
coolly get them gratified, while others hope rationally and are
disappointed. Luck, that's what it is. And the more easily a man
takes life the more persistently does luck follow him.'

'Of course; because, if he's industrious he does not want luck's
assistance. Natural laws will help him instead.'

'Well, if it is true that Ladywell has painted a good picture he has
done it by an exhaustive process. He has painted every possible bad
one till nothing more of that sort is left for him. You know what
lady's face served as the original to this, I suppose?'

'Mrs. Petherwin's, I hear.'

'Yes, Mrs. Alfred Neigh that's to be.'

'What, that elusive fellow caught at last?'

'So it appears; but she herself is hardly so well secured as yet, it
seems, though he takes the uncertainty as coolly as possible. I
knew nothing about it till he introduced the subject as we were
standing here on Monday, and said, in an off-hand way, "I mean to
marry that lady." I asked him how. "Easily," he said; "I will have
her if there are a hundred at her heels." You will understand that
this was quite in confidence.'

'Of course, of course.' Then there was a slight laugh, and the
companions proceeded to other gossip.

Ethelberta, calm and compressed in manner, sidled along to extricate
herself, not daring to turn round, and Dan and Sol followed, till
they were all clear of the spot. The brothers, who had heard the
words equally well with Ethelberta, made no remark to her upon them,
assuming that they referred to some peculiar system of courtship
adopted in high life, with which they had rightly no concern.

Ethelberta ostensibly continued her business of tutoring the young
workmen just as before, though every emotion in her had been put on
the alert by this discovery. She had known that Neigh admired her;
yet his presumption in uttering such a remark as he was reported to
have uttered, confidentially or otherwise, nearly took away her
breath. Perhaps it was not altogether disagreeable to have her
breath so taken away.

'I mean to marry that lady.' She whispered the words to herself
twenty times in the course of the afternoon. Sol and Dan were left
considerably longer to their private perceptions of the false and
true in art than they had been earlier in the day.

When she reached home Ethelberta was still far removed in her
reflections; and it was noticed afterwards that about this time in
her career her openness of manner entirely deserted her. She mostly
was silent as to her thoughts, and she wore an air of unusual
stillness. It was the silence and stillness of a starry sky, where
all is force and motion. This deep undecipherable habit sometimes
suggested, though it did not reveal, Ethelberta's busy brain to her
sisters, and they said to one another, 'I cannot think what's coming
to Berta: she is not so nice as she used to be.'

The evening under notice was passed desultorily enough after the
discovery of Neigh's self-assured statement. Among other things
that she did after dark, while still musingly examining the
probabilities of the report turning out true, was to wander to the
large attic where the children slept, a frequent habit of hers at
night, to learn if they were snug and comfortable. They were
talking now from bed to bed, the person under discussion being
herself. Herself seemed everywhere to-day.

'I know that she is a fairy,' Myrtle was insisting, 'because she
must be, to have such pretty things in her house, and wear silk
dresses such as mother and we and Picotee haven't got, and have
money to give us whenever we want it.'

'Emmeline says perhaps she knows the fairy's godmother, and is not a
fairy herself, because Berta is too tall for a real fairy.'

'She must be one; for when there was a notch burnt in the hem of my
pretty blue frock she said it should be gone in the morning if I
would go to bed and not cry; and in the morning it was gone, and all
nice and straight as new.'

Ethelberta was recalling to mind how she had sat up and repaired the
damage alluded to by cutting off half an inch of the skirt all round
and hemming it anew, when the breathing of the children became
regular, and they fell asleep. Here were bright little minds ready
for a training, which without money and influence she could never
give them. The wisdom which knowledge brings, and the power which
wisdom may bring, she had always assumed would be theirs in her
dreams for their social elevation. By what means were these things
to be ensured to them if her skill in bread-winning should fail her?
Would not a well-contrived marriage be of service? She covered and
tucked in one more closely, lifted another upon the pillow and
straightened the soft limbs to an easy position; then sat down by
the window and looked out at the flashing stars. Thoughts of
Neigh's audacious statement returned again upon Ethelberta. He had
said that he meant to marry her. Of what standing was the man who
had uttered such an intention respecting one to whom a politic
marriage had become almost a necessity of existence?

She had often heard Neigh speak indefinitely of some estate--'my
little place' he had called it--which he had purchased no very long
time ago. All she knew was that its name was Farnfield, that it lay
thirty or forty miles out of London in a south-westerly direction, a
railway station in the district bearing the same name, so that there
was probably a village or small town adjoining. Whether the dignity
of this landed property was that of domain, farmstead, allotment, or
garden-plot, Ethelberta had not the slightest conception. She was
almost certain that Neigh never lived there, but that might signify
nothing. The exact size and value of the estate would, she mused,
be curious, interesting, and almost necessary information to her who
must become mistress of it were she to allow him to carry out his
singularly cool and crude, if tender, intention. Moreover, its
importance would afford a very good random sample of his worldly
substance throughout, from which alone, after all, could the true
spirit and worth and seriousness of his words be apprehended.
Impecuniosity may revel in unqualified vows and brim over with
confessions as blithely as a bird of May, but such careless
pleasures are not for the solvent, whose very dreams are negotiable,
and are expressed with due care accordingly.

That Neigh had used the words she had far more than prima-facie
appearances for believing. Neigh's own conduct towards her, though
peculiar rather than devoted, found in these words alone a
reasonable key. But, supposing the estate to be such a verbal
hallucination as, for instance, hers had been at Arrowthorne, when
her poor, unprogressive, hopelessly impracticable Christopher came
there to visit her, and was so wonderfully undeceived about her
social standing: what a fiasco, and what a cuckoo-cry would his
utterances about marriage seem then. Christopher had often told her
of his expectations from 'Arrowthorne Lodge,' and of the blunders
that had resulted in consequence. Had not Ethelberta's affection
for Christopher partaken less of lover's passion than of old-
established tutelary tenderness she might have been reminded by this
reflection of the transcendent fidelity he had shown under that
trial--as severe a trial, considering the abnormal, almost morbid,
development of the passion for position in present-day society, as
can be prepared for men who move in the ordinary, unheroic channels
of life.

By the following evening the consideration of this possibility, that
Neigh's position might furnish scope for such a disillusive
discovery by herself as hers had afforded to Christopher, decoyed
Ethelberta into a curious little scheme. She was piqued into a
practical undertaking by the man who could say to his friend with
such sangfroid, 'I mean to marry that lady.'

Merely telling Picotee to prepare for an evening excursion, of which
she was to talk to no one, Ethelberta made ready likewise, and they
left the house in a cab about half-an-hour before sunset, and drove
to the Waterloo Station.

With the decline and departure of the sun a fog gathered itself out
of the low meadow-land that bordered the railway as they went along
towards the west, stretching over it like a placid lake, till at the
end of the journey, the mist became generally pervasive, though not
dense. Avoiding observation as much as they conveniently could, the
two sisters walked from the long wooden shed which formed the
station here, into the rheumy air and along the road to the open
country. Picotee occasionally questioned Ethelberta on the object
of the strange journey: she did not question closely, being
satisfied that in such sure hands as Ethelberta's she was safe.

Deeming it unwise to make any inquiry just yet beyond the simple one
of the way to Farnfield, Ethelberta led her companion along a newly-
fenced road across a heath. In due time they came to an ornamental
gate with a curved sweep of wall on each side, signifying the
entrance to some enclosed property or other. Ethelberta, being
quite free from any digested plan for encouraging Neigh in his
resolve to wive, was startled to find a hope in her that this very
respectable beginning before their eyes was the entrance to the
Farnfield property: that she hoped it was nevertheless
unquestionable. Just beyond lay a turnpike-house, where was dimly
visible a woman in the act of putting up a shutter to the front
window.

Compelled by this time to come to special questions, Ethelberta
instructed Picotee to ask of this person if the place they had just
passed was the entrance to Farnfield Park. The woman replied that
it was. Directly she had gone indoors Ethelberta turned back again
towards the park gate.

'What have we come for, Berta?' said Picotee, as she turned also.

'I'll tell you some day,' replied her sister.

It was now much past eight o'clock, and, from the nature of the
evening, dusk. The last stopping up-train was about ten, so that
half-an-hour could well be afforded for looking round. Ethelberta
went to the gate, which was found to be fastened by a chain and
padlock.

'Ah, the London season,' she murmured.

There was a wicket at the side, and they entered. An avenue of
young fir trees three or four feet in height extended from the gate
into the mist, and down this they walked. The drive was not in very
good order, and the two women were frequently obliged to walk on the
grass to avoid the rough stones in the carriage-way. The double
line of young firs now abruptly terminated, and the road swept
lower, bending to the right, immediately in front being a large
lake, calm and silent as a second sky. They could hear from
somewhere on the margin the purl of a weir, and around were clumps
of shrubs, araucarias and deodars being the commonest.

Ethelberta could not resist being charmed with the repose of the
spot, and hastened on with curiosity to reach the other side of the
pool, where, by every law of manorial topography, the mansion would
be situate. The fog concealed all objects beyond a distance of
twenty yards or thereabouts, but it was nearly full moon, and though
the orb was hidden, a pale diffused light enabled them to see
objects in the foreground. Reaching the other side of the lake the
drive enlarged itself most legitimately to a large oval, as for a
sweep before a door, a pile of rockwork standing in the midst.

But where should have been the front door of a mansion was simply a
rough rail fence, about four feet high. They drew near and looked
over.

In the enclosure, and on the site of the imaginary house, was an
extraordinary group. It consisted of numerous horses in the last
stage of decrepitude, the animals being such mere skeletons that at
first Ethelberta hardly recognized them to be horses at all; they
seemed rather to be specimens of some attenuated heraldic animal,
scarcely thick enough through the body to throw a shadow: or
enlarged castings of the fire-dog of past times. These poor
creatures were endeavouring to make a meal from herbage so trodden
and thin that scarcely a wholesome blade remained; the little that
there was consisted of the sourer sorts common on such sandy soils,
mingled with tufts of heather and sprouting ferns.

'Why have we come here, dear Berta?' said Picotee, shuddering.

'I hardly know,' said Ethelberta.

Adjoining this enclosure was another and smaller one, formed of high
boarding, within which appeared to be some sheds and outhouses.
Ethelberta looked through the crevices, and saw that in the midst of
the yard stood trunks of trees as if they were growing, with
branches also extending, but these were sawn off at the points where
they began to be flexible, no twigs or boughs remaining. Each torso
was not unlike a huge hat-stand, and suspended to the pegs and
prongs were lumps of some substance which at first she did not
recognize; they proved to be a chronological sequel to the previous
scene. Horses' skulls, ribs, quarters, legs, and other joints were
hung thereon, the whole forming a huge open-air larder emitting not
too sweet a smell.

But what Stygian sound was this? There had arisen at the moment
upon the mute and sleepy air a varied howling from a hundred
tongues. It had burst from a spot close at hand--a low wooden
building by a stream which fed the lake--and reverberated for miles.
No further explanation was required.

'We are close to a kennel of hounds,' said Ethelberta, as Picotee
held tightly to her arm. 'They cannot get out, so you need not
fear. They have a horrid way of suddenly beginning thus at
different hours of the night, for no apparent reason: though
perhaps they hear us. These poor horses are waiting to be killed
for their food.'

The experience altogether, from its intense melancholy, was very
depressing, almost appalling to the two lone young women, and they
quickly retraced their footsteps. The pleasant lake, the purl of
the weir, the rudimentary lawns, shrubberies, and avenue, had
changed their character quite. Ethelberta fancied at that moment
that she could not have married Neigh, even had she loved him, so
horrid did his belongings appear to be. But for many other reasons
she had been gradually feeling within this hour that she would not
go out of her way at a beck from a man whose interest was so
unimpassioned.

Thinking no more of him as a possible husband she ceased to be
afraid to make inquiries about the peculiarities of his possessions.
In the high-road they came on a local man, resting from wheeling a
wheelbarrow, and Ethelberta asked him, with the air of a
countrywoman, who owned the estate across the road.

'The man owning that is one of the name of Neigh,' said the native,
wiping his face. ''Tis a family that have made a very large fortune
by the knacker business and tanning, though they be only sleeping
partners in it now, and live like lords. Mr. Neigh was going to
pull down the old huts here, and improve the place and build a
mansion--in short, he went so far as to have the grounds planted,
and the roads marked out, and the fish-pond made, and the place
christened Farnfield Park; but he did no more. "I shall never have
a wife," he said, "so why should I want a house to put her in?"
He's a terrible hater of women, I hear, particularly the lower
class.'

'Indeed!'

'Yes, and since then he has let half the land to the Honourable Mr.
Mountclere, a brother of Lord Mountclere's. Mr. Mountclere wanted
the spot for a kennel, and as the land is too poor and sandy for
cropping, Mr. Neigh let him have it. 'Tis his hounds that you hear
howling.'

They passed on. 'Berta, why did we come down here?' said Picotee.

'To see the nakedness of the land. It was a whim only, and as it
will end in nothing, it is not worth while for me to make further
explanation.'

It was with a curious sense of renunciation that Ethelberta went
homeward. Neigh was handsome, grim-natured, rather wicked, and an
indifferentist; and these attractions interested her as a woman.
But the news of this evening suggested to Ethelberta that herself
and Neigh were too nearly cattle of one colour for a confession on
the matter of lineage to be well received by him; and without
confidence of every sort on the nature of her situation, she was
determined to contract no union at all. The sympathy of unlikeness
might lead the scion of some family, hollow and fungous with
antiquity, and as yet unmarked by a mesalliance, to be won over by
her story; but the antipathy of resemblance would be ineradicable.

26. ETHELBERTA'S DRAWING-ROOM

While Ethelberta during the next few days was dismissing that
evening journey from her consideration, as an incident altogether
foreign to the organized course of her existence, the hidden fruit
thereof was rounding to maturity in a species unforeseen.

Inferences unassailable as processes, are, nevertheless, to be
suspected, from the almost certain deficiency of particulars on some
side or other. The truth in relation to Neigh's supposed frigidity
was brought before her at the end of the following week, when Dan
and Sol had taken Picotee, Cornelia, and the young children to Kew
for the afternoon.

Early that morning, hours before it was necessary, there had been
such a chatter of preparation in the house as was seldom heard
there. Sunday hats and bonnets had been retrimmed with such cunning
that it would have taken a milliner's apprentice at least to
discover that any thread in them was not quite new. There was an
anxious peep through the blind at the sky at daybreak by Georgina
and Myrtle, and the perplexity of these rural children was great at
the weather-signs of the town, where atmospheric effects had nothing
to do with clouds, and fair days and foul came apparently quite by
chance. Punctually at the hour appointed two friendly human shadows
descended across the kitchen window, followed by Sol and Dan, much
to the relief of the children's apprehensions that they might forget
the day.

The brothers were by this time acquiring something of the airs and
manners of London workmen; they were less spontaneous and more
comparative; less genial, but smarter; in obedience to the usual law
by which the emotion that takes the form of humour in country
workmen becomes transmuted to irony among the same order in town.
But the fixed and dogged fidelity to one another under apparent
coolness, by which this family was distinguished, remained unshaken
in these members as in all the rest, leading them to select the
children as companions in their holiday in preference to casual
acquaintance. At last they were ready, and departed, and
Ethelberta, after chatting with her mother awhile, proceeded to her
personal duties.

The house was very silent that day, Gwendoline and Joey being the
only ones left below stairs. Ethelberta was wishing that she had
thrown off her state and gone to Kew to have an hour of childhood
over again in a romp with the others, when she was startled by the
announcement of a male visitor--none other than Mr. Neigh.

Ethelberta's attitude on receipt of this information sufficiently
expressed a revived sense that the incidence of Mr. Neigh on her
path might have a meaning after all. Neigh had certainly said he
was going to marry her, and now here he was come to her house--just
as if he meant to do it forthwith. She had mentally discarded him;
yet she felt a shock which was scarcely painful, and a dread which
was almost exhilarating. Her flying visit to Farnfield she thought
little of at this moment. From the fact that the mind prefers
imaginings to recapitulation, conjecture to history, Ethelberta had
dwelt more upon Neigh's possible plans and anticipations than upon
the incidents of her evening journey; and the former assumed a more
distinct shape in her mind's eye than anything on the visible side
of the curtain.

Neigh was perhaps not quite so placidly nonchalant as in ordinary;
still, he was by far the most trying visitor that Ethelberta had
lately faced, and she could not get above the stage--not a very high
one for the mistress of a house--of feeling her personality to be
inconveniently in the way of his eyes. He had somewhat the bearing
of a man who was going to do without any fuss what gushing people
would call a philanthropic action.

'I have been intending to write a line to you,' said Neigh; 'but I
felt that I could not be sure of writing my meaning in a way which
might please you. I am not bright at a letter--never was. The
question I mean is one that I hope you will be disposed to answer
favourably, even though I may show the awkwardness of a fellow-
person who has never put such a question before. Will you give me a
word of encouragement--just a hope that I may not be unacceptable as
a husband to you? Your talents are very great; and of course I know
that I have nothing at all in that way. Still people are happy
together sometimes in spite of such things. Will you say "Yes," and
settle it now?'

'I was not expecting you had come upon such an errand as this,' said
she, looking up a little, but mostly looking down. 'I cannot say
what you wish, Mr. Neigh.

'Perhaps I have been too sudden and presumptuous. Yes, I know I
have been that. However, directly I saw you I felt that nobody ever
came so near my idea of what is desirable in a lady, and it occurred
to me that only one obstacle should stand in the way of the natural
results, which obstacle would be your refusal. In common kindness
consider. I daresay I am judged to be a man of inattentive habits--
I know that's what you think of me; but under your influence I
should be very different; so pray do not let your dislike to little
matters influence you.'

'I would not indeed. But believe me there can be no discussion of
marriage between us,' said Ethelberta decisively.

'If that's the case I may as well say no more. To burden you with
my regrets would be out of place, I suppose,' said Neigh, looking
calmly out of the window.

'Apart from personal feeling, there are considerations which would
prevent what you contemplated,' she murmured. 'My affairs are too
lengthy, intricate, and unpleasant for me to explain to anybody at
present. And that would be a necessary first step.'

'Not at all. I cannot think that preliminary to be necessary at
all. I would put my lawyer in communication with yours, and we
would leave the rest to them: I believe that is the proper way.
You could say anything in confidence to your family-man; and you
could inquire through him anything you might wish to know about my--
about me. All you would need to say to myself are just the two
little words--"I will," in the church here at the end of the
Crescent.'

'I am sorry to pain you, Mr. Neigh--so sorry,' said Ethelberta.
'But I cannot say them.' She was rather distressed that, despite
her discouraging words, he still went on with his purpose, as if he
imagined what she so distinctly said to be no bar, but rather a
stimulant, usual under the circumstances.

'It does not matter about paining me,' said Neigh. 'Don't take that
into consideration at all. But I did not expect you to leave me so
entirely without help--to refuse me absolutely as far as words go--
after what you did. If it had not been for that I should never have
ventured to call. I might otherwise have supposed your interest to
be fixed in another quarter; but your acting in that manner
encouraged me to think you could listen to a word.'

'What do you allude to?' said Ethelberta. 'How have I acted?'

Neigh appeared reluctant to go any further; but the allusion soon
became sufficiently clear. 'I wish my little place at Farnfield had
been worthier of you,' he said brusquely. 'However, that's a matter
of time only. It is useless to build a house there yet. I wish I
had known that you would be looking over it at that time of the
evening. A single word, when we were talking about it the other
day, that you were going to be in the neighbourhood, would have been
sufficient. Nothing could have given me so much delight as to have
driven you round.'

He knew that she had been to Farnfield: that knowledge was what had
inspired him to call upon her to-day! Ethelberta breathed a sort of
exclamation, not right out, but stealthily, like a parson's damn.
Her face did not change, since a face must be said not to change
while it preserves the same pleasant lines in the mobile parts as
before; but anybody who has preserved his pleasant lines under the
half-minute's peer of the invidious camera, and found what a
wizened, starched kind of thing they stiffen to towards the end of
the time, will understand the tendency of Ethelberta's lovely
features now.

'Yes; I walked round,' said Ethelberta faintly.

Neigh was decidedly master of the position at last; but he spoke as
if he did not value that. His knowledge had furnished him with
grounds for calling upon her, and he hastened to undeceive her from
supposing that he could think ill of any motive of hers which gave
him those desirable grounds.

'I supposed you, by that, to give some little thought to me
occasionally,' he resumed, in the same slow and orderly tone. 'How
could I help thinking so? It was your doing that which encouraged
me. Now, was it not natural--I put it to you?'

Ethelberta was almost exasperated at perceiving the awful extent to
which she had compromised herself with this man by her impulsive
visit. Lightly and philosophically as he seemed to take it--as a
thing, in short, which every woman would do by nature unless
hindered by difficulties--it was no trifle to her as long as he was
ignorant of her justification; and this she determined that he
should know at once, at all hazards.

'It was through you in the first place that I did look into your
grounds!' she said excitedly. 'It was your presumption that caused
me to go there. I should not have thought of such a thing else. If
you had not said what you did say I never should have thought of you
or Farnfield either--Farnfield might have been in Kamtschatka for
all I cared.'

'I hope sincerely that I never said anything to disturb you?'

'Yes, you did--not to me, but to somebody,' said Ethelberta, with
her eyes over-full of retained tears.

'What have I said to somebody that can be in the least objectionable
to you?' inquired Neigh, with much concern.

'You said--you said, you meant to marry me--just as if I had no
voice in the matter! And that annoyed me, and made me go there out
of curiosity.'

Neigh changed colour a little. 'Well, I did say it: I own that I
said it,' he replied at last. Probably he knew enough of her nature
not to feel long disconcerted by her disclosure, however she might
have become possessed of the information. The explanation was
certainly a great excuse to her curiosity; but if Ethelberta had
tried she could not have given him a better ground for making light
of her objections to his suit. 'I felt that I must marry you, that
we were predestined to marry ages ago, and I feel it still!' he
continued, with listless ardour. 'You seem to regret your interest
in Farnfield; but to me it is a charm, and has been ever since I
heard of it.'

'If you only knew all!' she said helplessly, showing, without
perceiving it, an unnecessary humility in the remark, since there
was no more reason just then that she should go into details about
her life than that he should about his. But melancholy and mistaken
thoughts of herself as a counterfeit had brought her to this.

'I do not wish to know more,' said Neigh.

'And would you marry any woman off-hand, without being thoroughly
acquainted with her circumstances?' she said, looking at him
curiously, and with a little admiration, for his unconscionably
phlegmatic treatment of her motives in going to Farnfield had a not
unbecoming daring about it in Ethelberta's eye.

'I would marry a woman off-hand when that woman is you. I would
make you mine this moment did I dare; or, to speak with absolute
accuracy, within twenty-four hours. Do assent to it, dear Mrs.
Petherwin, and let me be sure of you for ever. I'll drive to
Doctors' Commons this minute, and meet you to-morrow morning at nine
in the church just below. It is a simple impulse, but I would
adhere to it in the coolest moment. Shall it be arranged in that
way, instead of our waiting through the ordinary routine of
preparation? I am not a youth now, but I can see the bliss of such
an act as that, and the contemptible nature of methodical
proceedings beside it!'

He had taken her hand. Ethelberta gave it a subtle movement
backwards to imply that he was not to retain the prize, and said,
'One whose inner life is almost unknown to you, and whom you have
scarcely seen except at other people's houses!'

'We know each other far better than we may think at first,' said
Neigh. 'We are not people to love in a hurry, and I have not done
so in this case. As for worldly circumstances, the most important
items in a marriage contract are the persons themselves, and, as far
as I am concerned, if I get a lady fair and wise I care for nothing
further. I know you are beautiful, for all London owns it; I know
you are talented, for I have read your poetry and heard your
romances; and I know you are politic and discreet--'

'For I have examined your property,' said she, with a weak smile.

Neigh bowed. 'And what more can I wish to know? Come, shall it
be?'

'Certainly not to-morrow.'

'I would be entirely in your hands in that matter. I will not urge
you to be precipitate--I could not expect you to be ready yet. My
suddenness perhaps offended you; but, having thought deeply of this
bright possibility, I was apt to forget the forbearance that one
ought to show at first in mentioning it. If I have done wrong
forgive me.'

'I will think of that,' said Ethelberta, with a cooler manner. 'But
seriously, all these words are nothing to the purpose. I must
remark that I prize your friendship, but it is not for me to marry
now. You have convinced me of your goodness of heart and freedom
from unworthy suspicions; let that be enough. The best way in which
I in my turn can convince you of my goodness of heart is by asking
you to see me in private no more.'

'And do you refuse to think of me as----. Why do you treat me like
that, after all?' said Neigh, surprised at this want of harmony with
his principle that one convert to matrimony could always find a
second ready-made.

'I cannot explain, I cannot explain,' said she, impatiently. 'I
would and I would not--explain I mean, not marry. I don't love
anybody, and I have no heart left for beginning. It is only honest
in me to tell you that I am interested in watching another man's
career, though that is not to the point either, for no close
relationship with him is contemplated. But I do not wish to speak
of this any more. Do not press me to it.'

'Certainly I will not,' said Neigh, seeing that she was distressed
and sorrowful. 'But do consider me and my wishes; I have a right to
ask it for it is only asking a continuance of what you have already
begun to do. To-morrow I believe I shall have the happiness of
seeing you again.'

She did not say no, and long after the door had closed upon him she
remained fixed in thought. 'How can he be blamed for his manner,'
she said, 'after knowing what I did!'

Ethelberta as she sat felt herself much less a Petherwin than a
Chickerel, much less a poetess richly freighted with fancy than an
adventuress with a nebulous prospect. Neigh was one of the few men
whose presence seemed to attenuate her dignity in some mysterious
way to its very least proportions; and that act of espial, which had
so quickly and inexplicably come to his knowledge, helped his
influence still more. She knew little of the nature of the town
bachelor; there were opaque depths in him which her thoughts had
never definitely plumbed. Notwithstanding her exaltation to the
atmosphere of the Petherwin family, Ethelberta was very far from
having the thoroughbred London woman's knowledge of sets, grades,
coteries, cliques, forms, glosses, and niceties, particularly on the
masculine side. Setting the years from her infancy to her first
look into town against those linking that epoch with the present,
the former period covered not only the greater time, but contained
the mass of her most vivid impressions of life and its ways. But in
recognizing her ignorance of the ratio between words to women and
deeds to women in the ethical code of the bachelor of the club, she
forgot that human nature in the gross differs little with situation,
and that a gift which, if the germs were lacking, no amount of
training in clubs and coteries could supply, was mother-wit like her
own.

27. MRS. BELMAINE'S - CRIPPLEGATE CHURCH

Neigh's remark that he believed he should see Ethelberta again the
next day referred to a contemplated pilgrimage of an unusual sort
which had been arranged for that day by Mrs. Belmaine upon the
ground of an incidental suggestion of Ethelberta's. One afternoon
in the week previous they had been chatting over tea at the house of
the former lady, Neigh being present as a casual caller, when the
conversation was directed upon Milton by somebody opening a volume
of the poet's works that lay on a table near.

'Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee--'

said Mrs. Belmaine with the degree of flippancy which is considered
correct for immortal verse, the Bible, God, etc., in these days.
And Ethelberta replied, lit up by a quick remembrance, 'It is a good
time to talk of Milton; for I have been much impressed by reading
the "Life;" and I have decided to go and see his tomb. Could we not
all go? We ought to quicken our memories of the great, and of where
they lie, by such a visit occasionally.'

'We ought,' said Mrs. Belmaine.

'And why shouldn't we?' continued Ethelberta, with interest.

'To Westminster Abbey?' said Mr. Belmaine, a common man of thirty,
younger than his wife, who had lately come into the room.

'No; to where he lies comparatively alone--Cripplegate Church.'

'I always thought that Milton was buried in Poet's Corner,' said Mr.
Belmaine.

'So did I,' said Neigh; 'but I have such an indifferent head for
places that my thinking goes for nothing.'

'Well, it would be a pretty thing to do,' said Mrs. Belmaine, 'and
instructive to all of us. If Mrs. Petherwin would like to go, I
should. We can take you in the carriage and call round for Mrs.
Doncastle on our way, and set you both down again coming back.'

'That would be excellent,' said Ethelberta. 'There is nowhere I
like going to so much as the depths of the city. The absurd
narrowness of world-renowned streets is so surprising--so crooked
and shady as they are too, and full of the quaint smells of old
cupboards and cellars. Walking through one of them reminds me of
being at the bottom of some crevasse or gorge, the proper surface of
the globe being the tops of the houses.'

'You will come to take care of us, John? And you, Mr. Neigh, would
like to come? We will tell Mr. Ladywell that he may join us if he
cares to,' said Mrs. Belmaine.

'O yes,' said her husband quietly; and Neigh said he should like
nothing better, after a faint aspect of apprehension at the
remoteness of the idea from the daily track of his thoughts. Mr.
Belmaine observing this, and mistaking it for an indication that
Neigh had been dragged into the party against his will by his over-
hasty wife, arranged that Neigh should go independently and meet
them there at the hour named if he chose to do so, to give him an
opportunity of staying away. Ethelberta also was by this time
doubting if she had not been too eager with her proposal. To go on
such a sentimental errand might be thought by her friends to be
simply troublesome, their adherence having been given only in the
regular course of complaisance. She was still comparatively an
outsider here, her life with Lady Petherwin having been passed
chiefly in alternations between English watering-places and
continental towns. However, it was too late now to muse on this,
and it may be added that from first to last Ethelberta never
discovered from the Belmaines whether her proposal had been an
infliction or a charm, so perfectly were they practised in
sustaining that complete divorce between thinking and saying which
is the hall-mark of high civilization.

But, however she might doubt the Belmaines, she had no doubt as to
Neigh's true sentiments: the time had come when he, notwithstanding
his air of being oppressed by almost every lively invention of town
and country for charming griefs to rest, would not be at all
oppressed by a quiet visit to the purlieus of St Giles's,
Cripplegate, since she was the originator, and was going herself.

It was a bright hope-inspiring afternoon in this mid-May time when
the carriage containing Mr. and Mrs. Belmaine, Mrs. Doncastle, and
Ethelberta, crept along the encumbered streets towards Barbican;
till turning out of that thoroughfare into Redcross Street they
beheld the bold shape of the old tower they sought, clothed in every
neutral shade, standing clear against the sky, dusky and grim in its
upper stage, and hoary grey below, where every corner of every stone
was completely rounded off by the waves of wind and storm.

All people were busy here: our visitors seemed to be the only idle
persons the city contained; and there was no dissonance--there never
is--between antiquity and such beehive industry; for pure industry,
in failing to observe its own existence and aspect, partakes of the
unobtrusive nature of material things. This intra-mural stir was a
flywheel transparent by excessive motion, through which Milton and
his day could be seen as if nothing intervened. Had there been
ostensibly harmonious accessories, a crowd of observing people in
search of the poetical, conscious of the place and the scene, what a
discord would have arisen there! But everybody passed by Milton's
grave except Ethelberta and her friends, and for the moment the
city's less invidious conduct appeared to her more respectful as a
practice than her own.

But she was brought out of this rumination by the halt at the church
door, and completely reminded of the present by finding the church
open, and Neigh--the, till yesterday, unimpassioned Neigh--waiting
in the vestibule to receive them, just as if he lived there.
Ladywell had not arrived. It was a long time before Ethelberta
could get back to Milton again, for Neigh was continuing to impend
over her future more and more visibly. The objects along the
journey had distracted her mind from him; but the moment now was as
a direct renewal and prolongation of the declaration-time yesterday,
and as if in furtherance of the conclusion of the episode.

They all alighted and went in, the coachman being told to take the
carriage to a quiet nook further on, and return in half-an-hour.
Mrs. Belmaine and her carriage some years before had accidentally
got jammed crosswise in Cheapside through the clumsiness of the man
in turning up a side street, blocking that great artery of the
civilized world for the space of a minute and a half, when they were
pounced upon by half-a-dozen policemen and forced to back
ignominiously up a little slit between the houses where they did not
mean to go, amid the shouts of the hindered drivers; and it was her
nervous recollection of that event which caused Mrs. Belmaine to be
so precise in her directions now.

By the time that they were grouped around the tomb the visit had
assumed a much more solemn complexion than any one among them had
anticipated. Ashamed of the influence that she discovered Neigh to
be exercising over her, and opposing it steadily, Ethelberta drew
from her pocket a small edition of Milton, and proposed that she
should read a few lines from 'Paradise Lost.' The responsibility of
producing a successful afternoon was upon her shoulders; she was,
moreover, the only one present who could properly manage blank
verse, and this was sufficient to justify the proposal.

She stood with her head against the marble slab just below the bust,
and began a selected piece, Neigh standing a few yards off on her
right looking into his hat in order to listen accurately, Mr. and
Mrs. Belmaine and Mrs. Doncastle seating themselves in a pew
directly facing the monument. The ripe warm colours of afternoon
came in upon them from the west, upon the sallow piers and arches,
and the infinitely deep brown pews beneath, the aisle over
Ethelberta's head being in misty shade through which glowed a lurid
light from a dark-stained window behind. The sentences fell from
her lips in a rhythmical cadence one by one, and she could be
fancied a priestess of him before whose image she stood, when with a
vivid suggestiveness she delivered here, not many yards from the
central money-mill of the world, yet out from the very tomb of their
author, the passage containing the words:

'Mammon led them on;
Mammon, the least erected spirit that fell
From heaven.'

When she finished reading Ethelberta left the monument, and then
each one present strayed independently about the building,
Ethelberta turning to the left along the passage to the south door.
Neigh--from whose usually apathetic face and eyes there had
proceeded a secret smouldering light as he listened and regarded
her--followed in the same direction and vanished at her heels into
the churchyard, whither she had now gone. Mr. and Mrs. Belmaine
exchanged glances, and instead of following the pair they went with
Mrs. Doncastle into the vestry to inquire of the person in charge
for the register of the marriage of Oliver Cromwell, which was
solemnized here. The church was now quite empty, and its stillness
was as a vacuum into which an occasional noise from the street
overflowed and became rarefied away to nothing.

Something like five minutes had passed when a hansom stopped outside
the door, and Ladywell entered the porch. He stood still, and,
looking inquiringly round for a minute or two, sat down in one of
the high pews, as if under the impression that the others had not
yet arrived.

While he sat here Neigh reappeared at the south door opposite, and
came slowly in. Ladywell, in rising to go to him, saw that Neigh's
attention was engrossed by something he held in his hand. It was
his pocket-book, and Neigh was looking at a few loose flower-petals
which had been placed between the pages. When Ladywell came forward
Neigh looked up, started, and closed the book quickly, so that some
of the petals fluttered to the ground between the two men. They
were striped, red and white, and appeared to be leaves of the
Harlequin rose.

'Ah! here you are, Ladywell,' he said, recovering himself. 'We had
given you up: my aunt said that you would not care to come. They
are all in the vestry.' How it came to pass that Neigh designated
those in the vestry as 'all,' when there was one in the churchyard,
was a thing that he himself could hardly have explained, so much
more had it to do with instinct than with calculation.

'Never mind them--don't interrupt them,' said Ladywell. 'The plain
truth is that I have been very greatly disturbed in mind; and I
could not appear earlier by reason of it. I had some doubt about
coming at all.'

'I am sorry to hear that.'

'Neigh--I may as well tell you and have done with it. I have found
that a lady of my acquaintance has two strings to her bow, or I am
very much in error.'

'What--Mrs. Petherwin?' said Neigh uneasily. 'But I thought that--
that fancy was over with you long ago. Even your acquaintance with
her was at an end, I thought.'

'In a measure it is at an end. But let me tell you that what you
call a fancy has been anything but a fancy with me, to be over like
a spring shower. To speak plainly, Neigh, I consider myself badly
used by that woman; damn badly used.'

'Badly used?' said Neigh mechanically, and wondering all the time if
Ladywell had been informed that Ethelberta was to be one of the
party to-day.

'Well, I ought not to talk like that,' said Ladywell, adopting a
lighter tone. 'All is fair in courtship, I suppose, now as ever.
Indeed, I mean to put a good face upon it: if I am beaten, I am.
But it is very provoking, after supposing matters to be going on
smoothly, to find out that you are quite mistaken.'

'I told you you were quite mistaken in supposing she cared for you.'

'That is just the point I was not mistaken in,' said Ladywell
warmly. 'She did care for me, and I stood as well with her as any
man could stand until this fellow came, whoever he is. I sometimes
feel so disturbed about it that I have a good mind to call upon her
and ask his name. Wouldn't you, Neigh? Will you accompany me?'

'I would in a moment, but, but-- I strongly advise you not to go,'
said Neigh earnestly. 'It would be rash, you know, and rather
unmannerly; and would only hurt your feelings.'

'Well, I am always ready to yield to a friend's arguments. . . . A
sneaking scamp, that's what he is. Why does he not show himself?'

'Don't you really know who he is?' said Neigh, in a pronounced and
exceptional tone, on purpose to give Ladywell a chance of
suspecting, for the position was getting awkward. But Ladywell was
blind as Bartimeus in that direction, so well had indifference to
Ethelberta's charms been feigned by Neigh until he thought seriously
of marrying her. Yet, unfortunately for the interests of calmness,
Ladywell was less blind with his outward eye. In his reflections
his glance had lingered again upon the pocket-book which Neigh still
held in his hand, and upon the two or three rose-leaves on the
floor, until he said idly, superimposing humorousness upon misery,
as men in love can:

'Rose-leaves, Neigh? I thought you did not care for flowers. What
makes you amuse yourself with such sentimental objects as those,
only fit for women, or painters like me? If I had not observed you
with my own eyes I should have said that you were about the last man
in the world to care for things of that sort. Whatever makes you
keep rose-leaves in your pocket-book?'

'The best reason on earth,' said Neigh. 'A woman gave them to me.'

'That proves nothing unless she is a great deal to you,' said
Ladywell, with the experienced air of a man who, whatever his
inferiority in years to Neigh, was far beyond him in knowledge of
that sort, by virtue of his recent trials.

'She is a great deal to me.'

'If I did not know you to be such a confirmed misogynist I should
say that this is a serious matter.'

'It is serious,' said Neigh quietly. 'The probability is that I
shall marry the woman who gave me these. Anyhow I have asked her
the question, and she has not altogether said no.'

'I am glad to hear it, Neigh,' said Ladywell heartily. 'I am glad
to hear that your star is higher than mine.'

Before Neigh could make further reply Ladywell was attracted by the
glow of green sunlight reflected through the south door by the grass
of the churchyard, now in all its spring freshness and luxuriance.
He bent his steps thither, followed anxiously by Neigh.

'I had no idea there was such a lovely green spot in the city,'
Ladywell continued, passing out. 'Trees too, planted in the manner
of an orchard. What a charming place!'

The place was truly charming just at that date. The untainted
leaves of the lime and plane trees and the newly-sprung grass had in
the sun a brilliancy of beauty that was brought into extraordinary
prominence by the sable soil showing here and there, and the
charcoaled stems and trunks out of which the leaves budded: they
seemed an importation, not a produce, and their delicacy such as
would perish in a day.

'What is this round tower?' Ladywell said again, walking towards the
iron-grey bastion, partly covered with ivy and Virginia creeper,
which stood obtruding into the enclosure.

'O, didn't you know that was here? That's a piece of the old city
wall,' said Neigh, looking furtively around at the same time.
Behind the bastion the churchyard ran into a long narrow strip,
grassed like the other part, but completely hidden from it by the
cylinder of ragged masonry. On rounding this projection, Ladywell
beheld within a few feet of him a lady whom he knew too well.

'Mrs. Petherwin here!' exclaimed he, proving how ignorant he had
been of the composition of the party he was to meet, and accounting
at the same time for his laxity in attending it.

'I forgot to tell you,' said Neigh awkwardly, behind him, 'that Mrs.
Petherwin was to come with us.'

Ethelberta's look was somewhat blushful and agitated, as if from
some late transaction: she appeared to have been secluding herself
there till she should have recovered her equanimity. However, she
came up to him and said, 'I did not see you before this moment: we
had been thinking you would not come.'

While these words were being prettily spoken, Ladywell's face became
pale as death. On Ethelberta's bosom were the stem and green calyx
of a rose, almost all its flower having disappeared. It had been a
Harlequin rose, for two or three of its striped leaves remained to
tell the tale.

She could not help noticing his fixed gaze, and she said quickly,
'Yes, I have lost my pretty rose: this may as well go now,' and she
plucked the stem from its fastening in her dress and flung it away.

Poor Ladywell turned round to meet Mr. and Mrs. Belmaine, whose
voices were beginning to be heard just within the church door,
leaving Neigh and Ethelberta together. It was a graceful act of
young Ladywell's that, in the midst of his own pain at the strange
tale the rose-leaves suggested--Neigh's rivalry, Ethelberta's
mutability, his own defeat--he was not regardless of the intense
embarrassment which might have been caused had he remained.

The two were silent at first, and it was evident that Ethelberta's
mood was one of anger at something that had gone before. She turned
aside from him to follow the others, when Neigh spoke in a tone
somewhat bitter and somewhat stern.

'What--going like that! After being compromised together, why don't
you close with me? Ladywell knows all: I had already told him that
the rose-leaves were given me by my intended wife. We seem to him
to be practising deceptions all of a piece, and what folly it is to
play off so! As to what I did, that I ask your forgiveness for.'

Ethelberta looked upon the ground and maintained a compressed lip.
Neigh resumed: 'If I showed more feeling than you care for, I
insist that it was not more than was natural under the
circumstances, if not quite proper. Opinions may differ, but my
experience goes to prove that conventional squeamishness at such
times as these is more talked and written about than practised.
Plain behaviour must be expected when marriage is the question.
Nevertheless, I do say--and I cannot say more--that I am sincerely
sorry to have offended you by exceeding my privileges. I will never
do so again.'

'Don't say privileges. You have none.'

'I am sorry that I thought otherwise, and that others will think so
too. Ladywell is, at any rate, bent on thinking so. . . . It might

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