This etext was prepared by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset
‘It is only through deep sympathy that a man can become a great artist.’–Lewes’s Life of Goethe.
‘Sympathy is feeling related to an object, whilst sentiment is the same feeling seeking itself alone.’–Arnold Toynbee.
‘Nothing fills a child’s mind like a large old mansion; better if un- or partially occupied; peopled with the spirits of deceased members of the county and Justices of the Quorum. Would I were buried in the peopled solitude of one, with my feelings at seven years old!’–From Letters of Charles Lamb.
To attempt a formal biography of Derrick Vaughan would be out of the question, even though he and I have been more or less thrown together since we were both in the nursery. But I have an odd sort of wish to note down roughly just a few of my recollections of him, and to show how his fortunes gradually developed, being perhaps stimulated to make the attempt by certain irritating remarks which one overhears now often enough at clubs or in drawing-rooms, or indeed wherever one goes. “Derrick Vaughan,” say these authorities of the world of small-talk, with that delightful air of omniscience which invariably characterises them, “why, he simply leapt into fame. He is one of the favourites of fortune. Like Byron, he woke one morning and found himself famous.”
Now this sounds well enough, but it is a long way from the truth, and I–Sydney Wharncliffe, of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-law– desire, while the past few years are fresh in my mind, to write a true version of my friend’s career.
Everyone knows his face. Has it not appeared in ‘Noted Men,’ and– gradually deteriorating according to the price of the paper and the quality of the engraving–in many another illustrated journal? Yet somehow these works of art don’t satisfy me, and, as I write, I see before me something very different from the latest photograph by Messrs. Paul and Reynard.
I see a large-featured, broad-browed English face, a trifle heavy- looking when in repose, yet a thorough, honest, manly face, with a complexion neither dark nor fair, with brown hair and moustache, and with light hazel eyes that look out on the world quietly enough. You might talk to him for long in an ordinary way and never suspect that he was a genius; but when you have him to yourself, when some consciousness of sympathy rouses him, he all at once becomes a different being. His quiet eyes kindle, his face becomes full of life–you wonder that you ever thought it heavy or commonplace. Then the world interrupts in some way, and, just as a hermit-crab draws down its shell with a comically rapid movement, so Derrick suddenly retires into himself.
Thus much for his outer man.
For the rest, there are of course the neat little accounts of his birthplace, his parentage, his education, etc., etc., published with the list of his works in due order, with the engravings in the illustrated papers. But these tell us little of the real life of the man.
Carlyle, in one of his finest passages, says that ‘A true delineation of the smallest man and his scene of pilgrimage through life is capable of interesting the greatest men; that all men are to an unspeakable degree brothers, each man’s life a strange emblem of every man’s; and that human portraits faithfully drawn are of all pictures the welcomest on human walls.’ And though I don’t profess to give a portrait, but merely a sketch, I will endeavour to sketch faithfully, and possibly in the future my work may fall into the hands of some of those worthy people who imagine that my friend leapt into fame at a bound, or of those comfortable mortals who seem to think that a novel is turned out as easily as water from a tap.
There is, however, one thing I can never do:–I am quite unable to put into words my friend’s intensely strong feeling with regard to the sacredness of his profession. It seemed to me not unlike the feeling of Isaiah when, in the vision, his mouth had been touched with the celestial fire. And I can only hope that something of this may be read between my very inadequate lines.
Looking back, I fancy Derrick must have been a clever child. But he was not precocious, and in some respects was even decidedly backward. I can see him now–it is my first clear recollection of him–leaning back in the corner of my father’s carriage as we drove from the Newmarket station to our summer home at Mondisfield. He and I were small boys of eight, and Derrick had been invited for the holidays, while his twin brother–if I remember right–indulged in typhoid fever at Kensington. He was shy and silent, and the ice was not broken until we passed Silvery Steeple.
“That,” said my father, “is a ruined church; it was destroyed by Cromwell in the Civil Wars.”
In an instant the small quiet boy sitting beside me was transformed. His eyes shone; he sprang forward and thrust his head far out of the window, gazing at the old ivy-covered tower as long as it remained in sight.
“Was Cromwell really once there?” he asked with breathless interest.
“So they say,” replied my father, looking with an amused smile at the face of the questioner, in which eagerness, delight, and reverence were mingled. “Are you an admirer of the Lord Protector?”
“He is my greatest hero of all,” said Derrick fervently. “Do you think–oh, do you think he possibly can ever have come to Mondisfield?”
My father thought not, but said there was an old tradition that the Hall had been attacked by the Royalists, and the bridge over the moat defended by the owner of the house; but he had no great belief in the story, for which, indeed, there seemed no evidence.
Derrick’s eyes during this conversation were something wonderful to see, and long after, when we were not actually playing at anything, I used often to notice the same expression stealing over him, and would cry out, “There is the man defending the bridge again; I can see him in your eyes! Tell me what happened to him next!”
Then, generally pacing to and fro in the apple walk, or sitting astride the bridge itself, Derrick would tell me of the adventures of my ancestor, Paul Wharncliffe, who performed incredible feats of valour, and who was to both of us a most real person. On wet days he wrote his story in a copy-book, and would have worked at it for hours had my mother allowed him, though of the manual part of the work he had, and has always retained, the greatest dislike. I remember well the comical ending of this first story of his. He skipped over an interval of ten years, represented on the page by ten laboriously made stars, and did for his hero in the following lines:
“And now, reader, let us come into Mondisfield churchyard. There are three tombstones. On one is written, ‘Mr. Paul Wharncliffe.'”
The story was no better than the productions of most eight-year-old children, the written story at least. But, curiously enough, it proved to be the germ of the celebrated romance, ‘At Strife,’ which Derrick wrote in after years; and he himself maintains that his picture of life during the Civil War would have been much less graphic had he not lived so much in the past during his various visits to Mondisfield.
It was at his second visit, when we were nine, that I remember his announcing his intention of being an author when he was grown up. My mother still delights in telling the story. She was sitting at work in the south parlour one day, when I dashed into the room calling out:
“Derrick’s head is stuck between the banisters in the gallery; come quick, mother, come quick!”
She ran up the little winding staircase, and there, sure enough, in the musician’s gallery, was poor Derrick, his manuscript and pen on the floor and his head in durance vile.
“You silly boy!” said my mother, a little frightened when she found that to get the head back was no easy matter, “What made you put it through?”
“You look like King Charles at Carisbrooke,” I cried, forgetting how much Derrick would resent the speech.
And being released at that moment he took me by the shoulders and gave me an angry shake or two, as he said vehemently, “I’m not like King Charles! King Charles was a liar.”
I saw my mother smile a little as she separated us.
“Come, boys, don’t quarrel,” she said. “And Derrick will tell me the truth, for indeed I am curious to know why he thrust his head in such a place.”
“I wanted to make sure,” said Derrick, “whether Paul Wharncliffe could see Lady Lettice, when she took the falcon on her wrist below in the passage. I mustn’t say he saw her if it’s impossible, you know. Authors have to be quite true in little things, and I mean to be an author.”
“But,” said my mother, laughing at the great earnestness of the hazel eyes, “could not your hero look over the top of the rail?”
“Well, yes,” said Derrick. “He would have done that, but you see it’s so dreadfully high and I couldn’t get up. But I tell you what, Mrs. Wharncliffe, if it wouldn’t be giving you a great deal of trouble–I’m sorry you were troubled to get my head back again–but if you would just look over, since you are so tall, and I’ll run down and act Lady Lettice.”
“Why couldn’t Paul go downstairs and look at the lady in comfort?” asked my mother.
Derrick mused a little.
“He might look at her through a crack in the door at the foot of the stairs, perhaps, but that would seem mean, somehow. It would be a pity, too, not to use the gallery; galleries are uncommon, you see, and you can get cracked doors anywhere. And, you know, he was obliged to look at her when she couldn’t see him, because their fathers were on different sides in the war, and dreadful enemies.”
When school-days came, matters went on much in the same way; there was always an abominably scribbled tale stowed away in Derrick’s desk, and he worked infinitely harder than I did, because there was always before him this determination to be an author and to prepare himself for the life. But he wrote merely from love of it, and with no idea of publication until the beginning of our last year at Oxford, when, having reached the ripe age of one-and-twenty, he determined to delay no longer, but to plunge boldly into his first novel.
He was seldom able to get more than six or eight hours a week for it, because he was reading rather hard, so that the novel progressed but slowly. Finally, to my astonishment, it came to a dead stand- still.
I have never made out exactly what was wrong with Derrick then, though I know that he passed through a terrible time of doubt and despair. I spent part of the Long with him down at Ventnor, where his mother had been ordered for her health. She was devoted to Derrick, and as far as I can understand, he was her chief comfort in life. Major Vaughan, the husband, had been out in India for years; the only daughter was married to a rich manufacturer at Birmingham, who had a constitutional dislike to mothers-in-law, and as far as possible eschewed their company; while Lawrence, Derrick’s twin brother, was for ever getting into scrapes, and was into the bargain the most unblushingly selfish fellow I ever had the pleasure of meeting.
“Sydney,” said Mrs. Vaughan to me one afternoon when we were in the garden, “Derrick seems to me unlike himself, there is a division between us which I never felt before. Can you tell me what is troubling him?”
She was not at all a good-looking woman, but she had a very sweet, wistful face, and I never looked at her sad eyes without feeling ready to go through fire and water for her. I tried now to make light of Derrick’s depression.
“He is only going through what we all of us go through,” I said, assuming a cheerful tone. “He has suddenly discovered that life is a great riddle, and that the things he has accepted in blind faith are, after all, not so sure.”
“Do all go through it?” she said thoughtfully. “And how many, I wonder, get beyond?”
“Few enough,” I replied moodily. Then, remembering my role,–“But Derrick will get through; he has a thousand things to help him which others have not,–you, for instance. And then I fancy he has a sort of insight which most of us are without.”
“Possibly,” she said. “As for me, it is little that I can do for him. Perhaps you are right, and it is true that once in a life at any rate we all have to go into the wilderness alone.”
That was the last summer I ever saw Derrick’s mother; she took a chill the following Christmas and died after a few days’ illness. But I have always thought her death helped Derrick in a way that her life might have failed to do. For although he never, I fancy, quite recovered from the blow, and to this day cannot speak of her without tears in his eyes, yet when he came back to Oxford he seemed to have found the answer to the riddle, and though older, sadder and graver than before, had quite lost the restless dissatisfaction that for some time had clouded his life. In a few months, moreover, I noticed a fresh sign that he was out of the wood. Coming into his rooms one day I found him sitting in the cushioned window-seat, reading over and correcting some sheets of blue foolscap.
“At it again?” I asked.
“I mean to finish the first volume here. For the rest I must be in London.”
“Why?” I asked, a little curious as to this unknown art of novel- making.
“Because,” he replied, “one must be in the heart of things to understand how Lynwood was affected by them.”
“Lynwood! I believe you are always thinking of him!” (Lynwood was the hero of his novel.)
“Well, so I am nearly–so I must be, if the book is to be any good.”
“Read me what you have written,” I said, throwing myself back in a rickety but tolerably comfortable arm-chair which Derrick had inherited with the rooms.
He hesitated a moment, being always very diffident about his own work; but presently, having provided me with a cigar and made a good deal of unnecessary work in arranging the sheets of the manuscript, he began to read aloud, rather nervously, the opening chapters of the book now so well known under the title of ‘Lynwood’s Heritage.’
I had heard nothing of his for the last four years, and was amazed at the gigantic stride he had made in the interval. For, spite of a certain crudeness, it seemed to me a most powerful story; it rushed straight to the point with no wavering, no beating about the bush; it flung itself into the problems of the day with a sort of sublime audacity; it took hold of one; it whirled one along with its own inherent force, and drew forth both laughter and tears, for Derrick’s power of pathos had always been his strongest point.
All at once he stopped reading.
“Go on!” I cried impatiently.
“That is all,” he said, gathering the sheets together.
“You stopped in the middle of a sentence!” I cried in exasperation.
“Yes,” he said quietly, “for six months.”
“You provoking fellow! why, I wonder?”
“Because I didn’t know the end.”
“Good heavens! And do you know it now?”
He looked me full in the face, and there was an expression in his eyes which puzzled me.
“I believe I do,” he said; and, getting up, he crossed the room, put the manuscript away in a drawer, and returning, sat down in the window-seat again, looking out on the narrow, paved street below, and at the grey buildings opposite.
I knew very well that he would never ask me what I thought of the story–that was not his way.
“Derrick!” I exclaimed, watching his impassive face, “I believe after all you are a genius.”
I hardly know why I said “after all,” but till that moment it had never struck me that Derrick was particularly gifted. He had so far got through his Oxford career creditably, but then he had worked hard; his talents were not of a showy order. I had never expected that he would set the Thames on fire. Even now it seemed to me that he was too dreamy, too quiet, too devoid of the pushing faculty to succeed in the world.
My remark made him laugh incredulously.
“Define a genius,” he said.
For answer I pulled down his beloved Imperial Dictionary and read him the following quotation from De Quincey: ‘Genius is that mode of intellectual power which moves in alliance with the genial nature, i.e., with the capacities of pleasure and pain; whereas talent has no vestige of such an alliance, and is perfectly independent of all human sensibilities.’
“Let me think! You can certainly enjoy things a hundred times more than I can–and as for suffering, why you were always a great hand at that. Now listen to the great Dr. Johnson and see if the cap fits, ‘The true genius is a mind of large general powers accidentally determined in some particular direction.’
“‘Large general powers’!–yes, I believe after all you have them with, alas, poor Derrick! one notable exception–the mathematical faculty. You were always bad at figures. We will stick to De Quincey’s definition, and for heaven’s sake, my dear fellow, do get Lynwood out of that awful plight! No wonder you were depressed when you lived all this age with such a sentence unfinished!”
“For the matter of that,” said Derrick, “he can’t get out till the end of the book; but I can begin to go on with him now.”
“And when you leave Oxford?”
“Then I mean to settle down in London–to write leisurely–and possibly to read for the Bar.”
“We might be together,” I suggested. And Derrick took to this idea, being a man who detested solitude and crowds about equally. Since his mother’s death he had been very much alone in the world. To Lawrence he was always loyal, but the two had nothing in common, and though fond of his sister he could not get on at all with the manufacturer, his brother-in-law. But this prospect of life together in London pleased him amazingly; he began to recover his spirits to a great extent and to look much more like himself.
It must have been just as he had taken his degree that he received a telegram to announce that Major Vaughan had been invalided home, and would arrive at Southampton in three weeks’ time. Derrick knew very little of his father, but apparently Mrs. Vaughan had done her best to keep up a sort of memory of his childish days at Aldershot, and in these the part that his father played was always pleasant. So he looked forward to the meeting not a little, while I, from the first, had my doubts as to the felicity it was likely to bring him.
However, it was ordained that before the Major’s ship arrived, his son’s whole life should change. Even Lynwood was thrust into the background. As for me, I was nowhere. For Derrick, the quiet, the self-contained, had fallen passionately in love with a certain Freda Merrifield.
‘Infancy? What if the rose-streak of morning Pale and depart in a passion of tears? Once to have hoped is no matter for scorning: Love once: e’en love’s disappointment endears; A moment’s success pays the failure of years.’ R. Browning.
The wonder would have been if he had not fallen in love with her, for a more fascinating girl I never saw. She had only just returned from school at Compiegne, and was not yet out; her charming freshness was unsullied; she had all the simplicity and straightforwardness of unspoilt, unsophisticated girlhood. I well remember our first sight of her. We had been invited for a fortnight’s yachting by Calverley of Exeter. His father, Sir John Calverley, had a sailing yacht, and some guests having disappointed him at the last minute, he gave his son carte blanche as to who he should bring to fill the vacant berths.
So we three travelled down to Southampton together one hot summer day, and were rowed out to the Aurora, an uncommonly neat little schooner which lay in that over-rated and frequently odoriferous roadstead, Southampton Water. However, I admit that on that evening–the tide being high–the place looked remarkably pretty; the level rays of the setting sun turned the water to gold; a soft luminous haze hung over the town and the shipping, and by a stretch of imagination one might have thought the view almost Venetian. Derrick’s perfect content was only marred by his shyness. I knew that he dreaded reaching the Aurora; and sure enough, as we stepped on to the exquisitely white deck and caught sight of the little group of guests, I saw him retreat into his crab-shell of silent reserve. Sir John, who made a very pleasant host, introduced us to the other visitors–Lord Probyn and his wife and their niece, Miss Freda Merrifield. Lady Probyn was Sir John’s sister, and also the sister of Miss Merrifield’s mother; so that it was almost a family party, and by no means a formidable gathering. Lady Probyn played the part of hostess and chaperoned her pretty niece; but she was not in the least like the aunt of fiction–on the contrary, she was comparatively young in years and almost comically young in mind; her niece was devoted to her, and the moment I saw her I knew that our cruise could not possibly be dull.
As to Miss Freda, when we first caught sight of her she was standing near the companion, dressed in a daintily made yachting costume of blue serge and white braid, and round her white sailor hat she wore the name of the yacht stamped on a white ribbon; in her waist-band she had fastened two deep crimson roses, and she looked at us with frank, girlish curiosity, no doubt wondering whether we should add to or detract from the enjoyment of the expedition. She was rather tall, and there was an air of strength and energy about her which was most refreshing. Her skin was singularly white, but there was a healthy glow of colour in her cheeks; while her large, grey eyes, shaded by long lashes, were full of life and brightness. As to her features, they were perhaps a trifle irregular, and her elder sisters were supposed to eclipse her altogether; but to my mind she was far the most taking of the three.
I was not in the least surprised that Derrick should fall head over ears in love with her; she was exactly the sort of girl that would infallibly attract him. Her absence of shyness; her straightforward, easy way of talking; her genuine goodheartedness; her devotion to animals–one of his own pet hobbies–and finally her exquisite playing, made the result a foregone conclusion. And then, moreover, they were perpetually together. He would hang over the piano in the saloon for hours while she played, the rest of us lazily enjoying the easy chairs and the fresh air on deck; and whenever we landed, these two were sure in the end to be just a little apart from the rest of us.
It was an eminently successful cruise. We all liked each other; the sea was calm, the sunshine constant, the wind as a rule favourable, and I think I never in a single fortnight heard so many good stories, or had such a good time. We seemed to get right out of the world and its narrow restrictions, away from all that was hollow and base and depressing, only landing now and then at quaint little quiet places for some merry excursion on shore. Freda was in the highest spirits; and as to Derrick, he was a different creature. She seemed to have the power of drawing him out in a marvellous degree, and she took the greatest interest in his work–a sure way to every author’s heart.
But it was not till one day, when we landed at Tresco, that I felt certain she genuinely loved him–there in one glance the truth flashed upon me. I was walking with one of the gardeners down one of the long shady paths of that lovely little island, with its curiously foreign look, when we suddenly came face to face with Derrick and Freda. They were talking earnestly, and I could see her great grey eyes as they were lifted to his–perhaps they were more expressive than she knew–I cannot say. They both started a little as we confronted them, and the colour deepened in Freda’s face. The gardener, with what photographers usually ask for–‘just the faint beginning of a smile,’–turned and gathered a bit of white heather growing near.
“They say it brings good luck, miss,” he remarked, handing it to Freda.
“Thank you,” she said, laughing, “I hope it will bring it to me. At any rate it will remind me of this beautiful island. Isn’t it just like Paradise, Mr. Wharncliffe?”
“For me it is like Paradise before Eve was created,” I replied, rather wickedly. “By the bye, are you going to keep all the good luck to yourself?”
“I don’t know,” she said laughing. “Perhaps I shall; but you have only to ask the gardener, he will gather you another piece directly.”
I took good care to drop behind, having no taste for the third- fiddle business; but I noticed when we were in the gig once more, rowing back to the yacht, that the white heather had been equally divided–one half was in the waist-band of the blue serge dress, the other half in the button-hole of Derrick’s blazer.
So the fortnight slipped by, and at length one afternoon we found ourselves once more in Southampton Water; then came the bustle of packing and the hurry of departure, and the merry party dispersed. Derrick and I saw them all off at the station, for, as his father’s ship did not arrive till the following day, I made up my mind to stay on with him at Southampton.
“You will come and see us in town,” said Lady Probyn, kindly. And Lord Probyn invited us both for the shooting at Blachington in September. “We will have the same party on shore, and see if we can’t enjoy ourselves almost as well,” he said in his hearty way; “the novel will go all the better for it, eh, Vaughan?”
Derrick brightened visibly at the suggestion. I heard him talking to Freda all the time that Sir John stood laughing and joking as to the comparative pleasures of yachting and shooting.
“You will be there too?” Derrick asked.
“I can’t tell,” said Freda, and there was a shade of sadness in her tone. Her voice was deeper than most women’s voices–a rich contralto with something striking and individual about it. I could hear her quite plainly; but Derrick spoke less distinctly–he always had a bad trick of mumbling.
“You see I am the youngest,” she said, “and I am not really ‘out.’ Perhaps my mother will wish one of the elder ones to go; but I half think they are already engaged for September, so after all I may have a chance.”
Inaudible remark from my friend.
“Yes, I came here because my sisters did not care to leave London till the end of the season,” replied the clear contralto. “It has been a perfect cruise. I shall remember it all my life.”
After that, nothing more was audible; but I imagine Derrick must have hazarded a more personal question, and that Freda had admitted that it was not only the actual sailing she should remember. At any rate her face when I caught sight of it again made me think of the girl described in the ‘Biglow Papers’:
“”Twas kin’ o’ kingdom come to look On sech a blessed creatur.
A dogrose blushin’ to a brook
Ain’t modester nor sweeter.'”
So the train went off, and Derrick and I were left to idle about Southampton and kill time as best we might. Derrick seemed to walk the streets in a sort of dream–he was perfectly well aware that he had met his fate, and at that time no thought of difficulties in the way had arisen either in his mind or in my own. We were both of us young and inexperienced; we were both of us in love, and we had the usual lover’s notion that everything in heaven and earth is prepared to favour the course of his particular passion.
I remember that we soon found the town intolerable, and, crossing by the ferry, walked over to Netley Abbey, and lay down idly in the shade of the old grey walls. Not a breath of wind stirred the great masses of ivy which were wreathed about the ruined church, and the place looked so lovely in its decay, that we felt disposed to judge the dissolute monks very leniently for having behaved so badly that their church and monastery had to be opened to the four winds of heaven. After all, when is a church so beautiful as when it has the green grass for its floor and the sky for its roof?
I could show you the very spot near the East window where Derrick told me the whole truth, and where we talked over Freda’s perfections and the probability of frequent meetings in London. He had listened so often and so patiently to my affairs, that it seemed an odd reversal to have to play the confidant; and if now and then my thoughts wandered off to the coming month at Mondisfield, and pictured violet eyes while he talked of grey, it was not from any lack of sympathy with my friend.
Derrick was not of a self-tormenting nature, and though I knew he was amazed at the thought that such a girl as Freda could possibly care for him, yet he believed most implicitly that this wonderful thing had come to pass; and, remembering her face as we had last seen it, and the look in her eyes at Tresco, I, too, had not a shadow of a doubt that she really loved him. She was not the least bit of a flirt, and society had not had a chance yet of moulding her into the ordinary girl of the nineteenth century.
Perhaps it was the sudden and unexpected change of the next day that makes me remember Derrick’s face so distinctly as he lay back on the smooth turf that afternoon in Netley Abbey. As it looked then, full of youth and hope, full of that dream of cloudless love, I never saw it again.
“Religion in him never died, but became a habit–a habit of enduring hardness, and cleaving to the steadfast performance of duty in the face of the strongest allurements to the pleasanter and easier course.”
Life of Charles Lamb, by A. Ainger.
Derrick was in good spirits the next day. He talked much of Major Vaughan, wondered whether the voyage home had restored his health, discussed the probable length of his leave, and speculated as to the nature of his illness; the telegram had of course given no details.
“There has not been even a photograph for the last five years,” he remarked, as we walked down to the quay together. “Yet I think I should know him anywhere, if it is only by his height. He used to look so well on horseback. I remember as a child seeing him in a sham fight charging up Caesar’s Camp.”
“How old were you when he went out?”
“Oh, quite a small boy,” replied Derrick. “It was just before I first stayed with you. However, he has had a regular succession of photographs sent out to him, and will know me easily enough.”
Poor Derrick! I can’t think of that day even now without a kind of mental shiver. We watched the great steamer as it glided up to the quay, and Derrick scanned the crowded deck with eager eyes, but could nowhere see the tall, soldierly figure that had lingered so long in his memory. He stood with his hand resting on the rail of the gangway, and when presently it was raised to the side of the steamer, he still kept his position, so that he could instantly catch sight of his father as he passed down. I stood close behind him, and watched the motley procession of passengers; most of them had the dull colourless skin which bespeaks long residence in India, and a particularly yellow and peevish-looking old man was grumbling loudly as he slowly made his way down the gangway.
“The most disgraceful scene!” he remarked. “The fellow was as drunk as he could be.”
“Who was it?” asked his companion.
“Why, Major Vaughan, to be sure. The only wonder is that he hasn’t drunk himself to death by this time–been at it years enough!”
Derrick turned, as though to shelter himself from the curious eyes of the travellers; but everywhere the quay was crowded. It seemed to me not unlike the life that lay before him, with this new shame which could not be hid, and I shall never forget the look of misery in his face.
“Most likely a great exaggeration of that spiteful old fogey’s,” I said. “Never believe anything that you hear, is a sound axiom. Had you not better try to get on board?”
“Yes; and for heaven’s sake come with me, Wharncliffe!” he said. “It can’t be true! It is, as you say, that man’s spite, or else there is someone else of the name on board. That must be it– someone else of the name.”
I don’t know whether he managed to deceive himself. We made our way on board, and he spoke to one of the stewards, who conducted us to the saloon. I knew from the expression of the man’s face that the words we had overheard were but too true; it was a mere glance that he gave us, yet if he had said aloud, “They belong to that old drunkard! Thank heaven I’m not in their shoes!” I could not have better understood what was in his mind.
There were three persons only in the great saloon: an officer’s servant, whose appearance did not please me; a fine looking old man with grey hair and whiskers, and a rough-hewn honest face, apparently the ship’s doctor; and a tall grizzled man in whom I at once saw a sort of horrible likeness to Derrick–horrible because this face was wicked and degraded, and because its owner was drunk– noisily drunk. Derrick paused for a minute, looking at his father; then, deadly pale, he turned to the old doctor. “I am Major Vaughan’s son,” he said.
The doctor grasped his hand, and there was something in the old man’s kindly, chivalrous manner which brought a sort of light into the gloom.
“I am very glad to see you!” he exclaimed. “Is the Major’s luggage ready?” he inquired turning to the servant. Then, as the man replied in the affirmative, “How would it be, Mr. Vaughan, if your father’s man just saw the things into a cab? and then I’ll come on shore with you and see my patient safely settled in.”
Derrick acquiesced, and the doctor turned to the Major, who was leaning up against one of the pillars of the saloon and shouting out “‘Twas in Trafalgar Bay,” in a way which, under other circumstances, would have been highly comic. The doctor interrupted him, as with much feeling he sang how:
“England declared that every man
That day had done his duty.”
“Look, Major,” he said; “here is your son come to meet you.”
“Glad to see you, my boy,” said the Major, reeling forward and running all his words together. “How’s your mother? Is this Lawrence? Glad to see both of you! Why, you’r’s like’s two peas! Not Lawrence, do you say? Confound it, doctor, how the ship rolls to-day!”
And the old wretch staggered and would have fallen, had not Derrick supported him and landed him safely on one of the fixed ottomans.
“Yes, yes, you’re the son for me,” he went on, with a bland smile, which made his face all the more hideous. “You’re not so rough and clumsy as that confounded John Thomas, whose hands are like brickbats. I’m a mere wreck, as you see; it’s the accursed climate! But your mother will soon nurse me into health again; she was always a good nurse, poor soul! it was her best point. What with you and your mother, I shall soon be myself again.”
Here the doctor interposed, and Derrick made desperately for a porthole and gulped down mouthfuls of fresh air: but he was not allowed much of a respite, for the servant returned to say that he had procured a cab, and the Major called loudly for his son’s arm.
“I’ll not have you,” he said, pushing the servant violently away. “Come, Derrick, help me! you are worth two of that blockhead.”
And Derrick came quickly forward, his face still very pale, but with a dignity about it which I had never before seen; and, giving his arm to his drunken father, he piloted him across the saloon, through the staring ranks of stewards, officials, and tardy passengers outside, down the gangway, and over the crowded quay to the cab. I knew that each derisive glance of the spectators was to him like a sword-thrust, and longed to throttle the Major, who seemed to enjoy himself amazingly on terra firma, and sang at the top of his voice as we drove through the streets of Southampton. The old doctor kept up a cheery flow of small-talk with me, thinking, no doubt, that this would be a kindness to Derrick: and at last that purgatorial drive ended, and somehow Derrick and the doctor between them got the Major safely into his room at Radley’s Hotel.
We had ordered lunch in a private sitting-room, thinking that the Major would prefer it to the coffee-room; but, as it turned out, he was in no state to appear. They left him asleep, and the ship’s doctor sat in the seat that had been prepared for his patient, and made the meal as tolerable to us both as it could be. He was an odd, old-fashioned fellow, but as true a gentleman as ever breathed.
“Now,” he said, when lunch was over, “you and I must have a talk together, Mr. Vaughan, and I will help you to understand your father’s case.”
I made a movement to go, but sat down again at Derrick’s request. I think, poor old fellow, he dreaded being alone, and knowing that I had seen his father at the worst, thought I might as well hear all particulars.
“Major Vaughan,” continued the doctor, “has now been under my care for some weeks, and I had some communication with the regimental surgeon about his case before he sailed. He is suffering from an enlarged liver, and the disease has been brought on by his unfortunate habit of over-indulgence in stimulants.” I could almost have smiled, so very gently and considerately did the good old man veil in long words the shameful fact. “It is a habit sadly prevalent among our fellow-countrymen in India; the climate aggravates the mischief, and very many lives are in this way ruined. Then your father was also unfortunate enough to contract rheumatism when he was camping out in the jungle last year, and this is increasing on him very much, so that his life is almost intolerable to him, and he naturally flies for relief to his greatest enemy, drink. At all costs, however, you must keep him from stimulants; they will only intensify the disease and the sufferings, in fact they are poison to a man in such a state. Don’t think I am a bigot in these matters; but I say that for a man in such a condition as this, there is nothing for it but total abstinence, and at all costs your father must be guarded from the possibility of procuring any sort of intoxicating drink. Throughout the voyage I have done my best to shield him, but it was a difficult matter. His servant, too, is not trustworthy, and should be dismissed if possible.”
“Had he spoken at all of his plans?” asked Derrick, and his voice sounded strangely unlike itself.
“He asked me what place in England he had better settle down in,” said the doctor, “and I strongly recommended him to try Bath. This seemed to please him, and if he is well enough he had better go there to-morrow. He mentioned your mother this morning; no doubt she will know how to manage him.”
“My mother died six months ago,” said Derrick, pushing back his chair and beginning to pace the room. The doctor made kindly apologies.
“Perhaps you have a sister, who could go to him?”
“No,” replied Derrick. “My only sister is married, and her husband would never allow it.”
“Or a cousin or an aunt?” suggested the old man, naively unconscious that the words sounded like a quotation.
I saw the ghost of a smile flit over Derrick’s harassed face as he shook his head.
“I suggested that he should go into some Home for–cases of the kind,” resumed the doctor, “or place himself under the charge of some medical man; however, he won’t hear of such a thing. But if he is left to himself–well, it is all up with him. He will drink himself to death in a few months.”
“He shall not be left alone,” said Derrick; “I will live with him. Do you think I should do? It seems to be Hobson’s choice.”
I looked up in amazement–for here was Derrick calmly giving himself up to a life that must crush every plan for the future he had made. Did men make such a choice as that while they took two or three turns in a room? Did they speak so composedly after a struggle that must have been so bitter? Thinking it over now, I feel sure it was his extraordinary gift of insight and his clear judgment which made him behave in this way. He instantly perceived and promptly acted; the worst of the suffering came long after.
“Why, of course you are the very best person in the world for him,” said the doctor. “He has taken a fancy to you, and evidently you have a certain influence with him. If any one can save him it will be you.”
But the thought of allowing Derrick to be sacrificed to that old brute of a Major was more than I could bear calmly.
“A more mad scheme was never proposed,” I cried. “Why, doctor, it will be utter ruin to my friend’s career; he will lose years that no one can ever make up. And besides, he is unfit for such a strain, he will never stand it.”
My heart felt hot as I thought of Derrick, with his highly-strung, sensitive nature, his refinement, his gentleness, in constant companionship with such a man as Major Vaughan.
“My dear sir,” said the old doctor, with a gleam in his eye, “I understand your feeling well enough. But depend upon it, your friend has made the right choice, and there is no doubt that he’ll be strong enough to do his duty.”
The word reminded me of the Major’s song, and my voice was abominably sarcastic in tone as I said to Derrick, “You no longer consider writing your duty then?”
“Yes,” he said, “but it must stand second to this. Don’t be vexed, Sydney; our plans are knocked on the head, but it is not so bad as you make out. I have at any rate enough to live on, and can afford to wait.”
There was no more to be said, and the next day I saw that strange trio set out on their road to Bath. The Major looking more wicked when sober than he had done when drunk; the old doctor kindly and considerate as ever; and Derrick, with an air of resolution about that English face of his and a dauntless expression in his eyes which impressed me curiously.
These quiet, reserved fellows are always giving one odd surprises. He had astonished me by the vigour and depth of the first volume of ‘Lynwood’s Heritage.’ He astonished me now by a new phase in his own character. Apparently he who had always been content to follow where I led, and to watch life rather than to take an active share in it, now intended to strike out a very decided line of his own.
“Both Goethe and Schiller were profoundly convinced that Art was no luxury of leisure, no mere amusement to charm the idle, or relax the careworn; but a mighty influence, serious in its aims although pleasureable in its means; a sister of Religion, by whose aid the great world-scheme was wrought into reality.” Lewes’s Life of Goethe.
Man is a selfish being, and I am a particularly fine specimen of the race as far as that characteristic goes. If I had had a dozen drunken parents I should never have danced attendance on one of them; yet in my secret soul I admired Derrick for the line he had taken, for we mostly do admire what is unlike ourselves and really noble, though it is the fashion to seem totally indifferent to everything in heaven and earth. But all the same I felt annoyed about the whole business, and was glad to forget it in my own affairs at Mondisfield.
Weeks passed by. I lived through a midsummer dream of happiness, and a hard awaking. That, however, has nothing to do with Derrick’s story, and may be passed over. In October I settled down in Montague Street, Bloomsbury, and began to read for the Bar, in about as disagreeable a frame of mind as can be conceived. One morning I found on my breakfast table a letter in Derrick’s handwriting. Like most men, we hardly ever corresponded–what women say in the eternal letters they send to each other I can’t conceive–but it struck me that under the circumstances I ought to have sent him a line to ask how he was getting on, and my conscience pricked me as I remembered that I had hardly thought of him since we parted, being absorbed in my own matters. The letter was not very long, but when one read between the lines it somehow told a good deal. I have it lying by me, and this is a copy of it:
“Dear Sydney,–Do like a good fellow go to North Audley Street for me, to the house which I described to you as the one where Lynwood lodged, and tell me what he would see besides the church from his window–if shops, what kind? Also if any glimpse of Oxford Street would be visible. Then if you’ll add to your favours by getting me a second-hand copy of Laveleye’s ‘Socialisme Contemporain,’ I should be for ever grateful. We are settled in here all right. Bath is empty, but I people it as far as I can with the folk out of ‘Evelina’ and ‘Persuasion.’ How did you get on at Blachington? and which of the Misses Merrifield went in the end? Don’t bother about the commissions. Any time will do.
Poor old fellow! all the spirit seemed knocked out of him. There was not one word about the Major, and who could say what wretchedness was veiled in that curt phrase, “we are settled in all right”? All right! it was all as wrong as it could be! My blood began to boil at the thought of Derrick, with his great powers–his wonderful gift–cooped up in a place where the study of life was so limited and so dull. Then there was his hunger for news of Freda, and his silence as to what had kept him away from Blachington, and about all a sort of proud humility which prevented him from saying much that I should have expected him to say under the circumstances.
It was Saturday, and my time was my own. I went out, got his book for him; interviewed North Audley Street; spent a bad five minutes in company with that villain ‘Bradshaw,’ who is responsible for so much of the brain and eye disease of the nineteenth century, and finally left Paddington in the Flying Dutchman, which landed me at Bath early in the afternoon. I left my portmanteau at the station, and walked through the city till I reached Gay Street. Like most of the streets of Bath, it was broad, and had on either hand dull, well-built, dark grey, eminently respectable, unutterably dreary- looking houses. I rang, and the door was opened to me by a most quaint old woman, evidently the landlady. An odour of curry pervaded the passage, and became more oppressive as the door of the sitting-room was opened, and I was ushered in upon the Major and his son, who had just finished lunch.
“Hullo!” cried Derrick, springing up, his face full of delight which touched me, while at the same time it filled me with envy.
Even the Major thought fit to give me a hearty welcome.
“Glad to see you again,” he said pleasantly enough. “It’s a relief to have a fresh face to look at. We have a room which is quite at your disposal, and I hope you’ll stay with us. Brought your portmanteau, eh?”
“It is at the station,” I replied.
“See that it is sent for,” he said to Derrick; “and show Mr. Wharncliffe all that is to be seen in this cursed hole of a place.” Then, turning again to me, “Have you lunched? Very well, then, don’t waste this fine afternoon in an invalid’s room, but be off and enjoy yourself.”
So cordial was the old man, that I should have thought him already a reformed character, had I not found that he kept the rough side of his tongue for home use. Derrick placed a novel and a small handbell within his reach, and we were just going, when we were checked by a volley of oaths from the Major; then a book came flying across the room, well aimed at Derrick’s head. He stepped aside, and let it fall with a crash on the sideboard.
“What do you mean by giving me the second volume when you know I am in the third?” fumed the invalid.
He apologised quietly, fetched the third volume, straightened the disordered leaves of the discarded second, and with the air of one well accustomed to such little domestic scenes, took up his hat and came out with me.
“How long do you intend to go on playing David to the Major’s Saul?” I asked, marvelling at the way in which he endured the humours of his father.
“As long as I have the chance,” he replied. “I say, are you sure you won’t mind staying with us? It can’t be a very comfortable household for an outsider.”
“Much better than for an insider, to all appearance,” I replied. “I’m only too delighted to stay. And now, old fellow, tell me the honest truth–you didn’t, you know, in your letter–how have you been getting on?”
Derrick launched into an account of his father’s ailments.
“Oh, hang the Major! I don’t care about him, I want to know about you,” I cried.
“About me?” said Derrick doubtfully. “Oh, I’m right enough.”
“What do you do with yourself? How on earth do you kill time?” I asked. “Come, give me a full, true, and particular account of it all.”
“We have tried three other servants,” said Derrick; “but the plan doesn’t answer. They either won’t stand it, or else they are bribed into smuggling brandy into the house. I find I can do most things for my father, and in the morning he has an attendant from the hospital who is trustworthy, and who does what is necessary for him. At ten we breakfast together, then there are the morning papers, which he likes to have read to him. After that I go round to the Pump Room with him–odd contrast now to what it must have been when Bath was the rage. Then we have lunch. In the afternoon, if he is well enough, we drive; if not he sleeps, and I get a walk. Later on an old Indian friend of his will sometimes drop in; if not he likes to be read to until dinner. After dinner we play chess–he is a first-rate player. At ten I help him to bed; from eleven to twelve I smoke and study Socialism and all the rest of it that Lynwood is at present floundering in.”
“Why don’t you write, then?”
“I tried it, but it didn’t answer. I couldn’t sleep after it, and was, in fact, too tired; seems absurd to be tired after such a day as that, but somehow it takes it out of one more than the hardest reading; I don’t know why.”
“Why,” I said angrily, “it’s because it is work to which you are quite unsuited–work for a thick-skinned, hard-hearted, uncultivated and well-paid attendant, not for the novelist who is to be the chief light of our generation.”
He laughed at this estimate of his powers.
“Novelists, like other cattle, have to obey their owner,” he said lightly.
I thought for a moment that he meant the Major, and was breaking into an angry remonstrance, when I saw that he meant something quite different. It was always his strongest point, this extraordinary consciousness of right, this unwavering belief that he had to do and therefore could do certain things. Without this, I know that he never wrote a line, and in my heart I believe this was the cause of his success.
“Then you are not writing at all?” I asked.
“Yes, I write generally for a couple of hours before breakfast,” he said.
And that evening we sat by his gas stove and he read me the next four chapters of ‘Lynwood.’ He had rather a dismal lodging-house bedroom, with faded wall-paper and a prosaic snuff-coloured carpet. On a rickety table in the window was his desk, and a portfolio full of blue foolscap, but he had done what he could to make the place habitable; his Oxford pictures were on the walls–Hoffman’s ‘Christ speaking to the Woman taken in Adultery,’ hanging over the mantelpiece–it had always been a favourite of his. I remember that, as he read the description of Lynwood and his wife, I kept looking from him to the Christ in the picture till I could almost have fancied that each face bore the same expression. Had this strange monotonous life with that old brute of a Major brought him some new perception of those words, “Neither do I condemn thee”? But when he stopped reading, I, true to my character, forgot his affairs in my own, as we sat talking far into the night–talking of that luckless month at Mondisfield, of all the problems it had opened up, and of my wretchedness.
“You were in town all September?” he asked; “you gave up Blachington?”
“Yes,” I replied. “What did I care for country houses in such a mood as that.”
He acquiesced, and I went on talking of my grievances, and it was not till I was in the train on my way back to London that I remembered how a look of disappointment had passed over his face just at the moment. Evidently he had counted on learning something about Freda from me, and I–well, I had clean forgotten both her existence and his passionate love.
Something, probably self-interest, the desire for my friend’s company, and so forth, took me down to Bath pretty frequently in those days; luckily the Major had a sort of liking for me, and was always polite enough; and dear old Derrick–well, I believe my visits really helped to brighten him up. At any rate he said he couldn’t have borne his life without them, and for a sceptical, dismal, cynical fellow like me to hear that was somehow flattering. The mere force of contrast did me good. I used to come back on the Monday wondering that Derrick didn’t cut his throat, and realising that, after all, it was something to be a free agent, and to have comfortable rooms in Montague Street, with no old bear of a drunkard to disturb my peace. And then a sort of admiration sprang up in my heart, and the cynicism bred of melancholy broodings over solitary pipes was less rampant than usual.
It was, I think, early in the new year that I met Lawrence Vaughan in Bath. He was not staying at Gay Street, so I could still have the vacant room next to Derrick’s. Lawrence put up at the York House Hotel.
“For you know,” he informed me, “I really can’t stand the governor for more than an hour or two at a time.”
“Derrick manages to do it,” I said.
“Oh, Derrick, yes,” he replied, “it’s his metier, and he is well accustomed to the life. Besides, you know, he is such a dreamy, quiet sort of fellow; he lives all the time in a world of his own creation, and bears the discomforts of this world with great philosophy. Actually he has turned teetotaller! It would kill me in a week.”
I make a point of never arguing with a fellow like that, but I think I had a vindictive longing, as I looked at him, to shut him up with the Major for a month, and see what would happen.
These twin brothers were curiously alike in face and curiously unlike in nature. So much for the great science of physiognomy! It often seemed to me that they were the complement of each other. For instance, Derrick in society was extremely silent, Lawrence was a rattling talker; Derrick, when alone with you, would now and then reveal unsuspected depths of thought and expression; Lawrence, when alone with you, very frequently showed himself to be a cad. The elder twin was modest and diffident, the younger inclined to brag; the one had a strong tendency to melancholy, the other was blest or cursed with the sort of temperament which has been said to accompany “a hard heart and a good digestion.”
I was not surprised to find that the son who could not tolerate the governor’s presence for more than an hour or two, was a prime favourite with the old man; that was just the way of the world. Of course, the Major was as polite as possible to him; Derrick got the kicks and Lawrence the half-pence.
In the evenings we played whist, Lawrence coming in after dinner, “For, you know,” he explained to me, “I really couldn’t get through a meal with nothing but those infernal mineral waters to wash it down.”
And here I must own that at my first visit I had sailed rather close to the wind; for when the Major, like the Hatter in ‘Alice,’ pressed me to take wine, I–not seeing any–had answered that I did not take it; mentally adding the words, “in your house, you brute!”
The two brothers were fond of each other after a fashion. But Derrick was human, and had his faults like the rest of us; and I am pretty sure he did not much enjoy the sight of his father’s foolish and unreasonable devotion to Lawrence. If you come to think of it, he would have been a full-fledged angel if no jealous pang, no reflection that it was rather rough on him, had crossed his mind, when he saw his younger brother treated with every mark of respect and liking, and knew that Lawrence would never stir a finger really to help the poor fractious invalid. Unluckily they happened one night to get on the subject of professions.
“It’s a comfort,” said the Major, in his sarcastic way, “to have a fellow-soldier to talk to instead of a quill-driver, who as yet is not even a penny-a-liner. Eh, Derrick? Don’t you feel inclined to regret your fool’s choice now? You might have been starting off for the war with Lawrence next week, if you hadn’t chosen what you’re pleased to call a literary life. Literary life, indeed! I little thought a son of mine would ever have been so wanting in spirit as to prefer dabbling in ink to a life of action–to be the scribbler of mere words, rather than an officer of dragoons.”
Then to my astonishment Derrick sprang to his feet in hot indignation. I never saw him look so handsome, before or since; for his anger was not the distorting, devilish anger that the Major gave way to, but real downright wrath.
“You speak contemptuously of mere novels,” he said in a low voice, yet more clearly than usual, and as if the words were wrung out of him. “What right have you to look down on one of the greatest weapons of the day? and why is a writer to submit to scoffs and insults and tamely to hear his profession reviled? I have chosen to write the message that has been given me, and I don’t regret the choice. Should I have shown greater spirit if I had sold my freedom and right of judgment to be one of the national killing machines?”
With that he threw down his cards and strode out of the room in a white heat of anger. It was a pity he made that last remark, for it put him in the wrong and needlessly annoyed Lawrence and the Major. But an angry man has no time to weigh his words, and, as I said, poor old Derrick was very human, and when wounded too intolerably could on occasion retaliate.
The Major uttered an oath and looked in astonishment at the retreating figure. Derrick was such an extraordinarily quiet, respectful, long-suffering son as a rule, that this outburst was startling in the extreme. Moreover, it spoilt the game, and the old man, chafed by the result of his own ill-nature, and helpless to bring back his partner, was forced to betake himself to chess. I left him grumbling away to Lawrence about the vanity of authors, and went out in the hope of finding Derrick. As I left the house I saw someone turn the corner into the Circus, and starting in pursuit, overtook the tall, dark figure where Bennett Street opens on to the Lansdowne Hill.
“I’m glad you spoke up, old fellow,” I said, taking his arm.
He modified his pace a little. “Why is it,” he exclaimed, “that every other profession can be taken seriously, but that a novelist’s work is supposed to be mere play? Good God! don’t we suffer enough? Have we not hard brain work and drudgery of desk work and tedious gathering of statistics and troublesome search into details? Have we not an appalling weight of responsibility on us?–and are we not at the mercy of a thousand capricious chances?”
“Come now,” I exclaimed, “you know that you are never so happy as when you are writing.”
“Of course,” he replied; “but that doesn’t make me resent such an attack the less. Besides, you don’t know what it is to have to write in such an atmosphere as ours; it’s like a weight on one’s pen. This life here is not life at all–it’s a daily death, and it’s killing the book too; the last chapters are wretched–I’m utterly dissatisfied with them.”
“As for that,” I said calmly, “you are no judge at all. You can never tell the worth of your own work; the last bit is splendid.”
“I could have done it better,” he groaned. “But there is always a ghastly depression dragging one back here–and then the time is so short; just as one gets into the swing of it the breakfast bell rings, and then comes–” He broke off.
I could well supply the end of the sentence, however, for I knew that then came the slow torture of a tete-a-tete day with the Major, stinging sarcasms, humiliating scoldings, vexations and difficulties innumerable.
I drew him to the left, having no mind to go to the top of the hill. We slackened our pace again and walked to and fro along the broad level pavement of Lansdowne Crescent. We had it entirely to ourselves–not another creature was in sight.
“I could bear it all,” he burst forth, “if only there was a chance of seeing Freda. Oh, you are better off than I am–at least, you know the worst. Your hope is killed, but mine lives on a tortured, starved life! Would to God I had never seen her!”
Certainly before that night I had never quite realised the irrevocableness of poor Derrick’s passion. I had half hoped that time and separation would gradually efface Freda Merrifield from his memory; and I listened with a dire foreboding to the flood of wretchedness which he poured forth as we paced up and down, thinking now and then how little people guessed at the tremendous powers hidden under his usually quiet exterior.
At length he paused, but his last heart-broken words seemed to vibrate in the air and to force me to speak some kind of comfort.
“Derrick,” I said, “come back with me to London–give up this miserable life.”
I felt him start a little; evidently no thought of yielding had come to him before. We were passing the house that used to belong to that strange book-lover and recluse, Beckford. I looked up at the blank windows, and thought of that curious, self-centred life in the past, surrounded by every luxury, able to indulge every whim; and then I looked at my companion’s pale, tortured face, and thought of the life he had elected to lead in the hope of saving one whom duty bound him to honour. After all, which life was the most worth living–which was the most to be admired?
We walked on; down below us and up on the farther hill we could see the lights of Bath; the place so beautiful by day looked now like a fairy city, and the Abbey, looming up against the moon-lit sky, seemed like some great giant keeping watch over the clustering roofs below. The well-known chimes rang out into the night and the clock struck ten.
“I must go back,” said Derrick, quietly. “My father will want to get to bed.”
I couldn’t say a word; we turned, passed Beckford’s house once more, walked briskly down the hill, and reached the Gay Street lodging- house. I remember the stifling heat of the room as we entered it, and its contrast to the cool, dark, winter’s night outside. I can vividly recall, too, the old Major’s face as he looked up with a sarcastic remark, but with a shade of anxiety in his bloodshot eyes. He was leaning back in a green-cushioned chair, and his ghastly yellow complexion seemed to me more noticeable than usual–his scanty grey hair and whiskers, the lines of pain so plainly visible in his face, impressed me curiously. I think I had never before realised what a wreck of a man he was–how utterly dependent on others.
Lawrence, who, to do him justice, had a good deal of tact, and who, I believe, cared for his brother as much as he was capable of caring for any one but himself, repeated a good story with which he had been enlivening the Major, and I did what I could to keep up the talk. Derrick meanwhile put away the chessmen, and lighted the Major’s candle. He even managed to force up a laugh at Lawrence’s story, and, as he helped his father out of the room, I think I was the only one who noticed the look of tired endurance in his eyes.
How far high failure overtops the bounds Of low successes. Only suffering draws The inner heart of song, and can elicit The perfumes of the soul.”
Epic of Hades.
Next week, Lawrence went off like a hero to the war; and my friend– also I think like a hero–stayed on at Bath, enduring as best he could the worst form of loneliness; for undoubtedly there is no loneliness so frightful as constant companionship with an uncongenial person. He had, however, one consolation: the Major’s health steadily improved, under the joint influence of total abstinence and Bath water, and, with the improvement, his temper became a little better.
But one Saturday, when I had run down to Bath without writing beforehand, I suddenly found a different state of things. In Orange Grove I met Dr. Mackrill, the Major’s medical man; he used now and then to play whist with us on Saturday nights, and I stopped to speak to him.
“Oh! you’ve come down again. That’s all right!” he said. “Your friend wants someone to cheer him up. He’s got his arm broken.”
“How on earth did he manage that?” I asked.
“Well, that’s more than I can tell you,” said the Doctor, with an odd look in his eyes, as if he guessed more than he would put into words. “All that I could get out of him was that it was done accidentally. The Major is not so well–no whist for us to-night, I’m afraid.”
He passed on, and I made my way to Gay Street. There was an air of mystery about the quaint old landlady; she looked brimful of news when she opened the door to me, but she managed to ‘keep herself to herself,’ and showed me in upon the Major and Derrick, rather triumphantly I thought. The Major looked terribly ill–worse than I had ever seen him, and as for Derrick, he had the strangest look of shrinking and shame-facedness you ever saw. He said he was glad to see me, but I knew that he lied. He would have given anything to have kept me away.
“Broken your arm?” I exclaimed, feeling bound to take some notice of the sling.
“Yes,” he replied; “met with an accident to it. But luckily it’s only the left one, so it doesn’t hinder me much! I have finished seven chapters of the last volume of ‘Lynwood,’ and was just wanting to ask you a legal question.”
All this time his eyes bore my scrutiny defiantly; they seemed to dare me to say one other word about the broken arm. I didn’t dare– indeed to this day I have never mentioned the subject to him.
But that evening, while he was helping the Major to bed, the old landlady made some pretext for toiling up to the top of the house, where I sat smoking in Derrick’s room.
“You’ll excuse my making bold to speak to you, sir,” she said. I threw down my newspaper, and, looking up, saw that she was bubbling over with some story.
“Well?” I said, encouragingly.
“It’s about Mr. Vaughan, sir, I wanted to speak to you. I really do think, sir, it’s not safe he should be left alone with his father, sir, any longer. Such doings as we had here the other day, sir! Somehow or other–and none of us can’t think how–the Major had managed to get hold of a bottle of brandy. How he had it I don’t know; but we none of us suspected him, and in the afternoon he says he was too poorly to go for a drive or to go out in his chair, and settles off on the parlour sofa for a nap while Mr. Vaughan goes out for a walk. Mr. Vaughan was out a couple of hours. I heard him come in and go into the sitting-room; then there came sounds of voices, and a scuffling of feet and moving of chairs, and I knew something was wrong and hurried up to the door–and just then came a crash like fire-irons, and I could hear the Major a-swearing fearful. Not hearing a sound from Mr. Vaughan, I got scared, sir, and opened the door, and there I saw the Major a leaning up against the mantelpiece as drunk as a lord, and his son seemed to have got the bottle from him; it was half empty, and when he saw me he just handed it to me and ordered me to take it away. Then between us we got the Major to lie down on the sofa and left him there. When we got out into the passage Mr. Vaughan he leant against the wall for a minute, looking as white as a sheet, and then I noticed for the first time that his left arm was hanging down at his side. ‘Lord! sir,’ I cried, ‘your arm’s broken.’ And he went all at once as red as he had been pale just before, and said he had got it done accidentally, and bade me say nothing about it, and walked off there and then to the doctor’s, and had it set. But sir, given a man drunk as the Major was, and given a scuffle to get away the drink that was poisoning him, and given a crash such as I heard, and given a poker a-lying in the middle of the room where it stands to reason no poker could get unless it was thrown–why, sir, no sensible woman who can put two and two together can doubt that it was all the Major’s doing.”
“Yes,” I said, “that is clear enough; but for Mr. Vaughan’s sake we must hush it up; and, as for safety, why, the Major is hardly strong enough to do him any worse damage than that.”
The good old thing wiped away a tear from her eyes. She was very fond of Derrick, and it went to her heart that he should lead such a dog’s life.
I said what I could to comfort her, and she went down again, fearful lest he should discover her upstairs and guess that she had opened her heart to me.
Poor Derrick! That he of all people on earth should be mixed up with such a police court story–with drunkard, and violence, and pokers figuring in it! I lay back in the camp chair and looked at Hoffman’s ‘Christ,’ and thought of all the extraordinary problems that one is for ever coming across in life. And I wondered whether the people of Bath who saw the tall, impassive-looking, hazel-eyed son and the invalid father in their daily pilgrimages to the Pump Room, or in church on Sunday, or in the Park on sunny afternoons had the least notion of the tragedy that was going on. My reflections were interrupted by his entrance. He had forced up a cheerfulness that I am sure he didn’t really feel, and seemed afraid of letting our talk flag for a moment. I remember, too, that for the first time he offered to read me his novel, instead of as usual waiting for me to ask to hear it. I can see him now, fetching the untidy portfolio and turning over the pages, adroitly enough, as though anxious to show how immaterial was the loss of a left arm. That night I listened to the first half of the third volume of ‘Lynwood’s Heritage,’ and couldn’t help reflecting that its author seemed to thrive on misery; and yet how I grudged him to this deadly-lively place, and this monotonous, cooped-up life.
“How do you manage to write one-handed?” I asked.
And he sat down to his desk, put a letter-weight on the left-hand corner of the sheet of foolscap, and wrote that comical first paragraph of the eighth chapter over which we have all laughed. I suppose few readers guessed the author’s state of mind when he wrote it. I looked over his shoulder to see what he had written, and couldn’t help laughing aloud–I verily believe that it was his way of turning off attention from his arm, and leading me safely from the region of awkward questions.
“By-the-by,” I exclaimed, “your writing of garden-parties reminds me. I went to one at Campden Hill the other day, and had the good fortune to meet Miss Freda Merrifield.”
How his face lighted up, poor fellow, and what a flood of questions he poured out. “She looked very well and very pretty,” I replied. “I played two sets of tennis with her. She asked after you directly she saw me, seeming to think that we always hunted in couples. I told her you were living here, taking care of an invalid father; but just then up came the others to arrange the game. She and I got the best courts, and as we crossed over to them she told me she had met your brother several times last autumn, when she had been staying near Aldershot. Odd that he never mentioned her here; but I don’t suppose she made much impression on him. She is not at all his style.”
“Did you have much more talk with her?” he asked.
“No, nothing to be called talk. She told me they were leaving London next week, and she was longing to get back to the country to her beloved animals–rabbits, poultry, an aviary, and all that kind of thing. I should gather that they had kept her rather in the background this season, but I understand that the eldest sister is to be married in the winter, and then no doubt Miss Freda will be brought forward.”
He seemed wonderfully cheered by this opportune meeting, and though there was so little to tell he appeared to be quite content. I left him on Monday in fairly good spirits, and did not come across him again till September, when his arm was well, and his novel finished and revised. He never made two copies of his work, and I fancy this was perhaps because he spent so short a time each day in actual writing, and lived so continually in his work; moreover, as I said before, he detested penmanship.
The last part of ‘Lynwood’ far exceeded my expectations; perhaps– yet I don’t really think so–I viewed it too favourably. But I owed the book a debt of gratitude, since it certainly helped me through the worst part of my life.
“Don’t you feel flat now it is finished?” I asked.
“I felt so miserable that I had to plunge into another story three days after,” he replied; and then and there he gave me the sketch of his second novel, ‘At Strife,’ and told me how he meant to weave in his childish fancies about the defence of the bridge in the Civil Wars.
“And about ‘Lynwood?’ Are you coming up to town to hawk him round?” I asked.
“I can’t do that,” he said; “you see I am tied here. No, I must send him off by rail, and let him take his chance.”
“No such thing!” I cried. “If you can’t leave Bath I will take him round for you.”
And Derrick, who with the oddest inconsistency would let his MS. lie about anyhow at home, but hated the thought of sending it out alone on its travels, gladly accepted my offer. So next week I set off with the huge brown paper parcel; few, however, will appreciate my good nature, for no one but an author or a publisher knows the fearful weight of a three volume novel in MS.! To my intense satisfaction I soon got rid of it, for the first good firm to which I took it received it with great politeness, to be handed over to their ‘reader’ for an opinion; and apparently the ‘reader’s’ opinion coincided with mine, for a month later Derrick received an offer for it with which he at once closed–not because it was a good one, but because the firm was well thought of, and because he wished to lose no time, but to have the book published at once. I happened to be there when his first ‘proofs’ arrived. The Major had had an attack of jaundice, and was in a fiendish humour. We had a miserable time of it at dinner, for he badgered Derrick almost past bearing, and I think the poor old fellow minded it more when there was a third person present. Somehow through all he managed to keep his extraordinary capacity for reverencing mere age–even this degraded and detestable old age of the Major’s. I often thought that in this he was like my own ancestor, Hugo Wharncliffe, whose deference and respectfulness and patience had not descended to me, while unfortunately the effects of his physical infirmities had. I sometimes used to reflect bitterly enough on the truth of Herbert Spencer’s teaching as to heredity, so clearly shown in my own case. In the year 1683, through the abominable cruelty and harshness of his brother Randolph, this Hugo Wharncliffe, my great-great-great- great-great grandfather, was immured in Newgate, and his constitution was thereby so much impaired and enfeebled that, two hundred years after, my constitution is paying the penalty, and my whole life is thereby changed and thwarted. Hence this childless Randolph is affecting the course of several lives in the 19th century to their grievous hurt.
But revenons a nos moutons–that is to say, to our lion and lamb– the old brute of a Major and his long-suffering son.
While the table was being cleared, the Major took forty winks on the sofa, and we two beat a retreat, lit up our pipes in the passage, and were just turning out when the postman’s double knock came, but no showers of letters in the box. Derrick threw open the door, and the man handed him a fat, stumpy-looking roll in a pink wrapper.
“I say!” he exclaimed, “PROOFS!”
And, in hot haste, he began tearing away the pink paper, till out came the clean, folded bits of printing and the dirty and dishevelled blue foolscap, the look of which I knew so well. It is an odd feeling, that first seeing one’s self in print, and I could guess, even then, what a thrill shot through Derrick as he turned over the pages. But he would not take them into the sitting-room, no doubt dreading another diatribe against his profession; and we solemnly played euchre, and patiently endured the Major’s withering sarcasms till ten o’clock sounded our happy release.
However, to make a long story short, a month later–that is, at the end of November–‘Lynwood’s Heritage’ was published in three volumes with maroon cloth and gilt lettering. Derrick had distributed among his friends the publishers’ announcement of the day of publication; and when it was out I besieged the libraries for it, always expressing surprise if I did not find it in their lists. Then began the time of reviews. As I had expected, they were extremely favourable, with the exception of the Herald, the Stroller, and the Hour, which made it rather hot for him, the latter in particular pitching into his views and assuring its readers that the book was ‘dangerous,’ and its author a believer in–various thing especially repugnant to Derrick, at it happened.
I was with him when he read these reviews. Over the cleverness of the satirical attack in the Weekly Herald he laughed heartily, though the laugh was against himself; and as to the critic who wrote in the Stroller it was apparent to all who knew ‘Lynwood’ that he had not read much of the book; but over this review in the Hour he was genuinely angry–it hurt him personally, and, as it afterwards turned out, played no small part in the story of his life. The good reviews, however, were many, and their recommendation of the book hearty; they all prophesied that it would be a great success. Yet, spite of this, ‘Lynwood’s Heritage’ didn’t sell. Was it, as I had feared, that Derrick was too devoid of the pushing faculty ever to make a successful writer? Or was it that he was handicapped by being down in the provinces playing keeper to that abominable old bear? Anyhow, the book was well received, read with enthusiasm by an extremely small circle, and then it dropped down to the bottom among the mass of overlooked literature, and its career seemed to be over. I can recall the look in Derrick’s face when one day he glanced through the new Mudie and Smith lists and found ‘Lynwood’s Heritage’ no longer down. I had been trying to cheer him up about the book and quoting all the favourable remarks I had heard about it. But unluckily this was damning evidence against my optimist view.
He sighed heavily and put down the lists.
“It’s no use to deceive one’s self,” he said, drearily, “‘Lynwood’ has failed.”
Something in the deep depression of look and tone gave me a momentary insight into the author’s heart. He thought, I know, of the agony of mind this book had cost him; of those long months of waiting and their deadly struggle, of the hopes which had made all he passed through seem so well worth while; and the bitterness of the disappointment was no doubt intensified by the knowledge that the Major would rejoice over it.
We walked that afternoon along the Bradford Valley, a road which Derrick was specially fond of. He loved the thickly-wooded hills, and the glimpses of the Avon, which, flanked by the canal and the railway, runs parallel with the high road; he always admired, too, a certain little village with grey stone cottages which lay in this direction, and liked to look at the site of the old hall near the road: nothing remained of it but the tall gate posts and rusty iron gates looking strangely dreary and deserted, and within one could see, between some dark yew trees, an old terrace walk with stone steps and balustrades–the most ghostly-looking place you can conceive.
“I know you’ll put this into a book some day,” I said, laughing.
“Yes,” he said, “it is already beginning to simmer in my brain.” Apparently his deep disappointment as to his first venture had in no way affected his perfectly clear consciousness that, come what would, he had to write.
As we walked back to Bath he told me his ‘Ruined Hall’ story as far as it had yet evolved itself in his brain, and we were still discussing it when in Milsom Street we met a boy crying evening papers, and details of the last great battle at Saspataras Hill.
Derrick broke off hastily, everything but anxiety for Lawrence driven from his mind.
“Say not, O Soul, thou art defeated, Because thou art distressed;
If thou of better thing art cheated, Thou canst not be of best.”
T. T. Lynch.
“Good heavens, Sydney!” he exclaimed in great excitement and with his whole face aglow with pleasure, “look here!”
He pointed to a few lines in the paper which mentioned the heroic conduct of Lieutenant L. Vaughan, who at the risk of his life had rescued a brother officer when surrounded by the enemy and completely disabled. Lieutenant Vaughan had managed to mount the wounded man on his own horse and had miraculously escaped himself with nothing worse than a sword-thrust in the left arm.
We went home in triumph to the Major, and Derrick read the whole account aloud. With all his detestation of war, he was nevertheless greatly stirred by the description of the gallant defence of the attacked position–and for a time we were all at one, and could talk of nothing but Lawrence’s heroism, and Victoria Crosses, and the prospects of peace. However, all too soon, the Major’s fiendish temper returned, and he began to use the event of the day as a weapon against Derrick, continually taunting him with the contrast between his stay-at-home life of scribbling and Lawrence’s life of heroic adventure. I could never make out whether he wanted to goad his son into leaving him, in order that he might drink himself to death in peace, or whether he merely indulged in his natural love of tormenting, valuing Derrick’s devotion as conducive to his own comfort, and knowing that hard words would not drive him from what he deemed to be his duty. I rather incline to the latter view, but the old Major was always an enigma to me; nor can I to this day make out his raison-d’etre, except on the theory that the training of a novelist required a course of slow torture, and that the old man was sent into the world to be a sort of thorn in the flesh of Derrick.
What with the disappointment about his first book, and the difficulty of writing his second, the fierce craving for Freda’s presence, the struggle not to allow his admiration for Lawrence’s bravery to become poisoned by envy under the influence of the Major’s incessant attacks, Derrick had just then a hard time of it. He never complained, but I noticed a great change in him; his melancholy increased, his flashes of humour and merriment became fewer and fewer–I began to be afraid that he would break down.
“For God’s sake!” I exclaimed one evening when left alone with the Doctor after an evening of whist, “do order the Major to London. Derrick has been mewed up here with him for nearly two years, and I don’t think he can stand it much longer.”
So the Doctor kindly contrived to advise the Major to consult a well-known London physician, and to spend a fortnight in town, further suggesting that a month at Ben Rhydding might be enjoyable before settling down at Bath again for the winter. Luckily the Major took to the idea, and just as Lawrence returned from the war Derrick and his father arrived in town. The change seemed likely to work well, and I was able now and then to release my friend and play cribbage with the old man for an hour or two while Derrick tore about London, interviewed his publisher, made researches into seventeenth century documents at the British Museum, and somehow managed in his rapid way to acquire those glimpses of life and character which he afterwards turned to such good account. All was grist that came to his mill, and at first the mere sight of his old home, London, seemed to revive him. Of course at the very first opportunity he called at the Probyns’, and we both of us had an invitation to go there on the following Wednesday to see the march past of the troops and to lunch. Derrick was nearly beside himself at the prospect, for he knew that he should certainly meet Freda at last, and the mingled pain and bliss of being actually in the same place with her, yet as completely separated as if seas rolled between them, was beginning to try him terribly.
Meantime Lawrence had turned up again, greatly improved in every way by all that he had lived through, but rather too ready to fall in with his father’s tone towards Derrick. The relations between the two brothers–always a little peculiar–became more and more difficult, and the Major seemed to enjoy pitting them against each other.
At length the day of the review arrived. Derrick was not looking well, his eyes were heavy with sleeplessness, and the Major had been unusually exasperating at breakfast that morning, so that he started with a jaded, worn-out feeling that would not wholly yield even to the excitement of this long-expected meeting with Freda. When he found himself in the great drawing-room at Lord Probyn’s house, amid a buzz of talk and a crowd of strange faces, he was seized with one of those sudden attacks of shyness to which he was always liable. In fact, he had been so long alone with the old Major that this plunge into society was too great a reaction, and the very thing he had longed for became a torture to him.
Freda was at the other end of the room talking to Keith Collins, the well-known member for Codrington, whose curious but attractive face was known to all the world through the caricatures of it in ‘Punch.’ I knew that she saw Derrick, and that he instantly perceived her, and that a miserable sense of separation, of distance, of hopelessness overwhelmed him as he looked. After all, it was natural enough. For two years he had thought of Freda night and day; in his unutterably dreary life her memory had been his refreshment, his solace, his companion. Now he was suddenly brought face to face, not with the Freda of his dreams, but with a fashionable, beautifully dressed, much-sought girl, and he felt that a gulf lay between them; it was the gulf of experience. Freda’s life in society, the whirl of gaiety, the excitement and success which she had been enjoying throughout the season, and his miserable monotony of companionship with his invalid father, of hard work and weary disappointment, had broken down the bond of union that had once existed between them. From either side they looked at each other–Freda with a wondering perplexity, Derrick with a dull grinding pain at his heart.
Of course they spoke to each other; but I fancy the merest platitudes passed between them. Somehow they had lost touch, and a crowded London drawing-room was hardly the place to regain it.
“So your novel is really out,” I heard her say to him in that deep, clear voice of hers. “I like the design on the cover.”
“Oh, have you read the book?” said Derrick, colouring.
“Well, no,” she said truthfully. “I wanted to read it, but my father wouldn’t let me–he is very particular about what we read.”
That frank but not very happily worded answer was like a stab to poor Derrick. He had given to the world then a book that was not fit for her to read! This ‘Lynwood,’ which had been written with his own heart’s blood, was counted a dangerous, poisonous thing, from which she must be guarded!
Freda must have seen that she had hurt him, for she tried hard to retrieve her words.
“It was tantalising to have it actually in the house, wasn’t it? I have a grudge against the Hour, for it was the review in that which set my father against it.” Then rather anxious to leave the difficult subject–“And has your brother quite recovered from his wound?”
I think she was a little vexed that Derrick did not show more animation in his replies about Lawrence’s adventures during the war; the less he responded the more enthusiastic she became, and I am perfectly sure that in her heart she was thinking:
“He is jealous of his brother’s fame–I am disappointed in him. He has grown dull, and absent, and stupid, and he is dreadfully wanting in small-talk. I fear that his life down in the provinces is turning him into a bear.”
She brought the conversation back to his book; but there was a little touch of scorn in her voice, as if she thought to herself, “I suppose he is one of those people who can only talk on one subject– his own doings.” Her manner was almost brusque.
“Your novel has had a great success, has it not?” she asked.
He instantly perceived her thought, and replied with a touch of dignity and a proud smile:
“On the contrary, it has been a great failure; only three hundred and nine copies have been sold.”
“I wonder at that,” said Freda, “for one so often heard it talked of.”
He promptly changed the topic, and began to speak of the march past. “I want to see Lord Starcross,” he added. “I have no idea what a hero is like.”
Just then Lady Probyn came up, followed by an elderly harpy in spectacles and false, much-frizzed fringe.
“Mrs. Carsteen wishes to be introduced to you, Mr. Vaughan; she is a great admirer of your writings.”
And poor Derrick, who was then quite unused to the species, had to stand and receive a flood of the most fulsome flattery, delivered in a strident voice, and to bear the critical and prolonged stare of the spectacled eyes. Nor would the harpy easily release her prey. She kept him much against his will, and I saw him looking wistfully now and then towards Freda.
“It amuses me,” I said to her, “that Derrick Vaughan should be so anxious to see Lord Starcross. It reminds me of Charles Lamb’s anxiety to see Kosciusko, ‘for,’ said he, ‘I have never seen a hero; I wonder how they look,’ while all the time he himself was living a life of heroic self-sacrifice.”
“Mr. Vaughan, I should think, need only look at his own brother,” said Freda, missing the drift of my speech.
I longed to tell her what it was possible to tell of Derrick’s life, but at that moment Sir Richard Merrifield introduced to his daughter a girl in a huge hat and great flopping sleeves, Miss Isaacson, whose picture at the Grosvenor had been so much talked of. Now the little artist knew no one in the room, and Freda saw fit to be extremely friendly to her. She was introduced to me, and I did my best to talk to her and set Freda at liberty as soon as the harpy had released Derrick; but my endeavours were frustrated, for Miss Isaacson, having looked me well over, decided that I was not at all intense, but a mere commonplace, slightly cynical worldling, and having exchanged a few lukewarm remarks with me, she returned to Freda, and stuck to her like a bur for the rest of the time.
We stood out on the balcony to see the troops go by. It was a fine sight, and we all became highly enthusiastic. Freda enjoyed the mere pageant like a child, and was delighted with the horses. She looked now more like the Freda of the yacht, and I wished that Derrick could be near her; but, as ill-luck would have it, he was at some distance, hemmed in by an impassable barrier of eager spectators.
Lawrence Vaughan rode past, looking wonderfully well in his uniform. He was riding a spirited bay, which took Freda’s fancy amazingly, though she reserved her chief enthusiasm for Lord Starcross and his steed. It was not until all was over, and we had returned to the drawing-room, that Derrick managed to get the talk with Freda for which I knew he was longing, and then they were fated, apparently, to disagree. I was standing near and overheard the close of their talk.
“I do believe you must be a member of the Peace Society!” said Freda impatiently. “Or perhaps you have turned Quaker. But I want to introduce you to my god-father, Mr. Fleming; you know it was his son whom your brother saved.”
And I heard Derrick being introduced as the brother of the hero of Saspataras Hill; and the next day he received a card for one of Mrs. Fleming’s receptions, Lawrence having previously been invited to dine there on the same night.
What happened at that party I never exactly understood. All I could gather was that Lawrence had been tremendously feted, that Freda had been present, and that poor old Derrick was as miserable as he could be when I next saw him. Putting two and two together, I guessed that he had been tantalised by a mere sight of her, possibly tortured by watching more favoured men enjoying long tete-a-tetes; but he would say little or nothing about it, and when, soon after, he and the Major left London, I feared that the fortnight had done my friend harm instead of good.
“Then in that hour rejoice, since only thus Can thy proud heart grow wholly piteous. Thus only to the world thy speech can flow Charged with the sad authority of woe. Since no man nurtured in the shade can sing To a true note one psalm of conquering; Warriors must chant it whom our own eyes see Red from the battle and more bruised than we, Men who have borne the worst, have known the whole, Have felt the last abeyance of the soul.” F. W. H. Myers.
About the beginning of August, I rejoined him at Ben Rhydding. The place suited the Major admirably, and his various baths took up so great a part of each day, that Derrick had more time to himself than usual, and ‘At Strife’ got on rapidly. He much enjoyed, too, the beautiful country round, while the hotel itself, with its huge gathering of all sorts and conditions of people, afforded him endless studies of character. The Major breakfasted in his own room, and, being so much engrossed with his baths, did not generally appear till twelve. Derrick and I breakfasted in the great dining- hall; and one morning, when the meal was over, we, as usual, strolled into the drawing-room to see if there were any letters awaiting us.
“One for you,” I remarked, handing him a thick envelope.
“From Lawrence!” he exclaimed.
“Well, don’t read it in here; the Doctor will be coming to read prayers. Come out in the garden,” I said.
We went out into the beautiful grounds, and he tore open the envelope and began to read his letter as we walked. All at once I felt the arm which was linked in mine give a quick, involuntary movement, and, looking up, saw that Derrick had turned deadly pale.
“What’s up?” I said. But he read on without replying; and, when I paused and sat down on a sheltered rustic seat, he unconsciously followed my example, looking more like a sleep-walker than a man in the possession of all his faculties. At last he finished the letter, and looked up in a dazed, miserable way, letting his eyes wander over the fir-trees and the fragrant shrubs and the flowers by the path.
“Dear old fellow, what is the matter?” I asked.
The words seemed to rouse him.
A dreadful look passed over his face–the look of one stricken to the heart. But his voice was perfectly calm, and full of a ghastly self-control.
“Freda will be my sister-in-law,” he said, rather as if stating the fact to himself than answering my question.
“Impossible!” I said. “What do you mean? How could–“
As if to silence me he thrust the letter into my hand. It ran as follows:
“Dear Derrick,–For the last few days I have been down in the Flemings’ place in Derbyshire, and fortune has favoured me, for the Merrifields are here too. Now prepare yourself for a surprise. Break the news to the governor, and send me your heartiest congratulations by return of post. I am engaged to Freda Merrifield, and am the happiest fellow in the world. They are awfully fastidious sort of people, and I do not believe Sir Richard would have consented to such a match had it not been for that lucky impulse which made me rescue Dick Fleming. It has all been arranged very quickly, as these things should be, but we have seen a good deal of each other–first at Aldershot the year before last, and just lately in town, and now these four days down here–and days in a country house are equal to weeks elsewhere. I enclose a letter to my father–give it to him at a suitable moment–but, after all, he’s sure to approve of a daughter-in-law with such a dowry as Miss Merrifield is likely to have.
I gave him back the letter without a word. In dead silence we moved on, took a turning which led to a little narrow gate, and passed out of the grounds to the wild moorland country beyond.
After all, Freda was in no way to blame. As a mere girl she had allowed Derrick to see that she cared for him; then circumstances had entirely separated them; she saw more of the world, met Lawrence, was perhaps first attracted to him by his very likeness to Derrick, and finally fell in love with the hero of the season, whom every one delighted to honour. Nor could one blame Lawrence, who had no notion that he had supplanted his brother. All the blame lay with the Major’s slavery to drink, for if only he had remained out in India I feel sure that matters would have gone quite differently.