THE CORYSTON FAMILY
MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
ILLUSTRATED BY ELIZABETH SHIPPEN GREEN
G.M.T. AND J.P.T.
“HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN CONCOCTING THIS, MOTHER?” _Frontispiece_
THE CONVERSATION DROPPED, JUST AS THE VOICE OF THE ORATOR ROSE TO HIS PERORATION
AS SHE SAW MARCIA HER FACE LIT UP
THIS MORNING HE FOUND HER ALL GIRLISH GENTLENESS AND APPEAL
“I DO WISH I COULD HELP YOU”
MARCIA WAS SINGING, IN A LOW VOICE AS SHE CAME
HE SAT STILL, STUDYING HIS MOTHER’S STRONG, LINED FACE
NOW SUDDENLY–HERE WAS A FRIEND–ON WHOM TO LEAN
[Greek: turannon einai moria kai tonthelein.]
The hands of the clock on the front of the Strangers’ Gallery were nearing six. The long-expected introductory speech of the Minister in charge of the new Land Bill was over, and the leader of the Opposition was on his feet. The House of Commons was full and excited. The side galleries were no less crowded than the benches below, and round the entrance-door stood a compact throng of members for whom no seats were available. With every sentence, almost, the speaker addressing the House struck from it assent or protest; cheers and counter-cheers ran through its ranks; while below the gangway a few passionate figures on either side, the freebooters of the two great parties, watched one another angrily, sitting on the very edge of their seats, like arrows drawn to the string.
Within that privileged section of the Ladies’ Gallery to which only the Speaker’s order admits, there was no less agitation than on the floor below, though the signs of it were less evident. Some half a dozen chairs placed close against the grille were filled by dusky forms invisible, save as a dim patchwork, to the House beneath them–women with their faces pressed against the lattice-work which divided them from the Chamber, endeavoring to hear and see, in spite of all the difficulties placed in their way by a graceless Commons. Behind them stood other women, bending forward sometimes over the heads of those in front, in the feverish effort to catch the words of the speech. It was so dark in the little room that no inmate of it could be sure of the identity of any other unless she was close beside her; and it was pervaded by a constant soft _frou-frou_ of silk and satin, as persons from an inner room moved in and out, or some lady silently gave up her seat to a new-comer, or one of those in front bent over to whisper to a friend behind. The background of all seemed filled with a shadowy medley of plumed hats, from which sometimes a face emerged as a shaft of faint light from the illumined ceiling of the House struck upon it.
The atmosphere was very hot, and heavy with the scent of violets, which seemed to come from a large bunch worn by a slim standing girl. In front of the girl sat a lady who was evidently absorbed in the scene below. She rarely moved, except occasionally to put up an eyeglass the better to enable her to identify some face on the Parliamentary benches, or the author of some interruption to the speaker. Meanwhile the girl held her hands upon the back of the lady’s chair, and once or twice stooped to speak to her.
Next to this pair, but in a corner of the gallery, and occupying what seemed to be a privileged and habitual seat, was a woman of uncouth figure and strange headgear. Since the Opposition leader had risen, her attention had wholly wandered. She yawned perpetually, and talked a great deal to a lady behind her. Once or twice her neighbor threw her an angry glance. But it was too dark for her to see it; though if she had seen it she would have paid no attention.
“Lady Coryston!” said a subdued voice. The lady sitting in front of the girl turned and saw an attendant beckoning.
The girl moved toward him, and returned.
“What is it, Marcia?”
“A note from Arthur, mamma.”
A slip of paper was handed to Lady Coryston, who read it in the gloom with difficulty. Then she whispered to her daughter:
“He hopes to get his chance about seven; if not then, after dinner.”
“I really don’t think I can stay so long,” said the girl, plaintively. “It’s dreadfully tiring.”
“Go when you like,” said her mother, indifferently. “Send the car back for me.”
She resumed her intent listening just as a smart sally from the speaker below sent a tumultuous wave of cheers and counter-cheers through his audience.
“He can be such a buffoon, can’t he?” said the stout lady in the corner to her companion, as she yawned again. She had scarcely tried to lower her voice. Her remark was, at any rate, quite audible to her next-door neighbor, who again threw her a swift, stabbing look, of no more avail, however, than its predecessors.
“Who is that lady in the corner–do you mind telling me?”
The query was timidly whispered in the ear of Marcia Coryston by a veiled lady, who on the departure of some other persons had come to stand beside her.
“She is Mrs. Prideaux.” said Miss Coryston, stiffly.
“The wife of the Prime Minister!” The voice showed emotion.
Marcia Coryston looked down upon the speaker with an air that said, “A country cousin, I suppose.”
But she whispered, civilly enough: “Yes. She always sits in that corner. Weren’t you here when he was speaking?”
“No–I’ve not long come in.”
The conversation dropped, just as the voice of the orator standing on the left of the Speaker rose to his peroration.
It was a peroration of considerable eloquence, subtly graduated through a rising series of rhetorical questions, till it finally culminated and broke in the ringing sentences:
“Destroy the ordered hierarchy of English land, and you will sweep away a growth of centuries which would not be where it is if it did not in the main answer to the needs and reflect the character of Englishmen. Reform and develop it if you will; bring in modern knowledge to work upon it; change, expand, without breaking it; appeal to the sense of property, while enormously diffusing property; help the peasant without slaying the landlord; in other words, put aside rash, meddlesome revolution, and set yourselves to build on the ancient foundations of our country what may yet serve the new time! Then you will have an _English_, a national policy. It happens to be the Tory policy. Every principle of it is violated by the monstrous bill you have just brought in. We shall oppose it by every means and every device in our power!”
[Illustration: THE CONVERSATION DROPPED, JUST AS THE VOICE OF THE ORATOR ROSE TO HIS PERORATION]
The speaker sat down amid an ovation from his own side. Three men on the Liberal side jumped up, hat in hand, simultaneously. Two of them subsided at once. The third began to speak.
A sigh of boredom ran through the latticed gallery above, and several persons rose and prepared to vacate their places. The lady in the corner addressed some further remarks on the subject of the speech which had just concluded to an acquaintance who came up to greet her. “Childish!–positively childish!”
Lady Coryston caught the words, and as Mrs. Prideaux rose with alacrity to go into the Speaker’s private house for a belated cup of tea, her Tory neighbor beckoned to her daughter Marcia to take the vacant chair.
“Intolerable woman!” she said, drawing a long breath. “And they’re in for years! Heaven knows what we shall all have to go through.”
“Horrible!” said the girl, fervently. “She always behaves like that. Yet of course she knew perfectly who you were.”
“Arthur will probably follow this man,” murmured Lady Coryston, returning to her watch.
“Go and have some tea, mother, and come back.”
“No. I might miss his getting up.”
There was silence a little. The House was thinning rapidly, and half the occupants of the Ladies’ Galleries had adjourned to the tearooms on the farther side of the corridor. Marcia could now see her mother’s face more distinctly as Lady Coryston sat in a brown study, not listening, evidently, to the very halting gentleman who was in possession of the House, though her eyes still roamed the fast-emptying benches.
It was the face of a woman on the wrong side of fifty. The complexion was extremely fair, with gray shades in it. The eyes, pale in color but singularly imperious and direct, were sunk deep under straight brows. The nose was long, prominent, and delicately sharp in the nostril. These features, together with the long upper lip and severely cut mouth and chin, the slightly hollow cheeks and the thin containing oval of the face, set in pale and still abundant hair, made a harsh yet, on the whole, handsome impression. There was at Coryston, in the gallery, a picture of Elizabeth Tudor in her later years to which Lady Coryston had been often compared; and she, who as a rule disliked any reference to her personal appearance, did not, it was sometimes remarked, resent this particular comparison. The likeness was carried further by Lady Coryston’s tall and gaunt frame; by her formidable carriage and step; and by the energy of the long-fingered hands. In dress also there was some parallel between her and the Queen of many gowns. Lady Coryston seldom wore colors, but the richest of black silks and satins and the finest of laces were pressed night and day into the service of her masterful good looks. She made her own fashions. Amid the large and befeathered hats of the day, for instance, she alone wore habitually a kind of coif made of thin black lace on her fair face, the lappets of which were fastened with a diamond close beneath her chin. For the country she invented modifications of her London dress, which, while loose and comfortable, were scarcely less stately. And whatever she wore seemed always part and parcel of her formidable self.
In Marcia’s eyes, her mother was a wonderful being–oppressively wonderful–whom she could never conveniently forget. Other people’s mothers were, so to speak, furniture mothers. They became the chimney-corner, or the sofa; they looked well in combination, gave no trouble, and could be used for all the common purposes of life. But Lady Coryston could never be used. On the contrary, her husband–while he lived–her three sons, and her daughter, had always appeared to her in the light of so many instruments of her own ends. Those ends were not the ends of other women. But did it very much matter? Marcia would sometimes ask herself. They seemed to cause just as much friction and strife and bad blood as other people’s ends.
As the girl sat silent, looking down on the bald heads of a couple of Ministers on the Front Bench, she was uneasily conscious of her mother as of some charged force ready to strike. And, indeed, given the circumstances of the family, on that particular afternoon, nothing could be more certain than blows of some kind before long….
“You see Mr. Lester?” said her mother, abruptly. “I thought Arthur would get him in.”
Marcia’s dreaminess departed. Her eyes ran keenly along the benches of the Strangers’ Gallery opposite till they discovered the dark head of a man who was leaning forward on his elbows, closely attentive, apparently, to the debate.
“Has he just come in?”
“A minute or two ago. It means, I suppose, that Arthur told him he expected to be up about seven. When will this idiot have done!” said Lady Coryston, impatiently.
But the elderly gentleman from the Highlands, to whom she thus unkindly referred, went on humming and hawing as before, while the House lumbered or fidgeted, hats well over noses and legs stretched to infinity.
“Oh, there is Arthur!” cried Marcia, having just discovered her brother among the shadows under the gallery to the left. “I couldn’t make him out before. One can see he’s on wires.”
For while everybody else, after the excitement of the two opening speeches, which was now running its course through the crowded lobbies outside, had sunk into somnolence within the House itself, the fair-haired youth on whom her eyes were bent was sitting erect on the edge of his seat, papers in hand, his face turned eagerly toward the speaker on the other side of the House. His attitude gave the impression of one just about to spring to his feet.
But Marcia was of opinion that he would still have to wait some time before springing. She knew the humming and hawing gentleman–had heard him often before. He was one of those plagues of debate who rise with ease and cease with difficulty. She would certainly have time to get a cup of tea and come back. So with a word to her mother she groped her way through the dark gallery across the corridor toward a tearoom. But at the door of the gallery she turned back. There through the lattice which shuts in the Ladies’ Gallery, right across the House, she saw the Strangers’ Gallery at the other end. The man whose head had been propped on his hands when she first discovered his presence was now sitting upright, and seemed to be looking straight at herself, though she knew well that no one in the Ladies’ Gallery was really visible from any other part of the House. His face was a mere black-and-white patch in the distance. But she imagined the clear, critical eyes, their sudden frown or smile.
“I wonder what _he_’ll think of Arthur’s speech–and whether he’s seen Coryston. I wonder whether he knows there’s going to be an awful row to-night. Coryston’s mad!”
Coryston was her eldest brother, and she was very fond of him. But the way he had been behaving!–the way he had been defying mamma!–it was really ridiculous. What could he expect?
She seemed to be talking to the distant face, defending her mother and herself with a kind of unwilling deference.
“After all, do I really care what he thinks?”
She turned and went her way to the tearoom. As she entered it she saw some acquaintances at the farther end, who waved their hands to her, beckoning her to join them. She hastened across the room, much observed by the way, and conscious of the eyes upon her. It was a relief to find herself among a group of chattering people.
Meanwhile at the other end of the room three ladies were finishing their tea. Two of them were the wives of Liberal Ministers–by name, Mrs. Verity and Mrs. Frant. The third was already a well-known figure in London society and in the precincts of the House of Commons–the Ladies’ Gallery, the Terrace, the dining-rooms–though she was but an unmarried girl of two-and- twenty. Quite apart, however, from her own qualities and claims, Enid Glenwilliam was conspicuous as the only daughter of the most vigorously hated and ardently followed man of the moment–the North Country miner’s agent, who was now England’s Finance Minister.
“You saw who that young lady was?” said Mrs. Frant to Miss Glenwilliam. “I thought you knew her.”
“Marcia Coryston? I have just been introduced to her. But she isn’t allowed to know me!” The laugh that accompanied the words had a pleasant childish chuckle in it.
Mrs. Frant laughed also.
“Girls, I suppose, have to do what they’re told,” she said, dryly. “But it _was_ Arthur Coryston, wasn’t it, who sent you that extra order for to-day, Enid?”
“Yes,” laughed the girl again; “but I am quite certain he didn’t tell his mother! We must really be civil and go back to hear him speak. His mother will think it magnificent, anyway. She probably wrote it for him. He’s quite a nice boy–but–“
She shook her head over him, softly smiling to herself. The face which smiled had no very clear title to beauty, but it was arresting and expressive, and it had beautiful points. Like the girl’s figure and dress, it suggested a self-conscious, fastidious personality: egotism, with charm for its weapon.
“I wonder what Lady Coryston thinks of her eldest son’s performances in the papers this morning!” said lively little Mrs. Frant, throwing up hands and eyes.
Mrs. Verity, a soft, faded woman, smiled responsively.
“They can’t be exactly dull in that family,” she said. “I’m told they all talk at once; and none of them listens to a word the others say.”
“I think I’ll bet that Lady Coryston will make Lord Coryston listen to a few remarks on that speech!” laughed Enid Glenwilliam. “Is there such a thing as _matria potestas_? I’ve forgotten all the Latin I learned at Cambridge, so I don’t know. But if there is, that’s what Lady Coryston stands for. How splendid–to stand for anything–nowadays!”
The three fell into an animated discussion of the Coryston family and their characteristics. Enid Glenwilliam canvassed them all at least as freely as her neighbors. But every now and then little Mrs. Frant threw her an odd look, as much as to say, “Am I really taken in?”
* * * * *
Meanwhile a very substantial old lady, scarcely less deliberate and finely finished, in spite of her size, than Lady Coryston herself, had taken a chair beside her in the gallery, which was still very empty.
“My dear,” she said, panting a little and grasping Lady Coryston’s wrist, with a plump hand on which the rings sparkled–“My dear! I came to bring you a word of sympathy.”
Lady Coryston looked at her coldly.
“Are you speaking of Coryston?”
“Naturally. The only logical result of those proceedings last night would be, of course, the guillotine at Hyde Park Corner. Coryston wants our heads! There’s nothing else to be said. I took the speeches for young men’s nonsense–just midsummer madness, but I find people very angry. _Your_ son! one of _us_!”
“I thought the speeches very clever,” said Lady Coryston.
“I’m rejoiced you take it so philosophically, my dear Emilia!”–the tone was a little snappish–“I confess I thought you would have been much distressed.”
“What’s the good of being distressed? I have known Coryston’s opinions for a long time. One has to _act_–of course,” the speaker added, with deliberation.
“Act? I don’t understand.”
Lady Coryston did not enlighten her. Indeed, she did not hear her. She was bending forward eagerly. The fair-haired youth on the back benches, who had been so long waiting his turn, was up at last.
It was a maiden speech, and a good one, as such things go. There was enough nervousness and not too much; enough assurance and not too much. The facts and figures in it had been well arranged. A modest jest or two tripped pleasantly out; and the general remarks at the end had been well chosen from the current stock, and were not unduly prolonged. Altogether a creditable effort, much assisted by the young man’s presence and manner. He had no particular good looks, indeed; his nose ascended, his chin satisfied no one; but he had been a well-known bat in the Oxford eleven of his day, and was now a Yeomanry officer; he held himself with soldierly erectness, and his slender body, cased in a becoming pale waistcoat under his tail coat, carried a well-shaped head covered with thick and tumbling hair.
The House filled up a little to hear him. His father had been a member of Parliament for twenty years, and a popular member. There was some curiosity to know what his son would make of his first speech. And springing from the good feeling which always animates the House of Commons on such occasions, there was a fair amount of friendly applause from both sides when he sat down.
“Features the father, and takes after the mother!” said a white-haired listener in the Strangers’ Gallery to himself, as the young man ceased speaking. “She’s drilled him! Well, now I suppose I must go and congratulate her.” He rose from his seat and began to make his way out. In the passage outside the Gallery he overtook and recognized the man whose entrance into the House Lady Coryston and her daughter had noticed about an hour earlier.
“Well, what did you think of it, Lester?”
The other smiled good-humoredly.
“Capital! Everybody must make a beginning. He’s taken a lot of pains.”
“It’s a beastly audience!” said Sir Wilfrid Bury, in reply. “Don’t I know it! Well, I’m off to congratulate. How does the catalogue get on?”
“Oh, very well. I sha’n’t finish till the summer. There’s a good deal still to do at Coryston. Some of the things are really too precious to move about.”
“How do you get on with her ladyship?” asked the old man, gaily, lowering his voice.
The young man smiled discreetly.
“Oh, very well. I don’t see very much of her.”
“I suppose she’s pressed you into the service–makes you help Arthur?”
“I looked out a few things for his speech to-day. But he has his own secretary.”
“You’re not staying for the rest of the debate?”
“No, I’m going back to St. James’s Square. I have a heap of arrears to get through.”
“Do they put you up there? I know it’s a huge house.”
“Yes. I have a bedroom and sitting-room there when I want them, and my own arrangements.”
Sir Wilfrid nodded pleasantly, and vanished into a side passage leading to the Ladies’ Gallery. The young man, Reginald Lester, to whom he had been chatting, was in some sort a protege of his own. It was Sir Wilfrid, indeed, who had introduced him, immediately after he had won an Oxford historical fellowship, to Lady Coryston, as librarian, for the highly paid work of cataloguing a superb collection of MSS. belonging to the Corystons. A generation earlier, Lester’s father had been a brother officer of Sir Wilfrid’s, in days when the Lester family was still rich, and before the crashing failure of the great banking-house of the name.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the House of Commons, Lady Coryston had been sitting pleasantly absorbed, watching her son, who lay now like a man relieved, lolling on the half-empty bench, chatting to a friend beside him. His voice was still in her ears: mingled with the memory of other voices from old, buried times. For more than twenty years how familiar had she been with this political scene!–these galleries and benches, crowded or listless; these opposing Cabinets–the Ins and Outs–on either side of the historic table; the glitter of the Mace at its farther end; the books, the old morocco boxes, the tops of the official wigs, the ugly light which bathed it all; the exhausted air, the dreariness, the boredom! all worth while, these last, just for the moments, the crises, the play of personalities, the conflict of giants, of which they were the inevitable conditions. There, on the second bench above the gangway on the Tory side, her husband, before he succeeded to the title, had sat through four Parliaments. And from the same point of vantage above she had watched him year after year, coming in and out, speaking occasionally, never eloquent or brilliant, but always respected; a good, worthy, steady-going fellow with whom no one had any fault to find, least of all his wife, to whom he had very easily given up the management of their common life, while he represented her political opinions in Parliament much more than his own.
Well, until in an evil hour, a great question, the only political question on which he differed and had always differed from his wife, on which he felt he _must_ speak for himself and stand on his own feet, arose to divide them. There, in that Gallery, she had sat, with rage and defeat in her heart, watching him pass along, behind the Speaker’s chair, toward the wrong division lobby, his head doggedly held down, as though he knew and felt her eyes upon him, but must do his duty all the same. On this one matter he had voted against her, spoken against her, openly flouted and disavowed her. And it had broken down their whole relation, poisoned their whole life. “Women are natural tyrants,” he had said to her once, bitterly–“no man could torment me as you do.” And then had come his death–his swift last illness, with those tired eyes still alive in the dumb face, after speech and movement were no longer possible–eyes which were apt to close when she came near.
And yet, after all–the will!–the will which all his relations and friends had taken as the final expression of his life’s weakness, his miserable failure to play the man in his own household, and in which _she_, his wife, had recognized with a secret triumph his last effort to propitiate her, his last surrender to her. Everything left to her, both land and personalty, everything! save for a thousand a year to each of the children, and fifteen hundred a year to Coryston, his heir. The great Irish, the great Devonshire properties, the accumulated savings of a lifetime, they were all hers–hers absolutely. Her husband had stood last in the entail; and with a view to her own power, she had never allowed him to renew it.
Coryston had been furiously angry when the terms of his father’s will were revealed. She could never think without shivering of certain scenes, with Coryston in the past–of a certain other scene that was still to come. Well, it had been a duel between them; and after apparently sore defeat, she had won, so far as influence over his father was concerned. And since his father’s death she had given him every chance. He had only to hold his tongue, to keep his monstrous, _sans-culotte_ opinions to himself, at least, if he could not give them up; and she would have restored him his inheritance, would have dealt with him not only justly, but generously. He had chosen; he had deliberately chosen. Well, now then it was for her–as she had said to old Lady Frensham–it was for her to reply, but not in words only.
She fell back upon the thought of Arthur, Arthur, her darling; so manly, and yet so docile; so willing to be guided! Where was he, that she might praise him for his speech? She turned, searching the dark doorway with her eyes. But there was no Arthur, only the white head and smiling countenance of her old friend, Sir Wilfrid Bury, who was beckoning to her. She hurriedly bade Marcia, who had just returned to the Gallery, to keep her seat for her, and went out into the corridor to speak to him.
“Well, not bad, was it? These youngsters have got the trick! I thought it capital. But I dare say you’ll have all sorts of fault to find, you most exacting of women!”
“No, no; it was good,” she said, eagerly. “And he’s improving fast.”
“Well then”–the wise old eyes beside her laughed kindly into hers–“be content, and don’t take Coryston’s escapades too hardly!”
She drew back, and her long face and haughty mouth stiffened in the way he knew.
“Are you coming to see me on Sunday?” she said, quietly.
He took his snubbing without resentment.
“I suppose so. I don’t often miss, do I? Well, I hear Marcia was the beauty at the Shrewsbury House ball, and that–” he whispered something, laughing in her ear.
Lady Coryston looked a little impatient.
“Oh, I dare say. And if it’s not he, it will be some one else. She’ll marry directly. I always expected it. Well, now I must go. Have you seen Arthur?”
“Mother! Hullo, Sir Wilfrid!”
There was the young orator, flushed and radiant. But his mother could say very little to him, for the magnificent person in charge of the Gallery and its approaches intervened. “No talking allowed here, sir, please.” Even Lady Coryston must obey. All she could add to her hurried congratulations was:
“You’re coming in to-night, remember, Arthur?–nine-thirty.”
“Yes, I’ve paired. I’m coming. But what on earth’s up, mother?”
Her lips shut closely.
“Remember, nine-thirty!” She turned and went back into the darkness of the Gallery.
Arthur hesitated a moment in the passage outside. Then he turned back toward the little entrance-room opposite the entrance to the ordinary Ladies’ Gallery, where he found another attendant.
“Is Miss Glenwilliam here?” he inquired, carelessly.
“Yes, sir, in the front row, with Mrs. Verity and Mrs. Frant. Do you wish to speak to her, sir? The Gallery’s pretty empty.”
Arthur Coryston went in. The benches sloped upward, and on the lowest one, nearest the grille, he saw the lady of his quest, and was presently bending over her.
“Well,” he said, flushing, “I suppose you thought it all bosh!”
“Not at all! That’s what you have to say. What else can you say? You did it excellently.”
Her lightly mocking eyes looked into his. His flush deepened.
“Are you going to be at the Frenshams’ dance?” he asked her, presently.
“We’re not invited. They’re too savage with father. But we shall be at the Opera to-morrow night.”
His face lightened. But no more talk was possible. A Minister was up, and people were crowding back into the Gallery. He hurriedly pressed her hand and departed.
Lady Coryston and her daughter had made a rapid and silent meal. Marcia noticed that her mother was unusually pale, and attributed it partly to the fatigue and bad air of the House of Commons, partly to the doings of her eldest brother. What were they all going to meet for after dinner–her mother, her three brothers, and herself? They had each received a formal summons. Their mother “wished to speak to them on important business.” So Arthur–evidently puzzled–had paired for the evening, and would return from the House at nine-thirty; James had written to say he would come, and Coryston had wired an hour before dinner–“Inconvenient, but will turn up.”
What was it all about? Some business matter clearly. Marcia knew very well that the family circumstances were abnormal. Mothers in Lady Coryston’s position, when their husbands expire, generally retire to a dower-house, on a jointure; leaving their former splendors–the family mansion and the family income–behind them. They step down from their pedestal, and efface themselves; their son becomes the head of the family, and the daughter-in-law reigns in place of the wife. Nobody for many years past could ever have expected Lady Coryston to step down from anything. Although she had brought but a very modest dowry, such from earliest days had been the strength and dominance of her character, that her divine right of rule in the family had never been seriously questioned by any of her children except Coryston; although James, who had inherited money from his grandmother, was entirely independent of her, and by the help of a detached and humorous mind could often make his mother feel the stings of criticism, when others were powerless. And as for Coryston, who had become a quasi-Socialist at Cambridge, and had ever since refused to suit his opinions in the slightest degree to his mother’s, his long absences abroad after taking his degree had for some years reduced the personal friction between them; and it was only since his father’s death, which had occurred while he himself was in Japan, and since the terms of his father’s will had been known, that Coryston had become openly and angrily hostile.
Why should Coryston, a gentleman who denounced property, and was all for taxing land and landlords into the Bankruptcy Court, resent so bitterly his temporary exclusion from the family estates? Marcia could not see that there was any logical answer. If landlordism was the curse of England, why be angry that you were not asked to be a landlord?
And really–of late–his behavior! Never coming to see his mother–writing the most outrageous things in support of the Government–speaking for Radical candidates in their very own county–denouncing by name some of their relations and old family friends: he had really been impossible!
Meanwhile Lady Coryston gave her daughter no light on the situation. She went silently up-stairs, followed by Marcia. The girl, a slight figure in white, mounted unwillingly. The big, gloomy house oppressed her as she passed through it. The classical staircase with its stone-colored paint and its niches holding bronze urns had always appeared to her since her childhood as the very top of dreariness; and she particularly disliked the equestrian portrait of her great-grandfather by an early Victorian artist, which fronted her as she ascended, in the gallery at the top of the staircase, all the more that she had been supposed from her childhood to be like the portrait. Brought up as she had been in the belief that family and heredity are the master forces of life, she resented this teasing association with the weak, silly fellow on the ill-balanced rocking-horse whose double chin, button nose, and receding forehead not even the evident flattery of the artist had been able to disguise. Her hatred of the picture often led her to make a half-protesting pause in front of the long Chippendale mirror which hung close to it. She made it to-night.
Indeed, the dim reflection in the glass might well have reassured her. Dark eyes and hair, a brunette complexion, grace, health, physical strength–she certainly owed none of these qualities or possessions to her ancestor. The face reminded one of ripe fruit–so rich was the downy bloom on the delicate cheeks, so vivid the hazel of the wide black-fringed eyes. A touch of something heavy and undecided in the lower part of the face made it perhaps less than beautiful. But any man who fell in love with her would see in this defect only the hesitancy of first youth, with its brooding prophecy of passion, of things dormant and powerful. Face and form were rich–quite unconsciously–in that magic of sex which belongs to only a minority of women, but that, a minority drawn from all ranks and occupations. Marcia Coryston believed herself to be interested in many things–in books, in the Suffrage, in the girls’ debating society of which she was the secretary, in politics, and in modern poetry. In reality her whole being hung like some chained Andromeda at the edge of the sea of life, expecting Perseus. Her heart listened for him perpetually–the unknown!–yearning for his call, his command….
There were many people–witness Sir Wilfrid Bury’s remark to her mother–who had already felt this magic in her. Without any conscious effort of her own she had found herself possessed, in the course of three seasons since her coming out, of a remarkable place in her own circle and set. She was surrounded by a court of young people, men and women; she received without effort all the most coveted invitations; she was watched, copied, talked about; and rumor declared that she had already refused–or made her mother refuse for her–one or more of the men whom all other mothers desired to capture. This quasi-celebrity had been achieved no one quite knew how, least of all Marcia herself. It had not, apparently, turned her head, though those who knew her best were aware of a vein of natural arrogance in her character. But in manner she remained _nonchalant_ and dreamy as before, with just those occasional leaps to the surface of passionate, or scornful, or chivalrous feeling which made her interesting. Her devotion to her mother was plain. She espoused all her mother’s opinions with vehemence, and would defend her actions, in the family or out of it, through thick and thin. But there were those who wondered how long the subservience would last, supposing the girl’s marriage were delayed.
As to the gossip repeated by Sir Wilfrid Bury, it referred to the latest of Marcia’s adventures. Her thoughts played with the matter, especially with certain incidents of the Shrewsbury House ball, as she walked slowly into the drawing-room in her mother’s wake.
The drawing-room seemed to her dark and airless. Taste was not the Coryston strong point, and this high, oblong room was covered with large Italian pictures, some good, some indifferent, heavily framed, and hung on wine-colored damask. A feebly false Guido Reni, “The Sacrifice of Isaac,” held the center of one wall, making vehement claim to be just as well worth looking at as the famous Titian opposite. The Guido had hung there since 1820, and what was good enough for the Corystons of that date was good enough for their descendants, who were not going to admit that their ancestors were now discredited–laughed out of court–as collectors, owing to the labors of a few middle-aged intellectuals. The floor was held by a number of gilt chairs and sofas covered also in wine-colored damask, or by tables holding _objets d’art_ of the same mixed quality as the pictures. Even the flowers, the stands of splendid azaleas and early roses with which the room was lavishly adorned, hardly produced an impression of beauty. Marcia, looking slowly round her with critical eyes, thought suddenly of a bare room she knew in a Roman palace, some faded hangings in dull gold upon the walls, spaces of light and shadow on the empty matted floor, and a great branch of Judas tree in blossom lighting up a corner. The memory provoked in her a thrill of sensuous pleasure.
Meanwhile Lady Coryston was walking slowly up and down, her hands behind her. She looked very thin and abnormally tall; and Marcia saw her profile, sharply white, against the darkness of the wall. A vague alarm struck through the daughter’s mind. What was her mother about to say or do? Till now Marcia had rather lazily assumed that the meeting would concern some matter of family property–some selling or buying transaction–which a mother, even in the abnormally independent position Lady Coryston, might well desire to communicate to her children. There had been a family meeting in the preceding year when the Dorsetshire property had been sold under a recent Act of Parliament. Coryston wouldn’t come. “I take no interest in the estates “–he had written to his mother. “They’re your responsibility, not mine.”
And yet of course Coryston would inherit some day. That was taken for granted among them. What were Tory principles worth if they did not some time, at some stage, secure an eldest son, and an orthodox succession? Corry was still in the position of heir, when he should normally have become owner. It was very trying for him, no doubt. But exceptional women make exceptional circumstances. And they were all agreed that their mother was an exceptional woman.
But whatever the business, they would hardly get through without a scene, and during the past week there had been a number of mysterious interviews with lawyers going on…. What was it all about? To distract her thoughts she struck up conversation.
“Did you see Enid Glenwilliam, mother, in Palace Yard?”
“I just noticed her,” said Lady Coryston, indifferently. “One can’t help it, she dresses so outrageously.”
“Oh, mother, she dresses very well! Of course nobody else could wear that kind of thing.”
Lady Coryston lifted her eyebrows.
“That’s where the ill-breeding comes in–that a young girl should make herself so conspicuous.”
“Well, it seems to pay,” laughed Marcia. “She has tremendous success. People on our side–people you’d never think–will do anything to get her for their parties. They say she makes things go. She doesn’t care what she says.”
“That I can quite believe! Yes–I saw she was at Shrewsbury House the other day–dining–when the Royalties were there. The daughter of that _man_!”
Lady Coryston’s left foot gave a sharp push to a footstool lying in her path, as though it were Glenwilliam himself.
“And she’s very devoted to him, too. She told some one who told me, that he was so much more interesting than any other man she knew, that she hadn’t the least wish to marry! I suppose you wouldn’t like it if I were to make a friend of her?” The girl’s tone had a certain slight defiance in it.
“Do what you like when I’m gone, my dear,” said Lady Coryston, quietly.
Marcia flushed, and would have replied, but for the sudden and distant sound of the hall-door bell. Lady Coryston instantly stopped her pacing and took her seat beside a table on which, as Marcia now noticed, certain large envelopes had been laid. The girl threw herself into a low chair behind her mother, conscious of a distress, a fear, she could not analyze. There was a small fire in the grate, for the May evening was chilly, but on the other side of the room a window was open to the twilight, and in a luminous sky cut by the black boughs of a plane tree, and the roofs of a tall building, Marcia saw a bright star shining. The heavy drawing-room, with its gilt furniture and its electric lights, seemed for a moment blotted out. That patch of sky suggested strange, alien, inexorable things; while all the time the sound of mounting footsteps on the stairs grew nearer.
In they came, her three brothers, laughing and talking. Coryston first, then James, then Arthur. Lady Coryston rose to meet them, and they all kissed their mother. Then Coryston, with his hands on his sides, stood in front of her, examining her face with hard, amused eyes, as much as to say, “Now, then, for the scene. Let’s get it over!” He was the only one of the three men who was not in evening dress. He wore, indeed, a shabby greenish-gray suit, and a flannel shirt. Marcia noticed it with indignation. “It’s not respectful to mother!” she thought, angrily. “It’s all very well to be a Socialist and a Bohemian. But there are decencies!”
In spite, however, of the shabby suit and the flannel shirt, in spite also of the fact that he was short and very slight, while his brothers were both of them over six feet and broadly built men, there could be no doubt that, as soon as he entered, Coryston held the stage. He was one of the mercurial men who exist in order to keep the human tide in movement. Their opinions matter principally because without them the opinions of other men would not exist. Their function is to provoke. And from the time he was a babe in the nursery Coryston had fulfilled it to perfection.
He himself would have told you he was simply the reaction from his mother. And indeed, although from the time he had achieved trousers their joint lives had been one scene of combat, they were no sooner in presence of each other than the strange links between them made themselves felt no less than the irreconcilable differences.
Now, indeed, as, after a few bantering remarks to his mother on his recent political escapades–remarks which she took in complete silence–he settled himself in a high chair in front of her to listen to what she had to say, no subtle observer of the scene but must have perceived the likeness–through all contrast–between mother and son. Lady Coryston was tall, large-boned, thin to emaciation, imposing–a Lady Macbeth of the drawing-room. Coryston was small, delicately finished, a whimsical snippet of a man–on wires–never at ease–the piled fair hair overbalancing the face and the small, sarcastic chin. And yet the essential note of both physiognomies, of both aspects, was the same. _Will_–carried to extremes, absorbing and swallowing up the rest of the personality. Lady Coryston had handed on the disease of her own character to her son, and it was in virtue of what she had given him that she had made him her enemy.
Her agitation in his presence, in spite of her proud bearing, was indeed evident, at least to Marcia. Marcia read her; had indeed been compelled to read her mother–the movements of hand and brow, the tricks of expression–from childhood up. And she detected, from various signs of nervousness, that Lady Coryston expected a rough time.
She led the way to it, however, with deliberation. She took no notice of Coryston’s, “Well, mother, what’s up? Somebody to be tried and executed?” but, waving to him to take a particular chair, she asked the others to sit, and placed herself beside the table which held the sheets of folded foolscap. The ugly electric light from overhead fell full upon the pallid oval of her face, on her lace cap, and shimmering black dress. Only Marcia noticed that the hand which took up the foolscap shook a little. It was an old hand, delicately white, with large finger-joints.
“I can’t pretend to make a jest of what I’m going to say,” she said, with a look at Coryston. “I wanted to speak to you all on a matter of business–not very agreeable business, but necessary. I am sure you will hear me out, and believe that I am doing my best, according to my lights, by the family–the estates–and the country.”
At the last slowly spoken words Lady Coryston drew herself up. Especially when she said “the country,” it was as though she mentioned something peculiarly her own, something attacked which fled to her for protection.
Marcia looked round on her three brothers: Coryston sunk in a big gilt chair, one leg cocked over the other, his fingers lightly crossed above his head; James with his open brow, his snub nose, his charming expression; and Arthur, who had coaxed Lady Coryston’s spaniel on to his lap and was pulling his ears. He looked, she thought, bored and only half attentive. And yet she was tolerably certain that he knew no more than she did what Was going to happen.
“I am quite aware,” said Lady Coryston, resuming after a pause, “that in leaving his estates and the bulk of his fortune to myself your dear father did an unusual thing, and one for which many persons have blamed him–“
Coryston’s cocked leg descended abruptly to the ground. Marcia turned an anxious eye upon him; but nothing more happened, and the voice speaking went on:
“He did it, as I believe you have all recognized, because he desired that in these difficult times, when everything is being called in question, and all our institutions, together with the ideas which support them, are in danger, I should, during my lifetime, continue to support and carry out his ideas–the ideas he and I had held in common–and should remain the guardian of all those customs and traditions on his estates which he had inherited–and in which he believed–“
Coryston suddenly sat up, shook down his coat vehemently, and putting his elbows on his knees, propped his face on them, the better to observe his mother. James was fingering his watch-chain, with downcast eyes, the slightest smile on his gently twitching mouth; Arthur was measuring one ear of the spaniel against the other.
“Two years,” said Lady Coryston, “have now passed since your father’s death. I have done my best with my trust, though of course I realize that I cannot have satisfied _all_ my children.” She paused a moment. “I have not wasted any of your father’s money in personal luxury–that none of you can say. The old establishment, the old ways, have been kept up–nothing more. And I have certainly _wished_”–she laid a heavy emphasis on the word–“to act for the good of all of you. You, James, have your own fortune, but I think you know that if you had wanted money at any time, for any reasonable purpose, you had only to ask for it. Marcia also has her own money; but when it comes to her marriage, I desire nothing better than to provide for her amply. And now, as to Coryston–“
She turned to him, facing him magnificently, though not, as Marcia was certain, without trepidation. Coryston flung back his head with a laugh.
“Ah, now we come to it!” he said. “The rest was all ‘but leather and prunella.'”
James murmured, “Corry–old man?” Marcia flushed angrily.
“Coryston also knows very well,” said Lady Coryston, coldly, “that everything he could possibly have claimed–“
“Short of the estates–which were my right,” put in Coryston, quietly, with an amused look.
His mother went on without noticing the interruption:
“–would have been his–either now or in due time–if he would only have made certain concessions–“
“Sold my soul and held my tongue?–quite right!” said Coryston. “I have scores of your letters, my dear mother, to that effect.”
Lady Coryston slightly raised her voice, and for the first time it betrayed emotion.
“If he would, in simple decent respect to his father’s memory and consideration of his mother’s feelings, have refrained from attacking his father’s convictions–“
“What!–you think he still has them–in the upper regions?”
Coryston flung an audacious hand toward the ceiling. Lady Coryston grew pale. Marcia looked fiercely at her brother, and, coming to her mother’s side, she took her hand.
“Your brothers and sister, Coryston, will not allow you, I think, to insult your father’s memory!” The voice audibly shook.
Coryston sprang up impetuously and came to stand over his mother, his hands on his sides.
“Now look here, mother. Let’s come to business. You’ve been plotting something more against me, and I want to know what it is. Have you been dishing me altogether?–cutting me finally out of the estates? Is that what you mean? Let’s have it!”
Lady Coryston’s face stiffened anew into a gray obstinacy.
“I prefer, Coryston, to tell my story in my own words and in my own way–“
“Yes–but please _tell_ it!” said Coryston, sharply. “Is it fair to keep us on tenter-hooks? What is that paper, for instance? Extracts, I guess, from your will–which concern me–and the rest of them”–he waved his hand toward the other three. “For God’s sake let’s have them, and get done with it.”
“I will read them, if you will sit down, Coryston.”
With a whimsical shake of the head Coryston returned to his chair. Lady Coryston took up the folded paper.
“Coryston guessed rightly. These are the passages from my will which concern the estates. I should like to have explained before reading them, in a way as considerate to my eldest son as possible” she looked steadily at Coryston–“the reasons which have led me to take this course. But–“
“No, no! Business first and pleasure afterward!” interrupted the eldest son. “Disinherit me and then pitch into me. You get at me unfairly while I’m speculating as to what’s coming.”
“I think,” said Marcia, in a tone trembling with indignation, “that Coryston is behaving abominably.”
But her brothers did not respond, and Coryston looked at his sister with lifted brows. “Go it, Marcia!” he said, indulgently.
Lady Coryston began to read.
Before she had come to the end of her first paragraph Coryston was pacing the drawing-room, twisting his lips into all sorts of shapes, as was his custom when the brain was active. And with the beginning of the second, Arthur sprang to his feet.
“I say, mother!”
“Let me finish?” asked Lady Coryston with a hard patience.
She read to the end of the paper. And with the last words Arthur broke out:
“I won’t have it, mother! It’s not fair on Corry. It’s beastly unfair!”
Lady Coryston made no reply. She sat quietly staring into Arthur’s face, her hands, on which the rings sparkled, lightly clasped over the paper which lay upon her knee. James’s expression was one of distress. Marcia sat dumfoundered.
James approached his mother.
“I think, mother, you will hardly maintain these provisions.”
She turned toward him.
“Yes, James, I shall maintain them.”
Meanwhile Arthur, deeply flushed, stood running his hand through his fair hair as though in bewilderment.
“I sha’n’t take it, mother! I give you full warning. Whenever it comes to me I shall hand it back to Corry.”
“It won’t come to you, except as a life interest. The estates will be in trust,” said Lady Coryston.
Coryston gave a loud, sudden laugh, and stood looking at his mother from a little distance.
“How long have you been concocting this, mother? I suppose my last speeches have contributed?”
“They have made me finally certain that your father could never have intrusted you with the estates.”
“How do you know? He meant me to have the property if I survived you. The letter which he left for me said as much.”
“He gave me absolute discretion,” said Lady Coryston, firmly.
“At least you have taken it!” said Coryston, with emphasis. “Now let’s see how things stand.”
He paused, a thin, wiry figure, under the electric light, checking off the items on his fingers. “On the ground of my political opinion–you cut me out of the succession. Arthur is to have the estates. And you propose to buy me off by an immediate gift of seven thousand a year in addition to my present fortune–the whole income from the land and the tin-mines being, I understand, about ten times that; and you intend to sell certain outlying properties in order to do this. That’s your proposal. Well, now, here’s mine. I won’t take your seven thousand a year! I will have all–all, that is, which would have normally come to me–or _nothing_!”
He stood gazing intently at his mother’s face, his small features sparkling.
“I will have all–or nothing!” he repeated. “Of course I don’t deny it for a moment, if the property had come to me I should have made all sorts of risky experiments with it. I should have cut it up into small holdings. I should have pulled down the house or made it into a county hospital.”
“You make it your business to wound, Coryston.”
“No, I simply tell you what I should have done. And I should have been _absolutely in my right_!” He brought his hand down with passion on the chair beside him. “My father had his way. In justice I–the next generation–ought to have mine. These lands were not yours. You have no moral rights over them whatever. They come from my father, and his father. There is always something to be said for property, so long as each generation is free to make its own experiments upon it. But if property is to be locked in the dead hand, so that the living can’t get at it, _then_ it is what the Frenchman called it, _theft_!–or worse…. Well, I’m not going to take this quietly, I warn you. I refuse the seven thousand a year! and if I can’t possess the property–well!–I’m going to a large extent to manage it!”
Lady Coryston started.
“Cony!” cried Marcia, passionately.
“I have a responsibility toward my father’s property,” said Coryston, calmly. “And I intend to settle down upon it, and try and drum a few sound ideas into the minds of our farmers and laborers. Owing to my absurd title I can’t stand for our parliamentary division–but I shall look out for somebody who suits me, and run him. You’ll find me a nuisance, mother, I’m afraid. But you’ve done your best for your principles. Don’t quarrel with me if I do the best for mine. Of course I know it’s hard for you. You would always have liked to manage me. But I never could be managed–least of all by a woman.”
Lady Coryston rose from her seat.
“James!–Arthur!–” The voice had regained all its strength. “You will understand, I think, that it is better for me to leave you. I do not wish that either Coryston or I should say things we should afterward find it hard to forgive. I had a public duty to do. I have performed it. Try and understand me. Good night.”
“You will let me come and see you to-morrow?” said James, anxiously.
She made no reply. Then James and Arthur kissed her, Marcia threw an arm round her and went with her, the girl’s troubled, indignant eyes holding Coryston at bay the while.
As Lady Coryston approached the door her eldest son made a sudden rush and opened it for her.
“Good night, mother. We’ll play a great game, you and I–but we’ll play fair.”
Lady Coryston swept past him without a word. The door closed on her and Marcia. Then Coryston turned, laughing, to his brother Arthur, and punched him in the ribs.
“I say, Arthur, old boy, you talked a jolly lot of nonsense this afternoon! I slipped into the Gallery a little to hear you.”
Arthur grew red.
“Of course it was nonsense to you!”
“What did Miss Glenwilliam say to you?”
“Nothing that matters to you, Corry.”
“Arthur, my son, you’ll be in trouble, too, before you know where you are!”
“Do hold your tongue, Corry!”
“Why should I? I back you strongly. But you’ll have to stick to her. Mother will fight you for all she’s worth.”
“I’m no more to be managed than you, if it comes to that.”
“Aren’t you? You’re the darling, at present. I don’t grudge you the estates, Arthur.”
“I never lifted a finger to get them,” said Arthur, moodily. “And I shall find a way of getting out of them–the greater part of them, anyway. All the same, Corry, if I do–you’ll have to give guarantees.”
“Don’t you wish you may get them! Well now”–Coryston gave a great stretch–“can’t we have a drink? You’re the master here, Arthur. Just order it. James, did you open your mouth while mother was here? I don’t remember. You looked unutterable things. But nobody could be as wise as you look. I tell you, though you are a philosopher and a man of peace, you’ll have to take sides in this family row, whether you like it or not. Ah! Here’s the whisky. Give us a cigar. Now then, we’ll sit on this precious paper!”
He took up the roll his mother had left behind her and was soon sipping and puffing in the highest good humor, while he parodied and mocked at the legal phraseology of the document which had just stripped him of seventy thousand a year.
Half an hour later the brothers had dispersed, Coryston and James to their bachelor quarters, Arthur to the House of Commons. The front door was no sooner shut than a slender figure in white emerged from the shadows of the landing overhead. It was Marcia, carrying a book.
She came to the balustrade and looked over into the hall below. Nothing to be heard or seen. Her brothers, she perceived, had not left the house from the drawing-room. They must have adjourned to the library, the large ground-floor room at the back.
“Then Mr. Lester knows,” she thought, indignantly. “Just like Corry!” And her pride revolted against the notion of her brothers discussing her mother’s actions, her mother’s decisions, with this stranger in the house. It was quite true that Mr. Lester had been a friend both of Arthur and of Coryston at Oxford, and that Arthur in particular was devoted to him. But that did not excuse the indiscretion, the disloyalty, of bringing him into the family counsels at such a juncture. Should she go down? She was certain she would never get to sleep after these excitements, and she wanted the second volume of _Diana of the Crossways_. Why not? It was only just eleven. None of the lights had yet been put out. Probably Mr. Lester had gone to bed.
She ran down lightly, and along the passage leading to the library. As she opened the door, what had been light just before became suddenly darkness, and she heard some one moving about.
“Who is that?” said a voice. “Wait a moment.”
A little fumbling; and then a powerful reading-lamp, standing on a desk heaped with books midway down the large room, was relit. The light flashed toward the figure at the door.
“Miss Coryston! I beg your pardon! I was just knocking off work. Can I do anything for you?”
The young librarian came toward her. In the illumination from the passage behind her she saw his dark Cornish face, its red-brown color, broad brow, and blue eyes.
“I came for a book,” said Marcia, rather hurriedly, as she entered. “I know where to find it. Please don’t trouble.” She went to the shelves, found her volume, and turned abruptly. The temptation which possessed her proved too strong.
“I suppose my brothers have been here?”
Lester’s pleasant face showed a certain embarrassment.
“They have only just gone–at least, Arthur and Lord Coryston. James went some time ago.”
Marcia threw her head back defiantly against the latticed bookcase.
“I suppose Corry has been attacking my mother?”
Lester hesitated; then spoke with grave sincerity: “I assure you, he did nothing of the kind. I should not have let him.” He smiled.
“But they’ve told you–he and Arthur–they’ve told you what’s happened?”
“Yes,” he said, reluctantly. “I tried to stop them.”
“As if anything could stop Corry!” cried Marcia–“when he wants to do something he knows he oughtn’t to do. And he’s told you his precious plan?–of coming to settle down at Coryston–in our very pockets–in order to make mother’s life a burden to her?”
“A perfectly mad whim!” said Lester, smiling again. “I don’t believe he’ll do it.”
“Oh yes, he will,” said Marcia; “he’ll do anything that suits his ideas. He calls it following his conscience. Other people’s ideas and other people’s consciences don’t matter a bit.”
Lester made no answer. His eyes were on the ground. She broke out impetuously:
“You think he’s been badly treated?”
“I had rather not express an opinion. I have no right to one.”
“Mayn’t women care for politics just as strongly as men?” cried the girl, as though arguing the question with herself. “I think it’s _splendid_ my mother should care as she does! Corry ought to respect her for it.”
Lester made a pretense of gathering up some papers on his desk, by way of covering his silence. Marcia observed him, with red cheeks.
“But of course you don’t, you can’t, feel with us, Mr. Lester. You’re a Liberal.”
“No!” he protested mildly, raising his eyes in surprise. “I really don’t agree with Coryston at all. I don’t intend to label myself just yet, but if I’m anything I think I’m a Conservative.”
“But you think other things matter more than politics?”
“Ah yes,” he said, smiling, “that I do. Especially–” He stopped.
“Especially–for women?” The breaking of Marcia’s delightful smile answered his. “You see, I guessed what you meant to say. What things? I think I know.”
“Beauty–poetry–sympathy. Wouldn’t you put those first?”
He spoke the words shyly, looking down upon her.
There was something in the mere sound of them that thrilled, that made a music in the girl’s ears. She drew a long breath, and suddenly, as he raised his eyes, he saw her as a white vision, lit up, Rembrandt-like, in the darkness, by the solitary light–the lines of her young form, the delicate softness of cheek and brow, the eager eyes.
She held out her hand.
“Good night. I shall see what Meredith has to say about it!”
She held up her volume, ran to the door, and disappeared.
“Her ladyship says she would like to see you, Miss, before you go.”
The speaker was Lady Coryston’s maid. She stood just within the doorway of the room where Marcia was dressing for the Opera, delivering her message mechanically, but really absorbed in the spectacle presented by the young girl before her. Sewell was an artist in her own sphere, and secretly envious of the greater range of combination which Marcia’s youth and beauty made possible for the persons who dressed her, as compared with Lady Coryston. There are all kinds of subtle variants, no doubt, in “black,” such as Lady Coryston habitually wore; and the costliness of them left nothing to be desired. But when she saw Marcia clothed in a new Worth or Paquin, Sewell was sorely tempted to desert her elderly mistress and go in search of a young one.
“Come in, Sewell,” cried Marcia. “What do you think of it?”
The woman eagerly obeyed her. Marcia’s little maid, Bellows, did the honors, and the two experts, in an ecstasy, chattered the language of their craft, while Marcia, amid her shimmering white and pink, submitted good-humoredly to being pulled about and twisted round, till after endless final touches, she was at last pronounced the perfect thing.
Then she ran across the passage to her mother’s sitting-room. Lady Coryston had complained of illness during the day and had not been down-stairs. But Marcia’s experience was that when her mother was ill she was not less, but more active than usual, and that withdrawal to her sitting-room generally meant a concentration of energy.
Lady Coryston was sitting with a writing-board on her knee, and a reading-lamp beside her, lighting a table covered with correspondence. Within her reach was a deep cupboard in the wall containing estate and business letters, elaborately labeled and subdivided. A revolving bookcase near carried a number of books of reference, and at her elbow, with the paper-knife inside it, lay a copy of the _Quarterly Review_. The walls of the room were covered with books–a fine collection of county histories, and a large number of historical memoirs and biographies. In a corner, specially lit, a large bust of the late Lord Coryston conveyed to a younger generation the troubled, interrogative look which in later life had been the normal look of the original. His portrait by Holl hung over the mantelpiece, flanked on either side by water-color pictures of his sons and daughter in their childhood.
There was only one comfortable chair in the room, and Lady Coryston never sat in it. She objected to flowers as being in the way; and there was not a sign anywhere of the photographs and small knick-knacks which generally belitter a woman’s sitting–room. Altogether, an ugly room, but characteristic, businesslike, and not without a dignity of its own.
“Mother!–why don’t you rest a little?” cried Marcia, eying the black-robed figure and the long pale face, marked by very evident fatigue. “You’ve been writing letters or seeing people all day. How long did James stay?”
“About an hour.”
“And Mr. Page?” Mr. Page was the agent of the main Coryston estate.
“Some time. There was a great deal to settle.”
“Did you”–the girl fidgeted–“did you tell him about Coryston?”
“Certainly. He says there is only one house in the neighborhood he could take–“
“He has taken it.” Marcia opened her right hand, in which she crushed a telegram. “Bellows has just brought me this.”
Lady Coryston opened and read it.
“Have taken Knatchett for three years. Tell mother.” Lady Coryston’s lips stiffened.
“He has lost no time. He can vex and distress us, of course. We shall have to bear it.”
“Vex and distress us! I should think he can!” cried Marcia. “Has James been talking to him?”
“I dare say,” said Lady Coryston, adding, with a slight, sarcastic laugh, “James is a little too sure of being always in the right.”
From which Marcia guessed that James had not only been talking to Coryston, but also remonstrating with his mother, which no doubt accounted for Lady Coryston’s worn-out looks. James had more effect upon her than most people; though never quite effect enough.
Marcia stood with one foot on the fender, her gaze fixed on her mother in a frowning abstraction. And suddenly Lady Coryston, lifting her eyes, realized her daughter, and the vision that she made.
“You look very well, Marcia. Have I seen that dress before?”
“No. I designed it last week. Ah!”–the sound of a distant gong made itself heard–“there’s the motor. Well, good night, mother. Take care of yourself and do go to bed soon.”
She stooped to kiss her mother.
“Who’s going with you?”
“Waggin and James. Arthur may come in. He thinks the House will be up early. And I asked Mr. Lester. But he can’t come for the first part.”
Her mother held her sleeve and looked up, smiling. Lady Coryston’s smiles were scarcely less formidable than her frowns.
“You expect to see Edward Newbury?”
“I dare say. They have their box, as usual.”
“Well!–run off and enjoy yourself. Give my love to Miss Wagstaffe.”
“Waggin” was waiting in the hall for Marcia. She had been Miss Coryston’s governess for five years, and was now in retirement on a small income, partly supplied by a pension from Lady Coryston. It was understood that when she was wanted to act duenna, she came–at a moment’s notice. And she was very willing to come. She lived in an Earl’s Court lodging, and these occasional expeditions with Marcia represented for her the gilt on her modest gingerbread. She was a small, refined woman, with a figure still slender, gray hair, and a quiet face. Her dresses were years old, but she had a wonderful knack of bringing them up-to-date, and she never did Marcia any discredit. She adored Marcia, and indeed all the family. Lady Coryston called her “Miss Wagstaffe”–but to the others, sons and daughter, she was only “Waggin.” There were very few things about the Coryston family she did not know; but her discretion was absolute.
As she saw Marcia running down-stairs her face lit up.
“My dear, what a lovely gown!–and how sweet you look!”
“Don’t talk nonsense, Waggin!–and put on this rose I’ve brought for you!”
Waggin submitted while Marcia adorned her and gave various pats and pulls to her hair.
“There!–you look ten years younger,” said the girl, with her bright look, stepping back. “But where is James?”
The butler stepped forward.
“Mr. James will meet you at the Opera.”
“Oh, good!” murmured Marcia in her companion’s ear. “Now we can croon.”
And croon they did through the long crowded way to Covent Garden. By the time the motor reached St. Martin’s Lane, Waggin was in possession of all that had happened. She had long expected it, having shrewdly noted many signs of Lady Coryston’s accumulating wrath. But now that “Corry,” her dear “Corry,” with whom she had fought so many a schoolroom fight in the days of his Eton jackets, was really disinherited, her concern was great. Tears stood in her kind eyes. “Poor Corry!” alternated in her mouth with “Your poor mother!” Sinner and judge appealed equally to her pity.
Marcia meanwhile sat erect and fierce.
“What else could he expect? Father _did_ leave the estates to mother–just because Corry had taken up such views–so that she might keep us straight.”
[Illustration: AS SHE SAW MARCIA HER FACE LIT UP]
“But _afterward_! My dear, he is so young! And young men change.”
Lady Coryston’s death was not, of course, to be mentioned–except with this awe and vagueness–scarcely to be thought of. But hotter revolutionists than Corry have turned Tories by forty. Waggin harped on this theme.
Marcia shook her head.
“He won’t change. Mother did not ask it. All she asked was–for her sake and father’s–that he should hold his tongue.”
A flush sprang to Waggin’s faded cheek.
“A _man_!–a grown man!” she said, wondering–“forbid him to speak out–speak freely?”
Marcia looked anxiously at her companion. It was very seldom that Waggin betrayed so much heat.
“I know,” said the girl, gloomily–“‘Your money or your life’–for I suppose it sounds like that. Corry would say his convictions are his life. But why ‘a man,’ Waggin?” She straightened her pretty shoulders. “I don’t believe you’d mind if it were a woman. You don’t believe in a _woman_ having convictions!”
Waggin looked a little bewildered.
“I’m old-fashioned, I suppose–but–“
Marcia laughed triumphantly.
“Why shouldn’t Corry respect his mother’s convictions? She wants to prove that women oughtn’t to shrink from fighting for what they believe, even–“
“Even with their sons?” said Waggin, tremulously. “Lady Coryston is so splendid–so splendid!”
“Even with their sons!” cried Marcia, vehemently. “You take it for granted, Waggin, that they trample on their daughters!”
Waggin protested, and slipped her thin hand into the girl’s. The note of storm in Marcia’s mood struck her sharply. She tried, for a moment, to change the subject. Who, she asked, was a tall, fair girl whom she had seen with Mr. Arthur, “a week ago” at the National Gallery? “I took my little niece–and suddenly I turned, and there at the end of the room were Mr. Arthur–and this lady. Such a remarkable-looking young woman!–not exactly handsome–but you couldn’t possibly pass her over.”
“Enid Glenwilliam!” exclaimed Marcia, with a startled voice. “But of course, Waggin, they weren’t alone?”
“Oh no–probably not!–though–though I didn’t see any one else. They seemed so full of talk–I didn’t speak to Mr. Arthur. _Who_ do you say she was?” repeated Waggin, innocently.
Marcia turned upon her.
“The daughter of the man mother hates most in the world! It’s too bad of Arthur! It’s abominable! It would kill mother if she knew! I’ve heard things said sometimes–but I never believed them for a moment. Oh, Waggin!–you _didn’t_ see them alone?”
The voice changed into what was almost a wail of indignation. “Of course Enid Glenwilliam would never consider appearances for a moment. She does exactly what suits her. She never bothers about chaperons, unless she absolutely must. When she sees what she wants she takes it. But _Arthur_!”
Marcia leaned back in the car, and as in the crush of the traffic they passed under a lamp Waggin saw a countenance of genuine distress.
“Oh, my dear, I’m so sorry to have worried you. How stupid of me to mention it! I’m sure there’s nothing in it.”
“I’ve half suspected it for the last month,” said Marcia with low-toned emphasis. “But I wouldn’t believe it!–I shall tell Arthur what I think of him! Though, mind you, I admire Enid Glenwilliam myself enormously; but that’s quite another thing. It’s as though mother were never to have any pleasure in any of us! Nothing but worry and opposition!–behind her back, too.”
“My dear!–it was probably nothing! Girls do just as they like nowadays, and who notices!” said Waggin, disingenuously. “And as to pleasing your mother, I know somebody who has only to put out her hand–“
“To please mother–and somebody else?” said Marcia, turning toward her with perfect composure. “You’re thinking of Edward Newbury?”
“Who else should I be thinking of!–after all you told me last week?”
“Oh yes–I like Edward Newbury”–the tone betrayed a curious irritation–“and apparently he likes me. But if he tries to make me answer him too soon I shall say No, Waggin, and there will be an end of it!”
“Marcia–dearest!–don’t be cruel to him!”
“No–but he mustn’t press me! I’ve given him hints–and he won’t take them. I can’t make up my mind, Waggin. I can’t! It’s not only marrying him–it’s the relations. Yesterday a girl I know described a week-end to me–at Hoddon Grey. A large, smart party–evening prayers in the private chapel, _before dinner_!–nobody allowed to breakfast in bed–everybody driven off to church–and such a _fuss_ about Lent! It made me shiver. I’m not that sort, Waggin–I never shall be.”
And as again a stream of light from a music-hall facade poured into the carriage, Waggin was aware of a flushed, rebellious countenance, and dark eyes full of some passionate feeling, not very easy to understand.
“He is at your feet, dear goose!” murmured the little gray-haired lady–“make your own conditions!”
“No, no!–never. Not with Edward Newbury! He seems the softest, kindest–and underneath–_iron_! Most people are taken in. I’m not.”
There was silence in the car. Waggin was uneasily pondering. Nothing–she knew it–would be more acceptable to Lady Coryston than this match, though she was in no sense a scheming mother, and had never taken any special pains on Marcia’s behalf. Her mind was too full of other things. Still undoubtedly this would suit her. Old family–the young man himself heir presumptive to a marquisate money–high character–everything that mortal mother could desire. And Marcia was attracted–Waggin was certain of it. The mingled feeling with which she spoke of him proved it to the hilt. And yet–let not Mr. Newbury suppose that she was to be easily run to earth! In Waggin’s opinion he had his work cut out for him.
Covent Garden filled from floor to ceiling with a great audience for an important “first night”–there is no sight in London, perhaps, that ministers more sharply to the lust of modern eyes and the pride of modern life. Women reign supreme in it. The whole object of it is to provide the most gorgeous setting possible, for a world of women–women old and young–their beauty or their jewels, their white necks and their gray heads; the roses that youth wears–divinely careless; or the diamonds wherewith age must make amends for lost bloom and vanished years.
Marcia never entered the Coryston box, which held one of the most coveted positions on the grand tier, without a vague thrill of exultation; that instinctive, overbearing delight in the goods of Vanity Fair, which the Greek called _hubris_, and which is only vile when it outlives youth. It meant in her–“I am young–I am handsome–the world is all on my side–who shall thwart or deny me?” To wealth, indeed, Marcia rarely gave a conscious thought, although an abundance of it was implied in all her actions and attitudes of mind. It would have seemed to her, at any rate, so strange to be without it, that poverty was not so much an object of compassion as of curiosity; the poverty, for instance, of such a man as Mr. Lester. But behind this ignorance there was no hardness of heart; only a narrow inexperience.
The overture had begun–in a shadowy house. But the stream of the audience was still pouring in from all sides, in spite of the indignant “Hush” of those who wanted not to lose a note of something new and difficult. Marcia sat in the front of the box, conscious of being much looked at, and raising her own opera-glass from time to time, especially to watch the filling up of two rows of chairs on the floor, just below the lower tier of boxes. It was there that Mr. Newbury had told her to look for him. James, who had joined them at the entrance of the theater and was now hanging on the music, observed her once or twice uneasily. Presently he bent over.
The girl started and blushed.
“I don’t understand the music, James!–it’s so strange and barbarous.”
“Well, it isn’t Glueck, certainly,” said James, smiling.
Marcia turned her face toward it. And as she did so there rose from the crash of its opening tumult, like a hovering bird in a clear space of sky, a floating song of extraordinary loveliness. It rose and fell–winds caught it–snatches of tempest overpowered it–shrieking demons rushed upon it and silenced it. But it persisted; passing finally into a processional march, through which it was still dimly, mysteriously traceable to the end.
“The song of Iphigenia!” said James. And as the curtain rose, “And here are the gulfs of Aulis, and the Greek host.”
The opera, by a young Bavarian of genius, a follower of Strauss, who had but recently captured Munich and Berlin, was based on the great play of Euripides, freely treated by a translator who had known, a hundred and fifty years after Glueck, how to make it speak, through music, to more modern ears. It was carried through without any lowering of the curtain, and the splendid story unfolded itself through a music at once sensuous and heroic, with a swiftness and a passion which had soon gripped Covent Garden.
There, in a thousand ships, bound motionless by unrelenting winds, lies the allied host that is to conquer Troy and bring back the stolen Helen. But at the bidding of Artemis, whose temple crowns the coast, fierce, contrary blasts keep it prisoner in the harbor. Hellas cannot avenge itself on the Phrygian barbarians who have carried off a free Greek woman. Artemis holds back the hunters from the prey. Why? Because, as goddess of the land, she claims her toll, the toll of human blood. Agamemnon, the leader of the host, distracted by fears of revolt and of the break-up of the army, has vowed to Artemis the dearest thing he possesses. The answer is, “Your daughter!–Iphigenia!”
Under pressure from the other chiefs of the host, and from the priests, the stricken father consents at last to send a letter to Clytemnestra at Argos, bidding her bring their young daughter to the camp, on the pretext that she is to become the bride of the hero Achilles. The letter is no sooner despatched than, tormented with remorse, he tries to recall it. In vain. Mother and child arrive, with the babe Orestes; the mother full of exultant joy in such a marriage, the daughter thinking only of her father, on whose neck she throws herself with fond home prattle, lifting Orestes to him to kiss, saying tender, touching things–how she has missed him–how long the time has been….
The young singer, an American, with a voice and a magic reminding many an old frequenter of Covent Garden, through all difference, of Giulia Ravogli in her prime, played this poignant scene as though the superb music in which it was clothed was her natural voice, the mere fitting breath of the soul.
Marcia sat arrested. The door of the box opened softly. A young man, smiling, stood in the doorway. Marcia, looking round, flushed deeply; but in the darkness only Waggin saw it. The girl beckoned to him. He came in noiselessly, nodded to James, bowed ceremoniously to Waggin, and took a seat beside Marcia.
He bent toward her, whispering, “I saw you weren’t very full, and I wanted to hear this–with you.”
“She’s good!” was all that Marcia could find to whisper in return, with a motion of her face toward the Iphigenia.
“Yes–but only as part of the poem! Don’t mistake it–please!–for the ordinary ‘star’–business.”
“But she is the play!”
“She is the _idea_! She is the immortal beauty that springs out of sorrow. Watch the contrast between the death she shrinks from–and the death she accepts; between the horror–and the greatness! Listen!–here is the dirge music beginning.”
Marcia listened–with a strange tremor of pulse. Even through the stress of the music her mind went wandering over the past weeks, and those various incidents which had marked the growth of her acquaintance with the man beside her. How long had she known him? Since Christmas only? The Newburys and the Corystons were now neighbors indeed in the country; but it was not long since his father had inherited the old house of Hoddon Grey, and of the preceding three years Edward Newbury had spent nearly two in India. They had first met at a London dinner party; and their friendship, then begun, had ripened rapidly. But it was not till the Shrewsbury House ball that a note of excitement, of uncertain or thrilled expectation, had crept into what was at first a mere pleasant companionship. She had danced with him the whole night, reckless of comment; and had been since, it seemed to her, mostly engaged in trying to avoid him. But to-night there was no avoiding him. And as his murmured yet eager comments on the opera reached her, she became more and more conscious of his feelings toward her, which were thus conveyed to her, as it were, covertly, and indirectly, through the high poetry and passion of the spectacle on which they both looked. With every stage of it Newbury was revealing himself; and exploring her.
Waggin smiled to herself in the darkness of the box. James and she once exchanged glances. Marcia, to both of them, was a dim and beautiful vision, as she sat with her loosely clasped hands lying on the edge of the box, her dark head now turned toward the stage, and now toward Newbury.
* * * * *
The ghastly truth had been revealed; Iphigenia, within earshot, almost, of the baffled army clamoring for her blood, was clinging to her father’s knees, imploring him to save her:
“Tears will I bring–my only cunning–all I have! Round your knees, my father, I twine this body, which my mother bare you. Slay me not, before my time! Sweet, sweet is the light!–drive me not down into the halls of death. ‘Twas I first called you father–I, your firstborn. What fault have I in Paris’s sin? Oh, father, why, why did he ever come–to be my death? Turn to me–give me a look–a kiss! So that at least, in dying, I may have that to remember–if you will not heed my prayers.”
She takes the infant Orestes in her arms:
“Brother!–you are but a tiny helper–and yet–come, weep with me!–come, pray our father not to slay your sister. Look, father, how–silently–he implores you! Have pity! Oh, light, light, dearest of all goods to men! He is mad indeed who prays for death. Better an ill living than a noble dying!”
The music rose and fell like dashing waves upon a fearful coast–through one of the most agonizing scenes ever imagined by poet, ever expressed in art. Wonderful theme!–the terror-stricken anguish of the girl, little more than a child, startled suddenly from bridal dreams into this open-eyed vision of a hideous doom; the helpless remorse of the father; the misery of the mother; and behind it all the pitiless fate–the savage creed–the blood-thirst of the goddess–and the maddened army howling for its prey.
Marcia covered her eyes a moment. “Horrible!” she said, shivering, “too horrible!”
Newbury shook his head, smiling.
“No! You’ll see. She carries in her hands the fate of her race–of the Hellenic, the nobler world, threatened by the barbarian, the baser world. She dies, to live. It’s the motive of all great art–all religion. Ah–here is Achilles!”
There followed the strangest, pitifulest love scene. Achilles, roused to fury by the foul use made of his great name in the plot against the girl, adopts the shrinking, lovely creature as his own. She has been called his bride; she shall be his bride; and he will fight for her–die for her–if need be. And suddenly, amid the clashing horror of the story, there springs up for an instant the red flower of love. Iphigenia stands dumb in the background, while her mother wails, and Achilles, the goddess-born, puts on his armor and his golden-crested helmet. An exultant sword-song rises from the orchestra. There is a gleam of hope; and the girl, as she looks at her champion, loves him.
The music sank into tenderness, flowing like a stream in summer. And the whole vast audience seemed to hold its breath.
“Marvelous!” The word was Newbury’s.
He turned to look at his companion, and the mere energy of his feeling compelled Marcia’s eyes to his. Involuntarily, she smiled an answer.
But the golden moment dies!–forever. Shrieking and crashing, the vulture-forces of destruction sweep upon it. Messengers rush in, announcing blow on blow. Achilles’ own Myrmidons have turned against him. Agamemnon is threatened–Achilles–Argos! The murderous cries of the army fill the distance like the roar of an uncaged beast.
Iphigenia raises her head. The savage, inexorable music still surges and thunders round her. And just as Achilles is about to leave her, in order to throw himself on the spears of his own men, her trance breaks.
“Mother!–we cannot fight with gods. I die!–I die! But let me die gloriously–unafraid. Hellas calls to me!–Hellas, my country. I alone can give her what she asks–fair sailing, and fair victory. You bore me for the good of Hellas–not for your own joy only, mother! Shall men brave all for women and their fatherland?–and shall one life, one little life, stand in their way? Nay! I give my self to Hellas! Slay me!–pull down the towers of Troy! This through all time shall be sung of me–this be my glory!–this, child and husband both. Hellas, through me, shall conquer. It is meet that Hellenes should rule barbarians, and not barbarians Hellenes. For they are slave-folk–and _we_ are free!”
Achilles cries out in mingled adoration and despair. Now he knows her for what she is–now that he has “looked into her soul”–must he lose her?–is it all over? He pleads again that he may fight and die for her.
But she puts him gently aside.
“Die not for me, kind stranger. Slay no man for me! Let it be _my_ boon to save Hellas, if I may.”
And under her sternly sweet command he goes, telling her that he will await her beside the altar of Artemis, there to give his life for her still, if she calls to him–even at the last moment.
But she, tenderly embracing her mother, and the child Orestes, forbidding all thought of vengeance, silencing all clamor of grief–she lifts the song of glorious death, as she slowly passes from view, on her way to the place of sacrifice, the Greek women chanting round her.
“Hail, Hellas, Mother-land! Hail, light-giving Day–torch of Zeus!”
“To another life, and an unknown fate, I go! Farewell, dear light!–farewell!”
“That,” said Newbury, gently, to Marcia only, as the music died away, “is the death–_she accepts_!” The tears stood in the girl’s eyes. The exaltation of great passion, great poetry, had touched her; mingled strangely with the spell, the resisted spell, of youth and sex. Newbury’s dark, expressive face, its proud refinement, its sensitive feeling; the growing realization in her of his strong, exacting personality; the struggle of her weaker will against an advancing master; fascination–revolt; of all these things she was conscious as they both sat drowned in the passion of applause which was swelling through the Opera House, and her eyes were still vaguely following that white figure on the stage, with the bouquets at its feet….
Bright eyes sought her own; a hand reached out, caught hers, and pressed it. She recoiled–released herself sharply. Then she saw that Edward Newbury had risen, and that at the door of the box stood Sir Wilfrid Bury.
* * * * *
Edward Newbury gave up his seat to Sir Wilfrid, and stood against the back of the box talking to Waggin. But she could not flatter herself he paid much attention to her remarks. Marcia could not see him; but his eyes were on her perpetually. A wonderfully handsome fellow, thought Waggin. The profile and brow perfect, the head fine, the eyes full–too full!–of consciousness, as though the personality behind burnt with too intense a flame. Waggin liked him, and was in some sort afraid of him. Never did her small talk seem to her so small as when she launched it at Edward Newbury. And yet no one among the young men of Marcia’s acquaintance showed so much courtesy to Marcia’s “companion.”
“Oh, very fine! very fine!” said Sir Wilfrid; “but I wanted a big fight–Achilles and his Myrmidons going for the other fellows–and somebody having the decency to burn the temple of that hag Artemis! I say!” He spoke, smiling, in Marcia’s ear. “Your brother Arthur’s in very bad company! Do you see where he is? Look at the box opposite.”
Marcia raised her opera-glass, and saw Enid Glenwilliam sitting in front of the box to which Sir Wilfrid pointed her. The Chancellor’s daughter was bending her white neck back to talk to a man behind her, who was clearly Arthur Coryston. Behind her also, with his hands in his pockets, and showing a vast expanse of shirt-front, was a big, burly man, who stood looking out on the animated spectacle which the Opera House presented, in this interval between the opera and the ballet, with a look half contemptuous, half dreamy. It was a figure wholly out of keeping–in spite of its conformity in dress–with the splendid opera-house, and the bejeweled crowd which filled it. In some symbolic group of modern statuary, it might have stood for the Third Estate–for Democracy–Labor–personified. But it was a Third Estate, as the modern world has developed it–armed with all the weapons of the other two!
“The Chancellor himself!” said Sir Wilfrid; “watching ‘the little victims play’! I picture him figuring up all these smart people. ‘How much can I get out of you?–and you?'”
Marcia abruptly put down the glass she held, and turned to Sir Wilfrid. He was her godfather, and he had been her particular friend since the days when they used to go off together to the Zoo or the Pantomime.
“Do, please, talk to Arthur!” she said, eagerly, but so as not to be heard by any one else. “Perhaps he’d listen to you. People are beginning to notice–and it’s too, too dreadful. You know what mother would feel!”
“I do,” said Sir Wilfrid, gravely; “if that’s what you mean.” His eyes rested a moment on the striking figure of the Chancellor’s daughter. “Certainly–I’ll put in a word. But she is a very fascinating young woman, my dear!”
“I know,” said Marcia, helplessly, “I know.”
There was a pause. Then Sir Wilfrid asked:
“When do you go down to Coryston?”
“Just before Whitsuntide.”
He looked round with a smile, saw that Edward Newbury was still in the box, and whispered, mischievously:
“Hoddon Grey, too, I think, will not be empty?”
Marcia kept an indifferent face.
“I dare say. You’re coming?” Sir Wilfrid nodded. “Oh, _have_ you heard–?”
She murmured to him behind her fan. Sir Wilfrid knew all their history–had been her father’s most intimate friend. She gave him a rapid account of Coryston’s disinheriting. The old man rose, his humorous eyes suddenly grave.
“We’ll talk of this–at Coryston. Ah, Newbury–I took your chair–I resign. Hullo, Lester–good evening. Heavens, there’s the curtain going up. Good night!”
He hurried away. Newbury moved forward, his eager look on Marcia. But she turned, smiling, to the young librarian.
“You haven’t seen this ballet, Mr. Lester?–Schumann’s ‘Carnival’? Oh, you mustn’t stand so far back. We can make room, can’t we?” She addressed Newbury, and before he knew what had happened, the chairs had been so manipulated that Lester sat between Marcia and Newbury, while Waggin had drawn back into the shadow. The eyes of Marcia’s duenna twinkled. It pleased her that this magnificent young man, head, it was said, of the young High Church party, distinguished in many ways, and as good as he was handsome, was not to have too easy a game. Marcia had clearly lost her head a little at the Shrewsbury House ball; and was now trying to recover it.
After one of those baffling fortnights of bitter wind and cold, which so often mark the beginning of an English May, when all that the spring has slowly gained since March seems to be confiscated afresh by returning winter, the weather had repented itself, the skies had cleared, and suddenly, under a flood of sunshine, there were blue-bells in the copses, cowslips in the fields, a tawny leaf breaking on the oaks, a new cheerfulness in the eyes and gait of the countryman.
A plain, pleasant-looking woman sat sewing out-of-doors, in front of a small verandaed cottage, perched high on a hillside which commanded a wide view of central England. The chalk down fell beneath her into a sheath of beech woods; the line of hills, slope behind slope, ran westward to the sunset, while eastward they mounted to a wooded crest beyond which the cottage could not look. Northward, beginning some six hundred feet below the cottage, stretched a wide and varied country, dotted with villages and farms, with houses and woods, till it lost itself in the haze of a dim horizon.
A man of middle age, gray-headed, spare in figure, emerged from one of the French windows of the cottage.
“Marion, when did you say that you expected Enid?”
“Between three and four, papa.”
“I don’t believe Glenwilliam himself will get here at all. There will be a long Cabinet this afternoon, and another to-morrow probably–Sunday or no Sunday!”
“Well then, he won’t come, father,” said the daughter, placidly, thrusting her hand into a sock riddled with holes, and looking at it with concern.
“Annoying! I wanted him to meet Coryston–who said he would be here to tea.”
Miss Atherstone looked a little startled.
“Will that do, father? You know Enid told me to ask Arthur Coryston, and I wrote yesterday.”
“Do? Why not? Because of politics? They must have got used to that in the Coryston family! Or because of the gossip that Arthur is to have the estates? But it’s not his fault. I hear the two brothers are on excellent terms. They say that Arthur has warned his mother that he means to make it up to Coryston somehow.”
“Enid doesn’t like Lord Coryston,” said Miss Atherstone, slowly.
“I dare say. He finds out her weak points. She has a good many. And he’s not a ladies’ man. Between ourselves, my dear, she poses a good deal. I never know quite where to have her, though I dandled her as a baby.”
“Oh, Enid’s all right,” said Marion Atherstone, taking a fresh needleful of brown wool. Miss Atherstone was not clever, though she lived with clever people, and her powers of expressing herself were small. Her father, a retired doctor, on the other hand, was one of the ablest Liberal organizers in the country. From his perch on the Mintern hills he commanded half the midlands, in more senses than one; knew thirty or forty constituencies by heart; was consulted in all difficulties; was better acquainted with “the pulse of the party” than its chief agent, and was never left out of count by any important Minister framing an important bill.