enter upon another London season, through which I cannot be at your side, I would obtain from you some assurance of the nature of your regard for me. I do not wish to harass you with jealous importunity. You have given me the most unequivocal tokens of a feeling different from that which inspires the ordinary intercourse of a lady and gentleman in society; but of late it has seemed to me that you maintain as little reserve toward other men as toward me. I am not thinking of Marmaduke: he is your cousin. But I observed that even the working man who sang at the concert last night was received–I do not say intentionally–with a cordiality which might have tempted a more humbly disposed person than he seemed to be to forget—-” Here Douglas, seeing Marian’s bearing change suddenly, hesitated. Her beautiful gray eyes, always pleading for peace like those of a good angel, were now full of reproach; and her mouth, but for those eyes, would have suggested that she was at heart an obstinate woman.
“Sholto,” she said, “I dont know what to say to you. If this is jealousy, it may be very flattering; but it is ridiculous. If it is a lecture, seriously intended, it is–it is really most insulting. What do you mean by my having given you unequivocal signs of regard? Of course I think of you very differently from the chance acquaintances I make in society. It would be strange if I did not, having known you so long and been your mother’s guest so often. But you talk almost as if I had been making love to you.”
“No,” said Douglas, forgetting his ceremonious manner and speaking angrily and naturally; “but you talk as though I had not been making love to _you_.”
“If you have, I never knew it. I never dreamt it.”
“Then, since you are not the stupidest lady of my acquaintance, you must be the most innocent.”
“Tell me of one single occasion on which anything has passed between us that justifies your speaking to me as you are doing now.”
“Innumerable occasions. But since I cannot compel you to acknowledge them, it would be useless to cite them.”
“All I can say is that we have utterly misunderstood one another,” she said, after a pause.
He said nothing, but took up his hat, and looked down at it with angry determination. Marian, too uneasy to endure silence, added:
“But I shall know better in future.”
“True,” said Douglas, hastily putting down his hat and advancing a step. “You cannot plead misunderstanding now. Can you give me the assurance I seek?”
Douglas shook his shoulders impatiently.
“You expect me to know everything by intuition,” she said.
“Well, my declaration shall be definite enough, even for you. Do you love me?”
“No, I dont think I do. In fact, I am quite sure I do not–in the way you mean. I wish you would not talk like this, Sholto. We have all got on so pleasantly together: you, and I, and Nelly, and Marmaduke, and my father. And now you begin making love, and stuff of that kind. Pray let us agree to forget all about it, and remain friends as before.”
“You need not be anxious about our future relations: I shall not embarrass you with my society again. I hoped to find you a woman capable of appreciating a man’s passion, even if you should be unable to respond to it. But I perceive that you are only a girl, not yet aware of the deeper life that underlies the ice of conventionality.”
“That is a very good metaphor for your own case,” said Marian, interrupting him. “Your ordinary manner is all ice, hard and chilling. One may suspect that there are depths beneath, but that is only an additional inducement to keep on the surface.”
“Then even your amiability is a delusion! Or is it that you are amiable to the rest of the world, and reserve taunts of coldness and treachery for me?”
“No, no,” she said, angelic again. “You have taken me up wrongly. I did not mean to taunt you.”
“You conceal your meaning as skilfully as–according to you–I have concealed mine. Good-morning.”
“Are you going already?”
“Do you care one bit for me, Marian?”
“I do indeed. Believe me, you are one of my special friends.”
“I do not want to be _one_ of your friends. Will you be my wife?”
“Will you be my wife?”
“Pardon me. That is quite sufficient. Good-morning.”
The moment he interrupted her, a change in her face shewed she had a temper. She did not move a muscle until she heard the house door close behind him. Then she ran upstairs to the drawing-room, where Miss McQuinch was still practising.
“Oh, Nelly,” she cried, throwing herself into an easy chair, and covering her face with her hands. “Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” She opened her fingers and looked whimsically at her cousin, who, despising this stage business, said, impatiently:
“Do you know what Sholto came for?”
“To propose to you.”
“Stop, Nelly. You do not know what horrible things one may say in jest. He _has_ proposed.”
“When will the wedding be?”
“Dont joke about it, please. I scarcely know how I have behaved, or what the meaning of the whole scene is, yet. Listen. Did you ever suspect that he was–what shall I say?–_courting_ me?”
“I saw that he was trying to be tender in his own conceited way. I fully expected he would propose some day, if he could once reconcile himself to a wife who was not afraid of him.”
“And you never told me.”
“I thought you saw it for yourself; particularly as you encouraged him.”
“There! The very thing he has been accusing me of! He said I had given him unequivocal tokens–yes, unequivocal tokens–that I was madly in love with him.”
“What did you say?–if I may ask.”
“I tried to explain things to him; but he persisted in asking me would I be his wife; and when I refused he would not listen to anything else, and went off in a rage.”
“Yes, I can imagine Sholto’s feelings on discovering that he had humbled himself in vain. Why did you refuse him?”
“Why! Fancy being Sholto’s wife! I would as soon think of marrying Marmaduke. But I cannot forget what he said about my flirting with him. Nelly: will you promise to tell me whenever you think I am behaving in a way that might lead anybody on to–like Sholto, you know?”
“Nonsense! If men choose to make fools of themselves, you cannot prevent them. Hush! I hear someone coming upstairs. It is Marmaduke, I think.”
“Marmaduke would never come up so slowly. He generally comes up three steps at a time.”
“Sulky after last night, no doubt. I suppose he wont speak to me.”
Marmaduke entered listlessly. “Good morning, Marian,” he said, sitting down on an uncomfortable chair. “Good morrow, Nell.”
Elinor, surprised at the courtesy, looked up and saluted him snappishly.
“Is there anything the matter, Duke?” said Marian. “Are you ill?”
“No, I’m all right. Rather busy: thats all.”
“Busy!” said Elinor. “There must be something even more unusual than that, when you are too low spirited to keep up a quarrel with me. Why dont you sit on the easy chair, or sprawl on the ottoman, after your manner?”
“Anything for a quiet life,” he replied, moving to the ottoman.
“You must be hungry,” said Marian, puzzled by his obedience. “Let me get you something.”
“No, thank you,” said Marmaduke. “I couldnt eat. Just had lunch. Ive come to pack up a few things of mine that you have here.”
“We have your banjo.”
“Oh, I dont want that. You may keep it, or put it in the fire, for all I care. I want some clothes I left behind me when we had the theatricals.”
“Are you leaving London?”
“Yes. I am getting tired of loafing about here. I think I ought to go home for a while. My mother wants me to.”
Miss McQuinch, by a subdued but expressive snort, conveyed the most entire scepticism as to his solicitude about his mother. She then turned to the piano calmly, observing, “You have probably eaten something that disagrees with you.”
“What a shame!” said Marian. “Come, Duke: I have plenty of good news for you. Nelly and I are invited to Carbury Park for the autumn; and there will be no visitors but us three. We shall have the whole place to ourselves.”
“Time enough to think of the autumn yet awhile,” said Marmaduke, gloomily.
“Well,” said Miss McQuinch, “here is some better news for you. Constance–_Lady_ Constance–will be in town next week.”
Marmaduke muttered something.
“I beg your pardon?” said Elinor, quickly.
“I didnt say anything.”
“I may be wrong; but I thought I heard you say ‘Hang Lady Constance!’.”
“Oh, Marmaduke!” cried Marian, affectedly. “How dare you speak so of your betrothed, sir?”
“Who says she is my betrothed?” he said, turning on her angrily.
“Why, everybody. Even Constance admits it.”
“She ought to have the manners to wait until I ask her,” he said, subsiding. “I’m not betrothed to her; and I dont intend to become so in a hurry, if I can help it. But you neednt tell your father I said so. It might get round to my governor; and then there would be a row.”
“You _must_ marry her some day, you know,” said Elinor, maliciously.
“_Must_ I? I shant marry at all. I’ve had enough of women.”
“Indeed? Perhaps they have had enough of you.” Marmaduke reddened. “You seem to have exhausted the joys of this world since the concert last night. Are you jealous of Mr. Conolly’s success?”
“Your by-play when you found how early it was at the end of the concert was not lost on us,” said Marian demurely. “You were going somewhere, were you not?”
“Since you are so jolly curious,” said Marmaduke, unreasonably annoyed, “I went to the theatre with Connolly; and my by-play, as you call it, simply meant my delight at finding that we could get rid of you in time to enjoy the evening.”
“With Conolly!” said Marian, interested. What kind of man is he?”
“He is nothing particular. You saw him yourself.”
“Yes. But is he well educated, and–and so forth?”
“Dont know, I’m sure. We didnt talk about mathematics and classics.”
“Well; but–do you like him?”
“I tell you I dont care a damn about him one way or the other,” said Marmaduke, rising and walking away to the window. His cousins, astonished, exchanged looks.
“Very well, Marmaduke,” said Marian softly, after a pause: “I wont tease you any more. Dont be angry.”
“You havnt teased me,” said he, coming back somewhat shamefacedly from the window. “I feel savage to-day, though there is no reason why I should not be as jolly as a shrimp. Perhaps Nelly will play some Chopin, just to soothe me. I should like to hear that polonaise again.”
“I should enjoy nothing better than taking you at your word,” said Elinor. “But I heard Mr. Lind come in, a moment ago; and he is not so fond of Chopin as you and I.”
Mr. Lind entered whilst she was speaking. He was a dignified gentleman, with delicately chiselled features and portly figure. His silky light brown hair curled naturally about his brow and set it off imposingly. His hands were white and small, with tapering fingers, and small thumbs.
“How do you do, sir?” said Marmaduke, blushing.
“Thank you: I am better than I have been.”
Marmaduke murmured congratulations, and looked at his watch as if pressed for time. “I must be off now,” he said, rising. “I was just going when you came in.”
“So soon! Well, I must not detain you, Marmaduke. I heard from your father this morning. He is very anxious to see you settled in life.”
“I suppose I shall shake down some day, sir.”
“You have very good opportunities–very exceptional opportunities. Has Marian told you that Constance is expected to arrive in town next week?”
“Yes: we told him,” said Marian.
“He thought it too good to be true, and would hardly believe us,” added Elinor.
Mr. Lind smiled at his nephew, happily forgetful, worldly wise as he was, of the inevitable conspiracy of youth against age. They smiled too, except Marmaduke, who, being under observation, kept his countenance like the Man in the Iron Mask. “It is quite true, my boy,” said the uncle, kindly. “But before she arrives, I should like to have a talk with you. When can you come to breakfast with me?”
“Any day you choose to name, sir. I shall be very glad.”
“Let us say to-morrow morning. Will that be too soon?”
“Not at all. It will suit me quite well. Good evening, sir.”
“Good evening to you.”
When Marmaduke was in the street, he stood for a while considering which way to go. Before the arrival of his uncle, he had intended to spend the afternoon with his cousins. He was now at a loss for a means of killing time. On one point he was determined. There was a rehearsal that day at the Bijou Theatre; and thither, at least, he would not go. He drove to Charing Cross, and drifted back to Leicester Square. He turned away from the theatre, and wandered down Piccadilly. Then he thought he would return as far as the Criterion, and drink. Finally he arrived at the stage door of the Bijou Theatre, and inquired whether the rehearsal was over.
“Theyve bin at it since eleven this mornin, and will be pretty nigh til the stage is wanted for to-night,” said the janitor. “I’d as lief youd wait here as go up, if you dont mind, sir. The guvnor is above; and he aint in the best o’ tempers. I’ll send word up.”
Marmaduke looked round irresolutely. A great noise of tramping and singing began.
“Thats the new procession,” continued the doorkeeper. “Sixteen hextras took on for it. It’s Miss Virtue’s chance for lunch, sir: you wont have long to wait now.”
Here there was a rapid pattering of feet down the staircase. Marmaduke started, and stood biting his lips as Mademoiselle Lalage, busy, hungry, and in haste, hurried towards the door.
“Come! Come on,” she said impatiently to him, as she went out. “Go and get a cab, will you. I must have something to eat; and I have to get back sharp. Do be qu—-there goes a hansom. Hi!” She whistled shrilly, and waved her umbrella. The cab came, and was directed by Marmaduke to a restaurant in Regent Street.
“I am absolutely starving,” she said as they drove off. “I have been in since eleven this morning; and of course they only called the band for half-past. They are such damned fools: they drive me mad.”
“Why dont you walk out of the theatre, and make them arrange it properly for next day?”
“Oh yes! And throw the whole day after the half, and lose my rehearsal. It is bad enough to lose my temper. I swore, I can tell you.”
“I have no doubt you did.”
“This horse thinks he’s at a funeral. What o’clock is it?”
“It’s only eight minutes past four. There is plenty of time.”
When they alighted, Lalage hurried into the restaurant; scrutinized the tables; and selected the best lighted one. The waiter, a decorous elderly man, approached with some severity of manner, and handed a bill of fare to Marmaduke. She snatched it from him, and addressed the waiter sharply.
“Bring me some thin soup; and get me a steak to follow. Let it be a thick juicy one. If its purple and raw I wont have it; and if its done to a cinder, I wont have it: it must be red. And get me some spring cabbage and potatoes, and a pint of dry champagne–the decentest you have. And be quick.”
“And what for you, sir?” said the waiter, turning to Marmaduke.
“Never mind him,” interrupted Susanna. “Go and attend to me.”
The waiter bowed and retired.
“Old stick-in-the-mud!” muttered Miss Lalage. “Is it half-past four yet?”
“No. It’s only quarter past. There’s lots of time.”
Mademoiselle Lalage ate until the soup, a good deal of bread, the steak, the vegetables, and the pint of champagne–less a glassful taken by her companion–had disappeared. Marmaduke watched her meanwhile, and consumed two ices.
“Have an ice to finish up with?” he said.
“No. I cant work on sweets,” she replied. “But I am beginning to feel alive again and comfortable. Whats the time?”
“Confound the time!” said Marmaduke. “It’s twenty minutes to five.”
“Well, I’ll drive back to the theatre. I neednt start for quarter of an hour yet.”
“Thank heaven!” said Marmaduke. “I was afraid I should not be able to get a word with you.”
“That reminds me of a crow I have to pluck with you, Mr. Marmaduke Lind. What did you mean by telling me your name was Sharp?”
“It’s the name of a cousin of mine,” said Marmaduke, attempting to dismiss the subject with a laugh.
“It may be your cousin’s name; but it’s not yours. By the bye, is that the cousin youre engaged to?”
“What cousin? I’m not engaged to anybody.”
“That’s a lie, like your denial of your name. Come, come, Master Marmaduke: you cant humbug me. Youre too young. Hallo! What do _you_ want?”
It was the waiter, removing some plates, and placing a bill on the table. Marmaduke put his hand into his pocket.
“Just wait a minute, please,” said Susanna. The waiter retired.
“Now then,” she resumed, placing her elbows on the table, “let us have no more nonsense. What is your little game? Are you going to pay that bill or am I?”
“I am, of course.”
“There is no of course in it–not yet, anyhow. What are you hanging about the theatre after me for? Tell me that. Dont stop to think.”
Marmaduke looked foolish, and then sulky. Finally he brightened, and said, “Look here. Youre angry with me for bringing your brother last night. But upon my soul I had no idea–“
“That’s not what I mean at all. You are dodging a plain question. When you came to the theatre, I thought you were a nice fellow; and I made friends with you. Now I find you have been telling me lies about yourself, and trying to play fast and loose. You must either give that up or give me up. I wont have you pass that stage door again if you only want to amuse yourself like other lounging cads about town.”
“What do you mean by playing fast and loose, and being a cad about town?” said Marmaduke angrily.
“I hope youre not going to make a row here in public.”
“No; but I have you where _you_ cant make a row; and I intend to have it out with you once and for all. If you quarrel now, so help me Heaven I’ll never speak to you again!”
“It is you who are quarrelling.”
“Very well,” said Susanna, opening her purse as though the matter were decided. “Waiter.”
“I am going to pay.”
“So you can–for what you had yourself. I dont take dinners from strange men, nor pay for their ices.”
Marmaduke did not reply. He took out his purse determinedly; glanced angrily at her; and muttered, “I never thought you were that sort of woman.”
“What sort of woman?” demanded Susanna, in a tone that made the other occupants of the room turn and stare.
“Never mind,” said Marmaduke. She was about to retort, when she saw him looking into his purse with an expression of dismay. The waiter came. Susanna, instead of attempting to be beforehand in proffering the money, changed her mind, and waited. Marmaduke searched his pockets. Finding nothing, he muttered an imprecation, and, fingering his watch chain, glanced doubtfully at the waiter, who looked stolidly at the tablecloth.
“There,” said Susanna, putting down a sovereign.
Marmaduke looked on helplessly whilst the waiter changed the coin and thanked Susanna for her gratuity. Then he said, “You must let me settle with you for this to-night. Ive left nearly all my cash in the pocket of another waistcoat.”
“You will not have the chance of settling with me, either to-night or any other night. I am done with you.” And she rose and left the restaurant. Marmaduke sat doggedly for quarter of a minute. Then he went out, and ran along Regent Street, anxiously looking from face to face in search of her. At last he saw her walking at a great pace a little distance ahead of him. He made a dash and overtook her.
“Look here, Lalage,” he said, keeping up with her as she walked: “this is all rot. I didnt mean to offend you. I dont know what you mean, or what you want me to do. Dont be so unreasonable.”
“I can stand a good deal from you; but it’s too much to be kept at your heels as if I were a beggar or a troublesome dog. _Lalage_.” She took no notice of him; and he stopped, trying to compose his features, which were distorted by rage. She walked on, turning into Glasshouse Street. When she had gone twenty yards, she heard him striding behind her.
“If you wont stop and talk to me,” he said, “I’ll make you. If anybody interferes with me I’ll smash him into jelly. It would serve you right if I did the same to you.”
He put his hand on her arm; and she instantly turned and struck him across the face, knocking off his hat. He, who a moment before had been excited, red, and almost in tears, was appalled. There was a crowd in a moment; and a cabman drew up close to the kerb with a calm conviction that his hansom would be wanted presently.
“How dare you put your hand on me, you coward?” she exclaimed, with remarkable crispness of utterance and energy of style. “Who are you? I dont know you. Where are the police?” She paused for a reply; and a bracelet, broken by the blow she had given him, dropped on the pavement, and was officiously picked up and handed to her by a battered old woman who shewed in every wrinkle her burning sympathy with Woman turning at bay against Man. Susanna looked at the broken bracelet, and tears of vexation sprang to her eyes. “Look at what youve done!” she cried, holding out the bracelet in her left hand and shewing a scrape which had drawn blood on her right wrist. “For two pins I’d knock your head off!”
Marmaduke, quite out of countenance, and yet sullenly very angry, vacillated for a moment between his conflicting impulses to knock her down and to fly to the utmost ends of the earth. If he had been ten years older he would probably have knocked her down: as it was, he signed to the cabman, who gathered up the reins and held them clear of his fare’s damaged hat with the gratification of a man whose judgment in a delicate matter had just been signally confirmed by events.
As they started, Susanna made a dash at the cab, which was pulled up, amid a shout from the crowd, just in time to prevent an accident. Then, holding on to the rail and standing on the step, she addressed herself to the cabman, and, sacrificing all propriety of language to intensity of vituperation, demanded whether he wanted to run his cab over her body and kill her. He, with undisturbed foresight, answered not a word, but again shifted the reins so as to make way for her bonnet. Acknowledging the attention with one more epithet, she seated herself in the cab, from which Marmaduke at once indignantly rose to escape. But the hardiest Grasmere wrestler, stooping under the hood of a hansom, could not resist a vigorous pull at his coat tails; and Marmaduke was presently back in his seat again, with Susanna clinging to him and half sobbing:
“Oh, Bob, youve killed me. How could you?” Then, with a suspiciously sudden recovery of energy, she screamed “Bijou Theatre. Drive on, will you” up at the cabman, who was looking down through the trapdoor. The horse plunged forward, and, with the jolt, she was fawning on Marmaduke’s arm again, saying, “Dont be brutal to me any more, Bob. I cant bear it. I have enough trouble without your turning on me.”
He was young and green, and too much confused by this time to feel sure that he had not been the aggressor. But he did, on the whole, the wisest thing–folded his arms and sat silent, with his cheeks burning.
“Say something to me,” she said, shaking his arm. “I have nothing to say,” he replied. “I shall leave town for home to-night. I cant shew my face again after this.”
“Home,” she said, in her former contemptuous tone, flinging his arm away. “That means your cousin Constance.”
“Who told you about her?”
“Never mind. You are engaged to her.”
Susanna was shaken. She looked hard at him, wondering whether he was deceiving her or not. “Look me in the face, Bob,” she said. If he had complied, she would not have believed him. But he treated the challenge with supreme disdain and stared straight ahead, obeying his male instinct, which taught him that the woman, with all the advantages on her side, would nevertheless let him win if he held on. At last she came caressingly to his shoulder again, and said:
“Why didnt you tell me about her yourself?”
“Damn it all,” he exclaimed, violently, “there is nothing to tell! I am not engaged to her: on my oath I am not. My people at home talk about a match between us as if it were a settled thing, though they know I dont care for her. But if you want to have the truth, I cant afford to say that I wont marry her, because I am too hard up to quarrel with the governor, who has set his heart on it. You see, the way I am circumstanced—-“
“Oh, bother your circumstances! Look here, Bob, I dont want you to introduce me to your swell relations; it is not worth _my_ while to waste time on people who cant earn their own living. And never mind your governor: we can get on without him. If you are hard up for money, and he is stingy, you had better get it from me than from the Jews.”
“I couldnt do that,” said Marmaduke, touched. “In fact, I am well enough off. By the bye, I must not forget to pay you for that lunch. But if I ever am hard up, I will come to you. Will that do?”
“Of course: that is what I meant. Confound it, here we are already. You mustnt come in, you would only be in the way. Come to-night after the burlesque, if you like. Youre not angry with me, are you?”
Her breast touched his arm just then; and as if she had released some spring, all his love for her suddenly surged up within him and got the better of him. “Wait–listen,” he said, in a voice half choked with tenderness. “Look here, Lalage: the honest truth is that I shall be ruined if I marry you openly. Let us be married quietly, and keep it dark until I am more independent.”
“Married! Catch me at it–if you can. No, dear boy, I am very fond of you, and you are one of the right sort to make me the offer; but I wont let you put a collar round _my_ neck. Matrimony is all very fine for women who have no better way of supporting themselves, but it wouldnt suit me. Dont look so dazed. What difference does it make to _you_?”
“But—-” He stopped, bewildered, gazing at her.
“Get out, you great goose!” she said, and suddenly sprang out of the hansom and darted into the theatre.
He sat gaping after her, horrified–genuinely horrified.
The Earl of Carbury was a youngish man with no sort of turn for being a nobleman. He could not bring himself to behave as if he was anybody in particular; and though this passed for perfect breeding whenever he by chance appeared in his place in society, on the magisterial bench, or in the House of Lords, it prevented him from making the most of the earldom, and was a standing grievance with his relatives, many of whom were the most impudent and uppish people on the face of the earth. He was, if he had only known it, a born republican, with no natural belief in earls at all; but as he was rather too modest to indulge his consciousness with broad generalizations of this kind, all he knew about the matter was that he was sensible of being a bad hand at his hereditary trade of territorial aristocrat. At a very early age he had disgraced himself by asking his mother whether he might be a watchmaker when he grew up, and his feeble sense on that occasion of the impropriety of an earl being anything whatsoever except an earl had given his mother an imperious contempt for him which afterward got curiously mixed with a salutary dread of his moral superiority to her, which was considerable. His aspiration to become a watchmaker was an early symptom of his extraordinary turn for mechanics. An apprenticeship of six years at the bench would have made an educated workman of him: as it was, he pottered at every mechanical pursuit as a gentleman amateur in a laboratory and workshop which he had got built for himself in his park. In this magazine of toys–for such it virtually was at first–he satisfied his itchings to play with tools and machines. He was no sportsman; but if he saw in a shop window the most trumpery patent improvement in a breechloader, he would go in and buy it; and as to a new repeating rifle or liquefied gas gun, he would travel to St. Petersburg to see it. He wrote very little; but he had sixteen different typewriters, each guaranteed perfect by an American agent, who had also pledged himself that the other fifteen were miserable impostures. A really ingenious bicycle or tricycle always found in him a ready purchaser; and he had patented a roller skate and a railway brake. When the electric chair for dental operations was invented, he sacrificed a tooth to satisfy his curiosity as to its operation. He could not play brass instruments to any musical purpose; but his collection of double slide trombones, bombardons with patent compensating pistons, comma trumpets, and the like, would have equipped a small military band; whilst his newly tempered harmonium with fifty-three notes to each octave, and his pianos with simplified keyboards that nobody could play on, were the despair of all musical amateurs who came to stay at Towers Cottage, as his place was called. He would buy the most expensive and elaborate lathe, and spend a month trying to make a true billiard ball at it. At the end of that time he would have to send for a professional hand, who would cornet the ball with apparently miraculous skill in a few seconds. He got on better with chemistry and photography; but at last he settled down to electrical engineering, and, giving up the idea of doing everything with his own half-trained hand, kept a skilled man always in his laboratory to help him out.
All along there had been a certain love of the marvelous at the bottom of his fancy for inventions. Therefore, though he did not in the least believe in ghosts, he would “investigate” spiritualism, and part with innumerable guineas to mediums, slatewriters, clairvoyants, and even of turbaned rascals from the East, who would boldly offer at midnight to bring him out into the back yard and there and then raise the devil for him. And just as his tendency was to magnify the success and utility of his patent purchases, so he would lend himself more or less to gross impostures simply because they interested him. This confirmed his reputation for being a bit of a crank; and as he had in addition all the restlessness and eccentricity of the active spirits of his class, arising from the fact that no matter what he busied himself with, it never really mattered whether he accomplished it or not, he remained an unsatisfied and (considering the money he cost) unsatisfactory specimen of a true man in a false position.
Towers Cottage was supposed to be a mere appendage to Carbury Towers, which had been burnt down, to the great relief of its noble owners, in the reign of William IV. The Cottage, a handsome one-storied Tudor mansion, with tall chimneys, gabled roofs, and transom windows, had since served the family as a very sufficient residence, needing a much smaller staff of servants than the Towers, and accommodating fewer visitors. At first it had been assumed on all hands that the stay at the Cottage was but a temporary one, pending the re-erection of the Towers on a scale of baronial magnificence; but this tradition, having passed through its primal stage of being a standing excuse with the elders into that of being a standing joke with the children, had naturally lapsed as the children grew up. Indeed, the Cottage was now too large for the family; for the Earl was still unmarried, and all his sisters had contracted splendid alliances except the youngest, Lady Constance Carbury, a maiden of twenty-two, with a thin face and slight angular figure, who was still on her mother’s hands. The illustrious matches made by her sisters had, in fact, been secured by extravagant dowering, which had left nothing for poor Lady Constance except a miserable three hundred pounds a year, at which paltry figure no man had as yet offered to take her. The Countess (Dowager) habitually assumed that Marmaduke Lind ardently desired the hand of his cousin; and Constance herself supported tacitly this view; but the Earl was apt to become restive when it was put forward, though he altogether declined to improve his sister’s pecuniary position, having already speculated quite heavily enough in brothers-in-law.
In the August following the Wandsworth concert Lord Carbury began to take his electrical laboratory with such intensified seriousness that he flatly refused to entertain any visitors until the 12th, and held fast to his determination in spite of his mother’s threat to leave the house, alleging, with a laugh, that he had got hold of a discovery with money in it at last. But he felt at such a disadvantage after this incredible statement that he hastened to explain that his objection to visitors did not apply to relatives who would be sufficiently at home at Towers Cottage to require no attention from him. Under the terms of this capitulation Marian, as universal favorite, was invited; and since there was no getting Marian down without Elinor, she was invited too, in spite of the Countess’s strong dislike for her, a sentiment which she requited with a pungent mixture of detestation and contempt. Marian’s brother, the Reverend George Lind, promised to come down in a day or two; and Marmaduke, who was also invited, did not reply.
The morning after her arrival, Marian was awakened at six o’clock by a wagon rumbling past the window of her room with a sound quite different from that made by the dust-cart in Westbourne Terrace. She peeped out at it, and saw that is was laden with packages of irregular shape, which, judging by some strange-looking metal rods that projected through the covering, she took to be apparatus for Lord Jasper’s laboratory. From the wagon, with its patiently trudging horse and dull driver, she lifted her eyes to the lawn, where the patches of wet shadow beneath the cedars refreshed the sunlit grass around them. It looked too fine a morning to spend in bed. Had Marian been able to taste and smell the fragrant country air she would not have hesitated a moment. But she had been accustomed to believe that fresh air was unhealthy at night, and though nothing would have induced her to wash in dirty water, she thought nothing of breathing dirty air; and so the window was shut and the room close. Still, the window did not exclude the loud singing of the birds or the sunlight. She ventured to open it a little, not without a sense of imprudence. Twenty minutes later she was dressed.
She first looked into the drawing-room, but it was stale and dreary. The dining-room, which she tried next, made her hungry. The arrival of a servant with a broom suggested to her that she had better get out of the way of the household work. She felt half sorry for getting up, and went out on the lawn to recover her spirits. There she heard a man’s voice trolling a stave somewhere in the direction of the laboratory. Thinking that it might be Lord Carbury, and that, if so, he would probably not wait until half past nine to break his fast, she ran gaily off round the southwest corner of the Cottage to a terrace, from which there was access through a great double window, now wide open, to a lofty apartment roofed with glass.
At a large table in the middle of the room sat a man with his back to the window. He had taken off his coat, and was bending over a small round block with little holes sunk into it. Each hole was furnished with a neat brass peg, topped with ebony; and the man was lifting and replacing one of these pegs whilst he gravely watched the dial of an instrument that resembled a small clock. A large straw hat concealed his head, and protected it from the rays that were streaming through the glass roof and open window. The apparent triviality of his occupation, and his intentness upon it, amused Marian. She stole into the laboratory, came close behind him, and said:
“Since you have nothing better to do than play cribbage with yourself, I—-“
She had gently lifted up his straw hat, and found beneath a head that was not Lord Carbury’s. The man, who had cowered with surprise at her touch and voice, but had waited even then to finish an observation of his galvanometer before turning, now turned and stared at her.
“I _beg_ your pardon,” said Marian, blushing vigorously. “I thought it was Lord Carbury. I have disturbed you very rudely. I—-“
“Not at all,” said the man. “I quite understand. I was not playing cribbage, but I was doing nothing very important. However, as you certainly did take me by surprise, perhaps you will excuse my coat.”
“Oh, pray dont mind me. I must not interrupt your work.” She looked at his face again, but only for an instant, as he was watching her. Then, with another blush, she put out her hand and said, “How do you do, Mr. Conolly. I did not recognize you at first.”
He shook hands, but did not offer any further conversation. “What a wonderful place!” she said, looking round, with a view to making herself agreeable by taking an interest in everything. “Wont you explain it all to me? To begin with, what is electricity?”
Conolly stared rather at this question, and then shook his head. “I dont know anything about that,” he said; “I am only a workman. Perhaps Lord Carbury can tell you: he has read a good deal about it.”
Marian looked incredulously at him. “I am sure you are joking,” she said. “Lord Carbury says you know ever so much more than he does. I suppose I asked a stupid question. What are those reels of green silk for?”
“Ah,” said Conolly, relaxing. “Come now, I can tell you that easily enough. I dont know what it _is_, but I know what it does, and I can lay traps to catch it. Here now, for instance—-“
And he went on to deliver a sort of chatty Royal Institution Children’s Lecture on Electricity which produced a great impression on Marian, who was accustomed to nothing better than small talk. She longed to interest him by her comments and questions, but she found that they had a most discouraging effect on him. Redoubling her efforts, she at last reduced him to silence, of which she availed herself to remark, with great earnestness, that science was a very wonderful thing.
“How do you know?” he said, a little bluntly.
“I am sure it must be,” she replied, brightening; for she thought he had now made a rather foolish remark. “Is Lord Carbury a very clever scientist?”
Conolly looked just grave enough to suggest that the question was not altogether a discreet one. Then, brushing off that consideration, he replied:
“He has seen a great deal and read a great deal. You see, he has great means at his disposal. His property is as good as a joint-stock company at his back. Practically, he is very good, considering his method of working: not so good, considering the means at his disposal.”
“What would you do if you had his means?”
Conolly made a gesture which plainly signified that he thought he could do a great many things.
“And is science, then, so expensive? I thought it was beyond the reach of money.”
“Oh, yes: science may be. But I am not a scientific man: I’m an inventor. The two things are quite different. Invention is the most expensive thing in the world. It takes no end of time, and no end of money. Time is money; so it costs both ways.”
“Then why dont you discover something and make your fortune?”
“I have already discovered something.”
“Oh! What is it?”
“That it costs a fortune to make experiments enough to lead to an invention.”
“You are exaggerating, are you not? What do you mean by a fortune?”
“In my case, at least four or five hundred pounds.”
“Is that all? Surely you would have no difficulty in getting five hundred pounds.”
Conolly laughed. “To be sure,” said he. “What is five hundred pounds?”
“A mere nothing–considering the importance of the object. You really ought not to allow such a consideration as that to delay your career. I have known people spend as much in one day on the most worthless things.”
“There is something in that, Miss Lind. How would you recommend me to begin?”
“First,” said Marian, with determination, “make up your mind to spend the money. Banish all scruples about the largeness of the sum. Resolve not to grudge even twice as much to science.”
“That is done already. I have quite made up my mind to spend the money. What next?”
“Well, I suppose the next thing is to spend it.”
“Excuse me. The next thing is to get it. It is a mere detail, I know; but I should like to settle it before we go any further.”
“But how can I tell you that? You forget that I am quite unacquainted with your affairs. You are a man, and understand business, which of course I dont.”
“If you wanted five hundred pounds, Miss Lind, how would you set about getting it?–if I may ask.”
“What? I! But, as I say, I am only a woman. I should ask my father for it, or sign a receipt for my trustees, or something of that sort.”
“That is a very simple plan. But unfortunately I have no father and no trustees. Worse than that, I have no money. You must suggest some other way.”
“Do what everybody else does in your circumstances. Borrow it. I am sure Lord Carbury would lend it to you.”
Conolly shook his head. “It doesnt do for a man in my position to start borrowing the moment he makes the acquaintance of a man in Lord Carbury’s,” he said. “We are working a little together already on one of my ideas, and that is as far as I care to ask him to go. I am afraid I must ask you for another suggestion.”
“Save up all your money until you have enough.”
“That would take some time. Let me see. As I am an exceptionally fortunate and specially skilled workman, I can now calculate on making from seventy shillings to six pounds a week. Say four pounds on the average.”
“Ah,” said Marian, despondingly, “you would have to wait more than two years to save five hundred pounds.”
“And to dispense with food, clothes, and lodging in the meantime.”
“True,” said Marian. “Of course, I see that it is impossible for you to save anything. And yet it seems absurd to be stopped by the want of such a sum. I have a cousin who has no money at all, and no experiments to make, and he paid a thousand pounds for a race-horse last spring.”
Conolly nodded, to intimate that he knew that such things happened.
Marian could think of no further expedient. She stood still, thinking, whilst Conolly took up a bit of waste and polished a brass cylinder.
“Mr. Conolly,” she said at last, “I cannot absolutely promise you; but I think I can get you five hundred pounds.” Conolly stopped polishing the cylinder, and stared at her. “If I have not enough, I am sure we could make the rest by a bazaar or something. I should like to begin to invest my money; and if you make some great invention, like the telegraph or steam engine, you will be able to pay it back to me, and to lend me money when _I_ want it.”
Conolly blushed. “Thank you, Miss Lind,” said he, “thank you very much indeed. I–It would be ungrateful of me to refuse; but I am not so ready to begin my experiments as my talking might lead you to suppose. My estimate of their cost was a mere guess. I am not satisfied that it is not want of time and perseverance more than of money that is the real obstacle. However, I will–I will–a—-Have you any idea of the value of money, Miss Lind? Have you ever had the handling of it?”
“Of course,” said Marian, secretly thinking that the satisfaction of shaking his self-possession was cheap at five hundred pounds. “I keep house at home, and do all sorts of business things.”
Conolly glanced about him vaguely; picked up the piece of waste again as if he had been looking for that; recollected himself; and looked unintelligibly at her. Her uncertainty as to what he would do next was a delightful sensation: why, she did not know nor care. To her intense disappointment, Lord Carbury entered just then, and roused her from what was unaccountably like a happy dream.
Nothing more of any importance happened that day except the arrival of a letter from Paris, addressed to Lady Constance in Marmaduke’s handwriting. Miss McQuinch first heard of it in the fruit garden, where she found Constance sitting with her arm around Marian’s waist in a summer-house. She sat down opposite them, at a rough oak table.
“A letter, Nelly!” said Marian. “A letter! A letter from Marmaduke! I have extorted leave for you to read it. Here it is. Handle it carefully, pray.”
“Has he proposed?” said Elinor, taking it.
Constance changed color. Elinor opened the letter in silence, and read:
My dear Constance:
I hope you are quite well. I am having an awfully jolly time of it here. What a pity it is you dont come over! I was wishing for you yesterday in the Louvre, where we spent a pleasant day looking at the pictures. I send you the silk you wanted, and had great trouble hunting through half-a-dozen shops for it. Not that I mind the trouble, but just to let you see my devotion to you. I have no more to say at present, as it is nearly post hour. Remember me to the clan.
P.S.–How do Nelly and your mother get along together?
Whilst Elinor was reading, the gardener passed the summer-house, and Constance went out and spoke to him. Elinor looked significantly at Marian.
“Nelly,” returned Marian, in hushed tones of reproach, “you have stabbed poor Constance to the heart by telling her that Marmaduke never proposed to her. That is why she has gone out.”
“Yes,” said Elinor, “it was brutal. But I thought, as you made such a fuss about the letter, that it must have been a proposal at least. It cant be helped now. It is one more enemy for me, that is all.”
“What do you think of the letter? Was it not kind of him to write–considering how careless he is usually?”
“Hm! Did he match the silk properly?”.
“To perfection. He must really have taken some trouble. You know how he botched getting the ribbon for his fancy dress at the ball last year.”
“That is just what I was thinking about. Do you remember also how he ridiculed the Louvre after his first trip to Paris, and swore that nothing would ever induce him to enter it again?”
“He has got more sense now. He says in the letter that he spent yesterday there.”
“Not exactly. He says ‘_we_ spent a pleasant day looking at the pictures.’ Who is ‘_we_’?”
“Some companion of his, I suppose. Why?”
“I was just thinking could it be the person who has matched the silk so well. The same woman, I mean.”
“Oh, Marian! Do you suppose Marmaduke would spend an afternoon at the Louvre with a man, who could just as well go by himself? Do men match silks?”
“Of course they do. Any fly-fisher can do it better than a woman. Really, Nell, you have an odious imagination.”
“Yes–when my imagination is started on an odious track. Nothing will persuade me that Marmaduke cares a straw for Constance. He does not want to marry her, though he is too great a coward to own it.”
“Why do you say so? I grant you he is unceremonious and careless. But he is the same to everybody.”
“Yes: to everybody _we_ know. What is the use of straining after an amiable view of things, Marian, when a cynical view is most likely to be the true one.”
“There is no harm in giving people credit for being good.”
“Yes, there is, when people are not good, which is most often the case. It sets us wrong practically, and holds virtue cheap. If Marmaduke is a noble and warmhearted man, and Constance a lovable, innocent girl, all I can say is that it is not worth while to be noble or lovable. If amiability consists in maintaining that black is white, it is a quality anyone may acquire by telling a lie and sticking to it.”
“But I dont maintain that black is white. Only it seems to me that as regards white, you are color blind. Where I see white, you see black; and—-hush! Here is Constance.”
“Yes,” whispered Elinor: “she comes back quickly enough when it occurs to her that we are talking about her.”
Instead of simply asking why Constance should not behave in this very natural manner if she chose to, Marian was about to defend Constance warmly by denying all motive to her return, when that event took place and stopped the discussion. Marian and Nelly spent a considerable part of their lives in bandying their likes and dislikes under the impression that they were arguing important points of character and conduct.
They knew that Constance wanted to answer Marmaduke’s letter; so they alleged correspondence of their own, and left her to herself.
Lady Constance went to her brother’s study, where there was a comfortable writing-table. She began to write without hesitation, and her pen gabbled rapidly until she had covered two sheets of paper, when, instead of taking a fresh sheet, she wrote across the lines already written. After signing the letter, she read it through, and added two postscripts. Then she remembered something she had forgotten to say; but there was no more room on her two sheets, and she was reluctant to use a third, which might, in a letter to France, involve extra postage. Whilst she was hesitating her brother entered.
“Am I in your way?” she said. “I shall have done in a moment.”
“No, I am not going to write. By-the-bye, they tell me you had a letter from Marmaduke this morning. Has he anything particular to say?”
“Nothing very particular. He is in Paris.”
“Indeed? Are you writing to him?”
“Yes,” said Constance, irritated by his disparaging tone. “Why not?”
“Do as you please, of course. I am afraid he is a scamp.”
“Are you? You know a great deal about him, I dare say.”
“I am not much reassured by those who do know about him.”
“And who may they be? The only person you know who has seen much of him is Marian, and she doesnt speak ill of people behind their backs.”
“Marian takes rather a rose-colored view of everybody, Marmaduke included. You should talk to Nelly about him.”
“I knew it. I knew, the minute you began to talk, who had set you on.”
“I am afraid Nelly’s opinion is worth more than Marians.”
“_Her_ opinion! Everybody knows what her opinion is. She is bursting with jealousy of me.”
“What else? Marmaduke has never taken the least notice of her, and she is madly in love with him.”
“This is quite a new light upon the affair. Constance, are you sure you are not romancing?”
“Romancing! Why, she cannot conceal her venom. She taunted me this morning in the summer-house because Marmaduke has never made me a formal proposal. It was the letter that made her do it. Ask Marian.”
“I can hardly believe it: I should not have supposed, from what I have observed, that she cared about him.”
You should not have supposed it from what she _said_: is that what you mean? I dont care whether you believe it or not.”
“Well, if you are so confident, there is no occasion to be acrimonious about Elinor. She is more to be pitied than blamed.”
“Yes, everybody is to pity Elinor because she cant have her wish and make me wretched,” said Constance, beginning to cry. Whereupon Lord Carbury immediately left the room.
Long before the harvest was home, preparations were made at Towers Cottage to receive another visitor. The Rev. George Lind was coming. Lord Carbury drove in the wagonet to the railway station, and met him on the platform.
“How are you, my dear fellow?” cried the clergyman, shaking the earl’s hand. “Why did you trouble to meet me? I could have taken a fly. Most kind of you, I am sure. How is your dear mother? And Constance: how is _she_?”
“All quite well, thank you. Just show my fellow your traps; he will see to them.”
“Oh, there is no need to trouble him. I myself or a porter–oh, thank you, I am sure; the brown one with G.L. on it–and that small green metal box too, if you will be so good. Thank you very much. And how are you, Jasper, if I may call you so? Studious still, eh? I hope he will be careful of the box. No, not a word to him, I beg: it does not matter at all. What a charming little trap! What air! Happy man, Jasper! These fields are better than the close alleys and garrets to which my profession leads me.”
“Thank you. And how is Marian?”
“Quite well, thank you. _Everybody_ is quite well. The girls are at a tennis party, or they would have come to meet you. Constance desired me particularly to apologize.”
“Oh, needless, most needless. Why should they not enjoy themselves? What a landscape! The smiling beauty of nature in the country is like a–like a message to us. This is indeed a delightful drive.”
“Yes, she is a capital trotter, this mare of mine. What do you think of her?”
“A noble animal, Jasper. Although I never studied horseflesh much, even in my university days, I can admire a spirited nag on occasion. But I have to content myself with humbler means of locomotion in my own calling. A poor parson cannot entertain his friends as a magnate like you can. Have you any one at the hall now, besides the girls?”
“No. The place will be rather dull for you, I am afraid.”
“Not at all, my dear fellow, not at all. I shall be satisfied and thankful under all circumstances.”
“We have led a humdrum life for the past month. Marian and Elinor have begun to potter about in my laboratory. They come there every day for an hour to work and study, as they call it.”
“Indeed! I have no doubt Marian will find the study of nature most improving. It is very generous of you to allow her to trespass on you.”
“I occupy myself chiefly with Nelly McQuinch. Marian is my assistant’s pupil, and he has made a very expert workwoman of her already. With a little direction, she can put a machine together as well as I can.”
“I am delighted to hear it. And dear Nelly?”
“Oh, dear Nelly treats the subject in her usual way. But she is very amusing.”
“Ah, Jasper! Ah! An unstable nature there, an unstable nature! Elinor has not been firmly trained. She needs to be tried by adversity.”
“No doubt she will be. Most of us are.”
“And dear Constance? Does she study?”
“Ahem! A–have you—-? That is St. Mildred’s yonder, is it not?”
“It is. They have put a new clock in the tower, worth about sixty pounds. I believe they collected a hundred and fifty for the purpose. But you were going to say something else.”
“No. At least, I intended to ask you about Marmaduke. He is coming down, I understand.”
“I dont know what he is doing. Last week he wrote to us that he had just returned from Paris; but I happened to know that he had then been back for some time. He has arranged to come twice, but on each occasion, at the last moment, he has made excuses. He can do as he likes now. I wish he would say definitely that he doesnt intend to come, instead of shilly-shallying from week to week. Hallo, Prentice, have the ladies returned yet?” This was addressed to the keeper of the gate-lodge, at which they had now arrived. He replied that the ladies were still absent.
“Then,” said Lord Carbury, “we had better get down and stroll across the lawn. Perhaps you are tired, though?”
“Not at all. I should prefer it. What a lovely avenue! What greenery! How–“
“We were talking about Marmaduke. Do you know what he is doing at present? He talks of being busy, and of not having a moment to spare. I can understand a fellow not having a moment to spare in June or July, but what Marmaduke has to do in London in September is more than I can imagine.”
“I do not care to enquire into these things too closely. I had intended to speak to you on the subject. Marmaduke, as I suppose you know, has taken a house at West Kensington.”
“A house at West Kensington! No, I did not know it. What has he done that for?”
“I fear he has been somewhat disingenuous with me on the subject. I think he tried to prevent the matter coming to my ears; and when I asked him about it, he certainly implied–in fact, I grieve to say he left me under the impression that he had taken the house with a view to marrying dear Constance, and settling down. I expressed some surprise at his going so far out of town; but he did not volunteer any further explanation, and so the matter dropped.” The Rev. George paused, and then continued in a lower tone, “Not long afterward I met him at a very late hour. He had perhaps exceeded a little in his cups; for he spoke to me with the most shocking cynicism, inviting me to supper at this house of his, and actually accusing me of knowing perfectly well the terrible truth about his occupation of it. He assured me that she–meaning, I presume, the unhappy person with whom he lives there–was exceptionally attractive; and I have since discovered that she is connected with the theatre, and of great notoriety. I need not tell you how dreadful all this is to me, Jasper; but to the best of my judgment, which I have fortified by earnest prayers for guidance, it is my imperative duty to tell you of it.”
“The vagabond! It is exactly as I have always said: Constance is too tame for him. He does not care a d—-“
“Jasper, my dear fellow, gently,” said the clergyman, pressing his arm.
“Pshaw!” said the Earl, “I dont care. I think Constance is well out of it. Let us drop the subject for the present. I hear the carriage.”
“Yes, here it is. Dear Lady Carbury has recognized me, and is waving her hand.” The Rev. George stood on tiptoe as he spoke, and flourished his low-crowned soft felt hat.
During the ensuing greetings Carbury stood silent, looking at the horses with an expression that made the coachman uneasy. At dinner he ate sedulously, and left the task of entertaining the visitor to his mother and the girls. The clergyman was at no loss for conversation. He was delighted with the dinner, delighted with the house, delighted to see the Countess looking so well, and delighted to hear that the tennis party that day had been a pleasant one. The Earl listened with impatience, and was glad when his mother rose. Before she quitted the dining-room he made a sign to her, and she soon returned, leaving Marian, Constance, and Elinor in the drawing-room.
“You will not mind my staying, I hope, George,” she said, as she resumed her seat.
“A delightful precedent, and from a distinguished source,” said the Rev. George. “Allow me to pass the bottle. Ha! ha!”
“Thank you, no,” said the Countess. “I never take wine.” Her tone was inconclusive, as if she intended to take something else.
“Will you take brandy-and-soda?” said her son, rather brusquely.
Lady Carbury lowered her eyelids in protest. Then she said: “A very little, if you please, Jasper. I dare not touch wine,” she continued to the clergyman. “I am the slave of my medical man in all matters relating to my unfortunate digestion.”
“Mother,” said Jasper, “George has brought us a nice piece of news concerning your pet Marmaduke.”
The clergyman became solemn and looked steadily at his glass.
“I do not know that it is fair to describe him as my pet exactly,” said the Countess, a little troubled. “I trust there is nothing unpleasant the matter.”
“Oh, nothing! He has settled down domestically in a mansion at West Kensington, that is all.”
“Unhappily,” said the Rev. George, “no, not married.”
“Oh!” said the Countess slowly, as an expression of relief. “It is very shocking, of course; very wrong indeed. Young men _will_ do these things. It is especially foolish in Marmaduke’s case, for he really cannot afford to make any settlement such as this kind of complication usually involves when the time comes for getting rid of it. Pray do not let it come to Constance’s ears. It is not a proper subject for a girl.”
“Quite as proper a subject as marriage with a fellow like Marmaduke,” said Jasper, rising coolly and lighting a cigaret. “However, it will be time enough to trouble about that when there is any sign of his having the slightest serious intentions toward Constance. For my part I dont believe, and I never did believe, that there was anything real in the business. This last move of his proves it–to my satisfaction, at any rate.”
Lady Carbury, with a slight but impressive bridling, and yet with an evident sense of discomfiture, proceeded to assert herself before the clergyman. “I beg you will control yourself, Jasper,” she said. “I do not like to be spoken to in that tone. In discharging the very great responsibility which rests with a mother, I am compelled to take the world as I find it, and to acknowledge that certain very deplorable tendencies must be allowed for in society. You, in the solitude of your laboratory, contemplate an ideal state of things that we all, I am sure, long for, but which unhappily does not exist. I have never enquired into Marmaduke’s private life, and I think you ought not to have done so. I could not disguise from myself the possibility of his having entered into some such relations as those you have alluded to.”
Jasper, without the slightest appearance of having heard this speech, strolled casually out of the room. The Countess, baffled, turned to her sympathetic guest.
“I am sure that you, George, must feel that it is absolutely necessary for us to keep this matter to ourselves.”
The Rev. George said, gravely, “I do not indeed see what blessing can rest on our interference in such an inexpressibly shocking business. It is for Marmaduke to wrestle with his own conscience.”
“Quite so,” said the Countess, shrugging her shoulders as if to invite her absent son’s attention to this confirmation of her judgment. “Is it not absurd of Jasper to snatch at such an excuse for breaking off the match?”
“I can sympathize with Jasper’s feeling, I trust. It is natural for a candid nature to recoil from duplicity. But all our actions need charitable construction; and, remembering that, we should take heed to prevent our forebearance toward others from wavering. Who knows that the alliance with your pure and lovely daughter may not be the means specially ordained to rescue him from his present condition.”
“I think it very possible,” drawled the Countess, looking at him, nevertheless, with a certain contempt for what she privately considered his priggish, underbred cant. “Besides, such things are recognized, though of course they are not spoken of. No lady could with common decency pretend to know that such connexions are possible, much less assign one of them as a reason for breaking off an engagement.”
“Pardon me,” said the Rev. George; “but can these worldly considerations add anything to the approval of our consciences? I think not. We will keep our own counsel in this matter in the sight of Heaven. Then, whatever the world may think, all will surely come right in the end.”
“Oh, it is sure to come right in the end: these wretched businesses always do. I cannot imagine men having such low tastes–as if there were anything in these women more than in anybody else! Come into the drawing-room, George.”
They went into the drawing-room and found it deserted. The ladies were in the veranda. The Countess took up the paper and composed herself for a nap. George went into the porch, where the girls, having seen the sun go down, were now watching the deepening gloom among the trees that skirted the lawn. Marian proposed that they should walk through the plantation whilst there was still a little light left, and the clergyman readily assented. He rather repented of this when they got into the deep gloom under the trees, and Elinor began to tell stories about adders, wild cats, poachers, and anything else that could possibly make a nervous man uncomfortable under such circumstances. He was quite relieved when they saw the spark of a cigaret ahead of them and heard the voices of Jasper and Conolly coming toward them through the darkness.
“Oh, I believe I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Conolly,” said the Rev. George, formally, when they met. “I am glad to see you.”
“Thank you,” said Conolly. “If you ladies have thin shoes on as usual, we had better come out of this.”
“As we ladies happen to have our boots on,” said Marian, “we shall stay as long as we like.”
Nevertheless, they soon turned homeward, and as the path was narrow, they walked in pairs. The clergyman, with Constance, led the way. Lord Jasper followed with Elinor. Conolly and Marian came last.
“Does that young man–Mr. Conolly–live at the Hall?” was the Rev. George’s first remark to Constance.
“No. He has rooms in Rose Cottage, that little place on Quilter’s farm.”
“Ha! Then he is very well off here.”
“A great deal too well off. Jasper allows him to speak to him as though he were an equal. However, I suppose Jasper knows his own business best.”
“I have observed that he is rather disposed to presume upon any encouragement he receives. It is a bad sign in a young man, and one, I fear, that will greatly interfere with his prospects.”
“He is an American, and I suppose thinks it a fine thing to be republican. But it is Jasper’s fault. He spoils him. He once wanted to have him in the drawing-room in the evenings to play accompaniments; but mamma positively refused to allow it. Jasper is excessively obstinate, and though he did not make a fuss, he got quite a habit of going over to Rose Cottage and spending his evenings there singing and playing. Everybody about the place used to notice it. Mamma was greatly disgusted.”
“Do you find him unpleasant–personally, I mean?”
“I! Oh dear, no! I should never dream of speaking to him. His presence is unpleasant, because he exercises a bad influence on Jasper; so I wish, on that account alone, that he would go.”
“I trust Marian is careful to limit her intercourse with him as much as possible.”
“Well, Marian learns electricity from him; and of course that makes a difference. I do not care about such things; and I never go into the laboratory when he is there; so I do not know whether Marian lets him be familiar with her or not. She is rather easygoing; and he is insufferably conceited. However, if she wants to learn electricity, I suppose she must put up with him. He is no worse, after all, than the rest of the people one has to learn things from. They are all impossible.”
“It is a strange fancy of the girls, to study science.”
“I am sure I dont know why they do it. It is great nonsense for Jasper to do it, either. He will never keep up his position properly until he shuts up that stupid workshop. He ought to hunt and shoot and entertain a great deal more than he does. It is very hard on us, for we are altogether in Jasper’s hands for such matters. I think he is very foolish.”
“Not foolish. Dont say that. Excuse my giving you a little lecture; but it is not right to speak, even without thought, of your brother as a fool. No doubt he is a little injudicious; but all men are not called to the same pursuits.”
“If people have a certain position, they ought to make up their minds to the duties of their position, whether they are called to them or not.”
The Rev. George, missing the deference with which ladies not related to him usually received his admonitions, changed the subject.
Meanwhile, Conolly and Marian, walking more slowly than the rest, had fallen far behind. They had been silent at first. She seemed to be in trouble. At last, after some wistful glances at him, she said:
“Have you resolved to go to London to-morrow; or will you wait until Friday?”
“To-morrow, Miss Lind. Can I do anything for you in town?”
Marian hesitated painfully.
“Do not mind giving me plenty of bother,” he said. “I am so accustomed to superintend the transit of machines as cumbersome as trunks and as fragile as bonnet boxes, that the care of a houseful of ordinary luggage would be a mere amusement for me.”
“Thank you; but it is not that. I was only thinking–Are you likely to see my cousin, Mr. Marmaduke Lind, whilst you are in London?”
“N–no. Unless I call upon him, which I have no excuse for doing.”
“Oh! I thought you knew him.”
“I met him at that concert.”
“But I thought you were in the habit of going about with him. At least, I understood him one day to say that you had been to the theatre together.”
“So we were; but only once. We went there after the concert, and I have never seen him since.”
“Oh, indeed! I quite mistook.”
“If you have any particular reason for wishing me to see him, I will. It will be all right if I have a message from you. Shall I call on him? It will be no trouble to me.”
“No, oh no. I wanted–it was something that could only be told to him indirectly by an intimate friend–by some one with influence over him. More a hint than anything else. But it does not matter. At least, it cannot be helped.”
Conolly did not speak until they had gone some thirty yards or so in silence. Then he said: “If the matter is of serious importance to you, Miss Lind, I think I can manage to have a message conveyed to him by a person who has influence over him. I am not absolutely certain that I can; but probably I shall succeed without any great difficulty.”
Marian looked at him in some surprise. “I hardly know what I ought to do,” she said, doubtfully.
“Then do nothing,” said Conolly bluntly. “Or, if you want anything said to this gentleman, write to him yourself.”
“But I dont know his address, and my brother says I ought not to write to him. I dont think I ought, either; but I want him to be told something that may prevent a great deal of unhappiness. It seems so unfeeling to sit down quietly and say, ‘It is not my business to interfere,’ when the mischief might so easily be prevented.”
“I advise you to be very cautious, Miss Lind. Taking care of other people’s happiness is thankless and dangerous. You dont know your cousin’s address, you say?”
“No. I thought you did.”
Conolly shook his head. “Who does know it?” he said.
“My brother George does; but he refused to tell me. I shall not ask him again.”
“Of course not. I can find it out for you. But of what use will that be, since you think you ought not to write to him?”
“I assure you, Mr. Conolly, that if it only concerned myself, I would not hesitate to tell you the whole story, and ask your advice. I feel sure you would shew me what was right. But this is a matter which concerns other people only.”
“Then you have my advice without telling me. Dont meddle in it.”
“After all, what I wish to do could not possibly bring about mischief. If Marmaduke could be given a hint to come down here at once–he has been invited, and is putting off his visit from week to week–it would be sufficient. He will get into trouble if he makes any more excuses. And he can set everything right by coming down now.”
“Are you sure you dont mean only that he can smooth matters over for the present?”
“No, you mistake. It is not so much to smooth matters over as to rescue him from a bad influence that is ruining him. There is a person in London from whom he must he got away at all hazards. If you only knew–I _wish_ you knew.”
“Perhaps I know more than you suppose. Come, Miss Lind, let us understand one another. Your family want your cousin to marry Lady Constance. I know that. She does not object. I know that too. He does.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Marian, “you are wrong. He does not.”
“Anyhow,” continued Conolly, “he acts with a certain degree of indifference toward her–keeps away at present, for instance. I infer that the bad influence you have mentioned is the cause of his remissness.”
“Yes, you are right; only, looking at it all from without as you do, you are mistaken as to Marmaduke’s character. He is easily led away, and very careless about the little attentions that weigh so much with women; but he is thoroughly honorable, and incapable of trifling with Lady Constance. Unfortunately, he is easily imposed on, and impatient of company in which he cannot be a little uproarious. I fear that somebody has taken advantage of this part of his character to establish a great ascendency over him. I”–here Marian became nervous, and controlled her voice with difficulty–“I saw this person once in a theatre; and I can imagine how she would fascinate Marmaduke. She was so clever, so handsome, and–and so utterly abominable. I was angry with Duke for bringing us to the place; and I remember now that he was angry with me because I said she made me shudder.”
“Utterly abominable is a strong thing for one woman to say of another,” said Conolly, with a certain sternness. “However, I can understand your having that feeling about her. I know her; and it is through her that I hope to find out his address for you.”
“But her address is his address now, Mr. Conolly. I think it is somewhere in West Kensington.”
Conolly stopped, and turned upon her so suddenly that she recoiled a step, frightened.
“Since when, pray?”
“Very lately, I think. I do not know.”
They neither moved nor spoke for some moments: she earnestly regretting that she had lingered so far behind her companions in the terrible darkness. He walked on at last faster than before. No more words passed between them until they came out into the moonlight close to the veranda. Then he stopped again, and took off his hat.
“Permit me to leave you now,” he said, with an artificial politeness worthy of Douglas himself. “Good-night.”
“Good-night,” faltered Marian.
He walked gravely away. Marian hurried into the veranda, where she found Jasper and Elinor. The other couple had gone into the drawing-room.
“Hallo!” said Jasper, “where is Conolly? I want to say a word to him before he goes.”
“He has just gone,” said Marian, pointing across the lawn. Jasper immediately ran out in the direction indicated, and left the two cousins alone together.
“Well, Marian,” said Elinor, “do you know that you have taken more than quarter of an hour longer to come from the plantation than we did, and that you look quite scared? Our sweet Constance, as the parson calls her, has been making some kind remarks about it.”
“Do I look disturbed? I hope Auntie wont notice it. I wish I could go straight to bed without seeing anybody.”
“Why? What is the matter?”
“I will tell you to-night when you come in to me. I am disgusted with myself; and I think Conolly is mad.”
“On my word, I think Conolly has gone mad,” said Lord Jasper, returning at this moment out of breath and laughing.
Elinor, startled, glanced at Marian.
“He was walking quite soberly toward the fence of the yellow field when I caught sight of him. Just as I was about to hail him, he started off and cleared the fence at a running jump. He walked away at a furious rate, swinging his arms about, and laughing as if he was enjoying some uncommonly good joke. I am not sure that I did not see him dance a hornpipe; but as it is so dark I wont swear to that.”
“You had better not,” said Elinor, sceptically. “Let us go in; and pray do not encourage George to talk. I have a headache, and want to go to bed.”
“You have been in very good spirits, considering your headache,” he replied, in the same incredulous tone. “It has come on rather suddenly, has it not?”
When they went into the drawing-room they found that Constance had awakened her mother, and had already given her an account of their walk. Jasper added a description of what he had just witnessed. “I have not laughed so much for a long time,” he said, in conclusion. “He is usually such a steady sort of fellow.”
“I see nothing very amusing in the antics of a drunken workman,” said the Countess. “How you could have left Marian in his care even for a moment I am at a loss to conceive.”
“He was not drunk, indeed,” said Marian.
“Certainly not,” said Jasper, rather indignantly. “I was walking with him for some time before we met the girls. You are very pale, Marian. Have you also a headache?”
“I have been playing tennis all day; and I am quite tired out.”
Soon afterward, when Marian was in bed, and Miss McQuinch, according to a nightly custom of theirs, was seated on the coverlet with her knees doubled up to her chin inside her bedgown, they discussed the adventure very earnestly.
“Dont understand him at all, I confess,” said Elinor, when Marian had related what had passed in the plantation. “Wasnt it rather rash to make a confidant of him in such a delicate matter?”
“That is what makes me feel so utterly ashamed. He might have known that I only wanted to do good. I thought he was so entirely above false delicacy.”
“I dont mean that. How do you know that the story is true? You only have it from Mrs. Leith Fairfax’s letter; and she is perhaps the greatest liar in the world.”
“Oh, Nelly, you ought not to talk so strongly about people. She would never venture to tell me a made-up tale about Marmaduke.”
“In my opinion, she would tell anybody anything for the sake of using her tongue or pen.”
“It is so hard to know what to do. There was nobody whom I could trust, was there? Jasper has always been against Marmaduke; and Constance, of course, was out of the question. There was Auntie, but I did not like to tell her.”
“Because she is an evil-minded old Jezebel, whom no nice woman would talk to on such a subject,” said Elinor, giving the bed a kick with her heel.
“Hush, Nelly. I am always in terror lest you should say something like that before other people, out of sheer habit.”
“Never fear. Well, you have done the best you could. No use regretting what cannot be recalled. You cannot have the security of conventionality along with the self-respect of sincerity. By the bye, do you remember that Jasper and his fond mamma and George had a family council after dinner? You may be sure that George has told them everything.”
“What! Then my wretched attempt to have Marmaduke warned was useless. Oh, Nelly, this is too bad. Do you really think so? When I told him before dinner what Mrs. Leith Fairfax wrote, he only said he feared it was true, and refused to give me the address.”
“And so threw you back on Conolly. I am glad the responsibility rests with George. He knew very well that it was true; for he had only just been telling Jasper. Jasper told me as much in the plantation. Master Georgy has no right to be your brother. He is worse than a dissenter. Dissenters try to be gentlemen; but George has no misgivings about himself on that score; so he gives his undivided energy to his efforts to be parsonic. He is an arrant hypocrite.”
“I dont think he is a hypocrite. I think he sincerely believes that his duty to the Church requires him to behave as he does.”
“Then he is a donkey, which is worse.”
“I wish he were more natural in his manner.”
“He is natural enough. It is always the same with parsons: ‘it is their nature to.’ Good-night. Men are all the same, my dear, all the same.”
“How do you mean?”
“Never mind. Good-night.”
A little removed from a pretty road in West Kensington, and communicating with it by a shrubbery and an iron gate, there stood at this time a detached villa called Laurel Grove. On the opposite side were pairs of recently built houses, many of them still unlet. These, without depriving the neighbourhood of its suburban quietude, forbade any feeling of rustic seclusion, and so made it agreeable to Susanna Conolly, who lived at Laurel Grove with Marmaduke Lind.
One morning in September they were at breakfast together. Beside each was a pile of letters. Marmaduke deferred opening his until his hunger was satisfied; but Susanna, after pouring out tea for him, seized the uppermost envelope, thrust her little finger under the flap, and burst it open.
“Hm,” she said. “First rehearsal next Monday. Here he is at me again to make the engagement renewable after Christmas. What an old fool he must be not to guess why I dont want to be engaged next spring! Just look at the _Times_, Bob, and see if the piece is advertized yet.”
“I should think so, by Jupiter,” said Marmaduke, patiently interrupting his meal to open the newspaper.
“Here is a separate advertisement for everybody. ‘The latest Parisian success. _La petite Maison du Roi._ Music by M. de Jongleur. Mr. Faulkner has the honor to announce that an adaptation by Mr. Cribbs of M. de Jongleur’s opera bouffe _La petite Maison du Roi_, entitled King Lewis on the lewis’–what the deuce does that mean?”
“On the loose, of course.”
“But it is spelt l-e-w—-oh! its a pun. What an infernal piece of idiocy! Then it goes on as usual, except that each name in the cast has a separate line of large print. Here you are: ‘Lalage Virtue as Madame Dubarry’—-“
“Is that at the top?”
“Before Rose Stella?”
“Yes. Why!–I didnt notice it before–you are down fifteen times! Every alternate space has your name over again. ‘Lalage Virtue as Madame Dubarry. Fred Smith as Louis XV. Lalage Virtue as the Dubarry. Felix Sumner as the Due de Richelieu. Lalage Virtue as _la belle Jeanneton_.’ By the way, that is all rot. Cardinal Richelieu died four or five hundred years before Madame Dubarry was born.”
“Let me see the paper. I see they have given Rose Stella the last line with a big AND before it. No matter. She is down only once; and I am down fifteen times.”
“I wonder what all these letters of mine are about! This is a bill, of course. The West Kensington Wine Company. Whew! We are getting through the champagne at the rate of about thirty pounds a month, not counting what we pay for when we dine in town.”
“Well, what matter! Champagne does nobody any harm; and I get awfully low without it.”
“All right, my dear. So long as you please yourself, and dont injure your health, I dont care. Here’s a letter of yours put among mine by mistake. It has been forwarded from your old diggings at Lambeth.”
“It’s from Ned,” said Susanna, turning pale. “He must be coming home, or he would not write. Yes, he is. What shall I do?”
“What does he say?” said Marmaduke, taking the letter from her. “‘_Back at 6 on Wednesday evening. Have high tea. N.C._’ Short and sweet! Well, he will not turn up til to-morrow, at all events, even if he knows the address, which of course he doesnt.”
“He knows nothing. His note shews that. What _will_ he do when he finds me gone? He may get the address at the post-office, where I told them to send on my letters. The landlady has most likely found out for her own information. There is no mistake about it,” said Susanna, rising and walking to the window: “I am in a regular funk about him. I have half a mind to go back to Lambeth and meet him. I could let the murder out gradually, or, perhaps, get him off to the country again before he discovers anything.”
“Go back! oh no, nonsense! The worst he can do is to cut you–and a good job too.”
“I wish he would. It would be a relief to me at present to know for certain that he would.”
“He cant be so very thin-skinned as you fancy, considering the time you have been on the stage.”
“There’s nothing wrong in being on the stage. There’s nothing wrong in being here either, in spite of Society. After all, what do I care about Ned, or anybody else? He always went his own way when it suited him; and he has no right to complain if I go mine. Let him come if he likes: he will not get much satisfaction from me.” Susanna sat down again, and drank some tea, partly defiant, partly disconsolate.
“Dont think any more about it,” said Marmaduke. “He wont come.”
“Oh, let him, if he likes,” said Susanna, impatiently. Marmaduke did not quite sympathize with her sudden recklessness. He hoped that Conolly would have the good sense to keep away.
“Look here, Bob,” said she, when they had finished breakfast. “Let us go somewhere to-day. I feel awfully low. Let us have a turn up the river.”
“All right,” said Marmaduke, with alacrity. “Whatever you please. How shall we go?”
“Anyhow. Let us go to Hampton by train. When we get there we can settle what to do afterward. Can you come now?”
“Yes, whenever you are ready.”
“Then I will run upstairs and dress. Go out and amuse yourself with that blessed old lawn-mower until I come.”
“Yes, I think I will,” said Marmaduke, seriously. “That plot near the gate wants a trimming badly.”
“What a silly old chap you are, Bob!” she said, stopping to kiss him on each cheek as she left the room.
Marmaduke had become attached to the pursuit of gardening since his domestication. He put on his hat; went out; and set to work on the plot near the gate. The sun was shining brightly; and when he had taken a few turns with the machine he stopped, raising his face to the breeze, and saw Conolly standing so close to him that he started backward, and made a vague movement as if to ward off a blow. Conolly, who seemed amused by the mowing, said quietly: “That machine wants oiling: the clatter prevented you from hearing me come. I have just returned from Carbury Towers. Miss Lind is staying there; and she has asked me to give you a message.”
This speech perplexed Marmaduke. He inferred from it that Conolly was ignorant of Susanna’s proceedings, but he had not sufficient effrontery to welcome him unconcernedly at once. So he stood still and stared at him.
“I am afraid I have startled you,” Conolly went on, politely. “I found the gate unlocked, and thought it would be an unnecessary waste of time to ring the bell. You have a charming little place here.”
“Yes, it’s a pretty little place, isnt it?” said Marmaduke. “A–wont you come in and have a–excuse my bringing you round this way, will you? My snuggery is at the back of the house.”
“Thank you; but I had rather not go in. I have a great deal of business to do in town to-day; so I shall just discharge my commission and go.”
“At any rate, come into the shade,” said Marmaduke, glancing uneasily toward the windows of the house. “This open place is enough to give us sunstroke.”
Conolly followed him to a secluded part of the shrubbery, where they sat down on a bench.
“Is there anything up?” said Marmaduke, much oppressed.
“Will you excuse my speaking without ceremony?”
“Oh, certainly. Fire away!”
“Thank you. I must then tell you that the relations between you and Lady Constance are a source of anxiety to her brother. You know the way men feel bound to look after their sisters. You have, I believe, sisters of your own?”
Marmaduke nodded, and stole a doubtful glance at Conolly’s face.
“It appears that Lord Carbury has all along considered your courtship too cool to be genuine. In this view he was quite unsupported, the Countess being strongly in your favor, and the young lady devoted to you.”
“Well, I knew all that. At least, I suspected it. What is up now?”
“This. The fact of your having taken a villa here has reached the ears of the family at Carbury. They are, not unnaturally, curious to know what use a bachelor can have for such an establishment.”
“But I have my rooms in Clarges Street still. This is not my house. It was taken for another person.”
“Precisely what they seem to think. But, to be brief with you, Miss Lind thinks that unless you wish to break with the Earl, and quarrel with your family, you should go down to Towers Cottage at once.”
“But I cant go away just now. There are reasons.”
“Miss Lind is fully acquainted with your reasons. They are her reasons for wishing you to leave London immediately. And now, having executed my commission, I must ask you to excuse me. My time is much occupied.”
“Well, I am greatly obliged to you for coming all this way out of town to give me the straight tip,” said Marmaduke, relieved at the prospect of getting rid of his visitor without alluding to Susanna. “It is very good of you; and I am very glad to see you. Jolly place, Carbury Park is, isnt it? How will the shooting be?”
“First rate, I am told. I do not know much about it myself.” They had risen, and were strolling along the path leading to the gate.
“Shall I see you down there–if I go?”
“Possibly. I shall have to go down for a day at least, to get my luggage, in case I decide not to renew my engagement with Lord Jasper.”
“I hope so,” said Marmaduke. Then, as they reached the gate, he proffered his hand, in spite of an inward shrinking, and said heartily, “Good-bye, old fellow. Youre looking as well as possible.”
Conolly took his hand, and retained it whilst he said: “Good-bye, Mr. Lind. I am quite well, thank you. If I may ask–how is Susanna?”
Marmaduke was prevented by a spasm of the throat from replying. Before he recovered, Susanna herself, attired for her proposed trip to Hampton, emerged from the shrubbery and stood before them, confounded. Conolly, still wearing the cordial expression with which he had shaken Marmaduke’s hand, looked at her, then at her protector, and then at her again.
“I have been admiring the villa, Susanna,” said he, after an emphatic silence. “It is better than our place at Lambeth. You wont mind my hurrying away: I have a great deal to do in town. Good-bye. Good-bye, Mr. Lind.”