Susanna murmured something. Marmaduke, after making an effort to bid his guest good-bye genially, opened the gate, and stood for a minute watching him as he strode away.
“What does _he_ care what becomes of me, the selfish brute!” cried Susanna, passionately.
“He didnt complain: he has nothing to complain of,” said Marmaduke. “Anyhow, why didnt he stay at home and look after you? By George, Susanna, he is the coolest card I ever came across.”
“What brought him here?” she demanded, vehemently.
“That reminds me. I am afraid I must go down to Carbury for a few days.”
“And what am I to do here alone? Are _you_ going to leave me too?”
“Well, I cannot be in two places at the same time. I suppose you can manage to get on without me for a few days.”
“I will go home. I can get on without you altogether. I will go home.”
“Come, Susanna! what is the use of kicking up a row? I cant afford to quarrel with all my people because you choose to be unreasonable.”
“What do I care about your people, or about you either?”
“Very well, then,” said Marmaduke, offended, “you can go home if you like. Perhaps your brother appreciates this sort of thing. I dont.”
“Ah, you coward! You taunt me because you think I have no home. Do you flatter yourself that I am dependent on you?”
“Hold your tongue,” said Marmaduke, fiercely. “Dont you turn on me in that fashion. Keep your temper if you want me to keep mine.”
“You have ruined me,” said Susanna, sitting down on the grass, and beginning to cry.
“Oh, upon my soul, this is too much,” said Marmaduke, with disgust. “Get up out of that and dont make a fool of yourself. Ruined indeed! Will you get up?”
“No!” screamed Susanna.
“Then stay where you are and be damned,” retorted Marmaduke, turning on his heel and walking toward the house. In the hall he met a maid carrying an empty champagne bottle and goblet.
“Missis is looking for you, sir,” said the maid.
“All right,” said Marmaduke, “I have seen her. Listen to me. I am going to the country. My man Mason will come here to-day to pack up my traps, and bring them after me. You had better take a note of my address from the card in the strap of my valise.”
“Yes, sir,” said the maid. “Any message for missis?”
“No,” said Marmaduke. He then changed his coat and hat, and went out again. As he approached the gate he met Susanna, who had risen and was walking toward the house.
“I am going to Carbury,” he said. “I dont know when I shall be back.”
She passed on disdainfully, as if she had not heard him.
Three days later Lord Carbury came to luncheon with a letter in his hand. Marian had not yet come in; and the Rev. George was absent, his place being filled by Marmaduke.
“Good news for you and Constance, mother.”
“Indeed?” said the Countess, smiling.
“Yes. Conolly is coming down this afternoon to collect his traps and leave you forever.”
“Really, Jasper, you exaggerate Mr. Conolly’s importance. Intelligence of his movements can hardly be news–good or bad–either to me or to Constance.”
“I am glad he is going,” said Constance, “for Jasper’s sake.”
“Thank you,” replied Jasper. “I thought you would be. He will be a great loss to me.”
“Nonsense!” said the Countess. “If another workman is needed, another can easily be had.”
“If I can be of any assistance to you, old man,” said Marmaduke, “make what use of me you like. I picked up something about the business yesterday.”
“Yes,” said Elinor. “While you were away, Jasper, he went to the laboratory with Constance, and fired off a brass cannon with your new pile until he had used up all the gunpowder and spoiled the panels of the door. That is what he calls picking up something about the business.”
“Nothing like experiment for convincing you of the power of electricity,” said Marmaduke. “Is there, Conny?”
“It’s very wonderful; but I hate shots.”
“Where is Marian?” said Lady Carbury.
“I left her in the summer-house in the fruit garden,” said Elinor. “She was reading.”
“She must have forgotten the hour,” said the Countess. “She has been moping, I think, for the last few days. I hope she is not unwell. But she would never stay away from luncheon intentionally. I shall send for her.”
“I’ll go,” said Marmaduke, eagerly.
“No, no, Duke. You must not leave the table. I will send a servant.”
“I will fetch her here in half the time that any servant will. Poor Marian, why shouldnt she have her lunch? I shall be back in a jiffy.”
“What a restless, extraordinary creature he is!” said Lady Carbury, displeased, as Marmaduke hastily left the room. “The idea of a man leaving the table in that way!”
“I suspect he has his reasons,” said Elinor.
“I think it is a perfectly natural thing for him to do,” said Constance, pettishly. “I see nothing extraordinary in it.”
Marmaduke found Marian reading in the summer-house in the fruit garden. She looked at him in lazy surprise as he seated himself opposite to her at the table.
“This is the first chance I’ve had of talking to you privately since I came down,” he said. “I believe you have been keeping out of my way on purpose.”
“Well, I concluded that you wanted as many chances as possible of talking to some one else in private; so I gave you as many as I could.”
“Yes, you and the rest have been uncommonly considerate in that respect: thank you all awfully. But I mean to have it out with you, Miss Marian, now that I have caught you alone.”
“With me! Oh, dear! What have I done?”
“What have you done? I’ll tell you what youve done. Why did you send Conolly, of all men in the world, to tell me that I was in disgrace here?”
“There was no one else, Marmaduke.”
“Well, suppose there wasn’t! Suppose there had been no one else alive on the earth except you, and I, and he, and Constance, and Su–and Constance! how could you have offered him such a job?”
“Why not? Was there any special reason–“
“Any special reason! Didnt your common sense tell you that a meeting between him and me must be particularly awkward for both of us?”
“No. At least I–. Marmaduke: I think you must fancy that I told him more than I did. I did not know where you were; and as he was going to London, and I thought you knew him well, and I had no other means of warning you, I had to make use of him. Jasper will tell you how thoroughly trustworthy he is. But all I said–and I really could not say less–was that I was afraid you were in bad company, or under bad influence, or something like that; and that I only wanted you to come down here at once.”
“Oh! Indeed! That was _all_, was it? Merely that I was in bad company.”
“I think I said under bad influence. I was told so; and I believed it at the time. I hope it’s not true, Marmaduke. If it is not, I beg your pardon with all my heart.”
Marmaduke stared very hard at her for a while, and then said, with the emphasis of a man baffled by utter unreason: “Well, I _am_ damned!” at which breach of good manners she winced. “Hang me if I understand you, Marian,” he continued, more mildly. “Of course it’s not true. Bad influence is all bosh. But it was a queer thing to say to his face. He knew very well you meant his sister. Hallo! what’s the matter? Are you going to faint?”
“No, I–Never mind me.”
“Never mind you!” said Marmaduke. “What are you looking like that for?”
“Because–it is nothing: I only blushed. Dont be stupid, Duke.”
“Blushed! Why dont you blush red, like other people, and not green? Shall I get you something?”
“No, no. Oh, Duke, why did you not tell me? How could you be so heartless as to leave us all in the dark when we were talking about you before him every day! Oh, are you in earnest, Duke? Pray dont jest about it. What do you mean by his sister? I never knew he had one. Who is she? What happened? I mean when you saw him?”
“Nothing happened. I was mowing in the garden. He just walked in; bade me good morning; admired the place; and told me he came with a message from you that things were getting hot here. Then he went off, as cool as you please. He didnt seem to mind.”
“And he warned you, in spite of all.”
“More for your sake than for mine, I suspect. He’s rather sweet on you, isnt he?”
“Oh, Duke, Duke, are you not ashamed of yourself?”
“Deuce a bit. But I’m in trouble; and I want you to stand by me. Look here, Marian, you have no nonsense about you, I know. I may tell you frankly how I am situated, maynt I?”
Marian looked at him apprehensively, and said nothing.
“You see you will only mix up matters worse than before unless you know the truth. Besides, I offered to marry her: upon my soul I did; but she refused. Her real name is Susanna Conolly: his sister, worse luck.”
“Dont tell me any more of this, Duke. It is not right.”
“I suppose it’s not right, as you say. But what am I to do? I must tell you; or you will go on making mischief with Constance.”
“As if I would tell her! I promise that she shall never know from me. Is that enough?”
“No: its too much. The plain truth is that I dont care whether she finds me out or not. I want her to understand thoroughly, once and for ever, that I wont marry her.”
“Not if I were fifty Marmadukes!”
“Then you will break her heart.”
“Never fear! Her heart is pretty tough, if she has one. Whether or no, I am not going to have her forced on me by the Countess or any one else. The truth is, Marian, they have all tried to bully me into this match. Constance can’t complain.”
“No, not aloud.”
“Neither aloud or alow. I never proposed to her.”
“Very well, Marmaduke: there is no use now in blaming Auntie or excusing yourself. If you have made up your mind, there is an end.”
“But you cant make out that I am acting meanly, Marian. Why, I have everything to lose by giving her up. There is her money, and I suppose I must prepare for a row with the family; unless the match could be dropped quietly. Eh?”
“And is that what you want me to manage for you?”
“Well–. Come, Marian! dont be savage. I have been badly used in this affair. They forced it on me. I did all I could to keep out of it. She was thrown at my head. Besides, I once really used to think I could settle down with her comfortably some day. I only found out what an insipid little fool she was when I had a woman of sense to compare her with.”
“Dont say hard things about her. I think you might have a little forbearance towards her under the circumstances.”
“Hm! I dont feel very forbearing. She has been sticking to me for the last few days like a barnacle. Our respectable young ladies think a lot of themselves, but–except you and Nelly–I dont know a woman in society who has as much brains in her whole body as Susanna Conolly has in her little finger nail. I cant imagine how the deuce you all have the cheek to expect men to talk to you, much less marry you.”
“Perhaps there is something that honest men value more than brains.”
“I should like to know what it is. If it is something that ladies have and Susanna hasnt, it is not either good looks or good sense. If it’s respectability, that depends on what you consider respectable. If Conny’s respectable and Susanna isnt, then I prefer disrepu–“
“Hush, Duke, you know you have no right to speak to me like this. Let us think of poor Constance. How is she to be told the truth?”
“Let her find it out. I shall go back to London as soon as I can; and the affair will drop somehow or another. She will forget all about me.”
“Happy-go-lucky Marmaduke. I think if neglect and absence could make her forget you, you would have been forgotten before this.”
“Yes. You see you must admit that I gave her no reason to suppose I meant anything.”
“I am afraid you have consulted your own humor both in your neglect and your attentions, Duke. The more you try to excuse yourself, the more inexcusable your conduct appears. I do not know how to advise you. If Constance is told, you may some day forget all about your present infatuation; and then a mass of mischief and misery will have been made for nothing. If she is not told, you will be keeping up a cruel deception and wasting her chances of—-but she will never care for anybody else.”
“Better do as I say. Leave matters alone for the present. But mind! no speculating on my changing my intentions. I wont marry her.”
“I wish you hadnt told me about it.”
“Well, Marian, I couldnt help it. I know, of course, that you only wanted to make us all happy; but you nursed this match and kept it in Constance’s mind as much as you could. Besides–though it was not your fault–that mistake about Conolly was too serious not to explain. Dont be downcast: I am not blaming you a bit.”
“It seems to me that the worst view of things is always the true one in this world. Nelly and Jasper were right about you.”
“Aha! So _they_ saw what I felt. You cant say I did not make my intentions plain enough to every unbiassed person. The Countess was determined to get Constance off her hands; Constance was determined to have me; and you were determined to stick up for your own notions of love and honeysuckles.”
“I was determined to stick up for _you_, Marmaduke.”
“Dont be indignant: I knew you would stick up for me in your own way. But what I want to shew is, that only three people believed that I was in earnest; and those three were prejudiced.”
“I wish you had enlightened Constance, and deceived all the rest of the world, instead. No doubt I was wrong, very wrong. I am very sorry.”
“Pshaw! It doesnt matter. It will all blow over some day. Hush, I hear the garden gate opening. It is Constance, come to spy what I am doing here with you. She is as jealous as a crocodile–very nearly made a scene yesterday because I played with Nelly against her at tennis. I have to drive her to Bushy Copse this afternoon, confound it!”
“And _will_ you, after what you have just confessed?”
“I must. Besides, Jasper says that Conolly is coming this evening to pack up his traps and go; and I want to be out of the way when he is about.”
“Yes. Between ourselves, Marian, Susanna and I were so put out by the cool way he carried on when he called, that we had a regular quarrel after he went; and we haven’t made it up yet.”
“Pray dont talk about it to me, Duke. Here is Constance.”
“So you are here,” said Constance, gaily, but with a quick glance at them. “That is a pretty way to bring your cousin in to luncheon, sir.”
“We got chatting about you, my ownest,” said Marmaduke; “and the subject was so sweet, and the moments were so fleet, that we talked for quite an hour on the strict q.t. Eh, Marian?”
“As a punishment, you shall have no lunch. Mamma is very angry with you both.”
“Always ready to make allowances for her, provided she sends you to lecture me, Conny. Why dont you wear your hat properly?” He arranged her hat as he spoke. Constance laughed and blushed. Marian shuddered. “Now youre all that fancy painted you: youre lovely, youre divine. Are you ready for Bushy Copse?”
Constance replied by singing:
“Oh yes, if you please, kind sir, she said; sir, she said; sir, she said; Oh! yes if you ple–ease, kind sir, she said.”
“Then come along. After your ladyship,” he said, taking her elbows as if they were the handles of a wheelbarrow, and pushing her out before him through the narrow entrance to the summer-house. On the threshold he turned for a moment; met Marian’s reproachful eyes with a wink; grinned; and disappeared.
For half an hour afterward Marian sat alone in the summer-house, thinking of the mistake she had made. Then she returned to the Cottage, where she found Miss McQuinch writing in the library, and related to her all that had passed in the summer-house. Elinor listened, seated in a rocking-chair, restlessly clapping her protended ankles together. When she heard of Conolly’s relationship to Susanna, she kept still for a few moments, looking with widely opened eyes at Marian. Then, with a sharp laugh, she said:
“Well, I beg his pardon. I thought he was another of that woman’s retainers. I never dreamt of his being her brother.”
Marian was horror stricken. “You thought–! Oh, Nelly, what puts such things into your head?”
“So would you have thought it if you had the least gumption about people. However, I was wrong; and I’m glad of it. However, I was right about Marmaduke. I told you so, over and over and over again.”
“I know you did; but I didnt think you were in earnest.”
“No, you never can conceive my being in earnest when I differ from you, until the event proves me to be right.”
“I am afraid it will kill Constance.”
“_Dont_, Marian!” cried Elinor, giving her chair a violent swing.
“I am quite serious. You know how delicate she is.”
“Well, if she dies of any sentiment, it will be wounded vanity. Serve her right for allowing a man to be forced into marrying her. I believe she knows in her soul that he does not care about her. Why else should she be jealous of me, of you, and of everybody?”
“It seems to me that instead of sympathizing with the unfortunate girl, both you and Marmaduke exult in her disappointment.”
“I pity her, poor little wretch. But I dont sympathize with her. I dont pity Marmaduke one bit: if the whole family cuts him he will deserve it richly, but I do sympathize with him. Can you wonder at his preference? When we went to see that woman last June I envied her. There she was, clever, independent, successful, holding her own in the world, earning her living, fascinating a crowd of people, whilst we poor respectable nonentities sat pretending to despise her–as if we were not waiting until some man in want of a female slave should offer us our board and lodging and the privilege of his lordly name with ‘Missis’ before it for our lifelong services. You may make up as many little bread-and-butter romances as you please, Marian; but I defy you to give me any sensible reason why Marmaduke should chain himself for ever to a little inane thing like Constance, when he can enjoy the society of a capable woman like that without binding himself at all.”
“Nonsense, Nelly! Really, you oughtnt to say such things.”
“No. I ought to keep both eyes tight shut so that I may be contented in that station to which it has pleased God to call me.”
“Imagine his proposing to marry her, Nell! I am just as wicked as you; for I am very glad she refused; though I cant conceive why she did it.”
“Perhaps,” said Miss McQuinch, becoming excited, “she refused because she had too much good sense: aye, and too much common decency to accept. It is all very well for us fortunate good-for-nothings to resort to prostitution—-“
“–I say, to prostitution, to secure ourselves a home and an income. Somebody said openly in Parliament the other day that marriage was the true profession of women. So it is a profession; and except that it is a harder bargain for both parties, and that society countenances it, I dont see how it differs from what we–bless our virtuous indignation!–stigmatize as prostitution. _I_ dont mean ever to be married, I can tell you, Marian. I would rather die than sell myself forever to a man, and stand in a church before a lot of people whilst George or somebody read out that cynically plain-spoken marriage service over me.”
“Stop Nelly! Pray stop! If you thought for a moment you would never say such awful things.”
“I thought we had agreed long ago that marriage is a mistake.”
“Yes; but that is very different to what you are saying now.”
“I cannot see—-“
“Pray stop, Nelly. Dont go on in that strain. It does no good; and it makes me very uncomfortable.”
“I’ll take it out in work,” said Nelly calmly, returning to her manuscript. “I can see that, as you say, talking does no good. All the more reason why I should have another try at earning my own living. When I become a great novelist I shall say what I like and do what I please. For the present I am your obedient, humble servant.”
At any other time Marian would have protested, and explained, and soothed. Now she was too heavily preoccupied by her guilty conscience. She strolled disconsolately to the window, and presently, seeing that Miss McQuinch was at work in earnest and had better not be disturbed, went off for a lonely walk. It was a glorious afternoon; and nature heaped its peculiar consolations on her; so that she never thought of returning until the sun was close to the horizon. As she came, tired, through the plantation, with the evening glow and the light wind, in which the branches were rustling and the leaves dropping, lulling her luxuriously, she heard some one striding swiftly along the path behind. She looked back; but there was a curve in the way; and she could not see who was coming. Then it occurred to her that it might be Conolly. Dreading to face him after what had happened, she stole aside among the trees a little way, and sat down on a stone, hoping that he might pass by without seeing her. The next moment he came round the curve, looking so resolute and vigorous that her heart became fainter as she watched him. Just opposite where she sat, he stopped, having a clear view of the path ahead for some distance, and appeared puzzled. Marian held her breath. He looked to the left through the trees, then to the right, where she was.
“Good-evening, Miss Lind,” he said respectfully, raising his hat.
“Good-evening,” said she, trembling.
“You are not looking quite well.”
“I have walked too much; and I feel a little tired. That is why I had to sit down. I shall be rested presently.”
Conolly sat down on a felled trunk opposite Marian. “This is my last visit to Carbury Towers,” he said. “No doubt you know that I am going for good.”
“Yes,” said Marian. “I–I am greatly obliged to you for all the pains you have taken with me in the laboratory. You have been very patient. I suppose I have often wasted your time unreasonably.”
“No,” said Conolly, unceremoniously, “you have not wasted my time: I never let anybody do that. My time belonged to Lord Carbury, not to myself. However, that is neither here nor there. I enjoyed giving you lessons. Unless you enjoyed taking them, the whole obligation rests on me.”
“They were very pleasant.”
He shifted himself into an easier position, looking well pleased. Then he said, carelessly, “Has Mr. Marmaduke Lind come down?”
Marian reddened and felt giddy.
“I want to avoid meeting him,” continued Conolly; “and I thought perhaps you might know enough of his movements this evening to help me to do so. It does not matter much; but I have a reason.”
Marian felt the hysteric globe at her throat as she tried to speak; but she repressed it, and said:
“Mr. Conolly: I know the reason. I did not know before: I am sure you did not think I did. I made a dreadful mistake.”
“Why!” said Conolly, with some indignation, “who has told you since?”
“Marmaduke,” said Marian, roused to reply quickly by the energy of the questioner. “He did not mean to be indiscreet: he thought I knew.”
“Thought! He never thought in his life, Miss Lind. However, he was right enough to tell you; and I am glad you know the truth, because it explains my behavior the last time we met. It took me aback a bit for the moment.”
“You were very forbearing. I hope you will not think me intrusive if I tell you how sincerely sorry I am for the misfortune which has come to you.”
Marian lost confidence again, and looked at him in silent distress.
“To be sure,” he interposed, quickly. “I know; but you had put it all out of my head. I am much obliged to you. Not that I am much concerned about it. You will perhaps think it an instance of the depravity of my order, Miss Lind; but I am not one of those people who think it pious to consider their near relatives as if they were outside the natural course of things. I never was a good son or a good brother or a good patriot in the sense of thinking that my mother and my sister and my native country were better than other people’s because I happened to belong to them. I knew what would happen some day, though, as usual, my foreknowledge did not save me from a little emotion when the event came to pass. Besides, to tell you the truth, I dont feel it as a misfortune. You know what my sister’s profession is. You told me how you felt when you saw her act. Now, tell me fairly, and without stopping to think of whether your answer will hurt me, would you consent to know her in private even if you had heard nothing to her disadvantage? Would you invite her to your house, or go to a party at which all the other women were like her? Would you introduce young ladies to her, as you would introduce them to Miss McQuinch? Dont stop to imagine exceptional circumstances which might justify you in doing these things; but tell me yes or no, _would_ you?”
“You see, Mr. Conolly, I should really never have an opportunity of doing them.”
“By your leave, Miss Lind, that means No. Honestly, then, what has Susanna to lose by disregarding your rules of behavior? Even if, by marrying, she conciliated the notions of your class, she would only give some man the right to ill-treat her and spend her earnings, without getting anything in return–and remember there is a special danger of that on the stage, for several reasons. She would not really conciliate you by marrying, for you wouldnt associate with her a bit the more because of her marriage certificate. Of course I am putting her self-respect out of the question, that being a matter between herself and her conscience, with which we have no concern. Believe me, neither actresses nor any other class will trouble themselves about the opinion of a society in which they are allowed to have neither part nor lot. Perhaps I am wrong to talk about such matters to you; but you are trained to feel all the worst that can be felt for my sister; and I feel bound to let you know that there is something to be said in her defence. I have no right to blame her, as she has done me no harm. The only way in which her conduct can influence my prospects will be through her being an undesirable sister-in-law in case I should want to marry.”
“If the person you choose hesitate on that account, you can let her go without regret,” said Marian. “She will not be worthy of your regard.”
“I am not so sure of that,” said Conolly, laughing. “You see, Miss Lind, if that invention of mine succeeds, I may become a noted man; and it is fashionable nowadays for society to patronize geniuses who hit on a new illustration of what people call the marvels of science. I am ambitious. As a celebrity, I might win the affections of a duchess. Who knows?”
“I should not advise you to marry a duchess. I do not know many of them, as I am a comparatively humble person; but I am sure you would not like them.”
“Aye. And possibly a lady of gentle nurture would not like me.”
“On the contrary, clever people are so rare in society that I think you would have a better chance than most men.”
“Do you think my manners would pass? I learnt to dance and bow before I was twelve years old from the most experienced master in Europe; and I used to mix with all the counts, dukes, and queens in my father’s opera company, not to mention the fashionable people I have read about in novels.”
“You are jesting, Mr. Conolly. I do not believe that your manners give you the least real concern.”
“And you think that I may aspire in time–if I am successful in public–to the hand of a lady?”
“Surely you know as much of the world as I. Why should you not marry a lady, if you wish to?”
“I am afraid class prejudice would be too strong for me, after all.”
“I dont think so. What hour is it now, Mr. Conolly?”
“It wants ten minutes of seven.”
“Oh!” cried Marian, rising. “Miss McQuinch is probably wondering whether I am drowned or lost. I must get back to the Hall as fast as I can. They have returned from Bushy Copse before this; and I am sure they are asking about me.”
Conolly rose silently and walked with her as far as the path from the cottage to the laboratory.
“This is my way, Miss Lind,” said he. “I am going to the laboratory. Will you be so kind as to give my respects to Miss McQuinch. I shall not see her again, as I must return to town by the last train to-night.”
“And are you not coming back–not at all, I mean?”
“Not at all.”
“Oh!” said Marian slowly.
“Good bye, Miss Lind.”
He was about to raise his hat as usual; but Marian, with a smile, put out her hand. He took it for the first time; looked at her for a moment gravely; and left her.
Lest they should surprise one another in the act, neither of them looked back at the other as they went their several ways.
In the spring, eighteen months after his daughter’s visit to Carbury Towers, Mr. Reginald Harrington Lind called at a house in Manchester Square and found Mrs. Douglas at home. Sholto’s mother was a widow lady older than Mr. Lind, with a rather glassy eye and shaky hand, who would have looked weak and shiftless in an almshouse, but who, with plenty of money, unlimited domestic service, and unhesitating deference from attendants who were all trained artists in their occupation, made a fair shew of being a dignified and interesting old lady. When he was seated, her first action was to take a new photograph from a little table at her side, and hand it to him without a word, awaiting his recognition of it with a shew of natural pride and affection which was amateurish in comparison to the more polished and skilful comedy with which her visitor took it and pretended to admire it.
“Capital. Capital,” said Mr. Lind. “He must give us one.”
“You dont think that the beard has spoiled him, do you?” said Mrs. Douglas.
“Certainly not: it is an improvement,” said Mr. Lind, decisively. “You are glad to have him back again with you, I dare say. Ah yes, yes” (Mrs. Douglas’s eyes had answered for her). “Did he tell you that he met me? I saw him on Wednesday last for the first time since his return to London. How long was he away?”
“Two years,” she replied, with slow emphasis, as if such an absence were hardly credible. “Two long years. He has been staying in Paris, in Venice, in Florence: a month here, a week there, dissatisfied everywhere. He would have been almost as happy with me at home. And how is Marian?”
“Well,” said Mr. Lind, smiling, “I believe she is still disengaged; and she professes to be fancy free. She is fond of saying, generally, that she will never marry, and so forth. That is the new fashion with young women–if saying what they dont mean can be called a new fashion.”
“Marian is sure to get married,” said Mrs. Douglas. “She must have had offers already. There are few parents who have not cause to envy you.”
“We have both been happy in that respect, Mrs. Douglas. Sholto is a highly distinguished young man. I wish I had started in life with half his advantages. I thought at one time he was perhaps becoming attached to Marian.”
“You are quite sure, Mr. Lind, that you could forgive his being a plain gentleman? A little bird whispered to me that you desired a title for Marian.”
“My dear Mrs. Douglas, we, who are familiar with titles, understand their true value. I should be very sorry to see Marian lose, by an unsuitable alliance, the social position I have been able to give her. I should set my face resolutely against such an alliance. But few English titles can boast a pedigree comparable with Sholto’s. The name of Douglas is historic–far more so than that of Lind, which is not even English except by naturalization. Besides, Sholto’s talents are very remarkable. He will certainly adopt a political career; and, with his opportunities and abilities, a peerage is anything but a remote contingency.”
“Sholto, you know, is perfectly unembarrassed. There is not a charge on his property. I think that even Marian, good as she is, and lovely as she is, will not easily find a better match. But I am well known to be a little crazy about my dear boy. That is because I know him so much better than anyone else does. Now let us talk about other matters. Let me see. Oh yes, I got a prospectus of some company from the city the other day; and whose name should there be upon the list of directors but Reginald Harrington Lind’s! And Lord Carbury’s, too! Pray, is the entire family going into business?”
“Well, I believe the undertaking to be a commercially sound one; and–“
“Fancy _you_ talking about commercial soundness!”
“True. It must sound strange to you. But it is no longer unusual for men in my position to take an active part in the direction of commerce. We have duties as well as privileges. I gave my name and took a few shares chiefly on the recommendation of Jasper and of my own stockbroker. I think there can be no doubt that Jasper and Mr. Conolly have made a very remarkable discovery, and one which must prove highly remunerative and beneficial.”
“What is the discovery? I did not quite understand the prospectus.”
“Well, it is called the Conolly Electro-motor.”
“Yes, I know that.”
“And it–it turns all sorts of machinery. I cannot explain it scientifically to you: you would not understand me. But it is, in short, a method of driving machinery by electricity at a less cost than by steam. It is connected in principle with the conservation of energy and other technical matters. You must come and see the machinery at work some day.”
“I must, indeed. And is it true that Mr. Conolly was a common working man?”
“Yes, a practical man, undoubtedly, but highly educated. He speaks French and Italian fluently, and is a remarkable musician. Altogether a man of very superior attainments, and by no means deficient in culture.”
“Dear me! Jasper told me something of that sort about him; but Lady Carbury gave him a very different character. She assured me that he was sprung from the dregs of the people, and that she had a great deal of trouble to teach him his proper place. Still, we know that she is not very particular as to what she says when she dislikes people. Yet she ought to know; for he was Jasper’s laboratory servant–at least so she said.”
“Oh, surely not a servant. Jasper never regarded him in that light. The Countess disapproves of Jasper’s scientific pursuits, and sets her face against all who encourage him in them. However, I really know nothing about Mr. Conolly’s antecedents. His manner when he appears at our board meetings is quiet and not unpleasant. Marian, it appears, met him at Towers Cottage the year before last, and had some scientific lessons from him. He was quite unknown then. It was rather a curious coincidence. I did not know of it until about a month ago, when he read a paper at the Society of Arts on his invention. I attended the meeting with Marian; and when it was over, I introduced him to her, and was surprised to learn that they knew one another already. He told me afterward that Marian had shewn an unusual degree of cleverness in studying electricity, and that she greatly interested him at the time.”
“No doubt. Marian interests everybody; and even great discoverers, when they are young, are only human.”
“Ah! Perhaps so. But she must have shewn some ability or she would never have elicited a remark from him. He is full of his business.”
“And what is the latest news of the family scamp?”
“Do you mean my Reginald?”
“Dear me, no! What a shame to call poor Reggy a scamp! I mean young Marmaduke, of course. Is it true that he has a daughter now?”
“Oh yes. Perfectly true.”
“The reprobate! And he was always such a pleasant fellow.”
“Yes; but he is annoyingly inconsiderate. About a fortnight ago, Marian and Elinor went to Putney to a private view at Mr. Scott’s studio. On their way back they saw Marmaduke on the river, and, rather unnecessarily, I think, entered into conversation with him. He begged them to come to Hammersmith in his boat, saying that he had something there to shew them. Elinor, it appears, had the sense to ask whether it was anything they ought not to see; but he replied on his honor that it was something perfectly innocent, and promised that they should be delighted with it. So they foolishly consented, and went with him to Hammersmith, where they left the river and walked some distance with him. He left them in a road somewhere in West Kensington, and came back after about fifteen minutes with a little girl. He actually presented her to Marian and Elinor as a member of the family whom they, as a matter of course, would like to know.”
“Well, _such_ a thing to do! And what happened?”
“Marian seems to have thought of nothing but the prettiness of the unhappy child. She gravely informed me that she forgave Marmaduke everything when she saw how he doted on it. Elinor has always shewn a disposition to defend him—-“
“She is full of perversity, and always was.”
“—-and this incident did not damage his credit with _her_. However, after the little waif had been sufficiently petted and praised to gratify Master Marmaduke’s paternal feelings, they came home, and, instead of holding their tongues, began to tell all our people what a dear little child Marmaduke had, and how they considered that it ought not to be made to suffer for his follies. In fact, I think they would have adopted it, if I had allowed them.”
“That is Marian all over. Some of her ideas will serve her very well when she goes to heaven; but they will get her into scrapes in this wicked world if you do not take care of her.”
“I fear so. For that reason I tolerate a degree of cynicism in Elinor’s character which would otherwise be most disagreeable to me. It is often useful in correcting Marian’s extravagances. Unfortunately, the incident at Hammersmith did not pass off without making mischief. It happens that my sister Julia is interested in a Home for foundling girls–a semi-private place, where a dozen children are trained as domestic servants.”
“Yes. I have been through it. It is very neat and pretty; but they really treat the poor girls as if they ought to be thankful for permission to exist. Their dresses are so ugly!”
“Possibly. I assure you that presentations are much sought after, and are very difficult to get. Julia is a patroness. Marian told her about this child of Marmaduke’s; and it happened that a vacancy had just occurred at the Home in consequence of one of the girls dying of melancholia and spinal affection. Julia, who has perhaps more piety than tact, wrote to Marmaduke offering to present his daughter, and expatiating on the advantages of the Home to the poor little lost one. In her desire to reclaim Marmaduke also, she entrusted the letter to George, who undertook to deliver it, and further Julia’s project by personal persuasion. George described the interview to me, and shewed me, I am sorry to say, how much downright ferocity may exist beneath an apparently frank, jovial, reckless exterior like Marmaduke’s.”
“Well, I hardly wonder at his refusing. Of course, he might have known that the motive of the offer was a kind one.”
“Refused! A gentleman can always refuse an offer with dignity. Marmaduke was outrageous. George–a clergyman–owed his escape from actual violence to the interference of the woman, and to a timely representation that he had undertaken to bear the message in order to soften any angry feelings that it might give rise to. Marmaduke repeatedly applied foul language to his aunt and to her offer; and George with great difficulty dissuaded him from writing a most offensive letter to her. Julia was so hurt by this that she complained to Dora–Marmaduke’s mother–who had up to that time been kept in ignorance of his doings; and now it is hard to say where the mischief will end. Dora is overwhelmed by the revelation of the life her son is leading. Marmaduke has consequently forfeited his father’s countenance, which had to be extended to him so far as to allow of his occasional appearance at home, in order to keep Dora in the dark. Now that she is enlightened, of course there is an end of all that, and he is forbidden the house.”
“What a lot of mischief! Dear me!”
“So I said to Marian. Had she refused to go up the river with Marmaduke, as she should have done, all this would not have occurred. She will not see it in that light, but lays all the blame on her aunt Julia, whose offer fell somewhat short of her own notions of providing for the child’s future.”
“How does Marmaduke stand with respect to money? I suppose his father has stopped his allowance.”
“No. He threatened to do it, and went so far as to make his solicitor write to that effect to Marmaduke, who had the consummate impudence to reply that he should in that case be compelled to provide for himself by contracting a marriage of which he could not expect his family to approve. Still, he added, if the family chose to sever their connexion with him, they could not expect him to consult their feelings in his future disposal of himself. In plain English, he threatened to marry this woman if his income was cut off. He carried his point, too; for no alteration has been made in his allowance. Indeed, as he has money of his own, and as part of the property is entailed, it would be easier to irritate him uselessly than to subject him to any material deprivation.”
“The young scamp! I wonder he was clever enough to take advantage like that.”
“He has shewn no lack of acuteness of late. I suspect he is under shrewd guidance.”
“Have you ever seen the–the guidance?”
“Not in person. I seldom enter a theatre now. But I am of course familiar with her appearance from the photographic portraits of her. They are in all the shop windows.”
“Yes. I think I have noticed them.”
“And now, Mrs. Douglas, I fear I have paid you a very long visit.”
“Why dont you come oftener?”
“I wish I could find time. I have not so much leisure for enjoyment as I used.”
“I am not so sure of that. But we are always glad to have a chat with one another, I know. We are agreed about the dear children, I think?”
“Cordially. Cordially. Good-bye.”
On the morning of the first Friday in May Marian received this letter:
“Uxbridge Road, Holland Park, W.
“DEAR MISS LIND: I must begin by explaining why I make this communication to you by letter instead of orally. It is because I am about to ask you to do me a favor. If you asked me to do anything for you, then, no matter how much my judgment might protest against my compliance, I could not without pain to myself refuse you face to face. I have no right to assume that your heart would plead on my behalf against your head in this fashion; but, on the other hand–the wish is father to the thought here–I have no right to assume that it would not. Therefore, to spare you all influences except the fair ones of your own interest and inclination, I make my proposal in writing. You will please put the usual construction on the word ‘proposal.’ What I desire is your consent to marry me. If your first impulse now is to refuse, I beg you to do so in plain terms at once, and destroy this letter without reading further. If you think, on the contrary, that we could achieve a future as pleasant as our past association has been–to me at least, here is what, as I think, you have to consider.
“You are a lady, rich, well-born, beautiful, loved by many persons besides myself, too happily circumstanced to have any pressing inducement to change your condition, and too fortunately endowed in every way to have reason to anticipate the least difficulty in changing it to the greatest worldly advantage when you please.
“What I am and have been, you know. I may estrange from you some of the society which you enjoy, and I can introduce you to none that would compensate you for the loss. I am what you call poor: my income at present does not amount to much more than fifteen hundred pounds; and I should not ask you to marry me if it were not that your own inheritance is sufficient, as I have ascertained, to provide for you in case of my early death. You know how my sister is situated; how your family are likely to feel toward me on her account and my own; and how impatient I am of devoting much time to what is fashionably supposed to be pleasure. On the other hand, as I am bidding for a consent and not for a refusal, I hope you will not take my disadvantages for more, or my advantages for less, than they are honestly worth. At Carbury Park you often said that you would never marry; and I have said the same myself. So, as we neither of us overrate the possibilities of happiness in marriage, perhaps we might, if you would be a little forbearing with me, succeed in proving that we have greatly underrated them. As for the prudence of the step, I have seen and practised too much prudence to believe that it is worth much as a rule of conduct in a world of accidents. If there were a science of life as there is one of mechanics, we could plan our lives scientifically and run no risks; but as it is, we must–together or apart–take our chance: cautiousness and recklessness divide the great stock of regrets pretty equally.
“Perhaps you will wonder at my selfishness in wanting you, for my own good, to forfeit your present happy independence among your friends, and involve your fortunes with those of a man whom you have only seen on occasions when ceremony compelled him to observe his best behavior. I can only excuse myself by reminding you that no matter whom you marry, you must do so at the same disadvantages, except as to the approval of your friends, of which the value is for you to consider. That being so, why should I not profit by your hazard as well as another? Besides, there are many other feelings impelling me. I should like to describe them to you, and would if I understood them well enough to do it accurately.
“However, nothing is further from my intention than to indite a love letter; so I will return to graver questions. One, in particular, must be clearly understood between us. You are too earnest to consider an allusion to religious matters out of place here. I do not know exactly what you believe; but I have gathered from stray remarks of yours that you belong to what is called the Broad Church. If so, we must to some extent agree to differ. I should never interfere in any way with your liberty as far as your actions concerned yourself only. But, frankly, I should not permit my wife to teach my children to know Christianity in any other way than that in which an educated Englishman knows Buddhism. I will not go through any ceremony whatever in a church, or enter one except to play the organ. I am prejudiced against religions of all sorts. The Church has made itself the natural enemy of the theatre; and I was brought up in the theatre until I became a poor workman earning wages, when I found the Church always taking part against me and my comrades with the rich who did no work. If the Church had never set itself against me, perhaps I should never have set myself against the Church; but what is done is done: you will find me irreligious, but not, I hope, unreasonable.
“I will be at the Academy to-morrow at about four o’clock, as I do not care to remain longer in suspense than is absolutely necessary; but if you are not prepared to meet me then, I shall faithfully help you in any effort I may perceive you make to avoid me.
“I am, dear Miss Lind,
This letter conveyed to Marian hardly one of the considerations set forth in it. She thought it a frank, strong, admirable letter, just what she should have hoped from her highest estimate of him. In the quaint earnestness about religion, and the exaggerated estimate (as she thought) of the advantages which she might forfeit by marrying him, there was just enough of the workman to make them characteristic. She wished that she could make some real sacrifice for his sake. She was afraid to realize her situation at first, and, to keep it off, occupied herself during the forenoon with her household duties, with some pianoforte practice, and such other triflings as she could persuade herself were necessary. At last she quite suddenly became impatient of further delay. She sat down in a nook behind the window curtain, and re-read the letter resolutely. It disappointed her a little, so she read it again. The third time she liked it better than the first; and she would have gone through it yet again but for the arrival of Mrs. Leith Fairfax, with whom they had arranged to go to Burlington House.
“It is really a tax on me, this first day at the Academy,” said Mrs. Fairfax, when they were at luncheon. “I have been there at the press view, besides seeing all the pictures long ago in the studios. But, of course, I am expected to be there.”
“If I were in your place,” said Elinor, “I—-“
“Last night,” continued Mrs. Fairfax, deliberately ignoring her, “I was not in bed until half-past two o’clock. On the night before, I was up until five. On Tuesday I did not go to bed at all.”
“Why do you do such things?” said Marian.
“My dear, I _must_. John Metcalf, the publisher, came to me on Tuesday at three o’clock, and said he must have an article on the mango experiments at Kew ready for the printer before ten next morning. For his paper, the _Fortnightly Naturalist_, you know. ‘My dear John Metcalf,’ I said, ‘I dont know what a mango is.’ ‘No more do I, Mrs. Leith Fairfax,’ said he: ‘I think it’s something that blooms only once in a hundred years. No matter what it is, you must let me have the article. Nobody else can do it.’ I told him it was impossible. My London letter for the _Hari Kari_ was not even begun; and the last post to catch the mail to Japan was at a quarter-past six in the morning. I had an article to write for your father, too. And, as the sun had been shining all day, I was almost distracted with hay fever. ‘If you were to go down on your knees,’ I said, ‘I could not find time to read up the _flora_ of the West Indies and finish an article before morning.’ He went down on his knees. ‘Now Mrs. Leith Fairfax,’ said he, ‘I am going to stay here until you promise.’ What could I do but promise and get rid of him? I did it, too: how, I dont know; but I did it. John Metcalf told me yesterday that Sir James Hooker, the president of the Society for Naturalizing the Bread Fruit Tree in Britain, and the greatest living authority on the subject, has got the credit of having written my article.”
“How flattered he must feel!” said Elinor.
“What article had you to write for papa?” said Marian.
“On the electro-motor–the Conolly electro-motor. I went down to the City on Wednesday, and saw it working. It is most wonderful, and very interesting. Mr. Conolly explained it to me himself. I was able to follow every step that his mind has made in inventing it. I remember him as a common workman. He fitted the electric bell in my study four years ago with his own hands. You may remember that we met him at a concert once. He is a thorough man of business. The Company is making upward of fifty pounds an hour by the motor at present; and they expect their receipts to be a thousand a day next year. My article will be in the _Dynamic Statistician_ next week. Have you seen Sholto Douglas since he came back from the continent?”
“I want to see him. When you meet him next, tell him to call on me. Why has he not been here? Surely you are not keeping up your old quarrel?”
“What old quarrel?”
“I always understood that he went abroad on your account.”
“I never quarreled with him. Perhaps he did with me, as he has not come to see us since his return. It used to be so easy to offend him that his retirement in good temper after a visit was quite exceptional.”
“Come, come, my dear child! that is all nonsense. You must be kind to the poor fellow. Perhaps he will be at the Academy.”
“I hope not,” said Marian, quickly.
“I mean if he cherishes any grudge against me; for he will be very disagreeable.”
“A grudge against you! Ah, Marian, how little you understand him! What perverse creatures all you young people are! I must bring about an _eclaircissement_.”
“I advise you not to,” said Elinor. “If you succeed, no one will admit that you have done anything; and if you fail, everybody will blame you.”
“But there is nothing to be _eclairci_,” said Marian. We are talking nonsense, which is silly—-“
“And French, which is vulgar,” interposed Miss McQuinch, delivering the remark like a pistol shot at Mrs. Fairfax, who had been trying to convey by facial expression that she pitied the folly of Elinor’s advice, and was scandalized by her presumption in offering it. “It is time to start for the Academy.”
When they arrived at Burlington House, Mrs. Fairfax put on her gold rimmed spectacles, and led the way up the stairs like one having important business in a place to which others came for pleasure. When they had passed the turnstiles, Elinor halted, and said:
“There is no sort of reason for our pushing through this crowd in a gang of three. Besides, I want to look at the pictures, and not after you to see which way you go. I shall meet you here at six o’clock, sharp. Good-bye.”
“What an extraordinary girl!” said Mrs. Fairfax, as Elinor opened her catalogue at the end, and suddenly disappeared to the right amongst the crowd.
“She always does so,” said Marian; “and I think she is quite right. Two people cannot make their way about as easily as one; and they never want to see the same pictures.”
“But, my dear, consider the impropriety of a young girl walking about by herself.”
“Surely there is no impropriety in it. Lots of people–all sensible women do it. Who can tell, in this crowd, whether you are by yourself or not? And what does it matter if—-“
Here Mrs. Fairfax’s attention was diverted by the approach of one of her numerous acquaintances. Marian, after a moment’s indecision, slipped away and began her tour of the rooms alone, passing quickly through the first in order to escape pursuit. In the second she tried to look at the pictures; but as she now for the first time realized that she might meet Conolly at any moment, doubt as to what answer she should give him seized her; and she felt a strong impulse to fly. The pictures were unintelligible to her: she kept her face turned to the inharmonious shew of paint and gilding only because she shrank from looking at the people about. Whenever she stood still, and any man approached and remained near her, she contemplated the wall fixedly, and did not dare to look round or even to stir until he moved away, lest he should be Conolly. When she passed from the second room to the large one, she felt as though she were making a tremendous plunge; and indeed the catastrophe occurred before she had accomplished the movement, for she came suddenly face to face with him in the doorway. He did not flinch: he raised his hat, and prepared to pass on. She involuntarily put out her hand in remonstrance. He took it as a gift at once; and she, confused, said anxiously: “We must not stand in the doorway. The people cannot pass us,” as if her action had meant nothing more than an attempt to draw him out of the way. Then, perceiving the absurdity of this pretence, she was quite lost for a moment. When she recovered her self-possession they were standing together in the less thronged space near a bust of the Queen; and Conolly was saying:
“I have been here half an hour; and I have not seen a single picture.”
“Nor I,” she said timidly, looking down at her catalogue. “Shall we try to see some now?”
He opened his catalogue; and they turned together toward the pictures and were soon discussing them sedulously, as if they wished to shut out the subject of the very recent crisis in their affairs, which was nevertheless constantly present in their minds. Marian was saluted by many acquaintances. At each encounter she made an effort to appear unconcerned, and suffered immediately afterward from a suspicion that the effort had defeated its own object, as such efforts often do. Conolly had something to say about most of the pictures: generally an unanswerable objection to some historical or technical inaccuracy, which sometimes convinced her, and always impressed her with a confiding sense of ignorance in herself and infallible judgment in him.
“I think we have done enough for one day,” she said at last. “The watercolors and the sculpture must wait until next time.”
“We had better watch for a vacant seat. You must be tired.”
“I am, a little. I think I should like to sit in some other room. Mrs. Leith Fairfax is over there with Mr. Douglas–a gentleman whom I know and would rather not meet just now. You saw him at Wandsworth.”
“Yes. That tall man? He has let his beard grow since.”
“That is he. Let us go to the room where the drawings are: we shall have a better chance of a seat there. I have not seen Sholto for two years; and our last meeting was rather a stormy one.”
Marian was a little hurt by being questioned. She missed the reticence of a gentleman. Then she reproached herself for not understanding that his frank curiosity was a delicate appeal to her confidence in him, and answered: “He proposed to me.”
Conolly immediately dropped the subject, and went in search of a vacant seat. They found one in the little room where the architects’ drawings languish. They were silent for some time.
Then he began, seriously: “Is it too soon to call you by your own name? ‘Miss Lind’ is distant; but ‘Marian’ might shock you if it came too confidently without preparation.”
“Whichever you please.”
“Whichever I please!”
“That is the worst of being a woman. Little speeches that are sheer coquetry when you analyze them, come to our lips and escape even when we are most anxious to be straightforward.”
“In the same way,” said Conolly, “the most enlightened men often express themselves in a purely conventional manner on subjects on which they have the deepest convictions.” This sententious utterance had the effect of extinguishing the conversation for some moments, Marian being unable to think of a worthy rejoinder. At last she said:
“What is your name?”
“Edward, or, familiarly, Ned. Commonly Ted. In America, Ed. With, of course, the diminutives Neddy, Teddy, and Eddy.”
“I think I should prefer Ned.”
“I prefer Ned myself.”
“Have you any other name?”
“Yes; but it is a secret. Why people should be plagued with two Christian names, I do not know. No one would have believed in the motor if they had known that my name was Sebastian.”
“Hush. I was actually christened Edoardo Sebastiano Conolly. My father used to spell his name Conollj whilst he was out of Italy. I have frustrated the bounty of my godfathers by suppressing all but the sensible Edward Conolly.”
There was a pause. Then Marian spoke.
“Do you intend to make our–our engagement known at once?”
“I have considered the point; and as you are the person likely to be inconvenienced by its publication, I am bound to let you conceal it for the present, if you wish to. It must transpire sometime: the sooner the better. You will feel uncomfortably deceitful with such a secret; and as for me, every time your father greets me cordially in the City I shall feel mean. However, you can watch for your opportunity. Let me know at once when the cat comes out of the bag.”
“I will. I think, as you say, the right course is to tell at once.”
“Undoubtedly. But from the moment you do so until we are married you will be worried by remonstrances, entreaties, threats, and what not; so that we cannot possibly make that interval too short.”
“We must take Nelly into our confidence. You will not object to that?”
“Certainly not. I like Miss McQuinch.”
“You really do! Oh, I am so glad. Well, we are accustomed to go about together, especially to picture galleries. We can come to the Academy as often as we like; and you can come as often as you like, can you not?”
“Opening day, for instance.”
“Yes, if you wish.”
“Let us say between half-past four and five, then. I would willingly be here when the doors open in the morning; but my business will not do itself while I am philandering and making you tired of me before your time. The consciousness of having done a day’s work is necessary to my complete happiness.”
“I, too, have my day’s work to do, silly as it is. I have to housekeep, to receive visitors, to write notes about nothing, and to think of the future. We can say half-past four or any later hour that may suit you.”
“Agreed. And now, Marian—-“
“Dont let me disturb you,” said Miss McQuinch, at his elbow, to Marian; “but Mrs. Leith Fairfax will be here with Sholto Douglas presently; and I thought you might like to have an opportunity of avoiding him. How do you do, Mr. Conolly?”
“I must see him sooner or later,” said Marian, rising. “Better face him at once and get it over. I will go back by myself and meet them.” Then, with a smile at Conolly, she went out through the door leading to the water-color gallery.
“Marian does not stand on much ceremony with you, Mr. Conolly,” said Miss McQuinch, glancing at him.
“No,” said Conolly. “Do you think you could face the Academy again on Monday at half-past four?”
“Miss Lind is coming to meet me here at that hour.”
“Precisely. Marian. She has promised to marry me. At present it is a secret. But it was to be mentioned to you.”
“It will not be a secret very long if you allow people to overhear you calling her by her Christian name in the middle of the Academy, as you did me just now,” said Elinor, privately much taken aback, but resolute not to appear so.
“Did you overhear us? I should have been more careful. You do not seem surprised.”
“Just a little, at your audacity. Not in the least at Marian’s consenting.”
“I did not mean it in that way at all,” said Elinor resentfully. “I think you have been very fortunate, as I suppose you would have married somebody in any case. I believe you are able to appreciate her. That’s a compliment.”
“Yes. I hope I deserve it. Do you think you will ever forgive me for supplanting the hero Marian deserves?”
“If you had let your chance of her slip, I should have despised you, I think: at least, I should if you had missed it with your eyes open. I am so far prejudiced in your favor that I think Marian would not like you unless you were good. I have known her to pity people who deserved to be strangled; but I never knew her to be attracted by any unworthy person except myself; and even I have my good points. You need not trouble yourself to agree with me: you could not do less, in common politeness. As I am rather tired, I shall go and sit in the vestibule until the others are ready to go home. In the meantime you can tell me all the particulars you care to trust me with. Marian will tell me the rest when we go home.”
“That is an undeserved stab,” said Conolly.
“Never mind: I am always stabbing people. I suppose I like it,” she added, as they went together to the vestibule.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Leith Fairfax had not been wasting her time. She had come upon Douglas in the large room, and had recognized him by his stature and proud bearing, in spite of the handsome Assyrian beard he had allowed to grow during his stay abroad.
“I have been very anxious to see you,” said she, forcing a conversation upon him, though he had saluted her formally, and had evidently intended to pass on without speaking. “If your time were not too valuable to be devoted to a poor hard-working woman, I should have asked you to call on me. Dont deprecate my forbearance. You are Somebody in the literary world now.”
“Indeed? I was not aware that I had done anything to raise me from obscurity.”
“I assure you you are very much mistaken, or else very modest. Has no one told you about the effect your book produced here?”
“I know nothing of it, Mrs. Leith Fairfax. I never enquire after the effect of my work. I have lived in comparative seclusion; and I scarcely know what collection of fugitive notes of mine you honor by describing as a book.”
“I mean your ‘Note on three pictures in last year’s _Salon_,’ with the sonnets, and the fragment from your unfinished drama. Is it finished, may I ask?”
“It is not finished. I shall never finish it now.”
“I will tell you–between ourselves–that I heard one of the foremost critics of the age say, in the presence of a great poet (whom we both know), that it was such another fragment as the Venus of Milo, ‘whose lost arms,’ said he, ‘we should fear to see, lest they should be unworthy of her.’ ‘You are right,’ said the poet: ‘I, for one, should shudder to see the fragment completed.’ That is a positive fact. But look at some of the sonnets! Burgraves says that his collection of English sonnets is incomplete because it does not contain your ‘Clytemnestra,’ which he had not seen when his book went to press. You stand in the very forefront of literature–far higher than I, who am–dont tell anybody–five years older than you.”
“You are very good. I do not value any distinction of the sort. I write sometimes because, I suppose, the things that are in me must come out, whether I will or not. Let us talk of something else. You are quite well I hope?”
“Very far from it. I am never well; but since I never have a moment’s rest from work, I must bear with it. People expect me to think, when I have hardly time to eat.”
“If you have no time to think, I envy you. But I am truly sorry that your health remains so bad.”
“Thank you. But what is the cause of all this gloomy cynicism, Mr. Douglas? Why should you, who are young, distinguished, gifted, and already famous, envy me for having no leisure to think?”
“You exaggerate the sadness of my unfortunate insensibility to the admiration of the crowd,” said Douglas, coldly. “I am, nevertheless, flattered by the interest you take in my affairs.”
“You need not be, Mr. Douglas,” said Mrs. Fairfax, earnestly, fearing that he would presently succeed in rebuffing her. “I think you are much better off than you deserve. You may despise your reputation as much as you like: that only affects yourself. But when a beautiful girl pays you the compliment of almost dying of love for you, I think you ought to buy a wedding-ring and jump for joy, instead of sulking in remote corners of the continent.”
“And pray, Mrs. Leith Fairfax, what lady has so honored me?”
“You must know, unless you are blind.”
“Pardon me. I do not habitually imply what is not the case. I beg you to believe that I do _not_ know.”
“Not know! What moles men are! Poor Marian!”
“Oblige me by taking this seat,” said Douglas, sternly, pointing to one just vacated. “I shall not detain you many minutes,” he added, sitting down beside her. “May I understand that Miss Lind is the lady of whom you spoke just now?”
“Yes. Remember that I am speaking to you as a friend, and that I trust to you not to mention the effort I am making to clear up the misunderstanding which causes her so much unhappiness.”
“Are you then in Miss Lind’s confidence? Did she ask you to tell me this?”
“What do you mean, Mr. Douglas?”
“I am quite innocent of any desire to shock or offend you, Mrs. Leith Fairfax. Does your question imply a negative?”
“Most certainly. Marian ask me to tell! you must be dreaming. Do you think, even if Marian were capable of making an advance, that _I_ would consent to act as a go-between? Really, Mr. Douglas!”
“I confess I do not understand these matters; and you must bear with my ineptitude. If Miss Lind entertains any sentiment for me but one of mistrust and aversion, her behavior is singularly misleading.”
“Mistrust! Aversion! I tell you she is in love with you.”
“But you have not, you admit, her authority for saying so, whereas I _have_ her authority for the contrary.”
“You do not understand girls. You are mistaken.”
“Possibly; but you must pardon me if I hesitate to set aside my own judgment in deference to your low estimate of it.”
“Very well,” said Mrs. Fairfax, her patience yielding a little to his persistent stiffness: “be it so. Many men would be glad to beg what you will not be bribed to accept.”
“No doubt. I trust that when they so humble themselves they may not encounter a flippant repulse.”
“If they do, it will spring from her unmerited regard for you.”
He bowed slightly, and turned away, arranging his gloves as if about to rise.
“Pray what is that large picture which is skied over there to the right?” said Mrs. Fairfax, after a pause, during which she had feigned to examine her catalogue. “I cannot see the number at this distance.”
“Do you defend her conduct on the ground of that senseless and cruel caprice which your sex seem to consider becoming to them; or has she changed her mind in my absence?”
“Oh! you are talking of Marian. I do not know what you have to complain of in her conduct. Mind, she has never breathed a word to me on the subject. I am quite ignorant of the details of your difference with her. But she has confessed to me that she is very sorry for what passed–I am abusing her confidence by telling you so–and I am a woman, with eyes and brains, and know what the poor girl feels well enough. I will tell you nothing more: I have no right to; and Marian would be indignant if she knew how much I have said already. But I know what I should do were I in your place.”
“Expose myself to another refusal, perhaps?”
Mrs. Fairfax, learning now for the first time that he had actually proposed to Marian, looked at him for some moments in silence with a smile which was assumed to cover her surprise. He thought it expressed incredulity at the idea of his being refused again.
“Are you sure?” he began, speaking courteously to her for the first time. “May I rely upon the accuracy of your impressions on this subject? I know you are incapable of trifling in a matter which might expose me to humiliation; but can you give me any guarantee–any–“
“Certainly not, Mr. Douglas. I am really sorry that I cannot give you a written undertaking that your suit shall succeed: perhaps that might encourage you to brave the scorn of a poor child who adores you. But if you need so much encouragement, I fear you do not greatly relish the prospect of success. Doubtless it has already struck her that since you found absence from her very bearable for two years, and have avoided meeting her on your return, her society cannot be very important to your happiness.”
“But it was her own fault. If she accuses me of having gone away to enjoy myself, her thoughts are a bitter sarcasm on the truth.”
“Granted that it was her own fault, if you please. But surely you have punished her enough by your long seclusion, and can afford to shew a tardy magnanimity by this time. There she is, I think, just come in at the door on the left. My sight is so wretched. Is it not she?”
“Then let us get up and speak to her. Come.”
“You must excuse me, Mrs. Leith Fairfax. I have distinctly given her my word that I will not intrude upon her again.”
“Dont be so foolish.”
Douglas’s face clouded. “You are privileged to say so,” he said.
“Not at all,” said Mrs. Fairfax, frightened. “But when I think of Marian, I feel like an old woman, and venture to remonstrate with all the presumption of age. I beg your pardon.”
He bowed. Then Marian joined them, and Mrs. Fairfax again gave tongue.
“Where have you been?” she cried. “You vanished from my side like a sprite. I have been searching for you ever since.”
“I have been looking at the pictures, of course. I am so glad you have come back, Sholto. I think you might have made time to pay us a visit before this. You look so strong and well! Your beard is a great improvement. Have you met Nelly?”
“I think we saw her at some distance,” said Douglas. “I have not been speaking to her.”
“How did you enjoy yourself while you were away?”
“As best I could.”
“You look as if you had succeeded very fairly. What o’clock is it? Remember that we have to meet Nelly at the turnstiles at six.”
“It is five minutes to six now, Miss Lind.”
“Thank you, Mr. Douglas. We had better go, I think.”
As they left the room, Mrs. Fairfax purposely lingered behind them.
“Am I right in concluding that you are as frivolous as ever, Marian?” he said.
“Quite,” she replied. “To-day especially so. I am very happy to-day.”
“May I ask why?”
“Something has happened. I will tell you what it is some day perhaps, but not now. Something that realizes a romantic dream of mine. The dream has been hovering vaguely about me for nearly two years; but I never ventured to teach myself exactly what it was until to-day.”
“Realized here? in the Academy?”
“It was foreshadowed–promised, at home this morning; but it was realized here.”
“Did you know beforehand that I was coming?”
“Not until to-day. Mrs. Leith Fairfax said that you would most likely be here.”
“And you are happy?”
“So much so that I cannot help talking about my happiness to you, who are the very last person–as you will admit when everything is explained–to whom I should unlock my lips on the subject.”
“And why? Am I not interested in your happiness?”
“I suppose so. I hope so. But when you learn the truth, you will be more astonished than gratified.”
“I dare swear that you are mistaken. Is this dream of yours an affair of the heart?”
“Now you are beginning to ask questions.”
“Well, I will ask no more at present. But if you fear that my long absence has rendered me indifferent in the least degree to your happiness, you do me a great injustice.”
“Well, you were not in a very good humor with me when you went away.”
“I will forget that if you wish me to.”
“I do wish you to forget it. And you forgive me?”
“Then we are the best friends in the world again. This is a great deal better than meeting and pretending to ignore the very thing of which our minds are full. You will not delay visiting us any longer now, I hope.”
“I will call on your father to-morrow morning. May I?”
“He is out of town until Monday. He will be delighted to see you then. He has been talking to me about you a great deal of late. But if you want to see him in the morning you had better go to the club. I will write to him to-night if you like; so that he can write to you and make an appointment.”
“Do. Ah, Marian, instinct is better and truer than intellect. I have been for two years trying to believe all kinds of evil of you; and yet I knew all the time that you were an angel.”
Marian laughed. “I suppose that under our good understanding I must let you say pretty things to me. You must write me a sonnet before your enthusiasm evaporates. I am sure I deserve it as well as Clytemnestra.”
“I will. But I fear I shall tear it up for its unworthiness afterward.”
“Dont: I am not a critic. Talking of critics, where has Mrs. Leith Fairfax gone to? Oh, there she is!”
Mrs. Fairfax came up when she saw Marian look round for her. “My dear,” she said: “it is past six. We must go. Elinor may be waiting for us.”
They found Elinor seated in the vestibule with Conolly, at whom Mrs. Fairfax plunged, full of words. Conolly and Douglas, introduced to one another by Marian, gravely raised their hats. When they had descended the stairs, they stood in a group near one of the doors whilst Conolly went aside to get their umbrellas. Just then Marmaduke Lind entered the building, and halted in surprise at finding himself among so many acquaintances.
“Hallo!” he cried, seizing Douglas’s hand, and attracting the attention of the bystanders by his boisterous tone. “Here you are again, old man! Delighted to see you. Didnt spot you at first, in the beard. George told me you were back. I met your mother in Knightsbridge last Thursday; but she pretended not to see me. How have you enjoyed yourself abroad, eh? Very much in the old style, I suppose?”
“Thank you,” said Douglas. “I trust your people are quite well.”
“Hang me if I know!” said Marmaduke. “I have not troubled them much of late. How d’ye do, Mrs. Leith Fairfax? How are all the celebrities?” Mrs. Fairfax bowed coldly.
“Dont roar so, Marmaduke,” said Marian. “Everybody is looking at you.”
“Everybody is welcome,” said Marmaduke, loudly. “Douglas: you must come and see me. By Jove, now that I think of it, come and see me, all of you. I am by myself on week-nights from six to twelve; and I should enjoy a housewarming. If Mrs. Leith Fairfax comes, it will be all proper and right. Let us have a regular party.”
Mrs. Fairfax looked indignantly at him. Elinor looked round anxiously for Conolly. Marian, struck with the same fear, moved toward the door.
“Here, Marmaduke,” she said, offering him her hand. “Good-bye. You are in one of your outrageous humors this afternoon.”
“What am I doing?” he replied. “I am behaving myself perfectly. Let us settle about the party before we go.”
“Good evening, Mr. Lind,” said Conolly, coming up to them with the umbrellas. “This is yours, I think, Mrs. Leith Fairfax.”
“Good evening,” said Marmaduke, subsiding. “I—-Well, you are all off, are you?”
“Quite time for us, I think,” said Elinor. “Good-bye.”
Mrs. Fairfax, with a second and more distant bow, passed out with Conolly and Douglas. Elinor waited a moment to whisper to Marmaduke.
“First rate,” said Marmaduke, in reply to the whisper; “and beginning to talk like one o’clock. Oh yes, I tell you!” He shook Elinor’s hand at such length in his gratitude for the inquiry that she was much relieved when a servant in livery interrupted him.
“Missus wants to speak to you, sir, afore she goes,” said the man.
Elinor shook her head at Marmaduke, and hurried away to rejoin the rest outside. As they went through the courtyard, they passed an open carriage, in which reclined a pretty woman with dark eyes and delicate artificial complexion. Her beauty and the elegance of her dress attracted their attention. Suddenly Marian became aware that Conolly was watching her as she looked at the woman in the carriage. She was about to say something, when, to her bewilderment, Elinor nudged her. Then she understood too, and looked solemnly at Susanna. Susanna, observing her, stared insolently in return, and Marian averted her head like a guilty person and hurried on. Conolly saw it all, and did not speak until they rejoined Mrs. Fairfax and Douglas in Piccadilly.
“How do you propose to go home?” said Douglas.
“Walk to St. James’s Street, where the carriage is waiting at the club; take Uncle Reginald with us; and drive home through the park,” said Elinor.
“I will come with you as far as the club, if you will allow me,” said Douglas.
Conolly then took leave of them, and stood still until they disappeared, when he returned to the courtyard, and went up to his sister’s carriage.
“Well, Susanna,” said he. “How are you?”
“Oh, there’s nothing the matter with me,” she replied carelessly, her eyes filling with tears, nevertheless.
“I hear that I have been an uncle for some time past.”
“Yes, on the wrong side of the blanket.”
“What is its name?” he said more gravely.
“Is it quite well?”
“I suppose not. According to Nurse, it is always ill.”
Conolly shrugged his shoulders, and relapsed into the cynical manner in which he had used to talk with his sister. “Tired of it already?” he said. “Poor little wretch!”
“It is very well off,” she retorted, angrily: “a precious deal better than I was at its age. It gets petting enough from its father, heaven knows! He has nothing else to do. I have to work.”
“You have it all your own way at the theatre now, I suppose. You are quite famous.”
“Yes,” she said, bitterly. “We are both celebrities. Rather different from old times.”
“We certainly used to get more kicks than halfpence. However, let us hope all that is over now.”
“Who were those women who were with you a minute ago?”
“Cousins of Lind. Miss Marian Lind and Miss McQuinch.”
“I remember. She is pretty. I suppose, as usual, she hasnt an idea to bless herself with. The other looks more of a devil. Now that you are a great man, why dont you marry a swell?”
“I intend to do so.”
“The Lord help her then!”
“Oh, good-bye. Go on to Soho,” she added, to the coachman, settling herself fretfully on the cushions.
On Monday morning Douglas received a note inviting him to lunch at Mr. Lind’s club. He had spent the greater part of the previous night composing a sonnet, which he carried with him in his pocket to St. James’s Street. Mr. Lind received him cordially; listened to an account of his recent stay abroad; and described his own continental excursions, both gentlemen expressing great interest at such coincidences as their having put up at the same hotel or travelled by the same line of railway. When luncheon was over, Mr. Lind proposed that they should retire to the smoking-room.
“I should like to have a few words with you first, as we are alone here,” said Douglas.
“Certainly,” said Mr. Lind, assuming a mild dignity in anticipation of being appealed to as a parent. “Certainly, Sholto.”
“What I have to say, coming so soon after my long absence, will probably surprise you. I had it in contemplation before my departure, and was only prevented from broaching it to you then by circumstances which have happily since lost their significance. When I tell you that my communication has reference to Marian, you will perhaps guess its nature.”
“Indeed!” said Mr. Lind, affecting surprise. “Well, Sholto, if it be so, you have my heartiest approval. You know what a lonely life her marriage will entail on me; so you will not expect me to consent without a few regrets. But I could not desire a better settlement for her. She must leave me some day. I have no right to complain.”
“We shall not be very far asunder, I hope; and it is in Marian’s nature to form many ties, but to break none.”
“She is an amiable girl, my–my darling child. Does she know anything of this?”
“I am here at her express request; and there remains to me the pleasure of getting her own final consent, which I would not press for until armed with your sanction.”
Except for an involuntary hitch of his eyelids, Mr. Lind looked as if he believed perfectly in Douglas’s respect for his parental claims. “Quite right,” he said, “quite right. You have my best wishes. I have no doubt you will succeed: none. There are, of course, a few affairs to be settled–a few contingencies to be provided for–children–accidents–and so forth. No difficulty is likely to arise between us on that score; but still, these things have to be arranged.”
“I propose a very simple method of arranging them. You are a man of honor, and more conversant with business than I. Give me your instructions. My lawyer shall have them within half an hour.”
“That is said like a gentleman and a Douglas, Sholto. But I must consider before giving you an answer. You have thrown upon me the duty of studying your position as well as Marian’s; and I must neither abuse your generosity nor neglect her interest.”
“You will, nevertheless, allow me to consider the conditions as settled, since I leave them entirely in your hands.”
“My own means have been seriously crippled by the extravagance of Reginald. Indeed both my boys have cost me much money. I had not, like you, the good fortune to be an only son. I was the fourth son of a younger son: there was very little left for me. I will treat Marian as liberally as I can; but I fear I cannot do anything for her that will bear comparison with your munificence.”
“Surely I can give her enough. I should prefer to be solely responsible for her welfare.”
“Oh no. That would be too bad. Oh no, Sholto: I will give her something, please God.”
“As you wish, Mr. Lind. We can arrange it to your satisfaction afterward. Do you intend returning to Westbourne Terrace soon?”
“I am afraid not. I have to go into the City. If you would care to come with me, I can shew you the Company’s place there, and the working of the motor. It is well worth seeing. Then you can return with me to the Terrace and dine with us. After dinner you can talk to Marian.”
Douglas consented; and they went to Queen Victoria Street, to a building which had on each doorpost a brass shield inscribed THE CONOLLY ELECTRO-MOTOR COMPANY OF LONDON, LIMITED. At the offices, on the first floor, they were received obsequiously and informed that Mr. Conolly was within. They then went to a door on which appeared the name of the inventor, and entered a handsomely furnished office containing several working models of machinery, and a writing-table, from his seat at which Conolly rose to salute his visitors.
“Good evening, Mr. Lind. How do you do, Mr. Douglas?”
“Oh!” said Mr. Lind. “You two are acquainted. I did not know that.”
“Yes,” said Conolly, “I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Douglas at the Academy yesterday evening.”
“Indeed? Marian did not mention that you were there. Well, can we see the wonders of the place, Mr. Conolly; or do we disturb you?”
“Not at all,” replied Conolly, turning to one of the models, and beginning his showman’s lecture with disquieting promptitude. “Hitherto, as you are no doubt aware, Mr. Douglas, steam has kept electricity, as a motive power, out of the field; because it is much less expensive. Even induced magnetic currents, the cheapest known form of electric energy, can be obtained only by the use of steam power. You generate steam by the combustion of coal: electricity, without steam, can only be generated by the combustion of metals. Coal is much cheaper than metal: consider the vast amount of coal consumed in smelting metals. Still, electricity is a much greater force than steam: it’s stronger, so to speak. Sixpennorth of electricity would do more work than sixpennorth of steam if only you could catch it and hold it without waste. Up to the present the waste has been so enormous in electric engines as compared with steam engines that steam has held its own in spite of its inferior strength. What I have invented is, to put it shortly, an electric engine in which there is hardly any waste; and we can now pump water, turn mill-stones, draw railway trains, and lift elevators, at a saving, in fuel and labor, of nearly seventy per cent, of the cost of steam. And,” added Conolly, glancing at Douglas, “as a motor of six-horsepower can be made to weigh less than thirty pounds, including fuel, flying is now perfectly feasible.”
“What!” said Douglas, incredulously. “Does not all trustworthy evidence prove that flying is a dream?”
“So it did; because a combination of great power with little weight, such as an eagle, for instance, possesses, could not formerly be realized in a machine. The lightest known four-horse-power steam engine weighs nearly fifty pounds. With my motor, a machine weighing thirty pounds will give rather more than six-horse-power, or, in other words, will produce a wing power competent to overcome much more than its own gravity. If the Aeronautical Society does not, within the next few years, make a machine capable of carrying passengers through the air to New York in less than two days, I will make one myself.”
“Very wonderful, indeed,” said Douglas, politely, looking askance at him.
“No more wonderful than the flight of a sparrow, I assure you. We shall presently be conveyed to the top of this building by my motor. Here you have a model locomotive, a model steam hammer, and a sewing machine: all of which, as you see, I can set to work. However, this is mere show. You must always bear in mind that the novelty is not in the working of these machines, but the smallness of the cost of working.”
Douglas endured the rest of the exhibition in silence, understanding none of the contrivances until they were explained, and not always understanding them even then. It was disagreeable to be instructed by Conolly–to feel that there were matters of which Conolly knew everything and he nothing. If he could have but shaped a pertinent question or two, enough to prove that he was quite capable of the subject if he chose to turn his attention to it, he could have accepted Conolly’s information on the machinery as indifferently as that of a policeman on the shortest way to some place that it was no part of a gentleman’s routine to frequent. As it was, he took refuge in his habitual reserve, and, lest the exhibition should be prolonged on his account, took care to shew no more interest in it than was barely necessary to satisfy Mr. Lind. At last it was over; and they returned westward together in a hansom.
“He is a Yankee, I suppose,'” said Douglas, as if ingenuity were a low habit that must be tolerated in an American.
“Yes. They are a wonderful people for that sort of thing. Curious turn of mind the mechanical instinct is!”
“It is one with which I have no sympathy. It is generally subject to the delusion that it has a monopoly of utility. Your mechanic hates art; pelts it with lumps of iron; and strives to extinguish it beneath all the hard and ugly facts of existence. On the other hand, your artist instinctively hates machinery. I fear I am an artist.”